Howl The Eternal Yes!


OK, I’m over myself this week. That’s why I didn’t show up last Friday…I was all over myself and I was all, Just. So. Bored.

I can’t remember the last time I was bored, but my best guess is 1990 – 1998. The ’90s were just so damn dull: John Updike was still writing his Rabbit books, rock and roll went grunge, and Murder She Wrote was the top TV show. It was a sad, sad time so I had no alternative except to be obsessed with Northern Exposure. And as Chris-in-the-Morning said: Sometimes, Ed, [he was talking to Ed], sometimes you just gotta ditch the blog and go shopping.


So I ditched the blog and shopped for a chandelier for my closet. Yeah, that’s who I am these days.

But I apologize to you, Dear Readers, for my bad manners at being a no-show last week; and I Thank You All for Being Here today. Today’s post is extra-mosey long, so fair warning: you might need another cup of tea.

Today I want to talk to you about How I Do What I Do. Wait. That sounds too grandiose. Today, I want to show you How I Make The Sausage That Is My Art. Which is illustrating, and which I do from photos.

Yes, I paint from photos. There. I’ve said it. If anyone were to ask me, “Where do you get your ideas from?”, I will tell them: “I get them from the photographs I take.” And yes, I carry a real camera around with me so I can take photos of passing scenes that interest me.

This is a picture of something I saw on a morning walk in my Long Island neighborhood one day:


Oh, my…I was entranced by [with?] the way the morning light was streaming through the branches of this small stand of young trees. I took the photo, thinking that if I could study it long enough, I might be able to paint such a scene…back-lit foliage on a June day:


I painted this picture about 7 or 8 years ago, when I was still using my Grumbacher paints. But considering that I was using very, very, uh…shall we say “hobbyist” paints, I think I was able to depict back-light OK. In fact, I was rather preoccupied with studying the effects of back-light on green grass….as you can see below, when I snapped another pic of the same phenomena:


As you can see, or not (I’m taking photos of photos, which look like crap when you post them on your blog, to show you the alongside the watercolor studies I did), I had quite a learning curve was I tried to figure out how to capture fleeting sunlight on grass (one of the most delicious plays of light I know):


Sometimes I would snap a photo and not know that it would make for a lousy study until after I’d painted it — like this “beach” scene, taken on a North Shore of Long Island cove, which even with artistic license did not make for a compelling picture (but note: I never throw anything away — even the duds are worth keeping, because nothing that you try to paint ever goes to waste):


About 8 or 9 years ago, Long Island missed a white Christmas by ONE DAY, but I went out walking with my camera on Dec. 26 specifically in search for subjects.  As soon as I spied this heap of apres-Xmas trash, I knew I had a “scene”:


Same as when I walked past this bike-and-basketball scene:


Sorry that it’s so hard to see the basketball — but in my mind’s eye, that little blip of orange basketball was THE focal!


This is hard to see, in the photo below, but I zoomed in on a backyard fence on which were poised a line of plastic pink flamingos with an Americna flag accoutrement that I couldn’t resist (which I also edited [moved the flag] when I painted the scene):


Who wouldn’t have found this little vignette adorable?:


Once I have done my studies, I gather them together on scotch tape them on a page and stick them in my sketchbook, for future ref:


So I repeat: Never throw away your studies! If nothing else, they bring back fond memories of stomping through snow fall on the day after Christmas of a year you can’t even remember…good times).

I confess that I do not put away my garden hose so it suffers in Winter because I am a bad, bad people — and I am so glad! Because this was such a pleasure to paint:


I loved the elegant loops of the hose, and the variations in the color of it — yellow-green, bright green, brownish-green, olive — I had such a fun time painting this, even though I knew I would never find anything useful (publishable) in it:


Another Winter blizzard, another walk around the neighborhood, another fabulous view — you can’t see it very well on the photo, but that little red bow tied around the post was the whole reason that I wanted to paint this very wacky and cool and dilapidated fence:


Old fences in the snow make for wonderful painting subjects:


The challenge here was to paint a white fence IN THE SNOW!!! What fun!!!:


Another fence  (see below) — by the way, all you have to do to get a better view of both these photos and the resultant paintings is to move your mouse onto the photo (as, below, or above) and click onto it…the gremlins of the internets will blow up the image so you can gander at it better (and, in the case below, see what happens when you use yellow-winted masking fluid where you want white snow to be):


GREAT tree house, and a fun way to practice painting a Winter tree:


Could YOU pass by this bit of snow-dusted topiary and NOT want to paint it???:


Or this Adarondak chair???:


The only reason I took this snapshot (below) was because of the candy cane decorations in the lawn — aren’t they adorable?:


Sometimes, when you least expect it, like, say, when you are wandering through a hardware store, you come across a still life that tickles your fancy and lucky you! You have a camera handy!:


A few years ago I went to my local Whole Foods:


And then I got on a whole pumpkin thing:


The thing that I liked about this display (below) was the hierarchy of pumpkins…the big fella on top, the middle fella in the middle, and the two tiny babies on the bottom:

As you can see, I was too timid when I painted in the shadows, made them too pale, and lost the whole POINT of the pic! Those two tiny baby pumpkins on the bottom step just disappear! But that’s why you have to do these studies: to teach yourself to not wimp out! Use that black paint! Black paint is OK!!

Now, I took a LOT of artistic licsence when I did the next pic:


The thing that tickled my fancy about this scene was the three small tomatoes sitting on the back step. Why? Why would someone put tomatoes (and a green pepper) on the back step? Why? Were they in the middle of harvesting their vegetable patch and got called away by — what? The bends? An emergency salad-making convention? The desire to compose a sonnet?

I LOVED those three little tomatoes on the back step:

P1030855 2

I also loved the rake — which was a wired, really small rake, which I could never have painted AS IS because it would not have made any sense. Now, earlier that week I had seen a big pumpkin on a front porch, and a squirrel was perched atop it; but I didn’t have my camera and did not record the scene, but I used the memory of that to “jzuush” up my little picture (as seen above).

“Jzuush” is an artistic and fashionista tecnical term for “spiffen up”.

When I saw these Autumn leaves scattered on this sidewalk (below), I wondered if I could make a painting out of it:


Nope. Although I painted this about 10 years ago, I still think this kind of scene is above my pay grade. But I give myself props for trying.

I also wondered the same thing — could I make a painting of this? —  when I came across this delightful scene, which I call Picket Fence With Wonky Brick Sidewalk and Autumn Leaves:


I bet that if I hadn’t shown you actual photographs of this…


…you would never believe that my Squint illustration was based on actual fact! Right?

Same here:


Yes, sometimes sun set on the Long Island Sound is just too pinky/lavender/silver to be true:


This is where I lsuddenly realized that it was a fine, fine Fall evening and I gasped at the folly of me sitting at my computer when sun set on the Long Island Sound was a mere 25 minutes away and I jumped up and dashed out the door and got in my car and fought my way through traffic-jam traffic through the Village of Roslyn on the north shore of Long Island and jumped out of my car and ran — yes, I RAN — to the cliff above Hempstead Harbor and began snapping away at the fleeting, all too fleeting display of light of this day, the one and only day of October 8, 2015:



And if I make a painting of this once-in-a-lifetime sun set of Oct. 8, 2015, you can rest assured that I will show it to you all, my Dear Readers, right here.

Oh? That embedded video below? That fantastic dance song that makes you feel twenty years younger just by listening to it? With the armies that fight by glitter that makes you wish the world was run by cardboard-weilding pop stars from Brisbane ? That’s just my latest reason Why I Am Ever So Glad That There Are Australians To Make This World a Better Place:

All I want to know is: Why do Australians say “Geronimo”? It’s not like the average American yells Ned Kelly …so why do Aussies know about Geronimo in the Land of Oz? Aussies: Please explain.

Meantime, hit repeat and everybody get up and dance!!! It’s the week-end!!!


This Month’s Most Important Cup of Tea

I have no flower paintings to show you this week, my Dear Readers — because Dear Reader Felicia (in her Comment, last week) has provided me with a perfect excuse to digress from this blog’s usual thrills of watching paint dry to discuss what I did on my Summer vacation. It all came down to a cup of tea. In fact, it came down to this month’s Most Important Cup of Tea:

And here it is:


Every cup of tea is a journey, or is the beginning of a journey, or maybe it’s the end of a journey, I forget what the philosophy about tea and journeys is.

Today I want to tell you about this cup of tea (see above) and the story of the journey that brought me and this fateful beverage together on the afternoon of Wednesday, September 9th. It’s a spiritually uplifting story of struggle, hardship, determination, victory, wine, and the life-changing magic of the Japanese art of tidying up, or at least one of those things.

This epic life-changing journey began on a cloudy and cold day in the city of Newcastle, a dreary, truly morose city in Northumbria, the northern-most county in England. This is not a photo of Newcastle:



That was a photo of our first experience of Northumbrian countryside, west of Newcastle.

This is a photo of the Bed and Breakfast where Top Cat, my beloved husband and traveling companion, stayed, our first night out in the Northumbrian countryside:

P1030057North Houghton Farm is where I met Scamp, Rascal, Sally, and Biscuit, who live to mooch treats from the kitchen (a room they are not, strictly speaking, allowed to enter):


This is also where we (Top Cat, my dearly beloved husband, and I) came across a portent of things to come:


In this two-pub village in Northumbria is where we found the beginning bits of stone wall that would be, for the next six days, the raison d’être of Top Cat and I’s reason for being in England:


And that is how we, Top Cat and I, began the journey of twelve-forty-billion steps, a once-in-a-life journey to fulfill a life-long dream we’d had for the past, oh, four or five months, of Walking Across England Along Hadrian’s Wall.

We walked along this wall, built by a Roman fellow named Hadrian (hence its name), or along non-continuous bits and pieces of it, or in its ditch (see below)  for 97 miles, through low-lying pastures and fields …


… and atop mighty mountains (see below).


It  was whereupon in such alpine climes we moseyed alongside Hadrian’s mightiest gathering of stones, the true “wall” part of the wall, and also where we climbed up even loftier mountains …


… which we climbed down upon in order to climb up upon other truly bothersome peaks …


… from whence we saw nothing but miles and miles and miles of pain-in-the-ass upping and downing …






It was basically one damn hill after another …



Luckily, along the way, there were plenty of fine farmhouse B&Bs to rest our weary feets:








And we were never in danger of going thirsty:




So we were still in fine fettle when we reached Cumbria (see below), the western land of gentle rolling hills and a Roman wall that could only be surmised by the topography of the land…



… until we reached the North Atlantic coast whereupon the wall became, for all intents and purposes, purely imaginary:


At last we came upon the village a the sea …


…where we verily mourned that there was no more Roman wall to conquer, and wept like that Grecian chap in that poem, and took souvenir photos of ourselves at The End:



And then we tramped past the churchyard…


…and smote the fierce hound savagely guarding the inner sanctum of the Wallsend Inn…


…to enter the teaarium…


…where we celebrated our journey and vanquished our thirst with the beverages of our choice:


Mine was tea:


I should add that our English journey actually began in Edinburgh …


that’s Edinburgh Castle, on that hill in the center

… and ended with a 143-mile cab ride from Glasgow to a small village in the western highlands of Scotland:


Long story. But take it from me, when your Virgin Train from Carlisle runs too late for you to catch your ScotRail connection in Glasgow, Richard Branson will put you IN A CAB and drive you the rest of the way.


Where I had this month’s Second – Most Important Cup of Tea:


The western highlands is where you go if you want to watch the sun set over the Inner Hebrides (we saw three sun sets over the Inner Hebrides):




It was on the train ride back to Edinburgh that I had this month’s Third – Most Important Cup of Tea:


Not because it was all that great…


…but because of the miles and hours of scenery that passed us by. All you have to do is point the camera out the window and shoot:


And that is the Story of Tea for September, 2015.


Talent is Overrated

Today’s post is in honor of Dear Reader susie, whose Comment from last week  — in response to this picture of my first ever illustration —


was this:

You hear and see all over it doesn’t take talent,

just perseverance.

I don’t think so, if that’s your first shot out of the box.

I read that and I had to prove the one thing I know for sure about life. This one is for you, Dear susie:

Talent is Overrated.

To start, I want to show you all a photo I took in Monet’s garden at Giverny, France, when I spent three days in the little village in May of 2013:


I like the color scheme here, and I really liked those bright tulips. (I snapped this photo just as a passing breeze ruffled some petals.) I chose this picture somewhat at random for today’s post, because today’s post is all about how terrible, how truly terrible and awful I am at painting flower beds.

Oh, sure, I’ve made little bitty watercolor try-outs of flower beds:


These are studies I made of Monet’s flower beds, picking out patterns rather than actual fleurs.

I’ve even painted bits of Monet’s Giverny garden before:



I’ve also copied directly from Monet himself, in various Triscuit forms …



But this is not the same as actually being able to paint Monet’s FLOWERS. The reason I do not paint Monet’s flowers is because I have no talent at painting flowers but is that lack of talent going to stop me? Non! Well, not today, at least. Because it doesn’t take “talent” to paint — because talent is overrated.

Talent is Overrated is the title of a book written by Geoff Colvin (published by Penguin Group in 2008). It’s about how the majority of people in the world never achieve excellence (or even proficiency, at their job, their avocations, their hobbies, etc) because of their notion that excellence is possible only thru talent, and  talent is a freaky, DoG-given gift that nature has not bestowed upon them.

In fact, Geoff argues, talent is the least part of excellence. Stick-to-it-ness is the only thing that matters:

One of the most important questions about greatness surrounds the difficulty of deliberate practice. The chief constraint is mental, regardless of the field – even in sports, where we might think the physical demands are the hardest. Across realms, the required concentration is so intense that it’s exhausting. If deliberate practice is so hard – if in most cases it’s not [the least bit] “inherently enjoyable” – then why do some people put themselves through it day after day for decades, while most do not? Where does the necessary passion come from?

Geoff spends a lot of the book answering that “Where does the necessary passion come from?” question, which interests me not in the least. I don’t care where “passion” — just another word for stick-to-it-ness – comes from. You know it if you have it. That’s all that matters.

I only care that if you have that passion, that desire to stick to it, then you know the secret that I know: you know the great quantity of horrible, boring, unpleasant, discouraging, and vexing work it takes to make “talent” happen.

And so I am going to paint for you today, because I can’t paint flowers for shit, and I dearly, desperately want to be able to paint flowers.

Specifically, I’d like to paint flowers like an Impressionist. And actually, Monet is not my favorite FLOWER painter, even of his own garden (excepting for the lilies, he couldn’t paint flowers for shit, either):


Claude Monet, view of his garden at Giverny.

No, I greatly prefer other Impressionists, such as the American, Childe Hassam:


This looseness with paint is  foreign to how I do things naturally, as a fuss-budgety painter of Tricsuits. So I know, and rather dread, that it will take a lot of deliberate practice until I get it right.

And so, with a sigh of resignation for what I am in for, I begin:


I paint fast and loose and this is what I got:


I swear to you, this is NOT me trying to paint ugly. This is me trying to paint pretty, using skills I DO NOT YET HAVE.

So I do it again, this time starting with a quick little drawing/painting of the tulips:


I got this far when it became clear to me that the painting was OVER:


So I tried a different tactic. I used my masking fluid to mark out the flowers, and I swirled a verdant background all over them (because it’s a technique I ave used before, with some success)…Fun! Loose! Free! All the things I am not!:


I dropped in some more background texture:


And I lifted off the masking fluid and painted the flowers:



I am beyond frustrated at this point. I dislike painting ugly pix, and I loathe it when I do not know what I am doing. Of all the ways I’ve tried, so far, to paint an impressionistic flowers bed, none of them has felt like “me”.

So I do something that IS “me”. I try to paint an Impressionistic Triscuit:


Nope. Impressionist Triscuits are not “me.”

OK, then…let me try doing a hybrid, mix a bit of Impressionistic blurriness with my natural fuss-potty attention to detail:


I think the result looks…unhappy.

At this point I would like to quote from another Dear Reader whose Comment from last week’s post was right on the money. Barb Hutch wrote:

I don’t believe we know if you are completely self-taught or how you came to have such remarkable abilities. “Hard, relentless work” could be the explanation, based on all that you have shared. 

Well Dear Barb, as you can see, I am indeed what you would call “self-taught”, and by “self taught” I mean I have learned how to paint through “hard, relentless work”, and being willing to paint one bad picture after another.

Now, I’ve done this yellow tulip flower pic five times now, and I still havn’t figured out how to paint it. But am I ready to call it quits? Am I???

Hell NO!

Because I have it in me to try one more time. 

Again, I start by laying down masking fluid, then doing a light wash, into which I will drop shots of “flower” color:












Although I am not happy with this pic, I am most unhappy the way the background comes on too strong. So, since I dislike this pic away, I’m going to try something that might become a new “tool” for me, a new way to tone down bad painting:




Don’t think I’ll ever try that again.

By now I am thoroughly sick of this scene. Stupid yellow tulips. With their stupid red streaks. But am I ready to stop painting flowers??

Well, for now I am. But I am not ready to quit my search for the Way I Paint Flowers. I’m already eyeing a new photo of Monet’s garden at Giverny, one that I like better (probably because it has no yellow tulips in it)…


Yeah. Maybe it was the reference photo’s fault. Stupid yellow tulips.

Maybe all I need is a super-pretty pic to get me in the groove. Pink tulips! Yes!

All I have to do is hang in there, withstand the discomfort of being really, really bad at painting flowers until the day comes when I can be good at it. But I am done for now…

…and in the meantime, I can still paint all the Triscuits and Squints my heart desires. And today, my heart desires to give away this lovely Squint of the Long Island Sound to the Reader who picked Top Cat’s Squint Number between 50 and 100. The number that Top Cat chose was …



“Right in the middle”, is how he explained his pick. SBut snce nobody picked No. 75, I went with the Dear Reader who came closest to that number without going over, and that Dear Reader is…


Congratulations, Catya!

Please email me your address at vivianswift at yahoo dot com, and I will post this out to you PDQ.

Thank you, everyone, for sending in your numbers!

Will I ever learn how to paint a damn tulip? Will there be a half-way decent Monet flower garden picture painted by next week? Or will I explain the secret of how I’ve seen hard working people like you and me become brilliant illustrators without having an ounce of “talent”?

Only the next seven days will tell.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers.






A Squint Through My Back Pages

I have never used an actual “sketchbook” for my “sketching”. In fact, I have never, actually, “sketched”. I even dislike the verb, “to sketch”, based on what I’ve seen when people “sketch”, all wispy and mushy and tentative…but that’s just me. I have a very annoying personality.

Instead of putting my works-in-progress into a fancy, expensive, hard-backed “sketchbook”, I use this:


Yes, it’s a no-frills three-ring binder from Staples. It costs around $5.00. I stock the binder with those full-page plastic “sheet protector” things, and I’m good to go. Go to Town, that is. The town being Pelham, Westchester County, New York, where I was living on that fateful Sept. 11 of 2001, and the “village on the Long Island Sound” that was the subject of my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam.

Pelham NY train station

My original concept for When Wanderers Cease to Roam was for it to be square, so I trimmed regular bond paper into 8-ich by 8-inch squares, and started making little paintings on Canson 90-lb watercolor paper and arranging them on “pages”. Above is a view of our delightful old train station, c. 2004, when it had Ticket Seller windows!!!  (now pretty much gutted, when they installed a spiffy new commuter cafe).

Below, that’s the Post Office:

Pelham NY post office

The Pelham P.O. used to be a bank, until the Great Depression shut it down.

Pelham NY post office

The owls on the facade are fake, of course — such owls are used to keep pigeons off the premisis (I don’t have spell check).  The mighty Pelican, being the official bird of the Town of Pelham, is featured on the bank/post office lanterns, which was a detail that I  l-o-v-e-d:

Pelham, NY post office

Yes, the perspective of that front door and the scale of the person inside are wonky. I could correct this easily, but until I find a permanent home for this pic, I won’t bother.

If you know my book (WWCTR), you will know by now that none of these pictures of Pelham made it into the published product. They ended up not fitting into the narrative, for being too specifically “Pelham”, or for being kind of boring.

This is the high school:

Pelham NY high school

Pelham NY High School

So, for now, all these pix are sitting in my Pelham Notebook.

This is one of the four elementary schools in Pelham — love the brickwork!:

Pelham Ny Prospect Hill Elementary

This is another one of the elementary schools:

Pelham NY Colonial Elementary School

These are signs from Pelham businesses:

Pelham NY

And the wonderful Pelham Cafe:

Pelham NY Pelham Cafe

The Artistic Manner florist had a great shop cat:


And this was the Old Lake Antiques shop:


All these doors are actual doors from Pelham:

Pelham NY

I was painting with my trusty Grumbacher watercolor paints at this time, and now I’m looking at those greens (above) and thinking, Wow — How did I do that?


Pelham NY



And, yes, once a year there used to be a Christmas Tree sale on the village green, to raise money for some charity or another:

Pelham NY

Ah, yes, I had an immense love for my old hometown, the town of Pelham on the Long Island Sound.

But of all these “sketches”, I DO have a favorite, a hands-down No. 1 fave, the one I will run into a burning building to rescue, and it is this one:


This is a watercolor illustration of a view of Pelham Lake, on the edge of town, in Winter, near sunset, viewed from the rail road tracks high above it. It is not an attractive pic, and was not a pic that I was particularly happy with, even when I made it.

But this pic is my all-time most beloved pic because this happens to be the first watercolor painting I ever did.

I painted it, and it was bad, but here’s the surprising thing: not a single member of the Watercolor Police  rushed into my apartment and arrested me for making such an ugly picture. And I realized that hey — I don’t need anybody’s permission or approval to paint! I’m allowed to be lousy!

And I kept on painting.

Which brings me to the Great Squint Give Away (see: last week’s post).


I am giving away this Long Island Sound Summer Sunset Squint to one lucky Commentor.


All you have to do is leave a Comment below, in which you pick a number between 50 and 100.  Comments will close after 5 days (which I have to do to control the spam), but  next Friday I will open the sealed envelope and reveal Top Cat’s pre-destined winning number!


Meet me back here next Friday — and be sure to have a fantastic next-to-penultimate Summer weekend!




Yay! I’m Back! Just In Time To Tell You All About Squinting!

Hi everybody!!

It’s good to be back in the blogosphere! I hope you missed our get-togethers as much as I have because today’s post is going to make up for my absence — get ready for a two-tea-cupper update on all things V. Swift

Another entry on our Beautiful Word List: Shenandoah.

So, now back to where we left off, at the Squinting thing.


As you recall from my last post, I made a huge leap in my precocious artistic development when I hit upon a new format for my watercolor illustrations. Namely, the long, narrow, horizontal format that I now call a Squint:


I can’t remember how I came upon the idea of doing the Squints, but I’m sure it had something to do with avoiding full-page illustrations, which I still did not feel I could do, even after 2-3 years of painting, even tho I was  already an acknowledged prodigy, having published my first illustrated book at the precocious age of 52.


Getting back to the Squint, I liked the way it could contain, perhaps, a bit more information than a Triscuit:


…but would also look really neat, and unexpected, uh, different when placed on a page:



Although none of the above Squints made it out of my sketchbookI very happily used other, specially-created Squints as the main artistic motif for my second book, Le Road Trip:





I still think they look spiffy on the page.

And now, please allow me to show you How To Make a Squint.

Since I work exclusively from reference photos, the first thing I had to do, in order to find the Squint in each reference photo, was to cut out a frame in the exact shape of a Squint, like, say, this one:


With my “frame” in hand, I roam around the photo, looking for The View. As you can see, below, this view could make an OK Squint…


…but this view is much better, right?


OK, time to get down to business. I make a few pencil lines on the watercolor paper to use as guides, to show me where the horizon is and, roughly, where the foliage will go:


And that’s all I need — the pic is now a composition.

I am using my trusty Grumbacher hobby-quality paints because when it comes to painting sunsets, I know what the paints will do and I trust them — I know that no other paint than Grumbacker will give me the subtlety that I need.


Also, because I tend to mix colors directly on each little disk of Grumbacher paint, I have to rinse each pan before I use them, to get at the pure pan color:


To do the sun set sky, I start with my Big Brush:


I lay in colors by using a method called “Wet in Wet:


See why I like the Grumbacher? So far, I’m laying in orange, blue, and fuscia, and the paints have not gone all muddy on me:


Yes, this takes practice, and a LIGHT TOUCH — do not overdue the brush work here — but the Grumbachers are great for this.

On a seperate bit of paper, I test my blue mixes (I’m using the colors that Grumbacher calls Prussian Blue and Cobalt Blue, and it looks to me like I have a bit of Violet in there too), before committing them to the composition:



To mix and apply the “clouds”, I switch to my 00 Extra Fine brush to dab lightly:





Checking in here, I see that the left side of the sky looks OK, but I need to dab in some more goldenness (that is, orange paint) onto the right side of the sky:


And some fuscia:


Now, we do the water — again, starting with the Big Brush:



For the shoreline, I am going to bleed some black Grunbacher into the damp “water” thusly:


I am, frankly, a little worried here; I might have dabbed in too much black paint, too soon…this could ruin the whole shebang. Oh well. Time will tell.

While this bit is still damp, I go back and make some shadows on the water, still using my 00 Extra Fine brush:



Next, I check to see if so far, so good.  And, so far, so good. I can exhale now.


Since the foliage (back lit by the sunset and, thusly, in silhouette) will be such an outstanding part of this Squint, I will now switch from my Grumbacher paint to my trusty Windsor Newton Lamp Black paint, because I like the density of this paint — it covers better than the Grumbacher Black — and it’s also easy to handle:



After painting in background foliage, I make another check, back to the reference photo.  So far, no major screw ups:


This part of the photograph (below), this sillohouette of leaves and the negative space of the foliage,  here in the lower right quadrant, is, for me, the crux of this picture:


The whole pic will look stooooo-pid if I don’t get this bit right. So I make a light pencil sketch to guide me:


And I hold my breath as I begin to paint the leaves, and to not paint the stuff that doesn’t need painting. Less is More. You can quote me on that:


NOW I can heave a sigh of relief. The negative space looks OK:


And then I go back to holding my breath:


And NOW I can heave another sigh of relief:


Add some upper left hand corner leaves, dab in some lower left hand corner foreground stuff, and then we are DONE …


… DONE …


… Done:


And yes, Dear Readers, this Squint can be YOURS. I’ll even throw in the reference photograph, ALL FOR YOU.


Because of bad planning on my part, and because of normal, yearly, and annoyingly inconvenient data up-dating of this blog (I think it’s called “backing up”), I can not offer this Squint up for giving away this week. Also, your Comment to this post might take a day or two to appear…

…I apologize for this technical glitch but please be assured that your Comment today will be received, and will be in the queue, and will indeed be published, eventually, for the amusement and edification of others, and that your Comment will AUTOMATICALLY qualify you for the contest I will hold NEXT WEEK.

I do hope I have made this incredibly complicated for one and all.

The Comments will close, as they usually do, after 5 days from publication of this post (to deter spam), so Comment Early! And often!

These Squints are fun. We should do this again, real soon.

Have a GREAT penultimate September Summer weekend, everyone!


August Is Good At Arriving At The Right Time (It’s Not Always Gonna Be This Way)

Ahhhhh…AUGUST. My Favorite month of the year!


The garden is in peak shape…




…the weeds are SPECTACULAR …


…even the spider webs are more gorgeous in August:




And the cats are pretty damn cute, too:




There’s even a new boy in town, called Steve:


I think Steve would like to join our herd, if only Lickety, Taffy, and Bibs were not dedicated to keeping him as a “front yard only” cat. For now, feeding Steve on our front porch wall (above) seems to be keeping the peace; but when it starts to get cold then I’m afraid that Sheriff Vivian will be rounding her up a tuxedo kittie no matter what the rest of the herd thinks about it.

So, I’m still going through the watercolor sketches that I was making about ten years ago, when I first took up painting as a prodigy (at age 48)  because I wanted to write illustrated travel memoirs. When I felt ready to make book-worthy pictures, I abandoned the re-iterations I’d been making (see last week’s post) and started doing real “picture” pictures.

Now, many of you Dear Readers know that my first successful watercolor “picture” pictures were my Triscuits:


Since this blog gets new readers all the time, please let me explain to all the newcomers (Hi! Glad you could join us!) that I started out making Triscuits because they were tiny, simple, low-risk, and about all I could handle as a brand new, self-taught artist. I relied on my Triscuits to do a lot of the work of illustrating my first book,  When Wanderers Cease to Roam:





But at the same time, I was painting larger pix on the side, slowly learning the confidence to make double or triple Triscuit-sized pix. So here are a few such Post-triscuit pictures that I made during my, ahem, artistic development:


This is one of the earliest pictures that I did, from a photograph I took of a row of mews houses in my old hometown of Pelham, New York — the village that was the subject of  When Wanderers Cease to Roam.


I never finished this panting because by the time I’d got the roof and upper story done, I understood that I was not particularly interested in painting architecture. Especially if said architecture comes with multi-pane faux-Tudor windows (all it takes to make the whole thing look hinkey is ONE wrong pane).

Here are some other sketches that did not make it into Wanderers:


I have to explain that I really enjoyed “painting”, that is, actually not painting, snow. I loved what you could imply by just NOT painting …


…that is, letting the white of the watercolor paper show through, letting it do all the work, as far as subject matter is concerned:


It’s exactly what isn’t painted that has all the heft the substance and content of these little pix:





The more confidence I got about handling paint, the more ambitious I got for my paintings. In these slightly bigger-then-Triscuits pix, I am trying to add something more than just a well-painted form in the pic…I am trying to include what I call information.

I wanted to make pix that were about something, a place, mood, a season, a point of view.




Ahhhh…perhaps you noticed something happening there, with that last photo (above). What’s happening is that I have discovered a fun, new format for my miniature watercolor paintings; a long, narrow, horizontal format that lets me present “information” in a way that I find artistically fulfilling:


Yes, what you are seeing above are my first attempts at a format that became the motif of my second book, Le Road Trip:


I LOVE this format, which I call a “Squint“.

I have so much to tell you about my beloved Squints, but I am sorry that it will have to wait…it’s August.

And, dear Readers, I will be MIA for the rest of my favorite month of the year (August), but when I get back to Long Island I promise that I will pick up this story of The Squints right where I’ve left off…


And who knows…there might even be a First Ever Squint Give Away in the works.


Please enjoy the beautitude of August wherever you are, and meet me back here on September 4!





Paint What You Know

To continue  last week’s “Beautiful Words” list…

Irian Jaya (former name of the Papua province of Indonesia)


Coeur d’Alene (Idaho)

Ouagadougou (Upper Volta/Burkina Faso)

And oh my, how I wish we could call L.A. by its English translation: The Angels

I notice that all the above are place names. Hmmmm….I’ll have to think harder to find regular words that would fit into this list. Something like, maybe, cellar (which H. L. Menkin said was the most beautiful word in the English language).

Please feel free to add to this collection (above). Yikes. I just realized that I have started yet another collection…I can’t help myself. I am a Collector.


As many of you Dear Readers know, I collect Blue Jay feathers. (I collect molted feathers, one at a time, mostly gathered from my own backyard but occasionally from walks in the woodlands of the north shore of Long Island. Perfectly legal.)

In the past, I’ve also had a tea cup collection …


… and an Owl Jewelry collection…


The last remains of a once great hoard of Owl Jewelry

…and a collection of Bow pins…



The last remains of a once great hoard of Bow Pins.

I am the only one in my immediate family who collects stuff; I mean, the only one to hunt and acquire stuff with a particular focus. I don’t know why I do it.

Why do people become collectors?

Without getting too psychological about it (whew), I think I have an answer. I think some people become collectors because they are in love with patterns, in love with arrangement, and order, and design.

I think I’m that kind of person because my collections (of stuff, not words) are all about the delight I get from making patterns. I collect objects that I find pleasant to look at, and are familiar, but not without thrilling variations within their repetition.

In the ten years since I began to paint, I have also collected a monster pile of watercolors that I have begun to cull. That is, this past weekend I started to sort through my old collections of watercolors to trash, or save, as the case may be. These are some of the oldest watercolor studies that I have:


As you can see, in my early days as an artist, I was very happy painting pix that I thought of as compositions that I called Reiteration of the Form.


But now I can plainly see that it’s my collecting nature that I am painting here, my pleasure in making patterns with objects (even in 2D form). And yes, I was a miniaturist from the Get-Go.


If you look closely at the tricycle in composition of Pedals That Used To Take Me Where I Wanted To Go, (below) you will see that it is a cut-out:


I cut out that tricycle from its original Look! No Hands Vehicles! (below) composition  because it was red. Its  red color, along with its three-wheeled-ness, made it odd man out:


BTW, I was 47 when I was painting these minuscule studies, with my trusty (but definitely NOT professional quality) Grumbacher watercolors.


A set of 24 colors like this costs about $20.00. Cheap! Paint away! there’s no such thing as “wasting” paint like this!!


It was by painting these little nonsense collections that I learned what the Grumbachers were capable of, and what I as a painter could call my “skills”.


To get this variety of forms for each picture, I did a TON of research (on line, by Googling various vintage items on eBay; in the real world, by referring to my small collection of Sears catalogues from the 1960s and ’70s). So I learned that I was the kind of painter who took an intellectual approach to my subject, and insisted on historical accuracy.


Because my natural inclination was to work small, I learned that I enjoyed painting detail, and I had the patience to hold a very tiny brush very steady.


And because I painted reiterations, I learned that I did not bore easily, and had the endurance to work on a picture until all its components were right, and until there was enough “there” there that some sense or inkling of narrative could be intuited from the image.



Yes, that’s what I wrote, a sentence with both the word “intuited” and “narrative” in it. I do that sometimes, when I’m trying to sound legitimately “artistic”. Like, I could totally hang with any BFA out there.

All I mean is that, even in these little compositions of reiteration, there is a story going on, and it has to do with subject matter, as opposed to painters who paint story-less pictures, canvases that are only “about” color or paint, because that’s what ART is these days, or used to be; who can keep up?

Anyhoo, these were the first pictures I ever painted, for no purpose other than I wanted to know how to make a picture so, starting within my comfort zone, I painted objects whose forms appealed to me, in compositions that expressed my personality. Isn’t that how everyone starts out?


I Think I Need A Bigger Tin Foil Hat


People are reading my mind and stealing my thoughts. I’m looking at you, Walt Disney, and don’t give me that innocent look, New York Times.

Remember when two…three?…weeks ago I posted a photo of my highly staged work habitat which included a desk topped with my prized possession, a stuffed owl?


Forget that owl — Dear Reader Janet B. has eagle eyes and spotted the other bird of a feather here…the Grey Goose!

Dear Reader Marg-o was right: I call that owl Archimedes because of a whole thing I have for the animated Disney movie about the legend of King Arthur that came out in 1963.



I used to take a lot of pride in my connoisseur taste for this movie, a rather obscure entry in the Disney oeuvre, called The Sword in the Stone. Well, now neither I nor Marg-o can bask in our expertise of cartoon owls named for ancient Greek polymaths because last week I learned that Disney is in pre-production for a live-action film version of — you guessed it: The Damn Sword in the Damn Stone.

When the Sword in the Stone comes out in 2018 and is a huge hit, I just want you all to remember that I was alluding to it way back when I wasn’t moaning the fact that the film hadn’t been made 10 years earlier when  Joseph Gordon-Levitt was still young enough to get away with playing a teenaged Arthur, which he’d have been perfect for.


Yes, he’s the kid from the TV show Third Rock From the Sun. I love this actor.

On a similar note, I know that my “I Want To Kill My Husband Diet” (ha ha — thank you to Dear Reader Patricia for that branding idea) of last week didn’t go viral, but a New York Times essay on the same-ish subject did. Ada Calhoun wrote a Modern Love column called The Wedding Toast I’ll Never Give (you can read it here) which was printed in the Sunday, July 16 edition of the paper.


Illustration by the excellent Brian Rea

I think the piece is mis-titled, but that was probably an editor’s decision, not the writer’s.

Ada Calhoun is a very good writer, I just want to make that clear. The essay is beautifully structured, and the pacing of her sentences is like the patter and chorus of a great show tune. This lightens up the tone of her piece, the subject of which is that there are times when you loathe the spouse you dearly love, and which “lightness” is my main objection to the article.

I think that there is nothing that brings out the deepest, darkest, and most dire urges more than the blips of hatred that accentuate a long term relationship. As Dear Reader Felicia commented, there are times when you want to make your spouse a taxidermy project. As Whoopie Goldberg said, when Sharon Stone was being ridiculed for giving her husband the birthday gift of a one-on-one encounter with the Komodo Dragon in the San Francisco Zoo (which bit Mr. Stone and sent the hubby to the hospital): “Who hasn’t wanted to put their husband in a small cage with a Komodo Dragon?”


P.S. This is where I was last weekend, in a far away country where I had no access to my blog and could not release the Comments of my Dear Readers until Monday. Thank you all for persevering.

Just because some people are uncomfortable with the word “hate” doesn’t mean that they don’t know exactly what “hate” feels like, and don’t have those feelings every once in a while for the person they love the very most in all the world. It happens! And then it goes away! So let’s just be honest about it!

Also, after I posted last week’s diet tip ( the “I Want To Kill My Husband Diet”,  thanks again to Dear Reader Patricia) I fact-checked with my own dear Top Cat. And yes, there are times when he can’t stand the sight of me, either. And I’m OK with that.

Anyhoo. Last week I got the proofs of the Damn Garden Book — entirely in e-form. Not a scrap of paper in the whole last-chance correcting process! As has often been said of myself, the thing looks good when it’s all cleaned up. And I ditched my old Author Photo:


For this one:

DGB Author pic

Yes, the bags under my eyes have been photoshopped out. But I left the crow’s feet and the blotchy skin tone in. Because I’m at least 80% for real!

And, lastly, the mystery of the two Chinese language versions of Le Road Trip has been solved. The first version…


…is titled A Journey to France. The second version….


…has been re-marketed and re-titled as Old Love Honeymoon. Ha! See those two geezers standing on that green text box? That’s me and my own, old, dearly un-hated Top Cat!

And, lastly, before I punch out my Writer On The Loose time card for the day, I’ve begun to keep a list of the most beautiful words in the world. So far, the top spot goes to:



(Thanks, Vivki A.)

As for the most beautiful American word, well, that’s a no-brainer. It’s:


And the word bucket always makes me laugh.

Dear Readers, may buckets of un-hate fill your weekend with, well, whatever it is that makes you as happy as an old love honeymoon.




How To Lose Your Appetite And Other Tales of Love and Romance.

I am a 5’6″ tall writer. This is a story about how, when I weighed  142 pounds, I was a size 8-10.


And then I lost 30 pounds and now that I weigh 112, I am a size 2-4.


Recreating the previous pose, in my back yard, Thursday afternoon. That’s yesterday, for those of you Dear Readers reading this on Friday.

Yes, as you can see, I have lost  a whole big fat lazy cat’s worth of flubber (foreground, which we call “Lickety”). Since I have mentioned this weight loss before, and a few of you Dear Readers have asked how I did it, today I think it’s time that I shared with you the secret of how I got skinny.

It started with what I call:

The Bounty of the Streets Long Island Diet.

Here’s how it goes: It is dawn at the local Long Island Rail Road Station, and for the commute into Manhattan…


… and the streets offer a breakfast of banana, three tangerines, and half a bottle of orange juice.

Lunch comes in the form of a nutritious and calorie-soncscious hard-boiled egg…


…and for Dinner, YUM! The American classic!:


But of course, I jest. I will resist the urge to digress on the subject of The People of Long Island Are Pigs.

So here’s how I actually lost 30 pounds last year on what I call  The Beige Food Diet.

Here is an ordinary box of Whoppers. I think they are called Malteasers in the UK.


This is a Whopper:


It is a malted milk ball, and it is not at all whopping big — it’s about the size of a marble. I happen to really like Whoppers, but it’s not because of the chocolate. It’s the beige inside of the Whopper that makes it my favorite food:


That’s the malted part of the milk ball. I have no idea what “malted”, or “malt” is, but I love the taste. But of course I didn’t go on the Whopper Diet.

This discussion of Whoppers is what we professional writers call a “teaser”. Or a “lead.” Or “foreshadowing.” I forget which.

It’s how we get a reader’s attention. Are you still with me? So let’s skip ahead to the scientific part of the story, the good news that I long to share with you all:

Back in January/February of 2014, I read about an instant food that was devised by computer guys in Silicon Valley. Nothing says YUM like  Silicon Valley  instant food. So I immediately ordered the starter kit, which  cost $80.00:P1000115

Yes, it’s called Soylent. Those kids in Silicon Valley really know their pop culture.

Turned out that the demand for Soylent is so high that I had to wait six months to get my first shipment.


In your starter kit you get a pitcher, a measuring cup, a booklet all about the instant food you are about to ingest, 8 bags of Soylent, and 8 little bottles of oil mixture:P1000117

This photo above represents 32 meals of Soylent.

A pitcher of Soylent stays good for 48 hours, but I  prefer to mix my Soylent case-by-case. That is, meal by meal.

The way I mix individual portions is I use an old Smuckers organic peanut butter jar.  You have to shake your Soylent mixture  and my old Smuckers organic jar comes with a lid. Fancy!

So, first, I measure out one measuring cup of Soylent powder:


The powder smells insanely wonderful, like cake mix. Sweet, and delicate, and nostalgic.

Then I add 2 teaspoons of oil stuff.  It includes various plant oils and some fish oils, but it does NOT smell or taste “fishy”. In fact, it is as bland as sunflower oil:


Then I add two measuring cups of water:


Then I shake it for 60 seconds to blend it thoroughly:


Add ice cubes and voila: I have a hearty, nutritious meal:


Many people complain about the taste of Soylent, so they doctor it up with flavorings such as banana (barf) or peanut butter (drinkable peanut butter? Oh, puke.) or chocolate. I think they are all crazy. Pure Soylent tastes just like the inside of a Whopper and, in case you haven’t noticed, it LOOKS like it too!

Soylent is my go-to food, and I highly recommend it, but Soylent actually only helped me lose the last 10-12 of my 30 pounds, although it has helped me maintain my current weight of 112 for over a year.

Here’s the real and honest truth.

I do not want to swindle you, my Dear Readers, into thinking that my losing 30 pounds was pure will power on my superhuman part. Who do I think I am? — Nicole “No Botox/I’m Afraid of Surgery” Kidman?

My weight loss  started in January of 2014, when I became very, very, very, very pissed off with Top Cat. My husband is a kind and generous and funny and sexy man and I adore him. But you know how it is, if ever you’ve been married. Every once in a while — in my case, every decade or so (in an eleven-year marriage) — there comes a time when you hate your spouse’s guts so much that you want to turn them into Prometheus just so you can eviscerate them with your bare hands, and then wait overnight for their liver to re-generate, and go back the next day and gorge them with a butter knife and yank out their bloody entrails inch by agonizing inch, and wait overnight so in the morning you can go after them with an ice pick and hack at their bile ducts until they look like hamburger… We’ve all been there, right? Right?

Yes. I was a snarling, adrealine-crazed, vicious, screaming, out-of-control madwoman who was righteously and revengefully furious at her spouse. The only reason i didn’t kill him was because I couldn’t think of a way that I could get away with it.

Well, eventually, the issue got resolved, and I accepted that when I married the love of my life, I did so because  the problems that this adorable, complex, irresistible creature presented were the problems that I chose to make my life meaningful.

However, the good thing is that, because of all this hatred that  I lived and breathed for six weeks, I completely lost my appetite . Most of all, I lost all interest in comfort eating. The whole time  I was in a rage, I  gave not a thought about my darling Rice Krispies Treats, my vanilla Oreos, my Heath Bars, my Sugar Babies, my Milk Duds, my Whoppers, my etc etc etc.

When, before I knew it, I’d lost 20 pounds, I did not let my sweet tooth take hold up again. I turned to Soylent, and an eating plan based on actual need (not want), and here I am. I weigh as much as I did in high school and I am never hungry. And I feel pretty damn good.

My excess 30 pounds wishes all of you a Happy Weekend.






More info about Soylent:

Soylent™ was developed from a need for a simpler food source. Creator Robert Rhinehart and team developed Soylent after recognizing the disproportionate amount of time and money they spent creating nutritionally complete meals.

Soylent is a food product (classified as a food, not a supplement, by the FDA) designed for use as a staple meal by all adults. Each serving of Soylent provides maximum nutrition with minimum effort.

What is Soylent made of? (Hint: It’s not people.)

Carbohydrates — 255g

Protein — 114g

Fatty Acids — 70g

Omega 3 Fatty Acids — 2.5g

Fiber — 27g

Potassium — 3500mg

Sodium — 1050mg

Calcium — 1000mg

Phosphorus — 700mg

Magnesium — 400mg

Vitamin Bp — 1375mg

Vitamin C — 90mg

Vitamin B3 — 16mg

Vitamin E — 15mg

Zinc — 11mg

Iron — 21.5mg

Vitamin B5 — 5mg

Manganese — 2.3mg

For The Mind Readers Amongst Us

Within our group of Dear Readers there are many sub-sets, such as the Band of Bodhisattvas of the Great Pacific Great Northwest, the Self-Sacrificing Servants of the Small Cat, and the 5 o’clock Angels (whose motto is: Wine. Because I’m Worth It.) And then there is the Cluster of Clairvoyants, to whom I dedicate this blog post. They already know why . . . and so will you in about ten paragraphs.

For those of you (none of you, actually) who have been dying to see (living just fine, thank you, without seeing) How I Write, I give you the following series of photographs, carefully staged and bursting with symbolism, of my typical writing day. Hour One:


Hour Two:


Right before the end of Hour Three, when I thought I saw a really big spider or maybe just a weird shadow up on the ceiling and I had to go running and screaming out of the room to find that big stick thing with the thing on the end that will reach up there to the thing but then I thought a fresh cup of tea (or something) would be better to calm my nerves and then I looked at the thing again and decided it was just a weird shadow and I had to go back to thinking of something to write again, which basically has absolutely no chance of being heart-poundingly exciting even if it were a big spider:


Hour Four, and I have been testing my ability to maintain a pulse for oh, about an hour:


Hour Five, awash in regret for every life choice that has led me to this computer screen:


Last week, Dear Reader Melissa left a Comment about the Piece of Toast post kindly advising me to not be such a Scrooge to my Bob Cratchit self about whether or not the tree is a pom-pom or a mushroom. Good point. But to me, the shape of that tree was the whole reason why I wanted to paint that bit of garden in the first place, and if I did’t get that right then the whole picture is fake fake fake and has nothing to do with what I wanted to present. The fact that a painting with a pom-pom tree instead of a mushroom tree still might please others is not my goal as an illustrator…and I’m the same skin-flinting do-over maniac as a writer. I know that, out there in the universe, is the sentence that my soul pines to write, and I will not write a sentence that is almost like the one I want to write.

Hour Six, when I find the word that is not kind of like the one I wanted, but IS the EXACT word I wanted:


It takes but a tapping of seven keystrokes to type The Word (which, for the record, was purling, which you can find in the Key West chapter of the Damn Garden Book, and yes, it’s a dreaded adjective, so sue me):





P.S.  I actually took a break to go look through the manuscript of the Damn Garden Book to find that exact word that I remember as being so satisfying when I finally came up with it because, well, I’m a stickler for accuracy. Whilst perusing the Key West chapter I discovered a typo that made it past three proof reads (for the record, it’s imporatation) and another in the New Orleans chapter that I might be able to get away with. Professional typo-catching is boring challenging, so you can imagine how excruciatingly boring challenging it is when I’m writing for free, as in this blog.  I don’t mind at all being corrected for incorrect word choice, since, you know, words are the tools of my trade (did I really just type that??) but typos, I’m sorry to say, are the price you pay for stopping by my blog, which I write on my time off.

And now

we get to

Top Cat’s Pick

for the winner of

a topiarily-correct Piece of Toast!


And the winner (the suspense is killing me) . . .


The winner is:


Forty-Nine! (That’s Quarante-neuf for the Quebecois Dear Readers amongst us!)

Surprisingly, a whopping three Dear Readers chose the number Forty-Nine (equal to the number of Dear Readers who chose Thirty-Seven, which in my opinion is one of the more comely prime numbers), including a New and Shy Dear Reader Cathy O. For all of those clairvoyants who were on a Forty-Nine vibe, I salute you for figuring out how Top Cat’s mind works.

Two of the very Dearest of Readers, Megan and Deb Mattin, also chose Forty-Nine, and it pains me to have to break the tie by time stamp, but I must, so…

Congratulations, Deb Mattin! You are the winer of a topiarily-correct Piece of Toast! (We’ll be in touch later today.)

Top Cat just stopped in to offer his congratulations to Deb also, and he asked me “What’s up with the owl on your desk?”

“Symbolism,” I said.

“Athena?” he asked. I gave him my Yes, I Married You For Better or Worse look of love and I snorted, “Of course not.”

Don’t kill yourselves trying to figure out what’s up with the owl. His name is Archimedes. For obvious reasons. But I forget what’s up with the Abbey Road poster, except it had something to do with the walrus being Paul. Right?

Have a great weekend, my Dears.