This is how I started almost every day that I was in Paris these past two weeks:
I would go to my local cafe and have a nice little pot of tea with tartine (buttered baguette with jam) and plan my day’s outings with the aid of my outstanding booklet of detailed maps of Paris’ 20 arrondissements, while trying my best to eavesdrop on the colorful regulars. On only my third morning here…
…at Le Nesle brasserie on the tiny dead-end Rue de Nesle in the 6th arrondissement…
…(I never had an evening snack here, only breakfast) the sweet bartender knew that I liked my tea sweet and he automatically put six extra sugar cubes on my saucer. I really enjoyed the crowd at the Nesle (pronounced “Nell” when you’re talking to French people, but pronounced “Nestle” when you’re talking to yourself).
One day the boys were trying to remember the name of the actor who played Columbo on TV. Another day they were talking about how few French people went to the Champs Elysees to watch the President lay a wreath under the Arc de Triomph in honor of VE Day this year:
I like it that street cleaners pop in at Le Nesle for a cup of espresso between rues:
And I really like it when Bobo shows up:
Bobo runs into Le Nesle as if the Le Nesle is THE BEST PLACE EVER FOR A DOG TO BE!!!!!!!! and he sniffs everyone at the bar, accepting Good Morning pats from his fans, and then he follows his owner outside to a table on the sidewalk:
That’s a good place to say Bonjour to friends and neighbors passing by:
It is against the law to smoke inside a cafe in Paris, so smokers have to sit out on the sidewalk…
…which is why I did not sit outside, ever, at any cafe in Paris even thought that meant I missed sitting with Bobo and his human. Also, it was mostly cold and drizzly while I was in Paris and I like to be warm and dry.
Away from Le Nesle, my very top highest Tea Priority was to make a visit to Mariage Freres, the Brothers Mariage, known as the Princes of French Tea, in the 4th arrondissement:
The fragrance of adventure and poetry endlessly pervade each cup of tea, worte Henri Mariage, one of the brothers who founded Marriage Freres in 1854.
This shop, at 30-32 Rue de Bourg-Tibourg, is deliberately old-fashioned in its operations as both a tea retailer and as a Salon de The.
The staff, which is young, male, and dressed in white linen suits, gives you a tea-buying experience straight out of the 19th century.
Upstairs, there’s even a little Tea Museum.
The decor of the Marriage Salon de The is totally J. Peterman Colonial…
…with lots of wicker and rattan and palms…
…with the Art Deco clock that says it’s always Tea Time:
The tea menu is eight pages long…
…but I already knew what I wanted:
My pot of Vanille des Isles came with a book about L’Art Francois du The in case I wanted to cram on The French Art of Tea while my Vanilla of the Islands steeped. I got a kick out of the little shovel in the sugar bowl, and the sugar that looked like teeny bits of rock candy. What can I say? I was born in Montana, so some part of me will always be a hick.
The service was very professional, not warm but not condescending either, and nobody reprimanded me with their typically French horror of being photographed in a public place until after I’d already got all the photos I wanted anyway. There are actual laws in France forbidding people to take photos of people in public places without their permission, and I hardly ever ask permission — especially if I think they will say Non. This attitude of mine irritates some French people’s last nerve, which I soothe by apologizing in fluent French while giving them a big dumb American smile. Now, you might be surprised to learn this, but there are some French people who do not give photo-happy American tourists a break because they are just out-and-out snots and I know this for a fact because I had to travel all the way out to the “seedy” 19th arrondissement to bring you this tea story:
This is the boulangerie at 83 Rue de Crimee of award-winning female baker Veronique Mauclerc:
From a review in Elle magazine: This neighborhood boulangerie is killer [awesome]! In particular, their caramel pastry is worth the trek [to the "seedy 19th arrondissement]. It’s my Proustian experience. I’d go back on a scooter just for those caramels. Or something close to that.
In her so-called Salon de The, Veronique Mauclerc offers a degustation (tasting menu) of her breads (it’s spelled out right there, on her ardois/blackboard) for about $15:
When I arrived at 10:30 on a Tuesday morning, there wasn’t a single customer in the shop but the middle-aged sales person, standing with her hands clasped behind her back, still seemed overworked as she wearily answered my inquiry as to the possibility of partaking of a degustation. After some pointed questioning on my part I got her to admit that yes, they do serve tea and bread in the salon, which she indicated by a flip of her shoulder was in the back of the shop.
The Salon de The is a single wooden table in a hallway between the shop and the oven — one of only four remaining traditional wood-burning bread-baking ovens left in Paris. The couple shown here were just finishing their coffee and rolls and were very gracious about making room for me while they gathered their things to leave. The place was now empty except for me, the customer, and the passive-agressive shop assistant.
It was while I was photographing this famous wood-burning bread-baking oven that I heard the shop assistant mumble something about “photographie”. That’s right: she literally said it behind my back. So I put the camera away and settled into a chair, awaiting my own Proustain experience with France’s most famous female bread maker. And I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And it dawns on me that I’m being iced. I have transgressed the unwritten law of Paris snots, Thou Shalt Not Be American, and I’m never getting service, no matter how long I wait, or if I do I can’t be sure there won’t be spit in my tea.
So I gather my things and walk to the front of the shop and I say to the shop lady, in English “I guess it’s too inconvenient for you to do your job, bitch,” and I leave. I head to the metro station and as I turn the corner I see this:
It’s busy and noisy and fast-paced…
…the shop assistants are very helpful in answering customer questions about the types of bread they make on the premises and as I wait to pay for my pain chocolate I see that the ovens are behind the glass wall and they are just about to roll in a tray of baguettes. I say OH! Les baguettes! And I raise my camera…
…and the shop assistant yells to the baker: “Yannick! the lady wants to take your picture!” And Yannick goes:
I take the photo and I holler to Yannick, in English, “Thank you!” And Yannick waves back and calls out: “Sank you!”
Artisan Boulanger Bio, 62 Rue d’Hautpoul. Yo, Veronique Maclerc: This is how you run a bakery, bitch.
When I went for tea at the famous Cafe Le Select on the Boulevard Montparnasse that forms the border between the 6th and the 14th arrondissements…
…the head waiter showed me where I could find Rick, the American artist who sketches in the cafe every day…
…and the banquette where I can find Mickey, the 20-year old house cat who rules the roost at Cafe Le Select:
The tea is always good in Paris cafes because they have machines that get the water really hot hot hot. I like that.
I can not look at the crowd at Cafe Le Select…
…without thinking of the wonderful book that Rick Tulka drew about Cafe Le Select…
…called Paris Cafe: The Select Crowd:
You can read about Rick and see his art by clicking on this link…
…or you can meet him at Cafe Le Select (with fellow blogger and Friend of Rick, Carol Gillott of Paris Breakfasts:
Meanwhile, back in the corner banquette, look who else has also showed up for work — ordered his coffee, opened his lap top, spread a towel next to him so that Mickey will sit within purring distance…
(He was French and not a big talker or else I’d have more info to give you about this Monsieur, but he’s clearly One Of Us, seeing as how he brings a towel and all.)
And then it was off to Giverny…
…where my sweet room at the B&B (Coin des Artists, which used to be the village grocery store in Monet’s day ) came with a tea service at my disposal…
…but I didn’t make tea in my room, preferring the great stuff that came with breakfast…
…(note that those chairs are copies of the chairs in Monet’s diningroom) and the Happy Hour that came with a happy friend named Toddy…
…whose ears you see in the center of this photo of my other favorite beverage:
On one of the three days that I spent in Giverny I walked 4 kilometers to the neighboring town of Vernon…
…to research Monet’s life in Normandy, and to reward myself with afternoon tea at Cafe Globe:
Cafe Globe was filled with lots of local French people such as these two gentlemen:
Even though the couple sitting next to me were Americans with their Rick Steves’ Guide to France I really enjoyed my tea time at the Globe and here’s why: When the old guy in the background of the preceding photo shuffled up to the bar to pay for his lunch I asked him if it would bother him if I took a photo of his jacket:
Mais non, he said: I wear this because les Americans were the heros of my childhood. Then, because he was so proud of his system for the portage of cash, he made a lengthy exhibition to the barman about how he keeps his money in his hat, which looks as if it’s from The French Foreign Legion, and I didn’t get to ask him for more info about how he got his jacket because I was laughing too hard about his hat.
Normans. They are a separate breed of French. I was reminded of this on my last day in Giverny, when I stopped in at the famous Hotel Baudy, the old hangout when Monet was still alive and this village was crawling with young artists who wanted to be Impressionists when they grew up:
This is a very lively place with a huge lunch crowd and an enormous dinner crowd made up of the tourists who day trip to Monet’s garden. I had my 2:30 tea in the front room, where the bar is, which is in effect a front row seat to the three ring circus that is Hotel Baudy…
…where I could keep my eye on everyone who came for lunch…
…or came in for a quick cup of coffee, like these honeymooners from Spain:
This American lady took their place and I watched as she sounded out the menu, and then adjusted her scarf so the Hermes logo was visible:
I didn’t like her at all. Then a village regular came in for his kind of amber-colored eau de vie, which was served in a wine glass:
He had ripped trousers, scuffed shoes, and was in need of a haircut — he looked just like Monet before the world fell in love with his haystacks (when he was poor and undiscovered)!!!!
And here is where I bagged that rarest of photographic feats when stalking the Frenchman on his native turf:
I caught him doing the Gallic Shrug!!
And now, in order to keep up with this thrilling saga one tea cup at a time, we much whisk ourselves to Marrakech.
Specifically, to the Casbah :
On a rue called Tadla (which looks exactly like all the other rues in the casbah which is why I always got lost whenever I went out and could only found my way back by accident and slow process of trial and error):
The Riad (Morrocan home with interior courtyard garden) Orangers d’Alilia was my home base in Marrakech — that’s the French woman, Madame Joelle, who runs it, dressed in white:
It was under the orange trees in the small inner courtyard….
…where Fatima welcomed me to Morocco with a much-needed cup of tea. I’d had a busy morning in Paris, then schlepped to the airport and been stuffed on a full plane (Easy Jet) that was the most claustrophobic experience I’d ever had, and now it was almost seven o’clock at night and I was nervous about traveling in Marrakech on my own. It was good to calm my nerves with a cup of mint tea.
There were little russet-colored birdies who flew into the riad to sit in the orange trees and sing. I gave crumbs of my biscotti to them. Now I know why old ladies feed the birds. It’s because they are lonely.
I would highly recommend this riad to any traveler.
I did not expect such understated luxury in Marrakech, or rose petals on the bed…
Mint tea is OK for certain social situations any time after high noon or for calming nerves in the early evening , but I need a real tea when it really counts — at breakfast. For those times, Carol Gillot had given me a stash of India tea lightly flavored with vanilla which I brewed in a little silver pot of just-boiled water:
To make the most of my 48 hours in Morocco I had arranged on Day One to spend the morning at the Majorelle Garden and then travel 20 kilometers to the west of Marrakech to meet a Peace Corps volunteer in a village called Tameslouht:
When I got off the bus I realized that we had not arranged any specific meeting point in Tameslouht, but it was very easy to locate Sara by asking around the village for “The American”. A young womb working at the new community center knew exactly who “The American” was and she graciously made a telephone call to Sara, and while I waited for her I was given a tour of the center’s facilities, which included classrooms for adult education in literacy, sewing, and weaving — as well as two rooms of little kids in day care:
They were told to Say Bonjour to the lady — which they did, in unison, while staring at me like I was a unicorn. CUUUUUUUUTE. Then I singed their VIP Visitor’s Book and Sara came to collect me.
Sara Quinn has a blog about her Peace Corps experience — you can read it by clicking here — and she took me to the home of the President of the Women’s Craft Association of Tameslouht to inspect the many things they create (subject of a future post). German travelers Wilhelm and Ursula were also checking out the array of clothing and accessories and we all drank tea with Sara and Zenib and Sara’s darling Moroccan fiance, Mustafa:
Then Sara took us on a tour of her town.
The next day, Sara traveled to meet me in Marrakech to guide me around the souk (market) and the Djemma El Fna (main square, where the snake charmers and the storytellers convene) and other insider points of interest but we did not have tea so those stories don’t belong here, except for the part where I tell you that Sara is the cutest damn Peace Corps Volunteer ever:
I flew out of Marrakech that evening, arriving in Paris IN A REALLY BAD MOOD at midnight. I was so pissed off that I didn’t even photograph the “tea” that was served at breakfast at the hotel I stayed at in Orly Airport.
The next decent cup of tea I had was back at Carol Gillott’s apartment in the 15th arrondissement — I had searched high and low all over Paris for my favorite patisserie — Pithivier! — and found it right across the street . I’d caught Carol in the act of painting a chocolate Religieuse there, in the background, so this is a tea cup still life that I call One Paints and The Other Doesn’t:
I’d got an email from a dear blog reader, Laura, about the cafe in the 6th arrondissement that I’d photographed for you two weeks ago — Le Conti. Laura had always thought this cafe was a figment of the imagination but non, it’s real — so for her I made this one of my last cups of tea:
I was instructed, by Laura, to ask about a resident terrier named Orson. Ah, Orson!, the handsome young barman said, “Orson n’est plus d’ici — his owner took him to live on his parents’ farm. Hmmmmm….
I wonder if “sent to live on a farm” means in France what it means in America?
My time in Paris was coming to an end now, and to understand this next cup of tea you must know that my days in Paris had a purpose that I have not discussed with you, dear readers. I had set myself the task of visiting every arrondissement — 20 in all — to fulfill a Wish List (of unusual sights, experiences, personalities) that has taken me five years to put together. It was much, much more physically challenging and mentally exhausting than I’d anticipated. But I’d always planned to end the quest with a big splurge cup of tea in the ultra ritzy 8th arrondissement, as a reward for accomplishing a difficult task.
It was a cold, rainy day and I didn’t bother to wear the dress shoes that I’d packed or this occasion and I don’t have to tell you that after two weeks on the road my hair was a fright — I was a total mess. Still, when I went to both Le Bristol hotel (room rates start at $800 at night) and the Georges V (as I walked in Robin Thicke was strutting out) I was met with extraordinary courtesy. I inspected their tea rooms and menus (both charge 48 euro for Afternoon Tea — that’s about $60) and found them both lacking: the teas at Le Bristol were all very perfumy and came with a rack of pastries that I didn’t have any interest in; the teas at the Georges V were better and the pastries were not as froofy, but there was a piano player banging away in the salon which I found extremely annoying.
I was feeling depressed. Did I mention the cold, and the rain? And that I was fatigued with travel, Paris, myself, and my loneliness? I had wanted this quest to end with a nice big India tea bang and it wasn’t happening.
Then I noticed that right next door to the Georges V was the Prince of Wales hotel. Just as luxe, only open for five days after a two-year long renovation. The hospitality was exquisitely warm and professional, and the tea menu was outstanding. I sank into a leather sofa and ordered Tuareg Tea.
Well, I did ask beforehand if Tuareg Tea was the same kind of tea that I remembered drinking with Tuaregs when I was in the Peace Corps in Niger. Yes, I was told — it’s a black tea served tres sucre (very sugary). It wasn’t. It was a hay-tasting mild tea (did I mention that they’d only been opened for five days? Still working out the bugs)…but I was so grateful for the comfort and quality of the service, and so happy that I wasn’t forced to buy pastries I wouldn’t eat, that I did not go into my usual high dudgeon. I sat contentedly and sang to myself along with the soothing background music, Frank and Nancy Sinatra (Something Stupid) and Dusty Springfield (The Look of Love)…
…and watched people drink champagne cocktails…
…and chatted with the young hostess (that’s her, in the while collar and cuffs) about her childhood in Senegal…
…and wished I had those lighting fixtures in the form of the three feathers of the Prince of Wales….
They would totally work in my dining room.
No, it’s not over yet. There’s one more cup of tea, the one I had after a lunch of pate and baguette and classic onion soup on my last day in Paris, in a hot trendy bistro in the Marais called Les Philosophes.
They had the grace to serve Mariage Freres tea, a perfect way to redeem a trip that was feeling, at this point, like it was two or three days too long. It was still raining and cold and I was tired of Paris but I was GOING HOME!
As I type this, I’ve been home for about 46 hours. I have bought new curtains for the dining room and went on a shopping quest to re-accessorize the kitchen in shades of lime and apple green with a few gun metal and bamboo accents. I’ve ordered French cafe curtains from Williams Sonoma. I’ve been busy. Jet lag gives me a lot of nervous energy but also, I’ve become used to a frantic pace of life (that 20 Arrondissement TO DO List was a massive project that required ten hour days of TO DO-ing) . That’s my excuse for the length of this post — hope you enjoyed your trip in my Tea World!
There are two ways to see Monet’s garden at Giverny. You can see it from ground level…
..or you can climb a hill and see it from above. Either way…
…it’s quite a sight.
It’s been chilly here in Normandy, that is when the sun isn’t shining and warming you to your tootsies — those clouds can turn a refreshing Spring breeze into a frigid bone-chilling gust. Some people are even wearing Winter coats but I get by very well with my Seattle fleece jacket. Yes, Giverny is a tourist trap, but not a TOTAL tourist trap. I stayed for my first two nights at a delightful B&B but had to move to the town’s only hotel (a large group of Russians were booked for arrival at the B&B) and while I had the company of a chow named Toddy at the B&B when I took my well deserved Friday evening aperitif…
…there are no such furry ears at the hotel.
You know I will tell you in full all about Giverny when I get back to my desk on Long Island and off this f*#€€**! iPad, but you already know that while my body might be in France (actually, it’s in Marrakech at this point) my heart is still in my little workroom back home.
This is my butcher-block desk (it’s really only an old kitchen table my sister gave me 20 years ago) which is situated in front of two south-facing windows. The most important feature of this set up is the chair: I sit in a child’s chair, the seat of which is only 13 inches above the floor. This puts me at just above eye-level with the top of my desk, which is very important for the close-up, miniature-sized painting I do.
Before I started to illustrate my books, this set up was very familiar to me from my years as the watch and clock expert at Christie’s auction house (my job before I got promoted to Faberge). Horologists also work on itty bitty bits (watch parts are veeeeeeeerrrrrryyyyy small) :
So watchmakers sit at specially-made furniture that has a desk top that is about a foot higher than a normal table:
But since I don’t have a watchmaker’s desk — I just have an old kitchen table — I have lowered my seat to make like an horologist when I paint.
That photograph of my desk shows me working on a garden illustration from my Key West photo album, which I will show you at the end of this post.Before I go further, I must tell you that while I was photographing the 4 corners of my workroom I was moving Coco, in her cat bed on her chair in the middle of the room, to keep her out of camera range…and she was so much a part of this post that I totally forgot to take a photo of HER and now I’m in France and can’t do nothin about it.
I keep my photo albums and diaries and notebooks filed away in my closet:
I started a special Garden Book book shelf in there for handy reference. I also have loads of loose photos, filed in shoeboxes in a special blue bookcase:
Those binders that you see on top of my photo/shoe boxes are the various Books-in-Progress of original art work that (so far) doen’t have a home in a published book. Those binders are too tall to fit in any regular bookcase, so I found a darling little bedside bookcase that I turned on its side and stacked on top of my sweet little blue bookcase. I have a large bulletin board on the left. Joan Rivers has very good advice about growing old: Never keep photos of your younger self on display around the house…but I have two 8″ x 10″ black and white photos of me on my wall, from my Peace Corps days, because in my mind I’m still 26. I have two more bookcases stacked up to the right, where I keep tea cups and birds’ nests … on the wall in the background there is a map of a road trip through New England that I painted many moons ago. I will have more to say about my love of making hand-made maps in a bit.
But this is my favorite wall, the Wall of Feathers:
Most of these feathers are treasures that I have found over the years, some of them are gifts from my Dear Readers, all of them represent to me my idea of wealth…
…the same way that Top Cat’s idea of rich is this:
This is firewood that Top Cat chopped himself, and why he has a soft spot for Hurricane Sandy as an outstanding delivery mechanism for excellent quality raw material for his wood chopping hobby. Top Cat loves to chop wood.
It was while I was snapping photos of my workroom for this tour that I came upon some old art projects that I haven’t looked at in years:
I have a box full of old embroidery projects — before I ever painted a garden, I used to sew them all the time. I put a few of my embroidered gardens in my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam:
If you’ll notice, each of those gardens has a black and white tuxedo cat in them; that’s because for many years I put my sweet cat Woody Robinson in every garden I sewed. He was even in this one (on the right):
Only, in order to see him you have to see the entire garden:
I ripped out all the stitches in that gate that appears at the bottom of this piece because it is not the real gate to this garden and after I’d sewn it I felt dishonest for putting in an imaginary structure. This is actually the walled herb garden of the Geffrye Museum in London and you gain access to it through the door that I painted on page 78 (of Wanderers, if you’re reading along, above).
But there’s plenty more embroidered gardens where those came from:
And then there is this:
That’s a tea bag over by Florida’s Fountain of Youth, for scale. This is the one and only “quilt” I ever made, for a quilting contest in 1992. The theme was America, if I remember correctly, and I love to make maps so this was right up my alley. It was a national competition and I won a third place in Mixed Media and this “quilt” was published in a national magazine. Country Home, I believe.
In this map “quilt” of America I put ll the various historical / ethnic references that I though were indicative of the various regions. In Middle America I put a baseball diamond, to represent The Field of Dreams in the approx. area of Iowa. For Texas and the Southwest I did Mexican-style reverse appliqué and I embroidered Central American creatures and then I did some Navajo spirits and a Plains Indian head dress. For the West Coast I put a Japanese bridge with cherry blossom plus a nifty Chinese dragon…
…which I have to say is the best thing I ever embroidered. In the Ohio Valley / Pennsylvania / Original 13 Colonies area I put an early American sampler-style thing:
Yes, that’s a shamrock in the Carolinas.
In New England I did an appliqué cornucopia, to represent the first Thanksgiving in Massachusetts colony:
To represent African Americans I did West Africa embroidery and put in some Zulu shields:
I had never done any kind of appliqué before I did this “quilt” and so I am particularly proud of this appliqué eagle that fills the Great Pacific Great NorthWest:
This “quilt” is 100% sewn by hand. Not one stitch was done on a sewing machine. I even appliquéd the entire map by hand, sewing it onto a backing with a stitch that I invented (it’s like a buttonhole stitch, kid of) and then I stuffed it with polyester fill to make it “quilty”. People used to look at my stitching and say that they were so perfect that it looked like a machine did it, and they meant it as a compliment.
People who knew me as an embroiderer always used to assume that I approved of the cross stitch. I loathe, hate, and despise the cross stitch. If it’s not in a sampler made before 1850 please do not mention it to me. Cross stitching a stamped pattern is the lowest form of embroidery, the lowest level of “craft”, and I am very judgmental about people who cross stitch. I don’t like needlepoint either, but I can see more artistry in it than cross stitch.
I’ll admit it: I used to be a great embroiderer. But oh lordy, it used to take weeks and months to do one single garden and I used to get cramps in my hand from holding onto a needle for 10 hours at a time, so I gave it up. And now I paint.
And now, after almost nine years of painting, I am getting to a level where most of my watercolors don’t stink (I said most: I hope you saw last week’s post where I show how easy it is for me, still, to paint something putrid.)
Here’s my Watercolor of the Week, the garden of Key West that I was painting in the very beginning of this post:
I’ll be back on home turf next week, blogging more or less “live”, bringing you the sights from Paris, Giverny, and Marrakech. See you then!
If at first you don’t succeed, or if at second, third, and fourth you don’t succeed (see above) then pour yourself a nice big gin and tonic and sit around listening to sad songs (I prefer old Motown, the Temptations Since I Lost My Baby and the like) and feel sorry for yourself and seriously consider writing novels (ewwwwwwwwwww) or anything that doesn’t require having to come up with *$#**! illustrations and then take two aspirin AND START OVER AGAIN.
Yes, dear readers, I preloaded my post today before I went to France and it’s a good thing I did because it turns out that I hate blogging on my iPad with a PASSION but before we continue with our previously recorded program (still in NOLA, watercoloristically speaking) here are some pics I took on the aforementioned iPad to show you the beautiful weather in Paris:
My hotel room in the 6th arrondisement came with this:
I took these pics with my ipad and boy do I hate blogging on this thing. So that’s all the Paris I can give you for now, but do read my friend at www.parisbreakfasts.blogspot.com for her report on my arrival on her home (Paris) turf!
For today please enjoy the following tale of watercolor redemption, and take heart. Sometimes it’s necessary to paint ugly in order to get to the beautiful part.
Which reminds me. We have some unfinished business concerning last week’s ugly:
I did go back and re-do it:
The problem, it dawned on me after four really awful attempts at painting a most beautiful Fragrance Garden in New Orleans (see above), was that I had gotten hold of the wrong concept. My original idea for this Fragrance Garden was that it was the rare garden whose delicately scented parts were better than its over-all whole, so I thought I would illustrate it in a way that conveyed this feature, by painting it in patchwork bits, or glimpses, in a format that I call a “squint”.
The format had worked well for me throughout Le Road Trip, where I used squints frequently:
These squints – the long, narrow strips of paintings that I used (above) were a lot of fun to do and I think they are vey successful when it came to illustrating France. For the Damn Garden Book I had planned on using vertical squints, rather than the horizontal ones in Le Road Trip:
This is my thumbnail sketch for a two-page layout using vertical squints. But as you can see (way above, those crappy 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th attempts) it was NOT working for me in regards to this fabulous New Orleans garden I was trying to #**@!! paint.
And then I realized that I’d gotten the wrong point of view. Not only were the squints not going to work, but I’d been painting the garden from a very boring full-frontal point of view. You see, the most important feature of this garden path that I’d been trying to paint is the garden gate that had been imported from France, but I’d been depicting it straight-on:
Oh lordy, this stinks. It does no justice to the story I am trying to tell about this garden. It looks fake fake fake fake.
Luckily, when I was visiting this garden in New Orleans, I had taken many reference photos of this gate so I went back to the drawing board and re-did this gate from an entirely different perspective:
(I didn’t notice that cat hair on the drawing until just now. Sorry about that.)
So let us begin again.
First, I apply masking fluid with my trusty toothpick in the itty bitty bits:
I use the tip of a paintbrush to apply the masking fluid over the bigger bits:
When I failed to draw a pleasing mulberry tree branch in the upper right hand corner the first time…
…I erased it and drew it again, but it was still too gormless to keep:
So on the third attempt I got a decent-looking branch drawn, and I sketched in leaves.
I put masking fluid on those leaves and I’ve ever done this before and I have no idea how it will turn out. We’ll see. But I’m already a bit discouraged. This picture as given me a lot of trouble and I’m in a bad mood. So, while the masking fluid dries, I go make myself a cup of tea.
I want a fancy-colored sky here because this illustration is more about mood (it’s New Orleans, baby!) than meteorology.
Quickly, I do the wet-in-wet background foliage:
Even when the paper is only damp, you can get nice little bleeds:
For brick work I mix two colors of Grumbacher paints with two colors (brown and burnt sienna) of Windsor Newton, for richness:
See how there’s a Triscuit in the middle of this picture?
For the Tahitian Dawn Bougainvillea in the foreground I dab pink, orange, and red in wet blobs:
I lay down a base color for the garden path:
The stuff behind the garden gate will be tricky:
I forget the name of these beautiful flowers, but they are big pom poms of bluey-pink:
So far, so good. Now, all I have to do…
…is peel off the masking fluid and not screw up the gate.
To heighten the rich brown color of the wooden gate I mix blue…
…and brown directly on my paintbrush…
…so when I apply it to the paper I get a wonderful bluey-browness here:
Now for those mulberry leaves, which I have no idea what I’m doing, I pray to the big DoG that I won’t blow it this late in the game:
Exhale. They look OK.
For the lantern I intend to use an old trick I’ve been using for years.
You have to use Grumbacher paints for this trick, because you need the chalk that makes their colors so matte. I first apply a layer of yellow Grumbacher, and then I make an edge of darker orange and I let it dry thoroughly:
Using very clean water, I then use a wet brush to pick up the paint in the center:
And we are DONE:
I hope you can see how the lantern “glows” from the way I “erased” a bit of the yellow/orange paints. I decided to leave certain planes of the garden gate white — that is, blank paper — because I think the white bits make its unusual shape pop more this way. It’s also very attention-getting and this gate is really the subject of this picture in the first place.
Oh yes, I am much happier with this point of view than the one I tried, and tried, and tried, and tried to make work before. Right?
I will still be on the road next Friday, so there won’t be a “live” post here, but I could maybe take you on a tour of my work space / studio, which is where I keep my paints, paper, feathers, files, and threads:
Yes, long before I painted gardens, I used to embroider them.
So if this sounds interesting to you please leave a Comment below…or otherwise I’ll just wait until my return on May 24 to throw something together if I’m not toooooooo jet lagged. Studio tour? Yes or No?
In addition to painting a big ole New Orleans French Quarter vue this week we will also be catching up on important issues of the day which includes the recent appearance of a possible new member of our herd of backyard cats:
No, that’s not a new Wanderer, that’s just good ole house cat Penelope playing Goldilocks in Top Cat’s tomato seedling planters in the living room. Please note that she started her bed-hopping with the planter of special cat-snack grass that was grown just for her (which Penelope didn’t snack on as much as she parked her butt in). Carol, who mentioned “cats with jobs” in her Comment last week: No, smooshing house plants is not in Penelope’s job description. I think this is what is known in corporate circles as “added value”.
Here’s what I want you to see re: herd news :
This handsome fella has shown up on the back patio for breakfast a few days this past week in spite of the fact that Bibs and Taffy get all North Korean on his ass every time they see him. I call him Newton. Hey Newton, if you’re reading this, I got some cat nip just for you (at the end of a Have-A-Heart trap).
The other News that I want to weigh in on is this:
Good on you, Justin Collins, I know you’re raising consciousness throughout the land and lordy knows there are way too many people sleep-walking in our society. Now, I get most of my news from a conservative right-wing London on-line newspaper (American newspapers just don’t keep up with Posh Spice and Russell Brand like I need )so I when read the Comments to this news item I found the usual number of postings from other U.S. reader blaming it all on Obama but also some Comments about how boring this “news” is (which is better than hostility, non?) but mostly the Comments were overwhelmingly supportive. Good on you, people of the world, for evolving. However, I salute one particular Commentor for his keen sensibility and profound humanity which he articulated in a Comment that stands out for representing an entirely unique and thought-provoking perspective on this culture-shifting event. That Comment was, in its entirety: Are those his real teeth?
And lastly, I just want to go on the record and say that I never liked Ann Curry . I find her really annoying and fake and needy. Whew. I’ve wanted to shout this out to the world since 1997. I really can’t stand her.
Now, what is this I hear (from Rachel and Sarahsbooks in Comments to last week’s post) about The Bed-book of Travel??? First of all, I thought I had written the bed-book of travel…
(No, that’s not the book I wrote — these are bedside tables made of books, which is a very awful idea and nobody better do that to MY book.) I thought I’d already written the travel book that was made for bed-side reading…
…but it seems that somebody else, namely Richardson Wright, beat me to it in the 1930s:
The Bed-book of Travel is a collection of short pieces to be read (preferably in bed or berth) by those who have been places, those who are going somewhere, and those who have wanted to go; Together with seven travelers’ tales. This book is now very rare and the one copy I found on-line last week for sale for $70 is already gone. I snoozed and loosed because I spent a few days mulling over this purchase, wondering if I really wanted to read this book seeing as how, if it turned out to be soooooo much better a bed-side travel book than mine, I will want to quit writing/illustrating bed-side books forever.
But the book that I really dread reading is this one:
This is Richardson Wright’s 1929 Bed-book about gardening (in paperback re-print from The Modern Library) which I bought am awaiting delivery and if it’s half as good as its reviews say it is I AM TOAST. And not a nice slice of hot-buttered whole wheat served with a steaming cup of Assam tea kind of toast, nope. I mean a hunk of cardboard-like salt-free rancid Melba that’s been sitting in the cupboard leaning on the stack of Size D batteries waiting for cassette playing boom boxes to come back in style kind of toast.
I wanted my Damn Garden Book to be THE go-to gardening book for reading in bed…but if it’s already been done I might as well retire my paintbrushes and take up something useful.
Like waitressing. Ooooo!! I know just where I’d run to:
Yes, I know that waitressing at a beloved New Orleans institution like Cafe du Monde would be more physically demanding than being the pale imitation of Richardson Wright the classic bed-side book writer …
(I was backstage at Cafe du Monde when I visited NOLA last month and I saw how crazy hectic it gets)
…but I think the handsomeness of certain customers could be, how do you say … energizing:
What can I say? I could go for a lawyer-type citizen of The Crescent City who shares my deep love for powdered sugar.
Also, as I imagined how perfect my life would be if I lived in the French Quarter with Cafe de Monde within crawling distance and open 24 hours a day, I had to look long and nostalgically at this guy to make sure he wasn’t Will Smith c. Independence Day 1996, taking a picture of his beignets with a historically inaccurate iPhone:
And then there was this guy, looking all 007-ish:
Those international men of mystery are so hard to photograph while I’m trying to act natural around and avoid eye contact with so he won’t know I am making him my sugar-fueled Cafe du Monde Crush of the Day :
But nothing brings me back to the best of all possible worlds i.e., real life, with more non-powdered-sugar-based bliss than seeing my own personal Sean Connery / Top Cat do his French Quarter Dance:
Ah, Love of my Life, nobody does a Grateful Dead-inspired free-form solo version of Zydeco Swing like you:
Those 007′s are hard to photograph when you are laughing too hard over your stupid good fortune in finding such a fancy-stepping international man of mystery to call your own. xxoo.
Well, seeing as how I am not yet a reclusive former bed-side travel / gardening book writer illustrator, I better get with the travel / gardening book illustrating. It’s time to do New Orleans!
This is the pencil sketch for the full-page illustration that will start the NOLA chapter. It is designed so I can drop text into the middle of it. It is rare (never) that I use a ruler to draw a scene but in this case it was unavoidable with all those necessary straight lines of wrought iron railings and all those pesky perspective lines to get right. To answer Laura’s question from last week, I never attempt to erase pencil lines once I’ve put watercolor over them. It’s impossible to erase thru the pigment. Most times, tho, I don’t mind seeing a little bit of pencil in a painting because it is a ver authentic part of painting.
When it comes to erasing the watercolor, however, I have been known to use a nail file to clean up very small bits.
First, I painted in a quick bit of background architecture in pale blue, to represent a white building in bright sunlight (which will become more evident later in the painting):
Dab in the background greenery:
Working wet-in-wet I dab in the pale greens and add detail until I like the shape of the foliage:
Commentor Judy Jennings asked about getting “natural” shades of green. To tell you the truth, all my greens are unnatural in that I edit nature all the time. My shades and hues are mostly close to the scene that I’ve observed, but if I need to lighten bits up and darken others for the sake of the picture, I do it. I also edit the shape of foliage all the time — see above. I make it a pleasing shape for my composition first, and true to nature second.
My biggest guess regarding Judy’s question about getting a “natural” paint color is that you must always keep your water CLEAN. I constantly dump out my water and get clean fresh stuff. Especially if I am going to mix yellows into green I always get a brand new glass of water. And if I have to work wet-in-wet with lots of yellows AND greens I have two glasses of water handy, one for rinsing the yellow brush-fulls and one for rinsing the green brush-fulls.
For shadows I use blue with a bit of burnt umber mixed in it instead of black or grey:
Now I use masking fluid to cover the table and chairs so I can cut loose with the stuff I want to paint behind them:
While waiting for the masking fluid to become bone-dry, I do the middle-ground stuff:
I pretend the table and chairs aren’t there and paint the railing-drapping greenery right over the masking fluid:
I could never do this without masking fluid. Well, I could, but it would either look bad or would take me forever to paint:
Peel off masking fluid, paint what is revealed underneath:
Even down to the stems of the wine glasses, which I measured or you and are three millimeters high:
Take a look, and add whatever else this picture needs:
Not there yet::
I bumped up the shadow interest by adding purple and it’s brighter in person than this photo shows. Remember, text will be dropped into the middle of it, which is why there’s a “dead” area there.
P.S. I will probably have to do this over again. I learned a lot from this first go-round, and there are things that I know I would do better in version 2.0. C’est la vie.
So now I’m off for two weeks in France: Paris and Giverny; then to Marrakech to see the Majorelle Garden. To give you a preview of the two posts that I have for you in the queue, next week we will see how I manage to paint four really, really, really, really hidious stoooopid pictures of my New Orleans Fragrance Garden…
…before I happily get it right finally (no, that’s not it above — this picture above stinks!!!!) ; and then the week after that I give you a tour of the knicks and knacks of my workspace:
I will have my iPad with me in France etc. and Carol of the highly chic, fabulously popular Paris Breakfast blog is going to show me how to post from any cafe … so I might be able to send you all a few pictures and a quick update while I’m on the road.
How much you want to bet that what I post will be photos of great French cats?
P.S. Comments on this post will close after five days (nothing personal; it’s the spam, and closing Comments after five days keeps the spam to a manageable level of about 3,000 messages per week) so, if you’re reading this on Wednesday or later, please join us again on the following Friday. Merci mucho.
Isn’t that why we paint? Or is that why we travel? Or both? This week’s watercolor demonstration will be all about escape — because you know what they say: painting your dream hidden garden is almost as good as escaping into your dream hidden garden. I’ve been back from New Orleans a whole week but I’m still under the spell of that city’s magical private tropical sanctuaries…
…especially since it is still cold (still cranking up my electric blankie at night, and dressing in fleece from head to toe during the day) and dismal (rain today, and yesterday, and tomorrow) here on Long Island. Ahhhh, to be back in the French Quarter…
…where every cup of tea is full of possibilities, both psychic…
And as if that weren’t enough bliss to get you through the day, the Quarter also has a fantastic book store culture. I started my Book Shop Quest with Beckham’s Books on Decatur Street:
First things first. Before I paid any attention to the books I had to get a good picture of the book shop cat, Juniper:
Who, of course, was not going to help me one bit.
You’ll notice that while not running away altogether, Juniper did everything possible to stay out of focus.
There’s ten more photos of more of the same blurry cat-like object…and even some pix of a disappeared cat:
So let’s focus on the sure thing at Beckham’s Books: GREAT BOOKS!
Finding this on my first day in New Orleans was the omen that convinced me that this was going to be the best New Orleans trip ever:
I already treasure my copies of The Silent Traveler in Paris and The Silent Traveler in Edinburgh – Chiang Yee (1903 – 1977) was a traveling memoirist, like me, who also illustrated his wanderings in ten books under his “Silent Traveler” persona in the 1940s to the 1970s. Yee was in San Francisco in the 1950s but his book wasn’t published until 1963.
Cable car on California Street.
I love reading travel memoirs from The Golden Age of Travel (capital-T Travel died in 1978), and if there’s pictures, so much the better:
Japanese Bridge at Golden Gate Park, the same bridge I romped on in 1966 when I was 10 years old.
It was when I went back to Beckham’s Books two days later that I finally got a good picture of Juniper, the Book Shop Cat:
Ever seen a cat bird-dog someone’s cafe-au-lait? Only in New Orleans, my dear readers, only in New Orleans.
And I found another treasure!
Irwin Shaw (1913 – 1984), author of the 1970s best seller Rich Man, Poor Man, writes here about his first visit to Paris on the day of its liberation from the Nazis on August 25, 1944 and of his life as an ex-pat in The City of Light in the 1950s – 1970s. And as if that weren’t thrilling enough, there’s illustrations by Ronald Searle!
Searle (1920 – 2011) has a delicious sense of humor about Paris that is both timeless, and very 1970s (Paris! Paris! was published in 1976).
In Ronald Searle’s Paris even the dogs smoke Gaulois.
There are 35 wonderful illustrations in Paris! Paris!
The good people and cat at Beckham’s Books offer a free map to all the other book shops in the French Quarter, so my next stop was at Crescent City Books on Chartres Street:
And to prove that my entire visit to NOLA was charmed, I got there just as their book shop cat went on duty:
I can vow to the 100% truth of this sign:
Oh, Isabel, I love you so:
Upstairs at Crescent City Books you will find the Gardening Section, near Isabel’s bed (on those old wooden stadium seats) and her litter box (under the Sale table).
Is this not the best title you ever saw for a gardening book?
Of course I bought it. It was published in London in 1973 and I don’t know if you know anything about London in 1973, but that was not a sparkling year for garden writing of the bedside variety. I imagined stories of delightful garden get-aways, fantastic garden follies, quaint garden indulgences, dreamy garden escapes…
…instead, I got a book of guaranteed garden enervation.
In 1970s England, Less Common Vegetables were egg-plant, sweet pepper, and “cob corn”, which the reader is instructed to boil for 15 minutes before eating. Y-a-w-nnnnnnn.
So I guess it does live up to its cover, in a sleep-aiding way. So that means that if I want to read my perfect Gardener’s Bedside Book I’ll have to write it. Unless one of my dear readers does it first. Any volunteers?
Next, I hit the elegant Faulkner House book store on Pirate’s Alley…
…and I bought a book (I always buy something when I go to a book store, because I want book stores and their cats to always be there for me), a new guide book about New Orleans.
I asked about a book store cat, but they have a book store poodle here and she was napping upstairs. “She’s in a mood today,” I was told.
Next it was on to Kitchen Witch on Toulouse Street…
…which sells nothing but cooking and food-related books, which is why they use an old oven as a book case:
They had three dogs on duty here, but I only took a photo of Jackson the Basset Hound because I did not want to disturb the other two, who were sleeping in a corner. I did not by a book here — see those amber bottles on the table in front of the toaster (below)? That’s the house’s special red-beans-and-rice-spice that they sell, which I bought so I can not only read New Orleans when I am back home on dreary Long Island, I can taste it too.
Lastly, there was Arcadian Books on Orleans Street:
It’s run by a French-speaking American scholar with a strong French-speaking clientele and a slight hoarding tendency:
You can read more about this amazing place here but let me quote from a previous visitor:
Some day in this place, the wrong butterfly will land on the wrong bookcase, which will tip over, and the whole joint will go down in a cloud of book dust and really heavy hardbacks…Meaning, this is the most chaotic, crammed, beautiful bookstore in the city. It’s like a portrait of the whole project of reading/knowledge: messy, hard to make sense of, and full of more than you’ll ever have time to take in or understand.
The proprietor, however, is shockingly put together and squeaky clean…
And handsome, too, I might add…and on his bulletin board behind his desk, this made me laugh out loud:
Then again, I always find the conditional subjunctive tense hilarious. It loses something in the translation, but this obviously well-to-do sweater-vested middle-aged inhabitant of the seizieme is using a very literary kind of speech to say to his plump little wife, “I should make myself acquainted with a great poet, so that he can have the benefit of my melancholy.” (Note to Jain: I know you’re reading this on your iPhone, so here’s the French caption that you can’t see in this photo: Il faudrait que je fasse la connaissance d’un grand poete, afin qu’il puisse beneficier de ma melancolie. Yes, it’s much funnier in French.)
Note the cat under the coffee table — that counts as the book store cat here. I bought a book of maps of New Orleans that is on my desk right next to me as I type this.
Not only do we not have second hand book stores with cats or basset hounds or French-speaking curators here on Long Island, we also don’t have any damn blooming gardens yet in this bitter cold and disappointing Spring. So I have to paint one:
This is a real garden in London, surrounded by high yellowish brick walls:
I was there on a sunny day (Ahhh! I almost remember what a sunny day was like….), so I have to make the background the color of sunbeams:
Quick, while it’s still wet, I have to blob in some pale greenery:
And more greenery:
Dark greens for the middle ground:
Add shadows, and we’re done:
Now, for the foreground, we paint a first layer of greenery (I’m afraid I’m going to have to use the word “green” in may variations for this post):
Add detail using middle-value greens:
Add contrast with very dark green:
But be careful not to over-do it:
I draw guiding lines on top of watercolor here because after I paint in these bricks I will erase the pencil lines:
Lastly, I hold my breath and paint the grille. If I screw up at this final step I will have wasted hours and hours of work:
I painted this wall correctly, but its asymmetry just looks like a mistake now that I look at it which just goes to show, you always have to EDIT when you paint from life (or reference photos).
This is the entrance to a walled garden in London that I will probably not tell you about until I publish the Damn Garden Book, because a girl needs her secrets. I’m painting my London chapter this month because I’ve tried and tried and tried to paint New Orleans and so far I SUCK so until I get the hang of capturing the je ne sais pas of a New Orleans garden I will stick with what I DO know.
This post is dedicated to Top Cat, who tells me I don’t write about him often enough. If I didn’t think that this post was too loooooong already, I’d show you photos of him dancing in the street in the French Quarter, which if you dear readers aren’t sick of NOLA yet I’ll blog next week –my last post before I head off to Paris, Giverny, and Marrakech, where I hope to make the acquaintance of a great poet so that he can make good use of my melancholy.
P.S. Dear readers, because of renewed spam activity, I will have to close Comments on my blog after five days. So, if you are reading this on Wednesday or later, I’m sorry to say that you will not be able to leave your message but it’s nothing personal. I’m here every Friday — hope to see you here too.
If you love the fleur-de-lis you’ll love New Orleans:
I don’t know if they put fleur-de-lis ornaments on their Christmas trees in France but I’m sure they do in New Orleans…
…because in New Orleans they put the fleur-de-lis on everything:
Neither the fleur-de-lis nor the famed New Orleans frame of mind (Laissez les bon temps rouler) is just for tourists…
…because it wasn’t only tourists who were dancing in the streets for French Quarter Festival last week:
Of course, you don’t need a festival in the French Quarter to laissez les bon temps rouler – the good times roll on every street corner:
…and IN every street:
Just some fun loving gals taking their Hurricanes for a ride.
Only in New Orleans is it OK to take your Hurricane to go in a fleur-de-lis “go cup“:
Or, you can just “Go” with Michael Jackson booming from the woofers in your hi-rise Chevy as your rouler down Chartres Street:
The driver got a round of applause from the Sikh bros on the left. Only in New Orleans, dear readers, only in New Orleans.
The only reason that the Segway is not more popular in NOLA…
…is because there’s no damn cup holder for your Hurricane. No cup holder needed here:
Where I live on Long Island, I can go years without seeing a guy in kilt walking down the street. I was in New Orleans for four days and I saw two guys in kilts:
This fella from Houma, LA swore that this is the Louisiana tartan. I never doubt the word of a guy wearing a kilt with a go cup in his hand. But I digress…weren’t we talking about how much the fleur-de-lis is beloved by New Orleanians? Right:
I saw this guy (above) keeping it real in golden threads in Treme. And when I had my Tarot cards read at Bottom of the Tea Cup in the Quarter, my psychic was keeping it real in rhinestones:
You never know where you’re going to find the fleur-de-lis:
You never know:
What New Orleans garden would be complete without a fleur-de-lis?
You see, my visit to New Orleans was work. Oh, yes, I was working, thank you very much!
Wait a sec. I have to stop laughing. Work. In New Orleans. That’s a good one. But if anybody from the IRS is reading this yes, I was working while I was in New Orleans!! I was there to hunt down that special New Orleans garden voodoo for my upcoming Damn Garden Book. (Bragging rights to whoever can spot the flour-de-lis in this picture:)
This is me, hard at work, interviewing the inspirational gardener Karen Kersting on her lush fragrance garden in the heart of New Orleans:
That’s Little Bee on my lap. Her name is really Bijoux but that’s too big a name for such a pocket-sized pup so she’s called Little Bee. I wish my cats would let me have a dog.
Yes, dear readers and any lurking IRS investigators, I was working to hunt down garden secrets in NOLA, peeping into every hidden courtyard…
…sticking my nose through any iron grille between me and any archbishop’s private sanctuary…
…photographing any hidden Eden when my head wouldn’t fit through the gate…
…no refuge was too private for me to trespass. Note the ADORABLE cat door here:
You know I had to take every opportunity to meet the cats of New Orleans, like this good ole boy we came across while visiting Top Cat’s alma mater Tulane University:
I did not know New Orleans until Top Cat took me on the Top Cat New Orleans Experience for the first time in 2004 and made me crazy for NOLA — and every visit since then has only made me more besotted with the place. Top Cat was a philosophy major at Tulane and, as you can see from above, Tulane has a gracious campus full of gracious scholars and no, that’s not Spanish Moss hanging from that gracious old Sawtooth Oak in one of the many gracious quads on campus:
This photo makes me wonder why on Earth anyone bothers to go to college anywhere else:
In a future blog I will have to tell you all about the fabulous bookstores in New Orleans and their fabulous book store cats…
…or dogs, as the case may be:
But today I am telling you about how New Orleans loves the fleur-de-lis…especially the City of New Orleans:
City government can’t get nothing done without a fleur-de-lis:
The French government gifted the City of New Orleans with this statue of The Maid of Orleans (Joan of Arc) and that’s the city flag flying its fleurs-de-lis next to the French Tricoleur, all at half mast for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing:
Evil will not prevail.
Homeowners fly the flag, too:
Even in the ritzy Garden District, they fly the flag:
Windows like this tempt me to turn into a Peeping Tom for the fleur-de-lis:
I think I might have to explain that this is perfectly good English in New Orleans:
Here’s a clue:
The Saints are New Orleans’ Super Bowl-winning football team, by the way.
To correctly use the word Dat in a New Orleans sentence, all you need to do is say :
Who Dat Say Dey Gonna Beat Dem Saints?
New Orleanians love the fleur-de-lis so much…
…they even bury themselves with it in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1:
But oh! The colors of New Orleans!
Oh! The color of nature in New Orleans!
Every house is a garden color!
And the windows!
On Royal Street the windows speak the truth:
America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland. Don’t blame me (I love the Cleveland and the Cleveland Museum of Art but you have to admit, the name Cleveland is perfect for a punch line — anybody from Cleveland want to weigh in?) — Tennessee Williams said that.
This hot new dining spot…
…reminds me that I haven’t told you about the food. Oh, the food of New Orleans!
Beignets at Cafe du Monde is just the appetizer! (Southern people love their sweets, is all I can say about the photo below.)
You know what they say: If you weren’t already five pounds overweight when you got to New Orleans…
…you will be when you leave.
This is ONE sandwich, a five-pound fried clam/shrimp/oyster sandwich with chopped lettuce etc. called a muffuletta:
Top Cat’s lunch. I just watched, in awe.
You can also get it with a side bowl of gumbo at Johnny’s Po Boy:
Thanks to Chef Kevin Belton (“Big Kevin” cus he’s 6’9″ 300 lbs) at The New Orleans School of Cooking we now know how to whip up some chicken étouffée, and how to correctly pronounce New Orleans.
Note the fleur-de-lis on Big Kev’s apron. Just saying.
Big Kevin says that “New Orleeeens” was bastardized just so it could rhyme with “Do you know what it means / to miss…” The proper way to say it is “New Or-lee-ins” or, if you are tenth generation Cajun or true Creole, “Nawlins”.
Meanwhile, over at the famous Mother’s Restaurant…
…I had a bowl of their specialty Baked Spaghetti Pie (with green beans and corn):
Yeah, that’s Velveeta on top.
I can’t say it was the best thing I ever ate. But Top Cat keeps saying over and over that the charbroiled oysters at Drago’s oyster bar are THE BEST THINGS HE’S EVER EATEN IN HIS WHOLE LIFE:
Of course I had to go to THE Sazerac Bar in the swanky Roosevelt Hotel to have my Official New Orleans Sazerac Cocktail:
Behind my debonair bartender that’s a silver yachting cup won by one of the Astors in 1910. There is no Roosevelt memorabilia in the Roosevelt Hotel because that would make too much sense and this is New Orleans, baby.
We also had dinner there in the Roosevelt at Domenica’s (astonishing Italian cuisine) — because on the flight out of LaGuardia I had the good fortune to sit next to a NOLA native who recommended the place as a worthy adjutant to NOLA seafood while she also advised me that a dose of Xanax might reduce my screaming at take-off. I’m petrified of flying — just what you’d expect from a Travel Memoirist, right? — but then Valbourg invited me to meet her circle of friends over coffee who included the great Travel Writer Millie Ball (read her latest round-the-world article in the L.A. Times here and yes, she said it: Queen Latifa is her muse) and Millie confessed that she doesn’t know how to pack. So I’m in good company when it comes to Travel Writer Irony.
Also while I was WORKING in New Orleans (wait a sec…still laughing) I was the guest speaker at the Rotary Club in The University District and I mentioned that I would move to NOLA but then I’d have no place to spend vacation. So OF COURSE one of the Rotarians said “Move here and you’ll always be on vacation” because THAT’s THE WAY THEY DO IT IN NEW ORLEANS. And then Rotarian Michael B. swept me and Top Cat off to Bywater for an outstanding Turkish dinner because THAT’s THE WAY THEY DO IT IN NEW ORLEANS.
Dear readers, I regret that I only took 463 photos during my 94 hours in New Orleans. I wish I had recorded every 5,640 minutes of my visit — every second, every breath of New Orleans air is precious to me. Thank you Karen, Valborg (violist with the New Orleans Philharmonic), Michael B., Selena, Dougie, Mme. Trudeau, Glori-A, and the many citizens of NOLA who serve food, drive trolly cars, keep hotels, sell books, play music, walk around in kilts, make gardens, cook crawfish/oyster/shrimp/etc., write stories, give tours, and preserve and renew The Crescent City on a daily basis: you make me know what it means to miss New Orleans.
And now, I announce this week’s winner of my Triscuit of NOLA is…
Here’s how this works: On blog post day I see how many Comments have been posted on the last blog and I say to Top Cat, “Pick a number between One and [However Many Comments Are Posted On The Last Blog] and he picks a number and I find whose Comment is that ordinal. I always think that whoever wins the give-away watercolor of the day is exactly who I would choose…but this just goes to show you that my Top Cat has access to the spheres. Chris W., congratulations.
I’ll be back next week with a watercolor tutorial — in the meantime feel free to browse this previous Watercolor Turtorial because it’s cold and grey and dull here on Long Island and this is the only thing that’s good about being here instead of New Orleans.
Maybe you can tell by this week’s painting demonstration that I am in NEW ORLEANS this weekend! (If you’re in a hurry for a painting lesson and Give Away of this watercolor of the French Quarter, skip to bottom of post. But you’ll miss out on my Lesson in Connoisseurship. I’m just saying.)
Yes, this weekend Top Cat and I are haunting the the great gardens, bars, restaurants, cemeteries, and museums in our favorite American city which means that in addition to guzzling sazeraks and gorging on beignets we are feasting our eyes on this stuff :
The New Orleans Museum of Art is home to the Matilda Geddings Gray collection of Faberge — which includes three imperial eggs (left to right above: the 1893 Causcasus Egg, the 1912 Napoleonic Egg, the 1890 Danish Palaces Egg — the mother of the last czar, Nicholas, was a Danish princess). In all my previous trips to NOLA I have managed to avoid the New Orleans Museum of Art but this time a visit is necessary because lately I’ve had to brush up on my Faberge-looking-at skills…
This is a real Faberge egg, non-imperial, called The Apple Blossom Egg that I sold at Christie’s in the mid-1990s.
Last week I got an email from a complete stranger which is always fun, right? This stranger asked me to look at a piece of “Faberge” jewelry going on sale in a small out-of-the-way auction in the English countryside. He thought he might have discovered an out-of-the-way Faberge treasure, and he asked if could I advise him on authenticity and bidding strategy (seeing as I am a
world famous / once famous/ famous in my own mind former Faberge expert for Christie’s auction house).
This is a copy of The Apple Blossom Egg.
I only had photos to look at but still, it was easy to spot several things about the piece that seemed off. Such as, there was wear and tear in places that didn’t make sense unless the object had been assembled from several unrelated pieces. But the No. 1 thing that was wrong about the item was that it was ugly. So I told him it was fake fake fake. Faberge doesn’t make ugly.
Here’s where I make you a Faberge Connoisseur in ten minutes: Maybe you heard about this story that was in the news last month:
My mother sent me this news item about a man from Ohio who is suing the “antiques dealer” who sold him several fake Faberge items including a fake Faberge egg mounted on a snuff box for $165,000. Wait. There are people IN OHIO smart enough to have $165,000 in spare change but still dumb enough to blow it on obvious fake Faberge? Yes, this egg is an obvious fake – Faberge eggs go for $5 – 20 million dollars (you pay more if Romanoff hands ever touched it) so your first lesson in Ten Minute Connoisseurship is that if you bought your Faberge egg for a measly $165,000 you probably bought a fake. Because this is what $165,000 buys you in Faberge World:
This is a one-inch tall wax seal thingy with impeccable Imperial provenance dating from its purchase in 1910 by the Dowager Czarina Marie Feodorovna (the Danish princess) directly from Fabergé in St. Petersburg. The owl is jade with diamond eyes and the piece still has its original box, which is worth lots of money to a collector. The seal is made of gold and do you see the color of the enamel? It’s a shade of pink that is highly sought after (and worth extra $$$$) by connoisseurs. This is the famous Faberge pink — maybe you can see it better in this object:
Or this one:
This is the 1890 Danish Palaces Egg in the New Orleans Museum of Art.
This luscious opalescent pink enamel is uniquely Faberge. It can only be achieved by layering a citron or tangerine-colored enamel underneath a pink enamel in two separate firings, a tedious and delicate process that is beyond the skill of most enamelers (not that anybody these days is doing real enamel any more).
Your second lesson in Ten Minute Connoisseurship is that if your Faberge egg is mounted on a snuff box it is fake. Why?
Faberge never made ugly, which is why Faberge would never make an egg mounted on a snuff box. The concept is ugly because it doesn’t make sense.
A snuff box that has a big fat Faberge egg on it would be useless, since snuff boxes are small and meant to be carried in a gentleman’s pocket. So a snuff box with a knick-knack on top of it is an ugly concept that just does not make sense. Or, I should say, it makes as much sense as a whistle with a bud vase attached to it, a toothbrush that is also a remote control for your TV, or a stopwatch on your hairband. Dumb is ugly, and ugly is fake.
So now, dear readers, now that you are connoisseurs, you know how to avoid making a $165,000 mistake when you are shopping for Faberge.
It’s not just Faberge that I hold to a high standard when it comes to ugly. I also hold myself to that criteria: I do not stuff my books with any old illustration that comes off my itty bitty brain. I painted two pictures last week that are utterly ugly:
A walled garden in London that doesn’t look anything like the walled garden in London I was trying to paint. That’s supposed to be Victorian architecture in the background. Ew.
This is the beginning of a miniature painting that I call a “squint” (because it’s long and narrow, which reminds me of squinting my eyes). I got this far into the picture when I became convinced that it wasn’t working. Which is very annoying, because I love painting squints. My Damn France Book is loaded with them:
And yes, when I spend hours on paintings that are ugly it puts me in a very bad mood. I start looking on Craig’s List for jobs that are better suited to my total lack of talent. I almost mop the kitchen floor before I remember that I hate housework even more than I hate being a failure as an illustrator. I consider ditching the Damn Garden Book and writing porn instead (porn, even bad porn, sells).
But on this day I made myself a nice big G&T and sat our in the backyard because this week we had two and a half days in a row with sun shine and above 70-degree weather!!
Taffy in his Sphinx pose.
This was the first time in 2013 that you could step out of your house and smell real, lush, vegetative scents in the air. Grass, forsythia, turned-over garden dirt…ahhhhhhhh. The fragrance of living things! Time to sit outdoors and enjoy a Happy Hour G&T in the golden rays!!
Lickety right after he sneezed into my gin and tonic.
No word yet on the big giant rabbit I want to add to my herd of Purely Decorative Furry Beings of Irresistible Cuteness. But as you can see, maybe we’ve achieved maximum adorableness already here in Vivian World.
And the next day it was grey, and cold, and miserable to I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan to see how REAL ARTISTS GET IT DONE:
I went to the American Wing and gazed at early American portraits of cats.
Fur Trappers in a boat on the Missouri River: I thought this was cat until I looked really really closely and saw that it was a dog:
This is the entrance to the American Wing:
This is the view of Central Park from the atrium here:
And here is a view of Versailles from a panorama c. 1820 in the American Wing:
Yeah, I thought that was weird too. I really enjoyed the rooms that have been salvaged from stately mansions of pre-Revolutionary America…
…for obvious reasons:
And during a stroll to the exit I came across this:
It’s the entire Matilda Gedding Gray collection of Faberge from the New Orleans Museum of Art!!!
WTF? All three Imperial eggs are right here, in New York City! Well ain’t that a kick in the pants? (BTW, as usual the eggs were displayed in a case that was far too low. Faberge needs to be displayed at eye-level, please, and make that eye-level for a person who is 5-foot-six, please.)
OK! Let’s make some New Orleans art! Because lord knows that next week I’ll probably be too hungover to draw a straight line!
I’m using my No. 0 size brush, the one that I cut half the bristles out of…so really it’s a No. -1 (negative one) size brush.
For the iron filigree I’m using my Rapidograph pen:
And voila, today’s triscuit: (Delicious baked wheat snack cracker included for scale.)
However, this might suit the subject matter better:
If you would like to own this Triscuit of New Orleans for your own gallery, just leave a Comment below and Top Cat will pick a winer TBA next week.
It is 40 degrees F and pouring rain as I type this for you on Friday morning on Long Island. I’m off to NOLA in 30 hours. Plllllllleeeeeze let there be lightness and warmth and sun and GARDENS! And dear readers, if I find any those things in NOLA, you’ll see it right here next week.
I’ll get to the part where I paint with a toothbrush in a moment, but first we have to discuss GUMNUT BABIES:
Thanks to our dear Australian readers Bev, Megan, Karen, and Marguerite, who kindly answered my question in last week’s post, we all now know what a Gumnut Baby is:
A gumnut is the seed pod (“nut”) of the flowering eucalyptus (“gum”) tree of Australia:
There are more than 700 species of eucalyptus, mostly native to Australia, and a very small number are found in adjacent areas of New Guinea and Indonesia. Only 15 species occur outside Australia, which is very sad because it means that there are, in the world, eucalyptus trees without the world-famous Australian eucalyptus tree accessory:
According to May Gibbs, the world’s No. 1 authority on Gumnut Babies, “Gum Nut Babies are full of mischief and always teasing the slow-going creatures but they hurt nothing and are gentle for they love all the world.” Cute cute cute.
So gumnut is my new favorite word for when I love something with a world-wide fervor. And I’m gumnut for gumnut babies.
Want to see what a Koala gumnut baby looks like? He looks like this:
You might have noticed (Jain) that my blog was not up and running at its usual 1:00am pub time today — I was out late last night on the Upper East Side of Manhattan at a swanky gathering of Francophiles. My alma mater, The American University of Paris, was holding its New York conclave at The Edith Fabbri House (she was a Vanderbilt married to a wealthy Italian), a fine Italian Renaissance revival townhouse just off Fifth Avenue:
I love — no, I gumnut — that I got a New York roof top water tower in this shot.
The alumni party was held in the mansion’s most famous room, the library:
I’d read about the building before I got on the 5:31 from Long Island that the library “showcases historic panels from the Palazza Ducale in Urbino, Italy”:
So like a dope I get there, get my glass of French wine, and start asking, “Where are the frescoes? Have you seen the frescoes?” Now I think that “panels” meant “paneling”. There was a lot of dark wood walls in the library, which is why my pictures came out murky”
And they really don’t show how much fun I had. This was the first alumni get-together I’d ever gone to since I took leave of AUP in 1979 and I really enjoyed myself, meeting very accomplished classmates and talking about memories of our student days. Members of all classes from 1963 to 2012 were there, as was the president encouraging all of us to get involved in creating an AUP community worldwide, and it was a fine evening that I would gladly do again and that says a lot because you all know how much I hate to leave the house. I will definitely stop by the old campus next month when I’m in France and renew my acquaintance.
At the party I met a ’96 alum from a small town in Connecticut called Litchfield. Litchfield!! What a coincidence!! That very afternoon I’d just been tracking down a certain Litchfield specialty:
This is Ralph, the world’s biggest rabbit, and until I saw this picture of Ralph I did not know how much I love love love giant rabbits! I am gumnut when it comes to giant rabbits!
Ralph lives in the U.K. and he’s a breed of giant rabbit called the Continental Rabbit. Continental Rabbits are usually only 30 pounds but Ralph tips the scale at 3 stone. “3 Stone” is U.K. talk for “42 Pounds”.
Of course I have to have a Ralph of my own so I looked up rabbit breeders in America and there’s a Giant Rabbit breeder 100 miles north of my house, in Litchfield Connecticut. You know what that means. ROAD TRIP. Litchfield, here I come.
Wait. How did we get off the subject of gumnut babies?
I took Top Cat to the Schmidlapp estate that I told you about last week, the 28-acre $7 million property that had the house…
with the fabulous gumnut babies curtains:
Top Cat was gumnut for the place. And you’ll never guess what we found! Here’s a clue:
This is a teeny photo that I found in my Google-rambles in the internet, a 1910 photo of the Schmidlapp estate that is in the Harvard archives (odd, since the Schmidlapps were a Yale / Princeton family). As you can see, there’s a garden there. And judging from the corner of the house pictured, I knew where it was. It was in the back, where I did not trespass on my previous visit because it looked pretty scary:
OK, it doesn’t look all that scary in this picture, but I was alone and it’s a desolate property and I didn’t want to follow a trail of busted flagstones through a dying forest where nobody could hear my screams. But with Top Cat as my body guard I had the nerve to find the entrance to the secret garden:
and here is what it looks like in 2013:
Yes, this is what Spring still looks like on Long Island. So no wonder I was happy to paint a garden in full bloom. I had already painted this particular view (below) about a year ago when I was still a bit heavy-handed with my new Windsor Newton paints and I never really liked it:
I also wanted a horizontal illustration. So I re-painted it, starting with the masking fluid:
I’m using the end of my paint brush to spread the fluid.
I let the paints bleed a lot for a “mossy” effect around the gravel pathway:
Now to make the gravel pathway look more gravelly I use scrap paper to shield the parts of the illustration that is not gravel pathway:
And I take my trusty toothbrush …
… and I moosh it in a black/brown/green/blue mix of watercolor…
… and I flick:
Flicking is fun!
And voila! I have gravel!
The trick to painting rocks is to let each bit dry completely before you add shading. Except, sometimes, you want to put shading in while the paint is still wet. It depends on the kind of rock.
This picture took about 5 hours to paint, what with all the waiting for the paint to dry in-between the actual painting.
Yay! I’ve now finished the Japanese Garden chapter (words and pictures!) of my Damn Garden Book!
Commentor Sarah asked me if I would one day give a tour of my work room where I paint:
I really have to tidy this place up.
I said, “Let me ask the dear readers.” Does anybody else want a tour of my genius-idea-hatching place?
And now, drum roll please, as I announce the winner of the Garden Triscuit painting:
And if you think painting a Triscuit would make you cross-eyed, try this:
This is by a Turkish artist who yes, paints on butterfly wings.
Have a great weekend everyone — go paint some Triscuits! Or Butterflies!
This is the painting-in-progress that I made to cheer myself up on a soul-killing icy snowy March day and we will get back to it later in this post.
But let’s start this week’s round-up with a picture of my Long Island backyard at the very instant that Winter became SPRING on March 20, 2013 at 7:02 am :
Yeah, I know. Big Whup. And 12 hours later, that Champagne-O-Meter looked like this:
Top Cat and I went to our usual beach spot on the north shore of the Long Island Sound to toast the first sun set of Spring:
It was snot-freezing cold and ear-achingly windy and we huddled next to the cement wall along the walkway above this beach, using it as a wind break while I took this photo to show where we’ll be picnicking in a mere 90 days to celebrate the Summer Solstice:
Yeah Right like there’s any chance in this lifetime that I will park my butt on this bit of perma-frost. Too bad that photography can’t capture wind chill, or my incredulity that I will ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, be warm enough to go on a picnic on this frozen shore.
This dismal start to Spring put me in a Grey Gardens kind of mood, and what better way to indulge my taste for melancholy than an outing to find another Secret Gardens of Long Island:
In my researches for the long-lost gardens in Great Gatsby territory I dug up some info about the 200-year old Schmidlapp Estate in Oyster Bay (see above, main driveway). To readers from Cincinnati, the name Schmidlapp will be familiar as the rich banking family that still funds one of the first independent philanthropic foundations established in Ohio. This is their Long Island homestead, the 200-year old Rumpus House on their 28-acre estate that has been vacant and for sale for nearly a decade:
I peeped into the house and found these curtains (see below) in what looks like the dining room. Does anybody recognize these characters? They look familiar — some kind of pea-pod babies from an early 20th-century children’s book maybe?
The Schmidlapps are an old WASP family so their taste in homes is far less extravagant than the prevailing esthetic currently on display on Long Island (think mock-French chateau). This estate is one of the last, big parcels of land for sale in this exclusive enclave, known since the days of F. Scott Fitzgerald as The Gold Coast. It was originally priced at $35 million, but having gone unsold for eight years the asking price has been dropped to a mere $7 mill. The original Colonial house shows its WASPy heritage (think linoleum on the kitchen floor) so the opinion among realtors is that the when estate is eventually sold it will be broken up for redevelopment into 5-acre plots for mini-Sun Kings (that’s Louie the 14th of Versailles). I told Top Cat that we should get in on this bargain! I want me a ruin (to go with the the completely decadent 60s I intend to have, starting in 2016, so consider yourselves warned)!!
Anyhoo. I drove nine miles to get a first hand look at the estate, thinking that there MUST be a secret garden or two on the property:
Turns out that the Schmidlapps were not gardeners. I only found lots of bits of lawn surrounded by neglected woodsy bits (this is just one of those lawns — the place has acres and scary acres and creepy acres of this stuff):
And on the edge of one woodsy bit I came across this:
I kicked aside the dead leaves and uprooted some overgrown ivy:
Of course these are pet graves. The Schmidlapps are A-OK in my book and OMG OMG OMG now I REALLY want this place. So please, dear readers, if each of you would only buy a million copies (EACH) of my books I can get this done, merci mucho. However, if I hear that the place has been sold out from under me, would it be wrong of me to go in the dead of night and, uh, ahem, curate these headstones?
There happens to be a 4-acre corner of the Schmidlapp estate that is open to the public as the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden. I will have a lot to say about the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden (Most of it not snarky at all. Well, half of it is not snarky. After all, I must be true to the real me.) in my upcoming Damn Garden Book:
This is not an image of the bamboo at the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden. It’s the Zen walk through the pine and maple grove.
So, as long as I was traipsing around in the 28-acre neighborhood I stopped by the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden on this dreary March day and found that the care takers were — amazingly enough — clearing out the bamboo that grows along the perimeter:
This amazed me, and I don’t know why, because this is exactly what the keepers of the great bamboo groves in Japan are doing in March! WOW!! It’s like the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden is a REAL garden!!
BTW, this is a shot of the stunning bamboo forest of Arashiyama, Japan:
Do you see that thicket that forms the fencing? Well, get ready to kvell, dear readers, because I found this picture of one of the teeny tiny “doors” cut into that thicket fence:
It’s for local cats and foxes.
I know! I know! That is so awesomely cute I want go buy me a ton of Hello Kitty crap!!!
Hang in there, dear readers, because this leads me to one more digression:
This pitiful critter was rescued from a muddy drainage ditch in Essex, England last May. Of course the poor thing had to be cleaned up:
And guess what they found?
I’ve been waiting for the right time to use these fox pix for ten freaking months and I finally found the segue!!! Whew. I’m so glad that the subject of foxes came up so I could once and for all share these with you because that fox is so cute that I want to go all Jemima Puddle Duck. (I have to admit that of course the heroic and wonderful wildlife experts at the South Essex Wildlife Hospital knew all along it was a red fox but, as we writers like to pompously say, those facts were withheld for reasons of narrative drama.) Now is not the time to go into it, but if somebody reminds me on a slow blogging day I will tell you about the afternoon I spotted a red fox trotting around in the garden of a famous artist I was visiting in London in 1985. Good story. For those days when I just phone it in.
This week I also went to a very sophisticated Manhattan book event at the famous KGB Bar in the tres chic bohemian East Village…
That’s a platter of sushi made with black rice on the bar.
… but I fear that this blog is getting waaaaaaay too looooong so I will have to tell youse all about it next Friday. Besides! We have a painting (see: cheering up watercolor at the top of this week’s post) to give away!!!
For Jeanie and others who have asked what kind of paints I use, this photo is for you. On the left are my newest paints, tubes of Windsor Newton and pans of Cotman paints; on the right are the Grumbacher paints I’ve been using for 10 years (no, those are not 10-year-old Grumbacher paints — I go through them at the rate of one set every year or so — see the shiny new set ready for defilement):
The Grumbacher paints are cheap and, for me, easy to use so that’s why I stuck with them for so long before I was alerted (by my new friend Carol Gillot, the artist at the blog ParisBreafasts) that I should up-grade my equipment. Her advise came just in time for my Damn Garden Book, as you can see below (the Windsor Newton painting is on the left, the Grumbacher on the right):
It took a little getting used to but the Windsor Newton colors are so much better for garden painting. I still use the Grumbacher though, for when I need a chalky, muted tone (I really like the Grumbacher Burnt Sienna and Prussian Blue). I buy my paints in person from Blick Art Materials but their on-line selection is great too.
Now, to answer those kind readers who asked, when it comes to tracing a line drawing onto watercolor paper, my first choice is good old solar power. On a south-facing window on a sunny day I simply tape watercolor paper over my drawing like so:
However, if it is too overcast for tracing this way, I will use my light box, pictured below on my desk:
I like the light I get from my south-facing windows, which is the exact same light that makes using a light box impossible.
There’s a little tube of fluorescent light inside the box so when you turn it on goes like this:
A light box costs around $20 and is handy as a back-up on a rainy day – it’s also very useful if you are one of the lucky artists who can paint at night under artificial light. I can not do that — I need daylight to see the colors of my paints, but I’ve talked to other artists who are very comfortable painting after dark. I wish I were one of them.
Now here’s today’s watercolor exhibit!
First the masking fluid:
Let dry, then paint:
Remove masking fluid:
Tea bag for scale:
Better yet, a Triscuit:
For the international readers of this blog I must explain that a Triscuit is a flavorful, baked, whole wheat hors d’ouvre-sized snack cracker made by Nabisco:
If you’ve been to one of my in-person book events (and I know who you are, Commentors) you’ve heard me encourage every beginner painter to paint Triscuits (my word for the many miniature landscape paintings that litter my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam)– because you can get a lot of information in a Trisuit and not risk a whole lot of paper or paint. My 2011 holiday card was a panel of Triscuits:
Lately I’ve gotten out of the habit of painting Triscuits and I have missed them so much that when I was a bit blue this past week I painted a the Triscuit you see above not just because it’s a flowery garden path but because I find Triscuit-painting to be very soothing. Try it! You might like it too!
And if there’s a reader out there who would like to receive my Vision of Summer Triscuit…
…please leave a Comment and I will have Top Cat take responsibility for choosing the winner at Top Cat random. But special first-come dibs to anyone who can identify those weird pea-pod babies on the drapes in the Schmidlapp’s dining room (see above). That’s still really bugging me.
(Did anyone get my Jemima Puddle Duck reference? About the Handsome Gentleman? Who is a fox? (Am I the only Beatrix Potter fan here?)
Have a great weekend! But if you are basking in vernal sunshine please don’t rub it in.
Yes, we will be painting together later in this post (it’s very looooooong today, go get a cup of tea) but first OMG OMG OMG I have to tell you about my visit with Neil DeGrasse Tyson:
When Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is not writing best selling books about astrophysics or dropping by The Daily Show to chat with Jon Stewart about cosmic stuff he is the Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History on Manhattan’s upper west side. I once went to a party and was in the same small room as Neil DeG. (he and I have the same literary agent, the great Betsy Lerner) and we smiled at each other over the hors d’ouvres buffet table but I was too star struck to say anything. I have a crush on the awesome Neil DeG.
On Wednesday night Top Cat and I went to see Dr. Neil DeG. host the 14th Annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate at the AMNH. The topic for the evening’s duscussion was The Existence of Nothing and Neil DeG. was moderating a five-person panel that consisted of a physicist (expert on “time loops” and time travel) and a physicist (expert on elementary particles) and a physicist (expert on string theory ) and a philosopher (with a mathematics degree from UVA with a special interest in large cardinals) and a guy who writes about science (expert on Zero and its twin, Infinity).
iPhone pix of Neil DeG. on the left with the panel on stage at the Lefrak Theater at the AMNH. I forget to bring my camera. I’m very stoopid.
During the ensuing give-and-take it turns out that every body on the panel had a working knowledge of general relativity, topology, Star Trek, Saturday Night Live skits from the ’70s, cosmology (observational and theoretical), dark matter, negative curvature, and the history of science. Since everyone eventually agreed that even in the empty vacuum of space on the edge of the universe there is something (the laws of physics, whether or not we know them, for one thing; energy is another) the real issue was whether nothingness as a theoretical construct was important, interesting, or meaningful to the future of science and/or mankind.
At least, that’s what I think the discussion was about. As I sat and listened to the whole thrilling two hour debate all I could really get through my head was Boy, I am stupid.
Me, trying to understand the difference between Cosmology and a Cosmo.
Except for when the panel all poo-poohed the relevance of God in the discussion — that I already knew — and the time during the Q & A afterwards when a guy tried to posit that the fact that humans can not prove the existence of nothing proves the existence of God, even I knew that that was an age-old false dichotomy trotted out to sound logical and smart but defies the basic principles of scientific, disciplined thinking.
But basically, having heard for myself what really, really smart people do with their brains and how they sound when they talk about stuff that, to tell you the truth, I’d really rather avoid thinking about (the ultimate fate of the universe i.e. total annihilation — no thank you) I am pretty sure that I’m pretty much as dumb as they come:
I think it’s because I spend too much time watching reality TV that I get the mistaken impression that I’m smart. For example, this week the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills went to Paris and it was so stupid that I felt like a genius compared to Kyle, shown here on her visit to the Pont des Arts:
I know and love the Pont des Arts. I put it in my book, Le Road Trip:
Imagine how freaking crazy it makes me to watch as Kyle and her husband put their padlock on the railings of the Pont des Arts, an idiotic custom that has begun since I was last there. Lovers put their initials on a cheap hardware store lock and they snap it onto the chain-link fence, trashing the look and feel of the place. It is nothing short of desecration and there was Kyle, oohing and ahhing over her lock — and then telling her husband that she hopes her kids will one day come and see their parents’ lock on “The Love Lock Bridge”. As if her crappy lock was now a permanent fixture in the City of Light. Yes, she’s that STUPID. (A man from the Paris street cleaning department comes with bolt cutters every week and chops off the damn locks that tourists insist on putting up.) I believe that Kyle thinks the name of the bridge is actually The Love Lock Bridge, and I believe that she hasn’t got the curiosity to read a damn guide book to find out anything else about the bridge except for her damn lock.
On behalf of Americans with half a brain and a respect for the history and beauty of Paris, I apologize to the citizens and the street cleaners of the 6th arrondissement.
But I shouldn’t get too upitty. I’m really dumb myself. EXCEPT WHEN IT COMES TO KOALA BEARS!!!!
It gets very hot in Australia this time of year. It gets so hot (40 degrees centigrade) that people have to use their garden hoses to water down the gum trees in the backyard as a precaution against fires. And, because it’s Australia, chances are that the gum trees in your backyard will have koala bears in them:
As a rule, koala bears do not like to get drenched by a garden hose. It seems that koalas sleep 22 hours a day so chances are, at any given moment of the day, a koala will be asleep in your backyard gum tree and getting drenched by a garden hose is what is called, in koala bear circles, a “rude awakening”. But since it’s so very hot in Australia these Summer days this one koala bear did not seem to mind the surprise shower — and even lapped up some of the spray to quench his little koala thirst:
OMG OMG OMG. I want a koala bear in my backyard sooooo bad. Here on the Long Island Sound we have neither gum trees nor koala bears dozing in gum trees. What we have are cardinals in the forsythia:
- That’s Mrs. Cardinal in the foreground.
Yes, it snowed again this past week. It started to fall around 1 o’clock in the afternoon last Saturday. Yay!
After giving me the hairy eyeball, this guy turned and pointedly glared over his shoulder:
I know that look. That look means that there is a big fat furry pest too damn close to the bird feeder.
That’s Taffy, under the bird feeder, and this is his “Who, me?” look:
The flash captures the scene better:
And here I thought I was finished with the Champagne-O-Meter for the season. Ha!
We only got a dusting of snow but it was enough to put the cats right back into their Winter hibernation mode, which is really not that much different than their Spring, Summer, and Fall hibernation mode. Starting with the blob of black fur on the couch at the top right hand side, that’s Cindy, Candy, and Lickety in the living room:
Penelope has her own spot in the window seat in the diningroom:
Coco has her chair (with heating pad) in my work room upstairs:
And yes, even Taffy gave up on his dream of having Cardinal Tartar for dinner and hunkered down in his spot in the den. Question: Which is better to have, cats crashing in your house or koalas kipping in your backyard?
I happened to be working on another Key West illustration, how ironic, when it began to snow.
This is a picture of a grove of Australian Pines on the beach at Key West. I find it very meditative to apply a lot of masking fluid and I would rather meditate on applying masking fluid than on the *@##! snow. For the big tree trunks in the foreground, BTW, I don’t use my customary toothpick — I use the end of one of my paint brushes (the end without the bristles):
If you are bored with these “Me Doing A Watercolor” demonstrations, feel free to skip to the end of this post. There’s another cat picture for you down there! But for those of you hanging in with me, this is how I put in the horizon of sea and the sky in the background:
Then I put in a wash of yellow (this is how you paint foliage that is back-lit):
While the yellow wash is still wet, I start dabbing in shades of green:
I like working in my chalky Grumbacher blue paint into the shadows here:
Sorry for that show of my injured finger tip. With the Winter making my skin so dry I have split a lot of my fingertips from all the typing I’ve been doing, writing the Damn Garden Book. These fingertip splits are very painful, like getting a new paper cut every time you tap the keyboard. Type-Writing is hard! Literally! Poor, poor, pitiful me! After I finished painting this picture I soaked gauze in Vitamin E oil and taped up my sore digits so they can heal overnight:
Taffy, on behalf of the world, shows me the amount of sympathy I am due. By the way, he is yawning, not gagging, altho gagging would also be an acceptable response.
So, back to the painting, where I’m laying in colors — wet-in-wet style…that is, I’m layering colors in a series of washes that overlap (using my fattest brushes):
More shades of green for foliage — this is the part I love:
So this is it so far:
It needs, now, some real dark bits:
Do you see where I’m going with this?
And now we put the masking fluid to good use!
After I’ve peeled off the masking fluid, I’m ready to get to the heart of this scene:
I’m going to leave some of the highlights on the left side of the tree trunks just plain blank white — I’m going to let the paper do the work:
But with other tree trunks, I’m going to go for a yellow-green highlight:
I think the mix of highlights gives texture to the lights and shadows of this scene:
This illustration is the recto side of a two-page spread about the pine grove in Key West (tea bag included for scale):
That Saturday snow didn’t last long and was mostly melted by Sunday afternoon. This is Bibs, helping me check out the last of it here on the edge of the patio:
Can you believe that crappy-looking dead straw is our lawn?? BTW, in case you’re counting, that makes seven of our nine cats making an appearance in this post, which I think is a record. I didn’t get a photo of Dudley or Oscar because they are the least domesticated of our cats (yes, they are neutered, but they haven’t given up their alley cat/street fighting ways) and they are very camera shy. And they hunker down in the basement, which is where we put a lot of stuff in “storage” I can’t bear to show you our shameful hoarding.
And then it snowed again on Tuesday!! Yay!! And Thursday!! Yay!!!
This is not the footprint of a koala bear.
These are not the tracks of a koala bear either.
These are Canada geese tracks in the snow, but OMG OMG OMG I wish they were koala tracks in the sand.
I hope this post wasn’t too long today — and dear Monique and Whimsy2: I read your question from last week’s blog so next week I will show you how I trace onto watercolor paper. And you know what? I’m in such a good mood (still got those koalas on my mind, plus I’m sipping a V&T while I’m typing this) that whatever I paint for next week’s blog I will give away. Stay tuned.
I’m taking suggestions about what I should paint for the give away. Any ideas?