I Have an Announcement to Make

But first: Are you happy to see me or is that a wombat in your wheelbarrow?


This is the picture of Nigel English zoo keeper taking his friend Bob the Wombat, to his new habitat. Or maybe Nigel was taking Bob out as his good luck charm when he asks the cute lepidopterist a question about a moth-eaten wombat that might, just might, lead to a first date, I really don’t remember. But cuuuuuute, right?

I saw this photo in an English newspaper about a year ago and immediately I found my calling in life. I was going to collect photos of wildlife in wheelbarrows!

Turns out that collecting photos of wildlife in wheelbarrows is not easy. In fact, after a year of searching, I only have this to add to Bob:


These are orphan orangoutangs being wheeled back home from their play date in the jungle of [wherever it is that orangoutangs come from]. They live in a rehabilitation camp and the workers cover their faces so the baby orangoutangs don’t imprint on humans. This would be dire for them when they are released back into their natural habitat because, as we all know, humans are POS. (Note to my mother: POS is hipster texting slang for “Pieces of Shit”. Yeah, I know. I miss the good old days when people could say “pieces of shit” right out loud, too.)

And now for my big anouncement:

 My email has been resurrected.


Feel free to send a note, query, or photo of wheelbarrows full of wildlife to me at vivianswift at yahoo dot com.

It’s Friday! Get out there and celebrate!



Here It Is: Your 2014 Champagne-O-Meter

Dear Readers, it’s Tuesday, a day of the week that is worth celebrating. Because if you are like me and see no reason to celebrate End-of-Weekend Sunday or Back-To-The-Grind Monday, then you know how very ready you are to praise the Wine Gods by Tuesday.

Dang. I forgot to put the bubbly in the fridge last night. “Whatever shall I do for a quick chill to ease my desperate  thirst?” I ask myself, since I like my gratification to be as immediate as possible…

This is the snow in my backyard:



This is my Tuesday happiness:



 This is my Tuesday happiness fixing to make me much, much happier, in the snow in my backyard:


Yeah. It’s been a long, long Winter.

Thank you, Dear Readers one and all, for stopping by my hibernating blog. I was hoping you’d drop by here today for another reason:

I was one of the hackees of Yahoo’s latest hacking fiasco. My entire account disappeared on Friday afternoon, Feb. 21, and since then I’ve had NO EMAIL and NO ADDRESS BOOK.  So far, I’ve been “on hold” with the crack team of thumb-twiddlers at Yahoo Customer Service for 2 hours and 11 minutes. The good thing is, they only make you stay on hold for an hour  before they disconnect you. The better news is, at various and unpredictable times in the day they won’t even take your call, saving you hours and hours of listening pleasure. FYI: The “on hold” musical droning at Yahoo repeats every 15 seconds. The good thing is, in an hour you only have to listen to it 180 times.

I do not know if/when I’ll be able to resurrect the old mail box. So if you’ve been wondering why I haven’t answered your wonderful and funny and sweet emails lately, it’s because I have been too busy figuring out how to curse loud enough so that snotty 1-percenter bitch Marissa Mayer can hear me all the way in Sunnyvale CA.

All I’m saying is, in the mood I’m in, if you get in front of me in the Express Lane at the Piggly Wiggly and you have more than 10 items in your grocery cart you also better have the local police on speed dial to save your ass.

I will let you all know when I get my   **#@!!   email back.

Happy Tuesday Everyone!!

My Favorite Breakfast of the Year

If it’s January 17, it must be left-over birthday cake:


As you Dear Readers may know, every January 16 I make a blue cake, which I wrote about last year in the post called

Blue in a Good Way:


This is my winning entry in the Ugly Cake Contest of 2013.

And I wrote about in 2011 in the post called

Born at the Right Time:


If you want, you can click onto the links which are highlighted in *blue* to read the entire posts of which I speak.

And in 2010 I put in the post called

The Breakfast of Champions:


This year I made my bluest cake ever…


…thanks to the vat of precious blue food coloring that my dear Top Cat found on the inter webs. And, thanks to Dear Readers Maryanne and Jeanie, this year I also got a shot of my all-important Vitamin C[hampagne] in blue. (People, this stuff came all the way from Reims, France!) BTW, Penelope wants to thank you, Maryanne and Jeanie, too, for her collateral gift:



That is, she thanks you for the box that the champagne came in.


Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who sent birthday wishes.

Yes, me and this blog are still in hibernation, but please feel free to hang out and browse the archives.

How to Paint an Entire Fall Landscape in One Single Leaf


My criteria for the Perfect Fall Leaf is that it contain every color of the season in one feuille. Obviously, as soon as I laid eyes on this beauty I knew I’d found perfection for this year’s Annual Fall Leaf Painting Tutorial (2013).


If in previous years you’ve followed my Annual Fall Leaf Painting Tutorial, you already know that after I’ve laid my leaf on 90-pound Canson watercolor paper and traced its entire outer edge, I divide the leaf into its “cells”. The secret to painting a Fall leaf is to paint it cell-by-cell.


I am using size 0 and 00 brushes and my cute little set of Windsor Newton watercolors here — the colors are very bright and rich. Let the watercolor dry throughly before you start a new cell.


This way, you can let the paint colors bleed into each other within each cell (see below, I’m letting my yellow paint bleed into the green)…


…and still keep all the other cells clean and bright and not muddied-up as you add to the leaf (cell by cell):



I’ll just let you watch for the next few frames as I paint in details, cell by cell:







I have to say that I find Fall Leaf Painting to be very relaxing, especially when I add the tiniest details.




The great thing about Fall Leaf Painting…


…is that in the end, you have a leaf that will never fade or crumble or get disgusting looking (tea bag included for scale):


This is what happens to your Fall Leaf the day after you finish painting it, poor thing.

This is especially true with oak leaves! Hoo boy, nothing dies faster and uglier than an oak leaf. That’s why I was overjoyed when I found an unusually ripe oak leaf this year and was able to paint it before the poor thing went the way of all good (this being a botanical illustration, I am breaking out the Latin) Quercus o-kay eef-lays.


For more Fall Leaf Painting Tutorials, please check the Archives of this blog under Watercolor Tutorials. Sure, you might have to wade through some Cat Painting  and a lot of Garden Painting  and loads of Watercolor Failures that I’ve posted from time to time…but enjoy the browse and if you care to send me a note you can always reach me at vivianswift at yahoo dot com.



Nothing Rhymes With Orange

We love Pumpkin Time here on the shores of the Long Island Sound.





I detect a slight flaw in the Pumpkin Placement Plan here.





Pumpkin Time is a good time to remember the most lonely word in the English language: Orange. The color gets a bad rap for being garish and unfriendly but some of my favorite things in the world are orange.




Here are some pictures of City Orange from my outing yesterday:


Upper West Side brownstone.


Yes! I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday! The bridge is undergoing loads of restoration so it is u-g-l-y at the moment, but as you can see, the City of New York spares no expense in making tourists feel welcome!


Saki basement bar in the East Village.

And what Secret Garden would be complete without a touch of orange?


Which reminds me, we are painting a Secret Garden today:


Of course, it all starts with a pencil sketch and masking fluid:P1190993

I use folded sheets of scrap paper to cover up bits of the picture before I begin to paint the gravel:


When the base paint is dry, I put my toothbrush to good use (which, in between the three times a day I use it for dental hygiene, lays around doing absolutely nothing). I load it up with a mix of grey and black watercolor and then I flick it at the illustration:


This is not really my Dental Hygine Toothbrush. This is my Dedicated Paint Flicking Toothbrush.

Let dry, and voila:


Here’s a painting tip: I save the bottle caps of Top Cat’s favorite GatorAid to use as mixing pans.


To get the many shades of green I need for a garden illustration I mix three different hues of green with two different hues of yellow and/or three different hues of blue. BUT to get the pure yellow that I prefer for my painting I mix two different yellows — Cadmium Yellow and Lemon Yellow. (Alone, Cadmium Yellow is too orange and Lemon Yellow is too bright). And I keep my pure yellow isolated in a GatorAid bottle cap because I can’t be trusted to keep them clean if I put them in a palette-thingy.




Here is where I add some detail to the background wash:


For this illustration I wanted to try out an idea I had, about using some blue in the foliage, maybe to get a more dream-like effect:


I am still using my chalky Grumbacher paints mixed with the tubes of Windsor Newtons, mostly because I love what the chalky paints do when they dry. They leave an interesting residue on the paper, interesting textures that are purely accidental that I really like:


I am thinking that for this picture I want to leave the foliage looking very watercolory, like this:


So far, I am quite happy with the way this picture is going. So now I start to add plants:


I’m being careful not to over-do it:P1200010

But here is where I ruined it all:


I tried to paint tree trunks in ochre, which was bad enough, but then I made the mistake of painting them with straight lines. I knew it was wrong immediately. I was instantly unhappy with these wimpy, ugly tree trunks. But still, I thought I could soldier on, finesse the picture with other distracting details:


But those tree trunks just kept bothering me. So, i finally had to ditch the whole picture, having admitted what I knew all along: There is no rescuing a picutre that has a fatal flaw:

P1200082 2

Several days later, I went back and had another go at it. The steps were exactly the same as above, but the end was this:


You can compare for yourself:


Yes, the sad fact is that whenever you try something new, there’s a 80% chance that you will blow it. But hey: it’s only a bit of paper and paint. That doesn’t stop me from taking a whack at something new. And, for those times when making a crappy illustration feels too much like failure, there’s always champagne.

One of these days I hope to work up the nerve to paint my favorite time of day:


Twilight in Pumpkin Time.

I love the low light of a Fall evening:


I have to learn how to paint this most beautiful shade of orange. In fact, I think that when we finally invent a word that rhymes with orange, and it must have something to do with this quality of light:




I’m thinking that “floringe” might be the word, to describe the look of artificial lights glowing in a Fall evening. Floringe would be used especially in the case of the lights that shine from the inside out:


The lights that are seen from a distance:P1200145

To extrapolate, then, floringe, as the wisp of illumination that almost holds its own against the night, floringe could also be the word used when a blog goes dark.

Yes, dear readers, it’s that time.

I have been blogging for six years. My blog has evolved from a really crappy stream-of-concisouness diary into a weekly presentation of what I hope is interesting and useful  and honest information and about the trials and errors of living a creative life. I take a lot of pride in making my blog live up to the intelligence and humanity of my community of readers, dear readers, many whose stories and names and cats I have come to know and treasure, as friends and inspiration. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And in the same way that I know when my painting lacks necessary oomph, I know when my blog is running out of steam. As both painter and blogger, sometimes I have to get away and be more of a person living in the world than a person who observes it.

So. I will not be here next Friday, or the next. Or the next. I will be writing my Damn Garden Book full time, and showing up as a Commentor on my favorite blogs — if you are not reading The Miserable Gardener you are missing the best gardening blog written by a pure bred border collie ever — and herding my cats. Doing what I can to gather steam.

I do plan on being back in the blogosphere, someday, and I might even post something here from time to time, so please drop by. I’ll have to post updates about theDamn Garden Book, of course — I’m under contract to finish it sometime in 2014. And you can always reach me at vivianswift at yahoo dot com, because I do want more garden photos. We’ll stay in touch. Because when a blog goes dark, it doesn’t go away forever. It only goes floringe.

Meaning, there’s always a light left on. You’ll always be able to find your way to my door.



How to Paint a Secret Garden

This is why I am illustrating my Damn Garden Book instead of photographing it:

Joann's Secret Grden

This (above) is the entrance to the Secret Garden belonging to my neighbor (and most excellent Chilled Wine Cocktail On The Patio Hostess). You have to walk through the wooden doorway to get to this:


Now, if I were a mere photographer I could only give you, the viewer and eventual Dear Reader of the Damn Garden Book, one or the other view of this nifty Secret Garden. GOOD THING I am an illustrator and in possession of an Artistic License. So I can give you both views at once:


I apply masking fluid with a tooth pick:


And I use my second-fattest paint brush to lay in some sunlight:


In this illustration I will be working mostly from the back to the front, laying in background foliage before I hit the foreground:





P1190949I’m adding detail now:






Working the middle ground now:


Something told me that I could stop here…


…but a pain in the ass little voice urged me to go on, put in some really dark, dark background:



Tree branch-painting time:


Before removal of the masking fluid:


After removal of the masking fluid:


Painting in the blank bits left by the removal of the masking fluid:




(Yeah, the lantern looks wonky. That will be a later fix-up.)

Hmmmm….I think the dark stuff adds punch to this illustration, and the view is definitely more narrative than anything a mere photograph of the garden could relate….but I think that for my next illustration I will see if I can leave it at the point where something tells me that I can stop here (see above).


This (below) is what is at the far end of that little walkway into my neighbor’s Secret Garden:


I’ll be painting this for you next week and, being as I have either already had a shot at painting this or I can time travel, I already know that it does not go well. But try, try again is my motto. Stay tuned.

Speaking of try, try again, do you recall when I painted this Annie E. Casey Seattle Waterfall Garden for you?


I took another look at it and found that it was lacking in narrative. So I futzed around with it and…


…yes, that female figure is a cut-and-paste (literally). To get a model for that figure, I pulled a chair to the bottom of our living room stairs and I asked Top Cat to stand on the fifth stair and take a photo of me. Photos, of course, lie. The figure of me was foreshortened (as photos tend to do) so I had to improvise in getting the legs right even though I know I would cover them up with a cut-and-paste fern frond.

Tricks of the trade.

Thank you to the many Dear Readers who have sent me photos of their Secret Gardens. If this post gives you an idea of how I will be presenting your garden, should I decide to include it in the Damn Garden Book, I hope this encourages more of you to send me your snaps. And even if you can’t get Fluffy or Fido to post in the actual garden, or there’s a particular bit that won’t fit in a frame, feel free to include that too. As you can see, I am not limited by Earthly geography.

In fact, I think photography is the reason so many garden books are so damn boring. You can’t possible get a great garden captured in lousy photos. There’s always something that gets hidden, or overlooked, or cropped, or foreshortened. I’ve seen photos of famous gardens I’ve been to…




… and they never get it right.

Illustrated Garden Book to the rescue.

Feel free to discuss the awesomeness of illustration over photography.

Breaking News: Congratulations Canada! Couldn’t happen to a nicer country: Alice Munro wins the Nobel Prize for Literature! I’ve been meaning to read her short stories and ow, well, I’m just going to HAVE to.

Other hot literary news: William Todd Schultz has a new book about Portland (OREGON) singer/songwriter Elliot Smith called Torment Saint.


If you know about Elliot Smith then I don’t have to tell you that he was the thinking man’s Kurt Cobain (without the skanky wife but with similar tragic end). William Todd Schultz is an acclaimed author of biographies about Diane Arbus and Truman Capote AND we share the same literary agent — the sainted Betsy Lerner — and the same editor at Bloomsbury — the inimitable Kathy Belden. (Yeah, I know, it’s a miracle I’m in that kind of company but the big DoG in the sky looks out for morons.) And if you are in Seattle on October 29, you can see William todd Schultz discuss Elliot Smith at Town Hall with Mark Baumgarten, author of Love Rock Revolution. 

I know that some of my Dear Readers are dyed-in-the-wool Seattle hipsters and I KNOW you’ll be there.


See you next Friday. (It is chilly here on the shore of the Long Island Sound. One day it was Summer and the very next day there were Autumn leaves on the ground and wooly sweaters over the shoulders and no Qantas airplanes flying overhead. Bummer.)



Here Kitty, Kitty: How to Paint a Cat Part Three

So first, we drew le chat reduced to its lumpy, adorable snowman-like proportions:


Then I found an image of a really cuuuuute kitty on the internets:


She is of course la Lizzie Cosette of the marmeladegypsy blog.  I drew Lizzie in snowman-esq style, just to rough out her shape:


I filled in a few shadows, to familiarize  myself with her markings and stuff..


…and then I traced the bare outlines of that sketch onto watercolor paper:


The paints that I’ll be using for most of the color in this kitty portrait are grey (Davy’s Gray in the tube) and my trusty ancient  Grumbacher watercolors:


I will mix these colors right on my brush, getting various shades of brownish-grey, blackish-grey, and rusty-grey as needed, and for the most part I’m going to let the pint and the water do what it wants to do:


I do love the chalky texture of these paints.

I am going to start with the face because if I don’t get the face right I will trash the whole thing and start over. So I will work quickly to get some black markings in on top of wet brownish-grey:




I painted the eyes in and, before the paint got too dry…


…I laid in some black around the eye, but I didn’t let it bleed as much as before because bleeding colors is OK for getting a nice effect for  fur, but this is not fur:


For the inside of Miss Lizzie’s ear, I used a very pale blueish-grey:



I used the same blueish-grey to paint Lizzie’s chin and I let it dry….P1190870

…and then I went back with my paint brush dipped in clear water to “pick up” the paint. I do this because I want a very delicate shading effect here, and subtracting paint is a good way to make an area look outlined, but painterly:




OK, I think I got the face alright, so now I’m going to start painting the fur. Lizzie is a tabby tuxedo, so to give shade to her white bits I use a very watery light blue wash. I just like the look of a very light blue shadow to indicate whiteness:


And, again, I’m going to work wet-in-wet, that is, I’m going to dab some brown and black and grey into the very wet blue wash, to get a nice watercolor effect:




All that, above, is done before any of the paint has a chance to dry. I’m not going to over-do the fur…I’m going to leave the body impressionistic. But I am going to get a lot of detail in the punim because she is soooooo cute:


I’m not painting the whiskers — I don’t have a brush fine enough and also, I like the look of pencil here:


And now I check it against my reference photo. It looks to me that I placed Lizzie at slightly the wrong angle on the paper; she’s leaning too far to the right. To correct that, all I have to do is crop the paper:




That’s better. Also, I notice that I’ve made one ear too pointy, so I go back and add some round-ness:



And I’m going to add a sliver of height to her darling little head between them adorable ears:


And I have to add some white paint over some brownish-grey stuff I painted on her cheek (I erased the penciled-in whiskers on that side before I painted, FYI):


Then I beef up her Cleopatra eye liner:


Add the whiskers back in:





Smooch, smooch, smooch. I love kitties.

Now, I did not paint cats like this from the get go. In my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam, I put in the two cat portraits that were actually the first cats I ever painted:


These girls are on page 178, for those of you reading along.P1190471

These are the Sweetie Sisters, Candy and Honey, sister cats that I adopted from the New Rochelle Animal Shelter when they were  senior citizens, turned in when their long-time human companion died. I was told they were 13 years old. They lived with me for three more years, and they were the sweetest girls EVER, and they passed away within six months of each other.

I am showing you these cats because they are sweet cats and because I think these are good cat paintings. What they lack in technique and drafting skill they make up in lopsided charm and wonky humor. I kind of wish I weren’t so compulsive and conformist and could continue to paint lumpy cats like this …. but you can! If you can’t paint a Lizzie cat today, I bet you can paint a wonderful dough-girl. Let me know!

And because I happen to think that tabby tuxedo cats are the coolest cats in the world, let me show you the coolest tabby tuxedo cat in the universe:


This is Larry.


He is English.He has a very important job in the cabinet of Prime Minister David Cameron.


No, it’s not as Goodwill Ambassador. The story is that Larry is kind of ornery and he doesn’t like many people but he did take a shine to President Obama, only of course when the cameras started clicking god forbid that Larry give evidence that he can be a nice cat.

Larry’s job title is Official Mouse Catcher at 10 Downing Street.

He is said to be very, very good at his job.


But he has to be reminded, every now and then…



… that he’s supposed to catch mice INSIDE the house, not out.


Larry thinks to himself…”You call this door service????”


And now for something completely different:

Secret Gardens.




I am looking for your photos of your Secret Garden. I now understand that if I were a gardener I would not have waited until FALL to ask for pix but as I do not even own a house plant, you can see that I am brainless when it comes to horticulture. That’s why I need your help.

I would love to see your garden photo (I guess I assumed that gardeners take photos of their creations just for the joy of it all year round and always have pix handy) OR a photo of any place that you consider “your” Secret Garden.

Yes, if your jardino secreto seems to be a good fit for my Damn Garden Book, I will do an illustration of it (and capture the process for a future blog) and it will be published in hard copy, with of course attribution to the Dear Reader.

So please send me photos of your refuge/still center of a turning world/secret garden to:

vivianswift at yahoo dot com.

How happy will I be to  receive your photos?  This happy:




How To [Not] Paint a Cat, Part Deux


So, it’s Friday evening and I’ve poured myself a nice cold of  Pinot G., and I’ve met my deadlines for the week (yes, Dear Readers, sometimes people actually pay me to write, even if it’s a fraction of what freelance writing used to be able to command back before blogging cheapened the value of the wri….oh. Wait. Never mind.) and you and me can discuss the crucial issues of the day.

Namely, Summer is over. I watched it go, sitting in my backyard, at 4:44 pm Daylight Savings Time on the Long Island Sound Sunday, Sept. 22. More of a bummer this year than usual.  Don’t get me started.


I did not pick up a paintbrush this whole past week (spent all my time wordsmithing, you know) but I do have  something worthy to show you from a spot of painting (let us all now assume English accents) from yonder fortnight.

Two weeks ago I was working on an illustration of the beloved children’s tale, Peter Rabbit. Beatrix Potter is my idol when it comes to illustration, and I  have a chapter on London Gardens in my work in progress, the Damn Garden Book, so I was not going to miss the opportunity to reference my childhood infatuation with All Things English, starting with Peter Rabbit.

You know the story. For my illustration, I had to get the lay of the land, namely farmer MacGregor’s garden:


The wondrous Beatrix illustrated it as a walled garden on the edge of a woods. And my favorite scene:


Voila, Le Chat. (they call them moggies in England, by the way.) See how this ties into our whole Paint a Cat saga?

So, here is my interpretation of Peter Rabbit at this most crucial part of the whole story of Peter Rabbit:


(I have blocked out the left hand side for future text, FYI.)

As soon as the paint dried on this thing I knew there was a problem with the cat but I didn’t know what.

I put it away for 48 hours, took a fresh look at it, and it hit me like Thumper:


The cat’s head is too small. Of course!! That’s why it looks more like an ermine than a C-A-T.

But the thing had already been painted, and it’s watercolor, so o lordy, what to do?

I am now going to tell you, Dear Readers, a Trick of the Trade.

All I did was paint a new (right) cat on a separate bit of Canson 90 pound cold press paper (the only paper I use — I love love love this paper) . Then I cut it out, and glued it over the ermine, like thus:


Here’s a close up:


I know from experience that when this picture is scanned for print and published in a book, the fact that it’s a cut out will never register with the reader:


In fact, if I am not about tell blab about it right now, you probably would never have noticed that Peter himself is a cut out, pasted in front of the MacGregor garden in the background:

P1190666 2

And you know what? I feel A-OK about this because I have recently discovered that our darling Miss Potter did the exact same thing back in the day when she was watercoloring her way to immortality.

Take a look at this illustration below:


See that DoG? Look closely:


Look closer:


Yep. He’s a cut out. Underneath that Pomeranian, probably,  is some small-headed Pug that gave the delightful Miss P. second thoughts.


Thank you, Dear Readers, for your kind messages re: the lateness of this post. I have cleared the decks for some real cat painting tomorrow, so count on it that next Friday there will be actual  cat painting on this blog. As most of you know by now, the insanely cute kitty that I plucked from the internets is not some unknown moggie but our own dear sweet Lizzie Cosette, familiar of The Marmelade Gypsy blog.

We also happily welcome back  our gumnut Baby Reader, Bev from Australia, just back from her month-long visit to Paris. I really, really want to learn how to speak French with a Strine accent.

And Nancy V., thank you for your timely note of encouragement. It got me here today.

How to Paint a Cat Part One

Last Sunday Top Cat took me into a magical woods on the southern shore of the Long Island Sound…

…otherwise known as The Gold Coast of Ye Olde Long Island…


…where Ye Olde Money of yore transplanted ancient yew trees from the Olde Worlde to make Instant Stately Homes (now gone to ruin)…


…and where the haunted forest is reclaiming ye olde acres of lawns into native wild flower meadows once more…


…where I came upon  yon ancient cottage…


…which beckoned me to pause…


…and consider its perfectness as a refuge from the madding world…


…where I could gather inspiration from nature and light and where cats could roam free…


…but there was just one little problem…


scale.  For this magical realm goes by the name of The Muttontown Preserve (I’m not making this up) and it encompasses the last American address of — I’m not making this up — King Zog, the last, deposed monarch of Albania and I conjecture that ye Ole King had a young Princess for whom nothing would do but she had a play house in the American Colonial vernacular.

I can not tell you how much I want this house. If you hear about some crazy cat lady claiming that she is the reincarnation and rightful heiress of the late great King Zog — that’ll be me, staking my claim to this itty bitty ranch house in Muttontown. I’m not making this up.

But speaking of crazy cat ladies…

…it’s time to draw us some kitty cats!

OK. Here’s how I decided was the best way to share my minuscule amount of knowledge of the visual arts, of which I am not a certified practitioner of.  First, I am going to show you how I draw a cat from memory:

I start with a bottom-heavy oblong shape:



Then I add hips — by the way, I’m doing this from memory to make a point:


The point is that since I have been looking at cats my whole life I have internalized the basic structure of Le Cat:


And as you can see, the basic structure is no more complicated than that of a snowman:


So really, when I paint a cat, I don’t actually have to sketch out this blueprint — it’s already “on the paper” before I pick up a brush:


But I am showing you the building blocks that I visualize when I look at a cat:


And when I say “sketch”, I don’t mean make those crappy wispy wimpy scritching marks that a lot of people do when they “sketch” — I mean commit yourself to making a strong, unequivocal line:


Voila, The Cat. Now, to make a cat head on, you use the exact same strategy…but let’s go through the basics of the dear little kitty face:






Got it?

OK. So, now we’ll make another snowman:


And we’ll erase some lines to make the kitty face front:





And, voila:P1190796

Kitty Cat.

I hope you can see that drawing a cat isn’t all that hard. But it’s something that every cat lover should know how to do, in case of emergency:


I like this kitty’s little smile. But really, those ears? That tail? Those dangling front legs?

I got this Lost Cat poster from a new book that I just started reading:


It’s very cute and I recommend it. But it got me thinking….how can I apply my cat-snowman lesson to a real life cat?

So I found a really cute cat from the internets:


And now all I have to do is interpret this cutie as a kitty snowman:P1190786

You see? All I had to do was  get the basic building blocks of this sweet kitty to start her portrait. Again, I have to say, this is a drawing of what I usually only visualize before I start to paint. It took me a long time before I understood that the time I spend just thinking about what I’m going to paint before I paint makes all the difference between a good painting and one that is a crap shoot, so yes, I spend a fair amount of time visualizing. I’m just saying.

Next, I picture the particular markings that make this sweet kitty her own self. She’s a darling tuxedo tabby, which in my mind looks like this:


Then I plot out where the dark and the light spots are:


And now I’m ready to paint.

Which I will do next week. I will paint this adorable sweet kitty girl and show you how I do it, brush stroke by brush stroke.

However, if you are new to cat painting, you can draw your kitty like I did, and do a nice watercolor wash over your pencil drawing and it will look really nice too. I would have done this to my pencil drawing here but I ran out of time this week. SORRY.

As for an update on the Damn Garden Book that I’ve been working on lo these many moons:  I’m asking you, dear readers, for help.

I need your photos of Secret Gardens, preferably yours, to put in my Damn Garden Book.

For example, my lovely neighbor Joann has a darling secret garden that looks like this:



If you would like to have your Secret Garden included in my Damn Garden Book, and you are willing to answer my Secret Garden Questionnaire (sample question: Does your Secret Garden have a name?) stay tuned.

Next week I will tell you where to send your fab fotos and secrets and how to get your garden and your name in the Damn Garden Book.

But now I want to take this time to answer some questions that arose from last week’s post, about the London garden watercolor I did:


1.  Why did you paint this front-to-back?

I panted it front-to-back because I was thinking like an embroiderer. Long before I picked up a paintbrush, I used to embroider gardens all the time. Here are two embroidered gardens from my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam:



So, in painting like an embroiderer, I painted each little plant in a different texture, which can only be done front-to-back. For the background of my London garden illustration, however, I knew I wanted a more impressionistic look, so that I painted back-to-front…


…and if you go back and look at my step-by-step photos last week you’ll see that the front-to-back painting and the back-to-front painting eventually met up in the middle ground and voila: the illustration was finished!

P.S. to Alexandra. Yes, this did increase the drying time down-time. But I was working on another illustration while I waited for my London garden watercolor to dry. And yes, I took photos of that too, which I will show next week. Here’s a hint:


2. What are those little clay pots on the poles for?

I’m glad that Jeannie and Kate asked this question, and I’m soooooo glad that Patricia answered it (in the Comments section last week) because I had no idea. I saw them there on those poles and I thought they looked cute, so I included them in the illustration.

3. Why don’t you put all your watercolor lessons all together in a book?

Thank you, Whimsy2 and Susie for asking. As a matter of fact, I am thinking more and more along those lines myself. A dear reader (GG, you know who you are) has emailed me a file that she collected, with a great many of my past watercolor lessons on it, and yes I think I just might sort through them and put out a How I Done It book. And for the Damn Garden Book that I am currently working on I plan to paint a secret garden (see above) and photo the work in progress. I think that would be neat to show. It might even be your secret garden (see above).

4. Mary asks, How do you know that that plane flying over your back yard is the 6:05 Qantas from LAX?


I know because I have actually downloaded the app that gives me real-time arrival info on every airliner landing at JFK International airport in Queens, New York. That’s how much I love plane spotting in my back yard.

And now, for the Winner of our fabuloso Elizabeth Gilbert The Signature of All Things Give Away:


Top Cat picked : Melissa! Melissa, please send me your snail mail address at vivianswift at yahoo dot com and I will send you this beautiful book a s a p. Melissa is a new dear reader — welcome!



Penultimate Summer Post

P1190479It’s good to be back just in time for my penultimate Summer post! During my two-week break I went to the annual Long Island Scottish Games Festival at Old Westbury Gardens (that’s a dog in a kilt, above). It’s always good to hang with my peeps, the Scottish, the most fun-loving, light-hearted, sober people on Earth. It comes from all that airy-fairy-gaia-girl-power DNA us Celtic maids of the woods possess:



Oh, right: us Scottish girls also love to dance with swords, too:


And as you can see, even the boys of our clan want to be like their magical sisters so much that they’ll even wear the same outfits.


I also spent a few days in the enchanted land known as Pennsylvania, hanging with my mother (from whom I get my Scottish proclivities). She has a cat named Sammy who knows how to work backlighting and sheer curtains:


And, yes, I spent an inordinate amount of time sitting in the backyard trying to get a shot of the 6:05 Qantas from LAX.


Yes, I sat sentry in the backyard whenever the landing pattern at JFK airport shifted to the sky above Top Cat Manor hoping to get the red kangaroo on film. The 6:05 Qantas from LAX is my black orchid, my white whale, my Loch Ness Monster. So far, I’ve only been able to catch the 6:40 Air Berlin from, well, you know where. But note how the plane catches the golden rays of the September evening. Sigh.

Anyhoo. I’m here today to show you that I was also a tiny bit productive, in that I painted a whole new illustration (for my London garden in the Damn Garden Book). I took rather a lot of photos — I thought I’d do a real brush-stroke-by-brush-stroke show and tell:


I did this just to show how I strategized this scene, working from front to back.


I think you get the idea, so I’ll just shut up and roll film:






















Usually I crop my illustrations but once in a while I like to have a soft edge. But here I noticed that I hadn’t painted a square, so I filled in the right edge:P1190665

Now, I know that you weren’t expecting a London garden today. I know I promised you a cat-painting lesson. Well, I’m working on it:


But I have an exciting new give-away for my dear readers! I have received an advance hard back copy of ElizabethGilbert’s new novel, The Signature of All Things:


Last May Elizabeth sent me a paper-back proof of the novel and I read it in two days. I loved it. And you all know that I do not read fiction…but this is almost non-fiction, as it’s a story about love and botany and is full of real true stuff about plants and gardens and 18th century trade in newly-discovered horticultural species. GREAT BOOK, is what I’m saying. If it’s been a long time since you read you’ve read a book by a really smart writer, or it’s been ages since you enjoyed a sophisticated historical romance, or it’s been eons since you read a book that took you into another realm of being…this book is for you.


The book itself is a beautiful object — it 499 pages of smooth ivory vellum with a deckle edge. And it’s got two different end-papers, with a pair of botanical illustrations on each:


This is very expensive to produce, by the way.

I am giving away this advance hard-back copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Signature of All Things to one lucky dear reader!

Please leave your name in the Comments section and, as is standard operating procedures, Top Cat will pick a Commentor at random. The winner of this lovely book will be announced next Friday,right here on this blog.

(Comments will close at midnight, Tuesday.)

It’s down to the penultimate Summer weekend, dear readers. Let’s all go out and do something to make Summer 2013 memorable!