It crossed my mind more than once last week, as I was tooling around the Great Pacific Northwest, that I am not as good at this travel-thing as I used to be.

I still think of myself as the intrepid 19-year old who took on the French railway system one-on-one to reserve a one-way ticket from Paris to Rome and didn’t think twice about the 20-hour trip, or the strange people I’d be bunking with in a tiny, uni-sex (the horror!) couchette on a rickety sleeper train. I stuffed a baguette and some Boursin into a plastic bag and took off.

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So here I am now, approx. 40 years later in my own native land, with a rental car and good luggage and Google maps and a platinum AmEx, and I can barely navigate myself for the three-hour drive down I-5 from Seattle to Portland. And once I arrived in the lovely precincts of Portland’s NECN (Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods), after confusing left with east for the 100th time, the best I could do — for two nights in a row (in this land that invented the gourmet locavore) — was walk to the Safeway for a do-it-yourself take-out dinner of Pop Tarts and wine. I can’t help but think that my 19-year old self would look at me as proof that travel is wasted on anyone over 30.

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Amazingly, on that epic 175-mile road trip, I had no trouble finding Exit 135, and rolled easily up to the doorstep of King’s Books in Tacoma. King’s Books, in case you do not know, is famous for its bookstore cats, Atticus. . .

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. . . (whose bio states that he was once a prize-winning rodeo rider who then became a friar, and joined the bookstore staff in 2009 where he now serves as both a shoulder-warmer and a spunky bookseller). . .

. . . and Herbert (seen below at the cash register):

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Believe it or not, but this (below) is Herbert’s Happy Face:

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My scritches had the same airplane-ears effect on Portland native Mahitabel:

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Mahitabel’s Person in Charge of Happiness, who is also a Dear Reader of this blog, rounded me up one fine morning and carted me to a handful of Portland’s great sights, such as the view from the beautiful  Tilikum pedestrian bridge of majestic Mt. Hood (a mountain named after the USS Federation starship, Excelsior class, Starfleet reg. NCC1703). Thank you, Vicki!

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Of course, the reason I was in Portland in the first place was to give the good people of Rose City the Vivian Experience at Broadway Books, a cozy Coney Island of the mind disguised as Portland’s best-hued and most lusciously-shelved independent bookstore:

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As you can see, I still do that funny thing with my mouth that bugs me whenever I see myself on video or in photos (in spite of the very kinds words of Dear Reader Kirra), and that’s not counting the crap that comes out of my mouth, meaning that I have amends to make to two lovely ladies who came to the event on May 5: both watercolor artists, they asked me about how I get such good-looking greens in my illustrations (example below):

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I must have looked puzzled by the question, because they explained that they were taught to make “color charts” in preparation for their watercolors, obviously by a teacher who really, really wants to make things as complicated as possible, and, they said, getting good greens was hard.

First of all, I was flummoxed by the whole “color chart” thing, having never heard of any such thing: I think that if your teacher makes you do color charts, that’s just your teacher trying to prove the rumor that watercolors are hard and must be taught by a professional. What crap. There. I said it: Color charts are as relevant to painting as diagramming sentences is to writing.

So, when these two sweet ladies who took the time to come out on a beautiful Thursday evening to hear me yak about myself and mentioned that, in their experience, getting good greens was hard, I proved once again to my 19-year-old self that I have indeed become a real asshole when I replied by scrunching up my face and bleating: Really?

I am ashamed that I, however inadvertently (the thesis surprised me, caught me off-guard), implied that anyone who found it hard to get good greens was worth a dismissive and snotty Really??  Instead, these lovely ladies’ question has stuck in my brain as a sorely missed opportunity for me to have asked some follow-up questions, gain some understanding of another’s process in creativity, learn something.

So, dear ladies of May 5, if you are reading this, please accept my apologies for not answering your extremely thought-provoking question and let me make amends by addressing the making of greens (which, I confess, in my ignorance of academically-accepted practices, I have never thought of as “hard”) in a future post.

Meanwhile, on one of my trips to and from the Portland Safeway, I came across this fella. . .

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. . . and this completely different black and white furry fella. . .

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. . . who, for obvious reasons, reminded me of this fella, in a village 5,000 miles away:

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Cats. The world over, they think they own the place. In the case above (Dear Reader Carol S., this is for you!), the cat in question is named Gaston, and he “owns” a little road called Rue aux Juifs in the village of Giverny, France. In the case of the Portland kitty, I don’t know that cat’s name but I do know that he’s as big a smooch as Gaston is, because when a little girl hopped off her bike to chase him down to say hello, Portland Cat did this:

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I met another of Portland’s Finest on my way to breakfast — Boo Boo, it seems, “works” at a dress shop on Alberta Street and couldn’t wait to clock in:

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What a way to start the day; a selfie with a cat named Boo Boo:

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Boo Boo must have been my spirit guide because five minutes later the universe let me check off a Top Ten item on my Before I Die Wish List and I got this breath-taking encounter:

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This is the Western Blue Jay known as the Scrub Jay — really?, bird-namers? You couldn’t do any better than “scrub jay”? Considering that blue is the rarest color in nature, and that birds with blue feathers are extraordinarily found only in the New World, and that blue is an awesome color. . . you couldn’t have found a better tag than “scrub jay”?? How about “Sunset Jay” (since it’s found where the sun sets, get it?), or “Frontier Jay” (in honor of its geography)? And that’s what I came up with after a solid 20 seconds of thought. . . cries — even “Boo Boo Jay” would have been an improvement. You namers of western blue birds stink.

Contented with my cat and bird sightings, I left Portland early on a Saturday morning to make a detour to the Oregon Coast, to a place called Seaside, to a place in that place called Beach Books:

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I got there around 11:00 am, just in time to catch Book Shop Cat Oz making his commute to work:

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Oz hoists himself up onto his window seat and checks his To Do List. EAT is the thing he took care of back in the storeroom, on his way into the office. Next item:

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SLEEP is the next item on the agenda:

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Chances of him knocking off READ before the end of the day look slim.

Adieu, sweet prince, and onward: My reason for being (that day) lay 8 miles down the road– Cannon Beach Books, whose booksellers can read readers’ minds and put in hand a reading experience that was curated specifically for you. (I saw them do it, over and over.)

Another bout of travel-induced mid-life soul searching began a few hours later, as I finished my delightful visit to the Oregon coast and got into my rental car for the drive back to Seattle. I used to be good (or so I thought) at logistics, but I hadn’t bothered to look very hard at a map when I planed this trip and booked my flight home out of Seattle. When it dawned on me (just the day before) that it would have made much more sense to fly home from Portland, the penalty to change plans at such a late date would have cost me, in dollars that my 19-year-old self would understand, five-and-a-half weeks of backpacking around the South of France.

So I drove north that late afternoon, spending four hours trying not to feel like I’ve become the kind of dopey, half-assed traveler my 19-year-old self would despise, before devoting the final 90 minutes of my Great Pacific Northwest Road Trip to repeatedly making the wrong turns on the various I-5 exits to Burien.

And just think: if I had not made the blunder of flying home to the Isle of Long from Sea-Tac airport, I would not have been able to catch this view of Mts. Rainer and St. Helens . . .

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. . . and would probably not have had the opportunity to leave my glasses on the plane (rendering me functionally blind for the next week while I awaited replacement!) or pick up a nasty pulmonary infection (that has leveled me for the past 9 days!).

Now, this is only the last half of the story (of me, half-sighted and hacking). There’s a whole other first half that I haven’t even told you about yet, in which my 19-year-old self might not look at me with all that much disgust, as I only got the car on Day Four (it was the driving that done me in) and thus greatly reduced my opportunities to act like a dip shit. I’m still an awesome pedestrian!!

Next week, my Wonder Ones, we will explore that mythical city, Seattle, in a post that I will Call:

Bad Traveller Does Good

Maybe we’ll even paint something green.

This Just In: I’ve been hearing from Dear Readers this morning that the Comments button to this post is not working. Serves me right, for any number of reasons, but mostly I guess it’s to mortify my grubby need for approval (You Comment! You like me!!). While my crack team of IT interns. . .

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. . .fixes this latest glitch, you can email me at vivianswift at yahoo dot com and I will re-post your dear words with tear-stained alacrity. Soon as we sort out the series of tubes.

XXOO

P.P.S. OK, it seems that the Comment thing may or may not be fixed. You are welcome to try to leave your message, or email me, or not. *Sigh*. Whatever.

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Last week I showed you how an illustration of a secret garden can go all wrong when you (that means me, I, the left-hander holding the brush above) over-do it. So this week, let’s not end with a much-needed glass of champagne consolation. . . what am I saying?? I love ending a painting session with champagne, even if it’s for consolation! Rule of Life: There Is Never a Bad Reason to Drink Champagne.

So, this week, let’s roll our painting session towards a glass of champagne just because, but hopefully not because we (that means me, I, the let-hander picking up the paint brush) have made yet another illustration go all wrong. OK?

Today I am going to paint the secret entrance to a well-known secret London garden, the Chelsea Physic Garden, which is actually not at all secret anymore, having lately become one of the Top Ten tourist attraction  sights in all of England. As you can see below, I have penciled in a few guide lines and put down a wash of yellowish-grayish watercolor in the area where the high brick wall (that surrounds the garden) will be:

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So far, it looks ugly, but that’s just for now. Because yet to come is the part where I am painting the Chelsea Physic Garden on a sunny day, and in the background I will lay down the color of sunbeams:

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Quick, while it’s still wet, I blob in some pale greenery:

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And more greenery:

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I add some medium-dark greens for the middle ground:

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I dab in some detail foliage (but not too much, don’t want to over-do it) and add shadows, and if this were one of my famous tea-bag size miniatures, we’d almost be done:

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I paint in the two figures — for the record, a man in a grey shirt in front; a woman wearing a pink shirt in back — and in the foreground, I paint a foundation layer of greenery (I’m afraid I’m going to have to use the word “green” and “greenery” very often in this post):

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This next bit is fun for me: I get to paint some detail stuff in middlingly-darkish greens here. By the way, I practice making these itty bitty leaves in one sinuous stroke before I put them in this picture — think of it as calligraphy: it only looks good if you get the stroke right, and you only get one chance to get the stroke right:

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Using the same stroke, I add contrast by using a very dark green (which is regular green that I’ve mixed with black):

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And here is where I lay my brush down because here is where I DID NOT OVER-DO IT!

Yay for me!

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Next: The Wall.

If I had drawn these penciled-in guidelines (see below) directly onto the watercolor paper before I put that ugly yellowish-grayish wash over on top of them, the pencil lines would be fixed permanently by the paint. But O Clever Mio, I instead I let the wash dry completely and put the pencil lines on top of the wash, where they are fungible and I will be able to erase them all off after I paint in these bricks:

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Oh, how I love painting bricks. Yes, you have to concentrate on getting the teeny tiny spacing of these teeny tiny dashes of paint right, but it’s a pleasantly mindless concentration that permits you to paint while also listening closely to  talk radio, or following the CD of the cast recording of Hamilton, or creating in your head the perfect put-downs to the jerk who was loud-mouthing against Boston Rob being the greatest champion of Survivor in history (He is. So shut up.) at your brother-in-law’s barbecue; it’s that kind of meditative, calming pondering that I only get done when I have a lot of bricks (or the like***) to paint. Ahhhhh. . . . I could paint bricks all day.

But sadly, the brick painting comes to an end and I must finish this task. So, lastly, I hold my breath and paint the grille. Yuk. I have to paint straight lines, in an uniform, unvarying width, with a 00-size brush. If I screw up at this final step and do something blobby and/or squiggly, I will have ruined the illustration and wasted hours and hours of work:

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Whew.

DONE:

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Except. . . look at this closely:

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The whole time I was painting this illustration, I kept thinking how odd it was that the entrance to the Chelsea Physic Garden was surprisingly un-symmertrical. Well, duh. Upon looking at other reference photos than the one I was stupidly fixated upon further research, of course I saw that the entrance to the venerable Chelsea Physic Garden is of course symmetrical.

Luckily, my superpower is The Rescue of Watercolor Illustrations. (Really. You can look them up, in the side bar to the right, under Rescues. )

I do what I gotta do. I cut out the offending non-symmetry, I Elmer’s Glue-in a new piece of paper, and I paint in a new symmetry:

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And the rest is history, on page 142 of my book, Gardens of Awe and Folly:

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I don’t know why I can not get a good photo of this illustration — sorry, but this is the best that I can do!

P.S., I also decided to switch the people in the pic, moving the guy in the grey shirt to the back and the girl in the pink shirt to the front. It was a necessary edit to preserve the continuity of the narrative, or just a whim on my part.

So that’s how it’s not over-done, my Wonder Ones. Thank you all for your delicious stories In The Defense of Names two weeks ago — I have been traveling and have not been able to respond as I would want BUT. . .

. . . I am home from my roaming and I have so much to catch you all up on. I went to the Great Pacific Great Northwest and I met Dear Readers in  Seattle! I met with Dear Readers in  Portland! I happened upon Dear Readers in  Cannon Beach!!!!

Next week it’s just you and me, catching up on life and adventures. Warning: There Will Be Cats.

*** The Like: I have a future blog post all about painting bricks and the like [stone walls] set up, for the perfect frantic too-busy aggravating day when we all would like to achieve a little Zen in our lives. Which should be real soon.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

 

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See you in Cannon Beach (Oregon) on May 7!

If I had not run out of chapters in my book Gardens of Awe and Folly  I would have taken the extra pages to give you all a tour of some of my favorite every day Secret Gardens, like the one my neighbor Joanne has in her back yard:

Joann's Secret Grden

This (above) is the entrance to the Secret Garden belonging to one of the most excellent Chilled Wine Cocktail On The Patio Hostesses I know.  Step into that wooden archway entrance gate (below) , and you are treated to a more complete view of the pathway that leads to Joanne’s hide-away around the corner (that you can’t see in this pic because it’s secret):

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Well, it’s a GOOD THING I am an illustrator and in possession of an Artistic License so that when I take my pencil and draw this illustration, I can give you both of these views at once:

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Next, I apply masking fluid with a tooth pick (because I need a really fine line):

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To start, we have to lay in some sunlight, which I will let dry before I go to the ext step:

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Since I’ll be working from the back to the front of this illustration, the next thing I do is lay in background foliage:

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All I do is dab dab dab the lightest shades of green, quickly, while everything is still wet:

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And now the plot thickens.

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I’m putting in a light green wash on the left side here because as you saw in the reference photo, this is where all the shade is:

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Dab dab dab in some nice rich greens, and then I’m done mapping out the brights and darks of this illustration:

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BTW, I really like what happened up there, when I dab dab dabbed wet-in-wet and got some nice blotches that could very well stand as is and look totally convincing as foliage. But I don’t spend much time pondering this because I can’t wait to get a move-on because . . .

. . .I  LOVE THIS PART! This is the part where I add more detail to the background:

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Oh, I love dab dab dabbing with my size-00 brush!

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And now I start adding detail to the front-ground, over-painting the wash with dark leaf-shaped flicks of my 01 brush:

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I paint bigger leaves with a fatter brush, whose size I don’t know:

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And then I work the middle-ground:

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Something tells me that I could stop here . . .

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. . . I could stop here, call it DONE, and let those nice watercolor blotches do their job, but noooooooooo,  an evil little voice urges me to go on, put in some really really dark, dark background:

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More is More is what that evil little voice is telling me:

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Time to get out the 00 brush again and make some tree branches out of all that brightness in the background:

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Let’s take a look before we remove the masking fluid:

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I hate to say it, but I’m starting to doubt that really dark background. And I’m getting a bad feeling about that bench and lantern. Where O Where is that voice that should be telling me  Quit While You’re Ahead?

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But there is only silence as I plod on anyway and sure enough, I paint over those wonderful blotches that I liked so much:

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And oh well, I guess it’s DONE:

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WHAT WENT WRONG: Yeah, the lantern looks wonky, and the bench doesn’t make sense —  I made a bad choice when I included them in the pic. Also, I don’t “get” the wooden gateway either; it’s almost invisible, lost in the more and more of the foliage. Well, it’s a good thing that I work small, so the fix-up shouldn’t be all that hard.

CAN THIS PICTURE BE SAVED?

This is it BEFORE:

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And this is it AFTER:

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Hmmmmm, I dare say that, in the end, I saved this pic, and if you had not seen the BEFORE maybe you wouldn’t even notice the heavy-handed layer of paint on the left side. But alas, we are wise to the muddle and in our heart of hearts we all know that it was a better picture when it was “half” DONE.

My Dear Readers, this is what a bad day at the office looks like to me: I spend approx. 5 hours working on this picture, for a chapter that never makes it into the GoAaF, which even if such a chapter existed I would not (probably not, depends on how tired I am by deadline time) would not use this illustration for anyway.

Well, I don’t know what would you do after such a bad day at the office, but here’s what I do to end the day on a sweet note:

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A little champagne, a blue jay feather, and the company of a cat — that’s all it takes to make it a perfect day in VivianWorld.

Have a great weekend, my Wonder Ones.

 

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Aggggghhhhhh! I did not know that the re-design would kick in today! So bear with me while I clean up the usual minor glitches, including a very awkward Comment button (click onto the READ MORE box at the very end of this post) And now, back to our regularly scheduled chat:

Usually this space is reserved for garden-y painting time, like this:

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But today I have two important non-garden-y questions on my mind. The first one is, in regards to the illustration below,

Too Twee?

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Twee: excessively or affectedly quaint, pretty, or sentimental. And oh yeah, that (above) is twee, and I should know because I did it, by collage, by piecing together bits of a rose garden and bits of tea table for an illustration that, in the end, didn’t work because it was too damn twee. But I like the way I did the spoons. And the cranberry muffin isn’t half bad. But I digress.

Now here’s something that I think is

Not twee:

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That (above) is my Tea Cup Triscuit Quartet (pictured with an actual Triscuit, the delicious whole wheat snack cracker from Nabisco which I mention because I call  my teeny tiny paintings Triscuits and I don’t want to be sued for trademark infringement so I give credit where credit is due).

Twee is bad for illustration because it’s lazy. Twee depends on cliche for its effect, and cliches (whether spoken, written, or painted) are way dull — cliches are the easy way out, something for the shallow or cynical-minded to fall back on when they don’t want to put in the hard work of having an original thought. Don’t be fooled by the prettiness: “pretty” (as we all know) can be dead boring. Which, now that I’ve explained it, I’m sure you can now clearly see the twee in this picture:

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I had planned to use this illustration in my book Gardens of Awe and Folly, and I was going to drop text into the blank area in the left-center of the picture but, when I took a third look at it, I saw that it was way too cute and dopey and I in the end I saved all you Dear Readers from this eruption of sickly sweet and removed it from consideration. But hey, that’s life — sometime twee happens to the best of us.

My Tea Cup Triscuit Quartet is not guilty of twee because there’s no hot cross bun in the picture. In other words, I don’t exactly know why it isn’t twee, it just isn’t.

You might remember that one-quarter of this quartet began life as this:

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But those two cups were boring and ill-composed (even for a Triscuit) so I re-drew it:

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And re-painted it to be less boring:

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And now, because Dear Reader Nancy S. asked me to, I am giving you all the drawings that made my non- twee Tea Cup Triscuit Quartet possible:

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And then we come to this baby:

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I know you’ll want to put your own design here!

Side view: Lord lordy lordy, it is sooooo much easier to paint stuff if you don’t have to deal with perspective, which turns round things like tea cups and saucers into ovals which are very tricky.

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And so, while you watch me paint a tea cup the painless way . . .

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. . . I want to discuss the second question of the day, inspired by The New York Times’ Social Qs column.

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Social Qs is a very popular feature in the NYT Sunday paper in which Philip Galanes gives “lighthearted advice about awkward social situations“.

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Recently I read this question in Social Qs:

I am a woman in my 20s and work in a small, friendly office of 20 people. My given name is Andie. I have a male colleague, who goes by the nickname Andy. To cut down on confusion, my colleagues started calling me Andie Girl or Miss Andie, and him Andy Boy or Mr. Andy. I hate it! It’s infantilizing and condescending. But I didn’t nip it in the bud, and now everyone in the company uses these nicknames, including Human Resources and our C.E.O. Is there a way to address this that doesn’t seem as if I’m suddenly overreacting?

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This query was signed, ANDIE, PORTLAND, ORE.

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As I hope tens of thousands of you know, I will be in Portland, Ore. on May 5 and 7, and I would like to meet ANDIE, PORTLAND, ORE. to tell her that I think “Andie Girl” is an ADORABLE nick-name, but I won’t because I totally agree with Mr. Galanes’ answer which is (short version) (long version here), that heck yeah, Andie should go have a talk with HR about putting a stop to this “Andy Girl” business because:

We should all be called what we like.

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I love this answer because I happened to have had a recent falling out with someone — a relative, in fact — over this exact same issue! In my case, it’s not about a nickname, it’s about the fact that I’m an identical twin.

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I’ve been an identical twin all my life, so it’s no big deal to me. Being an identical twin — believe me — is about the least interesting thing about me, so I hardly ever mention it.

However, when I was growing up, being an identical twin was a huge pain in the ass. I’m talking from an 8-year old’s point of view when I say that I hated being a twin on my birthday and Christmas, when me and my sister were treated as one unit, meaning that we got one birthday gift to share, one birthday cake to share, one Xmas gift to share. . . you get the  picture. Now, as a grown up, I have a more mature understanding of the gift-giving situation and I understand that my relatives were simply being cheap bastards so, for the most part, I have disowned them.

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But the one thing that still chaps my butt (as they say in Texas) is when me and my sister are still referred to as “the twins“. If I were a singleton, I’d always be called by my own name — a common courtesy that many of you non-twins take for granted, right? But because I’m a twin, I don’t get a name, I get a unit designation, a stupid catch-all, a de-humanizing label, etc etc etc. — I think you get my point, that for whatever reason,  I  hate it when me and my sister are called “the twins”.

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So when a relative recently wrote an email in which me and my sister were referred to as “the twins”, I emailed back, and I said please, don’t call me “the twins”. Thank you.

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In reply, not only did this relative answer “No”, she responded “Absolutely No” with a long, angry note about how it’s ridiculous of me to object to being called “the twins”, how it’s the truth that I’m a twin, that she likes it that I’m a twin, she can’t fathom why I don’t like being called a twin,  etc etc.

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So I gave her the old FU and we are no longer on speaking terms.

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The point is that I don’t have to justify it, I don’t have to explain it, I don’t have to come up with a good enough excuse to you; you don’t have to agree, you don’t even have to like it. All you have to know is that I don’t like I don’t like being called “the twins” and say, as any kind-hearted or civilized person would, Oh, I didn’t know that but now that I do, I will not call you “the twins” because

We should all be called what we like.

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So the second question of the day is:

Right?

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The thing I like about this tea cup is the way it sits on the paper, like it’s an ideal tea cup, or the idea of a tea cup, or a design for a tea cup, a pattern for a tea cup. I think this form would look nice in a trio (suitable for framing), like this:

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Each tea cup would be painted with a different pattern, maybe even modified in homage to some memorable cups of tea you’ve had in your travels, like, say, that tea cup with the square handle in that Paris cafe near the Louvre:

Paris cafe, paris croissant

Or that delicious cup of Assam with the tea bag hanging out of it, at the boulangerie in the Opera metro station:

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Or that nice hot cuppa with a sugar cube and spoon the cafe facing Sacre Coeur:

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Paris cafe near Sacre Coeur

The possibilities are endless, and not at all twee.

Before I go, I must thank all you Amazon Commenters for your lovely 5-star reviews. No, wait — I can do better than “thanks”! Remember, I did this:

 

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And this:

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The Super Duper Triscuit Quartet Give Away is destined for one of you lucky Amazon reviewers to win (you don’t have to buy the book on Amazon, you just have to review it there, such is the reality of the modern day book biz).

But wait there’s more — WE HAVE A WINNER!

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We have a winner of my Monet’s Boats Triscuit and that winner is the Commentor who goes by the name of:

SNAP!

Top Cat chose #72 as the wining number for this contest, and Snap had the guess that came closest to that number without going over it — and Happy Birthday too! Snap, please email me at vivianswift at yahoo dot com so I can send this miniature masterpiece your way.

Another big huge Thank You goes out to everyone who tuned in to GardenChat with Bren last Wednesday to watch me LIVE on internet TV  and joined me in my little fake talk-show set and saw how smoooooth I am in front of a camera:

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One last thing: If you have a story about how you got rid of an odious nick name, or if  you’ve chosen to be known by a name other than the one you were given at birth, please please please let me know in a Comment below. To me, it’s a wonder that so many of us hang on to the randomly assigned name we were given by people [parents] who , let’s face it, have their own agendas when it comes to naming their offspring. Right?

Have a great weekend, my Wonder Ones.

See you in Seattle on May 3! And Portland (Oregon) on May 5! Check me out on the EVENTS page!

And next week, as I have promised Commentor Lynn from NOLA, we will do this:

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Just because I know nothing, absolutely nothing about actual gardening, that doesn’t mean I don’t “garden”.

Why, just TODAY I “gardened” a baby Japanese maple tree growing about six feet from the big old Japanese maple in my front yard (bottle of Saint-Emilion for scale, because we have to be scientific):

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And here’s me showing the Japanese maple tree that we “gardened” last year when it was a baby growing in Top Cat’s tomato patch in the back yard, which he re-planted and is now a sapling way back in the woods (yeah, that’s the same bottle of Saint-Emilio there, for scale, because it was still TODAY when I took this pic):

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Yes, walking around the yard with a bottle of wine is what I call “gardening”. In fact, sitting around with a bottle of wine is also what I call “gardening”. In my world, you can also “garden” while sipping tea, flipping through a J. Peterman catalog, or otherwise re-arranging the mental furniture up there there in the brain pan.

I am bringing this up because later this week, on Wednesday April 27 I am going to appear LIVE on the internet with the marvelous  Bren on GardenChat (chat is French for cat, so you see — I knew that, at least) and you all can tune in and type me questions in real time and we will “garden” together. Youse and me. Is technology awesome or what?!

LIVE on the internet means that I will be on camera, in my house, so I will have to make my “gardening” space camera ready . . .

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. . .  so I’m going to have to clean up even though it’s not even close to Thanksgiving, when I usually do my housekeeping.

AFTER

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Lights, Camera: OK now! Let’s do some “gardening”!

And when I say “gardening”, I mean: Let’s paint!

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Monet’s garden in Giverny, by me

Yes, we’re heading back to Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, this time we’re leaving the flower garden part (above) and we’re heading to the famous lily pond (below):

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Let’s start with my photo of Monet’s famous Japanese bridge . . .

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. . . and I’m going to point out what attracted my attention, in this photo — something in the background there, on the right hand side . . .

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I saw these boats, and the reflections of the bamboo on the water, and the back-lit stuff, and I thought:

Triscuit!

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So I take out my “gardening” tools. . .

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. . . and I get down to the dirty work:

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This is the only time I use a flat brush (below), when I dip it into clear water and swipe over a painted surface to pick up pigment, and leave these streaks of white lines that imitate the ripple of water. Cool, huh?

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Now I’m going to use white acrylic paint to paint over those dark bamboo plants in the background. . .

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. . . so I can put a light, bright, lime green paint on top of the white acrylic bits:

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And this, my Wonder Ones, is how we “garden”:

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GIVE AWAY * GIVE AWAY * GIVE AWAY

 AND In honor of my LIVE internet debut later this week — Wednesday, April 27 — I am giving away this Monet’s Boats Triscuit! This contest is open to everyone, whether or not you have Commented recently, even if this is your first visit here to VivianWorld!

Just leave a Comment to this blog post, and pick a number between 1 and 100. Top Cat will do his usual random picking of number and I will announce the winner next Friday, when we meet here again and discuss our GardenChat, and whether or not I still do that weird thing that I do with my mouth when I speak, which always looks 1000% worse on video than it does in real life. I also tend to make faces, which I will really try very hard not to do in front of the camera.

Before I go, I must give you the latest picture of Taffy “gardening”:

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. . . and tell you the latest in  GoAaF news:

Sweet Dear Reader Anne alerted me last Wednesday that the generous and kind Elizabeth Gilbert posted this on her Twitter and Facebook:

GARDENS OF AWE AND FOLLY, by Vivian Swift. I love the work of watercolorist/explorer Vivian Swift (her first book WHEN WANDERERS CEASE TO ROAM is on my personal Top 10 Books of All Time list), so I was delighted to see this new volume of hers, which is a study of public gardens all over the world. As a wanna-be botanical historian, this one is right up my alley. It’s beautiful, thoughtful, whimsical, and smart (and would make a perfect mother’s day gift, by the way).

I got all teary-eyed, and then the GoAaF shot up to No. 1 in Garden Design on Amazon:

datauri-fileThank you, Maryanne S., for the screen grab. That #1 Best Seller in Garden Design means, I think, that 100,000 copies of the GoAaF flew off the shelves thanks to the wondrous Liz Gilbert. On days like this, I feel kindly towards the whole book making process and I get all  sentimental and I think to myself, Hey, it might be worth it to stick around and write another whole ‘nother book. Maybe.

P.S. to Nancy S.: Sorry, but I bumped your tea cups to next week’s blog, but trust me: I made it really special for you and all us tea cup fans out there.

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P.S. to Lynn from NOLA: I loved your question, and I will dedicate an upcoming blog post to you in answer, about that missing Chapter 10 from Gardens of Awe and Folly. Here’s a h int:

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Have a great weekend, and go forth in awe and folly, my Wonder Ones.

P.S. Re: Monet Boat Triscuit Give Away — As of Wednesday noon, these numbers are taken (so please mind-meld with the universe to choose your own special digit):

4

68

99

26

11

13

30

80

21

9

10

33

77

7

87

5

50

79

84

38

21

62

67

14

63

79

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Ah. . . New Orleans . . .

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Just got back from NOLA and, as the saying goes, all I brought home was a great big hangover. Or maybe that’s just a saying in our house. And yes, I did find the perfect tea cup whilst I was roaming Chartres Street in the old French Quarter:

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This is what the best red beans and rice ($13.00, hold the sausage, with substitution cole slaw on the side) in the French Quarter (with Pinot Grigio in a tea-shaped Go Cup) at 801 Royal Street looks like :

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Bowls with herbs displayed on a wide brim = “fine dining”.

And this is what red beans and rice looks like at half the price ($6.00) at the great, old school, down home Majoria’s Commerce Luncheonette in the CBD (Central Business District):

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All the dishes are melamine, sure sign of a high-quality dive joint.

Ah, New Orleans . . .

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You know what they say when they quote Tennessee Williams:

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Photo taken in the Bywater neighborhood of NOLA.

America has only three cities:

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San Fransisco, New York, and New Orleans . . .

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Go Cup holders on the rental bikes at our hotel. That’s my kind of ride.

. . . Everywhere else is Cleveland. (Sorry, Cleveland.)

 And a big Holy Cow to R. Stephanie Bruno, special correspondent at The Advocate, for making me feel like a rock star with her fabulous review of my humble little book, Gardens of Awe and Folly:

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And Thank You, Octavia Books for hosting a Wine and Books evening on Wednesday, April 13, featuring Moi and the Little Book that Could.

Here’s me, signing pre-ordered copies:

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And here’s me, bloviating about everything I know about writing’ and painting’ and book making’:

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Thank DoG I found this great Ellen Tracy top in NOLA, because after four days of living it up in my favorite American city I could not fit into the rather form-fitting blouse I’d packed.

There was even an After Party in the garden of the wonderful Lady of the Roses who you know from Gardens of Awe and folly, Karen Kersting (that’s Karen in the butter-colored brocade jacket):

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And for those of you who already know Karen from Chapter 4 of the GoAaF . . .

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. . . then you also know about her sweet little Bee, the pup in the lower right side of Karen’s rose garden (on page 70). So I know that you’ll love this pic of them together, and the look of love in sweet little’s Bee’s eyes:

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Then it was time to pack up the bags, call a cab, and head to the airport:

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I know what it means to miss New Orleans.

A Dear Reader and Commentor asked me, last week, to re-invent the Internet Thing we invented when we did watering cans, only with tea cups. . .

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. . .   so next week’s post will be dedicated to Nancy S. and All Things Tea. Or Tea-Adjacent. Or All Things Served in a Tea Cup, or All Regionally Evocative Bevvies Served in a Tea-Cup Shaped Go Cup.

Have a great weekend all you Wonder Ones, and roll some good times for sure, cheres.

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You ask, I giveth. Dear Reader and Commentor Marg-o asked if I could put up drawings for the Triscuit watering cans I’ve painted for the super-duper Triscuit Quartet Give-Away:

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So I enlarged the waterings cans and re-drew their outlines so they’d be nice and clear, and here they are, for your printing and painting pleasure, both the Before. . .

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. . . and the After:

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Before:

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After:

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I couldn’t find the drawings I used for the other two/quarters of the Super Duper Triscuit Quartet,,so here’s another drawing I did that you might like to paint anyway:

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Don’t forget to enter the Super-Duper Triscuit Quartet Give Away!

Did we just invent the latest internet craze????? Probably not, because artists can be stingy giving away their stuff. But not me. Right, Monique?

Last week, Dear Reader and long-time Commentor Monique  mentioned me and the GoAaF in her beautiful  blog  — Merci Monique!, and she also wrote about the  painting lessons I offer here in VivianWorld. Monique thinks my generosity is the sign of a very confident and mature human being. Ha! I have no idea how I’ve pulled that off, giving the impression that I’m a  grown up. Although it is true that, when I bitch and moan at life for making me the Wrong Swift, that is, making me Vivian instead of Taylor Swift, I do use very grown-up curse words, so there’s that in the “mature” column.

Now, you might think a grown-up writer of my, ahem, stature, would wish to be the other famous Swift,  Jonathan Swift, but nope, not me. I don’t want to be remembered for my wit and smarts 269 years and counting after I die: I want to be 25 and in Paris and wander rooftops in a gauzy gown right now, right this damn minute.

Did you watch it? Did you see her in the Square du Vert-Galant?

map of Square du Vert-Galant, Vert-Galant Paris

She even sat under the willow tree I wrote about in Gardens of Awe and Folly!

Paris, Seine River, watercolor of Paris

But getting back to my actual non-Taylor/real Vivian Swift life, and to Monique’s compliment as to my mental state, I want to say that I have no qualms showing you all how I do what I do because, to me, it’s not giving away professional secrets. In my opinion, it’s the same as teaching someone how to write cursive script (not that anybody’s doing that these days). See, I could teach you how to form a cursive A . . .

 

sample. . . or B. . .

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. . . but you’d still end up writing your As and Bs in your own, unique, organic, unavoidable you-style anyway:

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Right? So here’s me showing all you crazy individualists everything I know about painting a tea cup Triscuit:

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The rotten part of painting tea cups is getting the perspective right, which means getting the oval right. So, since it’s my No. 1 Rule to always start a picture buy painting the hardest bit first, I began with the oval shadow under the saucer, and the oval “tea” in the tea cup. Notice that I shaded the “tea” lighter around the edges: if you’ve ever looked at your tea, you’ll see that that’s how it is in real life, because of physics, or math, or gravity, or something.

Next, I use acrylic gold paint to outline the decoration on Tea Cup No. 1 in the foreground:

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You have to use acrylic paint here, because watercolor simply cannot do what acrylic does, i.e., shine. See how it shines when I put it in a raking light? (See: below.)

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Oooooooo…pretty!

Anyway, the rest of this tea-cup waiting thing is pretty much an Instagram so here goes:

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And DONE. Or, I should say. . .

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One – Quarter DONE.

Next week there will be three more from where that came from in order to, you guessed it, make a Super-Duper Tea Cup Triscuit Quartet to be given away in May along with the Super Duper etc etc etc (because not everybody likes watering cans). And Thank you, all you Dear Readers and Wonder Ones, for your kind 5-star reviews on Amazon. Your words are like champagne to me, and you all know how seriously I take champagne.

I have to go now and pack for New Orleans, baby! Because of this:

Wed., April 13  2016   6PM

at Octavia Books in New Orleans, cher!

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513 Octavia Street in fabulous Uptown, NOLA

Best of New Orleans 2015

You know what you get when you get three or more New Orleanians in one room? You get a party! Because in New Orleans, every day that you’re alive is worth celebrating!

So if you’re alive on Wednesday, April 13 this year, here’s the deal:

You bring your Go Cup and I’ll bring mine, and we’ll let the good times roll.

Come join the fun and convo about life, gardens, Triscuits, roses, voodoo, cake, hurricane parties, etc. OK?

(It’s the “etc.” that New Orleans does best.)

And on May 3, Seattle, here I come!

And on May 5, it’s Portland, here I come!

And on May 7, it’s Canon Beach, here I come!

Are you in?

Note:I think we broke the Internet. Several of you Wonder Ones have emailed me about not being able to leave a Comment this week, and I am so sorry about that, being as I love Comments, being as they are the Internet equivalent of sweet little kitties purring in my ear. I will look into the problem and try to curse my way to a solution so we can all “talk” by Friday’s post, in which I exceed all your expectations of what a blog can do. Really.

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Around the time I decided to be an illustrator . . .

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Yep, that’s me working on page 96 of Gardens of Awe and Folly, with help from Coco.

. . . I also decided that painting would be a better way of picture-making than sewing, so I packed up my embroidery needles and threads and stashed them away.  I stashed them so well that, when I recently got the urge to see if I could still pull off some blanket and stem stitching, I had to wander around the house for half an hour asking myself, “Now, where did I stash my embroidery kit?” before I found my answer: top shelf, upstairs linen closet:

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Yes, that’s the same adorable vintage lady’s case that I illustrated with the rest of my collection of old timey luggage on page 123 of When Wanderers Cease to Roam:

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You can tell I’m a Capricorn by the way I am meticulous about sorting and color-coding and my embroidery threads:

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Seeing these embroidery flosses reminded me of the one advantage that thread . . .

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. . . has over paint:

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No mixing necessary. You want to make something green in embroidery, you just pick a thread. You want to make something green in an illustration, you have to futz with all its variables. Like this:

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That (above) is me watercoloring the flower bed in the background of this (below):

Giverny, Monet garden, Monet gardeners

I was stalking the gardeners in Giverny because I like wheelbarrows.

So let’s take a quick digression to Claude Monet’s garden (the most famous garden in the world) in Giverny so I can prove my point. Which is something about comparing paint to non-paint, which might not be the most important point to be making right now when I have so much work ahead of me, digging my way out of the dungeon of being a low-mid-list author with a book not on the NYTimes bestseller list and all but hey, it’s either me typing away at this pointless point I’m making, or me crawling back to bed with a large pizza and a vat of Pinot Grigio and spending the day watching HGTV.

So here goes:
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I mix all my shades of green almost from scratch, using just water, Hooker’s green, two different shades of yellow, and sometimes a little black. When I paint grass and flowers, I like to let watercolor “do” what watercolor “does”, which is, technically, “pool” and “splotch”.

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I read my first Ann Rule book last week. Ann Rule, as everyone from the Seattle/Great Pacific Great Northwest knows, is the million-selling author of true crime books. What I found out about Ann Rule from reading the Acknowledgments of my first Ann Rule book is that Ann Rule used to belong to a very exclusive writers’ group, made up of best selling Seattle authors.

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The name of Ann Rule’s best selling writers’ group was The Bitch and Moan Club. I’ll let that sink in for a minute while I mention here that the more I painted this pic, the more I realized that it’s tricky to paint hunky gardeners from the back, for the simple reason that you have to deal with their butts:

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I’m trying to make this guy’s butt NOT be the center of attention in this little illustration, so I’ve ove-laid some white gauche onto the two back pockets on this guy’s trousers in an effort to decrease their noticeability. And then I dabbed in some white acrylic paint in the form of tulips in the fore- and back- ground:

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Getting back to Ann Rule, and reading about her Bitch and Moan Club: For the life of me, I could not imagine what best-selling authors have to complain about. But here’s my guess:

That every time they cash their royalty checks the bank runs out of hundred dollar bills.

How easy it is to confuse Dallas with Houston while on yet another all-expenses paid 20-city book tour, and don’t even get them started on how horrible it is that room service at the Four Seasons has dropped crab cakes from their Night menu.

How much they miss Jon Stewart, who was such a huuuuuge fan of theirs that he made those pesky TV interviews almost fun.

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Paint-wise, I put in all the shades of rose, lavender, and violet that those tulips needed:

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And then I decided to ruin the pic by painting in the box-shaped lime trees overhead:

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I was actually looking up Ann Rule’s contact info, to write her a letter asking just what does go on in that Bitch and Moan Club, when I discovered that she had died last July(I use “die” instead of “passed away” or the even more dreadful “passed” because I’m a grown up, and because Ann Rule, the maven of true crime, would not have wanted me to punk out). Merde.

 

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So here’s what it’s like to not-paint an illustration:

First, I spent a few hours drawing some bad sewing ideas until I hit upon an idea that wasn’t half bad, and then I traced it onto my muslin, took a seat  (not the comfy seat — that one belongs to Coco), and started sewing:

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That (above) is what I can do in an hour and a half. This (below) is when I decided that there was too much of the same dark green thread . . .

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. . . so I ripped it out and rooted through my palette to choose some other shade of vert:

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The ripping out and the re-stitching only took an hour. You can tell I’m a Capricorn by the way I keep time sheets on all my projects: in total, I spent 8 hours sewing this piece. And then it came time to wash out the pencil marks . . .

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. . . and to rinse out the soap and dry it out a bit . . .

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. . . and to fetch my handy re-useable canvas board. . .

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. . . to staple and stretch the piece out to dry:

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I have learned the hard way that it makes life easier when you make stuff that fits into standard-size frames. So the last step was to make sure that the piece would still fit in a standard 8 x 10-inch frame:

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And that it would also fit into a standard 18 x 24-centimeter frame:

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And this is how it looks when all is sewed and done:

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Point made.

And you can tell that I’m a Capricorn by the way I can complain about anything. Just yesterday I was complaining about daffodils. Too yellow, and for me, yellow flowers lack sophistication.

Hey, I just thought of something real that best selling authors can bitch and moan about:

How it’s you million-selling authors who prop up the entire publishing industry but it’s that no-show Thomas Pynchon and his crap “literature” that gets the MacArthur award.

See, Seattle best selling authors? I get you! (please please pleeeeeeeeese let me come to your meetings).

Now, before I bid you all a bon weekend and un-cork the Pinot, I have something very important to share with you:

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That’s supposed to be the French Quarter.

At 6:00 pm in New Orleans, my favorite American city, on April 13, I will be at Octavia Books talking about going forth in awe and folly. I’ll probably also mention something about cats; how to get published even though you are not famous and you write odd, illustrated, memoir-ish books; and The Secret of Life.  The Lady of the Roses, Karen Kersting herself, will be there!

CcK-Q_1WAAAlLYzOctavia Books is a great independent bookstore known for its happy events, so I know we’ll have a good time! I am soooo looking forward to hamming it up in my favorite American city!

In conjunction with this event, the wonderful Susan Larson, New Orleans’ first lady of the literary scene, interviewed me for her radio program, The Reading Life. Don’t worry, I kept my blabbering answers short, and I only got lost on one question Susan put to me (about finding solitude in a Winter garden) but I was assured that, as our talk was being taped, that the producer would go back and edit out all my stupidity (head bowed in prayer). Stay tuned.

Book events are always such fun for me. I’m pretty sure I’ll be traveling to Seattle in the near future, so I’ll let you know the details as they become available. And no, it’s not because I’m stalking anyone — I went to Seattle and Portland for my first book and I really, really need to get together with all you Wonder Ones of the Great Pacific Great Northwest.

P.S. It’s Wine O’Clock chez moi and I’ve got the nightly news from NPR on the radio and oh dear DoG, I did not know until now that it was April Fool’s Day, until I heard the usual, painfully lame April Fool’s Day joke news item. Please, NPR, I beg of you: don’t try to make funny. You’re too nice, and humor is all about having a slight mean streak.

Thank you.

 

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Monet garden Giverny grande allee close normand

A view of the famous Grande Allee in Monet’s garden in Giverny, painted by me after my 2005 (or was it 2006?) visit there. But those yew trees are from my 1984, 1992, and 1999 visit there.

Back when I was hatching the idea about doing something fabulous with my fondness for foreign gardens — which eventually became Gardens of Awe and Folly . . .

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. . . (which we call the GoAaF, pronounced “the go-af” , because all cool things have cool acronyms, like J-Lo, and Brangelina, and ComicCon) — anyway, back then it was a no-brainer that if I were going to write about the most thought-provoking gardens in the world, I would have to include the most famous garden in the world, namely, Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, France.

Now, everyone knows of Monet’s garden at Giverny mostly because of this:

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, www.giverny.org

Which you might know better as this:

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This is just one f the 250 versions of his water garden that Monet painted in his lifetime. “In his lifetime.” Why did I say that? It’s not like he could paint anything that WASN’T in his lifetime, right?

So I went to Giverny, and spent three days there, hanging out at Monet’s garden, taking long walks up the hills that overlook the property, walking along the old railroad tracks to and from Vernon, traipsing in and out of the tiny little streets of the beautiful village of Giverny. I took about a thousand photos of flowers, butterflies, and my lunch. If you’d like to detour and head back with me, back to May of 2013, click here. I do indeed loves me the village of  Giverny.

As a seasoned and rather home-loving world traveler, I am a very efficient when I go overseas. I want to do what I gotta do and then get back to my cats and my Judge Judy. So my trip to France was actually a twofer, because the day after I left Giverny I got on a plane and went to Morocco. Specifically, Marrakech:

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That’s the door to my riad hotel, on the left.

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That, above, is the courtyard of my hotel in the casbah, which you Dear readers with eagle eyes might recognize from the illustration I did of it in the GoAaF:

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This illustration of Fatima pouring tea in the courtyard of my riad is my favorite painting in the whole GoAaF:

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You’ll notice that I made changes to the flooring tiles. That’s because I wanted the little brown bird to stand out in the background (I really enjoyed those little brown birds) and I knew that I could not make that happen by painting a brown bird on a brown floor.  And here’s my tip for painting black-on-black stuff, such as Fatima’s headscarf: leave a blank, unpainted space between abutting black forms to create a line of demarkation (I also do this when I paint black cats). See how I did that? Did you even notice it before I pointed it out? (Honestly, I’d really like to know. Maybe I’m not a clever as I think I am.)

But the reason that I  like this illustrations is because of this detail:

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I was very fearful about painting the shiny silver forms of the tea pot and the flat tray, and the reflected tea glass.  I got it on my first attempt — whew. The highlights that you see — the bright white areas — is what I left unpainted, and that’s the bright white of the Canson 90lb. paper showing. Tip: In plotting out the plan of attack for any illustration, paint the hard stuff first, (such as a silver tea pot and tray). That way, if it works out you can then paint the rest of the picture around it; if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t wanted a lot of effort and you are free to start over on a clean sheet of paper. . . strategy, my Wonder Ones: the better part of painting is strategy.

As you Dear Readers of the GoAaF know, my To Do List in Marrakech had just two items on it:  1: have an authentic Moroccan tea experience; and 2: go see the garden of the famous French fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent.

Which is why I spent half an overcast day in the amazing Jardin Majorelle:

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Yep, that’s a lily pond there (above). With palm trees reflecting in it. I was excited to paint this scene because, Wow! Who wouldn’t want to try her hand at painting a lily pond in the middle of a jungly garden? Below is my learning curve when it comes to painting lily ponds in the middle of a jungly garden:

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I kept painting pictures and ripping them apart and painting them over and ripping them apart until finally I had a pond and a jungly background that I liked. I then pieced together the best bits to make this:

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Yes! This is another Watercolor RESCUE!

Which became this 2-page spread in the GoAaF:

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Well, it’s one thing to paint a lily pond from the Jardin Majorelle, but it’s quite another thing to paint the most famous lily pond in the world. Monet’s garden at Giverny is a very intimidating subject for an illustrator — nobody in their right mind wants to re-paint what the Master has already painted. So I put a hold on my plans for a Giverny chapter of the GoAaF, and promised myself that I’d wait until the post-publication amnesia kicked in, and I forgot how truly agonizing it is to live through four years of living with a book-in-progress, that maybe I’d research the possibility of a small pamphlet on the subject of the most famous garden in the world.

Very few illustrated books about Monet’s garden exist, for the obvious reasons, but last week on Amazon.com I found a pop-up book called A Walk in Monet’s Garden by Francesca Crespi, published in 1995, that was the coolest thing I’ve seen about the most famous garden in the world:

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It’s a book for children, so the terrain is much simplified, but the fold-out is so ingenious that I’m sure only an adult could do it:

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(I took these photos on Sunday afternoon so that’s why Top Cat’s Saturday night bottle of wine was handy, to plunk down to show you the scale.) I love it that the large windows in the two studios on either side of the garden have mylar panes!  and it even has the road that runs between the two halves of the garden, the upper flower garden (the Clos Normand) on the right (below), and the lower water garden with its famous lily pond (on the left):

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Since this is a book for children the lay-out of Monet’s flower beds and lawns and plantings is much simplified, so it’s only a schematic of the garden . . .

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. . . so when I need detailed, precise, and conceptual information about the most famous garden in the world, I turn to Ariane Cauderlier, expert authority who knows every inch of Monet’s property, all the ins and outs, highs and lows of the life, art, and ambience of Giverny. Ariane is a former newscaster, and current journalist, author, and photographer who oversees the website for the Claude Monet Foundation at Giverny.org, which is the top-rated website for international visitors planing a voyage to the most famous garden in the world. Ariane is an insider’s insider in the world of all things Monet.

And guess what today is???

It’s OPENING DAY at Monet’s garden in Giverny!!!

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Giverny-Impression.com

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Giverny-Impression.com

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Giverny-Impression.com

So this is a great day to mosey over to Ariane’s  delicious blog in English called Giverny Impression which today and every day gives you a special peek into the year-round happenings in Monet’s flowers beds and ponds — for those of us who need to escape, every now and then, into the other world of France, gardening, and the peace and calms that reigns over the most famous garden in the world in the morning hours before the hordes of tourists arrive each day.

I got to know Ariane last December when I went back to Giverny for a Winter look-around, and had to get her desk-top calendar, which is only sold in France (but can be sent anywhere in the world for a modest shipping charge):

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For the rabid Monet/gardening fan (is that you?), this is the perfect, exclusive, French-imported gift!

For those of us who want to brush up on our French by having a fun conversation with a smart and surprising French friend, we go to Ariane’s French language blog, Giverny News, which wanders out of Monet’s garden from time to time and into London galleries, the history of Impressionism, and Ariane’s own backyard:

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com; Sunset over Giverny Ville

 

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com; Winter on Monet’s lily pond

 

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com; the Royal Academy (in London) exhibiting the blockbuster show, Painting the Modern Garden

 

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com, Gustave Caillebotte prep sketch for Paris Street, Rainy Day

 

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com

OMG, you have to read this story of the fat boar (above) who jumped into Ariane’s walled garden last December! It’s a whole other kind of life, there in a 17th century Norman manor house!

Oh, wait — I forgot to tell you that Ariane and her husband Alain . . .

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. . . have restored a 17th century manor house just down the road from Monet’s garden, and are now hosts of a splendid B&B called The Hermitage:

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But wait, there’s more: I saved the best of the all-bestest ’til last: Ariane, a London-trained linguist, is a licensed Guide/Lecturer who gives private tours of Monet’s garden in three languages (not at the same time). If you really want to get to know the behind-the-scenes Giverny, you must take this tour! Ariane knows all there is to know about Monet, the gardens, the gardeners, and their cats.

I’m not kidding about the cats, by the way. Just ask her, the next time you’re taking her tour.

Ariane knows that I’m a crazy cat lady, so when she went to the Salon of Embroidery Arts in Paris last month, she got this for me:

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Click onto the image to enlarge and have a good laugh, and a great vocabulary lesson. “Le pire, c’est lui” is FUNNY! And: “Niais”: who knew? (Not me.)

Because of a traumatic experience with the cross-stitch when I was 8 years old, I stay away from what the French call le point de croix. But I can see how much fun this would be to sew in a crewel-stitch, a point I am very fond of. And I have 7 cats! And it just so happens that the one who is le pire is also in black-and-white!

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No, wait, maybe he’s le videur. . . yeah, right. As if I could ever get an honest day’s work out of him. . .

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. . . or any of the other cats who surveil me.

Before I go, I want everyone to know that there were plenty of Justin Bieber backstage passes to go around so, everyone who wanted the pair in last week’s give away, got them, no playing dice with the universe necessary to win.

Remember, keep posting those 5-star reviews on Amazon.com for Garden of Awe and Folly  — the contest is still open for anyone to win the super-duper Quartet Triscuit Give-Away (or any other prize of your choice when we do the numbers in May):

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Next week I will post the drawings that became these watering cans (above) for all of you Wonder Ones who want to print them out for your own projects. . . and  I will dedicate next Friday’s post to Dear Commentor Leslie, who sussed this out weeks and weeks ago:

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I hope everyone in the Northern Hemisphere gets a huuuuuuge does of Spring Fever this weekend and does something niais, and comes back to tell us about it. For those in the Antipodean regions of our dear Earth, it’ll be just another weekend in paradise.

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