Get your cats and your tea ready:

We are painting today!

No, not this: This is from 2010 when I was painting a page from my book Gardens of Awe and Folly with the help of Coco.

This:

This is a photo from the archives of the New York Times, which sent a photographer to Claude Monet’s house in Giverny in 1922.

In 2012 the New York Botanical garden photoshopped the “unidentified person” next to Monet out of the pic and colorized it for a show there, in which Monet’s garden at Giverny was re-created in one of the hot houses (I thought it was an odd show) :

FYI: Monet preferred fawn-colored tweeds for his suits.

I always paint from photo references, and usually I only use my own photos. . . but I’ve been known to borrow pix from other sources (Hi Jeanie! Hi Elizabeth!), and this photo of Monet at age 82 on his Japanese bridge is irresistible, don’t you think? P.S.: I used the black and white photo for my paintings. The colorized one is not helpful.

I gave it a go way back in 2012:

Way back in 2012 I was still getting used to painting “large” pictures (as a miniaturist, my preferred format is about one-eight this scale) so no wonder the pic stinks.

Last year, after painting many “murals” for my garden book (5 inches x 7 inches is about the maximum size I can go), I had another try:

This painting is ripe for a rescue.

The smartest thing I did, when I re-painted this pic in 2012, was to leave a bit of blue sky in the top right corner. It’s not there in the reference photograph from 1922. I made an edit. I like it better with a bit of sky.

I have to rescue this pic two ways: I have to make it not stink, and I have to make it fit a square format. Lately I’ve been playing around with breaking my pictures out of a rectangular format, and playing with Monet’s own style. . . and that’s what I decided to do with this picture. I decided to leave the top bit intact (but make it better with added color and shading), and to expand the bottom, watery bit, but do it to look like this:

Sorry: I forgot that I do watercolor tutorials on my blog so I’ve already re-painted the top section and glued in a new bottom bit, and here is where we pick up this rescue:

Let me tell you, it was not easy to figure out how to add width and length to the bottom part of this pic. I thought I was good at piecing things together, but this one was harder than it looked. After fiddling around for about an hour, I got it right. . . this is what it looks like from the back:

The first order of business is to camouflage the hard edges. The good news is that there are reeds on either side of Monet’s Japanese bridge in his water garden at Giverny:

Spoiler alert: I know YOU see it now, but I will not notice that the sides of this rescue are uneven until the very end and I will have a mini-crisis because of it.

If you examine Monet’s paint surface closely, you will see that he uses short, dabbly brushstrokes:

I actually find Monet’s brushstrokes to be a bit wimpy. He is not very daring with his use of paint. COLOR, oui; paint, non.

I can see that Monet paints his lily pads blue, and the water green: Weird, huh? I can also see where Monet puts his light dabs of paint towards the center of the scene and his dark dabs of paint towards the edges, so I am trying to copy his color placement as best I can but, really, I don’t know what I’m doing and am just guessing, starting with dark green and switching to medium green:

Dashing in dabs of blue:

Finishing with lightest green:

The only advantage that watercolor has over oil paint is that watercolorists can use the whiteness of the paper to add sparkle to the painted surface. I am not trying to cover every bit of paper when I dab because leaving “blank” areas will only improve the faux-impressionist look I am going for.

When painting the reflections of the reed (or the willows) in the “water”, I use broken lines:

I also make sure that I place the darkest “reflections” correctly before I paint in the rest of the bits:

Here is where it occurred to me that I must show you a very handy painting tip: I keep my pre-painted picture safe from spills and dropped brushes loaded with paint  (it happens all the time) by inserting it into one of those plastic sheet protectors that you can get at Staples:

This is pretty close to how I set up my work space:

You can see that I am using my teeny tiny Winsor Newton paint set along with a few of my cheap-o Grumbacher chalky paints for this picture (tea bag included for size ref). And that’s it! It doesn’t take much equipment to paint your heart out!

Back to the rescue: now that I have come to the foreground of this picture, I have a decision to make about the size of the brushstrokes I’ll be using in this area. As a miniaturist, I’m happy using itty bitty strokes with a 00-size brush for the back and middle-ground of this picture. But it seems to me that the length of the strokes should increase as the picture comes “closer” to the viewer. I am not happy doing long brushstrokes with a bigger brush, so I did some practice bits before I committed paint to paper (I would hate to screw this up at this stage of the rescue):

OK, I think I can live with the longer strokes. So now that I have a plan, I go back to the right edge of the picture (because I am left-handed, my pictures usually start on the right side and work towards the left) and fiddle with the last bits of the pond surface. I have differed from the Monet painting which I am using as my guide in that I made a large area of the pond surface blue, rather than paint it in as green, just because I like the blue. I have to admit that, having painted in this nice pool of blue water, I don’t know how I’m going to get out of it in a way that makes sense visually. I am hoping for the best as I lay in the dark reeds’ reflection:

Another thing that I do, just because I like to, is that I “ripple” the surface of the water:

To do this, all you have to do is take a brush loaded with clear, clear water and swipe it back and forth across a painted surface, which picks up the pigment like an eraser (remember to wipe the brush off on a paper towel before you re-load it with clear, clean water for a second swipe).

Now I use my huge (ha ha, that’s a joke: it’s a size 1) brush to make those long strokes I practiced:

I think I painted that area too dark:

So I let it dry and then I use bright white acrylic paint to dab over the dark bits:

Looking at it now, I think I could have left that area alone — the dark bit doesn’t bother me as much as it did when I was in the throes of hoping not to ruin the picture when I was so close to the finish, but what can I say? I panicked.

I dash in some blue paint and look at those ENORMOUS brush strokes!:

For this last bit, I go easy on the vertical reflections (I use very watery paint and I don’t do much detail):

The last thing I have to paint are those damn water lilies. You can see that Monet put a lot of white/pink flowers in his picture:

I don’t want to do as many because although Monet can get away with it, I think that all those flowers in my picture would look cheesy. All you do is dab on some solid blobs of bright white acrylic paint over the watercolor:

Highlight the acrylic with hot pink, leaving at least half the lily in white :

DONE:

When ruling out the picture for the crop, I realize that OMG OMG OMG I measured the scene incorrectly:

Whew. Thank DoG I had barely enough of a margin to go back and fix it!

And this is how this illustration will look on the page:

 

The next time you see this picture I hope it’s in a book about Monet’s garden.

This biography of Stevie Nicks (who needs no introduction) is not an authorized biography, so it has no contact with Stevie’s inner life — but it is excellent when it deals with her work life. The author, Stephen Davis, is a veteran rock journalist so he knows his way around a recording studio and the way in which songwriters cobble together their hits, and I was fascinated to read about the process Stevie went through whenever she had to come up with material for a Fleetwood Mac or a solo album.

Stevie hoarded all her song ideas for years and decades, in notebooks and on cassette tapes, all her bits and pieces — a title, a riff, half a verse, a whole song that never quite gelled — and this is where she started whenever she had to come up with new material. She rifled through her old journals and cassettes and looked for bits of gold dust. I loved reading this because that’s what I do! I never throw anything out!

A few weeks ago I showed you how I re-cycled bits of failed paintings (which I had kept in my Reject File for about three years) into a rescue:

I only wish that I had a producer on hand to direct me on how to spiff-up my pix: Stevie, on the other hand, had access to the best and she was very shrewd when she picked her collaborators and her producers. Producers can be crucial: one will hear something in a song fragment or idea that had been languishing for years, and he can turn into something powerful, something that Stevie would never have thought of on her own.

Edge of Seventeen, for example, is a song that was just a little pop ditty until producer Jimmy Iovine put a stinging Waddy Wachtel guitar riff on it.

Speaking of seventeen:

We must salute the awesomeness of the teenage students of Marjory Stonemason Douglas High School. You can visit the school’s website for tips on how you can support the political action of these amazing kids, or you can to to their  GoFundMe page,  or you can open up a can of whoop-ass and vote to defeat every sniveling, corrupt, crazy, and gutless psycho NRA-loving son of a bitch politician in 2018.

Stay sane this weekend, everyone. I know it’s hard: the NRA idiots are out already, claiming that the latest school shooting is another Sandy Hook hoax. But stay strong. We need you to not let these morons drive you crazy so we can get out and Vote Them Out.

XXOO

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Have you ever tried to paint like Claude Monet? If so, did you attempt one of his huge “Grand Decoration” canvases?

I know, from experience, that using watercolors to copy an oil painting is hard. . .

. . .  so before I took on this scene of Monet’s waterlilies. . .

. . . I practiced:

If I were using oil paint, it would be easy to layer green on top of pink, but when it’s watercolor you have to be very careful because if you let them bleed too much into one another, all you get is a muddy brown soup.

I don’t have any “in progress” photos to show you because I was so sure that this would come out crappy and, in fact, for most of the time I was painting this Monet-esque pic, it did look like crap. I kept losing my place because I had to paint the greens separately and they didn’t make sense to me until very late in the game:

I don’t know if this is how Claude experienced his pictures, but for me it all came together only after I’d added the pink and blue water bits. Then I could see that where this pic was going.  Then I removed the resist that I’d applied to mask out the lily pads:

OK, now it look like a lily pond.

By the way, Monet cheats! If you look carefully at his later paintings, you’ll see that he outlines his lily pads, he doesn’t shadow them, which I call cheating! But I won’t complain too much because outlining them makes painting these things a whole lot easier. Also, Monet was in his 80s when he was painting these enormous murals, and was world famous and stinking rich, so he could outline anything he damn pleased, right?

DONE:

I learned quite a lot about Monet’s methods, and this is not as bad as I thought it was going to be for my first attempt. I am ready to do this again because now I know better where the darks and lights go, and how to use the paint to make the “water surface” shimmer the way Monet does, and make the colors richer and more subtle. (I think.)

Believe it or not, Monet actually sketched out these murals before he painted them:

Obviously, Monet’s sketched in a language that only he could understand. But maybe “sketched” is not the right word; maybe he “mapped” out his paintings beforehand. We will never know: Monet was famously reticent about his process, and he never took pupils or taught anyone (except for his step-daughter, Blanche, but I can’t imagine that he was anything more than an encouraging pater to her). And Monet also lied: he claimed never to work in a studio but he completed almost ALL of his paintings indoors. So, maybe his “sketches” are just scribbles that he jotted to make people wonder what on Earth he was up to.

Scribbles and Earth: do you know about the Nazca lines?

These grand earthworks were scratched into the Nazca Desert in South America approximately 2,000 years ago. The large-scale drawings  depict animals, plants, imaginary creatures and geometric figures that are miles long. The Nazca lines stretch across an area of about 280 square miles in a remote part of Peru.

The first mention of the Nazca Lines in print was by the conquistador Pedre Cieza de Leon in his book of 1553, where he described them as trail markers. They were not fully understood as being earthworks until the 20th century, and are still being studied as the most mysterious remnants of a long-lost desert culture.

UNESCO celebrates the Nazca site as “the most outstanding group of geoglyphs anywhere in the world and are unmatched in its extent, magnitude, quantity, size, diversity, and ancient tradition to any similar work in the world.” In short, the Nazca lines are awesome.

On January 27, 2018, a 40-year old dipshit named Jainer Vigo drove a semitrailer . . .

. . . off-road into the Nazca Desert and plowed thru the fragile topsoil . . .

. . .  and “significantly” damaged three geoglyphs. The dips hit driver claimed that he had mechanical problems and didn’t know the area and didn’t see all the signs warning him against trespassing on this World Heritage Site. But the truth is that he drove off the nearby Pan-American Highway to avoid paying a toll.

Anyway, this dipshit was picked up by Peruvian police and brought before a magistrate, but the magistrate concluded that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to indicate the driver acted with intent, so he was released. Thankfully, someone in the local prosecutor’s office has half a brain and it was announced that the local prosecutor’s office was appealing the judge’s decision, and is seeking nine months of preventive detention and a $1,550 fine while the investigation continues.

I ask you: Why in the world would intent matter in this case?

It’s the same thing as when I watch a defendant on Judge Judy explain why he or she should not have to pay for the damages to the plaintiff’s car because “I didn’t hit that car and smash it to smithereens on purpose!”

I also ask you: Is anyone willing to be held accountable these days?

Such as the Republican party? I only ask since the NRA (National Rifle Association) spent a stupendous $54.4 million in the 2016 election cycle, almost all of it in “independent expenditures,” meaning spending for or against a candidate but not a direct contribution to a campaign. The money went almost entirely to Republicans to a degree that almost looks like a misprint (but isn’t): Of independent expenditures totaling $52.6 million, Democrats received $265. Yes, that’s 265 dollars. [P.S. I have another source that states the NRA gave $106 hundred thousand to Democrats in 2016. It’s still a ridiculous shit-load less, but not the shit-load less that $265 would be.]

The NRA spent more than $30 million to help elect der Drumpf, which includes the $19 million it spent in attack ads against Hillary Clinton.

Thanks to an extensive history of NRA support for Republicans in state legislatures who push through very lax gun ownership laws, a November 2012 Congressional Research Service report found that, as of 2009, there were approx. 310 million firearms in the United States: 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles, and 86 million shotguns.

PARKLAND, FL – FEBRUARY 15: A police check point near the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were killed by a gunman on February 15, 2018 in Parkland, Florida. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Of those 310 million firearms that are owned by citizens of the United States, approx. 3.5 million of them are AR15s, which we all know is the favorite weapon of school shooters.

I know that you, Dear Readers, are as depressed as I am. I want to give up. Because now that Republicans have normalized this crazy level of gun ownership in America, mass shootings is what happens. I want to tell you, do not wring your hands and weep and wail and pray for the dead. Nothing is going to change. This is the country that we live in, thanks to the NRA and their Republican allies: in Pew’s latest poll (June, 2017) on gun control, 79% of Republicans favored protecting gun ownership rights over limiting gun access. That compares with 20% of Democrats who felt the same way.

But, then, there’s this:

On Tuesday evening, candidate Margaret Good won a special election for state representative in southwest Florida’s House District 72, becoming the 36th flip for the Democratic Party since President Donald Trump took office last year.

The Democrat won by a margin of almost 8 points and more than 3,000 votes—in the same district der Drumpf clinched during the 2016 presidential elections by 5 points.

I don’t want to get too hopeful here. But maybe there is reason to hope.

I don’t know if you can tell that I started writing this post on Tuesday (it takes days to do one of these posts), when it was going to be all about painting a la Monet and defending Nazca lines. I was also going to chime in on the new portraits of the Obamas for the Smithsonian (his is OK but the painter is a certifiable creep, and hers just plain stinks).

Then the heart-breaking events of Wednesday changed everything and I had to detour into bitter reality. If we lived in a normal, progressive, civilized country, I would not have had to write about people dying in droves again; I would have ended this week’s light hearted get-together this way:

The only reason I know about the Nazca lines at all is because I was reading the lovely book by the elegant travel writer Bruce Chatwin, which you can see in the above photograph. That’s my thermos of hot sweet tea, and my other thermos of ice water on the desk that I sit at when I am on duty at my new volunteer job at a charity book shop. (Things were pretty quiet last Saturday. It rained.)

And until we meet back here next Friday, when I will tell you all the power trips and intrigues of running a charity book shop, please please please paint, or make an earthwork, hug your kitties and smooch your DoGs, make a vodka and champagne cocktail (I have a recipe), do whatever you need to do to stay sane in this nut-job country of ours.

Australians: Stay cool and thank your lucky stars of the southern cross that you are not us.

XXOO

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English is a very efficient language.

Wednesday: Today I had to go to Costco to return a bird feeder, then as I drove homeward I stopped at a hair salon to make an appointment for a hair cut, and then when I did make it home I called my plastic surgeon to verify my scheduled procedure for Thursday (more work to make my nose look normal).

And I was DONE for the day. That’s it. That is all the busy-ness that I care to be involved with in one day. I do not like taking care of business, I dislike being in charge of doing what it takes to keep on keeping on, I do not like running errands. I think it is so unfair that these things don’t do themselves.

I think I would be the perfect person to have servants, because I so deeply deserve to have servants running my errands and answering my email and stuff.

Knowing this about myself, I think I  should probably not get a DoG. I’ve been thinking of getting another DoG for months because:

However, from what I remember about having my first DoG [read blog post Happiness is a Warm Puppy] , dogs demand an ungodly amount of showing-up, and that’s not really my strong point these days. But when I think about living the rest of my life without having another DoG, I could cry.

Usually I am quite good at making decisions, but his is the hardest time I’ve ever had. Yes, I want a DoG; No, I don’t want a Dog; Yes I do; No I don’t…and what would the cats think??

Speaking of cats, today’s story is about this cat:

Meet Bibs. Bibs was one of three grey tabby cats who wandered into our home for wayward strays one Summer. They all got trapped and neutered, but to keep them straight, I called the first one “Stripey”, and when the second showed up, I called him “New Stripey”, and when the third one showed up (he had white patches that the others did not have), I called him “Bib Stripey”.

Bib Stripey got into a vicious fight one day and showed up for breakfast with his ear almost torn off so we immediately  whisked him off to the vet for his rendezvous with destiny and had his head stitched up at the same time. Since I had to make sure his head healed correctly, Bib Stripey then came into our house for convalescence, which usually does not happen when we TNR. He was untouchable, so we had to confine him in a very large DoG crate in the kitchen.

Bib Stripey was a challenge, in that he never got the hang of using a litter box. He preferred to crap in his bed every night, which did not endear him to me. When the vet gave him the all-clear about his head wound, we happily released him into the wilds of our back yard and expected that he would disappear like the other Stripeys. That was eight years ago. Bib Stripey stayed, and stayed, and stayed, and his name was shortened to “Bibs”, and he learned that getting scratched behind the ears was awesome, and he learned to come indoors for all his meals and most of his naps.

Taffy is his mortal enemy, which is why Bibs must always keep tabs on him every moment of the day.

Bibs is now an almost fully integrated into the herd but he does not use a litter box — he’s still a crap-in-the-woods kind of guy.

One other thing that you need to know about Bibs is that he does not share. So, when our Dear Reader Jeanie sent the herd some hand-made catnip toys for ChirsHanuKwanSolstice all the way from the wilds of Michigan, Bibs took one of the toys for his own self. He carried it down to the basement and put it some place that only he knows. So, when Taffy, and Lickety, and Cindy, and Candy are batting around the catnip toys to one another, Bibs does not join in.

The other day I was in the kitchen when Bibs came up from the basement with his toy in his mouth. He padded into the dining room, and dropped his toy next to one that had lately been the object of a spirited game of Keep Away amongst the rest of the herd.

I swear that he was just sitting there, making comparisons between the two. I swear he looked extremely pleased with himself. I crept away to get the camera, but Bibs does not do poses. So all I have to show you is Bib’s prized possession alongside the worse-for-wear comparable. (This cat story was brought to you by Dear Reader Jeanie — thank you!)

OK, considering that I went to all this trouble to tell you Dear Readers a story about two cat toys, maybe I am not a DoG person after all. And see if the following cat-person story doesn’t confirm this:

A few months ago I was invited to join a group of people who share an interest I have … I can’t mention the interest because it’s a give away as to what this organization is and I don’t want to embarrass any one who might be from that org and reading this (It’s possible! It’s not likely, but it’s possible!). So let’s say this interest is decoding Elizabethan handwriting.

Before I commit to going to this meeting, I check out the group’s website. The group meets in a wine bar on Long Island, so the group invites new members to join: If you like decoding Elizabethan handwriting, if you like wine, and if you like meeting new people!”

Well, I, for one, certainly and positively do not like meeting new people, but I like wine and I like decoding Elizabethan handwriting, so against my better judgment I go to the monthly meeting.

I’m the new person there the regulars are chit chatting with me and I’m being an abnormally smiley, friendly version of myself. I say no, I don’t have kids in Long Island schools but I have cats. “How many?”, someone asks.

“8”, I say. I’m just giving information, I’m not bragging.

One woman looks particularly aghast and says, “8 cats! What does your house smell like??

I let the question hang in the air for a few moments because that, right there, is why I do not like meeting new people. Eventually I say, and I say it slowly, “It smells fine.”

I want to tell you that after that, I did not go back, but hey, it’s not every day that you find people who like to decode Elizabethan handwriting so yes, I did go back the next month.

And at that meeting I was small-talking with a different regular who asked me what I “did”, and I said “I write books about travel.”

She asked me, “Are you famous?

And no, I did not go back the next month.

I have to admit that I don’t get this but I want that DoG.

OK, so by now you know that I am typing this up on Friday morning because I missed out usually get-together time due to February lethargy but ALSO, on Thursday I had another round of surgery on my nose so I was out of commission for a day and I am sitting here, right now, with a big hospital-grade bandage on my face that does not make me feel exactly spiffy.

I thank you all for stopping by, and for your great feed back last week that verified that it wasn’t me that got small, it was the art.

Wait. I’m a miniaturist. I like being small!

Here’s my Art Rescue of the week:

Before:

After:

I have to fix that green gate. This rescue is not over.

And remember, if you aren’t applauding, you’re being treasonous.

Have a small-talk free weekend, everyone!

XXOO

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What can I say? It’s the middle of Winter and my ass is dragging. If you are reading this it’s because I haven’t posted this week’s scintillating content yet BUT IT’S COMING.

All I need is another cup of tea and some more toast and I’ll be good to go with the typing and the telling and the  enlightening.

And when I get go-going, I will explain this:

No, this is not another work of art by a human being with stellar arts world credentials. This is the work of an arts collective known as “my cats.” The story will make you go-go Awwwwwwww.

In the meantime, get up and do a happy dance! It’s Friday! (We love you always, George Michael.)

 

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I keep making mistakes. In this instance (see below), I made the mistake of painting this little scene too little:

This little scene is from the famous garden of the famous impressionist painter Claude Monet, and I painted it for a little book that I am working on about Claude Monet’s garden. The format of the book has changed since I first conceived to it and now I needed this little scene to grow up, from a little half-page doodle into a full-page picture. I’ve been working on this book idea [off and on] for nearly two years and I am thoroughly sick of it, so I had no intention of going back into it to re-paint any part of this odious garden.

Ha ha, just kidding, in case my future publisher is reading this, I love Monet’s garden and I’m dedicated to capturing its unique forms and inspirational spirit that has charmed and beguiled millions of visitors yadda yadda yadda….

Oh, what to do, what to do? I don’t want to re-paint it, but I need to re-paint it, but I really, really don’t want to.

Time for a rescue!

What you see is what happened after I cut out the bottom bit from a previously-painted picture (a picture that went wrong on the top — never throw anything away!) and glued it on top of the current Work-in-Rescue. Then I painted some background foliage into the upper corner of the pic in order to balance the composition of the scene. As you can suss, the old watercolor was small to completely rescue this picture, so I have to now rescue the rescue. I have to paint something that I can glue into that lower left-hand corner:

The first try was awesome. I love the bleeds that I got there, in the greens and blues.

All I have to do is cut out the part that I need and glue in into place:

I misjudged how big I had to make the rescue-to-the-rescue bit when I cut it out, so I had to add one itty bitty piece of shim when I glued it into place (see above) but it looks to me as if I am going to get away with this rescue.

Next, all I had to do was paint in some tulips and make a few more green blobs and integrate the new rescue into the old rescue and voila:

DONE.

That was fun! But it’s certainly not museum-quality,not like this watercolor  (below)– titled Landscape — from the famous Museum of Modern Art in New York:

Yeah, that (above) is what watercolor looks like when it’s fine art.

Which reminds me:

Last week I asked you, my Dear Readers, your thoughts on how much you have changed since you were 18. Here’s why:

Two weeks ago I happened to read a news item about an artist, who died in 2016, whose family was suing that artist’s estranged husband for his mishandling of her estate — her “estate” being some quantity of art work done by her, that has been kept in inadequate storage by the estranged husband…the family contends that the estranged husband has damaged the art works, valued at half a million dollars. It was a juicy story that the London Daily Mail picked up from the New York Post.

The name of the artist rang a little bell. I googled her.

Sure enough, I knew her: back in 1976 she and I had been in the same Foundation Course (first year) at a well-known east coast art college. I was 22, older than most of the students who were fresh out of high school; she was 18, fresh out of high school.

I left school, and art, after that first year. My young classmate, on the other hand, stuck with it. She graduated, and then went on to get an MFA. She continued to stick with it until she was 37, when she finally caught the attention of the art world and began to win prestigious awards and sell her stuff to museums and collectors and have solo shows in galleries around the world.

That’s her watercolor — Landscape — above. Here’s another of her highly regarded watercolors (titled Untitled):

But watercolor is not actually the thing she does best — she’s a renowned sculptor:

Sorry about her dying so young, but the more I read all her accolades from the New Yorker and the New York Times and ARTNews etc . . .

. . . the less I could hardly believe what I was reading because the thing is, when I knew this girl, she was the last person I would have picked out as talented.

I am not mentioning her name because, well, I only knew her (and didn’t like her, or her sloppy use of materials, her lack of design skill, or her memorable dopiness) when she was 18, and it’s unfair to hold her accountable after 42 years. Maybe people change from the people they are at 18. Maybe she became brilliant. Maybe she became talented. A lot of critics and art collectors seem to think so. . . and some have even extolled her persistent lack of technical skills and general dopiness: Sometimes she emulates traditional media (here and there her painted wood might pass for ceramic); mostly she’s content to look funkily modern. The result is a vital ensemble in which designed inauthenticity produces something original and expressive.

That review (quoted above) was written by a guy who has won a Pulitzer for criticism. So I guess it’s me, I’m the dope who doesn’t understand what “designed inauthenticity” is, or why badly worked materials is so funkily modern. Obviously, I’m the moron who does not understand how to make art.

But I have to say that her work depresses me. It looks so inadequate to me, and so very dumb. It depresses me that this is what we are supposed to look at these days.

But I know that that is the same thing that art critics said about the impressionists, when Claude Monet and his buddies began to exhibit their work in 1874. Art critics hated the impressionists at first and even as late as 1904, when Monet was getting rich and famous, one journalist could still complain about his style: A house should look like a house, not like a scrambled egg going up a stepladder. 

I think that egg is sunny-side up.

I don’t want to be the idiot complaining about scrambled eggs so I have been looking at more of this artist’s later work, trying to train my eye and get with the 21st century:

Here’s a detail of the above sculpture (maybe it’s an an installation; installation seems to be as hot a thing in the art world today as it was in art school back in the 1970s):

OK. THAT’S cute. I don’t get the fabric heap or the finger paintings taped to the wall, but the dead rat is cute.

Well, we did it. WE GOT THROUGH JANUARY!

If you did January dry, like I did, then you know how slap-damn-scrambled-egg happy you are that Dry January is over over over over over over over, as happy as a Long Island cat taking a dirt bath in his favorite patch of  crud:

Speaking of crud, this is what Paris looks like these days:

The Paris Police sent a drone flying over the Seine and this is a screen grab of the Square du Vert-Galant, which I featured in my book Gardens of Awe and Folly. When it’s not under water, it’s a charming little garden on the last bit of low-lying land left on the Ile de la Cite.

Here’s a better look at my bijoux chateau (lower left corner) that I wrote about as my dream Paris pied-à-terre (pages 14, 15, and 16 for those of you reading along). Alors, all my dream antiques and dreamy objets d’art that I have dreamed about decorating my dream bijoux chateau with are drenched with la grand boue.

Great! Now I get to re-decorate!

I’d say that’s worth popping a cork for.

As if I need an excuse.  Happy February, everyone!

 

 

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Now that the Steve Situation is settled. . .

Steve is not in this picture. But feel free to take a seat, and read the rest of this blog post.

. . . I have freed up the part of my brain that has been obsessed with him for the past many weeks and can now think deep, meaningful thoughts.

But first, let’s paint:

This is a scene from Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny (France). It’s called The Grande Allee, and it’s a long pathway of flowers over which six arches arch, and at the end there’s two huge old Yew trees that frame the front door to Monet’s pink house. Here’s a photo of it that I got off the internets (it shows the allee on a sunny Summer morning, judging by the shadows):

Photo credit: Cindy Carlsson

And here are my own reference photos that I took on my most recent 3-day Spring visit to Giverny:

That last photo is more useful when I crop it way small:

I am mashing up my own reference photos with photos of this view that I’ve studied in books about Giverny, reason being that I want to paint a Summer view and all my own ref pix were taken in Spring (no roses). So, here’s another look at the false start I made on getting this Summer view painted:

What was I thinking?

Those flowers on the right side are awful, but since it took me much agony to work out the perspective of those damn arches (I draw very lightly in pencil, so you can’t see how many times I’ve erased), it filled me with dread to have to draw them all over again so what did I do?

I rescued it:

I painted a new right side on a separate piece of paper, I cut it out, and I placed it over the offending bits. I did not yet glue it into place because I wasn’t sure the rest of the pic would work and I might have to use that rescue bit again, if the rest of the painting went badly. So for the time being, it’s held in place with scotch tape:

Confession: As a rule, I don’t care for yellow flowers. At least, not flowers on stalks. Dandelions are adorable, and I like buttercups, but yellow tulips, and delphiniums, and the verbascum in Monet’s late Summer garden do not appeal to me. (And I really don’t like daffodils.) But I’m really happy with the way I got the yellow to shimmer here. Remember: bleeds will make or break your picture.

The roses on the arch…I don’t know:

Ugh. Red roses. The important thing is to blend in the rescue by painting into it:

So far:

If you know me, you know that this is the bit that I LOVE doing, the teeny little detail of Monet’s front steps and open door:

Can you see the very light blue blob to the right of this doorway? And can you see the way it bleeds into the green? I am crazy in love with this effect — you can’t paint delicate tracery like that; you only get it if you let your watercolors bleed — let the paint and the water do the work!

I’m going to be bold with my use of black, which I mix heavily in with green for the Yew trees:

Instead of blue sky in the background, I’m using yellow foliage to bring in the sun, and to balance that glowing bit of yellow on the right side:

At this point, I’m 90% sure that I can’t ruin it, so I’ve glued the rescue bit into place.

I’m going for more drama, with a very very blackish-green again:

This is very boring to paint, because it’s just filling in the dark background. The only challenge is to use to a very teeny 00-size brush when you get to the details, to paint around those itty bitty bits of roses.

I ruled out the edges because, Why paint any more than you have to?

I think I might use this for the cover for my Monet Garden book:

DONE.

Tea bag for scale but now that you mention it, I could go for a nice cup.

And now I hope to never paint another Monet garden scene again. I started doing watercolor sketches of this garden in 2012, when I thought I might include it in my last book, the one about 9 of the best gardens in the world (Gardens of Awe and Folly):

The allee in Spring, looking away from the house.

But it’s too big a garden, and I knew I’d have to make it its own book:

The allee in Spring, looking away from the house. I hoped to avoid having to paint the house but alas, in Monet’s garden, sooner or later, you have to.

This (below) isn’t mine — it’s by the renowned French landscape painter, Fabrice Moireau:

Just shows you how another artist handled all those yellow flowers. I didn’t do the double arches because it was too hard. But if I change my mind I can still go back and add them in. I know all the tricks when it comes to rescuing a watercolor because I’ve made all the mistakes.

Before we part for another week, I want to take moment to let you know that the world lost an outstanding cat last week. Our Dear Reader Janet had to say good-bye to her girl, Smokey:

Smokey was a heart’s true companion, a peacekeeper in health and a courageous soul in sickness. Shine on, you sweet sunbeam.

Have a great weekend, everyone. May all your rescues be warm and furry, and all your thoughts deep and meaningful. (Since I’ve wrapped up the Steve Situation, I’ve been wondering about the possibilities of personal evolution. How much have you changed since you were 18? I have a story for you next week.)

XXOO

 

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It’s 20 degrees F here on the north shore of Long Island (that’s a billion degrees below freezing in Celsius I think) and Taffy is out back, under the dogwood tree, rolling around in his favorite dirt bath. The sad thing is, Taffy’s the smart one.

Oh, well. You gotta stay true to your code.

Steve, on the other hand, involuntarily took a little bath last Friday because, Hoo boy, what a week. Bitter cold, then pouring rain, then thaw, then snow, then back to bitter cold. It was the rain that had me fretting AS USUAL about the Steve Situation by the front stoop, not least because I knew I’d have to haul out the bale of hay (again) and change  out his damp nesting material for new, clean, dry stuff (again). I was not raised on a farm, or in a barn. I can’t tell the difference between hay and straw, but let’s say it’s hay and hay is messy, especially in a house.

Hay also tends to break into teeny pieces that lodge in the sleeves and pant legs of one’s clothing in order to pierce and stab you from many simultaneous directions. Hay is Nature’s fiberglass. I am not at all fond of hay.

The good news is that on that very same drenching day I got a soggy parcel delivered to my doorstep that made my day shine bright and, well, bright:

What would I do without the internet? I found these “stackable” lucite end tables for sale in Massachusettes (for a price that I haven’t told Top Cat about) and they are just the thing I need to solve the Steve Situation. Now, as you can see from the photo, these pieces are total crap as “end tables” (unless you’re a Hobbit) BUT repurposed as modular cat housing, these end tables are JUST THE THING.

After I had pawed all the old, damp hay out of Steve’s nest and re-stocked it with new, dry, hay, I installed Steve’s special outdoor heating pad into its cat-shaped hammock position. I then took the smallest “end table” and wedged it back against the rear wall of Steve’s Situation:

Next, I stacked the next-largest “end table” against that first unit:

The third and largest “end table” is positioned so that it forms a little vestibule so that rain will never again slosh off the stoop and run down into Steve’s Situation:

Naturally, after Steve inspected the new digs . . .

. . . he refused to enter it to get out of the rain. Not while there was still day light, and not while I was looking. But lo, when I checked up on him the next morning I discovered that Steve does have sense enough to come in out of the rain after all.

One thing I’ve learned about Steve is that he needs to be able to have a 360-degree view out of his Situation, hence the clear lucite, because he needs to stay on the look out for killer cat ladies, because he’s THAT stupid.

The “end tables” work! The Steve Situation is dry as a martini and this joke:

On the other hand, you have different fingers.

Steve is not amused.

And then it snowed and I did not lose sleep, knowing that my Steve was in a good Situation.

Edwin Hawkins

Aug. 19, 1943 – Jan. 15, 2018

No man ever put 12 words to better use. He almost makes me believe. Somebody say “Amen.”

What is it about obits? Why are they the best source of information about people who you wish you’d known more about? For instance, I read about Barkley Hendricks in the New York Times’ year-end obit wrap-up:

NYT:  For 38 years, Barkley Hendricks, a renown African-American portrait artist who died in April 2017, began his Art classes at Connecticut College (USA) by asking each student to bring in three small objects that meant something to them. The items varied, but he dubbed this the bottle-shoe-and-plate project, because these were the objects most students chose.

Over the semester, the students would draw and redraw them — in different styles, in different media, in different orders — until he was satisfied. While each student worked, he circled the room, clutching his thermos of tea with honey and lemon, peering at their papers. He was known to harangue students for not-perfectly-rounded teacups or loudly harrumph at overdramatically shadowed plates. “You’re in college,” he would chide those who disappointed him.

It was a class people cried in.

Barkley Hendricks did not pant still lifes. He painted portraits. Go figure.

I don’t know if this is a great or a terrible way to teach painting. But I think I’m pretty OK with the concept that learning to paint should be painful. Lord knows my learning curve has not been the least bit fun and you know how misery doesn’t like to drink and whine alone (it loves company).

If you remember, my most recent source of artful misery was this:

It now looks like this:

I painted the shadows blue, and blue does not pick up well in reproduction — it looks darker in person. Just saying.

Next Friday, I will be painting my final picture of Claude Monet’s Giverny garden:

Oh, happy day when all the Monet garden pix are done!

Until then, keep doing what makes you happy . . .

. . . stay true to your code.

Keep Being YOU.

And for Heaven’s sake, Australia, stay cool (like Taffy).

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Steve the Miracle Cat, my feral “pet”, who disappeared in a terrible blizzard that hit Long Island last week, wants to thank all the wonderful Commenters who stopped by this blog and left good wishes for his safe return, and then welcomed him back when he finally moseyed back home. And immediately after thanking all of you kind readers, he wants breakfast.

And he wants it now.

Steve gets a bowl of dry food and a bowl of wet food in the morning, served on a mat because that bluestone gets really cold on a cat’s little feet:

Steve is a Manx, so he only has a little bunny butt instead of a tail which is one of the reason that I cannot resist him.

After getting his fill of breakfast, all Steve has to do for the rest of the day is to take up position and wait for dinner:

It’s been punishingly cold for most of the past week here on the north shore of Long Island. I mean painfully, brutal, bitter cold. I am still fretful about Steve being outside in all this so I check on him hourly, and it always does my heart good to see him tucked into his heated nest behind his plexiglass wind break:

Our neighbor’s cat, Dennis, got caught in our house when the blizzard hit last week and he was with us for three days. His people would have liked to have him home, but Dennis was quite content to be our uninvited guest and didn’t seem all that eager to budge from the comfy pile of Adirondack seat cushions that he found in the basement:

On Saturday night I was finally able to catch him, and I picked him up and carried him next door and delivered him to his people. Between Steve and Dennis, I wonder what I would do with my free time if I didn’t have to herd cats.

Whenever I leave the house these days  I am still wearing a small band-aid on my healing nose. My husband and friends have assured me that it’s barely noticeable. I suspect they are lying.

So I was in Lowe’s the other day, buying bird seed, and ahead of me at the checkout was a little boy who was horsing around with the shopping cart while his mother was paying for some traffic cones. (Yes, traffic cones. Makes you wonder.)

The little boy, who was tiny — maybe three years old? — spun around at one point and something about me caught his attention. He pointed his tiny little finger at his tiny little nose and looked at me and said, “Booboo?”

So, Ha!! I knew that “barely noticeable” thing was a  big fat lie. When you go out in the world with a band-aid on your nose, no matter how “small” (the band-aid), everyone notices, even three-year-olds.

Back to the little boy’s question: Of course I wasn’t going to tell a tiny child about skin cancer. So I made up a story about playing with my cats and one scratched me on the nose, instantly regretting that I was giving cats a bad rap.

So if you haven’t seen me around lately, it’s because I greatly dislike going out in the world with a band-aid on my nose.

So I’m staying in my house even more than usual, reading the paper. Here’s a headline that caught my attention while I was reading the New York Times on Sunday (Jan. 7). It went:

From Artisan to Artist

To quote: Betty Woodman, a sculptor who took an audacious turn when she began to transform traditional pottery, her usual medium, into innovative multimedia art, moving her work from kitchen cupboard shelves to museum walls, died on January 2, 2018 in Manhattan. She was 87.

Overlooking the fact of that very ungraceful lead sentence, I read on. Mrs. Woodman, I learned, spent many years happily making clay pots, cups, saucers, and bowls in her house, selling them at yearly yard sales in Boulder, Colorado. However, in 1981, her 22-year old daughter killed herself and Mrs. Woodman, in the words of her son, “emotionally fell apart.”

In the months after her daughter’s death, Mrs. Woodman began to make non-functional pottery (such as pillow-shaped pitchers). And then, according to the obituary, “Mrs. Woodman’s evolution from artisan to fine artist culminated in a retrospective in 2006 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, its first for a living female artist.”

This is one of her fine art pottery pieces, called Aeolian Pyramid:

Aeolian Pyramid is an installation of 44 pedestal-mounted vase shapes that gradually tiers upward in a dramatic, pyramidal design. An art critic praised this piece in The New Yorker, writing:

Her aim is to charge negative space—the air around her pieces—with active presence. … the dynamic is miraculous in “Aeolian Pyramid,” a stepped array of thirty-five [sic?] big, slab-presenting vases of abstracted Greek design in black, yellow, and pale terra cotta. The composite keeps squeezing out real space, which keeps muscling back in. The result is a visual “Hallelujah” Chorus.

So this article about Mrs. Woodman, which happened to be an obituary, skipped over the part about how, exactly, this artisan pot-thrower become an artist. The unwritten assumption is that Mrs. Woodman’s career trajectory, taking her from a maker of pots to someone who installs bits of pottery in museums, was one that advanced her esthetics and creativity from the mundane to the ethereal.

So, OK, even though I don’t get the pots (see: Aeolian Pyramid, above) or the hallelujah chorus, OK, for now I’ll roll with this theory that making pots is of a lesser order of artistry than making bits of pots and arranging them in a triangle.

The least you can say is, her installation is original. The idea is hers alone. Nobody else (that I know of, but I don’t track these things) has thought of that before. So, that’s something.

Here’s a piece that Mrs. Woodman called The Ming Sisters:

The Ming Sisters is a triptych of cylindrical vases that features paintings of Asian women in gowns on one side and paintings of vases on the other.

The New York Times noted that “Mrs. Woodman’s vividly colored ceramics drew on innumerable influences, including Greek and Etruscan sculpture, Italian Baroque architecture, Tang dynasty glaze techniques, Egyptian art and Islamic tiles. They also evoked paintings by Picasso, Bonnard and Matisse.”

So here’s the thing about art vs. artisan: If what you make is art, your stuff can “draw on” and “evoke” other more famous people’s work. But if you’re just an artisan, your stuff that resembles other people’s stuff is “derivative” Also, if you want to elevate your stuff to art, it helps if your stuff is decorated very badly.

I haven’t seen Mrs. Woodman’s art in person, but I’m not impressed. Just saying.

But what do I know? I’m a hack. Remember last week when I showed you this painting of mine (work in progress) of the Japanese bridge in Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny?

It is still unfinished, by the way. But this week I happened to be looking through an old book that my sister bought way back in 1984, when she went to see Monet’s garden for the first time, and I found this photo:

I promise you, Dear Readers, that I will try to be more original next week, when we meet back here next Friday.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Stay warm, or, if you’re in Australia, stay cool. Put out water bowls for thirsty critters, whether it’s 9 or 116 degrees outside.

XXOO

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 Wednesday night, the night before the Winter cyclone hit the northeastern United States, I set out your first  Champagne-O-Meter of 2018  to record all the nastiness that this blizzard could dump on Yours Truly.

Thursday morning, I woke up to this:

The REAL snow started falling around dawn (7:19 am), so that by 8 o’clock visibility was lousy:

9:30 am:

(Then I was painting and forgot about the storm for a blessed two hours.)

11:30 am:

The snow was pretty much over by 2 o’clock in the afternoon and didn’t rise any higher than this (above) and I was busy shoveling and being miserable so I didn’t take follow up pix (sorry).

Here is the cause of all my misery today:

If you remember (from last week), I had installed Steve, our three-year old outdoor cat, into a spiffy straw nest under the holly tree by our front stoop. WELL. There have been big developments in the Steve Situation this week.  Thanks to the ingeniousness of my husband, the dear sweet Top Cat, Steve now has a specially-made, extra-strength outdoor kitty HEATING PAD in his nest:

Now, this is not my preferred Steve Situation. I would prefer it if Steve would come inside, but I’ve been trying to coax him all year and he has NO interest in becoming a house cat.

My second choice would be for him to install himself in his cubby in our garage, like he did last year; I’ve put all new straw into his cubby so that he could hunker down in a toasty cocoon, if he chose.

Here’s Taffy, who is clearly the smartest cat in the herd, using Steve’s cubby on Tuesday night:

Oh, I wish Steve would crawl into this space and let me have a good’s night’s sleep, knowing that he was warm on these bitter cold nights. But so far this year, he has not gone near the garage.

So, last weekend, making the best of a bad Steve Situation, I got busy making him a new cubby. I used the top of an enclosed kitty litter tray, cardboard, and one of those space-age mylar/aluminum thermal insulation blankets that I bought at REI:

I cut cardboard inserts that fit the kitty litter tray lid, and I wrapped them in the thermal blankets:

I put this awesome contraption on top of the heating pad and, to lure Steve back into this new, improved Steve Situation, I tossed in some of his favorite treats:

It was a bitter cold 10 degrees out there, and when I put my hand inside to refill the treats, the inside of this new, improved Steve Situation felt sooooo warm!! And Steve was happy to step inside this new, improved Steve Situation to eat the treats, and then he was happy to make a quick exit.

Over and over, I threw in Steve’s favorite treats, and over and over Steve refused to spend any quality time curled up inside. We played this game over the course of seven hours but I could not get Steve to not freak out about being enclosed in this new, improved Steve Situation, so finally I had to remove the new cubby. For my own peace of mind, however, I put up  pieces of  plexiglass that I hoped would protect him from the on coming Winter cyclone, and Steve was content with that:

On Thursday morning, I woke up to this:

This was before the wind became really fierce and before the snow started to fall like crazy and Steve’s Situation became complete covered in snow. I gave Steve his breakfast, and I shoveled the front stoop, but Steve abandoned the nest shortly after 9 o’clock. I shoveled a path through a foot of snow from the front stoop to the garage, and I kept it clear all day with repeated shovelings and I’ve been calling him all day, but I haven’t seen Steve.

At 4 o’clock, I removed the entire nest. That is, I cleared out all the old straw (there was a LOT of it)  and I took the wet fleece cover off the heating pad. I laid down a LOT of all new, clean, dry straw (I buy it by the bale each Fall) and I covered up the heating pad with straw, too. So the nest is nice and warm again. But no Steve.

I am heartbroken, but all I can do is wait, and hope that Steve comes back home.

But let’s take our minds off the Steve Situation and let’s paint something. There is a view of Claude Monet’s famous Japanese bridge in his water garden in Giverny, France that I really, really hate:

I really hate having to paint this bridge. I don’t like doing structures, and I don’t much like having to paint wisteria — it’ such a persnickety flower. And, as you can see, I’ve already given it a few tries, with little success. But, since I’m doing a book about Monet’s famous garden in Giverny, the wisteria-covered Japanese bridge must be painted.

So, in this forth attempt, I changed format a bit to put the bridge off-center and to include some background context for added interest. I like to start with the hardest part of a painting as a way of cutting my losses if it doesn’t turn out well, so that’s why I had the background almost completely finished before I started to do the wisteria:

I wanted to have “fun” with the flowers here, and get some groovy purple-blue bleeds going on:

I also had fun doing that deep background bit that you at the very end of the Japanese bridge. But at this stage, the wisteria didn’t look right to me — the shape of the blossoms wasn’t right:

Time for a famous Vivian Swift rescue.

First, I painted a small bunch of wisteria and cut it out:

Then I check to see if it fits the scene:

Then I glued it in place:

Next, on my third attempt, I came up with a larger piece that had interesting bleeds:

Now for the annoying bits. The vines:

The “superstructure” — the supports of the canopy over the bridge:

The annoying fiddly bits of railing:

I wish I could leave it just like this:

But no, I can’t leave it like this. I will have to paint the walkway of the bridge. Even worse, I’ll have to paint it as it would look on a sunny day, which means I’ll have to paint the shadows of the railings.

I don’t mind shadows. See page 28 of Gardens of Awe and Folly:

The problem I have with these shadows on Monet’s famous Japanese bridge is the photographs that I am using for reference for this picture.

First, there’s this photo that I took when I was in Giverny in December of 2015:

I’m also using a photo of the bridge that I took in early May of 2013:

As you see, in both instances the sun was not making an appearance. I have no idea what this view look like on a sunny day!

But part of my job as an illustrator is to use my imagination, nest-ce pas?

Tune in next Friday to see how — if — I pull this off.

Until then, I will keep this post open for updates on the Steve Situation and, if he makes me the happiest cat lady on Long Island by making a re-appearance, I will IMMEDIATELY let you all know.

Please, Steve. I’ve left the porch light on. Please come home.

7:37 pm, Friday night: STEVE IS HOME!!!

It’s been about 30 hours since I last saw Steve, and temperatures have been frigid. I have been calling for him day and night, and today I even waded into knee-deep snow to hunt for Steve’s body underneath the shrubs that border our property. I feared the worst.

Tonight, Top Cat and I had just finished dinner and I was going to start washing up but the thought passed through my mind that if Steve is Out There, he probably hasn’t eaten in a day; I should put out a fresh food. So I filled a bowl with kibble, opened the front door…

….AND THERE WAS STEVE, HOLLERING AT ME FOR BEING LATE WITH THE GRUB!!! As if nothing had happened. Mind you, I had called for him earlier, at 5 o’clock (normal diner time), and at 6…BUT HERE IS !!!

He’s still eating his first bowl of food, with a side of fresh water. I OF COURSE will stay close and see if he needs more. His heating pad has been on since dusk, at 5 o’clock, so if he stays the night he can curl up in his nest and all will be forgiven.

OMG OMG OMG. I cannot tell you how relieved I am — I have been morose and scared and depressed since he lest on Thursday morning. Thank you, Universe, for bringing STEVE HOME!!!

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My big sore nose still hurts. Not a lot, but enough to make me whiney and cranky. And then I was pulling out of my gym one morning last week and saw this:

According to a woman who was one car and two minutes ahead of me, the Lexus SUV didn’t stop to let the truck make the curve; the Lexus SUV driver saw the big truck turning towards her, but she just blew on her horn and rammed right into the undercarriage of the 18-wheeler. This is not unusual for Long Island Lexus people. Long Island Lexus people think they own the streets. However, I never thought that one would be stupid enough to play chicken with an 18-wheeler…but I guess I was wrong.

So that was one consolation for my nose woes: at least there was one other person who was having a worse day than I, and oh how sweet that it was a Lexus person!!

And then it rained for two days; and then we had a house guest for two days; and then we were really tired from having a house guest for two days, and then OMG it has been beastly cold here on the north shore of Long Island this past week. So, No, we have not trekked out to our favorite beach on the north shore of Long Island yet this new year to glorify our drinking habits with a fancy Solstice theme, so, No, I don’t have any pictures of the sun set to show you.

But I can offer you a photo of the Breakfast Club at my house:

That’s my neighbor’s cat, Dennis, second from the left (above). The rest are all mine. I’m rich with cats.

It’s been so cold this week (20 degrees F) that I was fretting about my outdoor cat, Steve. So today I added two wind break/walls to Steve’s little nest under the holly tree by my front stoop, and I piled up lots of additional new straw so that when he steps into his nest, he sinks up to the tippy-top of his ear-tips into a nasty-hamock of cosy, insulated, all-natural fibers:

He seems happy here, and he’s got a cubby in the garage in case he ever wanted to curl up inside an insulated kitty house. But it still doesn’t seem right for a kitty to spend his days and dark, freezing nights outside, but Steve resists all my attempts to lure him indoors so I fret. Yes, I do. I fret.

I also fret about my “job”, which is to paint Claude Monet’s famous garden in Giverny, France. This (below) is the scene I want to paint, a part of Claude Monet’s famous garden in Giverny, France, called The Ladies’ Circle:

These photos are from my 2013 visit to the garden (not my 2015 visit), in May when the cherry trees were in bloom:

No wonder Monet never painted this part of the garden, and no wonder that I have never seen this part of the garden photographed for any of those grand coffee table books about the garden:

This part of Monet’s garden is impossible to portray as picturesque. It’s partly because of the lay of the land — a lawn bordered by flower beds on the sloping terrain — and partly because that huge Paulownia tree (which has a very ungraceful trunk):

I have tried, and tried, and tried agains and again, and failed each time, to paint this place as a Spring scene, so my new strategy has been to try to paint it in Summer, when the tree’s ungainliness will be partly hidden by foliage. I also changed my point of view.

The most crucial part of this painting is the background, which must indicate abundance and frothy greenery without getting specific. On my FOURTH try, I got this:

Ideally, the background blobs should sound something like a cool pop song from the olden days. Kind of glamorous, like Petula Clarke singing “Don’t Sleep in the Subway, Darling”. Or, from the ’80s: Everything But The Girl doing “Miss You”. Know what I mean?

My favorite way to create a background that doesn’t overwhelm the picture with information, yet still creates a bit of interest, is to let the watercolor bleed into thought-provoking shapes:

I just realized that my preferred background music (see above) is a sad song about rain. I might be kind of depressed.

That damn Paulownia tree is just too quirky for my tastes, but I have to report it as faithfully as I can since this is for a picture book about Monet’s garden. I just can’t re-invent the bits I don’t like:

I’m hoping that the right crop will bring this pic to life:

OK, painting the flowers was fun:

And then I painted in a little, but necessary, tree and ruined the pic. Still, it was one of the least crappy pictures I’ve painted of this impossible view:

Lower right, that’s how the wrong little tree ruined the pic.

So far, all my attempts at panting this maddening Ladies’ Circle look like this:

But I’m a Capricorn. I’m scrappy. I’m determined. I’m conceited, distrusting, and unimaginative (according to any Air, Water, or Fire sign). Capricorns are not cuddly people.

This pissant Ladies’ Circle will not defeat me.

I’m good for ONE MORE TRY.

Done. Maybe. But maybe not.

On second thought, definitely not. Which comes as a surprise to me, since I only loaded up all these pix because I thought I’d got it, finally. So this is an unexpected twist to today’s blog. I hate when that happens.

I had a short discussion the other day, with Top Cat, about New Year’s Resolutions for 2018.  TC doesn’t want to make any, and that’s fine; we usually don’t bother. But we were very stick-in-the-muddish this year and we want to travel more in 2018 so we sat in silence, each of us trying to think of a place we really wanted to go to. Then we had a few more glasses of wine and I got a brilliant idea about what I should do with my life, and I jotted it down, and the next day I checked my scribbles and the message I had for myself for what to do in 2018 was this:

Hang out with owls.

Yeah. I’m going to see if I can make that happen.

Happy New Year to all you Dear Readers, whether it’s a Summer eve or a Winter one — I hope it’s the first day of a spectacular year, feathers and all.

P.S. I think I’m going to take one more stab at the Ladies’ Circle. Any suggestions?

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