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

Ahhhhh…AUGUST. My Favorite month of the year!

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The garden is in peak shape…

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…the weeds are SPECTACULAR …

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…even the spider webs are more gorgeous in August:

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And the cats are pretty damn cute, too:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Paint What You Know

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

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

Mindanao

Coeur d’Alene (Idaho)

Ouagadougou (Upper Volta/Burkina Faso)

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

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

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

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

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

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… and an Owl Jewelry collection…

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The last remains of a once great hoard of Owl Jewelry

…and a collection of Bow pins…

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

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

Why do people become collectors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

I Think I Need A Bigger Tin Foil Hat


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Illustration by the excellent Brian Rea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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For this one:

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

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

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

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

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

Kilimenjaro.

Kilimanjaro.

(Thanks, Vivki A.)

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

Monongahela.

And the word bucket always makes me laugh.

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

It started with what I call:

The Bounty of the Streets Long Island Diet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This is a Whopper:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This photo above represents 32 meals of Soylent.

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

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

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

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

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

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Then I add two measuring cups of water:

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

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

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

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

Here’s the real and honest truth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More info about Soylent:

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

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

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

Carbohydrates — 255g

Protein — 114g

Fatty Acids — 70g

Omega 3 Fatty Acids — 2.5g

Fiber — 27g

Potassium — 3500mg

Sodium — 1050mg

Calcium — 1000mg

Phosphorus — 700mg

Magnesium — 400mg

Vitamin Bp — 1375mg

Vitamin C — 90mg

Vitamin B3 — 16mg

Vitamin E — 15mg

Zinc — 11mg

Iron — 21.5mg

Vitamin B5 — 5mg

Manganese — 2.3mg

For The Mind Readers Amongst Us

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

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

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Hour Two:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Repeat:

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

And now

we get to

Top Cat’s Pick

for the winner of

a topiarily-correct Piece of Toast!

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

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The winner is:

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

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

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

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

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

“Symbolism,” I said.

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

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

Have a great weekend, my Dears.

A Piece of Toast, Hold the Butter and Nix the Toaster.

I have to keep reminding people — publishing and editing people — that I am a writer who happens to draw. And O.K., this sounds cranky, but whenever editing and publishing people compliment me on the art work for the Damn Garden Book (thank you, thank you, I’m very grateful, really I am) I wish they were complimenting my writing instead. As hard as I work on my painting, I work three times harder on the writing. And believe me, painting ain’t easy when you’re a writer. As you will soon see.

I start with a pencil drawing of a corner in a tiny walled garden of C. W. Post college:

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After applying dots of resist, I try to mix paints for a color that looks like old brick (doesn’t that blob of paint below look more like a crusty bit of old coagulated ketchup? I know: Ewwwwww.):

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I used to love painting bricks and stones, but it’s been a while since I last did a brick pic:

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While the bricks dry, I paint a foreground flower bush of some sort (I’m not good on naming flora, as you Dear Readers well now — but whatever this flower bush thing is, it lets you see the resist better now — it’s the yellow stuff):

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Here is when I decide that the bricks are too dark; they stand out too much compared to the flower bush thing. So I take a wet paper towel and I dab up some paint:

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Generally, this is not a smart thing to do — I speak from much previous experience — but I thought I could get away with it here because all I want to do is make something that looks like old brick, for which paper towel won’t be a deal-breaker. I do the deed, and then I start to hum my “Finish Painting a Flower Bush and Another Shrub” song :

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Please note (above) that I have applied strokes of resist over a lightly-painted yellow-green foreground. Now see (below) how I am going to paint OVER the resist on that yellow-green background:

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I remover the resist in the flower bush, and in the yellow-green background, and VOILA:

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And now I’m going to hum my “Painting In The Row of Shrubs” song:

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I hope you don’t mind if I  point out the unpainted tree truck (above). As you can see, there’s a blob of yellow and green paint on it. Up until this moment I have been very faithful to the photograph from which I am painting this pic…which included a tree with a bit of fernery or something that was growing out of the lowest bit of its trunk (still present in the painting below):

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I knew the minute that I painted that ferny thing that it was not going to work. It just looked weird there, that unexplainable fern thing that looks like I don’t know how to paint, and it was only a tiny digression from the subject matter anyway, so I exercised my Artistic License and I lifted the ferny thing off the trunk the same way I done it on the brick walkway. As ou can see below, the ferny thing is gone now:

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In case you are keeping score, no rescues have happened yet. So far, I’ve only made minor corrections — I didn’t botch this pic up until much further down the road. Stay tuned:

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Ta Da:

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This is when I thought the picture was DONE!  But, upon closer inspection, I saw that the tree was lop-sided, so I swooped in for my first Rescue:

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Picking UP paint is not a rescue: having to apply white acrylic over a mistake, and then having to paint over it to match the rest of the pic…THAT’S a rescue. See the white acrylic paint on the lower right side of the tree’s foliage? That’s Rescue No. 1.

But, having fixed the wonky foliage, I now considered this painting DONE! YAY!

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But alas, I take a careful look at my source photo:

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And I smack myself right between my eyes. The problem is obvious. All the that I was painting this pic, I had it in my head that the tree was a pom pom. No matter how many times I referred back to this photo, I only saw the tree as a pom pom. But now I can plainly see that the damn thing is a mushroom. So, yes, with your brain in cahoots, your eyes will deceive you.

And so I begin Rescue No. 2 with a layer of white acrylic paint over the area that I’ll have to fix:

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I apply the background of yellow paint, and I darken the color of the sky, and I put in a few patches of blue in the tree for good measure. Yeah, it looks like crap. That background area is simply too large a picture space to cover up with white acrylic paint. The acrylic was gloppy and stood out to much against the small-toothed 90 lb. paper I use:

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And so, I begin Rescue No. 3 with a clever cut out:

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Oh, by the way, I’m on Day Two of this piece. So far I have about 4 – 5 hours of painting time in this pic.

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I’m not humming now, I’m praying Please let me get away with this.  I paint in a convincing background, I give thanks to the great DoG in the sky, and I almost start to tell myself By Jove, I think I’ve got it…until I take a good look at what I’ve done to the tree — the left side of the tree needs a curve, dammit. But this does not call for a rescue…

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…because all I need to do here is a pick-up, like so:

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And now …

… without further ado …

… I introduce to you, my Dear Readers, my first Piece of Toast of 2015:

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The Knot Garden of C. W. Post College, available for one lucky Dear Reader:

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By the way, there’s a 4th rescue that I didn’t have the heart to bore you with. If you win this Piece of Toast, you’ll be able to inspect all the rescues up close and personal and fine the 4th rescue! In fact, I think this Piece of Toast is a veritable catalogue of all the ways a painting can go wrong, and it can all be YOURS!

Here’s how I am going to give away this Piece of Toast: My OG Dear Readers know that I usually limit my give-aways to Dear Readers who have Commented on the past 2 posts of this blog. But since this is my first give-away of 2015, and I think there are a lot of new, shy Dear Readers out there, I am going to open this up To One and All this One time.

I had Top Cat pick a number from 1 to 50. I wrote his pick on a slip of paper and I put it in this envelope:

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I sealed the envelope:

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All you have to do is leave a Comment with your guess of a number between 1 and 50. Next week, you will witness my opening of the envelope and the reveal of the winning number inside.

If, for some rare and strange reason, there are more than 50 Dear Readers who want to own this Vivian Swift Piece of Toast, or if someone else already has guessed your lucky number, please feel free to re-use a number. If that number is the one that Top Cat picked, resulting in a tie between two Dear Readers, the Piece of Toast will go to the Dear Reader who has Commented in the last 2 weeks.

Despite the woes of painting, this pic was fun to do and I know I will be keeping my paint brushes busy in the future with more Triscuits and Pieces of Toast. But Good Luck, everyone, on Toast No. 1!

And have a happy, happy 4th of July!

 

Yes, I Have No Bananas

 Yes, I have no bananas, I have no bananas today, neither on my word-writin’ desk:

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(Everybody say Oooooooooooooo)…and neither on my picture-making desk:

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(Everybody say Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh). As clear as my desks are is as clear as my mind is. Nary a banana in sight. I am still getting used to the feeling of having no bananas, but all I can say is, I’ve never liked bananas and I can’t even stand the smell of bananas and I will gladly spend the rest of my life never eating bananas, so I am indescribably happy that I have not one, none, zip, zilch, no bananas today. Or ever!!

OK, enough with the banana metaphor. But everything I said holds true for real bananas. Simply can’t stand them.

I think I might have shown my Dear Readers the cover of the Chinese language version of my last book, Le Road Trip, when it came out in 2014:

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WELL. Yesterday I got a surprise packet in the mail, from my publishers at Bloomsbury, that contained a dozen copies of ANOTHER Chinese language version of Le Road Trip:

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I think this cover is very jaunty, in that I love the design but I am puzzled by the images that were selected to go on the cover. I mean, except for the wine glass, and the rather fetching self-portrait of me and Top Cat, do any of these images scream “FRANCE” to you? Yeah, me neither.

I am also curious as to why there is a new Chinese language version, because there was no note or letter enclosed with these copies. But that’s just par for the course.

Here is where I tell you all another insider anecdote about publishing: in finalizing the business stuff of the Damn Garden Book last month — LAST MONTH — I happened to notice a quirk in the paperwork that led me to ask of my publisher, “Where’s the copyright to Le Road Trip?”  Ha ha ha hahahahaha. Turns out that Bloomsbury, who published Le Road Trip on 2012, had never secured the copyright!!! OH, my, how I laughed and laughed at this delightful breech breach of contract! Yes indeed, I am exactly the kind of easy going, week-end, hobbyist for fun, trust-fund writer who would find this terribly, terribly amusing.

Actually, I was pissed. Capital P PISSED. But my agent explained to me that publishers were stretched very thin these days, being as print is a dying business, and it’s perfectly understandable that they would overlook such a minor detail as securing a copyright, which is just one of those pesky little things for which I give them 88% of every dollar earned from sales of Le Road Trip. What merriment, to know that I am part of an industry where such minor things as copyrights are, you know, just one of those things that people are too busy to deal with.

Oh well. The copyright to Le Road Trip is now done and got. And the Damn Garden Book is copyrighted as well, by the same people who send me Chinese language books with no update on what the hell is going on in China vis-a-vis a traveler’s journal of love and France.

Inhale, exhale. Peace unto me, Ommmmm, Om mani padme hum, as they say. As a matter of fact, when I want to get Zen here on the north shore of Long Island Sound I have just the place to go to and it’s not more than 4 miles from my house:

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This, my darlings, is the labyrinth on the campus of C.W.Post college, made by students of the ceramics studio and installed sometime this century. I’m fuzzy on the details. Top Cat and I went there last night at the golden hour of 6:30 PM.

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As you can see, walking the labyrinth at C.W.Post of a Summer evening is just about the most soothing venture there is, of a Summer evening. Ahhhhhhhh….the grounds are ever so serene:

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And if you stroll down towards the horizon, lo and behold you come across a sunken garden…

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…the likes of which are rarely seen outside of an Elizabethan courtyard:

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Actually, many of the administration buildings of C.W.Post were built at the last turn of the century in painstaking imitation of Elizabethan structures (I hope I took pix of those structures that surround this adorable sunken knot garden):

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In case you do not know, you can click on any image on this post and you will get a full-scale version (instead of these annoying tiny snaps)…

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…and if you don’t get it at one click, just click again for the enlargement (this is for my Ma, who needs instructions in blog technology).

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The finest thing about this sunken know garden is that, when you exit, you cross a brook with a small half-half-half moon bridge…

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…which you might not notice has a weird box-like thing on raised feet (see foreground, left, above) which, I am happy to report, is a Winter shelter for the wandering campus CATS. I know!! How much do you love a college that cares for its feral felines in such a loving manner??? A lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot….

Further along the path, we cross the half-half-half moon bridge and espy yet more feline lodgings:

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I zoomed to make sure yo wouldn’t miss it:

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By the way, on your exit you must take a moment to behold the century-old Elm Tree that still thrives on the campus of C.W.Post:

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That is one majestic, nobel, historic, monumental tree. This is the kind of Elm we lost to the Dutch Elm Disease blight of the last century, when America lost 75% of our 77 million Elm Trees from New England to Minnesota.

But I did not bring you to this garden just to show you how the evening light gilds every leaf it touches yadda yadda yadda. As much as I love the effect of evening gamma rays alighting upon topiary, this is not a garden that I can paint…as is, that is. This is the June Eve shot:

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And this is the June Rainy Afternoon shot:

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Same place, different atmospheric conditions. I don’t think I have to explain how the cloudy, dim light illuminates shapes and structures so much better than the clear romantic light of vespers. Here are more rainy day shots of the same sunken know garden:

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If i were to paint this lovely sunken knot garden for your viewing pleasure, I would take the rainy day pix and, with my artistic license, add just a touch of June Vesper to make it glow just a tad. I mean, my desks look awfully lonely, and I don’t want to get out of practice, and I haven’t had a Work of Art Give Away for my darling readers this whole year…

…this won’t be a Triscuit. This will be more like a piece of Arnold Whole Grain slice of bread toast. If anybody is interested in watching me paint this C.W.Post sunken knot garden, please meet me back here next Friday.

No bananas will be eligible to win next week’s Toast Give Away.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers.

 

I’m Done and Done In

 

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Last minute edits, changes of heart, epiphanies, and overlooked mistakes…it’s been a week of 16-hour work days for me but it was worth it. That neat stack of paper that you see on my dining room table is 184 pages of the Damn Garden Book layed out, pasted down, glued in, and numbered.

Dare I say it? When I meet my editor at Bloomsbury tomorrow (today — it’s 12:08am) my work is done. DONE.

Except for the proofs and whatever else pops up between now and when Barnes and Noble puts it face-out in the Gardening Section next Spring.

I’m so tired that it feels as if I’m typing this drunk. Thank you one and all for your Comments these past 2 weeks, which cheered me so much you can’t even know.

Well. I can’t let you head off into the week end without giving you something besides words…

…so, Dear Reader Casey asked if I would care to give you all a peak at an art work from the Rejects Binder, from the mountain of paintings I did that did not make it into the Damn Garden Book.

This is an old, old painting I did waaaay back, about 8 years ago.

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As you can see, I chopped off the top section because that’s my old way of doing foliage (and the Grumbacher paints look pretty muddy to me now). This is what it looked like after I rescued it after 8 years of painting my brains out:

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And then I didn’t have a place for it in the DGB. So as of now, it is orphaned with all the other pictures that don’t have a story.

THIS JUST IN: I got an early morning email from Casey, who asked me to do my tea bag thing for this pic, to show scale. So here it is:

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You might also remember this:

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This was my idea for the cover of the Damn Garden Book, before Bloomsbury showed me their much better idea.

You might be interested in how I re-purposed this. Yes?

SPOILER ALERT: I needed to put in poinsettias for narrative purposes. You’ll understand when you read the last chapter of the DGB.

Anyhoo, it now looks like this (call it “magical realism”, since it IS a portrait of a South American garden experience):

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Feel free to discuss.

I can’t stay awake a minute longer.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Sweet dreams.

 

P.S. I will be out of my “office” until early afternoon, so I won’t be here to approve Comments. But please, send me your thoughts any way, and by tea time I’ll have your bones mots up!  (Auto correct. Bon mots. Serves me right for sticking in some French here.) Your good words. Merci.

 

Welcome to My Real World

Hello there! Please come in. This is very exciting for me, to be the subject of your . . . what did you say it was? Oh, right.  A  documentary. About Real Real Housewives of Long Island. Righty-ho. Just let me change into something more comfortable, something without sequins. I misunderstood your project. But I can do “real”, if that’s what it takes to get the cameras rolling.

There. I’m all for real, right down to my T J Maxx sneakers. But I’m still going to hold in my stomach. heh heh. Let’s not go crazy with the “real” stuff.

I’m working in my dining room today. . .

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. . . same as I’ve been doing  yesterday, and the day before that, and the several days before that. I’ll probably be here tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and maybe a few days after the day after tomorrow. I’m making a Damn Garden Book. Calm down. I know this is mind-numbingly exciting, but we have hours and hours of me standing over a light box like this ahead, so pace yourself.

You’re so cute, the way you say “olden day”, but I assure you, a light box is very present-day technology. And so are my tools, as far as I know, but I don’t get out of the house much:

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So this is how I spend my day. I turn on my light box which, as you see, has a piece of lined notebook paper taped to it:

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My publisher, Bloomsbury, has sent me a stack of blank-ish sheets of paper . . .

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. . . which have  a very pale blue line to indicate the “trim” of each page of the Damn Garden Book —  every bit of art work and text that I place on these sheets has to be composed within those pale blue lines. There are also tiny “register” marks in each corner for later, when the sheets are back in the Bloomsbury production department, so they are not my concern. Whew.

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I place each sheet on my light box . . .

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. . . and now you can see how that piece of lined notebook paper comes in handy! It’s how I know that everything I lay out will be on a straight line!

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I print the text out right here at home, on my own $100 printer, because I’m the only person who has the VivoScript font, the type I designed myself that changes Times New Roman into my own handwriting. So I cut out the bits of text that I need for each page, and I tape it into place. I take the art work that I made for each page, and I glue it into place. Voila: a page of the Damn Garden Book is done! Well,in real life it does take a bit longer than one two three Presto!, but you get the gist of it.

I keep the original art work in plastic sleeves in binders:

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The bottom binder is the art that I will actually be putting into the Damn Garden Book. The top binder is art that I won’t be putting into the Damn Garden Book, either because the illustration no longer fits into the narrative or because the piece  is an earlier or ugly version of a final illustration.

There you go again, with the “olden day” stuff. How about we just call my book-making process “artisanal” instead? Yeah, like the way they make beer in Brooklyn.

Anyway: Once I have the text and art properly placed, I take a sheet of heavy vellum — yes, I order it from afar and have it specially trimmed to 10 inch by 10 inch:

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. . . and I place it on top of the page I just created.

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The vellum protects the fragile watercolor, and it is a space where I or the ensuing production director can make notes. In this case, I am adding instructions for the production director:

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I repeat this process over and over and over and over and etc. until I have 174 pages. I’m almost almost there!

So far, I have finished this many pages of the Damn Garden Book:

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Yes, that’s six chapters DONE. Well, DONE-ish.

There are always last minute edits, such as changes in page order and cutting out digressions that seemed entertaining at the time but, in the final read-thru, aren’t. However, this far into the process, there are still  last-last-last-last minute changes or adjustments that need to be made, which is why I use pink Post-It flags to indicate where I’ll need to go back and fix. Yes, it does seem like making the Damn Garden Book will ever end. No, those are not tears in my eyes. There’s no crying in book-making!

Oh good, now you get why I have to have a glass of Piont Grigio always at hand.

Now, so far you’ve only seen the dining room fun stuff. Please step this way, where I can show you the den fun stuff. I’ve saved the best for last.

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Yes, those are the final three chapters of the Damn Garden Book on my desk. Two of them need one last careful proofreading before I commit to printing them out on my own printer and laying them out; and one needs a whole page of new text because at the last-last-last-last minute it became heartbreakingly clear that the old text stank.

No! It’s won’t be boring at all! O.K., yes, you’ll probably shoot a lot of hours of me sitting still, staring at the computer screen,  cursing to myself; but once in a while I take a break to watch The West Wing on Netflix and that’s quite dramatic . . .

Oh well, I see you’re packing up. O.K., so my days don’t have a lot of action  in them. But I assure you that whatever my life lacks in liveliness is more than made up for in stress.

Still no?

Then can you at least let everyone know that the Damn Garden Book is available for pre-order?

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Thank you! And Bye-Bye! Don’t trip over a cat on your way out! 

 

I Don’t Know About You, But I’m Feeling a Bit Taffy Now

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The back story: We shucked the first fresh Long Island – picked corn on the cob last weekend for our first true BBQ of the season, and Taffy took the time to haul, one by one, the husks of our freshly-picked corns on the cobs to his favorite spot in the backyard just so he could…

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…dive into the joyousness of the moment.

Oh my DoG, I love that cat. And he wants me to tell you this:

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It’s not all glamour being a Really Real Housewife of Long Island. Vivian’s whine about the burdens of HEROIC book-making in 90 degrees of Long Island swelter will follow. Stay tuned.

I will be back here later today with the whole story.