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Writers are famous for being very particular about their working conditions. Some writers need background noise (so they hang out at Starbuck’s) and some need absolute quiet (Proust had his room sound-proofed). Some can only write in the very early hours of the day (Hemingway) and some can write at any hour but it has to be in a room with totally bare walls (Maya Angelou). But you don’t hear much about the work habits of painters — except for Monet, who was famous for being able to paint only 10 minutes a day (sometimes), in order to catch a certain kind of sun light in the plein air.

I don’t paint plein air (that means: outside) but I still need a specific kind of natural light to do my stuff. My prime time for painting is in the late morning until the middle afternoon, but no later than 4 o’clock. Judge Judy comes on at 4 o’clock.  I credit all my legal knowledge to watching Judge Judy — the one time I was sued in small claims court I got the case thrown out in 5 minutes. I love confrontation, and I love outsmarting people, and I will NEVER settle! Man-o-man, I would have made a killer litigator.

But, alas, I am an illustrator, so let us take a look at today’s illustrating challenge, which comes from one of our favorite Dear Readers.

Dear Reader Jeanie took this beautiful photo when she was in France, on her visit to the lily pond in Monet’s Water Garden in Giverny. Did you know that the Water Garden has SIX bridges in total? This is a pic of the bridge at the farthest eastern edge of the pond:

I can see why Jeanie has been hankering to paint this scene: the reflections on that pond are soooo cool, with the Willow tree greenery in the distance and that brilliant blue sky in the foreground. YUM. Also, you get the view of two (out of Monet’s three) famous Willow trees in the background with that sweet little bride in the center. The pic also has a fetching balance of dark bits in the foliage, with all kinds of textures going on everywhere you look. It’s a wonderful photograph, compositionally and subject-wise.

But as for painting it, it’s going to be a bugger. The main problem is all those background trees:

There’s a whole lot of the identical tint/tone/shade of green lurking in all that green greenery back there. It will be tricky to paint it without ending up with one big puddle of verdure. So after a great deal of study (5 minutes or so) I have mapped out this greenery in my mind and have decided that I’m going to paint it (going left to right) as: Background greens, Peripheral greens, Little Willow, General Fluffiness, Big Willow. Most importantly, I have also mapped out the order in which I will paint them, which you will see shortly.

So let’s get to it!

Here is the sum total of my equipment:

Here are the guide-lines I will use for the painting of this scene, which we will call Jeanie’s View:

SPOILER ALERT: I am going to be showing the painting of Jeanie’s View in detail today so I can talk about the many decisions I make as I paint this complicated scene, so expect to see lots of pics that look pretty much like this one (below) in which I am making a wash of sky:

I let this wash dry, and then I dab in some very light and watery background foliage by using a blue-green wash (I chose the color deliberately to add some variety to the overall greenery of this scene) and just patting my paintbrush against the “sky”:

While the blue-green wash is still wet-ish, I will work quickly to dab in some peripheral trees, using a bright green-yellow:

Still working wet-in-wet, I pat in some darker blue-green:

I let all that dry before I dab in some more blue-green-ish stuff:

I chose to use blue-green here only to make a distinction between the trees that are minor characters in this view and the trees that will be the major characters. The most important trees in this view are the Willows, so I will paint them last — which is why I am skipping over to the center of the view now, where all the non-Willow fluffiness is. I put in a nice light yellow wash first:

And then I pat in some light green:

As the wash gets more and more dry, I pat in more dabs of green, which will “hold” as distinct shapes of foliage:

I am still taking advantage of the dampness of the background wash to pat in some medium greens:

The wash is almost completely dry now, so I’m going to get bold and go for some dark green (it’s Hunter green mixed with just a touch of black) that will really “hold” well:

It was at this point that I started to believe that I had something here. I wasn’t sure at all about the fate of this pic in the beginning…I made the background kind go bland on purpose, in order to not overwhelm the pic with too much detail, but I could not tell if it would work or not until I got here, and did not screw up the bleeds I needed here. I can see that I painted a big round puff ball, which I’m not happy about, but I can fix that; what I can’t fix is a bad bleed. These little bleeds look OK. Whew.

While I paint, I constantly refer back to Jeanie’s photograph, to make sure that I’m dabbing in those darks and lights in approx. the right places. I decided to paint that big area of fluffiness in two parts, exactly because I knew that I wanted to use a wet wash while it slowly dried up, and you (meaning: me) can only do that in small bits. So when I start the second part of that area of fluffiness, I start with a darker wash of pale green-blue instead of yellow)

I dab in yellow and then my dark green to merge into the dark green I had previously done:

Add medium green and let dry:

Compare to reference photo to check for placement of the dark spot:

It looks OK to me.

Since I am a miniaturist at heart, I have a tendency to over-do the details when I paint “large”, and luckily I have stopped myself at a good point with this fluffy background. Time to paint the Little Willow, which as you can see from the ref photo above, has a “dark” and a “light” side — so I am putting down two washes side-by-side:

I wanted to add some dark green to the darker wash, but I put in too much:

This could have ruined it all, but thankfully the paint was still wet and all I had to do was “pick it up” — go over it with a very clean brush to remove the unnecessary paint and SAVE THE DAY:

Now that the wash is dry, I am putting in some fine lines in various shades of light and dark green to simulate the Willow fonds:

I add some darkness to the foliage on either side of the Willow in order to make this main-character tree “pop”:

Lastly, it’s time to do the Big Willow:

Ooooh — nice bleed of dark and light green wash (below)!

Here’s how I paint fronds with both my big (No. 1) brush and my teeny (No. 00) one . . .

Don’t worry — we are NOT painting the entire pic today; I have just a few more bits to show you before we call it a day (we’ll finish the pic next week, when we do the WATER!!).

But here is where we are so far:

For now, I am leaving the tree-line unresolved like this. I know that according to my reference photo of Jeanie’s View, I am missing a big area of darkness between my Willows, but I also know that  if I don’t stop myself here I am afraid that I will add too much darkness and detail, and lose the brightness and spontaneity that I have so far. I will have to go back later and patch up some bits here and there, but it would be better for me and the pic if I wait to see what happens in the rest of the view before I make those adjustments.

All I’m going to do for the rest of this post is paint in the water-line at the bottom of those trees. Of course I will be using my favorite thing in the whole world — wet-in-wet bleeds:

And we are DONE for the day.

You might be wondering what those goofy pink arches on the right edge of Jeanie’s View are. Those are the rose arbors painted by Monet:

I think this is a very ugly painting. The shape of the arbors is very unappealing — boxy, inelegant, etc. The brush strokes look tentative (wimpy) and the colors manage to be both muddy and cartoonish. And if you don’t know the lay-out of his Water Garden, this painting doesn’t make much sense: is that pile of brownish-pink in the middle of a pool or what? Even his water lilies look like crap. See? Even Monet had bad days at the old easel.

It’s because of this painting that I dislike his lily pond rose arbors, and I tried to minimize the presence of these odious rose arbors in my pic but I obviously failed (see: my painting) — they poke out of the landscape like, well, like cartoonish rose-covered arbors. I will fix that later.

Speaking of Giverny, you all know that it is Election Day this Sunday in France, right? It’s a very tense election, with a four-way heat between the candidates from the far left, the middle left, the middle right, and the far right. If you remember my post from 2015, when I was in Giverny for their last elections for local representative, I got to witness  voting in Giverny and it was so cool — even back then, my Giverny friends assured me that Marine LePen’s party could not possible get votes in their neck of the woods… but she did, yes she did; and if you think that she couldn’t possibly win the Presidency in 2015 I have two words for you: Der Drumpf. . . who is still a fat ass shit-eating maggot. If you have a friend in France who isn’t a moron, keep your lines open. They might need to email you late in the night after the polls close, and you have to be available to coax them off the ledge.

Interesting Fact: The watercoloring that you watched me do today took me 1 hour and 50 minutes — almost TWO HOURS — of painting Jeanie’s View. At this point in my blog post, I’ve spent over three and a half hours writing and posting pix about what it took me two hours to paint. I’m starting to think that there is something wrong with this business model. (P.S. this blog took about six hours total to gather photos, lay out in WordPress, write, and revise.)

I actually painted for two more hours on Jeanie’s View and then I stopped (the pic is still not finished) but for your sake, I will stop here.  The reason I put the brushes down after four hours is because I know that I am not good for more than four hours of painting on any given day. So here’s a tip: Know your limits and respect them. Even if you are dying to finish your pic, even if you are sooooooo close to wrapping it all up, even if you’re afraid that the Muse won’t be there the next time you open your paintbox: Quit While You Are Ahead.

Hello, this is from Future Me: I have finished Jeanie’s View and there is a lot to tell you. . . but I have to clear it with my Dear Readers first. Was this blog post too detailed? Do you want to see more such nit-picky painting, or would you like me to edit the process to speed it up? Because here’s the thing: If I keep reporting the future painting of Jeanie’s View in the same manner as I did this week’s post, I will need TWO more installments. . .  next week, I’ll do the the lily pond, and two weeks from now I’ll do the bank of the pond and the bridge and all the little fixits the pic needs before it’s DONE. Please let me know how much info you want me to belabor in this space.  

BIG NEWS: Mr Fluffy, our wonderful stray kitty, has found his forever people, who drove six hours to come get him. The Fluffernutter has already staked out  his favorite nap spots in his new house and is lording over a young family who adore his every swish of tail and his every teeny tiny “Mew” that lets them know it’s kitty-loving time.

And no, I have not begun reading my penance novel that I owe Top Cat (see: last week’s post) because I am busy with the two treasure books that I brought home from New Orleans — stay tuned, Dear Reader Judy; I will discuss them next week, when we paint the rest of Jeanie’s View.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers. Happy Painting, wherever you are.

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Can you guess where I went last week?

For the record, this is my favorite outfit of my 62nd year: Michael Kors leggings and tasseled suede loafers, with a shirt from the Boys’ Dept. at Target. I’m also growing my hair out from the short-short cut I had last October, but I haven’t decided how long I want to let it go.

Oh, wait. That’s just me, standing in front of the scenery. Let me get out of the way:

Here are more clues:

That last note was let on the windscreen of Honda that had 2015 Massachusetts plates on it, which resulted in this action on April 9, 2017:

(I loved this guy, watching in the background:)

The lady driving the municipal tow truck had to use a “jimmy” to unlock the car to put it in neutral gear so it could be towed . . .

. . . and as she finagled her slim-jim tool into the driver’s side doorway, a passer-by lent a helping hand by shouting, “Girl, just break the window!”

OK, last week I went to a place that’s neighborly and nosey and known for being fond of a “Go Cup” or two. I think you’ve guessed by now . . .

. . . that Top Cat and I made our annual pilgrimage to New Orleans for the French Quarter Fest, where for four days the party goes on and on and on and on:

For Top Cat and me, the party had to close down each night around 10 o’clock: we can only take so many hours of fun before the over-eating, the over-drinking, and the over-dancing does us in. Top Cat would then take off to play poker at the casino down there at the bottom of Canal Street and I would hobble up to the room and soak in a hot bubble bath to soothe my weary bones for the next day’s shindigs.

In all our visits to NOLA Top Cat and I make it a point to get out of the French Quarter for at least half the day, and we’ve been west, east, north, and south of Bourbon Street (which we actually avoid as much as possible) but our preferred neighborhood in NOLA is the CBD — the Central Business District.

Once a day we walk to the Hilton Hotel in the CBD and settle in at the bar at Drago’s, where they make the best damn char-grilled oysters in the whole damn world. At the bar you can watch the line cooks smother your dinner with Drago’s magic sauce before firing it up at the grill:

Char-grilled oysters, served with plenty of lightly toasted French bread to dab up that delicious sauce. My only complaint about Drago’s is that the menu is all sea food and sausages, which are food categories that I do not eat. My favorite NOLA dish is Red Beans and Rice, which you can order as a side at Drago’s, and pay $7.95 for the smallest damn serving of red beans you’ve ever  seen:

Note that that’s a TEA spoon on the side. And then there’s the red beans at the Commerce (at 300 Camp Street in the CBD):

I used to follow foodie recommendations for the “best” red beans in the city, but once I had the red beans at Commerce my search for the BEST damn red beans was at an end:

This is the $7.00 red bean lunch, which comes with a big side salad and four pieces of buttered-grilled French bread which I didn’t photo because, hungry. I LOVE the Commerce, which only serves breakfast and lunch and closes at 2:30 in the afternoon so time your appetite accordingly.

I call this composition, “Commerce under a Full Moon”.

My fave non-edible items in NOLA are books.

Octavia Books (513 Octavia Street) is the acknowledged center of literary happenings in NOLA — if you’re going to New Orleans, check their web site for the Who’s Who who stop by every week. Octavia Books very kindly hosted an event for me last year when I visited the city to talk about Gardens of Awe and Folly (which you know has a New Orleans chapter featuring Karen Kersting’s wondrous rose garden in the Uptown/Carrollton neighborhood). It was the very best damn book event I’ve ever had:

My 2016 haircut, not the one I’m now growing out. This was the one before that.

Me at Octavia Books in 2016, in my favorite outfit of my 61st year: I bought the Eileen Fisher top and the shoes in New Orleans!

But for second-hand books, I go to Crescent City Books in the CBD, and not just because they have one of the all-time great book store cats on duty:

Meet Isabel,who has her formal shrine in the front of the shop . . .

. . . but who can also be found doing her thing in the stacks towards the back of the store:

It took me about an hour to go through the inventory — so many delish books to choose from — before I found the two books that had to come home with me; but sadly I had to leave behind a book that stands out as possibly the dullest book I’ve ever come across:

This is a surprisingly hefty book, considering the subject matter, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to lug it 1,000 miles home. Plus, it was $25, which is a lot to spend for a joke (no offense to florists). I did a bad job of snapping this pic, tho; I have a thing about seeing people’s thumbs holding stuff. It really gives me the creeps to see people’s thumbs holding stuff because some people have really, really bendy digits and I can’t stand seeing thumbs crooked in this position, even reasonably un-bendy ones like mine. Do you know what I mean? If this pic makes any of you queasy, let me know and I will crop it.

All the illustrations in this tome were like this (see below) and I mean almost exactly like this — blue was the only color that the Rittner School of Floristry Art sprang for in the publication budget:

And at the very back of the Crescent City Books I found this:

In case you can’t read it, the little note under the sign says: Please Make Sure This Door Stays Closed.

I thought about taking a peek, and I thought long and hard about this, but in the end I couldn’t spoil the pleasure of imagining what could possibly be lurking down that corridor.

Dear Readers, this is just a tid-bit of our NOLA FQF adventures, which I am sparing you the further details of because Top Cat says my posts tend to run much, much too long. So I can’t tell you about the garden show we went to where I overheard a guy complain, “He says he’s here looking for lawn art…he doesn’t know a thing about lawn art,” or the hairdresser who told me, “I seem to attract a lot of warriors to my chair.”

Nope, I have to cut to Day Five, the day we had to go to the airport to catch a flight back to our regular boring non-New Orleans life, and how after all that fun we’d had in our Favorite American City we were well and truly shattered. . .

It was only 11:00 in the morning and just a 30-minute wait ’til boarding but Top Cat could not resist the urge to catch up on his sleep.

. . . in the well and truest best way.

Good bye, New Orleans. We love you.

Actually, I think part of me is still in the Crescent City because part of me is still drunk.

On the way home neither of us was forcibly ejected from the aircraft at the last minute, so I got Top Cat to watch La La Land with me and to my surprise, Top Cat actually liked the movie very much. So this means that I owe him one, and I now have to read a book that he wants to share with me, A Confederacy of Dunces. I’ll do it, but I’m not looking forward to it. You know how grossed out I am about people’s bendy thumbs? Well, I am just as squeamish about this (and any) 300-pound main character. If there is even ONE description of Ignatius J. Reilly sweating, I am OUT.

By the way, also in the CBD.

So that’s the week that was. Next week, thanks to Dear Reader Jeanie, we’ll be painting her reference photo of Monet’s lily pond together and that will be fun because there’s always a 50-50 chance that I will do something dreadful with it.

Have a great weekend, everyone. See you next Friday!

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Thank you, Michelle (Mihaela) , for this beautiful picture of the GoAaF. What a great idea for an Instagram: beautiful photos of books and cups of tea. OK,now I get it.

Dear Reader of this blog Elizabeth emailed this Instagram pic to me on a day when I needed a little bit of applause in my life — good timing, Elizabeth; Thank you, too.

Last week I also got the proof for the Korean-language edition of Le Road Trip:

I can’t read Korean, but it seems that there are a lot more words in the Korean edition than in the English one that I wrote. But it’s plain to see that it’s a superb-looking production and I am very grateful to the publishers in Seoul for their care and consideration.

These were the bright spots in a challenging week. Mr. Fluffy (see: last week’s stray cat found in my back yard) went to the vet on Monday and had some health issues (infection, anemia) that kept him in the hospital for five days, but he’s on the mend and I am looking forward to getting him placed in a forever home soon. Of course I had hoped, as soon as I found him, that he’d be chipped for easy identification, but I wasn’t too hopeful: a person who doesn’t bother to get his cat neutered is not likely to bother getting the same cat chipped. Mr. Fluffy was not chipped.

The other dark cloud in my week as how I was not able to paint one single decent picture this week. It’s when I paint like this . . .

. . . that makes me wish I worked at Dunkin Donuts. Because isn’t everyone who stops by Dunkin Donuts in a good mood? Is there anything about selling glazed donuts that doesn’t make the world a better place?

That (above) was my first try. Shame on me that I didn’t spot the craptitude until I’d got to that point, after committing quite a bit of time to this image. So I put this picture aside and spent a day practicing how to make those spikes of light green leaves popping up in a row look convincing. What I’m trying to do, BTW, is a Summer view of Monet’s grand allee, when the iris are in bloom, which you might know better from the Spring versions of this scene that I have painted previously, back when I knew how to paint:

I might have to call QUITS on this Summer view, because my second attempt was hardly any better:

I think my time would have been better spent gorging on glazed donuts.

I have looked through my reference photos of Monet’s garden from my visit of May 2013 for an alternative view of the allee, and I’m partial to this:

Oh wait, That’s not in Monet’s garden — that’s 5 o’clock at my beautiful B&B, Le Coin des Artists, on the Rue Claude Monet in Giverny. Those fluffy ears you see at the far end of the table belong to this handsome fella:

ANY HOO, getting back in Monet’s garden, I’m thinking of doing this:

Except that it’s already been done. . . 

. . . by Fabrice Moireau in his beautifully illustrated book Le Jardin de Claude Monet:

I came across this book last month in the inter webs and I almost gave up trying to paint Monet’s garden — who wants to go where Fabrice Moireau has already gone??

It was when I got this book in my hands that I was relieved to discover something about M. Moireau that makes room for my little contribution to the Monet garden illustration world. M. Moireau is nothing but amazing when it comes to painting architecture, as you can see in this pic of Monet’s kitchen:

BUT, and this is just me talking here, and I’m nobody with the kind of cred that Fabrice Moireau has, BUT his garden paintings are, well, lacking. They not just as strong as his architectural stuff. Compare (above) to this:

I know what Monet’s all looks like in September, when the bright orange and red nasturtiums are filling in the allee and the color scheme of the flower bends alongside it are warm hues of yellow and scarlet, and this doesn’t do it for me. This is how I see it:

I should note that repetition of M. Moireau’s subject matter is hard to avoid because there are a limited number of garden paths in Monet’s garden from which to take a view.  In the Water Garden the situation is even more dire. There is only one main path to take around the pond, so everyone tends to get the same views. For example, the view of the famous Japanese bridge that I painted last month:

And M. Moireau’s take on the same view:

I know exactly where we were both standing when we took in this scene. But as you can see, M. Moireau pulled back his point of view much farther than I did. I thought I’d show this painting for Dear Reader Jeanine, to show how one artist coped with all those damn background trees in Monet’s garden.

You can see that M. Moireau made the decision to leave the willow trees (on the right side of his pic) undifferentiated, and to paint in more detail the Copper Beech and what I think are maple trees. I think this is a curious decision to make, because it’s the willow trees that give the Water Garden its “oomph”, n’est-ce pas? But I assume that M. Moireau is making decisions that play to his strengths as a painter (don’t we all?) and M. Moireau is very good at painting Copper Beeches and the like. But there you are, Dear Reader Jeanie: massive background foliage.

Speaking of “playing to your strengths”, let’s take another look at the way M. Moireau did the allee of Monet’s garden:

Notice how he has emphasized the the foreground in this composition. Notice that the foreground contains the architectural elements that M. Mireau is so fantastically adept at painting: the hand railings to the staircase to Monet’s front door, a stair, a bench; the foreground also shows some indistinct [lame] stuff that seems to be white flowers on either side of the staircase which are there, it seems to be, to take up space.  M. Moireau is also very good at painting [certain kinds of] trees — so the big yew trees at the top of the allee take up another big chunk of the pic. What’s left, in my option, squeezed into the narrow band in the middle of the pic, is very little information about one of the most stunning features of Monet’s garden — those amazingly curated color fields of flowers that line the allee. Why? Because M. Moireau doesn’t “do” flower beds.

But man, can that guy paint Paris!

In my humble and respectful opinion, M. Moireau, as an unparalleled artist of urban landscapes and the premier painter of architectural subjects, was the wrong guy to let loose in Monet’s garden.

He should have been sent to Villandry:

As for me, I am going to send myself back to the drawing board and give the allee another chance. Maybe I’ll find a way to paint to my strengths. And if not, I will live to my strengths and find a cat to give a lap to, sip a cup of tea, stuff myself with glazed donuts, complain about the world, and then take a nap, all of which I am very good at.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

 

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So this showed up in my backyard last Tuesday:

But I had nothing to fear, thanks to my crack team of Security Experts (Taffy and Bibs), who utilized their best Stink Eye maneuver to keep The Dastardly Mr. Fluffy at bay. . .

Mr. Fluffy is actually a very sweet kitty who is obviously a lost house cat. But he’s long overdue for his rendezvous with destiny so I’ve made appointments for him too visit the vet, to make him less likely to roam; unfortunately it’s not until Wednesday. Riding herd on a randy Tom Cat is, honestly, more work than I am in the mood for. We’ve searched for flyers and “Lost” posters in the neighborhood but no one seems to be missing this sweetie and NO, we are NOT looking for ANOTHER cat to add to our posse so if anyone knows of anyone who would like to adopt a smart and gentle Maine Coon, I will personally deliver within a 90-mile radius of Oyster Bay, Long Island.

The news came a few hours after I posted last week’s blog that der Drumpf’s idiotic health care repeal had been effectively defeated by his own party. Oh, lordy, it was just what the doctor ordered: a big fat dose of relief and overjoy! Because of this gift of uplift I am a better, kinder person: I sing to myself, I turn on You Tube and dance, I give people the benefit of the doubt (at least half the time, no matter how un-freaking deserving they are of my patience and I’m talking to you, lady at Costco who held up the checkout line while you searched the boggy depths of your handbag for the elusive credit card that you should have had ready in your hand because, surprise, it’s the CHECK OUT LANE), I foster stray cats when I need another cat in this  house like I need a hole in the head, I am delighted by the small moments of pleasure that have gone unnoticed in these past four months, and I sleep at night like I’m in the middle of a kitty puddle of snooze:

I even got word of a debut novel about another sexually-abused autistic teenager and did not despair for what passes as literature these days. At least there’s not a dog fight in it, or a multi-generational saga from the mean streets of Detroit. See? I’m all about the silver linings!

Last Christmas someone gave Top Cat a gift certificate to Red Robin restaurant. Top Cat and I are not Red Robin kind of people. But last Friday we were in a good mood and decided to not be ourselves and we went for a dine-out at the local Red Robin. I don’t know why these kinds of places are in business when there’s a perfectly authentic Cajun restaurant in a trailer not two miles away, but there you are. Before I received my cold black beans and barely warm “mac’N’cheese” (it was elbow macaroni smothered in a lukewarm cream sauce of some kind) I was served a glass of chardonnay in the filthiest tumbler I have ever seen this side of a Bangalore recycling bin. I handed the foul vessel back to the waiter and yet, I was still in such a good mood that I privately thanked the slovenly bartender for disgusting me — no overindulging on Happy Hour wine for V. Swift, that’s for sure! In fact, I think I might be sober the rest of my life. All I have to do is conjure up the memory of that spittle-encrusted glass and I turn into a tea totaler. At the end of our “meal” at Red Robin we had a largish balance on this gift certificate, which Top Cat gave to the waiter because neither of us has any intention of ever returning to this place ever again.

I should mention that it is cold and rainy today here on the Isle of Long, as I type this on Friday morning. Every cat-body is in the house today, as it is too gloomy and muddy to be prancing around the estate, so that in addition to the regular crew of six who inhabit these rooms, plus the guest in the downstairs powder room, I have the neighbor’s cat, Dennis, in for day care:

Dennis is such a frequent visitor that he has his own spot, on his own pillow atop a cabinet in the basement.

Steve showed up on the front porch as usual for breakfast, but has since then been curled up in his cubby in the garage, that’s how lousy the weather is today:

But it’s still sunshine and flowers in VivianWorld, which I was able to paint this week!

I have to remind you that I am actually not a painter, I am an illustrator, and as such I hack my watercolor to get certain effects. Last week I wanted to paint flowing water, and here’s how I hacked it:

I used masking fluid to map out some “swirls” in the water:

Then I removed the masking fluid, exposing the white, unpainted paper underneath:

Then I painted in a thin, color-matched line inside the empty space:

I turned the picture on its side, just as shown here, because it’s easier to paint these lines smoothly when you use your brush in an up-and-down motion, rather than a side-to-side (if you ask me). Here’s how it looks with painted-in:

I think this is a perfectly fine facsimile of rippling water, and it couldn’t be easier!

DONE:

Remember, I have a darling Maine Coon kitty that needs a home and forget about the 90-mile limit I posted (above). I once drove a cat to Rhode Island (where he found his perfect forever people) so I’m willing to go as far as one tank of gas in my hybrid car. That’s about 550 miles. OK, two tanks if you have the perfect forever home for this guy.

Have a great weekend, everyone — do a Happy Dance against der Drumpf!

 

 

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One year ago, on March 16 2016, I took a look at my life and decided that Things Had To Change:

This was the day, last March 19, when I did my semi-annual bottle return on my empty Fresca cans. Note: I live in New York state, on the USA, where recycling empty soda cans and bottles is mandatory and for which we consumers pay 5 cents per container upon purchase, which we get back when we drop off the empties to appointed recycling locations. I think I made close to $170 on this haul.

This is when the reality of all those cans of soda, ingested one by one by yours truly, every morning (Ah! Is there is anything better than an ice cold can of Fresca with breakfast?) and once or twice during the day for the past three years, hit me as a regrettable life style choice on my part. All that ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, all those doses of brominated vegetable oil, all that gunky acesulfame potassium, not to mention the aspartame that breaks down into formaldehyde in the body (Wait. Isn’t that a preservative? And shouldn’t that help me look forever 57?) and the citrus acid that made me teeth hurt — that made for quite a swill in my guts. And I pride myself on having swill-free guts.

So I quit, that very day, cold turkey. Since then I have not had so much as a SIP of Fresca, going on for 368 days now. Yay me.

It’s not much, to kick a Fresca habit, but the news has been so very, very bad this week that I needed a win and this is all I got: Fresca.

Well, here’s some good news: Monet’s garden in Giverny opens to the public TODAY!

I know this because I read Ariane, Guide to Giverny, who lives in Giverny and wanders through the Clos Normand and the Water Garden throughout all the months of the year knows the ins and outs of this garden as well as Monet himself — catch up with her latest wanderings in her English language blog here. Or, if you want to really delve into the subject, try her wonderful blog in French, Giverny News. Whenever you feel like you wish you were back in Giverny, Ariane’s blogs will take you there, so what are you waiting for?

Speaking of Monet’s Water Garden, I took a shot at painting a lily pond view of his famous Japanese bridge this past week. The view includes the dreaded Copper Beech, so I did a preliminary test of color blobs before I began to paint:

The famous willow tree, working wet-in-wet:

Remove masking fluid, Phase I:

Paint in bridge:

I made the decision here that I can’t deal with all the vegetation in this view — it gets very repetitive and BORING — so I am going to mess around and use my pencil drawing to “fill in” the rest of the landscape. Also, I think that leaving so much white space makes the view more interesting, and makes me almost not hate that damn Copper Beech.

Now, paint in water. This is the trickiest part, because you have to paint in lots of reflections, and some how blob green paint into rose and blue watercolor, a color combination that will make a nice muddy brown if you don’t do it right. It helps greatly if you’ve done this kind of thing mucho times before, and you know both the saturation point of your paper and the timing of each blob of color so it doesn’t make soup:

Remove masking fluid, Phase II:

Paint water lilies:

And DONE:

Monet water lily pond

Dear Readers, how you doing? It’s been a tough week. Don’t get me started. I knew it was going to be a tough year (or four) when I started a Happiness Jar on New Year’s Day:

Yep. That’s all I got. Two notes, commemorating two moments of joy so far this year. Oh, wait. I forgot to write about those Southern-fried pickles I had on Mardi Gras. So that’s three moments of joy, in 83 days.  Actually, I think that’s pretty damn good going, for a Capricorn, in the time of der Drumpf. We have a habit of thinking the worst of people and things. Because we’re only being realistic.

But this is an amazing world so you never know how much things can get better, all of a sudden. You could be walking in the woods, on some fine Spring day, and you look up, and there’s a red panda:

It could happen.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers.

And der Trumpf is still an oozing stinking pustule of scum.

 

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The big news this past week was the very very late Winter blizzard that threatened to ravage America, burying us east coast liberal snots in a thousand feet of snow. On the eve on the Great Snow Day of 2017, I set out my Champagne-O-Meter in the backyard:

Taffy prepped in his own way:

We heard the storm blow in around midnight, rattling all the windows with dire gusts of wind and sleet, and then dawn of the Great Snow Day of 2017 broke:

Top Cat lit a fire in the living room, all the kitties gathered ’round, we made pots of tea and loaves of toast and read our books and napped (I had a dream that I taught sign language to a cartoon octopus) and made more toast and tea. The snow kept falling, but it was mixed with icy rain, which was very heavy and compressed the previous layers of fluffy stuff so that the total accumulation was much less than anticipated, but had the density of concrete. At 3PM I fetched the Champagne-O-Meter from the backyard and lo, the bubbles were good and icy:

We went through 12 pounds of bird seed during this storm, trying to keep all our feathered friends well fueled to ride out this cold snap:

I also bought new straw to put in some additional layers of insulation in Steve’s cubby in the garage and he’s been curled up in it for the past three days:

But I’m not here just to bring you a weather report. I have a story to tell you, a story that is 33 years in the making, if my math is right. It starts in yon olden days of 1984.

When my sister Buffy went to see Monet’s garden in Giverny in May of 1984 she brought back the official souvenir book of the Foundation Claude Monet, which shows the gardens to be in a very skimpy state of restoration. Evidence this photo of the apple tree espaliers:

Her own photos of the garden include this great shot (below) of the apple trees in approx. their 4th year of growth:

I love these photos of the espaliers laid bare — by the time I got to see Monet’s garden for the first time in September of 1990 they had filled in quite a bit. I thought it was an OK garden back then because to me it was mostly a tourist attraction, not a garden experience.

In the book that I called Le Road Trip  (2012), I did not spend much literary or face time in the garden because, well, you can read about it on page 55.

And then came time (2012 – 2015) for me to do the book I called Gardens of Awe and Folly. I considered including Monet’s garden in the book because I really like those nifty apple tree espaliers that make a cute fence around a small lawn in the part of the garden called The Clos Normand (my favorite part of the garden). The question was, could I paint them?

This is my very first attempt at painting Monet’s apple tree fence, some time in the dark ages of 2012:

As anyone can see here, this pic stinks. But I give myself credit for seeing the painting of it all the way through to the end, the better to judge the craptitude of my talents, such as they were, at the time.

Being the Capricorn that I am, I am determined to get the hang of this bit of garden. My first idea to improve the chances of my painting a decent pic was to pull back my point of view, to back up from my close up of the espaliers:

Nope.

BTW, This apple tree fence is the first thing you encounter in Monet’s garden after you buy your ticket and walk through his former painting studio — now gift shop — and through the door that leads you onto a short, narrow path into the garden. P.S.: There is only one Poplar tree in the background of this view in real life. Don’t ask my why I painted in 12 extra poplars, except that they are a whole lot of fun to paint and they are the trees that best communicate “FRANCE”.

Well. It was clear to me that I was getting no where, painting from my old tourist photos of Monet’s garden. There was nothing to do but for me to go back to Giverny and take another really good look at the place and think about it and photograph it specifically for painting references. So in May of 2013 that’s what I did.

And WOW. If you ever have the chance to see Monet’s garden in cherry blossom time, GO. In my experience, July and August are prime for the water garden and September is prime for the allee, but May is a whole other category of awesome in the whole rest of the garden. I got more out of that visit to Giverny than any of my several previous visits.

Back home, I took a look at my new reference photos  . . .

. . . and tried out my renewed painting prowess, starting with a quick “sketch”to see if I could paint the foliage of those apple trees:

Any way, in the end I did not include Monet’s garden in my garden book for several reasons: it was too big a subject for the scope of my book; I don’t really have a “take” on the place; and I couldn’t paint the damn apple trees, which are the things that I am most fond of in this garden.

But my lack of ability to paint the apple tree espaliers in Monet’s garden has not stopped me from try, try, trying again and again. It’s my genius, you can say, that I don’t give up when I have a goal in mind. My goal was to paint those damn apple tree espaliers in Monet’s garden no matter how many ugly paintings it took.

So, last year, after my garden book was out and making its way in the world, I faced my nemesis once again. Here’s my first re-try:

Nope.

There are three problems with this scene, two of which are evident in the ref photo. One is that the view takes in a part of the garden that is called “The Paintbox” [to the right], which has seven tall, H-shaped trellises over head: they must be dealt with, somehow, in the background.

Two: There’s a Copper Beech (in French: hetre pourpre] in the way-back, a tree that was planted by Monet himself and as such, is something that must be acknowledged, even though I personally dislike purple-leafed trees and think Monet’s Copper Beech is a very dissonant note when you’re trying to paint the harmony of this view.

Lastly, the property itself is on a slant — you’re actually looking slightly downhill when you are looking at the garden from this direction. Here’s another photo from the apple tree lawn to give you an idea of that:

I’m just noting that the perspective makes this little lawn a little tricky to paint.

On my second attempt at a full-page painting of this scene, here is how I tried to deal with the H-shaped trellises in The Paintbox:

Nope.

Next, I tried to go all Impressionistic re: those trellises and I pretended that that annoying red Copper Beech in the background wasn’t there:

Nope.

One last try:

I almost thought I had it here, but . . . Nope.

So I put it away and Spring became Summer, and then Fall, and then Winter, and etc.

Last month I took another stab at painting this corner of Monet’s garden, starting with a whole new point of view. I am painting the same corner of the apple tree lawn, but I’m putting myself further back, that is, standing right at the entrance to the garden. I started with a little watercolor “sketch” of my new parameters:

I elaborated it:

Nope.

I know I am reeeeeeeeeeal close to getting it right, I can feel it. I can also see, now that I’ve done the entire scene, that I’ve chosen a very visually crowded POV so editing out details is going to be crucial. I’m going to have to try a new way of keeping in detail without overloading the color scheme.

So, I head back to the drawing board with my brilliant, new scheme. I’m going to add a new element into this scene that I hope will clarify the view: very bold pencil lines. Here’s my first try:

Nope.

I made the mistake of drawing the foreground first, before doing the background wash. Then I did the background wash and it was bad bad bad from the get-go. So I start over:

Nope.

This (above) is me trying to convince myself that a bad background wash will work out if I keep painting. I wasted too much time before I ditched this. Let that be a lesson.

So I start over:

Nope.

I knew that background wash was a failure, but I took the opportunity of this failure to test some ideas I have about where the darks and lights in this pic should go and how to incorporate my pencil drawing into the watercolor, so I kept painting — not to rescue a bad pic, but to act out on some hunches. This was not a waste of time, even though it did not result in a good pic.

On the next start-over, I thought I’d do the wash first and then, if it worked, I’d do the drawing on top of it:

Nope.

But I’m getting there.

And on my next attempt, I got it !

And here’s the finished pic, DONE:

I am in love with that background wash. It still needs a few tweaks, and I might  take another look at this in a month or so and hate it, but for now, I am happy with the story that this pic tells about walking into Monet’s garden in Giverny on a sunny Spring day.

In fact, I was so hopped up about “solving” this vexing problem of Monet’s garden that on the same sunny day I entered this pic, turned right when I got to the fork in the path, walked to the other side of the lawn, turned around, and painted this:

OK, I had to paint this twice (in one week) to get it right, but twice (in one week) is a lot better than 13 times over four years.

For me, painting is a lot like writing. The first draft always stinks, always always always. But you stick with it. The next draft might still stink, but at least you know how it stinks and you have some ideas on what needs to be changed to to make it work. The next re-write gets a tiny bit better, but it stinks in its own, new, way; then the next re-write gives you hints that you’re on the right path. So you keep re-writing, re-vising, sharpening your pencils, trying new tricks, honing in on what works and what doesn’t. Finally, you have something that isn’t perfect, mind you, but comes as close as possible to the vision that you have in your head. So you back off and move on to the next, bigger, harder thing that you have to write. And, yes, when it comes to my books, it usually takes at least 13 drafts over four years to get it close to what I want the damn thing to be.

Any day now I will be starting in on my first crappy draft of the next book I want to write and NO, I will NOT be flaunting the variously crappy incarnations of the text. You’re welcome.

Stay warm wherever you are, and if wherever you are is in those delightful climes of the antipodal Summer, then stay cool and put out a water bowl for thirsty koala bears.

And oh, yeah: der Drumpf is still a horseshitting pile of pus.

 

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Hi Dear Readers.

Go see this movie:

If you can leave the theater without wiping tears of wonder and awe from your eyes, well, then, you’re not me.

And so, speaking of awe, I am dedicating this post to Dear Reader Maryanne, who went to Iceland last November and, from there, sent me something to mark 2016 as a year that didn’t totally end on a bad note:

Still in Mint Condition.

I love this object. Today, I want to mosey from my personal infatuation with this runic talisman, called the Aegishjalmur, the Helm of Awe, to London, where I was this past August (and on which I ruminated at length in this very blog for most of September of last year). Because as long as we’re talking about helms, here’s a story that I haven’t told you about a London helm that thrills me to pieces:

The only thing that I wanted to look at in the British Museum was a collection of very ancient relics dug up in the 1930s in Edith’s Pretty’s garden in a place in eastern England called Sutton Hoo. This happens a lot in Britain: start digging up any old back yard and you can come up with shovels full of Roman coins, Viking jewelry, Celtic weapons, etc. The stuff of this Sutton Hoo hoard dates from a half-mythical Anglo-Saxon kingdom from the early 7th c. (So little is known about 7th-c. England that most of what has been passed down feels more like myth than history.) This helmet was an extraordinarily rare find — only four such helmets are known from this period. It was also found in more than 500 pieces, which accounted for less than half of the original surface area.

The first assemblage of the 500 helmet pieces was completed by 1947, but continuing research showed it to be inaccurate and it was dismantled in 1968. The new restoration relied entirely on the evidence of the fragments themselves and not on preconceived ideas — that’s called intellectual honesty, Dear Readers. It took the conservator 18 months of painstaking study and experimentation to re-configure it to its current iteration, which has held steady since 1977.

Of particular interest to me, because I like winged things, is the almost entirely preserved Dragon that forms the face covering of this helmet:

The conservators now theorize that the complete helmet would have looked like this:

OMG, the power of this thing rattles my marrow.

It also happens that there are other hoards, in addition to the Sutton Hoo  hoard, on display at the British Museum. The one called the Cuerdale Hoard is the one that I thought was hilarious:

It’s the “interpretation” of this hoard that I find so awfully funny. To quote: Like many Viking silver hoards, the Cuerdale Hoard housed . . . blah blah blah.

Wait. Like many Viking silver hoards? There’s that “many” Viking silver hoards??? Like, so many that this one is just your average, every day Viking silver hoard? Like, the kind of Viking silver hoard that shows up on the Saturday when you start digging out the foundation for that patio you’ve always wanted off the kitchen, the one that you think is going to take you a day, maybe a weekend at most to do, only this damn Viking silver hoard shows up and you have to stop everything and call in the National Trust to come catalog and haul away yet another load of ingots, bracelets, brooches, rings, and other ornaments? That usual, predictable, ordinary Viking silver hoard?

Only when you live in a place with so much real history as Ye Olde England, and I mean long-ago/far-away deep, real, authentic history, can you even think of writing such a thing as “Like many Viking silver hoards“.

I, reading this as a person who comes from a land where people get all excited if they find a 50-year old penny slotted in the baseboard during a kitchen floor reno, found this bit of text to be hilariously casual about, well, Vikings. And their silver hoards. I, again as a person who comes from a land with a mere skin-deep sense of history, am in awe of the cultural authenticity of a people who have Viking silver hoards strewn about them like so many, well, Viking silver hoards. [Or like runes in Iceland. See? There was a reason I started with the Aegishjalmur.]

And that is why I reject the Statue of Liberty. Because I won’t settle for fake history! I  won’t be roped in by phony symbolism! And neither should you! Don’t mistake sentimentalism for altruism, side-show hucksterism for heritage. I know that we Americans are anxious for a home-grown culture, and that we wish we had tons of Viking silver hoards laying around, but we don’t, and history takes a lot of time and generations — and short-cutting it by buying into pre-fabbed patriotism only makes us corny, shallow, and incapable of telling the difference between the truth of what is real, and really “us”, and the intellectual dishonesty of a flattering myth. And as for the idea that the millions of people who have projected values of righteousness onto the Statue of Liberty have redeemed it from its ignoble origins, I say NO it doesn’t! Because America is not a cargo cult! (I hope not.)

I doubt that I have changed anyone’s mind, because we all know what happens to people who change their minds about opinions they hold dear: They die.  But I had to give it a shot.

So let’s do some painting.

I took this picture on a cloudy day in 2013, in Monet’s garden in Giverny (that’s Giverny in France, not a Viking nation but still pretty historical) . I love the color scheme of this flower bed, which I hope to do right by, in my own little non-Viking way.

I had a few false starts with the background, but on my third try I got this far and remembered to get out the camera. Notice how I have left the back half of this flower bed as just blobs of paint color. That’s because I have figured out that stuff in the distance is blurry (to the eye, not the camera — and I don’t want to re-paint what the camera has already documented). You can see here the I have already applied little dabs of masking fluid for reasons that I well reveal later in the painting of this scene:

I realize that I will have to show you, in another post, how I make those woozy swirls of color to stand for flowers and greenery. I just love taking advantage of the watery aspects of watercolor to do the work of “painting”. But I make these little pools one by one, letting them dry thoroughly before I make the next one, so they don’t run together and make sludge.

Here’s how I make the little flower stems, by whisking a paint brush through small puddles of paint that are at the right stage of half-dry:

Don’t over-do the wet-in-wet stem work, tho.

Time to go bold with the blobs of darker color, to give some oomph to this pic. I do it little by little, same as I did with the blue and purple bits

Dabbing some dark blue paint into the wet green paint makes a very nice effect: (next to the bits that are already dry)

See?

Remove the masking fluid:

OK, let’s paint in some tulips:

I think I used about 4 or 5 different shades of purple and red to do these tulips:

And now let’s dab in some Forget-Me-Nots:

DONE:

I think this pic captures the way the garden feels when you are there, the way the flowers wash over your senses like pools of color.

I have learned a lot by painting this scene: how much detail to leave out, which aspects of color and garden design to emphasize, how to avoid my usual mistakes of composition, and how to paint around my limitations. And, for me, this painting is BIG — about the size of 12 Triscuits. I think I have a lot more confidence now to look at other views that I have considered too difficult to paint and have a go at them. I’m talking 24-Triscuit scenes. HUGE, for me.

Why? Why bother? That’s a good question that I ask myself about every five minutes.

My best answer is: Because if I don’t try to become the best I can be at this, I’ll have to go vacuum the living room and I really hate housework.

Which I think is a good enough answer.

So next week we’re painting the most difficult thing I’ve ever painted, which I have already made seven or eight really ugly attempts at. And of course you’ll see those too.

Taffy and the crocuses.

Although it is sunny and mild as I type this on Thursday afternoon, by the time you read this, my Wonder Ones, the Isle of Long might be under 5 inches of snow — 12 hours of bitter Winter weather are in the forecast.

I hope you all, even in Summery Australia, have a nice half-frozen bottle of champagne handy and have a great weekend!

And, oh yeah, der Drumpf is still an ass hole.

 

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For our Mardi Gras Night Out (this past Tuesday, the last day of February), Top Cat and I made our way to Biscuits & Barbecue, a classic diner here on the Isle of Long, situated on a back street in an industrial neighborhood that gave us hope that this could be our new favorite dive eatery. As a matter of fact, the 40-seater is a superb source for authentic Louisiana cuisine, which included an appetizer that I would not have dared to try if it had not been Mardi Gras and we had indeed BYOB’ed our bottles of Abita Bourbon Street Imperial Stout.

And that’s how we made the acquaintance of the appetizer known as Delta Fried Pickles (with chipotle mayo dipping sauce):

In normal times, the idea of warm pickles would make me queasy, but these are not normal times. And did I mention it was Mardi Gras? OMG, these were the best things I’ve tasted since Top Cat’s Thanksgiving turkey, and the best new thing I’ve come across since I had  stroopwafle on a KLM flight from Paris in 2003:

The Dutch national cookie. Unbelievably good. Suddenly I want to go to Amsterdam in the worst way.

And I am sure that the low-landers would let me into their lovely country as I am certifiably free of rabies, which I never actually had in the first place, as determined by follow up tests. BTW, it’s not the rabies shots (what the Brits call “jabs”) that hurt — it’s the immunoglobulin that precedes the rabies shots that kills you: it’s a syringe loads with four vials of stuff that the nurse called “very viscous”, which means it was like glue to push through the needle that was stuck in my arm so that the nurse had to call over a burly ER doc to help her depress the plunger, all the while telling me to RELAX and keep my arm from tensing up. It didn’t help that I have an upper arm that the medical professionals called “teeny tiny”. This is one instance when it would have helped if I’d had a few extra pounds on my frame. My whole arm ached for several days afterwards.

But I do not in any way blame the raccoon who bit me for biting me. Raccoons, and any other animal and insect that I can think of, are not “pests” and are fully entitled to bite any human they like. They aren’t the ones that are killing this planet. [Insert a deeply felt, but thoroughly depressing anti-people polemic, which I will spare you from reading.]

Back to current events, it’s been Spring-like all these past two weeks here on the Isle of Long, and I’ve had flower gardens on my mind . . .

. . . but I won’t be painting today. Instead, as a public service, I want to spend the next 10 – 12 minutes of your life presenting you with a history lesson because while my internet was flaking out last week I had time to catch up on my reading:

I, like every other person working with a full set of marbles, am fed up with der Drumpf’s executive order ass-hattery, but I am even more fed up with these kind of intellectually lazy cliches (see above). This cover illustration is called Liberty’s Flameout and it’s by John Tomac, who explains it this way:  “It used to be that the Statue of Liberty, and her shining torch, was the vision that welcomed new immigrants. And, at the same time, it was the symbol of American values. Now it seems that we are turning off the light.”

Those italics are mine, and are what I want to discuss today.

The New Yorker should know better than to put this on its cover! It’s OK to protest  der Drumpf’s immigration dragnet BUT NOT IN THESE TERMS! It’s the same as when I heard a host of an NPR talk show (that’s National Public Radio, for my Dear Non-U.S. Readers; a non-biased and usually hi-brow source of news for those listeners who are not your typical American ass hats) ask his audience, Don’t those words on the Statue of Liberty about “Give me the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free” mean anything??

That was me, yelling at the radio, NO, NO! Those words don’t mean ANYTHING!!!

Those words, of course, are part of a poem that is mounted onto the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, that famously ends with the lines:

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

People who should know better quote those words often, usually in rebuke to Republicans, as if they represent some sort of official American immigration policy.

To kinda quote Inigo Montoya: You keep using those words. I do not think they means what you think they means.

I am Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die. THAT Inigo Montoya.

I will explain how I, one of der Drumpf’s biggest haters, would also be happy if the Statue of Liberty rusted itself to oblivion. Happy reading. I’ll meet you at the end with a new painting project for next week.

“The Americans believe that it is Liberty that illumines the world, but, in reality, it is my genius.”

Those are the words of the designer of the Statue of Liberty, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, an Alsatian sculptor who yearned for wealth and world renown. His big chance, as he saw it, for the fame that he richly deserved, was for the building of a celebrated colossus that he set out to shop around. At this time (1869), Bartholdi was not a fan of the American people and wasn’t even particularly devoted to the idea of liberty: his first pitch for his giant, torch-bearing statue was to the Ottoman viceroy of Egypt, which was, at the time, the single greatest commercial conduit for the international slave trade.

The statue was to be installed at the opening of the Suez Canal in Egypt and was to be called “Egypt Enlightening the World” or “Progress Enlightening the World” or, most awkwardly, “Egypt (or Progress) Carrying the Light to Asia.”

Failing to close the deal in Egypt, Bartholdi repackaged it for America.

One little catch: before Bartholdi could talk “the American people” into receiving his monumental gift, he had to persuade “the people of France” to pay for it. However, to the French people of the day, the project was Bartholdi’s, not theirs. At every stage of the fundraising, Bartholdi was insulted by the lack of public enthusiasm and the absence of “official” assistance, starting with the Third Republic of France which nixed the proposition of France’s national government donating money for the statue.

So Bartholdi and his confederate, the French politician Édouard René de Laboulaye, formed an organization called the French-American Union in 1875 and called for donations in both countries – a call which did not exactly flood the coffers. Actually, Bartholdi and Laboulaye failed to get anyone in America especially excited about the project until the American publisher and yellow journalist Joseph Pulitzer started a drive, in his daily newspaper The World, that attracted more than 120,000 (American) contributors, most of whom gave less than a dollar.

Most historians blame the Spanish American War on Pulitzer and his gullible readers.

But these donations were not enough. Ultimately, Bartholdi filled the gap by going showbiz: he charged admission to people who were less than eager to donate money but were happy to pay to see the inside of the incomplete statue’s head or climb to the top of the torch in the not-yet-attached arm.

To add to Bartholdi’s chagrin, it happened that when the statue was completed and shipped to American soil, New York Governor Grover Cleveland vetoed an allocation of funds for its installation (also, the statue needed an expensive pedestal for it to stand upright, which the state didn’t want to pay for either), and the U. S. House of Representatives declined to allocate funds to support the unveiling ceremony.

Long seen as simply a New York attraction, the statue was designated a national monument in 1924 by Calvin Coolidge and in 1933 the National Park Service assumed its administration.  And that is how the American government ended up “owning” the so-called Statue of Liberty, and therefore “the American people” own it in that euphemistic, grammar-school-civics-class sense. (Props to B K Marcus from The Libertarian Standard for the snarkier tidbits in this essay.)

As for that stupid poem:

The sonnet, called The New Colossus, was written in 1883 by a wealthy and self-published “poetess” Emma Lazarus as a donation to an auction conducted by the Art Loan Fund Exhibition in Aid of the Bartholdi Pedestal Fund for the Statue of Liberty, in order to raise the money to build the expensive pedestal that no government, French or American, wanted to pay for. The poem went into a souvenir booklet and was promptly forgotten. It was only in 1901 that a society matron named Georgina Schuyler – one of Lazarus’s closest friends – started lobbying to have “The New Colossus” engraved onto a bronze plaque and affixed to Lady Liberty’s base as a tribute to her friend, who was already dead for 14 years and faded into well-earned literary obscurity. The plaque was bolted onto the pedestal in 1903, with very, very, very little fanfare and absolutely no referendum.

So: The Statue of Liberty is the brainchild of an egomaniac with the self-marketing instincts of der Drumpf and could just as well have been lighting the Suez Canal for the Ottoman slave trade; it was a “gift” that the recipients paid for after it was disowned by the local, state, or national governments in France and America at every phase of its construction and installation; and its famous motto is little more than graffiti that expresses the sappy sentiments of a rich lady who wrote poems for magazines.

Now do you want to use this ton of kitsch as a symbol of all that is right and good about America?

I didn’t think so.

So let’s get back to this crazy Spring weather, shall we? I know a lot of you, my Dear Readers, are thinking about doing some gardening in this fine season. And the rest of us are happy to settle into our Adirondack chairs with an icy G&T in hand and let you hoe to your heart’s content.

I’m not saying that those of us who sit and watch and do our gardening with our paintbrushes aren’t perfectly capable of doing some high-class gardening, nest-ce pas? We might even do a little “gardening” in a masterpiece garden such as Claude Monet’s little flower patch in Giverny:

 

If you are interested, I would be happy to show you how to paint pansies, tulips, forget-me-nots, and cherry blossoms such as these. OK, maybe not the pansies. But definitely all the rest. Which might be useful in your upcoming projects.

OK?

Have a great weekend, my Wonder Ones. And if this whole Statue of Liberty thing has upset your mental map of the world, here’s a picture of that will make everything right again:

Candy, acting like a normal cat.

 

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IT Tech Lickety in search of internet gremlins.

My internet service keeps crapping out at t

Let’s start again: There must be a blockage in one of the series of tubes that make up the internet because I can’t se

Short and fast: The gremlins are at it again. I can’t get decent internet

but I have my crack team of IT techs on it so as soon as I

get more than intermi

ttant service I will regale you all with th

e latest

news etc. in VivianWo

rld. Meantime, go make a cup of tea and take a break f

rom, you know, the int

er

webs.

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The snow buried us cat and caboodle last week.

Even the slow-to-snow-panic New Englanders got a little hinky about the storm so my book event at the Tower Hill Botanical Garden was cancelled due to weather. This was a call that I, as a cult author and major American doodler/diarist and loather of the cold, heartily approved of. So we all stayed cozy in our bungalows and coped with The Weather in our own ways.

For me, it was breaking out the 1,000-piece picture puzzle and a fresh loaf of baked-from-scratch corn bread:

Corn bread goes very well with frozen champagne and a snow day with my Top Cat:

Taffy did his thing:

Bibs got in some serious bird watching:

And then the day after the day after the storm, the morning dawned eerily bright . . .

. . . and Dennis ventured out from his guest quarters in our house to inspect the new landscape . . .

. . . while Steve found a sunbeam very much to his liking:

And, oh yeah, a raccoon that I was trying to rescue from my back fence bit me so Top Cat took me to the local emergency room for rabies treatment (we looked it up and called the public health dept., who ordered me there), which is too-long a story to go into BUT all I have to say about spending three hours in an ER is: America, you have to stop being such cry babies when you have minor back pain, for chrissake. I refused to lay down on the Stryker cot the ER assigned me, just so I didn’t have to listen to the two blondes on either side moan and whinge about how much their shoulders hurt (diagnosis: nothing neurologically wrong, try sleeping with a better pillow). And what is with all the double-wide wheel chairs? No wonder health care costs are so high.

Back home again,  I hunkered down and got back to work on painting Christine’s Winter Tree because I’m a cowgirl at heart.

It is vital to use only the powdery Grumbacher “opaque” watercolor paints for this kind of painting because you will need to “pick up” the colors later. The most important colors are the blues: Prussian blue, Ultramarine, and Cyan blue (isn’t that redundant?), which I will be mixing with black and violet:

The next series of photos are my attempts to get good bleeds as I lay down a coat of paint (three different times) that changes intensity from rather lightish blue-violet to deep dark rich midnight blue:

If I am not happy with the bleed, I start over:

I should also tell you that it takes practice to get a nice smooth wash of color that doesn’t show brush strokes.

To answer Dear Reader Vicki’s question from the Comments last week, I photograph my own self while I paint. I paint with my left hand and when I get to a point that I think is important for you all to see, I just pick up my Panasonic Lumix point and shoot camera and snap:

Easy!

Anyhoo, I did end up with one good wash that had the right bleeds and the depth of color that I wanted — the one on the far right (below):

Some how I got lucky with that one — see that neat haze of brightness on the horizon? that’s going to look good on the finished pic, for sure.

Whenever I paint nature I have to fight my tendency to fall into patterns , so to avoid that I like to have a reference photo within sight when I do Winter trees so I can get a more random distribution of branches that will appear more natural, rather than what I do when I paint from memory:

Pencil guide lines:

I will use two brushes for this tree — a size 1 and a size 00. I start with the fatter brush . . .

. . . but I finish with the really tiny one:

For the next part, all I need is my size 00 brush and some clear water. I will load up my paint brush with water before I apply it to the dry paint, in order to “pick up” the color (kind of like an eraser), which is something that Grubacher paints let you do, which is why I love them:

I use the roll of paper towels that I always keep on hand to clean my brush in between the times I dip my brush into the clear water:

Again, when I am painting in these big snow flakes, I have to fight my pattern-making nature and try to make “snow” appear very random:

See below — I think it looks random, nest-ce pas?

Lastly, I dab in some smaller snow drops (I’m using my trusty acrylic Titanium White, of course):

Crop, and I am

DONE:

Christine, I hope you like it, because this one is for you.

I can see how you could play with this effect, by putting bright colors in the tree and making halos around each one, or maybe “erasing” a whimsical Milky Way in the background before you paint the tree into the foreground, that kind of thing. I’m thinking, future Happy Holidays card, right?

And you know which world leader is on my ChrisHanuKwanSolstice list?

** Sigh *** Really, doesn’t everybody in the world want to be Canadian at times like this?

Der Trumpf showing PM Justin Trudeau his secret plan to defeat ISIS.

I was listening to the radio when the joint press conference between Der Drumpf and Monsieur Dreamy came on, and I heard JT speaking French — which the damn people at NPR decided to talk over with an English interpretation.

So I ran — yes, I RAN — to my computer to get it streamed live so I could hear my favorite Trudeau person speak my favorite foreign language. Confession: I haunt Youtube for videos of JT speaking French, so I am already a huge fan of Monsieur Dreamy’s bi-lingualism. But today I have a question for my Dear Readers of the Canadian persuasion:

Is M. Trudeau’s accent rather less Celine Dion and more, let’s say, Megan Calvet? Although I can clearly hear the historically impeccable Quebecois accent whenever Celine speaks, I don’t hear it when I listen to The Top Cat of the Tundra, but I don’t know what exactly I’m hearing. Does he have what the Brits call a “Trans-Atlantic” accent? Rather like the way Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn used to speak American English in their old movies? Is it just a tiny bit more French-French than North American French? And is it dreamy?

And so, wonder Ones, if you need to lift your spirits from the latest Drumpf debacle (a new one reliably comes along every 48 hours), there’s this:

O, Ooooooo, Canada.

***Breaking News: I just watched Der Drumpf’s press conference today (Thursday, Feb. 16). It’s official. Der Drumpfster is bat shit crazy. I really, really do not know whether to laugh or cry. To paraphase: Der Drumpf is a comedy for those who think, a tragedy for those who feel. So, basically, if you think or feel, you are fucked. Unless you are Canadian, and then you are living the dream, mes amis, you are living the dream.

Have a great weekend, and à tantôt.

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