Author's Posts

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.

Read more

FINALLY. As I sit here typing this, Thursday morning Feb 9, a blizzard is pounding my Isle of Long with silent fury. It is a heavy, wet, swirling snowfall and we’ve been warned to expect “disruptions” due to the storm but so far, the power has not gone out obviously. Yay. I sit here in preparedness for any and all catastrophes. I have a just-poured cup of tea, plenty of English muffins for toasting, a good book set aside (The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis), and a 1,000-piece picture puzzle to break open at a moment’s notice. Plus, I have peace of mind that all my kitties are accounted for:

Taffy and his mom Candy

The outlaw Bibs

Cindy

Lickety at the den picture window, hoping for some action on his Birdie TV

Dennis in the backyard hutch, with his breakfast bowls (he also got a huge lunch served to him in the shed, because turns out he didn’t care for the picnic set up)

Right: I shoveled a path to the garage just so I could deliver feed to my crush, Steve, who is wisely staying put in his new cubby:

And, oh yes, I got the Champagne-O-Meter set up:

This was how it looked yesterday (Wednesday), when it was 60 degrees (16 C) and I debated whether or not it was cruel to abandon perfectly decent cheap champagne outside in such a heat wave. But I had faith in all the dire forecasts of debilitating snow because, science, and just for you, Dear Readers, I plonked my bottle down.

Full report at the end of this blog.

Now, where was I? Oh, right:

Remember last week I told you that I was going to paint a monochrome Winter for you, a snowy scene in shades of blue?

Well, I lied. I’m not going to paint in monochrome today, I’m not going to paint this scene (below) in shades of blue:

Because I really need to use white in this picture (which I have cropped to my liking) and, it seems to me, black:

The first thing I do when I set my sights on painting from a reference photo is to think hard about my strategy. I ask myself, How am I going to paint this? especially in the case of trying something new. Maybe I have a new idea of how to get this done. Think think think.

OK, I’ve thought about it and I think I have a plan.

So this is the strategy that I thought hard about how to paint my blue snow picture. . .

. . . which is to wash the entire picture surface with a moody mix of Prussian and Cobalt blue mixed with a smudge of black. I slather on the paint heavily at the top to a lighter, and thin it out at the bottom, before slapping in a splash of Royal blue as a feature in the landscape:

I really want a rich, multi-layered wash here, which is why I have mixed several different shades of blue into it. (P.S. I am using my cheap Grumbacher paints for the first wash, and a dab of my more saturated Winsor Newton paint in the swipe you see here (above).)

Let dry, and hope you get a smooth color field, with some interesting watery residue (I do love letting watercolor do what it wants to do):

See the watery smudge on the bottom? I LOVE that!

Now I make  the only pencil lines I’ll draw, to guide me in my future tree-making:

I get out my tube of acrylic paint, called Titanium White, to make my treetop snow:

So now I’ve got the white bits of my moon-lit forest:

I’m using black to paint in the foliage . . .

. . . which I will continue to do even as I get to the part where I have to imagine where the blue snow is:

This was my well thought out plan, to use the blue/black wash to form both the sky and the blue-in-the-shadows snow:

I think it works!

But I’m not done. Because there is a crescent moon in my reference photo, I’m going to paint one into my watercolor, like this:

As soon as I stepped back to get a look at this, I knew that I should have made the moon smaller, and full. I don’t like the crescent — and duh, I have artistic license to change whatever I want. I could have improved this pic with a full moon but nooooooo, I got stuck in my mind loop of slavish obedience to the reference photo.

Dear Readers, don’t do what I did.  Time spent thinking about how you want to edit your reference photos is time that is always well spent. I wish I’d thought a little bit harder when I was plotting out my plan for this pic. Lesson learned.

Here’s hint when it comes to painting moons, in whatever phase: the shape has to be perfect. So don’t try to draw it on your own. (Notice that I don’t use the term “free hand”. I have never liked that terminology. I have my reasons.) There’s tool you can use to get the curvature just right, and I beg you to get one:

I won’t draw a moon, or sun, or sphere without it.

Now, if you glance at the pic so far. . .

. . . you might be tempted to call it DONE. And it could stand as is, and be an OK pic. But let’s say we want to flirt with failure. Let’s say we want to try out another trick, just to see if we can pull it off. Even if it means ruining the whole thing forever. OK?

So, let’s do a clear water wash on the bottom bit of the scene, like this:

And let’s blob in some very pretty hue (again with the Winsor Newton stuff), and let the watercolor do what it wants to do:

Oooooooooo! The gamble paid off! I LOVE this:

Again, we could leave well enough alone, and call it DONE. But something wants me to do ONE MORE THING, and that’s to match the color of the blue-in-the-shadows snow on the trees with the blue-in-the-shadows snow on the ground:

So I paint in some Winsor Newton color, and then add more shadow to the far side stand of trees, and dab in some white highlights to the snow on the other side of the shadows:

And also futz with the cusp of shadow on the tree branches:

And, now, let’s see if all that futzing screwed us up:

So, starting from scratch a few weeks ago, when I was first learning how to paint snow-laden evergreens . . .

. . . we now end up here:

I’m not bragging. I’m pointing out how practice, doing it over and over, works. You can’t help but get better! I know that most people how give How To lessons want to come off as experts from the get-go, but I think it’s more informative if you see how not-hard it is to teach yourself something new, which at first you will e total crap at, until you get it. ANYONE CAN DO THIS!

Dear Reader Christine Commented last week that she hoped we would paint a blue Winter tree like the one on page 187 in my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam:

I did this illustration circa 2006 or 2007, back in the early days of my painting, back when I used fluid resist to blank out the white bits on those trees in the pic below. As for that blue tree, that was a sketch that I did, futzing around with my paints, learning what I could do with them, and I remember exactly how I got that background effect of a swirly cloud between the branches of that tree. How about I show you all ow to do it, when we re-paint that for next week? And Christine, that pic will go to you.

And for Wonder One Deborah Hatt, who made the suggestion that started this whole Winter Watercolor series in the first place: if you want this week’s Blue in the Shadows Pine Trees pic, it’s yours.

And now, without further ado, here’s your Champagne-O-Meter 2017:

7:30 am:

8:30 am:

9:30 am:

Cardinal:

Blue Jay:

As of now, I am waiting to take the 10:30 am pic so if this blog stops here you’ll know it’s because we have lost power and I am busy toasting English muffins in the fireplace and breaking open the Champagne-O-Meter!

Or, all is well but I’ve just broken open the Champagne-O-Meter!

Have a great weekend everyone! See you in Boyleston on Sunday!

 

Read more

Before I forget: I will be in Boyleston, MA next Sunday, Feb. 12, at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden. Details at the  end of this awesome post.

Now, where was I? Oh, right:

I am such a typical Capricorn. I’m musical, fun to a fault, quite the gourmet, and I totally love humanity***.

Ha ha! Just kidding.

If you know a Capricorn, then you know that we are the Vulcans of the zodiac. We are very serious people; practical,patient, determined, and can nurse a grudge better than an entire scrum of Hatfields.

Oh, that last thing might just be me. Point is, you have patted up a watercolor tutorial given by a Capricorn (yours truly) who is still trying to work out How to Paint Winter, so yes, we are going to re-re-re-paint the same damn trees again. Because did I mention that us Capricorns are patient and determined, and awesomely good at sticking with something, sometimes to a ridiculous extent, until we get it right?

Once more, this is the internet photo that I have been referring to for the past three or four weeks in my watercolor tutorials about painting Winter:

This is an excellent photo of Winter. It appealed to me because it had the kinds of Wintery trees that we all love: the snow-covered pine, the snow-covered deciduous, the misty woods in the back ground. And I love the monochrome of the color scheme, which is mostly shades of gray, which does not necessarily make it an excellent reference for a watercolor. Painting in monochrome is hard. I’ve never done it, because, you know, I’ve got my hands full trying to get it right with the whole paint box at my disposal.

So, from what I’ve learned about the limits of my ability (that I’ve been re-working on in my blog posts for the past three or four weeks), I am going to go straight for the green paint when I begin my watercolor again this week:

 

Let’s see, this is the 5th? 6th? time I’ve painted this snow-covered pine tree. I have a lot more confidence this week, which is why I decided to add another snow-covered pine tree (to the right, see below) for my painting this week. In order to differentiate the trees you can see that I’ve used a bluer color for the 2nd pine tree:

OK, let’s do the snow-covered deciduous tree now:

 

 

Because I am not painting in a sky, I am changing the way I do the background trees this time. This week, you can see that I’ve painted in just one layer of color here (see below):

I think, with the white sky that I’m leaving unpainted, that this single color will work better than the way I normally paint background trees, as in this sample:

This week, I am very happy with the way this ridge of blue paint looks (below), because I love taking advantage of letting watercolor do what it wants to do:

Now I’m using pale gray to paint in the background trees:

I’m dabbing in chunks of white paint, hoping that it will add “sparkle”:

So this is how the picture looks so far . . .

. . . before I decide to add an element that I’ve haven’t tried yet in this picture, which is some blue “snow” lines in the foreground:

All I have to do is crop this painting and it is

DONE.

Compare to last week’s effort:

I’m not saying that this week’s painting is good. I’m just saying that it is better. Patience, determination, etc., all those old, boring Capricorn traits keep me fixated on this scene, try-try-trying again and again, until I can pass off a half-decent depiction. So what if this is the 7th time (and counting) that I’ve been over this same territory? I don’t expect to be good right off the bat — do you?? 

By the way, Top Cat thought the new pic was only OK, but he was really impressed with the back ground. TC is in the print business (big fancy commercial printing, glossy ads and packaging for cosmetics and pharma), and he praised the background trees, namely this bit:

“How did you do that?” he asked; “It looks embossed!” Between you and me, I think that these background trees are crap and, if I paint this again, I will break out a new 00-size brush to get in some really fine lines here and do better with my tree shapes but, having Top Cat’s positive feedback, I know consider this one of my “party tricks” that I can pull out when I need to dazzle a viewer, maybe detract attention from a weakness in a picture. (Capricorns are very strategic.)

What Top Cat failed to notice, however, is that my treatment of these background trees isn’t even naturalistic. It’s pure invention, my own stylization, which I give you permission to borrow or otherwise appropriate for your own devices.

Speaking of Winter, we got another minor snowfall this week:

It only amounted to an inch or two, hardly worth putting out the old Champagne-O-Meter, but I mention it because it was a chance for me to test my cat-sheltering skills. When our last snow storm hit, on Jan. 6, our front porch cat, Steve, huddled in his lean-to by the stoop:

Now, this is Steve’s second Winter at large, and I have no idea where he hid out during bad weather last year, but he made it through so I know he is one tough hombre. But still, I can not abide seeing seeing a cat like this. As soon as the snow melted (which was practically the next day), I fixed his lean-to: I made it smaller (to better trap his body heat) and enclosed that back end, where the snow was blowing in, and I added another layer of plexiglass to his lean-to. Steve appreciates the transparency.

Better still, I re-vamped one of the “cubbies” that I keep in the garage:

It’s a never-used covered litter pan with an extra large-size top on it (for better insulation), stuffed with straw. So when it began to snow on Tuesday morning. . .

. . . I trotted out to the garage to make sure everything was warm and cozy:

I’m happy to say that Steve spends almost every night in this cubby.  As long as I keep my distance, that is, go no further than the doorway to the garage, I can call Good-night to him from a car-length away and he’ll blink and chirp back a faintly cranky “Nighty-nite” to me.

Speaking as a Capricorn, seeing this kitty face on a cold Winter night is about as happy as I get.

But I can get positively giddy reading your Comments, Dear Readers — Vicki in Michigan, Deb Mattin in New Hampshire, Thea in the Republic of California, and Kirra in Oz — all who marched for the cause last week: You light up my day! And all of us who were there in spirit, and who, like Becky, needle our lazy ass, conformist, shit-eating careerist representatives in congress to Man Up against Der Drumpf, I cannot tell you how much you give me hope that America is redeemable. Which I forget on a daily basis.

Note to all our Dear Readers from the midwest, including Indiana, the land of “nice”: On January 30 New Yoker Josh Sternberg helped put the call out, via Twitter, on January 30, for a protest to be held the next day at the Brooklyn home of Senate Minority Leader and New York Senator Chuck Schemer, to object to Mr. Schumer’s collaboration with the Republicans. And what might this platform for civic participation be called?

“What the Fuck Chuck” rally in Park Slope tomorrow. Bring your kids. Should be a blast!

Yeah, that’s what New Yorkers call “nice”. And so, three thousand people showed up to urge Mr. Schumer to get some balls and put up a fight against Der Drumpf and his half-wit supporters.

Somebody say Amen.

Now that I feel my blood boiling and my stomach is churning with pure hatred for those who want to revive the ghost of Antonin Scalia, let’s back away from the politics and resume our meander in the tributaries of my stream on consciousness. Relax. Calm down. Think good thoughts about a kitty cat. Let’s dip our toes back into the La La Land of Yours Truly:

Do you remember how I mentioned that us Capricorns are ambitious? Oh? Did I forget to mention that? Well, we are very ambitious folk, us Capricorns. And exactly how does that pertain to watercolor painting?

Here’s the answer:

I am inspired by these beautiful blue tones of late afternoon. So next week we are going to paint something that I’ve never tired: Monochrome. I’m going to paint a Winter scene in one color — shades of blue. Can I pull it off?

I honestly don’t know. But meet me here next Friday, and we’ll watch me paint on the verge of disaster.

OR, you can meet me in Boyleston, Massachusetts! I’ll be at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden on Sunday, Feb. 12, from 1 – 2 PM. I’m going to talk about how I blew up the garden-writing genre, exploded all its cliches and predictable sentimentality, when I wrote Gardens of Awe and Folly; and how a dedicated non-gardner such as myself pulled off such a feat — a ridiculous achievement matched only by my entire publishing career, which is pretty much a scam (as I am eminently unqualified to be a writer/illustrator at all).

I hope to see you there!

*** Me? A music lover? I detest background music and my favorite song in the world (for the record, it’s My Ever-changing Moods by The Style Council) is something that I can listen to only once every other year, so that I don’t get bored with it. Because I do get soooo bored with noise.

As for fun: I’m heavily into self-medication.

I have the palate of a six year old.

My dearest hope for this precious planet is that people die out and leave it the hell alone.

Wait. This a too down-beat ending of our weekly visit. So here’s some pix of Taffy, frolicking in his Winter Garden:

That cat surely does have exquisite taste in dirt.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Read more

The Mall, Washington D.C. during D. Drumpf’s inauguration:

The Mall, the next day, during the Women’s March on Washington, January 17, 2017:

Paige Carmichael, age 6, from Chadd’s Ford, PA, in Washington D.C. on January 21, 2017:

My neck of the woods, Grand Central Terminal, New York City, on January 21, 2017:

January 21, 2017: 19 million marchers, 60 countries around the world, including Antartica:

Were you, like me, taken by surprise how yuuuuge this thing was? Are you, like me, overwhelmed and almost heart-sick with gratitude to every person who showed up? Did you, like me, stay home because . . . well, there is no excuse why I stayed home: I should have been paying more attention, and roused myself from my routine, and bought me a hot pink “pussy hat” from Etsy, and gotten on a bus or a train and shown up.

As it happened, on the warm and sunny early afternoon of the march, I was driving through my sleepy woodsy neighborhood on my way to keep an appointment here in Nassau County, Long Island, and I passed a great number of ramblers, dog-walkers, and runners enjoying the Spring-like weather. Then in the distance I spotted a young couple walking together by the side of the road (no grubby suburban sidewalks in this bucolic scene in the area known as “The Estates”) and they were pushing a baby stroller and holding holding up a home made sign. When I got near enough to read it, the sign said: Love Trumps Hate.

Well, while I don’t entirely believe that that’s true (because I live in the real world), I appreciated the context of the sentiment and I admired their gumption to hold a one-family rally of solidarity here on the back roads of The Estates, so I honked my horn and gave them the thumb’s up, and that’s what I did for the Women’s March.

By the way, Long Island comprises two counties, Nassau and Suffolk. In Nassau County Hillary beat Trump by 5% (31,000 votes) on this Republican strong hold of Long Island. It was in Suffolk County where Trump won big: 8 points, or by 50,000 votes, in deep-blue New York State. Suffolk County is also where, starting from 1935, American Nazis had a summer camp for the indoctrination of their future storm troopers, until 1941 when it was forcibly closed. Forcibly closed. By the American government. Because even in 1941, the American Nazi supporters of Hitler had, otherwise, no intention of renouncing their hideous ideology for being, you know, like, wrong.

Yeah, I’m saying it: That’s who voted for D Drumpf in 2016.

Camp Siegfried. You can look it up.

So, Dear Readers and nasty women, shall we paint something Wintery today?

You remember this photo from last week:

Today we are going to see if/how we can paint that middle tree:

So let’s start :

I am painting over my tree’s penciled-in guide lines with broken lines of watercolor:

The thing, as I see it, is to make up a “tree” with more-or-less dotted lines in varying widths and in varying hues of gray and gray-blue and blue (because I’m whimsical that way):

 

On to the trunk:

Done:

So, from last week and the week before, I now have three “samplers” of three different Winter tree effects. . .

. . . which I am going to assemble into one scene, inspired by that photo that I got off the internet:

Are you ready? Because we’re doing it right now!

I only need to sketch in a few guide lines. . .

. . . and away we go:

 

I am working much faster here than I normally do, because I am still on the learning curve here and I don’t need this picture to look perfect to validate myself as an artist (hint, hint). But even having low expectations, I was not satisfied that (see above) those two trees were adequately differentiated in color and texture, so I added on a faintly greenish over-wash on the pine:

So now it looks like this:

Now I have to work wet-in-wet for the background:

 

 

I didn’t photograph the painting of this background bit because we already watched me do that in last week’s post and the week before, so we know how that goes. Let’s skip ahead to what this thing looks like when it’a all high and dry:

All we need to do is crop it and we are

DONE:

OK, it’s a crap pic but now I get the gist.

No if’s and’s or but’s: I will have to do this again because, Ick (see above). And when I try this again, I will be more mindful of the compositional mistakes I made in trying to replicate my internet photo. Namely, I have placed that line of background trees too close to the same line as the threes in the foreground, which looks weird and is why there is no depth to this scene.

Also, this picture is just not painted all that well.

Even though I work exclusively from photos, I now realize that all photos are not equal: I am much better when I am using my own photos or photos from someone I really like,  of something I’m really invested in, such as a DoG or a cat or (as someone really had me do this for them) a favorite  teacup. That’s what I can get into. Painting from an internet photo, which represents a landscape that I have no personal connection to, is more challenging than I anticipated. So, there’s that.

It looks to me that next week, if you can stand it, I am going to sit down one more time and paint this scene again. Let’s see if I’m right, that by correcting the mistakes that I’ve observed above, I can come up with a pic that works.

This, you see, is how a self-taught watercolorist, such as myself, teaches herself.  You begin by taking a stab at something that you know you cat do but you do it any way, and the thing looks like crap but you don’t quit because it looks like crap, noooooo, not you, you observe what you did right and what you did wrong and you do it again, and again, and again, each time righting the wrongs of the previous crappy effort, and with each repeat you get slightly better and better and better, until you’re pretty damn good.

Get it?

So let’s take heart, my Wonder Ones, and march our nasty selves back to the watercolor table one more time and see if we can’t learn something worthwhile next week from the same-old-same-old. You in?

 

Read more

Last week’s painting:

I give it a 5 out of 10. And that’s only because I’m looking at it cross-eyed and from across the room and there’s a really nice CD playing in the background which puts me in a good mood, namely Joni Mitchell’s Night Ride Home, and because, by my count, there are only 310 minutes left in the day in which I have to stay sober and that makes me very happy indeed.

So, this (above) is a 5-out-of-10 picture. Well, I am not a 5-out-of-10 kind of person. Nope. Not me.

So today I am going to take out another piece of paper from my stash of specially-cut 90-lb Canson  (perfect for doodles) . . .

. . . and I am going to do this:

Yes, this week I am at it again, only this time I’m going to start the bleeds from the top (Literally. You can check out last week’s painting — I started the bleed at the bottom last week, which was very whimsical of me):

Next, I’m dabbing in a really strong gray here (below), which would appear to be far too dark except for my secret knowledge that this paint will turn much lighter than this when it dries:

While the pic is still wet . . .

. . . I will “pick up” some of the paint (again, this is different from last week’s strategy):

I used a hair drier to get this show on the road, which is why there is an unsightly puddle there on the right edge. Guess what’s going to be cropped out at the end of this pic???

Feeling much less ham-handed today than I did last week, I am using my China White watercolor here for this next step, instead of acrylic, since I really loathed the way I could not control the acrylic paint the last time I attempted this:

Today let’s see what happens when I “shadow” these white trees like this:

And then, let’s see how it looks when I paint in the background come ca:

I’ve always said that the only thing that makes me a decent painter is not that I have innate talent; it’s because I’m willing to PRACTICE until I can turn a 5-out-of-10 skill into at least a 7-out-of-10 aptitude. This is AFTER:

And this was BEFORE:

All I can say is that it’s BETTER. Not good, but BETTER. And if you keep at it, my darlings, you can not help but get better and better and better, even if (and this is the lesson of this week’s post) the range of improvement isn’t drastic, it’s still worth it to try, try, try, try again. Example follows.

This week, I am painting this:

I’m doing just the one tree, in the front there. I don’t recall ever painting a snow-drenched ever green before so this is all new to me and you can watch me work it out from step one.

I begin by taking a good look at this photo, to map out where I will NOT be painting — the secret to painting snow is that YOU DON’T PAINT IT. The important thing to understand is that you will be painting around the snow, leaving only blank white paper to “stand in” for the shite stuff.

So, having thought about what I won’t be painting in this tree, I put down just a few pencil lines to indicate the shape of the tree:

I’m using a blue-gray paint because evergreens rarely look green on a snowy day, right?

I’m working with very diluted (watery) paint:

Now I’m painting around the “snow” (which calls for a lot of self-control and attention(:

Of course, since it was a first attempt, it STINKS:

My big mistake was that I had tried to “shade” a big hunk of snowy branch in the middle of the tree with pale blue but it didn’t work. And there is no finesse with the way I’ve laid down the paint inside the tree. I obviously have a lot of room for improvement.

So what do I do?

I try it again, and again, and again. (My final attempt is the one on the lower right.)

Here’s a close up of me using watercolor over those pencil makes I drew on the paper as guide lines for my painting:
Now that I look at this pic in this un-finished state, I kind of like the way this tree looks. Maybe it’s not necessary to paint a background for it after all. Hmmmmmmm. [Pause for thought.]

I will probably incorporate this idea into my painting for next week, when I attack the problem of How To Paint a Deciduous Tree in Winter (see below, the one with all the pointy branches going every which way):

And then I’ll put it all together and we will have a complete Winter scene:

OTHER STUFF:

To answer your lovely inquiries about our calico cat, Candy, who returned from her three-month vision quest last November looking much, much the worse for wear, and hunkered down in one corner of the kitchen from which she refused to budge because, having lived with us for 9 years now, she knows that basically we are serial cat murderers who can’t be trusted to get within 10 feet of her.

Candy stared out curled up on the bare floor, but I was able to pull a fast one and get her a small hand towel to ward off the chill (it’s November her perch in the kitchen is near the back door and we live in a 100-year old house that is as hard to keep heated as a birdcage anyway):

One day, taking advantage of her dinner break one evening, I managed to slip an additional fuzzy wuzzy blankie under her to make her old bones a tad more comfy:

Then one day I did the unpardonable. I tucked a heating pad in between the folds of that pink blankie, which was an objectionable level of comfort that Candy refused to have any part of. She abandoned the kitchen and found a “safe” corner on the hard wood of our living room, which meant that  yes, I had to finally wash the kitchen floor, but also meant that I didn’t have to vacuum the L.R. because we still consider Candy a flight risk (yay!) Eventually I was able to sabotage her perch there:

But you know how cats have a thing for not doing what you wish they would do. One day some big boxes full of packing material got delivered to the house, and we unpacked them and carefully arranged the packing material in a place where I would get to them on my next thorough cleaning day basically when hell freezes over, so here is where Candy now spends her days, giving us the stink eye:

BTW, Candy is the mother of two out of three of these lunk heads:

Thank you, Dearest Readers, for your Comments and B-day wishes. You are all so kind and caring and I am grateful to have you all in my mind and heart when I sit at this computer and type my report on cats and cups of tea and countdowns to cocktail time.

Here’s to us, my Wonder Ones, on this strange and mournful day:

 

Read more

How long has it been since I painted this illustration (below)?

Let’s see. . . it’s on page 130 of a book that came out 10 months ago, which means that I turned in the manuscript about 2 years ago, which means that I painted it around 2013 or ’12  from a memory of a trip to Edinburgh that I took in 2006 . . .

. . . so that’s a long, long, long time ago. In fact, it’s been so long since I’ve held a paintbrush that, when our Dear Reader Deborah Hatt requested that I show some Winter watercolor tutorials and I dragged myself to my workroom to get out the necessary equipment, I could not  locate my paper supply. True story. I have stacks of the stuff  (Canson 90 lb), and it is, as you can imagine, a rather crucial ingredient to the magic I make.

But last July, when I did a major clean up in my work space, and by the way the was the same time I quit painting, it seems that I found a diabolically clever place to stash about a thousand sheets of watercolor paper. I had found a place to keep it well out of my sight, as that was how I was feeling at the time. I haven’t been in a good mood for much of 2016.

Well, I looked high and low for that big stack of paper and, after looking hither and yon, I took a Zen Time Out and reasoned that looking through drawers and in book cases was a waste of my time as the paper could only be lurking in an appropriately paper-stack-sized space. Duh. But by then, I’d lost interest, so I went to my computer and watched Love Actually on Netflix instead of continuing the search. Yeah, it’s a stupid movie, but it’s a great stupid movie. Oh, how I wish that I could wake up from this nightmare and find that I live in London and that High Grant is my Prime Minister and I serve him tea every day.

Oh well. Back to the quest: I turned on my Himalayan Rock Salt lamp and inhaled the mysterious good vibes and trudged back to my workroom. And lo, there was my stack of Canson 90 lb watercolor paper, right in front of my face, on the (eye-level) middle shelf of the same closet I’d searched thoroughly the day before. Wow, I said to myself. That is a really excellent place to hide a shit load of paper!

So, Winter. How To. And all.

Because I have not painted in quite a while I am going to start us out with something super easy. So that’s why I am referring you (above) to page 130 of Gardens of Awe and Folly, specifically to the background of that little picture, which looks like this (below):

To the best of my memory, I believe that I painted it with my usual paints, a mix of cheap Grumbacher and slightly better Winsor Newton, plus some homemade gray paint I made by mixing blue and burnt sienna (which could be the topic of a future, incredibly boring tutorial on mixing paint):

I make a wash of blue and gray:

I’ve said before that the good thing about using only one kind of paper your whole life is that you get to know almost everything that paper will and won’t do for you. In the case of my Canson 90 lb, I know  just how wet it has to be to get a good bleed when I work “wet-in-wet”, like this:

I am working quickly here, using more color than I really want because I also know my paints very well, and I know how much lighter these colors will be when they dry:

Oh, how I loves me a good bleed. This really is my favorite part of painting, letting watercolors do what watercolors do! You never now how it’s going to turn out! You’ll either get a happy surprise that you never could have made happen on purpose, or something that looks like puke (in which case you just throw it away and start over and not take it personally).

Anyhoo, while the paints are still wet, I am going to get my Chinese White paint and load up my brush directly from the tube:

And then I’m going to dab it hither and thither — look how cool it bleeds!

(Yes, I am wearing band aids. Dry Winter weather, delicate figure tips, you know how that goes.)

After letting the paints dry, I take a look at what I’ve got, and I think I can work with it:

Next, I load up my teeny tiniest brush with a very watery blue:

And I test out its color strength (and to check whether I remember how to paint trees after such a long hiatus) on a scrap piece of paper:

I want to emphasize how necessary it is to keep a “practice” bit of paper near you when you paint. I use it to try out color mixes, saturations, and techniques before I attack my Work In Progress. Save yourself some heartache and have a practice run at anything you’re about to do before you make it part of the permanent record, OK?

I am using acrylic paint here, called Titian White, because it’s easier to use than the Chinese White, or so I thought, a choice that I regret now that I look at it because I am so out of practice that my handling of the paint lacks finesse. I might as well be scrubbing it on with a busted twig I got from the holly bush in my front yard :

So this is how it looks in the end:

And, because I am an ILLUSTRATOR and can’t stand looking at a picture without a narrative, I have to add some footprints in this pic to give it a bit of a story:

So that is the gist of how to paint a bit of Winter. Neither Taffy nor I think this is a particularly well-done bit of work, but it’s my first time back at the old paint box and although I did expect to get back in the swing immediately, I can see now that it’s going to take some time and patience to get my groove back.

So, next week, we are going to have another go at painting Winter.

The Champagne-O-Meter is at the ready . . .

Last Sunday’s snow fall, first good chill of the season.

. . . and my crack team of assistants is standing by. . .

. . . and, little darlings, it’s going to be a long, cold, Trumpy Winter that we can’t dream or drink away, so we might as well paint it:

Have a great weekend, everyone, and we’ll meet back here next Friday to re-paint those background trees and have a go at those pines. You in?

Read more

Have you been to London recently? Did you try to see the famous residence of the United Kingdom’s Prime Mister at the famous London address of No. 10 Downing Street?

This (above) is as close to that famous doorway as you can get these days. That 20-foot tall black steel security fence was erected to block off the entire street of Downing in 1991, in response to IRA terrorist bombings in the capital, now protecting the area from about 20 other brands of terrorists from around the world. Sadly, No. 10 Downing Street is now one of the most heavily guarded buildings in Britain. The front door can no longer be opened from the outside because it has no handle, and no one can enter the building without passing through a scanner and a set of security gates manned by armed, bullet-proof vested, and very uncordial, guards.

Before this time, the public had free access to the entire street and any old geezer could stroll right up to the Prime minister’s doorstep and pose for a photo with the one, lone, shirt-sleeved police guard on duty.

Is it hard for you to believe that there was ever a time when life was so uncomplicated?

Yeah, me too.

But I have proof that there was, once, such a happy once-upon-a-time. Here’s me (below), in 1976, in my bell bottom jeans, back when I still had un-gray hair, standing at the very doorstep at No. 10 Downing Street, back when you could trust the stranger who grabbed your 110 Instamatic camera and urged you to go on, go over there so he could snap a souvenir pic of dorky, solo, 20-year old world traveler you, calling on the PM (who was at that time a forgettable fella named James Callahan):

P1090191

I tend to regret the 1970s and the bad hair, bad clothes, bad music, etc. . . . until I remember that it was the decade in which I was able to travel for $10 a day, and did.

1976 was also the year that I journeyed westward from London, out to Stonehenge (Stonehenge being the pile of standing stones that I hope needs no introduction):

p1090277

That (above) is a pic of the sandy walkway leading directly into the heavily trampled inner circle which, at the time, was, much like the doorstep of No. 10 Downing Street, surprisingly unguarded and open to one and all. In all, 815,000 people(including me) stomped through this ancient monument  in 1976.

So it’s no wonder that, in 1977, the stones were roped off so people couldn’t climb on them any longer. The crowds are kept at a respectful distance, as they should be.

The grass was allowed to grow back, up between the old stones, and the road way that passed just meters from the heel stone was shut down  to vehicular traffic. It’s now a paved footpath. The stones stand in splendid isolation, the better to contemplate their significance and wonder.

Every 40 yearsI like to get back to Stonehenge so that is where I found myself this past August, standing at almost the same spot as I did in 1976, to take this pic:

P1080923

In 1976, any old geezer could mosey up to a 5,000 year-old, 25-ton monolith and, along with the hordes, literally rub shoulders with it:

stonehenge-76

These days, the only way to get close to the stones is to book a private tour with one of the three companies that are authorized to breach the outer fences :

p1080939

Let the record show that in 2016 I paid the equivalent of 15. 9 days of 1976 travel to take a one-hour sun set tour of Stonehenge and be one of the 25 people allowed to breathe the same air as these mysterious and beautiful sarsens:

img_0413

And no, a stranger did not take this pic; my own dear sweet Top Cat did.

My point is: As time goes on, sometimes things get worse, sometimes things get better. Sometimes things get sadder with age, sometimes they don’t.

Maybe 2017 won’t suck as much as 2016.

Happy Winter Solstice, everyone.

Read more

So, the other day I’m reading my agent’s blog, in which she is venting about the weird query letters she’s been getting lately.

images-1

A query letter is the short cover letter you send to a literary agent to give that important gate-keeper of the literary world an idea of what you and your book are about. The purpose of a query letter is to entice that agent into reading the sample chapter you have enclosed, thereby captivating that agent with your skill and charm as a writer, which will lead to either a request for the full manuscript or, as happened in my case, skipping straight to the contract which authorizes your new agent to sell your book proposal to a publisher thereby making you an AUTHOR.

So, you can see that writing a good query letter is a very big deal. It’s not easy, but it’s also not impossible. But some people are either too naive, too egotistic, or too crazy to do it right.

It also helps if you send a query letter regarding your sic-fi thriller to an agent who does not, say, deal exclusively with cook books. DO YOUR RESEARCH, in other words. And never start your query letter with a statement about how your book is the next Eat, Pray, Love. Agents are really tired of that pitch.

So, any way, that’s what my agent, Betsy Lerner, was complaining about.

One of the Commenters to her post responded:

What about those who cannot write a query letter? . . .  what about all the little people/ big writers who can’t? How do we take care of them? How do we take care of our writers?

And that’s when I lost it. I wrote back:

“How do we take care of our writers?” 

WTF?

Who cares about WRITERS??? We — who ever “we” are — need to take care of our doctors, nurses, environmentalists, veterinarians, watchdogs and whistle-blowers, cops, firefighters, EMTs, teachers, physicists, soldiers, scientists, engineers, civil rights lawyers, mechanics, carpenters, farmers, sanitation workers — even the lowest-level topologist is worth more to society than a WRITER.

The only useful thing you can do for society, as a WRITER, is to compose a decent damn query letter so that your value as a relatively pointless luxury item in the culture can be appraised. is that too much to ask?

Yeah, I was so annoyed that I forgot to capitalize the “I” in that last sentence.

A third party who took offense to my Comment wrote back:

Your “relatively pointless luxury item in the culture” has made my life so much more interesting and worthwhile, beginning with those Raggedy Ann and Andy books I taught myself to read at age five. And all of those workers you list would live mighty sad lives without stories and those who tell them.

Oh, where to begin listing all the things that are wrong with this? I did my best to keep it short:

Jesus. How much more patronizing can you get?

How much you want to bet that the majority of those sad workers with their sad lives don’t even bother to read? They are far too busy with their own stories, the ones they are living and telling each other when they get together for drinks after work. I’m sure they are as happy, or as minimally miserable as the rest of us, without knowing a single writer or giving a crap about The Girl on the Train.

I am not one of those writers who thinks that I possess a gift, or an acute humanity, or the delicate nerve endings of a seer and poet, or a certain specialness for which the world owes me readers and recognition. Or maybe I do, but my Capricorny sense of reality prevents me from ever whining about how the world, and persnickety literary agents, are too mean and snotty to appreciate my self-evident genius.

And, after investing a few hours reading half of Gone Girl before I figured out that I did not want to squander any more time of my one and only life with make-believe people who I really detested, I knew I could live a happy life without ever cracking The Girl on the Train. Fiction sucks.

But you don’t have to be me to see how incredibly pompous it is to claim that all the physicists and firefighters in the world would live mighty sad lives without stories and those who tell them.

I for one would not want to read anything written by a writer who had that kind of attitude towards her readers. Would you?  Please discuss.

In other news, we here on Long Island got our first snowfall last night (Sunday, Dec. 11) and I have not caught you up on the Fall leaves in my backyard. Here’s a pic of the difference between Taffy (on the left) and our newest backyard boy, Dennis (on the right):

p1090606

Top Cat has put away all the patio furniture except for one chair, for obvious reasons:

p1090581

Dennis also has full use of the old rabbit hutch that we converted into a kitty condo (down sleeping bags on the walls and floor, straw for extra insulation):
p1090489

p1090490

And our prodigal Candy, who came back after disappearing on a six-week walk-about on Nov. 18, still has not ventured beyond the kitchen but she has let me give her a nice soft baby blanket to make her nap times more cozy:

p1090612

P.S. I have not washed the kitchen floor since Candy’s come home because she’s still a bit anxious and flighty and any kind of bustle makes her freak out, and also because I really don’t want to wash to kitchen floor any way.

Read more