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This (above) is the September sun set that I want to paint for you today. I chose it because it’s got two of my favorite things (to paint) in it: clouds, and diagonals. It’s got diagonal clouds: a two-fer!

I’m going to use two techniques for this painting. Ha ha. I said “Techniques”.

There are two gimmicks that I’ll use for this painting, my two favorite gimmmicks: First, I like to use a bleed. That’s when I put two very wet colors next to each other and let them flow into one another, like this:

The other thing that I like to do when I paint clouds is to do a nice dark wash of sky color (in this case, blue) and then use a rolled-up piece of paper towel to sponge up some paint, as much as I can, off the surface of the watercolor paper.  Like this:

The trick is to dab the rolled up piece of paper towel onto the wet watercolor paint as soon as possible — like a nano-second after you’ve swabbed the paint all over.

For the September sun set that I’ll be painting today, I’m going to divide the picture into three zones:

So, let us begin.

1. Zone 1, with rolled-up paper towel clouds:

Let dry.

For Zones 2 and 3, I’ll do bleeds. I’ll brush the lower part of the painting with water, and then start layering in the sun set hues very quickly, letting them bleed into one another delicately. . .

I only got a photo of the first layer, a yellow wash. I had to paint this part very quickly, while the paper was still nice and wet, so I didn’t have time to get photos of the whole process. But here’s what I did:

From the bottom up, I brushed on a layer of light yellow and yellow ochre mixed together, then a little light orange, then some light red, and then magenta. (I’m using the names of the paints in my beloved  Grumbacher paint set — the “light red” looks dark orange to me, and the “magenta” looks like pink when it’s diluted with a lot of water.)

The I dabbed in dark blue zig-zaggy layer on the middle part (to make the underside of the clouds) and I made it pretty wet, too, to let the water take an effect. Then I sat back and let gravity and Grumbacher paints do their magic:

 

Now it’s time to do Zone 4, the make-believe tree line:

I like to paint my tree-line black. There’s something about a black tree-line that is a tiny bit melancholy, and a beautiful September sun set  is a bit melancholy, so my September sun set will have a black tree-line, like this:

So.

Now that it’s done, I can assess what I’ve got here

Well, I like the diagonal sweep of the cloudy sky. I LOVE  that part of the cloud that is just Canson watercolor paper showing through a very thin layer of wash.

But I don’t like that weird pointy bit of blue on the right hand side…see it? It’s a an upside-down triangle shape ? But all is not lost!  I know how to disguise it!

Hell — my whole raison d’etre as a painter is to fudge my shortcomings as an artist. Disguise is my middle name!

So here is the finished picture:

Do you see any strange-looking blue triangles anywhere? NO?

I dare say that I got away with it.

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We all know about the crappy painting I did last time we were together (see: following post).

Well, I painted another version of the Loire Valley September sunset:

I’ve stopped here, even thought the picture is not finished, and even though it looks awfully fairy-tale-ish This is as far as I’m going with this picture for the time being because I’m not sure what to do with this next — getting this far was a fluke of dipping the paint brush in the right amount of water and paint and getting a happy accident.

And, then, I turned my painting up-side-down:

And damned if I don’t kind of like this, too; see some possibilities in working the illustration from this side up.

And as far as I know, examining their work up-side-down for possibilities is something  that writers  don’t have to contend with.

Sometimes, I wish that all I did was write words, but dear lord: what kid of blog would that make?

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That’s my motto for September: Every day, there’s a light or two less. In September it’s the sunsets that matter to me — as if by watching each one I can make the day last a moment or two longer even if I can’t stop the earth from turning away from the sun.

Well, that moment needs an illustration in my Damn France Book. Because that’s the kind of travel book I write: low on the literal, high on the weirdly subjective.

So I started with a photograph I’d taken in aLoire Valley town (see above). Nice, right? (That’s why I took it.)  I studied it, and found that it would do just fine as my reference photo (see below, with  markings so I can tell where the horizon is):

I’m showing you this so you can see what I think: I mentally drew lines to show where I thought the tree line, the horizon, and the darkest reflection in the water would be . The scene needed a distinguishing feature, something that gave it that unmistakable romantic Loire Valley feeling.  So I gave it one (see “castle” cut-out overlaid on photograph below):

That’s the actual chateau in Azay-le-Rideau, with slight perspective improvements on my part, to accentuate the turrets and the spires and all that castle-y stuff.

OK. Now I’m in business. I’m ready to paint me a picture of my Loire Valley September sunset moment.

(There’s a light pencil sketch of the landscape and the chateau, with a dab of watercolor resist fluid to mark where the setting sun is.) Then I did a wash of my setting sun colors:

Whew. Got the yellow, pink, and violet paint to stay put and not blend into a puke taupe mess. Now, all I have to do is not screw up the river and I’m half-way there to a not-putrid illustration:

Not bad. Paintings always look kind of shitty at this stage, so I’m not worried that it’s a lost cause. Yet. Now for the brooding, gothic, romantic landscape features:

Ooooo. I like this (above).

Sure hope I don’t mess it up when I paint the chateau:

Hmmmmm. I’m beginning to have my doubts.

Oh well, too late: I’m committed to seeing this to the bitter end.  (I think it’s mildly entertaining to catch a work-in-progress at the moment when it all went wrong.)

Let’s just cut to the chase:

Oh, Jeeze. This is not what I had in mind. Nope. No way.

I could tell this illustration was a stinker long before I finished it, but I made myself paint the whole thing so I could study the failure in all its completeness. And now I know how not to paint this picture!

And when I do, you’ll see it here.

Now, speaking of A Light Or Two Less, I have some cat news to tell  you.

You’ve met the Lights of my Life, my Hobos, the feral cats who came to me as kittens, and who live in my backyard (until Winter, when they have their own cat entrance into the basement of our house.

They were so little here, two years ago, they could all fit on the same patio chair. That’s baby Taffy, in the shadows, that’s baby Lickity in the black and white ensemble, and that’s baby Butter, sitting upright, catching the rays of sun on his beautiful ginger coat.

Butter was the first of those fierce, wild, feral babies who let me touch him. This is a photo of the first time he let me scratch his little head:

Notice the little drop of milk on his chin. Butter loved his dairy products.

In the Comments of my last post, Carol (with her cat-senses alerted) asked Where’s Butter?

And I meant to tell you all, but I was waiting for the right time, and there really is no right time.

Here’s the deal I make with my feral cats: I will watch over you best I can, and you will be the cat you were born to be, even though I know there’s a high chance that you will break my heart.  I don’t know how else to love these maddening, delightful, wayward, untamed creatures.

We tried to keep Butter in the fenced yard with his more homebody-brothers, but he was the one who had to see what was across the street.

I know that Butter would have been miserable if I’d taken his adventures away from him, made him into a house-bound cat. So I let him live “wild”, as he wanted, even if it did in the end cost him his life. Butter died on September 2, 2010, while crossing the road in front of our house.

This is not the first time a cat has broken my heart; it won’t be the last. But this is the one and only Butter heartbreak, and we will miss the leader of our pack  forever.

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I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking, Boy, that Vivian sure can wrap a hutch.

There was rain in the forecast for Sunday ,  a chilly early Fall rain. Panic!  I had to rush out and get the  hutch rain-proofed for my backyard cats!  First, I insulated the walls and floor with down-filled sleeping blankets that I got from the thrift sotre ($5 each! What a bargain! )

The I wrapped three big-ass tarps wrapped around it, giving it eight layers of tarp.

The rain started right on schedule, around 4 o’clock Sunday afternoon. At first, Taffy and Lickety thought that their hutch was just a fancy stationery umbrella.

But then Taffy figured it out (that’s the tip of his tail you see, there, disappearing through the hutch doorway).

And then Lickety got a clue.

After a while, the mama cat Candy wandered by, took a look at her boys up in the hutch, and decided to find her own perch out of the rain.

Yeah. She sat out the rain in the rhododendron tree. Sigh. When I checked up on her later, she’d left the tree and had gone to her cubbie in the garage, so I could stop worrying about her spending the afternoon in the rhododendron tree.

It rained heavily ALL AFTERNOON, and into the night. It was still raining when I woke  up in the middle of the night and heard rain  and began to worry. I hoped that all my little feral cats were all tucked up in a dry, warm, cozy place. So that’s why I was out in the backyard at 3:22 this AM to check up on my herd:

That’s Taffy, Lickety, and Oscar from next door, high and dry.

I really should have made that hutch big enough so I could crawl in and curl up in the middle of all that purring.

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I was in the dumps yesterday.

I had made the mistake of watching the morning news before I’d had my first cup of tea. I should have known better.

Still, I went through my morning routine. It was while I was feeding the backyard cats their breakfast when I remembered to make my usual request of the Great Spirit, even thought it seemed especially futile today:

Please Great Spirit, let me see what you are trying to show me today.

Oh lordy, I know the world is a tragic place . Some many sorrowful stores about the hate, violence, and injustice that takes place every single day. This world can break your heart six times before breakfast. Really, it’s a wonder that the weight of all the misery on this planet doesn’t do us in.

Sometimes, I wonder why we go on, writing books and painting pictures and talking to cats, when it’s all going to end in either a mushroom cloud or a super nova. That is what was on my mind early this morning.

All I hope for, when I talk to the Great Spirit, is to be able to see past the obvious. In this world, in all its pointlessness, all I want to see is a little sign of life.

A little sign that joy is still possible, that happiness matters, that beauty dignifies the cost of having a heart and a soul. Is that too much to ask?

Well, no sooner had my request been sent up to the universe, when I got my answer.

I saw this.

Do you see it?

It’s not far from the paws of my helper/hindrance Lickety, the Fierce Feral Cat (who was hoping we’d see something that would be Friskie’s Ocean Fish flavored.) It was right there, what the Great Spirit wanted to show me today.

Do you see it?

It sparkled!

Now, you, dear readers, know that I collect blue jay feathers like they were sapphires or lapis lazuli because, mineral or vegetable, blue is the rarest color found in nature and so, in my opinion, every shade of blue is holy.  But I’ve never had a shade of blue sparkle at me before.

But, now that I think about it some more, it didn’t so much sparkle as glow.

I didn’t even know they made blue jay feathers this small. It’s the very tiniest blue jay feather I’ve ever seen! Are there hummingbird-sized blue jays that I don’t know about?

Well, I picked this itty-bitty feather up out of the grass and I felt such a rush of appreciation for this teeny tiny answer to my Request of the Great Spirit that for a moment I forgot that I was in a bad, entropy-filled mood.

For a moment I forgot to be afraid of where this nasty, brutal, libertarian-jihad-filled world was headed. OK, it’s not a cure for cancer or a Middle East Peace Treaty; but for one little moment in one little life, things were OK.

This just goes to show you: Nothing is too small to be holy. In fact, in a world such as this, maybe the only things that redeem it day by day are the small shining (or glowing) little bits and pieces of a bigger miracle.

The Great Spirit is very nice about reminding you of this. All you have to do is ask.

And don’t forget to say “Thank You” when She answers.

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This is a photo of my first gray hair, taken in 1990. (It’s in my bangs, front and center.)  I was 34. I was untroubled by a gray hair. I actually thought it was kind of neat.

This is a photo of me in 2005 with the late, great, Winston . My gray roots are just starting to peep out of the hair dye that I decided to stop using. Yes, I am 49 years old. Notice how Winston totally rocks the gray fur. I hoped that I would look half as awesome in my true color!

This (below) is a photo taken of me in my backyard earlier this month, with Lickety, one of my feral cats. He showed up in the backyard in the Summer of 2008 and as you can see, he is completely fierce and wild. Savage. Like a miniature tiger. We are all very afraid of him and his ferociousness.

I took a look at this photo and I got a mild case of Capgras syndrome. That’s what happens when people become convinced that someone close to them has been replaced with an identical-looking imposter. I saw a Vivian-looking person in the photo but what was with all that gray hair?

I’m not vain, really I’m not. But this is why my Author Photos are all in black and white.

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It’s that time of year again.

It’s time for us to all wonder, where did August go?

How did Summer go so fast?

Why can’t there be just a little more time?

I’m never ready to say good-bye.

I want things to stay the same, everyday, without complications or challenges or thickening plots.  I want to go back to those happier times before Twitter, e-books, sexting, and Sarah Palin. And as long as I’m at it, I’d like to stay 26 and I want my old cat Winston back.

Sigh.

Coming up is the last weekend of my favorite month of the year. Top Cat and I are going to the shore of the Long Island Sound tomorrow with a picnic dinner and a bottle of champagne and we’re going to watch the sun set and toast our good luck that we’ve made it this far, to Old Fartism, where we complain about everything that’s new, “improved”, loud, or anything that the kids like these days.

And that’s how we’ll say good-bye August.

Can’t wait to see you again next year.

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Big score at the thrift shop this week:

A matching set of vintage paint-by-number landscapes! They are beautifully done — each and every cell is painted with love, I can tell. Each is signed “Palme” in the lower right hand corner and they are so perfectly (professionally) framed that I haven’t had the heart to pull them out to check to see if there’s a full name and/or date on the back of the picture.

These paintings are meticulously done, with nice wooden frames to show how (justifiably) proud the painter was with his/her finished work, and they are big: each one is 16″ x 20″. And the scene is gorgeous — Fall in New England. In a word, or several, this is the gold standard, the jackpot, the n’est plus ultra of paint-by-number paintings.

They didn’t have a price on them so I had to take show them to the manager to get her expert opinion. She frowned, tapped one with her fingernail, determined that it was cardboard (not canvas), and told me “$9.99. each.”

Bargain. Which, again, is hard to find in a thrift shop these days. The Antiques Road Show and eBay have seriously lessened the quality and raised the prices of thrift shop goods these days, and a real bargain is hard to find. I would have paid twice the price for these paintings and thrown in the title to my SUV to sweeten the deal, so when the manager said $9.99 I couldnt get to the cash register fast enough. We’ve been thinking about getting rid of the SUV any way.

So here they are:

These two Fall paintings have filled in a sad and painful gap in my collection of thrift shop paintings of the four seasons. I had Winter already:

(44″‘ x 32″, canvas, signed “Kate Q.” on the back; it’s hanging over the fireplace in my livingroom.)

And I already had Spring:

(16″ x 20″, canvas, signed “JK ’67” in lower right corner; I’ve almost cleaned all the decades-worth of filthy cigarette-smoke-tar off it.)

Now all I need is Summer. If you see a good Summer thrift shop painting, let me know.

 

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The book is better than the movie (isn’t that always true?) but the movie is pretty good. I’m talking of course about Eat, Pray, Love starring Julia Roberts. The only way that the movie beats the book is that the movie has Javier Bardem in it. And the movie made me hungry in a way that the book never did: as soon as I got home I ordered a pizza, opened a bottle of wine, and listened to Neil Young’s Harvest Moon over and over.

And it got me thinking about eating, praying, and loving in August.

Eat:  My favorite tea time treat is…a home made angel food cake, all to myself.

Love:  I love my August garden:

I don’t want you to miss the BIRD in this picture. I think it’s a Black-eyed Susan Bird.

Pray:  I don’t pray…but I do give thanks for  the Great Spirit :

Today I sent my message to the Great Spirit: Please let me see what you are showing me.

(I say “Please” because when one is talking to the Great Spirit, I believe in being very polite.)  And BINGO, I found a fabulous Blue Jay feather in my yard. What I think The Great Spirit is saying, I’m showing you that you live in a wondrous world, yo.

It works every time. Asking for awareness works every time.

For instance, last evening I went for a walk to the local library . But,before I set out, I asked the Great Spirit : Please let me see something I haven’t seen before on this walk to the library which I’ve done about 500 times already.

This is what I saw, that I’d ever seen before:

Wouldn’t this look ADORABLE if there was a tiny mail box on the left?

So this is what the last hydrangea of 1020 looks like!

 

A family of cats, from the Other Side of Town.

 

Yep. A Bunny. Leading the Way.

Of course, there are many other ways to bring your measly little, sniveling busy busy whiner self closer to the Great Spirit than by taking a walk to the library. You can take a drive to the grocery store, or do a load of laundry.

I asked for names for my own tea, and the Great Spirit lent itself to all you clever people and gave me conniptions when it came time to pick a winner. So many great teas: Vanilla Purr (no, nothing is too twee for me) and Pathways Tea, Wanderer’s Reward(apostrophes don’t bother me at all!), Madagascar Sun Set Tea(surprisingly butterfly-like), Wander The World Tea, Done Roaming Tea, Zanzibar Fantasy (me, the sunrise, and Javier Bardem holding a tray of croissants), That Damn Tea, Oolong Island Iced Tea (which, by the way, I like so much I’d drink it hot, too), Bonnes Temps Tea…I want them all. But, there has to be only one winner…

…and the winner is :

Shelley. And her two teas: Restful Roamer and Tranquil Traveler.

Shelly, you are a visionary. I thank the Great Spirit that has brought you to my blog and given me these delightful teas.

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This is how we do it:

DONE.

CROPPED.

Thank you!

You’ve been such a great audience!

Ooops. I think I woke up Coco and Belle — the cats who live in my workroom (because they are too ornery to let out with the other house cats).

I’m going all art journalistic on you because I’m stalling. I can’t choose my new tea! I want every tea you suggested — I even like the puns! I love Oolong Island — ha ha. I love all those Wanderers brews! I love them all! I know it was my idea, but I wish I didn’t have to choose!

 

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