Author's Posts

Yes, I suffer as a ham-handed paint scrubber artist.

Preliminary sketches, all of them totally wrong.

I don’t care how many times I have to draw it, over and over again, I am driven by despair and low self-esteem my ideals to get it right.

I don’t care how many times I have to paint it, and paint it, and paint it, and paint it, and paint it, and paint it again, I cry bitter tears over my inadequacies steadfastly pursue my  masochistic perversion artistic vision.

I don’t stop until I get it slightly less crappy right. And do you know why?

Because of you. Yes, YOU.

You, dear readers, are the best people out there in Book World . Thank you all for answering the call to give Amazon a piece of your mind re: Le Road Trip. I am deeply touched and profoundly grateful for your wonderful feedback and guidance to the millions of people who ave yet to buy a copy of Le Road Trip. You deserve the very best reading experience that this pea brained ink-stained egomaniac humble book writer can give, so I slave over every detail on every page that I offer to you, you thoughtful caring seekers of literature.

That goes for the bilge content of this blog too. So, today, I am going to share with you one of my trade secrets. I’m going to show you show you how to paint gravel, such as that which appears in the pathways (above) of my quaint knot garden in Edinburgh:

Let’s say you have a gravel path you want to paint:

The first thing you do is make a quick wash over the entire surface like this:

When the wash is dry, cover the un-painted bits with whatever is handy — anything will do, even scrap paper. For you, dear readers, I used my prettiest purple paper:

You’ll need an old toothbrush for the next step, and you’ll get a far better result if you use a float-topped brush, like the pink one shown here, rather than the fancy pointy one (which, despite its scientific appearance, did not have the necessary aerodynamics):

Dip the tip of the toothbrush into water…

… and scrub the tip of that brush into dark paint and load it up with pigment:

You can use dark brown paint, or deep blue, if you’d like — depends on the kind of effect you want. Feel free to experiment. You’ll notice I’m using my old paints here . For certain textures or color schemes, I like the slightly muted colors I get from these cheap paints.

Now you’re going to use your index finger to flick the bristles of your toothbrush and splatter paint:

Let dry, and reveal:

Now,  when I did this technique on my garden illustration (way above) it was a bit more complicated because the spaces that I wanted to cover with splatter were very intricate. Luckily for me, I had a false start when I first tried to paint this bugger (for the sixth time):

So I took that false start and I cut it up to make a stencil to lay over y painting before I let rip with the toothbrush splatter :

Voila:

Now, having finished painting this scene for the sixth time, I have recently learned that I might have to do this all over again.

After two books that were the same trim six (9 x 8 inches), I began doing pages for my garden book in that exact same trim size.  But just last week my agent asked me to consider working in a new format.”Try making your new book smaller, like reading book size,” she said. “It’ll help booksellers [people who own book shops] shelve it, and display it.”

I’m all about making life easier for booksellers. I want to make it easy as pie for them to sell hundreds of thousands of my books. I need them to sell hundreds of thousands of my books or else I have no validation as a human being. ha ha.

So what that means is,  my next book might have considerably smaller pages. That is, the same size as 50 Shades of Gray, or Eat, Pray Love.

Hmmmmmm. I like the idea, but I don’t know if I can work in such cramped margins. This might seriously cramp my style. But, if it means more books will be sold

That black rectangle is the size of your average multi-million-seller, compared to Le Road Trip.  This might be the size of my next book.

What do you think?

 

P.S. My sister pointed out a flaw in my request for Amazon reviews last week, in that some people don’t like Amazon. I forgot to address that in this week’s post, but I will have a Plan B next week. Sorry for the inconvenience — we’ll make it right! I need everybody on the ChrisHanuKwanSolstice list!

 

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I Went Camping!

Yes, it counts as camping even if it’s only overnight. I was wondering how we would fill up the entire day up there in the foothills of the Adirondack mountains in upstate New York, out there in nature, with nary a baguette vending machine in sight. (I was pretty sure there’d be rustic versions of the pissoir all over the place.)

Here’s all you have to do to keep yourself occupied for hours and hours on end, up there in the foothills of the Adirondack mountains in upstate New York: all you have to do is get yourself —

Top Cat was the Skipper, I was Gilligan, and it was supposed to be a three hour tour. Well, it was supposed to be a 1.3 mile walk, but it turned out that it was a 1.3 mile walk just to get to the trailhead of a three-mile hike, the first two-thirds of which was uphill, the last one-third of which was downhill. I think I’ll take uphill any day (easier on the knees). I took this picture in a clearing on that first 1.3 mile saunter…

…never dreaming that I’d soon become intimately acquainted with every rocky gully and root-entwined slope of that mound on the left.

Fast forward a few hours and many existential musings on the endlessness of suffering and we arrive at our destination:

This is the place that the most bored map maker in history named Big Pond. (What? Were all the good names used up by the time the settlers got to this corner of the Adirondacks? Was there no more poetry to be wrung out of the native American languages that gave us place names such as Chicago etc???

Top Cat dove right in. I stayed on shore, wishing I were a dog splashing my heart out for the sheer joy of being a DoG.

It doesn’t look it, but these DoGs were tearing up and down the shore, pulling sticks twice their size out of the mud, chasing each other in and out of the water, leaping through the tall grass and barking to one another “It’s a GREAT day to be a DoG!!!

There were a few other groups of people there too (Big Pond does not have a lifeguard so it’s not — thankfully –“kid” friendly) and they all brought their dogs. (I have no problem sharing a swimming hole with pooches.) There was an older (my age) couple there with their dog, named Miles Davis, and another older (my age) couple there with their dog named Ruby Tuesday. No Comment.

It was getting on towards cocktail hour dinner time, so Top Cat and I headed back to the campsite. It was a thirty minute walk, on flat land, to hie our way back to the all the comforts of camping. Why? Because there’s a freaking ROAD that links our campground to *!**#  Big Pond. NO DAMN COMMENT.

Home Sweet Home:


 My chef prepares his specialty, Chien Chaud de la Turkey:

Note glass of red wine to the left of the flame.

(Yes, this is how Top Cat gets his Bordeaux to chambre when he camps.)

I swear it was hot as Hades in New York this past weekend — isn’t it the hottest Summer on record all over the US? — but we were cool as a cucumbers up in the foothills of the Adirondacks…

…which brings me to the cool breezes of ChrisHanuKwanSolstice in August:

Since 2007 it has been a tradition here at VivianWorld to send out a ChrisHanuKwanSolstice card every year to my beloved Blog Readers:

These cards are handmade by Yours Truly

…completely original and signed by Moi

…and Suitable For Framing

But this year it’s a little different.

Usually I limit my ChrisHanuKwanSolstice cards to the first 50 readers who sign up on December 1…

…but this year you can get on my list if you post a review of Le Road Trip on Amazon.com. Post your review and then send me an email at vivianswift at yahoo dot com with your mailing address (anywhere in the world) and you’re on the List for being Nice in 2012.

I think this is a fairer way than a first-come shout-out to distribute my annual card (I’m giving you all plenty of warning!!). So  review the Damn France Book now and get on the list!

As they say in France, Merci Mucho.

 

 

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When I was writing Le Road Trip I stayed away from traveling to Paris because I didn’t want any new information or experiences to corrupt the specific memories I was trying to pin down in my Damn France Book. But that didn’t stop me from gathering my Wish List, my Must Do List of people, places, and things I have to check out the next time I’m en ville. Top of the list: this baguette vending machine (above).

And I want to see the last pissoir in Paris (on theBoulevard Arago, near the famed La Sante prison, 14th arr.).

For now, though, for my daydreaming, I’ve been revisiting my favorite Paris book, Paris Cafe, Le Select Crowd by Rick Tulka.

Rick is a MAD magazine staffer who lives in Paris and hangs out, every day, at Le Cafe Select.

He brings his sketch book with him and “works” at the cafe.

I don’t know if I am more envious of his supreme skill…

…or of the fact that his “office” serves champagne.

Self Portrait by Rick Tulka, at “work” in his “office”.

If you could use a little Paris in your life today, check out Rick and Paris Cafe, The Select Crowd.

But then again, I have cats in my office.

Which is a lot like having an endless flow of champagne in the office, except for the fun, the bubbly, and the good tasting part.

Oh, that little painting of a Japanese tea house that Coco is ignoring?

Yes, that’s a peek at some stuff I’m going for the garden book. Now, I like tea houses…but I detest macha tea (the powdered green stuff they serve in the Japanese tea ceremony) so I’ve never bothered to sit in on this particular cultural event. I’m probably missing out on a fascinating and deeply moving esthetic experience…or not. My poll for the day is: If you had a choice, would you go for the Tea Ceremony, or Champagne at a Paris Cafe?

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I had a book event to do in Music City last week, and afterwards Top Cat and I took the scenic route between Nashville and Asheville on scenic interstate 441 takes you through Pigeon Forge, TN.

Pigeon Forge is the Atlantic City Boardwalk of the Great Smoky Mountains, so Top Cat and I felt right at home.

Pigeon Forge is named for the forge on the Pigeon River nearby. It was so hot in Tennesse — 97 humid degrees — that  if this iceberg had been real I would have thrown myself all over it:

Dollywood was within spitting distance, but we were too damn hot and bothered to make a side trip just so we could show off our big city irony.  The highway traffic was amusement enough, watching the passing big rigs haul livestock, produce, flammable liquids, and other big rigs:

And then we entered the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I took this shot of low, cool, misty clouds…

…and didn’t even notice this guy celebrating the drop in temperature until I reviewed the pictures at home:

But I did notice this adorable Indian-American family pile out of their RV, and I hollered at Top Cat, “Pull over! Pull over! Pull over!!!!” And I pretended I was taking photos because I was thrilled with the scenery, which I was, of course.

Think about being stuck in an RV on a road trip with your pain-in-the-ass in-laws and assorted snot-nosed teenaged-siblings. Think about  what it would take to get your motley crew to agree to go along with a sight gag like this. Whoever you Sub-Continental Indian-American peoples are, I LOVE YOU.

The major tourist attraction in Asheville, North Carolina is the Vanderbilt pile, called Biltmore, the largest private family home in America:

This is the back porch (yeah, it has gargoyles):

This is the 8,000 acre back yard:

This is a corner of the formal gardens:

I thought it was odd that there was no way to view this parterre as it is supposed to be seen, that is, from above (so you can appreciate the intricate patterns that the flower beds make). Luckily, in Asheville’s downtown, there’s a compensating aerial view of Beautiful Buncombe County, North Carolina, from the Sky Bar:

If I had figured out, on Monday night, that the Sky Bar would be closed on Tuesday, this would have been a stunning photo of the glorious Monday evening sun set over the Great Smoky Mountains at 8:15 pm, instead of a bright Tuesday afternoon at 4 o’clock shot. For missing my opportunity for an Asheville Sun Set, I consoled myself with a visit to Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar, the best damn bookstore in the world:

This ain’t the half of it. I took more pictures of the Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar than Biltmore. In a future post I will show you every nook of this lovable, private, cavernous, libertarian, elegant, and homey cathedral of books and booze because if there’s a book store in Heaven, it looks like the Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar. On the other bouqiniste forum….

…I thought it was odd that Asheville, a thoroughly charming city, had such a cheerless public library:

I wonder if, by making the public library look like the IBM Home Office, it’s to discourage loitering by the multitudes of hippies that are to be found in every inch of downtown Asheville? [This is Pritchard Square, below, home of Asheville’s 24-hour, 7-day Drum Circle, of which I was too polite to take pix of the really seedy street people to be found here.]

Top Cat and I were scouting Asheville as a possible venue for our deuxieme acte, so we spent four hours looking at properties with a real estate agent who kindly drove us from one end of Greater Asheville to the other. Here’s the strangest thing about Asheville:

At a red light on Swannanoa River Road, we (Top Cat, Me, and the Real Estate Lady)  pulled up behind an Oldsmobile being driven (more like being absent-mindedly steered) by a little old lady who seemed to be lost in thought about the good old days when Bing Crosby ruled the Hit Parade. The light turned green, and the old gal didn’t budge, so after two whole seconds I said to our real estate guide, “I think you better honk your horn and wake that lady up.”

The real estate agent (Janice), a gorgeous native of the gracious south, said to me in her sugar-sweet lilt, “Oh, we don’t honk horns here. We’ll just wait until she notices the  green light.”

Several thoughts went through my mind at this point.

The one that made me look least like an asshole was: Hey! I only have one life to live and I’ll be damned if I’m going to waste precious seconds of it coddling …

…come to think of it, all of my thoughts made me look like an asshole.

Afterwards, Top Cat and I went to lunch at Asheville Public Restaurant and I had second thoughts…I could live in a place where they make chandeliers out of Coke bottles:

What surprised me was that even in this very hip and trendy Asheville bistro, the menu was heavy with pork products. Southern people love their ham and bacon, no matter how Occupy Wall Street their esthetics might look. Oh lordy, I need my south-of-the Mason-Dixon-line readers to guide me: what’s a person to do in Dixie when she don’t eat pork????  Do y’all just drink dinner??? [I could live with that.]

And Sandra, honey, I know you were just having a bad day when you commented on my last week’s post about Nashville when you told me to keep my sorry ass away from Music City ever again [see last Friday’s Comments]. I raise my glass [of surprisingly good estate wine, seeing as it was baked on the tarmac of Nashville airport for nine hours] to you, you cranky old fussbudget native of Nashville, bless your heart.

 

 

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This is me, at Parnassus Books in Nashville, last Saturday — Bastille Day — yakking about Le Road Trip:

The author takes a minute to familiarize herself with her own book, in front of a bewildered audience.

I hope nobody noticed my crappy Gap trousers that I had to wear because I forgot to pack my dressy grey linen slacks. Luckily, though, somebody remembered to pack their screaming kid and bring it to Parnassus so that it could wail its little heart out just behind me and that blue book shelf.

My official photographer [Top Cat] is a perfect husband, but he has his drawbacks as a portraitist. He seems to have  knack for getting photos of me with my eyes closed …

I was saving this face for my Nobel Prize acceptance speech, but Nashville’s close enough.

or my mouth hanging open…

The author has just been informed that there is no bar at this book store.

… or worse:

Note the crowds not listening to me at all in the background.

I can never get over my amazement that people I don’t even KNOW will come out to meet me and have me sign copies of my books and share their own travel stores with me. Thank you, dearest Southern Readers, for the pleasure of your company at Parnassus Books! Special thanks to Amy, who came all the way from Indiana and sat in the front row! There is a special place in Heaven for people who come to book events and sit in the front row, for which me and every book-eventing-author are eternally grateful:

But it was not all work and no play in Nashville, no sir. Top Cat and I also got to live it up in Music City, the only ville in America that can claim to have a Batman Building: 

 

That’s what the locals call the ATT building that dominates the silhouette of their downtown.

That red brick structure on the left is the Ryman Auditorium, the original Grand Ole Opry. It’s a landmark, is all I’m saying.

It was pouring rain, I mean monsoon-quality precipitation, that afternoon:

 

It occurs  to me that Nashville is probably the outer (northern) American limit of were you can wear a cowboy hat and not have people judge you.  The good thing is, that if it hadn’t been so sopping wet outside, we wouldn’t have stopped into the Tennessee State Museum

…and we wouldn’t have known that the 1843 election deserves its own diorama. You know the 1843 national election, right? The one that saw James K. Polk of Tennessee become the 11th President of the United Sates?  Yeah, that one. No, me neither.

If not for the pouring rain, we would never have seen  Andrew Jackson‘s wine glass (Andrew is the more famous President from Tennessee):

History has judged boring old sober-sides James K. Polk to be one of America’s greatest presidents, yet it is Andrew Jackson, our 7th President, who has his face on our $20 bill all for being dashing and sexy and populist.  Go figure.

The museum also had lots of portraits of notable Tennessee citizens. I loved many of them but this picture is practically a catalog of tasteful mid-19th century jewelry, and I’m still an antique jewelry historian deep down, so that’s why I’m showing you this picture and not the ones with weird looking kids in them.

I also had to try out the town’s famous French bakery:

Name of bakery withheld for its own protection.

The place was packed because of this:

Nashville loves Bastille Day!!!!   So I bought four macarons to go, and the first one I tasted was so vile that I just threw the other three in the trash. Well, at least Nashville’s heart is in the right place. And you have to forgive a city that can give you this

…just as the sun is going down!  Everybody in Nashville loves the sun sets, because everybody knows that Nashville really gets going after dark…

…because:

Music Row (downtown) glows in the black of a Southern night …

 

 

…and the party is already in full swing at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge

…where you can squeeze into the crowd to hear local musicians hop on stage for a few songs…

…or you can mosey a few doors down to where there’s a dance floor and try out your best honky-tonk moves:

 

And then, all too soon, it’s time to pack up and head out to the airport to wait out a nine-hour flight delay. Terrible rain storms in New York City kept all NYC-bound luggage on the ground there at Nashville’s delightful international airport tarmac, in 100-degree Tennessee heat. That’s my brown bag there, just beneath the tip of our plane’s wing. I was watching it carefully, wondering if that bottle of Biltmore white wine I’d packed was going to explode from being baked all day long.

Oh, did I forget to tell you about our side trip to Asheville, North Carolina, and my walk around the Vanderbilt gardens of Biltmore mansion?   I’ll have to catch you up on that with next Friday’s post…for now, we’re watching the sun set over the Nashville skyline…

…and saying Farewell to wonderful Music City

…and coming home to rapturous greetings from our devoted herd of loving cats:

Lickety and Taffy, overjoyed that we’re back.

 

Candy, who can hardly contain her excitement.

 

Dudley and his high regard for all we mean to him.

 

Oscar’s embarrassing show of emotion.

 

Bibs is thinking…”You look familiar. Aren’t you the people who bring me dinner? WAIT!! DID I MISS DINNER!?!?!?!?”

**** KILL ME NOW: I just noticed today, July  20, that Amazon.com is selling Le Road Trip for a whopping $53.86. Which explains why sales have dropped off lately…

The Bloomsbury crew is trying to fix this with the Great and Powerful Oz/azon but until the remedy with the ruby slippers works: the books costs a mere $24.00!!!! Order it from your local independent book store!!!!

****THIS JUST IN****

My publisher, Bloomsbury, tells me that Le Road Trip has sold out of its first printing and the second printing has not yet arrived in Amazon warehouses, so until those new books arrive the scalper’s price for my book is, indeed, $53.86. I cannot apologize enough for this. Don’t hate me for writing a book that appears to cost Fifty-Three Damn Dollars.

****SATURDAY UPDATE (July 21, 2012)****

Amazon just got re-stocked. Le Road Trip s now AVAILABLE.

Whew.

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Which is harder: making bread…

or painting it?

I’ve never baked a loaf of bread, but I can tell you that painting it isn’t a piece of cake.

For me, it took a lot of trial and error.  For one thing, you don’t want your French breads looking as if they are defying gravity:

And neither do you want your French breads too bien cuit:

You have to learn to make your French breads with a light touch:

You also want to get that golden-brown crust just right:

And when it comes to your sign you want to use authentic French lettering, bien sur. Good thing that the words LE PAIN

…are incorporated in this classic Hector Guimard METRO sign (it looks like the St-Michel entrance to me, captured on the cover of this vintage album of the 1960s):

Bur when it comes to scribbling  your love of French breads and croissants…

…it helps to have a cheat sheet handy:

Next week I’ll be checking out the French bread of Nashville. Yes, that Nashville, the one in Tennesse. Mais oui — you can get great French bread in Nashville!

You can find a little corner of France here at Provence Breads and Cafe in historic Hillsboro Village in Nashville (1705 21st Ave. South).

And just around the corner you can join me in Nashville for a Bastille Day wine-and-book talk, Saturday July 14,  2-4pm at Parnassus Books at 3900 Hillsboro Pike.

And if the heat wave is still on, we’ll see if it’s true that it’s so hot in Nashville that you can bake bread on the sidewalk. And when I say “bake bread” I mean “drink lots of wine“, and when I say “on the sidewalk” I mean “in the cool comfort of AC and smart company at one of America’s classiest book stores“.

Are you in???

 

 

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Poutine, AKA Quebec French Fries with brown gravy and cheese curds — yum!

O, Quebec.

So far, my Canadian readers are polling 3 – to – 1 in favor of me not being such a connarde after all. Thank you, Commentors Michelle, Risa, and Monique, who wrote in about last week’s post about my landing on the wrong side of the Great Quebec Accent Issue.

The only place on Earth where the Fleur-de-lis looks manly.

For the record, it wasn’t me who compared the Quebec accent to the quacking of a duck (on page 96 of Le Road Trip). I was merely reporting what a cranky Malouin shopkeeper had said about the thousands of French Canadian tourists who flock to his beautiful walled city of Saint Malo on the Brittany coast. Oh sure, yes, I laughed at the whole “quacking like a duck” thing, but I also put myself on the record as finding the Quebec accent enjoyable (right there on page 96) which does not preclude it from being somewhat like the quacking of a duck — a freaking gorgeous Mandarin duck:

That’s DUCK, not PUCK. 

O, Canada, what would we Americans do without you to give us cover as we travel through this American-hating world?

One last Canada story:

I wrote (on page 90 of Le Road Trip) that my husband and I did not travel through France pretending to be Canadians, as was the fashion of Americans abroad in the fall of 2005…remember? 2005 was the thick of that kerfuffle in Iraq that Bush and Company started when they lied to the United Nations about those Weapons of Mass Destruction and all? Brought about a decade of death and disaster to innocent Iraqis and brave men and women in uniform? And Americans could barely show their faces in public without claiming to be Canadian (or crying for permission to emigrate to The Great North)?

No, Top Cat and I copped to being Americans and took the heat.

You’re welcome, Canada.

But the whole story is about this illustration on page 90 (for those of you who are reading along, that’s page 90 in Le Road Trip):

I have a deep dark secret about this little picture. It’s a fixer-upper.

This, below, is the original sketch I made of my husband, Top Cat, thumbing us a lift to Mont St-Michel in Brittany:

As you can see, there was a problem with that weird right hand there:

Yes, that hand looks completely non-human.

Luckily, I am left handed. Which means that I can fix this simply by re-drawing my own right hand (a really tiny drawing of my right hand) and then putting it on a copier to ensmallen (that’s the technical term) it even more:

 

And then I drew this teeny tiny version of the right right hand, along with the whole arm, on a piece of plain bond paper. I painted it, cut it out ever so carefully (it’s really, really s-m-a-l-l), and I glued it on top of the weird right hand and arm on Top Cat, like so:

Problem is, now he has two thumbs. I  have to get rid of the old thumb from the old weird old right hand. Watch how I do it:

If I hadn’t told you, you’d never know.

Speaking of Canadians who don’t hate me, take a look at Canadian (Newfoundler) Bobbi French’s Friday blog  at www.findingmeinfrance.com. Yeah, that’s me, standing in Times Square traffic for the sake of Canadian literature. Again: You’re welcome, Canada.

And I’m sure there are more than a few Canadians who are reading Carol Gillott’s wonderful blog Paris Breakfasts today (it’s about me!)

So, Quebec. Are we good now?

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Anybody who puts a book out in the world loves to hear that, against all odds, that book has found a reader who:

A. Doesn’t write to tell you how much she hates it.

B. Does write in to ask an interesting question that I can turn into a blog post!

I got this question from a new reader in the Nutmeg State (50 points for anyone who can right now name The Nutmeg State):

I have a question for you, that will definitely expose my complete lack of knowledge about watercolors. Do you paint with watercolors from a tin, or are you using those special pencils that you sketch a bit first, and then blend with water? I also noticed that you often have some well-defined outlines in your work. Are these made with a fine ink pen first, followed by adding color?

Thank you for asking, dear reader from the Nutmeg State.

Until recently (see last week’s post) I was using hobby-grade Grumbacher paints that come in pans — 24 pans for about $20:

I have nothing bad to say about my Grumbacher paints. They have served me well through two books.

I’m using two sets of Grumbacher 24 — because I use a lot of black (to mix into other colors) and I keep some of the pan colors pure and use others of the same color as mixing bowls. I also use the paint tray itself as my main mixing area, which is why they look so cruddy.

Lately I’ve been gifted with new paints in tubes to help me get a brighter look for the gardens I’ve started to illustrate and I was so excited about the purity and intensity of the colors that I went out and bought some pans of paints — a Windsor Newton “field kit” (I still can’t give up on the ease of using pan paints).

This is my brand spanking new paints and mixing thingy. And, dear new reader from the Nutmeg State, I always use a tea bag to reference scale (those Windsor Newton paints are so cute!!). See how clean and spiffy they look before I get cracking:

This is my set-up: new paints, cup of tea, helper cat in the background (meet Coco, new Reader from the Nutmeg State), and my brushes in their souvenir Maya-head tequila shot glass from Acapulco (makes me feel like life’s one big Tiki Bar!).

Which brings me to the second part of your question, new reader from the Nutmeg State: What do I use to make outlines?

I draw with a .018-point Rapid-o-Graph pen, a steel-tipped drafting tool from Germany that is a pain in the ass to use but is the only way I can get a very fine, sharp, dark black line.

When I don’t want a sharp, dark black line but I still need a line,  I use a very fine paintbrush to make the outline. I do not use those pens or colored pencils that you can blend with water because I don’t know what they are. And because I like to do things the hard way.

To get a paintbrush with a fine-enough point on it I have to engineer it myself. I start with a .O or a .OO size brush (the smallest that you can find):

And then I very carefully cut off half the bristles:

Now let’s look at some outlines in Le Road Trip. The buildings in this illustration of Bayeux (on page 68) are outlined with my German drafting tool:

In this illustration of Mont St-Michel (page 92) I used my itty bitty brush to outline the young couple having a picnic on the towering wall surrounding the fortress/abbey (and the blades of grass on the hillside):

In this illustration of a door in Bordeaux (page 143) I used both my German drafting tool (on the door, obviously) and my itty bitty brush to outline the mer-people and to do the railing:

Since my illustrations in Le Road Trip …

P1000453

… are reproduced in their original size, I use my itty bitty brush quite often just to be able to get a landscape down to miniature proportions, like this picture of Bayeux cathedral on a canvas that is approx. one half tea beg high and two tea bags long:

Thank you, Reader from the great Nutmeg State of Connecticut, for this blog post.

And to the reader in Quebec who sent me that nice piece of hate mail last week: You got me. You’re totally right: my whole book is just an elaborate cover, a sinister ploy to broadcast my cruel and evil anti-Quebec prejudices throughout the world as evidenced by that joke I reported about the  Quebec accent on page 96, and everything else you said in that 1,000-word lecture on what a dumbass I am not to acknowledge the truth of the beauty and bravery of the French spoken by its conservators up North, yadda yada yadda.

Jeeze. I always thought Canadians were so polite but hoo boy, do not get them riled up about the way they pronounce “jardin” as “jardaiyyyyynnnnn”, I’m warning you all.

 

 

 

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A professional artist has taken pity on me.

Carol Gillot, the artist behind the wonderful blog Paris Breakfasts.com, has sent me a selection of professional-grade water color paints in tubes to help me give my gardens the pizazz (that is, the saturation and the transparency) that I need. The reason I use hobby (child) quality paints in pans is because they are so easy to use — no fiddling with those itty bitty damn screw-top lids and stuff. And because I’m a Capricorn and we Capricorns are nothing if not creatures of habit. Once I find something I like, I stick with it. Capricorns are famous for being able to have the same thing for lunch every single day of their lives and for being excellent prison guards. We like routine and we like being bossy. We don’t like change.

 

But Carol also sent me some of her scratch pads and the colors she gets from the Windsor Newton paints she sent me are amazing.

You probably can’t see it in these lo-res scans, but the color is rich, subtle, and sparkling.

The greens! O, the greens! The greens are alive! So even though it goes against my basic nature, I will be diving into these new paints this weekend. That ominous rumble you hear, like a low thunder across the horizon, will be me cursing my ham-handed incompetence while I find my way with these new toys.

Luckily, the garden that I’ve been slaving over this past week is a Winter garden in the opaque city of Edinburgh:

In this case, I think the chalk-heavy pigments of my pan paints suits the dense, cloudy atmosphere of a rain-soaked Scotland:

Yes, these is something fitting about the overcast colors I can get from my simple kiddie paints as I paint these small walled garden rooms from various aspects (for the record, I’ve done two views of each parterre, facing East and facing West, behind tenements on the Royal Mile). Note, please the small (3-ich x 5-inch) picture on the right here:

It wasn’t until I’d finished this sketch that I saw what a blunder I’d made in being too literal as I looked at my referenced photos. Although this is the way it actually looked from the viewfinder of my camera, you can’t have trees growing out of the tops of laurel bushes like this:

So how do you correct it? One way would be to re-paint the whole thing.

Another way would be to just cut out the problem area:

…and paste a newly-painted corrected background in place:

I really didn’t think I’d get away with it, but I think it’s quite successful. If I hadn’t told you that this was a pieced-together illustration, you’d never have known, right?

One last thing: I am doing ONE book event this Summer. It’s a Bastille Day event in Nashville, Tennessee — on Saturday July 14, of course. I’ll be at  Parnassus Books in Nashville at 2 o’clock, and I’ll be giving out my tips and my advice on life, art, and travel writing. If you are in the Nashville area, please come! There will be wine!

Parnassus Books

4505 Harding Pike

Nashville, TN

www.parnassusbooks.com

 

 

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Do you do your drawings on the spot?” I was asked yesterday, about the illustrations for Le Road Trip. The question was put to me in a darling Australian accent because I was being interviewed by phone from Australia by columnist Blanche Clarke of the Herald Sun, which was quite a thrill for me — Le Road Trip is available in fine bookstores everywhere Down Under grace a Bloomsbury Sydney!

My answer was, “No, not a lot. I mostly draw from the reference photographs I take.” Which turns out to be not entirely true. There are actually quite a few on-the-spot sketches in Le Road Trip.

 

This is the first one that appears, on page 19. These ladies were sunburnt and drinking wine at 9 in the morning — my kind of people! — and I did this quick drawing of them.

When Top Cat decided to change his trousers in the middle of  the Quai d’Orsay (on page 21):

…I took photos of the act (he moved too fast to sketch and I wasn’t going to ask him to hold the pose, for chrissake), but I drew them later that day, into my personal top-secret notebook, by looking at the review screen (digital cameras: I Heart You) because I thought  I was going to erase the photos because Jeeze. I don’t want photographic evidence that my husband hangs out in Paris in his underpants.  But then I put the drawings into a book that is now out into the world anyway so go figure.

When I saw the cat sitting on top of the Renault in the Latin Quarter:

…I drew the cat and the car on the spot (this was the last car I tried to draw — I can’t draw cars and I don’t like drawing cars, which is why there is no traffic in my Paris illustrations) and I jotted down some passers-by, but I filled in the buildings (later, when I got home from France) from reference photos I took of the scene. I have a lot of pictures of this cat. And there’s no way I could have drawn all those windows and awnings in such detail while I was standing on a crowded sidewalk.

This is how my buildings look when I draw on the spot:

You can tell, of course, that I drew the people quickly by sneaking looks at them while I was blocking in the vague apartment buildings along the Place d’Alma. I wish I could have taken photographs of them but that seemed intrusive. So many people have are visibly moved when they pay their respects to Princess Diana — I hope I got a little of that with these stick figures.

Now this is a hybrid drawing, a mix of on-the-spotism and research:

I thought the lady reading her newspaper, oblivious to her job of selling newspapers, was funny, so I drew her before she could put the paper down. Then I did a quick sketch of the kiosk and the newspaper racks, which didn’t interest me much at the  time. But when I decided to put this sketch in the Le Road Trip I realized I should have paid more attention to this newsstand. Specifically, I hadn’t drawn the top of it.

Luckily, Top Cat’s sister was heading off to Paris that month so I asked her to bring me back a photo of a newsstand, especially the top of it. And that’s why the top of this newsstand is quite different, if you’ll notice, from the rest of the drawing.

Now, this picture, I’m sure you can tell, was done in situ:

Crappy background details is the give-away that I did this on-the-spot. There’s more such Paris sketches that I could show you (pages  36, 37, some of 38, 39, and two out of three of page 44) but what is this, come kind of Ph.D. exercise? I want to skip ahead and show you just two more illustrations that  you might find interesting.

This one from St-Malo, for instance:

(Page 108) This house fascinates me. I didn’t mention it in the book, but around the turn of the 20th century it was so chic for French people to drop in English phrases in their conversation that even Marcel Proust commented on it, saying that it was such a bore to be in the company of such pretentious people.

This house on the outskirts of St-Malo in Brittany is actually, truly called Villa Remember and seems to date from that period. It had such an interesting roof line that I wanted to draw it (as pictured). Top Cat had to wait while I sketched and he got bored so he took a photo of me at the gates of Villa Remember, because he had nothing else to do.

That’s how I was able to drop myself into my notebook sketch later, when I saw his photo (of me).

Mostly, however, I do draw from reference photos, such as this:

(page 121) After a hard day of travel, missed trains/detours/late arrivals/hoboing for 12 hours, Top Cat and I fetched up in a dumpy hotel room late at night in Bordeaux. This is our dinner, a chocoalte bar and half a bottle of warm Evian. I took the photograph because I wanted a memento of our Worst Day on the Road, never intending to make anyting of it.

But much later, when I came across this photo,  it was only then that I saw the poster that was  hanging above the bed. At the time, I did not see the thing at all — I have no memory of it, not the least little bit. But in the photo, I clearly saw the similarity between the look Top Cat shot me and the glowering raised-sword expression of the Bernard Buffet Gendarme. I love it!

So, to answer the original question, Do I sketch on the spot?

The answer would have to be: Yes, and No.

 

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