Author's Posts

Two of these leaves are real, and two on them are my paintings of leaves.

I can’t tell you how the real leaves are made, because I am not a tree.

But I can show you how I made my facsimiles.

Leaf No. 1:

The first thing you have to do when you look at a leaf with a painter’s eyes is to suss out your strategy. You do not paint a leaf all at once, you paint it in sections, sections (I call them “cells“) that are evident in its structure. And in this leaf, I see four cells:

This is how I’m going to paint this leaf; cell by cell.  Step 1:

Step 1: You can’t quite see it in this picture, but I’ve outlined the leaf (I laid the leaf on my paper and dragged a pencil around it so that I have an exact-sized silhouette).

Now I’m ready to begin with the first cell:

While my first wash of the main color (in this case, it’s an ocher-yellow)  is still wet, I will bleed in several other colors — in this leaf, it has green edges and brown rot spots inside the cells. And next, still while the paint is wet, I’m going to get out a straight pin and do this:

This is why I picked this leaf: it has great veins. And I’ve found that by using a straight pin to dig lines into the wet paper, I can make the best veins.

This is not hard to do. Just use the straight pin like an itty bitty pencil, and “draw” the veins into the wet watercolor. (Sorry that you can’t see it well in this pic — but remember, I’m snapping photos with my right hand while I’m painting with my left and we should be grateful that I’m able to get even these crappy shots).

OK. Veins done, we skip to another cell while the first one dries.

Cell 2:

Cell  3:

Note (above): This is a good shot of what the straight pin does to wet watercolor paper — see the veins? Not bad, huh?

The most boring part of painting a leaf is waiting for the watercolor to dry. So, to keep busy, I’ll do the stem:

Cell 4:

Done.

 

 

Yes, Grumbacher watercolor lightens when it dries: you might want to keep that in mind as you’re painting. Use lots of color! Use lots of red! Like this:

I chose this leaf because I want to show you a trick of the trade, namely Masking Fluid.

Masking Fluid comes in a little bottle (75ml for about $14.00) and it’s liquid stuff that you apply onto the parts of your picture where you want the paper to resist paint. I use a toothpick to “brush” it into small places — use whatever is easiest for you, but don’t use a paint brush. When this liquid dries it becomes waterproof, like rubber, and that is murder to get out of the bristles of your paint brush (I speak from experience).

But since it’s waterproof, you can paint right over it and when your painting is done, you just peel off the mask and voila!

The reason I’m using mask here is because this leaf has some tiny holes in it:

I’ll be putting  Masking Fluid on those little  holes,because I paid $14.00 for the stuff and I want to get some use out of it.

Now we can begin to paint:

Remember, the key to getting your Fall leaves to look real is to paint wet-into-wet, to create bleeds, like this (up-close):

And so on:

And, finally, we peel off the Art Masking Fluid:

I can’t tell you how peaceful it is, to paint these miniatures. I enjoy the concentration and smallness of painting one leaf at a time — it’s like meditation.

Just take your time, look closely at the leaf, get your strategy worked out before you start, let each cell dry before you paint the next one,and get lost in the details.

And here’s another big Merci from moi: if you’d like to have the  4-inch x 6-inch framed and signed original painting of this little red leaf, please leave a Comment below, requesting this prize. This blog is getting close — very, very close — to its 1,050th Comment and if you leave a note here, and you’re the lucky 1,050th Commenter, you’ll win this leaf painting!

See you Friday in the Winner’s Circle.

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This is Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, with his cat Cheddar.

Yes!

The Prime Minister of Canada is a cat person! And if that were not reason enough to have some happy thoughts about Canada, here’s another one:

In Saskatchewan, Canada, this kind of hooded sweatshirt is called a bunny hug.

Bunny hug is my new favorite word.

That nice Mr. Harper (see above), the leader of the Conservatives, is up for re-election (for your information, it is Canada’s 41st Federal Elections).

He’s running against Michael Ignatieff, the leader of the Liberal party.

This is Michael Ignatieff:

And yes, that’s his cat!

Mimi is her name. When both candidates for the highest office in the land are cat people, I call that freaking paradise.

O, Canada.

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The world-famous author and even more famous recluse, Vivian Swift, boarded the 4:46 to MANHATTAN on October 6, 2010, to attend a WRITERS EVENT. She was wearing real clothes (the kind where you have to hold in your stomach and stand up straight in) and real shoes (you know, with leather soles and a little stack heel) and feeling very spiffy and cultural.

Good thing she had her camera with her — the late afternoon autumnal (see? “Autumnal”: that’s a WRITER’S word) sky was gorgeous, especially considering that it was hovering above QUEENS.

This is Long Island City (above). Long Island City is the new Brooklyn, which once was the new Lower East Side, which used to be the new East Village, which c. 1985 (otherwise known as Vivian Swift’s Hay Day) was ultra-cool.

Vivian Swift misses 1985 every day of her life.

The four-block walk from Penn Station to the WRITERS EVENT took Vivian Swift through the area known as The Garment District in mid-town MANHATTAN.

The Garment District is where wholesalers come to buy garments. Or maybe it’s where wholesalers sell them — Vivian Swift is a little fuzzy on the particulars, never having worked in the Rag Trade. But Vivian Swift would totally wear one of these frocks (see above) if she were ever on American Idol.

Vivian Swift is fascinated by the idea that there are brides out there who might want to dress their flower girls to look like pumpkins.

By the time Vivian Swift got to the WRITERS EVENT and had a glass of wine (thank god) the voices in her head stopped hollering “Everybody come look! Vivian Swift Out of the house and in Manhattan with grown-ups!!” This evening was, after all, NOT ABOUT Vivian Swift.

Ten years ago I came across a display in the 57th Street Borders Books for New Books. I liked the cover, so I bought it: The Forest For the TreesAn Editor’s Advice to Writers. Written by Betsy Lerner, an award-winning insider in the publishing biz as both a writer and a big shot editor, this book gave me my first understanding of how book writing was done, and it gave me the very first inklings of how I might make a place for myself in the book writing world. Betsy explains the business and  art of writing in a way that makes day-to-day, sentence-by-sentence sense. And I thought that if I ever write a book, I want it published by Betsy Lerner.

Seven years later, she accepted me as her client. (That’s the world-famous Betsy, on the left.)

Betsy’s book, The Forest For The Trees, has just been up-dated for the 21st Century and its official pub date was October 6, 2010. The writer’s group She Writes  (www.shewrites.com) hosted the launch at a fund-raiser held in their 37th Street offices. Betsy (on the left) was interviewed about her life and times as a editor/agent/writer (her memoir is Food and Loathing) .

Don’t let the dress fool you: Betsy is all Doc Martens Dead Head. 20 minutes in, she let rip with the first “asshole” reference and I knew we were in for a free and frank exchange of ideas.

 

If you want to learn about yourself as a writer, and you want to learn about how to take your place in the writing world, get this book.

You’re welcome.

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After reading my last post (last Friday), you might be wondering: So what else can you, Great and Wondrous Vivo, do with that rolled up piece of paper towel (see below)?

And what else, Vivo the Magnificent, do with those bleeding water colors (see below)?

Well, I was dabbling this past week, trying not to notice that I’m a month behind schedule in meeting the dire deadline of December 1 for when I h ave to turn in 208 pages of text and all 300 illustrations for That Damn France Book, and I rolled me some clouds (see below)…

…and I bled me some earth-colored watercolors (see below)…

…and I came up with a vineyard in Bordeaux:

See? Even I sometimes listen to me, and use my own painting tips! (I know — I’m as surprised as you).

I have 57 days to get my Dan dance Book book done on time. That’s 912 waking hours. Minus the week I’ll be traveling in October (if you’re in the Baltimore area, come see me on Oct. 25!) and the weekend that I’ll be in D.C. at Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity (Oct. 30!) and that leaves 768 waking hours. Minus 700 hours in which I just sit and watch my cats do cute stuff and that leaves me well and truly *#@??ked up.

I really have to go now.

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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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