Squints

This is, so far, my No. 1 Favorite Flower Thing of 2016:

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This big-ass bouquet of my favorite flowers (Roses and Hydrangeas!!) was deposited on my doorstep on my b-day eve ALL FOR ME!!!

The card said only “From your fans everywhere” and Top Cat swears it wasn’t him which I believe because this came from a fancy florist  and Top Cat wraps my birthday presents in the weekly grocery store circular (so very colorful) so, to my Dear Readers and Fellow Flower Lovers, I thank you for this, and all your birthday wishes in the Comments last week — you are all my favorite part of turning 30 x 2. THANK YOU.

But you know what they say, even birthday girls have to clean cat boxes, so I was putting clean newspaper liners in the downstairs cat boxes last weekend when I came across this:

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It’s the December 25 edition of the New York Times. I don’t usually read The Arts section (like any sane American I have no interest in dance, theater, jazz, or the art world in general) so I missed this but Lo! I never thought I’d ever see The Crown of the Andes again!

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It is news to me that this crown is now on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan ( you can read all about it here). The last I heard of this South American knick-knack was in 1995, when I was a  VP at Christies in charge of Faberge and every other ridiculously expensive jeweled object that wasn’t actually jewelry. Due to professional ethics, I can’t tell you the details about the consignor and the sales terms, but I can tell you that The Crown of the Andes came to Christie’s in a very old, very tattered cardboard box after having been in storage — and not fancy storage — for decades. The lore around it was, to put it mildly, dubious.

So, since I was in charge of cataloguing the thing, I had to research both its provenance and its intrinsic value, that is, I had to ferret out its true backstory and I had to determine the material value of the gold work and the emeralds. I brought in a consultant gemologist to count and measure the 450-ish emeralds on this crown and the first thing he discovered was that the big center emerald was not the 50-carat monster that its consignor claimed; if memory serves, it was 19 carats, which is still huge for an emerald, but if you think you can tell someone that their 50-carat emerald in less than half that size and not have that person scream and yell and accuse you of being either incompetent or a swindler, you are sadly mistaken, my friends.

I see that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has catalogued that center emerald as 24-carats…well, maybe, maybe not. We auction house people tend to have  low opinions of the expertise of museum people. We had to deliver certifiable information to our customers or else we’d be sued; museum people only had to footnote their hypothesizes. However, in this case, as the emerald is mounted, taking its measurements requires some careful hypothesizing so I can concede that there is wiggle room when it comes to fixing a definitive carat weight. But 24 carats is at the top of what I would call an educated guess.

Anyhow. Christie’s made a huge PR campaign to get this crown sold, making a spiffy catalogue and inviting all kinds of international dignitaries, rich people, and media to come and get up close and personal with this object. This is the press conference we held at Christie’s old home on Park Avenue (they moved to Rockefeller Center in the later 1990s):

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Yes! There were TV crews there! The spokesman for Christie’s, who was my boss at the time, was a debonair Englishman who headed the Silver Dept. :

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His name is Christopher Hardtop and you can still see him from time to time on old re-runs of Antiques Roadshow. What an excellent person he was.

And this is me, standing next to him, looking more ghostly than the fair haired Englishman:

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It was my idea to put the crown on a circle mirror atop a plinth draped in black velvet.

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I remember my outfit clearly: I am 39 years old, the Faberge expert at a world renown auction house, wearing a thrift store skirt that was a little too big, a thrift store over-sized turtle neck sweater, and an old crochet bureau runner as a scarf because I’d seen a girl wear something like it in France in the 1970s and could never find the exact right old gossamer crochet thing so I substituted this bureau scarf because I thought it would still look OK.  I miss my auburn hair.

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Look at I, I’m Lady Di.

Note the fierce looking chap in the background, below (the one in the drawing):

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That’s the last Incan emperor, Atahualpa. He’s there because this crown came to us with the provenance that it had been the property of this fabled warrior, which I proved was nonsense once I researched the gold work, which was clearly a marriage of 16th and 17th century Spanish colonial goldsmithing, which we clearly stated in the catalogue. Remember: we’re legally liable for our assessments. But we kept the Atahualpa legend in the PR, because, you know, Inca.

The consignment material attached to this crown also claimed that it was displayed at the 1939 World’s Fair (the most famous of the World’s Fairs) but I researched archives and found that although the then-owners of the crown begged the Fair organizers to put it on display (I suspect to drum up interest in it, as they were trying to sell the damn thing), the crown never made the cut. And yeah, the consignor was pretty pissed about that, too, which is usually the case when you tell people an inconvenient truth, isn’t it?

This whole faux-World’s Fair provenance is why I read this sentence in the New York Times article (see the link) with interest: It was taken out of storage only for momentous occasions like [sic] the introduction of new Chevrolets in 1937 and the New York World’s Fair in 1939.

I think this is outstanding writing. This sentence is written in such a way that the reader is left with the gleaming impression  that the crown was at the spiffy  1939 World’s Fair, but close inspection reveals that the writer is only liable for the claim  that it was simply “brought out of storage”, which I can assure you, it was. Nicely done, Kathryn Shattuck.

BTW, I regretted that hair cut of 1995. I grew it out and by my 40th birthday I had a shoulder-length blonde do, which was a whole other regrettable set of circumstances.

This is a more representative picture of me as an auction house executive, in 1992, taken while I was doing an appraisal of an estate in New Orleans (the guy was a hoarder of expensive clocks, and this is how he lived):

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Yeah, my hair was that long, and yeah, I’m wearing my ex-boyfriend’s unlined khaki sports jacket, leggings, knee high boots, and a thrift shop cashmere sweater. It was November and that mansion had no heat.

I can’t tell you the value that Christie’s contracted to sell the Crown of the Andes for, but if you google Christie’s sale Crown of the Andes, you can watch the old tape on YouTube of the crown being hammered down for 2.2 million dollars and if you listen closely, you can hear the auctioneer mumble “Pass” at the end. The crown did not meet its reserve and we did not sell it. I wonder if the Met had to pony up the full asking price.

Oh well. Here is where I transition from this lengthy digression on my hair c. 1992-5 to something more relevant to today’s VivianWorld, which is indeed quite flowery. If you recall from last week’s post, I promised to paint this Squint view:

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This is the little brook called the Ru, which runs into Monet’s water garden and fills the famous lily pond there. Monet painted 250 pictures of the reflections of his flowers and the Normandy sky in the Ru, which is why I chose to isolate this particular view. I began by painting the clouds and the far shore, and putting masking fluid over the tree trunk:

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And then I painted the rest of the picture:

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I put more masking fluid over the painted surface here:

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And then I picked up the masking:

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OK, now I’m ready to pick up the masking on the tree trunk:

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With a small paint brush loaded only with clear water, I can go back over a painted area and “pick up” some dry paint — this is how I make “ripples” on what is supposed to be a watery surface:

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See the ripples in the upper edge?

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Even though I think that this is not the best Squint I’ve ever painted, I can say that painting in this small scale is very relaxing for me. This is my comfort zone — my instincts as a painter are perfectly suited for this tiny format.

But what I learned in illustrating my Damn Garden Book (Gardens of Awe and Folly) is that gardens often can not be Squinted at…they need to be stared at, perused, and contemplated. This means that I have to paint a wide-eyed landscape when I paint something like this:

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Oh, lordy, it is a struggle to put so much information in such a large space.

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But you know I’ll try and try and try again until I get it right, and I’ll show you all my trials and errors in detail. Also, according to the best predictions it looks like I’ll be breaking out the 2016 Champagne-O-Meter tomorrow, and I haven’t made my annual blue birthday cake yet, so I’m inviting you to my Blizzard Party when we all get together next week. See you here!

 

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I have never used an actual “sketchbook” for my “sketching”. In fact, I have never, actually, “sketched”. I even dislike the verb, “to sketch”, based on what I’ve seen when people “sketch”, all wispy and mushy and tentative…but that’s just me. I have a very annoying personality.

Instead of putting my works-in-progress into a fancy, expensive, hard-backed “sketchbook”, I use this:

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Yes, it’s a no-frills three-ring binder from Staples. It costs around $5.00. I stock the binder with those full-page plastic “sheet protector” things, and I’m good to go. Go to Town, that is. The town being Pelham, Westchester County, New York, where I was living on that fateful Sept. 11 of 2001, and the “village on the Long Island Sound” that was the subject of my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam.

Pelham NY train station

My original concept for When Wanderers Cease to Roam was for it to be square, so I trimmed regular bond paper into 8-ich by 8-inch squares, and started making little paintings on Canson 90-lb watercolor paper and arranging them on “pages”. Above is a view of our delightful old train station, c. 2004, when it had Ticket Seller windows!!!  (now pretty much gutted, when they installed a spiffy new commuter cafe).

Below, that’s the Post Office:

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The Pelham P.O. used to be a bank, until the Great Depression shut it down.

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The owls on the facade are fake, of course — such owls are used to keep pigeons off the premisis (I don’t have spell check).  The mighty Pelican, being the official bird of the Town of Pelham, is featured on the bank/post office lanterns, which was a detail that I  l-o-v-e-d:

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Yes, the perspective of that front door and the scale of the person inside are wonky. I could correct this easily, but until I find a permanent home for this pic, I won’t bother.

If you know my book (WWCTR), you will know by now that none of these pictures of Pelham made it into the published product. They ended up not fitting into the narrative, for being too specifically “Pelham”, or for being kind of boring.

This is the high school:

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So, for now, all these pix are sitting in my Pelham Notebook.

This is one of the four elementary schools in Pelham — love the brickwork!:

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This is another one of the elementary schools:

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These are signs from Pelham businesses:

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And the wonderful Pelham Cafe:

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The Artistic Manner florist had a great shop cat:

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And this was the Old Lake Antiques shop:

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All these doors are actual doors from Pelham:

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I was painting with my trusty Grumbacher watercolor paints at this time, and now I’m looking at those greens (above) and thinking, Wow — How did I do that?

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Pelham NY

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And, yes, once a year there used to be a Christmas Tree sale on the village green, to raise money for some charity or another:

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Ah, yes, I had an immense love for my old hometown, the town of Pelham on the Long Island Sound.

But of all these “sketches”, I DO have a favorite, a hands-down No. 1 fave, the one I will run into a burning building to rescue, and it is this one:

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This is a watercolor illustration of a view of Pelham Lake, on the edge of town, in Winter, near sunset, viewed from the rail road tracks high above it. It is not an attractive pic, and was not a pic that I was particularly happy with, even when I made it.

But this pic is my all-time most beloved pic because this happens to be the first watercolor painting I ever did.

I painted it, and it was bad, but here’s the surprising thing: not a single member of the Watercolor Police  rushed into my apartment and arrested me for making such an ugly picture. And I realized that hey — I don’t need anybody’s permission or approval to paint! I’m allowed to be lousy!

And I kept on painting.

Which brings me to the Great Squint Give Away (see: last week’s post).

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I am giving away this Long Island Sound Summer Sunset Squint to one lucky Commentor.

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All you have to do is leave a Comment below, in which you pick a number between 50 and 100.  Comments will close after 5 days (which I have to do to control the spam), but  next Friday I will open the sealed envelope and reveal Top Cat’s pre-destined winning number!

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Meet me back here next Friday — and be sure to have a fantastic next-to-penultimate Summer weekend!

 

 

 

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Hi everybody!!

It’s good to be back in the blogosphere! I hope you missed our get-togethers as much as I have because today’s post is going to make up for my absence — get ready for a two-tea-cupper update on all things V. Swift

Another entry on our Beautiful Word List: Shenandoah.

So, now back to where we left off, at the Squinting thing.

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As you recall from my last post, I made a huge leap in my precocious artistic development when I hit upon a new format for my watercolor illustrations. Namely, the long, narrow, horizontal format that I now call a Squint:

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I can’t remember how I came upon the idea of doing the Squints, but I’m sure it had something to do with avoiding full-page illustrations, which I still did not feel I could do, even after 2-3 years of painting, even tho I was  already an acknowledged prodigy, having published my first illustrated book at the precocious age of 52.

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Getting back to the Squint, I liked the way it could contain, perhaps, a bit more information than a Triscuit:

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…but would also look really neat, and unexpected, uh, different when placed on a page:

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Although none of the above Squints made it out of my sketchbookI very happily used other, specially-created Squints as the main artistic motif for my second book, Le Road Trip:

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I still think they look spiffy on the page.

And now, please allow me to show you How To Make a Squint.

Since I work exclusively from reference photos, the first thing I had to do, in order to find the Squint in each reference photo, was to cut out a frame in the exact shape of a Squint, like, say, this one:

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With my “frame” in hand, I roam around the photo, looking for The View. As you can see, below, this view could make an OK Squint…

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…but this view is much better, right?

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OK, time to get down to business. I make a few pencil lines on the watercolor paper to use as guides, to show me where the horizon is and, roughly, where the foliage will go:

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And that’s all I need — the pic is now a composition.

I am using my trusty Grumbacher hobby-quality paints because when it comes to painting sunsets, I know what the paints will do and I trust them — I know that no other paint than Grumbacker will give me the subtlety that I need.

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Also, because I tend to mix colors directly on each little disk of Grumbacher paint, I have to rinse each pan before I use them, to get at the pure pan color:

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To do the sun set sky, I start with my Big Brush:

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I lay in colors by using a method called “Wet in Wet:

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See why I like the Grumbacher? So far, I’m laying in orange, blue, and fuscia, and the paints have not gone all muddy on me:

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Yes, this takes practice, and a LIGHT TOUCH — do not overdue the brush work here — but the Grumbachers are great for this.

On a seperate bit of paper, I test my blue mixes (I’m using the colors that Grumbacher calls Prussian Blue and Cobalt Blue, and it looks to me like I have a bit of Violet in there too), before committing them to the composition:

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To mix and apply the “clouds”, I switch to my 00 Extra Fine brush to dab lightly:

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Checking in here, I see that the left side of the sky looks OK, but I need to dab in some more goldenness (that is, orange paint) onto the right side of the sky:

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And some fuscia:

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Now, we do the water — again, starting with the Big Brush:

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For the shoreline, I am going to bleed some black Grunbacher into the damp “water” thusly:

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I am, frankly, a little worried here; I might have dabbed in too much black paint, too soon…this could ruin the whole shebang. Oh well. Time will tell.

While this bit is still damp, I go back and make some shadows on the water, still using my 00 Extra Fine brush:

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Next, I check to see if so far, so good.  And, so far, so good. I can exhale now.

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Since the foliage (back lit by the sunset and, thusly, in silhouette) will be such an outstanding part of this Squint, I will now switch from my Grumbacher paint to my trusty Windsor Newton Lamp Black paint, because I like the density of this paint — it covers better than the Grumbacher Black — and it’s also easy to handle:

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After painting in background foliage, I make another check, back to the reference photo.  So far, no major screw ups:

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This part of the photograph (below), this sillohouette of leaves and the negative space of the foliage,  here in the lower right quadrant, is, for me, the crux of this picture:

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The whole pic will look stooooo-pid if I don’t get this bit right. So I make a light pencil sketch to guide me:

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And I hold my breath as I begin to paint the leaves, and to not paint the stuff that doesn’t need painting. Less is More. You can quote me on that:

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NOW I can heave a sigh of relief. The negative space looks OK:

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And then I go back to holding my breath:

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And NOW I can heave another sigh of relief:

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Add some upper left hand corner leaves, dab in some lower left hand corner foreground stuff, and then we are DONE …

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… DONE …

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… Done:

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And yes, Dear Readers, this Squint can be YOURS. I’ll even throw in the reference photograph, ALL FOR YOU.

HOWEVER:

Because of bad planning on my part, and because of normal, yearly, and annoyingly inconvenient data up-dating of this blog (I think it’s called “backing up”), I can not offer this Squint up for giving away this week. Also, your Comment to this post might take a day or two to appear…

…I apologize for this technical glitch but please be assured that your Comment today will be received, and will be in the queue, and will indeed be published, eventually, for the amusement and edification of others, and that your Comment will AUTOMATICALLY qualify you for the contest I will hold NEXT WEEK.

I do hope I have made this incredibly complicated for one and all.

The Comments will close, as they usually do, after 5 days from publication of this post (to deter spam), so Comment Early! And often!

These Squints are fun. We should do this again, real soon.

Have a GREAT penultimate September Summer weekend, everyone!

 

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Ahhhhh…AUGUST. My Favorite month of the year!

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The garden is in peak shape…

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…the weeds are SPECTACULAR …

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…even the spider webs are more gorgeous in August:

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And the cats are pretty damn cute, too:

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There’s even a new boy in town, called Steve:

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I think Steve would like to join our herd, if only Lickety, Taffy, and Bibs were not dedicated to keeping him as a “front yard only” cat. For now, feeding Steve on our front porch wall (above) seems to be keeping the peace; but when it starts to get cold then I’m afraid that Sheriff Vivian will be rounding her up a tuxedo kittie no matter what the rest of the herd thinks about it.

So, I’m still going through the watercolor sketches that I was making about ten years ago, when I first took up painting as a prodigy (at age 48)  because I wanted to write illustrated travel memoirs. When I felt ready to make book-worthy pictures, I abandoned the re-iterations I’d been making (see last week’s post) and started doing real “picture” pictures.

Now, many of you Dear Readers know that my first successful watercolor “picture” pictures were my Triscuits:

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Since this blog gets new readers all the time, please let me explain to all the newcomers (Hi! Glad you could join us!) that I started out making Triscuits because they were tiny, simple, low-risk, and about all I could handle as a brand new, self-taught artist. I relied on my Triscuits to do a lot of the work of illustrating my first book,  When Wanderers Cease to Roam:

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But at the same time, I was painting larger pix on the side, slowly learning the confidence to make double or triple Triscuit-sized pix. So here are a few such Post-triscuit pictures that I made during my, ahem, artistic development:

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This is one of the earliest pictures that I did, from a photograph I took of a row of mews houses in my old hometown of Pelham, New York — the village that was the subject of  When Wanderers Cease to Roam.

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I never finished this panting because by the time I’d got the roof and upper story done, I understood that I was not particularly interested in painting architecture. Especially if said architecture comes with multi-pane faux-Tudor windows (all it takes to make the whole thing look hinkey is ONE wrong pane).

Here are some other sketches that did not make it into Wanderers:

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I have to explain that I really enjoyed “painting”, that is, actually not painting, snow. I loved what you could imply by just NOT painting …

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…that is, letting the white of the watercolor paper show through, letting it do all the work, as far as subject matter is concerned:

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It’s exactly what isn’t painted that has all the heft the substance and content of these little pix:

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The more confidence I got about handling paint, the more ambitious I got for my paintings. In these slightly bigger-then-Triscuits pix, I am trying to add something more than just a well-painted form in the pic…I am trying to include what I call information.

I wanted to make pix that were about something, a place, mood, a season, a point of view.

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Ahhhh…perhaps you noticed something happening there, with that last photo (above). What’s happening is that I have discovered a fun, new format for my miniature watercolor paintings; a long, narrow, horizontal format that lets me present “information” in a way that I find artistically fulfilling:

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Yes, what you are seeing above are my first attempts at a format that became the motif of my second book, Le Road Trip:

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I LOVE this format, which I call a “Squint“.

I have so much to tell you about my beloved Squints, but I am sorry that it will have to wait…it’s August.

And, dear Readers, I will be MIA for the rest of my favorite month of the year (August), but when I get back to Long Island I promise that I will pick up this story of The Squints right where I’ve left off…

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And who knows…there might even be a First Ever Squint Give Away in the works.

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Please enjoy the beautitude of August wherever you are, and meet me back here on September 4!

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