Leaf painting

Ahhhhhhhh…….Fall……

This was Fall on Monday (at Cedarmere, a local historic garden):

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And this was Fall two mornings later:

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This was the scene on Monday:

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And this was the view 48 hours later:

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I love a good misty Fall morning, but I liked that last view (above) better when the old Copper Beech tree was still there:

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I did get to hug that magnificent Copper Beech numerous times before it was made fodder under the Wheel of Life. Alas. Nothing stays the same.

This (above) is the picture of a misty Fall morning, with tree, that you watched me paint on January 4, 2013. It’s a two-page illustration for my new book, Gardens of Awe and Folly (which I still refer to as the DGB):

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The galley came out last month, and this week the first of the Big Three reviews came out:

In a nutshell:  “An engaging guide to gardens in locales ranging from Key West and post-Katrina New Orleans to Paris (“gardening capital of the world”) and Marrakech…whimsical.”Kirkus Reviews

The full Monty:   “A charming stroll through some public gardens. Swift (Le Road Trip: A Traveler’s Journal of Love and France, 2012, etc.) plainly loves the experience of gardens: the plentitude and solitude they offer, the colors and the scents, the tea rooms that provide the opportunity to relax and reflect. She also loves the idea of the garden, the ideal of one. For her, each garden says something significant about the city where it is situated, and gardens in general say something about humankind as a whole: “Ever since we first recognized ourselves as beings burdened with the mission of taking charge of this harsh, perplexing, seemingly pointless, and beautiful speck of dirt in the universe, our kind has been making gardens.” Thus, a garden is more than a garden; it is a means through which we make order, beauty, and sense. It is through gardens that “Earth has given life to every Eden we’ve ever imagined.”

For armchair travelers and gardeners, Swift proves an engaging guide to gardens in locales ranging from Key West and post-Katrina New Orleans to Paris (“gardening capital of the world”) and Marrakech. Of the eight locations visited, Long Island would seem to be the odd place out, but that’s where the author lives.

The chapter on London is perhaps the most compelling, focusing on change, both its inevitability and the natural resistance to it. The author returns to a favorite garden that she had discovered back when “travel was cheap and the Sex Pistols were dangerous,” only to learn that what she had once considered her private preserve was now a popular tourist attraction, its quaintness “redesigned…to make it dazzlingly relevant for the 21st century.” Yet disappointment gave way to acceptance, and Swift made her peace with the garden to which she returned, which was no longer the garden she had planned to write about. A breezy, whimsical book that does its best to approximate the renewal one might feel upon visiting a garden.”

Yay. I just hope that Publisher’s Weekly and The Library Journal also like it.

But we can’t spend all day wondering why Kirkus didn’t mention that the DGB comes with 200 illustrations, or why Long Island is not in the same league as Key West or Marrkech. (OK,  I get the Key West part, but I bet that to someone living in Marrakech, Long Island seems plenty exotic.)

No, we must get a move-on. (More Fall colors as of this morning:)

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This is the color scheme that most inspired me:

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So I went home and checked my inventory for the leaf that most resembled this wonderful landscape:

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In answer to Laura’s question last week about how I preserve my fragile specimens: all I do is put them between layers of paper towel, wet them down, and store them in the fridge. The paper towel will dry out overnight, so you have to re-apply the moisture in the morning. This works pretty well for keeping the leafs good for about three days.

And so: I trace the outline of the leaf onto my Canson 90lb paper:

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This is a tracing I made of my tracing, showing how I divide up the leaf into the cells that I will be painting separately.

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I decide on which cells to delineate based on where I think the natural break for the colors are.

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I began to paint this luscious hue of green with my Grumbacher paint:

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But it didn’t take long to realize that I’d picked too bright a paint for the job:

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So I trashed that first effort, and spent some time (that I should have spent at the get-go) matching that tone of green:

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It turns out that it isn’t really as bright as I thought it was. I ended up layering a Grumbacher olive green over a Windsor Newton ocher, which surprised me because they are both very dull colors. But it’s important to layer the colors, to let the ochre reflect out of the olive green, to lighten it up a bit.

So I re-start:

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After I took this photo, I dropped too much water onto the cell I’m painting here and ruined it.

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So I start AGAIN:

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Remember, I have to put down the ochre paint before I add the olive, but first I have to lay down a bright yellow:

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Status check:

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I didn’t notice this reddish glow in these photos until after I’d loaded them all onto my computer (here I am, adding a little bleed of scarlet on top of a blob of orange on top of my base coat of yellow,  below):

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I paint ONLY by day light, so I know there wasn’t any kind of tinted, artificial red light on in my work room. strange.

This is me, adding olive green onto a quick layer of ochre on top of yellow (below):

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I took this photo because I think these leaf paintings always look hilarious at this point:

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I took the above photo at a distance from the work, but for this next one, I’m shoving the camera right into the small space between me and the paint surface, and the reddish glow is back:

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And that’s how I figured out the origin of that reddish glow:

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It’s coming from the bright, hot pink knit top I’m wearing!

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It was probably at this point that I got a little chilly, so I put on a light blue fleece over the hot pink top, and bye bye strange reddish glow:

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And I stood up to survey the work so far:

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Oooo, now I get to play with some dark brown!

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I always let the previous cell dry completely before I start painting the next one:

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I love rot:

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You might notice that I haven’t added in those little marks of decrepitude that fleck the leaf yet. I’m saving that for the end:

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First the yellow, then bleed in the orange…

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…and now dab in the scarlet:

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I forgot to take a photo of the last cell when it was finished, but now that the whole leaf is colored, I am using grey paint to add those flecks of decay I mentioned:

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And this baby is DONE:

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Do you think this leaf looks whimsical?

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I only ask because my work (see: Kirkus review) is often called whimsical. I think that goes for my writing as well as my illustrations. The funny thing is, people who know me (such as Top Cat) would never call me whimsical. In fact, Top Cat is still annoyed with me because last Sunday we were stuck in traffic in Brooklyn (marathon day) and I got out of the car to direct traffic on Atlantic Ave., near the Barclay Center. The way I was yelling at drivers to Move It Move It Move It was hardly whimsical. The people who I was releasing from grid lock were applauding me in a definitely non-whimsical way, and the one old guy who yelled at me certainly didn’t like the way I non-whimsically yelled back.

It was a dream come true, directing traffic like that. I always knew I’d be GREAT at it. But Top Cat says I could have got myself shot.

I say, it would have been totally worth it.

People should let me tell them how to drive all the time.

So yesterday, on one of the finest Fall days in recent memory (sunny, 72 degrees) I celebrated my dream-come-true and went back to my favorite garden situation at Cedarmere.

(I forgot to load a photo here, so the next few sentences make no sense, but I will explain next week.)

Ahhhhhh…. Good book, Fall sunshine, nice knot garden on view, and a big fat G&T in the thermos.

Nothing whimsical about that.

(More about Big Magic next week.)

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As you can see, I am of two minds when it comes to October.

What kind of month is it? It is either the End of Easy Living (oh, how I love feeling 10 years younger every day in Summer Mind), or it’s The Beginning of Coziness (I look better in soft wooly sweaters than in tank tops). Hard to tell, so why choose?

Here’s a season-appropriate take on our conversation last week, re: Fine Art v. Illustration.

This is Fine Art:

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This is Illustration:

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Here’s proof (by me, of course):

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One thing that I know for sure about October is that it is time to find my Perfect Fall Leaf of the Year.

I’ve been searching far and near: my backyard:, a walk around the block, and a journey to a little nature preserve that is 9 miles away but the way I drive, it’s 24 1/2 (I’ve been living here 11 years on Long Island and I can still get lost 5 miles from home.) The color out there is pretty spectacular:

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Notice that I prefer to take my Fall Color photos on an overcast day.

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That’s because I work exclusively from photos, and low light is the only way to get real color out of the scene. For contrast, here’s a picture I took on a gloriously sunny day:

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See that center radiance? In real life, it was a vibrant glowing orange — not a pale yellow; the bright light washed out the whole loveliness of this view. So I prefer to get the photo with color — light effects I can paint in on my own, later.

But still…is there anything more wonderful than a bright and mild Fall Day?

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Besides any random old day in SUMMER, I mean?

I found some interesting color when I stopped by a local garden called Cedarmere, home of William Cullen Bryant (read all about him and his garden in my Damn Garden Book):

 

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You will never catch me painting out in the public like this:

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For one thing, I can not stand up while I paint. Just can’t do it. Well, come to think of it, I can do it, I just don’t want to.

Every year my annual Fall Leaf Painting post gets the most hits of anything else I put up on this blog — literally tens of people tune in. Just to remind you, here’s the last leaf I painted (before this blog went florange), in 2013:

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This year, before I set to painting The Perfect Fall Leaf of 2015, I’m going to show you something that I’ve never discussed. I’m going to show you  how I choose my Perfect Fall Leaf to paint.

First of all, it can’t be boring:

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That leaf above is from a Tulip Tree, which can grow to 60 – 80 feet straight up. They are called The Redwoods of the East and were one of the first trees sent from the American colonies back to England, where they became (and still are) a favorite shade tree for large country estate gardens. Their foliage is prized for its brilliant yellow-spectrum hues:

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But what I’ve shown you so far are just baby Tulip Tree leaves. Here’s a grown-up one:

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Yeah, I’m not painting that.

My criteria for the Perfect Fall Leaf is that it must contain every color of the season, particularly green; to do that, I have to get it either right before or right after it falls off the branch. Timing is everything in the Fall, because nothing moves faster than the peak of this season.

Here is what is wrong with the following beautiful Fall leaves:

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I don’t do interesting viens anymore, because I did some in past years and they don’t look real, or convincing as an illustration, no matter how perfectly you paint them, like this:

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For the same reason, I also don’t paint weird leaves, like this:

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I did this interestingly weird leaf (below) to a T, and I’ve never really cared for the end product:

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This next leaf is a nice mix of colors, but it’s small:

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And I’ve learned that these kind of small, chicken-poxy leaves, in the end, don’t have enough oomph to be a Perfect, Stand Alone Fall Leaf:

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I’m willing to consider a little decrepitude, if it’s picturesque enough:

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But I also want to do something that I haven’t done before:

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Too generic:

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Too long-stemmed:

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Too beat up:

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But my search was not entirely in vain. I did find a few leaves that might, maybe, possibly be The One.

So here are the contenders:

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No, I’m not going to show you the painting process today — I think this thinking process has been taxing enough for the last Friday in October. Because while I might have divided feelings about October, I am of ONE MIND when it comes to November:

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