Embroidery stuff

Around the time I decided to be an illustrator . . .


Yep, that’s me working on page 96 of Gardens of Awe and Folly, with help from Coco.

. . . I also decided that painting would be a better way of picture-making than sewing, so I packed up my embroidery needles and threads and stashed them away.  I stashed them so well that, when I recently got the urge to see if I could still pull off some blanket and stem stitching, I had to wander around the house for half an hour asking myself, “Now, where did I stash my embroidery kit?” before I found my answer: top shelf, upstairs linen closet:

P1070400 (1)

Yes, that’s the same adorable vintage lady’s case that I illustrated with the rest of my collection of old timey luggage on page 123 of When Wanderers Cease to Roam:


You can tell I’m a Capricorn by the way I am meticulous about sorting and color-coding and my embroidery threads:

P1070401 (1)

Seeing these embroidery flosses reminded me of the one advantage that thread . . .

P1070403 (1)

. . . has over paint:


No mixing necessary. You want to make something green in embroidery, you just pick a thread. You want to make something green in an illustration, you have to futz with all its variables. Like this:


That (above) is me watercoloring the flower bed in the background of this (below):

Giverny, Monet garden, Monet gardeners

I was stalking the gardeners in Giverny because I like wheelbarrows.

So let’s take a quick digression to Claude Monet’s garden (the most famous garden in the world) in Giverny so I can prove my point. Which is something about comparing paint to non-paint, which might not be the most important point to be making right now when I have so much work ahead of me, digging my way out of the dungeon of being a low-mid-list author with a book not on the NYTimes bestseller list and all but hey, it’s either me typing away at this pointless point I’m making, or me crawling back to bed with a large pizza and a vat of Pinot Grigio and spending the day watching HGTV.

So here goes:

I mix all my shades of green almost from scratch, using just water, Hooker’s green, two different shades of yellow, and sometimes a little black. When I paint grass and flowers, I like to let watercolor “do” what watercolor “does”, which is, technically, “pool” and “splotch”.


I read my first Ann Rule book last week. Ann Rule, as everyone from the Seattle/Great Pacific Great Northwest knows, is the million-selling author of true crime books. What I found out about Ann Rule from reading the Acknowledgments of my first Ann Rule book is that Ann Rule used to belong to a very exclusive writers’ group, made up of best selling Seattle authors.


The name of Ann Rule’s best selling writers’ group was The Bitch and Moan Club. I’ll let that sink in for a minute while I mention here that the more I painted this pic, the more I realized that it’s tricky to paint hunky gardeners from the back, for the simple reason that you have to deal with their butts:


I’m trying to make this guy’s butt NOT be the center of attention in this little illustration, so I’ve ove-laid some white gauche onto the two back pockets on this guy’s trousers in an effort to decrease their noticeability. And then I dabbed in some white acrylic paint in the form of tulips in the fore- and back- ground:


Getting back to Ann Rule, and reading about her Bitch and Moan Club: For the life of me, I could not imagine what best-selling authors have to complain about. But here’s my guess:

That every time they cash their royalty checks the bank runs out of hundred dollar bills.

How easy it is to confuse Dallas with Houston while on yet another all-expenses paid 20-city book tour, and don’t even get them started on how horrible it is that room service at the Four Seasons has dropped crab cakes from their Night menu.

How much they miss Jon Stewart, who was such a huuuuuge fan of theirs that he made those pesky TV interviews almost fun.


Paint-wise, I put in all the shades of rose, lavender, and violet that those tulips needed:


And then I decided to ruin the pic by painting in the box-shaped lime trees overhead:


I was actually looking up Ann Rule’s contact info, to write her a letter asking just what does go on in that Bitch and Moan Club, when I discovered that she had died last July(I use “die” instead of “passed away” or the even more dreadful “passed” because I’m a grown up, and because Ann Rule, the maven of true crime, would not have wanted me to punk out). Merde.



So here’s what it’s like to not-paint an illustration:

First, I spent a few hours drawing some bad sewing ideas until I hit upon an idea that wasn’t half bad, and then I traced it onto my muslin, took a seat  (not the comfy seat — that one belongs to Coco), and started sewing:



That (above) is what I can do in an hour and a half. This (below) is when I decided that there was too much of the same dark green thread . . .


. . . so I ripped it out and rooted through my palette to choose some other shade of vert:

P1070434 (1)

The ripping out and the re-stitching only took an hour. You can tell I’m a Capricorn by the way I keep time sheets on all my projects: in total, I spent 8 hours sewing this piece. And then it came time to wash out the pencil marks . . .



. . . and to rinse out the soap and dry it out a bit . . .


. . . and to fetch my handy re-useable canvas board. . .


. . . to staple and stretch the piece out to dry:


I have learned the hard way that it makes life easier when you make stuff that fits into standard-size frames. So the last step was to make sure that the piece would still fit in a standard 8 x 10-inch frame:


And that it would also fit into a standard 18 x 24-centimeter frame:

P1070447 (1)

And this is how it looks when all is sewed and done:


Point made.

And you can tell that I’m a Capricorn by the way I can complain about anything. Just yesterday I was complaining about daffodils. Too yellow, and for me, yellow flowers lack sophistication.

Hey, I just thought of something real that best selling authors can bitch and moan about:

How it’s you million-selling authors who prop up the entire publishing industry but it’s that no-show Thomas Pynchon and his crap “literature” that gets the MacArthur award.

See, Seattle best selling authors? I get you! (please please pleeeeeeeeese let me come to your meetings).

Now, before I bid you all a bon weekend and un-cork the Pinot, I have something very important to share with you:






That’s supposed to be the French Quarter.

At 6:00 pm in New Orleans, my favorite American city, on April 13, I will be at Octavia Books talking about going forth in awe and folly. I’ll probably also mention something about cats; how to get published even though you are not famous and you write odd, illustrated, memoir-ish books; and The Secret of Life.  The Lady of the Roses, Karen Kersting herself, will be there!

CcK-Q_1WAAAlLYzOctavia Books is a great independent bookstore known for its happy events, so I know we’ll have a good time! I am soooo looking forward to hamming it up in my favorite American city!

In conjunction with this event, the wonderful Susan Larson, New Orleans’ first lady of the literary scene, interviewed me for her radio program, The Reading Life. Don’t worry, I kept my blabbering answers short, and I only got lost on one question Susan put to me (about finding solitude in a Winter garden) but I was assured that, as our talk was being taped, that the producer would go back and edit out all my stupidity (head bowed in prayer). Stay tuned.

Book events are always such fun for me. I’m pretty sure I’ll be traveling to Seattle in the near future, so I’ll let you know the details as they become available. And no, it’s not because I’m stalking anyone — I went to Seattle and Portland for my first book and I really, really need to get together with all you Wonder Ones of the Great Pacific Great Northwest.

P.S. It’s Wine O’Clock chez moi and I’ve got the nightly news from NPR on the radio and oh dear DoG, I did not know until now that it was April Fool’s Day, until I heard the usual, painfully lame April Fool’s Day joke news item. Please, NPR, I beg of you: don’t try to make funny. You’re too nice, and humor is all about having a slight mean streak.

Thank you.


Read more

Monet garden Giverny grande allee close normand

A view of the famous Grande Allee in Monet’s garden in Giverny, painted by me after my 2005 (or was it 2006?) visit there. But those yew trees are from my 1984, 1992, and 1999 visit there.

Back when I was hatching the idea about doing something fabulous with my fondness for foreign gardens — which eventually became Gardens of Awe and Folly . . .


. . . (which we call the GoAaF, pronounced “the go-af” , because all cool things have cool acronyms, like J-Lo, and Brangelina, and ComicCon) — anyway, back then it was a no-brainer that if I were going to write about the most thought-provoking gardens in the world, I would have to include the most famous garden in the world, namely, Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, France.

Now, everyone knows of Monet’s garden at Giverny mostly because of this:


Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, www.giverny.org

Which you might know better as this:


This is just one f the 250 versions of his water garden that Monet painted in his lifetime. “In his lifetime.” Why did I say that? It’s not like he could paint anything that WASN’T in his lifetime, right?

So I went to Giverny, and spent three days there, hanging out at Monet’s garden, taking long walks up the hills that overlook the property, walking along the old railroad tracks to and from Vernon, traipsing in and out of the tiny little streets of the beautiful village of Giverny. I took about a thousand photos of flowers, butterflies, and my lunch. If you’d like to detour and head back with me, back to May of 2013, click here. I do indeed loves me the village of  Giverny.

As a seasoned and rather home-loving world traveler, I am a very efficient when I go overseas. I want to do what I gotta do and then get back to my cats and my Judge Judy. So my trip to France was actually a twofer, because the day after I left Giverny I got on a plane and went to Morocco. Specifically, Marrakech:



That’s the door to my riad hotel, on the left.



That, above, is the courtyard of my hotel in the casbah, which you Dear readers with eagle eyes might recognize from the illustration I did of it in the GoAaF:


This illustration of Fatima pouring tea in the courtyard of my riad is my favorite painting in the whole GoAaF:


You’ll notice that I made changes to the flooring tiles. That’s because I wanted the little brown bird to stand out in the background (I really enjoyed those little brown birds) and I knew that I could not make that happen by painting a brown bird on a brown floor.  And here’s my tip for painting black-on-black stuff, such as Fatima’s headscarf: leave a blank, unpainted space between abutting black forms to create a line of demarkation (I also do this when I paint black cats). See how I did that? Did you even notice it before I pointed it out? (Honestly, I’d really like to know. Maybe I’m not a clever as I think I am.)

But the reason that I  like this illustrations is because of this detail:


I was very fearful about painting the shiny silver forms of the tea pot and the flat tray, and the reflected tea glass.  I got it on my first attempt — whew. The highlights that you see — the bright white areas — is what I left unpainted, and that’s the bright white of the Canson 90lb. paper showing. Tip: In plotting out the plan of attack for any illustration, paint the hard stuff first, (such as a silver tea pot and tray). That way, if it works out you can then paint the rest of the picture around it; if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t wanted a lot of effort and you are free to start over on a clean sheet of paper. . . strategy, my Wonder Ones: the better part of painting is strategy.

As you Dear Readers of the GoAaF know, my To Do List in Marrakech had just two items on it:  1: have an authentic Moroccan tea experience; and 2: go see the garden of the famous French fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent.

Which is why I spent half an overcast day in the amazing Jardin Majorelle:







Yep, that’s a lily pond there (above). With palm trees reflecting in it. I was excited to paint this scene because, Wow! Who wouldn’t want to try her hand at painting a lily pond in the middle of a jungly garden? Below is my learning curve when it comes to painting lily ponds in the middle of a jungly garden:


I kept painting pictures and ripping them apart and painting them over and ripping them apart until finally I had a pond and a jungly background that I liked. I then pieced together the best bits to make this:


Yes! This is another Watercolor RESCUE!

Which became this 2-page spread in the GoAaF:


Well, it’s one thing to paint a lily pond from the Jardin Majorelle, but it’s quite another thing to paint the most famous lily pond in the world. Monet’s garden at Giverny is a very intimidating subject for an illustrator — nobody in their right mind wants to re-paint what the Master has already painted. So I put a hold on my plans for a Giverny chapter of the GoAaF, and promised myself that I’d wait until the post-publication amnesia kicked in, and I forgot how truly agonizing it is to live through four years of living with a book-in-progress, that maybe I’d research the possibility of a small pamphlet on the subject of the most famous garden in the world.

Very few illustrated books about Monet’s garden exist, for the obvious reasons, but last week on Amazon.com I found a pop-up book called A Walk in Monet’s Garden by Francesca Crespi, published in 1995, that was the coolest thing I’ve seen about the most famous garden in the world:


It’s a book for children, so the terrain is much simplified, but the fold-out is so ingenious that I’m sure only an adult could do it:


(I took these photos on Sunday afternoon so that’s why Top Cat’s Saturday night bottle of wine was handy, to plunk down to show you the scale.) I love it that the large windows in the two studios on either side of the garden have mylar panes!  and it even has the road that runs between the two halves of the garden, the upper flower garden (the Clos Normand) on the right (below), and the lower water garden with its famous lily pond (on the left):


Since this is a book for children the lay-out of Monet’s flower beds and lawns and plantings is much simplified, so it’s only a schematic of the garden . . .


. . . so when I need detailed, precise, and conceptual information about the most famous garden in the world, I turn to Ariane Cauderlier, expert authority who knows every inch of Monet’s property, all the ins and outs, highs and lows of the life, art, and ambience of Giverny. Ariane is a former newscaster, and current journalist, author, and photographer who oversees the website for the Claude Monet Foundation at Giverny.org, which is the top-rated website for international visitors planing a voyage to the most famous garden in the world. Ariane is an insider’s insider in the world of all things Monet.

And guess what today is???

It’s OPENING DAY at Monet’s garden in Giverny!!!


Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Giverny-Impression.com


Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Giverny-Impression.com


Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Giverny-Impression.com

So this is a great day to mosey over to Ariane’s  delicious blog in English called Giverny Impression which today and every day gives you a special peek into the year-round happenings in Monet’s flowers beds and ponds — for those of us who need to escape, every now and then, into the other world of France, gardening, and the peace and calms that reigns over the most famous garden in the world in the morning hours before the hordes of tourists arrive each day.

I got to know Ariane last December when I went back to Giverny for a Winter look-around, and had to get her desk-top calendar, which is only sold in France (but can be sent anywhere in the world for a modest shipping charge):


For the rabid Monet/gardening fan (is that you?), this is the perfect, exclusive, French-imported gift!

For those of us who want to brush up on our French by having a fun conversation with a smart and surprising French friend, we go to Ariane’s French language blog, Giverny News, which wanders out of Monet’s garden from time to time and into London galleries, the history of Impressionism, and Ariane’s own backyard:


Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com; Sunset over Giverny Ville



Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com; Winter on Monet’s lily pond



Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com; the Royal Academy (in London) exhibiting the blockbuster show, Painting the Modern Garden



Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com, Gustave Caillebotte prep sketch for Paris Street, Rainy Day



Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com

OMG, you have to read this story of the fat boar (above) who jumped into Ariane’s walled garden last December! It’s a whole other kind of life, there in a 17th century Norman manor house!

Oh, wait — I forgot to tell you that Ariane and her husband Alain . . .


. . . have restored a 17th century manor house just down the road from Monet’s garden, and are now hosts of a splendid B&B called The Hermitage:



view from the front gate

But wait, there’s more: I saved the best of the all-bestest ’til last: Ariane, a London-trained linguist, is a licensed Guide/Lecturer who gives private tours of Monet’s garden in three languages (not at the same time). If you really want to get to know the behind-the-scenes Giverny, you must take this tour! Ariane knows all there is to know about Monet, the gardens, the gardeners, and their cats.

I’m not kidding about the cats, by the way. Just ask her, the next time you’re taking her tour.

Ariane knows that I’m a crazy cat lady, so when she went to the Salon of Embroidery Arts in Paris last month, she got this for me:



Click onto the image to enlarge and have a good laugh, and a great vocabulary lesson. “Le pire, c’est lui” is FUNNY! And: “Niais”: who knew? (Not me.)

Because of a traumatic experience with the cross-stitch when I was 8 years old, I stay away from what the French call le point de croix. But I can see how much fun this would be to sew in a crewel-stitch, a point I am very fond of. And I have 7 cats! And it just so happens that the one who is le pire is also in black-and-white!



No, wait, maybe he’s le videur. . . yeah, right. As if I could ever get an honest day’s work out of him. . .

P1070338 (2)





. . . or any of the other cats who surveil me.

Before I go, I want everyone to know that there were plenty of Justin Bieber backstage passes to go around so, everyone who wanted the pair in last week’s give away, got them, no playing dice with the universe necessary to win.

Remember, keep posting those 5-star reviews on Amazon.com for Garden of Awe and Folly  — the contest is still open for anyone to win the super-duper Quartet Triscuit Give-Away (or any other prize of your choice when we do the numbers in May):


Next week I will post the drawings that became these watering cans (above) for all of you Wonder Ones who want to print them out for your own projects. . . and  I will dedicate next Friday’s post to Dear Commentor Leslie, who sussed this out weeks and weeks ago:


I hope everyone in the Northern Hemisphere gets a huuuuuuge does of Spring Fever this weekend and does something niais, and comes back to tell us about it. For those in the Antipodean regions of our dear Earth, it’ll be just another weekend in paradise.

Read more

This is a special LOVE edition of VivianSwiftBlog today because it was NINE YEARS ago today that Top Cat and I said I DO.


It was midnight in Las Vegas and Blue Suede Jumpsuit Elvis married us husband and wife. If I had known then what I know now, I would have asked Top Cat to marry me on our second date.

Little did I know, nine years ago, that on my ninth wedding anniversary I’d be blogging about my trip to Tameslouht, Morocco…life is strange.

Tameslouht, according to people who have luxury villas to rent, is a village of extraordinary serenity  just 20km from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech.


Professional PR photo.

With views of the majestic Atlas mountains, Tameslouht is a place to refresh the soul and contemplate life’s magnificence whilst gazing upon a killer sunset.


Another professional PR photo.

Blah blah blah…


Yet another professional PR photo.

…and more blah blah blah plus Rin Tin Tin:


This is the weirdest professional PR photo of them all.

Tameslouht just might be all that and a box of Cracker Jack, but the day I went there (May 16, 2013) there was nary a ray of golden sunshine in sight:


It was cool and rainy and the village looked to be deserted:


This is my perfect May 16 place to be because May 16 is the day on which I, every year since 1975, throw myself a Pity Party.  Everybody should have one day a year  that they devote to a bout of constructive self-loathing and mine is May 16. May 16, 1975 is the day that I left America for my first solo hitch hiking journey in France; I was gone for four months and I was the happiest I’d ever been in all my previous 19 years of life. And every May 16 since then, if I am not on some wonderful, strange, life-altering journey on that day, then I throw myself a Pity Party and wonder why the hell aren’t I on some wonderful, strange, life-altering journey for chrissake.

This year on May 16 I was in Tameslouht. Tameslouht, dear readers, is not a beautiful village. But it beats the crap out of being on Long Island (on May 16) so I was only half-pitiful this year.


Let’s go look at some doors in Tameslouht seeing as how there is not a whole lot else to do in Tameslouht…


…whose name I wish I knew the meaning of because that would be the perfect thing to put here right now.


By the way, “Tameslouht” is pronounced exactly how it’s spelled.


Having seen a fair amount of Tameslouht, I would say that Tameslouht looks very much like itself:


And I say that because this (see below)  is the part of Tameslouht…


…that reminds some people of Persia…


…namely the good people at Disney who made the 2010 movie Prince of Persia:


The movie was based on a video game of the same name.


That’s Tameslouht in the background!

No wonder it flopped. I mean, come on: a video game?? It only made $90 million world wide and these days, that’s a flop. If a book makes one-ten-thousdandths of $90 million it is a New York Times No. 1 bestseller. Not for the first time do I realize I am in the wrong line of  business.

Everything I know about Tameslouht I owe to the delightful Sara Quinn…

P1180170 2

…Peace Corps volunteer extraordinaire who guided me thru the rues of her adopted hometown. In addition to her duties as a teacher of English, Sara and her fiancé, Tameslouht-native Mustafa Ezzarghani put together a marvelous meeting between leaders and members of the Moslem, Christian, and Jewish communities in Morocco:


You can read the article that Mustafa wrote about the conference for the Morocco World News website here and you can read all about life as a Peace Corps Volunteer/Morroco in Sara’s blog here. Sara and Mustafa went to the Majorelle Garden too!! Read all about their visit here.


I love reading Sara’s blog because it reminds me of my own Peace Corps Volunteer days, except for the bits where she actually goes out and accomplishes things, and is beloved by her community, and makes important contributions to the cultural and economic advancement of her adopted country…other than that yeah, my Peace Corps experience was exactly like Sara’s.

Because this is a special LOVE edition of VivianSwiftBlog I have to show you this photo from Sara’s blog of April 5, 2013:


Because this is Mustafa proposing to Sara in a cafe overlooking the Jemaa El Fan in Marrakech:


Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.  I hope Sara and Mustafa will be as happy as Top Cat and I, nine times nine years.

This is Sara and Mustafa when I met them in Tameslouht:

P1180052 2

With TEA!

I am in the salon of Madame the President of the Tameslouht women’s crafts cooperative, called Creation Tameslouht.


 Creation Tameslouht has a  Facebook page:


Madame the President…


…kindly arranged to give me a private showing in her own home:


The beautiful hand-embroidered duvet covers…


…are immaculately sewn with traditional motifs:

P1180054 2

The machine embroidery is very fanciful:



And I loved the pockets on this traditional robe:


Which as you can see from these street photos (from Marrakech) are totally authentically Moroccan:



And the hats!!!  The ones with the large sequins are heavy, but the one with the crazy cute tassels was feather light:


This cute clutch is only 70 dirham ($9.00), all made my hand:


And this spiffy beach bag is only 80 dirham and is sooooooo cooooool:


This is the gorgeous drape/curtain  tie-back that I bought for 100 dirham:


And then there are the scarves:


I’ve never seen scarves like this, all woven by hand, that shimmer:


Or, you can design your own scarf and have it embroidered:


I bought a scarf with colors that reminded me of blue jays and peacocks and when I went back to Paris I wore it with my Seattle fleece and I was ever so a la mode :


There’s nothing like going back to Paris after a 48-hour adventure in Morocco…


…I doubt I would have even noticed, if not for having just been there,  this billboard the Paris metro, shouting Become a LANDOWNER in MOROCCO!! Apartments from 24,000 euros, villas from 100,000 Euros. I guess that Morocco is to Parisians as Santa Fe, NM is to us Long Islanders.

After Morocco, all there was left to do in Paris except to make the long good-bye …


…to a style of living that you can only find in Paris…


I knew I was going to miss it terribly….


…but every lighted window of Paris…


…just made me feel too far away from home…


Happy Bastille Day, everyone! I hope nobody’s having a Pity Party on July 14 — go get a bottle of champagne and toast your favorite memories of Paris! And if you don’t have a memory of Paris, feel free to borrow any of mine.

And of course we cannot call our visit to Morocco complete without announcing the winner of the Majorelle Triscuit:


 Top Cat has chosen his random winner and it is:


Congratulations, Bev, and please email me your snail mail digits at vivianswift at yahoo, before our next get-together next Friday.



Read more

  So, here I am in Giverny. I can give you some quick peeks at what I’m up to here before I return you to the blog post I pre-loaded before I left the USA (I knew that blogging from The Road would be more technologically spiffy than I could handle).

So far, I know that there are two ways to see Monet’s garden at Giverny. You can take it in at ground level…



…or you can climb a hill and see it from waaaaay above. Either way…




…it’s quite a sight.

It’s been chilly here in Normandy, that is when the sun isn’t shining and warming you to your tootsies — those clouds can turn a refreshing Spring breeze into a frigid bone-chilling gust. Some people are even wearing Winter coats but I get by very well with my Seattle fleece jacket. Yes, Giverny is a tourist trap, but not a TOTAL tourist trap. I stayed for my first two nights at a delightful B&B but had to move to the town’s only hotel (a large group of Russians were booked for arrival at the B&B) and while I had the company of a chow named Toddy at the B&B when I took my well deserved Friday evening aperitif…


…there are no such furry ears at the hotel.

You know I will tell you in full all about Giverny when I get back to my desk on Long Island and off this f*#€€**!  iPad, but you already know that while my body might be in France (actually, it’s in Marrakech at this point) my heart is still in my little workroom back home.


This is my butcher-block desk (it’s really only an old kitchen table my sister gave me 20 years ago)  which is situated in front of two south-facing windows. The most important feature of this set up is the chair: I sit in a child’s chair, the seat of which is only 13 inches above the floor. This puts me at just above eye-level with the top of my desk, which is very important for the close-up, miniature-sized painting I do.

Before I started to illustrate my books, this set up was very familiar to me from my years as the watch and clock expert at Christie’s auction house (my job before I got promoted to Faberge). Horologists also work on itty bitty bits (watch parts are veeeeeeeerrrrrryyyyy small) :




So watchmakers sit at specially-made furniture that has a desk top that is about a foot higher than a normal table:



But since I don’t have a watchmaker’s desk — I just have an old kitchen table — I have lowered my seat to make like an horologist when I paint.

That photograph of my desk shows me working on a garden illustration from my Key West photo album, which I will show you at the end of this post.Before I go further, I must tell you that while I was photographing the 4 corners of my workroom I was moving Coco, in her cat bed on her chair in the middle of the room, to keep her out of camera range…and she was so much a part of this post that I totally forgot to take a photo of HER and now I’m in France and can’t do nothin about it.

I keep my photo albums and diaries and notebooks filed away in my closet:


I started a special Garden Book book shelf in there for handy reference. I also have loads of loose photos, filed in shoeboxes in a special  blue bookcase:


Those binders that you see on top of my photo/shoe boxes are the various  Books-in-Progress of original art work that (so far) doen’t have a home in a published book. Those binders are too tall to fit in any regular bookcase, so I found a darling little bedside bookcase that I turned on its side and stacked on top of my sweet little blue bookcase. I have a large bulletin board on the left. Joan Rivers has very good advice about growing old: Never keep photos of your younger self on display around the house…but I have two 8″ x 10″ black and white photos of me on my wall, from my Peace Corps days, because in my mind I’m still 26. I have two more bookcases stacked up to the right, where I keep tea cups and birds’ nests … on the wall in the background there is a map of a road trip through New England that I painted many moons ago. I will have more to say about my love of making hand-made maps in a bit.

But this is my favorite wall, the Wall of Feathers:


Most of these  feathers are treasures that I have found over the years, some of them are gifts from my Dear Readers, all of them represent to me my idea of wealth…

…the same way that Top Cat’s idea of rich is this:


This is firewood that Top Cat chopped himself, and why he has a soft spot for Hurricane Sandy as an outstanding delivery system for excellent quality raw material for his wood chopping hobby. Top Cat loves to chop wood.

It was while I was snapping photos of my workroom for this tour that I came upon some old art projects that I haven’t looked at in years:


I have a box full of old embroidery projects — before I ever painted a garden, I used to sew them all the time. I put a few of my embroidered gardens in my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam:



If you’ll notice, each of those gardens has a black and white tuxedo cat in them; that’s because for many years I put my sweet cat Woody Robinson in every garden I sewed. He was even in this one (on the right):


Only, in order to see him you have to see the entire garden:


I ripped out all the stitches in that gate that appears at the bottom of this piece because it is not the real gate to this garden and after I’d sewn it I felt dishonest for putting in an imaginary structure. This is actually the walled herb garden of the Geffrye Museum in London and you gain access to it through the door that I painted on page 78 (of Wanderers, if you’re reading along, above).

But there’s plenty more embroidered gardens where those came from:P1150642





And then there is this:


That’s a tea bag over by Florida’s Fountain of Youth, for scale. This is the one and only “quilt” I ever made, for a quilting contest in 1992. The theme was America, if I remember correctly, and I love to make maps so this was right up my alley. It was a national competition and I won a third place in Mixed Media and this “quilt” was published in a national magazine. Country Home, I believe.

In this map “quilt” of America I put ll the various historical / ethnic references that I though were indicative of the various regions. In Middle America I put a baseball diamond, to represent The Field of Dreams in the approx. area of Iowa. For Texas and the Southwest I did Mexican-style reverse appliqué and I embroidered Central American creatures and then I did some Navajo spirits and a Plains Indian head dress. For the West Coast I put a Japanese bridge with cherry blossom plus a nifty Chinese dragon…



…which I have to say is the best thing I ever embroidered. In the Ohio Valley / Pennsylvania / Original 13 Colonies area I put an early American sampler-style thing:


Yes, that’s a shamrock in the Carolinas.

In New England I did an appliqué cornucopia, to represent the first Thanksgiving in Massachusetts colony:


To represent  African Americans I did West Africa embroidery and put in some Zulu shields:


I had never done any kind of appliqué before I did this “quilt” and so I am particularly proud of this appliqué eagle that fills the Great Pacific Great NorthWest:


This “quilt” is 100% sewn by hand. Not one stitch was done on a sewing machine. I even appliquéd the entire map by hand, sewing it onto a backing with a stitch that I invented (it’s like a buttonhole stitch, kid of) and then I stuffed it with polyester fill to make it “quilty”. People used to look at my stitching and say that they were so perfect that it looked like a machine did it, and they meant it as a compliment.

I’ll admit it: I used to be a great embroiderer. But oh lordy, it used to take weeks and months to do one single garden and I used to get cramps in my hand from holding onto a needle for 10 hours at a time, so I gave it up. And now I paint.

And now, after almost nine years of painting, I am getting to a level where most of my watercolors don’t stink (I said most: I hope you saw last week’s post where I show how easy it is for me, still, to paint something putrid.)

Here’s my Watercolor of the Week, a picture of Key West that I did right before I left for my Great Adventure in Giverny and Etc. (it’s the work-in-progress that you can see in the photo, above, of my desk with the itty bitty child’s chair):


I’ll be back on home turf next week, blogging more or less “live”, bringing you the sights from Paris, Giverny, and Marrakech. See you then!


Read more

…my life would be totally different.

That’s my  Deep Thought  for February.

Because if I drank beer ( a beverage I still can’t stand the taste of) when I went to Ireland, I would have spent more time in pubs getting drunk and flirting with black-haired blue-eyed Irishmen,  and less time doing this:

(Note: clever use of tea cup instead of Triscuit.)

For those of you reading along, we are in the Febraury chapter, page 31, of When Wanderers Cease to Roam. If you have my book, this is Back Story Stuff  but if you don’t have my book, well, then, this is Story Stuff.

I wasn’t always an immensely talented watercolor artist. Once upon a time I  was a dedicated embroiderer. So, when I was in a panic about turning 30 [in 1986] and I bought a one-way ticket to the most outlandish place I could think of — Ireland — (I was a big U2 fan) of course I packed about 100 skeins of beautiful French embroidery floss.

In Galway I bought some muslin, a light-weight muslin that gave me problems, but which I stubbornly refused to stop sewing on.

And that’s what I did on my down time  in Ireland: I sewed. I sewed on park benches, I sewed (one memorable rainy Bank Holiday in Roscommon) in the waiting room of a bus shelter for eight hours; I sewed in the evenings in the common rooms of youth hostels. The above Celtic sampler is what I sewed. It took me six weeks. I made it up as I went along — that’s why it’s such a jumble. Also, I did say that I was a mite depressed during this time; maybe that also shows in the wayward looks of it.

That bird (above) in the lower right corner is the bird that is was the Irish pence coin at the time; the harp of course is a national symbol; the creatures hovering above the letters “e ” and “f” are, I believe, from the Book of Kells, and the various knots are various knots.

That piece of embroidery shows up in my book on page 31:

You will never believe how I got that stitch work onto the page:

I took my embroidery to Staples and I laid it down on a color copier. Then I cut up the color copy and taped bits of it along the edge of my journal page. That ratty taped-up color copy is what I turned in to Bloomsbury when I gave them my manuscript; Bloomsbury is such a high-quality printer that what they give you in the book is their scan of my color copy of my embroidery and you can still see the stitches!  (It’s all chain stitch, by the way.)

Trade secrets, my dears, trade secrets.

Read more