Watercolor Tutorials

I discovered Irises last week.

I mean, I discovered that I like painting them.

Monet’s irises

The best thing about painting irises is that they are the perfect flowers to go crazy with the bleeds with:

They look good blotchy!

I was not at all sure that I could pull this off, so I didn’t take step-by-step photos.

So that’s the art part of the blog today. Now for a

Change of subject.

How many times has this happened to you: You’re putting down some New York Times newspaper linings in your cat litter boxes and just as you’re about to pat a few pages down into Fluffy’s rest room apparatus, you realize you’re looking at the obituary of a guy you dated in the mid 1980s.

Richard Sandomir, one of the N Y Times’ staff columnists, wrote it; meaning that the editors of the NY Times decided that this guy’s death was of “historical importance”. In 1985 I was aware that this guy (a classical musician) was somewhat famous when he gave me some of his records and began to escort me to his concerts at Lincoln Center and the Kennedy Center in D.C., but I hadn’t thought of him in ages — not since that afternoon at the Watergate when he let it slip that he was still married. I never saw him or heard of him again after I dumped him then and there, until, that is, I read his obit in the N Y Times.

Remember how easy it was in the olden days to date, by accident, a married guy? In those days before everybody was Google-able? This musician was my first lying married guy, but not my last. O Lordy, I am so happy that I don’t have to date any more.

I’m so glad that I’m not still trying out personalities like I was when I was dating this musician, when I was still young and wishy-washy enough to think that I could be the kind of person who marries a classical musician even though I have absolutely no interest in, or love for, classical music. (After this classical music guy, there was a jazz guy that I actually got engaged to, and I really REALLY can’t stand jazz.)

I’m so glad to be old and set in my ways (fun-loving, optimistic, non-judgemental, with a love for humankind that makes me basically another Mother Theresa). And I love 1980s pop music. I like tunes that make me feel like walking on sunshine.

This is a short blog post today because I added extra reading to last week’s post — it’s in the Comments section, and elaborates on my handwriting analysis judgements. I claimed that somebody had the handwriting of a pervert, and I meant it, but in the nicest way, of course.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Be true to yourselves and the music that makes you dance.

Read more

I will explain this photo in a bit. (Yes, I am completely sober, for the moment.) First, we have some PAINTING to do!

To re-cap: This is the view of Claude Monet’s famous lily pond in his Water Garden in Giverny, France that our Dear Reader Jeanie photographed one fine September day:

Those red plants blooming in the foreground look to me to be some kind of celosia, which gives this away as a Fall scene. Yes, I am extremely proud of myself for knowing that celosia blooms in the early Autumn. Even more than that, I’m amazed that I even know what celosia are — but that’s what writing a garden book will do: it will turn a person who basically couldn’t give a crap about horticulture into someone who notices, and NAMES,  celosia in the foreground. So,  La-Di-Da for me!***

***see Comments below for my come-uppance.

Thank you, Jeanie, for letting me paint your view (we’re calling this The Jeanie Challenge), which after two weeks of blogging looks like this so far:

For Jeanie and all others who are painting along with moi, I want you all to rest assured that even if you follow me stroke by stroke, you will never be “copying” me. It’s like when we all learned how to write cursive (which I hear is something that nobody bothers to teach any more).

We were all shown the same standard forms, we all practiced copying the forms, but in the end our handwriting is uniquely ours:

BTW, from what I know about handwriting analysis, this is the writing of a pervert.

It’s the exact same thing with watercolor. Even if you use every single technique I use for this pic, your painting will be you, all you, as surely as your own handwriting is. SPEAKING of handwriting, handwriting is kind of how I solved the problem of what to do with the big blank right hand side of this picture:

I want to do something different for that big bank spot there, treat it in a way that will make it stand out against the background stuff that I’ve already painted. I thought about this problem a lot, and in the end I decided to draw it:

In that I use the same tool as I would if I’d handwritten this, that’s where the HANDWRITING connection comes in. Nice segue, eh?

As I sussed it, there are three distinct textures in that foreground bit. From top to bottom: long spikey stuff, big leafy stuff, and small grassy stuff, which I drew as you can see below:

So all I’m going to do here is paint those textures.

First, the grassy stuff, just a wash of light green with some dark green strokes:

Then the long spikes stuff — I really love doing this kind of brush stroke, but if you’re new to it, it pays to practice it before you put in down on your painting. It is actually harder than it looks to get that nice, elongated lozenge shape:

For the leafy texture in the middle, I’m going to smoosh my paint brush into my dark-green green . . .

. . . and then smoosh it into my light-green green:

And then I’m going to dab in some leafs (it’s a press and twist motion):

That’s what I call PAiNTiNG, people.

Stepping back to survey the work, I think the leafs look a little too same-y as the spikey stuff here:

So I’m going to use clear water on my brush to smudge the paint a bit:

That’s better:

Now it’s time to do those celosia plants in the foreground. They are a bizarre shade of red, so I’m going to mix a hot pink (Permanent Rose) with a deep, blood-red red (Red Purple, which cost $16.95 for this teeny little tube! But that’s what you have to pay to get a really good, rich, red.):

I experimented with the mix to see if I could match the color of Jeanie’s View, and I also had to practice painting these shapes, which are a bit weird:

I also wanted to see how the hot ink/purple red mix looked when it was painted over the green and blues that are already on the paper:

Thankfully, the pigment held its own. The hard part, as always, is to avoid making a pattern, to keep them looking as random as nature:

Note that I painted the celosia in light and dark shades of my hot pink/red purple mix.

Now that all the hard stuff is done, we can step back and congratulate ourselves for getting this far without ruining the pic. Yay for us!

And now for the fun bit:

You might know this, or not, but all the structures in Monet’s garden — the plant supports that give his flower garden its height, the shutters on his house, all the outdoor furniture, and all the bridges in his Water Garden — are painted the same rich, saturated green. It’s a very distinctive color, variously called “Apple Green” and “Monet Green”.

To make this green stand out against all the other greens in Monet’s garden, I use an acrylic paint:

Since it is plastic, opaque, and thick, the acrylic paint has a totally different property than the watercolor, so it stands out even when I use it in a teeny tiny background detail :

I am editing out all the other people in Jeanie’s original photograph and I’m only painting two people on the bridge:

They are basically stick figures — but be sure to shade them and to give them some sort of gesture; I have one of my figures turing to the other one, to whisper sweet words: You were so right. Being here does take my mind off the fact that we have a low-class, smug, shit-for-brains president back home.

The last thing I have to do (as a painter of this scene) is tone down the “roses” in that weird arcade, which I do by painting over them in dark green:

Are we DONE?

Nope.

I happen to like the way the colors and shapes of this composition pulls the eye all around this little pic. But, even so, that light background behind the bridge bothers me. Jeanie’s photograph is so wonderful because of the way she framed those figures on the bridge — although they are way back in the background, they are pushed forward (in the photo) because of the dramatic way they are seen against very, very dark foliage. I feel compelled to be honest to the view, and so I think I need to paint that in:

DONE.

Well done. You’ve earned it: time to unscrew the lid off of your finest Pinto Grigio:

This is how we do it on the Long Island Rail Road.

It was cold and gray last Sunday as I waited for the 5:22 to Ronkonkoma (change at Jamaica for the Oyster Bay local). Penn Station was crowded and I’d spent all day out and about in Manhattan, wishing I’d worn a Winter coat instead of the short leather jacket I’d put on that morning in trust that the forecast of 62 degrees was not just someone’s fantasy that our long, long, long delayed Spring had finally arrived. I was chilled to the bone and I’d been crying earlier in the afternoon:

Spoiler: This movie is a good old fashioned treat jerker.

The grungier food stalls at Penn Station sell teeny bottles of wine for $5 each, but they can not let you take those bottles away with you. Probably because Madison Square Garden is right above the LIRR train tracks and nobody wants arm a bunch of pissed off  (or celebrating, it doesn’t matter) Knicks and Rangers fans with both alcohol and a sturdy glass projectile. So what they do is, they kindly pour your one, two, or three bottles of wine into a huge Coke go-cup, ask if you also want ice, snap a lid on it, and punch it with a straw.

It’s the Long Island commuter’s security blanket.

So I had a very happy journey home that cold and gray Sunday. Because it was the weekend, the train was full and the riders were much more voluble than the usual Mon-Fri crowd, which was very entertaining for me. Also, I was kind of drunk.

Overheard on the 5:22 to Ronkonkoma:

As passengers are walking down the aisle, finding seats:

I’m sick of the city.

You’re a meat person, right?

Leave the car where it’s parked, we’re never going to use it again.

And when we go to Dubai I’m gonna take you to Amsterdam for the weekend.

From seated passengers:

One 20-something girl to her friend, who is unwrapping an extra large chocolate bar: That’s, like, a thousand calories. Her friend: I can deal with it. 

Behind me, another 20-something girl starts to squeal to her friend (and I swear, this is exactly how the conversation went): What IS that? It’s on your bag! Give me five dollars so I can chew it! Other girl responds: How do you Google that?

Guy on his cell phone: Are we going to spend shabbat in LA? I hope not.

Older man to his wife: They can wear it for all I care, but I don’t have to look at it. Wife: They do things to their bodies to look that thin.

Random stuff that drifted through the general noise:

When we were kids I loved going out and doing stuff but now I’m a 22-year old guy and I like stay in and drink.

Fish and chips. With risotto.

Maine. I never think of Maine. Maine is the most boring state in the union. (I have to agree with that one.)

I liked the part where they went back in time. Did they have dinner? 

I was thinking, as I listened and took notes, that the LIRR is a goldmine of awesome non-sequiturs! I should write a book about the overheard conversations on the LIRR! I bet the LIRR would PAY me to be, like, their scribe! Like, their resident anthropologist! People would love this stuff! I should put it all in a book! Best seller! I should pitch this to the president of the MTA [Metropolitan Transportation Authority]! The MTA would jump at the chance! 

Like I said, I was a bit pie-eyed. A mere two sheets to the wind. Slightly hammered. Definitely lit.

 This project is now filed away with all my many, many, many other Bad Ideas.

Have a great weekend, my Dear Readers. I hope that all your wine is fine, all your ideas are good, and that all your bad ideas are only momentary.

Read more

This is the most interesting thing I’ve learned from the results of Round One of the French presidential election:

The front-runner, Emmanuel Macron, is a 39-year old Sagittarian with Capricorn rising. Interesting, non?

And oh, yeah, his wife is 24 years older than he is.

They’ve been married for ten years but met ages before, when he was a 17-year old high school student and she was one of his teachers. In the French newspaper that I read, their relationship is described as being a union of intellectual soul mates. Interesting, non?

I’m thinking of taking this photo to my hair dresser to get a blonde dye job just like Brigitte’s. She looks amazing.

In other news of the week, Robert Pirsig died. In my early 20s I tried to read this book back when it was still a hot item in the zeitgeist. I got half way through it and could not bear to hear one more paragraph of that author’s “voice” –which is the same voice as in The Bridges of Madison County, BTW, another story told by a manly narrator who is a thinly disguised version of the author’s own conviction of his ethical and moral superiority. Rambling’ men, both of them, too cool to be held accountable by “society”.

That said, I do think that Mr. Pirsig came up with an absolutely brilliant title for his book. It really swings, and that’s no mean feat. I’m sure it helped sell his book by the boatload, and that’s no mean feat either. It’s funny, these books that the culture latches onto at any given moment; it means that millions of people who don’t read books become, suddenly and unpredictably, motivated to read one, and that’s just good luck, or good timing, or magic because it obviously isn’t quality. 

But now we are getting into something that I can get a little too obsessed about, and lord knows I can get snide when it comes to authors who buy villas in the south of France from selling boat loads of dreck, so let’s get back to the regularly scheduled programming for this blog.

If you remember, we’re painting this view of Monet’s lily pond in his Water Garden on his property in  Giverny, France:

And this was the sketch I made of this view, using only these few guide lines to orient me:

Last week I painted the top third of the view:

And this week I’m going to start painting the bottom two-thirds:

For me, it’s necessary to start by using masking fluid to block out bits of foreground foliage (see below) . . .

. . .and all the lily pads that float on the surface of the pond:

The reasons I use a toothpick to apply making fluid is because, for One: I work on a small scale, so a toothpick doles out the proper amount of fluid for my purposes; and TWO: toothpicks are disposable, which saves me the bother of clean up. You can see (below) that the pattern of my lily pad/masking fluid resembles random splotches:

When the masking fluid is thoroughly dry, I load up the area with clear water:

I can’t emphasize the importance of using clean clean CLEAN water! I change my jars of water frequently — I use two at a time: one for cleaning off the blue and green paints, the other for cleaning off the yellow and reds. And I never let the water get the tiniest bit murky. As son as I detect the slightest hint of cloudiness in my water jars, I dump them. Clean water is the secret to making your paint sparkle.

Any hoo, getting back to the painting: I’m putting a wash of light green on the “top” of the pond (the bit near the shoreline):

And then, quickly, I’m putting a bright blue wash at the “bottom” of the pond:

I work the blue wash up towards the middle, where it meets the green wash — don’t use too may brush strokes here, or else you’ll end up with mud; just let the water do the work:

While the entire surface is still wet, I dab in some darker green:

And I pat in a drop or two of green around the edges of the lily pads (for s kind of shadow, to give depth):

Ooooh — I really like the way the green wash is pooling!:

Although I sometimes I use a hair dryer to speed things up, in general I spend a lot of time waiting for paint to dry. I never use a hair dryer on washes! It’s best to let washes dry naturally — in my experience, the air does very interesting stuff to paint and water. In the case of this wash that I did for the pond here, I knew it was going to take several minutes (up to 15) to dry so I left the room to make a cup of tea, and when I came back I discovered that the pool of water did not do what I expected it to do:

OK, that’s not what I was counting on, but I do love it when watercolor does what watercolor wants to do, so I’ll make the best of it. Here’s how the wash dried in the rest of the pond:

I really like blotchy watercolor. And now that this wash is bone dry I can paint in a very light “reflection” of the Willow Tree:

If you refer to the reference photo . . .

. . . you’ll see that there is an inconvenient pile of weeds sticking out of the surface of the pond (to the right). I’d rather not have to paint that but, oh well; let’s start with a light green base, and while it’s still damp I will stroke in some very dark green:

With that done, I’ll attack the dark green foliage by painting over the masking fluid:

Then we let everything dry:

And then I pick up the masking fluid with a special wad of rubber that I only use for this purpose. Don’t use an eraser — it will peel too much of the paper away — try something gummy, and soft:

Painting lily pads is hard. I think I used 10 different tones of blue-green, green, yellow-green, and green-blue:

For the lilies I’m using a dab of white acrylic paint as my base:

While that acrylic paint is damp, Ill drop in some hot pink:

And voila: We have achieved pondage!

Now I have a big problem. See that big blank area? I have to do something interesting here. I have to do something there that will make it *POP*, but not too much POP so that it over-takes the rest of the pic. I can’t do what I’ve already done so far (the green blobs in the background) — that would make the whole pic too samey and b-o-r-i-n-g. This bit of foreground is on a different scale than the rest of the pic, so I’ll need to do something new and different. Bold. Whatever that is.

Here is where I actually put the pic aside for a day, because I really had not thought out, beforehand, how I was going to tackle this section. I think I’m very lucky to have gotten this far without crapping things up!

So let’s use this as a stopping point for now. Next week we will paint that foreground, and hope it works, and muse on other hot topics of the week.

BTW, Robert Pirsig didn’t use his millions of dollars in royalties to buy a villa in the South of France. He bought a sail boat and a house in Maine. The author of The Bridges of Madison County bought a ranch in the middle of Texas. E L James (Fifty Shades of Gray) has houses in LA and Cornwall. CORNWALL. So, not only are their books bad, but so is their taste in real estate.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers.

 

 

 

Read more

Writers are famous for being very particular about their working conditions. Some writers need background noise (so they hang out at Starbuck’s) and some need absolute quiet (Proust had his room sound-proofed). Some can only write in the very early hours of the day (Hemingway) and some can write at any hour but it has to be in a room with totally bare walls (Maya Angelou). But you don’t hear much about the work habits of painters — except for Monet, who was famous for being able to paint only 10 minutes a day (sometimes), in order to catch a certain kind of sun light in the plein air.

I don’t paint plein air (that means: outside) but I still need a specific kind of natural light to do my stuff. My prime time for painting is in the late morning until the middle afternoon, but no later than 4 o’clock. Judge Judy comes on at 4 o’clock.  I credit all my legal knowledge to watching Judge Judy — the one time I was sued in small claims court I got the case thrown out in 5 minutes. I love confrontation, and I love outsmarting people, and I will NEVER settle! Man-o-man, I would have made a killer litigator.

But, alas, I am an illustrator, so let us take a look at today’s illustrating challenge, which comes from one of our favorite Dear Readers.

Dear Reader Jeanie took this beautiful photo when she was in France, on her visit to the lily pond in Monet’s Water Garden in Giverny. Did you know that the Water Garden has SIX bridges in total? This is a pic of the bridge at the farthest eastern edge of the pond:

I can see why Jeanie has been hankering to paint this scene: the reflections on that pond are soooo cool, with the Willow tree greenery in the distance and that brilliant blue sky in the foreground. YUM. Also, you get the view of two (out of Monet’s three) famous Willow trees in the background with that sweet little bride in the center. The pic also has a fetching balance of dark bits in the foliage, with all kinds of textures going on everywhere you look. It’s a wonderful photograph, compositionally and subject-wise.

But as for painting it, it’s going to be a bugger. The main problem is all those background trees:

There’s a whole lot of the identical tint/tone/shade of green lurking in all that green greenery back there. It will be tricky to paint it without ending up with one big puddle of verdure. So after a great deal of study (5 minutes or so) I have mapped out this greenery in my mind and have decided that I’m going to paint it (going left to right) as: Background greens, Peripheral greens, Little Willow, General Fluffiness, Big Willow. Most importantly, I have also mapped out the order in which I will paint them, which you will see shortly.

So let’s get to it!

Here is the sum total of my equipment:

Here are the guide-lines I will use for the painting of this scene, which we will call Jeanie’s View:

SPOILER ALERT: I am going to be showing the painting of Jeanie’s View in detail today so I can talk about the many decisions I make as I paint this complicated scene, so expect to see lots of pics that look pretty much like this one (below) in which I am making a wash of sky:

I let this wash dry, and then I dab in some very light and watery background foliage by using a blue-green wash (I chose the color deliberately to add some variety to the overall greenery of this scene) and just patting my paintbrush against the “sky”:

While the blue-green wash is still wet-ish, I will work quickly to dab in some peripheral trees, using a bright green-yellow:

Still working wet-in-wet, I pat in some darker blue-green:

I let all that dry before I dab in some more blue-green-ish stuff:

I chose to use blue-green here only to make a distinction between the trees that are minor characters in this view and the trees that will be the major characters. The most important trees in this view are the Willows, so I will paint them last — which is why I am skipping over to the center of the view now, where all the non-Willow fluffiness is. I put in a nice light yellow wash first:

And then I pat in some light green:

As the wash gets more and more dry, I pat in more dabs of green, which will “hold” as distinct shapes of foliage:

I am still taking advantage of the dampness of the background wash to pat in some medium greens:

The wash is almost completely dry now, so I’m going to get bold and go for some dark green (it’s Hunter green mixed with just a touch of black) that will really “hold” well:

It was at this point that I started to believe that I had something here. I wasn’t sure at all about the fate of this pic in the beginning…I made the background kind go bland on purpose, in order to not overwhelm the pic with too much detail, but I could not tell if it would work or not until I got here, and did not screw up the bleeds I needed here. I can see that I painted a big round puff ball, which I’m not happy about, but I can fix that; what I can’t fix is a bad bleed. These little bleeds look OK. Whew.

While I paint, I constantly refer back to Jeanie’s photograph, to make sure that I’m dabbing in those darks and lights in approx. the right places. I decided to paint that big area of fluffiness in two parts, exactly because I knew that I wanted to use a wet wash while it slowly dried up, and you (meaning: me) can only do that in small bits. So when I start the second part of that area of fluffiness, I start with a darker wash of pale green-blue instead of yellow)

I dab in yellow and then my dark green to merge into the dark green I had previously done:

Add medium green and let dry:

Compare to reference photo to check for placement of the dark spot:

It looks OK to me.

Since I am a miniaturist at heart, I have a tendency to over-do the details when I paint “large”, and luckily I have stopped myself at a good point with this fluffy background. Time to paint the Little Willow, which as you can see from the ref photo above, has a “dark” and a “light” side — so I am putting down two washes side-by-side:

I wanted to add some dark green to the darker wash, but I put in too much:

This could have ruined it all, but thankfully the paint was still wet and all I had to do was “pick it up” — go over it with a very clean brush to remove the unnecessary paint and SAVE THE DAY:

Now that the wash is dry, I am putting in some fine lines in various shades of light and dark green to simulate the Willow fonds:

I add some darkness to the foliage on either side of the Willow in order to make this main-character tree “pop”:

Lastly, it’s time to do the Big Willow:

Ooooh — nice bleed of dark and light green wash (below)!

Here’s how I paint fronds with both my big (No. 1) brush and my teeny (No. 00) one . . .

Don’t worry — we are NOT painting the entire pic today; I have just a few more bits to show you before we call it a day (we’ll finish the pic next week, when we do the WATER!!).

But here is where we are so far:

For now, I am leaving the tree-line unresolved like this. I know that according to my reference photo of Jeanie’s View, I am missing a big area of darkness between my Willows, but I also know that  if I don’t stop myself here I am afraid that I will add too much darkness and detail, and lose the brightness and spontaneity that I have so far. I will have to go back later and patch up some bits here and there, but it would be better for me and the pic if I wait to see what happens in the rest of the view before I make those adjustments.

All I’m going to do for the rest of this post is paint in the water-line at the bottom of those trees. Of course I will be using my favorite thing in the whole world — wet-in-wet bleeds:

And we are DONE for the day.

You might be wondering what those goofy pink arches on the right edge of Jeanie’s View are. Those are the rose arbors painted by Monet:

I think this is a very ugly painting. The shape of the arbors is very unappealing — boxy, inelegant, etc. The brush strokes look tentative (wimpy) and the colors manage to be both muddy and cartoonish. And if you don’t know the lay-out of his Water Garden, this painting doesn’t make much sense: is that pile of brownish-pink in the middle of a pool or what? Even his water lilies look like crap. See? Even Monet had bad days at the old easel.

It’s because of this painting that I dislike his lily pond rose arbors, and I tried to minimize the presence of these odious rose arbors in my pic but I obviously failed (see: my painting) — they poke out of the landscape like, well, like cartoonish rose-covered arbors. I will fix that later.

Speaking of Giverny, you all know that it is Election Day this Sunday in France, right? It’s a very tense election, with a four-way heat between the candidates from the far left, the middle left, the middle right, and the far right. If you remember my post from 2015, when I was in Giverny for their last elections for local representative, I got to witness  voting in Giverny and it was so cool — even back then, my Giverny friends assured me that Marine LePen’s party could not possible get votes in their neck of the woods… but she did, yes she did; and if you think that she couldn’t possibly win the Presidency in 2015 I have two words for you: Der Drumpf. . . who is still a fat ass shit-eating maggot. If you have a friend in France who isn’t a moron, keep your lines open. They might need to email you late in the night after the polls close, and you have to be available to coax them off the ledge.

Interesting Fact: The watercoloring that you watched me do today took me 1 hour and 50 minutes — almost TWO HOURS — of painting Jeanie’s View. At this point in my blog post, I’ve spent over three and a half hours writing and posting pix about what it took me two hours to paint. I’m starting to think that there is something wrong with this business model. (P.S. this blog took about six hours total to gather photos, lay out in WordPress, write, and revise.)

I actually painted for two more hours on Jeanie’s View and then I stopped (the pic is still not finished) but for your sake, I will stop here.  The reason I put the brushes down after four hours is because I know that I am not good for more than four hours of painting on any given day. So here’s a tip: Know your limits and respect them. Even if you are dying to finish your pic, even if you are sooooooo close to wrapping it all up, even if you’re afraid that the Muse won’t be there the next time you open your paintbox: Quit While You Are Ahead.

Hello, this is from Future Me: I have finished Jeanie’s View and there is a lot to tell you. . . but I have to clear it with my Dear Readers first. Was this blog post too detailed? Do you want to see more such nit-picky painting, or would you like me to edit the process to speed it up? Because here’s the thing: If I keep reporting the future painting of Jeanie’s View in the same manner as I did this week’s post, I will need TWO more installments. . .  next week, I’ll do the the lily pond, and two weeks from now I’ll do the bank of the pond and the bridge and all the little fixits the pic needs before it’s DONE. Please let me know how much info you want me to belabor in this space.  

BIG NEWS: Mr Fluffy, our wonderful stray kitty, has found his forever people, who drove six hours to come get him. The Fluffernutter has already staked out  his favorite nap spots in his new house and is lording over a young family who adore his every swish of tail and his every teeny tiny “Mew” that lets them know it’s kitty-loving time.

And no, I have not begun reading my penance novel that I owe Top Cat (see: last week’s post) because I am busy with the two treasure books that I brought home from New Orleans — stay tuned, Dear Reader Judy; I will discuss them next week, when we paint the rest of Jeanie’s View.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers. Happy Painting, wherever you are.

Read more

So this showed up in my backyard last Tuesday:

But I had nothing to fear, thanks to my crack team of Security Experts (Taffy and Bibs), who utilized their best Stink Eye maneuver to keep The Dastardly Mr. Fluffy at bay. . .

Mr. Fluffy is actually a very sweet kitty who is obviously a lost house cat. But he’s long overdue for his rendezvous with destiny so I’ve made appointments for him too visit the vet, to make him less likely to roam; unfortunately it’s not until Wednesday. Riding herd on a randy Tom Cat is, honestly, more work than I am in the mood for. We’ve searched for flyers and “Lost” posters in the neighborhood but no one seems to be missing this sweetie and NO, we are NOT looking for ANOTHER cat to add to our posse so if anyone knows of anyone who would like to adopt a smart and gentle Maine Coon, I will personally deliver within a 90-mile radius of Oyster Bay, Long Island.

The news came a few hours after I posted last week’s blog that der Drumpf’s idiotic health care repeal had been effectively defeated by his own party. Oh, lordy, it was just what the doctor ordered: a big fat dose of relief and overjoy! Because of this gift of uplift I am a better, kinder person: I sing to myself, I turn on You Tube and dance, I give people the benefit of the doubt (at least half the time, no matter how un-freaking deserving they are of my patience and I’m talking to you, lady at Costco who held up the checkout line while you searched the boggy depths of your handbag for the elusive credit card that you should have had ready in your hand because, surprise, it’s the CHECK OUT LANE), I foster stray cats when I need another cat in this  house like I need a hole in the head, I am delighted by the small moments of pleasure that have gone unnoticed in these past four months, and I sleep at night like I’m in the middle of a kitty puddle of snooze:

I even got word of a debut novel about another sexually-abused autistic teenager and did not despair for what passes as literature these days. At least there’s not a dog fight in it, or a multi-generational saga from the mean streets of Detroit. See? I’m all about the silver linings!

Last Christmas someone gave Top Cat a gift certificate to Red Robin restaurant. Top Cat and I are not Red Robin kind of people. But last Friday we were in a good mood and decided to not be ourselves and we went for a dine-out at the local Red Robin. I don’t know why these kinds of places are in business when there’s a perfectly authentic Cajun restaurant in a trailer not two miles away, but there you are. Before I received my cold black beans and barely warm “mac’N’cheese” (it was elbow macaroni smothered in a lukewarm cream sauce of some kind) I was served a glass of chardonnay in the filthiest tumbler I have ever seen this side of a Bangalore recycling bin. I handed the foul vessel back to the waiter and yet, I was still in such a good mood that I privately thanked the slovenly bartender for disgusting me — no overindulging on Happy Hour wine for V. Swift, that’s for sure! In fact, I think I might be sober the rest of my life. All I have to do is conjure up the memory of that spittle-encrusted glass and I turn into a tea totaler. At the end of our “meal” at Red Robin we had a largish balance on this gift certificate, which Top Cat gave to the waiter because neither of us has any intention of ever returning to this place ever again.

I should mention that it is cold and rainy today here on the Isle of Long, as I type this on Friday morning. Every cat-body is in the house today, as it is too gloomy and muddy to be prancing around the estate, so that in addition to the regular crew of six who inhabit these rooms, plus the guest in the downstairs powder room, I have the neighbor’s cat, Dennis, in for day care:

Dennis is such a frequent visitor that he has his own spot, on his own pillow atop a cabinet in the basement.

Steve showed up on the front porch as usual for breakfast, but has since then been curled up in his cubby in the garage, that’s how lousy the weather is today:

But it’s still sunshine and flowers in VivianWorld, which I was able to paint this week!

I have to remind you that I am actually not a painter, I am an illustrator, and as such I hack my watercolor to get certain effects. Last week I wanted to paint flowing water, and here’s how I hacked it:

I used masking fluid to map out some “swirls” in the water:

Then I removed the masking fluid, exposing the white, unpainted paper underneath:

Then I painted in a thin, color-matched line inside the empty space:

I turned the picture on its side, just as shown here, because it’s easier to paint these lines smoothly when you use your brush in an up-and-down motion, rather than a side-to-side (if you ask me). Here’s how it looks with painted-in:

I think this is a perfectly fine facsimile of rippling water, and it couldn’t be easier!

DONE:

Remember, I have a darling Maine Coon kitty that needs a home and forget about the 90-mile limit I posted (above). I once drove a cat to Rhode Island (where he found his perfect forever people) so I’m willing to go as far as one tank of gas in my hybrid car. That’s about 550 miles. OK, two tanks if you have the perfect forever home for this guy.

Have a great weekend, everyone — do a Happy Dance against der Drumpf!

 

 

Read more

One year ago, on March 16 2016, I took a look at my life and decided that Things Had To Change:

This was the day, last March 19, when I did my semi-annual bottle return on my empty Fresca cans. Note: I live in New York state, on the USA, where recycling empty soda cans and bottles is mandatory and for which we consumers pay 5 cents per container upon purchase, which we get back when we drop off the empties to appointed recycling locations. I think I made close to $170 on this haul.

This is when the reality of all those cans of soda, ingested one by one by yours truly, every morning (Ah! Is there is anything better than an ice cold can of Fresca with breakfast?) and once or twice during the day for the past three years, hit me as a regrettable life style choice on my part. All that ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, all those doses of brominated vegetable oil, all that gunky acesulfame potassium, not to mention the aspartame that breaks down into formaldehyde in the body (Wait. Isn’t that a preservative? And shouldn’t that help me look forever 57?) and the citrus acid that made me teeth hurt — that made for quite a swill in my guts. And I pride myself on having swill-free guts.

So I quit, that very day, cold turkey. Since then I have not had so much as a SIP of Fresca, going on for 368 days now. Yay me.

It’s not much, to kick a Fresca habit, but the news has been so very, very bad this week that I needed a win and this is all I got: Fresca.

Well, here’s some good news: Monet’s garden in Giverny opens to the public TODAY!

I know this because I read Ariane, Guide to Giverny, who lives in Giverny and wanders through the Clos Normand and the Water Garden throughout all the months of the year knows the ins and outs of this garden as well as Monet himself — catch up with her latest wanderings in her English language blog here. Or, if you want to really delve into the subject, try her wonderful blog in French, Giverny News. Whenever you feel like you wish you were back in Giverny, Ariane’s blogs will take you there, so what are you waiting for?

Speaking of Monet’s Water Garden, I took a shot at painting a lily pond view of his famous Japanese bridge this past week. The view includes the dreaded Copper Beech, so I did a preliminary test of color blobs before I began to paint:

The famous willow tree, working wet-in-wet:

Remove masking fluid, Phase I:

Paint in bridge:

I made the decision here that I can’t deal with all the vegetation in this view — it gets very repetitive and BORING — so I am going to mess around and use my pencil drawing to “fill in” the rest of the landscape. Also, I think that leaving so much white space makes the view more interesting, and makes me almost not hate that damn Copper Beech.

Now, paint in water. This is the trickiest part, because you have to paint in lots of reflections, and some how blob green paint into rose and blue watercolor, a color combination that will make a nice muddy brown if you don’t do it right. It helps greatly if you’ve done this kind of thing mucho times before, and you know both the saturation point of your paper and the timing of each blob of color so it doesn’t make soup:

Remove masking fluid, Phase II:

Paint water lilies:

And DONE:

Monet water lily pond

Dear Readers, how you doing? It’s been a tough week. Don’t get me started. I knew it was going to be a tough year (or four) when I started a Happiness Jar on New Year’s Day:

Yep. That’s all I got. Two notes, commemorating two moments of joy so far this year. Oh, wait. I forgot to write about those Southern-fried pickles I had on Mardi Gras. So that’s three moments of joy, in 83 days.  Actually, I think that’s pretty damn good going, for a Capricorn, in the time of der Drumpf. We have a habit of thinking the worst of people and things. Because we’re only being realistic.

But this is an amazing world so you never know how much things can get better, all of a sudden. You could be walking in the woods, on some fine Spring day, and you look up, and there’s a red panda:

It could happen.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers.

And der Trumpf is still an oozing stinking pustule of scum.

 

Read more

The big news this past week was the very very late Winter blizzard that threatened to ravage America, burying us east coast liberal snots in a thousand feet of snow. On the eve on the Great Snow Day of 2017, I set out my Champagne-O-Meter in the backyard:

Taffy prepped in his own way:

We heard the storm blow in around midnight, rattling all the windows with dire gusts of wind and sleet, and then dawn of the Great Snow Day of 2017 broke:

Top Cat lit a fire in the living room, all the kitties gathered ’round, we made pots of tea and loaves of toast and read our books and napped (I had a dream that I taught sign language to a cartoon octopus) and made more toast and tea. The snow kept falling, but it was mixed with icy rain, which was very heavy and compressed the previous layers of fluffy stuff so that the total accumulation was much less than anticipated, but had the density of concrete. At 3PM I fetched the Champagne-O-Meter from the backyard and lo, the bubbles were good and icy:

We went through 12 pounds of bird seed during this storm, trying to keep all our feathered friends well fueled to ride out this cold snap:

I also bought new straw to put in some additional layers of insulation in Steve’s cubby in the garage and he’s been curled up in it for the past three days:

But I’m not here just to bring you a weather report. I have a story to tell you, a story that is 33 years in the making, if my math is right. It starts in yon olden days of 1984.

When my sister Buffy went to see Monet’s garden in Giverny in May of 1984 she brought back the official souvenir book of the Foundation Claude Monet, which shows the gardens to be in a very skimpy state of restoration. Evidence this photo of the apple tree espaliers:

Her own photos of the garden include this great shot (below) of the apple trees in approx. their 4th year of growth:

I love these photos of the espaliers laid bare — by the time I got to see Monet’s garden for the first time in September of 1990 they had filled in quite a bit. I thought it was an OK garden back then because to me it was mostly a tourist attraction, not a garden experience.

In the book that I called Le Road Trip  (2012), I did not spend much literary or face time in the garden because, well, you can read about it on page 55.

And then came time (2012 – 2015) for me to do the book I called Gardens of Awe and Folly. I considered including Monet’s garden in the book because I really like those nifty apple tree espaliers that make a cute fence around a small lawn in the part of the garden called The Clos Normand (my favorite part of the garden). The question was, could I paint them?

This is my very first attempt at painting Monet’s apple tree fence, some time in the dark ages of 2012:

As anyone can see here, this pic stinks. But I give myself credit for seeing the painting of it all the way through to the end, the better to judge the craptitude of my talents, such as they were, at the time.

Being the Capricorn that I am, I am determined to get the hang of this bit of garden. My first idea to improve the chances of my painting a decent pic was to pull back my point of view, to back up from my close up of the espaliers:

Nope.

BTW, This apple tree fence is the first thing you encounter in Monet’s garden after you buy your ticket and walk through his former painting studio — now gift shop — and through the door that leads you onto a short, narrow path into the garden. P.S.: There is only one Poplar tree in the background of this view in real life. Don’t ask my why I painted in 12 extra poplars, except that they are a whole lot of fun to paint and they are the trees that best communicate “FRANCE”.

Well. It was clear to me that I was getting no where, painting from my old tourist photos of Monet’s garden. There was nothing to do but for me to go back to Giverny and take another really good look at the place and think about it and photograph it specifically for painting references. So in May of 2013 that’s what I did.

And WOW. If you ever have the chance to see Monet’s garden in cherry blossom time, GO. In my experience, July and August are prime for the water garden and September is prime for the allee, but May is a whole other category of awesome in the whole rest of the garden. I got more out of that visit to Giverny than any of my several previous visits.

Back home, I took a look at my new reference photos  . . .

. . . and tried out my renewed painting prowess, starting with a quick “sketch”to see if I could paint the foliage of those apple trees:

Any way, in the end I did not include Monet’s garden in my garden book for several reasons: it was too big a subject for the scope of my book; I don’t really have a “take” on the place; and I couldn’t paint the damn apple trees, which are the things that I am most fond of in this garden.

But my lack of ability to paint the apple tree espaliers in Monet’s garden has not stopped me from try, try, trying again and again. It’s my genius, you can say, that I don’t give up when I have a goal in mind. My goal was to paint those damn apple tree espaliers in Monet’s garden no matter how many ugly paintings it took.

So, last year, after my garden book was out and making its way in the world, I faced my nemesis once again. Here’s my first re-try:

Nope.

There are three problems with this scene, two of which are evident in the ref photo. One is that the view takes in a part of the garden that is called “The Paintbox” [to the right], which has seven tall, H-shaped trellises over head: they must be dealt with, somehow, in the background.

Two: There’s a Copper Beech (in French: hetre pourpre] in the way-back, a tree that was planted by Monet himself and as such, is something that must be acknowledged, even though I personally dislike purple-leafed trees and think Monet’s Copper Beech is a very dissonant note when you’re trying to paint the harmony of this view.

Lastly, the property itself is on a slant — you’re actually looking slightly downhill when you are looking at the garden from this direction. Here’s another photo from the apple tree lawn to give you an idea of that:

I’m just noting that the perspective makes this little lawn a little tricky to paint.

On my second attempt at a full-page painting of this scene, here is how I tried to deal with the H-shaped trellises in The Paintbox:

Nope.

Next, I tried to go all Impressionistic re: those trellises and I pretended that that annoying red Copper Beech in the background wasn’t there:

Nope.

One last try:

I almost thought I had it here, but . . . Nope.

So I put it away and Spring became Summer, and then Fall, and then Winter, and etc.

Last month I took another stab at painting this corner of Monet’s garden, starting with a whole new point of view. I am painting the same corner of the apple tree lawn, but I’m putting myself further back, that is, standing right at the entrance to the garden. I started with a little watercolor “sketch” of my new parameters:

I elaborated it:

Nope.

I know I am reeeeeeeeeeal close to getting it right, I can feel it. I can also see, now that I’ve done the entire scene, that I’ve chosen a very visually crowded POV so editing out details is going to be crucial. I’m going to have to try a new way of keeping in detail without overloading the color scheme.

So, I head back to the drawing board with my brilliant, new scheme. I’m going to add a new element into this scene that I hope will clarify the view: very bold pencil lines. Here’s my first try:

Nope.

I made the mistake of drawing the foreground first, before doing the background wash. Then I did the background wash and it was bad bad bad from the get-go. So I start over:

Nope.

This (above) is me trying to convince myself that a bad background wash will work out if I keep painting. I wasted too much time before I ditched this. Let that be a lesson.

So I start over:

Nope.

I knew that background wash was a failure, but I took the opportunity of this failure to test some ideas I have about where the darks and lights in this pic should go and how to incorporate my pencil drawing into the watercolor, so I kept painting — not to rescue a bad pic, but to act out on some hunches. This was not a waste of time, even though it did not result in a good pic.

On the next start-over, I thought I’d do the wash first and then, if it worked, I’d do the drawing on top of it:

Nope.

But I’m getting there.

And on my next attempt, I got it !

And here’s the finished pic, DONE:

I am in love with that background wash. It still needs a few tweaks, and I might  take another look at this in a month or so and hate it, but for now, I am happy with the story that this pic tells about walking into Monet’s garden in Giverny on a sunny Spring day.

In fact, I was so hopped up about “solving” this vexing problem of Monet’s garden that on the same sunny day I entered this pic, turned right when I got to the fork in the path, walked to the other side of the lawn, turned around, and painted this:

OK, I had to paint this twice (in one week) to get it right, but twice (in one week) is a lot better than 13 times over four years.

For me, painting is a lot like writing. The first draft always stinks, always always always. But you stick with it. The next draft might still stink, but at least you know how it stinks and you have some ideas on what needs to be changed to to make it work. The next re-write gets a tiny bit better, but it stinks in its own, new, way; then the next re-write gives you hints that you’re on the right path. So you keep re-writing, re-vising, sharpening your pencils, trying new tricks, honing in on what works and what doesn’t. Finally, you have something that isn’t perfect, mind you, but comes as close as possible to the vision that you have in your head. So you back off and move on to the next, bigger, harder thing that you have to write. And, yes, when it comes to my books, it usually takes at least 13 drafts over four years to get it close to what I want the damn thing to be.

Any day now I will be starting in on my first crappy draft of the next book I want to write and NO, I will NOT be flaunting the variously crappy incarnations of the text. You’re welcome.

Stay warm wherever you are, and if wherever you are is in those delightful climes of the antipodal Summer, then stay cool and put out a water bowl for thirsty koala bears.

And oh, yeah: der Drumpf is still a horseshitting pile of pus.

 

Read more

Hi Dear Readers.

Go see this movie:

If you can leave the theater without wiping tears of wonder and awe from your eyes, well, then, you’re not me.

And so, speaking of awe, I am dedicating this post to Dear Reader Maryanne, who went to Iceland last November and, from there, sent me something to mark 2016 as a year that didn’t totally end on a bad note:

Still in Mint Condition.

I love this object. Today, I want to mosey from my personal infatuation with this runic talisman, called the Aegishjalmur, the Helm of Awe, to London, where I was this past August (and on which I ruminated at length in this very blog for most of September of last year). Because as long as we’re talking about helms, here’s a story that I haven’t told you about a London helm that thrills me to pieces:

The only thing that I wanted to look at in the British Museum was a collection of very ancient relics dug up in the 1930s in Edith’s Pretty’s garden in a place in eastern England called Sutton Hoo. This happens a lot in Britain: start digging up any old back yard and you can come up with shovels full of Roman coins, Viking jewelry, Celtic weapons, etc. The stuff of this Sutton Hoo hoard dates from a half-mythical Anglo-Saxon kingdom from the early 7th c. (So little is known about 7th-c. England that most of what has been passed down feels more like myth than history.) This helmet was an extraordinarily rare find — only four such helmets are known from this period. It was also found in more than 500 pieces, which accounted for less than half of the original surface area.

The first assemblage of the 500 helmet pieces was completed by 1947, but continuing research showed it to be inaccurate and it was dismantled in 1968. The new restoration relied entirely on the evidence of the fragments themselves and not on preconceived ideas — that’s called intellectual honesty, Dear Readers. It took the conservator 18 months of painstaking study and experimentation to re-configure it to its current iteration, which has held steady since 1977.

Of particular interest to me, because I like winged things, is the almost entirely preserved Dragon that forms the face covering of this helmet:

The conservators now theorize that the complete helmet would have looked like this:

OMG, the power of this thing rattles my marrow.

It also happens that there are other hoards, in addition to the Sutton Hoo  hoard, on display at the British Museum. The one called the Cuerdale Hoard is the one that I thought was hilarious:

It’s the “interpretation” of this hoard that I find so awfully funny. To quote: Like many Viking silver hoards, the Cuerdale Hoard housed . . . blah blah blah.

Wait. Like many Viking silver hoards? There’s that “many” Viking silver hoards??? Like, so many that this one is just your average, every day Viking silver hoard? Like, the kind of Viking silver hoard that shows up on the Saturday when you start digging out the foundation for that patio you’ve always wanted off the kitchen, the one that you think is going to take you a day, maybe a weekend at most to do, only this damn Viking silver hoard shows up and you have to stop everything and call in the National Trust to come catalog and haul away yet another load of ingots, bracelets, brooches, rings, and other ornaments? That usual, predictable, ordinary Viking silver hoard?

Only when you live in a place with so much real history as Ye Olde England, and I mean long-ago/far-away deep, real, authentic history, can you even think of writing such a thing as “Like many Viking silver hoards“.

I, reading this as a person who comes from a land where people get all excited if they find a 50-year old penny slotted in the baseboard during a kitchen floor reno, found this bit of text to be hilariously casual about, well, Vikings. And their silver hoards. I, again as a person who comes from a land with a mere skin-deep sense of history, am in awe of the cultural authenticity of a people who have Viking silver hoards strewn about them like so many, well, Viking silver hoards. [Or like runes in Iceland. See? There was a reason I started with the Aegishjalmur.]

And that is why I reject the Statue of Liberty. Because I won’t settle for fake history! I  won’t be roped in by phony symbolism! And neither should you! Don’t mistake sentimentalism for altruism, side-show hucksterism for heritage. I know that we Americans are anxious for a home-grown culture, and that we wish we had tons of Viking silver hoards laying around, but we don’t, and history takes a lot of time and generations — and short-cutting it by buying into pre-fabbed patriotism only makes us corny, shallow, and incapable of telling the difference between the truth of what is real, and really “us”, and the intellectual dishonesty of a flattering myth. And as for the idea that the millions of people who have projected values of righteousness onto the Statue of Liberty have redeemed it from its ignoble origins, I say NO it doesn’t! Because America is not a cargo cult! (I hope not.)

I doubt that I have changed anyone’s mind, because we all know what happens to people who change their minds about opinions they hold dear: They die.  But I had to give it a shot.

So let’s do some painting.

I took this picture on a cloudy day in 2013, in Monet’s garden in Giverny (that’s Giverny in France, not a Viking nation but still pretty historical) . I love the color scheme of this flower bed, which I hope to do right by, in my own little non-Viking way.

I had a few false starts with the background, but on my third try I got this far and remembered to get out the camera. Notice how I have left the back half of this flower bed as just blobs of paint color. That’s because I have figured out that stuff in the distance is blurry (to the eye, not the camera — and I don’t want to re-paint what the camera has already documented). You can see here the I have already applied little dabs of masking fluid for reasons that I well reveal later in the painting of this scene:

I realize that I will have to show you, in another post, how I make those woozy swirls of color to stand for flowers and greenery. I just love taking advantage of the watery aspects of watercolor to do the work of “painting”. But I make these little pools one by one, letting them dry thoroughly before I make the next one, so they don’t run together and make sludge.

Here’s how I make the little flower stems, by whisking a paint brush through small puddles of paint that are at the right stage of half-dry:

Don’t over-do the wet-in-wet stem work, tho.

Time to go bold with the blobs of darker color, to give some oomph to this pic. I do it little by little, same as I did with the blue and purple bits

Dabbing some dark blue paint into the wet green paint makes a very nice effect: (next to the bits that are already dry)

See?

Remove the masking fluid:

OK, let’s paint in some tulips:

I think I used about 4 or 5 different shades of purple and red to do these tulips:

And now let’s dab in some Forget-Me-Nots:

DONE:

I think this pic captures the way the garden feels when you are there, the way the flowers wash over your senses like pools of color.

I have learned a lot by painting this scene: how much detail to leave out, which aspects of color and garden design to emphasize, how to avoid my usual mistakes of composition, and how to paint around my limitations. And, for me, this painting is BIG — about the size of 12 Triscuits. I think I have a lot more confidence now to look at other views that I have considered too difficult to paint and have a go at them. I’m talking 24-Triscuit scenes. HUGE, for me.

Why? Why bother? That’s a good question that I ask myself about every five minutes.

My best answer is: Because if I don’t try to become the best I can be at this, I’ll have to go vacuum the living room and I really hate housework.

Which I think is a good enough answer.

So next week we’re painting the most difficult thing I’ve ever painted, which I have already made seven or eight really ugly attempts at. And of course you’ll see those too.

Taffy and the crocuses.

Although it is sunny and mild as I type this on Thursday afternoon, by the time you read this, my Wonder Ones, the Isle of Long might be under 5 inches of snow — 12 hours of bitter Winter weather are in the forecast.

I hope you all, even in Summery Australia, have a nice half-frozen bottle of champagne handy and have a great weekend!

And, oh yeah, der Drumpf is still an ass hole.

 

Read more

The snow buried us cat and caboodle last week.

Even the slow-to-snow-panic New Englanders got a little hinky about the storm so my book event at the Tower Hill Botanical Garden was cancelled due to weather. This was a call that I, as a cult author and major American doodler/diarist and loather of the cold, heartily approved of. So we all stayed cozy in our bungalows and coped with The Weather in our own ways.

For me, it was breaking out the 1,000-piece picture puzzle and a fresh loaf of baked-from-scratch corn bread:

Corn bread goes very well with frozen champagne and a snow day with my Top Cat:

Taffy did his thing:

Bibs got in some serious bird watching:

And then the day after the day after the storm, the morning dawned eerily bright . . .

. . . and Dennis ventured out from his guest quarters in our house to inspect the new landscape . . .

. . . while Steve found a sunbeam very much to his liking:

And, oh yeah, a raccoon that I was trying to rescue from my back fence bit me so Top Cat took me to the local emergency room for rabies treatment (we looked it up and called the public health dept., who ordered me there), which is too-long a story to go into BUT all I have to say about spending three hours in an ER is: America, you have to stop being such cry babies when you have minor back pain, for chrissake. I refused to lay down on the Stryker cot the ER assigned me, just so I didn’t have to listen to the two blondes on either side moan and whinge about how much their shoulders hurt (diagnosis: nothing neurologically wrong, try sleeping with a better pillow). And what is with all the double-wide wheel chairs? No wonder health care costs are so high.

Back home again,  I hunkered down and got back to work on painting Christine’s Winter Tree because I’m a cowgirl at heart.

It is vital to use only the powdery Grumbacher “opaque” watercolor paints for this kind of painting because you will need to “pick up” the colors later. The most important colors are the blues: Prussian blue, Ultramarine, and Cyan blue (isn’t that redundant?), which I will be mixing with black and violet:

The next series of photos are my attempts to get good bleeds as I lay down a coat of paint (three different times) that changes intensity from rather lightish blue-violet to deep dark rich midnight blue:

If I am not happy with the bleed, I start over:

I should also tell you that it takes practice to get a nice smooth wash of color that doesn’t show brush strokes.

To answer Dear Reader Vicki’s question from the Comments last week, I photograph my own self while I paint. I paint with my left hand and when I get to a point that I think is important for you all to see, I just pick up my Panasonic Lumix point and shoot camera and snap:

Easy!

Anyhoo, I did end up with one good wash that had the right bleeds and the depth of color that I wanted — the one on the far right (below):

Some how I got lucky with that one — see that neat haze of brightness on the horizon? that’s going to look good on the finished pic, for sure.

Whenever I paint nature I have to fight my tendency to fall into patterns , so to avoid that I like to have a reference photo within sight when I do Winter trees so I can get a more random distribution of branches that will appear more natural, rather than what I do when I paint from memory:

Pencil guide lines:

I will use two brushes for this tree — a size 1 and a size 00. I start with the fatter brush . . .

. . . but I finish with the really tiny one:

For the next part, all I need is my size 00 brush and some clear water. I will load up my paint brush with water before I apply it to the dry paint, in order to “pick up” the color (kind of like an eraser), which is something that Grubacher paints let you do, which is why I love them:

I use the roll of paper towels that I always keep on hand to clean my brush in between the times I dip my brush into the clear water:

Again, when I am painting in these big snow flakes, I have to fight my pattern-making nature and try to make “snow” appear very random:

See below — I think it looks random, nest-ce pas?

Lastly, I dab in some smaller snow drops (I’m using my trusty acrylic Titanium White, of course):

Crop, and I am

DONE:

Christine, I hope you like it, because this one is for you.

I can see how you could play with this effect, by putting bright colors in the tree and making halos around each one, or maybe “erasing” a whimsical Milky Way in the background before you paint the tree into the foreground, that kind of thing. I’m thinking, future Happy Holidays card, right?

And you know which world leader is on my ChrisHanuKwanSolstice list?

** Sigh *** Really, doesn’t everybody in the world want to be Canadian at times like this?

Der Trumpf showing PM Justin Trudeau his secret plan to defeat ISIS.

I was listening to the radio when the joint press conference between Der Drumpf and Monsieur Dreamy came on, and I heard JT speaking French — which the damn people at NPR decided to talk over with an English interpretation.

So I ran — yes, I RAN — to my computer to get it streamed live so I could hear my favorite Trudeau person speak my favorite foreign language. Confession: I haunt Youtube for videos of JT speaking French, so I am already a huge fan of Monsieur Dreamy’s bi-lingualism. But today I have a question for my Dear Readers of the Canadian persuasion:

Is M. Trudeau’s accent rather less Celine Dion and more, let’s say, Megan Calvet? Although I can clearly hear the historically impeccable Quebecois accent whenever Celine speaks, I don’t hear it when I listen to The Top Cat of the Tundra, but I don’t know what exactly I’m hearing. Does he have what the Brits call a “Trans-Atlantic” accent? Rather like the way Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn used to speak American English in their old movies? Is it just a tiny bit more French-French than North American French? And is it dreamy?

And so, wonder Ones, if you need to lift your spirits from the latest Drumpf debacle (a new one reliably comes along every 48 hours), there’s this:

O, Ooooooo, Canada.

***Breaking News: I just watched Der Drumpf’s press conference today (Thursday, Feb. 16). It’s official. Der Drumpfster is bat shit crazy. I really, really do not know whether to laugh or cry. To paraphase: Der Drumpf is a comedy for those who think, a tragedy for those who feel. So, basically, if you think or feel, you are fucked. Unless you are Canadian, and then you are living the dream, mes amis, you are living the dream.

Have a great weekend, and à tantôt.

Read more

FINALLY. As I sit here typing this, Thursday morning Feb 9, a blizzard is pounding my Isle of Long with silent fury. It is a heavy, wet, swirling snowfall and we’ve been warned to expect “disruptions” due to the storm but so far, the power has not gone out obviously. Yay. I sit here in preparedness for any and all catastrophes. I have a just-poured cup of tea, plenty of English muffins for toasting, a good book set aside (The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis), and a 1,000-piece picture puzzle to break open at a moment’s notice. Plus, I have peace of mind that all my kitties are accounted for:

Taffy and his mom Candy

The outlaw Bibs

Cindy

Lickety at the den picture window, hoping for some action on his Birdie TV

Dennis in the backyard hutch, with his breakfast bowls (he also got a huge lunch served to him in the shed, because turns out he didn’t care for the picnic set up)

Right: I shoveled a path to the garage just so I could deliver feed to my crush, Steve, who is wisely staying put in his new cubby:

And, oh yes, I got the Champagne-O-Meter set up:

This was how it looked yesterday (Wednesday), when it was 60 degrees (16 C) and I debated whether or not it was cruel to abandon perfectly decent cheap champagne outside in such a heat wave. But I had faith in all the dire forecasts of debilitating snow because, science, and just for you, Dear Readers, I plonked my bottle down.

Full report at the end of this blog.

Now, where was I? Oh, right:

Remember last week I told you that I was going to paint a monochrome Winter for you, a snowy scene in shades of blue?

Well, I lied. I’m not going to paint in monochrome today, I’m not going to paint this scene (below) in shades of blue:

Because I really need to use white in this picture (which I have cropped to my liking) and, it seems to me, black:

The first thing I do when I set my sights on painting from a reference photo is to think hard about my strategy. I ask myself, How am I going to paint this? especially in the case of trying something new. Maybe I have a new idea of how to get this done. Think think think.

OK, I’ve thought about it and I think I have a plan.

So this is the strategy that I thought hard about how to paint my blue snow picture. . .

. . . which is to wash the entire picture surface with a moody mix of Prussian and Cobalt blue mixed with a smudge of black. I slather on the paint heavily at the top to a lighter, and thin it out at the bottom, before slapping in a splash of Royal blue as a feature in the landscape:

I really want a rich, multi-layered wash here, which is why I have mixed several different shades of blue into it. (P.S. I am using my cheap Grumbacher paints for the first wash, and a dab of my more saturated Winsor Newton paint in the swipe you see here (above).)

Let dry, and hope you get a smooth color field, with some interesting watery residue (I do love letting watercolor do what it wants to do):

See the watery smudge on the bottom? I LOVE that!

Now I make  the only pencil lines I’ll draw, to guide me in my future tree-making:

I get out my tube of acrylic paint, called Titanium White, to make my treetop snow:

So now I’ve got the white bits of my moon-lit forest:

I’m using black to paint in the foliage . . .

. . . which I will continue to do even as I get to the part where I have to imagine where the blue snow is:

This was my well thought out plan, to use the blue/black wash to form both the sky and the blue-in-the-shadows snow:

I think it works!

But I’m not done. Because there is a crescent moon in my reference photo, I’m going to paint one into my watercolor, like this:

As soon as I stepped back to get a look at this, I knew that I should have made the moon smaller, and full. I don’t like the crescent — and duh, I have artistic license to change whatever I want. I could have improved this pic with a full moon but nooooooo, I got stuck in my mind loop of slavish obedience to the reference photo.

Dear Readers, don’t do what I did.  Time spent thinking about how you want to edit your reference photos is time that is always well spent. I wish I’d thought a little bit harder when I was plotting out my plan for this pic. Lesson learned.

Here’s hint when it comes to painting moons, in whatever phase: the shape has to be perfect. So don’t try to draw it on your own. (Notice that I don’t use the term “free hand”. I have never liked that terminology. I have my reasons.) There’s tool you can use to get the curvature just right, and I beg you to get one:

I won’t draw a moon, or sun, or sphere without it.

Now, if you glance at the pic so far. . .

. . . you might be tempted to call it DONE. And it could stand as is, and be an OK pic. But let’s say we want to flirt with failure. Let’s say we want to try out another trick, just to see if we can pull it off. Even if it means ruining the whole thing forever. OK?

So, let’s do a clear water wash on the bottom bit of the scene, like this:

And let’s blob in some very pretty hue (again with the Winsor Newton stuff), and let the watercolor do what it wants to do:

Oooooooooo! The gamble paid off! I LOVE this:

Again, we could leave well enough alone, and call it DONE. But something wants me to do ONE MORE THING, and that’s to match the color of the blue-in-the-shadows snow on the trees with the blue-in-the-shadows snow on the ground:

So I paint in some Winsor Newton color, and then add more shadow to the far side stand of trees, and dab in some white highlights to the snow on the other side of the shadows:

And also futz with the cusp of shadow on the tree branches:

And, now, let’s see if all that futzing screwed us up:

So, starting from scratch a few weeks ago, when I was first learning how to paint snow-laden evergreens . . .

. . . we now end up here:

I’m not bragging. I’m pointing out how practice, doing it over and over, works. You can’t help but get better! I know that most people how give How To lessons want to come off as experts from the get-go, but I think it’s more informative if you see how not-hard it is to teach yourself something new, which at first you will e total crap at, until you get it. ANYONE CAN DO THIS!

Dear Reader Christine Commented last week that she hoped we would paint a blue Winter tree like the one on page 187 in my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam:

I did this illustration circa 2006 or 2007, back in the early days of my painting, back when I used fluid resist to blank out the white bits on those trees in the pic below. As for that blue tree, that was a sketch that I did, futzing around with my paints, learning what I could do with them, and I remember exactly how I got that background effect of a swirly cloud between the branches of that tree. How about I show you all ow to do it, when we re-paint that for next week? And Christine, that pic will go to you.

And for Wonder One Deborah Hatt, who made the suggestion that started this whole Winter Watercolor series in the first place: if you want this week’s Blue in the Shadows Pine Trees pic, it’s yours.

And now, without further ado, here’s your Champagne-O-Meter 2017:

7:30 am:

8:30 am:

9:30 am:

Cardinal:

Blue Jay:

As of now, I am waiting to take the 10:30 am pic so if this blog stops here you’ll know it’s because we have lost power and I am busy toasting English muffins in the fireplace and breaking open the Champagne-O-Meter!

Or, all is well but I’ve just broken open the Champagne-O-Meter!

Have a great weekend everyone! See you in Boyleston on Sunday!

 

Read more