Watercolor Tutorials

First there is a sunbeam, then there is no sunbeam, then there is. This is Candy and her son, Lickety, at 12:07 in the afternoon :

And this is them, at 1:04 on the same afternoon:

How much energy does it take to keep up with the sun beam? Apparently, too much.

We’ve had on-and-off sunshine this past week, here on the north shore of Long Island. For Kirra and all you snow-starved Ozzies, this was the Reverse Champagne-O-Meter last Thursday morning:

Friday morning:

Friday afternoon:

Saturday morning:

Saturday afternoon:

Sunday afternoon:

And then it became too criminal to keep a bottle of Extra Dry Champagne out in the 50-ish degree weather so I rescued it (it’s in my fridge, ready for when the painting goes so horrible wrong that Vivian needs and deserves  the bubbly). So while all the snow in my yards are melted, I happen to live on the sunny side of the street. There is still plenty of the white stuff on the shadowy side:

Since Dear Reader Kirra and others who do not own ice scrapers might not know how snow falls, it stands to reason that they might not know how snow melts, which is not pretty. My neighbor around the corner from me  lives on the daggy side of the street:

In my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam, (now on “back order”, which means that it’s scarce and copies are going for hundreds of dollars on Amazon) I described this stage of Winter snow as appearing like lumps of dirty laundry piled up in people’s yards.

Snow, at this point of the melt, looks sad, and shredded, and trashy, and not at all picturesque.

And yes, the piles look daggy, an Australian slang word that never fails to make me laugh out loud because (FYI)  it refers to the dried faeces left dangling from the wool on a sheep’s rear end:

There are a lot of daggy piles of left-over snow here on the north shore of Long Island:

See that little snowball in front of the Snowman Who Has Ceased To Be (below)? I think it’s his head:

I’m easily amused. This made me laugh.

But this is not a time for levity. I recently discovered that I, and all others who wield a paintbrush, are being replace by an outstanding app called Waterlogue. This app, which sells for a mere $3.99, turns your photographs into pixels that look a lot like an excellent watercolor:

Worst of all, it can do — in the touch of a button — architecture.  This (below) would take me a lot of tears and weeks of rescues to get right:

This, above, is a view of Amsterdam via Waterlogue. The original photo was not supplied and yes, I see that the canal needs some “coloring in” (it does not read as water in this pic), but, still: Yowza!!!  I can not compete with the precision of all those linear structures (the line of row houses). This is a fantastic app, and if could figure how to buy it (because I’ve never bought an app in my life, and this one only works on hand held devices like my iPad or iPhone and not on my trusty desk top computer WHAT IS UP WITH THAT??) I would snap it up. I would have so much fun looking at someone else paint all my photo references that I would be occupied for days and days and days! And then I would kill myself because I have been replaced by an app.

Luckily, just as I was contemplating whether I had a hose that would fit the exhaust pipe of our champagne-colored Camry (I hear carbon monoxide poisoning leaves a very pretty corpse), I read a New York Times (January 14, 2018) review of a new book called: Craeft, An Inquiry Into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts.

The reviewer, Michael Beirut (a partner in the design firm Pentagram), begins: “As daily life becomes increasingly virtual, it might seem like a paradox that making things by hand is suddenly big business. Stores like Michaels and Hobby Lobby feature aisle after crowded aisle of sequins, tassels, imported papers, chenille stems and pompoms. Etsy, the e-commerce platform for selling homemade goods, features nearly two million active sellers serving 30 million eager buyers. Busy creators produce one-offs using 3-D printers in “maker spaces” at major research universities as well as your neighborhood’s progressive elementary school. All this activity was worth $44 billion last year, according to the Association for Creative Industries, a group that was once, in cozier times, known as the Craft and Hobby Association. Part therapy, part self-expression, our homely obsession with crafts is poised to take over the world.”

I hope this love affair with the hand-made is true. I hope that’s why an almost-out-of-print copy of my hand-made book When Wanderers Cease to Roam is selling for $500.00 on Amazon, but I think the guy who posted that $500.00 price tag is on drugs, because you can get a “good” used copy for 10.99 (but “good” is a condition that “may include highlighting notes”, which in my capacity as the manager of our local library’s used book store means we would throw it out… where was I?).

Illustration for NYT review of Craeft, by Nicole Natri.

Oh, right. I was hand-making something that an app couldn’t do in order to justify my existence. Let’s paint!

I’m illustrating the last page of my Claude Monet garden book, which I think needs a certain view off the famous Japanese bridge over Claude Monet’s water lily pond:

Trouble is, I want to change this photo into a different season, and a different time of day, and different weather conditions, and I want a lot less structural detail of that damn bridge. So I cropped the photo and drew this:

This was a big mistake. Usually, I draw on tracing paper velum so I have a template to re-use in case I screw something up. But here, I drew this bridge directly onto the watercolor paper (90 pound Canson) because it is a very intricate view of those twisting wisteria vines that grow over the bridge and I was erasing a lot and I just lost my mind. And getting the gentle arc of those railings took a lot of actual measurements, little dots that put in a row and connected to get the spacing correct. I cannot tell you how much I dislike doing this kind of drawing.

And since I have drawn directly onto the Canson, it means that I have to make this pic work because I do not have a template that I can re-trace, in case this goes bad. If it goes bad, it’s sayonara because I do not intend to re-draw this shit ever again.

I thought long (about an hour, including a tea break) and hard (ouch) about how I was going to make the changes that I needed for this picture, and then I went Oh, hell, just do it. So I started with the background:

I just took a wild guess at the shapes and colors and all I can do is hope it will turn into something, because it looks like crap as of yet. Next, I make blobs of purple and blue to represent wisteria in bloom:

First rule, when you paint in blobs of color, is you have to make sure that the blobs make interesting forms that look elegant all by themselves. But don’t over-do it.

In this pic, I know that I want my foliage to be back-lit, so I layer in a first wash of yellow, and apply green shades over that, keeping in mind that these yellow- green blobs also have to make interesting shapes, and try not to over-do it:

The right hand side of the painting will contain most of the darkest bits of the picture:

I hope I didn’t over-do it. I have a tendency to over-do it. I have to concentrate on keeping it light.

Add masking fluid over the rails of the bridge, and add the waters of the lily pond:

I don’t know about that “water”. I hope it works out. At this point, I became uhappy  that the wisteria leaves looked so blobby, after all, so I decided to add detail, but not too much detail:

Remove the masking fluid and paint the railings. There is still plenty of time to screw up this picture:

After I added bits of dark green that I thought were necessary for the composition, I decided to leave the vines un-painted, as these forms are very interesting and painting them will, I think, flatten them out. I don’t want to over-do it.

Here is the finished picture, followed by the original reference photo so you can see how much of it I have I re-imagined:

See what I did there? I just did what Michael Beirut, in the conclusion of her review of the new book Craeft, says is the most is important thing that humans can do in this age of virtual, mass-manufactured consumerism:

“Factory manufacture robs us of a special something: contemplation.” In writing this, the author of Craeft, Alexander Langlands, is not talking about the big questions of human existence, but of the hundreds of small ones that go into something as simple — or as complex — as building a stone wall: “Which to use? How to work it? Where to strike it?” In the end, this is the case he makes for craeft. At a time where our disconnection from the world around us is not just tragic but downright dangerous, recovering our status as Homo faber, the species that makes things, may be our salvation.

Contemplation. If you paint, or draw, or make anything by hand, you know all about those hundreds of little decisions you make while you are focused on not screwing up. Making something by hand is totally absorbing, and feels as high-risk as tightrope walking, but at the same time feels Zen-ish; peaceful, as if you are connecting with a part of you that is timeless and outside of “you”. If you know what I mean.

Like what Taffy and Lickety do naturally:

Have a great weekend, everyone. May all your sun beams wait for you to catch up, and all your slumbers be under the soft paw of a kitty.

 

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Ah, the Vernal Equinox. On Sunday Top Cat and I took to our favorite north shore cove with our trusty plastic wine glasses to crack open our most recent Champagne-O-Meter to celebrate what Top Cat calls the Kiss Winter Good-Bye toast. There was a  brutal wind blowing in from the icy tempest of the Long Island Sound that brought tears to our eyes and froze us to the core and made us regret every life decision that brought us to that place at that time, but these are the conditions that make the bubbly taste twice as good.

Candy celebrated the arrival of Spring in her usual fashion. . .

. . . while her idiot son did his usual thing:

Don’t you love Taffy’s little bunny feet?

SPEAKING OF BUNNIES:

 

I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of my hard copy of the John Oliver book about a bunny called A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, which is No. 1 on Amazon and out-selling the book by Charlotte and Karen Pence (daughter and wife wife of Drumpf Suck-Up Artist Mike Pence), also about a bunny called Marlon Bundo, who is actually the Pence’s own pet bunny. You can click onto the link to learn about how this book has gotten Fox News’ undies in a twist, but because this is a boring watercolor blog I want to deal with this book from a watercolor-centric point of view, OK?

This is the Pences’ book:

And here are Karen (the watercolorist illustrator) and Charlotte Pence, with Bundo himself:

Marlon Bundo is a really cute rabbit. But Karen Pence is not an illustrator; she’s a watercolorist-in-ist: compare the book covers, and the Bundos. One has personality and smooch ability  (by EG Keller), the other is a drab little amateur dabble that didn’t get the ears right (by Karen Pence, who also didn’t get the feet right).

Here are some of Karen Pence’s other cliche-ridden housewifely pictures, exhibited at the Indiana State Fair in 2016:

No, no, no, no. The world does not need another badly-drawn cardinal on a poorly-painted snowy bough, no matter how nicely it’s framed.Here is my favorite review of Karen Pence’s watercolor exhibit at the Indiana State Fair in 2016:

Brain surgery is very difficult. Watercolor technique is not that difficult a medium and I speak as someone who paints in it (and oil) and has taught it to well over 1000 students over nearly 30 years. What is difficult is originality. Ms Pence is competent at a basic technical level but her work is safe, pedestrian and impersonal. Originality requires a willingness to take risks and/ or to invest a deeper personal investigation into the process. (One problem with this work is that a photo with a simple watercolor filter applied digitally would look pretty close to this work.) I am happy she is finding satisfaction in her hobby but the only novelty here is that she will be doing it while married to the VP.  ( Well said, Carol Griffith, professional watercolor artist.)

Here’s Karen showing off her art at the Indiana State Fair:

OK, let us digress. I saw this photo of Karen and I taught, Yep. That’s the kind of “kicky” print blazer that a boring watercolorist wears when she wants to look “arty”. This is me, speaking as a lady in her 60s: Karen, you’re making all of us look bad.

In the same google search this came up:

So this is what you wear to the Inauguration Ball for the Demise of Democracy… oh, lordy…  I say this with peace and love, honey: if you are on the hefty side of Granny Clampett and your boobs are drooping down to your elbows, this is not a good look for you, Karen. Peace and love.

OMG. I just looked her up, and Karen Pence is one year and two weeks younger than I.

And yeah, since Mike and Karen Pence thinks it’s OK to stick their sanctimonious homo-phobic Christian noses into the privacy of American citizens’ sex lives by pushing for federal and state legislation to outlaw choice in matters of reproduction and who you can love and how, I think it’s alright for me to make fun of her old lady dumpiness which she lets hang out in public for all to see.

On another tangent, this is the official bio of Karen Pence’s writing partner, her daughter Charlotte, the author of the poorly illustrated Bundo book, on the Amazon website:

“Charlotte Pence graduated from DePaul University in 2016 with a degree in English and Digital Cinema. Her written work has appeared in Glamour Magazine and publications affiliated with the University of Oxford, where she studied as an undergraduate.”

Oh for christ sake… the “publications affiliated with the University of Oxford” was, in fact — and you can look it up because this is totally true — the student newspaper.   And she “studied” at Oxford during the junior year she spent abroad under the aegis of DePaul University. DePaul. Which has nothing to do with her mother’s insipid watercolor illustrations but, you know, DePaul.

So, please, go buy a copy of A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo because it’s a delightful book with outstanding illustrations, and because all the proceeds go to Trevor Project and AIDS United, and because you fucking hate Mike Pence.

Thank you.

Back to the agony of illustrating my own book (sadly, not about a bunny called Bundo):

Last week I left you hanging in suspense over a rescue operation for a crappy watercolor illustration of the lily pond in Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, France, which looked like this:


I did some research, otherwise called looking through my big Monet art books, and found a Monet painting that had a tasty color palette that I thought would work nicely with the evening vibe I am trying to accomplish in my little illustration:

Pink and lavender are going to be the dominant colors of the lower half of my picture:

I am using my Grumbacher paints (light blue, darker blue, purple, fuchsia, and a sea green) to do most of the heavy lifting, with dabs of vibrant Winsor Newton greens (Sap and Hooker green) and Cobalt blue for flirty prettiness.

My tactics for this rescue are to avoid the mistake I made last time. Last time, I tried to paint the water in one big swoop…but I am not a swooping kind of painter. I am a miniaturist, so I have to tackle this expanse in bits. I forgot to take a photo of the first bit, in which I laid down the dark green on the “water” near the bridge and the willow. But here’s the next bit, where I covered another narrow band by bleeding some delicious blue-green into pink:

Then I added lily pads:

For the last part of this picture I want to make some large, bold bleeds, even though I know that this is something that I am not very good at. So I practice:

I lay down my practice sheet on top of the Picture in Progress to see if it works:

My original thought was to leave that lower right end of the picture blank, in order to balance the “blank” spot in the upper left side; also, I’m thinking of dropping text into the picture there.

I do another practice sheet:

And then I decide to paint the whole lower part of the picture, so I practice some more:

This is how many times I did a “dry run”, so to speak:

I feel ready, willing, and able to finish this picture. But before I do, I make the fatal mistake of applying masking fluid to the very bottom of the scene:

I like everything about this picture except for the masking fluid. It was a dumb idea:

I did it because I have a little trick that I’ve used before, that worked in this picture:

You lay down masking fluid in an attractive circular pattern — don’t over-do it — to make little eddies of swirling water:

But this trick just doesn’t work in this picture:

NOPE.

I would have been so happy with this picture if only I had not put in those stupid swirls.

So, it’s back to Square One for the third time:

How boring is it to watch me paint? I could continue showing you how I re-re-rescued this illustration, but I get the feeling that you’d all rather watch snow fall in my backyard.

Cue the Last Champagne-O-Meter of 2018, dedicated to Dear Reader Kirra, in the Land of Oz:

I guess you’ve heard the news that the east coast (of America) celebrated the first full day of Spring by getting slammed with a snow storm on Wednesday. I set a new, improved Champagne-O-Meter out on the top of our little cafe table on the back patio so I could shoot it from the picture window of our den instead of having to trudge outside into knee-deep snow to photograph it on the lawn.

The snow started to fall around 8:30 in the morning. I took pictures of the Champagne-O-Meter about every two hours.

And then it got too dark to take photos, until the next morning:

This is what the back patio liked like (the Champagne-O-Meter is in the center of that cafe table):

OK, that’s enough excitement for one blog. Sorry to drag you away from the calamity, but this is a boring watercolor blog so I must take you back to our current watercolor rescue, which I promise will be quick because like you, I am getting pretty damn tired of seeing this lily pond. Remember, we started here:

The first re-re-re-paint wasn’t right:

But the next re-re-re-paint was just right and so, finally, we are DONE:

As I type this, A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo is still the No. 1 selling book on Amazon.com. The first printing of 40,000 sold out in four hours, so Chronicle Books is rushing a second printing of 400,000 to be shipped to to independent bookstores asap.

Charlotte Pence has tweeted that she has bought this book, too, even though the book portrays her father (the odious Mike Pence) as a stink bug: “I have bought his book, “Marlon Bundo’s Day in the Life of the Vice President.” “(Oliver’s) giving proceeds of the book to charity, and we’re also giving proceeds of our book to charity, so I really think that we can all get behind it.”

That seems very gracious of her, on the surface, but remember that she’s the girl who claimed that she’s been published by “publications affiliated with the University of Oxford”, and she’s got a degree in digital cinema from DePaul (DePaul), so she’s obviously crafty, and ambitious, and wants a career in media so what better way to suck up to John Oliver/HBO than to tweet a nice thing about Oliver’s book?

Well played, Christian creep opportunist, well played.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers. May you and all the bunnies you hop with be happy and bouncy and free to be.

XXOO

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Grab your tea cups and fluff up the kitties: oh, yes, we will paint today:

But first, you know what happens when the 24-hour news shows are frantic with dire warnings about a frightful Winter bomb hitting the northeast from Washington, D.C. to Boston, burying us in a thousand inches of snow and thunder and frozen hell fire: We Get Out The Champagne-O-Meter!

For most of Wednesday morning my bottle of champagne sat in the back yard minding its own business, rolling its eyes at the smattering of rain that caused every school and my gym Long Island to shut down for the day. But shortly after noon, big fat flakes of wet snow began to fall:

The snow stuck like glue:

It was the worst kind of snow, too — weighty, sloppy, slushy, and did I say heavy?

I left the house at 3:30 so I could drive to the railroad station to pick up Top Cat, who was coming home early as most of Manhattan was shutting down and citizens were urged to Stay Off The Roads. I drove 20 miles per hour through five inches of icy slush while big fat heavy snow flakes kept obscuring the windshield in spite of the wipers swishing at top speed.

On the way home from the Long Island Rail Road station, Top Cat insisted on driving out to our favorite deli so he could get a cucumber. I insisted on staying with him in the car so I could continue to remind him that it was crazy to drive in this weather just to get a cucumber (Top Cat loves his dinner salad). We made it to the deli in one piece, but the deli was closed, of course. So we turned around and came home and Top Cat put extra olives in his salad to make up for not having a cucumber.

Thursday morning, the Champagne-O-Meter was slick with a thin layer of ice, just how I like it:

In between slogging out into the slushy snow every hour or so to take a photo of the Champagne-O-Meter, I kept myself busy on this slushy, snowy day doing my thing, which these days is all about Watercolor Rescue. Today’s Fixer Upper is this view of Claude Monet’s Japanese bridge over the lily pond in his famous garden in Giverny, France:

You might remember that a few weeks back I did a little study of Monet’s water lily painting technique by copying a panel from his huge murals that hang in the Orangerie of the Tuileries in Paris:

I happened to notice that the study could almost fit into my little Fixer Upper:

Hmmmmm. . . the reeds and the pinky colors of the reflections in the water could work in this view if only they could be re-painted, right? And thus, a RESCUE was born:

That (above) is the new bottom half of the picture — here it is in place:

Sorry about the way this stuff photographs. It looks wonky, but I assure you, it is a true square. After applying  masking fluid over the bits that I want to reserve, I paint along the cut edge of the new bottom half of the picture:

I wash in the pink and blue bleeds, trying to avoid getting them too mushy (I don’t want them to blend into purple):

Here’s them reeds:

I remove the masking fluid:

I paint in the reflection of the willow leaves, which I wish I had thought out more carefully before I put down the masking fluid. Maybe, just maybe, I could have skipped masking fluid here, and painted in the fronds over the wash — but, it’s too late now:

Step back and assess how we’re doing:

The reference that I am using for these lily pads is Monet’s own painting, which uses yellows and dark green and lots of light magenta to give those lily pads some oomph:

So that’s what I do. I add some oomph:

Oomphage achieved, or not:

and here is where I had to stop painting because of a kitty emergency. Coco, who is 17 years old, has suddenly stopped eating NINE DAYS AGO and of course I took her to the vet after day three, and there’s nothing obviously wrong with her…so I’ve been trying all various sorts of baby food, gruel, formula, syringe feeding, cheese…nothing has tempted her.

This afternoon, after trying so special adult cat Anorexic Diet, I decided that we had to take drastic measures. Even though she’s an old cat with a heart murmur, I told the vet that we had to sedate her and fix her teeth — because in my vast experience with cats, it’s always the teeth. I told the vet that if we lose her, we lose her; I’m already LOSING her and I can’t watch her starve herself to death.

So I’ve taken Coco to the vet and she is not at all happy. She will be sedated and the vet will be able to get a good look at her teeth.

I’m sure you all know what it’s like to have a very sick kitty in the house. The psychic misery is almost unbearable.

UPDATE: Coco has had three teeth removed and had her other teefers cleaned and repaired — she had cavities and some root damage. She was coming out of sedation when the vet called, so it looks like her heart didn’t give out after all! She’s got a heating pad and her favorite blue fleece with her, and she’ll stay at the vet’s over night so she can be given pain meds and the vet can watch her blood pressure.

So Coco isn’t dead, and I will be painting again tomorrow, and I plan on doing something “fun” with this picture. I am bored with just making look-alike illustrations…I want to do something playful and unexpected.

Playful and Unexpected.

And you can be sure that I’ll show it all to you next Friday.

Have a great weekend, everyone. And if you have a bottle of champagne in your backyard, try adding a dash of vanilla vodka to your flute. Let’s call it “Sun set in Giverny.”

 

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Get your cats and your tea ready:

We are painting today!

No, not this: This is from 2010 when I was painting a page from my book Gardens of Awe and Folly with the help of Coco.

This:

This is a photo from the archives of the New York Times, which sent a photographer to Claude Monet’s house in Giverny in 1922.

In 2012 the New York Botanical garden photoshopped the “unidentified person” next to Monet out of the pic and colorized it for a show there, in which Monet’s garden at Giverny was re-created in one of the hot houses (I thought it was an odd show) :

FYI: Monet preferred fawn-colored tweeds for his suits.

I always paint from photo references, and usually I only use my own photos. . . but I’ve been known to borrow pix from other sources (Hi Jeanie! Hi Elizabeth!), and this photo of Monet at age 82 on his Japanese bridge is irresistible, don’t you think? P.S.: I used the black and white photo for my paintings. The colorized one is not helpful.

I gave it a go way back in 2012:

Way back in 2012 I was still getting used to painting “large” pictures (as a miniaturist, my preferred format is about one-eight this scale) so no wonder the pic stinks.

Last year, after painting many “murals” for my garden book (5 inches x 7 inches is about the maximum size I can go), I had another try:

This painting is ripe for a rescue.

The smartest thing I did, when I re-painted this pic in 2012, was to leave a bit of blue sky in the top right corner. It’s not there in the reference photograph from 1922. I made an edit. I like it better with a bit of sky.

I have to rescue this pic two ways: I have to make it not stink, and I have to make it fit a square format. Lately I’ve been playing around with breaking my pictures out of a rectangular format, and playing with Monet’s own style. . . and that’s what I decided to do with this picture. I decided to leave the top bit intact (but make it better with added color and shading), and to expand the bottom, watery bit, but do it to look like this:

Sorry: I forgot that I do watercolor tutorials on my blog so I’ve already re-painted the top section and glued in a new bottom bit, and here is where we pick up this rescue:

Let me tell you, it was not easy to figure out how to add width and length to the bottom part of this pic. I thought I was good at piecing things together, but this one was harder than it looked. After fiddling around for about an hour, I got it right. . . this is what it looks like from the back:

The first order of business is to camouflage the hard edges. The good news is that there are reeds on either side of Monet’s Japanese bridge in his water garden at Giverny:

Spoiler alert: I know YOU see it now, but I will not notice that the sides of this rescue are uneven until the very end and I will have a mini-crisis because of it.

If you examine Monet’s paint surface closely, you will see that he uses short, dabbly brushstrokes:

I actually find Monet’s brushstrokes to be a bit wimpy. He is not very daring with his use of paint. COLOR, oui; paint, non.

I can see that Monet paints his lily pads blue, and the water green: Weird, huh? I can also see where Monet puts his light dabs of paint towards the center of the scene and his dark dabs of paint towards the edges, so I am trying to copy his color placement as best I can but, really, I don’t know what I’m doing and am just guessing, starting with dark green and switching to medium green:

Dashing in dabs of blue:

Finishing with lightest green:

The only advantage that watercolor has over oil paint is that watercolorists can use the whiteness of the paper to add sparkle to the painted surface. I am not trying to cover every bit of paper when I dab because leaving “blank” areas will only improve the faux-impressionist look I am going for.

When painting the reflections of the reed (or the willows) in the “water”, I use broken lines:

I also make sure that I place the darkest “reflections” correctly before I paint in the rest of the bits:

Here is where it occurred to me that I must show you a very handy painting tip: I keep my pre-painted picture safe from spills and dropped brushes loaded with paint  (it happens all the time) by inserting it into one of those plastic sheet protectors that you can get at Staples:

This is pretty close to how I set up my work space:

You can see that I am using my teeny tiny Winsor Newton paint set along with a few of my cheap-o Grumbacher chalky paints for this picture (tea bag included for size ref). And that’s it! It doesn’t take much equipment to paint your heart out!

Back to the rescue: now that I have come to the foreground of this picture, I have a decision to make about the size of the brushstrokes I’ll be using in this area. As a miniaturist, I’m happy using itty bitty strokes with a 00-size brush for the back and middle-ground of this picture. But it seems to me that the length of the strokes should increase as the picture comes “closer” to the viewer. I am not happy doing long brushstrokes with a bigger brush, so I did some practice bits before I committed paint to paper (I would hate to screw this up at this stage of the rescue):

OK, I think I can live with the longer strokes. So now that I have a plan, I go back to the right edge of the picture (because I am left-handed, my pictures usually start on the right side and work towards the left) and fiddle with the last bits of the pond surface. I have differed from the Monet painting which I am using as my guide in that I made a large area of the pond surface blue, rather than paint it in as green, just because I like the blue. I have to admit that, having painted in this nice pool of blue water, I don’t know how I’m going to get out of it in a way that makes sense visually. I am hoping for the best as I lay in the dark reeds’ reflection:

Another thing that I do, just because I like to, is that I “ripple” the surface of the water:

To do this, all you have to do is take a brush loaded with clear, clear water and swipe it back and forth across a painted surface, which picks up the pigment like an eraser (remember to wipe the brush off on a paper towel before you re-load it with clear, clean water for a second swipe).

Now I use my huge (ha ha, that’s a joke: it’s a size 1) brush to make those long strokes I practiced:

I think I painted that area too dark:

So I let it dry and then I use bright white acrylic paint to dab over the dark bits:

Looking at it now, I think I could have left that area alone — the dark bit doesn’t bother me as much as it did when I was in the throes of hoping not to ruin the picture when I was so close to the finish, but what can I say? I panicked.

I dash in some blue paint and look at those ENORMOUS brush strokes!:

For this last bit, I go easy on the vertical reflections (I use very watery paint and I don’t do much detail):

The last thing I have to paint are those damn water lilies. You can see that Monet put a lot of white/pink flowers in his picture:

I don’t want to do as many because although Monet can get away with it, I think that all those flowers in my picture would look cheesy. All you do is dab on some solid blobs of bright white acrylic paint over the watercolor:

Highlight the acrylic with hot pink, leaving at least half the lily in white :

DONE:

When ruling out the picture for the crop, I realize that OMG OMG OMG I measured the scene incorrectly:

Whew. Thank DoG I had barely enough of a margin to go back and fix it!

And this is how this illustration will look on the page:

 

The next time you see this picture I hope it’s in a book about Monet’s garden.

This biography of Stevie Nicks (who needs no introduction) is not an authorized biography, so it has no contact with Stevie’s inner life — but it is excellent when it deals with her work life. The author, Stephen Davis, is a veteran rock journalist so he knows his way around a recording studio and the way in which songwriters cobble together their hits, and I was fascinated to read about the process Stevie went through whenever she had to come up with material for a Fleetwood Mac or a solo album.

Stevie hoarded all her song ideas for years and decades, in notebooks and on cassette tapes, all her bits and pieces — a title, a riff, half a verse, a whole song that never quite gelled — and this is where she started whenever she had to come up with new material. She rifled through her old journals and cassettes and looked for bits of gold dust. I loved reading this because that’s what I do! I never throw anything out!

A few weeks ago I showed you how I re-cycled bits of failed paintings (which I had kept in my Reject File for about three years) into a rescue:

I only wish that I had a producer on hand to direct me on how to spiff-up my pix: Stevie, on the other hand, had access to the best and she was very shrewd when she picked her collaborators and her producers. Producers can be crucial: one will hear something in a song fragment or idea that had been languishing for years, and he can turn into something powerful, something that Stevie would never have thought of on her own.

Edge of Seventeen, for example, is a song that was just a little pop ditty until producer Jimmy Iovine put a stinging Waddy Wachtel guitar riff on it.

Speaking of seventeen:

We must salute the awesomeness of the teenage students of Marjory Stonemason Douglas High School. You can visit the school’s website for tips on how you can support the political action of these amazing kids, or you can to to their  GoFundMe page,  or you can open up a can of whoop-ass and vote to defeat every sniveling, corrupt, crazy, and gutless psycho NRA-loving son of a bitch politician in 2018.

Stay sane this weekend, everyone. I know it’s hard: the NRA idiots are out already, claiming that the latest school shooting is another Sandy Hook hoax. But stay strong. We need you to not let these morons drive you crazy so we can get out and Vote Them Out.

XXOO

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My big sore nose still hurts. Not a lot, but enough to make me whiney and cranky. And then I was pulling out of my gym one morning last week and saw this:

According to a woman who was one car and two minutes ahead of me, the Lexus SUV didn’t stop to let the truck make the curve; the Lexus SUV driver saw the big truck turning towards her, but she just blew on her horn and rammed right into the undercarriage of the 18-wheeler. This is not unusual for Long Island Lexus people. Long Island Lexus people think they own the streets. However, I never thought that one would be stupid enough to play chicken with an 18-wheeler…but I guess I was wrong.

So that was one consolation for my nose woes: at least there was one other person who was having a worse day than I, and oh how sweet that it was a Lexus person!!

And then it rained for two days; and then we had a house guest for two days; and then we were really tired from having a house guest for two days, and then OMG it has been beastly cold here on the north shore of Long Island this past week. So, No, we have not trekked out to our favorite beach on the north shore of Long Island yet this new year to glorify our drinking habits with a fancy Solstice theme, so, No, I don’t have any pictures of the sun set to show you.

But I can offer you a photo of the Breakfast Club at my house:

That’s my neighbor’s cat, Dennis, second from the left (above). The rest are all mine. I’m rich with cats.

It’s been so cold this week (20 degrees F) that I was fretting about my outdoor cat, Steve. So today I added two wind break/walls to Steve’s little nest under the holly tree by my front stoop, and I piled up lots of additional new straw so that when he steps into his nest, he sinks up to the tippy-top of his ear-tips into a nasty-hamock of cosy, insulated, all-natural fibers:

He seems happy here, and he’s got a cubby in the garage in case he ever wanted to curl up inside an insulated kitty house. But it still doesn’t seem right for a kitty to spend his days and dark, freezing nights outside, but Steve resists all my attempts to lure him indoors so I fret. Yes, I do. I fret.

I also fret about my “job”, which is to paint Claude Monet’s famous garden in Giverny, France. This (below) is the scene I want to paint, a part of Claude Monet’s famous garden in Giverny, France, called The Ladies’ Circle:

These photos are from my 2013 visit to the garden (not my 2015 visit), in May when the cherry trees were in bloom:

No wonder Monet never painted this part of the garden, and no wonder that I have never seen this part of the garden photographed for any of those grand coffee table books about the garden:

This part of Monet’s garden is impossible to portray as picturesque. It’s partly because of the lay of the land — a lawn bordered by flower beds on the sloping terrain — and partly because that huge Paulownia tree (which has a very ungraceful trunk):

I have tried, and tried, and tried agains and again, and failed each time, to paint this place as a Spring scene, so my new strategy has been to try to paint it in Summer, when the tree’s ungainliness will be partly hidden by foliage. I also changed my point of view.

The most crucial part of this painting is the background, which must indicate abundance and frothy greenery without getting specific. On my FOURTH try, I got this:

Ideally, the background blobs should sound something like a cool pop song from the olden days. Kind of glamorous, like Petula Clarke singing “Don’t Sleep in the Subway, Darling”. Or, from the ’80s: Everything But The Girl doing “Miss You”. Know what I mean?

My favorite way to create a background that doesn’t overwhelm the picture with information, yet still creates a bit of interest, is to let the watercolor bleed into thought-provoking shapes:

I just realized that my preferred background music (see above) is a sad song about rain. I might be kind of depressed.

That damn Paulownia tree is just too quirky for my tastes, but I have to report it as faithfully as I can since this is for a picture book about Monet’s garden. I just can’t re-invent the bits I don’t like:

I’m hoping that the right crop will bring this pic to life:

OK, painting the flowers was fun:

And then I painted in a little, but necessary, tree and ruined the pic. Still, it was one of the least crappy pictures I’ve painted of this impossible view:

Lower right, that’s how the wrong little tree ruined the pic.

So far, all my attempts at panting this maddening Ladies’ Circle look like this:

But I’m a Capricorn. I’m scrappy. I’m determined. I’m conceited, distrusting, and unimaginative (according to any Air, Water, or Fire sign). Capricorns are not cuddly people.

This pissant Ladies’ Circle will not defeat me.

I’m good for ONE MORE TRY.

Done. Maybe. But maybe not.

On second thought, definitely not. Which comes as a surprise to me, since I only loaded up all these pix because I thought I’d got it, finally. So this is an unexpected twist to today’s blog. I hate when that happens.

I had a short discussion the other day, with Top Cat, about New Year’s Resolutions for 2018.  TC doesn’t want to make any, and that’s fine; we usually don’t bother. But we were very stick-in-the-muddish this year and we want to travel more in 2018 so we sat in silence, each of us trying to think of a place we really wanted to go to. Then we had a few more glasses of wine and I got a brilliant idea about what I should do with my life, and I jotted it down, and the next day I checked my scribbles and the message I had for myself for what to do in 2018 was this:

Hang out with owls.

Yeah. I’m going to see if I can make that happen.

Happy New Year to all you Dear Readers, whether it’s a Summer eve or a Winter one — I hope it’s the first day of a spectacular year, feathers and all.

P.S. I think I’m going to take one more stab at the Ladies’ Circle. Any suggestions?

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Happy ChrisHanuKwanSolstice everyone.

My hopes that the Winter Solstice here on the north shore of Long Island would be as balmy as it was in 2015 have been dashed.

Winter Solstice, 2015.

It is slightly above freezing today, the first full day of Winter here on the north shore of Long Island. Top Cat and I will head out to our favorite beach and toast the return of light in about seven hours. This year, however, the champagne seems redundant since I’m still way high from last night. Whew. One benedryl at bedtime and I am still a bit loopy the next morning.

I should mention that on top of the benedryl, I had spent most of the day before high as a kite on Xanax, a drug that I would happily abuse if falling asleep while sitting up was my thing. Maybe I should back up:

Last Friday I had to take care of two bits of skin cancer. It’s not my first go-round with basal cell carcinoma, but the two times I’ve had it previously, the nasty bits were on my shoulder and on my neck: easy stuff. This time, however, I had a twofer, both on my nose, which is right smack in the middle of my face. And this time it was going to be Mohs surgery, which if you are into grossing yourself out you should definitely Google.

What I saw on the internet was so revolting that I asked my doctor for some Xanax that I could take for the operation so that I would be calm during the procedure and not scream too loudly. The Xanax worked so well that when I got out of surgery and glimpsed myself in a mirror and saw the pile of size of bandages on my schnoz I laughed and laughed and insisted that Top Cat take pictures of me. In fact, I was in such a good mood that I became convinced that this is how I should be spending the entire Drumpf presidency, loaded to my eyeballs.

All things must pass, and lo when the Xanax wore off, I was just a girl, with a very sore nose, once again witnessing the demise of our democracy.

Yesterday I went back to the plastic surgeon to have the stitches removed, a process that required another liberal dose of happy pills. I downed the Xanax and settled into a chair in the crowded waiting room and closed my eyes. I did not notice that my consciousness had wandered far, far away until one of the sea creatures that I was playing poker with looked up from its cards and said something in French, which I thought might be my name, and then I heard a distinctly human voice say it again and I knew it was the nurse wondering where the hell Vivian was and I realized Vivian was me.

I get chatty when I’m high. After rambling on about how I didn’t leave the house because of the huge stonking bandages on my face except to go to the liquor store and the library (because: priorities) I remember telling the surgeon that I hoped when the bandages came off that I wouldn’t look like Golda Meir. “Who’s Golda Meir?” she asked. Everybody is so young these days.

“A muppet,” I said, because I knew a coherent explanation for my reference was out of the question.

Golda Meir, a great lady. But not one that you would call “button nosed”.

So now I have smaller, but still big, bandages on my nose and I have several more go-rounds of grafts and other gross stuff which makes me want to puke. AND I’M ALL OUT OF XANAX.

Mama cat Candy, the calico, with her boys Taffy and Lickety. You can see the family resemblance. The boys got their mother’s nose.

In honor of this wondrous day of Solstice I tried to paint a special 2017 ChrisHanuKwanSolstice picture for you all . . .

. . . but this kept happening:

So let’s look back on some of my favorite views of my beloved Long Island Sound, starting with this sun set from long ago:

P.S. I can see (above) that I used a paper towel to blot the paper to keep the yellow paint from bleeding into the blue paint and achieve some interesting effects. I haven’t done that in a long time. I should try that again soon.

I remember being very surprised that I could pull this off (above), when I was still in the early days of my painting, that is, do a picture that left so much of the white paper showing.

I have no idea how I got that diagonal color bleed in the sky. I should play around with my old Grumbacher paints more.

All these images are from my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam, and they are reproduced in the book in their original size in case you haven’t seen them before and don’t know that these pictures are very small. Bigger than a Triscuit, but smaller than a baby bunny.

But my ChrisHanuKwanSolstice wishes for you, Dear Readers, are bigger than the sky: I wish you all the adventure of mindfulness, the joy of discovery, and the wonder of living each day with an open heart and mind.

P.S. I am still totally high. I just realized that it seems that I published this post when it was supposed to be in draft mode so all the while I was working on it this morning it was live on the internets. So now you know how the sausage is made.

 

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In my short life (nine years) as a professional illustrator, there is one thing that I can’t paint, and that’s what we will be painting today. Yay. I can feel the excitement from you Dear Readers already.

But first, we need to lead with the cats:

From top top bottom, that’s Bibs, Taffy, and our next-door neighbor, Dennis, on November 25, 2017. Bibs is hoping that something is going to happen between Taffy and Dennis, but Taffy just walked past Dennis and “didn’t” see him, while Dennis happened to be looking the other way and “couldn’t” see Taffy. It’s like my kitchen patio is high school and Taffy and Dennis are the popular girls.

And this just in:

Prince Harry is going to marry his American sweetheart! I, of course, watched the video of their engagement announcement on Monday in London and it was clear that these two people are smitten. She’s gorgeous and intelligent and fun and kind (so I read), and Harry is a Prince and I’m happy for them and they make a beautiful couple.

But I also  noticed the height discrepancy and had to look it up.  Prince Harry is on record as being 6’1″.  Meghan Markle is supposed to be 5’7″ (that’s one zillionty-two centimeters for those of you who think metric, but maybe not; I’m not good at math). Meghan was wearing heels that added at least three inches to her height (I looked it up; her shoes have a 4.1″ heel…YIKES), so that would, in theory, make her 5’11” in this picture.  Well, I don’t think so.

This is why I love the internet: I found a site called celebheights.com and it has been discussing Meghan Markle’s real height for about three years. The inside info is that she’s maybe 5’4″ TOPS, but someone who worked with her PR people says she’s only 5’2″, but she’s very slim, so that makes her look taller.

So, yeah, I have a lot of free time on my hands if I’m looking up stuff like Meghan Markle’s real height. But I also do productive stuff, such as solving the problem of the day.

Back to the problem of the day:

Before Claude Monet gave up painting genre pictures to concentrate of doing abstract water lily landscapes, he was quite good at painting sunlight:

Claude Monet: The Parc Monceau, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

I would love to be able to paint sun-dappled grass like this (see above).

Or, I’d love to be able to paint sun-dappled shade, like this:

Claude Monet, Luncheon at Argenteuil, Musee d’Orsay, Paris

But my problem is that I can’t do the dapple.

Dapple: the light that flickers between sun and shade.

It’s very hard to paint. Really, really hard.

Now, I’ve done a Triscuit or two, in which I have achieved a small dapple effect, one from Monet’s own garden at Giverny:

The Triscuit, at left, is a watercolor painted by me; the Triscuit at the right is a delicious baked wheat snack cracker made by Nabisco which is especially tasty when topped by a slice of cheddar cheese and heated to melting point in a toaster oven.

This next Triscuit dapple is a scene from my own village here on the Long Island Sound:

I have also achieved a semblance of dapple in several other small illustrations and studies for other projects:

So last week I attempted to do a dapple in the part of Monet’s garden at Giverny that is called The Ladies Circle (if you’ve been to Monet’s place, it’s that semi-circle of benches under the pawlonia tree at the bottom of the apple orchard):

I lied down a thin wash of yellow and bright green before I dappled it with dabs of darker green (working wet-in-wet):

The I sjuzzed it up by swiping at the still-wet blobs with my size-00 brush, because I had a recollection that this had worked for me in the past:

Suffice to say, it was a fiasco. And it was fiasco when I did it the second time, and the third time, and the fourth time:

These are all my attempts at doing The Ladies’ Circle, and all of them stink but some of them stink less than others.

I tried to find other watercolor painters on the internets who have successfully achieved dapple but not surprisingly, I couldn’t find a single one. No one who works in watercolor can do the dapple on green grass. It’s strictly an oil paint thing.

So I decided to go for a more, um, impressionistic look and this is what I got:

I painted this picture in true proportions to my photo reference, but those benches just don’t look right as they are. They need to be embiggened, even if they are not so in the real world —  so I will be be re-doing this pic in the near future. But I did manage to do a nice study of one of those benches (the design was Monet’s own favorite), and the tea table that I put in front of it is a quote from one of  Mr. Monet’s own pictures:

I never cared for one of Monet’s fellow impressionists, Pierre-August Renoir, but he’s been in the news lately because of this:

Maybe you heard about the fake Renoir that der Drumpf has hanging in his glitzy Trump Tower apartment? The one that he still brags is “real”, even though the Chicago Institute of Art has had the authentic Renoir painting on display since 1933 and can substantiate its provenance from 1881, when the artist painted it and sold it to a dealer in Paris. It’s called Two Sisters on a Terrace and I don’t care for it at all, except that I LOVE it for being evidence of der Drumpf’s delusions that even his nut job fans can’t possible defend. I mean, even a nut job crypto-Nazi half-wit has to believe his own eyes, right?

Just remember this the next time you hear der Drumpf claim that the news is fake, that he turned down Time magazine’s cover for Person of the Year, and that voice on the recording isn’t his. I hope and pray that no one from der Drupf’s family is invited to Prince Harry’s wedding, oh lordy, the next thing you know der Drumpf will be telling us that Harry wanted him to be Best Man because of his close friendship with the late Princess Diana.

Luckily, as the Prince is only 5th in line to the throne of England, I think the wedding will be a personal rather than a state affair, so the happy couple will be free to exclude any head of state whose every word is a nugget of steaming puss oozing from its filthy rotten lying orifice, or any creep they just don’t like.

As you see here, Renoir couldn’t dapple either.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers. It’s beginning to feel like Winter here on Long Island, so wherever you are stay warm and cozy…

Another configuration of the Two Cats/One Space Principle.

…or stay cool, whichever make you feel dappled and drowsy and groovy.

See you next Friday!

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

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