Watercolor Tutorials

I woke up last Monday morning and it was AUGUST. My favorite month of the year! In addition, last week’s Commentors gave me two votes for getting a DoG. Last week’s Commentors also taught me the word ensorcelled — thanks, Thea! — and informed me that a wheelbarrow will only fit one wombat  at a time  — thank you, Megan! — so I’ve had a lot to process this past week.

Now, about the DoG thing:


Mac here (above) is, of course, a Scottish Terrier, a breed that is, as they say, an acquired taste, much like Scottish people themselves. And like your typical  Hatfield or McCoy, Scottie DoGs are proud and stubborn and manically loyal, usually to one and only one person at a time. But this Scottie here is a very rare Scottie of bifurcated doggedness having met, one day, a DoGless lady of his one person’s acquaintance and, sussing that this DoGless lady was sadly lacking a Scottie in her life, took it upon himself to make her his plus one. Some guardian angels have tiny little legs and extremely strong personalities instead of wings.

I imported this portrait of the noble Mac Scottie in the snow to my iPhoto file and brightened the contrast so I could differentiate his various hues and textures. Why?

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Because we’re going to have some DoG fun today! We’re going to paint Monsieur Mac!


Grumbacher paints in the round, Winsor Newton in the square.


I confess that I traced his outline from a print out of his photo, to get the proportions exact. Then I researched the woof and tweeter of Scotties’ fur, which is very particular. Plus, painting a nearly monotone black dog is very tricky — I have to take my time and think and plan ahead how I am going to use artistic license to not paint a big black puddle of black and call it “Mac”. Do I detect hints of blue and brown in M. Mac’s coat?


I start with eye — if I don’t get the eye right I will have to throw out the whole shebang and start over, so I might as well do the most crucial bit first. It’s time saving, really, to start with the most diffy bit first.

Mac has very soulful eyes. And I think he looks very pensive in his photograph. I hope to get all that.

I start with a pale blue:


Over which I wash a very watery brown:


Still working wet-in-wet, I dab in deep black around the edge . . .


I let that dry and I paint in a semi-circular pupil with a dot of white acrylic:


I like this eye. I make a note to self to be very very very careful what I paint around this eye so that I don’t loose the oomph.

Next, I’m going to paint in the far-away shoulder area — I’ve never done this kind of painting before, so this is where I will “practice”. I’ve already decided that I can’t use a pure black color, for puddle reasons; I will mix in blue for the “shine” of this black coat. I’m also using two kinds of black paint, the powdery Grunbacher and the vivid Winsor Newtons — more about that later. So I swab in a blue outline and blend in a very watery WN black:


I also used G[rumbacher] brown for the front ruff (barely visible int his pic below).

I have, beforehand, plotted out the areas that I am going to paint, one by one, in sequence (you can’t paint the whole DoG at once!). This is a step that I didn’t use to take when I was a beginner: the THINKING AHEAD part. But it makes life so much easier if you have a strategy.

So I proceed to the next bit, a blue/black wash on his little head:


You’ll notice that I let the water and the paint mix itself and dry — I like the effect. I don’t mind that this watercolor portrait will look like a watercolor. And I am intentionally lightening up this part of his face to avoid the puddle thing.

Now I have to do the ears . . .


Dang. I slopped a little drop of black paint on the paper where it doesn’t belong. I have to let it dry so I can white-out that drop when I finish the picture (I’ll use acrylic white paint). I hope you can see that I still “outline” Mac in blue. This is pure artistic license. Even if only a hair’s width of this blue remains when the ear is finished, I think its presence will add to the complexity of the black that I am layering:


And now I begin Mac’s eyebrows:


Note the two tones of black: Here is where you can see the difference between the paler, powdery Grunbacher black paint and the saturated Winsor Newton black paint. Using them both here adds to the complexity of “black”, don’t you think?

The closer that I get to the eye, the more nervous I get. One slip of the brush and poof! All is lost!

I’m showing you this photo (below) because you can see how I am layering in some brown on Mac’s nose, and also you can see that I got his foreground eyebrow wrong:


So I erased half of it, by dabbing a brush soaked in clean water over the area:


I am careful to leave the tiniest line of unpainted paper surface around Mac’s eye in order to make it the visual center point of this portrait. I’m painting his nose a mix of G blue and G black:

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Now for the fun bit! I love mixing brown and black!


I have to work quickly here and it’s nerve-wracking — I have to work wet-in-wet with G black and WN brown and black, and make the brush strokes go in the right (whiskery) direction.

For this portrait, I have turned Mac’s body sideways to paint him in profile (he’s actually photographed in 3/4 mode), so this is all hypothetical to me! And can’t over-do this face; it has to look effortless, assured, and correct — which means that I can’t get away with erasing anything here. I t has to be right the first time:


I forgot to photo my day’s work here, because I then put it away. I like to sleep on such an important painting. So the next day I came back and made a few tweaks and then the Noble Monsieur Mac was finished:


You might notice that on Day Two I corrected his eyebrows so that they would be all lined up, neat and trim as in his photo. I also changed his eye, from this:


To this:



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My first (and probably only) Scottie DoG portrait (for Beth):

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If I had thought of it earlier I would have Googled watercolor scottie dogs, to see what I could steal. Now that it’s too late for me to pilfer from the professionals, I trolled the inter webs  anyway and found a U.K. watercolor artist by the name of Patch Wheatley, who paints quite a lot of Scottie DoGs and it is interesting to me to compare:





See? I thought I was ever so clever in mixing blue and brown in my two black paints. Ha! We don’t ever think of anything new on our own, do  we? No, we just bump our heads against the good ideas that hang in the ether forever.

Have a terrier weekend, my Wonder Ones!

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It’s a busy Monday morning at the Starbucks in the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. As I wait in line to order my cup of tea I ponder things.

How many wombats can you fit in a wheelbarrow? Is Freud’s theory of personality still relevant? Should I get a DoG?

Observing the young lady strolling past the food court, I wonder about girls who wear teeny short cut off jeans and big tall leather boots: Is that a thing?




I looked it up, and I guess it is.

For narrative purposes, I’ll say I had this thought, too: That squirrel I watched in my back yard, eating cream cheese off a fork — was that the cutest thing or what?




Point is, I had plenty of time to think there at the Starbucks. But I snapped to attention when I saw that I had shuffled to the head of the line and I was on deck to place my order. When one of the two baristas on duty called out, “Can I help the next guest?” (they don’t just yell NEXT at Starbucks), I walked right up to the counter and spoke up, loud and clear: Small English breakfast tea, please fill it only 2/3rd full, and one croissant you don’t have to heat it up thank you.”

Then the other barista called for the next guest, and the next guest/woman behind me seemed to be very surprised to find herself on line at Starbucks. Oh! “the next guest” exclaimed, Oh! Um, hmmm…um…what I want…um…hmmmmmm…. And she frantically scanned the menu board above.

Wow, I thought to myself: You’ve been standing on line for 7 minutes and you don’t know what you want??? Are you always an asshole or is this a special occasion? Because, as we all know, it should come as no surprise that when you stand on line at Starbucks, sooner or later you’re going to have to order.

But then I decide to give humanity the benefit of the doubt:

She’s having a real hard time spitting it out, I think. WOW! Her order must be very complicated — one of those secret off-the-menu S’mores frappacino/non-dairy foam from Jupiter/ wave a degree from Cornell over it things that I’ve heard about. 

I eagerly awaited her choice. And then, after lengthy hesitation, she, the next guest/ Starbucks customer, finally summoned the language she needed to ask for:

An iced coffee.


These days, I’ve been wondering how I can fill all the hours that used to be taken up by book-writing, now that these days, there isn’t a book that needs me to write it. I have very few options.

I can not do customer service because, present company excluded, I hate “customers” (see: Starbucks story above). I can’t do reality TV because I don’t want to frighten the cats by having a film crew stomping around my house. I can’t be Susan Branch because I’m waaaaay too damn cranky.

And it seems that there is no money in collecting Blue Jay feathers, which is really all I want to do these days.

By the way, on a day when I was not looking for Blue Jay feathers I had 3 feathers delivered to me, such as like this:




Sadly, the only thing I’m half good at is watching paint dry:




I’m painting a large (or should I say, Venti) view of the Chelsea Physic Garden. In my world, that’s 8 inches x 10 inches. But I got as far as this foreground bush (above) when I messed it up. It’s too dark — that’s a problem I often have: I load on the color too much, and I like it when the watercolor has a lot of water in it. I tried to rescue it by painting a layer of white goauche over it:


But that looked really stupid. So I started over, this time from the background:









And then I forgot to take in progress photos until the end:

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It’s all about the crop. This:

Chelsea Physic Garden London

Or this:

London Chelsea Physic Garden

That’s it, my Dear Readers, that’s all I got this week. Well, that’s almost it:

Thank you for the love you gave my girl, Dame Helen Mirren, last week. I liked how I was close enough to get the spill-over! THANK YOU!

And, to follow up on having my article on my Top Ten Garden Books published by The Guardian last week, I got some push-back by a Commentor there who did not like my criticism of John Muir’s writing and wrote:

How appalling to open by denigrating John Muir who did more for the world than you surely will ever do. He helped found the first national park system which spread worldwide and caused more good in the world than any other conservation measure. You say you thrill like one of the bloggers to Marvell’s work; hard to believe. Muir is a beautiful writer who saw interconnection in all things. That vision remains desperately undernourished and misunderstood today.

Write your own books, fine, but think about the cost of rubbishing a fine thinker.

I wrote back a message that told her, in effect, that she should go soak her head, and she responded:

Nice person! True colours at last.

Try reading, thinking, understanding rather than resort to crudity. That is the last resort of the weak minded. Also, I don’t think you should be paid for writing this kind of language. It is appalling.

Ha! I wrote back: If you think I’m forfeiting the million dollars that The Guardian paid me to write this article…I’m laughing all the way to the bank!

I really can’t stand people.

So that’s what I was doing in Atlantic City this past Monday:I was looking to invest my windfall (journalism is so lucrative!) in property and I’d always fancied owning a casino. But since the Borgata. . .


. . . isn’t for sale, I had to search for other investment opportunities. I settled on buying the sunset:


So, appalled Guardian Commentor, if it’s twilight where you are and the sun is setting, don’t look at it. It’s mine.

Here’s the latest portrait of Dennis Whiskabottoms, with his newly-tipped ear:


See you all here next week, my Wonder Ones, with more stories from Down Time on the Isle of Long.

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I’ve been meaning to give author R. L. Stein a piece of my mind for some time now, but world events and The Real Housewives of Orange County (please, Bravo, please fire Vicki) ate into my stockpile of ire. But it’s been almost a year since I was deeply offended by R. L. Stine and so, today I’m in the mood to discuss R. L. Stine’s interview with The New York Times Book Review of  August 23, 2015.


You’re hosting a literary dinner party, the Times posits; Which three writers are invited?

R. L. Stine (who I never heard of but turns out he writes very popular children’s horror books) answers: Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, and Jane Austen. 

So far, so good. But then he goes on:

And I would ask them all my all-time least-favorite question: “Where do you get your ideas?”

It’s that last bit, the part about how annoying it is for R. L. Stine, famous author, to be asked: Where do you get your ideas? that chaps my butt. Which I will discuss while I show you how I painted my latest Triscuit (since my anti-R. L. Stine tirade has no visual component):

I just love the way a Summer lawn looks when it is shadowed by sunlight flickering through leafy tree branches. Is there a word for that? There should be a word for that, and that is what I tried to paint in my latest Triscuit, which I painted this far (see below) before I had to throw it out and start all over because of those two mushy lumps of greenish yellow in the upper left quadrant, which are very ugly:


So I start over:


Back to R. L. Stine: Well, excuuuuuse me, R. L. Stine, and other writer-snobs of your ilk who I have heard and read deploring the same query posed by the un-writerly otherwise known as reader-type persons, if you find it sooooooo annoying to be asked how/where/when or why you were inspired to write what you wrote. 


Albert Einstein, who by the way got a lot of far more important ideas than any freaking Goosebumps plot (by R. L. Stine), and he gladly answered the question re: How did yogurt that idea for general relativity? by describing the moment as “the happiest thought of my life“, when this idea popped into his head: To a man falling freely in a gravitational field, that gravity does not exist. And from there, a lot of important mathematics and an total upheaval of the Newtonian Universe ensued.


The only physicist since Einstein’s death to rival Einstein for brilliance, Richard Feynman, wrote about how he was sitting in a college cafeteria watching an underclassman throw a plate across the room (?), and realized that the center of that plate wobbled at a different rate than the edge of that plate and that there was no equation that explained the rate of spin, so he worked it out, just out of curiosity, and next thing you know he’s figured out quarks, and time travel, or some other such momentous usefulness that I can’t quite remember (but that’s a true story about the plate).


Virginia Woolfe wrote, in her diary of 1918, about a time when she was sitting in a field and saw “a red hare loping up the side & thinking suddenly “This is Earth Life”. I seemed to see how earthy it all was, & I myself [just] an evolved kind of hare; as if a moon-visitor saw me.” Next thing you know, Virginia Woolf is writing other-worldly stream-of-consciousness novels about the Earth life of characters such as Mrs. Dalloway and Orlando.


And R. L. Stine feels put out because someone wants to know where he got the idea for his character Slappy the Dummy???


 R. L. Stein, I have just the T-shirt for you:


Ideas are wondrous gifts from the Universe!  Ideas are what keeps us from being bored to death! Ideas can end up as anything from the double helix of DNA to croissants! And I LOVE croissants!!

So I think it is extremely shitty that R. L. Stine, or anyone who elaborates upon his or her unique ideas for a living (whether in words, numerals, chromosomes, or pastry dough) would find it tedious to explain the wherefore-art-thous of those ideas. Because maybe the people who ask that question, Where do you get your ideas?, are people who need to be inspired by the mysterious way that an idea, of, say, a red hare or a spinning plate lobbed by a college kid, becomes a novel or a Nobel Prize.

Or, maybe, that person is like me, and hasn’t come across a good idea in a long while and is looking for a hint as to where to look.


I got my idea for this Triscuit from walking past the local duck pond here in Roslyn village, on the Long Island of New York state (America) on a beautiful June afternoon.

I got the idea for my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam, from a 1939 Popular Science Encyclopedia article about electrons, titled When Wanderers Cease to Rove. As soon as I read those words — BOOM. I had a fabulous title and the raison d’être of my quasi-travel life story. Buying that dusty encyclopedia set for $10 at a Salvation Army Thrift Shop in central Pennsylvania 20 years ago and waiting 8 years to open volume 5 to that page with “Rove” printed on it remains one of my Top Ten Happiest Thoughts in my life.

My second book, Le Road Trip, wasn’t much of a hot idea — doesn’t everybody who goes to France want to make an illustrated travel memoir out of the trip? — but the idea for breaking the trip down into chapters that tracked the stages of a love affair came from a Wallace Stevens poem called Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.  I made every chapter of that book a different way of looking at France, one as a straight, linear story; one as a Day in the Life; one as a Top Ten list; one as an A to Z inventory; etc.

I regret not thinking of a better title than Le Road Trip, though — turns out that a lot of English-speakers are troubled by the “Le“. True story.


I felt compelled to write Gardens of Awe and Folly when I was looking through the huge Garden section of my local library couldn’t find not one book about garden travel at all, and none about gardens that I wanted to read. Why did every garden book have to be a How To, and a lot of that about How To determine your dirt’s personality?

So, if I had to invent an entire new genre of garden writing to produce a garden book that I could stand to read, then so be it. And voila: Gardens of Awe and Folly.

I didn’t have a title for the book until the week before it had to go to press. All I knew was that I had to have the word Garden in it, but nothing during the three years that I worked on it had appeared in a vision, not even when I went back to the Popular Science Encyclopedia and browsed all 10 volumes.

So, with time running out, I sat myself down and just began to make a list of all the words that related to the gardens in the book. And then the phrase Garden of Earthly Delights chimed in my head, and I knew that it had the perfect syllable count for a great title, but I had to substitute words for Earthly Delights (too cliche) and so, from sheer doggedness, I finally got to Awe and Folly.



I have to admit that I haven’t had a good idea since I worked that title out. And I am desperate for a good idea. I need a project.

So . . . where do your ideas come from?

If you’ve ever had a nifty brainwave from the Universe, or you know of a good story about where an idea came from, or you ave an idea that you wish someone would execute for you, please Comment. (It’s a tiny bit awkward to do that on this template: you have to click onto the READ MORE button at the bottom of this post.) If your idea or idea story triggers some scathingly brilliant notion for my next book, I WILL DEDICATE THAT BOOK TO YOU. I’m talking full page, front-of-the-book acknowledgement. Illustrated.

I await your many wobbly ways of looking at Earth Life.


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Oh, what an awful week. Current events horrify me, and I grew up during the Vietnam War with nightly body counts on the 6 o’clock news, and I was a mile up the road from the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001. So I’ve had a long acquaintance with every day human brutality, but the world has worn me down and this new brand of evil makes me weary and soul-sick.

I just wrote, and deleted, a few hundred words on Orlando, Magnanville, and Leeds. A couple hundred words on these atrocities is too feeble — a million words wouldn’t be enough. So I’m just going to quote the poet Christopher Soto:

Who smiles when the sky swallows its stars?


photo credit: Favim.com

When I am wrecked and racked, I paint stones.


My favorite part illustrating Le Road Trip was painting the wonderful stones of Brittany and Normandy.



When I paint stones I feel calm, and quiet.


Stone work requires a lot of concentration, but not a lot of attention. I think that’s the definition of meditation.

Secret Garden

(This is the Winter view of (above) — from When Wanderers Cease to Roam):

The stones are my favorite part of any picture, no matter how small:

Secret Garden

And, sometimes, I find a view that is just an excuse for me to paint a lot of stones:

Secret Garden

Oh, how I needed to paint stones this past week, and I searched all my photos to find some stones that “spoke” to me. I didn’t find any. So I turned to the inter webs and I found this photo, by the renowned garden designer Caroline Garland:


This happens to be a very stony picture, of a garden that I know rather well: The Chelsea Physic Garden in London. So these were the stones I set out to meditate upon. First thing, I gathered my mindfulness gear:


I am mixing chalky Grumbacher paints with Winsor Newton watercolors. I use Davy’s Gray here and there, but it is not as good as the gray I make myself, by mixing Peach with Blue, Brown, Black, and Sienna:


Sometimes I mix the colors right on my brush, sometimes I swab them directly onto the paper, and sometimes I smear them together like this:

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I am painting a Squint,by the way. I always start with the trickiest bit first:


I’m using black to paint negative space, which is a risky move — I’m using a size 00 brush here:


For each face of an individual stone, I mix ochre, gray, and a tiny bit of brown to get that “stoney” effect:


I let each face, or cell, dry before I paint the bit next to it (this prevents unwanted bleeding):


I re-wetted this little cell here and dabbed n the tiniest among of black, and let it bleed a very very teeny bit:


Yeah, my preferred method is to work in colors while the cell is wet, and to see what kinds of bleeds I can get:


Each of these cells in this pillar was painted individually — yes, they look wonky and horrible now, but just wait:


Calm, slow, careful, and with an empty mind, I painted in these dark, dark shadow lines. It was tight-wire painting, and terribly satisfying:


I put a green-blue wash over the background stones:




You might have noticed that I painted the stone pillar incorrectly — take a look at it here (above and below): Do you see how I forgot to make the top two stones (on the right side of the pillar) 3-dimensional?


So I fixed it, by “picking up” the pigment (that’s why Grumbacher is so good: it lets you “erase”) and painting in the optical illusion of 3-dimensions:


You might also notice those dabs of color in the margins. That’s how I test watercolor shades before I apply it to the pic — no damn color charts for me!


I put in some white acrylic dots in the fore- and background, over which I dabbed watercolor, so the “flowers” would pop:


Comparing the photo to my painting, you can see that I’ve edited the original to suit my limitations as a painter:


Well, also, since the Squint is very small (it’s 5.75 inches x 1.33 inches. . . 14.6 cm x 3.38 cm, I think), the background must be simplified. I also wanted to make this a cheery scene, and so I made it very green — and I used the greenery in the background to define the stone wall and pillar back there, so I wouldn’t have to outline them. I don’t mind outlines, but I wasn’t in the mood for them this day.


I call this Squint, Stonewall.


June 14 vigil at New York’s historic Stonewall Inn for the 49 victims of Pulse in Orlando. Love is love is love is love is love is love is love. cc: Magnanville, Leeds

The other thing I do when I feel so bad is hang with these guys:




I took this photo through the living room window — that’s Steve, of course, dozing on our stone wall in the front of the house.

Now, about Steve: the other day, a woman rang our doorbell. Which is always weird, because who does that? The woman introduced herself and said she stopped by because she saw our cat food bowls set out on our front porch stone wall and she’s a TNR  (Trap/Neuter/Realease) rescuer…OH! I said: I wondered who Steve’s angel was!

Susan doesn’t live near us; she’d been called in by a neighbor on a road behind us about several feral cats and had trapped 5 males — including our own dear Steve (and kept him under observation in her home for a week in a huge dog pen). She’s on the hunt for a female, and seeing our cat food bowls, she rightly took us for Cat People, and wanted to give us her card in case we spot Mama Cat. She and I had a discussion about trapping methods and I learned that HavAHeart is so last century. There’s a whole lot of new trapping technology that has passed me by! I don’t know why I’m exclaiming this! So you know who I’m going to call when It’s time to TNR our dear Dennis:


And saving the best ’til last,


I am pleased to announce the Winner of the Super Duper Quartet Triscuit Give Away is:

Maryanne from SC!


Thank you, all you magnificent  5-star reviewers own Amazon. I confess, I read your reviews to give me courage for when I will sit in a dark room for another three years and try to make something useful and wanted in this world.

Maryanne, we all hope you enjoy your Tea Time Triscuits with a lapful of cats, a heartful of love, and a fluteful of champagne!

Have a good weekend, Wonder Ones; let’s try to hold the planet together for one peace full day.

**Next Friday, if we can get through the week unscathed, I will present the previously schedules post, dedicated to Nancy S., on How To Find Blue Jay Feathers. Spoiler: it involves cat food.

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Last week I showed you how an illustration of a secret garden can go all wrong when you (that means me, I, the left-hander holding the brush above) over-do it. So this week, let’s not end with a much-needed glass of champagne consolation. . . what am I saying?? I love ending a painting session with champagne, even if it’s for consolation! Rule of Life: There Is Never a Bad Reason to Drink Champagne.

So, this week, let’s roll our painting session towards a glass of champagne just because, but hopefully not because we (that means me, I, the let-hander picking up the paint brush) have made yet another illustration go all wrong. OK?

Today I am going to paint the secret entrance to a well-known secret London garden, the Chelsea Physic Garden, which is actually not at all secret anymore, having lately become one of the Top Ten tourist attraction  sights in all of England. As you can see below, I have penciled in a few guide lines and put down a wash of yellowish-grayish watercolor in the area where the high brick wall (that surrounds the garden) will be:


So far, it looks ugly, but that’s just for now. Because yet to come is the part where I am painting the Chelsea Physic Garden on a sunny day, and in the background I will lay down the color of sunbeams:


Quick, while it’s still wet, I blob in some pale greenery:


And more greenery:


I add some medium-dark greens for the middle ground:


I dab in some detail foliage (but not too much, don’t want to over-do it) and add shadows, and if this were one of my famous tea-bag size miniatures, we’d almost be done:


I paint in the two figures — for the record, a man in a grey shirt in front; a woman wearing a pink shirt in back — and in the foreground, I paint a foundation layer of greenery (I’m afraid I’m going to have to use the word “green” and “greenery” very often in this post):


This next bit is fun for me: I get to paint some detail stuff in middlingly-darkish greens here. By the way, I practice making these itty bitty leaves in one sinuous stroke before I put them in this picture — think of it as calligraphy: it only looks good if you get the stroke right, and you only get one chance to get the stroke right:


Using the same stroke, I add contrast by using a very dark green (which is regular green that I’ve mixed with black):


And here is where I lay my brush down because here is where I DID NOT OVER-DO IT!

Yay for me!


Next: The Wall.

If I had drawn these penciled-in guidelines (see below) directly onto the watercolor paper before I put that ugly yellowish-grayish wash over on top of them, the pencil lines would be fixed permanently by the paint. But O Clever Mio, I instead I let the wash dry completely and put the pencil lines on top of the wash, where they are fungible and I will be able to erase them all off after I paint in these bricks:


Oh, how I love painting bricks. Yes, you have to concentrate on getting the teeny tiny spacing of these teeny tiny dashes of paint right, but it’s a pleasantly mindless concentration that permits you to paint while also listening closely to  talk radio, or following the CD of the cast recording of Hamilton, or creating in your head the perfect put-downs to the jerk who was loud-mouthing against Boston Rob being the greatest champion of Survivor in history (He is. So shut up.) at your brother-in-law’s barbecue; it’s that kind of meditative, calming pondering that I only get done when I have a lot of bricks (or the like***) to paint. Ahhhhh. . . . I could paint bricks all day.

But sadly, the brick painting comes to an end and I must finish this task. So, lastly, I hold my breath and paint the grille. Yuk. I have to paint straight lines, in an uniform, unvarying width, with a 00-size brush. If I screw up at this final step and do something blobby and/or squiggly, I will have ruined the illustration and wasted hours and hours of work:





Except. . . look at this closely:

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The whole time I was painting this illustration, I kept thinking how odd it was that the entrance to the Chelsea Physic Garden was surprisingly un-symmertrical. Well, duh. Upon looking at other reference photos than the one I was stupidly fixated upon further research, of course I saw that the entrance to the venerable Chelsea Physic Garden is of course symmetrical.

Luckily, my superpower is The Rescue of Watercolor Illustrations. (Really. You can look them up, in the side bar to the right, under Rescues. )

I do what I gotta do. I cut out the offending non-symmetry, I Elmer’s Glue-in a new piece of paper, and I paint in a new symmetry:


And the rest is history, on page 142 of my book, Gardens of Awe and Folly:


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I don’t know why I can not get a good photo of this illustration — sorry, but this is the best that I can do!

P.S., I also decided to switch the people in the pic, moving the guy in the grey shirt to the back and the girl in the pink shirt to the front. It was a necessary edit to preserve the continuity of the narrative, or just a whim on my part.

So that’s how it’s not over-done, my Wonder Ones. Thank you all for your delicious stories In The Defense of Names two weeks ago — I have been traveling and have not been able to respond as I would want BUT. . .

. . . I am home from my roaming and I have so much to catch you all up on. I went to the Great Pacific Great Northwest and I met Dear Readers in  Seattle! I met with Dear Readers in  Portland! I happened upon Dear Readers in  Cannon Beach!!!!

Next week it’s just you and me, catching up on life and adventures. Warning: There Will Be Cats.

*** The Like: I have a future blog post all about painting bricks and the like [stone walls] set up, for the perfect frantic too-busy aggravating day when we all would like to achieve a little Zen in our lives. Which should be real soon.

Have a great weekend, everyone.


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See you in Cannon Beach (Oregon) on May 7!

If I had not run out of chapters in my book Gardens of Awe and Folly  I would have taken the extra pages to give you all a tour of some of my favorite every day Secret Gardens, like the one my neighbor Joanne has in her back yard:

Joann's Secret Grden

This (above) is the entrance to the Secret Garden belonging to one of the most excellent Chilled Wine Cocktail On The Patio Hostesses I know.  Step into that wooden archway entrance gate (below) , and you are treated to a more complete view of the pathway that leads to Joanne’s hide-away around the corner (that you can’t see in this pic because it’s secret):


Well, it’s a GOOD THING I am an illustrator and in possession of an Artistic License so that when I take my pencil and draw this illustration, I can give you both of these views at once:


Next, I apply masking fluid with a tooth pick (because I need a really fine line):


To start, we have to lay in some sunlight, which I will let dry before I go to the ext step:


Since I’ll be working from the back to the front of this illustration, the next thing I do is lay in background foliage:


All I do is dab dab dab the lightest shades of green, quickly, while everything is still wet:


And now the plot thickens.


I’m putting in a light green wash on the left side here because as you saw in the reference photo, this is where all the shade is:


Dab dab dab in some nice rich greens, and then I’m done mapping out the brights and darks of this illustration:


BTW, I really like what happened up there, when I dab dab dabbed wet-in-wet and got some nice blotches that could very well stand as is and look totally convincing as foliage. But I don’t spend much time pondering this because I can’t wait to get a move-on because . . .

. . .I  LOVE THIS PART! This is the part where I add more detail to the background:


Oh, I love dab dab dabbing with my size-00 brush!


And now I start adding detail to the front-ground, over-painting the wash with dark leaf-shaped flicks of my 01 brush:


I paint bigger leaves with a fatter brush, whose size I don’t know:


And then I work the middle-ground:



Something tells me that I could stop here . . .


. . . I could stop here, call it DONE, and let those nice watercolor blotches do their job, but noooooooooo,  an evil little voice urges me to go on, put in some really really dark, dark background:


More is More is what that evil little voice is telling me:

Secret Garden

Time to get out the 00 brush again and make some tree branches out of all that brightness in the background:


Let’s take a look before we remove the masking fluid:


I hate to say it, but I’m starting to doubt that really dark background. And I’m getting a bad feeling about that bench and lantern. Where O Where is that voice that should be telling me  Quit While You’re Ahead?


But there is only silence as I plod on anyway and sure enough, I paint over those wonderful blotches that I liked so much:


And oh well, I guess it’s DONE:


WHAT WENT WRONG: Yeah, the lantern looks wonky, and the bench doesn’t make sense —  I made a bad choice when I included them in the pic. Also, I don’t “get” the wooden gateway either; it’s almost invisible, lost in the more and more of the foliage. Well, it’s a good thing that I work small, so the fix-up shouldn’t be all that hard.


This is it BEFORE:


And this is it AFTER:

Secret Garden

Hmmmmm, I dare say that, in the end, I saved this pic, and if you had not seen the BEFORE maybe you wouldn’t even notice the heavy-handed layer of paint on the left side. But alas, we are wise to the muddle and in our heart of hearts we all know that it was a better picture when it was “half” DONE.

My Dear Readers, this is what a bad day at the office looks like to me: I spend approx. 5 hours working on this picture, for a chapter that never makes it into the GoAaF, which even if such a chapter existed I would not (probably not, depends on how tired I am by deadline time) would not use this illustration for anyway.

Well, I don’t know what would you do after such a bad day at the office, but here’s what I do to end the day on a sweet note:


A little champagne, a blue jay feather, and the company of a cat — that’s all it takes to make it a perfect day in VivianWorld.

Have a great weekend, my Wonder Ones.


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


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

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

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


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

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

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. . . has over paint:


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


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

Giverny, Monet garden, Monet gardeners

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

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

So here goes:

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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



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

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



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


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

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



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


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


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


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


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

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


Point made.

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

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

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

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

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






That’s supposed to be the French Quarter.

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.


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Fireworks, trumpets, a few baton twirlers, and a special guest appearance from the Philly Phanatic *: We have a winner! Top Cat has spoken and last week’s Giverny Triscuit goes to…


Number 42! Wait…nobody guessed number 42.

Number 16! What? Nobody guessed number 16 either??

Number 33! I think you’re doing this on purpose…another zilch guesses on that one. One more, TC, and get it right this time OK?

Number 12! And we have a winner! Congratulations, Deborah Hatt!  You hung in there and you got Top Cat’s 4th guess! Your Monet Garden Gate Triscuit will be signed, sealed, and delivered asap! (Email me your address at vivianswift at yahoo dot com, please.)

Thank you to everyone who entered — you’re all eligible for next week’s Pub Date Celebration Triscuit!

* The Philly Phanatic is the mascot of the professional baseball team from Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA), the Philadelphia Phillies, and is only the best team mascot ever. And he’s green, so, like, gardening.


As for this past weekend here on the Isle of Long, the magic number was 58 — degrees! (14 C!) So as of 9:42 in the morning of February 20, Taffy declared that the grounds of Taffy Manor were officially 100% snow free. which is a cause for celebration considering that last year we didn’t get rid of the snow until April 4.

And being as he has appointed himself our neighbor’s watch-cat in charge of keeping Steve (our friendly neighborhood stray) off their patio, Taffy then gave the neighbor’s yard a good look-see:


Having discerned that the premises was 100% Steve-free, Taffy aided me in inspecting our old tomato patch…


…which in a mere 98 days will be planted with various heirloom and hybrid varieties. Top Cat, the Tomato Patch Kid, can’t wait.

These dregs of Winter, these hints of almost on-the-cusp-of-Spring days of February, these daggy days of counting down until the vernal equinox are the hardest days in the year for gardeners. Good thing that I, not being an actual gardening gardener, have a long history of “gardening” all year round. All I needed was a comfy chair, a needle and some thread, and I was off, gardening the four seasons:


I embroidered these four season long before I met Top Cat. Please note the black and white cat sniffing the flowers…that’s Woody Robinson, the original Top Cat, my one and onliest heart-to-heart kitty who I still miss every day. (Keep an eye out for him in almost all my sewing. It was my way of paying tribute to The Best Cat in the World.)

I’ve been embroidering since I was 10 years old but my output peaked in the 1990s, when I was in my late 30s/early 40s. Those were the  years when I had a vague but urgent compulsion to keep busy making stuff, the same drive that evolved over the years into an actual mission (which I now try to fulfill as a writer/illustrator/blogger) to make stuff that mattered. That’s why, in 1994, I entered this (below) in a contest hosted by a local historical society:


The goal was to portray this very old (17th century) house in Rye, New York; I embroidered the house with a four season motif of (from top to bottom) Winter, Fall, Summer (Hi there, Woody Robinson!), Spring. I won Best in Show. The historical society told me that they would love to keep this piece for their home office and I gladly gave it to them. I was happy that I’d made something that mattered to them.

I also sewed fantasy pieces, like this picture of me, Woody Robinson, and an itinerant cat-pet who I called Louie (he wandered into my life one day, and on another day he wandered back out of it) having tea in a garden of my dreams:

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For those of you who are stitchers, in this detail (below) you can see how I “garden” with satin, buttonhole, running, and feather stitches. Basic stuff! Easy! You can teach yourself these stitches in about an hour!


I had to put this garden in my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam (on page 126) in honor of that time in my life when embroidery, and Woody, and Louie, meant so very much to me:


I was also riffing on the idea that me and the cats were citizens of our own isolated micro-nation, which I reductively called Pawsylvania:


But I’m perfectly capable of portraying actual, real gardens in thread, too. This is a portrait of the herb garden at the museum of medieval art in upper Manhattan called the Cloisters:


I also included this garden in Wanderers because it tickled me no end to put my sewing in print:


I am a huge fan of herb gardens:


These mini-gardens are the fore-runners of my watercolor Triscuits:




And I even got a commission, to do a piece about the Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, New York:


Besides gardens, I quite liked doing maps:


This is a map of a trip to France I took in 1985, through the Loire Valley, Brittany, and Normandy:


And this is a map of a trip I took in 1990 (which includes an experiment in the use of paint):


You might have noticed that in this map I stitched in some flowers up in northern France, to stand for my first visit to Giverny. Or was it my second? I’ve lost count.

When I went to Giverny that time in 1990 I was on a mission, to take notes and get a feel for the lay of the land there. Because when I got back I drew a condensed version of Monet’s famous flower and water garden and I sewed for 98 hours, and gave the garden as a wedding gift for my sister Buffy:


I did a two-season view of Giverny here, with Spring on the left and Fall on the right. I took many, many liberties in this portrayal of the world’s most famous garden, liberties that I would not take today, now that I have been putting the Clos Normand under scrutiny for my watercolors. Speaking of which…didn’t I promise you that we’d paint Monet’s allee today?

This is the famous allee:



So let’s pick it up from here:


The trick is to work in very small doses of color. Let each little smattering of color dry before patting in another color except for the times when you want the colors to bleed . . .


. . . like here, where I made several small pools of greenish colors, which I then swiped with quick strokes of my size-00 brush, in order to imitate stalks and leaves:


I am playing here, dashing in a little blue to the green paint, and stroking through it (wet-in-wet):


I think it is the years that I spent as an embroiderer, sewing pictures one little stitch at a time, that gives me the patience and the control to work in such tiny, small, careful increments. Embroidery is good training for miniature painting.

Back to flowers: Oooooh, I like it when blue bleeds into purple…but I always keep red seperate because blue/purple + red = mud:


Ooooooo, some more blue/purple bleeds for effect:


And now, fun fun fun, I’m just dabbing in as many different shades of green as I can:


Add a few foreground leaves (I looked it up: these are called “strap-shaped” leaves, the ones that stand tall like this, as in tulips for example):


Now for the little pom-pom shaped saplings. . .


. . . and the arbors (or are they trellises?). . .


. . . paint in the green gate at the foot of the allee and voila:



Hmmmmmm… wait a sec. Compared to the original photo…


…isn’t there something missing? Like, a certain amount of truthfulness? Since I don’t like red-leafed trees I edited out the one on the left hand side, but I now feel bad about  that … and I wimped out on the dark areas in the back ground… and I totally gave up the foreground; I didn’t even try to “get” that lovely effect of the lilac-colored tulips dotting a cloud of small light-blue flowers.

Believe me, I really wanted to leave well enough alone. It had taken me six hours to paint this picture and I did not want to risk ruining it all by doing the kind of painting that I am not very good at (red trees, dark backgrounds, actual flower painting).

So I let this picture sit around for about three days until it became evident that I had to have a go at making it real. I decided to add all those bits that I’d left out, no matter if it ruined the picture. My Giverny garden painting has to be a true as possible. Damn it.

I meant to take pictures of the transformation, but I got very caught up with the process so all I have is this end result:

Giverny, Monet's garden, Clos Normand

I’m so happy that I didn’t have to rip out stitches to fix this pic. So, yeah, I still pick watercolor over embroidery when it comes to gardening.

Well, I hope all you Dear Readers had some extra spare time this morning — this was a long post, again; at least a 2-tea-cupper. Next week I promise to bend your ear for only as long as it takes to paint a Pub Date Celebration Triscuit … along with several medium-sized digressions, of course. Because the world needs my opinions on almost everything.

And once again, Congratulations to Deborah Hatt for winning the Monet Garden Gate Triscuit!

See you all next Friday!

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On the left (below) is the delicious cracker made by Nabisco*, a salty whole grain hors d’ouvre-holder and snack food beloved by Americans. On the right is a Triscuit made by me, an author-illustrator beloved by 6 out of 7 of my cats*.


*Nabisco/Mondelez (pronounced mon-dell-eeeze) has given me permission to use their trademark Triscuit to describe my teeny-tiny paintings up until the time they send me a cease and desist letter. Thank you, Product Manager at Mondelez Global LLC in East Hanover, New Jersey.

*Steve is the new cat #7, a feral tuxedo Manx that I’ve been feeding for five months but haven’t been able to trap yet because he still doesn’t understand that he belongs to me, dammit.


Kirra, this snow is for YOU.

Last weekend it got so cold here on the north shore of Long Island that I had to rescue my Champagne-O-Meter from the backyard (I wish I could put a photo in parenthesis):


For 2 days the temperatures hovered around Zero degrees ( 0 F, -18 C) and I did not want my champagne to totally freeze. So on Sunday morning I put the bottle back out on the patio and left it there for 7 hours (I wonder if inanimate objects are subject to “wind chill”?). And then it was — finally — 5 o’clock and I brought that baby inside and popped the cork and voila! I got a Champagne Slushie!!


Dear Readers, your eyes do not deceive you. This is what deep-frozen champagne looks like, a glass full of icy bubbles! It was fabulous.


Note: A bottle of champagne left out in sub-zero temperatures for 7 hours will freeze from the bottom up. The first glass you pour looks a lot like regular champagne, except for being much colder, but when you set the bottle down after your first pour something happens strange happens and the normal laws of champagne physics break down. The champagne begins to flow upwards out of the bottle, against gravity, in a continuous froth of bubbly foam until you quickly pour a second glass, at which time balance is restored to the Champer-Verse and the stuff behaves normally, except for its being mostly icy slush. At which time you give Thanks that you have a wonderful reason to not totally hate Winter.

Getting back to the Triscuit thing, to long time Dear Readers of this blog that means one thing:  Time for a Triscuit Give Away! For new Dear Readers of this blog, please let me announce that it’s Triscuit Give Away Time!! Which we will get to at the end of this post (feel free to skip ahead to the end if you are like my husband and think blog posts should not go on and on, like mine tend to)  because for now, I want to discuss How I Cheat When It Comes To Drawing Really Hard Things in Perspective.

Consider, for example, a view such as this:


This is the allee of Monet’s garden in Giverny, the main feature of his sumptuous flower garden (which is way better than his more famous water garden, by the way). I took this photo in May 2013 at about 7 o’clock at night, long after the garden had closed for the day. You can read how I was able to sneak this photo, and a lot of others, when the garden was officially closed,which I consider a red hot travel tip, by clicking here. We’ll wait while you read up on this.

Hey! You’re back! So let’s get to it: Drawing all those arched arbors down this rather long garden path/allee is way, way above my pay grade as a draftsperson. I could never do it without cheating. So what I do is, I cheat. First, I have print out a black and white copy of this photo (from my computer, on plain white paper — no fancy photo-quality sheets necessary):


The black and white picture make it easy for me to see the contrast I need in order to trace those arbors onto tracing paper:


I could never see those trellis lines if this photo was still in color. So, in black felt tip pen I trace over the arbors and the horizon, because a horizon is a useful thing to know in any picture, as it keeps the painter from painting things that look like they are floating in the air:


The next step is to trace those guide lines onto watercolor paper (use either a light box or tape the sheets onto a window, if it’s a sunny day):


I slather in the background, using very broad strokes and watery paint. I will try to keep these features very faint in this picture in order to emphasize the foreground — the lovely floral allee:


I have to get those two huge yew trees at the top of the all just right — they are the key to the scale and truthfulness of everything else I will paint:


So I finish these yew trees and then I take a good look at the picture and I see right away that the top trellis/arbor that I drew would not work in this picture. So I erased them and, as the pencil lines were so faint, they are hardly noticeable under the paint of the yew trees (paint tends to “fix” graphite, BTW). And then I was all set to get to the good stuff: the flowers! I LOVE painting these flowers!! And sorry, I got so engrossed painting these wonderful fleurs that I forgot to take pictures of the progress, so here’s a pic of the piece when it’s about 80% done:


I use white acrylic paint to paint over the arbors because I need them to POP, and putting down a base of white acrylic paint before I paint them green will do that:


See? (See: Below)

Clos Normand Giverny Monet garden

You might notice that in the end I futzed the horizon line on the left side of this picture. I did that because I thought it was too strong a horizontal and I thought it was distracting. For the record, that (left) part of Monet’s garden is very complicated — lots of topiary and trained shrubs and big brambly stuff that I don’t want to get into — but I hope I’ve indicated enough of a there there…but I might look at this picture next month and decide it needs more definition. However, for now, it’s done.

Monet panted in series: haystacks, poplar trees, Rouen Cathedral…you know what I mean. Good lord, he painted his water lilies 270 times. So just because this is the second picture I’ve painted of his allee (counting last week’s picture) does not mean that I am done with this view, no siree. I went to Giverny last December specifically to get a sneak peek at Monet’s garden in Winter, which is how I got this photo:


I love gardens in Winter. Love love love love them. I love them so much that I put a Winter Garden in my garden book (in the Edinburgh chapter). I also adore decrepitude — that’s why I had to write about a decrepit garden in London for Gardens of Awe and Folly. To me, a flower garden in December (in the northern hemisphere) is all about decrepitude, and all about Winter. So poetic! So truthful! So soulful! So to me, this view of Monet’s garden is deliciousness times two. I could not wait to paint it! So, without further ado, let me trace those arbors and get down to painting!!!!



P.S. above: Last week I mentioned that I photoshop my fingers for these action pix…this week I just left the band aids on. My hands get very dry in the Winter but that’s OK: I can paint wounded. I’m so very, very brave that way.






 And done:

Clos Normand Giverny Monet garden

You can see that in this picture I left the foreground arbor/trellis intact (the same trellis that I eliminated from the Spring version). It works here, I think. (Fun fact: in total, the allee has only 6 trellises. Trellises? Is that a word?)

I can not tell you how satisfying this was to paint! It was heaven. That’s why, like stout Cortez at that place where he wept because there were no more worlds to conquer…wait. I think that was Alexander the Great, who wanted to keep going; Cortes was the chap full of wild surmise. I could go either way with this literary reference because any hoo, I was not ready to quit this wonderful allee, and as I was sober (it was at least an hour away from Sunday Cocktail Time), I decided to paint a Triscuit as a token of my appreciation for all my Dear Readers:






Voila, the Giverny Triscuit:

Giverny Monet garden gate Clos Normand

Now, I know that some of my Dear Readers do not come from Nabisco countries so they might not know about Triscuits, so maybe this will help set the scale (because I assume that everyone knows about tea bags):

Giverny tea bag monet garden painting

The Triscuit is 4.5 centimeters square, about the size of a Gum Nut Baby. It’s really small, but you know that small is my “thing”.


This is a view of Monet’s allee facing away from the house, towards the big garden gate at the bottom of his flower garden. That’s the gate the the master himself used when he strolled from his studio to his water garden (on the other side of the wall there). It’s a historic gate. And now that I look at it…the gate is wrong. Back to the painting. . .



OK, now it’s DONE.


To win this Giverny Triscuit, all you have to do is leave a Comment in the Coments at the end of this post, and guess a number between 1 and 50. When the Comments close after five days — sorry, it’s a spam-avoidance necessity — I will have Top Cat choose a number and announce the Winner in next week’s post!

The fine print: In order to be eligible  for this contest you must have left a Comment here in the past two weeks.

So Good Luck, my Dear Readers, and keep Commenting…Pub Date of Gardens of Awe and Folly is March 1 and I might be in the mood to celebrate with another Triscuit Give Away (or another bottle of frozen champagne, depending on the weather).



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This, my Dear Readers, is Paulownia tree, of which there are many in bloom in Paris in May:


And this is the Paulownia tree in Monet’s garden at Giverny (back view):


And this is my study of the Paulownia tree in Monet’s garden at Giverny (front view):


Our Dear Reader Felicia mentioned in a Comment recently that she’s been working on trees, and how they give her fits — they give me fits, too — so I am dedicating this post to BARK for Felicia, and I hope that you’ll all paint along with us.


As much as it gives me fits to do trees (all those branches branching off in unpredictable ways) the one thing that I just love to paint is bark, because I know the secret! And the secret is that simply by letting watercolors do what they want to do naturally, you can let the paint do most of the work when it comes to painting bark! And it’s FUN!!

The key color when you are painting bark is gray. Bark is barely brown: it is mostly gray :


And the good news is that making gray from scratch is one of the most fun things to do with watercolor paint! Here’s how:

I start with this color, called “Flesh”, for reasons that I don’t want to get into:


Then I mix in some brown:


Next I mix in some blue — pretty much any hue from ultramarine to turquoise will do, whatever you have at hand or whatever blue is the one you prefer to work with:


I’m a big fan of my Grumbacher Prussian blue:


Then I add a tiny tiny bit of black:


I like to keep my grays on the blue-side, but that’s just me. You might have a totally different taste in gray:


And then I’m going to throw in some Burnt Sienna:


So now I have all the shades of gray that I’ll need for my bark — I will keep switching the palette ever so slightly, because the one thing you want when you paint bark is a lot of subtle gradations of color. I showed you my paint mix on paper so you can see the range of colors that will be possible, but in reality I will be working from a pan, in which I will have mixed all those flesh, brown, blue, and black paints to make an interesting gray:


And now, Let’s Paint!

First, lay down a few strips of color:


Vary the width of your strips by pressing down or lightening up on your paint brush. Do not paint them too close together, and vary the color of the strips (I’m working with browns and grays here):


The reason that you don’t want to paint your strips too close together is because this is the secret about watercolor:


When watercolor dries, you can stroke another strip of color right next to it and just because it’s watercolor, that edge of dry paint meeting the other edge of wet paint will form a nice texture, which in this case, looks exactly like bark — you don’t have to “paint” the texture at all..the texture IS THE PAINT!


Is that nifty or what?!?!

Once I have most of the strips painted in, I load my brush with just plain, clear water and I run it down one side (the right side) of the tree trunck, to blend and soften that one area just a bit:


And while the tree is still wet, I dab in some pure black paint:


Again, I’m not going to work it much — I’m just going to let it do what it wants to do, which is bleed and pool in interesting places. Then I’ll let it dry, and voila:


The bark practically painted itself!

Now, this is just a basic technique. If your tree has a different bark texture, or it has twists and burls in it, or it is smooth and kind of green, or  it is sun-dappled :


Well, that takes practice and variations…but this painting-in-strips-thing is the basic way that I paint bark.

Yes, I expect to have to re-paint the Paulownia tree that I showed you at the top of this post, or just to re-work some more darkness and girth into the trunk and branches, but to keep things interesting for me I have been taking a stab at painting Monet’s flowers lately…and next week I’ll show you how that’s coming along.


Have a great Super Bowl Weekend everybody! Go Peyton!

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