Watercolor Tutorials

Before I forget: I will be in Boyleston, MA next Sunday, Feb. 12, at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden. Details at the  end of this awesome post.

Now, where was I? Oh, right:

I am such a typical Capricorn. I’m musical, fun to a fault, quite the gourmet, and I totally love humanity***.

Ha ha! Just kidding.

If you know a Capricorn, then you know that we are the Vulcans of the zodiac. We are very serious people; practical,patient, determined, and can nurse a grudge better than an entire scrum of Hatfields.

Oh, that last thing might just be me. Point is, you have patted up a watercolor tutorial given by a Capricorn (yours truly) who is still trying to work out How to Paint Winter, so yes, we are going to re-re-re-paint the same damn trees again. Because did I mention that us Capricorns are patient and determined, and awesomely good at sticking with something, sometimes to a ridiculous extent, until we get it right?

Once more, this is the internet photo that I have been referring to for the past three or four weeks in my watercolor tutorials about painting Winter:

This is an excellent photo of Winter. It appealed to me because it had the kinds of Wintery trees that we all love: the snow-covered pine, the snow-covered deciduous, the misty woods in the back ground. And I love the monochrome of the color scheme, which is mostly shades of gray, which does not necessarily make it an excellent reference for a watercolor. Painting in monochrome is hard. I’ve never done it, because, you know, I’ve got my hands full trying to get it right with the whole paint box at my disposal.

So, from what I’ve learned about the limits of my ability (that I’ve been re-working on in my blog posts for the past three or four weeks), I am going to go straight for the green paint when I begin my watercolor again this week:

 

Let’s see, this is the 5th? 6th? time I’ve painted this snow-covered pine tree. I have a lot more confidence this week, which is why I decided to add another snow-covered pine tree (to the right, see below) for my painting this week. In order to differentiate the trees you can see that I’ve used a bluer color for the 2nd pine tree:

OK, let’s do the snow-covered deciduous tree now:

 

 

Because I am not painting in a sky, I am changing the way I do the background trees this time. This week, you can see that I’ve painted in just one layer of color here (see below):

I think, with the white sky that I’m leaving unpainted, that this single color will work better than the way I normally paint background trees, as in this sample:

This week, I am very happy with the way this ridge of blue paint looks (below), because I love taking advantage of letting watercolor do what it wants to do:

Now I’m using pale gray to paint in the background trees:

I’m dabbing in chunks of white paint, hoping that it will add “sparkle”:

So this is how the picture looks so far . . .

. . . before I decide to add an element that I’ve haven’t tried yet in this picture, which is some blue “snow” lines in the foreground:

All I have to do is crop this painting and it is

DONE.

Compare to last week’s effort:

I’m not saying that this week’s painting is good. I’m just saying that it is better. Patience, determination, etc., all those old, boring Capricorn traits keep me fixated on this scene, try-try-trying again and again, until I can pass off a half-decent depiction. So what if this is the 7th time (and counting) that I’ve been over this same territory? I don’t expect to be good right off the bat — do you?? 

By the way, Top Cat thought the new pic was only OK, but he was really impressed with the back ground. TC is in the print business (big fancy commercial printing, glossy ads and packaging for cosmetics and pharma), and he praised the background trees, namely this bit:

“How did you do that?” he asked; “It looks embossed!” Between you and me, I think that these background trees are crap and, if I paint this again, I will break out a new 00-size brush to get in some really fine lines here and do better with my tree shapes but, having Top Cat’s positive feedback, I know consider this one of my “party tricks” that I can pull out when I need to dazzle a viewer, maybe detract attention from a weakness in a picture. (Capricorns are very strategic.)

What Top Cat failed to notice, however, is that my treatment of these background trees isn’t even naturalistic. It’s pure invention, my own stylization, which I give you permission to borrow or otherwise appropriate for your own devices.

Speaking of Winter, we got another minor snowfall this week:

It only amounted to an inch or two, hardly worth putting out the old Champagne-O-Meter, but I mention it because it was a chance for me to test my cat-sheltering skills. When our last snow storm hit, on Jan. 6, our front porch cat, Steve, huddled in his lean-to by the stoop:

Now, this is Steve’s second Winter at large, and I have no idea where he hid out during bad weather last year, but he made it through so I know he is one tough hombre. But still, I can not abide seeing seeing a cat like this. As soon as the snow melted (which was practically the next day), I fixed his lean-to: I made it smaller (to better trap his body heat) and enclosed that back end, where the snow was blowing in, and I added another layer of plexiglass to his lean-to. Steve appreciates the transparency.

Better still, I re-vamped one of the “cubbies” that I keep in the garage:

It’s a never-used covered litter pan with an extra large-size top on it (for better insulation), stuffed with straw. So when it began to snow on Tuesday morning. . .

. . . I trotted out to the garage to make sure everything was warm and cozy:

I’m happy to say that Steve spends almost every night in this cubby.  As long as I keep my distance, that is, go no further than the doorway to the garage, I can call Good-night to him from a car-length away and he’ll blink and chirp back a faintly cranky “Nighty-nite” to me.

Speaking as a Capricorn, seeing this kitty face on a cold Winter night is about as happy as I get.

But I can get positively giddy reading your Comments, Dear Readers — Vicki in Michigan, Deb Mattin in New Hampshire, Thea in the Republic of California, and Kirra in Oz — all who marched for the cause last week: You light up my day! And all of us who were there in spirit, and who, like Becky, needle our lazy ass, conformist, shit-eating careerist representatives in congress to Man Up against Der Drumpf, I cannot tell you how much you give me hope that America is redeemable. Which I forget on a daily basis.

Note to all our Dear Readers from the midwest, including Indiana, the land of “nice”: On January 30 New Yoker Josh Sternberg helped put the call out, via Twitter, on January 30, for a protest to be held the next day at the Brooklyn home of Senate Minority Leader and New York Senator Chuck Schemer, to object to Mr. Schumer’s collaboration with the Republicans. And what might this platform for civic participation be called?

“What the Fuck Chuck” rally in Park Slope tomorrow. Bring your kids. Should be a blast!

Yeah, that’s what New Yorkers call “nice”. And so, three thousand people showed up to urge Mr. Schumer to get some balls and put up a fight against Der Drumpf and his half-wit supporters.

Somebody say Amen.

Now that I feel my blood boiling and my stomach is churning with pure hatred for those who want to revive the ghost of Antonin Scalia, let’s back away from the politics and resume our meander in the tributaries of my stream on consciousness. Relax. Calm down. Think good thoughts about a kitty cat. Let’s dip our toes back into the La La Land of Yours Truly:

Do you remember how I mentioned that us Capricorns are ambitious? Oh? Did I forget to mention that? Well, we are very ambitious folk, us Capricorns. And exactly how does that pertain to watercolor painting?

Here’s the answer:

I am inspired by these beautiful blue tones of late afternoon. So next week we are going to paint something that I’ve never tired: Monochrome. I’m going to paint a Winter scene in one color — shades of blue. Can I pull it off?

I honestly don’t know. But meet me here next Friday, and we’ll watch me paint on the verge of disaster.

OR, you can meet me in Boyleston, Massachusetts! I’ll be at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden on Sunday, Feb. 12, from 1 – 2 PM. I’m going to talk about how I blew up the garden-writing genre, exploded all its cliches and predictable sentimentality, when I wrote Gardens of Awe and Folly; and how a dedicated non-gardner such as myself pulled off such a feat — a ridiculous achievement matched only by my entire publishing career, which is pretty much a scam (as I am eminently unqualified to be a writer/illustrator at all).

I hope to see you there!

*** Me? A music lover? I detest background music and my favorite song in the world (for the record, it’s My Ever-changing Moods by The Style Council) is something that I can listen to only once every other year, so that I don’t get bored with it. Because I do get soooo bored with noise.

As for fun: I’m heavily into self-medication.

I have the palate of a six year old.

My dearest hope for this precious planet is that people die out and leave it the hell alone.

Wait. This a too down-beat ending of our weekly visit. So here’s some pix of Taffy, frolicking in his Winter Garden:

That cat surely does have exquisite taste in dirt.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

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The Mall, Washington D.C. during D. Drumpf’s inauguration:

The Mall, the next day, during the Women’s March on Washington, January 17, 2017:

Paige Carmichael, age 6, from Chadd’s Ford, PA, in Washington D.C. on January 21, 2017:

My neck of the woods, Grand Central Terminal, New York City, on January 21, 2017:

January 21, 2017: 19 million marchers, 60 countries around the world, including Antartica:

Were you, like me, taken by surprise how yuuuuge this thing was? Are you, like me, overwhelmed and almost heart-sick with gratitude to every person who showed up? Did you, like me, stay home because . . . well, there is no excuse why I stayed home: I should have been paying more attention, and roused myself from my routine, and bought me a hot pink “pussy hat” from Etsy, and gotten on a bus or a train and shown up.

As it happened, on the warm and sunny early afternoon of the march, I was driving through my sleepy woodsy neighborhood on my way to keep an appointment here in Nassau County, Long Island, and I passed a great number of ramblers, dog-walkers, and runners enjoying the Spring-like weather. Then in the distance I spotted a young couple walking together by the side of the road (no grubby suburban sidewalks in this bucolic scene in the area known as “The Estates”) and they were pushing a baby stroller and holding holding up a home made sign. When I got near enough to read it, the sign said: Love Trumps Hate.

Well, while I don’t entirely believe that that’s true (because I live in the real world), I appreciated the context of the sentiment and I admired their gumption to hold a one-family rally of solidarity here on the back roads of The Estates, so I honked my horn and gave them the thumb’s up, and that’s what I did for the Women’s March.

By the way, Long Island comprises two counties, Nassau and Suffolk. In Nassau County Hillary beat Trump by 5% (31,000 votes) on this Republican strong hold of Long Island. It was in Suffolk County where Trump won big: 8 points, or by 50,000 votes, in deep-blue New York State. Suffolk County is also where, starting from 1935, American Nazis had a summer camp for the indoctrination of their future storm troopers, until 1941 when it was forcibly closed. Forcibly closed. By the American government. Because even in 1941, the American Nazi supporters of Hitler had, otherwise, no intention of renouncing their hideous ideology for being, you know, like, wrong.

Yeah, I’m saying it: That’s who voted for D Drumpf in 2016.

Camp Siegfried. You can look it up.

So, Dear Readers and nasty women, shall we paint something Wintery today?

You remember this photo from last week:

Today we are going to see if/how we can paint that middle tree:

So let’s start :

I am painting over my tree’s penciled-in guide lines with broken lines of watercolor:

The thing, as I see it, is to make up a “tree” with more-or-less dotted lines in varying widths and in varying hues of gray and gray-blue and blue (because I’m whimsical that way):

 

On to the trunk:

Done:

So, from last week and the week before, I now have three “samplers” of three different Winter tree effects. . .

. . . which I am going to assemble into one scene, inspired by that photo that I got off the internet:

Are you ready? Because we’re doing it right now!

I only need to sketch in a few guide lines. . .

. . . and away we go:

 

I am working much faster here than I normally do, because I am still on the learning curve here and I don’t need this picture to look perfect to validate myself as an artist (hint, hint). But even having low expectations, I was not satisfied that (see above) those two trees were adequately differentiated in color and texture, so I added on a faintly greenish over-wash on the pine:

So now it looks like this:

Now I have to work wet-in-wet for the background:

 

 

I didn’t photograph the painting of this background bit because we already watched me do that in last week’s post and the week before, so we know how that goes. Let’s skip ahead to what this thing looks like when it’a all high and dry:

All we need to do is crop it and we are

DONE:

OK, it’s a crap pic but now I get the gist.

No if’s and’s or but’s: I will have to do this again because, Ick (see above). And when I try this again, I will be more mindful of the compositional mistakes I made in trying to replicate my internet photo. Namely, I have placed that line of background trees too close to the same line as the threes in the foreground, which looks weird and is why there is no depth to this scene.

Also, this picture is just not painted all that well.

Even though I work exclusively from photos, I now realize that all photos are not equal: I am much better when I am using my own photos or photos from someone I really like,  of something I’m really invested in, such as a DoG or a cat or (as someone really had me do this for them) a favorite  teacup. That’s what I can get into. Painting from an internet photo, which represents a landscape that I have no personal connection to, is more challenging than I anticipated. So, there’s that.

It looks to me that next week, if you can stand it, I am going to sit down one more time and paint this scene again. Let’s see if I’m right, that by correcting the mistakes that I’ve observed above, I can come up with a pic that works.

This, you see, is how a self-taught watercolorist, such as myself, teaches herself.  You begin by taking a stab at something that you know you cat do but you do it any way, and the thing looks like crap but you don’t quit because it looks like crap, noooooo, not you, you observe what you did right and what you did wrong and you do it again, and again, and again, each time righting the wrongs of the previous crappy effort, and with each repeat you get slightly better and better and better, until you’re pretty damn good.

Get it?

So let’s take heart, my Wonder Ones, and march our nasty selves back to the watercolor table one more time and see if we can’t learn something worthwhile next week from the same-old-same-old. You in?

 

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Last week’s painting:

I give it a 5 out of 10. And that’s only because I’m looking at it cross-eyed and from across the room and there’s a really nice CD playing in the background which puts me in a good mood, namely Joni Mitchell’s Night Ride Home, and because, by my count, there are only 310 minutes left in the day in which I have to stay sober and that makes me very happy indeed.

So, this (above) is a 5-out-of-10 picture. Well, I am not a 5-out-of-10 kind of person. Nope. Not me.

So today I am going to take out another piece of paper from my stash of specially-cut 90-lb Canson  (perfect for doodles) . . .

. . . and I am going to do this:

Yes, this week I am at it again, only this time I’m going to start the bleeds from the top (Literally. You can check out last week’s painting — I started the bleed at the bottom last week, which was very whimsical of me):

Next, I’m dabbing in a really strong gray here (below), which would appear to be far too dark except for my secret knowledge that this paint will turn much lighter than this when it dries:

While the pic is still wet . . .

. . . I will “pick up” some of the paint (again, this is different from last week’s strategy):

I used a hair drier to get this show on the road, which is why there is an unsightly puddle there on the right edge. Guess what’s going to be cropped out at the end of this pic???

Feeling much less ham-handed today than I did last week, I am using my China White watercolor here for this next step, instead of acrylic, since I really loathed the way I could not control the acrylic paint the last time I attempted this:

Today let’s see what happens when I “shadow” these white trees like this:

And then, let’s see how it looks when I paint in the background come ca:

I’ve always said that the only thing that makes me a decent painter is not that I have innate talent; it’s because I’m willing to PRACTICE until I can turn a 5-out-of-10 skill into at least a 7-out-of-10 aptitude. This is AFTER:

And this was BEFORE:

All I can say is that it’s BETTER. Not good, but BETTER. And if you keep at it, my darlings, you can not help but get better and better and better, even if (and this is the lesson of this week’s post) the range of improvement isn’t drastic, it’s still worth it to try, try, try, try again. Example follows.

This week, I am painting this:

I’m doing just the one tree, in the front there. I don’t recall ever painting a snow-drenched ever green before so this is all new to me and you can watch me work it out from step one.

I begin by taking a good look at this photo, to map out where I will NOT be painting — the secret to painting snow is that YOU DON’T PAINT IT. The important thing to understand is that you will be painting around the snow, leaving only blank white paper to “stand in” for the shite stuff.

So, having thought about what I won’t be painting in this tree, I put down just a few pencil lines to indicate the shape of the tree:

I’m using a blue-gray paint because evergreens rarely look green on a snowy day, right?

I’m working with very diluted (watery) paint:

Now I’m painting around the “snow” (which calls for a lot of self-control and attention(:

Of course, since it was a first attempt, it STINKS:

My big mistake was that I had tried to “shade” a big hunk of snowy branch in the middle of the tree with pale blue but it didn’t work. And there is no finesse with the way I’ve laid down the paint inside the tree. I obviously have a lot of room for improvement.

So what do I do?

I try it again, and again, and again. (My final attempt is the one on the lower right.)

Here’s a close up of me using watercolor over those pencil makes I drew on the paper as guide lines for my painting:
Now that I look at this pic in this un-finished state, I kind of like the way this tree looks. Maybe it’s not necessary to paint a background for it after all. Hmmmmmmm. [Pause for thought.]

I will probably incorporate this idea into my painting for next week, when I attack the problem of How To Paint a Deciduous Tree in Winter (see below, the one with all the pointy branches going every which way):

And then I’ll put it all together and we will have a complete Winter scene:

OTHER STUFF:

To answer your lovely inquiries about our calico cat, Candy, who returned from her three-month vision quest last November looking much, much the worse for wear, and hunkered down in one corner of the kitchen from which she refused to budge because, having lived with us for 9 years now, she knows that basically we are serial cat murderers who can’t be trusted to get within 10 feet of her.

Candy stared out curled up on the bare floor, but I was able to pull a fast one and get her a small hand towel to ward off the chill (it’s November her perch in the kitchen is near the back door and we live in a 100-year old house that is as hard to keep heated as a birdcage anyway):

One day, taking advantage of her dinner break one evening, I managed to slip an additional fuzzy wuzzy blankie under her to make her old bones a tad more comfy:

Then one day I did the unpardonable. I tucked a heating pad in between the folds of that pink blankie, which was an objectionable level of comfort that Candy refused to have any part of. She abandoned the kitchen and found a “safe” corner on the hard wood of our living room, which meant that  yes, I had to finally wash the kitchen floor, but also meant that I didn’t have to vacuum the L.R. because we still consider Candy a flight risk (yay!) Eventually I was able to sabotage her perch there:

But you know how cats have a thing for not doing what you wish they would do. One day some big boxes full of packing material got delivered to the house, and we unpacked them and carefully arranged the packing material in a place where I would get to them on my next thorough cleaning day basically when hell freezes over, so here is where Candy now spends her days, giving us the stink eye:

BTW, Candy is the mother of two out of three of these lunk heads:

Thank you, Dearest Readers, for your Comments and B-day wishes. You are all so kind and caring and I am grateful to have you all in my mind and heart when I sit at this computer and type my report on cats and cups of tea and countdowns to cocktail time.

Here’s to us, my Wonder Ones, on this strange and mournful day:

 

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How long has it been since I painted this illustration (below)?

Let’s see. . . it’s on page 130 of a book that came out 10 months ago, which means that I turned in the manuscript about 2 years ago, which means that I painted it around 2013 or ’12  from a memory of a trip to Edinburgh that I took in 2006 . . .

. . . so that’s a long, long, long time ago. In fact, it’s been so long since I’ve held a paintbrush that, when our Dear Reader Deborah Hatt requested that I show some Winter watercolor tutorials and I dragged myself to my workroom to get out the necessary equipment, I could not  locate my paper supply. True story. I have stacks of the stuff  (Canson 90 lb), and it is, as you can imagine, a rather crucial ingredient to the magic I make.

But last July, when I did a major clean up in my work space, and by the way the was the same time I quit painting, it seems that I found a diabolically clever place to stash about a thousand sheets of watercolor paper. I had found a place to keep it well out of my sight, as that was how I was feeling at the time. I haven’t been in a good mood for much of 2016.

Well, I looked high and low for that big stack of paper and, after looking hither and yon, I took a Zen Time Out and reasoned that looking through drawers and in book cases was a waste of my time as the paper could only be lurking in an appropriately paper-stack-sized space. Duh. But by then, I’d lost interest, so I went to my computer and watched Love Actually on Netflix instead of continuing the search. Yeah, it’s a stupid movie, but it’s a great stupid movie. Oh, how I wish that I could wake up from this nightmare and find that I live in London and that High Grant is my Prime Minister and I serve him tea every day.

Oh well. Back to the quest: I turned on my Himalayan Rock Salt lamp and inhaled the mysterious good vibes and trudged back to my workroom. And lo, there was my stack of Canson 90 lb watercolor paper, right in front of my face, on the (eye-level) middle shelf of the same closet I’d searched thoroughly the day before. Wow, I said to myself. That is a really excellent place to hide a shit load of paper!

So, Winter. How To. And all.

Because I have not painted in quite a while I am going to start us out with something super easy. So that’s why I am referring you (above) to page 130 of Gardens of Awe and Folly, specifically to the background of that little picture, which looks like this (below):

To the best of my memory, I believe that I painted it with my usual paints, a mix of cheap Grumbacher and slightly better Winsor Newton, plus some homemade gray paint I made by mixing blue and burnt sienna (which could be the topic of a future, incredibly boring tutorial on mixing paint):

I make a wash of blue and gray:

I’ve said before that the good thing about using only one kind of paper your whole life is that you get to know almost everything that paper will and won’t do for you. In the case of my Canson 90 lb, I know  just how wet it has to be to get a good bleed when I work “wet-in-wet”, like this:

I am working quickly here, using more color than I really want because I also know my paints very well, and I know how much lighter these colors will be when they dry:

Oh, how I loves me a good bleed. This really is my favorite part of painting, letting watercolors do what watercolors do! You never now how it’s going to turn out! You’ll either get a happy surprise that you never could have made happen on purpose, or something that looks like puke (in which case you just throw it away and start over and not take it personally).

Anyhoo, while the paints are still wet, I am going to get my Chinese White paint and load up my brush directly from the tube:

And then I’m going to dab it hither and thither — look how cool it bleeds!

(Yes, I am wearing band aids. Dry Winter weather, delicate figure tips, you know how that goes.)

After letting the paints dry, I take a look at what I’ve got, and I think I can work with it:

Next, I load up my teeny tiniest brush with a very watery blue:

And I test out its color strength (and to check whether I remember how to paint trees after such a long hiatus) on a scrap piece of paper:

I want to emphasize how necessary it is to keep a “practice” bit of paper near you when you paint. I use it to try out color mixes, saturations, and techniques before I attack my Work In Progress. Save yourself some heartache and have a practice run at anything you’re about to do before you make it part of the permanent record, OK?

I am using acrylic paint here, called Titian White, because it’s easier to use than the Chinese White, or so I thought, a choice that I regret now that I look at it because I am so out of practice that my handling of the paint lacks finesse. I might as well be scrubbing it on with a busted twig I got from the holly bush in my front yard :

So this is how it looks in the end:

And, because I am an ILLUSTRATOR and can’t stand looking at a picture without a narrative, I have to add some footprints in this pic to give it a bit of a story:

So that is the gist of how to paint a bit of Winter. Neither Taffy nor I think this is a particularly well-done bit of work, but it’s my first time back at the old paint box and although I did expect to get back in the swing immediately, I can see now that it’s going to take some time and patience to get my groove back.

So, next week, we are going to have another go at painting Winter.

The Champagne-O-Meter is at the ready . . .

Last Sunday’s snow fall, first good chill of the season.

. . . and my crack team of assistants is standing by. . .

. . . and, little darlings, it’s going to be a long, cold, Trumpy Winter that we can’t dream or drink away, so we might as well paint it:

Have a great weekend, everyone, and we’ll meet back here next Friday to re-paint those background trees and have a go at those pines. You in?

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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:

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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!

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


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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?

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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:

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Over which I wash a very watery brown:

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

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

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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:

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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:

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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 . . .

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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:

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And now I begin Mac’s eyebrows:

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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:

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

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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!

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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:

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Ca-ching!

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

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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:

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

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

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It’s all about the crop. This:

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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. . .

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

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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:

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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.

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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:

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So I start over:

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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. 

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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.

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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).

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

XXOO

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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?

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photo credit: Favim.com

When I am wrecked and racked, I paint stones.

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

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When I paint stones I feel calm, and quiet.

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

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

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

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

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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?

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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:

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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!

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

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

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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.

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I call this Squint, Stonewall.

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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:

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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:

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And saving the best ’til last,

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

Maryanne from SC!

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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:

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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:

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

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And more greenery:

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

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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:

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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):

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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:

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

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

Yay for me!

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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:

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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:

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Whew.

DONE:

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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:

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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):

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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:

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

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

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

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

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And now the plot thickens.

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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:

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

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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:

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

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

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

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And then I work the middle-ground:

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Something tells me that I could stop here . . .

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. . . 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:

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

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

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

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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?

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

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And oh well, I guess it’s DONE:

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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.

CAN THIS PICTURE BE SAVED?

This is it BEFORE:

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And this is it AFTER:

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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:

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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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