Watercolor Tutorials

Ahhhhh…AUGUST. My Favorite month of the year!

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The garden is in peak shape…

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…the weeds are SPECTACULAR …

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…even the spider webs are more gorgeous in August:

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And the cats are pretty damn cute, too:

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There’s even a new boy in town, called Steve:

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I think Steve would like to join our herd, if only Lickety, Taffy, and Bibs were not dedicated to keeping him as a “front yard only” cat. For now, feeding Steve on our front porch wall (above) seems to be keeping the peace; but when it starts to get cold then I’m afraid that Sheriff Vivian will be rounding her up a tuxedo kittie no matter what the rest of the herd thinks about it.

So, I’m still going through the watercolor sketches that I was making about ten years ago, when I first took up painting as a prodigy (at age 48)  because I wanted to write illustrated travel memoirs. When I felt ready to make book-worthy pictures, I abandoned the re-iterations I’d been making (see last week’s post) and started doing real “picture” pictures.

Now, many of you Dear Readers know that my first successful watercolor “picture” pictures were my Triscuits:

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Since this blog gets new readers all the time, please let me explain to all the newcomers (Hi! Glad you could join us!) that I started out making Triscuits because they were tiny, simple, low-risk, and about all I could handle as a brand new, self-taught artist. I relied on my Triscuits to do a lot of the work of illustrating my first book,  When Wanderers Cease to Roam:

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But at the same time, I was painting larger pix on the side, slowly learning the confidence to make double or triple Triscuit-sized pix. So here are a few such Post-triscuit pictures that I made during my, ahem, artistic development:

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This is one of the earliest pictures that I did, from a photograph I took of a row of mews houses in my old hometown of Pelham, New York — the village that was the subject of  When Wanderers Cease to Roam.

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I never finished this panting because by the time I’d got the roof and upper story done, I understood that I was not particularly interested in painting architecture. Especially if said architecture comes with multi-pane faux-Tudor windows (all it takes to make the whole thing look hinkey is ONE wrong pane).

Here are some other sketches that did not make it into Wanderers:

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I have to explain that I really enjoyed “painting”, that is, actually not painting, snow. I loved what you could imply by just NOT painting …

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…that is, letting the white of the watercolor paper show through, letting it do all the work, as far as subject matter is concerned:

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It’s exactly what isn’t painted that has all the heft the substance and content of these little pix:

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The more confidence I got about handling paint, the more ambitious I got for my paintings. In these slightly bigger-then-Triscuits pix, I am trying to add something more than just a well-painted form in the pic…I am trying to include what I call information.

I wanted to make pix that were about something, a place, mood, a season, a point of view.

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Ahhhh…perhaps you noticed something happening there, with that last photo (above). What’s happening is that I have discovered a fun, new format for my miniature watercolor paintings; a long, narrow, horizontal format that lets me present “information” in a way that I find artistically fulfilling:

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Yes, what you are seeing above are my first attempts at a format that became the motif of my second book, Le Road Trip:

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I LOVE this format, which I call a “Squint“.

I have so much to tell you about my beloved Squints, but I am sorry that it will have to wait…it’s August.

And, dear Readers, I will be MIA for the rest of my favorite month of the year (August), but when I get back to Long Island I promise that I will pick up this story of The Squints right where I’ve left off…

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And who knows…there might even be a First Ever Squint Give Away in the works.

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Please enjoy the beautitude of August wherever you are, and meet me back here on September 4!

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To continue  last week’s “Beautiful Words” list…

Irian Jaya (former name of the Papua province of Indonesia)

Mindanao

Coeur d’Alene (Idaho)

Ouagadougou (Upper Volta/Burkina Faso)

And oh my, how I wish we could call L.A. by its English translation: The Angels

I notice that all the above are place names. Hmmmm….I’ll have to think harder to find regular words that would fit into this list. Something like, maybe, cellar (which H. L. Menkin said was the most beautiful word in the English language).

Please feel free to add to this collection (above). Yikes. I just realized that I have started yet another collection…I can’t help myself. I am a Collector.

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As many of you Dear Readers know, I collect Blue Jay feathers. (I collect molted feathers, one at a time, mostly gathered from my own backyard but occasionally from walks in the woodlands of the north shore of Long Island. Perfectly legal.)

In the past, I’ve also had a tea cup collection …

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… and an Owl Jewelry collection…

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The last remains of a once great hoard of Owl Jewelry

…and a collection of Bow pins…

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The last remains of a once great hoard of Bow Pins.

I am the only one in my immediate family who collects stuff; I mean, the only one to hunt and acquire stuff with a particular focus. I don’t know why I do it.

Why do people become collectors?

Without getting too psychological about it (whew), I think I have an answer. I think some people become collectors because they are in love with patterns, in love with arrangement, and order, and design.

I think I’m that kind of person because my collections (of stuff, not words) are all about the delight I get from making patterns. I collect objects that I find pleasant to look at, and are familiar, but not without thrilling variations within their repetition.

In the ten years since I began to paint, I have also collected a monster pile of watercolors that I have begun to cull. That is, this past weekend I started to sort through my old collections of watercolors to trash, or save, as the case may be. These are some of the oldest watercolor studies that I have:

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As you can see, in my early days as an artist, I was very happy painting pix that I thought of as compositions that I called Reiteration of the Form.

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But now I can plainly see that it’s my collecting nature that I am painting here, my pleasure in making patterns with objects (even in 2D form). And yes, I was a miniaturist from the Get-Go.

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If you look closely at the tricycle in composition of Pedals That Used To Take Me Where I Wanted To Go, (below) you will see that it is a cut-out:

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I cut out that tricycle from its original Look! No Hands Vehicles! (below) composition  because it was red. Its  red color, along with its three-wheeled-ness, made it odd man out:

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BTW, I was 47 when I was painting these minuscule studies, with my trusty (but definitely NOT professional quality) Grumbacher watercolors.

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A set of 24 colors like this costs about $20.00. Cheap! Paint away! there’s no such thing as “wasting” paint like this!!

 

It was by painting these little nonsense collections that I learned what the Grumbachers were capable of, and what I as a painter could call my “skills”.

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To get this variety of forms for each picture, I did a TON of research (on line, by Googling various vintage items on eBay; in the real world, by referring to my small collection of Sears catalogues from the 1960s and ’70s). So I learned that I was the kind of painter who took an intellectual approach to my subject, and insisted on historical accuracy.

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Because my natural inclination was to work small, I learned that I enjoyed painting detail, and I had the patience to hold a very tiny brush very steady.

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And because I painted reiterations, I learned that I did not bore easily, and had the endurance to work on a picture until all its components were right, and until there was enough “there” there that some sense or inkling of narrative could be intuited from the image.

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Yes, that’s what I wrote, a sentence with both the word “intuited” and “narrative” in it. I do that sometimes, when I’m trying to sound legitimately “artistic”. Like, I could totally hang with any BFA out there.

All I mean is that, even in these little compositions of reiteration, there is a story going on, and it has to do with subject matter, as opposed to painters who paint story-less pictures, canvases that are only “about” color or paint, because that’s what ART is these days, or used to be; who can keep up?

Anyhoo, these were the first pictures I ever painted, for no purpose other than I wanted to know how to make a picture so, starting within my comfort zone, I painted objects whose forms appealed to me, in compositions that expressed my personality. Isn’t that how everyone starts out?

 

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I start with a pencil drawing of a corner in a tiny walled garden of C. W. Post college:

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After applying dots of resist, I try to mix paints for a color that looks like old brick (doesn’t that blob of paint below look more like a crusty bit of old coagulated ketchup? I know: Ewwwwww.):

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I used to love painting bricks and stones, but it’s been a while since I last did a brick pic:

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While the bricks dry, I paint a foreground flower bush of some sort (I’m not good on naming flora, as you Dear Readers well now — but whatever this flower bush thing is, it lets you see the resist better now — it’s the yellow stuff):

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Here is when I decide that the bricks are too dark; they stand out too much compared to the flower bush thing. So I take a wet paper towel and I dab up some paint:

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Generally, this is not a smart thing to do — I speak from much previous experience — but I thought I could get away with it here because all I want to do is make something that looks like old brick, for which paper towel won’t be a deal-breaker. I do the deed, and then I start to hum my “Finish Painting a Flower Bush and Another Shrub” song :

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Please note (above) that I have applied strokes of resist over a lightly-painted yellow-green foreground. Now see (below) how I am going to paint OVER the resist on that yellow-green background:

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I remover the resist in the flower bush, and in the yellow-green background, and VOILA:

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And now I’m going to hum my “Painting In The Row of Shrubs” song:

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I hope you don’t mind if I  point out the unpainted tree truck (above). As you can see, there’s a blob of yellow and green paint on it. Up until this moment I have been very faithful to the photograph from which I am painting this pic…which included a tree with a bit of fernery or something that was growing out of the lowest bit of its trunk (still present in the painting below):

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I knew the minute that I painted that ferny thing that it was not going to work. It just looked weird there, that unexplainable fern thing that looks like I don’t know how to paint, and it was only a tiny digression from the subject matter anyway, so I exercised my Artistic License and I lifted the ferny thing off the trunk the same way I done it on the brick walkway. As ou can see below, the ferny thing is gone now:

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In case you are keeping score, no rescues have happened yet. So far, I’ve only made minor corrections — I didn’t botch this pic up until much further down the road. Stay tuned:

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Ta Da:

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This is when I thought the picture was DONE!  But, upon closer inspection, I saw that the tree was lop-sided, so I swooped in for my first Rescue:

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Picking UP paint is not a rescue: having to apply white acrylic over a mistake, and then having to paint over it to match the rest of the pic…THAT’S a rescue. See the white acrylic paint on the lower right side of the tree’s foliage? That’s Rescue No. 1.

But, having fixed the wonky foliage, I now considered this painting DONE! YAY!

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But alas, I take a careful look at my source photo:

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And I smack myself right between my eyes. The problem is obvious. All the that I was painting this pic, I had it in my head that the tree was a pom pom. No matter how many times I referred back to this photo, I only saw the tree as a pom pom. But now I can plainly see that the damn thing is a mushroom. So, yes, with your brain in cahoots, your eyes will deceive you.

And so I begin Rescue No. 2 with a layer of white acrylic paint over the area that I’ll have to fix:

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I apply the background of yellow paint, and I darken the color of the sky, and I put in a few patches of blue in the tree for good measure. Yeah, it looks like crap. That background area is simply too large a picture space to cover up with white acrylic paint. The acrylic was gloppy and stood out to much against the small-toothed 90 lb. paper I use:

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And so, I begin Rescue No. 3 with a clever cut out:

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Oh, by the way, I’m on Day Two of this piece. So far I have about 4 – 5 hours of painting time in this pic.

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I’m not humming now, I’m praying Please let me get away with this.  I paint in a convincing background, I give thanks to the great DoG in the sky, and I almost start to tell myself By Jove, I think I’ve got it…until I take a good look at what I’ve done to the tree — the left side of the tree needs a curve, dammit. But this does not call for a rescue…

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…because all I need to do here is a pick-up, like so:

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And now …

… without further ado …

… I introduce to you, my Dear Readers, my first Piece of Toast of 2015:

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The Knot Garden of C. W. Post College, available for one lucky Dear Reader:

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By the way, there’s a 4th rescue that I didn’t have the heart to bore you with. If you win this Piece of Toast, you’ll be able to inspect all the rescues up close and personal and fine the 4th rescue! In fact, I think this Piece of Toast is a veritable catalogue of all the ways a painting can go wrong, and it can all be YOURS!

Here’s how I am going to give away this Piece of Toast: My OG Dear Readers know that I usually limit my give-aways to Dear Readers who have Commented on the past 2 posts of this blog. But since this is my first give-away of 2015, and I think there are a lot of new, shy Dear Readers out there, I am going to open this up To One and All this One time.

I had Top Cat pick a number from 1 to 50. I wrote his pick on a slip of paper and I put it in this envelope:

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I sealed the envelope:

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All you have to do is leave a Comment with your guess of a number between 1 and 50. Next week, you will witness my opening of the envelope and the reveal of the winning number inside.

If, for some rare and strange reason, there are more than 50 Dear Readers who want to own this Vivian Swift Piece of Toast, or if someone else already has guessed your lucky number, please feel free to re-use a number. If that number is the one that Top Cat picked, resulting in a tie between two Dear Readers, the Piece of Toast will go to the Dear Reader who has Commented in the last 2 weeks.

Despite the woes of painting, this pic was fun to do and I know I will be keeping my paint brushes busy in the future with more Triscuits and Pieces of Toast. But Good Luck, everyone, on Toast No. 1!

And have a happy, happy 4th of July!

 

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I have to be honest with you today, Dear Readers. Last Week Top Cat bought me a gift from Ye Olde Fine Wine and Liquor Store: whipped cream flavored vodka from France. It was kind of a joke. I mean, really — whipped cream flavored vodka? Seriously. What would anyone over the age of 15 want with whipped cream flavored vodka?

Last night I opened my gift and discovered that whipped cream flavored vodka tastes like the best soda pop you’ve ever had; like liquid bubblegum; like cotton candy with ice cubes; like birthday cake in a glass. It was like drinking Pixie Stix, and we all know that Pixie Stix come in a six-pack. Last night it was all about the “whipped cream”.

This morning I am dealing with the “vodka” part of that equation. So, Dear Readers, please lower your expectations this morning, please don’t make any sudden movements, and please, I beg of you, keep anything foody or shiny out of my sight.

I’ve been meaning to talk about my love of decrepitude for a while, so it serves me right to make this the Topic of the Day.

I love decrepitude in a garden. Not ruin, not neglect, not that other thing that means something like disintegration. (My head hurts. I’m not going to spend much time this week searching for the mot juste.)

Wait. Let me start again.

I painted a remembrance this week, of a garden visit that I’ve always treasured for its beautiful decrepitude. It was a walled garden in London.

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I’ve never painted decrepitude, but I had a feeling that it would involve a lot of yellowy rusty-colored blobs.

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And scraggly shrubbery:

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I tried to keep the yellows and the rusty bits composed because, while nature can get away with being monotonous, an illustration can’t. So I blobbed strategically.

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See that blob in the lower right corner above?

Below, is me making that blob look sticky and brambly:

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At this point, I was becoming concerned that there was a lot of same-old same-old brambly-ness going on:

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Don’t ask me why, but I dotted in some white acrylic paint to brighten and break up the monotonous texture. I also started painting in the background, which I wanted to be really dark because the pic needs contrast:

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This is me, making more sticks:

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It’s really not that hard. Less is more. I have to keep reminding myself that.

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I forget why I took this photo (below). I know I wanted to show something…

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…maybe I wanted you to be inside this decrepitude, the way I was in my mind the whole while I was painting it. Because when you back away, like this…

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…I think you lose the “there” there. This is one of those paintings that I hated to crop. I like the little dabs of try-out colors that all my watercolors have by the time they are finished. All that marginalia tells a story, the story of how this pic was painted.

So that’s my picture of decrepitude. I made a few more paintings like it, each one more or less, mostly less, successful in portraying the state of lovely decomposition that I call decrepitude. And “decomposition” isn’t the right word either.

This might be the hangover talking, because I’ve now passed the stage of intense, intense focus on not throwing up and am entering  the stage of recovery that the experts call “feeling weepy about climate change and the fate of the polar bears” but this garden didn’t want to be weedy and overgrown. It wanted to be beautiful, and be admired. It wanted to be great, like it once was. But it just didn’t have gardeners who loved it enough to keep it in shape. So there was something so brave and epic about the way it flourished, best it could.

Decrepitude.

Thank you for not making any loud sounds, or frying bacon, or asking me why I don’t remember buying that $495.00 paint-by-number Paris street scene off of eBay last night. Much appreciated.

 

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As you might remember, last week I left you with this incomplete painting for the cover of my Damn Garden Book:

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What I am about to show you in this post took three days to accomplish, if “accomplish” is the right word. Hmmmm…let’s say that what I am about to show you took three days to ruin and rescue, ruin AGAIN and rescue AGAIN. And, by the way, in the end, my publisher didn’t care for it. Ha! I’m re-doing this baby over my shriveled with anxiety/exhausted by self-doubt remains!

I think most what I am about to show you is self-explanatory but it’s not very likely that I’ll be sitting around here, loading up the visuals, without butting into your experience of the ruin and rescue that is pretty much my bread and butter as an artist.

I begin by applying liquid masking fluid comme ca:

P1000911Joan, this is for you: When I turn on the light box, the sketch that I made on tracing paper appears, like magic, onto my 90-lb. watercolor paper (see below). I use this as a guide before I paint, but I must paint with the light box off (forgive me for repeating myself, but its the only way to see the true color of the paint).

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I hum my Painting Stand-Out Leaves song as I paint what I hope will be stand-out leaves:

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I have to constantly check the colors that I’ve already laid down on the other side, to make sure that I’m balancing light and dark greens, but not too balancing:P1000916

To get the dreamy look of blue-ish-green verdure that I love (but use sparingly), I have to work wet-in-wet:

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I now have the idea of introducing yellow into the picture. I start on the previously painted side…

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…and I put an equally bright yellow on my “new” side (see below). I also note that the “stand-out” leaves do not “stand out”, so I add one more blob of yellow to appease my sense of composition. first, I paint in a white undercoat with acrylic paint:

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But I can tell that the undercoat is very, uh, textural (gloppy), so I cut out a poise and glue it into place:

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(Jeanie: I use good old Elmer’s glue.) Please not the lovely blue-ish-green billow I put in above the yellow whatsits:

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Since I am desperate to not screw up now, I do the sensible thing (for once) and I make a “practice” painting of the banana leaves I want to do next, to add some texture that will balance those spiky shoots across the way. Note how I edited out the droopy frond because it looks stupid:

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It is obvious to me that I need to raise the banana leaves a little bit higher to balance — but not too balance — the composition:

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Nope. It’s not right (see below). I’m starting my fourth day of painting this damn thing, and the first thing I realize is that all the stuff I had just put in isn’t enough to give this imaginary garden some pizzazz.  I need to go back and add some pizzazz elements down in the lower left hand corner. Yes, I will sacrifice my dreamy blue-ish-green billow for the good of the many:

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I know exactly where to find my pizzazz elements — in my huge (note tea bag for scale) binder of failed illustrations that I never throw away — for exactly times like this:

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I dig out a Japanese lantern, some spiffy striped leaves I saw all over New Orleans, and a poinsettia tree that I remembered from Rio, and I arranged them so I could see if that’s how I want to go:

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Yep. That’ll do.

Because my brain is numb from how much damn time it’s taking to paint this damn thing, I become distracted by the sight of a very, very small beetle making his way across my desk, and I take pity on him. He looks faint with hunger, the way he is wobbling from step to itty bitty bitty step. So I go to the kitchen and I put a speck of honey on the tip of a knife, and I smear it on the desk. Mr. Beetle has no problem finding it (well, I did put it right in front of him).

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Mr. Beetle eats, and then turns around and moseys off whence he came, and I still can’t face another whole day of painting in terror. So now is an excellent time for me to mention my new favorite TV show:

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Google Images are really small.

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I  totally escape when I watch this show. It’s about being the last survivor of a world-wide virus that has killed 99.9999% of humans. I watch it and my mind is completely soothed with its premise. Imagine. 99.9999% of humanity gone. Disappeared. Ceased to being.

No war. No terrorists.  No Kardashians. No slow drivers in the left lane. No rappers. No politicians. Ahhhhhh. What a paradise. Seriously. I project all my anxieties into this TV show, and the silence and emptiness that comes back to me is Nirvana. I also laugh out loud at the hi-jinks which ensue when one is The Last Man on Earth.

I’m also a fan of Kristen Schaal, who is one of the leads:

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Even thinking about The Last Man of Earth puts me in a good mood. I’m even almost ready to go on with this post!

However, my sweet Top Cat is always urging me to Keep It Short so, this is a fine time to take a break from reading, maybe dial up The Last Man on Earth on your On Demand channel, and continue with Part II in the post that follows this one when you are ready for more damn painting.

 

 

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Picking up where we left off: I’m about to have a heart attack because I can’t seem to get this book cover painting done right the first OR second time arrrrrghghghghghghghghg.

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I am now starting my third day of painting. I am so intent on seeing if I can make the big changes that need to be made on this thing that I FORGET to take pictures of the process until I’m at the very end:

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As you can see, I’ve cut out a nice arrangement of these stripy New Orleans leaf-plants and glued them on top of my beautiful blue-ish green billow. The I painted a  Japanese lantern, cut it out, made a slot for it to slip in behind the white hollyhocks or whatever you them, and put it in place. And then I felt I needed two more stripy leaves, and arranged them in front of the lantern, as you see above. Ta-Da:

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Now I see that the tree and the background blobby (on the right) ruins the whole pic. I am totally depressed by this and I know I need a shot of something to lift my spirits but, sadly, I cannot cocktail-ify and paint at the same time so I wipe my tears and Do What Needs To Be Done.

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Oh crap. Although I’m not yet committed to this patch-up (it’s still a loose piece of cut-up watercolor paper), I can see that if I want to commit to it I’ll have to blue-up the “sky” under the palm tree to balance the amount of blue paint I’ve unintentionally loaded up under my wisteria arbor:

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This is tricky, but luckily I bought a  new paint brush and it’s working like a beaut!

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Whew. Nothing bled. Next step, remove masking and paint in wisteria:

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It looks OK to me.

P1000999So NOW I commit and glue the cut-out in place (Yes, Joan; sadly, cutting out and gluing over is the only tried and true method for me). Then I do some blending-in painting:

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I check again, and it looks like I need to take away some of the foliage from the arbor. For this, I break out the acrylic paint:

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I use the acrylic here because I’m not going to paint anything over it, so I don’t care how gloppy it is. When the pic is scanned and digitized, it will be easy to white-out this mess when they do touch-ups (usually, in my case, to remove scotch tape marks and cat hair stuck in such tape).

Jeanie asked how my cut-outs can look so seamless when done. First, it’s because nobody who looks at an illustration is looking for cut-outs. Second, it’s because I do my best to blend in the cut-outs and I must say, I do it very well. Lastly, it’s because when the piece is scanned, out gets a crazy amount of light that negates the tell-tale shadows of cut-outs and, when it’s inspected for publication, any tiny shadow or blip can be digitally erased.

P. S. White-on-whte cut-outs are the hardest to camouflage.

FINAL STEP: The overhanging boughs. Here?

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Or here?
P1010008The stakes are high. These leaves can NOT go wrong. There is no place to start over, fix, or re-do if I screw up these leaves. So I make another sketch:

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I can’t put it off any longer. I have to start painting these final, fateful leaves. I take it s-l-o-w. I remember to breathe. I steady my hand.

DONE:

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Welcome to my Gardens of Awe and Folly!!!

Yes, I see a few more things that need minor touch-ups (those wisteria flowers were not worth going to all the trouble of honing a toothpick after all — they need to be beefed up). But alas, my work is done and I’m happy. The way I arranged the title, sub-title, and author name was all up to me, and I decided that this is the lay-out that works best.

And yes, Bloomsbury wasn’t thrilled with it. They want something more, something that will add a note of exotic travel. I say it can’t be done. I say it doesn’t have to be done — the word “traveler” is in the subtitle.

But that’s for next week. Today, Dear Readers, we celebrate Friday with an ice cold beverage that makes us feel as if we are The Last Man on Earth. Or whatever your own fantasy of paradise is.

Cheers!

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Don’t worry, Dear Readers. Taffy has been fed and watered to his liking this morning so we will be undisturbed for the duration of this post by a pesky but-insky buff-colored kitteh. I think. I hope.

Last week I showed you some book cover ideas that I had sketched out. They are only sketches, the roughest of ideas. And after some discussion with my book editor and the art department and the marketing staff, we all decided that this was the most user-friendly:

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P.S.: the title of the book is not Garden Book. That’s what we call a “place holder” until I come across the brilliant title that my editor and the marketing department and the sales department all agree is the perfect “selling” title. (P.S.: I already have that title, which I will unveil at a future date. Note to Joan: Shshshshshshshhhh.)

Anyhoo. Bloomsbury has asked me to give them an actual book cover by April 10, in time for the company’s international sales rep meeting, to have something to show them to get them excited about The Damn Garden Book. So now it’s time for me to turn a rough sketch into a finished work.

First, I made another rough sketch, based on the previous half-baked idea (see above). This time I thought harder about colors, textures, composition, and the limits of my own skills:

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I cut out the area that I’d have to keep blank for the title, sub-title, and author’s name; now I know exactly what kind of “frame” I have to design around. For this sketch, I am picturing specific flowers, plants, shrubs, and trees.

The next step is to draw the actual flowers, plants, shrubs, and trees in the forms that I will actually paint:

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I drew this all on tracing paper because I intend to paint it on a light box:

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I will paint the right side of the cover first because I am left-handed.

But before I can apply paint I have to use masking liquid to reserve areas that I want to paint over. Here I am reserving flower shapes — using a toothpick — on the bottom edge of the cover:

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I turn off the light box when I apply color because if I left it on, I wouldn’t be able to see the true value of the hue.

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With a tooth pick that I careful trimmed to a fine point, I next lay down more masking liquid in the hopes of achieving a neat-o effect…an effect that I haven’t tried much, and which has never turned out all that appealing before. if I mess it up, there’s not a lot to lose: I’ll just start all over (big whoop — I have so far used up only 15 minutes of my life).

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I like it! Then I remembered that I should have left masking over the topper-most fleurs, to “save” them from the next application of paint, so I had to go back and re-mask. But so far, I’m very happy with the experiment.

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I like seeing stems, so I try another way of making them, this time just by drawing pencil lines over a layer of green-yellow watercolor and painting in the negative space (see green leafy plant below):

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And next, just so the illustration won’t look like it was painted by a two-trick pony, I try out another experiment. I do a light wash and then I “pick up” bits of wet paint with a bit of rolled-up TP. I have never done this technique before, but I’ve thought it out carefully, and I think I can pull it off.

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WHEW. So far, I haven’t wrecked the pic (see below)…so far. (I will be leaving in all the masking I’ve applied in the various areas until I get to the end of this day’s work.)

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I want to put in some long spiky leaves here to add texture to the image. I have no idea how to do long spiky leaves, but you know me: Let’s give it a whack. See what happens. You ever know. Maybe I’m a genius on a roll.

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Nope.

These long spiky leaves (below) look terrible. So guess what time it is! It’s time for a rescue!!

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Yes. This is much more like it:

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By the way, from here on in I can not use the light box because of the double layer of watercolor paper that I have to use in order to salvage this operation.

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I forgot to take photos of how I painted in a very pale blue sky atop the greenery above, and over the top of the image, across to the other side,but it’s there. I need a sky because I am proceeding to the point in the composition were I need to paint in background stuff against a blue sky. Also, I didn’t think it would look right to paint a “garden” like this against an all-white background (as in original sketch).

So. On to the final touches of Side One:

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Lastly, remove all masking, step back, and reveal:

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I like the white “flowers” so much that I’m thinking about leaving them as is. I had wanted to paint this with a very [seemingly] light touch, and I’m happy that I’ve been able to rein in my tendency to over-saturate my colors. I think that so far, it’s good.

From here on in, messing up is not an option.There are hanging branches with leaves that I want to paint over the blue sky on this side (see original sketch idea, way above, with hanging leaves on the left side — those are the leaves I want to paint) , but I need to rest. This has taken me 4 1/2 hours to paint — something of a speed record for me because I dried all the paint and masking liquid with a hair dryer.

I don’t usually use a hair dryer because I don’t have the outlets (I live in a 100-year old house) but for this I used two extension cords to plug my Conair into the guest room’s outlet across the hall.

And no, there is not path (see original sketch idea, way above) because I couldn’t figure out a way to insert it into this composition without lousing up the perspective, which is tilted forward, towards the viewer (which you might have not noticed).

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But Taffy did.

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This was going to be so much fun. As you know, I lost the London chapter of my Damn Garden Book last week, and it was still lost even after I’d done a middling-thorough search of my workroom.  I concluded that the London chapter had been accidentally buried deep within one of the piles and files (thanks for that, Gigi) that surround me in my workroom.

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So, last Saturday morning I made myself a cup of tea (I also brought a back-up beverage in case the going got really tough) and I began my down-to-the-studs search. This was going to be such fun because, as I documented the piles and files of my room [with these photos] you and I, Dear Readers, were going to laugh, and laugh, and laugh when we finally unearthed the London chapter from one of these unsuspecting piles or files.

I was just about to do my chant: Tony, Tony, look around

Something’s lost that must be found  (thank you, Rachel!)

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And then Top Cat called to me from his man cave, “Honey, I found the London chapter.”

Seems to me that I had had the London chapter in my hand one day when I must have been distracted by either a cat or a bird at the feeder at the picture window and set down those damn pages on Top Cat’s coffee table / feet-putting-up apparatus, upon which he had subsequently piled junk mail and To Do Lists atop. This is what the London chapter looks like:

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WHEW. Top Cat’s timing is always perfect. I thank DoG that he found it before I’d torn all  my piles and files apart to no avail. I spent the past Mon-Fri writing the London chapter and it was a non-stop delight. WHEW.

Anyhoo, now that the London chapter was found, I was able to spend my weekend rescuing this:

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This was a full-page (9 inches high, 8 inches wide) illustration I had done for the London chapter back in April of 2012, back when the London chapter was just a figment of my imagination.

I thought it was OK…but I looked at it again and thought it might work better as a half-page pic so I cropped it thusly:

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I also thought that I’d make the lines of my drawing more artsy by using a fun new brush/pen gizmo I’d just bought but, as you can see, that technique only highlighted my inability to draw architecture. This pic was toast.

But I never throw out my mistakes, because you never know, you know?. So I put this in the file where I store all my bad ideas and there it sat, for about three years.

And then it came time to start writing the London chapter for reals, so I pulled out this old piece of toast and gave it a good thinking.

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I needed a full-page (see 9″ x 8″ sheet of Canson 90lb. above) illustration for the title page of the London chapter, a picture that said, in a glance:

London

Walled backyard gardens in the city

This pic was on the right track. It just needed a tiny rescue to make it work.

The first thing I had to do was figure out what to cut out of the old pic. Tracing paper was my main tool:

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Then I had to position the fragment into the composition that was in my mind:

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Then I drew the composition that was in my mind:

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And then I re-drew it because my first attempt looked stupid (did I mention that, as an illustrator,  architecture is my kryponite?) :

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I began to draw the proposed comp onto the Canson 90lb working surface.

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It needed re-doing, which I did, even tho the erasures made the working surface unusable:

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Well, as you can see, after working for three and a half hours on this I still could not figure out the perspective or the architecture, so I decided to sleep on it and start over the next day.

Here’s the reason (other than my total lack of drafting skill) why this side of the illustration was so hard to get right:

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I took this photo from the third floor balcony  of the Chelsea/Knightsbridge flat of a friend. This was on one of my Summer visits, back in the days of the late ’90s and early ’00s when I would go to London for long weekends. London was where I would get into mischief, back in the late ’90s and early ’00s.

I also have a Winter version of the same scene:

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I also have sunset and dusk versions, nighttime versions, stormy weather sky versions, etc. I loved that view. I loved those walled backyards and the private forests contained within.

When I first illustrated this view, I used the whole photo but (see above) that Edwardian town house facing on the left side of this pic is more architecture than I can handle.  I also wanted to emphasize the walled gardens more, that is, I wanted to elongate the verdure and turn the Ed. town house around…all of which I had to make up.

And the quasi-bird’s eye perspective is very tricky.

So, I started all over again the next morning:

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Yes, the perspective is still wonky (I forgot to tell you that researching typical London buildings so I could imagine them in place in this composition takes hours or, at least, more than one). But I hope to disguise that by distracting the viewer with lots of other cool things going on in the pic.

After I had the framework pencilled onto the Canson 90lb. work surface, I went to work on the background that had to scream LONDON:

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This, too, took hours to research on the inter webs. I knew that most of the landmarks just ad to suggest St. Paul’s, or the Tower Bridge, or the Tower, or castles… but I had to get Big Ben 100% right, and Big Ben was murder to get right.

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From here on in, the rest of the pic was a breeze. Note here how I am beginning to rescue the cut-out:

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Without the direct sunlight shadowing it, the cut-out is an easy rescue:

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FINISH:

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I might have to kill a few bits of the background. I think it’s too much London.

Altogether, this rescue took two days and 8 hours. Are you wondering why, considering how little of the original pic I kept, why I didn’t just re-do the whole kit and caboodle? It’s because re-drawing the buildings on the right would have been unbearably boring for me, and I’ve come to suspect that I just like the challenge of a rescue.

It’s not my usual style, to combine a line drawing with watercolor like this, but I think it works as a way to make the pic more fantastical (and so hide my poor architectural drafting) and to highlight the walled gardens — painting the buildings, even with a light wash, would make the pic too busy.

The blank space at the bottom is where the chapter title and sub-title go.

I think the pic works.

Thoughts?

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Whoever is in charge of naming new paint colors: Bravo!
P1000476I stopped by Lowe’s (the building supply mega-store) the other day (to pick up more birdseed) and on my way out I passed by the Paint Dept.  I dropped my 35-poung bag of bird food and spent a very pleasant half hour picking through the new paint brochures.

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I know macarons have been all the rage in Paris lately, but are they all that well known in the U. S. of A.?

I do love the art direction of paint brochures — the photos capture an entire mood and sense of place and socio-economic aspiration. I get lost in entertaining digressive thoughts when I contemplate the story of each paint brochure photo, but my happiest time is going through the paint chips on display:

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Within this array of color there are hues with the names of Blanket, Off Broadway, Inhale (and an Exhale), Luxury Linen, Poetry in the Park, Modern History, Corner Pub, and Porcelain Pear. Sad to say, but the lovely-sounding Porcelain Pear is the color of thrown up lima beans. If you can correctly guess the hue of any of these other color names, I will be very impressed indeed.  Because frankly, I’m not sure that the color-namers are even in the same room as the colors they are naming. But still, for these evocative mini-poems to be found in Lowe’s Paint Dept., I say Bravo!

However, today, the only color we are exploring in-depth is gray. Hand-made gray.

I make my own grays because I think the hand-made grays have more personality than store-boughten ones.

I start by mixing  Umber and Cyan Blue. I’m using my cheap, powdery Grumbacher paints because I like the texture of them, and I love the way they interact with water. Until Carol Gillott of ParisBreakfasts told me to up-grade my tools two years ago, I only used Grumbacher. I know their properties very well, and still like them for certain applications — but I don’t use the greens and yellows much at all anymore. Windsor-Newton is better.

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Now it’s time to make a bottle cap of gray (because I work small), using bottle caps from  quart bottles of Gatorade . I start by making a puddle of brown paint:

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Then I add dribbles of blue and a drop of white. Note:
a little white gauche goes a loooong way, so use it sparingly:

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Mix together and Voila! I’ve got a bottle cap of one-of-a-kind gray:

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Now, you remember the problem from last week:

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I have to get rid of those wonky railing shadows and, while I’m at it, I might as well re-do the cat so that it looks more like “cat” and less like “orange blob”.

So I cut out the offending bits…

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…and started over. First, I re-drew the offending railing shadows, which ought to have looked like this in the first place:

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Quick digestion shot of my railing sketch illuminated on the light box to show you the trial-and-error of my ways:

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Whenever I draw  a stinky line, I cut it out and tape in a new bit of tracing paper and  draw it correctly — I hope you can see that my “sketch” is actually a collage of about seven scraps of stop-and-start-again tracing paper. I’m not smart enough to get it right in one swell foop, so I give myself a break and destroy the bad while keeping the good — all without guilt.

I used tracing paper for this sketch not because I was tracing it (I WISH) but because I will be painting this picture on the light box, so I need a light-weight paper to let the light shine through it so I can paint the pic without drawing pencil lines on the art work. I never paint on a lift box because I’m a girl who loves outlines, but as this is an illustration of shadows, and shadows, in nature, don’t have outlines, I have to paint “painterly”, for once.

Well, here’s the tricky part. I have to adjust my bottle cap of gray paint by adding more blue, or a different blue, or more water, or maybe a molecule of black, to get the matching hue that I need to pick up where I left off in this pic. It’s the matching that is a bitch.

I started out with this too-greenish gray:

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It needed more blue. After a few tries, I got it. It might not look like it in this photo (below), but this gray tone was a very good match:

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I forgot to tell you that, in order to make bottle cap of home-made gray, you have to keep loading your brush with slurries of brown and blue and white pigment, and then you have to squeeze out those loads, from the paint brush’s brushes, into the bottle cap. It’s rather messy:

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Anyhoo, I began to paint the replacement part of this illustration and I was very pleased with its matching-ness until I got this far…

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…and then I said to myself:”Oh shit. I forgot the cat.”

Well, I was losing the afternoon light anyway because it had started snowing again, so I packed up [put everything out of a nosey cat’s paw reach] and called it a day.

I began again the next  morning. I forgot to take a photo of it, but overnight the bottle cap of gray had totally dried out, so I had a bottle cap of dry pigment ready to be water-activated. This is absolutely the BEST way to paint from a bottle cap!  When you’re starting with a solid pigment it’s very easy to control the very small adjustments it takes to lighten or darken a color, IMHO.

But I had to put off playing with the bottle cap of gray because first, I had to draw a cat. I thought that a crouching cat might look good on this shady Key West porch, so I drew one and taped my new kitty over the tracing-paper sketch like so:

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The line that I drew down the back of the cat is so I will know where the spine is — I was hoping that I could paint a cat that was turning away from the viewer, as cats are wont to do.

But I didn’t like the position of the cat, so I had to peel it of the sketch, like this:

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YES, with a tweezer. And not just any tweezer — that’s my old diamond-grading tweezer, designed with a long needle nose for ease of picking up dropped diamonds from the floor.  THAT’s THE KIND OF PAINTER I AM. If anybody else works this way, I would love to chat. Main topic of conversation: Are we mad genius self-taught users of scotch tape, or what?!?!?

So I re-positioned the cat to be more forward-leaning:

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But now I didn’t like the cat  at all, mostly because I did not like how the tip of the rocking chair’s arm did this:

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So I drew a new new cat, one that wouldn’t go anywhere near the rocking chair’s space:

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But then the new new cat did this:

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No problem, not for me (world champion of Making Pictures Work No Matter How Long It Takes). I just cut away a few of those cat-overlapping floor boards, re-mixed a correct shade of gray, and began to paint the first layer of shadow:

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I painted the cat (yes, I moved his tail to get it away from the rocking chair):
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Then I painted the correct railing shadows. Every time I needed a new brush full of paint, I had to re-mix the paint and turn off the light box to compare that the grays were still compatible — it’s hideously time-consuming. But finally I got this:

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Cut to DONE:

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Top Cat wishes my posts didn’t go this long, but I know that some of you, Dear Readers, don’t mind watching me save my professional watercoloring ass step by step.

Color me Got Away With It One More Time.

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Once, in my life, I received a dozen red roses  on Valentine’s Day.

I was 20, and the delivery of roses to my house was one of the few times in my minority years that my life felt just right, just like it was supposed to be. You know; as seen on TV.

But for me, when it comes to the delivery of a dozen red roses, once in my lifetime is enough. I understand that red roses are the symbol of luuuuuuuv, and I do love roses as my second-favorite flower, but cut roses are a shame, and the red ones are so “Eh”.  And painting them is not much of a treat either.

It takes a bit of experimenting — with vermillion, fuchsia, and various brands of paint called  “red” — to get the correct hue:

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I am painting a specific kind of red rose here, and from the get-go I do not like the looks of it:

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The black shading is not my thing, and at this point:

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I think the rose looks capital-U Ugly.

It also looks Ugly (to me)  at this point:

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But I am painting this rose for the One I Love, and the One I Love loves this rose, so I must paint on.

Because the One I Love is kind:

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And the One I Love is sincere:

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This rose is for the One I Love.

But the One I Love is also playful:

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And  joyous…

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…and I am painting these one-of-a-kind (made up) butterflies…

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… for the air, earth, and fire of my love’s merry brightness of being:

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The One I Love is like the waters of the oceans — patient, deep, and thoughtful:

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An Everest of honor

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…and wise in the ways of never and always, is the One I Love:

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I paint this eagle feather…

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…because the One I Love is true-hearted and brave:

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In all the world — of plants, and birds, and rocks, and things — blue is the color most rare

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…and the color most romantic:

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The One I Love is all that, too.

And then there’s this:

The love of the One I Love.

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The love of the One I Love is as every-day a thing as atoms, and gravity…

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… and photons, and electrons;

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the love of the One I Love is as commonplace as day, or night…

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…or even quarks, and tea:

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In other words,

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it might as well be magic.

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This is dedicated to The One I Love.

 Please feel free to lift any part of this image that suits your Valentine too.

And if you don’t have anyone you want to call the One I Love this Valentine’s Day, I am right there with you, pouring the Pinot Grigio and reaching for a box of Kleenex.

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