Watercolor Tutorials

Last Sunday Top Cat took me into a magical woods on the southern shore of the Long Island Sound…
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…otherwise known as The Gold Coast of Ye Olde Long Island…

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…where Ye Olde Money of yore transplanted ancient yew trees from the Olde Worlde to make Instant Stately Homes (now gone to ruin)…

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…and where the haunted forest is reclaiming ye olde acres of lawns into native wild flower meadows once more…

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…where I came upon  yon ancient cottage…

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…which beckoned me to pause…

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…and consider its perfectness as a refuge from the madding world…

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…where I could gather inspiration from nature and light and where cats could roam free…

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…but there was just one little problem…

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scale.  For this magical realm goes by the name of The Muttontown Preserve (I’m not making this up) and it encompasses the last American address of — I’m not making this up — King Zog, the last, deposed monarch of Albania and I conjecture that ye Ole King had a young Princess for whom nothing would do but she had a play house in the American Colonial vernacular.

I can not tell you how much I want this house. If you hear about some crazy cat lady claiming that she is the reincarnation and rightful heiress of the late great King Zog — that’ll be me, staking my claim to this itty bitty ranch house in Muttontown. I’m not making this up.

But speaking of crazy cat ladies…

…it’s time to draw us some kitty cats!

OK. Here’s how I decided was the best way to share my minuscule amount of knowledge of the visual arts, of which I am not a certified practitioner of.  First, I am going to show you how I draw a cat from memory:

I start with a bottom-heavy oblong shape:

 

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Then I add hips — by the way, I’m doing this from memory to make a point:

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The point is that since I have been looking at cats my whole life I have internalized the basic structure of Le Cat:

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And as you can see, the basic structure is no more complicated than that of a snowman:

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So really, when I paint a cat, I don’t actually have to sketch out this blueprint — it’s already “on the paper” before I pick up a brush:

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But I am showing you the building blocks that I visualize when I look at a cat:

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And when I say “sketch”, I don’t mean make those crappy wispy wimpy scritching marks that a lot of people do when they “sketch” — I mean commit yourself to making a strong, unequivocal line:

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Voila, The Cat. Now, to make a cat head on, you use the exact same strategy…but let’s go through the basics of the dear little kitty face:

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Got it?

OK. So, now we’ll make another snowman:

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And we’ll erase some lines to make the kitty face front:

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And, voila:P1190796

Kitty Cat.

I hope you can see that drawing a cat isn’t all that hard. But it’s something that every cat lover should know how to do, in case of emergency:

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I like this kitty’s little smile. But really, those ears? That tail? Those dangling front legs?

I got this Lost Cat poster from a new book that I just started reading:

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It’s very cute and I recommend it. But it got me thinking….how can I apply my cat-snowman lesson to a real life cat?

So I found a really cute cat from the internets:

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And now all I have to do is interpret this cutie as a kitty snowman:P1190786

You see? All I had to do was  get the basic building blocks of this sweet kitty to start her portrait. Again, I have to say, this is a drawing of what I usually only visualize before I start to paint. It took me a long time before I understood that the time I spend just thinking about what I’m going to paint before I paint makes all the difference between a good painting and one that is a crap shoot, so yes, I spend a fair amount of time visualizing. I’m just saying.

Next, I picture the particular markings that make this sweet kitty her own self. She’s a darling tuxedo tabby, which in my mind looks like this:

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Then I plot out where the dark and the light spots are:

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And now I’m ready to paint.

Which I will do next week. I will paint this adorable sweet kitty girl and show you how I do it, brush stroke by brush stroke.

However, if you are new to cat painting, you can draw your kitty like I did, and do a nice watercolor wash over your pencil drawing and it will look really nice too. I would have done this to my pencil drawing here but I ran out of time this week. SORRY.

And now, for the Winner of our fabuloso Elizabeth Gilbert The Signature of All Things Give Away:

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Top Cat picked : Melissa! Melissa, please send me your snail mail address at vivianswift at yahoo dot com and I will send you this beautiful book a s a p. Melissa is a new dear reader — welcome!

 

 

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As a writer/illustrator who doesn’t want to bore my dear blog readers I tend to focus on the illustrating party of my work because if I wrote about writing all you’d see is a picture of me sitting at  desk, pulling my hair out.

If I wanted to bore the dear readers of this blog, I would blog about unpacking from that road trip to the Delaware Bay that I took two weeks ago:

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Which I have not yet actually fully un-packed from. Yes, when I go on a car trip I haul out my biggest, ugliest suitcase and pack it with my own comforter and pillows because I do not use hotel blankets and pillows. Ew. Ew. Ewwwwwwwwww.  As you can see, when Penelope decides that this un-packed suitcase is her new favorite place to nap well, then, that suitcase stays un-packed until it becomes a hazard to life and limb (I’ve already tripped over it once, in the dark, when I forgot that there was a big stonking suitcase in the doorway between the dining room and the living room).

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I took this picture last week, one week after than the one above it. I could walk into my living room right now and take anothear pic just like it.

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Honest to DoG, I just took this pic, a WEEK after the one above: That black lump on the EMpire-style chair is Cindy and that’s Taffy, eyeing the Sweet Spot from under the coffee table.

And we all know that as long as Lickety and/or Taffy and Cindy are hovering nearby, dying to take their own turn on this amazing new fabulously comfortable napping hot spot, Penelope will never, never relinquish control of the big stonking suitcase, which will probably rot in this corner of the livingroom before I have the heart to take it way from her. (See: nice Empire-style chair, above, re: how I let these cats re-purpose every object in this house including, now, suitcases.) Which reminds me:

I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the universe for the six doses of Frontline I use every month in May, June, July, August, September, and October. For two tablespoons-worth of Frontline (approx. equivalent to a tea bag’s worth of tea), I generate this much trash, most of it plastic:

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This ought to be a crime. This is excessive packaging and I hate it..but what can I do? Fleas are nasty and disgusting and germy and give my cats scabs .

Universe, please forgive me.

And now, without further ado, let’s paint!

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I had already painted most of the rock face before I thought of taking photos.

But Step One was prepping this picture with masking fluid:

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And here’s how to paint small falls of water  (I’m using a combination of light blue and greenish-blue):

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First, I brush in strokes of clear water:

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And then I drop the paint into the water:

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I like the effect, very watercolor-y. I’m just letting water and paint do what they do when you put them together. (I also leave small areas of dry white paper showing.)

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I had intentionally left some of the rock face unpainted so it would make a soft boundary to the water:

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When I paint rock (which, by the way, I LOVE to do), I paint one rock face at a time. Here is how I do it: I brush in clear water on an area (let’s call it a “cell”) that I have drawn as a surface:

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I am using my beloved cheapo Grumbacher paints here because with all the chalk filler in them, they blend really well (that is to say, they don’t really blend well at all, which is what I like) when I drop them into the “cell” that I have prepared for them. I mix four color right on my little bitty brush — blue, black, brown, and grey/flesh:

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Here is what happens when you lightly drop your brush, which is loaded with paint, into a “cell” that is full of clear water:

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I go back a dab in some black on the edges, and then I let dry. Where I used a lot of brown to paint that bit of rock (above), here I am going with more of a blue-grey color:

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You never know what you are going to get! Well, sure, you can control the areas that need to be light or dark, blue or brown (so that the whole rock face makes sense), but within each “cell” you ever know how it’s going to dry — look at all that texture and interest that is in each rock:

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And yes, you can see that I had to write “ROCK” with arrows on this drawing so I didn’t get confused as to what was rock and what was waterfall. Also, you can see that I have now lifted of the masking fluid that I had previously put down…I changed my mind on how I wanted this main section of waterfall to look.

Truth is, I had never painted a waterfall before I did this picture, so I did some preliminary sketches:

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I tried out several different ways of painting a waterfall, and I cut out bits so I could hold them against what I’ve already painted to see how it would look. In the end, I decided to go for a much loser effect that did not require masking fluid:

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And then I painted the rest of the picture:

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This is one of the best things about re-booting the Damn Garden Book

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…I can open up the scope of the book, thanks to the wonderful negative criticism I got last week.

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And to answer a dear reader’s question last week…no, the title of the Damn Garden Book is not The Damn Garden Book. I call all of my books-in-progress the Damn [fill in the blank] Book because most of the time that’s how I feel about all my books-in-progress. They are such a damn pain in the ass to write, and I wish they would write their damn selves,but they are, in the end, the best pain-in-the-assy things I’ve ever done.

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I have a totally different working title for the Damn Garden Book which my agent and editor use. I don’t make them say “Damn Garden Book”.

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And, to answer another FAQ, no, Top Cat does not take these photos. I take them myself. I use my right hand to hoist the camera, point, shoot, and hope I catch something useful. Half the photos I take are useless.

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I was very happy to paint this new illustration because this is one of the most delightful consequences of receiving that wonderful negative criticism last week and opening up the narrative …

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I get to add Seattle to the Damn Garden Book!!

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This is the famous and beautiful Waterfall Garden Park in downtown Seattle. (I had to leave empty space for text, TBA.)

I am taking the next two weeks off, dear readers, to both get stuff done and do nothing. I forgot to tell you that  the DGB is a GO and the sooner I write the damn thing, the sooner it will appear in stores and libraries. I also want to hang out with men in kilts (the Long Island Scottish Games are this weekend), and re-boot my brain.

I will leave the Comments section open until Sept. 6 so please feel free to leave a comment or question about writing, illustrating, cats, or tea, or whatever.  Because I will check in often and use my spiffy new Reply function to answer any and all queries;  as for the future of this blog, I have a tutorial all about painting cats already planned for Sept 13…

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But, as there are only so many Summer sun sets until Autumn, I must bid you all a fond See You Later, and hope to see each one of you back here on September 13.

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Now get out there and goof off!

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It is December, 1966. I am ten years old and in sixth grade at North Willow Grove Elementary School. In a parallel universe there is a girl my age with perfect hair walking to school with her little sister:

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In this parallel universe this girl’s name is Elizabeth Terry (although it appears that we use the same Lennes Arithmetic book):

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(N. J.Lennes was the chairman of the mathematics dept. at The University of Montana, a fact that I was not aware of until I googled it five minutes ago.) Yes, I drew this picture when I was ten years old in December 1966 (I dated the pic on the back). From the same year I also have two short stories that I wrote and illustrated, both with a main character named Peggy Anne who lives in Oklahoma and made friends with a new girl who had just moved from Canada.

When I was ten years old I thought Oklahoma was the coolest state in the union but I don’t remember why. I am not showing you those two short stories, which I made into chapbooks, because it creeps me out: I have to tell you that it does not give me any pleasure to look at this old stuff. Me and Johnny Rotten both agree (and if you have not read Johnny Rotten’s memoir, titled Rotten, you are missing out on a memoir that speaks to my heart and soul): we hated being children.

However, in spite of the fact that it floods me with memories of a terrible time of my life, I can look at that drawing of mine from 1966  and see that I had pretty good draftsmanship for a ten year old. Yes, I always knew I could draw. Yes, I used to amaze the dim wits in my elementary school  that I could draw FREEHAND, especially since I’m a leftie. No, I do not remember deriving any particular satisfaction from the fact that I could draw well.

Which brings me to the Thought Of The Day.

Drawing well is the worst thing that can happen to an artist.

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Thomas Kinkade, the so-called Painter of Light, whose over-priced mass-produced “art” hangs on the wall of one in 20 American households, could draw.

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I’m picking on him because he is dead and I do not want to call a living artist (oh, honey, I could name names…) banal … but sadly, that’s the trap of being able to draw well. It’s like being born beautiful. Pretty girls don’t have to dig deep to find a personality or an I.Q.; good draftsmen don’t have to dig deep to find their own unique style. Pretty girls and good draw-ers tend to be bo-o-o-o-o-o-o-ring.

Claude Monet couldn’t draw…that’s why he invented impressionism:

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Edward Gorey himself said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, March 2, 1986…

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“Sometimes I think my life would have been completely different id I had ever learned to draw.”

Edward Gory: All his people look the same, he draws them wearing fur coats and in profile so he doesn’t have to bother with clothes or faces, his “settings” are rudimentary…and yet, his work oozes with portent and depth and connotations…

So, if you can not draw as well as the ten year old me (see above), STOP TRYING. And start looking at what you can do well, what you can do  really, really well — color, subject matter,composition, point of view,  etc. — and let that be your springboard to make the art that only YOU can do.

Meanwhile, here’s what I did this past week to make my art a little less banal:

I’m working on a memory of a Brazilian garden for my Damn Garden Book. At first, I painted  it like this:

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But this did not seem true to my memory of it. So I hit upon the idea to represent it more like a true memory:

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Yes, I sliced it. (Truth to tell, I sliced it and then painted over bits of it, and then re-constructed it whole for the blog — which is why there are some subject matter discrepancies in the “before” shot, if you know what I mean.) Now the image looks more memory-like and the text will look interesting on the page.

So, until we meet again next Friday, I hope you’re all hanging out in the back yard and enjoying these last wonderful Summer days.

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I had a really bad idea last week.

But first, a quick digression: Check out this window of W H Smith, the largest English bookstore in Paris, on the Rue de Rivoli (did I mention that it’s in PARIS? As in PARIS, FRANCE?): photo-5

See that book on the right? SEE IT?!?!?!? I’m so excited. I know this bookstore well and I NEVER thought I’d ever have a book in the window! (In my mind, I am buying everyone in the world a glass of champagne because I’m so happy!)

Thank you, Carol Gillot of Paris Breakfasts for sending this spiffy photo.

As I post this, Top Cat and I are on the road, taking a little 300-mile mosey around the Delaware Bay area on the east cost.

We left the Isle of Long via the Williamsburg Bridge…

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The most beautiful skyline in the world.

…and then we drove down the Garden State Parkway through the Garden State (Surprise! It’s New Jersey!) which is a drive that we love because, for one, the Garden State Parkway…

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…is planted with  fields of wild cosmos…

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…and leads us to Top Cat’s favorite playground…

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…Atlantic City. I, too, love AC because I get to say howdy to my favorite feathered friends on the boardwalk:

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This is what my feathered friends look like one second after all the french fries that I was feeding them are gone.

Other sights from the Delaware Bay:

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Somers Point is NJ’s best kept secret.

 

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Rose-Marsh (not Marsh-Roses, which would make more sense) in Cape May, NJ.

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Ochre-colored wooden door with louvres on colonial house in Smyrna, Delaware.

Our hunt for secret gardens took us to the perfectly preserved Revolutionary village of New Castle, Delaware:

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But even on a road trip, I haul my Damn Garden Book-in-progress with me:

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That’s me, working on the London chapter of The Damn Garden Book from the 16th floor hotel room of The Water Club at Borgata Casino in Atlantic City.

The Damn Garden Book got one step closer to publication this past week. I finally got my first three chapters illustrated and written and I submitted it to my agent — I do not “workshop” my writing; I re-re-re-re-rewrite it until I think it’s 99% of exactly what I want (I never get to 100%) and then I show it to my agent. Her feedback was very positive and she thought the book was ready to submit to Bloomsbury as is. So the manuscript is at my editor’s at Bloomsbury now and as soon as she approves the concept, we’ll negotiate a publication date and voila: the Damn Garden Book will be a reality.

One thing my agent observed was how much my painting has become more sophisticated. Well, I said, that’s what happens when you paint every day — you can’t help but get better. For example, here’s a little tiny illustration that appears in my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam (Bloomsbury, 2008)…it’s on page 45 for those of you reading along.

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I drew this little illustration from reference photographs that I’d taken of my old, pre-marriage-to-Top-Cat kitchen:

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Photo montage of my dear old kitchen.

I loved my old kitchen. It had a corner, as you can see, that was just right for turning into a shrine to my love of all things Tea. About a year ago I re-did this illustration, expanding it to a full-page illustration. First, I drew it all over again:

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And then I painted it from scratch:

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I also changed cats — in the first illustration I put my cat Honey on the table — in this new illustration I put Woody Robinson on the table, in his favorite place: with his head under the lampshade.

But I can not leave you without a painting this week! So, seeing as it is August, my favorite month of the year, I’m re-running a favorite post from 2010 that I call: Painting August.

 

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So until next Friday, I hope you’re all enjoying the best month of Summer with road trips real and imagined.

Have a fab weekend.

 

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Date night, July, Manhattan:
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Last Friday evening Top Cat swept me off to the Big City.

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Fun Time Wedding Shower Takes to the Streets: The Bachelorette-of-Honor posing with New York’s Finest.

It was a beautiful time of day to be in the East Village.

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I remember when I had a boyfriend who in the East Village it was a dump…now it’s almost as chic as the Upper West Side:

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There’s even a touch of New Orleans in the neighborhood!:

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But this I remember from the ’80s — traffic light art installations:

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The guy on the left, with the bulging pants pockets: NOW I get why they call them CARGO PANTS!!

I love Manhattan. People live out loud in Manhattan — right on the streets:

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I love the flow of humanity, at all hours:

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Skateboarders in the flow of traffic:

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And this warmed my heart — a young girl reading a book, a real BOOK, while on the go:

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Top Cat took me to a sidewalk cafe for a glass (two) of wine, and then we hoofed down to 6th Street for a wonderful Indian dinner.

Scene in an Indian Restaurant, July 26, 2013

Couple in their late 30s, an empty bottle of wine between them. He is going on and on about the injustice of the US government’s persecution of NSA-leaker Edward Snowden. She, who seems to have drunk the greater part of that bottle of wine, has had enough when she lifts her empty wine glass and waves it in front of her, merrily announcing: “And you say J’accuse!

At 8:30 on a heartbreakingly beautiful Sumer evening we made our way to Webster Hall:

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I don’t know if you can read the marquee, but that’s PAUL WELLER! My sweet Top Cat tok me to see my Punk Rock crush!! (I haven’t been to a rock concert (excluding Paul Weller in New York three times, Los Angeles once, London twice) in, oh…ten years. And it’s still as exciting as the first time — Stephen Stills and Manassas at the Philadelphia Spectrum in 1971.)

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Oh, lordy, I loves me Paul Weller. It was standing room only in Webster Hall, so I insinuated myself to the front lines:

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You remember Paul Weller, right? He’s huge in the UK but known as a “cult” figure here in America so he does very few gigs in the States — six sows in NY, boston, and D.C. this time ’round.

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I screamed, and po-go’ed, and hollered the words when he did That’s Entertainment and completely lost it when he did a hard-rock version of my favorite song of all time , My Ever-Changing Moods. I could hardly move or speak when it was over. Good times.

I respect Paul Weller for still rocking the same Mod look that he had when he fronted the Jam in 1979, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE him for rocking the grey hair.

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I’ve never been a Stones fan because Mick Jagger makes my skin crawl, all the more so when I see his 70-year old brunette locks. Grey hair is so hard core!

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Top Cat loves my grey hair and I love that Top Cat surprises me with tickets to go see Paul Weller’s silver locks. My husband gets me, and my rock and roll crushes. In return, he has my permission to go for it if Nicole Kidman ever requests a late-night back rub from the one and only T.C.

The other exciting news this week is that I got my Majorelle Bleu paint:

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I had to get a shot of it in daylight on the glass-topped patio table with my new lanterns.

(Tea bag for scale.)  This is the quantity you can order (250 mlk) for $48. It comes from Switzerland, and for all I know the good people at the Majorelle Garden in Marrakech order it from the same factory whenever they have to re-paint the landmarks this distinctive, saturated, intense color:

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Just to remind you why it’s called “Majorelle Bleu” — photo taken on my visit to the garden in Marrakech May 2013.

Just for comparison, here are color swatches from my bluest Grumbacher paints (in the little pan-thingy) and my Windsor Newton Artists’s watercolors (in the tube):

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I used the tube watercolors straight, no diluting with water.

And then I went outside and photographed the colors in the full sunlight at 3 o’clock Wednesday afternoon for you:

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Majorelle Triscuit winner, Bev, has been waiting for this moment. I wanted to dab on the true Majorelle Bleu before I sent her the Tirscuit she won:

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I just put this Triscuit in the mail today so Bev, thank you for your patience and I love going to the post office to mail Triscuits to AUSTRALIA!!!

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And now, as promised, off we go to my Writing Room.

Truth to tell, it’s not so much a “room” as a corner of a really big den. Yes, that’s a wheel chair. When I had knee surgery last Fall I got a wheelchair and it’s the most comfortable writing chair I’ve ever owned…so I’m still using it.

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The floor of our den is black slate, so the wheelchair’s wheels don’t mark it up like the old desk chairs all did. I hardly even think of it as a wheel chair these days; it’s just my writing chair with the handy foot rests.

I have a trash can propping open the door and to my right is a small table with the manuscript on it, where I can lay out pages and measure each for text (see: last week’s post re: what the manuscript of a professional illustrated travel memoirist looks like.).

This is my desk top:

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A long time ago I read that it’s best to write facing a blank wall (Annie Dillard says so), so yes, that’s a blank wall in front of me. And that’s a Spode tea cup that is a permanent fixture…

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….because it’s where I unload the Smarties, this writer’s preferred Brain Food (duh)Smartie’s are imported from Canada, so they’re gourmet. (Thank you, GG, for the Turkish tile photo to inspire me with another shade of blue!)

And meet the  facilitators of my writing life. First there’s Cindy:

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And then there’s Penelope:

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However, the most dangerous cat in the whole herd is a certain indoor/outdoor cat, who was born feral but has discovered that with a cute face like his a cat can get unlimited door service at our house, giving him free access to all the comforts of home-living while maintaining his independence and his fierce, wild, savage ways. I’m just telling you, so you know what I’m dealing with, that Lickety is one scary, ferocious, desperado.

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Don’t be fooled by the beached-whale pose. Lickety is gangsta.

So you can see how frightening it is when Lickety decides to supervise the writing process, up close and personal:

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And the way he just makes himself at home…

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…sometimes even getting his reprobate brother Taffy in on it…

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…oh, the horror.

 

 

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My June travels included a trip to Brooklyn, to the Museum of Art in that fair borough. Imagine my surprise when a tour bus pulled up to the entrance…Brooklyn? A tourist attraction? I’m so 1980s in my thinking, when I kew Brooklyn as an outer borough, home to the dreaded bridge and tunnel crowd. Now it’s so hip that tour buses schlepp through its streets.

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I had to take a picture of the Brooklynite who stuck a pose in front of the tourists and stood there giving them a right royal Windsor Wave the whole ten minutes the tour bus was idling in front of one of the world’s greatest museums that hardly anybody goes to. I must say, as a royal watcher from way back, that her form was spot-on: extra points for degree of difficulty (it was hot out there).

And then I went inside to keep a date with John Singer Sargent watercolors.

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Too good to be true. THAT, my dear readers, is what genius looks like. But I digress…

I probably shouldn’t show you these pictures, because they are unbearably cute…but Top Cat was doing yard work last month and he left his shovel out by the shed. For some reason, Oscar (the Mayor of the backyard cats, having been keeping things in order on this block for 16 years, becoming part of our herd when his original people next door moved away three years ago) well, Oscar took a liking to this shovel:

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These photos were taken over a three-week period:

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And this is the last picture I took of Oscar and his friend, Mr. Shovel, on July 9th:P1180869

Sixteen years is a good run, and when Oscar’s liver began to go wrong I am happy to say that he did not suffer through a long illness and we were able to make him comfortable in his last days, and for the first time in the ten years I’ve known him he let me hug him. Oscar passed away last Saturday, July 13, in the vet’s office with me scratching his head and saying his name and telling him that he was one of the best kitties ever. We buried his ashes under that bush, in the photo above, where he liked to snooze and keep an eye on garden tools.

Farewell, dear one.. .

But I leave you today with a tribute to our dear Oscar, with some of the herd he so ably watched over when he was Top Cat Emeritus in our backyard. Here are the Triscuts of the Day.

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Have a great weekend.

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Yes, we will be painting together in this post just like olde tymes.

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This is my first try at painting the Chelsea Physic Garden deep in the heart of London. Yeah, it stinks. Those buildings do NOT look like multi-million dollar Victorian townhouses that comprise one of the UK’s most posh neighborhoods.

 

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This is attempt No. 2, where you can see how I tried to be more “impressionistic” with the buildings in the background. Yeah, this stinks too. But I was hoping the flowers in the foreground would save me. They didn’t.

For the record, both these paintings STINK.

And then, I suddenly remembered that I’d already solved this problem once before in my ow Damn Garden Book:

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This is the title page for the Edinburgh chapter. Note the city skyline in the background. Duh.

So I sketched out the buildings that surround the Chelsea Physic Garden in London…

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The next several pictures will be of my renewed attempt to paint the Chelsea Physic Garden but I’ll tell you right now (spoiler alert) that it doesn’t turn out right:

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I like the white space here. I’m going to work with this look later.

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I call this Failure No. 3

Unfortunately, this (see above) is not how the Chelsea Physic Garden is laid out. Those of you who have been to this lovely 4-acre walled garden founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries as a teaching garden where medicinal plants were cultivated will know that I’m trying to paint the quadrant known as the Systematic Order Beds, which actually look more like this:

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I call this Failure No. 4

There still isn’t something quite right. So let’s have one more go at it:

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Failure No. 5

BUT AT LAST!!!!  Ifinally got the Chelsea Physic Garden that I wanted. This picture (below) only took about four hours to paint, not counting the four previous attempts that cost me about 20 hours of my life. Fact is, I’m a better miniaturist when it comes to painting gardens…

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I prefer to tell visual stories in little bits at a time…

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Writing and painting are similar in that to get anything done, you have to be very sensitive to your shortcomings and avoid any picture or paragraph that lets those shortcomings hang out. By painting or writing to your strong points, you develop a style that is uniquely your own. The next series of pictures is of me painting a typical London view, but painting it in a way that highlights my strong points (and hides my weaknesses). Notice how I work front-to-back in this one:

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By the way, I later added people walking on the sidewalk to give a sense of scale. This is the actual view from my friend Wendy’s brother’s flat in Knightsbridge:

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Since I already know that I can’t paint architecture, I’m going to leave those buildings white. Voila: a style.

This tactic seems to work well for London…I wonder how it will work for Giverny? Because I have my heart set on painting this view:

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Ahhhh…the “paintbox” flower beds.

It might even be my nxst Triscuit. Which reminds me! We have a Triscuit to give away!! 

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WOW! I had to ask Top Cat to pick a number between 1 and 56…56!!!  Your Comments were just great last week and I’m still re-reading them  (a Van Gogh Triscuit must be in my future) so thank you, thank you, thank you to all who left a word or two. And just to show you how unpredictable Top Cat can be, when I asked him to chose that number of which he had 56 to choose from, he chose…Number One. So this Monet Triscuit goes to Carol Wall of Vancouver! (Carol please send me your mailing info to vivianswift at yahoo before this Comment section closes at midnight Tuesday, July 2/3!!)

Next week, we head out on another road trip. We’re going to see this garden:

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It’s time to go to Marrakech!

 

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Some days, nothing works out the way you planed. But…P1150574…if at first you don’t succeed, or if at second, third, and fourth you don’t succeed (see above) then pour yourself a nice big gin and tonic and sit around listening to sad songs (I prefer old Motown, the Temptations Since I Lost My Baby and the like) and feel sorry for yourself and seriously consider writing novels (ewwwwwwwwwww) or anything that doesn’t require having to come up with  illustrations, and then take two aspirin AND START OVER AGAIN.

Yes, dear readers, I preloaded my post today before I went to France and it’s a good thing I did because it turns out that I hate blogging on my iPad with a PASSION but before we continue with our previously recorded program (still in NOLA, watercoloristically speaking) here are some pics I took on the aforementioned iPad to show you the beautiful weather in Paris:

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My hotel room in the 6th arrondisement came with this:

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I took these pics with my ipad and boy do I hate blogging on this thing.  So that’s all the Paris I can give you for now, but do read my friend at ParisBreakfasts for her report on my arrival on her home (Paris) turf!

For today please enjoy the following tale of watercolor redemption, and take heart. Sometimes it’s necessary to paint ugly in order to get to the less-craptastic stuff.

Let’s get back to this:

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The problem, it dawned on me after four really awful attempts at painting a most beautiful garden in New Orleans (see above), was that I had  gotten hold of the wrong concept. My original idea for this garden was that I would illustrate it in a  format that I call a “squint”.

The format had worked well for me throughout Le Road Trip, where I used squints frequently:

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These squints — the long, narrow strips of paintings that I used (above) were a lot of fun to do and I think they are vey successful when it came to illustrating France. For the Damn Garden Book I had planned on using vertical squints, rather than the horizontal ones in Le Road Trip:

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This is my thumbnail sketch for a two-page layout using vertical squints. But as you can see (way above, those crappy 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th attempts) it was NOT working for me in regards to this fabulous New Orleans garden I was trying to  paint.

And then I realized that I’d gotten the wrong point of view. Not only were the squints not going to work, but I’d been painting the garden from a very boring full-frontal point of view. You see, the most important feature of this garden path that I’d been trying to paint is the garden gate that had been imported from France, but I’d been depicting it straight-on:

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Oh lordy, this stinks. It does no justice to the story I am trying to tell about this garden. It looks fake fake fake fake.

Luckily, when I was visiting this garden in New Orleans, I had taken many reference photos of this gate so I went back to the drawing board and re-did this gate from an entirely different perspective:

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So let us begin again.

First, I apply masking fluid with my trusty toothpick in the itty bitty bits:

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I use the tip of a paintbrush to apply the masking fluid over the bigger bits:

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When I failed to draw a pleasing mulberry tree branch in the upper right hand corner the first time…

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…I erased it and drew it again, but it was still too gormless to keep:

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So on the third attempt I got a decent-looking branch drawn, and I sketched in leaves.

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I put masking fluid on those leaves and I’ve ever done this before and I have no idea how it will turn out. We’ll see. But I’m already a bit discouraged. This picture as given me a lot of trouble and I’m in a bad mood. So, while the masking fluid dries, I go make myself a cup of tea.

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I want a fancy-colored sky here because this illustration is more about mood (it’s New Orleans, baby!) than meteorology.

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Quickly, I do the wet-in-wet background foliage:

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Even when the paper is only damp, you can get nice little bleeds:

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For brick work I mix two colors of Grumbacher paints with two colors (brown and burnt sienna) of Windsor Newton, for richness:

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See how there’s a Triscuit in the middle of this picture?

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For the Tahitian Dawn Bougainvillea in the foreground I dab pink, orange, and red in wet blobs:

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I lay down a base color for the garden path:

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The stuff behind the garden gate will be tricky:

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Now, for the rambling roses that are big pom poms of bluey-pink:

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Dirt here:

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So far, so good. Now, all I have to do…

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…is peel off the masking fluid and not screw up painting the gate.

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To heighten the rich brown color of the wooden gate I mix blue…

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…and brown directly on my paintbrush…

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…so when I apply it to the paper I get a wonderful bluey-browness here:

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Now for those mulberry leaves, which I have  no idea what I’m doing,  I pray to the big DoG that I won’t blow it this late in the game:

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Exhale. They look OK.

For the lantern I intend to use an old trick I’ve been using for years.

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You have to use Grumbacher paints for this trick, because you need the chalk that makes their colors so matte. I first apply a layer of yellow Grumbacher, and then I make an edge of darker orange and I let it dry thoroughly:

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Using very clean water, I then use a wet brush to pick up the paint in the center:

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And we are DONE:

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I hope you can see how the lantern “glows” from the way I “erased” a bit of the yellow/orange paints. I decided to leave certain planes of the garden gate white — that is, blank paper — because I think the white bits make its unusual shape  pop more this way. It’s also very attention-getting and this gate is really the subject of this picture in the first place.

Oh yes, I am much happier with this point of view than the one I tried, and tried, and tried, and tried to make work before. Right?

I will still be on the road next Friday, so there won’t be a “live” post here, but I could maybe take you on a tour of my work space / studio, which is where I keep my paints, paper, feathers, files, and threads:

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Yes, long before I painted gardens, I used to embroider them.

So if this sounds interesting to you please leave a Comment below…or otherwise I’ll just wait until my return on May 24 to throw something together if I’m not toooooooo jet lagged. Studio tour? Yes or No?

 

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Yes, that’s me, trying to paint New Orleans. It was not a happy experience.
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But first — Cat News!! There has been a  recent appearance of a possible new member of our herd of backyard cats:

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This handsome fella has  shown up on the back patio for breakfast a few days this past week in spite of the fact that Bibs and Taffy get all North Korean on his ass every time they see him. I call him Newton. Hey Newton, if you’re reading this, I got some cat nip just for you (at the end of a Have-A-Heart trap).

Now, what is this I hear  (from Rachel and Sarahsbooks in Comments to last week’s post) about The Bed-book of Travel???

First of all, I thought I had written the bed-book of travel…

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…to be put bed-side for excellent late-night reading.

But it seems that somebody else, namely Richardson Wright, beat me to it in the 1930s:

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The Bed-book of Travel is a collection of short pieces to be read (preferably in bed or berth) by those who have been places, those who are going somewhere, and those who have wanted to go; Together with seven travelers’ tales. This book is now very rare and the one copy I found on-line last week for sale for $70 is already gone. I snoozed and loosed because I spent a few days mulling over this purchase, wondering if I really wanted to read this book seeing as how, if it turned out to be soooooo much better a bed-side travel book than mine, I will want to quit writing/illustrating bed-side books forever.

But the book that I really dread reading is this one:

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This is Richardson Wright’s 1929 Bed-book  about gardening (in paperback re-print from The Modern Library) which I  am awaiting delivery of, and if it’s half as good as its reviews say it is I AM TOAST. And not a nice slice of hot-buttered whole wheat served with a steaming cup of Assam tea kind of toast, nope. I mean a hunk of cardboard-like salt-free rancid Melba that’s been sitting in the cupboard leaning on the stack of Size D batteries waiting for cassette playing boom boxes to come back in style  kind of toast.

I wanted my Damn Garden Book to be THE go-to gardening book for reading in bed…but if it’s already been done I might as well retire my paintbrushes and take up something useful.

Useful, like dancing all day in the French Quarter with my own dear Top Cat.

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Ah, Love of my Life, nobody does a Grateful Dead-inspired free-form solo version of  Zydeco Swing  like you:

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Well, seeing as how I am not yet a reclusive former bed-side travel / gardening book writer  illustrator, I better get with the travel / gardening book illustrating. It’s time to do New Orleans!

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This is the pencil sketch for the full-page illustration that will start the NOLA chapter. It is designed so I can drop text into the middle of it. It is rare (never) that I use a ruler to draw a scene but in this case it was unavoidable with all those necessary straight lines of wrought iron railings and all those pesky perspective lines to get right. To answer Laura’s question from last week, I never attempt to erase pencil lines once I’ve put watercolor over them. It’s impossible to erase thru the pigment. Most times, tho, I don’t mind seeing a little bit of pencil in a painting because it is a ver authentic part of painting.

When it comes to erasing the watercolor, however, I have been known to use a nail file to clean up very small bits.

First, I painted in a quick bit of background architecture in pale blue, to represent a white building in bright sunlight (which will become more evident later in the painting):

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Dab in the background greenery:

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Working wet-in-wet I dab in the pale greens and add detail until I like the shape of the foliage:

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Commentor Judy Jennings asked about getting “natural” shades of green. To tell you the truth, all my greens are unnatural in that I edit nature all the time. My shades and hues are mostly close to the scene that I’ve observed, but if I need to lighten bits up and darken others for the sake of the picture, I do it. I also edit the shape of foliage all the time — see above. I make it a pleasing shape for my composition first, and true to nature second.

My biggest guess regarding Judy’s question about getting a “natural” paint color is that you must always keep your water CLEAN. I constantly dump out my water and get clean fresh stuff. Especially if I am going to mix yellows into green I always get a brand new glass of water. And if I have to work wet-in-wet with lots of yellows AND greens I have two glasses of water handy, one for rinsing the yellow brush-fulls and one for rinsing the green brush-fulls.

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For shadows I use blue with a bit of burnt umber mixed in it instead of black or grey:

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Now I use masking fluid to cover the table and chairs so I can cut loose with the stuff I want to paint behind them:

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While waiting for the masking fluid to become bone-dry, I do the middle-ground stuff:

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I pretend the table and chairs aren’t there and paint the railing-drapping greenery right over the masking fluid:

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I could never do this without masking fluid. Well, I could, but it would either look bad or would take me forever to paint:

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Fore ground:

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Peel off masking fluid, paint what is revealed underneath:

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Even down to the stems of the wine glasses, which I measured or you and are three millimeters high:

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Take a look, and add whatever else this picture needs:

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Not there yet::

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THERE:

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I Hate It. This will definitely require a re-do!!

So now I’m off for two weeks in France: Paris and Giverny; then to Marrakech to see the Majorelle Garden. To give you a preview of the two posts that I have for you in the queue, next week we will see how I manage to paint four really, really, really, really hidious stoooopid pictures of my New Orleans Fragrance Garden…

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…before I happily get it right finally (no, that’s not it above — this picture above stinks!!!!) ; and then the week after that I give you a tour of the knicks and knacks of my workspace:

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I will have my iPad with me in France etc. and Carol of  the highly chic, fabulously popular  Paris Breakfast blog is going to show me how to post from any cafe … so I might be able to send you all a few pictures and a quick update while I’m on the road.

How much you want to bet that what I post will be photos of great French cats?

P.S. Comments on this post will close after five days (nothing personal; it’s the spam, and closing Comments after five days keeps the spam to a manageable level of about 3,000 messages per week).

 

Next time we meet, one of us will be in Paris!!

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Maybe you can tell by this week’s painting demonstration that I am in NEW ORLEANS this weekend!  (If you’re in a hurry for a painting lesson and Give Away of this watercolor of the French Quarter, skip to bottom of post. But you’ll miss out on my Lesson in Connoisseurship. I’m just saying.)

Yes, this weekend Top Cat and I are haunting the the great gardens, bars, restaurants, cemeteries, and museums in our favorite American city which means that in addition to guzzling  sazeraks and gorging on beignets we are feasting our eyes on this stuff :

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The New Orleans Museum of Art is home to the Matilda Geddings Gray collection of Faberge — which includes three imperial eggs (left to right above: the 1893 Causcasus Egg, the 1912 Napoleonic Egg, the 1890 Danish Palaces Egg — the mother of the last czar, Nicholas, was a Danish princess). In all my previous trips to NOLA I have managed to avoid the New Orleans Museum of Art but this time a visit is necessary because lately I’ve had to brush up on my Faberge-looking-at skills…

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This is a real Faberge egg, non-imperial, called The Apple Blossom Egg that I sold at Christie’s in the mid-1990s.

Last week I got an email from a complete stranger which is always fun, right? This stranger asked me to look at a piece of “Faberge” jewelry going on sale in a small out-of-the-way auction in the English countryside. He thought he might have discovered an out-of-the-way Faberge treasure, and he asked if could I advise him on authenticity and bidding strategy (seeing as I am a world famous /once famous/famous in my own mind former Faberge expert for Christie’s auction house).

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This is a copy of The Apple Blossom Egg.

I only had photos to look at but still,  it was easy to spot several things about the piece that seemed off. Such as, there was wear and tear in places that didn’t make sense unless the object had been assembled from several unrelated pieces. But the No. 1 thing that was wrong about the item was that it was ugly. So I told him it was fake fake fake. Faberge doesn’t make ugly.

Here’s where I make you a Faberge Connoisseur in ten minutes: Maybe you heard about  this story that was in the news last month:

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My mother sent me this news item about a man from Ohio who is suing the “antiques dealer” who sold him several fake Faberge items including a fake Faberge egg mounted on a snuff box for $165,000. Wait. There are people IN OHIO smart enough to have $165,000 in spare change but still dumb enough to blow it on obvious  fake Faberge? Yes, this egg is an obvious fake  — Faberge eggs go for $5 – 20 million dollars (you pay more if Romanoff hands ever touched it) so your first lesson in Ten Minute Connoisseurship is that if you bought your Faberge egg for a measly  $165,000 you probably bought a fake. Because this is what $165,000 buys you in Faberge World:

Faberge owl seal 4This is a one-inch tall wax seal thingy with impeccable Imperial provenance dating from its purchase in 1910 by the Dowager Czarina Marie Feodorovna (the Danish princess) directly from Fabergé in St. Petersburg. The owl is jade with diamond eyes and the piece still has its original box, which is worth lots of money to a collector. The seal is made of gold and do you see the color of the enamel? It’s a shade of pink that is highly sought after (and worth extra $$$$) by connoisseurs. This is the famous Faberge pink — maybe you can see it better in this object:

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Or this one:

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This is the 1890 Danish Palaces Egg in the New Orleans Museum of Art.

This luscious opalescent pink enamel is uniquely Faberge. It can only be achieved by layering a citron or tangerine-colored enamel underneath a pink enamel in two separate firings, a tedious and delicate process that is beyond the skill of most enamelers (not that anybody these days is doing real enamel any more).

Your second lesson in Ten Minute Connoisseurship is that if your Faberge egg is  mounted on a snuff box it is fake. Why?

Unknown-4 Faberge never made ugly, which is why Faberge would never make an egg mounted on a snuff box. The concept is ugly because it doesn’t make sense.

Unknown-5A snuff box that has a big fat Faberge egg on it would be useless, since snuff boxes are small and meant to be carried in a gentleman’s pocket. So a snuff box with a knick-knack on top of it is an ugly concept that just does not make sense. Or, I should say, it makes as much sense as a whistle with a bud vase attached to it, a toothbrush that is also a remote control for your TV, or a stopwatch on your hairband. Dumb is ugly, and ugly is fake.

So now, dear readers, now that you are connoisseurs, you know how to avoid making a $165,000 mistake when you are shopping for Faberge.

It’s not just Faberge that I hold to a high standard when it comes to ugly. I also hold myself to that criteria: I do not stuff my books with any old illustration that comes off my itty bitty brain. For instance, I painted two pictures last week that are utterly ugly:

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A walled garden in London that doesn’t look anything like the walled garden in London I was trying to paint. That’s supposed to be Victorian architecture in the background. Ew.

And this:

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And yes, when I spend hours on paintings that are ugly it puts me in a very bad mood. I start looking on Craig’s List for  jobs that are better suited to my total lack of talent. I almost mop the kitchen floor before I remember that I hate housework even more than I hate being a failure as an illustrator.  I consider ditching the Damn Garden Book and writing porn instead (porn, even bad porn, sells BIG).

But on this day I made myself a nice big G&T and sat our in the backyard because this week we had two and a half days in a row with sun shine and above 70-degree weather!!

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Taffy in his Sphinx pose.

This was the first time in 2013 that you could step out of your house and smell real, lush, vegetative scents in the air. Grass, forsythia, turned-over garden dirt…ahhhhhhhh. The fragrance of living things! Time to sit outdoors and enjoy a Happy Hour G&T in the golden rays!!

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Lickety right before he sneezed into my gin and tonic.

As you can see, maybe we’ve achieved maximum adorableness already here in Vivian World.

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And the next day it was grey, and cold, and miserable, so I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan to see how REAL ARTISTS GET IT DONE:

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I went to the American Wing and gazed at early American portraits of cats.

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Fur Trappers in a boat on the Missouri River: I thought this was cat  until I looked really really closely and saw that it was a dog:

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This is the entrance to the American Wing:

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This is the view of Central Park from the atrium here:

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And here is a view of Versailles from a panorama c. 1820 in the American Wing:

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Yeah, I thought that was weird too. I really enjoyed the rooms that have been salvaged from stately mansions of pre-Revolutionary America…

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…for obvious reasons:

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And during a stroll to the exit I came across this:

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It’s the entire Matilda Gedding Gray collection of Faberge from the New Orleans Museum of Art!!!

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WTF? All three Imperial eggs are right here, in New York City! Well ain’t that a kick in the pants? (BTW, as usual the eggs were displayed in a case that was far too low. Faberge needs to be displayed at eye-level, please, and make that eye-level for a person who is 5-foot-six, please.)

OK! Let’s make some New Orleans art! Because lord knows that next week , when Ive been to New Orleans and back, I’ll probably be too hungover to draw a straight line.

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Background:

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I’m using my No. 0 size brush, the one that I cut half the bristles out of…so really it’s a No. -1 (negative one) size brush.

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For the iron filigree I’m using my Rapidograph pen:

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And voila, today’s triscuit: (Delicious baked wheat snack cracker included for scale.)

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However, this might suit the subject matter better:

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If you would like to own this Triscuit of New Orleans for your own gallery, just leave a Comment below and Top Cat will pick a winer TBA next week.

It is 40 degrees F and pouring rain as I type this for you on Friday morning on Long Island. I’m off to NOLA in 30 hours. Plllllllleeeeeze let there be lightness and warmth and sun and GARDENS! And dear readers, if I find any those things in NOLA, you’ll see it right here next week.

 

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