Watercolor Tutorials

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My criteria for the Perfect Fall Leaf is that it contain every color of the season in one feuille. Obviously, as soon as I laid eyes on this beauty I knew I’d found perfection for this year’s Annual Fall Leaf Painting Tutorial (2013).

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If in previous years you’ve followed my Annual Fall Leaf Painting Tutorial, you already know that after I’ve laid my leaf on 90-pound Canson watercolor paper and traced its entire outer edge, I divide the leaf into its “cells”. The secret to painting a Fall leaf is to paint it cell-by-cell.

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I am using size 0 and 00 brushes and my cute little set of Windsor Newton watercolors here — the colors are very bright and rich. Let the watercolor dry throughly before you start a new cell.

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This way, you can let the paint colors bleed into each other within each cell (see below, I’m letting my yellow paint bleed into the green)…

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…and still keep all the other cells clean and bright and not muddied-up as you add to the leaf (cell by cell):

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I’ll just let you watch for the next few frames as I paint in details, cell by cell:

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I have to say that I find Fall Leaf Painting to be very relaxing, especially when I add the tiniest details.

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The great thing about Fall Leaf Painting…

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…is that in the end, you have a leaf that will never fade or crumble or get disgusting looking (tea bag included for scale):

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This is what happens to your Fall Leaf the day after you finish painting it, poor thing.

This is especially true with oak leaves! Hoo boy, nothing dies faster and uglier than an oak leaf. That’s why I was overjoyed when I found an unusually ripe oak leaf this year and was able to paint it before the poor thing went the way of all fallen leaves.

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For more Fall Leaf Painting Tutorials, please check the Archives of this blog under Watercolor Tutorials. Sure, you might have to wade through some Cat Painting  and a lot of Garden Painting  and loads of Watercolor Failures that I’ve posted from time to time…but enjoy the browse and if you care to send me a note you can always reach me at vivianswift at yahoo dot com.

 

 

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We love Pumpkin Time here on the shores of the Long Island Sound.

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I detect a slight flaw in the Pumpkin Placement Plan here.

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Pumpkin Time is a good time to remember the most lonely word in the English language: Orange. The color gets a bad rap for being garish and unfriendly but some of my favorite things in the world are orange.

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Here are some pictures of City Orange from my outing yesterday:

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Upper West Side brownstone.

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Yes! I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday! The bridge is undergoing loads of restoration so it is u-g-l-y at the moment, but as you can see, the City of New York spares no expense in making tourists feel welcome!

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Saki basement bar in the East Village.

And what Secret Garden would be complete without a touch of orange?

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Which reminds me, we are painting a Secret Garden today:

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Of course, it all starts with a pencil sketch and masking fluid:P1190993

I use folded sheets of scrap paper to cover up bits of the picture before I begin to paint the gravel:

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When the base paint is dry, I put my toothbrush to good use (which, in between the three times a day I use it for dental hygiene, lays around doing absolutely nothing). I load it up with a mix of grey and black watercolor and then I flick it at the illustration:

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This is not really my Dental Hygine Toothbrush. This is my Dedicated Paint Flicking Toothbrush.

Let dry, and voila:

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Here’s a painting tip: I save the bottle caps of Top Cat’s favorite GatorAid to use as mixing pans.

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To get the many shades of green I need for a garden illustration I mix three different hues of green with two different hues of yellow and/or three different hues of blue. BUT to get the pure yellow that I prefer for my painting I mix two different yellows — Cadmium Yellow and Lemon Yellow. (Alone, Cadmium Yellow is too orange and Lemon Yellow is too bright). And I keep my pure yellow isolated in a GatorAid bottle cap because I can’t be trusted to keep them clean if I put them in a palette-thingy.

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Here is where I add some detail to the background wash:

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For this illustration I wanted to try out an idea I had, about using some blue in the foliage, maybe to get a more dream-like effect:

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I am still using my chalky Grumbacher paints mixed with the tubes of Windsor Newtons, mostly because I love what the chalky paints do when they dry. They leave an interesting residue on the paper, interesting textures that are purely accidental that I really like:

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I am thinking that for this picture I want to leave the foliage looking very watercolory, like this:

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So far, I am quite happy with the way this picture is going. So now I start to add plants:

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I’m being careful not to over-do it:P1200010

But here is where I ruined it all:

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I tried to paint tree trunks in ochre, which was bad enough, but then I made the mistake of painting them with straight lines. I knew it was wrong immediately. I was instantly unhappy with these wimpy, ugly tree trunks. But still, I thought I could soldier on, finesse the picture with other distracting details:

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But those tree trunks just kept bothering me. So, i finally had to ditch the whole picture, having admitted what I knew all along: There is no rescuing a picutre that has a fatal flaw:

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Several days later, I went back and had another go at it. The steps were exactly the same as above, but the end was this:

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You can compare for yourself:

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Yes, the sad fact is that whenever you try something new, there’s a 80% chance that you will blow it. But hey: it’s only a bit of paper and paint. That doesn’t stop me from taking a whack at something new. And, for those times when making a crappy illustration feels too much like failure, there’s always champagne.

One of these days I hope to work up the nerve to paint my favorite time of day:

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Twilight in Pumpkin Time.

I love the low light of a Fall evening:

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I have to learn how to paint this most beautiful shade of orange. In fact, I think that when we finally invent a word that rhymes with orange, and it must have something to do with this quality of light:

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I’m thinking that “floringe” might be the word, to describe the look of artificial lights glowing in a Fall evening. Floringe would be used especially in the case of the lights that shine from the inside out:

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The lights that are seen from a distance:P1200145

To extrapolate, then, floringe, as the wisp of illumination that almost holds its own against the night, floringe could also be the word used when a blog goes dark.

Yes, dear readers, it’s that time.

*****Quick note from Future Me: I did shut this blog down in 2013, and I stayed away for a year and got a dog, but now I’m back (as of Jan. 2015) and the blog up and running again. Meet me here every Friday morning at www.vivianswiftblogcom. Now, back to this poignant post.******

I have been blogging for six years. My blog has evolved from a really crappy stream-of-concisouness diary into a weekly presentation of what I hope is interesting and useful  and honest information and about the trials and errors of living a creative life. I take a lot of pride in making my blog live up to the intelligence and humanity of my community of readers, dear readers, many whose stories and names and cats I have come to know and treasure, as friends and inspiration. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And in the same way that I know when my painting lacks necessary oomph, I know when my blog is running out of steam. As both painter and blogger, sometimes I have to get away and be more of a person living in the world than a person who observes it.

So. I will not be here next Friday, or the next. Or the next. I will be writing my Damn Garden Book full time, and showing up as a Commentor on my favorite blogs — if you are not reading The Miserable Gardener you are missing the best gardening blog written by a pure bred border collie ever — and herding my cats. Doing what I can to gather steam.

I do plan on being back in the blogosphere, someday, and I might even post something here from time to time, so please drop by. I’ll have to post updates about theDamn Garden Book, of course — I’m under contract to finish it sometime in 2014. And you can always reach me at vivianswift at yahoo dot com, because I do want more garden photos. We’ll stay in touch. Because when a blog goes dark, it doesn’t go away forever. It only goes floringe.

Meaning, there’s always a light left on. You’ll always be able to find your way to my door.

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So first, we drew le chat reduced to its lumpy, adorable snowman-like proportions:

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Then I found an image of a really cuuuuute kitty on the internets:

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She is of course la Lizzie Cosette of the marmeladegypsy blog.  I drew Lizzie in snowman-esq style, just to rough out her shape:

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I filled in a few shadows, to familiarize  myself with her markings and stuff..

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…and then I traced the bare outlines of that sketch onto watercolor paper:

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The paints that I’ll be using for most of the color in this kitty portrait are grey (Davy’s Gray in the tube) and my trusty ancient  Grumbacher watercolors:

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I will mix these colors right on my brush, getting various shades of brownish-grey, blackish-grey, and rusty-grey as needed, and for the most part I’m going to let the pint and the water do what it wants to do:

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I do love the chalky texture of these paints.

I am going to start with the face because if I don’t get the face right I will trash the whole thing and start over. So I will work quickly to get some black markings in on top of wet brownish-grey:

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I painted the eyes in and, before the paint got too dry…

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…I laid in some black around the eye, but I didn’t let it bleed as much as before because bleeding colors is OK for getting a nice effect for  fur, but this is not fur:

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For the inside of Miss Lizzie’s ear, I used a very pale blueish-grey:

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I used the same blueish-grey to paint Lizzie’s chin and I let it dry….P1190870

…and then I went back with my paint brush dipped in clear water to “pick up” the paint. I do this because I want a very delicate shading effect here, and subtracting paint is a good way to make an area look outlined, but painterly:

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OK, I think I got the face alright, so now I’m going to start painting the fur. Lizzie is a tabby tuxedo, so to give shade to her white bits I use a very watery light blue wash. I just like the look of a very light blue shadow to indicate whiteness:

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And, again, I’m going to work wet-in-wet, that is, I’m going to dab some brown and black and grey into the very wet blue wash, to get a nice watercolor effect:

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All that, above, is done before any of the paint has a chance to dry. I’m not going to over-do the fur…I’m going to leave the body impressionistic. But I am going to get a lot of detail in the punim because she is soooooo cute:

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I’m not painting the whiskers — I don’t have a brush fine enough and also, I like the look of pencil here:

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And now I check it against my reference photo. It looks to me that I placed Lizzie at slightly the wrong angle on the paper; she’s leaning too far to the right. To correct that, all I have to do is crop the paper:

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That’s better. Also, I notice that I’ve made one ear too pointy, so I go back and add some round-ness:

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And I’m going to add a sliver of height to her darling little head between them adorable ears:

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And I have to add some white paint over some brownish-grey stuff I painted on her cheek (I erased the penciled-in whiskers on that side before I painted, FYI):

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Then I beef up her Cleopatra eye liner:

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Add the whiskers back in:

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And DONE.

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Smooch, smooch, smooch. I love kitties.

 

 

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So, it’s Friday evening and I’ve poured myself a nice cold of  Pinot G., and I’ve met my deadlines for the week (yes, Dear Readers, sometimes people actually pay me to write.) and you and me can discuss the crucial issues of the day.

Namely, Summer is over. I watched it go, sitting in my backyard, at 4:44 pm Daylight Savings Time on the Long Island Sound Sunday, Sept. 22. More of a bummer this year than usual.  Don’t get me started.

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I did not pick up a paintbrush this whole past week (spent all my time wordsmithing, you know) but I do have  something worthy to show you from a spot of painting (let us all now assume English accents) from yonder fortnight.

Two weeks ago I was working on an illustration of the beloved children’s tale, Peter Rabbit. Beatrix Potter is my idol when it comes to illustration, and I  have a chapter on London Gardens in my work in progress, the Damn Garden Book, so I was not going to miss the opportunity to reference my childhood infatuation with All Things English, starting with Peter Rabbit.

You know the story. For my illustration, I had to get the lay of the land, namely farmer MacGregor’s garden:

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The wondrous Beatrix illustrated it as a walled garden on the edge of a woods. And my favorite scene:

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Voila, Le Chat. (they call them moggies in England, by the way.) See how this ties into our whole Paint a Cat saga?

So, here is my interpretation of Peter Rabbit at this most crucial part of the whole story of Peter Rabbit:

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(I have blocked out the left hand side for future text, FYI.)

As soon as the paint dried on this thing I knew there was a problem with the cat but I didn’t know what.

I put it away for 48 hours, took a fresh look at it, and it hit me like Thumper:

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The cat’s head is too small. Of course!! That’s why it looks more like an ermine than a C-A-T.

But the thing had already been painted, and it’s watercolor, so o lordy, what to do?

I am now going to tell you, Dear Readers, a Trick of the Trade.

All I did was paint a new (right) cat on a separate bit of Canson 90 pound cold press paper (the only paper I use — I love love love this paper) . Then I cut it out, and glued it over the ermine, like thus:

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Here’s a close up:

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I know from experience that when this picture is scanned for print and published in a book, the fact that it’s a cut out will never register with the reader:

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In fact, if I am not about tell blab about it right now, you probably would never have noticed that Peter himself is a cut out, pasted in front of the MacGregor garden in the background:

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And you know what? I feel A-OK about this because I have recently discovered that our darling Miss Potter did the exact same thing back in the day when she was watercoloring her way to immortality.

Take a look at this illustration below:

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See that DoG? Look closely:

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Look closer:

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Yep. He’s a cut out. Underneath that Pomeranian, probably,  is some small-headed Pug that gave the delightful Miss P. second thoughts.

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And if Miss P. can do it, then I can do it.

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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:

A Bend in the Epte Giverny by Monet

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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