Watercolor Tutorials

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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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P1140688I’ll get to the part where I paint with a toothbrush in a moment, but first we have to discuss GUMNUT BABIES:

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Thanks to our dear Australian readers Bev, Megan, Karen, and Marguerite, who kindly answered my question in last week’s post, we all now know what a Gumnut Baby is:

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 A gumnut is the seed pod (“nut”) of the flowering eucalyptus (“gum”) tree of Australia:

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There are more than 700 species of eucalyptus, mostly native to Australia, and a very small number are found in adjacent areas of New Guinea and Indonesia. Only 15 species occur outside Australia, which is very sad because it means that there are, in the world, eucalyptus trees without the world-famous Australian eucalyptus tree accessory:

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According to May Gibbs, the world’s No. 1 authority on Gumnut Babies, “Gum Nut Babies are full of mischief and always teasing the slow-going creatures but they hurt nothing and are gentle for they love all the world.” Cute cute cute.

So gumnut is my new favorite word for when I love something with a world-wide fervor. And I’m gumnut for gumnut babies.

Want to see what a Koala gumnut baby looks like? He looks like this:

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You might have noticed (Jain) that my blog was not up and running at its usual 1:00am pub time today — I was out late last night on the Upper East Side of Manhattan at a swanky gathering of Francophiles. My alma mater, The American University of Paris, was holding its New York conclave at The Edith Fabbri House (she was a Vanderbilt married to a wealthy Italian), a fine Italian Renaissance revival townhouse just off Fifth Avenue:

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I love — no, I gumnut — that I got a New York roof top water tower in this shot.

The alumni party was held in the mansion’s most famous room, the library:

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I’d read about the building before I got on the 5:31 from Long Island that the library “showcases historic panels from the Palazza Ducale in Urbino, Italy”:

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So like a dope I get there, get my glass of French wine, and start asking, “Where are the frescoes? Have you seen the frescoes?” Now I think that “panels” meant “paneling”. There was a lot of dark wood walls in the library, which is why my pictures came out murky”

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And they really don’t show how much fun I had. This was the first alumni get-together I’d ever gone to since I took leave of AUP in 1979 and I really enjoyed myself, meeting very accomplished classmates and talking about memories of our student days. Members of all classes from 1963 to 2012 were there, as was the president encouraging all of us to get involved in creating an AUP community worldwide, and it was a fine evening that I would gladly do again and that says a lot because you all know how much I hate to leave the house. I will definitely stop by the old campus next month when I’m in France and renew my acquaintance.

So, back to the subject of  gum nut babies.

I took Top Cat to the Schmidlapp estate that I told you about last week, the 28-acre $7 million property that had the house…

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Realtor’s photos

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with the fabulous gumnut babies curtains (see last week’s post, but here’s a reminder):

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Top Cat was gumnut for the place. And you’ll never guess what we found! Here’s a clue:

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This is a teeny photo that I found in my Google-rambles in the internet, a 1910 photo of the Schmidlapp estate that is in the Harvard archives (odd, since the Schmidlapps were a Yale / Princeton family). As you can see, there’s a garden there. And judging from the corner of the house pictured, I knew where it was. It was in the back, where I did not trespass on my previous visit because it looked pretty scary:

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OK, it doesn’t look all that scary in this picture, but I was alone and it’s a desolate property and I didn’t want to follow a trail of busted flagstones through a dying forest where nobody could hear my screams. But with Top Cat as my body guard I had the nerve to find the entrance to the secret garden:

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and here is what it looks like in 2013:

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Yes, this is what Spring still looks like on Long Island.  So no wonder I was happy to paint a garden in full bloom. I had already painted this particular view (below) about a year ago when I was still a bit heavy-handed with my new Windsor Newton paints and I never really liked it:

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I also wanted a horizontal illustration. So I re-painted it, starting with the masking fluid:

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I’m using the end of my paint brush to spread the fluid.

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I let the paints bleed a lot for a “mossy” effect around the gravel pathway:

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Now to make the gravel pathway look more gravelly I use scrap paper to shield the parts of the illustration that is not gravel pathway:

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And I take my trusty toothbrush …

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… and I moosh it in a black/brown/green/blue mix of watercolor…

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… and I flick:

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Flicking is fun!

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And voila! I have gravel!

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The trick to painting rocks is to let each bit dry completely before you add shading. Except, sometimes, you want to put shading in while the paint is still wet. It depends on the kind of rock.

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Finito:

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This picture took about 5 hours to paint, what with all the waiting for the paint to dry in-between the actual painting.

Yay! I’ve now finished the Japanese Garden chapter (words and pictures!) of my Damn Garden Book!

Commentor Sarah asked me if I would one day give a tour of my work room where I paint:

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I really have to tidy this place up.

I said, “Let me ask the dear readers.” Does anybody else want a tour of my genius-idea-hatching place?

And now, drum roll please, as I announce the winner of the Garden Triscuit painting:

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Janet B!

 

Have a great weekend everyone — go paint some Triscuits!

 

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P1140492This is the painting-in-progress that I made to cheer myself up on a soul-killing icy snowy March day and we will get back to it later in this post.

But let’s start this week’s round-up with a picture of my Long Island backyard at the very instant that Winter became SPRING on March 20, 2013 at 7:02 am :

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Yeah, I know. Big Whup. And 12 hours later, that Champagne-O-Meter looked like this:

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Top Cat and I went to our usual beach spot on the north shore of the Long Island Sound to toast the first sun set of Spring:

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It was snot-freezing cold and ear-achingly windy and we huddled next to the cement wall along the walkway above this beach, using it as a wind break while I took this photo to show where we’ll be picnicking in a mere 90 days to celebrate the Summer Solstice:

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Yeah, Right. Like there’s any chance in this lifetime that I will park my butt on this bit of perma-frost. Too bad that photography can’t capture wind chill, or my incredulity that I will ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, be warm enough to go on a picnic on this frozen shore.

This dismal start to Spring put me in a Grey Gardens kind of mood, and what better way to indulge my taste for melancholy than an outing to find another Secret Gardens of Long Island:

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In my researches for the long-lost gardens in Great Gatsby territory I dug up some info about the 200-year old Schmidlapp Estate in Oyster Bay (see above, main driveway). To readers from Cincinnati, the name Schmidlapp will be familiar as the rich banking family that still funds one of the first independent philanthropic foundations established in Ohio. This is their Long Island homestead, the 200-year old Rumpus House on their 28-acre estate that has been vacant and for sale for nearly a decade:

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I peeped into the house and found these curtains (see below) in what looks like the dining room. Does anybody recognize these characters? They look familiar — some kind of pea-pod babies from an early 20th-century children’s book maybe?

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The Schmidlapps are an old WASP family so their taste in homes is far less extravagant than the prevailing esthetic currently on display on Long Island (think mock-French chateau). This estate is one of the last, big parcels of land for sale in this exclusive enclave, known since the days of F. Scott Fitzgerald as The Gold Coast. It was originally priced at $35 million, but having gone unsold for eight years the asking price has been dropped to a mere $7 mill. The original Colonial house shows its WASPy heritage (think linoleum on the kitchen floor) so the opinion among realtors is that the when estate is eventually sold it will be broken up for redevelopment into 5-acre plots for mini-Sun Kings (that’s Louie the 14th of Versailles). I told Top Cat that we should get in on this bargain! I want me a ruin (to go with the the completely decadent 60s I intend to have, starting in 2016, so consider yourselves warned)!!

Anyhoo. I drove nine miles to get a first hand look at the estate, thinking that there MUST be a secret garden or two on the property:

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Turns out that the Schmidlapps were not gardeners. I only found lots of bits of lawn surrounded by neglected woodsy bits (this is just one of those lawns — the place has acres and scary acres and creepy acres of this stuff):

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And on the edge of one woodsy bit I came across this:

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I kicked aside the dead leaves and uprooted some overgrown ivy:

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Of course these are pet graves. The Schmidlapps are A-OK in my book and OMG OMG OMG now I REALLY want this place. So please, dear readers, if each of you would only buy a million copies (EACH) of my books I can get this done, merci mucho. However, if I hear that the place has been sold out from under me, would it be wrong of me to go in the dead of night and, uh, ahem, curate these headstones?

There happens to be a 4-acre corner of the Schmidlapp estate that is open to the public as the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden. I will have a lot to say about the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden (Most of it not snarky at all. Well, half of it is not snarky. After all, I must be true to the real me.) in my upcoming Damn Garden Book:

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So, as long as I was traipsing around in the 28-acre neighborhood I stopped by the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden on this dreary March day and found that the care takers were — amazingly enough — clearing out the bamboo that grows along the perimeter:

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This amazed me, and I don’t know why, because this is exactly what the keepers of the great bamboo groves in Japan are doing in March! WOW!! It’s like the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden is a REAL garden!!

BTW, this is a shot of the stunning bamboo forest of Arashiyama, Japan:

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Do you see that thicket that forms the fencing? Well, get ready to kvell, dear readers, because I found this picture of one of the teeny tiny “doors” cut into that thicket fence:

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It’s for local cats and foxes.

I know! I know! That is so awesomely  cute I want go buy me a ton of Hello Kitty crap!!!

And now, we have a painting (see: cheering up watercolor at the top of this week’s post) to give away!!!

So:

For Jeanie and others who have asked what kind of paints I use, this photo is for you. On the left are my newest paints, tubes of Windsor Newton and pans of Cotman paints;  on the right are the Grumbacher paints I’ve been using for 10 years (no, those are not 10-year-old Grumbacher paints — I go through them at the rate of one set every year or so — see the shiny new set ready for defilement):

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The Grumbacher paints are cheap and, for me, easy to use so that’s why I stuck with them for so long before I was alerted (by my new friend Carol Gillot, the artist at the blog ParisBreafasts) that I should up-grade my equipment. Her advise came just in time for my Damn Garden Book, as you can see below (the Windsor Newton painting is on the left, the Grumbacher on the right):

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It took a little getting used to but the Windsor Newton colors are so much better for garden painting. I still use the Grumbacher though, for when I need a chalky, muted tone (I really like the Grumbacher Burnt Sienna and Prussian Blue). I buy my paints in person from Blick Art Materials but their on-line selection is great too.

Now, to answer those kind readers who asked, when it comes to tracing a line drawing onto watercolor paper, my first choice is good old solar power. On a south-facing window on a sunny day I simply tape watercolor paper over my drawing  like so:

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However, if it is too overcast for tracing this way, I will use my light box, pictured below on my desk:

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I like the light I get from my south-facing windows, which is the exact same light that makes using a light box impossible.

There’s a little tube of fluorescent light inside the box so when you turn it on goes like this:

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A light box costs around $20 and is handy as a back-up on a rainy day  — it’s also very useful if you are one of the lucky artists who can paint at night under artificial light. I can not do that — I need daylight to see the colors of my paints, but I’ve talked to other artists who are very comfortable painting after dark. I wish I were one of them.

Now here’s today’s watercolor exhibit!

First the masking fluid:

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Let dry, then paint:

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Remove masking fluid:

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Paint fleurs:

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Tea bag for scale:

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Better yet, a Triscuit:

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For the international readers of this blog I must explain that a Triscuit is a flavorful, baked, whole wheat hors d’ouvre-sized snack cracker made by Nabisco:

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If you’ve been to one of my in-person book events (and I know who you are, Commentors) you’ve heard me encourage every beginner painter to paint Triscuits  (my word for the many miniature landscape paintings that litter my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam)– because you can get a lot of information in a Trisuit and not risk a whole lot of paper or paint. My 2011 holiday card was a panel of Triscuits:

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Lately I’ve gotten out of the habit of painting Triscuits and I have missed them so much that when I was a bit blue this past week I painted a the Triscuit you see above not just because it’s a flowery garden path but because I find Triscuit-painting to be very soothing. Try it! You might like it too!

And if there’s a reader out there who would like to receive my Vision of Summer Triscuit…

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…please leave a Comment and I will have Top Cat take responsibility for choosing the winner at Top Cat random. But special first-come dibs to anyone who can identify those weird pea-pod babies on the drapes in the Schmidlapp’s dining room (see above). That’s still really bugging me.

Have a great weekend! But if you are basking in vernal sunshine please don’t rub it in.

 

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Yes, we will be painting together later in this post (it’s very looooooong today, go get a cup of tea) but first OMG OMG OMG I have to tell you about my visit with Neil DeGrasse Tyson:

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When Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is not writing best selling books about astrophysics or dropping by The Daily Show to chat with Jon Stewart about cosmic stuff he is the Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History on Manhattan’s upper west side. I once went to a party and was in the same small room as Neil DeG. (he and I have the same literary agent, the great Betsy Lerner) and we smiled at each other over the hors d’ouvres buffet table but I was too star struck to say anything. I do have me a gigantic a crush on the awesome Neil DeG.

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On Wednesday night Top Cat and I went to see Dr. Neil DeG. host the 14th Annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate at the AMNH. The topic for the evening’s duscussion was The Existence of Nothing and Neil DeG. was moderating a five-person panel that consisted of a physicist (expert on “time loops” and time travel) and a physicist (expert on elementary particles) and a physicist (expert on string theory ) and a philosopher (with a mathematics degree from UVA with a special interest in large cardinals) and a guy who writes about science (expert on Zero and its twin, Infinity).

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iPhone pix of Neil DeG. on the left with the panel on stage at the Lefrak Theater at the AMNH. I forget to bring my camera. I’m very stoopid.

During the ensuing give-and-take it turns out that every body on the panel had a working knowledge of general relativity, topology, Star Trek, Saturday Night Live skits from the ’70s, cosmology (observational and theoretical), dark matter, negative curvature, and the history of science. Since everyone eventually agreed that even in the empty vacuum of space on the edge of the universe there is something (the laws of physics, whether or not we know them, for one thing; energy is another) the real issue was whether nothingness as a theoretical construct was important, interesting, or meaningful to the future of science and/or mankind.

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At least, that’s what I think the discussion was about. As I sat and listened to the whole thrilling two hour debate all I could really get  through my head was  Boy, I am stupid.

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Me, trying to understand the difference between Cosmology and a Cosmo.

I think it’s because I spend too much time watching reality TV that I get the mistaken impression that I’m smart. For example, this week the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills went to Paris and it was so stupid that I felt like a genius compared to Kyle, shown here on her visit to the Pont des Arts:

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I know and love the Pont des Arts. I put it in my book, Le Road Trip:

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Imagine how freaking crazy it makes me to watch as Kyle and her husband put their padlock on the railings of the Pont des Arts, an idiotic custom that has begun since I was last there. Lovers put their initials on a cheap hardware store lock and they snap it onto the chain-link fence, trashing the look and feel of the place. It is nothing short of desecration and there was Kyle, oohing and ahhing over her lock — and then telling her husband that she hopes her kids will one day come and see their parents’ lock on “The Love Lock Bridge”. As if her crappy lock was now a permanent fixture in the City of Light. Yes, she’s that STUPID.  (A man from the Paris street cleaning department comes with bolt cutters every week and chops off the damn locks that tourists insist on putting up.) I believe that Kyle thinks the name of the bridge is actually The Love Lock Bridge, and I believe that she hasn’t got the curiosity to read a damn guide book to find out anything else about the bridge except for her damn lock.

On behalf of Americans with half a brain and a respect for the history and beauty of Paris, I apologize to the citizens and the street cleaners of the 6th arrondissement.

ONE  MORE digression before we get to the painting. P1140307

That’s Mrs. Cardinal in the foreground.

Yes, it snowed again this past week on the Isle of Long. It started to fall around 1 o’clock in the afternoon last Saturday.

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After giving me the hairy eyeball, this guy turned and pointedly glared over his shoulder:

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I know that look. That look means that there is a big fat furry pest too damn close to the bird feeder.

That’s Taffy, under the bird feeder, and this is his “Who, me?” look:

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The flash captures the scene better:

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And here I thought I was finished with the Champagne-O-Meter for the season. Ha!

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I happened to be working on another Key West illustration, how ironic, when it began to snow.

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This is a picture of a grove of Australian Pines on the beach at Key West. I find it very meditative to apply a lot of masking fluid and I would rather meditate on applying masking fluid than on the *@##! snow. For the big tree trunks in the foreground, BTW, I don’t use my customary toothpick — I use the end of one of my paint brushes (the end without the bristles):

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If you are bored with these “Me Doing A Watercolor” demonstrations, feel free to skip to the end of this post. There’s another cat picture for you down there! But for those of you hanging in with me, this is how I put in the horizon of sea and the sky in the background:

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Then I put in a wash of yellow (this is how you paint foliage that is back-lit):

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While the yellow wash is still wet, I start dabbing in shades of green:

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I like working in my chalky Grumbacher blue paint into the shadows here:

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Sorry for that show of my injured finger tip. With the Winter making my skin so dry I have split a lot of my fingertips from all the typing I’ve been doing, writing the Damn Garden Book. These fingertip splits are very painful, like getting a new paper cut every time you tap the keyboard. Type-Writing is hard! Literally! Poor, poor, pitiful me! After I finished painting this picture I soaked gauze in Vitamin E oil and taped up my sore digits so they can heal overnight:

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Taffy, on behalf of the world, shows me the amount of sympathy I am due. By the way, he is yawning, not gagging, altho gagging would also be an acceptable response.

So, back to the painting, where I’m laying in colors — wet-in-wet style…that is, I’m layering colors in a series of washes that overlap (using my fattest brushes):

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More shades of green for foliage — this is the part I love:

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So this is it so far:

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It needs, now, some real dark bits:

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Do you see where I’m going with this?

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And now we put the masking fluid to good use!

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After I’ve peeled off the masking fluid, I’m ready to get to the heart of this scene:

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I’m going to leave some of the highlights on the left side of the tree trunks just plain blank white — I’m going to let the paper do the work:

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But with other tree trunks, I’m going to go for a yellow-green highlight:

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I think the mix of highlights gives texture to the lights and shadows of this scene:

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And Done. I am in love with the Australian Pines in Key West (but, sadly, they come sans koala bears). I would love to have an Australian Pine grove in my backyard, and I wish there could be wild koalas romping in their poetic shadows. Did you know it was SUMMMER right now, Down Under?

Here on the shores of the Long Island Sound, it snowed again on Tuesday!!   Yay.   And Thursday!!   Yay.

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This is not the footprint of a koala bear.

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These are not the tracks of a koala bear either.

These are Canada geese tracks in the snow, but OMG OMG OMG I wish they were koala bear tracks in the sand.

I hope this post wasn’t too long today — and dear Monique and Whimsy2: I read your question from last week’s blog so next week I will show you how I trace onto watercolor paper. And you know what? I’m in such a good mood (still got those koalas on my mind, plus I’m sipping a G&T while I’m typing this) that whatever I paint for next week’s blog I will give away. Stay tuned.

 

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Last Friday there was a blizzard here on the shore of the Long Island Sound. Oooo, so pretty:
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That’s the Champagne-O-Meter in the center.

On Saturday the sun came out. Sill kind of attractive, in a good old Winter kind of way:

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On Sunday the forecast called for warming weather. Winter is starting to look worn out:

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On Monday I had to remove the Champagne-O-Meter from the side yard to the fridge because I hate to see warm champagne. Now it just looks sad out there:

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On Tuesday it rained all day. Those are small puddles of grey water pooling in between the dead grass:

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On Wednesday it was Spring-like and the trees look like dead sticks and the yard looks like crap:

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It’s now Thursday and the yard still looks like crap but it’s way cold. As soon as I finish my blogging I’m going to the fridge and opening that bottle of champagne because I’m pretty sure I won’t be needing it for any more blizzards this Winter and I have something to celebrate: I have champagne in the fridge!

Also, a wonderful new reader from Australia emailed me that she went to see the blockbuster Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra — and found Le Road Trip  on sale in their book shop! I can’t believe that I wrote a book that the National Gallery of Australia sells in their book shop. I feel very important.

I’m itching to show off my Australian accent to my cats, but  I can only talk Strine when I’m slightly loaded so I am DYING to get to that champagne.

Have a great weekend everyone!

 

 

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Because instead of having rich friends who talk behind my back (which is why I LOVE The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, New York, Atlanta, OC, and NJ) I have cats who have no trouble getting in my face:
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Also, I do not spend my days shopping or party planning. Instead, I spend my days sitting at a desk, which is even more boring than it sounds because when I write I sit at a desk that faces a blank white wall because it’s better for my creative process to have NO DISTRACTIONS. Did I mention that I have cats?

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Having a camera crew following my every move would probably make my cats all nervous and skittish:

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But then again, maybe not.

I lead a pretty interior life, not suitable for film.

I doubt that what I consider really exciting is anything that would make for great TV:

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Last Sunday I was thrilled when I went out to re-fill the cat food bowl that I leave outside for our opossum friend, and I found  that he’d left me a present and I ran in to tell Top Cat GUESS WHAT!!!  MR. POSSUM LEFT ME A CARDINAL FEATHER!!!!  

In my experience, reality TV people only get this excited over slander law suits and when another Real Housewife looks at them funny.

The BIG news around here is Another Blizzard on its way.

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The latest panic started on Wednesday when Lonnie Quinn of the TV@ Weather Center cut into my Judge Judy time to show us what might, maybe, possibly, could happen in the next 48 hours. This is the dire forecast for Thursday:

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But it was what could maybe, might, possibly, could happen on FRIDAY that got him really riled up, so much so that he had to roll up his shirt sleeves and jump onto TV to let us know about it 48 freaking hours in advance:

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Jeeze, Lonnie. Even by my low standards of ordinary life this is a non-event.

BTW, I got the Champagne-O-Meter ready for this March blizzard. This is Thursday:

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And this is Friday:

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7am: Those are kitty cat tracks behind my Champagne-O-Meter.

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9am: Still snowing. This is the Japanese dogwood tree that shades our back patio and today is leaning over into the side yard. The only other time I’ve seen it like this was right after SS Sandy.

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Noon: That tree branch is almost touching the ground.

Commentor Judith asked a very interesting question in the Comments last week. She asked Does [an illustration]  exist in your mind, and you uncover it step by step? Or do you create it as you go along, building it up step by step?

Oh yes, definitely YES I plan a picture out before I paint it. For instance, when I did this picture (the one I painted for you on last week’s blog):

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I absolutely planned beforehand what I would paint first, what went second, what had to be done thirdly, etc. I thought about what shape I had to paint, where the darks and lights would go, what range of green colors I would use. In a future WIP show-and-tell I will show you how I plan a picture because ever since I’ve been taking the trouble to stop and think before hand about what goes where, I’ve found that I don’t screw up as many illustrations. But that’s me (I’m a Capricorn).

Some people might love the process of painting so much that their canvases are opportunities for discovery, but not me. I am a results-oriented person and I quake until I have a plan of attack mapped out in my head. But that’s me.

As I write this it is 6:39 Thursday night and whoa, nellie. There are actual flakes falling from the sky! I hope to have a great Champagne-O-Meter pic for you tomorrow!

 

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This is my new office:
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I am now concentrating on the writing part of book-making, dear readers, and since I can’t seem to get anything down at home (the cats see me sitting at a desk and, being illiterate, have no respect for the typing part of writing and park their butts right on the keyboard, the better for offering me their sweet chins for a good chin-scritching session). So last week I retreated to the reference room at the Port Washington Library on the Long Island Sound (New York) because they have special dungeons quiet rooms for deep thinkers:

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I ease myself into a cubicle, push my piles of paperwork to the far corners of my desk, and start checking my emails. You ever know. Maybe Julia Roberts has read Le Road Trip and wants to star as me in the movie version.

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Then I am immediately bored, so I wander out to the lobby and stare out at the rain:

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There’s the main street of Port Washington and that’s the Long Island Sound in the far distance.

Then I go to the ladies room, and mosey to the cafeteria for a cup of tea in a paper cup, and on the way back to my cubicle I drop by the Travel Department, I admit, to see if my book is anywhere on these shelves.

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Thank you, Port Washington Library, for shelving me in the 914 section!

Then I go back to my desk, fiddle with some papers, get nothing done, check for emails  a few more times, step out for lunch, come back and sit at my desk, feel depressed, do a few random Google searches, and then pack up and go home.

In other words, I treat my writing just the same as if it were a real job.

Good thing I have this painting hobby to help me de-stress from my writing job.

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Today I am illustrating the two kinds of palm tress, those that are fan-like and those that are feather-like.

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Each brush stroke must articulate palmate and pinnate fronds in a most expressive way.

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Bark, whether on a real tree or on a palm tree (which is not really a tree, it’s a grass masquerading as a tree) is mostly grey with a little bit of brown:

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I didn’t draw lines here. I let the paint dry, then I painted in between the dry sections and let the paint itself make the striations (this works awesome for waterfalls — I really must show you this in a whole separate tutorial):

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Going deep dark green on the feather fronds:

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If I hadn’t been sure that all the foliage here made an interesting pattern at this stage, I would not have continued with the illustration:

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Now I draw lines for the house I want in the background, from a reference photo of a Key West property (the porch gives it away as classic Conch architecture):

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Whew. There’s only a little bit left to go, and as you can see there’s only a tiny bit of this picture left to screw up paint:

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But that’s enough painting for one day. So I put it away and gorge on crap TV for five hours before falling asleep in the middle of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills start fresh again the next morning. And in the end I have this:

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And now for the Great Koi Pond Picture Give-Away (from last week’s post). I had to leave it up to Top Cat to pull a name at random because I can’t stand having to pick — I have the best Commentors in the ether and I wish I could send stuff to each and every one of you all every week. Smart, funny, artistic, cultured: you Commentors are the reason I dread having to write this blog every day of my life, because it has to be the best thing I do week in and week out in order to be worthy of you readers. Thank you.

And this week Top Cat pulled Gigi‘s name out of the mix — and she also happens to be a brand new Commentor too! Talk about beginner’s luck — and congratulations Gigi. Please send your mailing info to me at vivianswift at yahoo dot com.

See you next week, dear readers!

 

 

 

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