Watercolor Tutorials

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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WIP is the term that we procrastinators use when we discuss our “Work In Progress”.  Today’s post is going to be a long one because the more time I spend on my blog the less time I have to sit around cursing at my  blank sheet of WIP because the angels are not dictating their lyrical prose to me and I have to actually do all the excruciating work on my own and write the damn thing. Also, there will be a trip to the Met museum in NYC and some talk-back to all the wonderful Commentors from my post about the Barnes Foundation and bad art two weeks ago… so make a cup of tea, have a seat, and expect to mosey with me for the next ten or fifteen minutes.

About my WIP garden book, here are two photos of moi feeding koi (fat gold fish) last year at a Japanese Stroll Garden in my neck of the woods on the north shore of Long Island:

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Koi are the greediest fish I’ve ever met. When they know there’s kibble to be had (official Japanese Stroll Garden kibble — I didn’t pitch bread crumbs in there) they will climb over each other and leap out onto the bank of the pond with their mouths wide open to gasp for a treat. I was enchanted.

What you can’t see in this photo montage set-up is that there is a fence in the background, behind the bamboo, that forms the western edge of this garden — I mention it because I’m using that fence as a prominent feature in my illustration WIP (below).

So, to begin, I make a few very faints guide-lines to show me where I’m going to put stuff in this landscape. My pencil lines have to be very light because I will be painting over them and I don’t want them to show through my watercolor — I hope you can see them here:

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I’m mostly excited about doing the koi, which I sketch in like this:

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Next, I put masking fluid over the troublesome areas:

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Now, I have never painted a koi pond before, but I know I want a very watery, paint-y looking effect so I use my fattest brush and keep the surface very wet while I lay in various colors in a swirly motion:

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I had to work very quickly here so I didn’t take photos, but I hope this close-up helps:

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Now I put watercolor over the masking fluid for the first bunch of high grass that I have to paint:

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Then I peel off the masking fluid and use my itty bittiest brush to paint each stalk of grass:

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Yes, I’m using black paint for lots of contrast:

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For the wall of bamboo in the background I want to let the paint do a lot of the work so I dab dark green paint over a wet wash of yellow, letting the bleeds describe the foliage:

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I peel off the masking fluid on another bunch of high grass…

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… and repeat what I did previously:

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Then I peel off the last bits of masking fluid and I’m ready to finish the background details and fill in the last bit of foreground and start painting the FUN stuff!  Lily pads and FISHES!

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Voila — here’s the finished picture with tea bag for size reference (perched where the garden book text for this illustration will go):

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Again, here’s a look at the original inspiration, just to show you how interpretive my illustration is:

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As you can see, you have to edit (or, interpret, as museum folks say these days) when you use reference pix — and isn’t it great the way these reference pix came together in a way that happily lent themselves to a composition were I had to have a blank area for text??  I love it when life and art work out this way.

Speaking of editing and interpreting…that’s what the Matisse show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is all about. The show is called Matisse, In Search of True Painting

This is a beautifully curated show (and I NEVER call ANY show “beautifully curated”).

You are not allowed to take photos in the galleries so keep in mind that I am hiding my camera in my pocket as I shoot these, to show you how finished Matisse paintings are hung alongside Matisse’s WIP sketches so you can see his thought process as he edits and experiments:

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Oh,Beautiful Gallery Girl, I want to come back as you in my next life:

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This is what attracted her attention:

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Even the wall text in this exhibit was very well done — giving you dates and places of each painting (see two versions of a table-top still life below) without the usual long-winded editorializing, simply letting the viewer make her own interpretations and associations to form one’s own relationship with the art. I think that’s what Commentors Bobbi and Marguerite  and Chel were getting at in my post about the filthy over-mediated experience that is forced upon a viewer at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia (see my post Eye of the Beholder).

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To Commentors Vicki in Michigan, Gigi, Sandy R, Christine, and Jeannie who might be avoiding the Barnes because of my complaints about it, I must say that it’s not an entirely worthless experience (as long as you don’t get snookered into taking a docent tour) because at the very least it is interesting to see such a strong point of view in a private collection. I just happen to think that Dr. Barnes’s point of view is almost entirely wacky. Because, as Commentor 365 Dresses wrote, when you hoover up as much stuff as Dr. Barnes did on his purchasing sprees in the 1920s and ’30s, you’re bound to get lucky — but that hardly makes you a connoisseur.

Back at the Met, I wish I’d got a better shot of this guy’s sweater because it was fabulous:

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Commentors Laura and Janet B. mentioned the documentary that was made about the Barnes Foundation about how the city of Philadelphia broke the tenets of Dr. Barnes’s will to move his collection from its private quarters in the Philadelphia suburbs to downtown Philadelphia, called Art of the Steal . I’ve seen it, and  I have to say that I can’t really get all that upset about it. So some millionaire’s will, made in snotty revenge  against the Philadelphia establishment, got betrayed by some half-assed social-climbing executor? Talk about having First World problems!

I ask you: How can you go to the Met to see Matisse, in Search of True Painting without taking a quick trot through its other galleries?  You can easily avoid Renoir and Cezanne to wander in  rooms full of Van Gogh!

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See this girl, taking shots of the art with her iPad:

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I have to learn how to do this!  And OMG OMG — the Monets!

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In this one corner you have about $170 million worth of excerpts Monet’s most famous serieses (plural series), from left to right: The Houses of Parliament in London, Rouen Cathedral, Haystacks in Normandy, and Poplars in Giverny. I do not know why they are not in their chronological order, which would be Haystacks, Poplars, Rouen Cathedral, London, BTW. And of course there are lots o’ water lilies:

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Thank you, other Beautiful Gallery Girl, for wearing your Monet Water Lily-matching outfit:

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And since I’ll be spending a few days in Giverny this Spring, I’ll need to steal study Monet’s own garden-painting techniques:

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And for Commentor Kate, who didn’t want us to throw Renoir under the bus, there’s this — his “masterpiece” from the Musee d’Orsay:

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I don’t know…I think it’ll take more than that to change my opinion, or the mind of Commentors Monique, Sandy R, and Joan. I don’t know…it’s awfully busy and froofy, I think. There’s an issue here that I’ve heard referred to on Project Runway, and it’s called “taste level”. I just don’t think Renoir had good taste. Right? Wrong? But I promise you, Kate, that I will go see it when I am in Paris and let you know if it does, face to face, what the magician Penn Gillette says great art should do: Make me a different person.  For Commentor Sally, I’ll also look up that Hanged Man by Cezanne whilst I’m there, see if that does the other thing that great art is supposed to do…challenge one’s map of reality.

Thank you, Commentor Tracey, for the tip about the up-coming show at the Brooklyn Museum this Spring about the watercolors of John Singer Sargent — I seem to be on a whole new kick lately where I actually leave the house once and a while (see above). Next stop, Brooklyn!

And now, I want to show you what I skipped over at the beginning of this blog post, when I painted my koi pond. Here’s a quick step-by-step re-creation of how I did it, in case you’re curious:

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I started with a dab of blue from my chalky Grumbacher paints before I switched to my grown-up Windsor Newton watercolors (sometimes I like the paleness of the Grumbacher paints):

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The secret is to keep everything constantly wet wet wet:

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After adding a bit more Grumbacher blue…

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I dip into the Windsor Newton cobalt for real depth:

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Drying off the brush like this …

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…lets you go back and pick up paint, to create highlights where necessary:

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Now going in with lots and lots of blue and green on the brush:

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Just let the paint and the water do what it wants to do. Let it sit there, and air-dry. It’s all that air-drying that is the reason why it took me three hours to paint my koi pond illustration (at the top of this post). You can’t hurry this step of the process:

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And then I paint in the koi/gold fish and I sign it:

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If you think it would be helpful to see this little dab up close I will gladly give this away to whoever is interested. If by chance there is more than one of you dear readers who want to get up-close and personal with my koi, I will gather your names and let Top Cat choose one at random. Just leave a Comment below (sorry; I have to close the Comments after five days) to let me know if you’d like me to send you this koi pond — or just drop a note to let me know that I haven’t bored you to death with this loooooong post.

Next week I promise I won’t rant on and on and on and on and on….

 

 

 

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It’s c-o-l-d.

It’s so cold on the Long Island Sound…

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…that the low tide froze. Here I am at the William Cullen Bryant Cedarmere estate, which is two miles from my house, tramping around the cliffs trying to get a good reference photo of the Mill House so I can paint it:

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This Mill House is situated below the high ground of the estate, perched precariously close to the water’s edge:

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(That’s the Mill, behind all that dead spartina grass.) To get this shot (above, the other side of the house where apparently the sky is not so blue) I had to scramble down hill through the woods and hop onto this old dock. I was wearing my beloved but bulky full-length Winter coat and the whole time that I slipped and slid through the bracken I kept thinking that this is how my idol, Edith Holden (author of The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady) died. She drowned in the Thames River, trying to reach a branch of chestnut buds on its bank.

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This is the stream  that drains from the pond on the Cedarmere high ground into the Long Island Sound I took great care to NOT fall into.  Note the beautiful icy edges! Jeeze. What I do for my art.

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This Winter I have fallen in love with the William Cullen Bryant Cedarmere estate. You’ve seen my homage to it in Fall

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But it is also heart-breakingly beautiful on an icy bitter cold afternoon in Winter:

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But enough with the local scene.

As you know, I’ve been painting a tropical garden lately. Well, it’s time to ‘fess up that I’ve been painting that garden from memory — the only remembered garden in the book. It’s a long story, but when I was in Rio de Janeiro in the mid-1990s I did not take a single photo. I was being too cool. Long story. But in order to paint it, I have to rely on all kinds of painting tricks.

Cue the masking fluid!

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My most ambitious masking project yet.

P1130503With my night-time sky done, I’m starting on the  greenery (see above, and below):

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I’m trying something new for the background, something that is almost pure design, not taken from nature:

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I’m going to play with some blue-green foliage too:

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There is an actual plant that grows in Brazil that has these wonderful stripes on its leaves:

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(I’ve never painted this plant before, so I should NOT have begun painting such a prominent leaf, front and center, until I’d gotten the hang of it…which is a tip I hope I remember in the future.)

Now I’m ready to peel off the masking fluid:

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And DONE:

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Nothing keeps me warmer on an icy Winter day on the Long Island Sound than painting a tropical garden. Except receiving wonderful little packages in the mail from the lovely readers of this blog, that’s extremely heart-warming. And cats — they keep me warm, too, when they glom onto me while I take my 4 o’clock tea break and watch Judge Judy. Oh, and a shot of cold medicine in the tea cup (yes, we have a cold to go with the cold here on the Long Island Sound).

Keep warm, dear readers, wherever you are.

 

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You know what they say about watching paint dry…well, this is like that, only with masking fluid:

I use a toothpick to lay down my Windsor Newton masking fluid because it’s very viscous and I can’t handle it with a paint brush. In this illustration, I am protecting my foreground subject (mailboxes — I love mailboxes) with the masking fluid:

I can get into tight corners better with a toothpick than with a paint brush, which is important considering the small scale of my work:

You have to make sure the masking fluid is bone dry before you go to the next step. Notice that all I have here are a few lines drawn in pencil to guide me in this illustration. In other words, things can go very, very wrong at any point in this operation:

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As I paint in the background (using my chalky Grumbacher paints with a lot of water for a light, pastel effect) the masking fluid protects my mailboxes so I can be loose with the watercolors:

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I’ll be using a lot of green/blues in this picture, and a lot of yellow/reds. I use my fancy Windsor Newton paints for all the yellows and greens I need, and the Grumbacher for orange…and I’m also using two different cups of water for the cool (green and blue) colors and the warm (yellow/red/brown/orange) ones and I change the water frequently to keep the paint colors crisp:

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You can see that I’m working on an Autumn scene and unfortunately  I’ll have to paint fallen leaves. I have no idea how to do this, so I’m winging it here:

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Now time for background detail:

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See how the yellow wash is peeking through the dark foliage? And the masking fluid is giving me a lot of freedom to slap on paint without worrying about my mailboxes:

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This picture as a steep perspective, so here I have to “go big” in the foreground:

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And now I’m ready to peel off the masking fluid and get to the mailboxes:

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Cool, right?

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And then, mailbox No. 2 looked wonky to me, so I re-did my drawing:

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I left the foreground without detail because I will be dropping in some text down there:

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(I think I’ll have to go back and fix that black mailbox. I think I made it worse with the re-drawing of it.)

This is an actual road on the north shore of Long Island that leads to the wonderful Autumn garden of the 19th-century poet/journalist William Cullen Bryant. When I first started painting, all I could manage was a Triscuit (see left, below). Well, look at me now! I’m painting Super-Size!

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Just shows you what a lot of practice can do for a Bear of Very Little Talent.

And now, an announcement:

Le Road Trip is being published in CHINA!

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You know what they say about China. “You take an author with a small cult following in the USA  and translate those numbers to the billion people in China and you have an author with a small cult following in The Middle Kingdom.”

Question of the day: Does this post leave you with a craving for Triscuits?

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Now, before we begin todays’s lesson, I’m posting some pictures of my cat Cindy at work (as per last week’s request from Janet, Carol, Patty, Susie, Janice, Sarah, Deb, and Gitana). This is Cindy “helping” Top Cat and me with our 1,000-piece puzzle:

But it’s no surprise that with so much kitty “help”, our 1,000-piece puzzle ended up as as 998-piece puzzle:

And the other day, during one of our rare sunny January mornings, I found Miss Cindy taking a well-deserved rest near one of her biggest projects…

…where she can bask in her sense of accomplishment:

I know, I know: only Cat People will find this cute. [Note her handiwork on the chair here, just a fraction of her entire ouvre on our livingroom furniture.] So let’s change topics toute de suite.

When I first began doing the art work for my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam, I was using Grumbacher paints:

These paints served me well. They are inexpensive (about $20 per 24-color sets like this, get them from Blick Art Supply on line), so I felt very free to slosh around and make mistakes until I got the hang of what I can and cannot do with paint like this. Also, I was working very small (all illustrations in Wanderers are reproduced in the original size) so I could bang about with these paints all day and mess up as much as I wanted without having a major impact on the local landfill.

Here, for instance, is the very first time I painted The Lone Skater (on page 9 of When Wanderers Cease to Roam):
Since this picture is the exact size of a Triscuit cracker I call all my itty bitty pictures “Triscuits”, but I didn’t have a Triscuit handy when I photographed this for you, so I used a Tostito:

But after a few months of practice, I went back and re-painted The Lone Skater and this is the illustration that appears in the book (done with Grumbacher paints):

When my second book ,Le Road Trip came out in April last year, I was contacted by Carol Gillot, the fabulous watercolorist and blogger of Paris Breakfasts fame (parisbreakfasts.blogspot.com) .

She told me it was time to upgrade my equipment. She advised me that Grumbacher paints have a lot of cheap chalk filler in them and I should try painting with a higher quality of watercolor, so I bought a teeny tiny beginner’s kit of Windsor Newton paints at my favorite art supplier Dick Blick:

Oh My DoG. First of all, the Windsor Newton paints are sooo cuuuute!! (See tea bag for size comparison.)

And the intensity of color and the fluidity of the stuff makes painting with these watercolors feel like the Grumbacher had the power of a golf cart while the Windsor Newton has the oooph of a race car.

Compare these two garden illustrations. First, there’s the Grumbacher:

And now, with Windsor Newton:

I think we all can see the chalk in the Grumbacher now. But that is not to say that just because of the vivid, rich color possibilities of Windsor Newton that I have forsaken my beloved Grumbacher paints all together. Oh no. Because I know my Grumbacher paints so well, chalk and all, that I know how to use them to achieve certain misty, pale, subtle effects that I cannot get (yet?) with the Windsor Newton. This, for example…:

…is all Grumbacher. Maybe because of the chalk filler in them, I can trust the Grumbacher to blend and mix and/or stay put in scenes like this — see how the sunset yellow doesn’t get muddy when laid down next to the pink…and how the pink stays in place when it’s so close to the blue? And note the way the blue bleeds so beautifully into the wet wash that I did on the top. I can only do this with Grumbacher.

Let me know if you have ay specific questions about paint or paper or masking fluid or watercolor stuff and I’ll try to include an answer for you in next week’s post too. As Jain says, I have all kinds of wee tips that I’m happy to share!

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Top Cat and I celebrated the Winter Solstice in our usual fashion here on the shores of the Long Island Sound. But we were not alone in welcoming back the light…

…is there anything better in a dog’s life than a beach, a ball, and a hoomin with a good throwing arm?

It was one of the better Solstice sun sets (yes, that’s the Manhattan skyline lit up with the last rays of the sun with Westchester on the right).

And then I went to Philadelphia…

…to check up the Monets at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

They have a wonderful collection of 21 Monet canvases, hung in five different galleries (I don’t know why they are not hung all in one place).

Art museums are odd places. I rarely go to them any more, just to browse the walls…I only go if there are specific things I want to see. There is a world of difference between seeing a reproduction of a well-known painting and seeing it in person, and I’ve only seen these particular Monets in reproduction. So I was excited — even though there must be half a dozen almost exact same versions of this view of Monet’s Japanese bridge in museums around the world.

However, there is only ONE of these:

Hanging all by itself in a dead-ended gallery was the very first picture that Monet painted of his Japanese bridge when his water garden at Giverny was brand new.

This picture has always been cataloged as having been painted in 1895 [click here to see for yourself] but as you can plainly see:

…it’s dated by the painter himself as 1892. Yes, I called the museum when I got home and let a message about this for the curator of European Paintings Before 1900. I haven’t heard back from her yet.

I wandered a bit through the rest of the European Art galleries and saw many excellent pictures…

…but I get burnt out after two hours of museum-ing, so I headed home.

Besides, I have paintings of my own to work on. In this case, it’s a two-page illustration of a wonderful little landscape designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (at the William Cullen Bryant estate on Long Island) for my book-in-progress, the Damn Garden Book:

Yes, I was painting this scene from reference photographs that I took on November 18, 2012.

One of the reasons that I never paint in situ is because, until the picture is completed…

..it tends to look like nothing but a hot mess. I can live without a baffled passer-by stopping to ask me, “What is that you’re doing?”

The other reason is that at any time during this process I can ruin the whole thing and have to start all over again and I do not want witnesses. Also, November tends to be cold here on the Long Island Sound and I’d rather paint in warmth.

Since I am left handed I started this two-page illustration on the right side — here’s the left:

And this is how it all comes together (with tea bag for scale):

If there is another painter on the internet with the guts to show her work like I do, step by pitiful step, I’d like to know about it. Because I’m pretty sure I’m the only writer/illustrator who puts this kind of stuff out in the ether and I think that’s pretty awesome of me. Or shamless…your call.

I got an email from a new blog reader this week, asking about the brushes I use. I told him that he’s given me a possibility for a post for next Friday: Tools of the Trade. Anybody else interested?

 

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We had a heavy rain here on the north shore of Long Island last week and it was mighty helpful in bringing down some decent-sized leaves from trees that are still a week or two from their peak colors.  So I took my crutches and hobbled over to the neighbor’s front yard and spent a very happy half hour staring down at the ground, poking at this windfall to find leaves with personality that I could paint for you all. So here is your mutt maple leaf  (see above, as per your request, dear readers) that can be yours in my Fall Leaf Give Away (see below).

Yes, I like these new paints mucho.The colors are more vivid and so true to nature. Fun!

And yes, I painted another mutt maple leaf  with personality  for another lucky winner (each leaf takes about 80 minutes to paint each leaf, which takes time away from the hours that I want to sit in front of my computer watching the Psy Gangham Style video which I know we all want to get back to, so I’ll make this quick and not give you the cell-by-cell newsreel on this one):

Here’s how you can win one of these hand-painted (and, eventually, hand autographed) Fall Leaves:

5″ x 7″, tea bag not included.

1. Leave a Comment below. Your Comments are each assigned a number by the gremlins that host this blog (WordPress) and that includes the hundreds of spam (tiresome, endless spam) Comments I get, which is why this next step makes sense:

2. Top Cat has randomly chosen two numbers. If that number corresponds to your Comment # or, in the case of a spam Comment hitting that lucky #, the one just before it, you will win one of these Fall Leaves. I will announce winers next Frida, and send them wafting your way as soon as I receive your mailing address.

By the way, the numbers you want to hit are  2391  and  2954 .

Good Luck to you all!

 

 

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Already these mornings are dark when I make my first cup of tea of the day.

There goes another Summer.

This week I even held my hands over the stove to warm them up while I waited for the water to boil — first time since last April. And I automatically put on a fleece when I head out to the backyard to give the wild cats their breakfast.

Yes, that’s the Sumer of 2012 behind you already.

I have a sudden craving for hot soups and thick blankets and new notebooks. Yes, those are the signs of Fall alright.

Top Cat on the shore of the Long Island Sound on the last Sunday of Summer

That’s the last we’ll see of lazy sunsets until the next Equinox. From here on, sundown means business:

The skyline of Manhattan across the Long Island Sound. To the far right: The Empire State Building; to the far left, the Freedom Tower, 104 stories above Ground Zero.

Get yourself squared away and tucked up for Winter! Projects! It’s time to set some goals, make some self-improving agendas to get us through the dark days ahead!

 Or you could do as I do, and just make sure there’s a case of champagne ready to set out, bottle by bottle, in all those lovely Winter snowdrifts to come.

But whoa, I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s still plenty of work to be done before we can knock off for our longWinter nap. I, for one, have a Key West garden to paint (continued from last week).

As you know, Key West is lousy with two things: cats, and sunsets. So whatever you paint in Key West has to have a sunset:

HUGE — this sunset is HUGE: 12 x 18 inches (two-page spread)

Painting the ocean was a bit trickier, but with practice…

Try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try again.

…I finally felt ready to commit:

So far so good

Now all I had to do was not screw up the beach. Which I did…I painted such an ugly grove of beach trees (not palms — Australian Pines) that I can not even show you, it’s that ugly. So here’s how I salvaged this illustration:

Smoooooth moves

I simply painted a new verso side of my two-page spread, and then painted in ONE silhouette of an Australian Pine:

I’m like a secret agent, with license to cheat!

When you see this illustration all cropped and tidy in my Damn Garden Book, you will never even suspect that it’s a “marriage” of two separate paintings. And that, my dear readers,  is how you finesse it when you are too ham-handed to paint a grove of Australian Pines on a Key West beach. (And I actually improved the coastline with that fixer-upper painting, IMO.)

Did I hear someone say “That Vivian! She’s like a 007 of the art world!!”

Christie’s London has sent me their spiffy fat catalog of their upcoming James Bond sales on Sept. 28 and Oct. 5. I guess I’m on their radar for Hollywood collectibles because of the bidding war I waged for one  of Elizabeth Taylor’s fabulous caftans at her estate sale in New York last year (read all about that here).

Posters

There’s memorabilia and movie props from every Bond movie for sale, from Sean Connery…

Sunglasses from Quantum Solace, $3,000 – 4500. You should see Lot 49: Daniel Craig’s swim trunks!

…to Daniel Craig. There’s Bond cars, Bond tuxedos, Bond hotel mementos, Bond Girl frocks, etc. Here’s the thing: because I am a VIP, I was able to get another copy (rare in the US) of this cool catalog FOR YOUSE.  I expect that this catalog, like the sales catalogs for the estates of Elizabeth Taylor; and Barbra Streisand and Frank Sinatra (in both of which yours truly played a bit part as Faberge expert and horologist at Christie’s…I could tell you stories), Diana Princess of Wales (private showing of her gowns that went on sale just a few moths before her tragic death) etc. will become a collector’s item in itself.

So if there is anyone out there in Vivianworld who would like to have a 50 Years of James Bond The Auction catalog ($50 value), please leave a Comment below (or, leave a Comment even if you don’t dream of owning Daniel’s Craig’s swim trunks). I will leave this offer open until Wednesday, Sept. 26 to give every reader a fair shot, and then Top Cat will pick the winner at random from those of you darlings who have volunteered to give this book a good home. We will notify you then, to get your mailing address.

And until next week, when we will all be in Full Fall Mode, I hope you’ll all take the opportunity to wave good-bye to the last Summer sunset of 2012.

Another sign of Fall: Top Cat and I have already begun our Fall/Winter/Spring argument about whether it’s too cold in the house or OK just as is DON’T TOUCH THAT THERMOSTAT.

 

 

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