Watercolor Tutorials

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:

P1130934

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:

P1130880

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

P1130881

Next, I put masking fluid over the troublesome areas:

P1130882

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:

P1130884

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

P1130885

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

P1130887

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

P1130890

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

P1130893

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:

P1130894

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

P1130895

… and repeat what I did previously:

P1130896

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!

P1130897

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

P1130907

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

P1130934

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:

P1130913

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

P1130913

This is what attracted her attention:

P1130915

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).

P1130912

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:

P1130916

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!

P1130919

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

P1130923

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

P1130924

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:

P1130925

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

P1130930

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:

P1130928

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:

800px-Pierre-Auguste_Renoir,_Le_Moulin_de_la_Galette

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:

P1130942

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):

P1130944

The secret is to keep everything constantly wet wet wet:

P1130945

After adding a bit more Grumbacher blue…

P1130946

I dip into the Windsor Newton cobalt for real depth:

P1130949

 

P1130950

Drying off the brush like this …

P1130951

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

P1130952

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

P1130958

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:

P1130964

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

P1130992

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….

 

 

 

Read more

It’s c-o-l-d.

It’s so cold on the Long Island Sound…

P1130465

…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:

P1130545

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

P1130474

(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.

P1130471

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.

P1130477

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

P1130589

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

P1130565

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!

P1130501 2

My most ambitious masking project yet.

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

P1130504

P1130507

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

P1130509

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

P1130513

P1130511

P1130518

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

P1130552

(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:

P1130554

And DONE:

P1130588

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.

 

Read more

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:

P1130321

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:

P1130322

P1130323

P1130326

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:

P1130422

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:

P1130411

Now time for background detail:

P1130412

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:

P1130414

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

P1130415

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

P1130419

Cool, right?

P1130420

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

P1130426

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

P1130432

(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!

P1130429

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!

Le Road Trip cover jpg

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?

Read more

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!

Read more

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?

 

Read more

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!

 

 

Read more

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.

 

 

Read more

Which is harder: making bread…

or painting it?

I’ve never baked a loaf of bread, but I can tell you that painting it isn’t a piece of cake.

For me, it took a lot of trial and error.  For one thing, you don’t want your French breads looking as if they are defying gravity:

And neither do you want your French breads too bien cuit:

You have to learn to make your French breads with a light touch:

You also want to get that golden-brown crust just right:

And when it comes to your sign you want to use authentic French lettering, bien sur. Good thing that the words LE PAIN

…are incorporated in this classic Hector Guimard METRO sign (it looks like the St-Michel entrance to me, captured on the cover of this vintage album of the 1960s):

Bur when it comes to scribbling  your love of French breads and croissants…

…it helps to have a cheat sheet handy:

Next week I’ll be checking out the French bread of Nashville. Yes, that Nashville, the one in Tennesse. Mais oui — you can get great French bread in Nashville!

You can find a little corner of France here at Provence Breads and Cafe in historic Hillsboro Village in Nashville (1705 21st Ave. South).

And just around the corner you can join me in Nashville for a Bastille Day wine-and-book talk, Saturday July 14,  2-4pm at Parnassus Books at 3900 Hillsboro Pike.

And if the heat wave is still on, we’ll see if it’s true that it’s so hot in Nashville that you can bake bread on the sidewalk. And when I say “bake bread” I mean “drink lots of wine“, and when I say “on the sidewalk” I mean “in the cool comfort of AC and smart company at one of America’s classiest book stores“.

Are you in???

 

 

Read more

Poutine, AKA Quebec French Fries with brown gravy and cheese curds — yum!

O, Quebec.

So far, my Canadian readers are polling 3 – to – 1 in favor of me not being such a connarde after all. Thank you, Commentors Michelle, Risa, and Monique, who wrote in about last week’s post about my landing on the wrong side of the Great Quebec Accent Issue.

The only place on Earth where the Fleur-de-lis looks manly.

For the record, it wasn’t me who compared the Quebec accent to the quacking of a duck (on page 96 of Le Road Trip). I was merely reporting what a cranky Malouin shopkeeper had said about the thousands of French Canadian tourists who flock to his beautiful walled city of Saint Malo on the Brittany coast. Oh sure, yes, I laughed at the whole “quacking like a duck” thing, but I also put myself on the record as finding the Quebec accent enjoyable (right there on page 96) which does not preclude it from being somewhat like the quacking of a duck — a freaking gorgeous Mandarin duck:

That’s DUCK, not PUCK. 

O, Canada, what would we Americans do without you to give us cover as we travel through this American-hating world?

One last Canada story:

I wrote (on page 90 of Le Road Trip) that my husband and I did not travel through France pretending to be Canadians, as was the fashion of Americans abroad in the fall of 2005…remember? 2005 was the thick of that kerfuffle in Iraq that Bush and Company started when they lied to the United Nations about those Weapons of Mass Destruction and all? Brought about a decade of death and disaster to innocent Iraqis and brave men and women in uniform? And Americans could barely show their faces in public without claiming to be Canadian (or crying for permission to emigrate to The Great North)?

No, Top Cat and I copped to being Americans and took the heat.

You’re welcome, Canada.

But the whole story is about this illustration on page 90 (for those of you who are reading along, that’s page 90 in Le Road Trip):

I have a deep dark secret about this little picture. It’s a fixer-upper.

This, below, is the original sketch I made of my husband, Top Cat, thumbing us a lift to Mont St-Michel in Brittany:

As you can see, there was a problem with that weird right hand there:

Yes, that hand looks completely non-human.

Luckily, I am left handed. Which means that I can fix this simply by re-drawing my own right hand (a really tiny drawing of my right hand) and then putting it on a copier to ensmallen (that’s the technical term) it even more:

 

And then I drew this teeny tiny version of the right right hand, along with the whole arm, on a piece of plain bond paper. I painted it, cut it out ever so carefully (it’s really, really s-m-a-l-l), and I glued it on top of the weird right hand and arm on Top Cat, like so:

Problem is, now he has two thumbs. I  have to get rid of the old thumb from the old weird old right hand. Watch how I do it:

If I hadn’t told you, you’d never know.

Speaking of Canadians who don’t hate me, take a look at Canadian (Newfoundler) Bobbi French’s Friday blog  at www.findingmeinfrance.com. Yeah, that’s me, standing in Times Square traffic for the sake of Canadian literature. Again: You’re welcome, Canada.

And I’m sure there are more than a few Canadians who are reading Carol Gillott’s wonderful blog Paris Breakfasts today (it’s about me!)

So, Quebec. Are we good now?

Read more

Anybody who puts a book out in the world loves to hear that, against all odds, that book has found a reader who:

A. Doesn’t write to tell you how much she hates it.

B. Does write in to ask an interesting question that I can turn into a blog post!

I got this question from a new reader in the Nutmeg State (50 points for anyone who can right now name The Nutmeg State):

I have a question for you, that will definitely expose my complete lack of knowledge about watercolors. Do you paint with watercolors from a tin, or are you using those special pencils that you sketch a bit first, and then blend with water? I also noticed that you often have some well-defined outlines in your work. Are these made with a fine ink pen first, followed by adding color?

Thank you for asking, dear reader from the Nutmeg State.

Until recently (see last week’s post) I was using hobby-grade Grumbacher paints that come in pans — 24 pans for about $20:

I have nothing bad to say about my Grumbacher paints. They have served me well through two books.

I’m using two sets of Grumbacher 24 — because I use a lot of black (to mix into other colors) and I keep some of the pan colors pure and use others of the same color as mixing bowls. I also use the paint tray itself as my main mixing area, which is why they look so cruddy.

Lately I’ve been gifted with new paints in tubes to help me get a brighter look for the gardens I’ve started to illustrate and I was so excited about the purity and intensity of the colors that I went out and bought some pans of paints — a Windsor Newton “field kit” (I still can’t give up on the ease of using pan paints).

This is my brand spanking new paints and mixing thingy. And, dear new reader from the Nutmeg State, I always use a tea bag to reference scale (those Windsor Newton paints are so cute!!). See how clean and spiffy they look before I get cracking:

This is my set-up: new paints, cup of tea, helper cat in the background (meet Coco, new Reader from the Nutmeg State), and my brushes in their souvenir Maya-head tequila shot glass from Acapulco (makes me feel like life’s one big Tiki Bar!).

Which brings me to the second part of your question, new reader from the Nutmeg State: What do I use to make outlines?

I draw with a .018-point Rapid-o-Graph pen, a steel-tipped drafting tool from Germany that is a pain in the ass to use but is the only way I can get a very fine, sharp, dark black line.

When I don’t want a sharp, dark black line but I still need a line,  I use a very fine paintbrush to make the outline. I do not use those pens or colored pencils that you can blend with water because I don’t know what they are. And because I like to do things the hard way.

To get a paintbrush with a fine-enough point on it I have to engineer it myself. I start with a .O or a .OO size brush (the smallest that you can find):

And then I very carefully cut off half the bristles:

Now let’s look at some outlines in Le Road Trip. The buildings in this illustration of Bayeux (on page 68) are outlined with my German drafting tool:

In this illustration of Mont St-Michel (page 92) I used my itty bitty brush to outline the young couple having a picnic on the towering wall surrounding the fortress/abbey (and the blades of grass on the hillside):

In this illustration of a door in Bordeaux (page 143) I used both my German drafting tool (on the door, obviously) and my itty bitty brush to outline the mer-people and to do the railing:

Since my illustrations in Le Road Trip …

P1000453

… are reproduced in their original size, I use my itty bitty brush quite often just to be able to get a landscape down to miniature proportions, like this picture of Bayeux cathedral on a canvas that is approx. one half tea beg high and two tea bags long:

Thank you, Reader from the great Nutmeg State of Connecticut, for this blog post.

And to the reader in Quebec who sent me that nice piece of hate mail last week: You got me. You’re totally right: my whole book is just an elaborate cover, a sinister ploy to broadcast my cruel and evil anti-Quebec prejudices throughout the world as evidenced by that joke I reported about the  Quebec accent on page 96, and everything else you said in that 1,000-word lecture on what a dumbass I am not to acknowledge the truth of the beauty and bravery of the French spoken by its conservators up North, yadda yada yadda.

Jeeze. I always thought Canadians were so polite but hoo boy, do not get them riled up about the way they pronounce “jardin” as “jardaiyyyyynnnnn”, I’m warning you all.

 

 

 

Read more