Art Journal stuff

You ask, I giveth. Dear Reader and Commentor Marg-o asked if I could put up drawings for the Triscuit watering cans I’ve painted for the super-duper Triscuit Quartet Give-Away:

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So I enlarged the waterings cans and re-drew their outlines so they’d be nice and clear, and here they are, for your printing and painting pleasure, both the Before. . .

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. . . and the After:

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Before:

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After:

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I couldn’t find the drawings I used for the other two/quarters of the Super Duper Triscuit Quartet,,so here’s another drawing I did that you might like to paint anyway:

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Don’t forget to enter the Super-Duper Triscuit Quartet Give Away!

Did we just invent the latest internet craze????? Probably not, because artists can be stingy giving away their stuff. But not me. Right, Monique?

Last week, Dear Reader and long-time Commentor Monique  mentioned me and the GoAaF in her beautiful  blog  — Merci Monique!, and she also wrote about the  painting lessons I offer here in VivianWorld. Monique thinks my generosity is the sign of a very confident and mature human being. Ha! I have no idea how I’ve pulled that off, giving the impression that I’m a  grown up. Although it is true that, when I bitch and moan at life for making me the Wrong Swift, that is, making me Vivian instead of Taylor Swift, I do use very grown-up curse words, so there’s that in the “mature” column.

Now, you might think a grown-up writer of my, ahem, stature, would wish to be the other famous Swift,  Jonathan Swift, but nope, not me. I don’t want to be remembered for my wit and smarts 269 years and counting after I die: I want to be 25 and in Paris and wander rooftops in a gauzy gown right now, right this damn minute.

Did you watch it? Did you see her in the Square du Vert-Galant?

map of Square du Vert-Galant, Vert-Galant Paris

She even sat under the willow tree I wrote about in Gardens of Awe and Folly!

Paris, Seine River, watercolor of Paris

But getting back to my actual non-Taylor/real Vivian Swift life, and to Monique’s compliment as to my mental state, I want to say that I have no qualms showing you all how I do what I do because, to me, it’s not giving away professional secrets. In my opinion, it’s the same as teaching someone how to write cursive script (not that anybody’s doing that these days). See, I could teach you how to form a cursive A . . .

 

sample. . . or B. . .

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. . . but you’d still end up writing your As and Bs in your own, unique, organic, unavoidable you-style anyway:

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Right? So here’s me showing all you crazy individualists everything I know about painting a tea cup Triscuit:

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The rotten part of painting tea cups is getting the perspective right, which means getting the oval right. So, since it’s my No. 1 Rule to always start a picture buy painting the hardest bit first, I began with the oval shadow under the saucer, and the oval “tea” in the tea cup. Notice that I shaded the “tea” lighter around the edges: if you’ve ever looked at your tea, you’ll see that that’s how it is in real life, because of physics, or math, or gravity, or something.

Next, I use acrylic gold paint to outline the decoration on Tea Cup No. 1 in the foreground:

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You have to use acrylic paint here, because watercolor simply cannot do what acrylic does, i.e., shine. See how it shines when I put it in a raking light? (See: below.)

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Oooooooo…pretty!

Anyway, the rest of this tea-cup waiting thing is pretty much an Instagram so here goes:

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And DONE. Or, I should say. . .

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One – Quarter DONE.

Next week there will be three more from where that came from in order to, you guessed it, make a Super-Duper Tea Cup Triscuit Quartet to be given away in May along with the Super Duper etc etc etc (because not everybody likes watering cans). And Thank you, all you Dear Readers and Wonder Ones, for your kind 5-star reviews on Amazon. Your words are like champagne to me, and you all know how seriously I take champagne.

I have to go now and pack for New Orleans, baby! Because of this:

Wed., April 13  2016   6PM

at Octavia Books in New Orleans, cher!

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513 Octavia Street in fabulous Uptown, NOLA

Best of New Orleans 2015

You know what you get when you get three or more New Orleanians in one room? You get a party! Because in New Orleans, every day that you’re alive is worth celebrating!

So if you’re alive on Wednesday, April 13 this year, here’s the deal:

You bring your Go Cup and I’ll bring mine, and we’ll let the good times roll.

Come join the fun and convo about life, gardens, Triscuits, roses, voodoo, cake, hurricane parties, etc. OK?

(It’s the “etc.” that New Orleans does best.)

And on May 3, Seattle, here I come!

And on May 5, it’s Portland, here I come!

And on May 7, it’s Canon Beach, here I come!

Are you in?

Note:I think we broke the Internet. Several of you Wonder Ones have emailed me about not being able to leave a Comment this week, and I am so sorry about that, being as I love Comments, being as they are the Internet equivalent of sweet little kitties purring in my ear. I will look into the problem and try to curse my way to a solution so we can all “talk” by Friday’s post, in which I exceed all your expectations of what a blog can do. Really.

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Today I want to talk to you about How I Do What I Do.

Wait. That sounds too grandiose.

Today, I want to show you How I Make The Sausage That Is My Art.

Which is illustrating, and which I do from photos.

Yes, I paint from photos. There. I’ve said it. n answer to that age-old question, “Where do you get your ideas from?”, my answer is: “I get them from the photographs I take.” (And yes, I carry a real camera around with me so I can take photos of passing scenes that interest me.)

This is a picture of something I saw on a morning walk in my Long Island neighborhood one day:

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Oh, my…I was entranced by [with?] the way the morning light was streaming through the branches of this small stand of young trees. I took the photo, thinking that if I could study it long enough, I might be able to paint such a scene…back-lit foliage on a June day:

P1030840This led to a Summer-long preoccupation with studying the effects of back-light on green grass….as you can see below, when I snapped another pic of the same phenomena:

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Please note that I am taking photos of photos, which look like crap when you post them on your blog, to show you the alongside the watercolor studies I did. Sorry about that.

Sometimes I would snap a photo and not know that it would make for a lousy study until after I’d painted it — like this “beach” scene below, taken on a North Shore of Long Island cove, which even with artistic license did not make for a compelling picture (but note: I never throw anything away — even the duds are worth keeping, because nothing that you try to paint ever goes to waste):

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One year I went out walking with my camera on Dec. 26 specifically in search of subjects.  As soon as I spied this heap of apres-Xmas trash, I knew I had a “scene”:

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Same as when I walked past this bike-and-basketball scene:

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Sorry that it’s so hard to see the basketball — but in my mind’s eye, that little blip of orange basketball was THE focal!

This is hard to see, in the photo below, but I zoomed in on a backyard fence on which were poised a line of plastic pink flamingos with an American flag accoutrement that I couldn’t resist (which I also edited [moved the flag] when I painted the scene):

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Who wouldn’t have found this little vignette adorable?:

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Once I have done my studies, I gather them together on scotch tape them on a page and stick them in my sketchbook, for future ref:

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So I repeat: Never throw away your studies! If nothing else, they bring back fond memories of stomping through snow fall on the day after Christmas of a year you can’t even remember…good times).

I confess that I do not put away my garden hose so it suffers in Winter because I am a bad, bad people — and I am so glad! Because this was such a pleasure to paint:

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I loved the elegant loops of the hose, and the variations in the color of it — yellow-green, bright green, brownish-green, olive — I had such a fun time painting this, even though I knew I would never find anything useful (publishable) in it:

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Another Winter blizzard, another walk around the neighborhood, another fabulous view — you can’t see it very well on the photo, but that little red bow tied around the post was the whole reason that I wanted to paint this very wacky and cool and dilapidated fence:

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Old fences in the snow make for wonderful painting subjects:

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The challenge here was to paint a white fence IN THE SNOW!!! What fun!!!:

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Another fence  (see below) — by the way, all you have to do to get a better view of both these photos and the resultant paintings is to move your mouse onto the photo (as, below, or above) and click onto it…the gremlins of the internets will blow up the image so you can gander at it better (and, in the case below, see what happens when you use yellow-winted masking fluid where you want white snow to be):

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GREAT tree house, and a fun way to practice painting a Winter tree:

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Could YOU pass by this bit of snow-dusted topiary and NOT want to paint it???:

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Or this Adarondak chair???:

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The only reason I took this snapshot (below) was because of the candy cane decorations in the lawn — aren’t they adorable?:

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Sometimes, when you least expect it, like, say, when you are wandering through a hardware store, you come across a still life that tickles your fancy and lucky you! You have a camera handy!:

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A few years ago I went to my local Whole Foods:

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And then I got on a whole pumpkin thing:

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The thing that I liked about this display (below) was the hierarchy of pumpkins…the big fella on top, the middle fella in the middle, and the two tiny babies on the bottom:
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As you can see, I was too timid when I painted in the shadows, made them too pale, and lost the whole POINT of the pic! Those two tiny baby pumpkins on the bottom step just disappear! But that’s why you have to do these studies: to teach yourself to not wimp out! Use that black paint! Black paint is OK!! So are exclamation points!!!!

Now, I took a LOT of artistic licsence when I did the next pic:

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The thing that tickled my fancy about this scene was the three small tomatoes sitting on the back step. Why? Why would someone put tomatoes (and a green pepper) on the back step? Why? Were they in the middle of harvesting their vegetable patch and got called away by — what? The bends? An emergency salad-making convention? The desire to compose a sonnet?

I LOVED those three little tomatoes on the back step:

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I also loved the rake — which was a weird, really small rake, which I could never have painted AS IS because it would not have made any sense. Now, earlier that week I had seen a big pumpkin on a front porch, and a squirrel was perched atop it, but I didn’t have my camera and did not record the scene, but I used the memory of that to “jzuush” up my little picture (as seen above).

“Jzuush” is an artistic and fashionista tecnical term for “spiffen up”.

When I saw these Autumn leaves scattered on this sidewalk (below), I wondered if I could make a painting out of it:

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Nope. It was obviously above my pay grade. But I give myself props for trying.

I also wondered the same thing — could I make a painting of this? —  when I came across this delightful scene, which I call Picket Fence With Wonky Brick Sidewalk and Autumn Leaves:

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I bet that if I hadn’t shown you actual photographs of this…

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…you would never believe that my Squint illustration was based on actual fact! Right?

Same here:

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Yes, sometimes sun set on the Long Island Sound is just too pinky/lavender/silver to be true:

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This is where I stopped blogging for a few hours because I suddenly realized that it was a fine, fine Fall evening and I gasped at the folly of me sitting at my computer when sun set on the Long Island Sound was a mere 25 minutes away!!!  And I jumped up and dashed out the door and got in my car and fought my way through traffic-jam traffic through the Village of Roslyn on the north shore of Long Island and jumped out of my car and ran — yes, I RAN — to the cliff above Hempstead Harbor and began snapping away at the fleeting, all too fleeting display of light of this day, the one and only day of October 8, 2015:

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And if I make a painting of this once-in-a-lifetime sun set of Oct. 8, 2015, you can rest assured that I will show it to you all, my Dear Readers, right here.

Oh? That embedded video below? That fantastic dance song that makes you feel twenty years younger just by listening to it? With the armies that fight by glitter that makes you wish the whole world was run by cardboard-weilding pop stars from Brisbane? That’s just my latest reason Why I Am Ever So Glad That There Are Australians To Make This World a Better Place:

All I want to know is: Why do Australians say “Geronimo”? It’s not like the average American yells Ned Kelly …so why do Aussies know about Geronimo in the Land of Oz? Aussies: Please explain.

Meantime, hit repeat and everybody get up and dance!!! It’s the week-end!!!

 

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Today’s post is in honor of Dear Reader susie, whose Comment from last week  — in response to this picture of my first ever illustration —

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was this:

You hear and see all over it doesn’t take talent,

just perseverance.

I don’t think so, if that’s your first shot out of the box.

I read that and I had to prove the one thing I know for sure about life. This one is for you, Dear susie:

Talent is Overrated.

To start, I want to show you all a photo I took in Monet’s garden at Giverny, France, when I spent three days in the little village in May of 2013:

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I like the color scheme here, and I really liked those bright tulips. (I snapped this photo just as a passing breeze ruffled some petals.) I chose this picture somewhat at random for today’s post, because today’s post is all about how terrible, how truly terrible and awful I am at painting flower beds.

Oh, sure, I’ve made little bitty watercolor try-outs of flower beds:

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These are studies I made of Monet’s flower beds, picking out patterns rather than actual fleurs.

I’ve even painted bits of Monet’s Giverny garden before:

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I’ve also copied directly from Monet himself, in various Triscuit forms …

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But this is not the same as actually being able to paint Monet’s FLOWERS. The reason I do not paint Monet’s flowers is because I have no talent at painting flowers but is that lack of talent going to stop me? Non! Well, not today, at least. Because it doesn’t take “talent” to paint — because talent is overrated.

Talent is Overrated is the title of a book written by Geoff Colvin (published by Penguin Group in 2008). It’s about how the majority of people in the world never achieve excellence (or even proficiency, at their job, their avocations, their hobbies, etc) because of their notion that excellence is possible only thru talent, and  talent is a freaky, DoG-given gift that nature has not bestowed upon them.

In fact, Geoff argues, talent is the least part of excellence. Stick-to-it-ness is the only thing that matters:

One of the most important questions about greatness surrounds the difficulty of deliberate practice. The chief constraint is mental, regardless of the field – even in sports, where we might think the physical demands are the hardest. Across realms, the required concentration is so intense that it’s exhausting. If deliberate practice is so hard – if in most cases it’s not [the least bit] “inherently enjoyable” – then why do some people put themselves through it day after day for decades, while most do not? Where does the necessary passion come from?

Geoff spends a lot of the book answering that “Where does the necessary passion come from?” question, which interests me not in the least. I don’t care where “passion” — just another word for stick-to-it-ness — comes from. You know it if you have it. That’s all that matters.

I only care that if you have that passion, that desire to stick to it, then you know the secret that I know: you know the great quantity of horrible, boring, unpleasant, discouraging, and vexing work it takes to make “talent” happen.

And so I am going to paint for you today, because I can’t paint flowers for shit, and I dearly, desperately want to be able to paint flowers.

Specifically, I’d like to paint flowers like an Impressionist. And actually, Monet is not my favorite FLOWER painter, even of his own garden (excepting for the lilies, he couldn’t paint flowers for shit, either):

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Claude Monet, view of his garden at Giverny.

No, I greatly prefer other Impressionists, such as the American, Childe Hassam:

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This looseness with paint is  foreign to how I do things naturally, as a fuss-budgety painter of Tricsuits. So I know, and rather dread, that it will take a lot of deliberate practice until I get it right.

And so, with a sigh of resignation for what I am in for, I begin:

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I paint fast and loose and this is what I got:

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I swear to you, this is NOT me trying to paint ugly. This is me trying to paint pretty, using skills I DO NOT YET HAVE.

So I do it again, this time starting with a quick little drawing/painting of the tulips:

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I got this far when it became clear to me that the painting was OVER:

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So I tried a different tactic. I used my masking fluid to mark out the flowers, and I swirled a verdant background all over them (because it’s a technique I ave used before, with some success)…Fun! Loose! Free! All the things I am not!:

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I dropped in some more background texture:

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And I lifted off the masking fluid and painted the flowers:

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YUK.

I am beyond frustrated at this point. I dislike painting ugly pix, and I loathe it when I do not know what I am doing. Of all the ways I’ve tried, so far, to paint an impressionistic flowers bed, none of them has felt like “me”.

So I do something that IS “me”. I try to paint an Impressionistic Triscuit:

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Nope. Impressionist Triscuits are not “me.”

OK, then…let me try doing a hybrid, mix a bit of Impressionistic blurriness with my natural fuss-potty attention to detail:

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I think the result looks…unhappy.

At this point I would like to quote from another Dear Reader whose Comment from last week’s post was right on the money. Barb Hutch wrote:

I don’t believe we know if you are completely self-taught or how you came to have such remarkable abilities. “Hard, relentless work” could be the explanation, based on all that you have shared. 

Well Dear Barb, as you can see, I am indeed what you would call “self-taught”, and by “self taught” I mean I have learned how to paint through “hard, relentless work”, and being willing to paint one bad picture after another.

Now, I’ve done this yellow tulip flower pic five times now, and I still havn’t figured out how to paint it. But am I ready to call it quits? Am I???

Hell NO!

Because I have it in me to try one more time. 

Again, I start by laying down masking fluid, then doing a light wash, into which I will drop shots of “flower” color:

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Although I am not happy with this pic, I am most unhappy the way the background comes on too strong. So, since I dislike this pic away, I’m going to try something that might become a new “tool” for me, a new way to tone down bad painting:

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Nope.

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Don’t think I’ll ever try that again.

By now I am thoroughly sick of this scene. Stupid yellow tulips. With their stupid red streaks. But am I ready to stop painting flowers??

Well, for now I am. But I am not ready to quit my search for the Way I Paint Flowers. I’m already eyeing a new photo of Monet’s garden at Giverny, one that I like better (probably because it has no yellow tulips in it)…

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Yeah. Maybe it was the reference photo’s fault. Stupid yellow tulips.

Maybe all I need is a super-pretty pic to get me in the groove. Pink tulips! Yes!

All I have to do is hang in there, withstand the discomfort of being really, really bad at painting flowers until the day comes when I can be good at it. But I am done for now…

…and in the meantime, I can still paint all the Triscuits and Squints my heart desires. And today, my heart desires to give away this lovely Squint of the Long Island Sound to the Reader who picked Top Cat’s Squint Number between 50 and 100. The number that Top Cat chose was …

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75.

“Right in the middle”, is how he explained his pick. SBut snce nobody picked No. 75, I went with the Dear Reader who came closest to that number without going over, and that Dear Reader is…

Catya.

Congratulations, Catya!

Please email me your address at vivianswift at yahoo dot com, and I will post this out to you PDQ.

Thank you, everyone, for sending in your numbers!

Will I ever learn how to paint a damn tulip? Will there be a half-way decent Monet flower garden picture painted by next week? Or will I explain the secret of how I’ve seen hard working people like you and me become brilliant illustrators without having an ounce of “talent”?

Only the next seven days will tell.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers.

 

 

 

 

 

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I have never used an actual “sketchbook” for my “sketching”. In fact, I have never, actually, “sketched”. I even dislike the verb, “to sketch”, based on what I’ve seen when people “sketch”, all wispy and mushy and tentative…but that’s just me. I have a very annoying personality.

Instead of putting my works-in-progress into a fancy, expensive, hard-backed “sketchbook”, I use this:

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Yes, it’s a no-frills three-ring binder from Staples. It costs around $5.00. I stock the binder with those full-page plastic “sheet protector” things, and I’m good to go. Go to Town, that is. The town being Pelham, Westchester County, New York, where I was living on that fateful Sept. 11 of 2001, and the “village on the Long Island Sound” that was the subject of my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam.

Pelham NY train station

My original concept for When Wanderers Cease to Roam was for it to be square, so I trimmed regular bond paper into 8-ich by 8-inch squares, and started making little paintings on Canson 90-lb watercolor paper and arranging them on “pages”. Above is a view of our delightful old train station, c. 2004, when it had Ticket Seller windows!!!  (now pretty much gutted, when they installed a spiffy new commuter cafe).

Below, that’s the Post Office:

Pelham NY post office

The Pelham P.O. used to be a bank, until the Great Depression shut it down.

Pelham NY post office

The owls on the facade are fake, of course — such owls are used to keep pigeons off the premisis (I don’t have spell check).  The mighty Pelican, being the official bird of the Town of Pelham, is featured on the bank/post office lanterns, which was a detail that I  l-o-v-e-d:

Pelham, NY post office

Yes, the perspective of that front door and the scale of the person inside are wonky. I could correct this easily, but until I find a permanent home for this pic, I won’t bother.

If you know my book (WWCTR), you will know by now that none of these pictures of Pelham made it into the published product. They ended up not fitting into the narrative, for being too specifically “Pelham”, or for being kind of boring.

This is the high school:

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Pelham NY High School

So, for now, all these pix are sitting in my Pelham Notebook.

This is one of the four elementary schools in Pelham — love the brickwork!:

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This is another one of the elementary schools:

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These are signs from Pelham businesses:

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And the wonderful Pelham Cafe:

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The Artistic Manner florist had a great shop cat:

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And this was the Old Lake Antiques shop:

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All these doors are actual doors from Pelham:

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I was painting with my trusty Grumbacher watercolor paints at this time, and now I’m looking at those greens (above) and thinking, Wow — How did I do that?

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Pelham NY

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And, yes, once a year there used to be a Christmas Tree sale on the village green, to raise money for some charity or another:

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Ah, yes, I had an immense love for my old hometown, the town of Pelham on the Long Island Sound.

But of all these “sketches”, I DO have a favorite, a hands-down No. 1 fave, the one I will run into a burning building to rescue, and it is this one:

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This is a watercolor illustration of a view of Pelham Lake, on the edge of town, in Winter, near sunset, viewed from the rail road tracks high above it. It is not an attractive pic, and was not a pic that I was particularly happy with, even when I made it.

But this pic is my all-time most beloved pic because this happens to be the first watercolor painting I ever did.

I painted it, and it was bad, but here’s the surprising thing: not a single member of the Watercolor Police  rushed into my apartment and arrested me for making such an ugly picture. And I realized that hey — I don’t need anybody’s permission or approval to paint! I’m allowed to be lousy!

And I kept on painting.

Which brings me to the Great Squint Give Away (see: last week’s post).

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I am giving away this Long Island Sound Summer Sunset Squint to one lucky Commentor.

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All you have to do is leave a Comment below, in which you pick a number between 50 and 100.  Comments will close after 5 days (which I have to do to control the spam), but  next Friday I will open the sealed envelope and reveal Top Cat’s pre-destined winning number!

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Meet me back here next Friday — and be sure to have a fantastic next-to-penultimate Summer weekend!

 

 

 

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Hi everybody!!

It’s good to be back in the blogosphere! I hope you missed our get-togethers as much as I have because today’s post is going to make up for my absence — get ready for a two-tea-cupper update on all things V. Swift

Another entry on our Beautiful Word List: Shenandoah.

So, now back to where we left off, at the Squinting thing.

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As you recall from my last post, I made a huge leap in my precocious artistic development when I hit upon a new format for my watercolor illustrations. Namely, the long, narrow, horizontal format that I now call a Squint:

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I can’t remember how I came upon the idea of doing the Squints, but I’m sure it had something to do with avoiding full-page illustrations, which I still did not feel I could do, even after 2-3 years of painting, even tho I was  already an acknowledged prodigy, having published my first illustrated book at the precocious age of 52.

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Getting back to the Squint, I liked the way it could contain, perhaps, a bit more information than a Triscuit:

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…but would also look really neat, and unexpected, uh, different when placed on a page:

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Although none of the above Squints made it out of my sketchbookI very happily used other, specially-created Squints as the main artistic motif for my second book, Le Road Trip:

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I still think they look spiffy on the page.

And now, please allow me to show you How To Make a Squint.

Since I work exclusively from reference photos, the first thing I had to do, in order to find the Squint in each reference photo, was to cut out a frame in the exact shape of a Squint, like, say, this one:

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With my “frame” in hand, I roam around the photo, looking for The View. As you can see, below, this view could make an OK Squint…

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…but this view is much better, right?

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OK, time to get down to business. I make a few pencil lines on the watercolor paper to use as guides, to show me where the horizon is and, roughly, where the foliage will go:

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And that’s all I need — the pic is now a composition.

I am using my trusty Grumbacher hobby-quality paints because when it comes to painting sunsets, I know what the paints will do and I trust them — I know that no other paint than Grumbacker will give me the subtlety that I need.

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Also, because I tend to mix colors directly on each little disk of Grumbacher paint, I have to rinse each pan before I use them, to get at the pure pan color:

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To do the sun set sky, I start with my Big Brush:

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I lay in colors by using a method called “Wet in Wet:

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See why I like the Grumbacher? So far, I’m laying in orange, blue, and fuscia, and the paints have not gone all muddy on me:

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Yes, this takes practice, and a LIGHT TOUCH — do not overdue the brush work here — but the Grumbachers are great for this.

On a seperate bit of paper, I test my blue mixes (I’m using the colors that Grumbacher calls Prussian Blue and Cobalt Blue, and it looks to me like I have a bit of Violet in there too), before committing them to the composition:

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To mix and apply the “clouds”, I switch to my 00 Extra Fine brush to dab lightly:

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Checking in here, I see that the left side of the sky looks OK, but I need to dab in some more goldenness (that is, orange paint) onto the right side of the sky:

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And some fuscia:

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Now, we do the water — again, starting with the Big Brush:

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For the shoreline, I am going to bleed some black Grunbacher into the damp “water” thusly:

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I am, frankly, a little worried here; I might have dabbed in too much black paint, too soon…this could ruin the whole shebang. Oh well. Time will tell.

While this bit is still damp, I go back and make some shadows on the water, still using my 00 Extra Fine brush:

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Next, I check to see if so far, so good.  And, so far, so good. I can exhale now.

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Since the foliage (back lit by the sunset and, thusly, in silhouette) will be such an outstanding part of this Squint, I will now switch from my Grumbacher paint to my trusty Windsor Newton Lamp Black paint, because I like the density of this paint — it covers better than the Grumbacher Black — and it’s also easy to handle:

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After painting in background foliage, I make another check, back to the reference photo.  So far, no major screw ups:

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This part of the photograph (below), this sillohouette of leaves and the negative space of the foliage,  here in the lower right quadrant, is, for me, the crux of this picture:

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The whole pic will look stooooo-pid if I don’t get this bit right. So I make a light pencil sketch to guide me:

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And I hold my breath as I begin to paint the leaves, and to not paint the stuff that doesn’t need painting. Less is More. You can quote me on that:

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NOW I can heave a sigh of relief. The negative space looks OK:

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And then I go back to holding my breath:

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And NOW I can heave another sigh of relief:

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Add some upper left hand corner leaves, dab in some lower left hand corner foreground stuff, and then we are DONE …

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… DONE …

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… Done:

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And yes, Dear Readers, this Squint can be YOURS. I’ll even throw in the reference photograph, ALL FOR YOU.

HOWEVER:

Because of bad planning on my part, and because of normal, yearly, and annoyingly inconvenient data up-dating of this blog (I think it’s called “backing up”), I can not offer this Squint up for giving away this week. Also, your Comment to this post might take a day or two to appear…

…I apologize for this technical glitch but please be assured that your Comment today will be received, and will be in the queue, and will indeed be published, eventually, for the amusement and edification of others, and that your Comment will AUTOMATICALLY qualify you for the contest I will hold NEXT WEEK.

I do hope I have made this incredibly complicated for one and all.

The Comments will close, as they usually do, after 5 days from publication of this post (to deter spam), so Comment Early! And often!

These Squints are fun. We should do this again, real soon.

Have a GREAT penultimate September Summer weekend, everyone!

 

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Ahhhhh…AUGUST. My Favorite month of the year!

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The garden is in peak shape…

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…the weeds are SPECTACULAR …

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…even the spider webs are more gorgeous in August:

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And the cats are pretty damn cute, too:

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There’s even a new boy in town, called Steve:

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I think Steve would like to join our herd, if only Lickety, Taffy, and Bibs were not dedicated to keeping him as a “front yard only” cat. For now, feeding Steve on our front porch wall (above) seems to be keeping the peace; but when it starts to get cold then I’m afraid that Sheriff Vivian will be rounding her up a tuxedo kittie no matter what the rest of the herd thinks about it.

So, I’m still going through the watercolor sketches that I was making about ten years ago, when I first took up painting as a prodigy (at age 48)  because I wanted to write illustrated travel memoirs. When I felt ready to make book-worthy pictures, I abandoned the re-iterations I’d been making (see last week’s post) and started doing real “picture” pictures.

Now, many of you Dear Readers know that my first successful watercolor “picture” pictures were my Triscuits:

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Since this blog gets new readers all the time, please let me explain to all the newcomers (Hi! Glad you could join us!) that I started out making Triscuits because they were tiny, simple, low-risk, and about all I could handle as a brand new, self-taught artist. I relied on my Triscuits to do a lot of the work of illustrating my first book,  When Wanderers Cease to Roam:

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But at the same time, I was painting larger pix on the side, slowly learning the confidence to make double or triple Triscuit-sized pix. So here are a few such Post-triscuit pictures that I made during my, ahem, artistic development:

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This is one of the earliest pictures that I did, from a photograph I took of a row of mews houses in my old hometown of Pelham, New York — the village that was the subject of  When Wanderers Cease to Roam.

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I never finished this panting because by the time I’d got the roof and upper story done, I understood that I was not particularly interested in painting architecture. Especially if said architecture comes with multi-pane faux-Tudor windows (all it takes to make the whole thing look hinkey is ONE wrong pane).

Here are some other sketches that did not make it into Wanderers:

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I have to explain that I really enjoyed “painting”, that is, actually not painting, snow. I loved what you could imply by just NOT painting …

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…that is, letting the white of the watercolor paper show through, letting it do all the work, as far as subject matter is concerned:

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It’s exactly what isn’t painted that has all the heft the substance and content of these little pix:

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The more confidence I got about handling paint, the more ambitious I got for my paintings. In these slightly bigger-then-Triscuits pix, I am trying to add something more than just a well-painted form in the pic…I am trying to include what I call information.

I wanted to make pix that were about something, a place, mood, a season, a point of view.

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Ahhhh…perhaps you noticed something happening there, with that last photo (above). What’s happening is that I have discovered a fun, new format for my miniature watercolor paintings; a long, narrow, horizontal format that lets me present “information” in a way that I find artistically fulfilling:

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Yes, what you are seeing above are my first attempts at a format that became the motif of my second book, Le Road Trip:

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I LOVE this format, which I call a “Squint“.

I have so much to tell you about my beloved Squints, but I am sorry that it will have to wait…it’s August.

And, dear Readers, I will be MIA for the rest of my favorite month of the year (August), but when I get back to Long Island I promise that I will pick up this story of The Squints right where I’ve left off…

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And who knows…there might even be a First Ever Squint Give Away in the works.

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Please enjoy the beautitude of August wherever you are, and meet me back here on September 4!

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To continue  last week’s “Beautiful Words” list…

Irian Jaya (former name of the Papua province of Indonesia)

Mindanao

Coeur d’Alene (Idaho)

Ouagadougou (Upper Volta/Burkina Faso)

And oh my, how I wish we could call L.A. by its English translation: The Angels

I notice that all the above are place names. Hmmmm….I’ll have to think harder to find regular words that would fit into this list. Something like, maybe, cellar (which H. L. Menkin said was the most beautiful word in the English language).

Please feel free to add to this collection (above). Yikes. I just realized that I have started yet another collection…I can’t help myself. I am a Collector.

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As many of you Dear Readers know, I collect Blue Jay feathers. (I collect molted feathers, one at a time, mostly gathered from my own backyard but occasionally from walks in the woodlands of the north shore of Long Island. Perfectly legal.)

In the past, I’ve also had a tea cup collection …

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… and an Owl Jewelry collection…

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The last remains of a once great hoard of Owl Jewelry

…and a collection of Bow pins…

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The last remains of a once great hoard of Bow Pins.

I am the only one in my immediate family who collects stuff; I mean, the only one to hunt and acquire stuff with a particular focus. I don’t know why I do it.

Why do people become collectors?

Without getting too psychological about it (whew), I think I have an answer. I think some people become collectors because they are in love with patterns, in love with arrangement, and order, and design.

I think I’m that kind of person because my collections (of stuff, not words) are all about the delight I get from making patterns. I collect objects that I find pleasant to look at, and are familiar, but not without thrilling variations within their repetition.

In the ten years since I began to paint, I have also collected a monster pile of watercolors that I have begun to cull. That is, this past weekend I started to sort through my old collections of watercolors to trash, or save, as the case may be. These are some of the oldest watercolor studies that I have:

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As you can see, in my early days as an artist, I was very happy painting pix that I thought of as compositions that I called Reiteration of the Form.

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But now I can plainly see that it’s my collecting nature that I am painting here, my pleasure in making patterns with objects (even in 2D form). And yes, I was a miniaturist from the Get-Go.

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If you look closely at the tricycle in composition of Pedals That Used To Take Me Where I Wanted To Go, (below) you will see that it is a cut-out:

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I cut out that tricycle from its original Look! No Hands Vehicles! (below) composition  because it was red. Its  red color, along with its three-wheeled-ness, made it odd man out:

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BTW, I was 47 when I was painting these minuscule studies, with my trusty (but definitely NOT professional quality) Grumbacher watercolors.

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A set of 24 colors like this costs about $20.00. Cheap! Paint away! there’s no such thing as “wasting” paint like this!!

 

It was by painting these little nonsense collections that I learned what the Grumbachers were capable of, and what I as a painter could call my “skills”.

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To get this variety of forms for each picture, I did a TON of research (on line, by Googling various vintage items on eBay; in the real world, by referring to my small collection of Sears catalogues from the 1960s and ’70s). So I learned that I was the kind of painter who took an intellectual approach to my subject, and insisted on historical accuracy.

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Because my natural inclination was to work small, I learned that I enjoyed painting detail, and I had the patience to hold a very tiny brush very steady.

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And because I painted reiterations, I learned that I did not bore easily, and had the endurance to work on a picture until all its components were right, and until there was enough “there” there that some sense or inkling of narrative could be intuited from the image.

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Yes, that’s what I wrote, a sentence with both the word “intuited” and “narrative” in it. I do that sometimes, when I’m trying to sound legitimately “artistic”. Like, I could totally hang with any BFA out there.

All I mean is that, even in these little compositions of reiteration, there is a story going on, and it has to do with subject matter, as opposed to painters who paint story-less pictures, canvases that are only “about” color or paint, because that’s what ART is these days, or used to be; who can keep up?

Anyhoo, these were the first pictures I ever painted, for no purpose other than I wanted to know how to make a picture so, starting within my comfort zone, I painted objects whose forms appealed to me, in compositions that expressed my personality. Isn’t that how everyone starts out?

 

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I wish you happy holidays, Dear Readers,

and a joyful new year!

Meet me back here on

January 16, 2015

when this blog re-boots  for further mountain-making from the molehills of life and art here on the shores of the Long Island Sound.

The thing I’m most looking forward to about my new blog is getting serifs. Oh, how I have missed my serifs on this lousy Atahualpa theme. In 2015 it will be Times New Roman all the way. You have no idea how happy this will make me. Happier than playing Twister with Ryan Gosling, that’s how happy my new serifs will make me.

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

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

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

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

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Upper West Side brownstone.

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

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Saki basement bar in the East Village.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let dry, and voila:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But here is where I ruined it all:

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

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

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

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You can compare for yourself:

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

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

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Twilight in Pumpkin Time.

I love the low light of a Fall evening:

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

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

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The lights that are seen from a distance:P1200145

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

Yes, dear readers, it’s that time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…where I came upon  yon ancient cottage…

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…which beckoned me to pause…

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

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

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…but there was just one little problem…

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

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

But speaking of crazy cat ladies…

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

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

I start with a bottom-heavy oblong shape:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Got it?

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

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

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And, voila:P1190796

Kitty Cat.

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

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

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

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

So I found a really cute cat from the internets:

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

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

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

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

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And now I’m ready to paint.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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