Just because I know nothing, absolutely nothing about actual gardening, that doesn’t mean I don’t “garden”.

Why, just TODAY I “gardened” a baby Japanese maple tree growing about six feet from the big old Japanese maple in my front yard (bottle of Saint-Emilion for scale, because we have to be scientific):


And here’s me showing the Japanese maple tree that we “gardened” last year when it was a baby growing in Top Cat’s tomato patch in the back yard, which he re-planted and is now a sapling way back in the woods (yeah, that’s the same bottle of Saint-Emilio there, for scale, because it was still TODAY when I took this pic):


Yes, walking around the yard with a bottle of wine is what I call “gardening”. In fact, sitting around with a bottle of wine is also what I call “gardening”. In my world, you can also “garden” while sipping tea, flipping through a J. Peterman catalog, or otherwise re-arranging the mental furniture up there there in the brain pan.

I am bringing this up because later this week, on Wednesday April 27 I am going to appear LIVE on the internet with the marvelous  Bren on GardenChat (chat is French for cat, so you see — I knew that, at least) and you all can tune in and type me questions in real time and we will “garden” together. Youse and me. Is technology awesome or what?!

LIVE on the internet means that I will be on camera, in my house, so I will have to make my “gardening” space camera ready . . .

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. . .  so I’m going to have to clean up even though it’s not even close to Thanksgiving, when I usually do my housekeeping.




Lights, Camera: OK now! Let’s do some “gardening”!

And when I say “gardening”, I mean: Let’s paint!


Monet’s garden in Giverny, by me

Yes, we’re heading back to Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, this time we’re leaving the flower garden part (above) and we’re heading to the famous lily pond (below):


Let’s start with my photo of Monet’s famous Japanese bridge . . .


. . . and I’m going to point out what attracted my attention, in this photo — something in the background there, on the right hand side . . .


I saw these boats, and the reflections of the bamboo on the water, and the back-lit stuff, and I thought:


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So I take out my “gardening” tools. . .


. . . and I get down to the dirty work:





This is the only time I use a flat brush (below), when I dip it into clear water and swipe over a painted surface to pick up pigment, and leave these streaks of white lines that imitate the ripple of water. Cool, huh?






Now I’m going to use white acrylic paint to paint over those dark bamboo plants in the background. . .


. . . so I can put a light, bright, lime green paint on top of the white acrylic bits:




And this, my Wonder Ones, is how we “garden”:



 AND In honor of my LIVE internet debut later this week — Wednesday, April 27 — I am giving away this Monet’s Boats Triscuit! This contest is open to everyone, whether or not you have Commented recently, even if this is your first visit here to VivianWorld!

Just leave a Comment to this blog post, and pick a number between 1 and 100. Top Cat will do his usual random picking of number and I will announce the winner next Friday, when we meet here again and discuss our GardenChat, and whether or not I still do that weird thing that I do with my mouth when I speak, which always looks 1000% worse on video than it does in real life. I also tend to make faces, which I will really try very hard not to do in front of the camera.

Before I go, I must give you the latest picture of Taffy “gardening”:


. . . and tell you the latest in  GoAaF news:

Sweet Dear Reader Anne alerted me last Wednesday that the generous and kind Elizabeth Gilbert posted this on her Twitter and Facebook:

GARDENS OF AWE AND FOLLY, by Vivian Swift. I love the work of watercolorist/explorer Vivian Swift (her first book WHEN WANDERERS CEASE TO ROAM is on my personal Top 10 Books of All Time list), so I was delighted to see this new volume of hers, which is a study of public gardens all over the world. As a wanna-be botanical historian, this one is right up my alley. It’s beautiful, thoughtful, whimsical, and smart (and would make a perfect mother’s day gift, by the way).

I got all teary-eyed, and then the GoAaF shot up to No. 1 in Garden Design on Amazon:

datauri-fileThank you, Maryanne S., for the screen grab. That #1 Best Seller in Garden Design means, I think, that 100,000 copies of the GoAaF flew off the shelves thanks to the wondrous Liz Gilbert. On days like this, I feel kindly towards the whole book making process and I get all  sentimental and I think to myself, Hey, it might be worth it to stick around and write another whole ‘nother book. Maybe.

P.S. to Nancy S.: Sorry, but I bumped your tea cups to next week’s blog, but trust me: I made it really special for you and all us tea cup fans out there.


P.S. to Lynn from NOLA: I loved your question, and I will dedicate an upcoming blog post to you in answer, about that missing Chapter 10 from Gardens of Awe and Folly. Here’s a h int:


Have a great weekend, and go forth in awe and folly, my Wonder Ones.

P.S. Re: Monet Boat Triscuit Give Away — As of Wednesday noon, these numbers are taken (so please mind-meld with the universe to choose your own special digit):



























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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:


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. . .


. . . and the After:






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:


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. . .


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


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


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:


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.)



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




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!


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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I’ll get to the usual Friday business of painting and ruining everything and fixing up broken watercolors in a minute (feel free to skip to the second half of this post if you just can’t wait to see what is coming off my paint brushes this week.)

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. . . But first (shameless appeal for the filthy lucre alert) let me remind you all that I have this new book out that has this killer title. . .


Gardens of Awe and Folly. It’s almost disappointing that it’s about gardens and not, say, about hand-raising baby pandas whilst clearing  my house of everything that does not spark joy so I can go hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 50 shades of gray but there you go: I’m a Capricorn. We are very logical and literal people, even though we are the most weird chimera in the horoscope, even though it’s only a goat and a fish and not, say, a unicorn and a hummingbird. Nope, it’s just a goat and a fish, but there you go: so Capricorn. But I digress.

My publisher, Bloomsbury, has had me sign about 5,000 copies (I’m guessing) that they planned to send out to the tastemakers of the universe for the obvious reasons. So there I was, for a whole afternoon following a very ritzy lunch date with my editor  forever, signing and signing and signing. And I felt bad that I couldn’t come up with something really snazzy, some motto or bon mot other than “Happy Reading!”

But last week I had to sign a dozen copies for my pals (see: pages 25 – 45) at Save Our Pines in Key West [illustrations of the Australian Pines in Key West below]…



. . . for their fund raising picnic on the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor Park in celebration of  Save Our Pines Day  this weekend on Sunday, March 20 and it came to me!


Go Forth in Awe & Folly!

I want that on a T-shirt, bumper stickers, shot glasses, and baby panda baby booties. By the time you read this, I just might have my etsy store up and running (while my trademark application makes its rounds through the USPTO).

I sincerely believe that going forth unto the world in a mindfulness of awe and folly is the secret to happiness or, at minimum, an hour or two off every now and then from the grim and wearying work of being human. Here’s how it works:





Sometimes it’s a thin line between the two.

Take, for example, my deep interest in this particular pile of snow that Top Cat and I happened upon some weeks ago in the Whole Foods parking lot near my house:


On March 1 my husband and I made a bet whether or not that pile would be goners by March 17. Here it is early this week:


Two days later, this is what was left:


Note in the background: That’s the mobile vet clinic from the North Shore Animal League of Port Washington, Long Island. Yay companion animal rescue people!

Now usually, photographing old snow would be quite the folly but, as there was a trip to France riding on the outcome of this evaporation, these filthy and disgusting mounds of frozen grit make for awesome subject matter, the thin line here being the intangibility of saving face.

But I had even more reason to celebrate when a mere 25 minutes later I pulled into a mom-and-pop-shop-killing Big Box Store parking lot:


WHOA. I did NOT expect to see this — snow piled SUV-high in the Lowe’s parking lot where I go to buy 40 points of bird seed every two weeks! If it weren’t so awesome to see this secret remnant of the Blizzard of ’16 SEVEN WEEKS after the fact, it would be kind of depressing. See? AWE saves the day!


Now, of course, I have a new obsession in that I have to drive there every other day to check up on the melt and I don’t even have any bragging rights in the game. This is Yon Pile three days later:


And here it is four days later:


This was it yesterday:


See? Finding awe in a disgusting pile of inedible snow is what makes me me, a person who finds fulfillment spending hours of my life which I will never get back (and I’m not getting any younger) blogging about crap in a Lowe’s parking lot.

I can even find awe in ghostly rat-tailed creatures of the night:


He has the cutest little pink feets and the cutest gray Shrek-ears and the cutest pan-on-the-patio manners. In other words, he’s adorable.


I am proud — nay, awed — to have North America’s only marsupial pawing through the bird seed on my back patio. (Fear not, the little fella stayed around long enough for me to run out there and bring him a bowl of Friskie’s finest cat food; an opossum does not have to live by sunflower seeds alone, not if I’m around.)

Yes, I am in awe of my opossum even though I know that the opossum is America’s consolation prize for losing out in the Great Marsupial Cuteness Contest to the Land Down Under, where one can, any day, come across a koala  in a characteristic Yoda pose:

koala resting hanging loose while wedged in tree

Or Patrick, the world’s oldest wombat, on the 30th birthday of his nose:


Or Missy the Roo, showing off her toes:


(To Kirra and all my Aussie Wonder Ones from Perth to Pemulwuy, belated Happy Canberra Day!)

And then there’s this. . .


. . . which I found growing in the rubble left behind when the county jackhammered our sidewalk to bits last week. Even when this verge had grass it never had crocuses.


 OK, that’s all the awe for now because it’s about time we did the weekly “art” thing that I do, where I show you what I’ve been working on and you all go “What?! No Taffy this week?!”



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Yeah, I had to fix that weird short spout.

Pic No. 2:



Pic. No. 3:



And then there’s the one that I totally forgot to photograph until I assembled them all together to form the tych-thing that comes after triptych:


This, my Wonder Ones, is my first four-part Triscuit! I am in the process of painting another four-part Triscuit because some people might not like watering cans as much as I do, and I want to make sure that, for the first ever Quartet Triscuit Give-Away that I’ll have a few four-part Triscuits for you to choose from. This contest will happen in the month of May (for scheduling reasons beyond my control) and to qualify all you have to do is leave a 5-star review on for Gardens of Awe and Folly, the book which from now on I will refer to as the GoAaF, thanks to Deb Mattin and her Comment of last week — Merci mille fois, Deb, for keeping it classy. I also love “GoAaF” because it sounds a lot like shorthand for my new motto in life: Go Forth in Awe and Folly. Nice. Real, real nice.

To Maryanne, the very first 5-star reviewer, you get a double entry in the Quartet Triscuit Give-Away for being the OG of my dreams.

Thank you, all my Commenter Wonder Ones, for your wonderful Comments last week about the GoAaF; you Commenters inspire me to keep on showing up here week after week (and I’m not getting any younger) to show you pictures of crappy snow melting in the Lowe’s parking lot instead of doing something useful, like learning to brew beer at home, or fighting crime.

Before you go, I do have a give-away this week, and it’s a bit weird but here goes (front):




 These are printer’s proofs of actual 100% real backstage passes for Justin  Bieber’s 2016 Purpose world tour. These 2 passes will not get you backstage — you’d need a $2,000 VIP ticket attached to it to get past Security — but, remembering my own rock star crushes on George Harrison (from when I was age 10 onward) and Paul Weller (all of my 40s, sad to say), I am offering these because I imagine that there’s some Belieber out there — your daughter, grandchild, niece, you — who might get a little thrill out of adding these bits to their/your Bieber archive. Or not, you never know.

Well, I thought I’d put them out there. Just leave a Comment, before that section is closed on Tuesday, with a number between 500 and 600 (I have to keep the numbers interesting for Top Cat) and I’ll let you know next week who won. You can get both, or just one, let me know, in case I need 2 winners instead of 1.

Coming up next week: A very special post! March 25 is a very auspicious day somewhere in the world (guess where) for which I will have a very special guest, and during which I will answer Leslie’s perceptive question from Comments two weeks ago re: new project, but here’s a hint:


P.S. About all those 5,000 author-autographed copies of the GoAaF that I mentioned at the top of this post: my publisher Bloomsbury wants me to let you know that they have 4,990 copies still sitting around, in case someone out there knows Oprah, or Ellen, or Rosie, or Taylor, etc. They would be happy to send an author-autographed copy to any Incredibly Famous Person you know for the obvious reasons. Thank you.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Go Forth in Awe and Folly!

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We have a Winner!Top Cat has chosen and last weeks’s one-of-a-kind hand-painted Pub Date Celebration Triscuit with cat and tea goes to Number 171 …


. . . which of course no one picked but we’re going with the  closest number without going over, and that number is . . .

. . . # 168


Monique, a long-time Dear Reader of this blog, has never won a contest here in VivianWorld so for this challenge she changed tactics and asked her own Top Cat (who goes by the name of Jacques) to pick a # for her and the mojo was tres bien! Enfin! Congratulations, Monique! This Tricuit definitely is so you, all over!

And now let us return to the raison d’être of this blog which is, namely, Watching Paint Dry and, according to this week’s title, Hacks.

You all know that I have a new book out (shameless plug):


But you might not know that the picture on the cover is one of my better hacks which I had to do because, like Jenny Beavan, I have strengths and I have weaknesses in what I do for a living but I’ve found a way to hack around it so no one goes tsk tsk, she’s really let herself go. Read on.

This is how that illustration started out in life:


And this is what it looked like after I  cut out (literally, and I do mean: literally — with scissors) all the crap bits:


I bring this up because, if you remember from two weeks ago that I showed you all a picture of Monet’s Giverny garden allee before I hacked it:


And then I showed you this same painting apres hack:


When Dear Reader Nancy S. posted a Comment and asked how I did it,  I realized that I should have been more specific about this particular hack. Because, not to brag or nothing, but hacks are kinda my thing. I have a whole category of rescue posts on this blog and if you’re curious you can find them under the blog post category Watercolor Rescue. For today, tho, I want to discuss all the various ways I rescue paintings that have gone wrong, such as all of the above.

Getting back to the cover illustration for Gardens of Awe etc., here’s me in the act of re-drawing the pic around the bits that were salvageable:


(BTW, what I’m showing you here is an abridged version of this rescue — if you care to read the whole ugly story it’s here in a post that I called I Hoard My Mistakes for the Sake of Art.)

Architectural drawing is something that I am really bad at, and I accept that about myself. So it behooves me to avoid doing architecture whenever possible. But when I can’t avoid it, I hack it by keeping the drawing as simple as can be, and if it has to be in any way detailed I paint it in silhouettes as I have done here, below, in the background:


This silhouette trick is a device that I’ve used to great effect (if I do say so myself) in my previous book Le Road Trip:


and in the Edinburgh chapter of the DGB:


I am always on the lookout for architectural hacks. On a trip to Scotland in 2007 I found this illustration in a magazine:


Do you see how the artist, Adrian McMurchie, has flattened the building and yet has still kept the integrity of the architecture?


I originally thought that this was a fabulous hack, a brilliant way of avoiding the pitfalls of perspective and as such was something that I intended to use one of these days. But it turns out that Adrian McMurchie is a boy wonder at rendering sumptuous architectural illustration, so this hack might be harder than it looks but still, it’s something to keep in mind, don’t you think?

Getting back to my London rescue, after I’ve dabbed in some surrounding architecture to give a since of place, the last step I take is commitment, when I glue that cut-out remnant in place and I paint in the rest of the gardens around it:



For those of you who are reading along, I dare you to find the “seams” of this cut-out on the cover of your copy of Gardens of Awe and Folly:


No, not this cover. This is a workshopped dummy of the cover, a mock-up prepared by the Bloomsbury art department long before publication in which you can see the seams. Just click onto it and enlarge.

There are a lot more rescues inside this book but let’s just take a peek at this page, the title page  for the first chapter:


This is an especially daring rescue because it’s so big. You see, after I painstakingly painted that Beaux Arts Paris apartment building in the background, I painted that foreground allee of trimmed plane trees. (Maybe they are lime trees. I’m not good on those kinds of technicalities.) Well, those trees were bad, bad, bad. And I was not about to start over from scratch, no sir, because that building in the background was a pain in the ass to paint.

So I painted different trees on a new sheet of 90-lb. Carson watercolor paper, cut them out (along the black lines as shown) and glued them right on top the bad, bad, bad trees:


And no one is none the wiser!

Do you know that there’s a really famous who else who used the good old scissors-and-glue hack when illustrations went wrong?

This lady did:


Perhaps you recognize the work of Beatrix Potter, pictured here in this instance the story called the Pie and the Patty-Pan. If you look closely (which I did), you will see that dear old Beatrix hacked this picture in exactly the same way:


Oh yes, Dear Readers, you can believe your eyes. That little dog is a cut out! And it’s an excellent cut out, at that.

Now, there are times. . . many, many times, many many many times. . . when all you can do is paint the whole shebang over again. Like when I recently had a go at depicting this little scene in Monet’s Giverny garden (below). I was using a reference photo, which is quite obvious from the way I painted this picture as a full bleed (“bleed” is when the image goes right to the very edge of the paper):


I am still on a learning curve when it comes to painting Monet’s garden at Giverny, so for a first try this was pretty decent. But for what I wanted this picture to do — namely, show off those tall forms in which vines grow in the middle of a flower bed — it failed. There was no way to rescue it. The only thing I could do was start over.

Which I did:


Yes, I much prefer the second version.


So, getting back to Nancy S.’s query about how I rescued Monet’s allee. . .


. . . I admit that I was nervous about going back over this painting because watercolor is so fragile that it can be easily killed by over-work. A lot of times you can’t put a layer of color over another layer of color without the whole thing turning into mud. So. . . I practiced off-site:



So, OK: I was pretty sure I could layer a dark green over the lighter greens and blues in the foreground without making mud. So I was ready to go ahead and take a chance that I was not going to ruin this picture with my rescue.

Since I did not photograph the actual rescue, I’m going to make this facsimile to show you how I did it:






There are two reasons why I knew that I’d have to use an undercoat of white acrylic paint to achieve this rescue. First reason is because I had tried just painting a light blue over dark green and it didn’t work. If you look closely below, I am showing you the difference between the white-undercoated blue dots and the no-undercoated blue dots (where my paintbrush is):


You can see that without the acrylic undercoat, those blue dots disappear into the dark green paint. So undercoating is the only way to go:


Second reason I use acrylic paint is because if I used gauche (as Nancy S. asked), as an undercoat and put blue watercolor over it, I would certainly have got mud. Gauche is water-based, and soluble, so it is not really suitable as an undercoat. It just can’t hold its own against an over-paint (such as above).


Et voila:


It was a pleasure for me to go back to this beautiful Spring memory of Monet’s garden today because last week, after Taffy had gone to all the trouble of declaring his domain Winter-free, we got this:

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Snow. Not a whole lot, but just enough to give new life to a critical pile of snowy crud at the local Whole Foods:


However, by week’s end the temperatures were back in tune with my need for it to be gone my March 17. . .


. . . and all I can hope is, Is anybody ever going to take that damn trolly back to where it belongs?


P.S. For all of you who thought I might have been a bit too harsh with the marvelous Jenny Beavan, here’s a photo of her Oscar co-winner from 1987, John Bright (that’s him on the left), taken in Aug. 2015 when he was 75:

So, have a great weekend everyone. Hope you’re enjoying your perusals of Gardens of Awe and Folly . . . something tells me there might be something coming up for all you 5-star reviewers out there. See you here next week (free of charge).

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Ta-Da: This past Tuesday, March 1, was the official Pub Date of my garden book:


I got an email from my publisher that already this book has been tagged as an Amazon Best Seller — it’s #1 in Gardening and Horticultural Essays. And that’s all because of YOU, Dear Readers; all because of your advance orders (and a glowing Kirkus Review). Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. How can I thank you? Check out the bottom of this post (surprise ending!)…but for now I’d like to go behind the scenes, if you don’t mind.

I think the cover of the DGB is a beaut because it’s the view from a friend’s London balcony — an enchanting view that I photographed in three seasons (you can read all about it in the chapter about the Chelsea Physic Garden).

London is a city that I, like any English-speaking Anglo-child of the suburbs, have had lodged in my brain since the first time I heard of Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, Pickwick and the orphan Pip, etc etc etc. When I was 20 years old I finally got to see London with my very own eyes and it lived up to every fairy tale…London is a trip.

However, London was not the first foreign city I set foot in. When I was 19 years old I lit out for the place that was truly my heart and mind crush: Paris. So that’s why I made Paris the first chapter/garden in Gardens of Awe and Folly. Specifically, I headed into the lovely little garden called The Square du Vert-Galant:

awesome map of Square du Vert-Galant

The one thing that makes my garden book different is that I insist on mapping every garden I write about. I’m the kind of person that needs to see a map in garden situations. Also, when I’m reading a book I just can not stand to read descriptions of landscape, except for the ones I’ve been reading lately about climbing Mt. Everest. But in all other circumstances, I skip the paragraphs about the color and light and mood and topographical features of the land. Bores me to tears.

So I give my Dear Readers a map so that in less than five seconds you get it. Like this bit of Parisian real estate (map, above) in the middle of the River Seine — here’s a picture of that same garden spot from my most recent visit, in December of last year:


The other thing that I’m fussy about, garden-wise, is making note of the garden entrance:


To me, the entrance is a crucial component of the entire garden experience — especially for this garden of the Vert-Glanat, as the threshold is so dramatic (even in lovely Winter, as seen below):


The Vase Gate

I like to visit gardens in Winter because I like to see the “bones” of a garden on display, and hoo boy are they ever “on display” in Winter. And I was thrilled to see this, my No. 1 Paris garden, revealed thusly when I was there last December.

But OMG, May I digress here? Because we here on Long Island just got our first taste of Spring this past weekend with a 60 degree day! In February! So Top Cat and I took our usual 5-mile walk through the neighborhood and my oh my, how we gloated over the fact that Winter is vanquished in our neck of the woods. Ha! Take that, yon filthy piles of left-over snow:


And just think, a mere five weeks ago we were ravaged by Winter Storm Jonas — Ha! Now all that’s left is hardly enough make a ski jump for squirrels!


Hard to believe that this is all that is left of a 20-inch, knee-deep, white-out blizzard :


There’s not even a snowball’s worth of sow left here!

If I lived here (below) I would have shoveled that little pile out of my driveway weeks ago just to be rid of it once and for all for cripe’s sake:


By chance we crossed paths with this little guy …


…who, according to his collar goes by the name of Rusty. He flopped down onto the road there and started rolling from side to side in what looked like a fit of Spring Fever. Our squeals of delight regarding this cuteness attracted the attention of Rusty’s pal, who also came by to say “Hi”:


It was when we ambled to the local Whole Foods that Top Cat and I came across this:


Top Cat and I have a bet about whether or not this mound will be gone by St. Patrick’s Day. If I win, I get to go back to Paris in June.

Oh, right. I think we better get back to Paris tout de suite, nest-ce pas?

So back to my No. 1 fave Paris garden: The next thing that I want to show you about the Square de Vert-Galant is this view, which you can gander by walking to the far end of this garden and turning around and looking back towards the Pont Neuf —  this is the view in Summer:


And in Winter:


Picasso painted this same exact view:


Yeah, I agree with you: Picasso’s picture stinks.  (You can see his tableau in the Musee Carnavalet, a darling museum about a ten minute walk away which covers the history of Paris.)  And that white pointy thing in the bushes on the right hand side…what the hell is that?? Could that be the kiosk of the garden guardians?


Oh, how I love this little, one-third-of-a-third-room building:


The architect was probably Gabriel David, the same Second Empire artist responsible for many of the distinct and lovely street furnishings of Paris, such as its newspaper and magazine kiosks:


I even see a similarity to the famous Morris Columns all over the city:

Morris Column

Have you ever wondered how they load up a Morris Column??? Now you know!

I know!! I was on a bus (last December) when I saw this, a sight I have never seen in all of my 40 years of visiting and living in Paris and I jumped out of my seat and ran to the front of the bus to get a good photo of it, and thank DoG the bus was stopped at a red light so I could get a photo, and I am sooooo chuffed that I am able to show this to you!!

Back to the guardian’s kiosk in the Square du Vert-Galant: of course I had go peeping. I had to know what this wondrous space looked like on the inside:


BTW, it still looked the same last December:


I could do so much with this space. I desperately want to own this little place, or at least get a 99-year lease on it. I want to spiff it up and spend my days lounging in front of a little fire, with my notebooks and my radio and my books, whilst quaffing a culturally appropriate beverage:


I can definitely see it. I belong here. (Inside joke: That’s Monet’s water lilies on the carpet.)

And so, in keeping with this wintery theme of Fantasy Garden Spots Where I (and You) Belong, today I am painting for you Dear Readers a Pub Date Celebration Triscuit of that same theme:



But first. . .another digression. If you read last week’s Comments you’ll see that last week’s Triscuit winner, Deborah Hatt, dedicated her win to her two dearly departed Cats of the Heart. Well, what else could I do but put those sweet kitties into her Monet’s Giverny  Garden Triscuit? My darling Readers, please say Hi to Percy and Buster:


Long may they stroll the perfumed paths in that beautiful flower garden in the sky.

OK, now we can back to painting this week’s  Pub Date Celebration Triscuit.

As always, I work wet-in-wet to make some interesting grassy textures:


Oh, yeah — this Triscuit’s going to have a tea cup and a cat . . .


. . . and a wicker chair with a golden cushion:


White is the only acceptable color for wicker furniture, don’t you agree?


When I saw that the detail of the wicker was too washed out by the pale background, I decided to go back and paint in some dark stuff in between the wicker-weave. I am probably one of the few people on Earth who find this kind of fuss-budget work to be very relaxing:


Now for lots and lots of fleurs:


And done:


This is the kind of place where you, and I, and cats belong on any old Spring Fever day, right?

I am giving away this special Pub Date Celebration Triscuit to my Dear Readers in honor of, well, my new book and all, and how it’s the perfect gift for everybody you know, maybe even two or three times each. I’ve heard that it only takes one bulk sale of 8,000 copies to get on the New York times Bestseller list so if anyone out there has 8,000 friends please buy this book for them all and make them (and me) happy. Thank you.

All you have to do to claim this Pub Date Celebration Triscuit for your own is leave a Comment below, with your guess of a number between 123 and 8,071…no, wait. That’s too complicated.

Guess a number between 100 and 175. When the Comments close after 5 days (I have to shut it down to reduce the number of days that I get 1,000 spam comments per hour) I will have Top Cat pick a number at random and hope that one of you Dears had mental telepathy. Or is it pre-cognition?

Every one who Commented last week or the week before is eligible!

And now, because Thea wrote a Comment last week that “Taffy beats any sports mascot”, here’s your weekly dose of our favorite beige cat:


This is me and Taffy and that’s our feral pal Bibs, at my ankle, in front of the tomato patch in August of last year. I don’t know why I didn’t use this as my author photo for the DGB.

Speaking of which, next week we’ll have to talk about all those 5-star reviews that you, my Dear Readers, will be posting to Amazon for Gardens of Awe and Folly, n’est-ce pas? ( 5-star reviews = another V. Swift book in the future for you. . .  publishers take sales and reviews very seriously). For all you Dear Readers who take the time to vote in favor of me keeping my job, I’ll have a special thank you for you. Stay tuned.

Have a great weekend, everyone, curling up with a good book. You know which one I mean.

P.S. in response to Comments last week that I did not get to answer in the roll: Leslie you’re right! I am contemplating a new embroidery project, and when it’s stitched I’ll be sure to show it here.

Patricia: I wonder if there is some kind of Myers Briggs test that would match up personalities to most likely crafts, altho I’m pretty sure that if left to science I would never have been pegged as an embroiderer. I’m too easily bored, except by things I’m obsessed with, which seem pretty random. I think it’s hit or miss, like love. Or maybe it’s fate, like love. I can’t decide.


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On the left (below) is the delicious cracker made by Nabisco*, a salty whole grain hors d’ouvre-holder and snack food beloved by Americans. On the right is a Triscuit made by me, an author-illustrator beloved by 6 out of 7 of my cats*.


*Nabisco/Mondelez (pronounced mon-dell-eeeze) has given me permission to use their trademark Triscuit to describe my teeny-tiny paintings up until the time they send me a cease and desist letter. Thank you, Product Manager at Mondelez Global LLC in East Hanover, New Jersey.

*Steve is the new cat #7, a feral tuxedo Manx that I’ve been feeding for five months but haven’t been able to trap yet because he still doesn’t understand that he belongs to me, dammit.


Kirra, this snow is for YOU.

Last weekend it got so cold here on the north shore of Long Island that I had to rescue my Champagne-O-Meter from the backyard (I wish I could put a photo in parenthesis):


For 2 days the temperatures hovered around Zero degrees ( 0 F, -18 C) and I did not want my champagne to totally freeze. So on Sunday morning I put the bottle back out on the patio and left it there for 7 hours (I wonder if inanimate objects are subject to “wind chill”?). And then it was — finally — 5 o’clock and I brought that baby inside and popped the cork and voila! I got a Champagne Slushie!!


Dear Readers, your eyes do not deceive you. This is what deep-frozen champagne looks like, a glass full of icy bubbles! It was fabulous.


Note: A bottle of champagne left out in sub-zero temperatures for 7 hours will freeze from the bottom up. The first glass you pour looks a lot like regular champagne, except for being much colder, but when you set the bottle down after your first pour something happens strange happens and the normal laws of champagne physics break down. The champagne begins to flow upwards out of the bottle, against gravity, in a continuous froth of bubbly foam until you quickly pour a second glass, at which time balance is restored to the Champer-Verse and the stuff behaves normally, except for its being mostly icy slush. At which time you give Thanks that you have a wonderful reason to not totally hate Winter.

Getting back to the Triscuit thing, to long time Dear Readers of this blog that means one thing:  Time for a Triscuit Give Away! For new Dear Readers of this blog, please let me announce that it’s Triscuit Give Away Time!! Which we will get to at the end of this post (feel free to skip ahead to the end if you are like my husband and think blog posts should not go on and on, like mine tend to)  because for now, I want to discuss How I Cheat When It Comes To Drawing Really Hard Things in Perspective.

Consider, for example, a view such as this:


This is the allee of Monet’s garden in Giverny, the main feature of his sumptuous flower garden (which is way better than his more famous water garden, by the way). I took this photo in May 2013 at about 7 o’clock at night, long after the garden had closed for the day. You can read how I was able to sneak this photo, and a lot of others, when the garden was officially closed,which I consider a red hot travel tip, by clicking here. We’ll wait while you read up on this.

Hey! You’re back! So let’s get to it: Drawing all those arched arbors down this rather long garden path/allee is way, way above my pay grade as a draftsperson. I could never do it without cheating. So what I do is, I cheat. First, I have print out a black and white copy of this photo (from my computer, on plain white paper — no fancy photo-quality sheets necessary):


The black and white picture make it easy for me to see the contrast I need in order to trace those arbors onto tracing paper:


I could never see those trellis lines if this photo was still in color. So, in black felt tip pen I trace over the arbors and the horizon, because a horizon is a useful thing to know in any picture, as it keeps the painter from painting things that look like they are floating in the air:


The next step is to trace those guide lines onto watercolor paper (use either a light box or tape the sheets onto a window, if it’s a sunny day):


I slather in the background, using very broad strokes and watery paint. I will try to keep these features very faint in this picture in order to emphasize the foreground — the lovely floral allee:


I have to get those two huge yew trees at the top of the all just right — they are the key to the scale and truthfulness of everything else I will paint:


So I finish these yew trees and then I take a good look at the picture and I see right away that the top trellis/arbor that I drew would not work in this picture. So I erased them and, as the pencil lines were so faint, they are hardly noticeable under the paint of the yew trees (paint tends to “fix” graphite, BTW). And then I was all set to get to the good stuff: the flowers! I LOVE painting these flowers!! And sorry, I got so engrossed painting these wonderful fleurs that I forgot to take pictures of the progress, so here’s a pic of the piece when it’s about 80% done:


I use white acrylic paint to paint over the arbors because I need them to POP, and putting down a base of white acrylic paint before I paint them green will do that:


See? (See: Below)

Clos Normand Giverny Monet garden

You might notice that in the end I futzed the horizon line on the left side of this picture. I did that because I thought it was too strong a horizontal and I thought it was distracting. For the record, that (left) part of Monet’s garden is very complicated — lots of topiary and trained shrubs and big brambly stuff that I don’t want to get into — but I hope I’ve indicated enough of a there there…but I might look at this picture next month and decide it needs more definition. However, for now, it’s done.

Monet panted in series: haystacks, poplar trees, Rouen Cathedral…you know what I mean. Good lord, he painted his water lilies 270 times. So just because this is the second picture I’ve painted of his allee (counting last week’s picture) does not mean that I am done with this view, no siree. I went to Giverny last December specifically to get a sneak peek at Monet’s garden in Winter, which is how I got this photo:


I love gardens in Winter. Love love love love them. I love them so much that I put a Winter Garden in my garden book (in the Edinburgh chapter). I also adore decrepitude — that’s why I had to write about a decrepit garden in London for Gardens of Awe and Folly. To me, a flower garden in December (in the northern hemisphere) is all about decrepitude, and all about Winter. So poetic! So truthful! So soulful! So to me, this view of Monet’s garden is deliciousness times two. I could not wait to paint it! So, without further ado, let me trace those arbors and get down to painting!!!!



P.S. above: Last week I mentioned that I photoshop my fingers for these action pix…this week I just left the band aids on. My hands get very dry in the Winter but that’s OK: I can paint wounded. I’m so very, very brave that way.






 And done:

Clos Normand Giverny Monet garden

You can see that in this picture I left the foreground arbor/trellis intact (the same trellis that I eliminated from the Spring version). It works here, I think. (Fun fact: in total, the allee has only 6 trellises. Trellises? Is that a word?)

I can not tell you how satisfying this was to paint! It was heaven. That’s why, like stout Cortez at that place where he wept because there were no more worlds to conquer…wait. I think that was Alexander the Great, who wanted to keep going; Cortes was the chap full of wild surmise. I could go either way with this literary reference because any hoo, I was not ready to quit this wonderful allee, and as I was sober (it was at least an hour away from Sunday Cocktail Time), I decided to paint a Triscuit as a token of my appreciation for all my Dear Readers:






Voila, the Giverny Triscuit:

Giverny Monet garden gate Clos Normand

Now, I know that some of my Dear Readers do not come from Nabisco countries so they might not know about Triscuits, so maybe this will help set the scale (because I assume that everyone knows about tea bags):

Giverny tea bag monet garden painting

The Triscuit is 4.5 centimeters square, about the size of a Gum Nut Baby. It’s really small, but you know that small is my “thing”.


This is a view of Monet’s allee facing away from the house, towards the big garden gate at the bottom of his flower garden. That’s the gate the the master himself used when he strolled from his studio to his water garden (on the other side of the wall there). It’s a historic gate. And now that I look at it…the gate is wrong. Back to the painting. . .



OK, now it’s DONE.


To win this Giverny Triscuit, all you have to do is leave a Comment in the Coments at the end of this post, and guess a number between 1 and 50. When the Comments close after five days — sorry, it’s a spam-avoidance necessity — I will have Top Cat choose a number and announce the Winner in next week’s post!

The fine print: In order to be eligible  for this contest you must have left a Comment here in the past two weeks.

So Good Luck, my Dear Readers, and keep Commenting…Pub Date of Gardens of Awe and Folly is March 1 and I might be in the mood to celebrate with another Triscuit Give Away (or another bottle of frozen champagne, depending on the weather).



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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:


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:

Pelham NY high school

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!:

Pelham Ny Prospect Hill Elementary

This is another one of the elementary schools:

Pelham NY Colonial Elementary School

These are signs from Pelham businesses:

Pelham NY

And the wonderful Pelham Cafe:

Pelham NY Pelham Cafe

The Artistic Manner florist had a great shop cat:


And this was the Old Lake Antiques shop:


All these doors are actual doors from Pelham:

Pelham NY

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?


Pelham NY



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:

Pelham NY

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:


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).


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


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!


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.


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:


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.


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


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



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:





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:


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…


…but this view is much better, right?


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:


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.


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:


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


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


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:


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:



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





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:


And some fuscia:


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



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


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:



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


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:



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


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:


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:


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:


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


And then I go back to holding my breath:


And NOW I can heave another sigh of relief:


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


… DONE …


… Done:


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


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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P1190479It’s good to be back just in time for my penultimate Summer post! During my two-week break I went to the annual Long Island Scottish Games Festival at Old Westbury Gardens (that’s a dog in a kilt, above). It’s always good to hang with my peeps, the Scottish, the most fun-loving, light-hearted, sober people on Earth. It comes from all that airy-fairy-gaia-girl-power DNA us Celtic maids of the woods possess:



Oh, right: us Scottish girls also love to dance with swords, too:


And as you can see, even the boys of our clan want to be like their magical sisters so much that they’ll even wear the same outfits.


I also spent a few days in the enchanted land known as Pennsylvania, hanging with my mother (from whom I get my Scottish proclivities). She has a cat named Sammy who knows how to work backlighting and sheer curtains:


And, yes, I spent an inordinate amount of time sitting in the backyard trying to get a shot of the 6:05 Qantas from LAX.


Yes, I sat sentry in the backyard whenever the landing pattern at JFK airport shifted to the sky above Top Cat Manor hoping to get the red kangaroo on film. The 6:05 Qantas from LAX is my black orchid, my white whale, my Loch Ness Monster. So far, I’ve only been able to catch the 6:40 Air Berlin from, well, you know where. But note how the plane catches the golden rays of the September evening. Sigh.

I know I promised you a cat-painting lesson. Well, I’m working on it:


But I have an exciting new give-away for my dear readers! I have received an advance hard back copy of ElizabethGilbert’s new novel, The Signature of All Things:


Last May Elizabeth sent me a paper-back proof of the novel and I read it in two days. I loved it. And you all know that I do not read fiction…but this is almost non-fiction, as it’s a story about love and botany and is full of real true stuff about plants and gardens and 18th century trade in newly-discovered horticultural species. GREAT BOOK, is what I’m saying. If it’s been a long time since you read you’ve read a book by a really smart writer, or it’s been ages since you enjoyed a sophisticated historical romance, or it’s been eons since you read a book that took you into another realm of being…this book is for you.


The book itself is a beautiful object — it 499 pages of smooth ivory vellum with a deckle edge. And it’s got two different end-papers, with a pair of botanical illustrations on each:


This is very expensive to produce, by the way.

I am giving away this advance hard-back copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Signature of All Things to one lucky dear reader!

Please leave your name in the Comments section and, as is standard operating procedures, Top Cat will pick a Commentor at random. The winner of this lovely book will be announced next Friday,right here on this blog.

(Comments will close at midnight, Tuesday.)

It’s down to the penultimate Summer weekend, dear readers. Let’s all go out and do something to make Summer 2013 memorable!


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As we all know, there’s the fantasy of Giverny…


…and then there’s the reality:


New Yorker magazine cover of June 5, 2000 by the great illustrator Ian Falconer.

 From April to October Monet’s garden at Giverny is open seven days a week and half a million “culture tourists” make the pilgrimage to this tiny village to see the famous Japanese bridge:


When I was there last month the wisteria on what is called the “superstructure” of the bridge was just starting to bloom…


…but the famous water lilies don’t blossom until late July. Since except for bullfrogs calling to each other there was nothing of interest going on in the water, I spent my time watching people take in The Most Famous Japanese Bridge in France:



And then I went exploring in Giverny. I took a walk down the main drag of the village (pop. 505) called, of course, Rue Claude Monet. At the far end of the long wall that keeps Monet’s houses secluded on Rue Claude Monet there is a big green door…


…which is Monet’s old garage door, where he used to pull in his Panhard Lavassor that he bought in 1900. I know! I can’t picture Monet driving a car either!   As you continue your mosey thorugh the village on the Rue Claude Monet you pass picturesque houses…P1160440

…and the tourist information center and the Impressionist Museum of Giverny  that used to be called The Museum of American Art in honor of all the Americans who flocked to this village to paint with the Master from 1880 – 1926:


Nice restaurant, very nice gardens, bijoux collection.

And then you get to the main hub of social life in Giverny the Baudy Hotel…


…where all Monet’s American acolytes used to hang out in olden times and where they are still doing a bang-up business serving lunch and diner and tea.


In the Petit Galerie Baudy, right there at the Baudy Hotel, there is a storefront where Monsieur Frederic Desessard works, a miniaturist after my own heart:


He very kindly let me photograph him painting his latest tableaux (he does not usually allow photographs of him at work):


And he then showed me how he paints with a toothpick:


Here he’s putting the finishing touches on his copy of one of the rare Monet paintings of his flower garden ( if you want to see the original it’s in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris) and has finished one of the 18 similar views of the Japanese bridge that Monet painted between 1899 and 1900 (see: the top of this post). The portrait of Camille Monet  that M. Desessard has beautifully reproduced is in the National Gallery in Washington D.C.

I asked to buy one of these miniatures but M. Desessard told me that he doesn’t sell his paintings, he uses them for the tiny 3D tableaux he makes and sells in his shop.


Photo by Jean-Michel Peers — to see more follow the link below — read on!

Hmmmmm…I think I just got my inspiration for my Giverny Triscuit...


You can find the finished Triscuit at the end of this post.

Anyhoo, If you are going to Giverny, you can’t miss M. Desessard…


Photo by Jean-Michel Peers.

…right on the main drag, at 81 Rue Claude Monet. The French photographer Jean-Michel Peers has graciously permitted me to show you his photos of M. Desessard at work on his miniatures — click onto this link here to see more, and to check out Jean-Michel’s portfolio of wonderful historical photos of Giverny and of Monet’s garden too.

But we, you and me, dear readers, have not finished out our wanderings there. We are going to go further down Rue Claude Monet to the 15th century church of Sainte Radegonde

P1160765…to pay respects to the seven WWII British airmen who are fondly remembered by the people of Giverny; their Lancaster bomber crashed nearby in 1944 and the village honors them with this grave:


British visitors to Giverny leave English coins here.

We will take a walk around the churchyard to the side area where we’ll will find the beautiful grave of Gerald Van der Kemp, the man responsible for restoring Monet’s gardens:


Mr. Van der Kemp lies next to the Monet family grave, the resting place of the Master himself (along with various family members):


Few of the day trippers who come to Giverny bother to make the walk up to Eglise Sainte Radegonde…and it’s not even “off the beaten track”! To really get Off The Beaten Track, you have two choices. You can get out of town on the D5:

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Yes, we are going to walk 4 km to Vernon!

In which case you will walk along the banks of the River Epte…


…on the path takes you past the secluded studio where the American artist (and Monet’s next door neighbor in Giverny)  Frederick Carl Frieseke got the privacy he needed to paint his favorite subject, naked ladies sunbathing. The house used to be home to a community of monks who bred fish to stock the local rivers…


…but do not go fishing in the Epte or the Ru unless you’ve paid your 89 euro license fee :


This is the Epte, which flows into the Seine. The River Ru is a branch of the Epte and it’s the Ru that flows into Monet’s pond in his water garden.

That red signposted on that tree announces that this area is under the control of the Fédération de l’Eure pour la Pêche et la Protection du Milieu Aquatique. You can look them up. France has strict fishing protections on all its streams, brooks, creeks, and rivers.

Other sights along the D5:







Does anyone know what this is? Monique — can you explain your people’s strange foreign ways?




And that’s how you get to Vernon as the lone pedestrian on the D5.

Your other choice of getting Off The Beaten Path is to take Rue Claude Monet alllllllllll the way to the end of town…


…and find the bike path….


…that is easier to walk on than the D5 and “busier” (this is where all those people who rent bikes at the Vernon train station go, but it’s still pretty deserted) and nearly quite as scenic…





…and when you get to Vernon on this route…


…there is this:


The sign says: Attention au chat. You don’t see the chat? He’s there! He’s right there:

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Now, if you really want to get Off The Beaten Track in Giverny…


…all you have to do is take the foot path that starts where the Rue du Chateau d’Eau ends and climb…



…until you find the perfect picnic spot…


Looks like a Plebicula dorylas to me. My guide to French butterflies calls this color “sky blue”. I thought it was a wildflower at first, then I saw it was an elegant French insect.

…where you can sit and plan your next visit to Giverny (maybe walk that highway  all the way to Sainte-Genevieve-les-Gasny?):


I thought I would be finished with Giverny with this post, having told as many stories about my visit as my dear readers have the patience for…but no, I have one more piece of business. I have a Giverny Triscuit to give away!


Seeing M. Desessard’s copies of famous Monet paintings gave me the urge to do something I’ve never done before: COPY. So here it is, My Monet:


And that’s why we call it a Triscuit.

If you would like to give a home to this original watercolor Giverny Triscuit, please leave a Comment below before the Comments close on midnight June 26 and, as usual, Top Cat will pick a winner totally at random, to be announced when we all get together again next Friday.

This was fun, copying one of the most iconographic works of art of the 20th century. I think I’d like to do it again. Anybody got any suggestions for another Masterpiece Triscuit???

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