Cat Stories

It crossed my mind more than once last week, as I was tooling around the Great Pacific Northwest, that I am not as good at this travel-thing as I used to be.

I still think of myself as the intrepid 19-year old who took on the French railway system one-on-one to reserve a one-way ticket from Paris to Rome and didn’t think twice about the 20-hour trip, or the strange people I’d be bunking with in a tiny, uni-sex (the horror!) couchette on a rickety sleeper train. I stuffed a baguette and some Boursin into a plastic bag and took off.

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So here I am now, approx. 40 years later in my own native land, with a rental car and good luggage and Google maps and a platinum AmEx, and I can barely navigate myself for the three-hour drive down I-5 from Seattle to Portland. And once I arrived in the lovely precincts of Portland’s NECN (Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods), after confusing left with east for the 100th time, the best I could do — for two nights in a row (in this land that invented the gourmet locavore) — was walk to the Safeway for a do-it-yourself take-out dinner of Pop Tarts and wine. I can’t help but think that my 19-year old self would look at me as proof that travel is wasted on anyone over 30.

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Amazingly, on that epic 175-mile road trip, I had no trouble finding Exit 135, and rolled easily up to the doorstep of King’s Books in Tacoma. King’s Books, in case you do not know, is famous for its bookstore cats, Atticus. . .

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. . . (whose bio states that he was once a prize-winning rodeo rider who then became a friar, and joined the bookstore staff in 2009 where he now serves as both a shoulder-warmer and a spunky bookseller). . .

. . . and Herbert (seen below at the cash register):

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Believe it or not, but this (below) is Herbert’s Happy Face:

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My scritches had the same airplane-ears effect on Portland native Mahitabel:

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Mahitabel’s Person in Charge of Happiness, who is also a Dear Reader of this blog, rounded me up one fine morning and carted me to a handful of Portland’s great sights, such as the view from the beautiful  Tilikum pedestrian bridge of majestic Mt. Hood (a mountain named after the USS Federation starship, Excelsior class, Starfleet reg. NCC1703). Thank you, Vicki!

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Of course, the reason I was in Portland in the first place was to give the good people of Rose City the Vivian Experience at Broadway Books, a cozy Coney Island of the mind disguised as Portland’s best-hued and most lusciously-shelved independent bookstore:

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As you can see, I still do that funny thing with my mouth that bugs me whenever I see myself on video or in photos (in spite of the very kinds words of Dear Reader Kirra), and that’s not counting the crap that comes out of my mouth, meaning that I have amends to make to two lovely ladies who came to the event on May 5: both watercolor artists, they asked me about how I get such good-looking greens in my illustrations (example below):

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I must have looked puzzled by the question, because they explained that they were taught to make “color charts” in preparation for their watercolors, obviously by a teacher who really, really wants to make things as complicated as possible, and, they said, getting good greens was hard.

First of all, I was flummoxed by the whole “color chart” thing, having never heard of any such thing: I think that if your teacher makes you do color charts, that’s just your teacher trying to prove the rumor that watercolors are hard and must be taught by a professional. What crap. There. I said it: Color charts are as relevant to painting as diagramming sentences is to writing.

So, when these two sweet ladies who took the time to come out on a beautiful Thursday evening to hear me yak about myself and mentioned that, in their experience, getting good greens was hard, I proved once again to my 19-year-old self that I have indeed become a real asshole when I replied by scrunching up my face and bleating: Really?

I am ashamed that I, however inadvertently (the thesis surprised me, caught me off-guard), implied that anyone who found it hard to get good greens was worth a dismissive and snotty Really??  Instead, these lovely ladies’ question has stuck in my brain as a sorely missed opportunity for me to have asked some follow-up questions, gain some understanding of another’s process in creativity, learn something.

So, dear ladies of May 5, if you are reading this, please accept my apologies for not answering your extremely thought-provoking question and let me make amends by addressing the making of greens (which, I confess, in my ignorance of academically-accepted practices, I have never thought of as “hard”) in a future post.

Meanwhile, on one of my trips to and from the Portland Safeway, I came across this fella. . .

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. . . and this completely different black and white furry fella. . .

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. . . who, for obvious reasons, reminded me of this fella, in a village 5,000 miles away:

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Cats. The world over, they think they own the place. In the case above (Dear Reader Carol S., this is for you!), the cat in question is named Gaston, and he “owns” a little road called Rue aux Juifs in the village of Giverny, France. In the case of the Portland kitty, I don’t know that cat’s name but I do know that he’s as big a smooch as Gaston is, because when a little girl hopped off her bike to chase him down to say hello, Portland Cat did this:

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I met another of Portland’s Finest on my way to breakfast — Boo Boo, it seems, “works” at a dress shop on Alberta Street and couldn’t wait to clock in:

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What a way to start the day; a selfie with a cat named Boo Boo:

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Boo Boo must have been my spirit guide because five minutes later the universe let me check off a Top Ten item on my Before I Die Wish List and I got this breath-taking encounter:

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This is the Western Blue Jay known as the Scrub Jay — really?, bird-namers? You couldn’t do any better than “scrub jay”? Considering that blue is the rarest color in nature, and that birds with blue feathers are extraordinarily found only in the New World, and that blue is an awesome color. . . you couldn’t have found a better tag than “scrub jay”?? How about “Sunset Jay” (since it’s found where the sun sets, get it?), or “Frontier Jay” (in honor of its geography)? And that’s what I came up with after a solid 20 seconds of thought. . . cries — even “Boo Boo Jay” would have been an improvement. You namers of western blue birds stink.

Contented with my cat and bird sightings, I left Portland early on a Saturday morning to make a detour to the Oregon Coast, to a place called Seaside, to a place in that place called Beach Books:

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I got there around 11:00 am, just in time to catch Book Shop Cat Oz making his commute to work:

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Oz hoists himself up onto his window seat and checks his To Do List. EAT is the thing he took care of back in the storeroom, on his way into the office. Next item:

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SLEEP is the next item on the agenda:

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Chances of him knocking off READ before the end of the day look slim.

Adieu, sweet prince, and onward: My reason for being (that day) lay 8 miles down the road– Cannon Beach Books, whose booksellers can read readers’ minds and put in hand a reading experience that was curated specifically for you. (I saw them do it, over and over.)

Another bout of travel-induced mid-life soul searching began a few hours later, as I finished my delightful visit to the Oregon coast and got into my rental car for the drive back to Seattle. I used to be good (or so I thought) at logistics, but I hadn’t bothered to look very hard at a map when I planed this trip and booked my flight home out of Seattle. When it dawned on me (just the day before) that it would have made much more sense to fly home from Portland, the penalty to change plans at such a late date would have cost me, in dollars that my 19-year-old self would understand, five-and-a-half weeks of backpacking around the South of France.

So I drove north that late afternoon, spending four hours trying not to feel like I’ve become the kind of dopey, half-assed traveler my 19-year-old self would despise, before devoting the final 90 minutes of my Great Pacific Northwest Road Trip to repeatedly making the wrong turns on the various I-5 exits to Burien.

And just think: if I had not made the blunder of flying home to the Isle of Long from Sea-Tac airport, I would not have been able to catch this view of Mts. Rainer and St. Helens . . .

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. . . and would probably not have had the opportunity to leave my glasses on the plane (rendering me functionally blind for the next week while I awaited replacement!) or pick up a nasty pulmonary infection (that has leveled me for the past 9 days!).

Now, this is only the last half of the story (of me, half-sighted and hacking). There’s a whole other first half that I haven’t even told you about yet, in which my 19-year-old self might not look at me with all that much disgust, as I only got the car on Day Four (it was the driving that done me in) and thus greatly reduced my opportunities to act like a dip shit. I’m still an awesome pedestrian!!

Next week, my Wonder Ones, we will explore that mythical city, Seattle, in a post that I will Call:

The Side Effects of Travel

Maybe we’ll even paint something green.

This Just In: I’ve been hearing from Dear Readers this morning that the Comments button to this post is not working. Serves me right, for any number of reasons, but mostly I guess it’s to mortify my grubby need for approval (You Comment! You like me!!). While my crack team of IT interns. . .

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. . .fixes this latest glitch, you can email me at vivianswift at yahoo dot com and I will re-post your dear words with tear-stained alacrity. Soon as we sort out the series of tubes.

XXOO

P.P.S. OK, it seems that the Comment thing may or may not be fixed. You are welcome to try to leave your message, or email me, or not. *Sigh*. Whatever.

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The fact that December is a Fall month has never been self-evident here on the north shore of Long Island, except for this year of Our Global Warming 2015.

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I have yet to wear my winter coat this season…and that’s never happened this far into the season.

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Please enjoy this pictures of Climate Change (and what the gardeners call “Winter Interest”), let me respond to some recent Comments to this Blog/Not Instagram.

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Linda June and Jeanie: I’m sorry for the confusion: My Damn Garden Book (Gardens of Awe and Folly) comes out on March 1, 2016. The various pre-reviews I’ve been bragging about in my posts come from industry publications that let book stores and libraries know what’s in the pipeline so they can plan their book-buying budgets. When the DGB comes out in the Spring there will be another round of reviews for the retail (individual) buyer. Sigh. The judging never ends.

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Mary: I went to Rio in my mid-30s for business (fancy auction hose business). I had never had Rio de Janeiro on my Must See List because face it, Brazil is a guy’s kind of place…but my visit there changed the way I looked at life on Earth. Read all about it in the DGB — I don’t mean to plug the Damn Garden Book but it’s a long story and, well, Iv’e already typed it once before.

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Megan: Is there a berry sushi (SUSHI??? That’s Auto Correct for “bush”) your garden? Were the berries fermenting? Birds are big boozers, you know. I think you might have had a drunk chickadee on your hands.

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Deborah: Great Instagram idea: Things I Pry Out Of My Puppy’s Mouth. No narrative necessary. And I’m with you about getting all three of my books reviewed in the New York Times. It’s the reason I check my e-mail every five minutes…I keep hoping that there’s a message from my agent telling me that I’ve landed the cover of the Sunday Times Book Review. OR, that Taylor Swift just tweeted a pic of the DGB cover to her 50 million followers. OR, that the Duchess of Cambridge was photographed carrying a copy of When Wanderers Cease to Roam. It’s sad how much mental energy I spend on the wishful thinking part of being an author.

Patricia: I saw a Stellar jay once in my life and it was FANTASTIC. I hope that when I come to Seattle on book tour that I get out to the woods to see another one. I’m greedy that way.

The next few photos are shots I took while driving. It’s been a rainy week and I like how the tree bark gets dark against the bright yellow foliage so I’ve been keeping my camera in my car to click while I pass the best views of these kinds of woods:

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Felicia: It’s all about the Grok, which is also a word I did not use because I think it’s a bit obscure but if you’ve read Stranger in a Strange Land and discounted all the dirty old man sexist stuff, you’ll know how good a word it is.

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I am crazy about tree forms this year and when I see a good tree on the side of the road, I either pull over so I can snap a picture of it (above), or I hope for a stop sign and come to a full stop (!!!), like I did here:

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Trees in the morning mist near the Dunkin Donuts on Northern Boulevard:

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Kirra and Carol, I’m looking at these trees with my Blue Jay eyes and I know I’ll use this in some future illustration, where these trees will be in their own forest far, far away from parking lots and T-Mobile stores.

Now this is where Top Cat says my blog posts always go on for too long. I can’t wrap this up until I send out these pix of (some) my cats, in a series I call Cats Contemplating Fall:

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And Diane in Denver, I didn’t gorget you! Last weekend T.C. and I and T.C.’s son from California walked in Caumsett State Historic Park in Huntington …

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…and I did! I did! I waved at the beautiful Long Island Sound for you!

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P.S. Is anybody reading this on an iPhone? And is the reading experience totally kattywampus (because I compose this on a big ancient 2011 iMac)? Just wondering, for when I ditch this old hardware and take up Instagram.

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Horrors. This week I broke my favorite tea cup:

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Well, truth to tell, I actually “broke” it several months, maybe a year, ago. I chipped it during dish washing:

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And just last week it finally decided to start leaking. Woe, woe, woe is I.  For now, I’m using my second favorite tea cup:

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Speaking of cats…

This is Lickety, giving his brother Taffy a quick spit-and-polish:

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But it’s un-cat like to stay awake for long:

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Good thing Taffy doesn’t mind sharing his second favorite blankie:

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Taffy also doesn’t seem to mind sharing his sofa with his arch enemy, Bibs, the outside cat who, after three years of training has finally learned how to come inside when we hold the back door open for him:

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And now for a few pictures of cute tootsies:

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That last cat (above) is not mine. She’s not even American. This is a photo of a shop cat that my sister recently sent me from Argentina. What you can’t see is that she is wearing a pink ribbon whilst she poses in a stall in an antiques/thrift market. A pink neck ribbon! How Cuuuuuuuute. My sister sends cat pix from all over the world. And here is where I make another brilliant segue.

I try to stay on top of my emails. Every day I try to delete them as I answer/act on them as they come in, so imagine my surprise when I noticed last week that I had 4,909 emails sitting in my In Box. As I went thru them carefully, I found way too many that had been long buried in the pile-up. One email that I found was dated Oct. 29, 2014, from my sister, the world-roving cat photographer, mentioning that she was going to Kyrgyzstan for a week (she’s an intellectual property/copyright/customs lawyer/consultant specializing in second world countries in addition to being a world-roving cat photographer).

Yes, Kyrgyzstan. And I ever knew anything about it! Which is to say that if you have emailed me in the past 1 1/2 years and I have not responded, please accept my mille pardons. It’s nothing personal! It’s Yahoo Mail screwing with my In Box email scrolls, marking unread emails as “Read”! Really! I answer every single email I get, which is a dandy system as long as I get emails that don’t skip from my In Box right into the “Read” (past tense) file. I am still catching up — and I will respond to all your kind notes.

In other news, this week the cherry blossoms are giving it up to gravity:

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While what may or may not be a Paulownia is still in bloom:

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The picture of the may-or-may-not tree is from a recent outing to the village of Princeton, New Jersey, where Top Cat and I stopped for lunch two Sundays ago. It seems that there’s a rather beautiful and old university there, and the streets were packed with parents and alumni in town for a tradition that the kids call the Spring Lawn Party.

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The various Eating Clubs associated with the university were each hosting a party, on their lawn. You had to be a Princeton student or grad to buy the wristband that lets you roam from lawn party to lawn party.

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I never thought that I’d ever say this about 1%ers, but they were all very cute.

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Princeton lawn party 2015

Princeton lawn party 2015

Princeton lawn party 2015

Well, despite this post, I must say that my “book-done lifestyle” so far has been ever so busy and interesting. I’m shopping for a new tea cup, I’m catching up on my emails, I’m driving to Princeton for lunch, and I’m meeting up with a Real Housewife of New York.

Oh, did I forget to tell you that?

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That’s a longish story that I’ll have to tell you next week. But here’s a sneak preview: Yes! I’m applying to be a Real Housewife of Long Island!

Because I have such an interesting life and all.

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Stay tuned.

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I went to a day-long program at New York University in Manhattan last Friday, where I was in a room with at least 50 PhDs where things such as “an effective counter-hisotrical narrative”and “alternative epistemic machinery” were said. I loved it.

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Mind you, it’s not that my own cat buddies …

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… aren’t intellectually stimulating companions (they’re not)…

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… but this program at NYU was all about decompiling computer history, a subject I had absolutely no interest in. So I signed up.

I boarded the 8:42 to Penn Station and sat my ass down from 10 – 6 to hear all about the textures of digitization in daily life, and the myths of internet infrastructure, and abstract unintuitive machines, and such. I am happy to report  that the lemma of American cultural imperialism is still alive and well, only this time it’s all MicroSoft’s fault.

Remember the good old days, when it used to be rock and roll that was going to take over the world and ruin culture for everybody? *Sigh* That was then.  These days, rock and roll has all the cultural hegemony of baton twirling.

Seriously, tho. The program brought together really REALLY smart people, and they all gave my brain quite a workout, which I admit has gone flabby in recent years. Last month, for example, I tried to figure out why Kate Hudson is launching a clothing line based on her “intuition as an athlete and a fashion lover”, and why kate Hudson is famous in the first place, and I just couldn’t do it.

So, please meet the brilliant thinkers who made me think hard about the things they think deeply about:

Here is what Jason Scott (below, in a photo that I took myself and didn’t have to grab from the inter webs), who is the world’s first and most famous archivist of the internet:

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Kevin Driscoll (M.S. from MIT, Ph.D. from USC , D.J. from his being a millennial) from whom I learned about the effective counter-historical narrative in the context of myths concerning internet infrastructure:

driscoll_xorAnd superstar Stephanie Dick …

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… (Ph.D. Harvard, Alan Turing Centennial Fellow, and lots of other etc.’s), who talked about how the brute force of computer-done mathematic proofs are different from elegance of people-done mathematic proofs and how both embody an intellectual grace all their own, and since she’s a gifted mathematician herself  and as articulate as Neil deGrasse Tyson, she was analytically astute and cogent and AWESOME.

Ramsey Nassar …

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… game designer, computer scientist, and the kind of Ph.D. that gets to dig deep into secret Ottoman archives in Beruit (maybe it was Constantinople) to discover the Arabian Turing Machine that challenges the entrenched MicroSoftic-imperialistic narrative of the history of computers. As an amateur linguist, I savored his short tutorial on the scriptural form (there isn’t any print form) and mechanics of the Arabic language.

Joy Rankin …

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… (Dartmouth, Duke, MIT, and Yale for god’s sake!) who discovered how the  Minneapolis school system in the 1970s built a social network before there were personal computers . I know, I know…the 1970s…yawn. I get depressed every time I remember the 1970s. I was not on my game in the 1970s; but neither was the rest of America. And here’s Joy Rankin, born way after the hey day of Tony Orlando and Dawn,  researching the 1970s as if they were interesting. Way to go, future MacArthur Genius.

WHY WAS YOU THERE??? you may well ask. I was there to hear the one speaker whose work I was familiar with and am quite the fan of….

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… the one and only Stacy Horn.

I know Stacy as the author of my favorite book of 2001 (see above, subtitled “A Morbid Memoir” but its not at all morbid, in my opinion, and is actually a lovely story about the meaning of life and cats).

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Stacy is also the author of books about the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory and the cold case squad of the New York Police Dept.  Her most recent is Imperfect Harmony, about the psychological and physical well-being to be had from singing with others, based on her 30-years of singing with the Grace Church Choral Society (it’s not a religious book). When I discovered that she’d be speaking about the social network she founded way back in 1990, when she founded the first social network on the East Coast and (side bar) became the hottest IT babe in America (glamor shoots for Vanity Fair, Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, etc.), I HAD to be there.

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These are NYU Ph.D. students (above) being captivated by Stacy’s program. Stacy’s talk was personal, historical, whimsical, and AWESOME. She was what everybody else was talking about: a pioneer in the making of computer history.

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At the Q & A part of the program

What a joy it was for me to be breathing the same air as this group of people — speaking and listening — who were so intellectually engaged with the world. I always say that I need to get out of the house more often but I never would have thought that a program about decompiling computer history would make it so worth missing Judge Judy, but it just goes to show you.

Wherever smart people work, doors are unlocked.  (Steve Wozniak)

The thing about smart people is that they seem crazy to dumb people. (Anonymous, on a T-shirt)

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss celebrities. (Eleanor Roosevelt)

Smart people know that you can only believe half of what you are told. But only very smart people know which half. (Janina Ipohorska)

Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you.  (John Wooden)

Richard Branson, for example, is a total maverick but he surrounds himself with smart, successful people and he listens to them. (Brandon Burchard)

Smart people do amazing things against awful odds.  (Kim Harrison)

I think smart is sexy. I like smart people. People that are comfortable with themselves I think is very sexy. My cat is really sexy.  (Gina Gershon)

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I am hungry.

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I am Taffy and I am hungry.

This is my bowl.

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I cannot eat this stuff. It was poured from the big bag of stuff an hour ago. I cannot eat hour-old food.

Miss Lady who feeds me is says that she not running a catering business here, she say she busy, very busy, because she working on book cover designs and cannot keep running into kitchen to check on every cat’s latest whim.

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But I see her. She not busy. She just binge watching House of Cards. She not feeding me. I cannot allow this. I am Taffy. I am head honcho of my herd. I show you my herd.

This Bibs. This me, advising Bibs to get off of my pink blankie. Nobody allowed to sleep on my pink blankie on top of UPS box.

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Only I am.

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I am best cat when it comes to sleeping with style.

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I can make sleep out of anything. Even on the Adirondak chair cushions what are resting on a dining room chair. Dining room table is not my favorite pillow, though.

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This Penelope:

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Penelope. She nice cat. She never try to sleep on my pink blankie on top of UPS box, what is all mine.

This Cindy:

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Why she not share her sunbeam is because she not very nice.

This is Coco:

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Coco is not nice. She have her own Ikea chair with heating pad and clean blankies because she very, very old.  She is senior citizen cat. She very cranky. Coco has special room she share with Miss Lady, all private and quiet.  I bet Miss Lady don’t let her go hungry staring at hour-old food is all I’m saying.

This my mama:

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She is most beautiful mama in the world. Miss Lady  call her Candy but I call her mama. She very good mama. She is nice to Bibs because Bibs don’t have a mama.

This my brother, Lickety, on very last day of Winter:

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I keep eye on him because my mama tell me to be good big brother to idiot sibling. He think he fierce.

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He never catch birdie in his life because he way too fat to gain speed on even dumb pigeon. Is hilarious to see, when Fatso think he fierce. But lordy, it takes much energy to watch over him. Is why I am hungry.

Is been hard Winter.

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I do not approve of hard Winters.

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But all my herd is safe and sound even after First Day of Spring snow storm, when I should been off-duty from watching over idiot sibling but I save him from frostbite anyway.

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And instead of medal, Lady Miss give me hour-old food and make me go hungry.  Is that nice? I ask rhetorically.

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Is time to mind meld with Miss Lady who feed me.

Go to Kitchen. Feed hungry kitty.

Go to Kitchen. Feed hungry kitty.

Go to Kitchen. Feed hungry kitty.

Wait…is working! Miss Lady in kitchen now! Miss Lady getting out new bowl! Miss Lady pouring new stuff from big bag of stuff! Miss Lady putting bowl in front of me!

Wait.

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This will not do. This stuff came from top of big bag of stuff.

I want stuff from middle of bag.

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Sigh. I am Taffy. I am apply for new job, as head honcho of new herd. You got job opening for me?

 

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My on-line relationship with my blog went shits-creek-o last week and I and have been trying to fix it for days, and these guys were no help.

As of 8 o’clock pm on Thursday before I take a break to watch The Big Bang Theory, I am still trying to fix it BUT …

…if you are reading this it means that I am STILL working on the damn thing Friday morning.

I will have a post for you as soon as I can get all my visual aids uploaded onto my regularly schedules post.

Check back later in the day.

 

Mercy buckets.

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Here it is,  your 2015 Champagne-O-Meter!

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Yeah, I know; you expected a bang and all you got was this whimper. And the total re-design of my blog isn’t ready, either. Sorry, but we have to put up with sans-serif font for just a little while longer.

Luckily, after a week of 20 degree weather here on the shores of the Long Island Sound, you know our bubbly will be nice and popsicle-y for when we pop it open for our annual Ugly Cake Contest later today.

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In the meantime, I want to welcome myself back to the interwebworld! I’ve missed you!  And I want to thank all youse who have stopped by to pay a visit! I could use some cheering up!

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I’ve had a terrible, terrible streak of everything-should-revolve-around-me-level of bad luck this year so yesterday, when the Customer Service guy at Staples (His name tag said “Awesome”. Really, it did. ) replied to my customer serve issue with a smile, and says, as if to gladden my day,

“C’est la vie”

something in me snapped.

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Being mistaken for the kind of emotionally well-balanced and friendly person who finds it endearing when some self-appointed Buddha decides that the Customer Service Desk at Staples is the perfect place to be the beacon that shines a little light on my path to enlightenment, well, that does NOT bring out the best in me.

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And After All, I’m Only Sleeping.

One of the things I did, on my year off from blogging, was get a solid “C” in my Anger Management course so, no, the…uh… conversation did not end up the way it usually does, with the guy from Staples threatening to call the cops. But I made sure that the next time he tells a customer “C’est le vie”,  he better be prepared for an ear beating in very loud, at least 70% correctly conjugated, don’t-fuck-with-me French.

Yesterday, the day I wanted to make something special for this Re-Boot Post, things got so bad that I ate cake batter for lunch.

But then, later that evening, when I saw the carrier of the Last Straw heading my way, I made the conscious decision that at that point, all I could do was laugh. That’s how I ended up, doubled over in my driveway at 7:30 PM in the sub-freezing cold, laughing and laughing and laughing about how I had just spent a half hour in the dark and freezing cold FOR NO REASON AT ALL (long story, the LIRR was running late, that kind of thing), laughing and laughing. Seriously. I could not keep a straight face at that point.

Then I went into the house, poured me a glass of wine, and laughed and laughed and laughed some more. That was dinner.

Upshot is: Give me until cocktail hour tea time to do today what I tried, oh, how I tried, to do for you yesterday.

And then we will get the party started!

P.S. HA ha ha ha hahahahahahaha.  The Comments on this post are CLOSED (I closed them when the blog went floringe in 2013) and I can’t OPEN them!!!  Don’t ask me why/how, but whacking the side of my computer doesn’t help.  I would love to hear from you — I’m at vivianswift at yahoo dot com.

 

 

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So first, we drew le chat reduced to its lumpy, adorable snowman-like proportions:

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Then I found an image of a really cuuuuute kitty on the internets:

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She is of course la Lizzie Cosette of the marmeladegypsy blog.  I drew Lizzie in snowman-esq style, just to rough out her shape:

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I filled in a few shadows, to familiarize  myself with her markings and stuff..

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…and then I traced the bare outlines of that sketch onto watercolor paper:

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The paints that I’ll be using for most of the color in this kitty portrait are grey (Davy’s Gray in the tube) and my trusty ancient  Grumbacher watercolors:

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I will mix these colors right on my brush, getting various shades of brownish-grey, blackish-grey, and rusty-grey as needed, and for the most part I’m going to let the pint and the water do what it wants to do:

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I do love the chalky texture of these paints.

I am going to start with the face because if I don’t get the face right I will trash the whole thing and start over. So I will work quickly to get some black markings in on top of wet brownish-grey:

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I painted the eyes in and, before the paint got too dry…

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…I laid in some black around the eye, but I didn’t let it bleed as much as before because bleeding colors is OK for getting a nice effect for  fur, but this is not fur:

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For the inside of Miss Lizzie’s ear, I used a very pale blueish-grey:

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I used the same blueish-grey to paint Lizzie’s chin and I let it dry….P1190870

…and then I went back with my paint brush dipped in clear water to “pick up” the paint. I do this because I want a very delicate shading effect here, and subtracting paint is a good way to make an area look outlined, but painterly:

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OK, I think I got the face alright, so now I’m going to start painting the fur. Lizzie is a tabby tuxedo, so to give shade to her white bits I use a very watery light blue wash. I just like the look of a very light blue shadow to indicate whiteness:

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And, again, I’m going to work wet-in-wet, that is, I’m going to dab some brown and black and grey into the very wet blue wash, to get a nice watercolor effect:

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All that, above, is done before any of the paint has a chance to dry. I’m not going to over-do the fur…I’m going to leave the body impressionistic. But I am going to get a lot of detail in the punim because she is soooooo cute:

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I’m not painting the whiskers — I don’t have a brush fine enough and also, I like the look of pencil here:

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And now I check it against my reference photo. It looks to me that I placed Lizzie at slightly the wrong angle on the paper; she’s leaning too far to the right. To correct that, all I have to do is crop the paper:

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That’s better. Also, I notice that I’ve made one ear too pointy, so I go back and add some round-ness:

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And I’m going to add a sliver of height to her darling little head between them adorable ears:

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And I have to add some white paint over some brownish-grey stuff I painted on her cheek (I erased the penciled-in whiskers on that side before I painted, FYI):

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Then I beef up her Cleopatra eye liner:

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Add the whiskers back in:

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And DONE.

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Smooch, smooch, smooch. I love kitties.

 

 

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So, it’s Friday evening and I’ve poured myself a nice cold of  Pinot G., and I’ve met my deadlines for the week (yes, Dear Readers, sometimes people actually pay me to write.) and you and me can discuss the crucial issues of the day.

Namely, Summer is over. I watched it go, sitting in my backyard, at 4:44 pm Daylight Savings Time on the Long Island Sound Sunday, Sept. 22. More of a bummer this year than usual.  Don’t get me started.

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I did not pick up a paintbrush this whole past week (spent all my time wordsmithing, you know) but I do have  something worthy to show you from a spot of painting (let us all now assume English accents) from yonder fortnight.

Two weeks ago I was working on an illustration of the beloved children’s tale, Peter Rabbit. Beatrix Potter is my idol when it comes to illustration, and I  have a chapter on London Gardens in my work in progress, the Damn Garden Book, so I was not going to miss the opportunity to reference my childhood infatuation with All Things English, starting with Peter Rabbit.

You know the story. For my illustration, I had to get the lay of the land, namely farmer MacGregor’s garden:

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The wondrous Beatrix illustrated it as a walled garden on the edge of a woods. And my favorite scene:

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Voila, Le Chat. (they call them moggies in England, by the way.) See how this ties into our whole Paint a Cat saga?

So, here is my interpretation of Peter Rabbit at this most crucial part of the whole story of Peter Rabbit:

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(I have blocked out the left hand side for future text, FYI.)

As soon as the paint dried on this thing I knew there was a problem with the cat but I didn’t know what.

I put it away for 48 hours, took a fresh look at it, and it hit me like Thumper:

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The cat’s head is too small. Of course!! That’s why it looks more like an ermine than a C-A-T.

But the thing had already been painted, and it’s watercolor, so o lordy, what to do?

I am now going to tell you, Dear Readers, a Trick of the Trade.

All I did was paint a new (right) cat on a separate bit of Canson 90 pound cold press paper (the only paper I use — I love love love this paper) . Then I cut it out, and glued it over the ermine, like thus:

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Here’s a close up:

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I know from experience that when this picture is scanned for print and published in a book, the fact that it’s a cut out will never register with the reader:

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In fact, if I am not about tell blab about it right now, you probably would never have noticed that Peter himself is a cut out, pasted in front of the MacGregor garden in the background:

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And you know what? I feel A-OK about this because I have recently discovered that our darling Miss Potter did the exact same thing back in the day when she was watercoloring her way to immortality.

Take a look at this illustration below:

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See that DoG? Look closely:

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Look closer:

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Yep. He’s a cut out. Underneath that Pomeranian, probably,  is some small-headed Pug that gave the delightful Miss P. second thoughts.

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And if Miss P. can do it, then I can do it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ONE  MORE digression before we get to the painting. P1140307

That’s Mrs. Cardinal in the foreground.

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

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

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

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

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The flash captures the scene better:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So this is it so far:

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It needs, now, some real dark bits:

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Do you see where I’m going with this?

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And now we put the masking fluid to good use!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This is not the footprint of a koala bear.

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These are not the tracks of a koala bear either.

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

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

 

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