Garden book stuff

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Last week I showed you how an illustration of a secret garden can go all wrong when you (that means me, I, the left-hander holding the brush above) over-do it. So this week, let’s not end with a much-needed glass of champagne consolation. . . what am I saying?? I love ending a painting session with champagne, even if it’s for consolation! Rule of Life: There Is Never a Bad Reason to Drink Champagne.

So, this week, let’s roll our painting session towards a glass of champagne just because, but hopefully not because we (that means me, I, the let-hander picking up the paint brush) have made yet another illustration go all wrong. OK?

Today I am going to paint the secret entrance to a well-known secret London garden, the Chelsea Physic Garden, which is actually not at all secret anymore, having lately become one of the Top Ten tourist attraction  sights in all of England. As you can see below, I have penciled in a few guide lines and put down a wash of yellowish-grayish watercolor in the area where the high brick wall (that surrounds the garden) will be:

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So far, it looks ugly, but that’s just for now. Because yet to come is the part where I am painting the Chelsea Physic Garden on a sunny day, and in the background I will lay down the color of sunbeams:

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Quick, while it’s still wet, I blob in some pale greenery:

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And more greenery:

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I add some medium-dark greens for the middle ground:

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I dab in some detail foliage (but not too much, don’t want to over-do it) and add shadows, and if this were one of my famous tea-bag size miniatures, we’d almost be done:

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I paint in the two figures — for the record, a man in a grey shirt in front; a woman wearing a pink shirt in back — and in the foreground, I paint a foundation layer of greenery (I’m afraid I’m going to have to use the word “green” and “greenery” very often in this post):

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This next bit is fun for me: I get to paint some detail stuff in middlingly-darkish greens here. By the way, I practice making these itty bitty leaves in one sinuous stroke before I put them in this picture — think of it as calligraphy: it only looks good if you get the stroke right, and you only get one chance to get the stroke right:

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Using the same stroke, I add contrast by using a very dark green (which is regular green that I’ve mixed with black):

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And here is where I lay my brush down because here is where I DID NOT OVER-DO IT!

Yay for me!

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Next: The Wall.

If I had drawn these penciled-in guidelines (see below) directly onto the watercolor paper before I put that ugly yellowish-grayish wash over on top of them, the pencil lines would be fixed permanently by the paint. But O Clever Mio, I instead I let the wash dry completely and put the pencil lines on top of the wash, where they are fungible and I will be able to erase them all off after I paint in these bricks:

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Oh, how I love painting bricks. Yes, you have to concentrate on getting the teeny tiny spacing of these teeny tiny dashes of paint right, but it’s a pleasantly mindless concentration that permits you to paint while also listening closely to  talk radio, or following the CD of the cast recording of Hamilton, or creating in your head the perfect put-downs to the jerk who was loud-mouthing against Boston Rob being the greatest champion of Survivor in history (He is. So shut up.) at your brother-in-law’s barbecue; it’s that kind of meditative, calming pondering that I only get done when I have a lot of bricks (or the like***) to paint. Ahhhhh. . . . I could paint bricks all day.

But sadly, the brick painting comes to an end and I must finish this task. So, lastly, I hold my breath and paint the grille. Yuk. I have to paint straight lines, in an uniform, unvarying width, with a 00-size brush. If I screw up at this final step and do something blobby and/or squiggly, I will have ruined the illustration and wasted hours and hours of work:

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Whew.

DONE:

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Except. . . look at this closely:

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The whole time I was painting this illustration, I kept thinking how odd it was that the entrance to the Chelsea Physic Garden was surprisingly un-symmertrical. Well, duh. Upon looking at other reference photos than the one I was stupidly fixated upon further research, of course I saw that the entrance to the venerable Chelsea Physic Garden is of course symmetrical.

Luckily, my superpower is The Rescue of Watercolor Illustrations. (Really. You can look them up, in the side bar to the right, under Rescues. )

I do what I gotta do. I cut out the offending non-symmetry, I Elmer’s Glue-in a new piece of paper, and I paint in a new symmetry:

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And the rest is history, on page 142 of my book, Gardens of Awe and Folly:

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I don’t know why I can not get a good photo of this illustration — sorry, but this is the best that I can do!

P.S., I also decided to switch the people in the pic, moving the guy in the grey shirt to the back and the girl in the pink shirt to the front. It was a necessary edit to preserve the continuity of the narrative, or just a whim on my part.

So that’s how it’s not over-done, my Wonder Ones. Thank you all for your delicious stories In The Defense of Names two weeks ago — I have been traveling and have not been able to respond as I would want BUT. . .

. . . I am home from my roaming and I have so much to catch you all up on. I went to the Great Pacific Great Northwest and I met Dear Readers in  Seattle! I met with Dear Readers in  Portland! I happened upon Dear Readers in  Cannon Beach!!!!

Next week it’s just you and me, catching up on life and adventures. Warning: There Will Be Cats.

*** The Like: I have a future blog post all about painting bricks and the like [stone walls] set up, for the perfect frantic too-busy aggravating day when we all would like to achieve a little Zen in our lives. Which should be real soon.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

 

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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:

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

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. . . and the After:

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Before:

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After:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paris, Seine River, watercolor of Paris

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

 

sample. . . or B. . .

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

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

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

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

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

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Oooooooo…pretty!

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

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And DONE. Or, I should say. . .

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One – Quarter DONE.

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

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

Wed., April 13  2016   6PM

at Octavia Books in New Orleans, cher!

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513 Octavia Street in fabulous Uptown, NOLA

Best of New Orleans 2015

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

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

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

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

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

And on May 3, Seattle, here I come!

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

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

Are you in?

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

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

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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:

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

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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):

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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:

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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!

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

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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:

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By chance we crossed paths with this little guy …

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…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”:

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

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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:

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And in Winter:

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Picasso painted this same exact view:

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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?

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

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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:

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

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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:

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BTW, it still looked the same last December:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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

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

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

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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:

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Now for lots and lots of fleurs:

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And done:

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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:

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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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People are reading my mind and stealing my thoughts. I’m looking at you, Walt Disney, and don’t give me that innocent look, New York Times.

Remember when two…three?…weeks ago I posted a photo of my highly staged work habitat which included a desk topped with my prized possession, a stuffed owl?

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Forget that owl — Dear Reader Janet B. has eagle eyes and spotted the other bird of a feather here…the Grey Goose!

Dear Reader Marg-o was right: I call that owl Archimedes because of a whole thing I have for the animated Disney movie about the legend of King Arthur that came out in 1963.

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I used to take a lot of pride in my connoisseur taste for this movie, a rather obscure entry in the Disney oeuvre, called The Sword in the Stone. Well, now neither I nor Marg-o can bask in our expertise of cartoon owls named for ancient Greek polymaths because last week I learned that Disney is in pre-production for a live-action film version of — you guessed it: The Damn Sword in the Damn Stone.

When the Sword in the Stone comes out in 2018 and is a huge hit, I just want you all to remember that I was alluding to it way back when I wasn’t moaning the fact that the film hadn’t been made 10 years earlier when  Joseph Gordon-Levitt was still young enough to get away with playing a teenaged Arthur, which he’d have been perfect for.

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Yes, he’s the kid from the TV show Third Rock From the Sun. I love this actor.

On a similar note, I know that my “I Want To Kill My Husband Diet” (ha ha — thank you to Dear Reader Patricia for that branding idea) of last week didn’t go viral, but a New York Times essay on the same-ish subject did. Ada Calhoun wrote a Modern Love column called The Wedding Toast I’ll Never Give (you can read it here) which was printed in the Sunday, July 16 edition of the paper.

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Illustration by the excellent Brian Rea

I think the piece is mis-titled, but that was probably an editor’s decision, not the writer’s.

Ada Calhoun is a very good writer, I just want to make that clear. The essay is beautifully structured, and the pacing of her sentences is like the patter and chorus of a great show tune. This lightens up the tone of her piece, the subject of which is that there are times when you loathe the spouse you dearly love, and which “lightness” is my main objection to the article.

I think that there is nothing that brings out the deepest, darkest, and most dire urges more than the blips of hatred that accentuate a long term relationship. As Dear Reader Felicia commented, there are times when you want to make your spouse a taxidermy project. As Whoopie Goldberg said, when Sharon Stone was being ridiculed for giving her husband the birthday gift of a one-on-one encounter with the Komodo Dragon in the San Francisco Zoo (which bit Mr. Stone and sent the hubby to the hospital): “Who hasn’t wanted to put their husband in a small cage with a Komodo Dragon?”

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P.S. This is where I was last weekend, in a far away country where I had no access to my blog and could not release the Comments of my Dear Readers until Monday. Thank you all for persevering.

Just because some people are uncomfortable with the word “hate” doesn’t mean that they don’t know exactly what “hate” feels like, and don’t have those feelings every once in a while for the person they love the very most in all the world. It happens! And then it goes away! So let’s just be honest about it!

Also, after I posted last week’s diet tip ( the “I Want To Kill My Husband Diet”,  thanks again to Dear Reader Patricia) I fact-checked with my own dear Top Cat. And yes, there are times when he can’t stand the sight of me, either. And I’m OK with that.

Anyhoo. Last week I got the proofs of the Damn Garden Book — entirely in e-form. Not a scrap of paper in the whole last-chance correcting process! As has often been said of myself, the thing looks good when it’s all cleaned up. And I ditched my old Author Photo:

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For this one:

DGB Author pic

Yes, the bags under my eyes have been photoshopped out. But I left the crow’s feet and the blotchy skin tone in. Because I’m at least 80% for real!

And, lastly, the mystery of the two Chinese language versions of Le Road Trip has been solved. The first version…

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…is titled A Journey to France. The second version….

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…has been re-marketed and re-titled as Old Love Honeymoon. Ha! See those two geezers standing on that green text box? That’s me and my own, old, dearly un-hated Top Cat!

And, lastly, before I punch out my Writer On The Loose time card for the day, I’ve begun to keep a list of the most beautiful words in the world. So far, the top spot goes to:

Kilimenjaro.

Kilimanjaro.

(Thanks, Vivki A.)

As for the most beautiful American word, well, that’s a no-brainer. It’s:

Monongahela.

And the word bucket always makes me laugh.

Dear Readers, may buckets of un-hate fill your weekend with, well, whatever it is that makes you as happy as an old love honeymoon.

 

 

 

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Last minute edits, changes of heart, epiphanies, and overlooked mistakes…it’s been a week of 16-hour work days for me but it was worth it. That neat stack of paper that you see on my dining room table is 184 pages of the Damn Garden Book layed out, pasted down, glued in, and numbered.

Dare I say it? When I meet my editor at Bloomsbury tomorrow (today — it’s 12:08am) my work is done. DONE.

Except for the proofs and whatever else pops up between now and when Barnes and Noble puts it face-out in the Gardening Section next Spring.

I’m so tired that it feels as if I’m typing this drunk. Thank you one and all for your Comments these past 2 weeks, which cheered me so much you can’t even know.

Well. I can’t let you head off into the week end without giving you something besides words…

…so, Dear Reader Casey asked if I would care to give you all a peak at an art work from the Rejects Binder, from the mountain of paintings I did that did not make it into the Damn Garden Book.

This is an old, old painting I did waaaay back, about 8 years ago.

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As you can see, I chopped off the top section because that’s my old way of doing foliage (and the Grumbacher paints look pretty muddy to me now). This is what it looked like after I rescued it after 8 years of painting my brains out:

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And then I didn’t have a place for it in the DGB. So as of now, it is orphaned with all the other pictures that don’t have a story.

THIS JUST IN: I got an early morning email from Casey, who asked me to do my tea bag thing for this pic, to show scale. So here it is:

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You might also remember this:

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This was my idea for the cover of the Damn Garden Book, before Bloomsbury showed me their much better idea.

You might be interested in how I re-purposed this. Yes?

SPOILER ALERT: I needed to put in poinsettias for narrative purposes. You’ll understand when you read the last chapter of the DGB.

Anyhoo, it now looks like this (call it “magical realism”, since it IS a portrait of a South American garden experience):

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Feel free to discuss.

I can’t stay awake a minute longer.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Sweet dreams.

 

P.S. I will be out of my “office” until early afternoon, so I won’t be here to approve Comments. But please, send me your thoughts any way, and by tea time I’ll have your bones mots up!  (Auto correct. Bon mots. Serves me right for sticking in some French here.) Your good words. Merci.

 

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Hello there! Please come in. This is very exciting for me, to be the subject of your . . . what did you say it was? Oh, right.  A  documentary. About Real Real Housewives of Long Island. Righty-ho. Just let me change into something more comfortable, something without sequins. I misunderstood your project. But I can do “real”, if that’s what it takes to get the cameras rolling.

There. I’m all for real, right down to my T J Maxx sneakers. But I’m still going to hold in my stomach. heh heh. Let’s not go crazy with the “real” stuff.

I’m working in my dining room today. . .

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. . . same as I’ve been doing  yesterday, and the day before that, and the several days before that. I’ll probably be here tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and maybe a few days after the day after tomorrow. I’m making a Damn Garden Book. Calm down. I know this is mind-numbingly exciting, but we have hours and hours of me standing over a light box like this ahead, so pace yourself.

You’re so cute, the way you say “olden day”, but I assure you, a light box is very present-day technology. And so are my tools, as far as I know, but I don’t get out of the house much:

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So this is how I spend my day. I turn on my light box which, as you see, has a piece of lined notebook paper taped to it:

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My publisher, Bloomsbury, has sent me a stack of blank-ish sheets of paper . . .

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. . . which have  a very pale blue line to indicate the “trim” of each page of the Damn Garden Book —  every bit of art work and text that I place on these sheets has to be composed within those pale blue lines. There are also tiny “register” marks in each corner for later, when the sheets are back in the Bloomsbury production department, so they are not my concern. Whew.

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I place each sheet on my light box . . .

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. . . and now you can see how that piece of lined notebook paper comes in handy! It’s how I know that everything I lay out will be on a straight line!

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I print the text out right here at home, on my own $100 printer, because I’m the only person who has the VivoScript font, the type I designed myself that changes Times New Roman into my own handwriting. So I cut out the bits of text that I need for each page, and I tape it into place. I take the art work that I made for each page, and I glue it into place. Voila: a page of the Damn Garden Book is done! Well,in real life it does take a bit longer than one two three Presto!, but you get the gist of it.

I keep the original art work in plastic sleeves in binders:

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The bottom binder is the art that I will actually be putting into the Damn Garden Book. The top binder is art that I won’t be putting into the Damn Garden Book, either because the illustration no longer fits into the narrative or because the piece  is an earlier or ugly version of a final illustration.

There you go again, with the “olden day” stuff. How about we just call my book-making process “artisanal” instead? Yeah, like the way they make beer in Brooklyn.

Anyway: Once I have the text and art properly placed, I take a sheet of heavy vellum — yes, I order it from afar and have it specially trimmed to 10 inch by 10 inch:

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. . . and I place it on top of the page I just created.

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The vellum protects the fragile watercolor, and it is a space where I or the ensuing production director can make notes. In this case, I am adding instructions for the production director:

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I repeat this process over and over and over and over and etc. until I have 174 pages. I’m almost almost there!

So far, I have finished this many pages of the Damn Garden Book:

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Yes, that’s six chapters DONE. Well, DONE-ish.

There are always last minute edits, such as changes in page order and cutting out digressions that seemed entertaining at the time but, in the final read-thru, aren’t. However, this far into the process, there are still  last-last-last-last minute changes or adjustments that need to be made, which is why I use pink Post-It flags to indicate where I’ll need to go back and fix. Yes, it does seem like making the Damn Garden Book will ever end. No, those are not tears in my eyes. There’s no crying in book-making!

Oh good, now you get why I have to have a glass of Piont Grigio always at hand.

Now, so far you’ve only seen the dining room fun stuff. Please step this way, where I can show you the den fun stuff. I’ve saved the best for last.

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Yes, those are the final three chapters of the Damn Garden Book on my desk. Two of them need one last careful proofreading before I commit to printing them out on my own printer and laying them out; and one needs a whole page of new text because at the last-last-last-last minute it became heartbreakingly clear that the old text stank.

No! It’s won’t be boring at all! O.K., yes, you’ll probably shoot a lot of hours of me sitting still, staring at the computer screen,  cursing to myself; but once in a while I take a break to watch The West Wing on Netflix and that’s quite dramatic . . .

Oh well, I see you’re packing up. O.K., so my days don’t have a lot of action  in them. But I assure you that whatever my life lacks in liveliness is more than made up for in stress.

Still no?

Then can you at least let everyone know that the Damn Garden Book is available for pre-order?

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Thank you! And Bye-Bye! Don’t trip over a cat on your way out! 

 

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The back story: We shucked the first fresh Long Island – picked corn on the cob last weekend for our first true BBQ of the season, and Taffy took the time to haul, one by one, the husks of our freshly-picked corns on the cobs to his favorite spot in the backyard just so he could…

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…dive into the joyousness of the moment.

Oh my DoG, I love that cat. And he wants me to tell you this:

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It’s not all glamour being a Really Real Housewife of Long Island. Vivian’s whine about the burdens of HEROIC book-making in 90 degrees of Long Island swelter will follow. Stay tuned.

I will be back here later today with the whole story.

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I was so proud of myself for getting this blog post done on Thursday, so you Dear Readers would have it on your screens first thing Friday morning. Then it was after lunch time and I had not gotten any Comments yet, which is weird, until I remembered that I’d forgotten to schedule it for publication. Which I just did, at approx. 12:44 Eastern time today, Friday May 22. So so so so sorry.P1010234

So now that we all know that this lovely purple-blossomed tree is an Eastern Redbud (thank you, Deborah, janet b., and a quiet life — see: last week’s Comments), many of you, probably none of you, might be wondering why I mistook it for a Paulownia. I’m so glad you asked! Because it gives me the opportunity to show you my photos of what I think are probably Paulownias!

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This is the Boulevard St. Germain in May and yes, that’s probably a Paulownia in blossom on the right.

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Wait. Is it? Doesn’t this look like another (but much prettier) Eastern Redbud?

I am what I dreaded becoming, as a writer of a Damn Garden Book: the kind of person who frets over the identification of trees which that person would never have bothered to notice before she wrote a Damn Garden Book.

I took this picture in May of 2013, when I was in Paris on a garden fact-finding mission. Mind you, I have been in Paris in many previous Mays but on this visit I was looking at the city with gardening eyes.  And Lo and Behold, the Ville Lumiere is lousy with purple blossoming things in May.

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Aside from Wisteria, and what is probably not a Paulownia on the Bld. St-Germian, I think all the other trees photographed are Paulownias. Sadly, I happen to know a thing or two about Chestnut trees, some of which I am about to tell you now.

In the photo above, the tree in the foreground on the left is a blossoming Horse Chestnut. In the photo of the Boulevard Saint Germain (way above), the tree on the left is a blossoming Red Horse Chestnut, a hybrid of the Horse Chestnut and the Red Buckeye. There are about 100,000 Horse Chestnut trees growing in Paris. *Sigh* You can read all about the Aesculus hippocastanum in my Damn Garden Book. Sounds fun, eh?

To make up for all that tree talk I am giving you this, from an ordinary public park in Paris:

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 Change of Topic

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This May I went to a book event for Bethany Frankel, star of The Real Housewives of New York and author of four self-help books, the latest being I Suck At Relationships So You Don’t Have To.

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The event was held at the Bryant Library of Roslyn, Long Island and, as you can see, the room was packed. The reason I went was because I wanted to make myself feel really, really bad by comparing her book event to the fact that the Bryant Library is my local library and they turn me down whenever I propose holding a book event there. And I must say, as far as the fueling of my self-loathing went, Mission Accomplished!

I also wanted to see what helpful hints I could learn about holding a book event that passes Bryant Library muster and all I can say is, it helps to be Bethany Frankel. She is charming, smart, funny, motor-mouthed articulate, and personable. She was just wonderful.  You might not know that she made decent money in her work life for the first time only when she sold her start-up brand — the Skinny Girl line of booze for women —  for $100,000,000, when she was 41. One hundred million dollars…when she was 41 (in lady-entrepreneur years, that’s practically dead).

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But as she spoke to the room (standing up, even though a comfy chair was standing by for the convenience of her stiletto heeled footsies) there was nothing in her public demeanor or in her response during the Q&A (that went everywhere from her business success to her parenting philosophy to what’s up with Sonja) that broadcasted that she is stinking, filthy rich. Down-to-Earth, is what I’m saying, as a Bryant Library reject whose very best ideas pan out to minimum wage. She was very impressive, is what I’m saying, as a wise person who knows how many Chestnut trees are growing in Paris.

It was while I was burning with resentment…I mean, listening to the delightful Bethany, that I got the happiest thought of my life, what Einstein called der glücklichste Gedanke meines Lebens (when he figured out general relativity in 1907 SEE! I KNOW STUFF!).

If I ever hope to have a shot at filling up the meeting room at the Bryant Library, I have to become a Real Housewife. And that’s when I wrote out a list of my qualifications, fully intending to brighten your Get Away Day with an uproarious post that the critics would call Hilarious! Transgressive! The usual spectacle of existential dread!

But then I got sidetracked with the whole Purple in Paris thing and I know you want to get a head start on the unofficial Start of Summer holiday, so I will not hold you back from your (and, ahem, mine) margueritas any longer. The Housewives of Long Island side-splitter can wait another week.

Happy Memorial Day, everyone.

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James Alexander Malloy, C Co., 175th Infantry, 29th Division, killed in action in Normandy, France, on June 16, 1944.

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All the live-long day.
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There was nothing wrong with this picture. But then the gardeners at the Chelsea Physic Garden in London redesigned this bed of pom pom trees last year, and my illustration became too out-dated to use in the Damn Garden Book. The reason I didn’t just bury this pic in my Failure File is because I love the stones. I must have had a good day when I painted this back in 2012, because I love the way I got the stones to look greenish-gray — and I also liked the way the dirt came out. This is very flukey, when the Muse shows up and you get boring bits of stone and dirt to look “right”. So I wanted to save it.

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So, yes, this is another Rescue Story. And yeah, it seems to me, too, that I’ve never gotten one illustration for the Damn Garden Book to look right the first time. That’s why I swear that this will be my last illustrated travel memoir-ish. It’s just too depressing to keep failing, day after day after day…I have better things to do. I think. Maybe. Any hoo.

After cutting out the now-historically inaccurate bit,  I went to work:

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Blend, blend, blend in the scissor’d edge:

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Instead of fussy pom pom trees, I’m going to put in some decrepitude (see: last week’s post), to make it look the way it did on my first visit to the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, in 1999. Mind you, this manuscript must be completed by today, Friday May 8; and I am painting this on April 23. It’s this kind of perfectionism, which causes one to make ridiculously time-intensive last minute editorial decisions, that makes any kind of creative person with a deadline to become the kind of person that everyone warns is very touchy.

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Whilst I am being all Impressionist here, I would like you to pay attention to the stump of pom pom tree, that brown stick on the left hand side of the round shrub that stands out like a turd in bowl of pea soup (see below):

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My first idea was to paint over it with very, very dark green blades of dark green weeds, but that looked too obvious. So I painted over that mistake with white acrylic paint:

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And then decided to do the same for all the other too-dark green blades of weeds I’d already painted it:

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Well, I regretted the fix-up.

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So I did the only thing that a very tense, touchy, under-deadline pressured author/illustrator could do:

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The picture was too monotonous — too much blades of weedy things sticking straight up. It lacked texture. Also, that ball of boxwood had begun to annoy me. It lacked decrepitude.

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And so, with an appropriate amount of cursing, I started over….AGAIN.

Blend, blend, blend in the scissor’d edge:

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This time, I made very faint pencil marks to plot out TEXTURE:

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I made this picture dark so as to show you the faint pencil lines. It’s ugly, but effective. I think that’s pretty much my Philosophy of Illustration in a nutshell.

So far, I’ve been painting for about three hours. I know this because I had not intended to spend all day on this thing, so I’m watching the clock, hope hope hoping that this damn picture WoRKS OUT.

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Working wet-in-wet, I drop in some background…

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…before I put in the foreground:

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When I was 40 years old, I made a conscious decision to change my handwriting.

Ever since I’d learned to write, I had been making a capital “I” that looked like a little round circle. Everybody has some quirk in their handwriting, but this — and the way I made a small “r”(it looked like a pointed stick; Oprah does it too) — had become very irritating to me. So I simply made a New Year’s Resolution and forced myself to change my dopey little curlicue “I” into a tall, slender, stand-alone “I” SANS SERIF, and I began printing a small “r” whenever I needed a Latin rhotic.  I also didn’t care for the way I made a small “g”, too, until I learned that my figure-8 small “g” meant that I was very intellectually creative, so I kept it.

I mention this because I am also trying to change my watercolor painting handwriting. I’m trying to be looser, more Impressionistic. So at this stage of the illustration, I was feeling very confident that I was headed for Impressionistic success with this painting:

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But, in the end, I saw, clearly, that I blew it:

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Not for the first time, did my gut wrench over a Damn Garden Book illustration.

So, You Will NOT BELIEVE What  I Did Next!

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Yes, I ripped it apart — literally — and STARTED OVER.

AGAIN.

Now, this did not happen immediately. I had other obligations — life stuff, and a re-write of the whole London chapter — that I had to pay attention too; and, truth to tell, I was hoping that that last pic would grow on me. But, no, I have too much intellectual honesty and artistic integrity for that.

And, so, five days later, we been again, again:

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DONE. I know it’s a mix of persnickety manuscript-illumination and loosey-Roherschadt blots, but it works for me. (That obvious scissor-edge in the dark green front end can be eliminated digitally when the book goes into production, which is OK by me, although I prefer to do it manually, e.g.; I defy you to pick out the scissor edge on the whole right side.)

And I didn’t let the pom pom trees go to waste, either. I put them into their up-dated bed, like so:

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I’m DONE. I hand in the complete manuscript today, so from now on in the only fixes I’ll be making on the Damn Garden Book will be inserting (or deleting) commas, accent marks, and redundancies; and not getting annoyed that the proof reader keeps marking my capitalizations of the Four Seasons even tho I sent a note telling her (it’s usually a her) to leave them STET.

And then I am DONE.

DONE   DONE   DONE   DONE.

I’m going to take up a new hobby, and no, it will not be gardening. But, as an offshoot of writing this book, I am thinking about learning the beautiful language of Brazil. Portuguese.

Have a great weekend, everybody. And have a caipirinha on me.

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I have to be honest with you today, Dear Readers. Last Week Top Cat bought me a gift from Ye Olde Fine Wine and Liquor Store: whipped cream flavored vodka from France. It was kind of a joke. I mean, really — whipped cream flavored vodka? Seriously. What would anyone over the age of 15 want with whipped cream flavored vodka?

Last night I opened my gift and discovered that whipped cream flavored vodka tastes like the best soda pop you’ve ever had; like liquid bubblegum; like cotton candy with ice cubes; like birthday cake in a glass. It was like drinking Pixie Stix, and we all know that Pixie Stix come in a six-pack. Last night it was all about the “whipped cream”.

This morning I am dealing with the “vodka” part of that equation. So, Dear Readers, please lower your expectations this morning, please don’t make any sudden movements, and please, I beg of you, keep anything foody or shiny out of my sight.

I’ve been meaning to talk about my love of decrepitude for a while, so it serves me right to make this the Topic of the Day.

I love decrepitude in a garden. Not ruin, not neglect, not that other thing that means something like disintegration. (My head hurts. I’m not going to spend much time this week searching for the mot juste.)

Wait. Let me start again.

I painted a remembrance this week, of a garden visit that I’ve always treasured for its beautiful decrepitude. It was a walled garden in London.

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I’ve never painted decrepitude, but I had a feeling that it would involve a lot of yellowy rusty-colored blobs.

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And scraggly shrubbery:

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I tried to keep the yellows and the rusty bits composed because, while nature can get away with being monotonous, an illustration can’t. So I blobbed strategically.

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See that blob in the lower right corner above?

Below, is me making that blob look sticky and brambly:

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At this point, I was becoming concerned that there was a lot of same-old same-old brambly-ness going on:

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Don’t ask me why, but I dotted in some white acrylic paint to brighten and break up the monotonous texture. I also started painting in the background, which I wanted to be really dark because the pic needs contrast:

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This is me, making more sticks:

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It’s really not that hard. Less is more. I have to keep reminding myself that.

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I forget why I took this photo (below). I know I wanted to show something…

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…maybe I wanted you to be inside this decrepitude, the way I was in my mind the whole while I was painting it. Because when you back away, like this…

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…I think you lose the “there” there. This is one of those paintings that I hated to crop. I like the little dabs of try-out colors that all my watercolors have by the time they are finished. All that marginalia tells a story, the story of how this pic was painted.

So that’s my picture of decrepitude. I made a few more paintings like it, each one more or less, mostly less, successful in portraying the state of lovely decomposition that I call decrepitude. And “decomposition” isn’t the right word either.

This might be the hangover talking, because I’ve now passed the stage of intense, intense focus on not throwing up and am entering  the stage of recovery that the experts call “feeling weepy about climate change and the fate of the polar bears” but this garden didn’t want to be weedy and overgrown. It wanted to be beautiful, and be admired. It wanted to be great, like it once was. But it just didn’t have gardeners who loved it enough to keep it in shape. So there was something so brave and epic about the way it flourished, best it could.

Decrepitude.

Thank you for not making any loud sounds, or frying bacon, or asking me why I don’t remember buying that $495.00 paint-by-number Paris street scene off of eBay last night. Much appreciated.

 

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