Giverny stories

Around the time I decided to be an illustrator . . .

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Yep, that’s me working on page 96 of Gardens of Awe and Folly, with help from Coco.

. . . I also decided that painting would be a better way of picture-making than sewing, so I packed up my embroidery needles and threads and stashed them away.  I stashed them so well that, when I recently got the urge to see if I could still pull off some blanket and stem stitching, I had to wander around the house for half an hour asking myself, “Now, where did I stash my embroidery kit?” before I found my answer: top shelf, upstairs linen closet:

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Yes, that’s the same adorable vintage lady’s case that I illustrated with the rest of my collection of old timey luggage on page 123 of When Wanderers Cease to Roam:

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You can tell I’m a Capricorn by the way I am meticulous about sorting and color-coding and my embroidery threads:

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Seeing these embroidery flosses reminded me of the one advantage that thread . . .

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. . . has over paint:

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No mixing necessary. You want to make something green in embroidery, you just pick a thread. You want to make something green in an illustration, you have to futz with all its variables. Like this:

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That (above) is me watercoloring the flower bed in the background of this (below):

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I was stalking the gardeners in Giverny because I like wheelbarrows.

So let’s take a quick digression to Claude Monet’s garden (the most famous garden in the world) in Giverny so I can prove my point. Which is something about comparing paint to non-paint, which might not be the most important point to be making right now when I have so much work ahead of me, digging my way out of the dungeon of being a low-mid-list author with a book not on the NYTimes bestseller list and all but hey, it’s either me typing away at this pointless point I’m making, or me crawling back to bed with a large pizza and a vat of Pinot Grigio and spending the day watching HGTV.

So here goes:
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I mix all my shades of green almost from scratch, using just water, Hooker’s green, two different shades of yellow, and sometimes a little black. When I paint grass and flowers, I like to let watercolor “do” what watercolor “does”, which is, technically, “pool” and “splotch”.

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I read my first Ann Rule book last week. Ann Rule, as everyone from the Seattle/Great Pacific Great Northwest knows, is the million-selling author of true crime books. What I found out about Ann Rule from reading the Acknowledgments of my first Ann Rule book is that Ann Rule used to belong to a very exclusive writers’ group, made up of best selling Seattle authors.

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The name of Ann Rule’s best selling writers’ group was The Bitch and Moan Club. I’ll let that sink in for a minute while I mention here that the more I painted this pic, the more I realized that it’s tricky to paint hunky gardeners from the back, for the simple reason that you have to deal with their butts:

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I’m trying to make this guy’s butt NOT be the center of attention in this little illustration, so I’ve ove-laid some white gauche onto the two back pockets on this guy’s trousers in an effort to decrease their noticeability. And then I dabbed in some white acrylic paint in the form of tulips in the fore- and back- ground:

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Getting back to Ann Rule, and reading about her Bitch and Moan Club: For the life of me, I could not imagine what best-selling authors have to complain about. But here’s my guess:

That every time they cash their royalty checks the bank runs out of hundred dollar bills.

How easy it is to confuse Dallas with Houston while on yet another all-expenses paid 20-city book tour, and don’t even get them started on how horrible it is that room service at the Four Seasons has dropped crab cakes from their Night menu.

How much they miss Jon Stewart, who was such a huuuuuge fan of theirs that he made those pesky TV interviews almost fun.

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Paint-wise, I put in all the shades of rose, lavender, and violet that those tulips needed:

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And then I decided to ruin the pic by painting in the box-shaped lime trees overhead:

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I was actually looking up Ann Rule’s contact info, to write her a letter asking just what does go on in that Bitch and Moan Club, when I discovered that she had died last July(I use “die” instead of “passed away” or the even more dreadful “passed” because I’m a grown up, and because Ann Rule, the maven of true crime, would not have wanted me to punk out). Merde.

 

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So here’s what it’s like to not-paint an illustration:

First, I spent a few hours drawing some bad sewing ideas until I hit upon an idea that wasn’t half bad, and then I traced it onto my muslin, took a seat  (not the comfy seat — that one belongs to Coco), and started sewing:

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That (above) is what I can do in an hour and a half. This (below) is when I decided that there was too much of the same dark green thread . . .

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. . . so I ripped it out and rooted through my palette to choose some other shade of vert:

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The ripping out and the re-stitching only took an hour. You can tell I’m a Capricorn by the way I keep time sheets on all my projects: in total, I spent 8 hours sewing this piece. And then it came time to wash out the pencil marks . . .

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. . . and to rinse out the soap and dry it out a bit . . .

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. . . and to fetch my handy re-useable canvas board. . .

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. . . to staple and stretch the piece out to dry:

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I have learned the hard way that it makes life easier when you make stuff that fits into standard-size frames. So the last step was to make sure that the piece would still fit in a standard 8 x 10-inch frame:

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And that it would also fit into a standard 18 x 24-centimeter frame:

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And this is how it looks when all is sewed and done:

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Point made.

And you can tell that I’m a Capricorn by the way I can complain about anything. Just yesterday I was complaining about daffodils. Too yellow, and for me, yellow flowers lack sophistication.

Hey, I just thought of something real that best selling authors can bitch and moan about:

How it’s you million-selling authors who prop up the entire publishing industry but it’s that no-show Thomas Pynchon and his crap “literature” that gets the MacArthur award.

See, Seattle best selling authors? I get you! (please please pleeeeeeeeese let me come to your meetings).

Now, before I bid you all a bon weekend and un-cork the Pinot, I have something very important to share with you:

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That’s supposed to be the French Quarter.

At 6:00 pm in New Orleans, my favorite American city, on April 13, I will be at Octavia Books talking about going forth in awe and folly. I’ll probably also mention something about cats; how to get published even though you are not famous and you write odd, illustrated, memoir-ish books; and The Secret of Life.  The Lady of the Roses, Karen Kersting herself, will be there!

CcK-Q_1WAAAlLYzOctavia Books is a great independent bookstore known for its happy events, so I know we’ll have a good time! I am soooo looking forward to hamming it up in my favorite American city!

In conjunction with this event, the wonderful Susan Larson, New Orleans’ first lady of the literary scene, interviewed me for her radio program, The Reading Life. Don’t worry, I kept my blabbering answers short, and I only got lost on one question Susan put to me (about finding solitude in a Winter garden) but I was assured that, as our talk was being taped, that the producer would go back and edit out all my stupidity (head bowed in prayer). Stay tuned.

Book events are always such fun for me. I’m pretty sure I’ll be traveling to Seattle in the near future, so I’ll let you know the details as they become available. And no, it’s not because I’m stalking anyone — I went to Seattle and Portland for my first book and I really, really need to get together with all you Wonder Ones of the Great Pacific Great Northwest.

P.S. It’s Wine O’Clock chez moi and I’ve got the nightly news from NPR on the radio and oh dear DoG, I did not know until now that it was April Fool’s Day, until I heard the usual, painfully lame April Fool’s Day joke news item. Please, NPR, I beg of you: don’t try to make funny. You’re too nice, and humor is all about having a slight mean streak.

Thank you.

 

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A view of the famous Grande Allee in Monet’s garden in Giverny, painted by me after my 2005 (or was it 2006?) visit there. But those yew trees are from my 1984, 1992, and 1999 visit there.

Back when I was hatching the idea about doing something fabulous with my fondness for foreign gardens — which eventually became Gardens of Awe and Folly . . .

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. . . (which we call the GoAaF, pronounced “the go-af” , because all cool things have cool acronyms, like J-Lo, and Brangelina, and ComicCon) — anyway, back then it was a no-brainer that if I were going to write about the most thought-provoking gardens in the world, I would have to include the most famous garden in the world, namely, Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, France.

Now, everyone knows of Monet’s garden at Giverny mostly because of this:

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, www.giverny.org

Which you might know better as this:

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This is just one f the 250 versions of his water garden that Monet painted in his lifetime. “In his lifetime.” Why did I say that? It’s not like he could paint anything that WASN’T in his lifetime, right?

So I went to Giverny, and spent three days there, hanging out at Monet’s garden, taking long walks up the hills that overlook the property, walking along the old railroad tracks to and from Vernon, traipsing in and out of the tiny little streets of the beautiful village of Giverny. I took about a thousand photos of flowers, butterflies, and my lunch. If you’d like to detour and head back with me, back to May of 2013, click here. I do indeed loves me the village of  Giverny.

As a seasoned and rather home-loving world traveler, I am a very efficient when I go overseas. I want to do what I gotta do and then get back to my cats and my Judge Judy. So my trip to France was actually a twofer, because the day after I left Giverny I got on a plane and went to Morocco. Specifically, Marrakech:

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That’s the door to my riad hotel, on the left.

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That, above, is the courtyard of my hotel in the casbah, which you Dear readers with eagle eyes might recognize from the illustration I did of it in the GoAaF:

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This illustration of Fatima pouring tea in the courtyard of my riad is my favorite painting in the whole GoAaF:

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You’ll notice that I made changes to the flooring tiles. That’s because I wanted the little brown bird to stand out in the background (I really enjoyed those little brown birds) and I knew that I could not make that happen by painting a brown bird on a brown floor.  And here’s my tip for painting black-on-black stuff, such as Fatima’s headscarf: leave a blank, unpainted space between abutting black forms to create a line of demarkation (I also do this when I paint black cats). See how I did that? Did you even notice it before I pointed it out? (Honestly, I’d really like to know. Maybe I’m not a clever as I think I am.)

But the reason that I  like this illustrations is because of this detail:

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I was very fearful about painting the shiny silver forms of the tea pot and the flat tray, and the reflected tea glass.  I got it on my first attempt — whew. The highlights that you see — the bright white areas — is what I left unpainted, and that’s the bright white of the Canson 90lb. paper showing. Tip: In plotting out the plan of attack for any illustration, paint the hard stuff first, (such as a silver tea pot and tray). That way, if it works out you can then paint the rest of the picture around it; if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t wanted a lot of effort and you are free to start over on a clean sheet of paper. . . strategy, my Wonder Ones: the better part of painting is strategy.

As you Dear Readers of the GoAaF know, my To Do List in Marrakech had just two items on it:  1: have an authentic Moroccan tea experience; and 2: go see the garden of the famous French fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent.

Which is why I spent half an overcast day in the amazing Jardin Majorelle:

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Yep, that’s a lily pond there (above). With palm trees reflecting in it. I was excited to paint this scene because, Wow! Who wouldn’t want to try her hand at painting a lily pond in the middle of a jungly garden? Below is my learning curve when it comes to painting lily ponds in the middle of a jungly garden:

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I kept painting pictures and ripping them apart and painting them over and ripping them apart until finally I had a pond and a jungly background that I liked. I then pieced together the best bits to make this:

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Yes! This is another Watercolor RESCUE!

Which became this 2-page spread in the GoAaF:

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Well, it’s one thing to paint a lily pond from the Jardin Majorelle, but it’s quite another thing to paint the most famous lily pond in the world. Monet’s garden at Giverny is a very intimidating subject for an illustrator — nobody in their right mind wants to re-paint what the Master has already painted. So I put a hold on my plans for a Giverny chapter of the GoAaF, and promised myself that I’d wait until the post-publication amnesia kicked in, and I forgot how truly agonizing it is to live through four years of living with a book-in-progress, that maybe I’d research the possibility of a small pamphlet on the subject of the most famous garden in the world.

Very few illustrated books about Monet’s garden exist, for the obvious reasons, but last week on Amazon.com I found a pop-up book called A Walk in Monet’s Garden by Francesca Crespi, published in 1995, that was the coolest thing I’ve seen about the most famous garden in the world:

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It’s a book for children, so the terrain is much simplified, but the fold-out is so ingenious that I’m sure only an adult could do it:

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(I took these photos on Sunday afternoon so that’s why Top Cat’s Saturday night bottle of wine was handy, to plunk down to show you the scale.) I love it that the large windows in the two studios on either side of the garden have mylar panes!  and it even has the road that runs between the two halves of the garden, the upper flower garden (the Clos Normand) on the right (below), and the lower water garden with its famous lily pond (on the left):

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Since this is a book for children the lay-out of Monet’s flower beds and lawns and plantings is much simplified, so it’s only a schematic of the garden . . .

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. . . so when I need detailed, precise, and conceptual information about the most famous garden in the world, I turn to Ariane Cauderlier, expert authority who knows every inch of Monet’s property, all the ins and outs, highs and lows of the life, art, and ambience of Giverny. Ariane is a former newscaster, and current journalist, author, and photographer who oversees the website for the Claude Monet Foundation at Giverny.org, which is the top-rated website for international visitors planing a voyage to the most famous garden in the world. Ariane is an insider’s insider in the world of all things Monet.

And guess what today is???

It’s OPENING DAY at Monet’s garden in Giverny!!!

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Giverny-Impression.com

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Giverny-Impression.com

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Giverny-Impression.com

So this is a great day to mosey over to Ariane’s  delicious blog in English called Giverny Impression which today and every day gives you a special peek into the year-round happenings in Monet’s flowers beds and ponds — for those of us who need to escape, every now and then, into the other world of France, gardening, and the peace and calms that reigns over the most famous garden in the world in the morning hours before the hordes of tourists arrive each day.

I got to know Ariane last December when I went back to Giverny for a Winter look-around, and had to get her desk-top calendar, which is only sold in France (but can be sent anywhere in the world for a modest shipping charge):

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For the rabid Monet/gardening fan (is that you?), this is the perfect, exclusive, French-imported gift!

For those of us who want to brush up on our French by having a fun conversation with a smart and surprising French friend, we go to Ariane’s French language blog, Giverny News, which wanders out of Monet’s garden from time to time and into London galleries, the history of Impressionism, and Ariane’s own backyard:

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com; Sunset over Giverny Ville

 

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com; Winter on Monet’s lily pond

 

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com; the Royal Academy (in London) exhibiting the blockbuster show, Painting the Modern Garden

 

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com, Gustave Caillebotte prep sketch for Paris Street, Rainy Day

 

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com

OMG, you have to read this story of the fat boar (above) who jumped into Ariane’s walled garden last December! It’s a whole other kind of life, there in a 17th century Norman manor house!

Oh, wait — I forgot to tell you that Ariane and her husband Alain . . .

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. . . have restored a 17th century manor house just down the road from Monet’s garden, and are now hosts of a splendid B&B called The Hermitage:

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view from the front gate

But wait, there’s more: I saved the best of the all-bestest ’til last: Ariane, a London-trained linguist, is a licensed Guide/Lecturer who gives private tours of Monet’s garden in three languages (not at the same time). If you really want to get to know the behind-the-scenes Giverny, you must take this tour! Ariane knows all there is to know about Monet, the gardens, the gardeners, and their cats.

I’m not kidding about the cats, by the way. Just ask her, the next time you’re taking her tour.

Ariane knows that I’m a crazy cat lady, so when she went to the Salon of Embroidery Arts in Paris last month, she got this for me:

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Click onto the image to enlarge and have a good laugh, and a great vocabulary lesson. “Le pire, c’est lui” is FUNNY! And: “Niais”: who knew? (Not me.)

Because of a traumatic experience with the cross-stitch when I was 8 years old, I stay away from what the French call le point de croix. But I can see how much fun this would be to sew in a crewel-stitch, a point I am very fond of. And I have 7 cats! And it just so happens that the one who is le pire is also in black-and-white!

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No, wait, maybe he’s le videur. . . yeah, right. As if I could ever get an honest day’s work out of him. . .

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. . . or any of the other cats who surveil me.

Before I go, I want everyone to know that there were plenty of Justin Bieber backstage passes to go around so, everyone who wanted the pair in last week’s give away, got them, no playing dice with the universe necessary to win.

Remember, keep posting those 5-star reviews on Amazon.com for Garden of Awe and Folly  — the contest is still open for anyone to win the super-duper Quartet Triscuit Give-Away (or any other prize of your choice when we do the numbers in May):

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Next week I will post the drawings that became these watering cans (above) for all of you Wonder Ones who want to print them out for your own projects. . . and  I will dedicate next Friday’s post to Dear Commentor Leslie, who sussed this out weeks and weeks ago:

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I hope everyone in the Northern Hemisphere gets a huuuuuuge does of Spring Fever this weekend and does something niais, and comes back to tell us about it. For those in the Antipodean regions of our dear Earth, it’ll be just another weekend in paradise.

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

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

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

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Kirra, this snow is for YOU.

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

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

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

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

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

Consider, for example, a view such as this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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See? (See: Below)

Clos Normand Giverny Monet garden

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

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

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

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

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 And done:

Clos Normand Giverny Monet garden

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

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

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Voila, the Giverny Triscuit:

Giverny Monet garden gate Clos Normand

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

Giverny tea bag monet garden painting

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

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

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OK, now it’s DONE.

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

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

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

 

 

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Last Friday’s little storm caught me by surprise, meaning that it blew into Long Island on the very day that the last of the stuff from the monster Winter Storm Jonas had melted, leaving me optimistically out of champagne, so all I have to show you today is a Pinot Grigio-O-Meter:

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The snow started at 9:30 and was over by 3 o’clock in the afternoon which, on a snowy Winter day, was indeed a very Happy Hour. This weekend is predicted to be super cold with flurries, but rest assured that the Pinot Grigio has gone on to booze heaven and there is a new  Champagne-O-Meter awaiting its destiny:

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I’m so very happy to hear that last week’s Watercolor tutorial was very helpful to a number of Dear Readers. If you remember, we painted bark:

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Dear Reader Sandy Lane left a Comment that she did a happy dance after she painted her first tree (with or without Pinto Grigio, she did not say). And our own Felicia sent me a message — OMG It Works! followed your steps  and on my first try painted the best tree I’ve ever painted.  It actually looks like a tree! I’m beyond excited and so grateful for your tips. And she sent me proof:

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Very cool — I love the shadows and the background evergreens! Thank you, Felicia!

So, my Dear Readers, what shall we paint today? How about a nice flower garden? Like, the one in Giverny that I am currently obsessed with? The one that Monet tended for 43 years, from 1883 until his death in 1926? You know, the one with the memorable allee:

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Yeah, that one. I’m using my own reference photograph to draw from:

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As usual, I am going to work in miniature, because painting small-scale is where I feel most at ease. First I get my sky in, and then I use my fattest brush to blob in some different shades of green:

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I am working wet-in-wet here — meaning that I dab in wet watercolor on top of already wet watercolors — because I like it when the colors bleed in interesting ways, like this:

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Oooooooo…I like this bleed so much that I am going to leave it alone, and do my best to make sure that it stays there as a part of the picture. I use my smallest brush to fill out the foliage on top, to make an interesting silhouette. As you can see, even though I work in miniature, I do my background in little bits and pieces; I work too slowly to be able to  paint a background (even a teeny background such as this) in one swell foop:

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This picture is going to take about three and a half hours to paint.

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One of the reasons it’ll take so long is because I take great care when I have to paint a dark background behind a light-colored object, in this case a small tree in the foreground. I have to say that painting in these fussy details is very, very relaxing for me.

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I do not have a relaxing personality. I’m a bit too cranky and antsy to be what most people might call “nice”.  I’m not built for meditation or contemplation or anything like introspection (I am not very deep), but I can get very Zen-y when I have to be gentle and calm to make itty bitty brush strokes around titter-bittier stuff in my teeny tiny illustrations. I just love the slow breathing and the patience it takes. My mind wanders, and I find myself having very gratifying hypothetical conversations with people I truly dislike, tete-a-tetes with pin heads in which I get the better of them with my outstanding wit and wisdom. Oh well. Even in my most serene moments, I like to argue with the world.

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By the way, I have to photoshop my fingers in these pictures in order to make them look all smooth and pink. It’s February and my hands are dead dry and chapped and most of my cuticles and finger tips are split and u-g-l-y. I just thought I’d let you know that I’m as guilty as Vogue magazine when it comes to faking an impossible standard of beauty. Sorry.

I’m very proud that I am painting this scene true to life, even though it means that I have to paint a red-leafed tree. I can’t stand red-leaf trees (I don’t know their names but I’m sure a lot of you Dear Readers can tell me). Trees should be green, period. Maroon trees depress me.

You can see how I am doing my best to show off that interesting green blob-bleed on the left side of the picture:

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And now for the FUN part! I get to paint the flowers!! Again I am working wet-in-wet, bleeding in blue and purple to make an interesting cloud-like pool of color, which I swipe through to make those vertical lines (for a change of texture):

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Time to finish that foreground tree:

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The detail that I’m adding in here are the extremely violet tulips that grow at the very top of this allee:

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I make the same wet-in-wet clouds of color for the other side of the allee:

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Monet painted his garden furnishings (including his Japanese bridge) a very vivid and unusual shade of green. I match his color by mixing a Winsor Newton (watercolor) blue-green with an acrylic emerald green — the acrylic paint has the “oomph” (the artificiality and opacity) that I need to make Monet’s arbors and trellises stand out amidst the jumble of his very “busy” garden:

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Like this:

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You can see what I chose to edit out of the scene that I ended up painting by comparing it to the reference photo again:

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Now,  if you compare that photo to this one I took from a very slightly different angle. . .

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. . . you can see that I have left out that tall poplar tree smack in the middle of the view:

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I really don’t like the way that poplar tree juts up in the center of this view. But, *sigh*, I know that I will end up putting it in, however, for now I can’t bear it. Also, you can see that I go easy when it comes to painting in at the necessary darks in the background — call it lack of confidence, or fear of making the whole thing look too muddy. But I also know that I’ll have to go back and dab in some chiaroscuro as soon as I get the nerve to do that poplar tree.

These are all the exact same issues I will be dealing with when I paint this other view of the allee:

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In my world, this is a mural. But that’s for next week.

The other news in VivianWorld is that I got my hands on a pre-publication copy of Gardens of Awe and Folly. Bloomsbury mailed me my official Author Copy.

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I took it out of its wrapper and put it on the little table in the hallway where I dump all of our junk mail. I made a cup of tea, and I went to eBay for some reckoning-avoidance shopping (why are all the cool vintage Monkees T-shirts only to be found in the UK??). Then I went to my cardio/kick boxing class at my gym, and I stopped by Loew’s to buy 40 pounds of bird food, and when I came home and did a load of laundry and watched  Judge Judy. Etc.

OK, it wasn’t until the next day that I opened the book for inspection. As always, Bloomsbury has done a superb job making this book a lovely object to hold in our hand. The illustrations are colorful, the binding is archival, the quality of the paper is fine-arty. And then I found one mistake in text layout that is all my fault (I indented a line that should have been left flush) and I slammed it shut.

All in all, I find that the DGB is indeed a lovely book full of wisdom and humor that I desperately wish I could re-write and re-draw all over again, just so I could make sure it is 100% indisputably, with-a-doubt, painfully and putatively pluperfect. I am in agony. The book is done, I can’t futz with it and more, it’s out there and I can’t reel it back in for just one or a few thousand more tweaks.

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And then a professional garden writer and horticulturist named Nina Koziol called me up and interviewed me about the DGB for the Chicago Tribune newspaper and website and she didn’t once tell me that I got it all wrong, and we had a delightful chat about the wacky world of gardeners. . . so whew. Maybe I pulled it off.

17 days until pub date. March 1, y’all. I think I’ll send the day in bed.

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This is, so far, my No. 1 Favorite Flower Thing of 2016:

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This big-ass bouquet of my favorite flowers (Roses and Hydrangeas!!) was deposited on my doorstep on my b-day eve ALL FOR ME!!!

The card said only “From your fans everywhere” and Top Cat swears it wasn’t him which I believe because this came from a fancy florist  and Top Cat wraps my birthday presents in the weekly grocery store circular (so very colorful) so, to my Dear Readers and Fellow Flower Lovers, I thank you for this, and all your birthday wishes in the Comments last week — you are all my favorite part of turning 30 x 2. THANK YOU.

But you know what they say, even birthday girls have to clean cat boxes, so I was putting clean newspaper liners in the downstairs cat boxes last weekend when I came across this:

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It’s the December 25 edition of the New York Times. I don’t usually read The Arts section (like any sane American I have no interest in dance, theater, jazz, or the art world in general) so I missed this but Lo! I never thought I’d ever see The Crown of the Andes again!

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It is news to me that this crown is now on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan ( you can read all about it here). The last I heard of this South American knick-knack was in 1995, when I was a  VP at Christies in charge of Faberge and every other ridiculously expensive jeweled object that wasn’t actually jewelry. Due to professional ethics, I can’t tell you the details about the consignor and the sales terms, but I can tell you that The Crown of the Andes came to Christie’s in a very old, very tattered cardboard box after having been in storage — and not fancy storage — for decades. The lore around it was, to put it mildly, dubious.

So, since I was in charge of cataloguing the thing, I had to research both its provenance and its intrinsic value, that is, I had to ferret out its true backstory and I had to determine the material value of the gold work and the emeralds. I brought in a consultant gemologist to count and measure the 450-ish emeralds on this crown and the first thing he discovered was that the big center emerald was not the 50-carat monster that its consignor claimed; if memory serves, it was 19 carats, which is still huge for an emerald, but if you think you can tell someone that their 50-carat emerald in less than half that size and not have that person scream and yell and accuse you of being either incompetent or a swindler, you are sadly mistaken, my friends.

I see that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has catalogued that center emerald as 24-carats…well, maybe, maybe not. We auction house people tend to have  low opinions of the expertise of museum people. We had to deliver certifiable information to our customers or else we’d be sued; museum people only had to footnote their hypothesizes. However, in this case, as the emerald is mounted, taking its measurements requires some careful hypothesizing so I can concede that there is wiggle room when it comes to fixing a definitive carat weight. But 24 carats is at the top of what I would call an educated guess.

Anyhow. Christie’s made a huge PR campaign to get this crown sold, making a spiffy catalogue and inviting all kinds of international dignitaries, rich people, and media to come and get up close and personal with this object. This is the press conference we held at Christie’s old home on Park Avenue (they moved to Rockefeller Center in the later 1990s):

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Yes! There were TV crews there! The spokesman for Christie’s, who was my boss at the time, was a debonair Englishman who headed the Silver Dept. :

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His name is Christopher Hardtop and you can still see him from time to time on old re-runs of Antiques Roadshow. What an excellent person he was.

And this is me, standing next to him, looking more ghostly than the fair haired Englishman:

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It was my idea to put the crown on a circle mirror atop a plinth draped in black velvet.

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I remember my outfit clearly: I am 39 years old, the Faberge expert at a world renown auction house, wearing a thrift store skirt that was a little too big, a thrift store over-sized turtle neck sweater, and an old crochet bureau runner as a scarf because I’d seen a girl wear something like it in France in the 1970s and could never find the exact right old gossamer crochet thing so I substituted this bureau scarf because I thought it would still look OK.  I miss my auburn hair.

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Look at I, I’m Lady Di.

Note the fierce looking chap in the background, below (the one in the drawing):

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That’s the last Incan emperor, Atahualpa. He’s there because this crown came to us with the provenance that it had been the property of this fabled warrior, which I proved was nonsense once I researched the gold work, which was clearly a marriage of 16th and 17th century Spanish colonial goldsmithing, which we clearly stated in the catalogue. Remember: we’re legally liable for our assessments. But we kept the Atahualpa legend in the PR, because, you know, Inca.

The consignment material attached to this crown also claimed that it was displayed at the 1939 World’s Fair (the most famous of the World’s Fairs) but I researched archives and found that although the then-owners of the crown begged the Fair organizers to put it on display (I suspect to drum up interest in it, as they were trying to sell the damn thing), the crown never made the cut. And yeah, the consignor was pretty pissed about that, too, which is usually the case when you tell people an inconvenient truth, isn’t it?

This whole faux-World’s Fair provenance is why I read this sentence in the New York Times article (see the link) with interest: It was taken out of storage only for momentous occasions like [sic] the introduction of new Chevrolets in 1937 and the New York World’s Fair in 1939.

I think this is outstanding writing. This sentence is written in such a way that the reader is left with the gleaming impression  that the crown was at the spiffy  1939 World’s Fair, but close inspection reveals that the writer is only liable for the claim  that it was simply “brought out of storage”, which I can assure you, it was. Nicely done, Kathryn Shattuck.

BTW, I regretted that hair cut of 1995. I grew it out and by my 40th birthday I had a shoulder-length blonde do, which was a whole other regrettable set of circumstances.

This is a more representative picture of me as an auction house executive, in 1992, taken while I was doing an appraisal of an estate in New Orleans (the guy was a hoarder of expensive clocks, and this is how he lived):

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Yeah, my hair was that long, and yeah, I’m wearing my ex-boyfriend’s unlined khaki sports jacket, leggings, knee high boots, and a thrift shop cashmere sweater. It was November and that mansion had no heat.

I can’t tell you the value that Christie’s contracted to sell the Crown of the Andes for, but if you google Christie’s sale Crown of the Andes, you can watch the old tape on YouTube of the crown being hammered down for 2.2 million dollars and if you listen closely, you can hear the auctioneer mumble “Pass” at the end. The crown did not meet its reserve and we did not sell it. I wonder if the Met had to pony up the full asking price.

Oh well. Here is where I transition from this lengthy digression on my hair c. 1992-5 to something more relevant to today’s VivianWorld, which is indeed quite flowery. If you recall from last week’s post, I promised to paint this Squint view:

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This is the little brook called the Ru, which runs into Monet’s water garden and fills the famous lily pond there. Monet painted 250 pictures of the reflections of his flowers and the Normandy sky in the Ru, which is why I chose to isolate this particular view. I began by painting the clouds and the far shore, and putting masking fluid over the tree trunk:

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And then I painted the rest of the picture:

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I put more masking fluid over the painted surface here:

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And then I picked up the masking:

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OK, now I’m ready to pick up the masking on the tree trunk:

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With a small paint brush loaded only with clear water, I can go back over a painted area and “pick up” some dry paint — this is how I make “ripples” on what is supposed to be a watery surface:

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See the ripples in the upper edge?

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Even though I think that this is not the best Squint I’ve ever painted, I can say that painting in this small scale is very relaxing for me. This is my comfort zone — my instincts as a painter are perfectly suited for this tiny format.

But what I learned in illustrating my Damn Garden Book (Gardens of Awe and Folly) is that gardens often can not be Squinted at…they need to be stared at, perused, and contemplated. This means that I have to paint a wide-eyed landscape when I paint something like this:

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Oh, lordy, it is a struggle to put so much information in such a large space.

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But you know I’ll try and try and try again until I get it right, and I’ll show you all my trials and errors in detail. Also, according to the best predictions it looks like I’ll be breaking out the 2016 Champagne-O-Meter tomorrow, and I haven’t made my annual blue birthday cake yet, so I’m inviting you to my Blizzard Party when we all get together next week. See you here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NOTE: Yes, I did it again, I forgot to turn on the Comments button. But it’s on now, and I would love to hear from you! And now, back to the regularly scheduled blog:

The times call for a bold blue sky:

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“The times” being my upcoming birthday weekend in which I say farewell to my 50s without ever having been totally convinced that I ever left my 30s, and “the times” being the time I walked from the small town of Vernon to the much smaller town of Giverny (in May 2013, which I have not painted until now):

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I’m glad that I waited, and painted nine other gardens (for the DGB) before I tackled Monet’s garden (and environs) at Giverny. For one thing, I’ve gotten good at not painting clouds — once you get used to picking up watercolor with a bit of rolled-up paper towel, you never have to PAINT clouds … you non-paint them:

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For another thing about why I am glad I waited until now to “do” Monet/Giverny, since I did not use many Squints in my DGB it is a lot of fun to be playing with this format again. I’m happy to see that at my advanced age (I am now the very oldest I’ve ever been), I still have control of the fine motor skills I need to paint these very teeny-tiny poplars:

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Last week Dear Reader Kirra left a Comment about it being time to call the poor DGB by its real name — Gardens of Awe and Folly. I should explain that the reason I use the shortcut DGB (stands for Damn Garden Book) is because while a book is a work-in-progress I get extremely cranky — the damn thing refuses to write itself!!! — so I call it the Damn [fill in blank] to let it know who’s boss. Also, using an acronym is a great way to store Word files. Even tho I type on a Mac, I use the Microsoft word processing program, and I head each chapter file with DGB because it’s easy to type and is easy to spot in the clutter that is my Documents folder. So I mean no disrespect when I call this new work-in-progress book the NDB (stand for New Damn Book). It’s just a part of my process.

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BTW, I should also tell you that I used my trusty liquid masking fluid on the pic below, on the trunks of those trees that take up the center of this landscape — over which I paint the background foliage:

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I also used my white acrylic paint to dab in some leaves on that tree in the foreground, over which I am putting on a layer of bright green paint to make it pop:

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Another part of my process is the work I do on a work-in-progress while I sleep. Usually, while I am composing a book, I dream incessantly about running through mazes, searching and or fleeing through endless rooms in an abandoned house, climbing hills, and dashing though airports on the verge of missing a flight — in other words, the whole repertoire of anxiety dreams about not being up to the task at hand.

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But ever since I outlined this new book about Giverny, I dream of opening bureau drawers and finding a treasure chest of old Christmas decorations, of going into my closet and discovering ball gowns that I did not know I had, and of being on a train that glides through a library full of books that open themselves (and that look like board games, or holograms). So I feel pretty good about this New Damn Book.

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Last week Dear Reader Ann made this Comment (about how I changed the scale of several buildings to make them more prominent in y painting than they were in the real life reference photo): I never thought about taking artistic license to make the picture more appealing by making the buildings larger.

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I loved this Comment because it observed something important about the difference between what I do as an illustrator and what another painter would do as a fine artist. As an illustrator, I insist that my paintings contain information — in fact, I contrive to put as much information in my paintings as possible, even if that means exaggerating certain elements of the view or editing out other non-essential bits. Fine artists do not seem to be terribly interested in making art that contains any worthwhile information — have you seen the oeuvre of Mark Rothko?

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For this little Squint, I wanted the information to be all about the poplars, which is why I put them in the very center of the picture (and saved them for last — I knew that I was going to love painting this group of trees!!):

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I was lucky that the photo that I took of these trees was pretty perfect, so I did not have to fudge any details. It was such a pleasure to do this scene…and I think that in the end it turned out to be a very happy picture:

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And then there’s this photo…

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…which contains this Squint…

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…which I will have to warp just a bit in order for it to be as informative as I need it to be, and which I will paint for you next week during my first blog post as a — gasp — 60 year old.

 

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These cats, the very busy cats that live in my house rent free:

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None of these guys (Taffy, Cindy, Candy) helped me paint this:

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This is a scene I saw on an afternoon in May of 2013, when I was walking the 4 kilometers from the little ville of Vernon (in France) to the littler village Giverny (also in France). Most of you Dear Readers will see that, thanks to my viewfinder, I have located the Squint within this snapshot (above). (For more about my unbearable cute terminology, the link is here.)

Taking full advantage of my artistic license, I drew this landscape as was, except for making the farm houses much, much larger so they would feature more prominently in this Squint:

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At the urging of my dear Top Cat to keep it short, I will paint this scene for you while keeping my commentary to a minimum:

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I use a bit of rolled-up paper towel to blot up some of the blue paint to make clouds:

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I actually use two hands for this blotting operation but since I need my other hand to hold the camera, I’m faking it one-handed. But voila: I Haz Clowds:

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To make the wee background foliage I use my brush to dab-dab-dab-dab paint onto the paper. I took this picture to show you that I discovered that this crappy brush had a weird few bristles there at the end that were perfect for this itty-teeny-bitty-tiny dabbing operation — see? Sometimes cheap equipment comes in handy!!!

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OK, I promise to cut down on my word count from now on.

I haven’t painted since i turned in the manuscript for my DGB, Gardens of Awe and Folly, last June, so it felt marvelous, and a little like work, to be slathering the pigment again.

Foreground application of real watery paint:

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Ah…..my lovely little bleeds (wet-in-wet layering of paint) to make a soggy edge to this stream, which happens to be the Epte River):

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Here’s where I switch to my size-00 brush:

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Dab dab dab dab dab:

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I painted too many blades of weed grass here, and I needed to lighten it up. So when I screw up like this, I break out my trusty white acrylic paint to “white out” my error:

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And now I switch paints from my Windsor Newton to my Grumbachers, because I bet the chalkiness will look Goldilocks (“just right”) here:

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And now, all is done ‘cept for the shouting:

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And this is my view of the stream that runs into the Seine River in Haute Normandie:

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I’ve been ever so busy this past week… I also painted another view of my walk from Vernon to Giverny, also as a Squint…

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…because I am making a three-Squint page of pictures of the walk from Vernon to Giverny as part of my new book project!!

I would call it the Damn Giverny Book, but we already used DGB for my last book (the Damn Garden Book), so let’s call this one the NDB:

The New Damn Book.

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About which we will discuss soon, very soon my Dears.

For now, please enjoy this Not Too Damn Long post and have a wonderful weekend!

 

 

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I highly recommend Paris in December.

When I was there two weeks ago, the tourist crowds were almost non-exisitant so there was less camouflage for the natives to blend into. They were all over the place, doing adorable Parisian things, like walking their dog after school…

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…shopping for fabric at Tissus Reine (the best fabric store in all of Paris!)…

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…riding their scooters to appointments…

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Yes! Adult people are riding scooters in Paris! And the Rent-A-Bikes are still as popular as ever:

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And under the bare trees the sky was opened up for miles and miles (that’s the Canal St.-Martin below, looking south all the way to canopy of plane trees on the Boulevard Jules Ferry):

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This is the Quai du Louvre:

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All is calm, and all is bright.

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Especially the museums! I went to my favorite Paris Museum, the Musee Carnavalet, and it was almost empty.

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Yeah, that’s a selfie in a XVIIIeme drawing room in the museum, and I can see now why my husband doesn’t like my Ugg (they are actually Sketchers) boots. The really do give my feet a dorky proportion to the rest of my body (but oh, my…when you walk 12 miles a day on Paris pavements, there is NO BETTER encasement for the ten little piggies, I tell you).

I discovered other rooms — ROOMS! — of stuff I’ve never seen there before! The room where Proust composed A La Recherché du Temps Perdu:

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And the entire 1900 shop designed by Alfons Mucha (famous art nouveau illustrator) for the Parisian jeweler Georges Fouquet:

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It was such a sleepy day in the Musee Carnavalet that even the guards were not en grade. This one was drawing in his little sketchbook:

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And this one was reading his iPod, craftily hidden in the drawer of his desk there (same trick I used to pull in high school, only with an actual paperback book, probably The Unauthorized Biography of The Beatles, in algebra class):

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And THIS I never saw before:

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So now I know how they get those posters to hang inside those Morris Columns — cool!

And I also never saw THIS before…no, it isn’t the itty bitty Christmas tree in the window of this bar that  I passed every day and night that was right next door to my AirBnB room near the Opera (on the right bank, metro stop Opera)…

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The thing that I never saw before is the thing I saw only when I backed up into the street to get this picture (below) and saw it there, in the lower right corner of the bar:

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It was THIS!

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It is a lighted running fountain of water for the neighborhood pooches (in English?!) and I thought it was adorable.

And then I went to Giverny, and if you want to read about my weekend visit please stay with me (but you might want to get another cup of tea, just to make the story more mosey-able).

The famous garden at Giverny is not open for visitors in December, but I have already seen Claude Monet’s garden several many times already … I went to Giverny because I like Giverny very much and I wanted to see what there was of “Winter Interest” in the village. Turns out that there is plenty going on in Giverny (pop. 509) and I can only tell you about the half of it (because I know that you do not have all day to read this blog). So let’s begin with my BandB, Les Rouges Gorges:

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My room was rustic but very comfortable:

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And the resident cats were cuuuuuuute:

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It was close to 4 in the afternoon when I took my walk out into the country lanes of Giverny:

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I was of course thrilled with the color and views here, but sooner or later one’s stroll down the Chemin du Roy (King’s Lane) leads you to the back end of Monet’s garden:

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From this vantage point it is possible to shoot some pictures of Monet’s garden at rest, which I did just for you, Dear Readers.This is the allee, which wis usually covered in blooms, that bi-sects the flower garden and leads to the front door of Monet’s home:

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And here is a peek at the water garden…

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And this is a view of the famous arched bridge over his lily pond (far right):

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The wisteria that cloaks this bridge in romantic petals of lavander during high season is, in December, just a tangle of hibernating vine:

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Giverny is such a small village that the folks who live here would have to go to Vernon ( 4 kilometers away) to get bread and croissants, so the BIG news this year is all about the new boulangerie that opened!

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It’s at 73 rue Claude Monet (easy address to remember) and the food and the ambience is excellent (note to self: must review this on Yelp, so that everyone who goes to Giverny in season will stop by here for lunch and make this place successful). I see that you’ve noticed the cat in this photo. That’s Fifi. I got to know her when I came back here for the special Saturday night Diner Spectacle:

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Wine, food, and song…

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… and if you’re lucky…CAT:

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The Madame La Soprano is a music teacher from the village, married to an elected official in Giverny:

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Monsieur Le Baritone sings for the Rouen Opera:

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Sunday was full of more wonderful social gatherings in private people’s homes (the Givernois are such friendly people!) but the next public spectacle I attended was an afternoon party of the kids of Giverny, held in the Impressionism Museum (which is also closed for the season, but open for local functions). I loved the kid who brought his panda bear with him when he went on stage to help the magician with her trick:

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Then my friends took me to the Town Hall to vote!!!!

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It’s normal for the French to vote on a Sunday, and it’s normal to hold these regional elections every five years (for the National Assembly). But it was very unusual this year to hold elections with the National Front (think: Trump, only more so) as a strong third party.

When you go to vote in such a small village as Giverny, you get your voting card stamped by the officials, and then you go around kissing hello to all the poll watchers that you know as neighbors. Then you pick up your ballots, go into a curtained stall, choose the ballot for the party you want to vote for, fold it up, and put it into a little blue envelope. Then you put your little blue envelope into a clear box:

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When the clock struck 6, it was time to count the votes.

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There wee two people opening each envelope and handing the ballot to the mayor (that’s him, with the beard). He reads out the name, and the head tally-man reads out the count after each vote, which has to agree with the count being recorded by two back-up tally-ladies.

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I was fascinated by this process, and my friends were tolerant and let me watch this go on for half an hour. I stood off to one side, snapping photos, and no one gave me so much as half a stink-eye, which is amazing when you consider that it’s illegal in France to take the photo of anyone without their permission, even on the street.

The day before, I’d been in Vernon’s Christmas village, and I snapped a photo of this:

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And I got a polite, and joking, but definitely serious, scolding for it.

Anyway, by the time we left the vote-count at Village Hall to get ready for a diner party, the center-right candidate was leading, and the left candidate was making a close showing, but the big surprise was that the National Front was polling a very very strong third, despite my friends (split evenly, two for the right-center/two for the left) assuring me that the National Front could never win a seat in Normandy.

The final results, with  75.25% of eligible voters taking part in the election, were:

Center-right: 42%

Left: 30%

National Front: 27%

Blank votes: 1%

How exciting!

Anyhow, Top Cat is going to mention to me again that my blog posts are too long, so I’d better stop here, for now…because don’t we all have some champagne that needs to be taste-tasted before the arrival of 2016??? And shouldn’t we be getting to it right now???

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I love to watch the tiny bubbles rise in candlelight.

Happy Saturnalia, everyone.

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I very rarely get the idea to flit off to France for a quick five-day visit. In fact, for me, not being of the Taylor Swift branch of the family and all, it’s pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime kind of whim. But that very thought crossed my mind recently, and that’s how I found myself in Paris last Friday, going “Huh?”

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Paris in its holiday bling can be perplexing.

The famous department store Galleries Lafayette went with a “Christmas From Another Planet” theme this year…yeah, I don’t get it either…and they went all out to put up a huge Cosmic Christmas Tree in the center of their main floor, under their famous stained-glass rotunda:

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I think those are supposed to be either atoms, or planets, or carbuncles of silicone-based life forms, bubbling on the surface of the cone/Christmas tree-shaped object:

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You might already know how this store was constructed around that enormous open space in the center — which means that you can gander at the Cosmic Christmas Tree from every  floor:

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Dyed mink from Fendi:

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Yeah…I don’t get that either.

Down the road from the Galleries, the other famous department store of Paris — Printemps — was celebrating its 150th year in business:

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The interior of Printemps only allows for a three-story exhibit, which includes a mock-up of the store’s facade…

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…and a traditional Xmas tree — bedecked with this large, bug-eyed metallic creature with a flower-like pustule growing out of its head:

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It is in typical French earthiness that this creature’s head-canker includes globules in the exact color of pus. That mutant Pillsbury Dough Boy is the mascot of Printemps 150. Do you sense that the running theme of this post is “I don’t get that either“?

The outside of Printemps is laden with the flowers that have, presumably, been exploded out of the craniums  of millions of metallic mutants:

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Under this canopy of blossoms are the store’s famous Xmas windows, each one sponsored by a fashion brand. This is the Burberry window (note the sneakers on the kid on the right — and the antenna on his hat!):

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In France, sneakers are called baskets. When you think about it, calling them baskets is not a whole lot dopier than calling these kinds of shoes sneakers.

This window is Sonya Riekyl:

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Those little dolls moved like go-go dancers. Very Christmasy, you think?

Guess where the other grand explosion of Xmas cheer is? Here’s a hint:

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Right: The Champs Ulysses!

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These Christmas Villages run almost the whole length of the Champs — and if you look real closely at the background (below) behind these ice skaters (there were several rinks set up on the sidewalk of the Champs Ulysses — how cool is that??)  you’ll see the REAL Eiffel Tower, lit up like gold:

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In general, though, Christmas decorations in Paris are rather low key. I was sure that the ultra-luxury shops around the Place Vendome would be all a-glow for the make-or-break shopping season, but I was wrong:

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Yes it’s tasteful, but I like to be WOWed. Here’s some other random decor I found along my ambles in the City of Light:

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That last picture was taken in the Canal Saint-Martin area, at a cafe called La Bonne Biere:

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At the Bonne Biere on November 13, ISIS killed five people.

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The cafe has recently re-opened in defiance: Je Suis en Terrasse I am on the Terrace — is how Parisians mock the terrorists with their joie de vivre (which includes cafe culture…sitting out in the open, on terraces). I made it a point to have lunch at the Bonne Biere because, although I do not like sitting out on the sidewalk (it’s the smoking section, now that you can’t light up indoors any more), to give my personal Fuck You to ISIS.

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La Bonne Biere serves decent, 2-star pub food. I just wish the pasta hadn’t come garnished with dandelion greens. Even when you push them aside, they leave trace bitterness on the plate. It’s a Princess and the Pea situation. I have the same problem with cucumbers. Just can’t stand them.

Yes, there is still a make-shift shrine to the innocents of November 13 in front of the Bonne Biere…

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…but the main shrine to all 129 innocents is at the Place de la Republique:

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Meme pas PeurStill Not Afraid — is playground French, something that kids say to a call the bluff of a bully; it’s like blowing a raspberry in ISIS’ face. It’s also very silent and sad here, the way I remember it was on certain street corners in New York City after 9/11. All those innocents…yeah; I just don’t get it either.

Ah, Paris. Beautiful and beguiling even on an ordinary day on the cusp of Winter…

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Just goes to show you that Paris does’nt need the glitz of Xmas in order to shine…

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…she already, and always, glows, just being herself.

OMG, look at the time, it’s getting late and I haven’t even told you about the real reason I went to France. Well, Dear Readers, that will have to wait until we meet here again, next Friday!

 

 

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

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…and then there’s the reality:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nice restaurant, very nice gardens, bijoux collection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Jean-Michel Peers.

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

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

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

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British visitors to Giverny leave English coins here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other sights along the D5:

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

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

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

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…and find the bike path….

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

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…and when you get to Vernon on this route…

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…there is this:

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

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

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

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…until you find the perfect picnic spot…

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

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

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

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

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And that’s why we call it a Triscuit.

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

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

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