Giverny stories

Steve the Miracle Cat, my feral “pet”, who disappeared in a terrible blizzard that hit Long Island last week, wants to thank all the wonderful Commenters who stopped by this blog and left good wishes for his safe return, and then welcomed him back when he finally moseyed back home. And immediately after thanking all of you kind readers, he wants breakfast.

And he wants it now.

Steve gets a bowl of dry food and a bowl of wet food in the morning, served on a mat because that bluestone gets really cold on a cat’s little feet:

Steve is a Manx, so he only has a little bunny butt instead of a tail which is one of the reason that I cannot resist him.

After getting his fill of breakfast, all Steve has to do for the rest of the day is to take up position and wait for dinner:

It’s been punishingly cold for most of the past week here on the north shore of Long Island. I mean painfully, brutal, bitter cold. I am still fretful about Steve being outside in all this so I check on him hourly, and it always does my heart good to see him tucked into his heated nest behind his plexiglass wind break:

Our neighbor’s cat, Dennis, got caught in our house when the blizzard hit last week and he was with us for three days. His people would have liked to have him home, but Dennis was quite content to be our uninvited guest and didn’t seem all that eager to budge from the comfy pile of Adirondack seat cushions that he found in the basement:

On Saturday night I was finally able to catch him, and I picked him up and carried him next door and delivered him to his people. Between Steve and Dennis, I wonder what I would do with my free time if I didn’t have to herd cats.

Whenever I leave the house these days  I am still wearing a small band-aid on my healing nose. My husband and friends have assured me that it’s barely noticeable. I suspect they are lying.

So I was in Lowe’s the other day, buying bird seed, and ahead of me at the checkout was a little boy who was horsing around with the shopping cart while his mother was paying for some traffic cones. (Yes, traffic cones. Makes you wonder.)

The little boy, who was tiny — maybe three years old? — spun around at one point and something about me caught his attention. He pointed his tiny little finger at his tiny little nose and looked at me and said, “Booboo?”

So, Ha!! I knew that “barely noticeable” thing was a  big fat lie. When you go out in the world with a band-aid on your nose, no matter how “small” (the band-aid), everyone notices, even three-year-olds.

Back to the little boy’s question: Of course I wasn’t going to tell a tiny child about skin cancer. So I made up a story about playing with my cats and one scratched me on the nose, instantly regretting that I was giving cats a bad rap.

So if you haven’t seen me around lately, it’s because I greatly dislike going out in the world with a band-aid on my nose.

So I’m staying in my house even more than usual, reading the paper. Here’s a headline that caught my attention while I was reading the New York Times on Sunday (Jan. 7). It went:

From Artisan to Artist

To quote: Betty Woodman, a sculptor who took an audacious turn when she began to transform traditional pottery, her usual medium, into innovative multimedia art, moving her work from kitchen cupboard shelves to museum walls, died on January 2, 2018 in Manhattan. She was 87.

Overlooking the fact of that very ungraceful lead sentence, I read on. Mrs. Woodman, I learned, spent many years happily making clay pots, cups, saucers, and bowls in her house, selling them at yearly yard sales in Boulder, Colorado. However, in 1981, her 22-year old daughter killed herself and Mrs. Woodman, in the words of her son, “emotionally fell apart.”

In the months after her daughter’s death, Mrs. Woodman began to make non-functional pottery (such as pillow-shaped pitchers). And then, according to the obituary, “Mrs. Woodman’s evolution from artisan to fine artist culminated in a retrospective in 2006 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, its first for a living female artist.”

This is one of her fine art pottery pieces, called Aeolian Pyramid:

Aeolian Pyramid is an installation of 44 pedestal-mounted vase shapes that gradually tiers upward in a dramatic, pyramidal design. An art critic praised this piece in The New Yorker, writing:

Her aim is to charge negative space—the air around her pieces—with active presence. … the dynamic is miraculous in “Aeolian Pyramid,” a stepped array of thirty-five [sic?] big, slab-presenting vases of abstracted Greek design in black, yellow, and pale terra cotta. The composite keeps squeezing out real space, which keeps muscling back in. The result is a visual “Hallelujah” Chorus.

So this article about Mrs. Woodman, which happened to be an obituary, skipped over the part about how, exactly, this artisan pot-thrower become an artist. The unwritten assumption is that Mrs. Woodman’s career trajectory, taking her from a maker of pots to someone who installs bits of pottery in museums, was one that advanced her esthetics and creativity from the mundane to the ethereal.

So, OK, even though I don’t get the pots (see: Aeolian Pyramid, above) or the hallelujah chorus, OK, for now I’ll roll with this theory that making pots is of a lesser order of artistry than making bits of pots and arranging them in a triangle.

The least you can say is, her installation is original. The idea is hers alone. Nobody else (that I know of, but I don’t track these things) has thought of that before. So, that’s something.

Here’s a piece that Mrs. Woodman called The Ming Sisters:

The Ming Sisters is a triptych of cylindrical vases that features paintings of Asian women in gowns on one side and paintings of vases on the other.

The New York Times noted that “Mrs. Woodman’s vividly colored ceramics drew on innumerable influences, including Greek and Etruscan sculpture, Italian Baroque architecture, Tang dynasty glaze techniques, Egyptian art and Islamic tiles. They also evoked paintings by Picasso, Bonnard and Matisse.”

So here’s the thing about art vs. artisan: If what you make is art, your stuff can “draw on” and “evoke” other more famous people’s work. But if you’re just an artisan, your stuff that resembles other people’s stuff is “derivative” Also, if you want to elevate your stuff to art, it helps if your stuff is decorated very badly.

I haven’t seen Mrs. Woodman’s art in person, but I’m not impressed. Just saying.

But what do I know? I’m a hack. Remember last week when I showed you this painting of mine (work in progress) of the Japanese bridge in Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny?

It is still unfinished, by the way. But this week I happened to be looking through an old book that my sister bought way back in 1984, when she went to see Monet’s garden for the first time, and I found this photo:

I promise you, Dear Readers, that I will try to be more original next week, when we meet back here next Friday.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Stay warm, or, if you’re in Australia, stay cool. Put out water bowls for thirsty critters, whether it’s 9 or 116 degrees outside.

XXOO

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 Wednesday night, the night before the Winter cyclone hit the northeastern United States, I set out your first  Champagne-O-Meter of 2018  to record all the nastiness that this blizzard could dump on Yours Truly.

Thursday morning, I woke up to this:

The REAL snow started falling around dawn (7:19 am), so that by 8 o’clock visibility was lousy:

9:30 am:

(Then I was painting and forgot about the storm for a blessed two hours.)

11:30 am:

The snow was pretty much over by 2 o’clock in the afternoon and didn’t rise any higher than this (above) and I was busy shoveling and being miserable so I didn’t take follow up pix (sorry).

Here is the cause of all my misery today:

If you remember (from last week), I had installed Steve, our three-year old outdoor cat, into a spiffy straw nest under the holly tree by our front stoop. WELL. There have been big developments in the Steve Situation this week.  Thanks to the ingeniousness of my husband, the dear sweet Top Cat, Steve now has a specially-made, extra-strength outdoor kitty HEATING PAD in his nest:

Now, this is not my preferred Steve Situation. I would prefer it if Steve would come inside, but I’ve been trying to coax him all year and he has NO interest in becoming a house cat.

My second choice would be for him to install himself in his cubby in our garage, like he did last year; I’ve put all new straw into his cubby so that he could hunker down in a toasty cocoon, if he chose.

Here’s Taffy, who is clearly the smartest cat in the herd, using Steve’s cubby on Tuesday night:

Oh, I wish Steve would crawl into this space and let me have a good’s night’s sleep, knowing that he was warm on these bitter cold nights. But so far this year, he has not gone near the garage.

So, last weekend, making the best of a bad Steve Situation, I got busy making him a new cubby. I used the top of an enclosed kitty litter tray, cardboard, and one of those space-age mylar/aluminum thermal insulation blankets that I bought at REI:

I cut cardboard inserts that fit the kitty litter tray lid, and I wrapped them in the thermal blankets:

I put this awesome contraption on top of the heating pad and, to lure Steve back into this new, improved Steve Situation, I tossed in some of his favorite treats:

It was a bitter cold 10 degrees out there, and when I put my hand inside to refill the treats, the inside of this new, improved Steve Situation felt sooooo warm!! And Steve was happy to step inside this new, improved Steve Situation to eat the treats, and then he was happy to make a quick exit.

Over and over, I threw in Steve’s favorite treats, and over and over Steve refused to spend any quality time curled up inside. We played this game over the course of seven hours but I could not get Steve to not freak out about being enclosed in this new, improved Steve Situation, so finally I had to remove the new cubby. For my own peace of mind, however, I put up  pieces of  plexiglass that I hoped would protect him from the on coming Winter cyclone, and Steve was content with that:

On Thursday morning, I woke up to this:

This was before the wind became really fierce and before the snow started to fall like crazy and Steve’s Situation became complete covered in snow. I gave Steve his breakfast, and I shoveled the front stoop, but Steve abandoned the nest shortly after 9 o’clock. I shoveled a path through a foot of snow from the front stoop to the garage, and I kept it clear all day with repeated shovelings and I’ve been calling him all day, but I haven’t seen Steve.

At 4 o’clock, I removed the entire nest. That is, I cleared out all the old straw (there was a LOT of it)  and I took the wet fleece cover off the heating pad. I laid down a LOT of all new, clean, dry straw (I buy it by the bale each Fall) and I covered up the heating pad with straw, too. So the nest is nice and warm again. But no Steve.

I am heartbroken, but all I can do is wait, and hope that Steve comes back home.

But let’s take our minds off the Steve Situation and let’s paint something. There is a view of Claude Monet’s famous Japanese bridge in his water garden in Giverny, France that I really, really hate:

I really hate having to paint this bridge. I don’t like doing structures, and I don’t much like having to paint wisteria — it’ such a persnickety flower. And, as you can see, I’ve already given it a few tries, with little success. But, since I’m doing a book about Monet’s famous garden in Giverny, the wisteria-covered Japanese bridge must be painted.

So, in this forth attempt, I changed format a bit to put the bridge off-center and to include some background context for added interest. I like to start with the hardest part of a painting as a way of cutting my losses if it doesn’t turn out well, so that’s why I had the background almost completely finished before I started to do the wisteria:

I wanted to have “fun” with the flowers here, and get some groovy purple-blue bleeds going on:

I also had fun doing that deep background bit that you at the very end of the Japanese bridge. But at this stage, the wisteria didn’t look right to me — the shape of the blossoms wasn’t right:

Time for a famous Vivian Swift rescue.

First, I painted a small bunch of wisteria and cut it out:

Then I check to see if it fits the scene:

Then I glued it in place:

Next, on my third attempt, I came up with a larger piece that had interesting bleeds:

Now for the annoying bits. The vines:

The “superstructure” — the supports of the canopy over the bridge:

The annoying fiddly bits of railing:

I wish I could leave it just like this:

But no, I can’t leave it like this. I will have to paint the walkway of the bridge. Even worse, I’ll have to paint it as it would look on a sunny day, which means I’ll have to paint the shadows of the railings.

I don’t mind shadows. See page 28 of Gardens of Awe and Folly:

The problem I have with these shadows on Monet’s famous Japanese bridge is the photographs that I am using for reference for this picture.

First, there’s this photo that I took when I was in Giverny in December of 2015:

I’m also using a photo of the bridge that I took in early May of 2013:

As you see, in both instances the sun was not making an appearance. I have no idea what this view look like on a sunny day!

But part of my job as an illustrator is to use my imagination, nest-ce pas?

Tune in next Friday to see how — if — I pull this off.

Until then, I will keep this post open for updates on the Steve Situation and, if he makes me the happiest cat lady on Long Island by making a re-appearance, I will IMMEDIATELY let you all know.

Please, Steve. I’ve left the porch light on. Please come home.

7:37 pm, Friday night: STEVE IS HOME!!!

It’s been about 30 hours since I last saw Steve, and temperatures have been frigid. I have been calling for him day and night, and today I even waded into knee-deep snow to hunt for Steve’s body underneath the shrubs that border our property. I feared the worst.

Tonight, Top Cat and I had just finished dinner and I was going to start washing up but the thought passed through my mind that if Steve is Out There, he probably hasn’t eaten in a day; I should put out a fresh food. So I filled a bowl with kibble, opened the front door…

….AND THERE WAS STEVE, HOLLERING AT ME FOR BEING LATE WITH THE GRUB!!! As if nothing had happened. Mind you, I had called for him earlier, at 5 o’clock (normal diner time), and at 6…BUT HERE IS !!!

He’s still eating his first bowl of food, with a side of fresh water. I OF COURSE will stay close and see if he needs more. His heating pad has been on since dusk, at 5 o’clock, so if he stays the night he can curl up in his nest and all will be forgiven.

OMG OMG OMG. I cannot tell you how relieved I am — I have been morose and scared and depressed since he lest on Thursday morning. Thank you, Universe, for bringing STEVE HOME!!!

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My big sore nose still hurts. Not a lot, but enough to make me whiney and cranky. And then I was pulling out of my gym one morning last week and saw this:

According to a woman who was one car and two minutes ahead of me, the Lexus SUV didn’t stop to let the truck make the curve; the Lexus SUV driver saw the big truck turning towards her, but she just blew on her horn and rammed right into the undercarriage of the 18-wheeler. This is not unusual for Long Island Lexus people. Long Island Lexus people think they own the streets. However, I never thought that one would be stupid enough to play chicken with an 18-wheeler…but I guess I was wrong.

So that was one consolation for my nose woes: at least there was one other person who was having a worse day than I, and oh how sweet that it was a Lexus person!!

And then it rained for two days; and then we had a house guest for two days; and then we were really tired from having a house guest for two days, and then OMG it has been beastly cold here on the north shore of Long Island this past week. So, No, we have not trekked out to our favorite beach on the north shore of Long Island yet this new year to glorify our drinking habits with a fancy Solstice theme, so, No, I don’t have any pictures of the sun set to show you.

But I can offer you a photo of the Breakfast Club at my house:

That’s my neighbor’s cat, Dennis, second from the left (above). The rest are all mine. I’m rich with cats.

It’s been so cold this week (20 degrees F) that I was fretting about my outdoor cat, Steve. So today I added two wind break/walls to Steve’s little nest under the holly tree by my front stoop, and I piled up lots of additional new straw so that when he steps into his nest, he sinks up to the tippy-top of his ear-tips into a nasty-hamock of cosy, insulated, all-natural fibers:

He seems happy here, and he’s got a cubby in the garage in case he ever wanted to curl up inside an insulated kitty house. But it still doesn’t seem right for a kitty to spend his days and dark, freezing nights outside, but Steve resists all my attempts to lure him indoors so I fret. Yes, I do. I fret.

I also fret about my “job”, which is to paint Claude Monet’s famous garden in Giverny, France. This (below) is the scene I want to paint, a part of Claude Monet’s famous garden in Giverny, France, called The Ladies’ Circle:

These photos are from my 2013 visit to the garden (not my 2015 visit), in May when the cherry trees were in bloom:

No wonder Monet never painted this part of the garden, and no wonder that I have never seen this part of the garden photographed for any of those grand coffee table books about the garden:

This part of Monet’s garden is impossible to portray as picturesque. It’s partly because of the lay of the land — a lawn bordered by flower beds on the sloping terrain — and partly because that huge Paulownia tree (which has a very ungraceful trunk):

I have tried, and tried, and tried agains and again, and failed each time, to paint this place as a Spring scene, so my new strategy has been to try to paint it in Summer, when the tree’s ungainliness will be partly hidden by foliage. I also changed my point of view.

The most crucial part of this painting is the background, which must indicate abundance and frothy greenery without getting specific. On my FOURTH try, I got this:

Ideally, the background blobs should sound something like a cool pop song from the olden days. Kind of glamorous, like Petula Clarke singing “Don’t Sleep in the Subway, Darling”. Or, from the ’80s: Everything But The Girl doing “Miss You”. Know what I mean?

My favorite way to create a background that doesn’t overwhelm the picture with information, yet still creates a bit of interest, is to let the watercolor bleed into thought-provoking shapes:

I just realized that my preferred background music (see above) is a sad song about rain. I might be kind of depressed.

That damn Paulownia tree is just too quirky for my tastes, but I have to report it as faithfully as I can since this is for a picture book about Monet’s garden. I just can’t re-invent the bits I don’t like:

I’m hoping that the right crop will bring this pic to life:

OK, painting the flowers was fun:

And then I painted in a little, but necessary, tree and ruined the pic. Still, it was one of the least crappy pictures I’ve painted of this impossible view:

Lower right, that’s how the wrong little tree ruined the pic.

So far, all my attempts at panting this maddening Ladies’ Circle look like this:

But I’m a Capricorn. I’m scrappy. I’m determined. I’m conceited, distrusting, and unimaginative (according to any Air, Water, or Fire sign). Capricorns are not cuddly people.

This pissant Ladies’ Circle will not defeat me.

I’m good for ONE MORE TRY.

Done. Maybe. But maybe not.

On second thought, definitely not. Which comes as a surprise to me, since I only loaded up all these pix because I thought I’d got it, finally. So this is an unexpected twist to today’s blog. I hate when that happens.

I had a short discussion the other day, with Top Cat, about New Year’s Resolutions for 2018.  TC doesn’t want to make any, and that’s fine; we usually don’t bother. But we were very stick-in-the-muddish this year and we want to travel more in 2018 so we sat in silence, each of us trying to think of a place we really wanted to go to. Then we had a few more glasses of wine and I got a brilliant idea about what I should do with my life, and I jotted it down, and the next day I checked my scribbles and the message I had for myself for what to do in 2018 was this:

Hang out with owls.

Yeah. I’m going to see if I can make that happen.

Happy New Year to all you Dear Readers, whether it’s a Summer eve or a Winter one — I hope it’s the first day of a spectacular year, feathers and all.

P.S. I think I’m going to take one more stab at the Ladies’ Circle. Any suggestions?

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In my short life (nine years) as a professional illustrator, there is one thing that I can’t paint, and that’s what we will be painting today. Yay. I can feel the excitement from you Dear Readers already.

But first, we need to lead with the cats:

From top top bottom, that’s Bibs, Taffy, and our next-door neighbor, Dennis, on November 25, 2017. Bibs is hoping that something is going to happen between Taffy and Dennis, but Taffy just walked past Dennis and “didn’t” see him, while Dennis happened to be looking the other way and “couldn’t” see Taffy. It’s like my kitchen patio is high school and Taffy and Dennis are the popular girls.

And this just in:

Prince Harry is going to marry his American sweetheart! I, of course, watched the video of their engagement announcement on Monday in London and it was clear that these two people are smitten. She’s gorgeous and intelligent and fun and kind (so I read), and Harry is a Prince and I’m happy for them and they make a beautiful couple.

But I also  noticed the height discrepancy and had to look it up.  Prince Harry is on record as being 6’1″.  Meghan Markle is supposed to be 5’7″ (that’s one zillionty-two centimeters for those of you who think metric, but maybe not; I’m not good at math). Meghan was wearing heels that added at least three inches to her height (I looked it up; her shoes have a 4.1″ heel…YIKES), so that would, in theory, make her 5’11” in this picture.  Well, I don’t think so.

This is why I love the internet: I found a site called celebheights.com and it has been discussing Meghan Markle’s real height for about three years. The inside info is that she’s maybe 5’4″ TOPS, but someone who worked with her PR people says she’s only 5’2″, but she’s very slim, so that makes her look taller.

So, yeah, I have a lot of free time on my hands if I’m looking up stuff like Meghan Markle’s real height. But I also do productive stuff, such as solving the problem of the day.

Back to the problem of the day:

Before Claude Monet gave up painting genre pictures to concentrate of doing abstract water lily landscapes, he was quite good at painting sunlight:

Claude Monet: The Parc Monceau, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

I would love to be able to paint sun-dappled grass like this (see above).

Or, I’d love to be able to paint sun-dappled shade, like this:

Claude Monet, Luncheon at Argenteuil, Musee d’Orsay, Paris

But my problem is that I can’t do the dapple.

Dapple: the light that flickers between sun and shade.

It’s very hard to paint. Really, really hard.

Now, I’ve done a Triscuit or two, in which I have achieved a small dapple effect, one from Monet’s own garden at Giverny:

The Triscuit, at left, is a watercolor painted by me; the Triscuit at the right is a delicious baked wheat snack cracker made by Nabisco which is especially tasty when topped by a slice of cheddar cheese and heated to melting point in a toaster oven.

This next Triscuit dapple is a scene from my own village here on the Long Island Sound:

I have also achieved a semblance of dapple in several other small illustrations and studies for other projects:

So last week I attempted to do a dapple in the part of Monet’s garden at Giverny that is called The Ladies Circle (if you’ve been to Monet’s place, it’s that semi-circle of benches under the pawlonia tree at the bottom of the apple orchard):

I lied down a thin wash of yellow and bright green before I dappled it with dabs of darker green (working wet-in-wet):

The I sjuzzed it up by swiping at the still-wet blobs with my size-00 brush, because I had a recollection that this had worked for me in the past:

Suffice to say, it was a fiasco. And it was fiasco when I did it the second time, and the third time, and the fourth time:

These are all my attempts at doing The Ladies’ Circle, and all of them stink but some of them stink less than others.

I tried to find other watercolor painters on the internets who have successfully achieved dapple but not surprisingly, I couldn’t find a single one. No one who works in watercolor can do the dapple on green grass. It’s strictly an oil paint thing.

So I decided to go for a more, um, impressionistic look and this is what I got:

I painted this picture in true proportions to my photo reference, but those benches just don’t look right as they are. They need to be embiggened, even if they are not so in the real world —  so I will be be re-doing this pic in the near future. But I did manage to do a nice study of one of those benches (the design was Monet’s own favorite), and the tea table that I put in front of it is a quote from one of  Mr. Monet’s own pictures:

I never cared for one of Monet’s fellow impressionists, Pierre-August Renoir, but he’s been in the news lately because of this:

Maybe you heard about the fake Renoir that der Drumpf has hanging in his glitzy Trump Tower apartment? The one that he still brags is “real”, even though the Chicago Institute of Art has had the authentic Renoir painting on display since 1933 and can substantiate its provenance from 1881, when the artist painted it and sold it to a dealer in Paris. It’s called Two Sisters on a Terrace and I don’t care for it at all, except that I LOVE it for being evidence of der Drumpf’s delusions that even his nut job fans can’t possible defend. I mean, even a nut job crypto-Nazi half-wit has to believe his own eyes, right?

Just remember this the next time you hear der Drumpf claim that the news is fake, that he turned down Time magazine’s cover for Person of the Year, and that voice on the recording isn’t his. I hope and pray that no one from der Drupf’s family is invited to Prince Harry’s wedding, oh lordy, the next thing you know der Drumpf will be telling us that Harry wanted him to be Best Man because of his close friendship with the late Princess Diana.

Luckily, as the Prince is only 5th in line to the throne of England, I think the wedding will be a personal rather than a state affair, so the happy couple will be free to exclude any head of state whose every word is a nugget of steaming puss oozing from its filthy rotten lying orifice, or any creep they just don’t like.

As you see here, Renoir couldn’t dapple either.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers. It’s beginning to feel like Winter here on Long Island, so wherever you are stay warm and cozy…

Another configuration of the Two Cats/One Space Principle.

…or stay cool, whichever make you feel dappled and drowsy and groovy.

See you next Friday!

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One of the beings in this photo is responsible for breaking a lot of dishes last month. Hint: It’s not Taffy, and it’s not Lickety.

I’m taking Dear Reader and Commentor Patricia’s advice: Lead with the cats.

Last month I went out of town for a weekend and while I was away there happened a dishwashing incident  which depleted our inventory by three dinner plates, one salad bowl, and one drinking glass.

Our previous inventory of dinner plates served us well, five in total, being that there are only two of us in the house who use plates for dinner. But now, because of the infamous dishwashing incident, we were down to two dinner plates in total, and we soon discovered that being a two-plate family did not really suit our lifestyle of opulence and luxury. I needed to shop for new plates.

Note to Top Cat: Please get a bigger lap. Your current lap does not meet my requirements. From: Lickety, on the edge of the couch.

My original set of five dinner plates was what was left of a mis-matched collection of bits that I’d found in thrift shops in the past 20 years so, at first, I was all excited about shopping for new dinner plates. For I have changed since my thrift shop days and  it turns out that I now rather like the housewares section of Lord & Taylor, Macy’s, and Nordstrom’s, and I love Home Goods.

But in the hours I spent wandering amongst the brand-new china I never saw anything that I liked more than my old favorites, the ones that were in pieces in the local landfill. Those were the dinner plates I wanted. My old, lost, done-for dinner plates, of which I only ever had three that matched anyway. So I turned to the internet.

BTW, the more I type the word “plate”, the stranger that word feels in my brain. Plate. It’s not a pretty word at all, is it?  Any hoo. . .

. . . of course we all know that you can find ANYTHING on the internet, so after 15 minutes of browsing, I hit the Checkout button and lo, a mere four days later, a huge box was deposited on my doorstep:

Here’s where things get a little weird because here is where I discuss an internet thing that you might not have heard of. It’s called Unboxing. It’s a thing, especially on YouTube, where people watch other people unwrap, or unbox, some new item from its factory-sealed packaging. Millions of people watch people unbox stuff, and the best unboxers have followings that earn them big bucks in this strange, bizarre internet economy. Why do I bother writing books when I could unbox instead?

So for today, let’s consider ourselves to be part of this weird cult and let’s unbox, with the added attraction that, at the end, I will reveal the most perfect plates from which to fork up your dinner.

This unboxing experience comes to you thanks to a fabulous site, replacements.com, that will find the old stuff that matches the old stuff in your cupboards.

While we unbox (let’s face it, this really only works in video) let us think back upon the events in Las Vegas, which still bother me and, I’m sure, haunt you Dear Readers as well. The best we can do for each other is to do as was advised by Ms. Moon at  Bless Our Hearts:

Let’s try to be one of those people who remind others that this world is not all bad.

I think that’s the sanest thing I’ve heard in all the words that have been spoken and written about the great loss of life in Nevada, and is why I’m unboxing dinner plates and queuing up lots more cat photos for you all today. I’m trying to be one of those people.

Are you ready?

Ta-da: These are, in my expert opinion, the best dinner plates ever designed by mankind except for the Wedgwood that we only use for Thanksgiving because we don’t deserve to use it every day:

I looked closely at the stocking labels and yeah, that seemed about  right:

The word “snot” always makes me laugh.

For the record, SNOTETY stands for Studio Nova Terrace Twist, Yellow. Apparently these plates also come in red, white, and gray. But yellow is the best.

Replacements.com only had 7 of these yellow plates and I bought them all. In my original collection I only had three of them. Now I have 8 and I feel rich. (It doesn’t take much.) They were $7.99 per plate and I also found out from Replacements.com that my plates came out in the long lost year of — wait for it — 1987. I love the idea of having the ’80s on my table.

Here’s how good my favorite breakfast looks on these ’80s plates:

Toasted ciabatta bread drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with pink Tibetan salt. Because I’m fancy.

The  only down side to this life-enhancing unboxing experience is that the plates came with a crap load of packaging:

Sorry about that, world.

I promise to re-use every bit of paper and styrofoam.

Since this blog post is all about making the world a better place, here’s a picture that is sure to make most of you Dear Readers happy although, unlike unboxing, there is no known name for this thing, which I will call: This Is My Kitchen, But That Is Not My Cat:

Top Cat and I came home one evening to find Dennis, our next door neighbor’s cat, in the kitchen. He had hopped in for breakfast that morning and I forgot that e was in the house and he forgot to leave. I am saying right here and now that finding your neighbor’s cat sitting in your kitchen like he owns the place should be a thing. A huge thing.

See that small pot on the stove? That is my Tea Kettle of Perfection. I got it about six months ago and it has made me happy every day, sometimes twice a day.

Yes, it’s just a regular one quart Calphalon pot, but it’s the best tea kettle I’ll ever have because, for one, I like a tea kettle that I can clean inside of.  For two, it has a glass lid so I can see when the water is boiling, which I just get a kick out of. And for three, it has a nice rubber-coated handle so I can lift the lid easily and not get my fingers steamed off.

For a person who thinks the word “snot” is hilarious, I have very connoisseur taste in tea pots, n’est-ce pas? 

And now for keeping the promise I made before the unhappiness in Las Vegas happened. This is how you can get your own happy daily flower from Claude Monet’s own garden in Giverny . . .

. . . in the form of a lovely desk calendar, photographed by Giverny resident and Monet garden tour guide Ariane Cauderlier.

The Monet’s garden calendar is on good, heavy paper stock, nice and glossy, very luxurious. Because it is a perpetual calendar, it can be used over and over, for many years to come, and it is only sold in Giverny.  It’s very easy to buy one for everyone you know because Ariane accepts payment by Paypal, and the French government charges minimal postage to send this anywhere in the world because, as an artifact of French culture, this calendar is shipped under special, very inexpensive, government rates. The total cost, postage included, is 26 US dollars or 22.50 euros.  France wants you to have this calendar!

You can contact Ariane at Giverny News and brush up on your French while you’re at it. (Ariane speaks and writes perfect English, and a few other languages as well. But not Strine.)

This is today’s photo from Giverny, of Claude Monet’s dining room, by Ariane (on her blog, Giverny News). Please note the plate in the center of the table, under the vase. Look familiar?

And as another treat, Ariane sent me more cat photos from Claude Monet’s world famous garden in Giverny for your viewing pleasure. Please meet Eden, the dear heart who reigned over the Clos Normand until last Winter, when she crossed the rainbow bridge:

Eden in Eden:

Todays’s special Wednesday post was brought to you by my favorite flower of all:

The Cosmo.

I am glad that through all the chaos and noise, that you, Dear Reader, have found your way to this gentle corner of the cosmos where teapots, Giverny cats, perpetual flowers, and 1980s dinner plates are a thing.

And because I haven’t said it in a while, der Drumpf is still a huge, slimy, steaming piece of shit who makes the world a terrible place with every utterance from his pig-eyed face and every Tweet from his short, fat, worm-like fingers.

See you back here on Friday.

xoxo

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Seven seconds is how long I have to convince the average reader to not toss my book aside with disgust and a sigh of boredom.  If a writer does not capture a reader’s attention within seven seconds (it’s been studied by a panel of scientific experts) then that reader will . . . Hey! Where are you going?! Come back here!! 

Dear Patient Readers, I have been working on an itty bitty book about the wonderful flower garden in France that was lovingly designed and tended to by the painter Claude Monet and I’ve given it a rather catchy and sexy title that is sure to grab eyeballs:

Still with me?

My original idea for this illustrated tour of Monet’s garden in Giverny was to keep the book almost wordless, limiting text to one page, and garnishing the rest of the book with three or four quotes from the great Monet himself.

My agent told me that she loved being immersed in the way that I re-created Monet’s world in 65 watercolors, but she wished I would include a few more bons mots from Monsieur Monet. No problem, I said; until I started to dig deeper into the Wit and Wisdom of Claude Monet.

I am an unimaginative, intellectually plodding, highly persnickety Capricorn. That means that I am compulsive about locating all of the stuff that Monet is reported to have said about his flowers and his gardening in the original French, just to make sure that he really said the stuff he is supposed to have said, and that the stuff he really said has been translated by other people the way he really said it.

If only I were a Pisces, I would not be tracking down obscure art journals from 1927 (the fabled July issue of La Revue de l’art ancient et moderne) or wishing evil things unto the authors of the lousy footnotes in most of the best known English language biographies of The Prince of the Impressionists.

You watched me do these irises for the book back in May, when this used to be a blog all about watching paint dry.

I am very nearly finished with my digging — I am still awaiting the arrival of the last book from France that I hope I will have to buy for this project — but I can state with 100% certainty that Monet never said: Yes, I like to run naked through my flower beds at dusk but I keep my boots on because some of those posies have thorns.

To keep my spirits in the spirit of Monet’s garden I have this package of wonderfulness, every day delivering a sweet reminder of the most famous garden in the world:

This desk calendar is a perpetual calendar, delivering one delicious flower from Monet’s garden each day forever. Ariane Cauderlier, the photographer, owns the fabulous L’Hermitage B&B in Giverny:


Ariane knows the Monet gardens — the flower garden and the water garden that includes the famous Japanese bridge and water lilies — as only a daily visitor and next-door neighbor can, and she is authorized by the Foundation Claude Monet to give tours of the gardens, which she does in several languages. You can keep up with all the latest happenings in Monet’s World through Ariane’s beautifully photographed blog here. 

Next week I will tell you how to get this calendar for yourself and everyone you know, sent to you straight from Monet’s garden (it’s not sold anywhere but Giverny), but today Ariane has given me some hot hot hot news from Monet’s garden that you will only read about here! On my blog!

Exclusive: Monet’s garden has a new official cat!

The live-in head gardener and his wife are cat lovers, and lucky visitors to the Clos Normand (the flower garden that surrounds Monet’s house) might have, in days past, caught a glimpse of a tuxedo tabby cat sitting in the open upstairs window, or strolling the garden paths once the gates have closed and the tourists are gone. But as we all know, kitties get old and retire to that great lily pond in the sky. But as we feel sad for the old Cat of Giverny, Long Live the New Cat of Giverny!

And here he is:

He is called Nougat.

Nougat, in its non-cat form.

He is cute! And you’ll only see him here! Ariane says that this is the best photo she’s been able to get because, as you can imagine, he’s a young cat and still familiarizing himself with his estate so he’s much too busy to pose for pictures.

My cats, on the other hand, are never busy, never ever never. And I have to tell you, I’m getting concerned about Lickety. . .

. . . whose sleeping habits have recently revealed a strange change to his personality:


Lickety usually likes to find the fluffiest blankie or pillow in the house and hunker down for ten hours a day. But lately, I’ve found him dozing in spots where I have never before seen him supine, in places where I would not expect to find a comfort-loving cat. Even when I put his favorite towel down in one of his new locations, he refuses to use it:

Then again, what can I expect, when his mother does things like this:

Seen from my upstairs bathroom window.

That’s Lickety’s mama, Candy, sleeping on the roof of the shed next to our garage. It’s her preferred napping perch. So it runs in the family.

OK, for my final seven seconds I want to leave you with a recommendation for a good way for you to not waste your precious hours of life when you could be drinking wine by reading something that stinks. I came across an interesting-sounding book via a mention in the New York Times, by an English food writer I have never heard of: Patience Gray. She became a cult figure, according to the Times, in 1986 with the publication of her book called Honey From a Weed. The Times called this book “An artful combination of memories, recipes, and traveler’s tales”.  It’s also illustrated. This is right up my alley!

Hoping to steal something good from Patience Gray for my next book [which refuses to write itself, no matter how long I wait and wait], I checked the book out on Amazon.com.

Here is the book’s first sentence:

In the last twenty years I have shared the fortunes of a stone carver and during that time, working in silver and gold, have become a craftsman myself.

I have a hard time understanding this sentence. Not only is it grammatically awkward, it lacks musicality — it’s missing a few syllables in its flow. And — yawn — stone carving and crafting. I think I’m bored already but as this writer and this book come very highly recommended, I soldier on until, five sentences later, I hit this:

The Sculptor’s appetite for marble precipitated us out of modern life into the company of marble artisans and wine-growers in Carrara and into an isolated community of “Bronze Age” farmers on Naxos.

“…precipitated us out of modern life”??

I have already spent a good 20 seconds sussing out this Honey From a Weed (BTW, about the title: Ew) and I regret every nano-second.

Nope.

Life is short. And wine is long.

So is my hair:

 

This is me, last week (it’s still pretending it’s Summer out here on Long Island) holding the biggest bunch of celery I have ever seen. I need a haircut.

Have a great weekend, my Dear Readers, and may you find eternity in every moment of your day.

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I will explain this photo in a bit. (Yes, I am completely sober, for the moment.) First, we have some PAINTING to do!

To re-cap: This is the view of Claude Monet’s famous lily pond in his Water Garden in Giverny, France that our Dear Reader Jeanie photographed one fine September day:

Those red plants blooming in the foreground look to me to be some kind of celosia, which gives this away as a Fall scene. Yes, I am extremely proud of myself for knowing that celosia blooms in the early Autumn. Even more than that, I’m amazed that I even know what celosia are — but that’s what writing a garden book will do: it will turn a person who basically couldn’t give a crap about horticulture into someone who notices, and NAMES,  celosia in the foreground. So,  La-Di-Da for me!***

***see Comments below for my come-uppance.

Thank you, Jeanie, for letting me paint your view (we’re calling this The Jeanie Challenge), which after two weeks of blogging looks like this so far:

For Jeanie and all others who are painting along with moi, I want you all to rest assured that even if you follow me stroke by stroke, you will never be “copying” me. It’s like when we all learned how to write cursive (which I hear is something that nobody bothers to teach any more).

We were all shown the same standard forms, we all practiced copying the forms, but in the end our handwriting is uniquely ours:

BTW, from what I know about handwriting analysis, this is the writing of a pervert.

It’s the exact same thing with watercolor. Even if you use every single technique I use for this pic, your painting will be you, all you, as surely as your own handwriting is. SPEAKING of handwriting, handwriting is kind of how I solved the problem of what to do with the big blank right hand side of this picture:

I want to do something different for that big bank spot there, treat it in a way that will make it stand out against the background stuff that I’ve already painted. I thought about this problem a lot, and in the end I decided to draw it:

In that I use the same tool as I would if I’d handwritten this, that’s where the HANDWRITING connection comes in. Nice segue, eh?

As I sussed it, there are three distinct textures in that foreground bit. From top to bottom: long spikey stuff, big leafy stuff, and small grassy stuff, which I drew as you can see below:

So all I’m going to do here is paint those textures.

First, the grassy stuff, just a wash of light green with some dark green strokes:

Then the long spikes stuff — I really love doing this kind of brush stroke, but if you’re new to it, it pays to practice it before you put in down on your painting. It is actually harder than it looks to get that nice, elongated lozenge shape:

For the leafy texture in the middle, I’m going to smoosh my paint brush into my dark-green green . . .

. . . and then smoosh it into my light-green green:

And then I’m going to dab in some leafs (it’s a press and twist motion):

That’s what I call PAiNTiNG, people.

Stepping back to survey the work, I think the leafs look a little too same-y as the spikey stuff here:

So I’m going to use clear water on my brush to smudge the paint a bit:

That’s better:

Now it’s time to do those celosia plants in the foreground. They are a bizarre shade of red, so I’m going to mix a hot pink (Permanent Rose) with a deep, blood-red red (Red Purple, which cost $16.95 for this teeny little tube! But that’s what you have to pay to get a really good, rich, red.):

I experimented with the mix to see if I could match the color of Jeanie’s View, and I also had to practice painting these shapes, which are a bit weird:

I also wanted to see how the hot ink/purple red mix looked when it was painted over the green and blues that are already on the paper:

Thankfully, the pigment held its own. The hard part, as always, is to avoid making a pattern, to keep them looking as random as nature:

Note that I painted the celosia in light and dark shades of my hot pink/red purple mix.

Now that all the hard stuff is done, we can step back and congratulate ourselves for getting this far without ruining the pic. Yay for us!

And now for the fun bit:

You might know this, or not, but all the structures in Monet’s garden — the plant supports that give his flower garden its height, the shutters on his house, all the outdoor furniture, and all the bridges in his Water Garden — are painted the same rich, saturated green. It’s a very distinctive color, variously called “Apple Green” and “Monet Green”.

To make this green stand out against all the other greens in Monet’s garden, I use an acrylic paint:

Since it is plastic, opaque, and thick, the acrylic paint has a totally different property than the watercolor, so it stands out even when I use it in a teeny tiny background detail :

I am editing out all the other people in Jeanie’s original photograph and I’m only painting two people on the bridge:

They are basically stick figures — but be sure to shade them and to give them some sort of gesture; I have one of my figures turing to the other one, to whisper sweet words: You were so right. Being here does take my mind off the fact that we have a low-class, smug, shit-for-brains president back home.

The last thing I have to do (as a painter of this scene) is tone down the “roses” in that weird arcade, which I do by painting over them in dark green:

Are we DONE?

Nope.

I happen to like the way the colors and shapes of this composition pulls the eye all around this little pic. But, even so, that light background behind the bridge bothers me. Jeanie’s photograph is so wonderful because of the way she framed those figures on the bridge — although they are way back in the background, they are pushed forward (in the photo) because of the dramatic way they are seen against very, very dark foliage. I feel compelled to be honest to the view, and so I think I need to paint that in:

DONE.

Well done. You’ve earned it: time to unscrew the lid off of your finest Pinto Grigio:

This is how we do it on the Long Island Rail Road.

It was cold and gray last Sunday as I waited for the 5:22 to Ronkonkoma (change at Jamaica for the Oyster Bay local). Penn Station was crowded and I’d spent all day out and about in Manhattan, wishing I’d worn a Winter coat instead of the short leather jacket I’d put on that morning in trust that the forecast of 62 degrees was not just someone’s fantasy that our long, long, long delayed Spring had finally arrived. I was chilled to the bone and I’d been crying earlier in the afternoon:

Spoiler: This movie is a good old fashioned treat jerker.

The grungier food stalls at Penn Station sell teeny bottles of wine for $5 each, but they can not let you take those bottles away with you. Probably because Madison Square Garden is right above the LIRR train tracks and nobody wants arm a bunch of pissed off  (or celebrating, it doesn’t matter) Knicks and Rangers fans with both alcohol and a sturdy glass projectile. So what they do is, they kindly pour your one, two, or three bottles of wine into a huge Coke go-cup, ask if you also want ice, snap a lid on it, and punch it with a straw.

It’s the Long Island commuter’s security blanket.

So I had a very happy journey home that cold and gray Sunday. Because it was the weekend, the train was full and the riders were much more voluble than the usual Mon-Fri crowd, which was very entertaining for me. Also, I was kind of drunk.

Overheard on the 5:22 to Ronkonkoma:

As passengers are walking down the aisle, finding seats:

I’m sick of the city.

You’re a meat person, right?

Leave the car where it’s parked, we’re never going to use it again.

And when we go to Dubai I’m gonna take you to Amsterdam for the weekend.

From seated passengers:

One 20-something girl to her friend, who is unwrapping an extra large chocolate bar: That’s, like, a thousand calories. Her friend: I can deal with it. 

Behind me, another 20-something girl starts to squeal to her friend (and I swear, this is exactly how the conversation went): What IS that? It’s on your bag! Give me five dollars so I can chew it! Other girl responds: How do you Google that?

Guy on his cell phone: Are we going to spend shabbat in LA? I hope not.

Older man to his wife: They can wear it for all I care, but I don’t have to look at it. Wife: They do things to their bodies to look that thin.

Random stuff that drifted through the general noise:

When we were kids I loved going out and doing stuff but now I’m a 22-year old guy and I like stay in and drink.

Fish and chips. With risotto.

Maine. I never think of Maine. Maine is the most boring state in the union. (I have to agree with that one.)

I liked the part where they went back in time. Did they have dinner? 

I was thinking, as I listened and took notes, that the LIRR is a goldmine of awesome non-sequiturs! I should write a book about the overheard conversations on the LIRR! I bet the LIRR would PAY me to be, like, their scribe! Like, their resident anthropologist! People would love this stuff! I should put it all in a book! Best seller! I should pitch this to the president of the MTA [Metropolitan Transportation Authority]! The MTA would jump at the chance! 

Like I said, I was a bit pie-eyed. A mere two sheets to the wind. Slightly hammered. Definitely lit.

 This project is now filed away with all my many, many, many other Bad Ideas.

Have a great weekend, my Dear Readers. I hope that all your wine is fine, all your ideas are good, and that all your bad ideas are only momentary.

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This is the most interesting thing I’ve learned from the results of Round One of the French presidential election:

The front-runner, Emmanuel Macron, is a 39-year old Sagittarian with Capricorn rising. Interesting, non?

And oh, yeah, his wife is 24 years older than he is.

They’ve been married for ten years but met ages before, when he was a 17-year old high school student and she was one of his teachers. In the French newspaper that I read, their relationship is described as being a union of intellectual soul mates. Interesting, non?

I’m thinking of taking this photo to my hair dresser to get a blonde dye job just like Brigitte’s. She looks amazing.

In other news of the week, Robert Pirsig died. In my early 20s I tried to read this book back when it was still a hot item in the zeitgeist. I got half way through it and could not bear to hear one more paragraph of that author’s “voice” –which is the same voice as in The Bridges of Madison County, BTW, another story told by a manly narrator who is a thinly disguised version of the author’s own conviction of his ethical and moral superiority. Rambling’ men, both of them, too cool to be held accountable by “society”.

That said, I do think that Mr. Pirsig came up with an absolutely brilliant title for his book. It really swings, and that’s no mean feat. I’m sure it helped sell his book by the boatload, and that’s no mean feat either. It’s funny, these books that the culture latches onto at any given moment; it means that millions of people who don’t read books become, suddenly and unpredictably, motivated to read one, and that’s just good luck, or good timing, or magic because it obviously isn’t quality. 

But now we are getting into something that I can get a little too obsessed about, and lord knows I can get snide when it comes to authors who buy villas in the south of France from selling boat loads of dreck, so let’s get back to the regularly scheduled programming for this blog.

If you remember, we’re painting this view of Monet’s lily pond in his Water Garden on his property in  Giverny, France:

And this was the sketch I made of this view, using only these few guide lines to orient me:

Last week I painted the top third of the view:

And this week I’m going to start painting the bottom two-thirds:

For me, it’s necessary to start by using masking fluid to block out bits of foreground foliage (see below) . . .

. . .and all the lily pads that float on the surface of the pond:

The reasons I use a toothpick to apply making fluid is because, for One: I work on a small scale, so a toothpick doles out the proper amount of fluid for my purposes; and TWO: toothpicks are disposable, which saves me the bother of clean up. You can see (below) that the pattern of my lily pad/masking fluid resembles random splotches:

When the masking fluid is thoroughly dry, I load up the area with clear water:

I can’t emphasize the importance of using clean clean CLEAN water! I change my jars of water frequently — I use two at a time: one for cleaning off the blue and green paints, the other for cleaning off the yellow and reds. And I never let the water get the tiniest bit murky. As son as I detect the slightest hint of cloudiness in my water jars, I dump them. Clean water is the secret to making your paint sparkle.

Any hoo, getting back to the painting: I’m putting a wash of light green on the “top” of the pond (the bit near the shoreline):

And then, quickly, I’m putting a bright blue wash at the “bottom” of the pond:

I work the blue wash up towards the middle, where it meets the green wash — don’t use too may brush strokes here, or else you’ll end up with mud; just let the water do the work:

While the entire surface is still wet, I dab in some darker green:

And I pat in a drop or two of green around the edges of the lily pads (for s kind of shadow, to give depth):

Ooooh — I really like the way the green wash is pooling!:

Although I sometimes I use a hair dryer to speed things up, in general I spend a lot of time waiting for paint to dry. I never use a hair dryer on washes! It’s best to let washes dry naturally — in my experience, the air does very interesting stuff to paint and water. In the case of this wash that I did for the pond here, I knew it was going to take several minutes (up to 15) to dry so I left the room to make a cup of tea, and when I came back I discovered that the pool of water did not do what I expected it to do:

OK, that’s not what I was counting on, but I do love it when watercolor does what watercolor wants to do, so I’ll make the best of it. Here’s how the wash dried in the rest of the pond:

I really like blotchy watercolor. And now that this wash is bone dry I can paint in a very light “reflection” of the Willow Tree:

If you refer to the reference photo . . .

. . . you’ll see that there is an inconvenient pile of weeds sticking out of the surface of the pond (to the right). I’d rather not have to paint that but, oh well; let’s start with a light green base, and while it’s still damp I will stroke in some very dark green:

With that done, I’ll attack the dark green foliage by painting over the masking fluid:

Then we let everything dry:

And then I pick up the masking fluid with a special wad of rubber that I only use for this purpose. Don’t use an eraser — it will peel too much of the paper away — try something gummy, and soft:

Painting lily pads is hard. I think I used 10 different tones of blue-green, green, yellow-green, and green-blue:

For the lilies I’m using a dab of white acrylic paint as my base:

While that acrylic paint is damp, Ill drop in some hot pink:

And voila: We have achieved pondage!

Now I have a big problem. See that big blank area? I have to do something interesting here. I have to do something there that will make it *POP*, but not too much POP so that it over-takes the rest of the pic. I can’t do what I’ve already done so far (the green blobs in the background) — that would make the whole pic too samey and b-o-r-i-n-g. This bit of foreground is on a different scale than the rest of the pic, so I’ll need to do something new and different. Bold. Whatever that is.

Here is where I actually put the pic aside for a day, because I really had not thought out, beforehand, how I was going to tackle this section. I think I’m very lucky to have gotten this far without crapping things up!

So let’s use this as a stopping point for now. Next week we will paint that foreground, and hope it works, and muse on other hot topics of the week.

BTW, Robert Pirsig didn’t use his millions of dollars in royalties to buy a villa in the South of France. He bought a sail boat and a house in Maine. The author of The Bridges of Madison County bought a ranch in the middle of Texas. E L James (Fifty Shades of Gray) has houses in LA and Cornwall. CORNWALL. So, not only are their books bad, but so is their taste in real estate.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers.

 

 

 

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Writers are famous for being very particular about their working conditions. Some writers need background noise (so they hang out at Starbuck’s) and some need absolute quiet (Proust had his room sound-proofed). Some can only write in the very early hours of the day (Hemingway) and some can write at any hour but it has to be in a room with totally bare walls (Maya Angelou). But you don’t hear much about the work habits of painters — except for Monet, who was famous for being able to paint only 10 minutes a day (sometimes), in order to catch a certain kind of sun light in the plein air.

I don’t paint plein air (that means: outside) but I still need a specific kind of natural light to do my stuff. My prime time for painting is in the late morning until the middle afternoon, but no later than 4 o’clock. Judge Judy comes on at 4 o’clock.  I credit all my legal knowledge to watching Judge Judy — the one time I was sued in small claims court I got the case thrown out in 5 minutes. I love confrontation, and I love outsmarting people, and I will NEVER settle! Man-o-man, I would have made a killer litigator.

But, alas, I am an illustrator, so let us take a look at today’s illustrating challenge, which comes from one of our favorite Dear Readers.

Dear Reader Jeanie took this beautiful photo when she was in France, on her visit to the lily pond in Monet’s Water Garden in Giverny. Did you know that the Water Garden has SIX bridges in total? This is a pic of the bridge at the farthest eastern edge of the pond:

I can see why Jeanie has been hankering to paint this scene: the reflections on that pond are soooo cool, with the Willow tree greenery in the distance and that brilliant blue sky in the foreground. YUM. Also, you get the view of two (out of Monet’s three) famous Willow trees in the background with that sweet little bride in the center. The pic also has a fetching balance of dark bits in the foliage, with all kinds of textures going on everywhere you look. It’s a wonderful photograph, compositionally and subject-wise.

But as for painting it, it’s going to be a bugger. The main problem is all those background trees:

There’s a whole lot of the identical tint/tone/shade of green lurking in all that green greenery back there. It will be tricky to paint it without ending up with one big puddle of verdure. So after a great deal of study (5 minutes or so) I have mapped out this greenery in my mind and have decided that I’m going to paint it (going left to right) as: Background greens, Peripheral greens, Little Willow, General Fluffiness, Big Willow. Most importantly, I have also mapped out the order in which I will paint them, which you will see shortly.

So let’s get to it!

Here is the sum total of my equipment:

Here are the guide-lines I will use for the painting of this scene, which we will call Jeanie’s View:

SPOILER ALERT: I am going to be showing the painting of Jeanie’s View in detail today so I can talk about the many decisions I make as I paint this complicated scene, so expect to see lots of pics that look pretty much like this one (below) in which I am making a wash of sky:

I let this wash dry, and then I dab in some very light and watery background foliage by using a blue-green wash (I chose the color deliberately to add some variety to the overall greenery of this scene) and just patting my paintbrush against the “sky”:

While the blue-green wash is still wet-ish, I will work quickly to dab in some peripheral trees, using a bright green-yellow:

Still working wet-in-wet, I pat in some darker blue-green:

I let all that dry before I dab in some more blue-green-ish stuff:

I chose to use blue-green here only to make a distinction between the trees that are minor characters in this view and the trees that will be the major characters. The most important trees in this view are the Willows, so I will paint them last — which is why I am skipping over to the center of the view now, where all the non-Willow fluffiness is. I put in a nice light yellow wash first:

And then I pat in some light green:

As the wash gets more and more dry, I pat in more dabs of green, which will “hold” as distinct shapes of foliage:

I am still taking advantage of the dampness of the background wash to pat in some medium greens:

The wash is almost completely dry now, so I’m going to get bold and go for some dark green (it’s Hunter green mixed with just a touch of black) that will really “hold” well:

It was at this point that I started to believe that I had something here. I wasn’t sure at all about the fate of this pic in the beginning…I made the background kind go bland on purpose, in order to not overwhelm the pic with too much detail, but I could not tell if it would work or not until I got here, and did not screw up the bleeds I needed here. I can see that I painted a big round puff ball, which I’m not happy about, but I can fix that; what I can’t fix is a bad bleed. These little bleeds look OK. Whew.

While I paint, I constantly refer back to Jeanie’s photograph, to make sure that I’m dabbing in those darks and lights in approx. the right places. I decided to paint that big area of fluffiness in two parts, exactly because I knew that I wanted to use a wet wash while it slowly dried up, and you (meaning: me) can only do that in small bits. So when I start the second part of that area of fluffiness, I start with a darker wash of pale green-blue instead of yellow)

I dab in yellow and then my dark green to merge into the dark green I had previously done:

Add medium green and let dry:

Compare to reference photo to check for placement of the dark spot:

It looks OK to me.

Since I am a miniaturist at heart, I have a tendency to over-do the details when I paint “large”, and luckily I have stopped myself at a good point with this fluffy background. Time to paint the Little Willow, which as you can see from the ref photo above, has a “dark” and a “light” side — so I am putting down two washes side-by-side:

I wanted to add some dark green to the darker wash, but I put in too much:

This could have ruined it all, but thankfully the paint was still wet and all I had to do was “pick it up” — go over it with a very clean brush to remove the unnecessary paint and SAVE THE DAY:

Now that the wash is dry, I am putting in some fine lines in various shades of light and dark green to simulate the Willow fonds:

I add some darkness to the foliage on either side of the Willow in order to make this main-character tree “pop”:

Lastly, it’s time to do the Big Willow:

Ooooh — nice bleed of dark and light green wash (below)!

Here’s how I paint fronds with both my big (No. 1) brush and my teeny (No. 00) one . . .

Don’t worry — we are NOT painting the entire pic today; I have just a few more bits to show you before we call it a day (we’ll finish the pic next week, when we do the WATER!!).

But here is where we are so far:

For now, I am leaving the tree-line unresolved like this. I know that according to my reference photo of Jeanie’s View, I am missing a big area of darkness between my Willows, but I also know that  if I don’t stop myself here I am afraid that I will add too much darkness and detail, and lose the brightness and spontaneity that I have so far. I will have to go back later and patch up some bits here and there, but it would be better for me and the pic if I wait to see what happens in the rest of the view before I make those adjustments.

All I’m going to do for the rest of this post is paint in the water-line at the bottom of those trees. Of course I will be using my favorite thing in the whole world — wet-in-wet bleeds:

And we are DONE for the day.

You might be wondering what those goofy pink arches on the right edge of Jeanie’s View are. Those are the rose arbors painted by Monet:

I think this is a very ugly painting. The shape of the arbors is very unappealing — boxy, inelegant, etc. The brush strokes look tentative (wimpy) and the colors manage to be both muddy and cartoonish. And if you don’t know the lay-out of his Water Garden, this painting doesn’t make much sense: is that pile of brownish-pink in the middle of a pool or what? Even his water lilies look like crap. See? Even Monet had bad days at the old easel.

It’s because of this painting that I dislike his lily pond rose arbors, and I tried to minimize the presence of these odious rose arbors in my pic but I obviously failed (see: my painting) — they poke out of the landscape like, well, like cartoonish rose-covered arbors. I will fix that later.

Speaking of Giverny, you all know that it is Election Day this Sunday in France, right? It’s a very tense election, with a four-way heat between the candidates from the far left, the middle left, the middle right, and the far right. If you remember my post from 2015, when I was in Giverny for their last elections for local representative, I got to witness  voting in Giverny and it was so cool — even back then, my Giverny friends assured me that Marine LePen’s party could not possible get votes in their neck of the woods… but she did, yes she did; and if you think that she couldn’t possibly win the Presidency in 2015 I have two words for you: Der Drumpf. . . who is still a fat ass shit-eating maggot. If you have a friend in France who isn’t a moron, keep your lines open. They might need to email you late in the night after the polls close, and you have to be available to coax them off the ledge.

Interesting Fact: The watercoloring that you watched me do today took me 1 hour and 50 minutes — almost TWO HOURS — of painting Jeanie’s View. At this point in my blog post, I’ve spent over three and a half hours writing and posting pix about what it took me two hours to paint. I’m starting to think that there is something wrong with this business model. (P.S. this blog took about six hours total to gather photos, lay out in WordPress, write, and revise.)

I actually painted for two more hours on Jeanie’s View and then I stopped (the pic is still not finished) but for your sake, I will stop here.  The reason I put the brushes down after four hours is because I know that I am not good for more than four hours of painting on any given day. So here’s a tip: Know your limits and respect them. Even if you are dying to finish your pic, even if you are sooooooo close to wrapping it all up, even if you’re afraid that the Muse won’t be there the next time you open your paintbox: Quit While You Are Ahead.

Hello, this is from Future Me: I have finished Jeanie’s View and there is a lot to tell you. . . but I have to clear it with my Dear Readers first. Was this blog post too detailed? Do you want to see more such nit-picky painting, or would you like me to edit the process to speed it up? Because here’s the thing: If I keep reporting the future painting of Jeanie’s View in the same manner as I did this week’s post, I will need TWO more installments. . .  next week, I’ll do the the lily pond, and two weeks from now I’ll do the bank of the pond and the bridge and all the little fixits the pic needs before it’s DONE. Please let me know how much info you want me to belabor in this space.  

BIG NEWS: Mr Fluffy, our wonderful stray kitty, has found his forever people, who drove six hours to come get him. The Fluffernutter has already staked out  his favorite nap spots in his new house and is lording over a young family who adore his every swish of tail and his every teeny tiny “Mew” that lets them know it’s kitty-loving time.

And no, I have not begun reading my penance novel that I owe Top Cat (see: last week’s post) because I am busy with the two treasure books that I brought home from New Orleans — stay tuned, Dear Reader Judy; I will discuss them next week, when we paint the rest of Jeanie’s View.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers. Happy Painting, wherever you are.

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Thank you, Michelle (Mihaela) , for this beautiful picture of the GoAaF. What a great idea for an Instagram: beautiful photos of books and cups of tea. OK,now I get it.

Dear Reader of this blog Elizabeth emailed this Instagram pic to me on a day when I needed a little bit of applause in my life — good timing, Elizabeth; Thank you, too.

Last week I also got the proof for the Korean-language edition of Le Road Trip:

I can’t read Korean, but it seems that there are a lot more words in the Korean edition than in the English one that I wrote. But it’s plain to see that it’s a superb-looking production and I am very grateful to the publishers in Seoul for their care and consideration.

These were the bright spots in a challenging week. Mr. Fluffy (see: last week’s stray cat found in my back yard) went to the vet on Monday and had some health issues (infection, anemia) that kept him in the hospital for five days, but he’s on the mend and I am looking forward to getting him placed in a forever home soon. Of course I had hoped, as soon as I found him, that he’d be chipped for easy identification, but I wasn’t too hopeful: a person who doesn’t bother to get his cat neutered is not likely to bother getting the same cat chipped. Mr. Fluffy was not chipped.

The other dark cloud in my week as how I was not able to paint one single decent picture this week. It’s when I paint like this . . .

. . . that makes me wish I worked at Dunkin Donuts. Because isn’t everyone who stops by Dunkin Donuts in a good mood? Is there anything about selling glazed donuts that doesn’t make the world a better place?

That (above) was my first try. Shame on me that I didn’t spot the craptitude until I’d got to that point, after committing quite a bit of time to this image. So I put this picture aside and spent a day practicing how to make those spikes of light green leaves popping up in a row look convincing. What I’m trying to do, BTW, is a Summer view of Monet’s grand allee, when the iris are in bloom, which you might know better from the Spring versions of this scene that I have painted previously, back when I knew how to paint:

I might have to call QUITS on this Summer view, because my second attempt was hardly any better:

I think my time would have been better spent gorging on glazed donuts.

I have looked through my reference photos of Monet’s garden from my visit of May 2013 for an alternative view of the allee, and I’m partial to this:

Oh wait, That’s not in Monet’s garden — that’s 5 o’clock at my beautiful B&B, Le Coin des Artists, on the Rue Claude Monet in Giverny. Those fluffy ears you see at the far end of the table belong to this handsome fella:

ANY HOO, getting back in Monet’s garden, I’m thinking of doing this:

Except that it’s already been done. . . 

. . . by Fabrice Moireau in his beautifully illustrated book Le Jardin de Claude Monet:

I came across this book last month in the inter webs and I almost gave up trying to paint Monet’s garden — who wants to go where Fabrice Moireau has already gone??

It was when I got this book in my hands that I was relieved to discover something about M. Moireau that makes room for my little contribution to the Monet garden illustration world. M. Moireau is nothing but amazing when it comes to painting architecture, as you can see in this pic of Monet’s kitchen:

BUT, and this is just me talking here, and I’m nobody with the kind of cred that Fabrice Moireau has, BUT his garden paintings are, well, lacking. They not just as strong as his architectural stuff. Compare (above) to this:

I know what Monet’s all looks like in September, when the bright orange and red nasturtiums are filling in the allee and the color scheme of the flower bends alongside it are warm hues of yellow and scarlet, and this doesn’t do it for me. This is how I see it:

I should note that repetition of M. Moireau’s subject matter is hard to avoid because there are a limited number of garden paths in Monet’s garden from which to take a view.  In the Water Garden the situation is even more dire. There is only one main path to take around the pond, so everyone tends to get the same views. For example, the view of the famous Japanese bridge that I painted last month:

And M. Moireau’s take on the same view:

I know exactly where we were both standing when we took in this scene. But as you can see, M. Moireau pulled back his point of view much farther than I did. I thought I’d show this painting for Dear Reader Jeanine, to show how one artist coped with all those damn background trees in Monet’s garden.

You can see that M. Moireau made the decision to leave the willow trees (on the right side of his pic) undifferentiated, and to paint in more detail the Copper Beech and what I think are maple trees. I think this is a curious decision to make, because it’s the willow trees that give the Water Garden its “oomph”, n’est-ce pas? But I assume that M. Moireau is making decisions that play to his strengths as a painter (don’t we all?) and M. Moireau is very good at painting Copper Beeches and the like. But there you are, Dear Reader Jeanie: massive background foliage.

Speaking of “playing to your strengths”, let’s take another look at the way M. Moireau did the allee of Monet’s garden:

Notice how he has emphasized the the foreground in this composition. Notice that the foreground contains the architectural elements that M. Mireau is so fantastically adept at painting: the hand railings to the staircase to Monet’s front door, a stair, a bench; the foreground also shows some indistinct [lame] stuff that seems to be white flowers on either side of the staircase which are there, it seems to be, to take up space.  M. Moireau is also very good at painting [certain kinds of] trees — so the big yew trees at the top of the allee take up another big chunk of the pic. What’s left, in my option, squeezed into the narrow band in the middle of the pic, is very little information about one of the most stunning features of Monet’s garden — those amazingly curated color fields of flowers that line the allee. Why? Because M. Moireau doesn’t “do” flower beds.

But man, can that guy paint Paris!

In my humble and respectful opinion, M. Moireau, as an unparalleled artist of urban landscapes and the premier painter of architectural subjects, was the wrong guy to let loose in Monet’s garden.

He should have been sent to Villandry:

As for me, I am going to send myself back to the drawing board and give the allee another chance. Maybe I’ll find a way to paint to my strengths. And if not, I will live to my strengths and find a cat to give a lap to, sip a cup of tea, stuff myself with glazed donuts, complain about the world, and then take a nap, all of which I am very good at.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

 

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