January 2013

You know what they say about watching paint dry…well, this is like that, only with masking fluid:

I use a toothpick to lay down my Windsor Newton masking fluid because it’s very viscous and I can’t handle it with a paint brush. In this illustration, I am protecting my foreground subject (mailboxes — I love mailboxes) with the masking fluid:

I can get into tight corners better with a toothpick than with a paint brush, which is important considering the small scale of my work:

You have to make sure the masking fluid is bone dry before you go to the next step. Notice that all I have here are a few lines drawn in pencil to guide me in this illustration. In other words, things can go very, very wrong at any point in this operation:

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As I paint in the background (using my chalky Grumbacher paints with a lot of water for a light, pastel effect) the masking fluid protects my mailboxes so I can be loose with the watercolors:

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I’ll be using a lot of green/blues in this picture, and a lot of yellow/reds. I use my fancy Windsor Newton paints for all the yellows and greens I need, and the Grumbacher for orange…and I’m also using two different cups of water for the cool (green and blue) colors and the warm (yellow/red/brown/orange) ones and I change the water frequently to keep the paint colors crisp:

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You can see that I’m working on an Autumn scene and unfortunately  I’ll have to paint fallen leaves. I have no idea how to do this, so I’m winging it here:

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Now time for background detail:

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See how the yellow wash is peeking through the dark foliage? And the masking fluid is giving me a lot of freedom to slap on paint without worrying about my mailboxes:

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This picture as a steep perspective, so here I have to “go big” in the foreground:

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And now I’m ready to peel off the masking fluid and get to the mailboxes:

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Cool, right?

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And then, mailbox No. 2 looked wonky to me, so I re-did my drawing:

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I left the foreground without detail because I will be dropping in some text down there:

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(I think I’ll have to go back and fix that black mailbox. I think I made it worse with the re-drawing of it.)

This is an actual road on the north shore of Long Island that leads to the wonderful Autumn garden of the 19th-century poet/journalist William Cullen Bryant. When I first started painting, all I could manage was a Triscuit (see left, below). Well, look at me now! I’m painting Super-Size!

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Just shows you what a lot of practice can do for a Bear of Very Little Talent.

And now, an announcement:

Le Road Trip is being published in CHINA!

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You know what they say about China. “You take an author with a small cult following in the USA  and translate those numbers to the billion people in China and you have an author with a small cult following in The Middle Kingdom.”

Question of the day: Does this post leave you with a craving for Triscuits?

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Now, before we begin todays’s lesson, I’m posting some pictures of my cat Cindy at work (as per last week’s request from Janet, Carol, Patty, Susie, Janice, Sarah, Deb, and Gitana). This is Cindy “helping” Top Cat and me with our 1,000-piece puzzle:

But it’s no surprise that with so much kitty “help”, our 1,000-piece puzzle ended up as as 998-piece puzzle:

And the other day, during one of our rare sunny January mornings, I found Miss Cindy taking a well-deserved rest near one of her biggest projects…

…where she can bask in her sense of accomplishment:

I know, I know: only Cat People will find this cute. [Note her handiwork on the chair here, just a fraction of her entire ouvre on our livingroom furniture.] So let’s change topics toute de suite.

When I first began doing the art work for my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam, I was using Grumbacher paints:

These paints served me well. They are inexpensive (about $20 per 24-color sets like this, get them from Blick Art Supply on line), so I felt very free to slosh around and make mistakes until I got the hang of what I can and cannot do with paint like this. Also, I was working very small (all illustrations in Wanderers are reproduced in the original size) so I could bang about with these paints all day and mess up as much as I wanted without having a major impact on the local landfill.

Here, for instance, is the very first time I painted The Lone Skater (on page 9 of When Wanderers Cease to Roam):
Since this picture is the exact size of a Triscuit cracker I call all my itty bitty pictures “Triscuits”, but I didn’t have a Triscuit handy when I photographed this for you, so I used a Tostito:

But after a few months of practice, I went back and re-painted The Lone Skater and this is the illustration that appears in the book (done with Grumbacher paints):

When my second book ,Le Road Trip came out in April last year, I was contacted by Carol Gillot, the fabulous watercolorist and blogger of Paris Breakfasts fame (parisbreakfasts.blogspot.com) .

She told me it was time to upgrade my equipment. She advised me that Grumbacher paints have a lot of cheap chalk filler in them and I should try painting with a higher quality of watercolor, so I bought a teeny tiny beginner’s kit of Windsor Newton paints at my favorite art supplier Dick Blick:

Oh My DoG. First of all, the Windsor Newton paints are sooo cuuuute!! (See tea bag for size comparison.)

And the intensity of color and the fluidity of the stuff makes painting with these watercolors feel like the Grumbacher had the power of a golf cart while the Windsor Newton has the oooph of a race car.

Compare these two garden illustrations. First, there’s the Grumbacher:

And now, with Windsor Newton:

I think we all can see the chalk in the Grumbacher now. But that is not to say that just because of the vivid, rich color possibilities of Windsor Newton that I have forsaken my beloved Grumbacher paints all together. Oh no. Because I know my Grumbacher paints so well, chalk and all, that I know how to use them to achieve certain misty, pale, subtle effects that I cannot get (yet?) with the Windsor Newton. This, for example…:

…is all Grumbacher. Maybe because of the chalk filler in them, I can trust the Grumbacher to blend and mix and/or stay put in scenes like this — see how the sunset yellow doesn’t get muddy when laid down next to the pink…and how the pink stays in place when it’s so close to the blue? And note the way the blue bleeds so beautifully into the wet wash that I did on the top. I can only do this with Grumbacher.

Let me know if you have ay specific questions about paint or paper or masking fluid or watercolor stuff and I’ll try to include an answer for you in next week’s post too. As Jain says, I have all kinds of wee tips that I’m happy to share!

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Top Cat and I celebrated the Winter Solstice in our usual fashion here on the shores of the Long Island Sound. But we were not alone in welcoming back the light…

…is there anything better in a dog’s life than a beach, a ball, and a hoomin with a good throwing arm?

It was one of the better Solstice sun sets (yes, that’s the Manhattan skyline lit up with the last rays of the sun with Westchester on the right).

And then I went to Philadelphia…

…to check up the Monets at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

They have a wonderful collection of 21 Monet canvases, hung in five different galleries (I don’t know why they are not hung all in one place).

Art museums are odd places. I rarely go to them any more, just to browse the walls…I only go if there are specific things I want to see. There is a world of difference between seeing a reproduction of a well-known painting and seeing it in person, and I’ve only seen these particular Monets in reproduction. So I was excited — even though there must be half a dozen almost exact same versions of this view of Monet’s Japanese bridge in museums around the world.

However, there is only ONE of these:

Hanging all by itself in a dead-ended gallery was the very first picture that Monet painted of his Japanese bridge when his water garden at Giverny was brand new.

This picture has always been cataloged as having been painted in 1895 [click here to see for yourself] but as you can plainly see:

…it’s dated by the painter himself as 1892. Yes, I called the museum when I got home and let a message about this for the curator of European Paintings Before 1900. I haven’t heard back from her yet.

I wandered a bit through the rest of the European Art galleries and saw many excellent pictures…

…but I get burnt out after two hours of museum-ing, so I headed home.

Besides, I have paintings of my own to work on. In this case, it’s a two-page illustration of a wonderful little landscape designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (at the William Cullen Bryant estate on Long Island) for my book-in-progress, the Damn Garden Book:

Yes, I was painting this scene from reference photographs that I took on November 18, 2012.

One of the reasons that I never paint in situ is because, until the picture is completed…

..it tends to look like nothing but a hot mess. I can live without a baffled passer-by stopping to ask me, “What is that you’re doing?”

The other reason is that at any time during this process I can ruin the whole thing and have to start all over again and I do not want witnesses. Also, November tends to be cold here on the Long Island Sound and I’d rather paint in warmth.

Since I am left handed I started this two-page illustration on the right side — here’s the left:

And this is how it all comes together (with tea bag for scale):

If there is another painter on the internet with the guts to show her work like I do, step by pitiful step, I’d like to know about it. Because I’m pretty sure I’m the only writer/illustrator who puts this kind of stuff out in the ether and I think that’s pretty awesome of me. Or shamless…your call.

I got an email from a new blog reader this week, asking about the brushes I use. I told him that he’s given me a possibility for a post for next Friday: Tools of the Trade. Anybody else interested?

 

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