March 2013

P1140492This is the painting-in-progress that I made to cheer myself up on a soul-killing icy snowy March day and we will get back to it later in this post.

But let’s start this week’s round-up with a picture of my Long Island backyard at the very instant that Winter became SPRING on March 20, 2013 at 7:02 am :

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Yeah, I know. Big Whup. And 12 hours later, that Champagne-O-Meter looked like this:

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Top Cat and I went to our usual beach spot on the north shore of the Long Island Sound to toast the first sun set of Spring:

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It was snot-freezing cold and ear-achingly windy and we huddled next to the cement wall along the walkway above this beach, using it as a wind break while I took this photo to show where we’ll be picnicking in a mere 90 days to celebrate the Summer Solstice:

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Yeah, Right. Like there’s any chance in this lifetime that I will park my butt on this bit of perma-frost. Too bad that photography can’t capture wind chill, or my incredulity that I will ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, be warm enough to go on a picnic on this frozen shore.

This dismal start to Spring put me in a Grey Gardens kind of mood, and what better way to indulge my taste for melancholy than an outing to find another Secret Gardens of Long Island:

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In my researches for the long-lost gardens in Great Gatsby territory I dug up some info about the 200-year old Schmidlapp Estate in Oyster Bay (see above, main driveway). To readers from Cincinnati, the name Schmidlapp will be familiar as the rich banking family that still funds one of the first independent philanthropic foundations established in Ohio. This is their Long Island homestead, the 200-year old Rumpus House on their 28-acre estate that has been vacant and for sale for nearly a decade:

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I peeped into the house and found these curtains (see below) in what looks like the dining room. Does anybody recognize these characters? They look familiar — some kind of pea-pod babies from an early 20th-century children’s book maybe?

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The Schmidlapps are an old WASP family so their taste in homes is far less extravagant than the prevailing esthetic currently on display on Long Island (think mock-French chateau). This estate is one of the last, big parcels of land for sale in this exclusive enclave, known since the days of F. Scott Fitzgerald as The Gold Coast. It was originally priced at $35 million, but having gone unsold for eight years the asking price has been dropped to a mere $7 mill. The original Colonial house shows its WASPy heritage (think linoleum on the kitchen floor) so the opinion among realtors is that the when estate is eventually sold it will be broken up for redevelopment into 5-acre plots for mini-Sun Kings (that’s Louie the 14th of Versailles). I told Top Cat that we should get in on this bargain! I want me a ruin (to go with the the completely decadent 60s I intend to have, starting in 2016, so consider yourselves warned)!!

Anyhoo. I drove nine miles to get a first hand look at the estate, thinking that there MUST be a secret garden or two on the property:

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Turns out that the Schmidlapps were not gardeners. I only found lots of bits of lawn surrounded by neglected woodsy bits (this is just one of those lawns — the place has acres and scary acres and creepy acres of this stuff):

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And on the edge of one woodsy bit I came across this:

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I kicked aside the dead leaves and uprooted some overgrown ivy:

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Of course these are pet graves. The Schmidlapps are A-OK in my book and OMG OMG OMG now I REALLY want this place. So please, dear readers, if each of you would only buy a million copies (EACH) of my books I can get this done, merci mucho. However, if I hear that the place has been sold out from under me, would it be wrong of me to go in the dead of night and, uh, ahem, curate these headstones?

There happens to be a 4-acre corner of the Schmidlapp estate that is open to the public as the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden. I will have a lot to say about the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden (Most of it not snarky at all. Well, half of it is not snarky. After all, I must be true to the real me.) in my upcoming Damn Garden Book:

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So, as long as I was traipsing around in the 28-acre neighborhood I stopped by the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden on this dreary March day and found that the care takers were — amazingly enough — clearing out the bamboo that grows along the perimeter:

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This amazed me, and I don’t know why, because this is exactly what the keepers of the great bamboo groves in Japan are doing in March! WOW!! It’s like the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden is a REAL garden!!

BTW, this is a shot of the stunning bamboo forest of Arashiyama, Japan:

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Do you see that thicket that forms the fencing? Well, get ready to kvell, dear readers, because I found this picture of one of the teeny tiny “doors” cut into that thicket fence:

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It’s for local cats and foxes.

I know! I know! That is so awesomely  cute I want go buy me a ton of Hello Kitty crap!!!

And now, we have a painting (see: cheering up watercolor at the top of this week’s post) to give away!!!

So:

For Jeanie and others who have asked what kind of paints I use, this photo is for you. On the left are my newest paints, tubes of Windsor Newton and pans of Cotman paints;  on the right are the Grumbacher paints I’ve been using for 10 years (no, those are not 10-year-old Grumbacher paints — I go through them at the rate of one set every year or so — see the shiny new set ready for defilement):

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The Grumbacher paints are cheap and, for me, easy to use so that’s why I stuck with them for so long before I was alerted (by my new friend Carol Gillot, the artist at the blog ParisBreafasts) that I should up-grade my equipment. Her advise came just in time for my Damn Garden Book, as you can see below (the Windsor Newton painting is on the left, the Grumbacher on the right):

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It took a little getting used to but the Windsor Newton colors are so much better for garden painting. I still use the Grumbacher though, for when I need a chalky, muted tone (I really like the Grumbacher Burnt Sienna and Prussian Blue). I buy my paints in person from Blick Art Materials but their on-line selection is great too.

Now, to answer those kind readers who asked, when it comes to tracing a line drawing onto watercolor paper, my first choice is good old solar power. On a south-facing window on a sunny day I simply tape watercolor paper over my drawing  like so:

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However, if it is too overcast for tracing this way, I will use my light box, pictured below on my desk:

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I like the light I get from my south-facing windows, which is the exact same light that makes using a light box impossible.

There’s a little tube of fluorescent light inside the box so when you turn it on goes like this:

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A light box costs around $20 and is handy as a back-up on a rainy day  — it’s also very useful if you are one of the lucky artists who can paint at night under artificial light. I can not do that — I need daylight to see the colors of my paints, but I’ve talked to other artists who are very comfortable painting after dark. I wish I were one of them.

Now here’s today’s watercolor exhibit!

First the masking fluid:

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Let dry, then paint:

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Remove masking fluid:

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Paint fleurs:

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Tea bag for scale:

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Better yet, a Triscuit:

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For the international readers of this blog I must explain that a Triscuit is a flavorful, baked, whole wheat hors d’ouvre-sized snack cracker made by Nabisco:

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If you’ve been to one of my in-person book events (and I know who you are, Commentors) you’ve heard me encourage every beginner painter to paint Triscuits  (my word for the many miniature landscape paintings that litter my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam)– because you can get a lot of information in a Trisuit and not risk a whole lot of paper or paint. My 2011 holiday card was a panel of Triscuits:

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Lately I’ve gotten out of the habit of painting Triscuits and I have missed them so much that when I was a bit blue this past week I painted a the Triscuit you see above not just because it’s a flowery garden path but because I find Triscuit-painting to be very soothing. Try it! You might like it too!

And if there’s a reader out there who would like to receive my Vision of Summer Triscuit…

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…please leave a Comment and I will have Top Cat take responsibility for choosing the winner at Top Cat random. But special first-come dibs to anyone who can identify those weird pea-pod babies on the drapes in the Schmidlapp’s dining room (see above). That’s still really bugging me.

Have a great weekend! But if you are basking in vernal sunshine please don’t rub it in.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ONE  MORE digression before we get to the painting. P1140307

That’s Mrs. Cardinal in the foreground.

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

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

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

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

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The flash captures the scene better:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So this is it so far:

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It needs, now, some real dark bits:

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Do you see where I’m going with this?

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And now we put the masking fluid to good use!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This is not the footprint of a koala bear.

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These are not the tracks of a koala bear either.

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

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

 

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Last Friday there was a blizzard here on the shore of the Long Island Sound. Oooo, so pretty:
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That’s the Champagne-O-Meter in the center.

On Saturday the sun came out. Sill kind of attractive, in a good old Winter kind of way:

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On Sunday the forecast called for warming weather. Winter is starting to look worn out:

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On Monday I had to remove the Champagne-O-Meter from the side yard to the fridge because I hate to see warm champagne. Now it just looks sad out there:

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On Tuesday it rained all day. Those are small puddles of grey water pooling in between the dead grass:

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On Wednesday it was Spring-like and the trees look like dead sticks and the yard looks like crap:

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It’s now Thursday and the yard still looks like crap but it’s way cold. As soon as I finish my blogging I’m going to the fridge and opening that bottle of champagne because I’m pretty sure I won’t be needing it for any more blizzards this Winter and I have something to celebrate: I have champagne in the fridge!

Also, a wonderful new reader from Australia emailed me that she went to see the blockbuster Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra — and found Le Road Trip  on sale in their book shop! I can’t believe that I wrote a book that the National Gallery of Australia sells in their book shop. I feel very important.

I’m itching to show off my Australian accent to my cats, but  I can only talk Strine when I’m slightly loaded so I am DYING to get to that champagne.

Have a great weekend everyone!

 

 

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Because instead of having rich friends who talk behind my back (which is why I LOVE The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, New York, Atlanta, OC, and NJ) I have cats who have no trouble getting in my face:
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Also, I do not spend my days shopping or party planning. Instead, I spend my days sitting at a desk, which is even more boring than it sounds because when I write I sit at a desk that faces a blank white wall because it’s better for my creative process to have NO DISTRACTIONS. Did I mention that I have cats?

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Having a camera crew following my every move would probably make my cats all nervous and skittish:

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But then again, maybe not.

I lead a pretty interior life, not suitable for film.

I doubt that what I consider really exciting is anything that would make for great TV:

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Last Sunday I was thrilled when I went out to re-fill the cat food bowl that I leave outside for our opossum friend, and I found  that he’d left me a present and I ran in to tell Top Cat GUESS WHAT!!!  MR. POSSUM LEFT ME A CARDINAL FEATHER!!!!  

In my experience, reality TV people only get this excited over slander law suits and when another Real Housewife looks at them funny.

The BIG news around here is Another Blizzard on its way.

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The latest panic started on Wednesday when Lonnie Quinn of the TV@ Weather Center cut into my Judge Judy time to show us what might, maybe, possibly, could happen in the next 48 hours. This is the dire forecast for Thursday:

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But it was what could maybe, might, possibly, could happen on FRIDAY that got him really riled up, so much so that he had to roll up his shirt sleeves and jump onto TV to let us know about it 48 freaking hours in advance:

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Jeeze, Lonnie. Even by my low standards of ordinary life this is a non-event.

BTW, I got the Champagne-O-Meter ready for this March blizzard. This is Thursday:

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And this is Friday:

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7am: Those are kitty cat tracks behind my Champagne-O-Meter.

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9am: Still snowing. This is the Japanese dogwood tree that shades our back patio and today is leaning over into the side yard. The only other time I’ve seen it like this was right after SS Sandy.

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Noon: That tree branch is almost touching the ground.

Commentor Judith asked a very interesting question in the Comments last week. She asked Does [an illustration]  exist in your mind, and you uncover it step by step? Or do you create it as you go along, building it up step by step?

Oh yes, definitely YES I plan a picture out before I paint it. For instance, when I did this picture (the one I painted for you on last week’s blog):

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I absolutely planned beforehand what I would paint first, what went second, what had to be done thirdly, etc. I thought about what shape I had to paint, where the darks and lights would go, what range of green colors I would use. In a future WIP show-and-tell I will show you how I plan a picture because ever since I’ve been taking the trouble to stop and think before hand about what goes where, I’ve found that I don’t screw up as many illustrations. But that’s me (I’m a Capricorn).

Some people might love the process of painting so much that their canvases are opportunities for discovery, but not me. I am a results-oriented person and I quake until I have a plan of attack mapped out in my head. But that’s me.

As I write this it is 6:39 Thursday night and whoa, nellie. There are actual flakes falling from the sky! I hope to have a great Champagne-O-Meter pic for you tomorrow!

 

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This is my new office:
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I am now concentrating on the writing part of book-making, dear readers, and since I can’t seem to get anything down at home (the cats see me sitting at a desk and, being illiterate, have no respect for the typing part of writing and park their butts right on the keyboard, the better for offering me their sweet chins for a good chin-scritching session). So last week I retreated to the reference room at the Port Washington Library on the Long Island Sound (New York) because they have special dungeons quiet rooms for deep thinkers:

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I ease myself into a cubicle, push my piles of paperwork to the far corners of my desk, and start checking my emails. You ever know. Maybe Julia Roberts has read Le Road Trip and wants to star as me in the movie version.

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Then I am immediately bored, so I wander out to the lobby and stare out at the rain:

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There’s the main street of Port Washington and that’s the Long Island Sound in the far distance.

Then I go to the ladies room, and mosey to the cafeteria for a cup of tea in a paper cup, and on the way back to my cubicle I drop by the Travel Department, I admit, to see if my book is anywhere on these shelves.

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Thank you, Port Washington Library, for shelving me in the 914 section!

Then I go back to my desk, fiddle with some papers, get nothing done, check for emails  a few more times, step out for lunch, come back and sit at my desk, feel depressed, do a few random Google searches, and then pack up and go home.

In other words, I treat my writing just the same as if it were a real job.

Good thing I have this painting hobby to help me de-stress from my writing job.

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Today I am illustrating the two kinds of palm tress, those that are fan-like and those that are feather-like.

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Each brush stroke must articulate palmate and pinnate fronds in a most expressive way.

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Bark, whether on a real tree or on a palm tree (which is not really a tree, it’s a grass masquerading as a tree) is mostly grey with a little bit of brown:

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I didn’t draw lines here. I let the paint dry, then I painted in between the dry sections and let the paint itself make the striations (this works awesome for waterfalls — I really must show you this in a whole separate tutorial):

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Going deep dark green on the feather fronds:

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If I hadn’t been sure that all the foliage here made an interesting pattern at this stage, I would not have continued with the illustration:

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Now I draw lines for the house I want in the background, from a reference photo of a Key West property (the porch gives it away as classic Conch architecture):

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Whew. There’s only a little bit left to go, and as you can see there’s only a tiny bit of this picture left to screw up paint:

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But that’s enough painting for one day. So I put it away and gorge on crap TV for five hours before falling asleep in the middle of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills start fresh again the next morning. And in the end I have this:

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And now for the Great Koi Pond Picture Give-Away (from last week’s post). I had to leave it up to Top Cat to pull a name at random because I can’t stand having to pick — I have the best Commentors in the ether and I wish I could send stuff to each and every one of you all every week. Smart, funny, artistic, cultured: you Commentors are the reason I dread having to write this blog every day of my life, because it has to be the best thing I do week in and week out in order to be worthy of you readers. Thank you.

And this week Top Cat pulled Gigi‘s name out of the mix — and she also happens to be a brand new Commentor too! Talk about beginner’s luck — and congratulations Gigi. Please send your mailing info to me at vivianswift at yahoo dot com.

See you next week, dear readers!

 

 

 

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