February 2015

Whoever is in charge of naming new paint colors: Bravo!
P1000476I stopped by Lowe’s (the building supply mega-store) the other day (to pick up more birdseed) and on my way out I passed by the Paint Dept.  I dropped my 35-poung bag of bird food and spent a very pleasant half hour picking through the new paint brochures.


I know macarons have been all the rage in Paris lately, but are they all that well known in the U. S. of A.?

I do love the art direction of paint brochures — the photos capture an entire mood and sense of place and socio-economic aspiration. I get lost in entertaining digressive thoughts when I contemplate the story of each paint brochure photo, but my happiest time is going through the paint chips on display:


Within this array of color there are hues with the names of Blanket, Off Broadway, Inhale (and an Exhale), Luxury Linen, Poetry in the Park, Modern History, Corner Pub, and Porcelain Pear. Sad to say, but the lovely-sounding Porcelain Pear is the color of thrown up lima beans. If you can correctly guess the hue of any of these other color names, I will be very impressed indeed.  Because frankly, I’m not sure that the color-namers are even in the same room as the colors they are naming. But still, for these evocative mini-poems to be found in Lowe’s Paint Dept., I say Bravo!

However, today, the only color we are exploring in-depth is gray. Hand-made gray.

I make my own grays because I think the hand-made grays have more personality than store-boughten ones.

I start by mixing  Umber and Cyan Blue. I’m using my cheap, powdery Grumbacher paints because I like the texture of them, and I love the way they interact with water. Until Carol Gillott of ParisBreakfasts told me to up-grade my tools two years ago, I only used Grumbacher. I know their properties very well, and still like them for certain applications — but I don’t use the greens and yellows much at all anymore. Windsor-Newton is better.


Now it’s time to make a bottle cap of gray (because I work small), using bottle caps from  quart bottles of Gatorade . I start by making a puddle of brown paint:


Then I add dribbles of blue and a drop of white. Note:
a little white gauche goes a loooong way, so use it sparingly:



Mix together and Voila! I’ve got a bottle cap of one-of-a-kind gray:


Now, you remember the problem from last week:


I have to get rid of those wonky railing shadows and, while I’m at it, I might as well re-do the cat so that it looks more like “cat” and less like “orange blob”.

So I cut out the offending bits…


…and started over. First, I re-drew the offending railing shadows, which ought to have looked like this in the first place:


Quick digestion shot of my railing sketch illuminated on the light box to show you the trial-and-error of my ways:


Whenever I draw  a stinky line, I cut it out and tape in a new bit of tracing paper and  draw it correctly — I hope you can see that my “sketch” is actually a collage of about seven scraps of stop-and-start-again tracing paper. I’m not smart enough to get it right in one swell foop, so I give myself a break and destroy the bad while keeping the good — all without guilt.

I used tracing paper for this sketch not because I was tracing it (I WISH) but because I will be painting this picture on the light box, so I need a light-weight paper to let the light shine through it so I can paint the pic without drawing pencil lines on the art work. I never paint on a lift box because I’m a girl who loves outlines, but as this is an illustration of shadows, and shadows, in nature, don’t have outlines, I have to paint “painterly”, for once.

Well, here’s the tricky part. I have to adjust my bottle cap of gray paint by adding more blue, or a different blue, or more water, or maybe a molecule of black, to get the matching hue that I need to pick up where I left off in this pic. It’s the matching that is a bitch.

I started out with this too-greenish gray:


It needed more blue. After a few tries, I got it. It might not look like it in this photo (below), but this gray tone was a very good match:


I forgot to tell you that, in order to make bottle cap of home-made gray, you have to keep loading your brush with slurries of brown and blue and white pigment, and then you have to squeeze out those loads, from the paint brush’s brushes, into the bottle cap. It’s rather messy:


Anyhoo, I began to paint the replacement part of this illustration and I was very pleased with its matching-ness until I got this far…


…and then I said to myself:”Oh shit. I forgot the cat.”

Well, I was losing the afternoon light anyway because it had started snowing again, so I packed up [put everything out of a nosey cat’s paw reach] and called it a day.

I began again the next  morning. I forgot to take a photo of it, but overnight the bottle cap of gray had totally dried out, so I had a bottle cap of dry pigment ready to be water-activated. This is absolutely the BEST way to paint from a bottle cap!  When you’re starting with a solid pigment it’s very easy to control the very small adjustments it takes to lighten or darken a color, IMHO.

But I had to put off playing with the bottle cap of gray because first, I had to draw a cat. I thought that a crouching cat might look good on this shady Key West porch, so I drew one and taped my new kitty over the tracing-paper sketch like so:


The line that I drew down the back of the cat is so I will know where the spine is — I was hoping that I could paint a cat that was turning away from the viewer, as cats are wont to do.

But I didn’t like the position of the cat, so I had to peel it of the sketch, like this:


YES, with a tweezer. And not just any tweezer — that’s my old diamond-grading tweezer, designed with a long needle nose for ease of picking up dropped diamonds from the floor.  THAT’s THE KIND OF PAINTER I AM. If anybody else works this way, I would love to chat. Main topic of conversation: Are we mad genius self-taught users of scotch tape, or what?!?!?

So I re-positioned the cat to be more forward-leaning:


But now I didn’t like the cat  at all, mostly because I did not like how the tip of the rocking chair’s arm did this:


So I drew a new new cat, one that wouldn’t go anywhere near the rocking chair’s space:


But then the new new cat did this:


No problem, not for me (world champion of Making Pictures Work No Matter How Long It Takes). I just cut away a few of those cat-overlapping floor boards, re-mixed a correct shade of gray, and began to paint the first layer of shadow:


I painted the cat (yes, I moved his tail to get it away from the rocking chair):

Then I painted the correct railing shadows. Every time I needed a new brush full of paint, I had to re-mix the paint and turn off the light box to compare that the grays were still compatible — it’s hideously time-consuming. But finally I got this:


Cut to DONE:


Top Cat wishes my posts didn’t go this long, but I know that some of you, Dear Readers, don’t mind watching me save my professional watercoloring ass step by step.

Color me Got Away With It One More Time.

Read more

This is what our back patio looked like three snowstorms ago.:


That orange streak is Taffy, heading into the cat door on the side of our house, off the mud room.

Since then the snow has gotten deeper and icier and depressinger and I didn’t feel like taking pictures of it.  It’s really ugly out there.  50% of the human residents in my house have no desire to venture out of doors EVER. The other 50% is Top Cat, who had to clear a mountain of icy snow from the driveway with an axe.

The only tracks you’ll see in my backyard are made by little birdie feet.


We got a fresh dusting of snow last night, over the solid ice pack. I don’t know what kind of bird feeds at night.

We are dumping great quantities of bird seed out there to help the cardinals and chickadees etc make it through this horrible Winter.


In spite of all this misery I knew that  I would make it to Groundhog Day with my sanity in tact because, come Groundhog Day, I was going to be in KEY WEST.






Mardi Gras beads on the mailboxes. Something tells me that these people would be my dream neighbors.

Ah, Key West. What do I like the most about Key West?

It might be the organic cocktail glasses:


Typical cocktail-coconut grove.


My hair always has a good time in Florida. We have an understanding about being on vacation in heat and humidity: my hair lives it up, and I pretend that I don’t care that I look as if I come from the Land of No Combs.

Maybe it’s the local “color”:



Hey, look! I said to Top Cat, Majorelle Bleu! (At the time I thought it was exactly the color of the house in the Jardin Majorelle that I went to see in Marrakech.)


 I think I’ll take A picture! I said to Top Cat.


 The cat had other ideas:








Yeah, the cats of Key West are in a class all their own.

But mostly, I like Key West because of the Australian Pines on the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor.


You see, I had business to do in Key West; I had to get in touch with the wonderful people who won the right to preserve this delightful grove of shade trees, against some civic and governmental hysteria over invasive species.


Long story short, I am in love with this grove of trees and I’m writing about it in my Damn Garden Book. The Save Our Pines people and I had a lovely conversation about the issue and I now feel well-informed enough about the whole controversy and history of this beach to do it justice in the DGB.

P1000229 2

And, having refreshed my memory about the delicate and wonderful presence of these pines, I had to go home and re-do an almost 2-year old illustration I had made when I first wrote about this place:


Old pic, circa 2012-3


New pic, circa yesterday. The lettering says: A landscape hospitable in the extreme is one definition of a garden. (Michael Pollan)im. See? See what practice /practice / practice does?? Practice makes tree bark look like bark.

P.S. This is another illustration of Australian Pines that I did about a year ago…but this grove is not in Florida:


It’s not even in this century.

But this is all that I am contractually permitted to discuss about the DGB.

I also decided that I had to do something about this:


This is another Key West illustration that I did a while back. The shadows from the railing are a problem. Those shadows look as if they came from a different picture. Or a different time of day. They certainly don’t belong here. Also, I painted this a little too honestly — from a photo of a porch of the guest house Top Cat and I rented the last time we were in Key West that included an orange cat that was ignoring me while I took the snapshot. I think it would be a better illustration if the cat weren’t cleaning itself because I’m not sure that, as is, that blob of orange makes sense. And yeah, the cat’s shadow is all wrong too.

I must make corrections. So far, the picture looks like this:


I mixed those grey colors from scratch: a little brown, a little blue, a smidge of white. The challenge will be to get that recipe right again when I collage the right railing (and cat) back into this illustration.

And on this pic…


…I have to do something about that nasty-looking tree in the right foreground.

This is why it’s been taking me years to get this Damn Garden Book done.

But not today! It’s Friday! Time to make a Mai Tai and take a mental vacation back to Key West!

P.S. This is my backyard:


It’s going to take a lot of Mai Tais.

Read more

Once, in my life, I received a dozen red roses  on Valentine’s Day.

I was 20, and the delivery of roses to my house was one of the few times in my minority years that my life felt just right, just like it was supposed to be. You know; as seen on TV.

But for me, when it comes to the delivery of a dozen red roses, once in my lifetime is enough. I understand that red roses are the symbol of luuuuuuuv, and I do love roses as my second-favorite flower, but cut roses are a shame, and the red ones are so “Eh”.  And painting them is not much of a treat either.

It takes a bit of experimenting — with vermillion, fuchsia, and various brands of paint called  “red” — to get the correct hue:


I am painting a specific kind of red rose here, and from the get-go I do not like the looks of it:


The black shading is not my thing, and at this point:


I think the rose looks capital-U Ugly.

It also looks Ugly (to me)  at this point:


But I am painting this rose for the One I Love, and the One I Love loves this rose, so I must paint on.

Because the One I Love is kind:


And the One I Love is sincere:


This rose is for the One I Love.

But the One I Love is also playful:


And  joyous…


…and I am painting these one-of-a-kind (made up) butterflies…


… for the air, earth, and fire of my love’s merry brightness of being:


The One I Love is like the waters of the oceans — patient, deep, and thoughtful:


An Everest of honor


…and wise in the ways of never and always, is the One I Love:


I paint this eagle feather…


…because the One I Love is true-hearted and brave:


In all the world — of plants, and birds, and rocks, and things — blue is the color most rare


…and the color most romantic:


The One I Love is all that, too.

And then there’s this:

The love of the One I Love.


The love of the One I Love is as every-day a thing as atoms, and gravity…


… and photons, and electrons;


the love of the One I Love is as commonplace as day, or night…


…or even quarks, and tea:


In other words,


it might as well be magic.


This is dedicated to The One I Love.

 Please feel free to lift any part of this image that suits your Valentine too.

And if you don’t have anyone you want to call the One I Love this Valentine’s Day, I am right there with you, pouring the Pinot Grigio and reaching for a box of Kleenex.

Read more

I never thought I’d be saying this, but NPR and I are getting a divorce. And it’s all because of  vocal fry. For those of you Dear Readers who are not familiar with this monstrously annoying affectation in the speech pattern of American youth, this short viddie will explain (guess who just figured out how to embed You Tube!):

For years vocal fry has been seeping into the news and entertainment shows that are broadcast by National Public Radio (AKA: NPR).  I loathe it, of course, and in hindsight I can see that NPR and I were already on a camel/straw footing, but the straw that broke this camel’s back was when Ira Glass, American public radio personality and NPR-ish producer of This American Life, set out to defend vocal fry from grouches like me in the most deliberately insulting way.  On his program o/a January 23, 2015, he put it this way:

Listeners have always complained about young women reporting on our show. They used to complain about reporters using the word like and about upspeak, which is when you put a question mark at the end of a sentence and talk like this? But we don’t get many emails like that anymore. People who don’t like listening to young women on the radio have moved on to vocal fry.

And then he said that if vocal fry drives people like me crazy, it’s because:

1. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like listening to young women on the radio anyway (see: above) because I’m too stuck in the past times (that is, indoctrinated by the patriarchy).

2. I’m too OLD to get with it and know that that’s just the way that young folk “naturally” speak these-a-days.

His advice to haters of vocal fry?  Get over it.

Well, ha ha, Ira Glass, guess wha —wait just a sec, tho. This actually does make me laugh:


(Are embedded viddies annoying or not? Opinions, please.)

So anyway, Ira Glass, ha ha. The same people who can’t stand vocal fry are the same people who have enough disposable income (because they are OLD) to give to NPR  so, as I cancel my monthly-sustainer membership (because I’m OLD), see how you like it when you have to rely on vocal-fried hipster not-OLD people to pitch in to pay for your radio program, OKaaaaaaaaaaay?

Because we are through.


Wiping out vocal fry, one membership dollar at a time. Ah…that feels good. Because I’m OLD.

(I’m not really listening to NPR all that much anyway these days, what with me turing the radio OFF as soon as one of their new hires goes into vocal fry mode.)

But it’s not just vocal fry that gets me riled up. Last week a dental hygienist also really pissed me off.

Well, thank DoG that I live in the era of Yelp, an interwebs site that publishes crowd-sourced reviews about local businesses. Yelp is my dream come true.

I would show their trademark, but people these days are very litigious about using copyrighted stuff and I don’t have time to get Yelp‘s written permission to use their logo in my blog post, but the logo is very colorful.


As colorful as the picture I took of a rainbow over Nashville — V. Swift copyright.


As colorful as the picture I took of a strange, mauve beam of light on my patio one December morning, my copyright.


As colorful as the picture I took of a field of cosmos somewhere along the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey, yep: V. Swift copyright.


As colorful as the picture I took of me painting a nifty oak leaf — my damn copyright.


As colorful as the picture that Top Cat took of his Texas Hold ‘Em stack in Las Vegas, copyright gifted to v. Swift because I’m Mrs. Top Cat.

P.S. If anyone wants to use any of my rightfully copyrighted pix, be my guest. I’m not like  some grubby, third-rate, low-rent, entrapment sue-happy copyright-holders lurking out there in the inter webs.

Note: One of the things I did on my year off from blogging was get sued for copyright infringement. I’ll have to tell you that story some time.

Anyway, thank DoG there is Yelp


A very colorful picture I took of my neighbor’s secret garden. As far as I know, I own the copyright.

…because Yelp gives disgruntled customers a place to diss. So last week, after my tiff with the dental hygienist, I hastened over to Yelp to get myself registered and then I put in writing my disgruntlement with a certain dental practice.

Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 3.18.08 PM

SCreen shot of Yelp. I hope I’m not infringemenig on anyone’s copyright.

You can read it here.

So now that I have a platform, disgruntlers everywhere should watch their step when conducting business with one Vivian Swift. It’s the fact that I don’t crave the approval of strangers that makes me so dangerous.


(Courtesy of www.Keep Calm O Matic.co.uk , a great website that lets you create your very own Keep Calm poster. The funny thing is, I did not make this one (above) — it was already in the ether. I wish I could be best friends with whoever thought up this poster.)

As much as I can’t stand vocal fry, I am also annoyed that the way people  (even OLD ones) these-a-days try to sound smart is by using the word “prior” when they mean “previous” (THERE’S A DIFFERENCE!!!!).

Destination weddings; and the smell, texture, and taste of cucumbers — can’t stand either of them.

I’m so over Rock Operas, Rock Operas based on the Book of Revelations, and the Book of Revelations.

Love locks on the Pont des Arts, dreadlocks on white people, and co-workers who tell you they are too smart to be working here — they should all be outlawed. Or punched in the face.

I can’t stand people like me, who do not know how to “nest” their replies to Comments on their WordPress blog; but I figured it out yesterday and all my replies to your lovely Boogie Girl comments are properly nested and now I don’t hate myself any more.

But don’t get me started on the way the morning news will break your heart six times before breakfast,  or the fact that Giselle Bundchen makes 47 million dollars a year for parading in her undies while a  park ranger in Virunga  makes 47 dollars a year for saving the mountain gorilla from extinction. (Hey! I just figured out where all my NPR money will go now!)

I also despise Auto Correct.

Retail shop assistants who tell me If you have any questions, just ask me drive me nuts. Do they think I’d be confused about where to go if I had a question about the item on the middle shelf? Do they think I’d wander across the street to ask the deli guy? Do they think I’d end up standing in the middle of the shop having a nervous breakdown because I had questions, O, so many questions, and had no idea where to go to find answers??? I mean, really: Who the hell else am I going to ask?  Dear Abby?

Also on my Shit List is the way people to whom I’ve just told that I have eight cats will then tell me every last reason why they hate cats; ditto being a Bruce Springsteen fan, watching Judge Judy every day, and joining the Peace Corps to go to West Africa. ( I’ve been holding onto that last one for quite a while. The guy I told it to came right back with: I’ve never traveled outside the United States but if I did, I wouldn’t go to Africa. I still hate that guy with all my heart.)

There now.

I think I’ve proved my point.

I am not the nicest person in the world.

But I’m OK with that.

Read more