October 2015


As you can see, I am of two minds when it comes to October.

What kind of month is it? It is either the End of Easy Living (oh, how I love feeling 10 years younger every day in Summer Mind), or it’s The Beginning of Coziness (I look better in soft wooly sweaters than in tank tops). Hard to tell, so why choose?

Here’s a season-appropriate take on our conversation last week, re: Fine Art v. Illustration.

This is Fine Art:


This is Illustration:


Here’s proof (by me, of course):


One thing that I know for sure about October is that it is time to find my Perfect Fall Leaf of the Year.

I’ve been searching far and near: my backyard:, a walk around the block, and a journey to a little nature preserve that is 9 miles away but the way I drive, it’s 24 1/2 (I’ve been living here 11 years on Long Island and I can still get lost 5 miles from home.) The color out there is pretty spectacular:


Notice that I prefer to take my Fall Color photos on an overcast day.


That’s because I work exclusively from photos, and low light is the only way to get real color out of the scene. For contrast, here’s a picture I took on a gloriously sunny day:


See that center radiance? In real life, it was a vibrant glowing orange — not a pale yellow; the bright light washed out the whole loveliness of this view. So I prefer to get the photo with color — light effects I can paint in on my own, later.

But still…is there anything more wonderful than a bright and mild Fall Day?


Besides any random old day in SUMMER, I mean?

I found some interesting color when I stopped by a local garden called Cedarmere, home of William Cullen Bryant (read all about him and his garden in my Damn Garden Book):



You will never catch me painting out in the public like this:


For one thing, I can not stand up while I paint. Just can’t do it. Well, come to think of it, I can do it, I just don’t want to.

Every year my annual Fall Leaf Painting post gets the most hits of anything else I put up on this blog — literally tens of people tune in. Just to remind you, here’s the last leaf I painted (before this blog went florange), in 2013:


This year, before I set to painting The Perfect Fall Leaf of 2015, I’m going to show you something that I’ve never discussed. I’m going to show you  how I choose my Perfect Fall Leaf to paint.

First of all, it can’t be boring:



That leaf above is from a Tulip Tree, which can grow to 60 – 80 feet straight up. They are called The Redwoods of the East and were one of the first trees sent from the American colonies back to England, where they became (and still are) a favorite shade tree for large country estate gardens. Their foliage is prized for its brilliant yellow-spectrum hues:


But what I’ve shown you so far are just baby Tulip Tree leaves. Here’s a grown-up one:


Yeah, I’m not painting that.

My criteria for the Perfect Fall Leaf is that it must contain every color of the season, particularly green; to do that, I have to get it either right before or right after it falls off the branch. Timing is everything in the Fall, because nothing moves faster than the peak of this season.

Here is what is wrong with the following beautiful Fall leaves:


I don’t do interesting viens anymore, because I did some in past years and they don’t look real, or convincing as an illustration, no matter how perfectly you paint them, like this:


For the same reason, I also don’t paint weird leaves, like this:


I did this interestingly weird leaf (below) to a T, and I’ve never really cared for the end product:


This next leaf is a nice mix of colors, but it’s small:


And I’ve learned that these kind of small, chicken-poxy leaves, in the end, don’t have enough oomph to be a Perfect, Stand Alone Fall Leaf:


I’m willing to consider a little decrepitude, if it’s picturesque enough:


But I also want to do something that I haven’t done before:


Too generic:


Too long-stemmed:


Too beat up:


But my search was not entirely in vain. I did find a few leaves that might, maybe, possibly be The One.

So here are the contenders:





No, I’m not going to show you the painting process today — I think this thinking process has been taxing enough for the last Friday in October. Because while I might have divided feelings about October, I am of ONE MIND when it comes to November:




Read more

When: Saturday, November 7, 2015, noon – 3-4PM

Where: The Sunbury Arts Center in Sunbury, PA

Who: Me, and you, and you, and you…but not Taffy:


Taffy will be “busy” that weekend.

Why:  I’m giving a Watercolor Workshop, thanks to a special invitation from the nice people from Sunbury who read this blog. Thank you, Dear Reader Dennis!

What:  I’m going to show you how to paint stuff like this:


And this:

P1040102And this:


And this:


And this:


But not this:


The one thing that I hope I don’t have to share is how to make a desperate rescue ……but anything other than that, I’m fine with. Ask me anything. Well…almost anything. Here’s a story about that:

I met a lady at a rather formal dinner affair a few years ago and, upon hearing that I am a writer of illustrated travel journals, opened her eyes wide in surprise and asked me, “Can you make a living at that?!

Every time I think of that lady I wish bad things would  happen to her. Add this to last week’s list: Asking nosy questions pertaining to a person’s monetary value to society is probably the best way to NOT be interesting.

I came across a very weird observation about illustrators in last week’s New Yorker magazine. It was in an article about a French graphic novelist named Riad Sattouf (seen below with his cartoon childhood self portrait):


This guy is Franco-Arabian and grew up feeling neither French nor Arab and, as a result, he says about his childhood, “I lived a very violent solitude. This is something a lot of illustrators have in common.”

Quoi? “Violent solitude?? OK, I know how French people talk and that “violent” thing is typical flouncy windbaggery, but the sad “solitude” part is, how you say, le bull sheet.

I, for one, was immensely popular as a school girl. The fact that I had red hair and was skinny and was a know-it-all made all the kids vie to be my best friend. Oh, yeah — I also preferred study hall over recess anytime — that made me very big with the tastemakers of elementary school. And moving a lot and changing schools every other year allowed me to reap the affection that my peers always show for the new kid.

Belle of the Ball, Princess of the Playground, Queen of the social hierarchy, c’est moi. I don’t know what this Sattouf guy is talking about when he says us illustrators are bred from childhoods of alienation and loneliness! And besides, he’s a cartoonist — not an illustrator.

About illustrators: New Dear Reader Susan Gillespie’s Comment last week got me thinking about the whole illustrator v. artist thing, so I dedicate this post to her, and to all you “illustrators at heart “.

Illustration will be the topic of my workshop on Nov. 7,  about how different the world looks to an illustrator than to a fine artist.  At the moment I can’t tell you what the difference is (my mind is already on the WEEKEND!) but I’m sure those differences exist, and are profound, and all, and I have days and days to think of something not stupid to say about it.

But what I can show you today is this:

That is how a fine artist (Vincent Van Gogh) sees French food:


And this is how an illustrator (namely, me) sees it:


Fine Art (by Frederick Leighton):


Illustration (by me, again):


Fine Artist (Monet, doing  The Garden at Montgeron):


Illustrator (it’s always going to be me, by the way):


Fine artist (Georgia O’Keefe):




Fine artist (Paul Klee in Tunisia):


Illustrator (in Marrakech):


Fine artist (the great Richard Diebenkorn):




And here is how a fine artist (Henri Matisse) sees Dance:


And here is how this illustrator sees Dance:


I know there’s a difference between the fine artist’s eye and the illustrator’s eye, but I can’t explain it, not this close to the WEEKEND!!! But I know I’ll come up with something for when I have to be smart and workshoppy. And when I do, you know that I’ll share it here, too, with all of you Dear Readers.

By the way, I hear that there are a few spots still available for my  Watercolor Workshop on Nov. 7, so if you are in the Sunbury/Lewisburg (home of Bucknell University) area and you want to hang out with us in an afternoon of “violent solitude” (and yes, we’ll let you sit with us at the popular kids’ table), call 570-286-0818 to register.

And now, I give to you: The WEEKEND!

Read more

Today I want to talk to you about How I Do What I Do.

Wait. That sounds too grandiose.

Today, I want to show you How I Make The Sausage That Is My Art.

Which is illustrating, and which I do from photos.

Yes, I paint from photos. There. I’ve said it. n answer to that age-old question, “Where do you get your ideas from?”, my answer is: “I get them from the photographs I take.” (And yes, I carry a real camera around with me so I can take photos of passing scenes that interest me.)

This is a picture of something I saw on a morning walk in my Long Island neighborhood one day:


Oh, my…I was entranced by [with?] the way the morning light was streaming through the branches of this small stand of young trees. I took the photo, thinking that if I could study it long enough, I might be able to paint such a scene…back-lit foliage on a June day:

P1030840This led to a Summer-long preoccupation with studying the effects of back-light on green grass….as you can see below, when I snapped another pic of the same phenomena:



Please note that I am taking photos of photos, which look like crap when you post them on your blog, to show you the alongside the watercolor studies I did. Sorry about that.

Sometimes I would snap a photo and not know that it would make for a lousy study until after I’d painted it — like this “beach” scene below, taken on a North Shore of Long Island cove, which even with artistic license did not make for a compelling picture (but note: I never throw anything away — even the duds are worth keeping, because nothing that you try to paint ever goes to waste):


One year I went out walking with my camera on Dec. 26 specifically in search of subjects.  As soon as I spied this heap of apres-Xmas trash, I knew I had a “scene”:


Same as when I walked past this bike-and-basketball scene:


Sorry that it’s so hard to see the basketball — but in my mind’s eye, that little blip of orange basketball was THE focal!

This is hard to see, in the photo below, but I zoomed in on a backyard fence on which were poised a line of plastic pink flamingos with an American flag accoutrement that I couldn’t resist (which I also edited [moved the flag] when I painted the scene):


Who wouldn’t have found this little vignette adorable?:


Once I have done my studies, I gather them together on scotch tape them on a page and stick them in my sketchbook, for future ref:


So I repeat: Never throw away your studies! If nothing else, they bring back fond memories of stomping through snow fall on the day after Christmas of a year you can’t even remember…good times).

I confess that I do not put away my garden hose so it suffers in Winter because I am a bad, bad people — and I am so glad! Because this was such a pleasure to paint:


I loved the elegant loops of the hose, and the variations in the color of it — yellow-green, bright green, brownish-green, olive — I had such a fun time painting this, even though I knew I would never find anything useful (publishable) in it:


Another Winter blizzard, another walk around the neighborhood, another fabulous view — you can’t see it very well on the photo, but that little red bow tied around the post was the whole reason that I wanted to paint this very wacky and cool and dilapidated fence:


Old fences in the snow make for wonderful painting subjects:


The challenge here was to paint a white fence IN THE SNOW!!! What fun!!!:


Another fence  (see below) — by the way, all you have to do to get a better view of both these photos and the resultant paintings is to move your mouse onto the photo (as, below, or above) and click onto it…the gremlins of the internets will blow up the image so you can gander at it better (and, in the case below, see what happens when you use yellow-winted masking fluid where you want white snow to be):


GREAT tree house, and a fun way to practice painting a Winter tree:


Could YOU pass by this bit of snow-dusted topiary and NOT want to paint it???:


Or this Adarondak chair???:


The only reason I took this snapshot (below) was because of the candy cane decorations in the lawn — aren’t they adorable?:


Sometimes, when you least expect it, like, say, when you are wandering through a hardware store, you come across a still life that tickles your fancy and lucky you! You have a camera handy!:


A few years ago I went to my local Whole Foods:


And then I got on a whole pumpkin thing:


The thing that I liked about this display (below) was the hierarchy of pumpkins…the big fella on top, the middle fella in the middle, and the two tiny babies on the bottom:

As you can see, I was too timid when I painted in the shadows, made them too pale, and lost the whole POINT of the pic! Those two tiny baby pumpkins on the bottom step just disappear! But that’s why you have to do these studies: to teach yourself to not wimp out! Use that black paint! Black paint is OK!! So are exclamation points!!!!

Now, I took a LOT of artistic licsence when I did the next pic:


The thing that tickled my fancy about this scene was the three small tomatoes sitting on the back step. Why? Why would someone put tomatoes (and a green pepper) on the back step? Why? Were they in the middle of harvesting their vegetable patch and got called away by — what? The bends? An emergency salad-making convention? The desire to compose a sonnet?

I LOVED those three little tomatoes on the back step:

P1030855 2

I also loved the rake — which was a weird, really small rake, which I could never have painted AS IS because it would not have made any sense. Now, earlier that week I had seen a big pumpkin on a front porch, and a squirrel was perched atop it, but I didn’t have my camera and did not record the scene, but I used the memory of that to “jzuush” up my little picture (as seen above).

“Jzuush” is an artistic and fashionista tecnical term for “spiffen up”.

When I saw these Autumn leaves scattered on this sidewalk (below), I wondered if I could make a painting out of it:


Nope. It was obviously above my pay grade. But I give myself props for trying.

I also wondered the same thing — could I make a painting of this? —  when I came across this delightful scene, which I call Picket Fence With Wonky Brick Sidewalk and Autumn Leaves:


I bet that if I hadn’t shown you actual photographs of this…


…you would never believe that my Squint illustration was based on actual fact! Right?

Same here:


Yes, sometimes sun set on the Long Island Sound is just too pinky/lavender/silver to be true:


This is where I stopped blogging for a few hours because I suddenly realized that it was a fine, fine Fall evening and I gasped at the folly of me sitting at my computer when sun set on the Long Island Sound was a mere 25 minutes away!!!  And I jumped up and dashed out the door and got in my car and fought my way through traffic-jam traffic through the Village of Roslyn on the north shore of Long Island and jumped out of my car and ran — yes, I RAN — to the cliff above Hempstead Harbor and began snapping away at the fleeting, all too fleeting display of light of this day, the one and only day of October 8, 2015:



And if I make a painting of this once-in-a-lifetime sun set of Oct. 8, 2015, you can rest assured that I will show it to you all, my Dear Readers, right here.

Oh? That embedded video below? That fantastic dance song that makes you feel twenty years younger just by listening to it? With the armies that fight by glitter that makes you wish the whole world was run by cardboard-weilding pop stars from Brisbane? That’s just my latest reason Why I Am Ever So Glad That There Are Australians To Make This World a Better Place:

All I want to know is: Why do Australians say “Geronimo”? It’s not like the average American yells Ned Kelly …so why do Aussies know about Geronimo in the Land of Oz? Aussies: Please explain.

Meantime, hit repeat and everybody get up and dance!!! It’s the week-end!!!


Read more