March 2016

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A view of the famous Grande Allee in Monet’s garden in Giverny, painted by me after my 2005 (or was it 2006?) visit there. But those yew trees are from my 1984, 1992, and 1999 visit there.

Back when I was hatching the idea about doing something fabulous with my fondness for foreign gardens — which eventually became Gardens of Awe and Folly . . .

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. . . (which we call the GoAaF, pronounced “the go-af” , because all cool things have cool acronyms, like J-Lo, and Brangelina, and ComicCon) — anyway, back then it was a no-brainer that if I were going to write about the most thought-provoking gardens in the world, I would have to include the most famous garden in the world, namely, Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, France.

Now, everyone knows of Monet’s garden at Giverny mostly because of this:

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, www.giverny.org

Which you might know better as this:

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This is just one f the 250 versions of his water garden that Monet painted in his lifetime. “In his lifetime.” Why did I say that? It’s not like he could paint anything that WASN’T in his lifetime, right?

So I went to Giverny, and spent three days there, hanging out at Monet’s garden, taking long walks up the hills that overlook the property, walking along the old railroad tracks to and from Vernon, traipsing in and out of the tiny little streets of the beautiful village of Giverny. I took about a thousand photos of flowers, butterflies, and my lunch. If you’d like to detour and head back with me, back to May of 2013, click here. I do indeed loves me the village of  Giverny.

As a seasoned and rather home-loving world traveler, I am a very efficient when I go overseas. I want to do what I gotta do and then get back to my cats and my Judge Judy. So my trip to France was actually a twofer, because the day after I left Giverny I got on a plane and went to Morocco. Specifically, Marrakech:

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That’s the door to my riad hotel, on the left.

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That, above, is the courtyard of my hotel in the casbah, which you Dear readers with eagle eyes might recognize from the illustration I did of it in the GoAaF:

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This illustration of Fatima pouring tea in the courtyard of my riad is my favorite painting in the whole GoAaF:

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You’ll notice that I made changes to the flooring tiles. That’s because I wanted the little brown bird to stand out in the background (I really enjoyed those little brown birds) and I knew that I could not make that happen by painting a brown bird on a brown floor.  And here’s my tip for painting black-on-black stuff, such as Fatima’s headscarf: leave a blank, unpainted space between abutting black forms to create a line of demarkation (I also do this when I paint black cats). See how I did that? Did you even notice it before I pointed it out? (Honestly, I’d really like to know. Maybe I’m not a clever as I think I am.)

But the reason that I  like this illustrations is because of this detail:

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I was very fearful about painting the shiny silver forms of the tea pot and the flat tray, and the reflected tea glass.  I got it on my first attempt — whew. The highlights that you see — the bright white areas — is what I left unpainted, and that’s the bright white of the Canson 90lb. paper showing. Tip: In plotting out the plan of attack for any illustration, paint the hard stuff first, (such as a silver tea pot and tray). That way, if it works out you can then paint the rest of the picture around it; if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t wanted a lot of effort and you are free to start over on a clean sheet of paper. . . strategy, my Wonder Ones: the better part of painting is strategy.

As you Dear Readers of the GoAaF know, my To Do List in Marrakech had just two items on it:  1: have an authentic Moroccan tea experience; and 2: go see the garden of the famous French fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent.

Which is why I spent half an overcast day in the amazing Jardin Majorelle:

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Yep, that’s a lily pond there (above). With palm trees reflecting in it. I was excited to paint this scene because, Wow! Who wouldn’t want to try her hand at painting a lily pond in the middle of a jungly garden? Below is my learning curve when it comes to painting lily ponds in the middle of a jungly garden:

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I kept painting pictures and ripping them apart and painting them over and ripping them apart until finally I had a pond and a jungly background that I liked. I then pieced together the best bits to make this:

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Yes! This is another Watercolor RESCUE!

Which became this 2-page spread in the GoAaF:

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Well, it’s one thing to paint a lily pond from the Jardin Majorelle, but it’s quite another thing to paint the most famous lily pond in the world. Monet’s garden at Giverny is a very intimidating subject for an illustrator — nobody in their right mind wants to re-paint what the Master has already painted. So I put a hold on my plans for a Giverny chapter of the GoAaF, and promised myself that I’d wait until the post-publication amnesia kicked in, and I forgot how truly agonizing it is to live through four years of living with a book-in-progress, that maybe I’d research the possibility of a small pamphlet on the subject of the most famous garden in the world.

Very few illustrated books about Monet’s garden exist, for the obvious reasons, but last week on Amazon.com I found a pop-up book called A Walk in Monet’s Garden by Francesca Crespi, published in 1995, that was the coolest thing I’ve seen about the most famous garden in the world:

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It’s a book for children, so the terrain is much simplified, but the fold-out is so ingenious that I’m sure only an adult could do it:

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(I took these photos on Sunday afternoon so that’s why Top Cat’s Saturday night bottle of wine was handy, to plunk down to show you the scale.) I love it that the large windows in the two studios on either side of the garden have mylar panes!  and it even has the road that runs between the two halves of the garden, the upper flower garden (the Clos Normand) on the right (below), and the lower water garden with its famous lily pond (on the left):

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Since this is a book for children the lay-out of Monet’s flower beds and lawns and plantings is much simplified, so it’s only a schematic of the garden . . .

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. . . so when I need detailed, precise, and conceptual information about the most famous garden in the world, I turn to Ariane Cauderlier, expert authority who knows every inch of Monet’s property, all the ins and outs, highs and lows of the life, art, and ambience of Giverny. Ariane is a former newscaster, and current journalist, author, and photographer who oversees the website for the Claude Monet Foundation at Giverny.org, which is the top-rated website for international visitors planing a voyage to the most famous garden in the world. Ariane is an insider’s insider in the world of all things Monet.

And guess what today is???

It’s OPENING DAY at Monet’s garden in Giverny!!!

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Giverny-Impression.com

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Giverny-Impression.com

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Giverny-Impression.com

So this is a great day to mosey over to Ariane’s  delicious blog in English called Giverny Impression which today and every day gives you a special peek into the year-round happenings in Monet’s flowers beds and ponds — for those of us who need to escape, every now and then, into the other world of France, gardening, and the peace and calms that reigns over the most famous garden in the world in the morning hours before the hordes of tourists arrive each day.

I got to know Ariane last December when I went back to Giverny for a Winter look-around, and had to get her desk-top calendar, which is only sold in France (but can be sent anywhere in the world for a modest shipping charge):

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For the rabid Monet/gardening fan (is that you?), this is the perfect, exclusive, French-imported gift!

For those of us who want to brush up on our French by having a fun conversation with a smart and surprising French friend, we go to Ariane’s French language blog, Giverny News, which wanders out of Monet’s garden from time to time and into London galleries, the history of Impressionism, and Ariane’s own backyard:

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com; Sunset over Giverny Ville

 

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com; Winter on Monet’s lily pond

 

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com; the Royal Academy (in London) exhibiting the blockbuster show, Painting the Modern Garden

 

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com, Gustave Caillebotte prep sketch for Paris Street, Rainy Day

 

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Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com

OMG, you have to read this story of the fat boar (above) who jumped into Ariane’s walled garden last December! It’s a whole other kind of life, there in a 17th century Norman manor house!

Oh, wait — I forgot to tell you that Ariane and her husband Alain . . .

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. . . have restored a 17th century manor house just down the road from Monet’s garden, and are now hosts of a splendid B&B called The Hermitage:

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view from the front gate

But wait, there’s more: I saved the best of the all-bestest ’til last: Ariane, a London-trained linguist, is a licensed Guide/Lecturer who gives private tours of Monet’s garden in three languages (not at the same time). If you really want to get to know the behind-the-scenes Giverny, you must take this tour! Ariane knows all there is to know about Monet, the gardens, the gardeners, and their cats.

I’m not kidding about the cats, by the way. Just ask her, the next time you’re taking her tour.

Ariane knows that I’m a crazy cat lady, so when she went to the Salon of Embroidery Arts in Paris last month, she got this for me:

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Click onto the image to enlarge and have a good laugh, and a great vocabulary lesson. “Le pire, c’est lui” is FUNNY! And: “Niais”: who knew? (Not me.)

Because of a traumatic experience with the cross-stitch when I was 8 years old, I stay away from what the French call le point de croix. But I can see how much fun this would be to sew in a crewel-stitch, a point I am very fond of. And I have 7 cats! And it just so happens that the one who is le pire is also in black-and-white!

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No, wait, maybe he’s le videur. . . yeah, right. As if I could ever get an honest day’s work out of him. . .

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. . . or any of the other cats who surveil me.

Before I go, I want everyone to know that there were plenty of Justin Bieber backstage passes to go around so, everyone who wanted the pair in last week’s give away, got them, no playing dice with the universe necessary to win.

Remember, keep posting those 5-star reviews on Amazon.com for Garden of Awe and Folly  — the contest is still open for anyone to win the super-duper Quartet Triscuit Give-Away (or any other prize of your choice when we do the numbers in May):

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Next week I will post the drawings that became these watering cans (above) for all of you Wonder Ones who want to print them out for your own projects. . . and  I will dedicate next Friday’s post to Dear Commentor Leslie, who sussed this out weeks and weeks ago:

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I hope everyone in the Northern Hemisphere gets a huuuuuuge does of Spring Fever this weekend and does something niais, and comes back to tell us about it. For those in the Antipodean regions of our dear Earth, it’ll be just another weekend in paradise.

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I’ll get to the usual Friday business of painting and ruining everything and fixing up broken watercolors in a minute (feel free to skip to the second half of this post if you just can’t wait to see what is coming off my paint brushes this week.)

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. . . But first (shameless appeal for the filthy lucre alert) let me remind you all that I have this new book out that has this killer title. . .

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Gardens of Awe and Folly. It’s almost disappointing that it’s about gardens and not, say, about hand-raising baby pandas whilst clearing  my house of everything that does not spark joy so I can go hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 50 shades of gray but there you go: I’m a Capricorn. We are very logical and literal people, even though we are the most weird chimera in the horoscope, even though it’s only a goat and a fish and not, say, a unicorn and a hummingbird. Nope, it’s just a goat and a fish, but there you go: so Capricorn. But I digress.

My publisher, Bloomsbury, has had me sign about 5,000 copies (I’m guessing) that they planned to send out to the tastemakers of the universe for the obvious reasons. So there I was, for a whole afternoon following a very ritzy lunch date with my editor  forever, signing and signing and signing. And I felt bad that I couldn’t come up with something really snazzy, some motto or bon mot other than “Happy Reading!”

But last week I had to sign a dozen copies for my pals (see: pages 25 – 45) at Save Our Pines in Key West [illustrations of the Australian Pines in Key West below]…

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. . . for their fund raising picnic on the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor Park in celebration of  Save Our Pines Day  this weekend on Sunday, March 20 and it came to me!

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Go Forth in Awe & Folly!

I want that on a T-shirt, bumper stickers, shot glasses, and baby panda baby booties. By the time you read this, I just might have my etsy store up and running (while my trademark application makes its rounds through the USPTO).

I sincerely believe that going forth unto the world in a mindfulness of awe and folly is the secret to happiness or, at minimum, an hour or two off every now and then from the grim and wearying work of being human. Here’s how it works:

Awe:

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 Folly:

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Sometimes it’s a thin line between the two.

Take, for example, my deep interest in this particular pile of snow that Top Cat and I happened upon some weeks ago in the Whole Foods parking lot near my house:

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On March 1 my husband and I made a bet whether or not that pile would be goners by March 17. Here it is early this week:

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Two days later, this is what was left:

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Note in the background: That’s the mobile vet clinic from the North Shore Animal League of Port Washington, Long Island. Yay companion animal rescue people!

Now usually, photographing old snow would be quite the folly but, as there was a trip to France riding on the outcome of this evaporation, these filthy and disgusting mounds of frozen grit make for awesome subject matter, the thin line here being the intangibility of saving face.

But I had even more reason to celebrate when a mere 25 minutes later I pulled into a mom-and-pop-shop-killing Big Box Store parking lot:

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WHOA. I did NOT expect to see this — snow piled SUV-high in the Lowe’s parking lot where I go to buy 40 points of bird seed every two weeks! If it weren’t so awesome to see this secret remnant of the Blizzard of ’16 SEVEN WEEKS after the fact, it would be kind of depressing. See? AWE saves the day!

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Now, of course, I have a new obsession in that I have to drive there every other day to check up on the melt and I don’t even have any bragging rights in the game. This is Yon Pile three days later:

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And here it is four days later:

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This was it yesterday:

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See? Finding awe in a disgusting pile of inedible snow is what makes me me, a person who finds fulfillment spending hours of my life which I will never get back (and I’m not getting any younger) blogging about crap in a Lowe’s parking lot.

I can even find awe in ghostly rat-tailed creatures of the night:

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He has the cutest little pink feets and the cutest gray Shrek-ears and the cutest pan-on-the-patio manners. In other words, he’s adorable.

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I am proud — nay, awed — to have North America’s only marsupial pawing through the bird seed on my back patio. (Fear not, the little fella stayed around long enough for me to run out there and bring him a bowl of Friskie’s finest cat food; an opossum does not have to live by sunflower seeds alone, not if I’m around.)

Yes, I am in awe of my opossum even though I know that the opossum is America’s consolation prize for losing out in the Great Marsupial Cuteness Contest to the Land Down Under, where one can, any day, come across a koala  in a characteristic Yoda pose:

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Or Patrick, the world’s oldest wombat, on the 30th birthday of his nose:

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Or Missy the Roo, showing off her toes:

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(To Kirra and all my Aussie Wonder Ones from Perth to Pemulwuy, belated Happy Canberra Day!)

And then there’s this. . .

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. . . which I found growing in the rubble left behind when the county jackhammered our sidewalk to bits last week. Even when this verge had grass it never had crocuses.

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 OK, that’s all the awe for now because it’s about time we did the weekly “art” thing that I do, where I show you what I’ve been working on and you all go “What?! No Taffy this week?!”

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Yeah, I had to fix that weird short spout.

Pic No. 2:

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Pic. No. 3:

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And then there’s the one that I totally forgot to photograph until I assembled them all together to form the tych-thing that comes after triptych:

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This, my Wonder Ones, is my first four-part Triscuit! I am in the process of painting another four-part Triscuit because some people might not like watering cans as much as I do, and I want to make sure that, for the first ever Quartet Triscuit Give-Away that I’ll have a few four-part Triscuits for you to choose from. This contest will happen in the month of May (for scheduling reasons beyond my control) and to qualify all you have to do is leave a 5-star review on Amazon.com for Gardens of Awe and Folly, the book which from now on I will refer to as the GoAaF, thanks to Deb Mattin and her Comment of last week — Merci mille fois, Deb, for keeping it classy. I also love “GoAaF” because it sounds a lot like shorthand for my new motto in life: Go Forth in Awe and Folly. Nice. Real, real nice.

To Maryanne, the very first 5-star reviewer, you get a double entry in the Quartet Triscuit Give-Away for being the OG of my dreams.

Thank you, all my Commenter Wonder Ones, for your wonderful Comments last week about the GoAaF; you Commenters inspire me to keep on showing up here week after week (and I’m not getting any younger) to show you pictures of crappy snow melting in the Lowe’s parking lot instead of doing something useful, like learning to brew beer at home, or fighting crime.

Before you go, I do have a give-away this week, and it’s a bit weird but here goes (front):

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 Back:

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 These are printer’s proofs of actual 100% real backstage passes for Justin  Bieber’s 2016 Purpose world tour. These 2 passes will not get you backstage — you’d need a $2,000 VIP ticket attached to it to get past Security — but, remembering my own rock star crushes on George Harrison (from when I was age 10 onward) and Paul Weller (all of my 40s, sad to say), I am offering these because I imagine that there’s some Belieber out there — your daughter, grandchild, niece, you — who might get a little thrill out of adding these bits to their/your Bieber archive. Or not, you never know.

Well, I thought I’d put them out there. Just leave a Comment, before that section is closed on Tuesday, with a number between 500 and 600 (I have to keep the numbers interesting for Top Cat) and I’ll let you know next week who won. You can get both, or just one, let me know, in case I need 2 winners instead of 1.

Coming up next week: A very special post! March 25 is a very auspicious day somewhere in the world (guess where) for which I will have a very special guest, and during which I will answer Leslie’s perceptive question from Comments two weeks ago re: new project, but here’s a hint:

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P.S. About all those 5,000 author-autographed copies of the GoAaF that I mentioned at the top of this post: my publisher Bloomsbury wants me to let you know that they have 4,990 copies still sitting around, in case someone out there knows Oprah, or Ellen, or Rosie, or Taylor, etc. They would be happy to send an author-autographed copy to any Incredibly Famous Person you know for the obvious reasons. Thank you.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Go Forth in Awe and Folly!

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We have a Winner!Top Cat has chosen and last weeks’s one-of-a-kind hand-painted Pub Date Celebration Triscuit with cat and tea goes to Number 171 …

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. . . which of course no one picked but we’re going with the  closest number without going over, and that number is . . .

. . . # 168

Monique!

Monique, a long-time Dear Reader of this blog, has never won a contest here in VivianWorld so for this challenge she changed tactics and asked her own Top Cat (who goes by the name of Jacques) to pick a # for her and the mojo was tres bien! Enfin! Congratulations, Monique! This Tricuit definitely is so you, all over!

And now let us return to the raison d’être of this blog which is, namely, Watching Paint Dry and, according to this week’s title, Hacks.

You all know that I have a new book out (shameless plug):

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But you might not know that the picture on the cover is one of my better hacks which I had to do because, like Jenny Beavan, I have strengths and I have weaknesses in what I do for a living but I’ve found a way to hack around it so no one goes tsk tsk, she’s really let herself go. Read on.

This is how that illustration started out in life:

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And this is what it looked like after I  cut out (literally, and I do mean: literally — with scissors) all the crap bits:

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I bring this up because, if you remember from two weeks ago that I showed you all a picture of Monet’s Giverny garden allee before I hacked it:

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And then I showed you this same painting apres hack:

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When Dear Reader Nancy S. posted a Comment and asked how I did it,  I realized that I should have been more specific about this particular hack. Because, not to brag or nothing, but hacks are kinda my thing. I have a whole category of rescue posts on this blog and if you’re curious you can find them under the blog post category Watercolor Rescue. For today, tho, I want to discuss all the various ways I rescue paintings that have gone wrong, such as all of the above.

Getting back to the cover illustration for Gardens of Awe etc., here’s me in the act of re-drawing the pic around the bits that were salvageable:

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(BTW, what I’m showing you here is an abridged version of this rescue — if you care to read the whole ugly story it’s here in a post that I called I Hoard My Mistakes for the Sake of Art.)

Architectural drawing is something that I am really bad at, and I accept that about myself. So it behooves me to avoid doing architecture whenever possible. But when I can’t avoid it, I hack it by keeping the drawing as simple as can be, and if it has to be in any way detailed I paint it in silhouettes as I have done here, below, in the background:

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This silhouette trick is a device that I’ve used to great effect (if I do say so myself) in my previous book Le Road Trip:

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and in the Edinburgh chapter of the DGB:

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I am always on the lookout for architectural hacks. On a trip to Scotland in 2007 I found this illustration in a magazine:

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Do you see how the artist, Adrian McMurchie, has flattened the building and yet has still kept the integrity of the architecture?

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I originally thought that this was a fabulous hack, a brilliant way of avoiding the pitfalls of perspective and as such was something that I intended to use one of these days. But it turns out that Adrian McMurchie is a boy wonder at rendering sumptuous architectural illustration, so this hack might be harder than it looks but still, it’s something to keep in mind, don’t you think?

Getting back to my London rescue, after I’ve dabbed in some surrounding architecture to give a since of place, the last step I take is commitment, when I glue that cut-out remnant in place and I paint in the rest of the gardens around it:

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And DONE.

For those of you who are reading along, I dare you to find the “seams” of this cut-out on the cover of your copy of Gardens of Awe and Folly:

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No, not this cover. This is a workshopped dummy of the cover, a mock-up prepared by the Bloomsbury art department long before publication in which you can see the seams. Just click onto it and enlarge.

There are a lot more rescues inside this book but let’s just take a peek at this page, the title page  for the first chapter:

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This is an especially daring rescue because it’s so big. You see, after I painstakingly painted that Beaux Arts Paris apartment building in the background, I painted that foreground allee of trimmed plane trees. (Maybe they are lime trees. I’m not good on those kinds of technicalities.) Well, those trees were bad, bad, bad. And I was not about to start over from scratch, no sir, because that building in the background was a pain in the ass to paint.

So I painted different trees on a new sheet of 90-lb. Carson watercolor paper, cut them out (along the black lines as shown) and glued them right on top the bad, bad, bad trees:

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And no one is none the wiser!

Do you know that there’s a really famous who else who used the good old scissors-and-glue hack when illustrations went wrong?

This lady did:

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Perhaps you recognize the work of Beatrix Potter, pictured here in this instance the story called the Pie and the Patty-Pan. If you look closely (which I did), you will see that dear old Beatrix hacked this picture in exactly the same way:

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Oh yes, Dear Readers, you can believe your eyes. That little dog is a cut out! And it’s an excellent cut out, at that.

Now, there are times. . . many, many times, many many many times. . . when all you can do is paint the whole shebang over again. Like when I recently had a go at depicting this little scene in Monet’s Giverny garden (below). I was using a reference photo, which is quite obvious from the way I painted this picture as a full bleed (“bleed” is when the image goes right to the very edge of the paper):

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I am still on a learning curve when it comes to painting Monet’s garden at Giverny, so for a first try this was pretty decent. But for what I wanted this picture to do — namely, show off those tall forms in which vines grow in the middle of a flower bed — it failed. There was no way to rescue it. The only thing I could do was start over.

Which I did:

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Yes, I much prefer the second version.

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So, getting back to Nancy S.’s query about how I rescued Monet’s allee. . .

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. . . I admit that I was nervous about going back over this painting because watercolor is so fragile that it can be easily killed by over-work. A lot of times you can’t put a layer of color over another layer of color without the whole thing turning into mud. So. . . I practiced off-site:

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So, OK: I was pretty sure I could layer a dark green over the lighter greens and blues in the foreground without making mud. So I was ready to go ahead and take a chance that I was not going to ruin this picture with my rescue.

Since I did not photograph the actual rescue, I’m going to make this facsimile to show you how I did it:

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There are two reasons why I knew that I’d have to use an undercoat of white acrylic paint to achieve this rescue. First reason is because I had tried just painting a light blue over dark green and it didn’t work. If you look closely below, I am showing you the difference between the white-undercoated blue dots and the no-undercoated blue dots (where my paintbrush is):

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You can see that without the acrylic undercoat, those blue dots disappear into the dark green paint. So undercoating is the only way to go:

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Second reason I use acrylic paint is because if I used gauche (as Nancy S. asked), as an undercoat and put blue watercolor over it, I would certainly have got mud. Gauche is water-based, and soluble, so it is not really suitable as an undercoat. It just can’t hold its own against an over-paint (such as above).

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Et voila:

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It was a pleasure for me to go back to this beautiful Spring memory of Monet’s garden today because last week, after Taffy had gone to all the trouble of declaring his domain Winter-free, we got this:

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Snow. Not a whole lot, but just enough to give new life to a critical pile of snowy crud at the local Whole Foods:

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However, by week’s end the temperatures were back in tune with my need for it to be gone my March 17. . .

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. . . and all I can hope is, Is anybody ever going to take that damn trolly back to where it belongs?

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P.S. For all of you who thought I might have been a bit too harsh with the marvelous Jenny Beavan, here’s a photo of her Oscar co-winner from 1987, John Bright (that’s him on the left), taken in Aug. 2015 when he was 75:

So, have a great weekend everyone. Hope you’re enjoying your perusals of Gardens of Awe and Folly . . . something tells me there might be something coming up for all you 5-star reviewers out there. See you here next week (free of charge).

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Ta-Da: This past Tuesday, March 1, was the official Pub Date of my garden book:

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I got an email from my publisher that already this book has been tagged as an Amazon Best Seller — it’s #1 in Gardening and Horticultural Essays. And that’s all because of YOU, Dear Readers; all because of your advance orders (and a glowing Kirkus Review). Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. How can I thank you? Check out the bottom of this post (surprise ending!)…but for now I’d like to go behind the scenes, if you don’t mind.

I think the cover of the DGB is a beaut because it’s the view from a friend’s London balcony — an enchanting view that I photographed in three seasons (you can read all about it in the chapter about the Chelsea Physic Garden).

London is a city that I, like any English-speaking Anglo-child of the suburbs, have had lodged in my brain since the first time I heard of Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, Pickwick and the orphan Pip, etc etc etc. When I was 20 years old I finally got to see London with my very own eyes and it lived up to every fairy tale…London is a trip.

However, London was not the first foreign city I set foot in. When I was 19 years old I lit out for the place that was truly my heart and mind crush: Paris. So that’s why I made Paris the first chapter/garden in Gardens of Awe and Folly. Specifically, I headed into the lovely little garden called The Square du Vert-Galant:

awesome map of Square du Vert-Galant

The one thing that makes my garden book different is that I insist on mapping every garden I write about. I’m the kind of person that needs to see a map in garden situations. Also, when I’m reading a book I just can not stand to read descriptions of landscape, except for the ones I’ve been reading lately about climbing Mt. Everest. But in all other circumstances, I skip the paragraphs about the color and light and mood and topographical features of the land. Bores me to tears.

So I give my Dear Readers a map so that in less than five seconds you get it. Like this bit of Parisian real estate (map, above) in the middle of the River Seine — here’s a picture of that same garden spot from my most recent visit, in December of last year:

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The other thing that I’m fussy about, garden-wise, is making note of the garden entrance:

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To me, the entrance is a crucial component of the entire garden experience — especially for this garden of the Vert-Glanat, as the threshold is so dramatic (even in lovely Winter, as seen below):

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The Vase Gate

I like to visit gardens in Winter because I like to see the “bones” of a garden on display, and hoo boy are they ever “on display” in Winter. And I was thrilled to see this, my No. 1 Paris garden, revealed thusly when I was there last December.

But OMG, May I digress here? Because we here on Long Island just got our first taste of Spring this past weekend with a 60 degree day! In February! So Top Cat and I took our usual 5-mile walk through the neighborhood and my oh my, how we gloated over the fact that Winter is vanquished in our neck of the woods. Ha! Take that, yon filthy piles of left-over snow:

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And just think, a mere five weeks ago we were ravaged by Winter Storm Jonas — Ha! Now all that’s left is hardly enough make a ski jump for squirrels!

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Hard to believe that this is all that is left of a 20-inch, knee-deep, white-out blizzard :

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There’s not even a snowball’s worth of sow left here!

If I lived here (below) I would have shoveled that little pile out of my driveway weeks ago just to be rid of it once and for all for cripe’s sake:

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By chance we crossed paths with this little guy …

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…who, according to his collar goes by the name of Rusty. He flopped down onto the road there and started rolling from side to side in what looked like a fit of Spring Fever. Our squeals of delight regarding this cuteness attracted the attention of Rusty’s pal, who also came by to say “Hi”:

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It was when we ambled to the local Whole Foods that Top Cat and I came across this:

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Top Cat and I have a bet about whether or not this mound will be gone by St. Patrick’s Day. If I win, I get to go back to Paris in June.

Oh, right. I think we better get back to Paris tout de suite, nest-ce pas?

So back to my No. 1 fave Paris garden: The next thing that I want to show you about the Square de Vert-Galant is this view, which you can gander by walking to the far end of this garden and turning around and looking back towards the Pont Neuf —  this is the view in Summer:

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And in Winter:

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Picasso painted this same exact view:

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Yeah, I agree with you: Picasso’s picture stinks.  (You can see his tableau in the Musee Carnavalet, a darling museum about a ten minute walk away which covers the history of Paris.)  And that white pointy thing in the bushes on the right hand side…what the hell is that?? Could that be the kiosk of the garden guardians?

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Oh, how I love this little, one-third-of-a-third-room building:

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The architect was probably Gabriel David, the same Second Empire artist responsible for many of the distinct and lovely street furnishings of Paris, such as its newspaper and magazine kiosks:

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I even see a similarity to the famous Morris Columns all over the city:

Morris Column

Have you ever wondered how they load up a Morris Column??? Now you know!

I know!! I was on a bus (last December) when I saw this, a sight I have never seen in all of my 40 years of visiting and living in Paris and I jumped out of my seat and ran to the front of the bus to get a good photo of it, and thank DoG the bus was stopped at a red light so I could get a photo, and I am sooooo chuffed that I am able to show this to you!!

Back to the guardian’s kiosk in the Square du Vert-Galant: of course I had go peeping. I had to know what this wondrous space looked like on the inside:

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BTW, it still looked the same last December:

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I could do so much with this space. I desperately want to own this little place, or at least get a 99-year lease on it. I want to spiff it up and spend my days lounging in front of a little fire, with my notebooks and my radio and my books, whilst quaffing a culturally appropriate beverage:

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I can definitely see it. I belong here. (Inside joke: That’s Monet’s water lilies on the carpet.)

And so, in keeping with this wintery theme of Fantasy Garden Spots Where I (and You) Belong, today I am painting for you Dear Readers a Pub Date Celebration Triscuit of that same theme:

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But first. . .another digression. If you read last week’s Comments you’ll see that last week’s Triscuit winner, Deborah Hatt, dedicated her win to her two dearly departed Cats of the Heart. Well, what else could I do but put those sweet kitties into her Monet’s Giverny  Garden Triscuit? My darling Readers, please say Hi to Percy and Buster:

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Long may they stroll the perfumed paths in that beautiful flower garden in the sky.

OK, now we can back to painting this week’s  Pub Date Celebration Triscuit.

As always, I work wet-in-wet to make some interesting grassy textures:

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Oh, yeah — this Triscuit’s going to have a tea cup and a cat . . .

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. . . and a wicker chair with a golden cushion:

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White is the only acceptable color for wicker furniture, don’t you agree?

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When I saw that the detail of the wicker was too washed out by the pale background, I decided to go back and paint in some dark stuff in between the wicker-weave. I am probably one of the few people on Earth who find this kind of fuss-budget work to be very relaxing:

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Now for lots and lots of fleurs:

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And done:

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This is the kind of place where you, and I, and cats belong on any old Spring Fever day, right?

I am giving away this special Pub Date Celebration Triscuit to my Dear Readers in honor of, well, my new book and all, and how it’s the perfect gift for everybody you know, maybe even two or three times each. I’ve heard that it only takes one bulk sale of 8,000 copies to get on the New York times Bestseller list so if anyone out there has 8,000 friends please buy this book for them all and make them (and me) happy. Thank you.

All you have to do to claim this Pub Date Celebration Triscuit for your own is leave a Comment below, with your guess of a number between 123 and 8,071…no, wait. That’s too complicated.

Guess a number between 100 and 175. When the Comments close after 5 days (I have to shut it down to reduce the number of days that I get 1,000 spam comments per hour) I will have Top Cat pick a number at random and hope that one of you Dears had mental telepathy. Or is it pre-cognition?

Every one who Commented last week or the week before is eligible!

And now, because Thea wrote a Comment last week that “Taffy beats any sports mascot”, here’s your weekly dose of our favorite beige cat:

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This is me and Taffy and that’s our feral pal Bibs, at my ankle, in front of the tomato patch in August of last year. I don’t know why I didn’t use this as my author photo for the DGB.

Speaking of which, next week we’ll have to talk about all those 5-star reviews that you, my Dear Readers, will be posting to Amazon for Gardens of Awe and Folly, n’est-ce pas? ( 5-star reviews = another V. Swift book in the future for you. . .  publishers take sales and reviews very seriously). For all you Dear Readers who take the time to vote in favor of me keeping my job, I’ll have a special thank you for you. Stay tuned.

Have a great weekend, everyone, curling up with a good book. You know which one I mean.

P.S. in response to Comments last week that I did not get to answer in the roll: Leslie you’re right! I am contemplating a new embroidery project, and when it’s stitched I’ll be sure to show it here.

Patricia: I wonder if there is some kind of Myers Briggs test that would match up personalities to most likely crafts, altho I’m pretty sure that if left to science I would never have been pegged as an embroiderer. I’m too easily bored, except by things I’m obsessed with, which seem pretty random. I think it’s hit or miss, like love. Or maybe it’s fate, like love. I can’t decide.

 

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