February 2017

IT Tech Lickety in search of internet gremlins.

My internet service keeps crapping out at t

Let’s start again: There must be a blockage in one of the series of tubes that make up the internet because I can’t se

Short and fast: The gremlins are at it again. I can’t get decent internet

but I have my crack team of IT techs on it so as soon as I

get more than intermi

ttant service I will regale you all with th

e latest

news etc. in VivianWo

rld. Meantime, go make a cup of tea and take a break f

rom, you know, the int

er

webs.

Read more

The snow buried us cat and caboodle last week.

Even the slow-to-snow-panic New Englanders got a little hinky about the storm so my book event at the Tower Hill Botanical Garden was cancelled due to weather. This was a call that I, as a cult author and major American doodler/diarist and loather of the cold, heartily approved of. So we all stayed cozy in our bungalows and coped with The Weather in our own ways.

For me, it was breaking out the 1,000-piece picture puzzle and a fresh loaf of baked-from-scratch corn bread:

Corn bread goes very well with frozen champagne and a snow day with my Top Cat:

Taffy did his thing:

Bibs got in some serious bird watching:

And then the day after the day after the storm, the morning dawned eerily bright . . .

. . . and Dennis ventured out from his guest quarters in our house to inspect the new landscape . . .

. . . while Steve found a sunbeam very much to his liking:

And, oh yeah, a raccoon that I was trying to rescue from my back fence bit me so Top Cat took me to the local emergency room for rabies treatment (we looked it up and called the public health dept., who ordered me there), which is too-long a story to go into BUT all I have to say about spending three hours in an ER is: America, you have to stop being such cry babies when you have minor back pain, for chrissake. I refused to lay down on the Stryker cot the ER assigned me, just so I didn’t have to listen to the two blondes on either side moan and whinge about how much their shoulders hurt (diagnosis: nothing neurologically wrong, try sleeping with a better pillow). And what is with all the double-wide wheel chairs? No wonder health care costs are so high.

Back home again,  I hunkered down and got back to work on painting Christine’s Winter Tree because I’m a cowgirl at heart.

It is vital to use only the powdery Grumbacher “opaque” watercolor paints for this kind of painting because you will need to “pick up” the colors later. The most important colors are the blues: Prussian blue, Ultramarine, and Cyan blue (isn’t that redundant?), which I will be mixing with black and violet:

The next series of photos are my attempts to get good bleeds as I lay down a coat of paint (three different times) that changes intensity from rather lightish blue-violet to deep dark rich midnight blue:

If I am not happy with the bleed, I start over:

I should also tell you that it takes practice to get a nice smooth wash of color that doesn’t show brush strokes.

To answer Dear Reader Vicki’s question from the Comments last week, I photograph my own self while I paint. I paint with my left hand and when I get to a point that I think is important for you all to see, I just pick up my Panasonic Lumix point and shoot camera and snap:

Easy!

Anyhoo, I did end up with one good wash that had the right bleeds and the depth of color that I wanted — the one on the far right (below):

Some how I got lucky with that one — see that neat haze of brightness on the horizon? that’s going to look good on the finished pic, for sure.

Whenever I paint nature I have to fight my tendency to fall into patterns , so to avoid that I like to have a reference photo within sight when I do Winter trees so I can get a more random distribution of branches that will appear more natural, rather than what I do when I paint from memory:

Pencil guide lines:

I will use two brushes for this tree — a size 1 and a size 00. I start with the fatter brush . . .

. . . but I finish with the really tiny one:

For the next part, all I need is my size 00 brush and some clear water. I will load up my paint brush with water before I apply it to the dry paint, in order to “pick up” the color (kind of like an eraser), which is something that Grubacher paints let you do, which is why I love them:

I use the roll of paper towels that I always keep on hand to clean my brush in between the times I dip my brush into the clear water:

Again, when I am painting in these big snow flakes, I have to fight my pattern-making nature and try to make “snow” appear very random:

See below — I think it looks random, nest-ce pas?

Lastly, I dab in some smaller snow drops (I’m using my trusty acrylic Titanium White, of course):

Crop, and I am

DONE:

Christine, I hope you like it, because this one is for you.

I can see how you could play with this effect, by putting bright colors in the tree and making halos around each one, or maybe “erasing” a whimsical Milky Way in the background before you paint the tree into the foreground, that kind of thing. I’m thinking, future Happy Holidays card, right?

And you know which world leader is on my ChrisHanuKwanSolstice list?

** Sigh *** Really, doesn’t everybody in the world want to be Canadian at times like this?

Der Trumpf showing PM Justin Trudeau his secret plan to defeat ISIS.

I was listening to the radio when the joint press conference between Der Drumpf and Monsieur Dreamy came on, and I heard JT speaking French — which the damn people at NPR decided to talk over with an English interpretation.

So I ran — yes, I RAN — to my computer to get it streamed live so I could hear my favorite Trudeau person speak my favorite foreign language. Confession: I haunt Youtube for videos of JT speaking French, so I am already a huge fan of Monsieur Dreamy’s bi-lingualism. But today I have a question for my Dear Readers of the Canadian persuasion:

Is M. Trudeau’s accent rather less Celine Dion and more, let’s say, Megan Calvet? Although I can clearly hear the historically impeccable Quebecois accent whenever Celine speaks, I don’t hear it when I listen to The Top Cat of the Tundra, but I don’t know what exactly I’m hearing. Does he have what the Brits call a “Trans-Atlantic” accent? Rather like the way Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn used to speak American English in their old movies? Is it just a tiny bit more French-French than North American French? And is it dreamy?

And so, wonder Ones, if you need to lift your spirits from the latest Drumpf debacle (a new one reliably comes along every 48 hours), there’s this:

O, Ooooooo, Canada.

***Breaking News: I just watched Der Drumpf’s press conference today (Thursday, Feb. 16). It’s official. Der Drumpfster is bat shit crazy. I really, really do not know whether to laugh or cry. To paraphase: Der Drumpf is a comedy for those who think, a tragedy for those who feel. So, basically, if you think or feel, you are fucked. Unless you are Canadian, and then you are living the dream, mes amis, you are living the dream.

Have a great weekend, and à tantôt.

Read more

FINALLY. As I sit here typing this, Thursday morning Feb 9, a blizzard is pounding my Isle of Long with silent fury. It is a heavy, wet, swirling snowfall and we’ve been warned to expect “disruptions” due to the storm but so far, the power has not gone out obviously. Yay. I sit here in preparedness for any and all catastrophes. I have a just-poured cup of tea, plenty of English muffins for toasting, a good book set aside (The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis), and a 1,000-piece picture puzzle to break open at a moment’s notice. Plus, I have peace of mind that all my kitties are accounted for:

Taffy and his mom Candy

The outlaw Bibs

Cindy

Lickety at the den picture window, hoping for some action on his Birdie TV

Dennis in the backyard hutch, with his breakfast bowls (he also got a huge lunch served to him in the shed, because turns out he didn’t care for the picnic set up)

Right: I shoveled a path to the garage just so I could deliver feed to my crush, Steve, who is wisely staying put in his new cubby:

And, oh yes, I got the Champagne-O-Meter set up:

This was how it looked yesterday (Wednesday), when it was 60 degrees (16 C) and I debated whether or not it was cruel to abandon perfectly decent cheap champagne outside in such a heat wave. But I had faith in all the dire forecasts of debilitating snow because, science, and just for you, Dear Readers, I plonked my bottle down.

Full report at the end of this blog.

Now, where was I? Oh, right:

Remember last week I told you that I was going to paint a monochrome Winter for you, a snowy scene in shades of blue?

Well, I lied. I’m not going to paint in monochrome today, I’m not going to paint this scene (below) in shades of blue:

Because I really need to use white in this picture (which I have cropped to my liking) and, it seems to me, black:

The first thing I do when I set my sights on painting from a reference photo is to think hard about my strategy. I ask myself, How am I going to paint this? especially in the case of trying something new. Maybe I have a new idea of how to get this done. Think think think.

OK, I’ve thought about it and I think I have a plan.

So this is the strategy that I thought hard about how to paint my blue snow picture. . .

. . . which is to wash the entire picture surface with a moody mix of Prussian and Cobalt blue mixed with a smudge of black. I slather on the paint heavily at the top to a lighter, and thin it out at the bottom, before slapping in a splash of Royal blue as a feature in the landscape:

I really want a rich, multi-layered wash here, which is why I have mixed several different shades of blue into it. (P.S. I am using my cheap Grumbacher paints for the first wash, and a dab of my more saturated Winsor Newton paint in the swipe you see here (above).)

Let dry, and hope you get a smooth color field, with some interesting watery residue (I do love letting watercolor do what it wants to do):

See the watery smudge on the bottom? I LOVE that!

Now I make  the only pencil lines I’ll draw, to guide me in my future tree-making:

I get out my tube of acrylic paint, called Titanium White, to make my treetop snow:

So now I’ve got the white bits of my moon-lit forest:

I’m using black to paint in the foliage . . .

. . . which I will continue to do even as I get to the part where I have to imagine where the blue snow is:

This was my well thought out plan, to use the blue/black wash to form both the sky and the blue-in-the-shadows snow:

I think it works!

But I’m not done. Because there is a crescent moon in my reference photo, I’m going to paint one into my watercolor, like this:

As soon as I stepped back to get a look at this, I knew that I should have made the moon smaller, and full. I don’t like the crescent — and duh, I have artistic license to change whatever I want. I could have improved this pic with a full moon but nooooooo, I got stuck in my mind loop of slavish obedience to the reference photo.

Dear Readers, don’t do what I did.  Time spent thinking about how you want to edit your reference photos is time that is always well spent. I wish I’d thought a little bit harder when I was plotting out my plan for this pic. Lesson learned.

Here’s hint when it comes to painting moons, in whatever phase: the shape has to be perfect. So don’t try to draw it on your own. (Notice that I don’t use the term “free hand”. I have never liked that terminology. I have my reasons.) There’s tool you can use to get the curvature just right, and I beg you to get one:

I won’t draw a moon, or sun, or sphere without it.

Now, if you glance at the pic so far. . .

. . . you might be tempted to call it DONE. And it could stand as is, and be an OK pic. But let’s say we want to flirt with failure. Let’s say we want to try out another trick, just to see if we can pull it off. Even if it means ruining the whole thing forever. OK?

So, let’s do a clear water wash on the bottom bit of the scene, like this:

And let’s blob in some very pretty hue (again with the Winsor Newton stuff), and let the watercolor do what it wants to do:

Oooooooooo! The gamble paid off! I LOVE this:

Again, we could leave well enough alone, and call it DONE. But something wants me to do ONE MORE THING, and that’s to match the color of the blue-in-the-shadows snow on the trees with the blue-in-the-shadows snow on the ground:

So I paint in some Winsor Newton color, and then add more shadow to the far side stand of trees, and dab in some white highlights to the snow on the other side of the shadows:

And also futz with the cusp of shadow on the tree branches:

And, now, let’s see if all that futzing screwed us up:

So, starting from scratch a few weeks ago, when I was first learning how to paint snow-laden evergreens . . .

. . . we now end up here:

I’m not bragging. I’m pointing out how practice, doing it over and over, works. You can’t help but get better! I know that most people how give How To lessons want to come off as experts from the get-go, but I think it’s more informative if you see how not-hard it is to teach yourself something new, which at first you will e total crap at, until you get it. ANYONE CAN DO THIS!

Dear Reader Christine Commented last week that she hoped we would paint a blue Winter tree like the one on page 187 in my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam:

I did this illustration circa 2006 or 2007, back in the early days of my painting, back when I used fluid resist to blank out the white bits on those trees in the pic below. As for that blue tree, that was a sketch that I did, futzing around with my paints, learning what I could do with them, and I remember exactly how I got that background effect of a swirly cloud between the branches of that tree. How about I show you all ow to do it, when we re-paint that for next week? And Christine, that pic will go to you.

And for Wonder One Deborah Hatt, who made the suggestion that started this whole Winter Watercolor series in the first place: if you want this week’s Blue in the Shadows Pine Trees pic, it’s yours.

And now, without further ado, here’s your Champagne-O-Meter 2017:

7:30 am:

8:30 am:

9:30 am:

Cardinal:

Blue Jay:

As of now, I am waiting to take the 10:30 am pic so if this blog stops here you’ll know it’s because we have lost power and I am busy toasting English muffins in the fireplace and breaking open the Champagne-O-Meter!

Or, all is well but I’ve just broken open the Champagne-O-Meter!

Have a great weekend everyone! See you in Boyleston on Sunday!

 

Read more

Before I forget: I will be in Boyleston, MA next Sunday, Feb. 12, at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden. Details at the  end of this awesome post.

Now, where was I? Oh, right:

I am such a typical Capricorn. I’m musical, fun to a fault, quite the gourmet, and I totally love humanity***.

Ha ha! Just kidding.

If you know a Capricorn, then you know that we are the Vulcans of the zodiac. We are very serious people; practical,patient, determined, and can nurse a grudge better than an entire scrum of Hatfields.

Oh, that last thing might just be me. Point is, you have patted up a watercolor tutorial given by a Capricorn (yours truly) who is still trying to work out How to Paint Winter, so yes, we are going to re-re-re-paint the same damn trees again. Because did I mention that us Capricorns are patient and determined, and awesomely good at sticking with something, sometimes to a ridiculous extent, until we get it right?

Once more, this is the internet photo that I have been referring to for the past three or four weeks in my watercolor tutorials about painting Winter:

This is an excellent photo of Winter. It appealed to me because it had the kinds of Wintery trees that we all love: the snow-covered pine, the snow-covered deciduous, the misty woods in the back ground. And I love the monochrome of the color scheme, which is mostly shades of gray, which does not necessarily make it an excellent reference for a watercolor. Painting in monochrome is hard. I’ve never done it, because, you know, I’ve got my hands full trying to get it right with the whole paint box at my disposal.

So, from what I’ve learned about the limits of my ability (that I’ve been re-working on in my blog posts for the past three or four weeks), I am going to go straight for the green paint when I begin my watercolor again this week:

 

Let’s see, this is the 5th? 6th? time I’ve painted this snow-covered pine tree. I have a lot more confidence this week, which is why I decided to add another snow-covered pine tree (to the right, see below) for my painting this week. In order to differentiate the trees you can see that I’ve used a bluer color for the 2nd pine tree:

OK, let’s do the snow-covered deciduous tree now:

 

 

Because I am not painting in a sky, I am changing the way I do the background trees this time. This week, you can see that I’ve painted in just one layer of color here (see below):

I think, with the white sky that I’m leaving unpainted, that this single color will work better than the way I normally paint background trees, as in this sample:

This week, I am very happy with the way this ridge of blue paint looks (below), because I love taking advantage of letting watercolor do what it wants to do:

Now I’m using pale gray to paint in the background trees:

I’m dabbing in chunks of white paint, hoping that it will add “sparkle”:

So this is how the picture looks so far . . .

. . . before I decide to add an element that I’ve haven’t tried yet in this picture, which is some blue “snow” lines in the foreground:

All I have to do is crop this painting and it is

DONE.

Compare to last week’s effort:

I’m not saying that this week’s painting is good. I’m just saying that it is better. Patience, determination, etc., all those old, boring Capricorn traits keep me fixated on this scene, try-try-trying again and again, until I can pass off a half-decent depiction. So what if this is the 7th time (and counting) that I’ve been over this same territory? I don’t expect to be good right off the bat — do you?? 

By the way, Top Cat thought the new pic was only OK, but he was really impressed with the back ground. TC is in the print business (big fancy commercial printing, glossy ads and packaging for cosmetics and pharma), and he praised the background trees, namely this bit:

“How did you do that?” he asked; “It looks embossed!” Between you and me, I think that these background trees are crap and, if I paint this again, I will break out a new 00-size brush to get in some really fine lines here and do better with my tree shapes but, having Top Cat’s positive feedback, I know consider this one of my “party tricks” that I can pull out when I need to dazzle a viewer, maybe detract attention from a weakness in a picture. (Capricorns are very strategic.)

What Top Cat failed to notice, however, is that my treatment of these background trees isn’t even naturalistic. It’s pure invention, my own stylization, which I give you permission to borrow or otherwise appropriate for your own devices.

Speaking of Winter, we got another minor snowfall this week:

It only amounted to an inch or two, hardly worth putting out the old Champagne-O-Meter, but I mention it because it was a chance for me to test my cat-sheltering skills. When our last snow storm hit, on Jan. 6, our front porch cat, Steve, huddled in his lean-to by the stoop:

Now, this is Steve’s second Winter at large, and I have no idea where he hid out during bad weather last year, but he made it through so I know he is one tough hombre. But still, I can not abide seeing seeing a cat like this. As soon as the snow melted (which was practically the next day), I fixed his lean-to: I made it smaller (to better trap his body heat) and enclosed that back end, where the snow was blowing in, and I added another layer of plexiglass to his lean-to. Steve appreciates the transparency.

Better still, I re-vamped one of the “cubbies” that I keep in the garage:

It’s a never-used covered litter pan with an extra large-size top on it (for better insulation), stuffed with straw. So when it began to snow on Tuesday morning. . .

. . . I trotted out to the garage to make sure everything was warm and cozy:

I’m happy to say that Steve spends almost every night in this cubby.  As long as I keep my distance, that is, go no further than the doorway to the garage, I can call Good-night to him from a car-length away and he’ll blink and chirp back a faintly cranky “Nighty-nite” to me.

Speaking as a Capricorn, seeing this kitty face on a cold Winter night is about as happy as I get.

But I can get positively giddy reading your Comments, Dear Readers — Vicki in Michigan, Deb Mattin in New Hampshire, Thea in the Republic of California, and Kirra in Oz — all who marched for the cause last week: You light up my day! And all of us who were there in spirit, and who, like Becky, needle our lazy ass, conformist, shit-eating careerist representatives in congress to Man Up against Der Drumpf, I cannot tell you how much you give me hope that America is redeemable. Which I forget on a daily basis.

Note to all our Dear Readers from the midwest, including Indiana, the land of “nice”: On January 30 New Yoker Josh Sternberg helped put the call out, via Twitter, on January 30, for a protest to be held the next day at the Brooklyn home of Senate Minority Leader and New York Senator Chuck Schemer, to object to Mr. Schumer’s collaboration with the Republicans. And what might this platform for civic participation be called?

“What the Fuck Chuck” rally in Park Slope tomorrow. Bring your kids. Should be a blast!

Yeah, that’s what New Yorkers call “nice”. And so, three thousand people showed up to urge Mr. Schumer to get some balls and put up a fight against Der Drumpf and his half-wit supporters.

Somebody say Amen.

Now that I feel my blood boiling and my stomach is churning with pure hatred for those who want to revive the ghost of Antonin Scalia, let’s back away from the politics and resume our meander in the tributaries of my stream on consciousness. Relax. Calm down. Think good thoughts about a kitty cat. Let’s dip our toes back into the La La Land of Yours Truly:

Do you remember how I mentioned that us Capricorns are ambitious? Oh? Did I forget to mention that? Well, we are very ambitious folk, us Capricorns. And exactly how does that pertain to watercolor painting?

Here’s the answer:

I am inspired by these beautiful blue tones of late afternoon. So next week we are going to paint something that I’ve never tired: Monochrome. I’m going to paint a Winter scene in one color — shades of blue. Can I pull it off?

I honestly don’t know. But meet me here next Friday, and we’ll watch me paint on the verge of disaster.

OR, you can meet me in Boyleston, Massachusetts! I’ll be at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden on Sunday, Feb. 12, from 1 – 2 PM. I’m going to talk about how I blew up the garden-writing genre, exploded all its cliches and predictable sentimentality, when I wrote Gardens of Awe and Folly; and how a dedicated non-gardner such as myself pulled off such a feat — a ridiculous achievement matched only by my entire publishing career, which is pretty much a scam (as I am eminently unqualified to be a writer/illustrator at all).

I hope to see you there!

*** Me? A music lover? I detest background music and my favorite song in the world (for the record, it’s My Ever-changing Moods by The Style Council) is something that I can listen to only once every other year, so that I don’t get bored with it. Because I do get soooo bored with noise.

As for fun: I’m heavily into self-medication.

I have the palate of a six year old.

My dearest hope for this precious planet is that people die out and leave it the hell alone.

Wait. This a too down-beat ending of our weekly visit. So here’s some pix of Taffy, frolicking in his Winter Garden:

That cat surely does have exquisite taste in dirt.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Read more