April 2017

Writers are famous for being very particular about their working conditions. Some writers need background noise (so they hang out at Starbuck’s) and some need absolute quiet (Proust had his room sound-proofed). Some can only write in the very early hours of the day (Hemingway) and some can write at any hour but it has to be in a room with totally bare walls (Maya Angelou). But you don’t hear much about the work habits of painters — except for Monet, who was famous for being able to paint only 10 minutes a day (sometimes), in order to catch a certain kind of sun light in the plein air.

I don’t paint plein air (that means: outside) but I still need a specific kind of natural light to do my stuff. My prime time for painting is in the late morning until the middle afternoon, but no later than 4 o’clock. Judge Judy comes on at 4 o’clock.  I credit all my legal knowledge to watching Judge Judy — the one time I was sued in small claims court I got the case thrown out in 5 minutes. I love confrontation, and I love outsmarting people, and I will NEVER settle! Man-o-man, I would have made a killer litigator.

But, alas, I am an illustrator, so let us take a look at today’s illustrating challenge, which comes from one of our favorite Dear Readers.

Dear Reader Jeanie took this beautiful photo when she was in France, on her visit to the lily pond in Monet’s Water Garden in Giverny. Did you know that the Water Garden has SIX bridges in total? This is a pic of the bridge at the farthest eastern edge of the pond:

I can see why Jeanie has been hankering to paint this scene: the reflections on that pond are soooo cool, with the Willow tree greenery in the distance and that brilliant blue sky in the foreground. YUM. Also, you get the view of two (out of Monet’s three) famous Willow trees in the background with that sweet little bride in the center. The pic also has a fetching balance of dark bits in the foliage, with all kinds of textures going on everywhere you look. It’s a wonderful photograph, compositionally and subject-wise.

But as for painting it, it’s going to be a bugger. The main problem is all those background trees:

There’s a whole lot of the identical tint/tone/shade of green lurking in all that green greenery back there. It will be tricky to paint it without ending up with one big puddle of verdure. So after a great deal of study (5 minutes or so) I have mapped out this greenery in my mind and have decided that I’m going to paint it (going left to right) as: Background greens, Peripheral greens, Little Willow, General Fluffiness, Big Willow. Most importantly, I have also mapped out the order in which I will paint them, which you will see shortly.

So let’s get to it!

Here is the sum total of my equipment:

Here are the guide-lines I will use for the painting of this scene, which we will call Jeanie’s View:

SPOILER ALERT: I am going to be showing the painting of Jeanie’s View in detail today so I can talk about the many decisions I make as I paint this complicated scene, so expect to see lots of pics that look pretty much like this one (below) in which I am making a wash of sky:

I let this wash dry, and then I dab in some very light and watery background foliage by using a blue-green wash (I chose the color deliberately to add some variety to the overall greenery of this scene) and just patting my paintbrush against the “sky”:

While the blue-green wash is still wet-ish, I will work quickly to dab in some peripheral trees, using a bright green-yellow:

Still working wet-in-wet, I pat in some darker blue-green:

I let all that dry before I dab in some more blue-green-ish stuff:

I chose to use blue-green here only to make a distinction between the trees that are minor characters in this view and the trees that will be the major characters. The most important trees in this view are the Willows, so I will paint them last — which is why I am skipping over to the center of the view now, where all the non-Willow fluffiness is. I put in a nice light yellow wash first:

And then I pat in some light green:

As the wash gets more and more dry, I pat in more dabs of green, which will “hold” as distinct shapes of foliage:

I am still taking advantage of the dampness of the background wash to pat in some medium greens:

The wash is almost completely dry now, so I’m going to get bold and go for some dark green (it’s Hunter green mixed with just a touch of black) that will really “hold” well:

It was at this point that I started to believe that I had something here. I wasn’t sure at all about the fate of this pic in the beginning…I made the background kind go bland on purpose, in order to not overwhelm the pic with too much detail, but I could not tell if it would work or not until I got here, and did not screw up the bleeds I needed here. I can see that I painted a big round puff ball, which I’m not happy about, but I can fix that; what I can’t fix is a bad bleed. These little bleeds look OK. Whew.

While I paint, I constantly refer back to Jeanie’s photograph, to make sure that I’m dabbing in those darks and lights in approx. the right places. I decided to paint that big area of fluffiness in two parts, exactly because I knew that I wanted to use a wet wash while it slowly dried up, and you (meaning: me) can only do that in small bits. So when I start the second part of that area of fluffiness, I start with a darker wash of pale green-blue instead of yellow)

I dab in yellow and then my dark green to merge into the dark green I had previously done:

Add medium green and let dry:

Compare to reference photo to check for placement of the dark spot:

It looks OK to me.

Since I am a miniaturist at heart, I have a tendency to over-do the details when I paint “large”, and luckily I have stopped myself at a good point with this fluffy background. Time to paint the Little Willow, which as you can see from the ref photo above, has a “dark” and a “light” side — so I am putting down two washes side-by-side:

I wanted to add some dark green to the darker wash, but I put in too much:

This could have ruined it all, but thankfully the paint was still wet and all I had to do was “pick it up” — go over it with a very clean brush to remove the unnecessary paint and SAVE THE DAY:

Now that the wash is dry, I am putting in some fine lines in various shades of light and dark green to simulate the Willow fonds:

I add some darkness to the foliage on either side of the Willow in order to make this main-character tree “pop”:

Lastly, it’s time to do the Big Willow:

Ooooh — nice bleed of dark and light green wash (below)!

Here’s how I paint fronds with both my big (No. 1) brush and my teeny (No. 00) one . . .

Don’t worry — we are NOT painting the entire pic today; I have just a few more bits to show you before we call it a day (we’ll finish the pic next week, when we do the WATER!!).

But here is where we are so far:

For now, I am leaving the tree-line unresolved like this. I know that according to my reference photo of Jeanie’s View, I am missing a big area of darkness between my Willows, but I also know that  if I don’t stop myself here I am afraid that I will add too much darkness and detail, and lose the brightness and spontaneity that I have so far. I will have to go back later and patch up some bits here and there, but it would be better for me and the pic if I wait to see what happens in the rest of the view before I make those adjustments.

All I’m going to do for the rest of this post is paint in the water-line at the bottom of those trees. Of course I will be using my favorite thing in the whole world — wet-in-wet bleeds:

And we are DONE for the day.

You might be wondering what those goofy pink arches on the right edge of Jeanie’s View are. Those are the rose arbors painted by Monet:

I think this is a very ugly painting. The shape of the arbors is very unappealing — boxy, inelegant, etc. The brush strokes look tentative (wimpy) and the colors manage to be both muddy and cartoonish. And if you don’t know the lay-out of his Water Garden, this painting doesn’t make much sense: is that pile of brownish-pink in the middle of a pool or what? Even his water lilies look like crap. See? Even Monet had bad days at the old easel.

It’s because of this painting that I dislike his lily pond rose arbors, and I tried to minimize the presence of these odious rose arbors in my pic but I obviously failed (see: my painting) — they poke out of the landscape like, well, like cartoonish rose-covered arbors. I will fix that later.

Speaking of Giverny, you all know that it is Election Day this Sunday in France, right? It’s a very tense election, with a four-way heat between the candidates from the far left, the middle left, the middle right, and the far right. If you remember my post from 2015, when I was in Giverny for their last elections for local representative, I got to witness  voting in Giverny and it was so cool — even back then, my Giverny friends assured me that Marine LePen’s party could not possible get votes in their neck of the woods… but she did, yes she did; and if you think that she couldn’t possibly win the Presidency in 2015 I have two words for you: Der Drumpf. . . who is still a fat ass shit-eating maggot. If you have a friend in France who isn’t a moron, keep your lines open. They might need to email you late in the night after the polls close, and you have to be available to coax them off the ledge.

Interesting Fact: The watercoloring that you watched me do today took me 1 hour and 50 minutes — almost TWO HOURS — of painting Jeanie’s View. At this point in my blog post, I’ve spent over three and a half hours writing and posting pix about what it took me two hours to paint. I’m starting to think that there is something wrong with this business model. (P.S. this blog took about six hours total to gather photos, lay out in WordPress, write, and revise.)

I actually painted for two more hours on Jeanie’s View and then I stopped (the pic is still not finished) but for your sake, I will stop here.  The reason I put the brushes down after four hours is because I know that I am not good for more than four hours of painting on any given day. So here’s a tip: Know your limits and respect them. Even if you are dying to finish your pic, even if you are sooooooo close to wrapping it all up, even if you’re afraid that the Muse won’t be there the next time you open your paintbox: Quit While You Are Ahead.

Hello, this is from Future Me: I have finished Jeanie’s View and there is a lot to tell you. . . but I have to clear it with my Dear Readers first. Was this blog post too detailed? Do you want to see more such nit-picky painting, or would you like me to edit the process to speed it up? Because here’s the thing: If I keep reporting the future painting of Jeanie’s View in the same manner as I did this week’s post, I will need TWO more installments. . .  next week, I’ll do the the lily pond, and two weeks from now I’ll do the bank of the pond and the bridge and all the little fixits the pic needs before it’s DONE. Please let me know how much info you want me to belabor in this space.  

BIG NEWS: Mr Fluffy, our wonderful stray kitty, has found his forever people, who drove six hours to come get him. The Fluffernutter has already staked out  his favorite nap spots in his new house and is lording over a young family who adore his every swish of tail and his every teeny tiny “Mew” that lets them know it’s kitty-loving time.

And no, I have not begun reading my penance novel that I owe Top Cat (see: last week’s post) because I am busy with the two treasure books that I brought home from New Orleans — stay tuned, Dear Reader Judy; I will discuss them next week, when we paint the rest of Jeanie’s View.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers. Happy Painting, wherever you are.

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Can you guess where I went last week?

For the record, this is my favorite outfit of my 62nd year: Michael Kors leggings and tasseled suede loafers, with a shirt from the Boys’ Dept. at Target. I’m also growing my hair out from the short-short cut I had last October, but I haven’t decided how long I want to let it go.

Oh, wait. That’s just me, standing in front of the scenery. Let me get out of the way:

Here are more clues:

That last note was let on the windscreen of Honda that had 2015 Massachusetts plates on it, which resulted in this action on April 9, 2017:

(I loved this guy, watching in the background:)

The lady driving the municipal tow truck had to use a “jimmy” to unlock the car to put it in neutral gear so it could be towed . . .

. . . and as she finagled her slim-jim tool into the driver’s side doorway, a passer-by lent a helping hand by shouting, “Girl, just break the window!”

OK, last week I went to a place that’s neighborly and nosey and known for being fond of a “Go Cup” or two. I think you’ve guessed by now . . .

. . . that Top Cat and I made our annual pilgrimage to New Orleans for the French Quarter Fest, where for four days the party goes on and on and on and on:

For Top Cat and me, the party had to close down each night around 10 o’clock: we can only take so many hours of fun before the over-eating, the over-drinking, and the over-dancing does us in. Top Cat would then take off to play poker at the casino down there at the bottom of Canal Street and I would hobble up to the room and soak in a hot bubble bath to soothe my weary bones for the next day’s shindigs.

In all our visits to NOLA Top Cat and I make it a point to get out of the French Quarter for at least half the day, and we’ve been west, east, north, and south of Bourbon Street (which we actually avoid as much as possible) but our preferred neighborhood in NOLA is the CBD — the Central Business District.

Once a day we walk to the Hilton Hotel in the CBD and settle in at the bar at Drago’s, where they make the best damn char-grilled oysters in the whole damn world. At the bar you can watch the line cooks smother your dinner with Drago’s magic sauce before firing it up at the grill:

Char-grilled oysters, served with plenty of lightly toasted French bread to dab up that delicious sauce. My only complaint about Drago’s is that the menu is all sea food and sausages, which are food categories that I do not eat. My favorite NOLA dish is Red Beans and Rice, which you can order as a side at Drago’s, and pay $7.95 for the smallest damn serving of red beans you’ve ever  seen:

Note that that’s a TEA spoon on the side. And then there’s the red beans at the Commerce (at 300 Camp Street in the CBD):

I used to follow foodie recommendations for the “best” red beans in the city, but once I had the red beans at Commerce my search for the BEST damn red beans was at an end:

This is the $7.00 red bean lunch, which comes with a big side salad and four pieces of buttered-grilled French bread which I didn’t photo because, hungry. I LOVE the Commerce, which only serves breakfast and lunch and closes at 2:30 in the afternoon so time your appetite accordingly.

I call this composition, “Commerce under a Full Moon”.

My fave non-edible items in NOLA are books.

Octavia Books (513 Octavia Street) is the acknowledged center of literary happenings in NOLA — if you’re going to New Orleans, check their web site for the Who’s Who who stop by every week. Octavia Books very kindly hosted an event for me last year when I visited the city to talk about Gardens of Awe and Folly (which you know has a New Orleans chapter featuring Karen Kersting’s wondrous rose garden in the Uptown/Carrollton neighborhood). It was the very best damn book event I’ve ever had:

My 2016 haircut, not the one I’m now growing out. This was the one before that.

Me at Octavia Books in 2016, in my favorite outfit of my 61st year: I bought the Eileen Fisher top and the shoes in New Orleans!

But for second-hand books, I go to Crescent City Books in the CBD, and not just because they have one of the all-time great book store cats on duty:

Meet Isabel,who has her formal shrine in the front of the shop . . .

. . . but who can also be found doing her thing in the stacks towards the back of the store:

It took me about an hour to go through the inventory — so many delish books to choose from — before I found the two books that had to come home with me; but sadly I had to leave behind a book that stands out as possibly the dullest book I’ve ever come across:

This is a surprisingly hefty book, considering the subject matter, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to lug it 1,000 miles home. Plus, it was $25, which is a lot to spend for a joke (no offense to florists). I did a bad job of snapping this pic, tho; I have a thing about seeing people’s thumbs holding stuff. It really gives me the creeps to see people’s thumbs holding stuff because some people have really, really bendy digits and I can’t stand seeing thumbs crooked in this position, even reasonably un-bendy ones like mine. Do you know what I mean? If this pic makes any of you queasy, let me know and I will crop it.

All the illustrations in this tome were like this (see below) and I mean almost exactly like this — blue was the only color that the Rittner School of Floristry Art sprang for in the publication budget:

And at the very back of the Crescent City Books I found this:

In case you can’t read it, the little note under the sign says: Please Make Sure This Door Stays Closed.

I thought about taking a peek, and I thought long and hard about this, but in the end I couldn’t spoil the pleasure of imagining what could possibly be lurking down that corridor.

Dear Readers, this is just a tid-bit of our NOLA FQF adventures, which I am sparing you the further details of because Top Cat says my posts tend to run much, much too long. So I can’t tell you about the garden show we went to where I overheard a guy complain, “He says he’s here looking for lawn art…he doesn’t know a thing about lawn art,” or the hairdresser who told me, “I seem to attract a lot of warriors to my chair.”

Nope, I have to cut to Day Five, the day we had to go to the airport to catch a flight back to our regular boring non-New Orleans life, and how after all that fun we’d had in our Favorite American City we were well and truly shattered. . .

It was only 11:00 in the morning and just a 30-minute wait ’til boarding but Top Cat could not resist the urge to catch up on his sleep.

. . . in the well and truest best way.

Good bye, New Orleans. We love you.

Actually, I think part of me is still in the Crescent City because part of me is still drunk.

On the way home neither of us was forcibly ejected from the aircraft at the last minute, so I got Top Cat to watch La La Land with me and to my surprise, Top Cat actually liked the movie very much. So this means that I owe him one, and I now have to read a book that he wants to share with me, A Confederacy of Dunces. I’ll do it, but I’m not looking forward to it. You know how grossed out I am about people’s bendy thumbs? Well, I am just as squeamish about this (and any) 300-pound main character. If there is even ONE description of Ignatius J. Reilly sweating, I am OUT.

By the way, also in the CBD.

So that’s the week that was. Next week, thanks to Dear Reader Jeanie, we’ll be painting her reference photo of Monet’s lily pond together and that will be fun because there’s always a 50-50 chance that I will do something dreadful with it.

Have a great weekend, everyone. See you next Friday!

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Thank you, Michelle (Mihaela) , for this beautiful picture of the GoAaF. What a great idea for an Instagram: beautiful photos of books and cups of tea. OK,now I get it.

Dear Reader of this blog Elizabeth emailed this Instagram pic to me on a day when I needed a little bit of applause in my life — good timing, Elizabeth; Thank you, too.

Last week I also got the proof for the Korean-language edition of Le Road Trip:

I can’t read Korean, but it seems that there are a lot more words in the Korean edition than in the English one that I wrote. But it’s plain to see that it’s a superb-looking production and I am very grateful to the publishers in Seoul for their care and consideration.

These were the bright spots in a challenging week. Mr. Fluffy (see: last week’s stray cat found in my back yard) went to the vet on Monday and had some health issues (infection, anemia) that kept him in the hospital for five days, but he’s on the mend and I am looking forward to getting him placed in a forever home soon. Of course I had hoped, as soon as I found him, that he’d be chipped for easy identification, but I wasn’t too hopeful: a person who doesn’t bother to get his cat neutered is not likely to bother getting the same cat chipped. Mr. Fluffy was not chipped.

The other dark cloud in my week as how I was not able to paint one single decent picture this week. It’s when I paint like this . . .

. . . that makes me wish I worked at Dunkin Donuts. Because isn’t everyone who stops by Dunkin Donuts in a good mood? Is there anything about selling glazed donuts that doesn’t make the world a better place?

That (above) was my first try. Shame on me that I didn’t spot the craptitude until I’d got to that point, after committing quite a bit of time to this image. So I put this picture aside and spent a day practicing how to make those spikes of light green leaves popping up in a row look convincing. What I’m trying to do, BTW, is a Summer view of Monet’s grand allee, when the iris are in bloom, which you might know better from the Spring versions of this scene that I have painted previously, back when I knew how to paint:

I might have to call QUITS on this Summer view, because my second attempt was hardly any better:

I think my time would have been better spent gorging on glazed donuts.

I have looked through my reference photos of Monet’s garden from my visit of May 2013 for an alternative view of the allee, and I’m partial to this:

Oh wait, That’s not in Monet’s garden — that’s 5 o’clock at my beautiful B&B, Le Coin des Artists, on the Rue Claude Monet in Giverny. Those fluffy ears you see at the far end of the table belong to this handsome fella:

ANY HOO, getting back in Monet’s garden, I’m thinking of doing this:

Except that it’s already been done. . . 

. . . by Fabrice Moireau in his beautifully illustrated book Le Jardin de Claude Monet:

I came across this book last month in the inter webs and I almost gave up trying to paint Monet’s garden — who wants to go where Fabrice Moireau has already gone??

It was when I got this book in my hands that I was relieved to discover something about M. Moireau that makes room for my little contribution to the Monet garden illustration world. M. Moireau is nothing but amazing when it comes to painting architecture, as you can see in this pic of Monet’s kitchen:

BUT, and this is just me talking here, and I’m nobody with the kind of cred that Fabrice Moireau has, BUT his garden paintings are, well, lacking. They not just as strong as his architectural stuff. Compare (above) to this:

I know what Monet’s all looks like in September, when the bright orange and red nasturtiums are filling in the allee and the color scheme of the flower bends alongside it are warm hues of yellow and scarlet, and this doesn’t do it for me. This is how I see it:

I should note that repetition of M. Moireau’s subject matter is hard to avoid because there are a limited number of garden paths in Monet’s garden from which to take a view.  In the Water Garden the situation is even more dire. There is only one main path to take around the pond, so everyone tends to get the same views. For example, the view of the famous Japanese bridge that I painted last month:

And M. Moireau’s take on the same view:

I know exactly where we were both standing when we took in this scene. But as you can see, M. Moireau pulled back his point of view much farther than I did. I thought I’d show this painting for Dear Reader Jeanine, to show how one artist coped with all those damn background trees in Monet’s garden.

You can see that M. Moireau made the decision to leave the willow trees (on the right side of his pic) undifferentiated, and to paint in more detail the Copper Beech and what I think are maple trees. I think this is a curious decision to make, because it’s the willow trees that give the Water Garden its “oomph”, n’est-ce pas? But I assume that M. Moireau is making decisions that play to his strengths as a painter (don’t we all?) and M. Moireau is very good at painting Copper Beeches and the like. But there you are, Dear Reader Jeanie: massive background foliage.

Speaking of “playing to your strengths”, let’s take another look at the way M. Moireau did the allee of Monet’s garden:

Notice how he has emphasized the the foreground in this composition. Notice that the foreground contains the architectural elements that M. Mireau is so fantastically adept at painting: the hand railings to the staircase to Monet’s front door, a stair, a bench; the foreground also shows some indistinct [lame] stuff that seems to be white flowers on either side of the staircase which are there, it seems to be, to take up space.  M. Moireau is also very good at painting [certain kinds of] trees — so the big yew trees at the top of the allee take up another big chunk of the pic. What’s left, in my option, squeezed into the narrow band in the middle of the pic, is very little information about one of the most stunning features of Monet’s garden — those amazingly curated color fields of flowers that line the allee. Why? Because M. Moireau doesn’t “do” flower beds.

But man, can that guy paint Paris!

In my humble and respectful opinion, M. Moireau, as an unparalleled artist of urban landscapes and the premier painter of architectural subjects, was the wrong guy to let loose in Monet’s garden.

He should have been sent to Villandry:

As for me, I am going to send myself back to the drawing board and give the allee another chance. Maybe I’ll find a way to paint to my strengths. And if not, I will live to my strengths and find a cat to give a lap to, sip a cup of tea, stuff myself with glazed donuts, complain about the world, and then take a nap, all of which I am very good at.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

 

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