January 2018

Now that the Steve Situation is settled. . .

Steve is not in this picture. But feel free to take a seat, and read the rest of this blog post.

. . . I have freed up the part of my brain that has been obsessed with him for the past many weeks and can now think deep, meaningful thoughts.

But first, let’s paint:

This is a scene from Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny (France). It’s called The Grande Allee, and it’s a long pathway of flowers over which six arches arch, and at the end there’s two huge old Yew trees that frame the front door to Monet’s pink house. Here’s a photo of it that I got off the internets (it shows the allee on a sunny Summer morning, judging by the shadows):

Photo credit: Cindy Carlsson

And here are my own reference photos that I took on my most recent 3-day Spring visit to Giverny:

That last photo is more useful when I crop it way small:

I am mashing up my own reference photos with photos of this view that I’ve studied in books about Giverny, reason being that I want to paint a Summer view and all my own ref pix were taken in Spring (no roses). So, here’s another look at the false start I made on getting this Summer view painted:

What was I thinking?

Those flowers on the right side are awful, but since it took me much agony to work out the perspective of those damn arches (I draw very lightly in pencil, so you can’t see how many times I’ve erased), it filled me with dread to have to draw them all over again so what did I do?

I rescued it:

I painted a new right side on a separate piece of paper, I cut it out, and I placed it over the offending bits. I did not yet glue it into place because I wasn’t sure the rest of the pic would work and I might have to use that rescue bit again, if the rest of the painting went badly. So for the time being, it’s held in place with scotch tape:

Confession: As a rule, I don’t care for yellow flowers. At least, not flowers on stalks. Dandelions are adorable, and I like buttercups, but yellow tulips, and delphiniums, and the verbascum in Monet’s late Summer garden do not appeal to me. (And I really don’t like daffodils.) But I’m really happy with the way I got the yellow to shimmer here. Remember: bleeds will make or break your picture.

The roses on the arch…I don’t know:

Ugh. Red roses. The important thing is to blend in the rescue by painting into it:

So far:

If you know me, you know that this is the bit that I LOVE doing, the teeny little detail of Monet’s front steps and open door:

Can you see the very light blue blob to the right of this doorway? And can you see the way it bleeds into the green? I am crazy in love with this effect — you can’t paint delicate tracery like that; you only get it if you let your watercolors bleed — let the paint and the water do the work!

I’m going to be bold with my use of black, which I mix heavily in with green for the Yew trees:

Instead of blue sky in the background, I’m using yellow foliage to bring in the sun, and to balance that glowing bit of yellow on the right side:

At this point, I’m 90% sure that I can’t ruin it, so I’ve glued the rescue bit into place.

I’m going for more drama, with a very very blackish-green again:

This is very boring to paint, because it’s just filling in the dark background. The only challenge is to use to a very teeny 00-size brush when you get to the details, to paint around those itty bitty bits of roses.

I ruled out the edges because, Why paint any more than you have to?

I think I might use this for the cover for my Monet Garden book:

DONE.

Tea bag for scale but now that you mention it, I could go for a nice cup.

And now I hope to never paint another Monet garden scene again. I started doing watercolor sketches of this garden in 2012, when I thought I might include it in my last book, the one about 9 of the best gardens in the world (Gardens of Awe and Folly):

The allee in Spring, looking away from the house.

But it’s too big a garden, and I knew I’d have to make it its own book:

The allee in Spring, looking away from the house. I hoped to avoid having to paint the house but alas, in Monet’s garden, sooner or later, you have to.

This (below) isn’t mine — it’s by the renowned French landscape painter, Fabrice Moireau:

Just shows you how another artist handled all those yellow flowers. I didn’t do the double arches because it was too hard. But if I change my mind I can still go back and add them in. I know all the tricks when it comes to rescuing a watercolor because I’ve made all the mistakes.

Before we part for another week, I want to take moment to let you know that the world lost an outstanding cat last week. Our Dear Reader Janet had to say good-bye to her girl, Smokey:

Smokey was a heart’s true companion, a peacekeeper in health and a courageous soul in sickness. Shine on, you sweet sunbeam.

Have a great weekend, everyone. May all your rescues be warm and furry, and all your thoughts deep and meaningful. (Since I’ve wrapped up the Steve Situation, I’ve been wondering about the possibilities of personal evolution. How much have you changed since you were 18? I have a story for you next week.)

XXOO

 

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It’s 20 degrees F here on the north shore of Long Island (that’s a billion degrees below freezing in Celsius I think) and Taffy is out back, under the dogwood tree, rolling around in his favorite dirt bath. The sad thing is, Taffy’s the smart one.

Oh, well. You gotta stay true to your code.

Steve, on the other hand, involuntarily took a little bath last Friday because, Hoo boy, what a week. Bitter cold, then pouring rain, then thaw, then snow, then back to bitter cold. It was the rain that had me fretting AS USUAL about the Steve Situation by the front stoop, not least because I knew I’d have to haul out the bale of hay (again) and change  out his damp nesting material for new, clean, dry stuff (again). I was not raised on a farm, or in a barn. I can’t tell the difference between hay and straw, but let’s say it’s hay and hay is messy, especially in a house.

Hay also tends to break into teeny pieces that lodge in the sleeves and pant legs of one’s clothing in order to pierce and stab you from many simultaneous directions. Hay is Nature’s fiberglass. I am not at all fond of hay.

The good news is that on that very same drenching day I got a soggy parcel delivered to my doorstep that made my day shine bright and, well, bright:

What would I do without the internet? I found these “stackable” lucite end tables for sale in Massachusettes (for a price that I haven’t told Top Cat about) and they are just the thing I need to solve the Steve Situation. Now, as you can see from the photo, these pieces are total crap as “end tables” (unless you’re a Hobbit) BUT repurposed as modular cat housing, these end tables are JUST THE THING.

After I had pawed all the old, damp hay out of Steve’s nest and re-stocked it with new, dry, hay, I installed Steve’s special outdoor heating pad into its cat-shaped hammock position. I then took the smallest “end table” and wedged it back against the rear wall of Steve’s Situation:

Next, I stacked the next-largest “end table” against that first unit:

The third and largest “end table” is positioned so that it forms a little vestibule so that rain will never again slosh off the stoop and run down into Steve’s Situation:

Naturally, after Steve inspected the new digs . . .

. . . he refused to enter it to get out of the rain. Not while there was still day light, and not while I was looking. But lo, when I checked up on him the next morning I discovered that Steve does have sense enough to come in out of the rain after all.

One thing I’ve learned about Steve is that he needs to be able to have a 360-degree view out of his Situation, hence the clear lucite, because he needs to stay on the look out for killer cat ladies, because he’s THAT stupid.

The “end tables” work! The Steve Situation is dry as a martini and this joke:

On the other hand, you have different fingers.

Steve is not amused.

And then it snowed and I did not lose sleep, knowing that my Steve was in a good Situation.

Edwin Hawkins

Aug. 19, 1943 – Jan. 15, 2018

No man ever put 12 words to better use. He almost makes me believe. Somebody say “Amen.”

What is it about obits? Why are they the best source of information about people who you wish you’d known more about? For instance, I read about Barkley Hendricks in the New York Times’ year-end obit wrap-up:

NYT:  For 38 years, Barkley Hendricks, a renown African-American portrait artist who died in April 2017, began his Art classes at Connecticut College (USA) by asking each student to bring in three small objects that meant something to them. The items varied, but he dubbed this the bottle-shoe-and-plate project, because these were the objects most students chose.

Over the semester, the students would draw and redraw them — in different styles, in different media, in different orders — until he was satisfied. While each student worked, he circled the room, clutching his thermos of tea with honey and lemon, peering at their papers. He was known to harangue students for not-perfectly-rounded teacups or loudly harrumph at overdramatically shadowed plates. “You’re in college,” he would chide those who disappointed him.

It was a class people cried in.

Barkley Hendricks did not pant still lifes. He painted portraits. Go figure.

I don’t know if this is a great or a terrible way to teach painting. But I think I’m pretty OK with the concept that learning to paint should be painful. Lord knows my learning curve has not been the least bit fun and you know how misery doesn’t like to drink and whine alone (it loves company).

If you remember, my most recent source of artful misery was this:

It now looks like this:

I painted the shadows blue, and blue does not pick up well in reproduction — it looks darker in person. Just saying.

Next Friday, I will be painting my final picture of Claude Monet’s Giverny garden:

Oh, happy day when all the Monet garden pix are done!

Until then, keep doing what makes you happy . . .

. . . stay true to your code.

Keep Being YOU.

And for Heaven’s sake, Australia, stay cool (like Taffy).

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Steve the Miracle Cat, my feral “pet”, who disappeared in a terrible blizzard that hit Long Island last week, wants to thank all the wonderful Commenters who stopped by this blog and left good wishes for his safe return, and then welcomed him back when he finally moseyed back home. And immediately after thanking all of you kind readers, he wants breakfast.

And he wants it now.

Steve gets a bowl of dry food and a bowl of wet food in the morning, served on a mat because that bluestone gets really cold on a cat’s little feet:

Steve is a Manx, so he only has a little bunny butt instead of a tail which is one of the reason that I cannot resist him.

After getting his fill of breakfast, all Steve has to do for the rest of the day is to take up position and wait for dinner:

It’s been punishingly cold for most of the past week here on the north shore of Long Island. I mean painfully, brutal, bitter cold. I am still fretful about Steve being outside in all this so I check on him hourly, and it always does my heart good to see him tucked into his heated nest behind his plexiglass wind break:

Our neighbor’s cat, Dennis, got caught in our house when the blizzard hit last week and he was with us for three days. His people would have liked to have him home, but Dennis was quite content to be our uninvited guest and didn’t seem all that eager to budge from the comfy pile of Adirondack seat cushions that he found in the basement:

On Saturday night I was finally able to catch him, and I picked him up and carried him next door and delivered him to his people. Between Steve and Dennis, I wonder what I would do with my free time if I didn’t have to herd cats.

Whenever I leave the house these days  I am still wearing a small band-aid on my healing nose. My husband and friends have assured me that it’s barely noticeable. I suspect they are lying.

So I was in Lowe’s the other day, buying bird seed, and ahead of me at the checkout was a little boy who was horsing around with the shopping cart while his mother was paying for some traffic cones. (Yes, traffic cones. Makes you wonder.)

The little boy, who was tiny — maybe three years old? — spun around at one point and something about me caught his attention. He pointed his tiny little finger at his tiny little nose and looked at me and said, “Booboo?”

So, Ha!! I knew that “barely noticeable” thing was a  big fat lie. When you go out in the world with a band-aid on your nose, no matter how “small” (the band-aid), everyone notices, even three-year-olds.

Back to the little boy’s question: Of course I wasn’t going to tell a tiny child about skin cancer. So I made up a story about playing with my cats and one scratched me on the nose, instantly regretting that I was giving cats a bad rap.

So if you haven’t seen me around lately, it’s because I greatly dislike going out in the world with a band-aid on my nose.

So I’m staying in my house even more than usual, reading the paper. Here’s a headline that caught my attention while I was reading the New York Times on Sunday (Jan. 7). It went:

From Artisan to Artist

To quote: Betty Woodman, a sculptor who took an audacious turn when she began to transform traditional pottery, her usual medium, into innovative multimedia art, moving her work from kitchen cupboard shelves to museum walls, died on January 2, 2018 in Manhattan. She was 87.

Overlooking the fact of that very ungraceful lead sentence, I read on. Mrs. Woodman, I learned, spent many years happily making clay pots, cups, saucers, and bowls in her house, selling them at yearly yard sales in Boulder, Colorado. However, in 1981, her 22-year old daughter killed herself and Mrs. Woodman, in the words of her son, “emotionally fell apart.”

In the months after her daughter’s death, Mrs. Woodman began to make non-functional pottery (such as pillow-shaped pitchers). And then, according to the obituary, “Mrs. Woodman’s evolution from artisan to fine artist culminated in a retrospective in 2006 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, its first for a living female artist.”

This is one of her fine art pottery pieces, called Aeolian Pyramid:

Aeolian Pyramid is an installation of 44 pedestal-mounted vase shapes that gradually tiers upward in a dramatic, pyramidal design. An art critic praised this piece in The New Yorker, writing:

Her aim is to charge negative space—the air around her pieces—with active presence. … the dynamic is miraculous in “Aeolian Pyramid,” a stepped array of thirty-five [sic?] big, slab-presenting vases of abstracted Greek design in black, yellow, and pale terra cotta. The composite keeps squeezing out real space, which keeps muscling back in. The result is a visual “Hallelujah” Chorus.

So this article about Mrs. Woodman, which happened to be an obituary, skipped over the part about how, exactly, this artisan pot-thrower become an artist. The unwritten assumption is that Mrs. Woodman’s career trajectory, taking her from a maker of pots to someone who installs bits of pottery in museums, was one that advanced her esthetics and creativity from the mundane to the ethereal.

So, OK, even though I don’t get the pots (see: Aeolian Pyramid, above) or the hallelujah chorus, OK, for now I’ll roll with this theory that making pots is of a lesser order of artistry than making bits of pots and arranging them in a triangle.

The least you can say is, her installation is original. The idea is hers alone. Nobody else (that I know of, but I don’t track these things) has thought of that before. So, that’s something.

Here’s a piece that Mrs. Woodman called The Ming Sisters:

The Ming Sisters is a triptych of cylindrical vases that features paintings of Asian women in gowns on one side and paintings of vases on the other.

The New York Times noted that “Mrs. Woodman’s vividly colored ceramics drew on innumerable influences, including Greek and Etruscan sculpture, Italian Baroque architecture, Tang dynasty glaze techniques, Egyptian art and Islamic tiles. They also evoked paintings by Picasso, Bonnard and Matisse.”

So here’s the thing about art vs. artisan: If what you make is art, your stuff can “draw on” and “evoke” other more famous people’s work. But if you’re just an artisan, your stuff that resembles other people’s stuff is “derivative” Also, if you want to elevate your stuff to art, it helps if your stuff is decorated very badly.

I haven’t seen Mrs. Woodman’s art in person, but I’m not impressed. Just saying.

But what do I know? I’m a hack. Remember last week when I showed you this painting of mine (work in progress) of the Japanese bridge in Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny?

It is still unfinished, by the way. But this week I happened to be looking through an old book that my sister bought way back in 1984, when she went to see Monet’s garden for the first time, and I found this photo:

I promise you, Dear Readers, that I will try to be more original next week, when we meet back here next Friday.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Stay warm, or, if you’re in Australia, stay cool. Put out water bowls for thirsty critters, whether it’s 9 or 116 degrees outside.

XXOO

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 Wednesday night, the night before the Winter cyclone hit the northeastern United States, I set out your first  Champagne-O-Meter of 2018  to record all the nastiness that this blizzard could dump on Yours Truly.

Thursday morning, I woke up to this:

The REAL snow started falling around dawn (7:19 am), so that by 8 o’clock visibility was lousy:

9:30 am:

(Then I was painting and forgot about the storm for a blessed two hours.)

11:30 am:

The snow was pretty much over by 2 o’clock in the afternoon and didn’t rise any higher than this (above) and I was busy shoveling and being miserable so I didn’t take follow up pix (sorry).

Here is the cause of all my misery today:

If you remember (from last week), I had installed Steve, our three-year old outdoor cat, into a spiffy straw nest under the holly tree by our front stoop. WELL. There have been big developments in the Steve Situation this week.  Thanks to the ingeniousness of my husband, the dear sweet Top Cat, Steve now has a specially-made, extra-strength outdoor kitty HEATING PAD in his nest:

Now, this is not my preferred Steve Situation. I would prefer it if Steve would come inside, but I’ve been trying to coax him all year and he has NO interest in becoming a house cat.

My second choice would be for him to install himself in his cubby in our garage, like he did last year; I’ve put all new straw into his cubby so that he could hunker down in a toasty cocoon, if he chose.

Here’s Taffy, who is clearly the smartest cat in the herd, using Steve’s cubby on Tuesday night:

Oh, I wish Steve would crawl into this space and let me have a good’s night’s sleep, knowing that he was warm on these bitter cold nights. But so far this year, he has not gone near the garage.

So, last weekend, making the best of a bad Steve Situation, I got busy making him a new cubby. I used the top of an enclosed kitty litter tray, cardboard, and one of those space-age mylar/aluminum thermal insulation blankets that I bought at REI:

I cut cardboard inserts that fit the kitty litter tray lid, and I wrapped them in the thermal blankets:

I put this awesome contraption on top of the heating pad and, to lure Steve back into this new, improved Steve Situation, I tossed in some of his favorite treats:

It was a bitter cold 10 degrees out there, and when I put my hand inside to refill the treats, the inside of this new, improved Steve Situation felt sooooo warm!! And Steve was happy to step inside this new, improved Steve Situation to eat the treats, and then he was happy to make a quick exit.

Over and over, I threw in Steve’s favorite treats, and over and over Steve refused to spend any quality time curled up inside. We played this game over the course of seven hours but I could not get Steve to not freak out about being enclosed in this new, improved Steve Situation, so finally I had to remove the new cubby. For my own peace of mind, however, I put up  pieces of  plexiglass that I hoped would protect him from the on coming Winter cyclone, and Steve was content with that:

On Thursday morning, I woke up to this:

This was before the wind became really fierce and before the snow started to fall like crazy and Steve’s Situation became complete covered in snow. I gave Steve his breakfast, and I shoveled the front stoop, but Steve abandoned the nest shortly after 9 o’clock. I shoveled a path through a foot of snow from the front stoop to the garage, and I kept it clear all day with repeated shovelings and I’ve been calling him all day, but I haven’t seen Steve.

At 4 o’clock, I removed the entire nest. That is, I cleared out all the old straw (there was a LOT of it)  and I took the wet fleece cover off the heating pad. I laid down a LOT of all new, clean, dry straw (I buy it by the bale each Fall) and I covered up the heating pad with straw, too. So the nest is nice and warm again. But no Steve.

I am heartbroken, but all I can do is wait, and hope that Steve comes back home.

But let’s take our minds off the Steve Situation and let’s paint something. There is a view of Claude Monet’s famous Japanese bridge in his water garden in Giverny, France that I really, really hate:

I really hate having to paint this bridge. I don’t like doing structures, and I don’t much like having to paint wisteria — it’ such a persnickety flower. And, as you can see, I’ve already given it a few tries, with little success. But, since I’m doing a book about Monet’s famous garden in Giverny, the wisteria-covered Japanese bridge must be painted.

So, in this forth attempt, I changed format a bit to put the bridge off-center and to include some background context for added interest. I like to start with the hardest part of a painting as a way of cutting my losses if it doesn’t turn out well, so that’s why I had the background almost completely finished before I started to do the wisteria:

I wanted to have “fun” with the flowers here, and get some groovy purple-blue bleeds going on:

I also had fun doing that deep background bit that you at the very end of the Japanese bridge. But at this stage, the wisteria didn’t look right to me — the shape of the blossoms wasn’t right:

Time for a famous Vivian Swift rescue.

First, I painted a small bunch of wisteria and cut it out:

Then I check to see if it fits the scene:

Then I glued it in place:

Next, on my third attempt, I came up with a larger piece that had interesting bleeds:

Now for the annoying bits. The vines:

The “superstructure” — the supports of the canopy over the bridge:

The annoying fiddly bits of railing:

I wish I could leave it just like this:

But no, I can’t leave it like this. I will have to paint the walkway of the bridge. Even worse, I’ll have to paint it as it would look on a sunny day, which means I’ll have to paint the shadows of the railings.

I don’t mind shadows. See page 28 of Gardens of Awe and Folly:

The problem I have with these shadows on Monet’s famous Japanese bridge is the photographs that I am using for reference for this picture.

First, there’s this photo that I took when I was in Giverny in December of 2015:

I’m also using a photo of the bridge that I took in early May of 2013:

As you see, in both instances the sun was not making an appearance. I have no idea what this view look like on a sunny day!

But part of my job as an illustrator is to use my imagination, nest-ce pas?

Tune in next Friday to see how — if — I pull this off.

Until then, I will keep this post open for updates on the Steve Situation and, if he makes me the happiest cat lady on Long Island by making a re-appearance, I will IMMEDIATELY let you all know.

Please, Steve. I’ve left the porch light on. Please come home.

7:37 pm, Friday night: STEVE IS HOME!!!

It’s been about 30 hours since I last saw Steve, and temperatures have been frigid. I have been calling for him day and night, and today I even waded into knee-deep snow to hunt for Steve’s body underneath the shrubs that border our property. I feared the worst.

Tonight, Top Cat and I had just finished dinner and I was going to start washing up but the thought passed through my mind that if Steve is Out There, he probably hasn’t eaten in a day; I should put out a fresh food. So I filled a bowl with kibble, opened the front door…

….AND THERE WAS STEVE, HOLLERING AT ME FOR BEING LATE WITH THE GRUB!!! As if nothing had happened. Mind you, I had called for him earlier, at 5 o’clock (normal diner time), and at 6…BUT HERE IS !!!

He’s still eating his first bowl of food, with a side of fresh water. I OF COURSE will stay close and see if he needs more. His heating pad has been on since dusk, at 5 o’clock, so if he stays the night he can curl up in his nest and all will be forgiven.

OMG OMG OMG. I cannot tell you how relieved I am — I have been morose and scared and depressed since he lest on Thursday morning. Thank you, Universe, for bringing STEVE HOME!!!

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