The Muse Can Visit Me Any Time She Wants, As Long As She Goes Away in Time For Me To Watch Judge Judy.

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.

12 Comments, RSS

  1. Elizabeth April 21, 2017 @ 8:18 am

    So glad Mr. Fluffy found a good home. Send pics if possible.
    I’m half wondering if LePen’s lot got the poor policeman shot in Paris…..in order to get votes.
    I’m horribly cynical…..

    and your painting is a delight.
    I only slightly agree about the Monet – yes the rose arbor is dire
    but there are some charming bits to it too!

    Here’s to spring!

  2. Carey April 21, 2017 @ 8:41 am

    Just made my first reading,and there’s so much to look at, TOO much. I want to dive into that forest. I love watching one of your watercolor pictures come alive like this, I wish I could watch you paint on video. For me the instruction was not too detailed and I am going to reread this to enjoy the peacefulness of watching you paint.

    Heh heh. I like Elizabeth’s word “dire”.

  3. Maryanne in SC April 21, 2017 @ 8:49 am

    Was this blog post too detailed? — NO! Agree with Carey about the wonderfulness of being able to re-read this again and again. You are a really good teacher, showing what you’re doing and why it matters. You teaching on video would be excellent, but in the meantime, this is just fine.

    It’s not unlike anything that takes infinite amounts of time to produce — knitting, cooking, painting. Someone looks at the completed thing and thinks, “oh, nice!” after you’ve labored, doing and undoing and redoing, for days and weeks. The joy for us is in the doing, and I’m thankful you share your “doing” with us so featly.

    P.S. Hi to the Jeanie whose photo it is!

  4. Monique April 21, 2017 @ 8:51 am

    Maybe because I “know” Jeanie:) I really enjoyed this in depth how to..
    and I look forward to les suites..since you mention2..
    I am going to Pin it to reread and refer to it..for when I practice..what I love about this pic is how the pink lillies in the pond.. catch the pink people and the pink blossoms..

    you’re doing a super honor to the photo..love the details about a willow..
    Jeanie must be so excited:)

    On a sadder note..The Champs-Elysées I visited last June..:(

  5. Jeanne April 21, 2017 @ 10:47 am

    I look forward to your posts every Friday. I don’t think this was too long and you keep tempting me to try to do watercolor. It probably won’t work but that is a good thing. I need to focus on my art and learn and be tempted by others. I don’t know if I want this long a post every time but I am thoroughly enjoying it this morning.
    Thank you

  6. Janet Lea April 21, 2017 @ 1:20 pm

    Nope, not too long. many thanks for taking the time to do these posts — they are one of the best parts of every Friday.

  7. Deborah Hatt April 21, 2017 @ 1:36 pm

    No! my dear, do not squelch all the details of your painting tutorials. I love learning your process, so I thrive on the sequential details. And thank you for all the pics of every step! I especially appreciate seeing how you did the willows, which can be such a mess to paint. You, dear Vivian, made it look easy-peasy – so of course, I will try it myself (and isn’t that what it’s all about? Things we should try for ourselves?).

    I am so pleased your found a nice home for Mr. Fluffy. And I agree with you on the Monet of the rose arbor … it doesn’t appeal to me at all – not like so many of his other works. But personally, I am delighted when I see what I consider to be “flubbs” by the great masters, because it gives me comfort knowing EVERY one makes a monstrosity every once in a while.

    Happy Trails this week Vivian! Enjoy the blossoming redbuds, tulips, and flowering trees. Glory Hallelujah!

  8. Becky April 21, 2017 @ 7:12 pm

    I am so glad Mr. FLuffy got a good forever home. He looked like such a sweetheart.
    The posts are not too long at all. I learn so much from the process as you work through each step. I look forward to each new painting to see how you plan the colors and those lovely bleeds. The garden is so beautiful, but all those greens. I was anxious to see how you would paint all the various green shades. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and techniques. I am still trying to loosen up and let the water to its magic. Sometimes I get a nice surprise….and then sometimes just a big fat backrun!
    You are too generous in describing the groper. How does it make sense that those who get fired for sexual harassment are out of a job and this piece of s… is in the White House??????

  9. jeanie April 21, 2017 @ 7:47 pm

    Hi Vivian — Wow! It’s such fun to see how you are tackling this. And you’re doing the thing first that I have the HARDEST time with — all that green tree life and grass and you name it! I’ve done this twice and my colors feel muddier or darker — they don’t have the wonderful life you bring to this. So you know what’s next on my agenda — printing this baby out and then painting it with you!

    So, of COURSE I don’t think the post is too long (and not just because you’re working on my pic!) I love how you break down what you do and show very detailed photos and explain what is behind them. It helps me learn. And believe me, I know how long it takes. Well, I know how long the blogging and picture part takes — add that all the painting part! SO, know that all your efforts and work, your sharing and teaching is appreciated — and apparently by a lot of us!

    I can’t remember who said it above, but how I’d love to see your techniques in a DVD!

    So, thank you for picking this one for your challenge and I’ll look forward to the next installments. (I think I’ve been using too many exclamation points, which I never thought was bad till election season came along.) And I’m so glad that Mr. Fluffy is off to a forever home that will love him to pieces!

  10. Marilyn April 25, 2017 @ 7:54 pm

    Not too long, but then I love seeing my friend, Jeanie’s, picture in a re-enactment. Also totally agree with your insert of a little political hit. The joy of your painting is a good escape for a little while.

  11. Kirra April 26, 2017 @ 8:27 am

    Never too long! I love your blog posts, they are always interesting, engaging and fun to read. A enjoyable start to the weekend for us who read it. I’m not a painter but I really enjoy seeing the process of watercolor painting. Especially as I love your books, it helps me enjoy them even more.
    We will have to hope the French don’t end up in a bind like USA and the U.K.!
    At least Mr Fluffy is sorted 🙂

  12. Adrienne April 28, 2017 @ 9:57 am

    Loved this post! This is exactly what I needed and look forward to more “detailed nit-picky painting”!! Thank you thank you thank you. I especially loved it because willow trees are the bane of my existence. Thank you again! Seeing your “step-by-step” (and problems/problem solving) was a huge help

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