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That’s my motto for September: Every day, there’s a light or two less. In September it’s the sunsets that matter to me — as if by watching each one I can make the day last a moment or two longer even if I can’t stop the earth from turning away from the sun.

Well, that moment needs an illustration in my Damn France Book. Because that’s the kind of travel book I write: low on the literal, high on the weirdly subjective.

So I started with a photograph I’d taken in aLoire Valley town (see above). Nice, right? (That’s why I took it.)  I studied it, and found that it would do just fine as my reference photo (see below, with  markings so I can tell where the horizon is):

I’m showing you this so you can see what I think: I mentally drew lines to show where I thought the tree line, the horizon, and the darkest reflection in the water would be . The scene needed a distinguishing feature, something that gave it that unmistakable romantic Loire Valley feeling.  So I gave it one (see “castle” cut-out overlaid on photograph below):

That’s the actual chateau in Azay-le-Rideau, with slight perspective improvements on my part, to accentuate the turrets and the spires and all that castle-y stuff.

OK. Now I’m in business. I’m ready to paint me a picture of my Loire Valley September sunset moment.

(There’s a light pencil sketch of the landscape and the chateau, with a dab of watercolor resist fluid to mark where the setting sun is.) Then I did a wash of my setting sun colors:

Whew. Got the yellow, pink, and violet paint to stay put and not blend into a puke taupe mess. Now, all I have to do is not screw up the river and I’m half-way there to a not-putrid illustration:

Not bad. Paintings always look kind of shitty at this stage, so I’m not worried that it’s a lost cause. Yet. Now for the brooding, gothic, romantic landscape features:

Ooooo. I like this (above).

Sure hope I don’t mess it up when I paint the chateau:

Hmmmmm. I’m beginning to have my doubts.

Oh well, too late: I’m committed to seeing this to the bitter end.  (I think it’s mildly entertaining to catch a work-in-progress at the moment when it all went wrong.)

Let’s just cut to the chase:

Oh, Jeeze. This is not what I had in mind. Nope. No way.

I could tell this illustration was a stinker long before I finished it, but I made myself paint the whole thing so I could study the failure in all its completeness. And now I know how not to paint this picture!

And when I do, you’ll see it here.

Now, speaking of A Light Or Two Less, I have some cat news to tell  you.

You’ve met the Lights of my Life, my Hobos, the feral cats who came to me as kittens, and who live in my backyard (until Winter, when they have their own cat entrance into the basement of our house.

They were so little here, two years ago, they could all fit on the same patio chair. That’s baby Taffy, in the shadows, that’s baby Lickity in the black and white ensemble, and that’s baby Butter, sitting upright, catching the rays of sun on his beautiful ginger coat.

Butter was the first of those fierce, wild, feral babies who let me touch him. This is a photo of the first time he let me scratch his little head:

Notice the little drop of milk on his chin. Butter loved his dairy products.

In the Comments of my last post, Carol (with her cat-senses alerted) asked Where’s Butter?

And I meant to tell you all, but I was waiting for the right time, and there really is no right time.

Here’s the deal I make with my feral cats: I will watch over you best I can, and you will be the cat you were born to be, even though I know there’s a high chance that you will break my heart.  I don’t know how else to love these maddening, delightful, wayward, untamed creatures.

We tried to keep Butter in the fenced yard with his more homebody-brothers, but he was the one who had to see what was across the street.

I know that Butter would have been miserable if I’d taken his adventures away from him, made him into a house-bound cat. So I let him live “wild”, as he wanted, even if it did in the end cost him his life. Butter died on September 2, 2010, while crossing the road in front of our house.

This is not the first time a cat has broken my heart; it won’t be the last. But this is the one and only Butter heartbreak, and we will miss the leader of our pack  forever.

8 comments to A Light or Two Less

  • Deborah

    1) I wish all my failed efforts were as beautiful as yours.

    2) Besides the sorrow & sympathy I feel for your loss, your story of the cats made me think of the saying (cliche?) about the cracks in our heart from heartbreaks are what lets the light in, what allows us to grow. You’re so lucky to have those cats; and they are so lucky to have you.

  • bunny

    I loved this post, and though I usually read your Blog frequently, I rarely comment. But your story of the dear cats brought me to tears. When you think of those sweet animals, and even friends and family members that are no longer with us, its a good time for reflection, and to remember just how lucky we are, to have the people in our lives we can love, and life itself.

    I also loved the way you walked us thru the stages of the beautiful watercolor for the upcoming book, you are truly a talent who has mastered the fine are of watercolor magic.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, for the great stories (and that Isabelle is very cute)…and keep up the good work, it gives me great pleasure to have something to look forward to!

  • Ken

    and yet I look at the the painting in stages and think “I wish I could paint like that.”
    Relativity.

  • I love seeing your work in progress. Please keep sharing it with us.

    I’m beginning to draw (after many years of wanting to), but have yet to screw up my courage to the sticking point to try watercolors. Reading your book and following this blog give me the courage to finally pick up a pencil and just do it.

    Living in a world that value consumption more than creation makes books and blogs like yours an oasis for those who love/want/need to create.

    Thank you.

  • Isn’t it funny that we’ve both been to Azay-Le-Rideau?

    It’s sure not funny about the loss of your kitties.
    That’s so sad to lose so many. I’m dreading that I have 6, all of a similar age. Which means they might all go at once or near each other.

    I’ll bet you end up with a beautiful painting.

    All of a sudden my picture is showing up here, but it’s the one with my sister. We have a blog that’s about the two of us and our avocado grove.

  • I’m sorry.

    As for the painting – too bad it didn’t come out as you wished but I love the use of color and shadow. It’s pretty cool. I have a blank canvas sitting against the wall taunting me. Pictures have been bouncing around my head instead of words lately. Not a good thing when I’m getting ready to submit.

    Happy weekend all.

  • Nadine

    Pets will always break your heart because the odds are that they’ll die before us. That’s why I spoil mine everyday since no one knows which day will be any of ours last one. You never know.

    As for the painting: It is a great Sleeping Beauty illustration! Maybe you’ll do a princess story one day. You never know. Do you save your rejects in case they’re appropriate for a later project?

    My trip to the chateau used by Disney for his original Sleeping Beauty castle (so goes the rumor) was on a rainy day so I stayed in the car and shot it through the windshield, then checked it off my Loire “To See” list. It had fewer turrets than your version.

  • candice

    Oh, Viv, I’m so sorry about those sweet babies. What else can we do except take them in and know one day we have let them go? They lived well, having you wait on them tail and paw.

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