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Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice, the return of the light. This night marks the end of dark times, tomorrow’s dawn marks the great lightening up. We wait all year for this, all us Druids who hug trees, talk to wild flowers, feel the kinship of all living things, caper in the light of the full moon. Especially all us Druids who like a swig of champagne. How-oooooool!

Now we have a reasonable explanation when the neighbors yell Goddammit! Do you HAVE to make all that noise?!

Well, yeah. Because when you’re out there in the dark, praising the wheel of life, the circle of time, the orbit of the heavenly bodies, the cycle of  the seasons and the great order of eternal mysteries, you have to make sure the spirits can hear you.

Above the Disco Shuffle in the iPod, that is.

And yes, that’s my 2010 Holiday Card (see above). Can you tell that it’s a watercolor quilt? A patchwork of painted scenes? A jig-saw of good intentions?

I started with the idea that I wanted to communicate two contrasting feelings about Winter: a feeling of inside coziness AND wonderful austere outside cold. Cozy: warm place to sit with my cats and my books. Cold: Last Full Moon of the year.

So at first, I started out with a straight-on picture of the window seat in my dining room (it’s one of the cosiest rooms in the house, and it has a good view of the backyard):

 

 

But two things bothered me. First, in order to make the picture understood as a window seat I’d have to show it all the way to the floor, and that means I’d have a lot of wasted picture space (that is, a lot of picture space that wasn’t communicating any particularly interesting information).

Second, I’d have to show the perspective of the window seat to include the built-in bookcases on either side — that would mean drawing more empty informational space (not picture space) and again, that would take up so much peripheral space that the central image would be really small.

So I had to take the scene out of my dining room and put it in a make-believe space that was just a bookcase under a large picture window, opening up lots of picture space. So easy! Now I have all the room I need!

And the next thing I thought of was shifting the perspective so that the picture would show from a slight angle, instead of straight-on. I thought that would be more, oh, what’s the word I’m looking for? More what? More not-as-boring?

[I would scan that sketch in for you but my scanner has suddenly crapped out. Sorry!]

And then I painted it, in colors that I hoped would look nostalgic, like an illustration from an old book from the 1940s:

Left to right that’s Taffy, Lickety, Candy, and Blackie. And that’s Yours Truly, out in the snow, wearing my ratty old Winter coat (see  Ode to My Winter Coat, January Chapter, When Wanderers Cease to Roam. Yes, it’s that coat still.). I love that coat. I bought a new coat three years ago because this old coat looks like it’s ready for its bag-lady phase, but I hardly wear it, because I still LOVE my good old 16-year old Winter Coat. 

And if the resolution were higher, you would see that I’m wearing ear muffs and waving my red mittens at the moon.

Those dotted black lines (see above) show where I cut the original painting so I had a hole where I was going to glue in a separately painted landscape. Reason being that that gave me the freedom to try several different landscapes without having to paint the whole damn interior again. I was lucky: I got this night time landscape on the second try.

Now, originally, I was just going to paint some nice, solid- colored book bindings. But then I got to thinking, how much fun would it be to paint a bookshelf of my favorite books!

(For full discussion of all the books pictured here — and in my card — I will have a tab up on this site by Wednesday.)

So I took my original sketch [that I can't show you, due to equipment failure] and I went to my local UPS store that has a great Xerox, and I blew up the bookshelf 400%. I took that home, and I painted the books:

Those are the book spines you see in the card, painted 400% larger (see the tea bag for size reference?). And while the UPS store has a great black and white photo copier, its color copier is a little sub-par. So I drove to the Staples store three miles away and shrank these paintings of my books down to 25%. They looked bad, which wasn’t a huge surprise. It’s tricky to size-up and size-down watercolor — it doesn’t digitize all that well; and you have to be very careful of color and shadows.

So I went back home and I repainted the book spines, made more contrast on the titles and other minor adjustments. When I took it back to Staples, again I didn’t like the down-size, but this time I could tell it was the machine’s fault. The pixels were bulky. So I drove five miles to another color copier (at Office Max) and got the shrink to look just fine. Even though I made the yellow books  too brownish, and I  made the brown books too  yellowy, so that they all look the same yellowy-brownish. I’ll know better next year.

I drove back home and I cut out the book shelves and glued them into place on the original painting. I scanned the finished picture, and I won’t bore you (Ha ha! Too Late! !) with how many printers I tested the scan on. Sometimes a watercolor looks best if it’s printed from a hi-res scan (it depends on the printer) and sometimes it doesn’t. You don’t know until you try it out.

So, since none of the printers could give me a good scanned print, I knew I had to make a color photo copyof the illustration for each card. And I knew that for this particular painting, the copier at Office Max was the best one. So I went back there and ran off my copies, which I mounted on plain white card stock.

Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention that the original painting had to be reduced to 78% to fit the card stock, something that I’d designed for all along — so the book shelves had to withstand being reduced first to 25%, then again reduced to 78%. Considering that the books whose spines you see in the card are copies of copies, they look pretty good! Thank you, color copier at Office Max!

Also, I forgot to mention that the first time I was ready to make the copies, I ran them at the wrong size and wasted about $20. Well, that’s what I told Top Cat I spent. It was more like $30 worth of color copies down the drain. I was so pissed off at myself! But I looked at the copies and decided to take the mistake as a sign, and went back home to make a few more, final, adjustments. I re-painted the cats (more shadows) and I added color to the curtains. I also cut out the wall on the left side of the card to re-paint it, and then I had to drop-in a little piece of red curtain under Taffy’s tail to fix a curtain that I thought didn’t billow enough. So let’s see, how many bits of paper are glued together here?

1,2,3,4,5; Six if you count the book on top of the bookcase. That’s another completely separate painting, too, glued on top of the curtain there.

So that’s how I came up with my card. A few of my darling readers have asked me How I Did It, and this is the ugly truth.

Too much truth?

My Holiday Card goes out to you all! It is my great pleasure to associate here on this blog with readers of such excellent taste and refinement, verve and style and opinion and humor — this is one little way I can give back. I hope you all have a wonderful Solstice, I hope you all feel the Light and the Love.

14 comments to All Us Druids Are Happy Today

  • Your development of the card is fantastic. WHO KNEW?
    Not being an artist myself, I always enjoy reading how to DO it. Maybe some day….

    And I was worried about breaking out my TWENTY ONE year old coat this year. It’s LLBean, indestructible, ugly purple and gray…
    blah blah.
    Now I will wear it, and enter into the bag lady phase of my life. Nobody looks at old ladies anyway, Vivian. You’ll find out in 20 years.
    Am I right, girls?

  • Julie

    I was lucky enough to get a real one in the mail! Thanks for the treat, and for telling us the process. Have a wonderful holiday season, and Happy Solstice!

  • Deborah

    I took the time to read all the titles of the books on the card and felt all excited that several are among my favorites, too. Never would have guessed they’d been enlarged & shrunk so much, like Alice in Wonderland.

  • Sallyann

    I was blessed enough to get one of the cards too.Actually I thought it was a test in reference to Vivian’s other post about no one writing handwritten letters any more. LOL. So I sent her a card and a letter too. :O)
    Now we will see if Vivian really wants to send and receive hand written letters. Isn’t it funny how we sometimes get “messages” that people don’t “send” Hopefully you think the letter was a benefit of my misreading why you sent the card. I think your reason was so much better tban mine. Thanks for the card and giving me the thoughts behind it.
    Happy Solstice and warm hugs to the kitties.
    Sallyann

  • Linda Jacks

    I got a real one in the mail as well and you’ll be pleased to know it’s greatly appreciated – even more after hearing the process. And the names on the books mattered to me as well. Don’t know if I mentioned giving your book to next door neighbor who has gone off to college to be a photojournalist. She loves it.

  • Barbara Lemme

    Ah, the patience! The results were worth it and the process was most interesting. Thanks for sharing and Happy Solstice!

  • Jeannie

    Wow! I knew a lot of work went into the special card I received, but I didn’t imagine how much. Knowing the process makes the card even more dear. Thank you again. I went out with my camera and danced under the eclipse. I know at some time my ancestors did the same on the winter solstice. Happy Solstice!

  • Jacquelyn

    such a magical teacher you are Vivian!
    It was all in there. Thank you and Happy Solstice

  • Jeannie

    Serendipity strikes! My Christmas present to myself arrived today in the form of a copy of your book. So I am celebrating the Solstice with a cookie or two and your book. Cheers!

  • I was so surprised (and pleased) to get a real card in the real mail from a blog friend. Just the trouble of putting them in envelopes, addressing them (not to mention looking up all the addresses), buying stamps, sticking them on, and going to the post office to mail them would have stopped me (and did). But after reading the rest of the story I’m even more impressed- and honored. I’m also more ashamed that I haven’t done anything! But that’s not your fault, Vivian, I’m a naturally guilt-ridden person. It’s also a beautiful card brimming with Vivian-ness. I love it!

  • Carol

    I also want to Thank you Vivian for all the effort she put into making and sending out Christmas cards.
    You are quite tenacious to hold out after everything this project put you through and make so many of your faithful followers happy-Thank you!!

  • Deb

    It’s a beautiful card. Happy Holidays, Vivian!

  • i LOVE this painting — could I buy one of the cards? I’d frame it and put it in a favorite spot. Please let me know if I can. thanks

  • i forgot to say that one of the reasons I would love to be able to buy one is that I’d love to be able to read the titles (can’t see them on line)

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