I’m still at it. Still flummoxed by gardens. My paintings of them still look like crap. If you remember, when we last left off I was trying to do justice to a small walled garden off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh called Dunbar’s Close:
In the past two weeks I’ve actually tried TWICE to re-paint this, but the results were even worse so instead I went back and made certain necessary corrections to make this illustration a tad bit less crappy:
(I corrected the paved area in the background — it’s actually gravel there — and I darkened the tree so it pops more, and I studied my reference photos to try and get the benches right. I like everyone’s suggestions about putting something human-scaled in there, which I will incorporate in the rest of the garden that I haven’t yet had the nerve to tackle — Dunbar’sClose goes on and on and on…)
I’ve contacted the caretakers of Dunbar’s Close in Edinburgh and they have kindly agreed to send me a list of plantings in the three parterre gardens in the Close, my thinking being that if I could look at botanical references maybe I’ll be able to paint the damn hedges better. While I await receipt of these lists I went back to my comfort zone, garden-wise. I did a miniature painting of the secret doorway to Dunbar’s Close on the Royal Mile (miniature being my preferred canvas):
And then I did a street scene that includes this portal to Dunbar’s Close (line drawings and coloring-in being my wheelhouse, illustration-wise, if you know what I mean):
There are 83 “closes” on the Royal Mile such as this one that leads to Dunbar’s Close. My experience of this stretch of the Royal Mile is in January, in the rain, but I did not have a good reference photo of this so I got in touch with an Edinburgh photographer who went and took a wide-lens shot for me last month:
As you can see, it was a sunny day when John took his photo so I had to rain-it up for my purposes…because I’m an ARTIST, damn it, and I have a license. And because you have to maximize your natural defects the best way you can, eh? Oh, if only I could spend my life making line drawings….
But no. I’ve always wanted to paint in shadows and light, which I think I’m going to HAVE to learn how to do if I want to become a good garden painter. So while I’m still waiting for the list of plantings from the caretakers of Dunbar’s Close, I’m skipping ahead to another wonderful garden I love, in Key West. And when it comes to Key West, I’ve always been very fond of this picture I took in 2005 when Top Cat and I spent a long February weekend there (this is our guest room at the Conch House Heritage Inn, built in 1885):
I love the monochromatic effect of this picture, the long afternoon shadows, and how the orange cat is the only spot of color. To paint this, I first had to draw it, enlarged from this snapshot :
I had to leave out that second rocking chair — waaaay too complicated for my skill level and I didn’t want to make myself any crazier than I had to. I also opened the left shutter on the door to make the French doormore comprehensible. And of course, there is only one way to paint this drawing: on my light box:
By putting my 90-lb Canson watercolor paper over this drawing and firing up the light box, the outlines of this sketch show through to guide me as I “color in” the shadows that I see in the photograph. It took me about two hours to paint this, pretty much holding my breath the whole time. This would be so easy to screw up and, in fact, I did make some flubs but hey– This was my first attempt at real painting so I expected that it wouldn’t be perfect. I was listening to NPR while I painted, and it seems Martin Sheen and his son Emilio have written a book about being a father and son and OH MY GOD Emilio Esteves, who I remember as a high school kid in The Breakfast Club, now has a grown son of his own who is married and living in Spain. That’s not right. That Emilio has adult children, I mean. I mean, for chrissake.
Anyway, Martin Sheen’s voice is what I remember when I look at this finished picture:
Yeah, I had to ditch the French door and the window entirely — there was no way I had the manual dexterity to pull that off. It was the rocking chair and the cat that I most wanted to paint any way and if you had not seen the original concept you would think that this was a pretty completely realized composition, eh?
Keep that in mind whenever you see any artist’s work: the end result is probably not what the artist had in mind (does any end result live up to the standards of perfection that exist in the artist’s mind?) and one’s artistic “style” is most likely a result of making the best of one’s natural defects.
Thank you, one and all, for all your garden book recommendations last week. I’m still searching for the garden artist that I can steal from…I have a specific viewing experience in mind when it comes to garden art, and hoo boy some of the garden books I’ve come across miss it by miles.
Last Sunday I journeyed to the wilds of Westchester County to visit a billionaire’s garden because I wanted to see what a man with an undogly amount of money puts in his garden. Stayed tuned: I’ll show you, right here, next week.
So here’s where I stand: My garden book has, so far , a Winter Garden in Edinburgh, an American Tropical Sunset Garden, Robert’s Found Art Garden, a Billionaire’s Garden…do you see where I’m going? This is not your typical Garden Book.