I Always Knew I Didn’t Know What I Was Doing.

A professional artist has taken pity on me.

Carol Gillot, the artist behind the wonderful blog Paris Breakfasts.com, has sent me a selection of professional-grade water color paints in tubes to help me give my gardens the pizazz (that is, the saturation and the transparency) that I need. The reason I use hobby (child) quality paints in pans is because they are so easy to use — no fiddling with those itty bitty damn screw-top lids and stuff. And because I’m a Capricorn and we Capricorns are nothing if not creatures of habit. Once I find something I like, I stick with it. Capricorns are famous for being able to have the same thing for lunch every single day of their lives and for being excellent prison guards. We like routine and we like being bossy. We don’t like change.


But Carol also sent me some of her scratch pads and the colors she gets from the Windsor Newton paints she sent me are amazing.

You probably can’t see it in these lo-res scans, but the color is rich, subtle, and sparkling.

The greens! O, the greens! The greens are alive! So even though it goes against my basic nature, I will be diving into these new paints this weekend. That ominous rumble you hear, like a low thunder across the horizon, will be me cursing my ham-handed incompetence while I find my way with these new toys.

Luckily, the garden that I’ve been slaving over this past week is a Winter garden in the opaque city of Edinburgh:

In this case, I think the chalk-heavy pigments of my pan paints suits the dense, cloudy atmosphere of a rain-soaked Scotland:

Yes, these is something fitting about the overcast colors I can get from my simple kiddie paints as I paint these small walled garden rooms from various aspects (for the record, I’ve done two views of each parterre, facing East and facing West, behind tenements on the Royal Mile). Note, please the small (3-ich x 5-inch) picture on the right here:

It wasn’t until I’d finished this sketch that I saw what a blunder I’d made in being too literal as I looked at my referenced photos. Although this is the way it actually looked from the viewfinder of my camera, you can’t have trees growing out of the tops of laurel bushes like this:

So how do you correct it? One way would be to re-paint the whole thing.

Another way would be to just cut out the problem area:

…and paste a newly-painted corrected background in place:

I really didn’t think I’d get away with it, but I think it’s quite successful. If I hadn’t told you that this was a pieced-together illustration, you’d never have known, right?

One last thing: I am doing ONE book event this Summer. It’s a Bastille Day event in Nashville, Tennessee — on Saturday July 14, of course. I’ll be at  Parnassus Books in Nashville at 2 o’clock, and I’ll be giving out my tips and my advice on life, art, and travel writing. If you are in the Nashville area, please come! There will be wine!

Parnassus Books

4505 Harding Pike

Nashville, TN




13 Comments, RSS

  1. sarahsbooks June 8, 2012 @ 8:27 am

    I use W&N watercolor tubes too (and some Holbein), but I make my own pan with them, which lasts for a long time. Easier, since you can just grab the pan and start, you don’t have to set up a new palette every time. I’ll email you a photo.

    Nice cut-out – I would never have known!

  2. Mary June 8, 2012 @ 8:42 am

    You denigrate your work too much. To learn how to do a NEW type of water color, after ( how many?) years? WOW.
    I see how it puts pizazz in your new pictures, but Lladro didn’t need high-power colors.
    I’ve thought that every painting I’ve seen in BOTH of your books are beautiful, delicate, warm, soft, etc.
    Looking forward to your next lesson, and comparisons to your reliable and true soft colors.
    Good, interesting blog today ( as always)

  3. Deborah June 8, 2012 @ 9:27 am

    Never would have known the picture was a cut and paste.

    Even with the low-res view, the new colors are alluring, but my first reactions was — “don’t change! I like your style.” — followed in short order by “oooh! I can’t wait to see what she does with these!”

    Three hrs. to Nashville — seems doable.

  4. august June 8, 2012 @ 9:31 am

    I refuse to acknowledge the possibility that you might improve. The whole artist/writer, double-barreled talent, thing is already too depressing.

  5. Susie June 8, 2012 @ 2:41 pm

    Did I miss the joke?
    WHY would anybody take pity on YOU? Your art is wonderful just the way it is. And aren’t YOU a professional artist?
    New art supplies can be fun to mess around with for sure, but personally, I don’t think you NEED ’em.
    The Grumbacher paints you use cost around $45 a set, who would spend that kind of money on kids’ paints? These ARE artists’ paints, too.
    I guess I did miss the humor….
    Super idea the way you ‘corrected’ those trees. Please, may I ask (well I guess I am) what glue do you use to paste your updated bits on with?

  6. Shelley June 8, 2012 @ 2:46 pm

    The new colors look gorgeous. Have fun playing with them! I like all the painting in your books, and whatever water colors you use, I know your artwork will be wonderful. I’m also looking forward to some posts comparing the different paints, and your thoughts on what you like to work with after comparing the two.

    I’m so sad that there is not going to be another Great Pacific NW book tour this year…Tennessee is just a bit too far from Oregon for a weekend jaunt unfortunately. Maybe they will record it, so we can share in the fun?!

  7. Nadine June 8, 2012 @ 7:02 pm

    I ordered 5 “Le Road Trip” and 3 “Wanderers” books from Parnassus to do my part in supporting the independent book store because I can’t get down to Nashville any time soon. Take a lot of photos and post about it! Is there a tradition of Bastille Day down South or is the fete special for toi?

    BTW: Wittgenstein must have been a Capricorn. He ate the same lunch his entire adult life (I think it was a cheese sandwich) so he wouldn’t waste his mental energies on the quotidian. Well, that’s the story I read somewhere back in my college days and I hope it’s true. That kind of mental economy appeals to me.

  8. Tracey June 8, 2012 @ 8:35 pm

    Actually, I’ve thought of another garden book for you to read – England for All Seasons by Susan Allen Toth. I bought a used copy years ago, and was enchanted by the garden descriptions.

    It’s summer – time to do new things like try new paints.

  9. Rachel June 8, 2012 @ 11:04 pm

    Carol G’s blog is a favorite of mine and I have no idea how she manages to be so prolific and interesting day after day, but we are blessed to have her as well as you.
    The main difference with artist quality paint is less filler and more pigment. I think you will enjoy using them when you get used to them. You can still do delightful soft colors, but when you want to amp it up a bit, the power is there. And yes, you can make your own pans of them and then it will be just what you are used to for set up. I love that you are going to Nashville for Bastille Day, that sounds like such fun. Just wish that you were going to be in San Diego as well, but I can wait until next year if necessary. 🙂
    Meanwhile I am using scrambled eggs for brains these days since I am moving June 21. I am thinking about how you were a wanderer for so long and wondering how you managed to travel so light, but now that you are settled you have so many treasures. I seem to lose so much of my past each time I move, although I am hoping this will be the last time ever. Happy almost summer.

  10. Joan June 9, 2012 @ 10:15 am

    Glad you’re switching to artist grade paints, you’ll find it easier to mix glorious colors…and the clear, bright colors are so worth it. I use Holbein, mostly, some Winsor Newton and a few Danial Smith…do order their catalog, the colors are amazing.

    You can order the empty pans from Daniel Smith and make your own palette up according to your color preferences…let the tube paints dry, they can be re-hydrated, easy to cart around…many of my artist friends do this. I’ll be anxious to see how the new paints work for you. I think you’ll be amazed.

  11. Ann Turkle June 11, 2012 @ 8:02 am

    I’m sure you’ll get several similar comments, but a neat approach, if you prefer to work from dry paint in pans, is to order empty pans (half or full sized)from one of the many art supply places, then ooze the better paint into them, let them dry, and voila, the best of both worlds. Also, Yarka watercolors, while much less expensive than some, have good, intense color to my eye.

  12. Sandy June 11, 2012 @ 10:59 am

    First of all, I love Carol, have followed her for years and have one of her watercolors – Dreamy, watery wonderful work. And Second, how sweet of her to send you artist grade WC, a world of difference and yet you achieve Wonderful effects with anything! I will await your new adventures in watercolor.

  13. Kate June 11, 2012 @ 12:41 pm

    Dear Vivian
    I have wanted to ask you for quite awhile “what kind of watercolors you used”because I saw them in photos and couldn’t identify them,now I have my answer.As a fellow Capricorn (Dec 30th)I just want to let you know that if the tubes don’t suit you-try the Schmincke pan colors they are fabulous-great rich pigments,loads of colors to choose from,artist quality and they are pans which you are used too.They aren’t hard to find, a little pricey but your worth it!

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