The Truth About How I Do It

Anybody who puts a book out in the world loves to hear that, against all odds, that book has found a reader who:

A. Doesn’t write to tell you how much she hates it.

B. Does write in to ask an interesting question that I can turn into a blog post!

I got this question from a new reader in the Nutmeg State (50 points for anyone who can right now name The Nutmeg State):

I have a question for you, that will definitely expose my complete lack of knowledge about watercolors. Do you paint with watercolors from a tin, or are you using those special pencils that you sketch a bit first, and then blend with water? I also noticed that you often have some well-defined outlines in your work. Are these made with a fine ink pen first, followed by adding color?

Thank you for asking, dear reader from the Nutmeg State.

Until recently (see last week’s post) I was using hobby-grade Grumbacher paints that come in pans — 24 pans for about $20:

I have nothing bad to say about my Grumbacher paints. They have served me well through two books.

I’m using two sets of Grumbacher 24 — because I use a lot of black (to mix into other colors) and I keep some of the pan colors pure and use others of the same color as mixing bowls. I also use the paint tray itself as my main mixing area, which is why they look so cruddy.

Lately I’ve been gifted with new paints in tubes to help me get a brighter look for the gardens I’ve started to illustrate and I was so excited about the purity and intensity of the colors that I went out and bought some pans of paints — a Windsor Newton “field kit” (I still can’t give up on the ease of using pan paints).

This is my brand spanking new paints and mixing thingy. And, dear new reader from the Nutmeg State, I always use a tea bag to reference scale (those Windsor Newton paints are so cute!!). See how clean and spiffy they look before I get cracking:

This is my set-up: new paints, cup of tea, helper cat in the background (meet Coco, new Reader from the Nutmeg State), and my brushes in their souvenir Maya-head tequila shot glass from Acapulco (makes me feel like life’s one big Tiki Bar!).

Which brings me to the second part of your question, new reader from the Nutmeg State: What do I use to make outlines?

I draw with a .018-point Rapid-o-Graph pen, a steel-tipped drafting tool from Germany that is a pain in the ass to use but is the only way I can get a very fine, sharp, dark black line.

When I don’t want a sharp, dark black line but I still need a line,  I use a very fine paintbrush to make the outline. I do not use those pens or colored pencils that you can blend with water because I don’t know what they are. And because I like to do things the hard way.

To get a paintbrush with a fine-enough point on it I have to engineer it myself. I start with a .O or a .OO size brush (the smallest that you can find):

And then I very carefully cut off half the bristles:

Now let’s look at some outlines in Le Road Trip. The buildings in this illustration of Bayeux (on page 68) are outlined with my German drafting tool:

In this illustration of Mont St-Michel (page 92) I used my itty bitty brush to outline the young couple having a picnic on the towering wall surrounding the fortress/abbey (and the blades of grass on the hillside):

In this illustration of a door in Bordeaux (page 143) I used both my German drafting tool (on the door, obviously) and my itty bitty brush to outline the mer-people and to do the railing:

Since my illustrations in Le Road Trip …


… are reproduced in their original size, I use my itty bitty brush quite often just to be able to get a landscape down to miniature proportions, like this picture of Bayeux cathedral on a canvas that is approx. one half tea beg high and two tea bags long:

Thank you, Reader from the great Nutmeg State of Connecticut, for this blog post.

And to the reader in Quebec who sent me that nice piece of hate mail last week: You got me. You’re totally right: my whole book is just an elaborate cover, a sinister ploy to broadcast my cruel and evil anti-Quebec prejudices throughout the world as evidenced by that joke I reported about the  Quebec accent on page 96, and everything else you said in that 1,000-word lecture on what a dumbass I am not to acknowledge the truth of the beauty and bravery of the French spoken by its conservators up North, yadda yada yadda.

Jeeze. I always thought Canadians were so polite but hoo boy, do not get them riled up about the way they pronounce “jardin” as “jardaiyyyyynnnnn”, I’m warning you all.




16 Comments, RSS

  1. Deborah June 15, 2012 @ 10:44 am

    Yay! I’m 50 points richer!

    I’m going to Canada in August, so thanks for the warning. quack, quack, quack.

  2. Nadine June 15, 2012 @ 1:39 pm

    Sorry Quebec: I’ve heard Quebecois and it IS kind of quacky. Cajuns don’t speak real French either but they don’t care if it makes some French ears hurt, which makes it adorable. I guess that’s one big difference between Americans and Canadians.

    Love the new paint box! So tidy, so new.

  3. Susie June 15, 2012 @ 3:52 pm

    Ask you anything? Yes please!

    Where do you find your Grumbacher 24 paints for $20? I figure you make magic with them so I’d like to get some and maybe the Vivanmagic would work on me. I can’t find them for less than $46. On line anyway. Local places stores don’t carry them.

    An aside…..have fun with your new goodies!

  4. Vicki Abbott June 15, 2012 @ 7:42 pm

    Are you nearsighted, Vivian? I am, and I find it a lot easier to paint very small, also. I just take my glasses off and get very close to the paper.

  5. janet bellusci June 16, 2012 @ 7:25 am

    However, Connecticut is also sometimes referred to as:

    The “Nutmeg State”
    According to the book State Names, Flags, Seals, Songs, Birds, Flowers, and Other Symbols by George Earlie Shankle (New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1941):

    “The sobriquet, the Nutmeg State, is applied to Connecticut because its early inhabitants had the reputation of being so ingenious and shrewd that they were able to make and sell wooden nutmegs. Sam Slick (Judge Halliburton) seems to be the originator of this story. Some claim that wooden nutmegs were actually sold, but they do not give either the time or the place.”

    Yankee peddlers from Connecticut sold nutmegs, and an alternative story is that:

    “Unknowing buyers may have failed to grate nutmegs, thinking they had to be cracked like a walnut. Nutmegs are wood, and bounce when struck. If southern customers did not grate them, they may very well have accused the Yankees of selling useless “wooden” nutmegs, unaware that they wear down to a pungent powder to season pies and breads.” Elizabeth Abbe, Librarian, the Connecticut Historical Society; Connecticut Magazine, April 1980.

  6. Mary June 17, 2012 @ 9:00 am

    I seem to recall, one of the Quarters issued in the names of each state; ONE was the nutmeg state, or was it the palmetto state?
    Btw: did the duck-sounding Canadian ask a question, or was she just complaining? She took it PERSONALLY that someone had an opinion of the sound of her accent?
    How narcissistic.

  7. Joan June 17, 2012 @ 3:01 pm

    My, my! You’re getting downright fancy schmancy with the paints, palette, & travel palette.

    Tell your reader that the Grumbacher pan paints are available online from Cheap Joe’s and Dick Blick’s…I got some last year for under $20 per set, the current catalog lists them at $21.49 for 12 opaque , and $22.76 for opaque sets…I was at Dick Blick’s just yesterday…good grief…prices have nearly doubled for paints. I may have to switch from 1/4 sheet watercolor paper to tea bag size like Vivian…

    VIVIAN: A TIP: before you try to mix paint on your new palette, scrub it down real good with an abrasive, like cleanser…if you don’t the paint will bead up and you’ll have a helluva time trying to paint or mix colors.

  8. parisbreakfast June 18, 2012 @ 2:55 pm

    Loads of interesting info today!
    I didn’t know about the nutmeg factor.
    Looking at page 68 I am awed by the detail.
    No wonder you’re so organized.
    Love the balance of fine mosaic-like cobblestones vs. the transparency of the cloudy blue sky.
    Bravo on the step up to Winsor & Newton paints.
    I would suggest you try the non-Cottman pans as well or test one or two to see how they feel.
    There is even less filler and more transparency in the professional grade a step up.
    Have you tried using a porcelain white plate as a palette? No scrubbing required.
    Keep on playing with your paints and sharing.
    Great fun to follow your adventures.
    merci carolg

  9. Jen June 19, 2012 @ 9:05 am

    Vivian, my high school French teacher called that particular Quebecois accent – “Hockey French”.

  10. Michele June 19, 2012 @ 12:08 pm

    I am Canadian (Alberta) and I would like to tell you how much I love your books – both the paintings and the commentary. I have trouble understanding Quebec french and culture, but they hold fast to their distinct society status which I (mostly) admire. There are better ways of defending it, though, and I would hope that the rude commenter is in the minority. Quebec is a beautiful province. Every society has their good, bad, and ugly, and that certainly holds true for our country.
    You are so generous to share your process with us – I love it. Thanks!

  11. Bobbi June 20, 2012 @ 2:38 pm

    Quebec is NOT Canada. Ask any Newfoundlander for the real deal.

  12. Jeannie June 20, 2012 @ 9:06 pm

    Until I visited the Nutmeg State, I thought they grew nutmeg! Thanks for the info on the paints. I walk into an art supply store and it is like my brain left my body. Do I want the $12/tube paints that “everyone” uses? Will it make my pencil drawing look like Monet? I don’t think so! I like pan paints, they’re cute! Happy Solstice! eh?

  13. Risa June 22, 2012 @ 4:33 pm

    Vivian, I feel compelled to apologize on behalf of ‘all Canadians’!!! It is particularly true that ‘some’ Quebecois individuals can simply be very offputting and rude. But ‘they’ do NOT represent the Canadian populace at ALL and never will!!! Let’s be honest…QUI, they’re accent IS unlike the lovely Parisian dialect spoken in Paris and is often quite difficult to listen to in fact. Oddly enough I was watching a news broadcast last evening (I reside just north of Toronto) and this was an English channel…however one of the broadcasters was clearly from Quebec and her accent was ‘profound’ to say the least. I did feel she would do herself a huge favor and further her career by utilizing her talents within the ‘Quebec’ area — I’m seriously not meaning to be cruel, just honest. So in conclusion, please do not take offence to whatever ridiculous redderick was written to you by an individual who sees the world from behind clouded frames. Canadians are lovely people 🙂 On a personal note, I adore your work, I adore your sense of humor and say ‘bravo’ to all you all, all you have achieved and all you will continue to accomplish. I wish you much success and everything else that is positive in life!!! Hugs 😉

  14. Jane LaFazio June 23, 2012 @ 10:08 am

    I’m thrilled you’ve got decent paints! Now maybe you can produce a book or something. oops, you’ve done two books, with your cheap paints. Okay, nevermind. Hey, I just ordered your NEW book (I’m going to France in September to teach, so maybe I can write off the cost), but seriously, I notice you don’t have your new book on the top right corner of your blog, along with your ‘old’ book (I have that one too). Just a reminder to add it to your blog. xo from the Golden State

  15. Sandy June 25, 2012 @ 11:53 am

    Ok I’m Late, Nutmeg State is MINE Connecticut!!
    ding Ding Ding give that woman a prize!!

  16. Monique June 26, 2012 @ 8:54 am

    Oh lala.I came to peek at your blog having just ordered your book after reading Carol’s post on it..I can’t wait to get it~
    Never expected a language issue:)
    I am French Canadian..born and raised in QC.
    I can assure you not everyone speaks Hockey French.But not unlike many languages throughout the world..accents can vary.
    Like people.
    And that’s what makes the world go round and life interesting:)
    Accents are charm to me..I had French professors at McGill..and their accents varied also.
    I go to Boston..different than New York.
    I have British friends..different accents.
    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder..surely accents are also.Everyone’s tastes are different.

    I look forward to reading the particular words that caused your QC reader to voice such a strong note.

    Again..can’t wait for my book~

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