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I did this for my new garden book, and  painted it big, although I intend to reproduce it in the garden book at this size:

Look familiar? Because it’s the same scene I painted for my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam (for those of you reading along, it’s on page 78):

Two reasons for doing this picture over again: ONE, I wanted to compare the color brilliancy of my new professional Windsor Newton watercolors to my old hobby-grade Grumbacher paints, which have a lot of chalk in its paints as binder for the pigment to keep the cost of the paints low, but the chalk also mutes the color.

TWO: I wanted to see if it improves the visual experience for my readers if I paint a picture big but reproduce it small (in both my books, the illustrations are reproduced their actual size). What do you think? Worth the five hours longer that it takes to do BIG rather than SMALL?

Thanks to the miracle of eBay, I followed up last week’s post with some high fashion shopping and I am awaiting my new riding boots to be delivered from Hong Kong (for when I can get both feets back into real shoes!!!!) and my vintage 1980′s designer sweater-coat from Milan:

This just in from the catwalks of 2012: the 1980s are making a comeback! And it’s about time.

which I will accessorize with a big fat scarf and leggings as soon as my busted knee heals and I am free to wander about the country once again. In the month since my injury all the muscles that at first objected to being over-used in order to compensate for my new life on one leg are now OK with the situation. Nothing really hurts, so I don’t take pain killers any more altho I miss the dreams they used to give me, such as the one about me being a guest on Dick Cavett’s old talk show:

There are NO internet pictures of the old Dick Cavett show! I searched high and low and could not find a single pic, but you know how one thing leads to another on the internet so here’s a teeny picture of a Bed and Breakfast in Milton Keynes, UK which just struck me as very funny. I mean, Milton Keynes? Really??

Also, through the miracle of BBC podcasts, I met Sid Smith, an extraordinary English writer that I want to introduce you to:

Dear readers, meet Sid Smith. Sid, meet my posse.

Mr. Smith is a brilliant writer whose work is hugely respected in the UK and you can read about him here. He said something AMAZING in his BBC interview that is relevant anyone who wants to commit creativity. What he said was:

What  I hate most about writing novels is that at some at some point, you have to write an unbelievably banal sentence such as: Irving put on his coat and went to the corner to wait for the number 37 bus.

(Mr. Smith has recently given up writing novels in order to dedicate himself to writing poetry, where he can “push words to the limit” and never have to write another banal sentence just to move the narrative along. Best wishes, Mr. Smith!)

I totally understand Mr. Smith’s boredom at having to write uninspiring sentences in order to get his character (and one step behind, his reader) from Point A to Point B. It’s something I’ve had to do as an art journalist who has turned her journals into narrative books. I’ve had to paint a picture or two just to move my story along, that is, provide a bridge for my readers to get them from one idea to the next. If you want to make an art journal that will not bore your reader with its self-indulgent, helter-skelter subject matter that bounces from one non-sequitor to the next (and admit it, that is the weakness of the art journal form), then you have to force yourself to write or draw or paint the equivalent of “Irving put on his coat and went to the corner to wait for the number 37 bus.”

However, your reader will never recognize such a sentence as being utterly boring, au contraire. Your reader will be thrillingly grateful that she knows that Irving has left his flat wearing something that will keep him warm while he’s traveling all the way From Peckham to Putney Vale. Oh yes, she will.

To put this in art journaling terms, I am only able to turn my bundle of chaotic self-amusing sketches into a narrative worth publishing (and inflicting upon readers) because I am willing to paint Irvings. For instance, I have a page in my work in progress, the Damn Garden Book, where I want to talk about the astrology and herbal legends surrounding the wonderful evergreens that grow in Dunbar’s Close in Edinburgh. And, mindful as I am of my readers who are not horticulturalists and might not know what these evergreens look like, I painted this just for them:


Now, are these the most fun pictures to paint? No, not really. But as long as I havee to paint an Irving, I’m going to make it the most fun Irving I can, and when you see this illustration in Chapter One of my Damn Garden Book, you will never guess that it is an Irving. You’ll just think to yourself, OH! So that’s the difference between Buxus sempevirons and Lauris nobilis … good to know!

I will have more to say about Irvings next week, when I show you all how to structure your art journals with as few Irvings as possible (I did it in When Wanderers Cease to Roam) but I do not want to belabor the point for now because I have an exciting Vivian Swift Fall Art Give Away to announce!

In previous years I’ve shown you all how much I love love love to paint Fall leaves such as these:

An entire Fall landscape in each leaf! I love Fall leaves! And this year GUESS WHAT! I won’t be panting Fall leaves with the dull, chalky old paints that you see here, no sir. I’ll be painting Fall leaves with my spiffy new, professional, pigment-rich Windsor Newton watercolor paints!

Fall peaks for us here, on the Long Island side of the Long Island Sound, from October 17 to October 25, depending on the wetness of the Spring and the warmth of the Summer. As soon as I get my hands on some beautiful Fall leaves sometime this month, I will be painting them just for youse and will give away the best two to readers of this blog. (Two separate leaves, to two separate readers, that is.)

No Irvings here. This is pure joy to paint, and to give. So stay tuned!

And if you want to see how to paint Fall leaves, my genuine expert and totally awesome tutorial is here.




13 comments to The Importance of Being Irving.

  • Christine

    How exciting! Your fall leaves are my favorite part of “When Wanderers Cease to Roam,” (well, one of my favorite parts…). I love the transition of individual Sept. leaves to Oct. leaves to Nov. leaves on the first pages of each of those months. Walt Whitman: “Every leaf a miracle.” I also love the 3 panel in Nov. with the leaves blowing from the trees across each panel. Stirs my soul. I actually like both versions of your example paintings, vivid and soft focus. I think they both have a place and an appeal. I also think the Irvings have an important job, to draw us to notice the mundane and to identify with it as a fellow traveler on our everyday journeys.

  • Mary

    I like being called one of your POSSE. WOW.
    Sign me in !
    You can paint anything and make it “better” in your eyes, but they both look good to me.

    How you “get there” is interesting. Keep it up.
    See you next Friday…….

  • Carol

    Yippie! So how will the leaves be dispersed? A drawing? A contest? Something happy to look forward to this fall – thanks, Vivian! Love to Penelope!!

  • Bunny

    I too, love your fall works, the leaves are so real life, they look like photos, instead of watercolor painted gems. And, I just love your brick work and garden shot, the attention to detail is marvelous.
    Good luck with your knee rehab, its a long road to hoe, but stay with it, and you’ll be back galavanting around in no time.
    I want to be considered in the give-a-way.
    Thanks for the lovely posts.

  • Susie

    Whatever you use to paint, whatever size, is marvelous. Really.
    I finally learned to paint fall leaves from your tutorial when you first posted it. It was a revelation the way you do each leaf in sections/cells! And using masking fluid to keep those little white spaces was so exciting to learn that I really hooted with joy when you showed us.
    Add me to the list of those taken in with your leaves in WWCTR, also the little scenes of all those dramatic skies. My heart gets caught in them, I never tired of looking.
    Wishing you mucho fast healing, glad you’re knee is coming along so well!

  • Your newer version of the doorway has more trasparency and more dimension (a factor of using less opaque paints).
    A very lovely watercolor indeed that perhaps deserves a whole page to itself?
    Why not?
    There is nothing banal about your ‘Irvings’ if they look like these Buxus sempevirons and Lauris nobilis in my humble opinion.

  • Nadine

    Call me Irving, but I need exposition once in awhile when I read. I’m not a visual person. I need words to understand things. A good writer doesn’t have to make Irvings boring. Slip in a surprising adjective or adverb, like P. G. Wodehouse would do. Now there’s a writer who knew how to do Irvings.

  • Linda Jacks

    This post was not an “Irving” at all, but your usual unexpected, informative and entertaining topic. There’s an art book, Ways of Seeing and you’ve added another way to see, not only art, but the written word as well.
    So glad your mind roams to such interesting places.


  • Sandy R

    LOVE your leaves -so true to form and color and flaws!!
    And the vibrant new water color paints do bring brilliance and transparency to your work for sure.
    Painting larger can allow more precise detail that is retained when shrunken. But then your 2 books with actual size paintings are fabulous!! Decision up to you the artist. A joy to view either way.

  • I love your leaves Vivian. And life is full of Irving moments. The stuff that we all connect to in every moment of everyday. To be banal is to be alive I say.

  • janet bellusci

    the GARDEN DOOR painting with the new paints seems so much richer. beautiful. not sure about the sizing having an influence, but the image really makes me want to get a cup of tea, a book, and take a seat in that garden space!

    i very much like the way you’ve incorporated the stems of the bay, box and yew into the words of the illustration. lovely.

    just drove back upstate from a weekend in NYC, and from mahopac north, the leaf colors are ROCKING!! although i’m a spring and summer person, how can you not be inspired by the autumn!!

    continue to heal well ~

  • Put me squarely on the side of your new better-qulaity paints….even with internet reproduction, the colors in the new version just shine! As for size, I prefer almost all my work in thumbnail size… :-)

  • Joan

    What a coinkydink! I’ve been painting fall leaves this week and have given them away to friends and family to usher in my most favorite season of the year! I’d love to have one of your fall leaves, yes indeed. I have a wonderful Sycamore tree in my front yard…I use those leaves for samples as the shapes are splendid. Besides that, I LOVE to say Sycamore…it just rolls off the tongue.

    The paints that were gifted to you are a huge step upward from the chalky, more opaque paints. I can’t say if painting larger (for you is probably 6X6?)
    but the colors sing, the depth and transparency is great. Do stick with these no matter what size you make the paintings.

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