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Now, before we begin todays’s lesson, I’m posting some pictures of my cat Cindy at work (as per last week’s request from Janet, Carol, Patty, Susie, Janice, Sarah, Deb, and Gitana). This is Cindy “helping” Top Cat and me with our 1,000-piece puzzle:

But it’s no surprise that with so much kitty “help”, our 1,000-piece puzzle ended up as as 998-piece puzzle:

And the other day, during one of our rare sunny January mornings, I found Miss Cindy taking a well-deserved rest near one of her biggest projects…

…where she can bask in her sense of accomplishment:

I know, I know: only Cat People will find this cute. [Note her handiwork on the chair here, just a fraction of her entire ouvre on our livingroom furniture.] So let’s change topics toute de suite.

When I first began doing the art work for my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam, I was using Grumbacher paints:

These paints served me well. They are inexpensive (about $20 per 24-color sets like this, get them from Blick Art Supply on line), so I felt very free to slosh around and make mistakes until I got the hang of what I can and cannot do with paint like this. Also, I was working very small (all illustrations in Wanderers are reproduced in the original size) so I could bang about with these paints all day and mess up as much as I wanted without having a major impact on the local landfill.

Here, for instance, is the very first time I painted The Lone Skater (on page 9 of When Wanderers Cease to Roam):
Since this picture is the exact size of a Triscuit cracker I call all my itty bitty pictures “Triscuits”, but I didn’t have a Triscuit handy when I photographed this for you, so I used a Tostito:

But after a few months of practice, I went back and re-painted The Lone Skater and this is the illustration that appears in the book (done with Grumbacher paints):

When my second book ,Le Road Trip came out in April last year, I was contacted by Carol Gillot, the fabulous watercolorist and blogger of Paris Breakfasts fame (parisbreakfasts.blogspot.com) .

She told me it was time to upgrade my equipment. She advised me that Grumbacher paints have a lot of cheap chalk filler in them and I should try painting with a higher quality of watercolor, so I bought a teeny tiny beginner’s kit of Windsor Newton paints at my favorite art supplier Dick Blick:

Oh My DoG. First of all, the Windsor Newton paints are sooo cuuuute!! (See tea bag for size comparison.)

And the intensity of color and the fluidity of the stuff makes painting with these watercolors feel like the Grumbacher had the power of a golf cart while the Windsor Newton has the oooph of a race car.

Compare these two garden illustrations. First, there’s the Grumbacher:

And now, with Windsor Newton:

I think we all can see the chalk in the Grumbacher now. But that is not to say that just because of the vivid, rich color possibilities of Windsor Newton that I have forsaken my beloved Grumbacher paints all together. Oh no. Because I know my Grumbacher paints so well, chalk and all, that I know how to use them to achieve certain misty, pale, subtle effects that I cannot get (yet?) with the Windsor Newton. This, for example…:

…is all Grumbacher. Maybe because of the chalk filler in them, I can trust the Grumbacher to blend and mix and/or stay put in scenes like this — see how the sunset yellow doesn’t get muddy when laid down next to the pink…and how the pink stays in place when it’s so close to the blue? And note the way the blue bleeds so beautifully into the wet wash that I did on the top. I can only do this with Grumbacher.

Let me know if you have ay specific questions about paint or paper or masking fluid or watercolor stuff and I’ll try to include an answer for you in next week’s post too. As Jain says, I have all kinds of wee tips that I’m happy to share!

20 comments to When to Grumbacher and When to Newton.

  • Deborah

    Belated happy birthday! Oooh, la la! Trip to Paris?! Clone that man!

  • Carol

    I wish you many blessings for your 57th year! France – sounds like another book to me. Thanks for the pictures of Cindy. As per usual, Pumpkin sends his regards to Penelope!

  • Patricia

    I cannot believe you achieved all those fantastic paintings with grade school paint and paper! Well, there go my excuses for all the sloppy malformed blobs I’ve attempted over the years. I’ve been blaiming my paints, the paper, my brushes, the sun was in my eyes, I got a finger cramp, I slept wrong … yada yada. Either you got it (and clearly with two published books, you do) or you don’t (that group might include me).

  • Diane

    Happy Birthday! We seem to have the same birthday but I am not nearly as young as you.
    I’ve had Le Road Trip for a few months but just recently have had time to read your wonderful book. I LOVED IT and am buying copies for friends and recommending it to all who might possibly be interested. What talent you have, both the drawing and the so witty writing.
    Enjoy your next trip to Paris…

  • Barbara Lemme

    Blue birthday cake and a trip to Paris, how can a birthday get any better. Enjoy it all and remember how young you really are!

  • happy bday, what a fun cake, our families tradition was an 8 layer rainbow cake with chocolate pudding between the layers, seeing your blue brings back fond color memories, not to mention its so coastal, on to bluer latitudes kinda thing ;-)

    always enjoy a good kitty photo session, i thought your cat must have been drugged until the reveal with only 2 missing parts. there is no way on earth a puzzle could happen at our house, too many paws, teeth and tails. i must have had cats too long, i didn’t even notice cindy’s handiwork, i thought you meant she was worn out from painting and puzzles…

    i read your blog on my iphone this morn, i have been in a total state of wonder since reading the pic is equal to a triscuit. that’s a hard way to start my day, i have heard of micro managing, but you are beyond my scope in talent…

    thank you for sharing such bon vivant pets, your posts are as charming as your books, filled with information, art, humor and cake. what a wonderful present for you yet to open, if only i was talented and had an excuse to go to europe to paint the gardens i love, in peak spring perfection no less… heavy sigh of contentment for you~

  • Susie

    Congratulation! A blue cake AND a trip to Paris, what more could any woman ask for?
    Cats maybe….
    I also didn’t notice the ‘cat art’ on your chair. We have one piece of upholstered furniture, the couch, and it’s all decorated to purrfection. There’s a book (I can’t remember) about cat aesthetics and how some of them have an idea of art. They claw things till they get it just right. Its pretty funny, now if I can find it…
    And I had been trying for ages to do what you do with those Grumbacher paints, I was using transparent watercolors, duh me. Cheap or expensive paints, it takes great talent (you) to make something so lovely……thank you sharing your gift with us.
    I had to laugh out loud at your finished puzzle….a coyote/wolf in a cat person’s house? No wonder someone took off with a couple of pieces, ha ha ha.

  • I have a very similar tablecloth:) Perfect for your celebratory cake.
    You’ll have a ball with Carol :) I can just imagine..
    I love WN too and I think they are so cute also..I found half pans on EBAY.. a while ago..and they are nice too.
    I’ll try your paper..
    I have not picked up a brush since last Nov..for 2 minutes..
    The Triscuit and Tostito made me smile:)

    Hope your birthday was grand~ Enjoy the whole year~

  • patty

    Happy Birthday! Wow, Paris in Springtime! You lucky girl. I also use 90# paper, I prefer hot press, and W.N.artist grade paints. I love to paint but I am not so good with the words. You are delightful.

  • Sandy R

    Very interesting, as a fellow watercolorist I have only used artist grade colors (upon advice by just such artists as Carol – and I have a Paris Breakfast original!!!:)
    Your work is gorgeous with either pallet!! I look forward to the masque post – I have always struggled with tiny delicate application of masque .

  • I don’t have a question about paper or paint but my question is “how do you find a man like Top Cat?
    Barbara

  • Jeannie

    Happy Birthday, albeit a little late. Wow!!! A trip to France! Top Hat sure knows how to surprise his birthday gal. I am in shock at how teeny tiny your painting is! Do you use a magnifying glass?!! I am “only” 2 years older and I would have to have my nose on the paper to paint that tiny. Cindy, what a sweet kitty and so talented. I have a chair with the same “artwork” done by Ms. Kitty. I tried balloons, a squirt gun, and endless tirades, but a kitty artist must use the medium of choice. Have you ever tried Derwent Inktense water soluable pencils or blocks? Explosion of color when the water hits them. Okay, off to dream of my Man handing me tickets to France. Heck, I’d settle for any place warm right now. Have a great birthday weekend!

  • Bev

    Happy Birthday! I loved your Le Road Trip so much that when I was thinking about where to spend my ‘big’ birthday this year I decided on Paris (followed by a few nights in Venice) and I just booked it earlier this week. Along with my wonderful camera I’ll be taking my little WN sketch kit so I was very interested to read your blog this week! All I need now is a Top Cat.

  • Parisbreakfast

    Oh my! Aren’t you the darling to show MY cats!?
    Yr cat had me laughing so hard (at 3am) I was worried about my French neighbors…
    You sure do know how to paint with those chalky numbers…
    Maybe if it ain’t broke you shouldn’t fix it?
    May this year bring you everything you want Vivian.
    You surely give us so, so much fun :))
    Thought of you all day at the cat show. You would have loved it though I must say you do Not look like a ‘cat person’.
    They seem to be lounging a lot like their cats…maybe they occasionally get up to go to the refrigerator…
    More than occasionally by the looks of it ahem.
    Xxxx Carolg

  • janet bellusci

    happy birthday to you!! here’s to another good, creative, champagne-enhanced year! what a wonderful gift from TOP CAT for you ~ if anyone can head to paris and make the most of all if offers, it is YOU. (or me!) enjoy!

  • Happy Birthday! What a beautiful gift from a very generous person! Your miniature watercolors are amazing and beyond my skills in a million ways from Sunday. I say to work with the supplies that work best for you and I can totally understand using both sets of paints. When you are ready to step up to even more luscious color, try Schmincke watercolors, also at Dick Blick, or H. Graham at Jerry’s Artarama. These are tube paints that are like butter. Paris Breakfasts is a favorite blog and I didn’t know she moved to Paris. Gives me hope for my own dreams to come true one day. Have a fabulous trip.

  • Mary

    Please send the combination to conjure up another Top Cat for the rest of us. HE IS a genuine keeper ( as you already know),… How did you meet him? Is he Long Islander ? Does he do art?

    Was He upset by the chair art?

  • Joan

    Happy belated birthday…57! You’re a mere kid! 6 years older than my daughter. Egad.

    The paints you have pictured are Cotman’s by Winsor & Newton, these are still student grade paints, better than Grumbacher, but treat yourself to the “artist” quality paints…a warm and cool shade of the 3 primaries. You’ll know them by the price: each small tube starts at $5 and up. Some are as much as $15-20. But they are so beautiful and so saturated you’ll think you’re performing magic…

  • A plane ticket to Paris, holy mackerel, that is GOOD.

    Regarding masking fluid – do you put it just in the areas you want to protect from any pigment whatsoever? Like on highlights where the white paper will show through? I’ve never used it, and always wondered about its purpose. But then, my watercolors are more splashy and sketchy, so perhaps I don’t need it. I use mostly WN and some Holbein, the little tubes, and an enamel butcher’s tray for a palette. I’d like to get a travel set too, just in case A PLANE TICKET TO PARIS ever comes my way. Just had to say that phrase again. ;O)

  • Christine

    Happy birthday, again, and enjoy your blue cake! I hope you’ll take us with you to France – looking forward to those blog entries! Paris in the Spring…sounds like a movie….

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