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Last Friday there was a blizzard here on the shore of the Long Island Sound. Oooo, so pretty:

On Saturday the sun came out. Sill kind of attractive, in a good old Winter kind of way:


On Sunday the forecast called for warming weather. Winter is starting to look worn out:


On Monday I had to remove the Champagne-O-Meter from the side yard and put it in the fridge because I hate to see warm champagne. Now it just looks sad out there:


On Tuesday it rained all day. Those are small puddles of grey water pooling in between the dead grass:


On Wednesday it was Spring-like and the trees look like dead sticks and the yard looks like crap:


It’s now Thursday and the yard still looks like crap but it’s way cold. As soon as I finish my blogging I’m going to the fridge and opening that bottle of champagne because I’m pretty sure I won’t be needing it for any more blizzards this Winter and I have something to celebrate: I have champagne in the fridge! Also, my publishers in London told me this week that Le Road Trip is being published TWICE in China! Once in Simple and once in Complex Chinese…whatever that means. Also, a wonderful new reader from Australia emailed me that she went to see the blockbuster Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra — and found Le Road Trip  on sale in their book shop! I can’t believe that I wrote a book that the National Gallery of Australia sells in their book shop. I feel very important. And I’m itching to show off my Australian accent to my cats and I can only talk Strine when I’m slightly loaded so I am DYING to get to that champagne.

So here’s what I did today: Last week my friend Carol at Paris Breakfasts asked if I did thumbnail sketches before I painted. When I begin to lay out a book I do thumbnail sketches of page compositions, chapter by chapter, but I do not, usually, bother with thumbnails for individual illustrations. Except this week I kind of did. It started with a small block of text about Key West for the Damn Garden Book on a blank page that needed illumination:


I just happened to have the perfect reference photos of the town library in Key West, which has a Palm Garden on its grounds — a collection of palm trees from around the world. I found a corner of the Palm Garden that contained the three palm trees that I needed to illustrate: the Coconut Palm from Malayasia, the Canary Island Palm, and the Chinese Fan Palm. So I made a quick sketch to see if I could compose those palm trees around my text:


Then I made a more complete sketch on tracing paper in felt tip pen:


I traced that sketch onto watercolor paper and I began to paint. As I’ve said before, when I paint palm trees I try to paint each palm frond with a single, expressive brush stroke:


Still expressing:


That’s the Chinese Fan Palm there, and a Canary Island Palm in the background, which is why I now had to put masking fluid on the trunk of the Coconut Palm in the middle ground:


While the masking fluid dries, I finish the foreground of the picture. I really love painting rocks:


There’s a rock in the background, too, so while I’m still waiting for the masking fluid to get nice and dry, I paint the background rock. The secret to doing rocks is the work in your dark colors over the light stuff while it’s still wet:


Now I’m going to do the Canary Island Palm in the background. As you can see, there are 8 fronds.  I can’t paint every frond the same shade of green — that would be b-o-r-i-n-g — so I’ve thought this out very carefully and figured out ahead of time which fronds will be the light ones and which will be the darker ones, and how I will paint them, light ones first and dark ones later:


Here goes. Frond No. 1:


I think these brush strokes have a lot of personality. I’m not trying to be perfect — I want some glop here and there:


Frond No. 2:


Frond No. 3:


Fronds No. 4 and 5:


Frond No. 6:


Frond No. 7:


Frond No. 8:


Starting another Chinese Fan Palm:


OK, finished the Chinese Fan. Now I peel off the masking fluid:


And I start painting the Coconut Palms (3 of them). Each whaddya-call-it…each ring on the truck I paint separately, one at a time, and let dry before I paint the next one. You can’t paint the whole trunk and then draw lines in it — it won’t have the same texture, or life to it. So I paint them, one by one. Yes, it’s boring, but it gives the tree more character:


And fast-forwarding to the finish:


That orange square is the place-holder for the box of text I’ll be dropping in on top of this picture and the tea bag (in case you’re stopping by this blog for the first time) is for scale. It’s an 81/2 inch x 7 1/2 inch illustration to go on a 9 inch by 8 inch page. I thought it was important to put that park bench in there to show the scale of the trees in the picture — I hope it’s clear that that’s a bench. It was actually hidden like that in my reference photos and I didn’t have the imagination to leave it out but I admit, whenever I use reference photos (that is, all the time) I usually do a lot of editing. (That means simplifying, and leaving stuff out.)

By the time you see this picture in the Damn Garden Book when it’s published I will have futzed around with it a bit (I think it needs some more foliage up there near the rock in the background). But I’m leaving it like this, with all those negative-space white bits showing, and hope it looks like a coherent space.

The actual painting time that I spent on this illustration was 2 hours and 15 minutes, which does not count the thinking part and the sketching part and the three previous, totally different pictures I painted but will now throw away. And now…

Champagne Time! 

Have a great weekend everyone!







8 comments to Some days I’m more thirsty than others.

  • Parisbreakfast

    Love your glops. They give so much character to your paintings. They make them particularly Swiftian…
    Love that 1st photo of the lone champers out there braving the L.I. elements..
    I still think some thumbnail work is on order.
    Look at Wayne Thibaud -a great fan of thumbies. It might save you redoing paintings since you can solve a lot of problems doing small thumbies IMHO
    Bottoms up!

  • Friday..

    the weeks fly by~

    i will come back and study all this..
    I am amazed at how quickly your snow leaves compared to here.
    I still have feet..a whole wine fridge could be least ..

    I bought 2 more Road Trips as gifts..I love it so much I feel others should have it also.. 2 art lover friends..

  • Oh, if only “thinking time” didn’t have to figure in the amount of time it takes to do anything! Sometimes I’ll get very proud I was able to do something fairly efficiently and then realize how much time the agony (oops, mental self-discussions) plays into it!

    Of all the lessons I’ve learned here so far, masking fluid seems to be the best. Self-taught doesn’t always find such things!

    Do enjoy your champagne. I’m headed to a wine tasting tonight so I’ll lift a glass in your honor with thanks for another great lesson!

  • I just read a review of your book on Jeanie’s blog – she also had a link to your blog. My birthday is in 10 days so now I’ll know what I’ll ask – copies of your books. I am French but have lived in the US for decades. I always like to read what people think of France, whether it is good or bad (I do have posts on my blog on French bashing.) I saw that you started traveling early. I had my first passport at 13 ½ years old for a trip to London, alone (with a group though) to go to a host family for Christmas, then I came really alone at 21 to the US (San Francisco.) I have only been to 58 countries so far, although I went to several many times, such as going back home to Paris while my parents were alive, twice a year for decades. But there are still many countries out there. I love you artwork and will come back to look at your past posts.

  • whimsy2

    Vivian, just HOW do you trace your picture onto the watercolor paper? Surely you don’t use carbon paper!

  • Jeannie

    Painting all of those fronds would have had me reaching for the champagne! They look wonderful. I love rocks and always wondered how to paint them. Thanks! (Rumor has it that winter isn’t over. It was 70 here on the left coast. Who is right?)

  • Gigi

    Oh, I do so love the rocks and the tree trunks that are so exacting. Best of all, I love the sprightly palm fronds that are brought to life because of the color variations. I am taking notes – and loving this! Bubbles and cheers! Tomorrow, I pick up the framed koi pond. Yes!

  • I am with whimsy too:-)
    I cannot trace on watercolor paper….help:-)

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