How to Paint a Secret Garden

This is why I am illustrating my Damn Garden Book instead of photographing it:

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This (above) is the entrance to the Secret Garden belonging to my neighbor (and most excellent Chilled Wine Cocktail On The Patio Hostess). You have to walk through the wooden doorway to get to this:

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Now, if I were a mere photographer I could only give you, the viewer and eventual Dear Reader of the Damn Garden Book, one or the other view of this nifty Secret Garden. GOOD THING I am an illustrator and in possession of an Artistic License. So I can give you both views at once:

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I apply masking fluid with a tooth pick:

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And I use my second-fattest paint brush to lay in some sunlight:

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In this illustration I will be working mostly from the back to the front, laying in background foliage before I hit the foreground:

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P1190949I’m adding detail now:

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Working the middle ground now:

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Something told me that I could stop here…

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…but a pain in the ass little voice urged me to go on, put in some really dark, dark background:

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Tree branch-painting time:

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Before removal of the masking fluid:

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After removal of the masking fluid:

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Painting in the blank bits left by the removal of the masking fluid:

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Finished:

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(Yeah, the lantern looks wonky. That will be a later fix-up.)

Hmmmm….I think the dark stuff adds punch to this illustration, and the view is definitely more narrative than anything a mere photograph of the garden could relate….but I think that for my next illustration I will see if I can leave it at the point where something tells me that I can stop here (see above).

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This (below) is what is at the far end of that little walkway into my neighbor’s Secret Garden:

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I’ll be painting this for you next week and, being as I have either already had a shot at painting this or I can time travel, I already know that it does not go well. But try, try again is my motto. Stay tuned.

Speaking of try, try again, do you recall when I painted this Annie E. Casey Seattle Waterfall Garden for you?

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I took another look at it and found that it was lacking in narrative. So I futzed around with it and…

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…yes, that female figure is a cut-and-paste (literally). To get a model for that figure, I pulled a chair to the bottom of our living room stairs and I asked Top Cat to stand on the fifth stair and take a photo of me. Photos, of course, lie. The figure of me was foreshortened (as photos tend to do) so I had to improvise in getting the legs right even though I know I would cover them up with a cut-and-paste fern frond.

Tricks of the trade.

Thank you to the many Dear Readers who have sent me photos of their Secret Gardens. If this post gives you an idea of how I will be presenting your garden, should I decide to include it in the Damn Garden Book, I hope this encourages more of you to send me your snaps. And even if you can’t get Fluffy or Fido to post in the actual garden, or there’s a particular bit that won’t fit in a frame, feel free to include that too. As you can see, I am not limited by Earthly geography.

In fact, I think photography is the reason so many garden books are so damn boring. You can’t possible get a great garden captured in lousy photos. There’s always something that gets hidden, or overlooked, or cropped, or foreshortened. I’ve seen photos of famous gardens I’ve been to…

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…Giverny…Majorelle…

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… and they never get it right.

Illustrated Garden Book to the rescue.

Feel free to discuss the awesomeness of illustration over photography.

 

Here Kitty, Kitty: How to Paint a Cat Part Three

So first, we drew le chat reduced to its lumpy, adorable snowman-like proportions:

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Then I found an image of a really cuuuuute kitty on the internets:

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She is of course la Lizzie Cosette of the marmeladegypsy blog.  I drew Lizzie in snowman-esq style, just to rough out her shape:

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I filled in a few shadows, to familiarize  myself with her markings and stuff..

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…and then I traced the bare outlines of that sketch onto watercolor paper:

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The paints that I’ll be using for most of the color in this kitty portrait are grey (Davy’s Gray in the tube) and my trusty ancient  Grumbacher watercolors:

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I will mix these colors right on my brush, getting various shades of brownish-grey, blackish-grey, and rusty-grey as needed, and for the most part I’m going to let the pint and the water do what it wants to do:

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I do love the chalky texture of these paints.

I am going to start with the face because if I don’t get the face right I will trash the whole thing and start over. So I will work quickly to get some black markings in on top of wet brownish-grey:

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I painted the eyes in and, before the paint got too dry…

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…I laid in some black around the eye, but I didn’t let it bleed as much as before because bleeding colors is OK for getting a nice effect for  fur, but this is not fur:

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For the inside of Miss Lizzie’s ear, I used a very pale blueish-grey:

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I used the same blueish-grey to paint Lizzie’s chin and I let it dry….P1190870

…and then I went back with my paint brush dipped in clear water to “pick up” the paint. I do this because I want a very delicate shading effect here, and subtracting paint is a good way to make an area look outlined, but painterly:

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OK, I think I got the face alright, so now I’m going to start painting the fur. Lizzie is a tabby tuxedo, so to give shade to her white bits I use a very watery light blue wash. I just like the look of a very light blue shadow to indicate whiteness:

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And, again, I’m going to work wet-in-wet, that is, I’m going to dab some brown and black and grey into the very wet blue wash, to get a nice watercolor effect:

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All that, above, is done before any of the paint has a chance to dry. I’m not going to over-do the fur…I’m going to leave the body impressionistic. But I am going to get a lot of detail in the punim because she is soooooo cute:

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I’m not painting the whiskers — I don’t have a brush fine enough and also, I like the look of pencil here:

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And now I check it against my reference photo. It looks to me that I placed Lizzie at slightly the wrong angle on the paper; she’s leaning too far to the right. To correct that, all I have to do is crop the paper:

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That’s better. Also, I notice that I’ve made one ear too pointy, so I go back and add some round-ness:

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And I’m going to add a sliver of height to her darling little head between them adorable ears:

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And I have to add some white paint over some brownish-grey stuff I painted on her cheek (I erased the penciled-in whiskers on that side before I painted, FYI):

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Then I beef up her Cleopatra eye liner:

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Add the whiskers back in:

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And DONE.

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Smooch, smooch, smooch. I love kitties.

 

 

How To [Not] Paint a Cat, Part Deux

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So, it’s Friday evening and I’ve poured myself a nice cold of  Pinot G., and I’ve met my deadlines for the week (yes, Dear Readers, sometimes people actually pay me to write.) and you and me can discuss the crucial issues of the day.

Namely, Summer is over. I watched it go, sitting in my backyard, at 4:44 pm Daylight Savings Time on the Long Island Sound Sunday, Sept. 22. More of a bummer this year than usual.  Don’t get me started.

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I did not pick up a paintbrush this whole past week (spent all my time wordsmithing, you know) but I do have  something worthy to show you from a spot of painting (let us all now assume English accents) from yonder fortnight.

Two weeks ago I was working on an illustration of the beloved children’s tale, Peter Rabbit. Beatrix Potter is my idol when it comes to illustration, and I  have a chapter on London Gardens in my work in progress, the Damn Garden Book, so I was not going to miss the opportunity to reference my childhood infatuation with All Things English, starting with Peter Rabbit.

You know the story. For my illustration, I had to get the lay of the land, namely farmer MacGregor’s garden:

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The wondrous Beatrix illustrated it as a walled garden on the edge of a woods. And my favorite scene:

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Voila, Le Chat. (they call them moggies in England, by the way.) See how this ties into our whole Paint a Cat saga?

So, here is my interpretation of Peter Rabbit at this most crucial part of the whole story of Peter Rabbit:

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(I have blocked out the left hand side for future text, FYI.)

As soon as the paint dried on this thing I knew there was a problem with the cat but I didn’t know what.

I put it away for 48 hours, took a fresh look at it, and it hit me like Thumper:

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The cat’s head is too small. Of course!! That’s why it looks more like an ermine than a C-A-T.

But the thing had already been painted, and it’s watercolor, so o lordy, what to do?

I am now going to tell you, Dear Readers, a Trick of the Trade.

All I did was paint a new (right) cat on a separate bit of Canson 90 pound cold press paper (the only paper I use — I love love love this paper) . Then I cut it out, and glued it over the ermine, like thus:

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Here’s a close up:

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I know from experience that when this picture is scanned for print and published in a book, the fact that it’s a cut out will never register with the reader:

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In fact, if I am not about tell blab about it right now, you probably would never have noticed that Peter himself is a cut out, pasted in front of the MacGregor garden in the background:

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And you know what? I feel A-OK about this because I have recently discovered that our darling Miss Potter did the exact same thing back in the day when she was watercoloring her way to immortality.

Take a look at this illustration below:

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See that DoG? Look closely:

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Look closer:

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Yep. He’s a cut out. Underneath that Pomeranian, probably,  is some small-headed Pug that gave the delightful Miss P. second thoughts.

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And if Miss P. can do it, then I can do it.

How to Paint a Cat Part One

Last Sunday Top Cat took me into a magical woods on the southern shore of the Long Island Sound…
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…otherwise known as The Gold Coast of Ye Olde Long Island…

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…where Ye Olde Money of yore transplanted ancient yew trees from the Olde Worlde to make Instant Stately Homes (now gone to ruin)…

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…and where the haunted forest is reclaiming ye olde acres of lawns into native wild flower meadows once more…

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…where I came upon  yon ancient cottage…

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…which beckoned me to pause…

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…and consider its perfectness as a refuge from the madding world…

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…where I could gather inspiration from nature and light and where cats could roam free…

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…but there was just one little problem…

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scale.  For this magical realm goes by the name of The Muttontown Preserve (I’m not making this up) and it encompasses the last American address of — I’m not making this up — King Zog, the last, deposed monarch of Albania and I conjecture that ye Ole King had a young Princess for whom nothing would do but she had a play house in the American Colonial vernacular.

I can not tell you how much I want this house. If you hear about some crazy cat lady claiming that she is the reincarnation and rightful heiress of the late great King Zog — that’ll be me, staking my claim to this itty bitty ranch house in Muttontown. I’m not making this up.

But speaking of crazy cat ladies…

…it’s time to draw us some kitty cats!

OK. Here’s how I decided was the best way to share my minuscule amount of knowledge of the visual arts, of which I am not a certified practitioner of.  First, I am going to show you how I draw a cat from memory:

I start with a bottom-heavy oblong shape:

 

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Then I add hips — by the way, I’m doing this from memory to make a point:

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The point is that since I have been looking at cats my whole life I have internalized the basic structure of Le Cat:

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And as you can see, the basic structure is no more complicated than that of a snowman:

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So really, when I paint a cat, I don’t actually have to sketch out this blueprint — it’s already “on the paper” before I pick up a brush:

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But I am showing you the building blocks that I visualize when I look at a cat:

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And when I say “sketch”, I don’t mean make those crappy wispy wimpy scritching marks that a lot of people do when they “sketch” — I mean commit yourself to making a strong, unequivocal line:

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Voila, The Cat. Now, to make a cat head on, you use the exact same strategy…but let’s go through the basics of the dear little kitty face:

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Got it?

OK. So, now we’ll make another snowman:

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And we’ll erase some lines to make the kitty face front:

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And, voila:P1190796

Kitty Cat.

I hope you can see that drawing a cat isn’t all that hard. But it’s something that every cat lover should know how to do, in case of emergency:

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I like this kitty’s little smile. But really, those ears? That tail? Those dangling front legs?

I got this Lost Cat poster from a new book that I just started reading:

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It’s very cute and I recommend it. But it got me thinking….how can I apply my cat-snowman lesson to a real life cat?

So I found a really cute cat from the internets:

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And now all I have to do is interpret this cutie as a kitty snowman:P1190786

You see? All I had to do was  get the basic building blocks of this sweet kitty to start her portrait. Again, I have to say, this is a drawing of what I usually only visualize before I start to paint. It took me a long time before I understood that the time I spend just thinking about what I’m going to paint before I paint makes all the difference between a good painting and one that is a crap shoot, so yes, I spend a fair amount of time visualizing. I’m just saying.

Next, I picture the particular markings that make this sweet kitty her own self. She’s a darling tuxedo tabby, which in my mind looks like this:

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Then I plot out where the dark and the light spots are:

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And now I’m ready to paint.

Which I will do next week. I will paint this adorable sweet kitty girl and show you how I do it, brush stroke by brush stroke.

However, if you are new to cat painting, you can draw your kitty like I did, and do a nice watercolor wash over your pencil drawing and it will look really nice too. I would have done this to my pencil drawing here but I ran out of time this week. SORRY.

And now, for the Winner of our fabuloso Elizabeth Gilbert The Signature of All Things Give Away:

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Top Cat picked : Melissa! Melissa, please send me your snail mail address at vivianswift at yahoo dot com and I will send you this beautiful book a s a p. Melissa is a new dear reader — welcome!

 

 

Penultimate Summer Post

P1190479It’s good to be back just in time for my penultimate Summer post! During my two-week break I went to the annual Long Island Scottish Games Festival at Old Westbury Gardens (that’s a dog in a kilt, above). It’s always good to hang with my peeps, the Scottish, the most fun-loving, light-hearted, sober people on Earth. It comes from all that airy-fairy-gaia-girl-power DNA us Celtic maids of the woods possess:

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Oh, right: us Scottish girls also love to dance with swords, too:

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And as you can see, even the boys of our clan want to be like their magical sisters so much that they’ll even wear the same outfits.

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I also spent a few days in the enchanted land known as Pennsylvania, hanging with my mother (from whom I get my Scottish proclivities). She has a cat named Sammy who knows how to work backlighting and sheer curtains:

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And, yes, I spent an inordinate amount of time sitting in the backyard trying to get a shot of the 6:05 Qantas from LAX.

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Yes, I sat sentry in the backyard whenever the landing pattern at JFK airport shifted to the sky above Top Cat Manor hoping to get the red kangaroo on film. The 6:05 Qantas from LAX is my black orchid, my white whale, my Loch Ness Monster. So far, I’ve only been able to catch the 6:40 Air Berlin from, well, you know where. But note how the plane catches the golden rays of the September evening. Sigh.

I know I promised you a cat-painting lesson. Well, I’m working on it:

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But I have an exciting new give-away for my dear readers! I have received an advance hard back copy of ElizabethGilbert’s new novel, The Signature of All Things:

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Last May Elizabeth sent me a paper-back proof of the novel and I read it in two days. I loved it. And you all know that I do not read fiction…but this is almost non-fiction, as it’s a story about love and botany and is full of real true stuff about plants and gardens and 18th century trade in newly-discovered horticultural species. GREAT BOOK, is what I’m saying. If it’s been a long time since you read you’ve read a book by a really smart writer, or it’s been ages since you enjoyed a sophisticated historical romance, or it’s been eons since you read a book that took you into another realm of being…this book is for you.

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The book itself is a beautiful object — it 499 pages of smooth ivory vellum with a deckle edge. And it’s got two different end-papers, with a pair of botanical illustrations on each:

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This is very expensive to produce, by the way.

I am giving away this advance hard-back copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Signature of All Things to one lucky dear reader!

Please leave your name in the Comments section and, as is standard operating procedures, Top Cat will pick a Commentor at random. The winner of this lovely book will be announced next Friday,right here on this blog.

(Comments will close at midnight, Tuesday.)

It’s down to the penultimate Summer weekend, dear readers. Let’s all go out and do something to make Summer 2013 memorable!

 

How to Paint a Waterfall

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As a writer/illustrator who doesn’t want to bore my dear blog readers I tend to focus on the illustrating party of my work because if I wrote about writing all you’d see is a picture of me sitting at  desk, pulling my hair out.

If I wanted to bore the dear readers of this blog, I would blog about unpacking from that road trip to the Delaware Bay that I took two weeks ago:

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Which I have not yet actually fully un-packed from. Yes, when I go on a car trip I haul out my biggest, ugliest suitcase and pack it with my own comforter and pillows because I do not use hotel blankets and pillows. Ew. Ew. Ewwwwwwwwww.  As you can see, when Penelope decides that this un-packed suitcase is her new favorite place to nap well, then, that suitcase stays un-packed until it becomes a hazard to life and limb (I’ve already tripped over it once, in the dark, when I forgot that there was a big stonking suitcase in the doorway between the dining room and the living room).

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I took this picture last week, one week after than the one above it. I could walk into my living room right now and take anothear pic just like it.

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Honest to DoG, I just took this pic, a WEEK after the one above: That black lump on the EMpire-style chair is Cindy and that’s Taffy, eyeing the Sweet Spot from under the coffee table.

And we all know that as long as Lickety and/or Taffy and Cindy are hovering nearby, dying to take their own turn on this amazing new fabulously comfortable napping hot spot, Penelope will never, never relinquish control of the big stonking suitcase, which will probably rot in this corner of the livingroom before I have the heart to take it way from her. (See: nice Empire-style chair, above, re: how I let these cats re-purpose every object in this house including, now, suitcases.) Which reminds me:

I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the universe for the six doses of Frontline I use every month in May, June, July, August, September, and October. For two tablespoons-worth of Frontline (approx. equivalent to a tea bag’s worth of tea), I generate this much trash, most of it plastic:

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This ought to be a crime. This is excessive packaging and I hate it..but what can I do? Fleas are nasty and disgusting and germy and give my cats scabs .

Universe, please forgive me.

And now, without further ado, let’s paint!

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I had already painted most of the rock face before I thought of taking photos.

But Step One was prepping this picture with masking fluid:

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And here’s how to paint small falls of water  (I’m using a combination of light blue and greenish-blue):

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First, I brush in strokes of clear water:

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And then I drop the paint into the water:

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I like the effect, very watercolor-y. I’m just letting water and paint do what they do when you put them together. (I also leave small areas of dry white paper showing.)

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I had intentionally left some of the rock face unpainted so it would make a soft boundary to the water:

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When I paint rock (which, by the way, I LOVE to do), I paint one rock face at a time. Here is how I do it: I brush in clear water on an area (let’s call it a “cell”) that I have drawn as a surface:

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I am using my beloved cheapo Grumbacher paints here because with all the chalk filler in them, they blend really well (that is to say, they don’t really blend well at all, which is what I like) when I drop them into the “cell” that I have prepared for them. I mix four color right on my little bitty brush — blue, black, brown, and grey/flesh:

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Here is what happens when you lightly drop your brush, which is loaded with paint, into a “cell” that is full of clear water:

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I go back a dab in some black on the edges, and then I let dry. Where I used a lot of brown to paint that bit of rock (above), here I am going with more of a blue-grey color:

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You never know what you are going to get! Well, sure, you can control the areas that need to be light or dark, blue or brown (so that the whole rock face makes sense), but within each “cell” you ever know how it’s going to dry — look at all that texture and interest that is in each rock:

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And yes, you can see that I had to write “ROCK” with arrows on this drawing so I didn’t get confused as to what was rock and what was waterfall. Also, you can see that I have now lifted of the masking fluid that I had previously put down…I changed my mind on how I wanted this main section of waterfall to look.

Truth is, I had never painted a waterfall before I did this picture, so I did some preliminary sketches:

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I tried out several different ways of painting a waterfall, and I cut out bits so I could hold them against what I’ve already painted to see how it would look. In the end, I decided to go for a much loser effect that did not require masking fluid:

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And then I painted the rest of the picture:

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This is one of the best things about re-booting the Damn Garden Book

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…I can open up the scope of the book, thanks to the wonderful negative criticism I got last week.

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And to answer a dear reader’s question last week…no, the title of the Damn Garden Book is not The Damn Garden Book. I call all of my books-in-progress the Damn [fill in the blank] Book because most of the time that’s how I feel about all my books-in-progress. They are such a damn pain in the ass to write, and I wish they would write their damn selves,but they are, in the end, the best pain-in-the-assy things I’ve ever done.

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I have a totally different working title for the Damn Garden Book which my agent and editor use. I don’t make them say “Damn Garden Book”.

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And, to answer another FAQ, no, Top Cat does not take these photos. I take them myself. I use my right hand to hoist the camera, point, shoot, and hope I catch something useful. Half the photos I take are useless.

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I was very happy to paint this new illustration because this is one of the most delightful consequences of receiving that wonderful negative criticism last week and opening up the narrative …

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I get to add Seattle to the Damn Garden Book!!

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This is the famous and beautiful Waterfall Garden Park in downtown Seattle. (I had to leave empty space for text, TBA.)

I am taking the next two weeks off, dear readers, to both get stuff done and do nothing. I forgot to tell you that  the DGB is a GO and the sooner I write the damn thing, the sooner it will appear in stores and libraries. I also want to hang out with men in kilts (the Long Island Scottish Games are this weekend), and re-boot my brain.

I will leave the Comments section open until Sept. 6 so please feel free to leave a comment or question about writing, illustrating, cats, or tea, or whatever.  Because I will check in often and use my spiffy new Reply function to answer any and all queries;  as for the future of this blog, I have a tutorial all about painting cats already planned for Sept 13…

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But, as there are only so many Summer sun sets until Autumn, I must bid you all a fond See You Later, and hope to see each one of you back here on September 13.

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Now get out there and goof off!

In The Way Back Machine

It is December, 1966. I am ten years old and in sixth grade at North Willow Grove Elementary School. In a parallel universe there is a girl my age with perfect hair walking to school with her little sister:

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In this parallel universe this girl’s name is Elizabeth Terry (although it appears that we use the same Lennes Arithmetic book):

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(N. J.Lennes was the chairman of the mathematics dept. at The University of Montana, a fact that I was not aware of until I googled it five minutes ago.) Yes, I drew this picture when I was ten years old in December 1966 (I dated the pic on the back). From the same year I also have two short stories that I wrote and illustrated, both with a main character named Peggy Anne who lives in Oklahoma and made friends with a new girl who had just moved from Canada.

When I was ten years old I thought Oklahoma was the coolest state in the union but I don’t remember why. I am not showing you those two short stories, which I made into chapbooks, because it creeps me out: I have to tell you that it does not give me any pleasure to look at this old stuff. Me and Johnny Rotten both agree (and if you have not read Johnny Rotten’s memoir, titled Rotten, you are missing out on a memoir that speaks to my heart and soul): we hated being children.

However, in spite of the fact that it floods me with memories of a terrible time of my life, I can look at that drawing of mine from 1966  and see that I had pretty good draftsmanship for a ten year old. Yes, I always knew I could draw. Yes, I used to amaze the dim wits in my elementary school  that I could draw FREEHAND, especially since I’m a leftie. No, I do not remember deriving any particular satisfaction from the fact that I could draw well.

Which brings me to the Thought Of The Day.

Drawing well is the worst thing that can happen to an artist.

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Thomas Kinkade, the so-called Painter of Light, whose over-priced mass-produced “art” hangs on the wall of one in 20 American households, could draw.

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I’m picking on him because he is dead and I do not want to call a living artist (oh, honey, I could name names…) banal … but sadly, that’s the trap of being able to draw well. It’s like being born beautiful. Pretty girls don’t have to dig deep to find a personality or an I.Q.; good draftsmen don’t have to dig deep to find their own unique style. Pretty girls and good draw-ers tend to be bo-o-o-o-o-o-o-ring.

Claude Monet couldn’t draw…that’s why he invented impressionism:

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Edward Gorey himself said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, March 2, 1986…

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“Sometimes I think my life would have been completely different id I had ever learned to draw.”

Edward Gory: All his people look the same, he draws them wearing fur coats and in profile so he doesn’t have to bother with clothes or faces, his “settings” are rudimentary…and yet, his work oozes with portent and depth and connotations…

So, if you can not draw as well as the ten year old me (see above), STOP TRYING. And start looking at what you can do well, what you can do  really, really well — color, subject matter,composition, point of view,  etc. — and let that be your springboard to make the art that only YOU can do.

Meanwhile, here’s what I did this past week to make my art a little less banal:

I’m working on a memory of a Brazilian garden for my Damn Garden Book. At first, I painted  it like this:

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But this did not seem true to my memory of it. So I hit upon the idea to represent it more like a true memory:

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Yes, I sliced it. (Truth to tell, I sliced it and then painted over bits of it, and then re-constructed it whole for the blog — which is why there are some subject matter discrepancies in the “before” shot, if you know what I mean.) Now the image looks more memory-like and the text will look interesting on the page.

So, until we meet again next Friday, I hope you’re all hanging out in the back yard and enjoying these last wonderful Summer days.

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When Bad Ideas Happen to Good People

I had a really bad idea last week.

But first, a quick digression: Check out this window of W H Smith, the largest English bookstore in Paris, on the Rue de Rivoli (did I mention that it’s in PARIS? As in PARIS, FRANCE?): photo-5

See that book on the right? SEE IT?!?!?!? I’m so excited. I know this bookstore well and I NEVER thought I’d ever have a book in the window! (In my mind, I am buying everyone in the world a glass of champagne because I’m so happy!)

Thank you, Carol Gillot of Paris Breakfasts for sending this spiffy photo.

As I post this, Top Cat and I are on the road, taking a little 300-mile mosey around the Delaware Bay area on the east cost.

We left the Isle of Long via the Williamsburg Bridge…

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The most beautiful skyline in the world.

…and then we drove down the Garden State Parkway through the Garden State (Surprise! It’s New Jersey!) which is a drive that we love because, for one, the Garden State Parkway…

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…is planted with  fields of wild cosmos…

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…and leads us to Top Cat’s favorite playground…

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…Atlantic City. I, too, love AC because I get to say howdy to my favorite feathered friends on the boardwalk:

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This is what my feathered friends look like one second after all the french fries that I was feeding them are gone.

Other sights from the Delaware Bay:

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Somers Point is NJ’s best kept secret.

 

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Rose-Marsh (not Marsh-Roses, which would make more sense) in Cape May, NJ.

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Ochre-colored wooden door with louvres on colonial house in Smyrna, Delaware.

Our hunt for secret gardens took us to the perfectly preserved Revolutionary village of New Castle, Delaware:

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But even on a road trip, I haul my Damn Garden Book-in-progress with me:

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That’s me, working on the London chapter of The Damn Garden Book from the 16th floor hotel room of The Water Club at Borgata Casino in Atlantic City.

The Damn Garden Book got one step closer to publication this past week. I finally got my first three chapters illustrated and written and I submitted it to my agent — I do not “workshop” my writing; I re-re-re-re-rewrite it until I think it’s 99% of exactly what I want (I never get to 100%) and then I show it to my agent. Her feedback was very positive and she thought the book was ready to submit to Bloomsbury as is. So the manuscript is at my editor’s at Bloomsbury now and as soon as she approves the concept, we’ll negotiate a publication date and voila: the Damn Garden Book will be a reality.

One thing my agent observed was how much my painting has become more sophisticated. Well, I said, that’s what happens when you paint every day — you can’t help but get better. For example, here’s a little tiny illustration that appears in my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam (Bloomsbury, 2008)…it’s on page 45 for those of you reading along.

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I drew this little illustration from reference photographs that I’d taken of my old, pre-marriage-to-Top-Cat kitchen:

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Photo montage of my dear old kitchen.

I loved my old kitchen. It had a corner, as you can see, that was just right for turning into a shrine to my love of all things Tea. About a year ago I re-did this illustration, expanding it to a full-page illustration. First, I drew it all over again:

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And then I painted it from scratch:

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I also changed cats — in the first illustration I put my cat Honey on the table — in this new illustration I put Woody Robinson on the table, in his favorite place: with his head under the lampshade.

But I can not leave you without a painting this week! So, seeing as it is August, my favorite month of the year, I’m re-running a favorite post from 2010 that I call: Painting August.

 

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So until next Friday, I hope you’re all enjoying the best month of Summer with road trips real and imagined.

Have a fab weekend.

 

Writing room

Date night, July, Manhattan:
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Last Friday evening Top Cat swept me off to the Big City.

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Fun Time Wedding Shower Takes to the Streets: The Bachelorette-of-Honor posing with New York’s Finest.

It was a beautiful time of day to be in the East Village.

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I remember when I had a boyfriend who in the East Village it was a dump…now it’s almost as chic as the Upper West Side:

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There’s even a touch of New Orleans in the neighborhood!:

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But this I remember from the ’80s — traffic light art installations:

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The guy on the left, with the bulging pants pockets: NOW I get why they call them CARGO PANTS!!

I love Manhattan. People live out loud in Manhattan — right on the streets:

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I love the flow of humanity, at all hours:

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Skateboarders in the flow of traffic:

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And this warmed my heart — a young girl reading a book, a real BOOK, while on the go:

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Top Cat took me to a sidewalk cafe for a glass (two) of wine, and then we hoofed down to 6th Street for a wonderful Indian dinner.

Scene in an Indian Restaurant, July 26, 2013

Couple in their late 30s, an empty bottle of wine between them. He is going on and on about the injustice of the US government’s persecution of NSA-leaker Edward Snowden. She, who seems to have drunk the greater part of that bottle of wine, has had enough when she lifts her empty wine glass and waves it in front of her, merrily announcing: “And you say J’accuse!

At 8:30 on a heartbreakingly beautiful Sumer evening we made our way to Webster Hall:

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I don’t know if you can read the marquee, but that’s PAUL WELLER! My sweet Top Cat tok me to see my Punk Rock crush!! (I haven’t been to a rock concert (excluding Paul Weller in New York three times, Los Angeles once, London twice) in, oh…ten years. And it’s still as exciting as the first time — Stephen Stills and Manassas at the Philadelphia Spectrum in 1971.)

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Oh, lordy, I loves me Paul Weller. It was standing room only in Webster Hall, so I insinuated myself to the front lines:

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You remember Paul Weller, right? He’s huge in the UK but known as a “cult” figure here in America so he does very few gigs in the States — six sows in NY, boston, and D.C. this time ’round.

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I screamed, and po-go’ed, and hollered the words when he did That’s Entertainment and completely lost it when he did a hard-rock version of my favorite song of all time , My Ever-Changing Moods. I could hardly move or speak when it was over. Good times.

I respect Paul Weller for still rocking the same Mod look that he had when he fronted the Jam in 1979, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE him for rocking the grey hair.

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I’ve never been a Stones fan because Mick Jagger makes my skin crawl, all the more so when I see his 70-year old brunette locks. Grey hair is so hard core!

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Top Cat loves my grey hair and I love that Top Cat surprises me with tickets to go see Paul Weller’s silver locks. My husband gets me, and my rock and roll crushes. In return, he has my permission to go for it if Nicole Kidman ever requests a late-night back rub from the one and only T.C.

The other exciting news this week is that I got my Majorelle Bleu paint:

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I had to get a shot of it in daylight on the glass-topped patio table with my new lanterns.

(Tea bag for scale.)  This is the quantity you can order (250 mlk) for $48. It comes from Switzerland, and for all I know the good people at the Majorelle Garden in Marrakech order it from the same factory whenever they have to re-paint the landmarks this distinctive, saturated, intense color:

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Just to remind you why it’s called “Majorelle Bleu” — photo taken on my visit to the garden in Marrakech May 2013.

Just for comparison, here are color swatches from my bluest Grumbacher paints (in the little pan-thingy) and my Windsor Newton Artists’s watercolors (in the tube):

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I used the tube watercolors straight, no diluting with water.

And then I went outside and photographed the colors in the full sunlight at 3 o’clock Wednesday afternoon for you:

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Majorelle Triscuit winner, Bev, has been waiting for this moment. I wanted to dab on the true Majorelle Bleu before I sent her the Tirscuit she won:

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I just put this Triscuit in the mail today so Bev, thank you for your patience and I love going to the post office to mail Triscuits to AUSTRALIA!!!

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And now, as promised, off we go to my Writing Room.

Truth to tell, it’s not so much a “room” as a corner of a really big den. Yes, that’s a wheel chair. When I had knee surgery last Fall I got a wheelchair and it’s the most comfortable writing chair I’ve ever owned…so I’m still using it.

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The floor of our den is black slate, so the wheelchair’s wheels don’t mark it up like the old desk chairs all did. I hardly even think of it as a wheel chair these days; it’s just my writing chair with the handy foot rests.

I have a trash can propping open the door and to my right is a small table with the manuscript on it, where I can lay out pages and measure each for text (see: last week’s post re: what the manuscript of a professional illustrated travel memoirist looks like.).

This is my desk top:

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A long time ago I read that it’s best to write facing a blank wall (Annie Dillard says so), so yes, that’s a blank wall in front of me. And that’s a Spode tea cup that is a permanent fixture…

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….because it’s where I unload the Smarties, this writer’s preferred Brain Food (duh)Smartie’s are imported from Canada, so they’re gourmet. (Thank you, GG, for the Turkish tile photo to inspire me with another shade of blue!)

And meet the  facilitators of my writing life. First there’s Cindy:

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And then there’s Penelope:

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However, the most dangerous cat in the whole herd is a certain indoor/outdoor cat, who was born feral but has discovered that with a cute face like his a cat can get unlimited door service at our house, giving him free access to all the comforts of home-living while maintaining his independence and his fierce, wild, savage ways. I’m just telling you, so you know what I’m dealing with, that Lickety is one scary, ferocious, desperado.

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Don’t be fooled by the beached-whale pose. Lickety is gangsta.

So you can see how frightening it is when Lickety decides to supervise the writing process, up close and personal:

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And the way he just makes himself at home…

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…sometimes even getting his reprobate brother Taffy in on it…

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…oh, the horror.

 

 

Writing is the 6th Impossible Thing.

I’m always interested in how writers write. That’s why I am fascinated by their rough drafts:

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This (above) is a David Foster Wallace rough draft. Or, more accurately, it’s his notes for a chapter of one of his books. What interests me is that he’s not a linear list maker. He makes notes like a left-hander, rounding thoughts up in a non-hiearchical fashion, and then later culling those thoughts and hammering them into sentences and paragraphs. (Was David Foster Wallace left-handed? Stay here while I go check….

…I’m back. I couldn’t find any information about D. F. W.’s handedness but I’d be wiling to bet that he was a southpaw.)

Now, what I make of Marcel Proust…

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..is that the was a very organized thinker, and fearless about writing crappy first drafts (look at all that writing!) and passionate (all those huge vigorous Xs!) about editing out fluff or preciousness. I see that Proust wrote out all the bad ideas (the lightest and most fleet that come first to mind) and dug deep for the good stuff that lays low, in the back of consciousness.  It takes a lot of courage to not fall in love with your first concepts, to delete all the stuff that would have made your life easier if you had lower standards, pages and pages of it.

Here is Honore Balzac, correcting proofs:

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Back then, words must have looked so very, very different when seeing them in print for the first time, is how I account for these copious “corrections”. These days, the good old word processor gives you a sense of what cold, hard print looks like. Did I mention that I’ve been writing for days, weeks really, on end, trying to wrassle my Damn Garden Book into being? Writing makes me very tense. Very. Tense. But I’m on a word processor, so I get the shock of seeing my words in cold, hard print a.s.a.p. Yay for the modern age.

To soothe my nerves, I did paint an extra New Orleans picture…

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Truth is, so much less can go wrong with a painting than with a paragraph.

…but we’ll get back to that later. This is Don Delillo, whose books I do not read:

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And this is Chuck Palahniuk, also whose books I do not read:

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No judgment there against Don and Chuck, who are both literary and marketplace superstars, it’s just that reading fiction is a colossal waste of time. But I like following Chuck’s train of thought there, the one that ends with  “BOY IN COMA”. Fun.

I am an amateur graphologist, and the give away here (below) is the so-called “lyrical D“. That’s when the lower case “D” found at the end of a word resembles a musical note — see it?  I count eleven such lyrical D‘s here, in the words “and”, “world”, “wind”, “thread”, “round”:

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The “lyrical D” denotes a sensitive nature, a person whose general  wiftiness is because of artistic temperament, not stupidity. Not that these things aren’t mutually exclusive. The writer of all these lyrical D’s is…

…Walt Whitman.

So, as free-associative as his poems appear, they are actually meticulously composed, going by this rough draft.

Graphologically speaking, this next writer is very intellectual (vertical letter formation, straight downstroke formation to the lower case “Y”, very angular script). The “WAR IS PEACE” stuff gives it away:

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This is George Orwell’s rough draft for his novel, 1984. Raise your hand if you remember reading this in high school and thinking Jeeze…1984 is soooooo faaaar awayyyyyyy in the far, far future……Back in high school, I could not imagine a reality in which I would be 28 years old in 1984. But let’s not digress.

Next, we see that even geniuses revise:

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Yes, that’s Thomas Jefferson’s rough draft of the Declaration of Independence. I can imagine that when he wrote the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA in capital letters, he did so because the whole notion of a United States of America, the foreignness of those words, the power and danger of them, made his heart pound. He wanted to imagine what they would look like in print, he wanted to make monuments of those words. And yes, there’s that “lyrical D” again.

And then there’s the rough draft that shows the writer’s eternal obstacles and inconveniences, as seen here in a 14th century hand-lettered manuscript painstakingly inked by some anonymous monk or scribe,  recently discovered in some Ye Olde English archive, a vellum hand-bound book that has been gathering dust for centuries:

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Looks like Fluffy did a toe dance in the ink pot again.

It revives my faith in humanity, and not incidentally the written word, to see that literate men from time immemorial have chosen to share their intellectual lives and learned work and cloistered hearts with their pain-in-the-ass pet cats.

I have always said that I am a writer who illustrates. I say that because I wrote stuff long, long before I ever illustrated stuff. I only started to illustrate because I wanted to create a reading experience that depended on a visual element and I was the only illustrator who could stand to work with me. But let me be clear, as a person who does both: Writing is much, much, MUCH harder than illustrating. Paint is ten times easier to deal with than words, is all I’m saying.

Writing makes me very tense.

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If I’ve spent a day writing drivel and the obvious, I can’t sleep at night. If I paint a lousy picture, I forgive myself and try again; if I write a putrid sentence, I question my raison d’être.

Anyhoo. I wanted to show you, dear readers, my rough drafts. First, my rough draft is an actual physical object…it’s a three-ring binder notebook:

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Each page is held in a plastic sleeve, to protect the art work while I fiddle with the lay-out:

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First Chapter, above, Edinburgh — I map out each page, do the illustrations, and paste  in the text:

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The yellow Post Its (above, recto side — right hand page) show me how I need to format text when I do my next re-write. But since the illustration is the easy part, and since every writer worth her salt procrastinates the act of writing as long as possible, I do the illustrations first:

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This is the title page for the Rio de Janeiro chapter (above), and a two-page spread for the Rio garden for which I have not yet written text (below):

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More Key West with me being ever so clever with the horizon across two pages:

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Japanese garden pics, with space for text:

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London garden chapter:

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And a garden here on Long Island:

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You can see that I’ve tried to vary the way I do illustrations, give the reader a “chocolate box” reading experience (you never know what’s going to pop up, not literally, when you turn the page).

But I can not emphasize enough how horrible it is to write a book. I’ve been at it for a year and I am just now getting the hang of it. Last month I was so discouraged that I Googled my mood: miserable gardener. I wanted to see who out there in the universe shared my pain. Try it. Google miserable gardener and see what you get.

Alright, I’ll tell you. Here’s what you get:

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The miserable gardener is a pure bred border collie named Chess who gardens and blogs in the desert of Colorado. HE IS AMAZING. In addition to all kinds of expert info about Colorado gardening, Chess also blogs about the bunnies in his backyard:

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It’s been very hot in Colorado and this is how a bunny keeps cool.

And get ready for unbearable cuteness…Chess also blogs about     Baby      Bunnies:

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AND AND AND, recently Chess had a blog about something I’ve never ever ever seen before…

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BABY     BLUE     JAYS.

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I could keel over from the cuteness. Do drop by The Miserable Gardener (he’s actually not all that miserable) — or you can click here to catch up. You will be glad you did.

Thank you, dear readers, and deepest gratitude to all you wonderful Commentors, for your understanding and empathy for the loss of our dear Oscar. My mother reads this blog and she always tells me that I have the best Commentors on the interwebs. I agree. Merci.

And, since we haven’t painted together recently, I’m going to end this post with a French Quarter illustration I did last week when the writing was going nowhere. It’s times like that when I’m really glad I have a paint brush handy.

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Note the little bit of masking fluid I’ve laid down in the back ground. That little bit is really quite important to the picture. If I don’t get that right, the whole illustration will be useless.

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I find that painting a repetitive form, such as the black lines for these shutters and door frames, is very relaxing:

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It’s time to peel off the masking fluid and see if I can make this illustration work:

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This is a full page illustration — the blank space of the porch (called a gallery in New Orleans) will be filled with text. And yes, I keep a tape measure on my desk to get the dimensions, and I write accordingly. I decided to leave the hanging plant as is, which is very different than what I usually do — as an amateur illustrator I tend to paint a lot of detail; but this time I was struck by the free-ness of this plant so I didn’t go over it as I’d intended, and paint in fronds. I think it still works, as the picture already has enough frou frou with the cast iron, nest-ce pas?

I do not write in the same room in which I paint. How about I give you a tour of my writing room next week? Anybody interested in seeing that?  I will, of course, be accompanied  by my writer’s mandatory  pain-in-the-ass assistant:

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Lickety, showing off his ambidexterity.

Have a wonderful weekend, my dear readers, and see you next Friday.

(Note: Comments are open until 11:59 pm Tuesday, July 30.)