I Like Depcrepitude

I have to be honest with you today, Dear Readers. Last Week Top Cat bought me a gift from Ye Olde Fine Wine and Liquor Store: whipped cream flavored vodka from France. It was kind of a joke. I mean, really — whipped cream flavored vodka? Seriously. What would anyone over the age of 15 want with whipped cream flavored vodka?

Last night I opened my gift and discovered that whipped cream flavored vodka tastes like the best soda pop you’ve ever had; like liquid bubblegum; like cotton candy with ice cubes; like birthday cake in a glass. It was like drinking Pixie Stix, and we all know that Pixie Stix come in a six-pack. Last night it was all about the “whipped cream”.

This morning I am dealing with the “vodka” part of that equation. So, Dear Readers, please lower your expectations this morning, please don’t make any sudden movements, and please, I beg of you, keep anything foody or shiny out of my sight.

I’ve been meaning to talk about my love of decrepitude for a while, so it serves me right to make this the Topic of the Day.

I love decrepitude in a garden. Not ruin, not neglect, not that other thing that means something like disintegration. (My head hurts. I’m not going to spend much time this week searching for the mot juste.)

Wait. Let me start again.

I painted a remembrance this week, of a garden visit that I’ve always treasured for its beautiful decrepitude. It was a walled garden in London.


I’ve never painted decrepitude, but I had a feeling that it would involve a lot of yellowy rusty-colored blobs.


And scraggly shrubbery:


I tried to keep the yellows and the rusty bits composed because, while nature can get away with being monotonous, an illustration can’t. So I blobbed strategically.


See that blob in the lower right corner above?

Below, is me making that blob look sticky and brambly:


At this point, I was becoming concerned that there was a lot of same-old same-old brambly-ness going on:


Don’t ask me why, but I dotted in some white acrylic paint to brighten and break up the monotonous texture. I also started painting in the background, which I wanted to be really dark because the pic needs contrast:


This is me, making more sticks:


It’s really not that hard. Less is more. I have to keep reminding myself that.


I forget why I took this photo (below). I know I wanted to show something…


…maybe I wanted you to be inside this decrepitude, the way I was in my mind the whole while I was painting it. Because when you back away, like this…


…I think you lose the “there” there. This is one of those paintings that I hated to crop. I like the little dabs of try-out colors that all my watercolors have by the time they are finished. All that marginalia tells a story, the story of how this pic was painted.

So that’s my picture of decrepitude. I made a few more paintings like it, each one more or less, mostly less, successful in portraying the state of lovely decomposition that I call decrepitude. And “decomposition” isn’t the right word either.

This might be the hangover talking, because I’ve now passed the stage of intense, intense focus on not throwing up and am entering  the stage of recovery that the experts call “feeling weepy about climate change and the fate of the polar bears” but this garden didn’t want to be weedy and overgrown. It wanted to be beautiful, and be admired. It wanted to be great, like it once was. But it just didn’t have gardeners who loved it enough to keep it in shape. So there was something so brave and epic about the way it flourished, best it could.


Thank you for not making any loud sounds, or frying bacon, or asking me why I don’t remember buying that $495.00 paint-by-number Paris street scene off of eBay last night. Much appreciated.


An Effective Counter-Historical Narrative

I went to a day-long program at New York University in Manhattan last Friday, where I was in a room with at least 50 PhDs where things such as “an effective counter-hisotrical narrative”and “alternative epistemic machinery” were said. I loved it.


Mind you, it’s not that my own cat buddies …


… aren’t intellectually stimulating companions (they’re not)…


… but this program at NYU was all about decompiling computer history, a subject I had absolutely no interest in. So I signed up.

I boarded the 8:42 to Penn Station and sat my ass down from 10 – 6 to hear all about the textures of digitization in daily life, and the myths of internet infrastructure, and abstract unintuitive machines, and such. I am happy to report  that the lemma of American cultural imperialism is still alive and well, only this time it’s all MicroSoft’s fault.

Remember the good old days, when it used to be rock and roll that was going to take over the world and ruin culture for everybody? *Sigh* That was then.  These days, rock and roll has all the cultural hegemony of baton twirling.

Seriously, tho. The program brought together really REALLY smart people, and they all gave my brain quite a workout, which I admit has gone flabby in recent years. Last month, for example, I tried to figure out why Kate Hudson is launching a clothing line based on her “intuition as an athlete and a fashion lover”, and why kate Hudson is famous in the first place, and I just couldn’t do it.

So, please meet the brilliant thinkers who made me think hard about the things they think deeply about:

Here is what Jason Scott (below, in a photo that I took myself and didn’t have to grab from the inter webs), who is the world’s first and most famous archivist of the internet:


Kevin Driscoll (M.S. from MIT, Ph.D. from USC , D.J. from his being a millennial) from whom I learned about the effective counter-historical narrative in the context of myths concerning internet infrastructure:

driscoll_xorAnd superstar Stephanie Dick …

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 7.05.39 PM

… (Ph.D. Harvard, Alan Turing Centennial Fellow, and lots of other etc.’s), who talked about how the brute force of computer-done mathematic proofs are different from elegance of people-done mathematic proofs and how both embody an intellectual grace all their own, and since she’s a gifted mathematician herself  and as articulate as Neil deGrasse Tyson, she was analytically astute and cogent and AWESOME.

Ramsey Nassar …


… game designer, computer scientist, and the kind of Ph.D. that gets to dig deep into secret Ottoman archives in Beruit (maybe it was Constantinople) to discover the Arabian Turing Machine that challenges the entrenched MicroSoftic-imperialistic narrative of the history of computers. As an amateur linguist, I savored his short tutorial on the scriptural form (there isn’t any print form) and mechanics of the Arabic language.

Joy Rankin …


… (Dartmouth, Duke, MIT, and Yale for god’s sake!) who discovered how the  Minneapolis school system in the 1970s built a social network before there were personal computers . I know, I know…the 1970s…yawn. I get depressed every time I remember the 1970s. I was not on my game in the 1970s; but neither was the rest of America. And here’s Joy Rankin, born way after the hey day of Tony Orlando and Dawn,  researching the 1970s as if they were interesting. Way to go, future MacArthur Genius.

WHY WAS YOU THERE??? you may well ask. I was there to hear the one speaker whose work I was familiar with and am quite the fan of….


… the one and only Stacy Horn.

I know Stacy as the author of my favorite book of 2001 (see above, subtitled “A Morbid Memoir” but its not at all morbid, in my opinion, and is actually a lovely story about the meaning of life and cats).


Stacy is also the author of books about the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory and the cold case squad of the New York Police Dept.  Her most recent is Imperfect Harmony, about the psychological and physical well-being to be had from singing with others, based on her 30-years of singing with the Grace Church Choral Society (it’s not a religious book). When I discovered that she’d be speaking about the social network she founded way back in 1990, when she founded the first social network on the East Coast and (side bar) became the hottest IT babe in America (glamor shoots for Vanity Fair, Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, etc.), I HAD to be there.


These are NYU Ph.D. students (above) being captivated by Stacy’s program. Stacy’s talk was personal, historical, whimsical, and AWESOME. She was what everybody else was talking about: a pioneer in the making of computer history.


At the Q & A part of the program

What a joy it was for me to be breathing the same air as this group of people — speaking and listening — who were so intellectually engaged with the world. I always say that I need to get out of the house more often but I never would have thought that a program about decompiling computer history would make it so worth missing Judge Judy, but it just goes to show you.

Wherever smart people work, doors are unlocked.  (Steve Wozniak)

The thing about smart people is that they seem crazy to dumb people. (Anonymous, on a T-shirt)

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss celebrities. (Eleanor Roosevelt)

Smart people know that you can only believe half of what you are told. But only very smart people know which half. (Janina Ipohorska)

Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you.  (John Wooden)

Richard Branson, for example, is a total maverick but he surrounds himself with smart, successful people and he listens to them. (Brandon Burchard)

Smart people do amazing things against awful odds.  (Kim Harrison)

I think smart is sexy. I like smart people. People that are comfortable with themselves I think is very sexy. My cat is really sexy.  (Gina Gershon)





A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Triscuit Factory

Well. After spending four days slaving over a Book Cover painting that Bloomsbury rejected, I needed to retreat to my comfort zone. So bring on the Triscuit!





This is the third part of a Triscuit Tryptich for the New Orleans chapter of The Damn Garden Book:


Which brings me to a sad story. As you know, I have always called my Triscuit-sized miniature paintings “Triscuits”.

Fun Fact: Triscuits were the favorite snack cracker of the degenerate William Burroughs, who deciphered the etymology of his and my fave snack food as deriving from the French: Tres Cuit. Awesome.

Having endured a pseudo-trademark threat of legal action for a photograph I posted on my blog in 2012 (long story, TBA) I decided to make my relationship with Triscuit legit. I wrote what’s called a “begging letter” to get permission from a conglomerate called Mondelez (Mon-dell-ease) to use the name “Triscuit” in print and bloggy-type postings. I prepared a package that included my 2 books, each Post-It [Trademark] tagged for the pages that feature my “Triscuits”, and sent it hither to the land called The Nouveau Jersey.

I also included a fulll-color photocopy “gallery” of unpublished Triscuits, to impress Mondelez with my artistry:


Three months later I had a telephone conversation with a delightful representative on Mondelez who had reviewed my packet and request, and said that she could not offer me official permission to use the trademarked name “Triscuit”, but also would not bar me from using the trademarked name “Triscuit” either. She said, “Just use your best judgement.”

That is incredibly sweet. In other words, I’m allowed to use the term “Triscuit” in print and blog until Mondelez sends me a Cease and Desist order. I’m OK with that.

The downside of all this is that, ever since I took my original art in Triscuit form to Staples to get a color copy to include in my packet/plea to Mondelez (see above, photo of color copy of my gallery of Triscuits) , I have not laid eyes on these original Triscuits. Somehow, I have lost them all. I’ve called Staples to ask if my Triscuits were found in the color copier, and called them again, and called them again — the Print Dept. has been very kind about keeping all their staff alerted to any scum bag who might, just might, show up to return some original art work he found left behind on the Self-Serve color copier. I also have thrown TWO Find ‘Em parties in my house, and nope…nothing has turned up.

It’s been four months. I have numbed myself to the truth that these treasured Triscuits are gone forever.

Life is a mystery.

Anyhow, life goes on, and against Top Cat’s plea to Keep It Short, I am going to elongate this post for one more story.

I received a package in the mail yesterday, and when I ripped it open I found this:


Of course I recognized the handwriting, and the wonderful hand-wrapping:


I tore the gift paper apart (double-sided! Fancy!):


Turned the treasure over and voila:


If you have been following Liz Gilbert’s blog, you know that this is [an uncorrected proof for limited distribution/review only of] her hotly anticipated new book Big Magic; Creative Living Beyond Fear.

From what I’ve read so far, this book explodes with the charm and voice of her wonderful first-person self that we loved in Committed and Eat,Pray, Love. I will be devouring this book ASAP and I will be reporting on its wondrousness next week. Stay tuned.

P.S. Bloomsbury, having rejected my own  painstakingly awesome cover illustration (see last week’s post), just sent me their own idea of a book cover for The Damn Garden Book.  I must admit, it’s fabulous. It is sooooo much better than what I did. I love it. I’ll be showing you that, too, all in good time…all in good time.



Finishing The Hat

As you might remember, last week I left you with this incomplete painting for the cover of my Damn Garden Book:


What I am about to show you in this post took three days to accomplish, if “accomplish” is the right word. Hmmmm…let’s say that what I am about to show you took three days to ruin and rescue, ruin AGAIN and rescue AGAIN. And, by the way, in the end, my publisher didn’t care for it. Ha! I’m re-doing this baby over my shriveled with anxiety/exhausted by self-doubt remains!

I think most what I am about to show you is self-explanatory but it’s not very likely that I’ll be sitting around here, loading up the visuals, without butting into your experience of the ruin and rescue that is pretty much my bread and butter as an artist.

I begin by applying liquid masking fluid comme ca:

P1000911Joan, this is for you: When I turn on the light box, the sketch that I made on tracing paper appears, like magic, onto my 90-lb. watercolor paper (see below). I use this as a guide before I paint, but I must paint with the light box off (forgive me for repeating myself, but its the only way to see the true color of the paint).


I hum my Painting Stand-Out Leaves song as I paint what I hope will be stand-out leaves:


I have to constantly check the colors that I’ve already laid down on the other side, to make sure that I’m balancing light and dark greens, but not too balancing:P1000916

To get the dreamy look of blue-ish-green verdure that I love (but use sparingly), I have to work wet-in-wet:




I now have the idea of introducing yellow into the picture. I start on the previously painted side…


…and I put an equally bright yellow on my “new” side (see below). I also note that the “stand-out” leaves do not “stand out”, so I add one more blob of yellow to appease my sense of composition. first, I paint in a white undercoat with acrylic paint:


But I can tell that the undercoat is very, uh, textural (gloppy), so I cut out a poise and glue it into place:


(Jeanie: I use good old Elmer’s glue.) Please not the lovely blue-ish-green billow I put in above the yellow whatsits:


Since I am desperate to not screw up now, I do the sensible thing (for once) and I make a “practice” painting of the banana leaves I want to do next, to add some texture that will balance those spiky shoots across the way. Note how I edited out the droopy frond because it looks stupid:


It is obvious to me that I need to raise the banana leaves a little bit higher to balance — but not too balance — the composition:







Nope. It’s not right (see below). I’m starting my fourth day of painting this damn thing, and the first thing I realize is that all the stuff I had just put in isn’t enough to give this imaginary garden some pizzazz.  I need to go back and add some pizzazz elements down in the lower left hand corner. Yes, I will sacrifice my dreamy blue-ish-green billow for the good of the many:


I know exactly where to find my pizzazz elements — in my huge (note tea bag for scale) binder of failed illustrations that I never throw away — for exactly times like this:


I dig out a Japanese lantern, some spiffy striped leaves I saw all over New Orleans, and a poinsettia tree that I remembered from Rio, and I arranged them so I could see if that’s how I want to go:


Yep. That’ll do.

Because my brain is numb from how much damn time it’s taking to paint this damn thing, I become distracted by the sight of a very, very small beetle making his way across my desk, and I take pity on him. He looks faint with hunger, the way he is wobbling from step to itty bitty bitty step. So I go to the kitchen and I put a speck of honey on the tip of a knife, and I smear it on the desk. Mr. Beetle has no problem finding it (well, I did put it right in front of him).


Mr. Beetle eats, and then turns around and moseys off whence he came, and I still can’t face another whole day of painting in terror. So now is an excellent time for me to mention my new favorite TV show:


Google Images are really small.



I  totally escape when I watch this show. It’s about being the last survivor of a world-wide virus that has killed 99.9999% of humans. I watch it and my mind is completely soothed with its premise. Imagine. 99.9999% of humanity gone. Disappeared. Ceased to being.

No war. No terrorists.  No Kardashians. No slow drivers in the left lane. No rappers. No politicians. Ahhhhhh. What a paradise. Seriously. I project all my anxieties into this TV show, and the silence and emptiness that comes back to me is Nirvana. I also laugh out loud at the hi-jinks which ensue when one is The Last Man on Earth.

I’m also a fan of Kristen Schaal, who is one of the leads:


Even thinking about The Last Man of Earth puts me in a good mood. I’m even almost ready to go on with this post!

However, my sweet Top Cat is always urging me to Keep It Short so, this is a fine time to take a break from reading, maybe dial up The Last Man on Earth on your On Demand channel, and continue with Part II in the post that follows this one when you are ready for more damn painting.



Where There Never Was A Hat

Picking up where we left off: I’m about to have a heart attack because I can’t seem to get this book cover painting done right the first OR second time arrrrrghghghghghghghghg.


I am now starting my third day of painting. I am so intent on seeing if I can make the big changes that need to be made on this thing that I FORGET to take pictures of the process until I’m at the very end:


As you can see, I’ve cut out a nice arrangement of these stripy New Orleans leaf-plants and glued them on top of my beautiful blue-ish green billow. The I painted a  Japanese lantern, cut it out, made a slot for it to slip in behind the white hollyhocks or whatever you them, and put it in place. And then I felt I needed two more stripy leaves, and arranged them in front of the lantern, as you see above. Ta-Da:


Now I see that the tree and the background blobby (on the right) ruins the whole pic. I am totally depressed by this and I know I need a shot of something to lift my spirits but, sadly, I cannot cocktail-ify and paint at the same time so I wipe my tears and Do What Needs To Be Done.








Oh crap. Although I’m not yet committed to this patch-up (it’s still a loose piece of cut-up watercolor paper), I can see that if I want to commit to it I’ll have to blue-up the “sky” under the palm tree to balance the amount of blue paint I’ve unintentionally loaded up under my wisteria arbor:


This is tricky, but luckily I bought a  new paint brush and it’s working like a beaut!



Whew. Nothing bled. Next step, remove masking and paint in wisteria:


It looks OK to me.

P1000999So NOW I commit and glue the cut-out in place (Yes, Joan; sadly, cutting out and gluing over is the only tried and true method for me). Then I do some blending-in painting:


I check again, and it looks like I need to take away some of the foliage from the arbor. For this, I break out the acrylic paint:


I use the acrylic here because I’m not going to paint anything over it, so I don’t care how gloppy it is. When the pic is scanned and digitized, it will be easy to white-out this mess when they do touch-ups (usually, in my case, to remove scotch tape marks and cat hair stuck in such tape).

Jeanie asked how my cut-outs can look so seamless when done. First, it’s because nobody who looks at an illustration is looking for cut-outs. Second, it’s because I do my best to blend in the cut-outs and I must say, I do it very well. Lastly, it’s because when the piece is scanned, out gets a crazy amount of light that negates the tell-tale shadows of cut-outs and, when it’s inspected for publication, any tiny shadow or blip can be digitally erased.

P. S. White-on-whte cut-outs are the hardest to camouflage.

FINAL STEP: The overhanging boughs. Here?


Or here?
P1010008The stakes are high. These leaves can NOT go wrong. There is no place to start over, fix, or re-do if I screw up these leaves. So I make another sketch:


I can’t put it off any longer. I have to start painting these final, fateful leaves. I take it s-l-o-w. I remember to breathe. I steady my hand.



Welcome to my Gardens of Awe and Folly!!!

Yes, I see a few more things that need minor touch-ups (those wisteria flowers were not worth going to all the trouble of honing a toothpick after all — they need to be beefed up). But alas, my work is done and I’m happy. The way I arranged the title, sub-title, and author name was all up to me, and I decided that this is the lay-out that works best.

And yes, Bloomsbury wasn’t thrilled with it. They want something more, something that will add a note of exotic travel. I say it can’t be done. I say it doesn’t have to be done — the word “traveler” is in the subtitle.

But that’s for next week. Today, Dear Readers, we celebrate Friday with an ice cold beverage that makes us feel as if we are The Last Man on Earth. Or whatever your own fantasy of paradise is.


It’s Book Cover Painting Time!

*** Oooops! I forgot to open the Comments!***

***As of 2:30 pm Friday Comments are open for five days!***

Don’t worry, Dear Readers. Taffy has been fed and watered to his liking this morning so we will be undisturbed for the duration of this post by a pesky but-insky buff-colored kitteh. I think. I hope.

Last week I showed you some book cover ideas that I had sketched out. They are only sketches, the roughest of ideas. And after some discussion with my book editor and the art department and the marketing staff, we all decided that this was the most user-friendly:


P.S.: the title of the book is not Garden Book. That’s what we call a “place holder” until I come across the brilliant title that my editor and the marketing department and the sales department all agree is the perfect “selling” title. (P.S.: I already have that title, which I will unveil at a future date. Note to Joan: Shshshshshshshhhh.)

Anyhoo. Bloomsbury has asked me to give them an actual book cover by April 10, in time for the company’s international sales rep meeting, to have something to show them to get them excited about The Damn Garden Book. So now it’s time for me to turn a rough sketch into a finished work.

First, I made another rough sketch, based on the previous half-baked idea (see above). This time I thought harder about colors, textures, composition, and the limits of my own skills:


I cut out the area that I’d have to keep blank for the title, sub-title, and author’s name; now I know exactly what kind of “frame” I have to design around. For this sketch, I am picturing specific flowers, plants, shrubs, and trees.

The next step is to draw the actual flowers, plants, shrubs, and trees in the forms that I will actually paint:


I drew this all on tracing paper because I intend to paint it on a light box:


I will paint the right side of the cover first because I am left-handed.

But before I can apply paint I have to use masking liquid to reserve areas that I want to paint over. Here I am reserving flower shapes — using a toothpick — on the bottom edge of the cover:


I turn off the light box when I apply color because if I left it on, I wouldn’t be able to see the true value of the hue.


With a tooth pick that I careful trimmed to a fine point, I next lay down more masking liquid in the hopes of achieving a neat-o effect…an effect that I haven’t tried much, and which has never turned out all that appealing before. if I mess it up, there’s not a lot to lose: I’ll just start all over (big whoop — I have so far used up only 15 minutes of my life).



I like it! Then I remembered that I should have left masking over the topper-most fleurs, to “save” them from the next application of paint, so I had to go back and re-mask. But so far, I’m very happy with the experiment.


I like seeing stems, so I try another way of making them, this time just by drawing pencil lines over a layer of green-yellow watercolor and painting in the negative space (see green leafy plant below):


And next, just so the illustration won’t look like it was painted by a two-trick pony, I try out another experiment. I do a light wash and then I “pick up” bits of wet paint with a bit of rolled-up TP. I have never done this technique before, but I’ve thought it out carefully, and I think I can pull it off.


WHEW. So far, I haven’t wrecked the pic (see below)…so far. (I will be leaving in all the masking I’ve applied in the various areas until I get to the end of this day’s work.)


I want to put in some long spiky leaves here to add texture to the image. I have no idea how to do long spiky leaves, but you know me: Let’s give it a whack. See what happens. You ever know. Maybe I’m a genius on a roll.




These long spiky leaves (below) look terrible. So guess what time it is! It’s time for a rescue!!




Yes. This is much more like it:


By the way, from here on in I can not use the light box because of the double layer of watercolor paper that I have to use in order to salvage this operation.


I forgot to take photos of how I painted in a very pale blue sky atop the greenery above, and over the top of the image, across to the other side,but it’s there. I need a sky because I am proceeding to the point in the composition were I need to paint in background stuff against a blue sky. Also, I didn’t think it would look right to paint a “garden” like this against an all-white background (as in original sketch).

So. On to the final touches of Side One:


Lastly, remove all masking, step back, and reveal:


I like the white “flowers” so much that I’m thinking about leaving them as is. I had wanted to paint this with a very [seemingly] light touch, and I’m happy that I’ve been able to rein in my tendency to over-saturate my colors. I think that so far, it’s good.

From here on in, messing up is not an option.There are hanging branches with leaves that I want to paint over the blue sky on this side (see original sketch idea, way above, with hanging leaves on the left side — those are the leaves I want to paint) , but I need to rest. This has taken me 4 1/2 hours to paint — something of a speed record for me because I dried all the paint and masking liquid with a hair dryer.

I don’t usually use a hair dryer because I don’t have the outlets (I live in a 100-year old house) but for this I used two extension cords to plug my Conair into the guest room’s outlet across the hall.

And no, there is not path (see original sketch idea, way above) because I couldn’t figure out a way to insert it into this composition without lousing up the perspective, which is tilted forward, towards the viewer (which you might have not noticed).


But Taffy did.

I am Taffy.

I am hungry.


I am Taffy and I am hungry.

This is my bowl.


I cannot eat this stuff. It was poured from the big bag of stuff an hour ago. I cannot eat hour-old food.

Miss Lady who feeds me is says that she not running a catering business here, she say she busy, very busy, because she working on book cover designs and cannot keep running into kitchen to check on every cat’s latest whim.

Swift Garden Book Cover 1P1000607



But I see her. She not busy. She just binge watching House of Cards. She not feeding me. I cannot allow this. I am Taffy. I am head honcho of my herd. I show you my herd.

This Bibs. This me, advising Bibs to get off of my pink blankie. Nobody allowed to sleep on my pink blankie on top of UPS box.


Only I am.



I am best cat when it comes to sleeping with style.


I can make sleep out of anything. Even on the Adirondak chair cushions what are resting on a dining room chair. Dining room table is not my favorite pillow, though.


This Penelope:


Penelope. She nice cat. She never try to sleep on my pink blankie on top of UPS box, what is all mine.

This Cindy:


Why she not share her sunbeam is because she not very nice.

This is Coco:


Coco is not nice. She have her own Ikea chair with heating pad and clean blankies because she very, very old.  She is senior citizen cat. She very cranky. Coco has special room she share with Miss Lady, all private and quiet.  I bet Miss Lady don’t let her go hungry staring at hour-old food is all I’m saying.

This my mama:


She is most beautiful mama in the world. Miss Lady  call her Candy but I call her mama. She very good mama. She is nice to Bibs because Bibs don’t have a mama.

This my brother, Lickety, on very last day of Winter:


I keep eye on him because my mama tell me to be good big brother to idiot sibling. He think he fierce.


He never catch birdie in his life because he way too fat to gain speed on even dumb pigeon. Is hilarious to see, when Fatso think he fierce. But lordy, it takes much energy to watch over him. Is why I am hungry.

Is been hard Winter.


I do not approve of hard Winters.


But all my herd is safe and sound even after First Day of Spring snow storm, when I should been off-duty from watching over idiot sibling but I save him from frostbite anyway.


And instead of medal, Lady Miss give me hour-old food and make me go hungry.  Is that nice? I ask rhetorically.


Is time to mind meld with Miss Lady who feed me.

Go to Kitchen. Feed hungry kitty.

Go to Kitchen. Feed hungry kitty.

Go to Kitchen. Feed hungry kitty.

Wait…is working! Miss Lady in kitchen now! Miss Lady getting out new bowl! Miss Lady pouring new stuff from big bag of stuff! Miss Lady putting bowl in front of me!



This will not do. This stuff came from top of big bag of stuff.

I want stuff from middle of bag.


Sigh. I am Taffy. I am apply for new job, as head honcho of new herd. You got job opening for me?


The Situation is Dire.


My WiFi is not letting me upload photos for today’s post,

and these are my I.T. guys:

P1000627As soon as the site unfreezes

(my backup plan is to rely on global warming)

I will have a an amazing story to tell you,

another mountain made outta my molehill life.

I Hate Spring and Cardinals Are Stupid.


When I start a blog post, I usually put a “place-holder” title on it because great titles don’t just pop into my head (I still have no title for The Damn Garden Book) so I have to wait until the end of the writing to squeeze something appropriate out of my brain. But today I’m leaving my place-holder title in place. Another Winter storm is heading our way. And it’s the first day of Spring.

And cardinals really are quite stupid.

The predicted snow fall will not make life hard for small woodland creatures. However, the predicted 4 inches will make me, a lesser form of squirrely, really pouty.


These pictures are from the last blizzard of (technically) Winter, on March 4, 2015.


I did not care for that blizzard. But at least Winter has a personality — with all the depths and beauty of a fully-formed season: wordlessly wonderful snowscapes, tingly cold, demon slush, etc. Same with Summer: she keeps you enthralled, from the first firefly, to the scent of the shade of an elm tree, to the last thunderstorm. And Fall! Fall is bursting with personality! Color! Mood! Harvest!

But Spring? Spring starts as a wimpy-ass end of Winter, continues as a sloppy mud fest of thaw, drags its feet getting to warm weather, and flounces around with a few weeks of buds that die and become botanical litter. The best you can say about Spring are those days when you think it looks the most like Summer. It has no real personality of its own, it’s all for show, and it’s mucky.

Spring. The Kim Kardashian of seasons.


So on March 4, I surveyed the situation, which was not to my liking, and predicted that there was no way all that snow could melt by the first day of Spring.


This is my patio on the afternoon of March 5:


The wooden box was one of our birdseed-putting stations.

This is what my patio looked like on March 18:


Some birds dislike on-the-brick feeding.

This is what that trash can looked like on the morning of March 5:


So big deal. For the first half of the first day of Spring, our patio was snow free. By tomorrow it will be covered with 4 inches of snow.

This is our cardinal, three days ago, hopping amidst the left-over birdseed from the dearly departed snow on the patio:


He’s thinking, Didn’t there used to be food here? Where did it go??? I’m looking everywhere, and it’s gone! Where????


He never did find that tray of fresh birdseed that I had cleverly hidden from him in plain sight.


True story. I watched that cardinal search the whole patio.

This is the back fence stick pile o/a February 20:


This was it on the last Wednesday of Winter:


Yesterday I took this picture of the new hot spot on our patio:


It doesn’t look like much, for now. But wait for it:






This is one happy, Spring-flinging kitty cat.

I don’t have the heart to tell him it’s going to snow today.


I Hoard My Mistakes for the Good of My Art


This was going to be so much fun. As you know, I lost the London chapter of my Damn Garden Book last week, and it was still lost even after I’d done a middling-thorough search of my workroom.  I concluded that the London chapter had been accidentally buried deep within one of the piles and files (thanks for that, Gigi) that surround me in my workroom.


So, last Saturday morning I made myself a cup of tea (I also brought a back-up beverage in case the going got really tough) and I began my down-to-the-studs search. This was going to be such fun because, as I documented the piles and files of my room [with these photos] you and I, Dear Readers, were going to laugh, and laugh, and laugh when we finally unearthed the London chapter from one of these unsuspecting piles or files.

I was just about to do my chant: Tony, Tony, look around

Something’s lost that must be found  (thank you, Rachel!)


And then Top Cat called to me from his man cave, “Honey, I found the London chapter.”

Seems to me that I had had the London chapter in my hand one day when I must have been distracted by either a cat or a bird at the feeder at the picture window and set down those damn pages on Top Cat’s coffee table / feet-putting-up apparatus, upon which he had subsequently piled junk mail and To Do Lists atop. This is what the London chapter looks like:


WHEW. Top Cat’s timing is always perfect. I thank DoG that he found it before I’d torn all  my piles and files apart to no avail. I spent the past Mon-Fri writing the London chapter and it was a non-stop delight. WHEW.

Anyhoo, now that the London chapter was found, I was able to spend my weekend rescuing this:


This was a full-page (9 inches high, 8 inches wide) illustration I had done for the London chapter back in April of 2012, back when the London chapter was just a figment of my imagination.

I thought it was OK…but I looked at it again and thought it might work better as a half-page pic so I cropped it thusly:


I also thought that I’d make the lines of my drawing more artsy by using a fun new brush/pen gizmo I’d just bought but, as you can see, that technique only highlighted my inability to draw architecture. This pic was toast.

But I never throw out my mistakes, because you never know, you know?. So I put this in the file where I store all my bad ideas and there it sat, for about three years.

And then it came time to start writing the London chapter for reals, so I pulled out this old piece of toast and gave it a good thinking.


I needed a full-page (see 9″ x 8″ sheet of Canson 90lb. above) illustration for the title page of the London chapter, a picture that said, in a glance:


Walled backyard gardens in the city

This pic was on the right track. It just needed a tiny rescue to make it work.

The first thing I had to do was figure out what to cut out of the old pic. Tracing paper was my main tool:


Then I had to position the fragment into the composition that was in my mind:


Then I drew the composition that was in my mind:


And then I re-drew it because my first attempt looked stupid (did I mention that, as an illustrator,  architecture is my kryponite?) :


I began to draw the proposed comp onto the Canson 90lb working surface.


It needed re-doing, which I did, even tho the erasures made the working surface unusable:


Well, as you can see, after working for three and a half hours on this I still could not figure out the perspective or the architecture, so I decided to sleep on it and start over the next day.

Here’s the reason (other than my total lack of drafting skill) why this side of the illustration was so hard to get right:


I took this photo from the third floor balcony  of the Chelsea/Knightsbridge flat of a friend. This was on one of my Summer visits, back in the days of the late ’90s and early ’00s when I would go to London for long weekends. London was where I would get into mischief, back in the late ’90s and early ’00s.

I also have a Winter version of the same scene:


I also have sunset and dusk versions, nighttime versions, stormy weather sky versions, etc. I loved that view. I loved those walled backyards and the private forests contained within.

When I first illustrated this view, I used the whole photo but (see above) that Edwardian town house facing on the left side of this pic is more architecture than I can handle.  I also wanted to emphasize the walled gardens more, that is, I wanted to elongate the verdure and turn the Ed. town house around…all of which I had to make up.

And the quasi-bird’s eye perspective is very tricky.

So, I started all over again the next morning:



Yes, the perspective is still wonky (I forgot to tell you that researching typical London buildings so I could imagine them in place in this composition takes hours or, at least, more than one). But I hope to disguise that by distracting the viewer with lots of other cool things going on in the pic.

After I had the framework pencilled onto the Canson 90lb. work surface, I went to work on the background that had to scream LONDON:


This, too, took hours to research on the inter webs. I knew that most of the landmarks just ad to suggest St. Paul’s, or the Tower Bridge, or the Tower, or castles… but I had to get Big Ben 100% right, and Big Ben was murder to get right.





From here on in, the rest of the pic was a breeze. Note here how I am beginning to rescue the cut-out:


Without the direct sunlight shadowing it, the cut-out is an easy rescue:





I might have to kill a few bits of the background. I think it’s too much London.

Altogether, this rescue took two days and 8 hours. Are you wondering why, considering how little of the original pic I kept, why I didn’t just re-do the whole kit and caboodle? It’s because re-drawing the buildings on the right would have been unbearably boring for me, and I’ve come to suspect that I just like the challenge of a rescue.

It’s not my usual style, to combine a line drawing with watercolor like this, but I think it works as a way to make the pic more fantastical (and so hide my poor architectural drafting) and to highlight the walled gardens — painting the buildings, even with a light wash, would make the pic too busy.

The blank space at the bottom is where the chapter title and sub-title go.

I think the pic works.