Thank you, Michelle (Mihaela) , for this beautiful picture of the GoAaF. What a great idea for an Instagram: beautiful photos of books and cups of tea. OK,now I get it.

Dear Reader of this blog Elizabeth emailed this Instagram pic to me on a day when I needed a little bit of applause in my life — good timing, Elizabeth; Thank you, too.

Last week I also got the proof for the Korean-language edition of Le Road Trip:

I can’t read Korean, but it seems that there are a lot more words in the Korean edition than in the English one that I wrote. But it’s plain to see that it’s a superb-looking production and I am very grateful to the publishers in Seoul for their care and consideration.

These were the bright spots in a challenging week. Mr. Fluffy (see: last week’s stray cat found in my back yard) went to the vet on Monday and had some health issues (infection, anemia) that kept him in the hospital for five days, but he’s on the mend and I am looking forward to getting him placed in a forever home soon. Of course I had hoped, as soon as I found him, that he’d be chipped for easy identification, but I wasn’t too hopeful: a person who doesn’t bother to get his cat neutered is not likely to bother getting the same cat chipped. Mr. Fluffy was not chipped.

The other dark cloud in my week as how I was not able to paint one single decent picture this week. It’s when I paint like this . . .

. . . that makes me wish I worked at Dunkin Donuts. Because isn’t everyone who stops by Dunkin Donuts in a good mood? Is there anything about selling glazed donuts that doesn’t make the world a better place?

That (above) was my first try. Shame on me that I didn’t spot the craptitude until I’d got to that point, after committing quite a bit of time to this image. So I put this picture aside and spent a day practicing how to make those spikes of light green leaves popping up in a row look convincing. What I’m trying to do, BTW, is a Summer view of Monet’s grand allee, when the iris are in bloom, which you might know better from the Spring versions of this scene that I have painted previously, back when I knew how to paint:

I might have to call QUITS on this Summer view, because my second attempt was hardly any better:

I think my time would have been better spent gorging on glazed donuts.

I have looked through my reference photos of Monet’s garden from my visit of May 2013 for an alternative view of the allee, and I’m partial to this:

Oh wait, That’s not in Monet’s garden — that’s 5 o’clock at my beautiful B&B, Le Coin des Artists, on the Rue Claude Monet in Giverny. Those fluffy ears you see at the far end of the table belong to this handsome fella:

ANY HOO, getting back in Monet’s garden, I’m thinking of doing this:

Except that it’s already been done. . . 

. . . by Fabrice Moireau in his beautifully illustrated book Le Jardin de Claude Monet:

I came across this book last month in the inter webs and I almost gave up trying to paint Monet’s garden — who wants to go where Fabrice Moireau has already gone??

It was when I got this book in my hands that I was relieved to discover something about M. Moireau that makes room for my little contribution to the Monet garden illustration world. M. Moireau is nothing but amazing when it comes to painting architecture, as you can see in this pic of Monet’s kitchen:

BUT, and this is just me talking here, and I’m nobody with the kind of cred that Fabrice Moireau has, BUT his garden paintings are, well, lacking. They not just as strong as his architectural stuff. Compare (above) to this:

I know what Monet’s all looks like in September, when the bright orange and red nasturtiums are filling in the allee and the color scheme of the flower bends alongside it are warm hues of yellow and scarlet, and this doesn’t do it for me. This is how I see it:

I should note that repetition of M. Moireau’s subject matter is hard to avoid because there are a limited number of garden paths in Monet’s garden from which to take a view.  In the Water Garden the situation is even more dire. There is only one main path to take around the pond, so everyone tends to get the same views. For example, the view of the famous Japanese bridge that I painted last month:

And M. Moireau’s take on the same view:

I know exactly where we were both standing when we took in this scene. But as you can see, M. Moireau pulled back his point of view much farther than I did. I thought I’d show this painting for Dear Reader Jeanine, to show how one artist coped with all those damn background trees in Monet’s garden.

You can see that M. Moireau made the decision to leave the willow trees (on the right side of his pic) undifferentiated, and to paint in more detail the Copper Beech and what I think are maple trees. I think this is a curious decision to make, because it’s the willow trees that give the Water Garden its “oomph”, n’est-ce pas? But I assume that M. Moireau is making decisions that play to his strengths as a painter (don’t we all?) and M. Moireau is very good at painting Copper Beeches and the like. But there you are, Dear Reader Jeanie: massive background foliage.

Speaking of “playing to your strengths”, let’s take another look at the way M. Moireau did the allee of Monet’s garden:

Notice how he has emphasized the the foreground in this composition. Notice that the foreground contains the architectural elements that M. Mireau is so fantastically adept at painting: the hand railings to the staircase to Monet’s front door, a stair, a bench; the foreground also shows some indistinct [lame] stuff that seems to be white flowers on either side of the staircase which are there, it seems to be, to take up space.  M. Moireau is also very good at painting [certain kinds of] trees — so the big yew trees at the top of the allee take up another big chunk of the pic. What’s left, in my option, squeezed into the narrow band in the middle of the pic, is very little information about one of the most stunning features of Monet’s garden — those amazingly curated color fields of flowers that line the allee. Why? Because M. Moireau doesn’t “do” flower beds.

But man, can that guy paint Paris!

In my humble and respectful opinion, M. Moireau, as an unparalleled artist of urban landscapes and the premier painter of architectural subjects, was the wrong guy to let loose in Monet’s garden.

He should have been sent to Villandry:

As for me, I am going to send myself back to the drawing board and give the allee another chance. Maybe I’ll find a way to paint to my strengths. And if not, I will live to my strengths and find a cat to give a lap to, sip a cup of tea, stuff myself with glazed donuts, complain about the world, and then take a nap, all of which I am very good at.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

 

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So this showed up in my backyard last Tuesday:

But I had nothing to fear, thanks to my crack team of Security Experts (Taffy and Bibs), who utilized their best Stink Eye maneuver to keep The Dastardly Mr. Fluffy at bay. . .

Mr. Fluffy is actually a very sweet kitty who is obviously a lost house cat. But he’s long overdue for his rendezvous with destiny so I’ve made appointments for him too visit the vet, to make him less likely to roam; unfortunately it’s not until Wednesday. Riding herd on a randy Tom Cat is, honestly, more work than I am in the mood for. We’ve searched for flyers and “Lost” posters in the neighborhood but no one seems to be missing this sweetie and NO, we are NOT looking for ANOTHER cat to add to our posse so if anyone knows of anyone who would like to adopt a smart and gentle Maine Coon, I will personally deliver within a 90-mile radius of Oyster Bay, Long Island.

The news came a few hours after I posted last week’s blog that der Drumpf’s idiotic health care repeal had been effectively defeated by his own party. Oh, lordy, it was just what the doctor ordered: a big fat dose of relief and overjoy! Because of this gift of uplift I am a better, kinder person: I sing to myself, I turn on You Tube and dance, I give people the benefit of the doubt (at least half the time, no matter how un-freaking deserving they are of my patience and I’m talking to you, lady at Costco who held up the checkout line while you searched the boggy depths of your handbag for the elusive credit card that you should have had ready in your hand because, surprise, it’s the CHECK OUT LANE), I foster stray cats when I need another cat in this  house like I need a hole in the head, I am delighted by the small moments of pleasure that have gone unnoticed in these past four months, and I sleep at night like I’m in the middle of a kitty puddle of snooze:

I even got word of a debut novel about another sexually-abused autistic teenager and did not despair for what passes as literature these days. At least there’s not a dog fight in it, or a multi-generational saga from the mean streets of Detroit. See? I’m all about the silver linings!

Last Christmas someone gave Top Cat a gift certificate to Red Robin restaurant. Top Cat and I are not Red Robin kind of people. But last Friday we were in a good mood and decided to not be ourselves and we went for a dine-out at the local Red Robin. I don’t know why these kinds of places are in business when there’s a perfectly authentic Cajun restaurant in a trailer not two miles away, but there you are. Before I received my cold black beans and barely warm “mac’N’cheese” (it was elbow macaroni smothered in a lukewarm cream sauce of some kind) I was served a glass of chardonnay in the filthiest tumbler I have ever seen this side of a Bangalore recycling bin. I handed the foul vessel back to the waiter and yet, I was still in such a good mood that I privately thanked the slovenly bartender for disgusting me — no overindulging on Happy Hour wine for V. Swift, that’s for sure! In fact, I think I might be sober the rest of my life. All I have to do is conjure up the memory of that spittle-encrusted glass and I turn into a tea totaler. At the end of our “meal” at Red Robin we had a largish balance on this gift certificate, which Top Cat gave to the waiter because neither of us has any intention of ever returning to this place ever again.

I should mention that it is cold and rainy today here on the Isle of Long, as I type this on Friday morning. Every cat-body is in the house today, as it is too gloomy and muddy to be prancing around the estate, so that in addition to the regular crew of six who inhabit these rooms, plus the guest in the downstairs powder room, I have the neighbor’s cat, Dennis, in for day care:

Dennis is such a frequent visitor that he has his own spot, on his own pillow atop a cabinet in the basement.

Steve showed up on the front porch as usual for breakfast, but has since then been curled up in his cubby in the garage, that’s how lousy the weather is today:

But it’s still sunshine and flowers in VivianWorld, which I was able to paint this week!

I have to remind you that I am actually not a painter, I am an illustrator, and as such I hack my watercolor to get certain effects. Last week I wanted to paint flowing water, and here’s how I hacked it:

I used masking fluid to map out some “swirls” in the water:

Then I removed the masking fluid, exposing the white, unpainted paper underneath:

Then I painted in a thin, color-matched line inside the empty space:

I turned the picture on its side, just as shown here, because it’s easier to paint these lines smoothly when you use your brush in an up-and-down motion, rather than a side-to-side (if you ask me). Here’s how it looks with painted-in:

I think this is a perfectly fine facsimile of rippling water, and it couldn’t be easier!

DONE:

Remember, I have a darling Maine Coon kitty that needs a home and forget about the 90-mile limit I posted (above). I once drove a cat to Rhode Island (where he found his perfect forever people) so I’m willing to go as far as one tank of gas in my hybrid car. That’s about 550 miles. OK, two tanks if you have the perfect forever home for this guy.

Have a great weekend, everyone — do a Happy Dance against der Drumpf!

 

 

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One year ago, on March 16 2016, I took a look at my life and decided that Things Had To Change:

This was the day, last March 19, when I did my semi-annual bottle return on my empty Fresca cans. Note: I live in New York state, on the USA, where recycling empty soda cans and bottles is mandatory and for which we consumers pay 5 cents per container upon purchase, which we get back when we drop off the empties to appointed recycling locations. I think I made close to $170 on this haul.

This is when the reality of all those cans of soda, ingested one by one by yours truly, every morning (Ah! Is there is anything better than an ice cold can of Fresca with breakfast?) and once or twice during the day for the past three years, hit me as a regrettable life style choice on my part. All that ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, all those doses of brominated vegetable oil, all that gunky acesulfame potassium, not to mention the aspartame that breaks down into formaldehyde in the body (Wait. Isn’t that a preservative? And shouldn’t that help me look forever 57?) and the citrus acid that made me teeth hurt — that made for quite a swill in my guts. And I pride myself on having swill-free guts.

So I quit, that very day, cold turkey. Since then I have not had so much as a SIP of Fresca, going on for 368 days now. Yay me.

It’s not much, to kick a Fresca habit, but the news has been so very, very bad this week that I needed a win and this is all I got: Fresca.

Well, here’s some good news: Monet’s garden in Giverny opens to the public TODAY!

I know this because I read Ariane, Guide to Giverny, who lives in Giverny and wanders through the Clos Normand and the Water Garden throughout all the months of the year knows the ins and outs of this garden as well as Monet himself — catch up with her latest wanderings in her English language blog here. Or, if you want to really delve into the subject, try her wonderful blog in French, Giverny News. Whenever you feel like you wish you were back in Giverny, Ariane’s blogs will take you there, so what are you waiting for?

Speaking of Monet’s Water Garden, I took a shot at painting a lily pond view of his famous Japanese bridge this past week. The view includes the dreaded Copper Beech, so I did a preliminary test of color blobs before I began to paint:

The famous willow tree, working wet-in-wet:

Remove masking fluid, Phase I:

Paint in bridge:

I made the decision here that I can’t deal with all the vegetation in this view — it gets very repetitive and BORING — so I am going to mess around and use my pencil drawing to “fill in” the rest of the landscape. Also, I think that leaving so much white space makes the view more interesting, and makes me almost not hate that damn Copper Beech.

Now, paint in water. This is the trickiest part, because you have to paint in lots of reflections, and some how blob green paint into rose and blue watercolor, a color combination that will make a nice muddy brown if you don’t do it right. It helps greatly if you’ve done this kind of thing mucho times before, and you know both the saturation point of your paper and the timing of each blob of color so it doesn’t make soup:

Remove masking fluid, Phase II:

Paint water lilies:

And DONE:

Monet water lily pond

Dear Readers, how you doing? It’s been a tough week. Don’t get me started. I knew it was going to be a tough year (or four) when I started a Happiness Jar on New Year’s Day:

Yep. That’s all I got. Two notes, commemorating two moments of joy so far this year. Oh, wait. I forgot to write about those Southern-fried pickles I had on Mardi Gras. So that’s three moments of joy, in 83 days.  Actually, I think that’s pretty damn good going, for a Capricorn, in the time of der Drumpf. We have a habit of thinking the worst of people and things. Because we’re only being realistic.

But this is an amazing world so you never know how much things can get better, all of a sudden. You could be walking in the woods, on some fine Spring day, and you look up, and there’s a red panda:

It could happen.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers.

And der Trumpf is still an oozing stinking pustule of scum.

 

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The big news this past week was the very very late Winter blizzard that threatened to ravage America, burying us east coast liberal snots in a thousand feet of snow. On the eve on the Great Snow Day of 2017, I set out my Champagne-O-Meter in the backyard:

Taffy prepped in his own way:

We heard the storm blow in around midnight, rattling all the windows with dire gusts of wind and sleet, and then dawn of the Great Snow Day of 2017 broke:

Top Cat lit a fire in the living room, all the kitties gathered ’round, we made pots of tea and loaves of toast and read our books and napped (I had a dream that I taught sign language to a cartoon octopus) and made more toast and tea. The snow kept falling, but it was mixed with icy rain, which was very heavy and compressed the previous layers of fluffy stuff so that the total accumulation was much less than anticipated, but had the density of concrete. At 3PM I fetched the Champagne-O-Meter from the backyard and lo, the bubbles were good and icy:

We went through 12 pounds of bird seed during this storm, trying to keep all our feathered friends well fueled to ride out this cold snap:

I also bought new straw to put in some additional layers of insulation in Steve’s cubby in the garage and he’s been curled up in it for the past three days:

But I’m not here just to bring you a weather report. I have a story to tell you, a story that is 33 years in the making, if my math is right. It starts in yon olden days of 1984.

When my sister Buffy went to see Monet’s garden in Giverny in May of 1984 she brought back the official souvenir book of the Foundation Claude Monet, which shows the gardens to be in a very skimpy state of restoration. Evidence this photo of the apple tree espaliers:

Her own photos of the garden include this great shot (below) of the apple trees in approx. their 4th year of growth:

I love these photos of the espaliers laid bare — by the time I got to see Monet’s garden for the first time in September of 1990 they had filled in quite a bit. I thought it was an OK garden back then because to me it was mostly a tourist attraction, not a garden experience.

In the book that I called Le Road Trip  (2012), I did not spend much literary or face time in the garden because, well, you can read about it on page 55.

And then came time (2012 – 2015) for me to do the book I called Gardens of Awe and Folly. I considered including Monet’s garden in the book because I really like those nifty apple tree espaliers that make a cute fence around a small lawn in the part of the garden called The Clos Normand (my favorite part of the garden). The question was, could I paint them?

This is my very first attempt at painting Monet’s apple tree fence, some time in the dark ages of 2012:

As anyone can see here, this pic stinks. But I give myself credit for seeing the painting of it all the way through to the end, the better to judge the craptitude of my talents, such as they were, at the time.

Being the Capricorn that I am, I am determined to get the hang of this bit of garden. My first idea to improve the chances of my painting a decent pic was to pull back my point of view, to back up from my close up of the espaliers:

Nope.

BTW, This apple tree fence is the first thing you encounter in Monet’s garden after you buy your ticket and walk through his former painting studio — now gift shop — and through the door that leads you onto a short, narrow path into the garden. P.S.: There is only one Poplar tree in the background of this view in real life. Don’t ask my why I painted in 12 extra poplars, except that they are a whole lot of fun to paint and they are the trees that best communicate “FRANCE”.

Well. It was clear to me that I was getting no where, painting from my old tourist photos of Monet’s garden. There was nothing to do but for me to go back to Giverny and take another really good look at the place and think about it and photograph it specifically for painting references. So in May of 2013 that’s what I did.

And WOW. If you ever have the chance to see Monet’s garden in cherry blossom time, GO. In my experience, July and August are prime for the water garden and September is prime for the allee, but May is a whole other category of awesome in the whole rest of the garden. I got more out of that visit to Giverny than any of my several previous visits.

Back home, I took a look at my new reference photos  . . .

. . . and tried out my renewed painting prowess, starting with a quick “sketch”to see if I could paint the foliage of those apple trees:

Any way, in the end I did not include Monet’s garden in my garden book for several reasons: it was too big a subject for the scope of my book; I don’t really have a “take” on the place; and I couldn’t paint the damn apple trees, which are the things that I am most fond of in this garden.

But my lack of ability to paint the apple tree espaliers in Monet’s garden has not stopped me from try, try, trying again and again. It’s my genius, you can say, that I don’t give up when I have a goal in mind. My goal was to paint those damn apple tree espaliers in Monet’s garden no matter how many ugly paintings it took.

So, last year, after my garden book was out and making its way in the world, I faced my nemesis once again. Here’s my first re-try:

Nope.

There are three problems with this scene, two of which are evident in the ref photo. One is that the view takes in a part of the garden that is called “The Paintbox” [to the right], which has seven tall, H-shaped trellises over head: they must be dealt with, somehow, in the background.

Two: There’s a Copper Beech (in French: hetre pourpre] in the way-back, a tree that was planted by Monet himself and as such, is something that must be acknowledged, even though I personally dislike purple-leafed trees and think Monet’s Copper Beech is a very dissonant note when you’re trying to paint the harmony of this view.

Lastly, the property itself is on a slant — you’re actually looking slightly downhill when you are looking at the garden from this direction. Here’s another photo from the apple tree lawn to give you an idea of that:

I’m just noting that the perspective makes this little lawn a little tricky to paint.

On my second attempt at a full-page painting of this scene, here is how I tried to deal with the H-shaped trellises in The Paintbox:

Nope.

Next, I tried to go all Impressionistic re: those trellises and I pretended that that annoying red Copper Beech in the background wasn’t there:

Nope.

One last try:

I almost thought I had it here, but . . . Nope.

So I put it away and Spring became Summer, and then Fall, and then Winter, and etc.

Last month I took another stab at painting this corner of Monet’s garden, starting with a whole new point of view. I am painting the same corner of the apple tree lawn, but I’m putting myself further back, that is, standing right at the entrance to the garden. I started with a little watercolor “sketch” of my new parameters:

I elaborated it:

Nope.

I know I am reeeeeeeeeeal close to getting it right, I can feel it. I can also see, now that I’ve done the entire scene, that I’ve chosen a very visually crowded POV so editing out details is going to be crucial. I’m going to have to try a new way of keeping in detail without overloading the color scheme.

So, I head back to the drawing board with my brilliant, new scheme. I’m going to add a new element into this scene that I hope will clarify the view: very bold pencil lines. Here’s my first try:

Nope.

I made the mistake of drawing the foreground first, before doing the background wash. Then I did the background wash and it was bad bad bad from the get-go. So I start over:

Nope.

This (above) is me trying to convince myself that a bad background wash will work out if I keep painting. I wasted too much time before I ditched this. Let that be a lesson.

So I start over:

Nope.

I knew that background wash was a failure, but I took the opportunity of this failure to test some ideas I have about where the darks and lights in this pic should go and how to incorporate my pencil drawing into the watercolor, so I kept painting — not to rescue a bad pic, but to act out on some hunches. This was not a waste of time, even though it did not result in a good pic.

On the next start-over, I thought I’d do the wash first and then, if it worked, I’d do the drawing on top of it:

Nope.

But I’m getting there.

And on my next attempt, I got it !

And here’s the finished pic, DONE:

I am in love with that background wash. It still needs a few tweaks, and I might  take another look at this in a month or so and hate it, but for now, I am happy with the story that this pic tells about walking into Monet’s garden in Giverny on a sunny Spring day.

In fact, I was so hopped up about “solving” this vexing problem of Monet’s garden that on the same sunny day I entered this pic, turned right when I got to the fork in the path, walked to the other side of the lawn, turned around, and painted this:

OK, I had to paint this twice (in one week) to get it right, but twice (in one week) is a lot better than 13 times over four years.

For me, painting is a lot like writing. The first draft always stinks, always always always. But you stick with it. The next draft might still stink, but at least you know how it stinks and you have some ideas on what needs to be changed to to make it work. The next re-write gets a tiny bit better, but it stinks in its own, new, way; then the next re-write gives you hints that you’re on the right path. So you keep re-writing, re-vising, sharpening your pencils, trying new tricks, honing in on what works and what doesn’t. Finally, you have something that isn’t perfect, mind you, but comes as close as possible to the vision that you have in your head. So you back off and move on to the next, bigger, harder thing that you have to write. And, yes, when it comes to my books, it usually takes at least 13 drafts over four years to get it close to what I want the damn thing to be.

Any day now I will be starting in on my first crappy draft of the next book I want to write and NO, I will NOT be flaunting the variously crappy incarnations of the text. You’re welcome.

Stay warm wherever you are, and if wherever you are is in those delightful climes of the antipodal Summer, then stay cool and put out a water bowl for thirsty koala bears.

And oh, yeah: der Drumpf is still a horseshitting pile of pus.

 

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Hi Dear Readers.

Go see this movie:

If you can leave the theater without wiping tears of wonder and awe from your eyes, well, then, you’re not me.

And so, speaking of awe, I am dedicating this post to Dear Reader Maryanne, who went to Iceland last November and, from there, sent me something to mark 2016 as a year that didn’t totally end on a bad note:

Still in Mint Condition.

I love this object. Today, I want to mosey from my personal infatuation with this runic talisman, called the Aegishjalmur, the Helm of Awe, to London, where I was this past August (and on which I ruminated at length in this very blog for most of September of last year). Because as long as we’re talking about helms, here’s a story that I haven’t told you about a London helm that thrills me to pieces:

The only thing that I wanted to look at in the British Museum was a collection of very ancient relics dug up in the 1930s in Edith’s Pretty’s garden in a place in eastern England called Sutton Hoo. This happens a lot in Britain: start digging up any old back yard and you can come up with shovels full of Roman coins, Viking jewelry, Celtic weapons, etc. The stuff of this Sutton Hoo hoard dates from a half-mythical Anglo-Saxon kingdom from the early 7th c. (So little is known about 7th-c. England that most of what has been passed down feels more like myth than history.) This helmet was an extraordinarily rare find — only four such helmets are known from this period. It was also found in more than 500 pieces, which accounted for less than half of the original surface area.

The first assemblage of the 500 helmet pieces was completed by 1947, but continuing research showed it to be inaccurate and it was dismantled in 1968. The new restoration relied entirely on the evidence of the fragments themselves and not on preconceived ideas — that’s called intellectual honesty, Dear Readers. It took the conservator 18 months of painstaking study and experimentation to re-configure it to its current iteration, which has held steady since 1977.

Of particular interest to me, because I like winged things, is the almost entirely preserved Dragon that forms the face covering of this helmet:

The conservators now theorize that the complete helmet would have looked like this:

OMG, the power of this thing rattles my marrow.

It also happens that there are other hoards, in addition to the Sutton Hoo  hoard, on display at the British Museum. The one called the Cuerdale Hoard is the one that I thought was hilarious:

It’s the “interpretation” of this hoard that I find so awfully funny. To quote: Like many Viking silver hoards, the Cuerdale Hoard housed . . . blah blah blah.

Wait. Like many Viking silver hoards? There’s that “many” Viking silver hoards??? Like, so many that this one is just your average, every day Viking silver hoard? Like, the kind of Viking silver hoard that shows up on the Saturday when you start digging out the foundation for that patio you’ve always wanted off the kitchen, the one that you think is going to take you a day, maybe a weekend at most to do, only this damn Viking silver hoard shows up and you have to stop everything and call in the National Trust to come catalog and haul away yet another load of ingots, bracelets, brooches, rings, and other ornaments? That usual, predictable, ordinary Viking silver hoard?

Only when you live in a place with so much real history as Ye Olde England, and I mean long-ago/far-away deep, real, authentic history, can you even think of writing such a thing as “Like many Viking silver hoards“.

I, reading this as a person who comes from a land where people get all excited if they find a 50-year old penny slotted in the baseboard during a kitchen floor reno, found this bit of text to be hilariously casual about, well, Vikings. And their silver hoards. I, again as a person who comes from a land with a mere skin-deep sense of history, am in awe of the cultural authenticity of a people who have Viking silver hoards strewn about them like so many, well, Viking silver hoards. [Or like runes in Iceland. See? There was a reason I started with the Aegishjalmur.]

And that is why I reject the Statue of Liberty. Because I won’t settle for fake history! I  won’t be roped in by phony symbolism! And neither should you! Don’t mistake sentimentalism for altruism, side-show hucksterism for heritage. I know that we Americans are anxious for a home-grown culture, and that we wish we had tons of Viking silver hoards laying around, but we don’t, and history takes a lot of time and generations — and short-cutting it by buying into pre-fabbed patriotism only makes us corny, shallow, and incapable of telling the difference between the truth of what is real, and really “us”, and the intellectual dishonesty of a flattering myth. And as for the idea that the millions of people who have projected values of righteousness onto the Statue of Liberty have redeemed it from its ignoble origins, I say NO it doesn’t! Because America is not a cargo cult! (I hope not.)

I doubt that I have changed anyone’s mind, because we all know what happens to people who change their minds about opinions they hold dear: They die.  But I had to give it a shot.

So let’s do some painting.

I took this picture on a cloudy day in 2013, in Monet’s garden in Giverny (that’s Giverny in France, not a Viking nation but still pretty historical) . I love the color scheme of this flower bed, which I hope to do right by, in my own little non-Viking way.

I had a few false starts with the background, but on my third try I got this far and remembered to get out the camera. Notice how I have left the back half of this flower bed as just blobs of paint color. That’s because I have figured out that stuff in the distance is blurry (to the eye, not the camera — and I don’t want to re-paint what the camera has already documented). You can see here the I have already applied little dabs of masking fluid for reasons that I well reveal later in the painting of this scene:

I realize that I will have to show you, in another post, how I make those woozy swirls of color to stand for flowers and greenery. I just love taking advantage of the watery aspects of watercolor to do the work of “painting”. But I make these little pools one by one, letting them dry thoroughly before I make the next one, so they don’t run together and make sludge.

Here’s how I make the little flower stems, by whisking a paint brush through small puddles of paint that are at the right stage of half-dry:

Don’t over-do the wet-in-wet stem work, tho.

Time to go bold with the blobs of darker color, to give some oomph to this pic. I do it little by little, same as I did with the blue and purple bits

Dabbing some dark blue paint into the wet green paint makes a very nice effect: (next to the bits that are already dry)

See?

Remove the masking fluid:

OK, let’s paint in some tulips:

I think I used about 4 or 5 different shades of purple and red to do these tulips:

And now let’s dab in some Forget-Me-Nots:

DONE:

I think this pic captures the way the garden feels when you are there, the way the flowers wash over your senses like pools of color.

I have learned a lot by painting this scene: how much detail to leave out, which aspects of color and garden design to emphasize, how to avoid my usual mistakes of composition, and how to paint around my limitations. And, for me, this painting is BIG — about the size of 12 Triscuits. I think I have a lot more confidence now to look at other views that I have considered too difficult to paint and have a go at them. I’m talking 24-Triscuit scenes. HUGE, for me.

Why? Why bother? That’s a good question that I ask myself about every five minutes.

My best answer is: Because if I don’t try to become the best I can be at this, I’ll have to go vacuum the living room and I really hate housework.

Which I think is a good enough answer.

So next week we’re painting the most difficult thing I’ve ever painted, which I have already made seven or eight really ugly attempts at. And of course you’ll see those too.

Taffy and the crocuses.

Although it is sunny and mild as I type this on Thursday afternoon, by the time you read this, my Wonder Ones, the Isle of Long might be under 5 inches of snow — 12 hours of bitter Winter weather are in the forecast.

I hope you all, even in Summery Australia, have a nice half-frozen bottle of champagne handy and have a great weekend!

And, oh yeah, der Drumpf is still an ass hole.

 

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For our Mardi Gras Night Out (this past Tuesday, the last day of February), Top Cat and I made our way to Biscuits & Barbecue, a classic diner here on the Isle of Long, situated on a back street in an industrial neighborhood that gave us hope that this could be our new favorite dive eatery. As a matter of fact, the 40-seater is a superb source for authentic Louisiana cuisine, which included an appetizer that I would not have dared to try if it had not been Mardi Gras and we had indeed BYOB’ed our bottles of Abita Bourbon Street Imperial Stout.

And that’s how we made the acquaintance of the appetizer known as Delta Fried Pickles (with chipotle mayo dipping sauce):

In normal times, the idea of warm pickles would make me queasy, but these are not normal times. And did I mention it was Mardi Gras? OMG, these were the best things I’ve tasted since Top Cat’s Thanksgiving turkey, and the best new thing I’ve come across since I had  stroopwafle on a KLM flight from Paris in 2003:

The Dutch national cookie. Unbelievably good. Suddenly I want to go to Amsterdam in the worst way.

And I am sure that the low-landers would let me into their lovely country as I am certifiably free of rabies, which I never actually had in the first place, as determined by follow up tests. BTW, it’s not the rabies shots (what the Brits call “jabs”) that hurt — it’s the immunoglobulin that precedes the rabies shots that kills you: it’s a syringe loads with four vials of stuff that the nurse called “very viscous”, which means it was like glue to push through the needle that was stuck in my arm so that the nurse had to call over a burly ER doc to help her depress the plunger, all the while telling me to RELAX and keep my arm from tensing up. It didn’t help that I have an upper arm that the medical professionals called “teeny tiny”. This is one instance when it would have helped if I’d had a few extra pounds on my frame. My whole arm ached for several days afterwards.

But I do not in any way blame the raccoon who bit me for biting me. Raccoons, and any other animal and insect that I can think of, are not “pests” and are fully entitled to bite any human they like. They aren’t the ones that are killing this planet. [Insert a deeply felt, but thoroughly depressing anti-people polemic, which I will spare you from reading.]

Back to current events, it’s been Spring-like all these past two weeks here on the Isle of Long, and I’ve had flower gardens on my mind . . .

. . . but I won’t be painting today. Instead, as a public service, I want to spend the next 10 – 12 minutes of your life presenting you with a history lesson because while my internet was flaking out last week I had time to catch up on my reading:

I, like every other person working with a full set of marbles, am fed up with der Drumpf’s executive order ass-hattery, but I am even more fed up with these kind of intellectually lazy cliches (see above). This cover illustration is called Liberty’s Flameout and it’s by John Tomac, who explains it this way:  “It used to be that the Statue of Liberty, and her shining torch, was the vision that welcomed new immigrants. And, at the same time, it was the symbol of American values. Now it seems that we are turning off the light.”

Those italics are mine, and are what I want to discuss today.

The New Yorker should know better than to put this on its cover! It’s OK to protest  der Drumpf’s immigration dragnet BUT NOT IN THESE TERMS! It’s the same as when I heard a host of an NPR talk show (that’s National Public Radio, for my Dear Non-U.S. Readers; a non-biased and usually hi-brow source of news for those listeners who are not your typical American ass hats) ask his audience, Don’t those words on the Statue of Liberty about “Give me the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free” mean anything??

That was me, yelling at the radio, NO, NO! Those words don’t mean ANYTHING!!!

Those words, of course, are part of a poem that is mounted onto the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, that famously ends with the lines:

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

People who should know better quote those words often, usually in rebuke to Republicans, as if they represent some sort of official American immigration policy.

To kinda quote Inigo Montoya: You keep using those words. I do not think they means what you think they means.

I am Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die. THAT Inigo Montoya.

I will explain how I, one of der Drumpf’s biggest haters, would also be happy if the Statue of Liberty rusted itself to oblivion. Happy reading. I’ll meet you at the end with a new painting project for next week.

“The Americans believe that it is Liberty that illumines the world, but, in reality, it is my genius.”

Those are the words of the designer of the Statue of Liberty, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, an Alsatian sculptor who yearned for wealth and world renown. His big chance, as he saw it, for the fame that he richly deserved, was for the building of a celebrated colossus that he set out to shop around. At this time (1869), Bartholdi was not a fan of the American people and wasn’t even particularly devoted to the idea of liberty: his first pitch for his giant, torch-bearing statue was to the Ottoman viceroy of Egypt, which was, at the time, the single greatest commercial conduit for the international slave trade.

The statue was to be installed at the opening of the Suez Canal in Egypt and was to be called “Egypt Enlightening the World” or “Progress Enlightening the World” or, most awkwardly, “Egypt (or Progress) Carrying the Light to Asia.”

Failing to close the deal in Egypt, Bartholdi repackaged it for America.

One little catch: before Bartholdi could talk “the American people” into receiving his monumental gift, he had to persuade “the people of France” to pay for it. However, to the French people of the day, the project was Bartholdi’s, not theirs. At every stage of the fundraising, Bartholdi was insulted by the lack of public enthusiasm and the absence of “official” assistance, starting with the Third Republic of France which nixed the proposition of France’s national government donating money for the statue.

So Bartholdi and his confederate, the French politician Édouard René de Laboulaye, formed an organization called the French-American Union in 1875 and called for donations in both countries – a call which did not exactly flood the coffers. Actually, Bartholdi and Laboulaye failed to get anyone in America especially excited about the project until the American publisher and yellow journalist Joseph Pulitzer started a drive, in his daily newspaper The World, that attracted more than 120,000 (American) contributors, most of whom gave less than a dollar.

Most historians blame the Spanish American War on Pulitzer and his gullible readers.

But these donations were not enough. Ultimately, Bartholdi filled the gap by going showbiz: he charged admission to people who were less than eager to donate money but were happy to pay to see the inside of the incomplete statue’s head or climb to the top of the torch in the not-yet-attached arm.

To add to Bartholdi’s chagrin, it happened that when the statue was completed and shipped to American soil, New York Governor Grover Cleveland vetoed an allocation of funds for its installation (also, the statue needed an expensive pedestal for it to stand upright, which the state didn’t want to pay for either), and the U. S. House of Representatives declined to allocate funds to support the unveiling ceremony.

Long seen as simply a New York attraction, the statue was designated a national monument in 1924 by Calvin Coolidge and in 1933 the National Park Service assumed its administration.  And that is how the American government ended up “owning” the so-called Statue of Liberty, and therefore “the American people” own it in that euphemistic, grammar-school-civics-class sense. (Props to B K Marcus from The Libertarian Standard for the snarkier tidbits in this essay.)

As for that stupid poem:

The sonnet, called The New Colossus, was written in 1883 by a wealthy and self-published “poetess” Emma Lazarus as a donation to an auction conducted by the Art Loan Fund Exhibition in Aid of the Bartholdi Pedestal Fund for the Statue of Liberty, in order to raise the money to build the expensive pedestal that no government, French or American, wanted to pay for. The poem went into a souvenir booklet and was promptly forgotten. It was only in 1901 that a society matron named Georgina Schuyler – one of Lazarus’s closest friends – started lobbying to have “The New Colossus” engraved onto a bronze plaque and affixed to Lady Liberty’s base as a tribute to her friend, who was already dead for 14 years and faded into well-earned literary obscurity. The plaque was bolted onto the pedestal in 1903, with very, very, very little fanfare and absolutely no referendum.

So: The Statue of Liberty is the brainchild of an egomaniac with the self-marketing instincts of der Drumpf and could just as well have been lighting the Suez Canal for the Ottoman slave trade; it was a “gift” that the recipients paid for after it was disowned by the local, state, or national governments in France and America at every phase of its construction and installation; and its famous motto is little more than graffiti that expresses the sappy sentiments of a rich lady who wrote poems for magazines.

Now do you want to use this ton of kitsch as a symbol of all that is right and good about America?

I didn’t think so.

So let’s get back to this crazy Spring weather, shall we? I know a lot of you, my Dear Readers, are thinking about doing some gardening in this fine season. And the rest of us are happy to settle into our Adirondack chairs with an icy G&T in hand and let you hoe to your heart’s content.

I’m not saying that those of us who sit and watch and do our gardening with our paintbrushes aren’t perfectly capable of doing some high-class gardening, nest-ce pas? We might even do a little “gardening” in a masterpiece garden such as Claude Monet’s little flower patch in Giverny:

 

If you are interested, I would be happy to show you how to paint pansies, tulips, forget-me-nots, and cherry blossoms such as these. OK, maybe not the pansies. But definitely all the rest. Which might be useful in your upcoming projects.

OK?

Have a great weekend, my Wonder Ones. And if this whole Statue of Liberty thing has upset your mental map of the world, here’s a picture of that will make everything right again:

Candy, acting like a normal cat.

 

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IT Tech Lickety in search of internet gremlins.

My internet service keeps crapping out at t

Let’s start again: There must be a blockage in one of the series of tubes that make up the internet because I can’t se

Short and fast: The gremlins are at it again. I can’t get decent internet

but I have my crack team of IT techs on it so as soon as I

get more than intermi

ttant service I will regale you all with th

e latest

news etc. in VivianWo

rld. Meantime, go make a cup of tea and take a break f

rom, you know, the int

er

webs.

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The snow buried us cat and caboodle last week.

Even the slow-to-snow-panic New Englanders got a little hinky about the storm so my book event at the Tower Hill Botanical Garden was cancelled due to weather. This was a call that I, as a cult author and major American doodler/diarist and loather of the cold, heartily approved of. So we all stayed cozy in our bungalows and coped with The Weather in our own ways.

For me, it was breaking out the 1,000-piece picture puzzle and a fresh loaf of baked-from-scratch corn bread:

Corn bread goes very well with frozen champagne and a snow day with my Top Cat:

Taffy did his thing:

Bibs got in some serious bird watching:

And then the day after the day after the storm, the morning dawned eerily bright . . .

. . . and Dennis ventured out from his guest quarters in our house to inspect the new landscape . . .

. . . while Steve found a sunbeam very much to his liking:

And, oh yeah, a raccoon that I was trying to rescue from my back fence bit me so Top Cat took me to the local emergency room for rabies treatment (we looked it up and called the public health dept., who ordered me there), which is too-long a story to go into BUT all I have to say about spending three hours in an ER is: America, you have to stop being such cry babies when you have minor back pain, for chrissake. I refused to lay down on the Stryker cot the ER assigned me, just so I didn’t have to listen to the two blondes on either side moan and whinge about how much their shoulders hurt (diagnosis: nothing neurologically wrong, try sleeping with a better pillow). And what is with all the double-wide wheel chairs? No wonder health care costs are so high.

Back home again,  I hunkered down and got back to work on painting Christine’s Winter Tree because I’m a cowgirl at heart.

It is vital to use only the powdery Grumbacher “opaque” watercolor paints for this kind of painting because you will need to “pick up” the colors later. The most important colors are the blues: Prussian blue, Ultramarine, and Cyan blue (isn’t that redundant?), which I will be mixing with black and violet:

The next series of photos are my attempts to get good bleeds as I lay down a coat of paint (three different times) that changes intensity from rather lightish blue-violet to deep dark rich midnight blue:

If I am not happy with the bleed, I start over:

I should also tell you that it takes practice to get a nice smooth wash of color that doesn’t show brush strokes.

To answer Dear Reader Vicki’s question from the Comments last week, I photograph my own self while I paint. I paint with my left hand and when I get to a point that I think is important for you all to see, I just pick up my Panasonic Lumix point and shoot camera and snap:

Easy!

Anyhoo, I did end up with one good wash that had the right bleeds and the depth of color that I wanted — the one on the far right (below):

Some how I got lucky with that one — see that neat haze of brightness on the horizon? that’s going to look good on the finished pic, for sure.

Whenever I paint nature I have to fight my tendency to fall into patterns , so to avoid that I like to have a reference photo within sight when I do Winter trees so I can get a more random distribution of branches that will appear more natural, rather than what I do when I paint from memory:

Pencil guide lines:

I will use two brushes for this tree — a size 1 and a size 00. I start with the fatter brush . . .

. . . but I finish with the really tiny one:

For the next part, all I need is my size 00 brush and some clear water. I will load up my paint brush with water before I apply it to the dry paint, in order to “pick up” the color (kind of like an eraser), which is something that Grubacher paints let you do, which is why I love them:

I use the roll of paper towels that I always keep on hand to clean my brush in between the times I dip my brush into the clear water:

Again, when I am painting in these big snow flakes, I have to fight my pattern-making nature and try to make “snow” appear very random:

See below — I think it looks random, nest-ce pas?

Lastly, I dab in some smaller snow drops (I’m using my trusty acrylic Titanium White, of course):

Crop, and I am

DONE:

Christine, I hope you like it, because this one is for you.

I can see how you could play with this effect, by putting bright colors in the tree and making halos around each one, or maybe “erasing” a whimsical Milky Way in the background before you paint the tree into the foreground, that kind of thing. I’m thinking, future Happy Holidays card, right?

And you know which world leader is on my ChrisHanuKwanSolstice list?

** Sigh *** Really, doesn’t everybody in the world want to be Canadian at times like this?

Der Trumpf showing PM Justin Trudeau his secret plan to defeat ISIS.

I was listening to the radio when the joint press conference between Der Drumpf and Monsieur Dreamy came on, and I heard JT speaking French — which the damn people at NPR decided to talk over with an English interpretation.

So I ran — yes, I RAN — to my computer to get it streamed live so I could hear my favorite Trudeau person speak my favorite foreign language. Confession: I haunt Youtube for videos of JT speaking French, so I am already a huge fan of Monsieur Dreamy’s bi-lingualism. But today I have a question for my Dear Readers of the Canadian persuasion:

Is M. Trudeau’s accent rather less Celine Dion and more, let’s say, Megan Calvet? Although I can clearly hear the historically impeccable Quebecois accent whenever Celine speaks, I don’t hear it when I listen to The Top Cat of the Tundra, but I don’t know what exactly I’m hearing. Does he have what the Brits call a “Trans-Atlantic” accent? Rather like the way Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn used to speak American English in their old movies? Is it just a tiny bit more French-French than North American French? And is it dreamy?

And so, wonder Ones, if you need to lift your spirits from the latest Drumpf debacle (a new one reliably comes along every 48 hours), there’s this:

O, Ooooooo, Canada.

***Breaking News: I just watched Der Drumpf’s press conference today (Thursday, Feb. 16). It’s official. Der Drumpfster is bat shit crazy. I really, really do not know whether to laugh or cry. To paraphase: Der Drumpf is a comedy for those who think, a tragedy for those who feel. So, basically, if you think or feel, you are fucked. Unless you are Canadian, and then you are living the dream, mes amis, you are living the dream.

Have a great weekend, and à tantôt.

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FINALLY. As I sit here typing this, Thursday morning Feb 9, a blizzard is pounding my Isle of Long with silent fury. It is a heavy, wet, swirling snowfall and we’ve been warned to expect “disruptions” due to the storm but so far, the power has not gone out obviously. Yay. I sit here in preparedness for any and all catastrophes. I have a just-poured cup of tea, plenty of English muffins for toasting, a good book set aside (The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis), and a 1,000-piece picture puzzle to break open at a moment’s notice. Plus, I have peace of mind that all my kitties are accounted for:

Taffy and his mom Candy

The outlaw Bibs

Cindy

Lickety at the den picture window, hoping for some action on his Birdie TV

Dennis in the backyard hutch, with his breakfast bowls (he also got a huge lunch served to him in the shed, because turns out he didn’t care for the picnic set up)

Right: I shoveled a path to the garage just so I could deliver feed to my crush, Steve, who is wisely staying put in his new cubby:

And, oh yes, I got the Champagne-O-Meter set up:

This was how it looked yesterday (Wednesday), when it was 60 degrees (16 C) and I debated whether or not it was cruel to abandon perfectly decent cheap champagne outside in such a heat wave. But I had faith in all the dire forecasts of debilitating snow because, science, and just for you, Dear Readers, I plonked my bottle down.

Full report at the end of this blog.

Now, where was I? Oh, right:

Remember last week I told you that I was going to paint a monochrome Winter for you, a snowy scene in shades of blue?

Well, I lied. I’m not going to paint in monochrome today, I’m not going to paint this scene (below) in shades of blue:

Because I really need to use white in this picture (which I have cropped to my liking) and, it seems to me, black:

The first thing I do when I set my sights on painting from a reference photo is to think hard about my strategy. I ask myself, How am I going to paint this? especially in the case of trying something new. Maybe I have a new idea of how to get this done. Think think think.

OK, I’ve thought about it and I think I have a plan.

So this is the strategy that I thought hard about how to paint my blue snow picture. . .

. . . which is to wash the entire picture surface with a moody mix of Prussian and Cobalt blue mixed with a smudge of black. I slather on the paint heavily at the top to a lighter, and thin it out at the bottom, before slapping in a splash of Royal blue as a feature in the landscape:

I really want a rich, multi-layered wash here, which is why I have mixed several different shades of blue into it. (P.S. I am using my cheap Grumbacher paints for the first wash, and a dab of my more saturated Winsor Newton paint in the swipe you see here (above).)

Let dry, and hope you get a smooth color field, with some interesting watery residue (I do love letting watercolor do what it wants to do):

See the watery smudge on the bottom? I LOVE that!

Now I make  the only pencil lines I’ll draw, to guide me in my future tree-making:

I get out my tube of acrylic paint, called Titanium White, to make my treetop snow:

So now I’ve got the white bits of my moon-lit forest:

I’m using black to paint in the foliage . . .

. . . which I will continue to do even as I get to the part where I have to imagine where the blue snow is:

This was my well thought out plan, to use the blue/black wash to form both the sky and the blue-in-the-shadows snow:

I think it works!

But I’m not done. Because there is a crescent moon in my reference photo, I’m going to paint one into my watercolor, like this:

As soon as I stepped back to get a look at this, I knew that I should have made the moon smaller, and full. I don’t like the crescent — and duh, I have artistic license to change whatever I want. I could have improved this pic with a full moon but nooooooo, I got stuck in my mind loop of slavish obedience to the reference photo.

Dear Readers, don’t do what I did.  Time spent thinking about how you want to edit your reference photos is time that is always well spent. I wish I’d thought a little bit harder when I was plotting out my plan for this pic. Lesson learned.

Here’s hint when it comes to painting moons, in whatever phase: the shape has to be perfect. So don’t try to draw it on your own. (Notice that I don’t use the term “free hand”. I have never liked that terminology. I have my reasons.) There’s tool you can use to get the curvature just right, and I beg you to get one:

I won’t draw a moon, or sun, or sphere without it.

Now, if you glance at the pic so far. . .

. . . you might be tempted to call it DONE. And it could stand as is, and be an OK pic. But let’s say we want to flirt with failure. Let’s say we want to try out another trick, just to see if we can pull it off. Even if it means ruining the whole thing forever. OK?

So, let’s do a clear water wash on the bottom bit of the scene, like this:

And let’s blob in some very pretty hue (again with the Winsor Newton stuff), and let the watercolor do what it wants to do:

Oooooooooo! The gamble paid off! I LOVE this:

Again, we could leave well enough alone, and call it DONE. But something wants me to do ONE MORE THING, and that’s to match the color of the blue-in-the-shadows snow on the trees with the blue-in-the-shadows snow on the ground:

So I paint in some Winsor Newton color, and then add more shadow to the far side stand of trees, and dab in some white highlights to the snow on the other side of the shadows:

And also futz with the cusp of shadow on the tree branches:

And, now, let’s see if all that futzing screwed us up:

So, starting from scratch a few weeks ago, when I was first learning how to paint snow-laden evergreens . . .

. . . we now end up here:

I’m not bragging. I’m pointing out how practice, doing it over and over, works. You can’t help but get better! I know that most people how give How To lessons want to come off as experts from the get-go, but I think it’s more informative if you see how not-hard it is to teach yourself something new, which at first you will e total crap at, until you get it. ANYONE CAN DO THIS!

Dear Reader Christine Commented last week that she hoped we would paint a blue Winter tree like the one on page 187 in my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam:

I did this illustration circa 2006 or 2007, back in the early days of my painting, back when I used fluid resist to blank out the white bits on those trees in the pic below. As for that blue tree, that was a sketch that I did, futzing around with my paints, learning what I could do with them, and I remember exactly how I got that background effect of a swirly cloud between the branches of that tree. How about I show you all ow to do it, when we re-paint that for next week? And Christine, that pic will go to you.

And for Wonder One Deborah Hatt, who made the suggestion that started this whole Winter Watercolor series in the first place: if you want this week’s Blue in the Shadows Pine Trees pic, it’s yours.

And now, without further ado, here’s your Champagne-O-Meter 2017:

7:30 am:

8:30 am:

9:30 am:

Cardinal:

Blue Jay:

As of now, I am waiting to take the 10:30 am pic so if this blog stops here you’ll know it’s because we have lost power and I am busy toasting English muffins in the fireplace and breaking open the Champagne-O-Meter!

Or, all is well but I’ve just broken open the Champagne-O-Meter!

Have a great weekend everyone! See you in Boyleston on Sunday!

 

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Before I forget: I will be in Boyleston, MA next Sunday, Feb. 12, at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden. Details at the  end of this awesome post.

Now, where was I? Oh, right:

I am such a typical Capricorn. I’m musical, fun to a fault, quite the gourmet, and I totally love humanity***.

Ha ha! Just kidding.

If you know a Capricorn, then you know that we are the Vulcans of the zodiac. We are very serious people; practical,patient, determined, and can nurse a grudge better than an entire scrum of Hatfields.

Oh, that last thing might just be me. Point is, you have patted up a watercolor tutorial given by a Capricorn (yours truly) who is still trying to work out How to Paint Winter, so yes, we are going to re-re-re-paint the same damn trees again. Because did I mention that us Capricorns are patient and determined, and awesomely good at sticking with something, sometimes to a ridiculous extent, until we get it right?

Once more, this is the internet photo that I have been referring to for the past three or four weeks in my watercolor tutorials about painting Winter:

This is an excellent photo of Winter. It appealed to me because it had the kinds of Wintery trees that we all love: the snow-covered pine, the snow-covered deciduous, the misty woods in the back ground. And I love the monochrome of the color scheme, which is mostly shades of gray, which does not necessarily make it an excellent reference for a watercolor. Painting in monochrome is hard. I’ve never done it, because, you know, I’ve got my hands full trying to get it right with the whole paint box at my disposal.

So, from what I’ve learned about the limits of my ability (that I’ve been re-working on in my blog posts for the past three or four weeks), I am going to go straight for the green paint when I begin my watercolor again this week:

 

Let’s see, this is the 5th? 6th? time I’ve painted this snow-covered pine tree. I have a lot more confidence this week, which is why I decided to add another snow-covered pine tree (to the right, see below) for my painting this week. In order to differentiate the trees you can see that I’ve used a bluer color for the 2nd pine tree:

OK, let’s do the snow-covered deciduous tree now:

 

 

Because I am not painting in a sky, I am changing the way I do the background trees this time. This week, you can see that I’ve painted in just one layer of color here (see below):

I think, with the white sky that I’m leaving unpainted, that this single color will work better than the way I normally paint background trees, as in this sample:

This week, I am very happy with the way this ridge of blue paint looks (below), because I love taking advantage of letting watercolor do what it wants to do:

Now I’m using pale gray to paint in the background trees:

I’m dabbing in chunks of white paint, hoping that it will add “sparkle”:

So this is how the picture looks so far . . .

. . . before I decide to add an element that I’ve haven’t tried yet in this picture, which is some blue “snow” lines in the foreground:

All I have to do is crop this painting and it is

DONE.

Compare to last week’s effort:

I’m not saying that this week’s painting is good. I’m just saying that it is better. Patience, determination, etc., all those old, boring Capricorn traits keep me fixated on this scene, try-try-trying again and again, until I can pass off a half-decent depiction. So what if this is the 7th time (and counting) that I’ve been over this same territory? I don’t expect to be good right off the bat — do you?? 

By the way, Top Cat thought the new pic was only OK, but he was really impressed with the back ground. TC is in the print business (big fancy commercial printing, glossy ads and packaging for cosmetics and pharma), and he praised the background trees, namely this bit:

“How did you do that?” he asked; “It looks embossed!” Between you and me, I think that these background trees are crap and, if I paint this again, I will break out a new 00-size brush to get in some really fine lines here and do better with my tree shapes but, having Top Cat’s positive feedback, I know consider this one of my “party tricks” that I can pull out when I need to dazzle a viewer, maybe detract attention from a weakness in a picture. (Capricorns are very strategic.)

What Top Cat failed to notice, however, is that my treatment of these background trees isn’t even naturalistic. It’s pure invention, my own stylization, which I give you permission to borrow or otherwise appropriate for your own devices.

Speaking of Winter, we got another minor snowfall this week:

It only amounted to an inch or two, hardly worth putting out the old Champagne-O-Meter, but I mention it because it was a chance for me to test my cat-sheltering skills. When our last snow storm hit, on Jan. 6, our front porch cat, Steve, huddled in his lean-to by the stoop:

Now, this is Steve’s second Winter at large, and I have no idea where he hid out during bad weather last year, but he made it through so I know he is one tough hombre. But still, I can not abide seeing seeing a cat like this. As soon as the snow melted (which was practically the next day), I fixed his lean-to: I made it smaller (to better trap his body heat) and enclosed that back end, where the snow was blowing in, and I added another layer of plexiglass to his lean-to. Steve appreciates the transparency.

Better still, I re-vamped one of the “cubbies” that I keep in the garage:

It’s a never-used covered litter pan with an extra large-size top on it (for better insulation), stuffed with straw. So when it began to snow on Tuesday morning. . .

. . . I trotted out to the garage to make sure everything was warm and cozy:

I’m happy to say that Steve spends almost every night in this cubby.  As long as I keep my distance, that is, go no further than the doorway to the garage, I can call Good-night to him from a car-length away and he’ll blink and chirp back a faintly cranky “Nighty-nite” to me.

Speaking as a Capricorn, seeing this kitty face on a cold Winter night is about as happy as I get.

But I can get positively giddy reading your Comments, Dear Readers — Vicki in Michigan, Deb Mattin in New Hampshire, Thea in the Republic of California, and Kirra in Oz — all who marched for the cause last week: You light up my day! And all of us who were there in spirit, and who, like Becky, needle our lazy ass, conformist, shit-eating careerist representatives in congress to Man Up against Der Drumpf, I cannot tell you how much you give me hope that America is redeemable. Which I forget on a daily basis.

Note to all our Dear Readers from the midwest, including Indiana, the land of “nice”: On January 30 New Yoker Josh Sternberg helped put the call out, via Twitter, on January 30, for a protest to be held the next day at the Brooklyn home of Senate Minority Leader and New York Senator Chuck Schemer, to object to Mr. Schumer’s collaboration with the Republicans. And what might this platform for civic participation be called?

“What the Fuck Chuck” rally in Park Slope tomorrow. Bring your kids. Should be a blast!

Yeah, that’s what New Yorkers call “nice”. And so, three thousand people showed up to urge Mr. Schumer to get some balls and put up a fight against Der Drumpf and his half-wit supporters.

Somebody say Amen.

Now that I feel my blood boiling and my stomach is churning with pure hatred for those who want to revive the ghost of Antonin Scalia, let’s back away from the politics and resume our meander in the tributaries of my stream on consciousness. Relax. Calm down. Think good thoughts about a kitty cat. Let’s dip our toes back into the La La Land of Yours Truly:

Do you remember how I mentioned that us Capricorns are ambitious? Oh? Did I forget to mention that? Well, we are very ambitious folk, us Capricorns. And exactly how does that pertain to watercolor painting?

Here’s the answer:

I am inspired by these beautiful blue tones of late afternoon. So next week we are going to paint something that I’ve never tired: Monochrome. I’m going to paint a Winter scene in one color — shades of blue. Can I pull it off?

I honestly don’t know. But meet me here next Friday, and we’ll watch me paint on the verge of disaster.

OR, you can meet me in Boyleston, Massachusetts! I’ll be at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden on Sunday, Feb. 12, from 1 – 2 PM. I’m going to talk about how I blew up the garden-writing genre, exploded all its cliches and predictable sentimentality, when I wrote Gardens of Awe and Folly; and how a dedicated non-gardner such as myself pulled off such a feat — a ridiculous achievement matched only by my entire publishing career, which is pretty much a scam (as I am eminently unqualified to be a writer/illustrator at all).

I hope to see you there!

*** Me? A music lover? I detest background music and my favorite song in the world (for the record, it’s My Ever-changing Moods by The Style Council) is something that I can listen to only once every other year, so that I don’t get bored with it. Because I do get soooo bored with noise.

As for fun: I’m heavily into self-medication.

I have the palate of a six year old.

My dearest hope for this precious planet is that people die out and leave it the hell alone.

Wait. This a too down-beat ending of our weekly visit. So here’s some pix of Taffy, frolicking in his Winter Garden:

That cat surely does have exquisite taste in dirt.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

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