Talent is Overrated

Today’s post is in honor of Dear Reader susie, whose Comment from last week  — in response to this picture of my first ever illustration —


was this:

You hear and see all over it doesn’t take talent,

just perseverance.

I don’t think so, if that’s your first shot out of the box.

I read that and I had to prove the one thing I know for sure about life. This one is for you, Dear susie:

Talent is Overrated.

To start, I want to show you all a photo I took in Monet’s garden at Giverny, France, when I spent three days in the little village in May of 2013:


I like the color scheme here, and I really liked those bright tulips. (I snapped this photo just as a passing breeze ruffled some petals.) I chose this picture somewhat at random for today’s post, because today’s post is all about how terrible, how truly terrible and awful I am at painting flower beds.

Oh, sure, I’ve made little bitty watercolor try-outs of flower beds:


These are studies I made of Monet’s flower beds, picking out patterns rather than actual fleurs.

I’ve even painted bits of Monet’s Giverny garden before:



I’ve also copied directly from Monet himself, in various Triscuit forms …



But this is not the same as actually being able to paint Monet’s FLOWERS. The reason I do not paint Monet’s flowers is because I have no talent at painting flowers but is that lack of talent going to stop me? Non! Well, not today, at least. Because it doesn’t take “talent” to paint — because talent is overrated.

Talent is Overrated is the title of a book written by Geoff Colvin (published by Penguin Group in 2008). It’s about how the majority of people in the world never achieve excellence (or even proficiency, at their job, their avocations, their hobbies, etc) because of their notion that excellence is possible only thru talent, and  talent is a freaky, DoG-given gift that nature has not bestowed upon them.

In fact, Geoff argues, talent is the least part of excellence. Stick-to-it-ness is the only thing that matters:

One of the most important questions about greatness surrounds the difficulty of deliberate practice. The chief constraint is mental, regardless of the field – even in sports, where we might think the physical demands are the hardest. Across realms, the required concentration is so intense that it’s exhausting. If deliberate practice is so hard – if in most cases it’s not [the least bit] “inherently enjoyable” – then why do some people put themselves through it day after day for decades, while most do not? Where does the necessary passion come from?

Geoff spends a lot of the book answering that “Where does the necessary passion come from?” question, which interests me not in the least. I don’t care where “passion” — just another word for stick-to-it-ness – comes from. You know it if you have it. That’s all that matters.

I only care that if you have that passion, that desire to stick to it, then you know the secret that I know: you know the great quantity of horrible, boring, unpleasant, discouraging, and vexing work it takes to make “talent” happen.

And so I am going to paint for you today, because I can’t paint flowers for shit, and I dearly, desperately want to be able to paint flowers.

Specifically, I’d like to paint flowers like an Impressionist. And actually, Monet is not my favorite FLOWER painter, even of his own garden (excepting for the lilies, he couldn’t paint flowers for shit, either):


Claude Monet, view of his garden at Giverny.

No, I greatly prefer other Impressionists, such as the American, Childe Hassam:


This looseness with paint is  foreign to how I do things naturally, as a fuss-budgety painter of Tricsuits. So I know, and rather dread, that it will take a lot of deliberate practice until I get it right.

And so, with a sigh of resignation for what I am in for, I begin:


I paint fast and loose and this is what I got:


I swear to you, this is NOT me trying to paint ugly. This is me trying to paint pretty, using skills I DO NOT YET HAVE.

So I do it again, this time starting with a quick little drawing/painting of the tulips:


I got this far when it became clear to me that the painting was OVER:


So I tried a different tactic. I used my masking fluid to mark out the flowers, and I swirled a verdant background all over them (because it’s a technique I ave used before, with some success)…Fun! Loose! Free! All the things I am not!:


I dropped in some more background texture:


And I lifted off the masking fluid and painted the flowers:



I am beyond frustrated at this point. I dislike painting ugly pix, and I loathe it when I do not know what I am doing. Of all the ways I’ve tried, so far, to paint an impressionistic flowers bed, none of them has felt like “me”.

So I do something that IS “me”. I try to paint an Impressionistic Triscuit:


Nope. Impressionist Triscuits are not “me.”

OK, then…let me try doing a hybrid, mix a bit of Impressionistic blurriness with my natural fuss-potty attention to detail:


I think the result looks…unhappy.

At this point I would like to quote from another Dear Reader whose Comment from last week’s post was right on the money. Barb Hutch wrote:

I don’t believe we know if you are completely self-taught or how you came to have such remarkable abilities. “Hard, relentless work” could be the explanation, based on all that you have shared. 

Well Dear Barb, as you can see, I am indeed what you would call “self-taught”, and by “self taught” I mean I have learned how to paint through “hard, relentless work”, and being willing to paint one bad picture after another.

Now, I’ve done this yellow tulip flower pic five times now, and I still havn’t figured out how to paint it. But am I ready to call it quits? Am I???

Hell NO!

Because I have it in me to try one more time. 

Again, I start by laying down masking fluid, then doing a light wash, into which I will drop shots of “flower” color:












Although I am not happy with this pic, I am most unhappy the way the background comes on too strong. So, since I dislike this pic away, I’m going to try something that might become a new “tool” for me, a new way to tone down bad painting:




Don’t think I’ll ever try that again.

By now I am thoroughly sick of this scene. Stupid yellow tulips. With their stupid red streaks. But am I ready to stop painting flowers??

Well, for now I am. But I am not ready to quit my search for the Way I Paint Flowers. I’m already eyeing a new photo of Monet’s garden at Giverny, one that I like better (probably because it has no yellow tulips in it)…


Yeah. Maybe it was the reference photo’s fault. Stupid yellow tulips.

Maybe all I need is a super-pretty pic to get me in the groove. Pink tulips! Yes!

All I have to do is hang in there, withstand the discomfort of being really, really bad at painting flowers until the day comes when I can be good at it. But I am done for now…

…and in the meantime, I can still paint all the Triscuits and Squints my heart desires. And today, my heart desires to give away this lovely Squint of the Long Island Sound to the Reader who picked Top Cat’s Squint Number between 50 and 100. The number that Top Cat chose was …



“Right in the middle”, is how he explained his pick. SBut snce nobody picked No. 75, I went with the Dear Reader who came closest to that number without going over, and that Dear Reader is…


Congratulations, Catya!

Please email me your address at vivianswift at yahoo dot com, and I will post this out to you PDQ.

Thank you, everyone, for sending in your numbers!

Will I ever learn how to paint a damn tulip? Will there be a half-way decent Monet flower garden picture painted by next week? Or will I explain the secret of how I’ve seen hard working people like you and me become brilliant illustrators without having an ounce of “talent”?

Only the next seven days will tell.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers.






A Squint Through My Back Pages

I have never used an actual “sketchbook” for my “sketching”. In fact, I have never, actually, “sketched”. I even dislike the verb, “to sketch”, based on what I’ve seen when people “sketch”, all wispy and mushy and tentative…but that’s just me. I have a very annoying personality.

Instead of putting my works-in-progress into a fancy, expensive, hard-backed “sketchbook”, I use this:


Yes, it’s a no-frills three-ring binder from Staples. It costs around $5.00. I stock the binder with those full-page plastic “sheet protector” things, and I’m good to go. Go to Town, that is. The town being Pelham, Westchester County, New York, where I was living on that fateful Sept. 11 of 2001, and the “village on the Long Island Sound” that was the subject of my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam.

Pelham NY train station

My original concept for When Wanderers Cease to Roam was for it to be square, so I trimmed regular bond paper into 8-ich by 8-inch squares, and started making little paintings on Canson 90-lb watercolor paper and arranging them on “pages”. Above is a view of our delightful old train station, c. 2004, when it had Ticket Seller windows!!!  (now pretty much gutted, when they installed a spiffy new commuter cafe).

Below, that’s the Post Office:

Pelham NY post office

The Pelham P.O. used to be a bank, until the Great Depression shut it down.

Pelham NY post office

The owls on the facade are fake, of course — such owls are used to keep pigeons off the premisis (I don’t have spell check).  The mighty Pelican, being the official bird of the Town of Pelham, is featured on the bank/post office lanterns, which was a detail that I  l-o-v-e-d:

Pelham, NY post office

Yes, the perspective of that front door and the scale of the person inside are wonky. I could correct this easily, but until I find a permanent home for this pic, I won’t bother.

If you know my book (WWCTR), you will know by now that none of these pictures of Pelham made it into the published product. They ended up not fitting into the narrative, for being too specifically “Pelham”, or for being kind of boring.

This is the high school:

Pelham NY high school

Pelham NY High School

So, for now, all these pix are sitting in my Pelham Notebook.

This is one of the four elementary schools in Pelham — love the brickwork!:

Pelham Ny Prospect Hill Elementary

This is another one of the elementary schools:

Pelham NY Colonial Elementary School

These are signs from Pelham businesses:

Pelham NY

And the wonderful Pelham Cafe:

Pelham NY Pelham Cafe

The Artistic Manner florist had a great shop cat:


And this was the Old Lake Antiques shop:


All these doors are actual doors from Pelham:

Pelham NY

I was painting with my trusty Grumbacher watercolor paints at this time, and now I’m looking at those greens (above) and thinking, Wow — How did I do that?


Pelham NY



And, yes, once a year there used to be a Christmas Tree sale on the village green, to raise money for some charity or another:

Pelham NY

Ah, yes, I had an immense love for my old hometown, the town of Pelham on the Long Island Sound.

But of all these “sketches”, I DO have a favorite, a hands-down No. 1 fave, the one I will run into a burning building to rescue, and it is this one:


This is a watercolor illustration of a view of Pelham Lake, on the edge of town, in Winter, near sunset, viewed from the rail road tracks high above it. It is not an attractive pic, and was not a pic that I was particularly happy with, even when I made it.

But this pic is my all-time most beloved pic because this happens to be the first watercolor painting I ever did.

I painted it, and it was bad, but here’s the surprising thing: not a single member of the Watercolor Police  rushed into my apartment and arrested me for making such an ugly picture. And I realized that hey — I don’t need anybody’s permission or approval to paint! I’m allowed to be lousy!

And I kept on painting.

Which brings me to the Great Squint Give Away (see: last week’s post).


I am giving away this Long Island Sound Summer Sunset Squint to one lucky Commentor.


All you have to do is leave a Comment below, in which you pick a number between 50 and 100.  Comments will close after 5 days (which I have to do to control the spam), but  next Friday I will open the sealed envelope and reveal Top Cat’s pre-destined winning number!


Meet me back here next Friday — and be sure to have a fantastic next-to-penultimate Summer weekend!




Yay! I’m Back! Just In Time To Tell You All About Squinting!

Hi everybody!!

It’s good to be back in the blogosphere! I hope you missed our get-togethers as much as I have because today’s post is going to make up for my absence — get ready for a two-tea-cupper update on all things V. Swift

Another entry on our Beautiful Word List: Shenandoah.

So, now back to where we left off, at the Squinting thing.


As you recall from my last post, I made a huge leap in my precocious artistic development when I hit upon a new format for my watercolor illustrations. Namely, the long, narrow, horizontal format that I now call a Squint:


I can’t remember how I came upon the idea of doing the Squints, but I’m sure it had something to do with avoiding full-page illustrations, which I still did not feel I could do, even after 2-3 years of painting, even tho I was  already an acknowledged prodigy, having published my first illustrated book at the precocious age of 52.


Getting back to the Squint, I liked the way it could contain, perhaps, a bit more information than a Triscuit:


…but would also look really neat, and unexpected, uh, different when placed on a page:



Although none of the above Squints made it out of my sketchbookI very happily used other, specially-created Squints as the main artistic motif for my second book, Le Road Trip:





I still think they look spiffy on the page.

And now, please allow me to show you How To Make a Squint.

Since I work exclusively from reference photos, the first thing I had to do, in order to find the Squint in each reference photo, was to cut out a frame in the exact shape of a Squint, like, say, this one:


With my “frame” in hand, I roam around the photo, looking for The View. As you can see, below, this view could make an OK Squint…


…but this view is much better, right?


OK, time to get down to business. I make a few pencil lines on the watercolor paper to use as guides, to show me where the horizon is and, roughly, where the foliage will go:


And that’s all I need — the pic is now a composition.

I am using my trusty Grumbacher hobby-quality paints because when it comes to painting sunsets, I know what the paints will do and I trust them — I know that no other paint than Grumbacker will give me the subtlety that I need.


Also, because I tend to mix colors directly on each little disk of Grumbacher paint, I have to rinse each pan before I use them, to get at the pure pan color:


To do the sun set sky, I start with my Big Brush:


I lay in colors by using a method called “Wet in Wet:


See why I like the Grumbacher? So far, I’m laying in orange, blue, and fuscia, and the paints have not gone all muddy on me:


Yes, this takes practice, and a LIGHT TOUCH — do not overdue the brush work here — but the Grumbachers are great for this.

On a seperate bit of paper, I test my blue mixes (I’m using the colors that Grumbacher calls Prussian Blue and Cobalt Blue, and it looks to me like I have a bit of Violet in there too), before committing them to the composition:



To mix and apply the “clouds”, I switch to my 00 Extra Fine brush to dab lightly:





Checking in here, I see that the left side of the sky looks OK, but I need to dab in some more goldenness (that is, orange paint) onto the right side of the sky:


And some fuscia:


Now, we do the water — again, starting with the Big Brush:



For the shoreline, I am going to bleed some black Grunbacher into the damp “water” thusly:


I am, frankly, a little worried here; I might have dabbed in too much black paint, too soon…this could ruin the whole shebang. Oh well. Time will tell.

While this bit is still damp, I go back and make some shadows on the water, still using my 00 Extra Fine brush:



Next, I check to see if so far, so good.  And, so far, so good. I can exhale now.


Since the foliage (back lit by the sunset and, thusly, in silhouette) will be such an outstanding part of this Squint, I will now switch from my Grumbacher paint to my trusty Windsor Newton Lamp Black paint, because I like the density of this paint — it covers better than the Grumbacher Black — and it’s also easy to handle:



After painting in background foliage, I make another check, back to the reference photo.  So far, no major screw ups:


This part of the photograph (below), this sillohouette of leaves and the negative space of the foliage,  here in the lower right quadrant, is, for me, the crux of this picture:


The whole pic will look stooooo-pid if I don’t get this bit right. So I make a light pencil sketch to guide me:


And I hold my breath as I begin to paint the leaves, and to not paint the stuff that doesn’t need painting. Less is More. You can quote me on that:


NOW I can heave a sigh of relief. The negative space looks OK:


And then I go back to holding my breath:


And NOW I can heave another sigh of relief:


Add some upper left hand corner leaves, dab in some lower left hand corner foreground stuff, and then we are DONE …


… DONE …


… Done:


And yes, Dear Readers, this Squint can be YOURS. I’ll even throw in the reference photograph, ALL FOR YOU.


Because of bad planning on my part, and because of normal, yearly, and annoyingly inconvenient data up-dating of this blog (I think it’s called “backing up”), I can not offer this Squint up for giving away this week. Also, your Comment to this post might take a day or two to appear…

…I apologize for this technical glitch but please be assured that your Comment today will be received, and will be in the queue, and will indeed be published, eventually, for the amusement and edification of others, and that your Comment will AUTOMATICALLY qualify you for the contest I will hold NEXT WEEK.

I do hope I have made this incredibly complicated for one and all.

The Comments will close, as they usually do, after 5 days from publication of this post (to deter spam), so Comment Early! And often!

These Squints are fun. We should do this again, real soon.

Have a GREAT penultimate September Summer weekend, everyone!


August Is Good At Arriving At The Right Time (It’s Not Always Gonna Be This Way)

Ahhhhh…AUGUST. My Favorite month of the year!


The garden is in peak shape…




…the weeds are SPECTACULAR …


…even the spider webs are more gorgeous in August:




And the cats are pretty damn cute, too:




There’s even a new boy in town, called Steve:


I think Steve would like to join our herd, if only Lickety, Taffy, and Bibs were not dedicated to keeping him as a “front yard only” cat. For now, feeding Steve on our front porch wall (above) seems to be keeping the peace; but when it starts to get cold then I’m afraid that Sheriff Vivian will be rounding her up a tuxedo kittie no matter what the rest of the herd thinks about it.

So, I’m still going through the watercolor sketches that I was making about ten years ago, when I first took up painting as a prodigy (at age 48)  because I wanted to write illustrated travel memoirs. When I felt ready to make book-worthy pictures, I abandoned the re-iterations I’d been making (see last week’s post) and started doing real “picture” pictures.

Now, many of you Dear Readers know that my first successful watercolor “picture” pictures were my Triscuits:


Since this blog gets new readers all the time, please let me explain to all the newcomers (Hi! Glad you could join us!) that I started out making Triscuits because they were tiny, simple, low-risk, and about all I could handle as a brand new, self-taught artist. I relied on my Triscuits to do a lot of the work of illustrating my first book,  When Wanderers Cease to Roam:





But at the same time, I was painting larger pix on the side, slowly learning the confidence to make double or triple Triscuit-sized pix. So here are a few such Post-triscuit pictures that I made during my, ahem, artistic development:


This is one of the earliest pictures that I did, from a photograph I took of a row of mews houses in my old hometown of Pelham, New York — the village that was the subject of  When Wanderers Cease to Roam.


I never finished this panting because by the time I’d got the roof and upper story done, I understood that I was not particularly interested in painting architecture. Especially if said architecture comes with multi-pane faux-Tudor windows (all it takes to make the whole thing look hinkey is ONE wrong pane).

Here are some other sketches that did not make it into Wanderers:


I have to explain that I really enjoyed “painting”, that is, actually not painting, snow. I loved what you could imply by just NOT painting …


…that is, letting the white of the watercolor paper show through, letting it do all the work, as far as subject matter is concerned:


It’s exactly what isn’t painted that has all the heft the substance and content of these little pix:





The more confidence I got about handling paint, the more ambitious I got for my paintings. In these slightly bigger-then-Triscuits pix, I am trying to add something more than just a well-painted form in the pic…I am trying to include what I call information.

I wanted to make pix that were about something, a place, mood, a season, a point of view.




Ahhhh…perhaps you noticed something happening there, with that last photo (above). What’s happening is that I have discovered a fun, new format for my miniature watercolor paintings; a long, narrow, horizontal format that lets me present “information” in a way that I find artistically fulfilling:


Yes, what you are seeing above are my first attempts at a format that became the motif of my second book, Le Road Trip:


I LOVE this format, which I call a “Squint“.

I have so much to tell you about my beloved Squints, but I am sorry that it will have to wait…it’s August.

And, dear Readers, I will be MIA for the rest of my favorite month of the year (August), but when I get back to Long Island I promise that I will pick up this story of The Squints right where I’ve left off…


And who knows…there might even be a First Ever Squint Give Away in the works.


Please enjoy the beautitude of August wherever you are, and meet me back here on September 4!





Paint What You Know

To continue  last week’s “Beautiful Words” list…

Irian Jaya (former name of the Papua province of Indonesia)


Coeur d’Alene (Idaho)

Ouagadougou (Upper Volta/Burkina Faso)

And oh my, how I wish we could call L.A. by its English translation: The Angels

I notice that all the above are place names. Hmmmm….I’ll have to think harder to find regular words that would fit into this list. Something like, maybe, cellar (which H. L. Menkin said was the most beautiful word in the English language).

Please feel free to add to this collection (above). Yikes. I just realized that I have started yet another collection…I can’t help myself. I am a Collector.


As many of you Dear Readers know, I collect Blue Jay feathers. (I collect molted feathers, one at a time, mostly gathered from my own backyard but occasionally from walks in the woodlands of the north shore of Long Island. Perfectly legal.)

In the past, I’ve also had a tea cup collection …


… and an Owl Jewelry collection…


The last remains of a once great hoard of Owl Jewelry

…and a collection of Bow pins…



The last remains of a once great hoard of Bow Pins.

I am the only one in my immediate family who collects stuff; I mean, the only one to hunt and acquire stuff with a particular focus. I don’t know why I do it.

Why do people become collectors?

Without getting too psychological about it (whew), I think I have an answer. I think some people become collectors because they are in love with patterns, in love with arrangement, and order, and design.

I think I’m that kind of person because my collections (of stuff, not words) are all about the delight I get from making patterns. I collect objects that I find pleasant to look at, and are familiar, but not without thrilling variations within their repetition.

In the ten years since I began to paint, I have also collected a monster pile of watercolors that I have begun to cull. That is, this past weekend I started to sort through my old collections of watercolors to trash, or save, as the case may be. These are some of the oldest watercolor studies that I have:


As you can see, in my early days as an artist, I was very happy painting pix that I thought of as compositions that I called Reiteration of the Form.


But now I can plainly see that it’s my collecting nature that I am painting here, my pleasure in making patterns with objects (even in 2D form). And yes, I was a miniaturist from the Get-Go.


If you look closely at the tricycle in composition of Pedals That Used To Take Me Where I Wanted To Go, (below) you will see that it is a cut-out:


I cut out that tricycle from its original Look! No Hands Vehicles! (below) composition  because it was red. Its  red color, along with its three-wheeled-ness, made it odd man out:


BTW, I was 47 when I was painting these minuscule studies, with my trusty (but definitely NOT professional quality) Grumbacher watercolors.


A set of 24 colors like this costs about $20.00. Cheap! Paint away! there’s no such thing as “wasting” paint like this!!


It was by painting these little nonsense collections that I learned what the Grumbachers were capable of, and what I as a painter could call my “skills”.


To get this variety of forms for each picture, I did a TON of research (on line, by Googling various vintage items on eBay; in the real world, by referring to my small collection of Sears catalogues from the 1960s and ’70s). So I learned that I was the kind of painter who took an intellectual approach to my subject, and insisted on historical accuracy.


Because my natural inclination was to work small, I learned that I enjoyed painting detail, and I had the patience to hold a very tiny brush very steady.


And because I painted reiterations, I learned that I did not bore easily, and had the endurance to work on a picture until all its components were right, and until there was enough “there” there that some sense or inkling of narrative could be intuited from the image.



Yes, that’s what I wrote, a sentence with both the word “intuited” and “narrative” in it. I do that sometimes, when I’m trying to sound legitimately “artistic”. Like, I could totally hang with any BFA out there.

All I mean is that, even in these little compositions of reiteration, there is a story going on, and it has to do with subject matter, as opposed to painters who paint story-less pictures, canvases that are only “about” color or paint, because that’s what ART is these days, or used to be; who can keep up?

Anyhoo, these were the first pictures I ever painted, for no purpose other than I wanted to know how to make a picture so, starting within my comfort zone, I painted objects whose forms appealed to me, in compositions that expressed my personality. Isn’t that how everyone starts out?


I Think I Need A Bigger Tin Foil Hat


People are reading my mind and stealing my thoughts. I’m looking at you, Walt Disney, and don’t give me that innocent look, New York Times.

Remember when two…three?…weeks ago I posted a photo of my highly staged work habitat which included a desk topped with my prized possession, a stuffed owl?


Forget that owl — Dear Reader Janet B. has eagle eyes and spotted the other bird of a feather here…the Grey Goose!

Dear Reader Marg-o was right: I call that owl Archimedes because of a whole thing I have for the animated Disney movie about the legend of King Arthur that came out in 1963.



I used to take a lot of pride in my connoisseur taste for this movie, a rather obscure entry in the Disney oeuvre, called The Sword in the Stone. Well, now neither I nor Marg-o can bask in our expertise of cartoon owls named for ancient Greek polymaths because last week I learned that Disney is in pre-production for a live-action film version of — you guessed it: The Damn Sword in the Damn Stone.

When the Sword in the Stone comes out in 2018 and is a huge hit, I just want you all to remember that I was alluding to it way back when I wasn’t moaning the fact that the film hadn’t been made 10 years earlier when  Joseph Gordon-Levitt was still young enough to get away with playing a teenaged Arthur, which he’d have been perfect for.


Yes, he’s the kid from the TV show Third Rock From the Sun. I love this actor.

On a similar note, I know that my “I Want To Kill My Husband Diet” (ha ha — thank you to Dear Reader Patricia for that branding idea) of last week didn’t go viral, but a New York Times essay on the same-ish subject did. Ada Calhoun wrote a Modern Love column called The Wedding Toast I’ll Never Give (you can read it here) which was printed in the Sunday, July 16 edition of the paper.


Illustration by the excellent Brian Rea

I think the piece is mis-titled, but that was probably an editor’s decision, not the writer’s.

Ada Calhoun is a very good writer, I just want to make that clear. The essay is beautifully structured, and the pacing of her sentences is like the patter and chorus of a great show tune. This lightens up the tone of her piece, the subject of which is that there are times when you loathe the spouse you dearly love, and which “lightness” is my main objection to the article.

I think that there is nothing that brings out the deepest, darkest, and most dire urges more than the blips of hatred that accentuate a long term relationship. As Dear Reader Felicia commented, there are times when you want to make your spouse a taxidermy project. As Whoopie Goldberg said, when Sharon Stone was being ridiculed for giving her husband the birthday gift of a one-on-one encounter with the Komodo Dragon in the San Francisco Zoo (which bit Mr. Stone and sent the hubby to the hospital): “Who hasn’t wanted to put their husband in a small cage with a Komodo Dragon?”


P.S. This is where I was last weekend, in a far away country where I had no access to my blog and could not release the Comments of my Dear Readers until Monday. Thank you all for persevering.

Just because some people are uncomfortable with the word “hate” doesn’t mean that they don’t know exactly what “hate” feels like, and don’t have those feelings every once in a while for the person they love the very most in all the world. It happens! And then it goes away! So let’s just be honest about it!

Also, after I posted last week’s diet tip ( the “I Want To Kill My Husband Diet”,  thanks again to Dear Reader Patricia) I fact-checked with my own dear Top Cat. And yes, there are times when he can’t stand the sight of me, either. And I’m OK with that.

Anyhoo. Last week I got the proofs of the Damn Garden Book — entirely in e-form. Not a scrap of paper in the whole last-chance correcting process! As has often been said of myself, the thing looks good when it’s all cleaned up. And I ditched my old Author Photo:


For this one:

DGB Author pic

Yes, the bags under my eyes have been photoshopped out. But I left the crow’s feet and the blotchy skin tone in. Because I’m at least 80% for real!

And, lastly, the mystery of the two Chinese language versions of Le Road Trip has been solved. The first version…


…is titled A Journey to France. The second version….


…has been re-marketed and re-titled as Old Love Honeymoon. Ha! See those two geezers standing on that green text box? That’s me and my own, old, dearly un-hated Top Cat!

And, lastly, before I punch out my Writer On The Loose time card for the day, I’ve begun to keep a list of the most beautiful words in the world. So far, the top spot goes to:



(Thanks, Vivki A.)

As for the most beautiful American word, well, that’s a no-brainer. It’s:


And the word bucket always makes me laugh.

Dear Readers, may buckets of un-hate fill your weekend with, well, whatever it is that makes you as happy as an old love honeymoon.




How To Lose Your Appetite And Other Tales of Love and Romance.

I am a 5’6″ tall writer. This is a story about how, when I weighed  142 pounds, I was a size 8-10.


And then I lost 30 pounds and now that I weigh 112, I am a size 2-4.


Recreating the previous pose, in my back yard, Thursday afternoon. That’s yesterday, for those of you Dear Readers reading this on Friday.

Yes, as you can see, I have lost  a whole big fat lazy cat’s worth of flubber (foreground, which we call “Lickety”). Since I have mentioned this weight loss before, and a few of you Dear Readers have asked how I did it, today I think it’s time that I shared with you the secret of how I got skinny.

It started with what I call:

The Bounty of the Streets Long Island Diet.

Here’s how it goes: It is dawn at the local Long Island Rail Road Station, and for the commute into Manhattan…


… and the streets offer a breakfast of banana, three tangerines, and half a bottle of orange juice.

Lunch comes in the form of a nutritious and calorie-soncscious hard-boiled egg…


…and for Dinner, YUM! The American classic!:


But of course, I jest. I will resist the urge to digress on the subject of The People of Long Island Are Pigs.

So here’s how I actually lost 30 pounds last year on what I call  The Beige Food Diet.

Here is an ordinary box of Whoppers. I think they are called Malteasers in the UK.


This is a Whopper:


It is a malted milk ball, and it is not at all whopping big — it’s about the size of a marble. I happen to really like Whoppers, but it’s not because of the chocolate. It’s the beige inside of the Whopper that makes it my favorite food:


That’s the malted part of the milk ball. I have no idea what “malted”, or “malt” is, but I love the taste. But of course I didn’t go on the Whopper Diet.

This discussion of Whoppers is what we professional writers call a “teaser”. Or a “lead.” Or “foreshadowing.” I forget which.

It’s how we get a reader’s attention. Are you still with me? So let’s skip ahead to the scientific part of the story, the good news that I long to share with you all:

Back in January/February of 2014, I read about an instant food that was devised by computer guys in Silicon Valley. Nothing says YUM like  Silicon Valley  instant food. So I immediately ordered the starter kit, which  cost $80.00:P1000115

Yes, it’s called Soylent. Those kids in Silicon Valley really know their pop culture.

Turned out that the demand for Soylent is so high that I had to wait six months to get my first shipment.


In your starter kit you get a pitcher, a measuring cup, a booklet all about the instant food you are about to ingest, 8 bags of Soylent, and 8 little bottles of oil mixture:P1000117

This photo above represents 32 meals of Soylent.

A pitcher of Soylent stays good for 48 hours, but I  prefer to mix my Soylent case-by-case. That is, meal by meal.

The way I mix individual portions is I use an old Smuckers organic peanut butter jar.  You have to shake your Soylent mixture  and my old Smuckers organic jar comes with a lid. Fancy!

So, first, I measure out one measuring cup of Soylent powder:


The powder smells insanely wonderful, like cake mix. Sweet, and delicate, and nostalgic.

Then I add 2 teaspoons of oil stuff.  It includes various plant oils and some fish oils, but it does NOT smell or taste “fishy”. In fact, it is as bland as sunflower oil:


Then I add two measuring cups of water:


Then I shake it for 60 seconds to blend it thoroughly:


Add ice cubes and voila: I have a hearty, nutritious meal:


Many people complain about the taste of Soylent, so they doctor it up with flavorings such as banana (barf) or peanut butter (drinkable peanut butter? Oh, puke.) or chocolate. I think they are all crazy. Pure Soylent tastes just like the inside of a Whopper and, in case you haven’t noticed, it LOOKS like it too!

Soylent is my go-to food, and I highly recommend it, but Soylent actually only helped me lose the last 10-12 of my 30 pounds, although it has helped me maintain my current weight of 112 for over a year.

Here’s the real and honest truth.

I do not want to swindle you, my Dear Readers, into thinking that my losing 30 pounds was pure will power on my superhuman part. Who do I think I am? — Nicole “No Botox/I’m Afraid of Surgery” Kidman?

My weight loss  started in January of 2014, when I became very, very, very, very pissed off with Top Cat. My husband is a kind and generous and funny and sexy man and I adore him. But you know how it is, if ever you’ve been married. Every once in a while — in my case, every decade or so (in an eleven-year marriage) — there comes a time when you hate your spouse’s guts so much that you want to turn them into Prometheus just so you can eviscerate them with your bare hands, and then wait overnight for their liver to re-generate, and go back the next day and gorge them with a butter knife and yank out their bloody entrails inch by agonizing inch, and wait overnight so in the morning you can go after them with an ice pick and hack at their bile ducts until they look like hamburger… We’ve all been there, right? Right?

Yes. I was a snarling, adrealine-crazed, vicious, screaming, out-of-control madwoman who was righteously and revengefully furious at her spouse. The only reason i didn’t kill him was because I couldn’t think of a way that I could get away with it.

Well, eventually, the issue got resolved, and I accepted that when I married the love of my life, I did so because  the problems that this adorable, complex, irresistible creature presented were the problems that I chose to make my life meaningful.

However, the good thing is that, because of all this hatred that  I lived and breathed for six weeks, I completely lost my appetite . Most of all, I lost all interest in comfort eating. The whole time  I was in a rage, I  gave not a thought about my darling Rice Krispies Treats, my vanilla Oreos, my Heath Bars, my Sugar Babies, my Milk Duds, my Whoppers, my etc etc etc.

When, before I knew it, I’d lost 20 pounds, I did not let my sweet tooth take hold up again. I turned to Soylent, and an eating plan based on actual need (not want), and here I am. I weigh as much as I did in high school and I am never hungry. And I feel pretty damn good.

My excess 30 pounds wishes all of you a Happy Weekend.






More info about Soylent:

Soylent™ was developed from a need for a simpler food source. Creator Robert Rhinehart and team developed Soylent after recognizing the disproportionate amount of time and money they spent creating nutritionally complete meals.

Soylent is a food product (classified as a food, not a supplement, by the FDA) designed for use as a staple meal by all adults. Each serving of Soylent provides maximum nutrition with minimum effort.

What is Soylent made of? (Hint: It’s not people.)

Carbohydrates — 255g

Protein — 114g

Fatty Acids — 70g

Omega 3 Fatty Acids — 2.5g

Fiber — 27g

Potassium — 3500mg

Sodium — 1050mg

Calcium — 1000mg

Phosphorus — 700mg

Magnesium — 400mg

Vitamin Bp — 1375mg

Vitamin C — 90mg

Vitamin B3 — 16mg

Vitamin E — 15mg

Zinc — 11mg

Iron — 21.5mg

Vitamin B5 — 5mg

Manganese — 2.3mg

For The Mind Readers Amongst Us

Within our group of Dear Readers there are many sub-sets, such as the Band of Bodhisattvas of the Great Pacific Great Northwest, the Self-Sacrificing Servants of the Small Cat, and the 5 o’clock Angels (whose motto is: Wine. Because I’m Worth It.) And then there is the Cluster of Clairvoyants, to whom I dedicate this blog post. They already know why . . . and so will you in about ten paragraphs.

For those of you (none of you, actually) who have been dying to see (living just fine, thank you, without seeing) How I Write, I give you the following series of photographs, carefully staged and bursting with symbolism, of my typical writing day. Hour One:


Hour Two:


Right before the end of Hour Three, when I thought I saw a really big spider or maybe just a weird shadow up on the ceiling and I had to go running and screaming out of the room to find that big stick thing with the thing on the end that will reach up there to the thing but then I thought a fresh cup of tea (or something) would be better to calm my nerves and then I looked at the thing again and decided it was just a weird shadow and I had to go back to thinking of something to write again, which basically has absolutely no chance of being heart-poundingly exciting even if it were a big spider:


Hour Four, and I have been testing my ability to maintain a pulse for oh, about an hour:


Hour Five, awash in regret for every life choice that has led me to this computer screen:


Last week, Dear Reader Melissa left a Comment about the Piece of Toast post kindly advising me to not be such a Scrooge to my Bob Cratchit self about whether or not the tree is a pom-pom or a mushroom. Good point. But to me, the shape of that tree was the whole reason why I wanted to paint that bit of garden in the first place, and if I did’t get that right then the whole picture is fake fake fake and has nothing to do with what I wanted to present. The fact that a painting with a pom-pom tree instead of a mushroom tree still might please others is not my goal as an illustrator…and I’m the same skin-flinting do-over maniac as a writer. I know that, out there in the universe, is the sentence that my soul pines to write, and I will not write a sentence that is almost like the one I want to write.

Hour Six, when I find the word that is not kind of like the one I wanted, but IS the EXACT word I wanted:


It takes but a tapping of seven keystrokes to type The Word (which, for the record, was purling, which you can find in the Key West chapter of the Damn Garden Book, and yes, it’s a dreaded adjective, so sue me):





P.S.  I actually took a break to go look through the manuscript of the Damn Garden Book to find that exact word that I remember as being so satisfying when I finally came up with it because, well, I’m a stickler for accuracy. Whilst perusing the Key West chapter I discovered a typo that made it past three proof reads (for the record, it’s imporatation) and another in the New Orleans chapter that I might be able to get away with. Professional typo-catching is boring challenging, so you can imagine how excruciatingly boring challenging it is when I’m writing for free, as in this blog.  I don’t mind at all being corrected for incorrect word choice, since, you know, words are the tools of my trade (did I really just type that??) but typos, I’m sorry to say, are the price you pay for stopping by my blog, which I write on my time off.

And now

we get to

Top Cat’s Pick

for the winner of

a topiarily-correct Piece of Toast!


And the winner (the suspense is killing me) . . .


The winner is:


Forty-Nine! (That’s Quarante-neuf for the Quebecois Dear Readers amongst us!)

Surprisingly, a whopping three Dear Readers chose the number Forty-Nine (equal to the number of Dear Readers who chose Thirty-Seven, which in my opinion is one of the more comely prime numbers), including a New and Shy Dear Reader Cathy O. For all of those clairvoyants who were on a Forty-Nine vibe, I salute you for figuring out how Top Cat’s mind works.

Two of the very Dearest of Readers, Megan and Deb Mattin, also chose Forty-Nine, and it pains me to have to break the tie by time stamp, but I must, so…

Congratulations, Deb Mattin! You are the winer of a topiarily-correct Piece of Toast! (We’ll be in touch later today.)

Top Cat just stopped in to offer his congratulations to Deb also, and he asked me “What’s up with the owl on your desk?”

“Symbolism,” I said.

“Athena?” he asked. I gave him my Yes, I Married You For Better or Worse look of love and I snorted, “Of course not.”

Don’t kill yourselves trying to figure out what’s up with the owl. His name is Archimedes. For obvious reasons. But I forget what’s up with the Abbey Road poster, except it had something to do with the walrus being Paul. Right?

Have a great weekend, my Dears.

The Making of Toast

I start with a pencil drawing of a corner in a tiny walled garden of C. W. Post college:


After applying dots of resist, I try to mix paints for a color that looks like old brick (doesn’t that blob of paint below look more like a crusty bit of old coagulated ketchup? I know: Ewwwwww.):


I used to love painting bricks and stones, but it’s been a while since I last did a brick pic:



While the bricks dry, I paint a foreground flower bush of some sort (I’m not good on naming flora, as you Dear Readers well now — but whatever this flower bush thing is, it lets you see the resist better now — it’s the yellow stuff):


Here is when I decide that the bricks are too dark; they stand out too much compared to the flower bush thing. So I take a wet paper towel and I dab up some paint:


Generally, this is not a smart thing to do — I speak from much previous experience — but I thought I could get away with it here because all I want to do is make something that looks like old brick, for which paper towel won’t be a deal-breaker. I do the deed, and then I start to hum my “Finish Painting a Flower Bush and Another Shrub” song :



Please note (above) that I have applied strokes of resist over a lightly-painted yellow-green foreground. Now see (below) how I am going to paint OVER the resist on that yellow-green background:


I remover the resist in the flower bush, and in the yellow-green background, and VOILA:


And now I’m going to hum my “Painting In The Row of Shrubs” song:



I hope you don’t mind if I  point out the unpainted tree truck (above). As you can see, there’s a blob of yellow and green paint on it. Up until this moment I have been very faithful to the photograph from which I am painting this pic…which included a tree with a bit of fernery or something that was growing out of the lowest bit of its trunk (still present in the painting below):


I knew the minute that I painted that ferny thing that it was not going to work. It just looked weird there, that unexplainable fern thing that looks like I don’t know how to paint, and it was only a tiny digression from the subject matter anyway, so I exercised my Artistic License and I lifted the ferny thing off the trunk the same way I done it on the brick walkway. As ou can see below, the ferny thing is gone now:


In case you are keeping score, no rescues have happened yet. So far, I’ve only made minor corrections — I didn’t botch this pic up until much further down the road. Stay tuned:





Ta Da:


This is when I thought the picture was DONE!  But, upon closer inspection, I saw that the tree was lop-sided, so I swooped in for my first Rescue:


Picking UP paint is not a rescue: having to apply white acrylic over a mistake, and then having to paint over it to match the rest of the pic…THAT’S a rescue. See the white acrylic paint on the lower right side of the tree’s foliage? That’s Rescue No. 1.

But, having fixed the wonky foliage, I now considered this painting DONE! YAY!


But alas, I take a careful look at my source photo:


And I smack myself right between my eyes. The problem is obvious. All the that I was painting this pic, I had it in my head that the tree was a pom pom. No matter how many times I referred back to this photo, I only saw the tree as a pom pom. But now I can plainly see that the damn thing is a mushroom. So, yes, with your brain in cahoots, your eyes will deceive you.

And so I begin Rescue No. 2 with a layer of white acrylic paint over the area that I’ll have to fix:


I apply the background of yellow paint, and I darken the color of the sky, and I put in a few patches of blue in the tree for good measure. Yeah, it looks like crap. That background area is simply too large a picture space to cover up with white acrylic paint. The acrylic was gloppy and stood out to much against the small-toothed 90 lb. paper I use:


And so, I begin Rescue No. 3 with a clever cut out:


Oh, by the way, I’m on Day Two of this piece. So far I have about 4 – 5 hours of painting time in this pic.


I’m not humming now, I’m praying Please let me get away with this.  I paint in a convincing background, I give thanks to the great DoG in the sky, and I almost start to tell myself By Jove, I think I’ve got it…until I take a good look at what I’ve done to the tree — the left side of the tree needs a curve, dammit. But this does not call for a rescue…


…because all I need to do here is a pick-up, like so:


And now …

… without further ado …

… I introduce to you, my Dear Readers, my first Piece of Toast of 2015:


The Knot Garden of C. W. Post College, available for one lucky Dear Reader:


By the way, there’s a 4th rescue that I didn’t have the heart to bore you with. If you win this Piece of Toast, you’ll be able to inspect all the rescues up close and personal and fine the 4th rescue! In fact, I think this Piece of Toast is a veritable catalogue of all the ways a painting can go wrong, and it can all be YOURS!

Here’s how I am going to give away this Piece of Toast: My OG Dear Readers know that I usually limit my give-aways to Dear Readers who have Commented on the past 2 posts of this blog. But since this is my first give-away of 2015, and I think there are a lot of new, shy Dear Readers out there, I am going to open this up To One and All this One time.

I had Top Cat pick a number from 1 to 50. I wrote his pick on a slip of paper and I put it in this envelope:


I sealed the envelope:


All you have to do is leave a Comment with your guess of a number between 1 and 50. Next week, you will witness my opening of the envelope and the reveal of the winning number inside.

If, for some rare and strange reason, there are more than 50 Dear Readers who want to own this Vivian Swift Piece of Toast, or if someone else already has guessed your lucky number, please feel free to re-use a number. If that number is the one that Top Cat picked, resulting in a tie between two Dear Readers, the Piece of Toast will go to the Dear Reader who has Commented in the last 2 weeks.

Despite the woes of painting, this pic was fun to do and I know I will be keeping my paint brushes busy in the future with more Triscuits and Pieces of Toast. But Good Luck, everyone, on Toast No. 1!

And have a happy, happy 4th of July!


Yes, I Have No Bananas

 Yes, I have no bananas, I have no bananas today, neither on my word-writin’ desk:


(Everybody say Oooooooooooooo)…and neither on my picture-making desk:


(Everybody say Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh). As clear as my desks are is as clear as my mind is. Nary a banana in sight. I am still getting used to the feeling of having no bananas, but all I can say is, I’ve never liked bananas and I can’t even stand the smell of bananas and I will gladly spend the rest of my life never eating bananas, so I am indescribably happy that I have not one, none, zip, zilch, no bananas today. Or ever!!

OK, enough with the banana metaphor. But everything I said holds true for real bananas. Simply can’t stand them.

I think I might have shown my Dear Readers the cover of the Chinese language version of my last book, Le Road Trip, when it came out in 2014:


WELL. Yesterday I got a surprise packet in the mail, from my publishers at Bloomsbury, that contained a dozen copies of ANOTHER Chinese language version of Le Road Trip:


I think this cover is very jaunty, in that I love the design but I am puzzled by the images that were selected to go on the cover. I mean, except for the wine glass, and the rather fetching self-portrait of me and Top Cat, do any of these images scream “FRANCE” to you? Yeah, me neither.

I am also curious as to why there is a new Chinese language version, because there was no note or letter enclosed with these copies. But that’s just par for the course.

Here is where I tell you all another insider anecdote about publishing: in finalizing the business stuff of the Damn Garden Book last month — LAST MONTH — I happened to notice a quirk in the paperwork that led me to ask of my publisher, “Where’s the copyright to Le Road Trip?”  Ha ha ha hahahahaha. Turns out that Bloomsbury, who published Le Road Trip on 2012, had never secured the copyright!!! OH, my, how I laughed and laughed at this delightful breech breach of contract! Yes indeed, I am exactly the kind of easy going, week-end, hobbyist for fun, trust-fund writer who would find this terribly, terribly amusing.

Actually, I was pissed. Capital P PISSED. But my agent explained to me that publishers were stretched very thin these days, being as print is a dying business, and it’s perfectly understandable that they would overlook such a minor detail as securing a copyright, which is just one of those pesky little things for which I give them 88% of every dollar earned from sales of Le Road Trip. What merriment, to know that I am part of an industry where such minor things as copyrights are, you know, just one of those things that people are too busy to deal with.

Oh well. The copyright to Le Road Trip is now done and got. And the Damn Garden Book is copyrighted as well, by the same people who send me Chinese language books with no update on what the hell is going on in China vis-a-vis a traveler’s journal of love and France.

Inhale, exhale. Peace unto me, Ommmmm, Om mani padme hum, as they say. As a matter of fact, when I want to get Zen here on the north shore of Long Island Sound I have just the place to go to and it’s not more than 4 miles from my house:


This, my darlings, is the labyrinth on the campus of C.W.Post college, made by students of the ceramics studio and installed sometime this century. I’m fuzzy on the details. Top Cat and I went there last night at the golden hour of 6:30 PM.


As you can see, walking the labyrinth at C.W.Post of a Summer evening is just about the most soothing venture there is, of a Summer evening. Ahhhhhhhh….the grounds are ever so serene:


And if you stroll down towards the horizon, lo and behold you come across a sunken garden…


…the likes of which are rarely seen outside of an Elizabethan courtyard:


Actually, many of the administration buildings of C.W.Post were built at the last turn of the century in painstaking imitation of Elizabethan structures (I hope I took pix of those structures that surround this adorable sunken knot garden):


In case you do not know, you can click on any image on this post and you will get a full-scale version (instead of these annoying tiny snaps)…


…and if you don’t get it at one click, just click again for the enlargement (this is for my Ma, who needs instructions in blog technology).


The finest thing about this sunken know garden is that, when you exit, you cross a brook with a small half-half-half moon bridge…


…which you might not notice has a weird box-like thing on raised feet (see foreground, left, above) which, I am happy to report, is a Winter shelter for the wandering campus CATS. I know!! How much do you love a college that cares for its feral felines in such a loving manner??? A lot a lot a lot a lot a lot a lot….

Further along the path, we cross the half-half-half moon bridge and espy yet more feline lodgings:


I zoomed to make sure yo wouldn’t miss it:


By the way, on your exit you must take a moment to behold the century-old Elm Tree that still thrives on the campus of C.W.Post:


That is one majestic, nobel, historic, monumental tree. This is the kind of Elm we lost to the Dutch Elm Disease blight of the last century, when America lost 75% of our 77 million Elm Trees from New England to Minnesota.

But I did not bring you to this garden just to show you how the evening light gilds every leaf it touches yadda yadda yadda. As much as I love the effect of evening gamma rays alighting upon topiary, this is not a garden that I can paint…as is, that is. This is the June Eve shot:


And this is the June Rainy Afternoon shot:


Same place, different atmospheric conditions. I don’t think I have to explain how the cloudy, dim light illuminates shapes and structures so much better than the clear romantic light of vespers. Here are more rainy day shots of the same sunken know garden:






If i were to paint this lovely sunken knot garden for your viewing pleasure, I would take the rainy day pix and, with my artistic license, add just a touch of June Vesper to make it glow just a tad. I mean, my desks look awfully lonely, and I don’t want to get out of practice, and I haven’t had a Work of Art Give Away for my darling readers this whole year…

…this won’t be a Triscuit. This will be more like a piece of Arnold Whole Grain slice of bread toast. If anybody is interested in watching me paint this C.W.Post sunken knot garden, please meet me back here next Friday.

No bananas will be eligible to win next week’s Toast Give Away.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers.