Fireworks, trumpets, a few baton twirlers, and a special guest appearance from the Philly Phanatic *: We have a winner! Top Cat has spoken and last week’s Giverny Triscuit goes to…

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Number 42! Wait…nobody guessed number 42.

Number 16! What? Nobody guessed number 16 either??

Number 33! I think you’re doing this on purpose…another zilch guesses on that one. One more, TC, and get it right this time OK?

Number 12! And we have a winner! Congratulations, Deborah Hatt!  You hung in there and you got Top Cat’s 4th guess! Your Monet Garden Gate Triscuit will be signed, sealed, and delivered asap! (Email me your address at vivianswift at yahoo dot com, please.)

Thank you to everyone who entered — you’re all eligible for next week’s Pub Date Celebration Triscuit!

* The Philly Phanatic is the mascot of the professional baseball team from Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA), the Philadelphia Phillies, and is only the best team mascot ever. And he’s green, so, like, gardening.

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As for this past weekend here on the Isle of Long, the magic number was 58 — degrees! (14 C!) So as of 9:42 in the morning of February 20, Taffy declared that the grounds of Taffy Manor were officially 100% snow free. which is a cause for celebration considering that last year we didn’t get rid of the snow until April 4.

And being as he has appointed himself our neighbor’s watch-cat in charge of keeping Steve (our friendly neighborhood stray) off their patio, Taffy then gave the neighbor’s yard a good look-see:

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Having discerned that the premises was 100% Steve-free, Taffy aided me in inspecting our old tomato patch…

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…which in a mere 98 days will be planted with various heirloom and hybrid varieties. Top Cat, the Tomato Patch Kid, can’t wait.

These dregs of Winter, these hints of almost on-the-cusp-of-Spring days of February, these daggy days of counting down until the vernal equinox are the hardest days in the year for gardeners. Good thing that I, not being an actual gardening gardener, have a long history of “gardening” all year round. All I needed was a comfy chair, a needle and some thread, and I was off, gardening the four seasons:

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I embroidered these four season long before I met Top Cat. Please note the black and white cat sniffing the flowers…that’s Woody Robinson, the original Top Cat, my one and onliest heart-to-heart kitty who I still miss every day. (Keep an eye out for him in almost all my sewing. It was my way of paying tribute to The Best Cat in the World.)

I’ve been embroidering since I was 10 years old but my output peaked in the 1990s, when I was in my late 30s/early 40s. Those were the  years when I had a vague but urgent compulsion to keep busy making stuff, the same drive that evolved over the years into an actual mission (which I now try to fulfill as a writer/illustrator/blogger) to make stuff that mattered. That’s why, in 1994, I entered this (below) in a contest hosted by a local historical society:

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The goal was to portray this very old (17th century) house in Rye, New York; I embroidered the house with a four season motif of (from top to bottom) Winter, Fall, Summer (Hi there, Woody Robinson!), Spring. I won Best in Show. The historical society told me that they would love to keep this piece for their home office and I gladly gave it to them. I was happy that I’d made something that mattered to them.

I also sewed fantasy pieces, like this picture of me, Woody Robinson, and an itinerant cat-pet who I called Louie (he wandered into my life one day, and on another day he wandered back out of it) having tea in a garden of my dreams:

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For those of you who are stitchers, in this detail (below) you can see how I “garden” with satin, buttonhole, running, and feather stitches. Basic stuff! Easy! You can teach yourself these stitches in about an hour!

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I had to put this garden in my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam (on page 126) in honor of that time in my life when embroidery, and Woody, and Louie, meant so very much to me:

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I was also riffing on the idea that me and the cats were citizens of our own isolated micro-nation, which I reductively called Pawsylvania:

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But I’m perfectly capable of portraying actual, real gardens in thread, too. This is a portrait of the herb garden at the museum of medieval art in upper Manhattan called the Cloisters:

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I also included this garden in Wanderers because it tickled me no end to put my sewing in print:

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I am a huge fan of herb gardens:

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These mini-gardens are the fore-runners of my watercolor Triscuits:

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Vegetables:

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And I even got a commission, to do a piece about the Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, New York:

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Besides gardens, I quite liked doing maps:

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This is a map of a trip to France I took in 1985, through the Loire Valley, Brittany, and Normandy:

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And this is a map of a trip I took in 1990 (which includes an experiment in the use of paint):

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You might have noticed that in this map I stitched in some flowers up in northern France, to stand for my first visit to Giverny. Or was it my second? I’ve lost count.

When I went to Giverny that time in 1990 I was on a mission, to take notes and get a feel for the lay of the land there. Because when I got back I drew a condensed version of Monet’s famous flower and water garden and I sewed for 98 hours, and gave the garden as a wedding gift for my sister Buffy:

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I did a two-season view of Giverny here, with Spring on the left and Fall on the right. I took many, many liberties in this portrayal of the world’s most famous garden, liberties that I would not take today, now that I have been putting the Clos Normand under scrutiny for my watercolors. Speaking of which…didn’t I promise you that we’d paint Monet’s allee today?

This is the famous allee:

 

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So let’s pick it up from here:

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The trick is to work in very small doses of color. Let each little smattering of color dry before patting in another color except for the times when you want the colors to bleed . . .

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. . . like here, where I made several small pools of greenish colors, which I then swiped with quick strokes of my size-00 brush, in order to imitate stalks and leaves:

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I am playing here, dashing in a little blue to the green paint, and stroking through it (wet-in-wet):

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I think it is the years that I spent as an embroiderer, sewing pictures one little stitch at a time, that gives me the patience and the control to work in such tiny, small, careful increments. Embroidery is good training for miniature painting.

Back to flowers: Oooooh, I like it when blue bleeds into purple…but I always keep red seperate because blue/purple + red = mud:

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Ooooooo, some more blue/purple bleeds for effect:

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And now, fun fun fun, I’m just dabbing in as many different shades of green as I can:

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Add a few foreground leaves (I looked it up: these are called “strap-shaped” leaves, the ones that stand tall like this, as in tulips for example):

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Now for the little pom-pom shaped saplings. . .

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. . . and the arbors (or are they trellises?). . .

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. . . paint in the green gate at the foot of the allee and voila:

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Done.

Hmmmmmm… wait a sec. Compared to the original photo…

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…isn’t there something missing? Like, a certain amount of truthfulness? Since I don’t like red-leafed trees I edited out the one on the left hand side, but I now feel bad about  that … and I wimped out on the dark areas in the back ground… and I totally gave up the foreground; I didn’t even try to “get” that lovely effect of the lilac-colored tulips dotting a cloud of small light-blue flowers.

Believe me, I really wanted to leave well enough alone. It had taken me six hours to paint this picture and I did not want to risk ruining it all by doing the kind of painting that I am not very good at (red trees, dark backgrounds, actual flower painting).

So I let this picture sit around for about three days until it became evident that I had to have a go at making it real. I decided to add all those bits that I’d left out, no matter if it ruined the picture. My Giverny garden painting has to be a true as possible. Damn it.

I meant to take pictures of the transformation, but I got very caught up with the process so all I have is this end result:

Giverny, Monet's garden, Clos Normand

I’m so happy that I didn’t have to rip out stitches to fix this pic. So, yeah, I still pick watercolor over embroidery when it comes to gardening.

Well, I hope all you Dear Readers had some extra spare time this morning — this was a long post, again; at least a 2-tea-cupper. Next week I promise to bend your ear for only as long as it takes to paint a Pub Date Celebration Triscuit … along with several medium-sized digressions, of course. Because the world needs my opinions on almost everything.

And once again, Congratulations to Deborah Hatt for winning the Monet Garden Gate Triscuit!

See you all next Friday!

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On the left (below) is the delicious cracker made by Nabisco*, a salty whole grain hors d’ouvre-holder and snack food beloved by Americans. On the right is a Triscuit made by me, an author-illustrator beloved by 6 out of 7 of my cats*.

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*Nabisco/Mondelez (pronounced mon-dell-eeeze) has given me permission to use their trademark Triscuit to describe my teeny-tiny paintings up until the time they send me a cease and desist letter. Thank you, Product Manager at Mondelez Global LLC in East Hanover, New Jersey.

*Steve is the new cat #7, a feral tuxedo Manx that I’ve been feeding for five months but haven’t been able to trap yet because he still doesn’t understand that he belongs to me, dammit.

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Kirra, this snow is for YOU.

Last weekend it got so cold here on the north shore of Long Island that I had to rescue my Champagne-O-Meter from the backyard (I wish I could put a photo in parenthesis):

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For 2 days the temperatures hovered around Zero degrees ( 0 F, -18 C) and I did not want my champagne to totally freeze. So on Sunday morning I put the bottle back out on the patio and left it there for 7 hours (I wonder if inanimate objects are subject to “wind chill”?). And then it was — finally — 5 o’clock and I brought that baby inside and popped the cork and voila! I got a Champagne Slushie!!

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Dear Readers, your eyes do not deceive you. This is what deep-frozen champagne looks like, a glass full of icy bubbles! It was fabulous.

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Note: A bottle of champagne left out in sub-zero temperatures for 7 hours will freeze from the bottom up. The first glass you pour looks a lot like regular champagne, except for being much colder, but when you set the bottle down after your first pour something happens strange happens and the normal laws of champagne physics break down. The champagne begins to flow upwards out of the bottle, against gravity, in a continuous froth of bubbly foam until you quickly pour a second glass, at which time balance is restored to the Champer-Verse and the stuff behaves normally, except for its being mostly icy slush. At which time you give Thanks that you have a wonderful reason to not totally hate Winter.

Getting back to the Triscuit thing, to long time Dear Readers of this blog that means one thing:  Time for a Triscuit Give Away! For new Dear Readers of this blog, please let me announce that it’s Triscuit Give Away Time!! Which we will get to at the end of this post (feel free to skip ahead to the end if you are like my husband and think blog posts should not go on and on, like mine tend to)  because for now, I want to discuss How I Cheat When It Comes To Drawing Really Hard Things in Perspective.

Consider, for example, a view such as this:

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This is the allee of Monet’s garden in Giverny, the main feature of his sumptuous flower garden (which is way better than his more famous water garden, by the way). I took this photo in May 2013 at about 7 o’clock at night, long after the garden had closed for the day. You can read how I was able to sneak this photo, and a lot of others, when the garden was officially closed,which I consider a red hot travel tip, by clicking here. We’ll wait while you read up on this.

Hey! You’re back! So let’s get to it: Drawing all those arched arbors down this rather long garden path/allee is way, way above my pay grade as a draftsperson. I could never do it without cheating. So what I do is, I cheat. First, I have print out a black and white copy of this photo (from my computer, on plain white paper — no fancy photo-quality sheets necessary):

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The black and white picture make it easy for me to see the contrast I need in order to trace those arbors onto tracing paper:

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I could never see those trellis lines if this photo was still in color. So, in black felt tip pen I trace over the arbors and the horizon, because a horizon is a useful thing to know in any picture, as it keeps the painter from painting things that look like they are floating in the air:

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The next step is to trace those guide lines onto watercolor paper (use either a light box or tape the sheets onto a window, if it’s a sunny day):

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I slather in the background, using very broad strokes and watery paint. I will try to keep these features very faint in this picture in order to emphasize the foreground — the lovely floral allee:

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I have to get those two huge yew trees at the top of the all just right — they are the key to the scale and truthfulness of everything else I will paint:

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So I finish these yew trees and then I take a good look at the picture and I see right away that the top trellis/arbor that I drew would not work in this picture. So I erased them and, as the pencil lines were so faint, they are hardly noticeable under the paint of the yew trees (paint tends to “fix” graphite, BTW). And then I was all set to get to the good stuff: the flowers! I LOVE painting these flowers!! And sorry, I got so engrossed painting these wonderful fleurs that I forgot to take pictures of the progress, so here’s a pic of the piece when it’s about 80% done:

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I use white acrylic paint to paint over the arbors because I need them to POP, and putting down a base of white acrylic paint before I paint them green will do that:

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See? (See: Below)

Clos Normand Giverny Monet garden

You might notice that in the end I futzed the horizon line on the left side of this picture. I did that because I thought it was too strong a horizontal and I thought it was distracting. For the record, that (left) part of Monet’s garden is very complicated — lots of topiary and trained shrubs and big brambly stuff that I don’t want to get into — but I hope I’ve indicated enough of a there there…but I might look at this picture next month and decide it needs more definition. However, for now, it’s done.

Monet panted in series: haystacks, poplar trees, Rouen Cathedral…you know what I mean. Good lord, he painted his water lilies 270 times. So just because this is the second picture I’ve painted of his allee (counting last week’s picture) does not mean that I am done with this view, no siree. I went to Giverny last December specifically to get a sneak peek at Monet’s garden in Winter, which is how I got this photo:

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I love gardens in Winter. Love love love love them. I love them so much that I put a Winter Garden in my garden book (in the Edinburgh chapter). I also adore decrepitude — that’s why I had to write about a decrepit garden in London for Gardens of Awe and Folly. To me, a flower garden in December (in the northern hemisphere) is all about decrepitude, and all about Winter. So poetic! So truthful! So soulful! So to me, this view of Monet’s garden is deliciousness times two. I could not wait to paint it! So, without further ado, let me trace those arbors and get down to painting!!!!

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P.S. above: Last week I mentioned that I photoshop my fingers for these action pix…this week I just left the band aids on. My hands get very dry in the Winter but that’s OK: I can paint wounded. I’m so very, very brave that way.

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 And done:

Clos Normand Giverny Monet garden

You can see that in this picture I left the foreground arbor/trellis intact (the same trellis that I eliminated from the Spring version). It works here, I think. (Fun fact: in total, the allee has only 6 trellises. Trellises? Is that a word?)

I can not tell you how satisfying this was to paint! It was heaven. That’s why, like stout Cortez at that place where he wept because there were no more worlds to conquer…wait. I think that was Alexander the Great, who wanted to keep going; Cortes was the chap full of wild surmise. I could go either way with this literary reference because any hoo, I was not ready to quit this wonderful allee, and as I was sober (it was at least an hour away from Sunday Cocktail Time), I decided to paint a Triscuit as a token of my appreciation for all my Dear Readers:

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Voila, the Giverny Triscuit:

Giverny Monet garden gate Clos Normand

Now, I know that some of my Dear Readers do not come from Nabisco countries so they might not know about Triscuits, so maybe this will help set the scale (because I assume that everyone knows about tea bags):

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The Triscuit is 4.5 centimeters square, about the size of a Gum Nut Baby. It’s really small, but you know that small is my “thing”.

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This is a view of Monet’s allee facing away from the house, towards the big garden gate at the bottom of his flower garden. That’s the gate the the master himself used when he strolled from his studio to his water garden (on the other side of the wall there). It’s a historic gate. And now that I look at it…the gate is wrong. Back to the painting. . .

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OK, now it’s DONE.

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To win this Giverny Triscuit, all you have to do is leave a Comment in the Coments at the end of this post, and guess a number between 1 and 50. When the Comments close after five days — sorry, it’s a spam-avoidance necessity — I will have Top Cat choose a number and announce the Winner in next week’s post!

The fine print: In order to be eligible  for this contest you must have left a Comment here in the past two weeks.

So Good Luck, my Dear Readers, and keep Commenting…Pub Date of Gardens of Awe and Folly is March 1 and I might be in the mood to celebrate with another Triscuit Give Away (or another bottle of frozen champagne, depending on the weather).

 

 

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Last Friday’s little storm caught me by surprise, meaning that it blew into Long Island on the very day that the last of the stuff from the monster Winter Storm Jonas had melted, leaving me optimistically out of champagne, so all I have to show you today is a Pinot Grigio-O-Meter:

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The snow started at 9:30 and was over by 3 o’clock in the afternoon which, on a snowy Winter day, was indeed a very Happy Hour. This weekend is predicted to be super cold with flurries, but rest assured that the Pinot Grigio has gone on to booze heaven and there is a new  Champagne-O-Meter awaiting its destiny:

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I’m so very happy to hear that last week’s Watercolor tutorial was very helpful to a number of Dear Readers. If you remember, we painted bark:

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Dear Reader Sandy Lane left a Comment that she did a happy dance after she painted her first tree (with or without Pinto Grigio, she did not say). And our own Felicia sent me a message — OMG It Works! followed your steps  and on my first try painted the best tree I’ve ever painted.  It actually looks like a tree! I’m beyond excited and so grateful for your tips. And she sent me proof:

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Very cool — I love the shadows and the background evergreens! Thank you, Felicia!

So, my Dear Readers, what shall we paint today? How about a nice flower garden? Like, the one in Giverny that I am currently obsessed with? The one that Monet tended for 43 years, from 1883 until his death in 1926? You know, the one with the memorable allee:

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Yeah, that one. I’m using my own reference photograph to draw from:

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As usual, I am going to work in miniature, because painting small-scale is where I feel most at ease. First I get my sky in, and then I use my fattest brush to blob in some different shades of green:

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I am working wet-in-wet here — meaning that I dab in wet watercolor on top of already wet watercolors — because I like it when the colors bleed in interesting ways, like this:

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Oooooooo…I like this bleed so much that I am going to leave it alone, and do my best to make sure that it stays there as a part of the picture. I use my smallest brush to fill out the foliage on top, to make an interesting silhouette. As you can see, even though I work in miniature, I do my background in little bits and pieces; I work too slowly to be able to  paint a background (even a teeny background such as this) in one swell foop:

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This picture is going to take about three and a half hours to paint.

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One of the reasons it’ll take so long is because I take great care when I have to paint a dark background behind a light-colored object, in this case a small tree in the foreground. I have to say that painting in these fussy details is very, very relaxing for me.

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I do not have a relaxing personality. I’m a bit too cranky and antsy to be what most people might call “nice”.  I’m not built for meditation or contemplation or anything like introspection (I am not very deep), but I can get very Zen-y when I have to be gentle and calm to make itty bitty brush strokes around titter-bittier stuff in my teeny tiny illustrations. I just love the slow breathing and the patience it takes. My mind wanders, and I find myself having very gratifying hypothetical conversations with people I truly dislike, tete-a-tetes with pin heads in which I get the better of them with my outstanding wit and wisdom. Oh well. Even in my most serene moments, I like to argue with the world.

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By the way, I have to photoshop my fingers in these pictures in order to make them look all smooth and pink. It’s February and my hands are dead dry and chapped and most of my cuticles and finger tips are split and u-g-l-y. I just thought I’d let you know that I’m as guilty as Vogue magazine when it comes to faking an impossible standard of beauty. Sorry.

I’m very proud that I am painting this scene true to life, even though it means that I have to paint a red-leafed tree. I can’t stand red-leaf trees (I don’t know their names but I’m sure a lot of you Dear Readers can tell me). Trees should be green, period. Maroon trees depress me.

You can see how I am doing my best to show off that interesting green blob-bleed on the left side of the picture:

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And now for the FUN part! I get to paint the flowers!! Again I am working wet-in-wet, bleeding in blue and purple to make an interesting cloud-like pool of color, which I swipe through to make those vertical lines (for a change of texture):

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Time to finish that foreground tree:

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The detail that I’m adding in here are the extremely violet tulips that grow at the very top of this allee:

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I make the same wet-in-wet clouds of color for the other side of the allee:

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Monet painted his garden furnishings (including his Japanese bridge) a very vivid and unusual shade of green. I match his color by mixing a Winsor Newton (watercolor) blue-green with an acrylic emerald green — the acrylic paint has the “oomph” (the artificiality and opacity) that I need to make Monet’s arbors and trellises stand out amidst the jumble of his very “busy” garden:

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Like this:

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You can see what I chose to edit out of the scene that I ended up painting by comparing it to the reference photo again:

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Now,  if you compare that photo to this one I took from a very slightly different angle. . .

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. . . you can see that I have left out that tall poplar tree smack in the middle of the view:

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I really don’t like the way that poplar tree juts up in the center of this view. But, *sigh*, I know that I will end up putting it in, however, for now I can’t bear it. Also, you can see that I go easy when it comes to painting in at the necessary darks in the background — call it lack of confidence, or fear of making the whole thing look too muddy. But I also know that I’ll have to go back and dab in some chiaroscuro as soon as I get the nerve to do that poplar tree.

These are all the exact same issues I will be dealing with when I paint this other view of the allee:

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In my world, this is a mural. But that’s for next week.

The other news in VivianWorld is that I got my hands on a pre-publication copy of Gardens of Awe and Folly. Bloomsbury mailed me my official Author Copy.

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I took it out of its wrapper and put it on the little table in the hallway where I dump all of our junk mail. I made a cup of tea, and I went to eBay for some reckoning-avoidance shopping (why are all the cool vintage Monkees T-shirts only to be found in the UK??). Then I went to my cardio/kick boxing class at my gym, and I stopped by Loew’s to buy 40 pounds of bird food, and when I came home and did a load of laundry and watched  Judge Judy. Etc.

OK, it wasn’t until the next day that I opened the book for inspection. As always, Bloomsbury has done a superb job making this book a lovely object to hold in our hand. The illustrations are colorful, the binding is archival, the quality of the paper is fine-arty. And then I found one mistake in text layout that is all my fault (I indented a line that should have been left flush) and I slammed it shut.

All in all, I find that the DGB is indeed a lovely book full of wisdom and humor that I desperately wish I could re-write and re-draw all over again, just so I could make sure it is 100% indisputably, with-a-doubt, painfully and putatively pluperfect. I am in agony. The book is done, I can’t futz with it and more, it’s out there and I can’t reel it back in for just one or a few thousand more tweaks.

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And then a professional garden writer and horticulturist named Nina Koziol called me up and interviewed me about the DGB for the Chicago Tribune newspaper and website and she didn’t once tell me that I got it all wrong, and we had a delightful chat about the wacky world of gardeners. . . so whew. Maybe I pulled it off.

17 days until pub date. March 1, y’all. I think I’ll send the day in bed.

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This, my Dear Readers, is Paulownia tree, of which there are many in bloom in Paris in May:

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And this is the Paulownia tree in Monet’s garden at Giverny (back view):

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And this is my study of the Paulownia tree in Monet’s garden at Giverny (front view):

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Our Dear Reader Felicia mentioned in a Comment recently that she’s been working on trees, and how they give her fits — they give me fits, too — so I am dedicating this post to BARK for Felicia, and I hope that you’ll all paint along with us.

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As much as it gives me fits to do trees (all those branches branching off in unpredictable ways) the one thing that I just love to paint is bark, because I know the secret! And the secret is that simply by letting watercolors do what they want to do naturally, you can let the paint do most of the work when it comes to painting bark! And it’s FUN!!

The key color when you are painting bark is gray. Bark is barely brown: it is mostly gray :

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And the good news is that making gray from scratch is one of the most fun things to do with watercolor paint! Here’s how:

I start with this color, called “Flesh”, for reasons that I don’t want to get into:

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Then I mix in some brown:

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Next I mix in some blue — pretty much any hue from ultramarine to turquoise will do, whatever you have at hand or whatever blue is the one you prefer to work with:

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I’m a big fan of my Grumbacher Prussian blue:

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Then I add a tiny tiny bit of black:

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I like to keep my grays on the blue-side, but that’s just me. You might have a totally different taste in gray:

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And then I’m going to throw in some Burnt Sienna:

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So now I have all the shades of gray that I’ll need for my bark — I will keep switching the palette ever so slightly, because the one thing you want when you paint bark is a lot of subtle gradations of color. I showed you my paint mix on paper so you can see the range of colors that will be possible, but in reality I will be working from a pan, in which I will have mixed all those flesh, brown, blue, and black paints to make an interesting gray:

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And now, Let’s Paint!

First, lay down a few strips of color:

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Vary the width of your strips by pressing down or lightening up on your paint brush. Do not paint them too close together, and vary the color of the strips (I’m working with browns and grays here):

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The reason that you don’t want to paint your strips too close together is because this is the secret about watercolor:

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When watercolor dries, you can stroke another strip of color right next to it and just because it’s watercolor, that edge of dry paint meeting the other edge of wet paint will form a nice texture, which in this case, looks exactly like bark — you don’t have to “paint” the texture at all..the texture IS THE PAINT!

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Is that nifty or what?!?!

Once I have most of the strips painted in, I load my brush with just plain, clear water and I run it down one side (the right side) of the tree trunck, to blend and soften that one area just a bit:

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And while the tree is still wet, I dab in some pure black paint:

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Again, I’m not going to work it much — I’m just going to let it do what it wants to do, which is bleed and pool in interesting places. Then I’ll let it dry, and voila:

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The bark practically painted itself!

Now, this is just a basic technique. If your tree has a different bark texture, or it has twists and burls in it, or it is smooth and kind of green, or  it is sun-dappled :

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Well, that takes practice and variations…but this painting-in-strips-thing is the basic way that I paint bark.

Yes, I expect to have to re-paint the Paulownia tree that I showed you at the top of this post, or just to re-work some more darkness and girth into the trunk and branches, but to keep things interesting for me I have been taking a stab at painting Monet’s flowers lately…and next week I’ll show you how that’s coming along.

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Have a great Super Bowl Weekend everybody! Go Peyton!

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How To Make a Champagne-O-Meter for Winter Storm Jonas

Step One: Set a bottle of your favorite bubbly on the back lawn. Wait for snow. Or go to bed, since the forecast calls for snow to start falling at 2AM and sorry, only a slow dance with a Beatle is worth staying up that late for.

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Step Two: Wake up next morning and check for accumulation:

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Step Three: Gather together your Winter Storm Survival Kit (a 1,000-piece picture puzzle, Trader Joe’s fish sticks, homemade black bean soup, plenty of indoor champagne) and then do what Taffy does:

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Step Four: Sleep late the next morning and then head out to the back yard:

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Step Five: No, 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning is NOT too early to open this baby up.

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And yes, the best place to see a really beautiful Winter sunset is by standing out on your roof…

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But chilling champagne and hanging out on my roof wasn’t the only thing I did last weekend. I also spent some time painting some really truly hideous pictures.

It all began with this photo:

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This is the entrance to the famous garden in Giverny once owned by Claude Monet, photographed by me on May 15, 2013. Those are some miniature apple trees trained to grown horizontally along a wire fence, and in the background is a multitude of cherry trees in blossom and those really tall trees in the far back are in Monet’s water garden. That weeping willow to the far left is the one that Monet painted so often when he did his water lily pictures.

So two weeks ago I decided to try and paint this view:

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Done:

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Yeeeeech. First of all, I drew the apple trees incorrectly. Also, the tree line in the background is very unattractive. I regret my decision to paint in those arbors with the pink flowers in the middle-ground. And the whole picture is too dark, mostly because I used black to give the apple tree foliage some depth, some kind of definition to make them stand out as forms:

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This is very discouraging. I don’t feel good about myself when I spend four hours painting something that turns out to be dreck. But what else can I do but take a break, wait to be snowed in, and start again:

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Done:

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Yeeeech. I thought that changing the perspective by raising the horizon would help the composition, and I didn’t paint in a sky — which I now realize was a dumb thing to do. Those arbors that were so noticeable in Yeeech Picture No. 1 are now merely hinted at by stroking in some faint lines in the pink haze — also a dumb move. And the  apple trees still aren’t doing it for me.

So, I start over again:

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I’ve already decided that I’m going to do something completely different with the apple trees: I’m NOT going to paint them leaf by leaf — that is just the wrong way to handle these things. So I started by blobbing in some apple-tree forms and when they looked OK, I committed to the picture and painted in the sky.

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I’m only going to add teeny tiny leafs here and there, and only int he foreground…yeah, that’s the ticket…

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And DONE:

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Yeeeeeeech. I mean, just yeeeeeech. I lowered the horizon, which was a good move, and I painted in a better looking background tree line, and I didn’t go crazy over-doing the apple tree foliage but still…YEEEEECH.

Although I am working from a reference photo that I took two years ago, I’ve been to this garden numerous times and I was just there last month, too, so I know very well the feeling of this particular spot. And I don’t get that feeling from this picture.

OK. I’ve now invested about 16 hours into finding all the worst ways to paint this scene. I’m pretty depressed. I have to figure out how to paint this picture in order to figure out how to paint any other part of Monet’s garden (which I plan to do a lot of). I think it’s time for some soul-searching, for facing some artistic self-truths, and stuff, but first I have to go find some champagne. Because champagne is happiness.

So I got a glass of champagne and I re-thought about all the things that went wrong during the three times I’ve tried to paint this pic. And I realized that it all came down to the size of the paper:

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Each time that I’ve painted this view I have started out with a rather large sheet of paper, about 9 x 12  inches. This is all wrong. One thing that I know about myself as a painter is that I love to work small. Small small small small. And, as it turns out, this picture would be very happy on a much smaller sheet of paper anyway (as shown cropped, below):

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So I cut me some new sheets of 90 lb. Canson watercolor paper — 15 centimeter square sheets:

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And I started all over AGAIN:

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And I painted for another four hours and then I was DONE:

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And except for that wonky sign (which is removable), I don’t think I’ll be re-painting this anytime soon.

The better part of art, like life, is just about hanging in there.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

And speaking of hanging in there, here’s a picture of five of my cats doing just that, in their own very spectacular ways:

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I had managed to wade out onto the back patio while I was digging out my Champagne-O-Meter, and had put out some trays of bird seed, which caused the felines to gather in the den:

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 Kitty TV.

 

 

 

 

 

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This is, so far, my No. 1 Favorite Flower Thing of 2016:

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This big-ass bouquet of my favorite flowers (Roses and Hydrangeas!!) was deposited on my doorstep on my b-day eve ALL FOR ME!!!

The card said only “From your fans everywhere” and Top Cat swears it wasn’t him which I believe because this came from a fancy florist  and Top Cat wraps my birthday presents in the weekly grocery store circular (so very colorful) so, to my Dear Readers and Fellow Flower Lovers, I thank you for this, and all your birthday wishes in the Comments last week — you are all my favorite part of turning 30 x 2. THANK YOU.

But you know what they say, even birthday girls have to clean cat boxes, so I was putting clean newspaper liners in the downstairs cat boxes last weekend when I came across this:

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It’s the December 25 edition of the New York Times. I don’t usually read The Arts section (like any sane American I have no interest in dance, theater, jazz, or the art world in general) so I missed this but Lo! I never thought I’d ever see The Crown of the Andes again!

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It is news to me that this crown is now on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan ( you can read all about it here). The last I heard of this South American knick-knack was in 1995, when I was a  VP at Christies in charge of Faberge and every other ridiculously expensive jeweled object that wasn’t actually jewelry. Due to professional ethics, I can’t tell you the details about the consignor and the sales terms, but I can tell you that The Crown of the Andes came to Christie’s in a very old, very tattered cardboard box after having been in storage — and not fancy storage — for decades. The lore around it was, to put it mildly, dubious.

So, since I was in charge of cataloguing the thing, I had to research both its provenance and its intrinsic value, that is, I had to ferret out its true backstory and I had to determine the material value of the gold work and the emeralds. I brought in a consultant gemologist to count and measure the 450-ish emeralds on this crown and the first thing he discovered was that the big center emerald was not the 50-carat monster that its consignor claimed; if memory serves, it was 19 carats, which is still huge for an emerald, but if you think you can tell someone that their 50-carat emerald in less than half that size and not have that person scream and yell and accuse you of being either incompetent or a swindler, you are sadly mistaken, my friends.

I see that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has catalogued that center emerald as 24-carats…well, maybe, maybe not. We auction house people tend to have  low opinions of the expertise of museum people. We had to deliver certifiable information to our customers or else we’d be sued; museum people only had to footnote their hypothesizes. However, in this case, as the emerald is mounted, taking its measurements requires some careful hypothesizing so I can concede that there is wiggle room when it comes to fixing a definitive carat weight. But 24 carats is at the top of what I would call an educated guess.

Anyhow. Christie’s made a huge PR campaign to get this crown sold, making a spiffy catalogue and inviting all kinds of international dignitaries, rich people, and media to come and get up close and personal with this object. This is the press conference we held at Christie’s old home on Park Avenue (they moved to Rockefeller Center in the later 1990s):

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Yes! There were TV crews there! The spokesman for Christie’s, who was my boss at the time, was a debonair Englishman who headed the Silver Dept. :

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His name is Christopher Hardtop and you can still see him from time to time on old re-runs of Antiques Roadshow. What an excellent person he was.

And this is me, standing next to him, looking more ghostly than the fair haired Englishman:

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It was my idea to put the crown on a circle mirror atop a plinth draped in black velvet.

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I remember my outfit clearly: I am 39 years old, the Faberge expert at a world renown auction house, wearing a thrift store skirt that was a little too big, a thrift store over-sized turtle neck sweater, and an old crochet bureau runner as a scarf because I’d seen a girl wear something like it in France in the 1970s and could never find the exact right old gossamer crochet thing so I substituted this bureau scarf because I thought it would still look OK.  I miss my auburn hair.

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Look at I, I’m Lady Di.

Note the fierce looking chap in the background, below (the one in the drawing):

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That’s the last Incan emperor, Atahualpa. He’s there because this crown came to us with the provenance that it had been the property of this fabled warrior, which I proved was nonsense once I researched the gold work, which was clearly a marriage of 16th and 17th century Spanish colonial goldsmithing, which we clearly stated in the catalogue. Remember: we’re legally liable for our assessments. But we kept the Atahualpa legend in the PR, because, you know, Inca.

The consignment material attached to this crown also claimed that it was displayed at the 1939 World’s Fair (the most famous of the World’s Fairs) but I researched archives and found that although the then-owners of the crown begged the Fair organizers to put it on display (I suspect to drum up interest in it, as they were trying to sell the damn thing), the crown never made the cut. And yeah, the consignor was pretty pissed about that, too, which is usually the case when you tell people an inconvenient truth, isn’t it?

This whole faux-World’s Fair provenance is why I read this sentence in the New York Times article (see the link) with interest: It was taken out of storage only for momentous occasions like [sic] the introduction of new Chevrolets in 1937 and the New York World’s Fair in 1939.

I think this is outstanding writing. This sentence is written in such a way that the reader is left with the gleaming impression  that the crown was at the spiffy  1939 World’s Fair, but close inspection reveals that the writer is only liable for the claim  that it was simply “brought out of storage”, which I can assure you, it was. Nicely done, Kathryn Shattuck.

BTW, I regretted that hair cut of 1995. I grew it out and by my 40th birthday I had a shoulder-length blonde do, which was a whole other regrettable set of circumstances.

This is a more representative picture of me as an auction house executive, in 1992, taken while I was doing an appraisal of an estate in New Orleans (the guy was a hoarder of expensive clocks, and this is how he lived):

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Yeah, my hair was that long, and yeah, I’m wearing my ex-boyfriend’s unlined khaki sports jacket, leggings, knee high boots, and a thrift shop cashmere sweater. It was November and that mansion had no heat.

I can’t tell you the value that Christie’s contracted to sell the Crown of the Andes for, but if you google Christie’s sale Crown of the Andes, you can watch the old tape on YouTube of the crown being hammered down for 2.2 million dollars and if you listen closely, you can hear the auctioneer mumble “Pass” at the end. The crown did not meet its reserve and we did not sell it. I wonder if the Met had to pony up the full asking price.

Oh well. Here is where I transition from this lengthy digression on my hair c. 1992-5 to something more relevant to today’s VivianWorld, which is indeed quite flowery. If you recall from last week’s post, I promised to paint this Squint view:

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This is the little brook called the Ru, which runs into Monet’s water garden and fills the famous lily pond there. Monet painted 250 pictures of the reflections of his flowers and the Normandy sky in the Ru, which is why I chose to isolate this particular view. I began by painting the clouds and the far shore, and putting masking fluid over the tree trunk:

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And then I painted the rest of the picture:

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I put more masking fluid over the painted surface here:

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And then I picked up the masking:

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OK, now I’m ready to pick up the masking on the tree trunk:

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With a small paint brush loaded only with clear water, I can go back over a painted area and “pick up” some dry paint — this is how I make “ripples” on what is supposed to be a watery surface:

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See the ripples in the upper edge?

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Even though I think that this is not the best Squint I’ve ever painted, I can say that painting in this small scale is very relaxing for me. This is my comfort zone — my instincts as a painter are perfectly suited for this tiny format.

But what I learned in illustrating my Damn Garden Book (Gardens of Awe and Folly) is that gardens often can not be Squinted at…they need to be stared at, perused, and contemplated. This means that I have to paint a wide-eyed landscape when I paint something like this:

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Oh, lordy, it is a struggle to put so much information in such a large space.

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But you know I’ll try and try and try again until I get it right, and I’ll show you all my trials and errors in detail. Also, according to the best predictions it looks like I’ll be breaking out the 2016 Champagne-O-Meter tomorrow, and I haven’t made my annual blue birthday cake yet, so I’m inviting you to my Blizzard Party when we all get together next week. See you here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NOTE: Yes, I did it again, I forgot to turn on the Comments button. But it’s on now, and I would love to hear from you! And now, back to the regularly scheduled blog:

The times call for a bold blue sky:

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“The times” being my upcoming birthday weekend in which I say farewell to my 50s without ever having been totally convinced that I ever left my 30s, and “the times” being the time I walked from the small town of Vernon to the much smaller town of Giverny (in May 2013, which I have not painted until now):

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I’m glad that I waited, and painted nine other gardens (for the DGB) before I tackled Monet’s garden (and environs) at Giverny. For one thing, I’ve gotten good at not painting clouds — once you get used to picking up watercolor with a bit of rolled-up paper towel, you never have to PAINT clouds … you non-paint them:

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For another thing about why I am glad I waited until now to “do” Monet/Giverny, since I did not use many Squints in my DGB it is a lot of fun to be playing with this format again. I’m happy to see that at my advanced age (I am now the very oldest I’ve ever been), I still have control of the fine motor skills I need to paint these very teeny-tiny poplars:

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Last week Dear Reader Kirra left a Comment about it being time to call the poor DGB by its real name — Gardens of Awe and Folly. I should explain that the reason I use the shortcut DGB (stands for Damn Garden Book) is because while a book is a work-in-progress I get extremely cranky — the damn thing refuses to write itself!!! — so I call it the Damn [fill in blank] to let it know who’s boss. Also, using an acronym is a great way to store Word files. Even tho I type on a Mac, I use the Microsoft word processing program, and I head each chapter file with DGB because it’s easy to type and is easy to spot in the clutter that is my Documents folder. So I mean no disrespect when I call this new work-in-progress book the NDB (stand for New Damn Book). It’s just a part of my process.

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BTW, I should also tell you that I used my trusty liquid masking fluid on the pic below, on the trunks of those trees that take up the center of this landscape — over which I paint the background foliage:

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I also used my white acrylic paint to dab in some leaves on that tree in the foreground, over which I am putting on a layer of bright green paint to make it pop:

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Another part of my process is the work I do on a work-in-progress while I sleep. Usually, while I am composing a book, I dream incessantly about running through mazes, searching and or fleeing through endless rooms in an abandoned house, climbing hills, and dashing though airports on the verge of missing a flight — in other words, the whole repertoire of anxiety dreams about not being up to the task at hand.

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But ever since I outlined this new book about Giverny, I dream of opening bureau drawers and finding a treasure chest of old Christmas decorations, of going into my closet and discovering ball gowns that I did not know I had, and of being on a train that glides through a library full of books that open themselves (and that look like board games, or holograms). So I feel pretty good about this New Damn Book.

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Last week Dear Reader Ann made this Comment (about how I changed the scale of several buildings to make them more prominent in y painting than they were in the real life reference photo): I never thought about taking artistic license to make the picture more appealing by making the buildings larger.

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I loved this Comment because it observed something important about the difference between what I do as an illustrator and what another painter would do as a fine artist. As an illustrator, I insist that my paintings contain information — in fact, I contrive to put as much information in my paintings as possible, even if that means exaggerating certain elements of the view or editing out other non-essential bits. Fine artists do not seem to be terribly interested in making art that contains any worthwhile information — have you seen the oeuvre of Mark Rothko?

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For this little Squint, I wanted the information to be all about the poplars, which is why I put them in the very center of the picture (and saved them for last — I knew that I was going to love painting this group of trees!!):

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I was lucky that the photo that I took of these trees was pretty perfect, so I did not have to fudge any details. It was such a pleasure to do this scene…and I think that in the end it turned out to be a very happy picture:

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And then there’s this photo…

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…which contains this Squint…

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…which I will have to warp just a bit in order for it to be as informative as I need it to be, and which I will paint for you next week during my first blog post as a — gasp — 60 year old.

 

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These cats, the very busy cats that live in my house rent free:

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None of these guys (Taffy, Cindy, Candy) helped me paint this:

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This is a scene I saw on an afternoon in May of 2013, when I was walking the 4 kilometers from the little ville of Vernon (in France) to the littler village Giverny (also in France). Most of you Dear Readers will see that, thanks to my viewfinder, I have located the Squint within this snapshot (above). (For more about my unbearable cute terminology, the link is here.)

Taking full advantage of my artistic license, I drew this landscape as was, except for making the farm houses much, much larger so they would feature more prominently in this Squint:

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At the urging of my dear Top Cat to keep it short, I will paint this scene for you while keeping my commentary to a minimum:

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I use a bit of rolled-up paper towel to blot up some of the blue paint to make clouds:

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I actually use two hands for this blotting operation but since I need my other hand to hold the camera, I’m faking it one-handed. But voila: I Haz Clowds:

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To make the wee background foliage I use my brush to dab-dab-dab-dab paint onto the paper. I took this picture to show you that I discovered that this crappy brush had a weird few bristles there at the end that were perfect for this itty-teeny-bitty-tiny dabbing operation — see? Sometimes cheap equipment comes in handy!!!

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OK, I promise to cut down on my word count from now on.

I haven’t painted since i turned in the manuscript for my DGB, Gardens of Awe and Folly, last June, so it felt marvelous, and a little like work, to be slathering the pigment again.

Foreground application of real watery paint:

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Ah…..my lovely little bleeds (wet-in-wet layering of paint) to make a soggy edge to this stream, which happens to be the Epte River):

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Here’s where I switch to my size-00 brush:

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Dab dab dab dab dab:

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I painted too many blades of weed grass here, and I needed to lighten it up. So when I screw up like this, I break out my trusty white acrylic paint to “white out” my error:

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And now I switch paints from my Windsor Newton to my Grumbachers, because I bet the chalkiness will look Goldilocks (“just right”) here:

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And now, all is done ‘cept for the shouting:

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And this is my view of the stream that runs into the Seine River in Haute Normandie:

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I’ve been ever so busy this past week… I also painted another view of my walk from Vernon to Giverny, also as a Squint…

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…because I am making a three-Squint page of pictures of the walk from Vernon to Giverny as part of my new book project!!

I would call it the Damn Giverny Book, but we already used DGB for my last book (the Damn Garden Book), so let’s call this one the NDB:

The New Damn Book.

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About which we will discuss soon, very soon my Dears.

For now, please enjoy this Not Too Damn Long post and have a wonderful weekend!

 

 

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The Winter Solstice on December 22 was rained out this year here on the shores of the Long Island Sound, but Christmas Eve was spectacular!

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So Top Cat and I did our annual Praising of the Light champagne and sun set watching ceremony on December 24,  and it was 72 degrees, which is why even though I am three weeks away from my 60th birthday, I am wearing my go-to T-shirt on this wintery eve!

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Yes, it was warm, but cloudy — that’s the sun, glowing from within that dense stratocumulus, above — and we did not expect much…but as the twilight fell at approx. 4:31 pm, this happened:

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And then this happened:

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(Above, the Manhattan skyline is to the far left, and that’s New Rochelle at center-right.)

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And there it goes, the light from our own gorgeous star departing from our skies on its way to Cleveland, and Sioux Falls, and Coeur d’Aline, and Tacoma. There goes the sun, Welcome in the Winter Light!

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While I have your attention, I feel obliged to tell you one last short tale from my trip to France two weeks ago, and it’s about the space-tree (see above) on display at Galleries lafayette (the famous department store in Paris):

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Yesterday I found a newsletter (of sorts, above) from my visit to the shop while I was unpacking my haul of ephemera from my journey, you know, the usual assortment of ticket stubs, museum pamphlets, cafe coasters, phone numbers of gents met in cafes, etc., that one tends to accumulate whilst vagabonding. And yes, we already know that the Galleries went with a [weird] Christmas From Another Planet theme this year…but we did not know that there were robots involved:

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This stuff is printed in light gray ink so I did the best I could to enhance it so you can read it — and because I know my mother is going to complain that the print is too small to read I’m going to repeat that you can click onto the photo itself to get an enlarged (full screen) version…you might have to click twice depending on whatever elves are in charge of your computer machine, not that I think this is actually worth reading, but I take my obligations as your Paris corespondent seriously so I must let you choose to read, or not read:

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How about we nominate this as the Worst Christmas Story Ever?

Now, as I mentioned above, my 60th birthday is happening in three weeks, on Jan. 16.

I am bracing myself. Birthdays that end in Zero are always a challenge to one’s identity, but this one is walloping me. Of course my dear Top Cat has something special planned, which may or may not include a tiger, so even the whiff of big cat-titude almost makes it worth it, this shedding of old/youngness for young/oldness. But we will have to wait until The Day to be sure.

In the meantime, this is how I am welcoming in this new phase of Vivianness:

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I am ditching my ratty, falling apart, 15-year old address book for this:

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I’ve been putting off this task for several years, but I came across this spiffy book at Barnes and Nobel and finally the time was NOW.

15 years ago, I was not married to Top Cat (or to anybody). I was not living on Long Island, I was not writing books, and I was years away from picking up a paint brush! I did not have a computer or a saving account, and I was still drinking martinis.  Of the ten cats that were living with me at the time, there is only one left — dear little Coco, who is rather frail these days and spends most of her life snoozing on her special heating pad bed.

Ah, there are so many memories in an old address book. The names of editors I used to write for, back when newspapers and magazines paid for writing…that fling in London whose name I never would have remembered…Stephen King’s home address (?)…”Mr. Lucky” in New Orleans (nice Indian guy who ran a great souvenir shop on Decatur Street)…the lady who runs the Penguin Encounter program at Mystic Aquarium…

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…a list of places to meet English guys (above), which (as my note says), I got on April 1, 2002 when I went to the British Consul to sign the condolence book on the event of the death of the Queen Mother. (I did like the Queen Mother and all but hey, life is for the living, as they say, and to the 2002 version of me, English guys made life worth living.) The Red Lion is still going strong, and it looks like NW3 closed shortly after I checked it out, and the Sporting Club closed in 2005.

There’s also the card from the guy who ran a sky diving business:

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I have obliterated all identifying info because I just Googled this guy and I don’t want to blab any more about him because of  an unfortunate incident involving the death of two skydivers in 2010 — he was a good guy, and gave me his home contact, and I used to be the kind of person who thought I’d go sky diving one day.

(Part of me is thinking that in 2000, I was 45 years old…isn’t that kind of old to be bar hopping with Brits and thinking about jumping out of planes when you couldn’t even stand to look out the windows when you were at Windows on the World in the old North Trade Tower…ohhhhhhhh….right….that’s gone, too…..)

Oh well, so much for maturity: For now I am holding onto the contact info of three people who, as I reach the sagacious age of 60,  I may or may not want to still get even with.

I don’t think I’ll ever remember why I needed the phone and address for the Ferret Rescue of Westchester, but isn’t running into that kind of thing exactly why updating a very old address book is such a nostalgic and annoying thing to do?

In all, bet that less than 20% of the names and numbers in my old address book made it into my new one.So, Yay! I have lots of room for new friends! And isn’t that something to get happy about? No matter how old you are?

This is both a rhetorical question, and a moral to the story of The Old and the New Address Book. Because I am writing this post on New Year’s Eve Day and I think that having a new address book, cleared of all old business (mostly), ready for filling up with all kinds of new amigos and idiocies, seems like a good mindset to have for 2016.

Happy, happy, happy New Year to you all, my Dear Readers and Friends.

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I highly recommend Paris in December.

When I was there two weeks ago, the tourist crowds were almost non-exisitant so there was less camouflage for the natives to blend into. They were all over the place, doing adorable Parisian things, like walking their dog after school…

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…shopping for fabric at Tissus Reine (the best fabric store in all of Paris!)…

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…riding their scooters to appointments…

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Yes! Adult people are riding scooters in Paris! And the Rent-A-Bikes are still as popular as ever:

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And under the bare trees the sky was opened up for miles and miles (that’s the Canal St.-Martin below, looking south all the way to canopy of plane trees on the Boulevard Jules Ferry):

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This is the Quai du Louvre:

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All is calm, and all is bright.

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Especially the museums! I went to my favorite Paris Museum, the Musee Carnavalet, and it was almost empty.

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Yeah, that’s a selfie in a XVIIIeme drawing room in the museum, and I can see now why my husband doesn’t like my Ugg (they are actually Sketchers) boots. The really do give my feet a dorky proportion to the rest of my body (but oh, my…when you walk 12 miles a day on Paris pavements, there is NO BETTER encasement for the ten little piggies, I tell you).

I discovered other rooms — ROOMS! — of stuff I’ve never seen there before! The room where Proust composed A La Recherché du Temps Perdu:

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And the entire 1900 shop designed by Alfons Mucha (famous art nouveau illustrator) for the Parisian jeweler Georges Fouquet:

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It was such a sleepy day in the Musee Carnavalet that even the guards were not en grade. This one was drawing in his little sketchbook:

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And this one was reading his iPod, craftily hidden in the drawer of his desk there (same trick I used to pull in high school, only with an actual paperback book, probably The Unauthorized Biography of The Beatles, in algebra class):

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And THIS I never saw before:

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So now I know how they get those posters to hang inside those Morris Columns — cool!

And I also never saw THIS before…no, it isn’t the itty bitty Christmas tree in the window of this bar that  I passed every day and night that was right next door to my AirBnB room near the Opera (on the right bank, metro stop Opera)…

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The thing that I never saw before is the thing I saw only when I backed up into the street to get this picture (below) and saw it there, in the lower right corner of the bar:

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It was THIS!

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It is a lighted running fountain of water for the neighborhood pooches (in English?!) and I thought it was adorable.

And then I went to Giverny, and if you want to read about my weekend visit please stay with me (but you might want to get another cup of tea, just to make the story more mosey-able).

The famous garden at Giverny is not open for visitors in December, but I have already seen Claude Monet’s garden several many times already … I went to Giverny because I like Giverny very much and I wanted to see what there was of “Winter Interest” in the village. Turns out that there is plenty going on in Giverny (pop. 509) and I can only tell you about the half of it (because I know that you do not have all day to read this blog). So let’s begin with my BandB, Les Rouges Gorges:

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My room was rustic but very comfortable:

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And the resident cats were cuuuuuuute:

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It was close to 4 in the afternoon when I took my walk out into the country lanes of Giverny:

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I was of course thrilled with the color and views here, but sooner or later one’s stroll down the Chemin du Roy (King’s Lane) leads you to the back end of Monet’s garden:

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From this vantage point it is possible to shoot some pictures of Monet’s garden at rest, which I did just for you, Dear Readers.This is the allee, which wis usually covered in blooms, that bi-sects the flower garden and leads to the front door of Monet’s home:

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And here is a peek at the water garden…

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And this is a view of the famous arched bridge over his lily pond (far right):

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The wisteria that cloaks this bridge in romantic petals of lavander during high season is, in December, just a tangle of hibernating vine:

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Giverny is such a small village that the folks who live here would have to go to Vernon ( 4 kilometers away) to get bread and croissants, so the BIG news this year is all about the new boulangerie that opened!

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It’s at 73 rue Claude Monet (easy address to remember) and the food and the ambience is excellent (note to self: must review this on Yelp, so that everyone who goes to Giverny in season will stop by here for lunch and make this place successful). I see that you’ve noticed the cat in this photo. That’s Fifi. I got to know her when I came back here for the special Saturday night Diner Spectacle:

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Wine, food, and song…

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… and if you’re lucky…CAT:

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The Madame La Soprano is a music teacher from the village, married to an elected official in Giverny:

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Monsieur Le Baritone sings for the Rouen Opera:

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Sunday was full of more wonderful social gatherings in private people’s homes (the Givernois are such friendly people!) but the next public spectacle I attended was an afternoon party of the kids of Giverny, held in the Impressionism Museum (which is also closed for the season, but open for local functions). I loved the kid who brought his panda bear with him when he went on stage to help the magician with her trick:

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Then my friends took me to the Town Hall to vote!!!!

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It’s normal for the French to vote on a Sunday, and it’s normal to hold these regional elections every five years (for the National Assembly). But it was very unusual this year to hold elections with the National Front (think: Trump, only more so) as a strong third party.

When you go to vote in such a small village as Giverny, you get your voting card stamped by the officials, and then you go around kissing hello to all the poll watchers that you know as neighbors. Then you pick up your ballots, go into a curtained stall, choose the ballot for the party you want to vote for, fold it up, and put it into a little blue envelope. Then you put your little blue envelope into a clear box:

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When the clock struck 6, it was time to count the votes.

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There wee two people opening each envelope and handing the ballot to the mayor (that’s him, with the beard). He reads out the name, and the head tally-man reads out the count after each vote, which has to agree with the count being recorded by two back-up tally-ladies.

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I was fascinated by this process, and my friends were tolerant and let me watch this go on for half an hour. I stood off to one side, snapping photos, and no one gave me so much as half a stink-eye, which is amazing when you consider that it’s illegal in France to take the photo of anyone without their permission, even on the street.

The day before, I’d been in Vernon’s Christmas village, and I snapped a photo of this:

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And I got a polite, and joking, but definitely serious, scolding for it.

Anyway, by the time we left the vote-count at Village Hall to get ready for a diner party, the center-right candidate was leading, and the left candidate was making a close showing, but the big surprise was that the National Front was polling a very very strong third, despite my friends (split evenly, two for the right-center/two for the left) assuring me that the National Front could never win a seat in Normandy.

The final results, with  75.25% of eligible voters taking part in the election, were:

Center-right: 42%

Left: 30%

National Front: 27%

Blank votes: 1%

How exciting!

Anyhow, Top Cat is going to mention to me again that my blog posts are too long, so I’d better stop here, for now…because don’t we all have some champagne that needs to be taste-tasted before the arrival of 2016??? And shouldn’t we be getting to it right now???

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I love to watch the tiny bubbles rise in candlelight.

Happy Saturnalia, everyone.

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