Monet garden Giverny grande allee close normand

A view of the famous Grande Allee in Monet’s garden in Giverny, painted by me after my 2005 (or was it 2006?) visit there. But those yew trees are from my 1984, 1992, and 1999 visit there.

Back when I was hatching the idea about doing something fabulous with my fondness for foreign gardens — which eventually became Gardens of Awe and Folly . . .

9781632860286

. . . (which we call the GoAaF, pronounced “the go-af” , because all cool things have cool acronyms, like J-Lo, and Brangelina, and ComicCon) — anyway, back then it was a no-brainer that if I were going to write about the most thought-provoking gardens in the world, I would have to include the most famous garden in the world, namely, Claude Monet’s garden in Giverny, France.

Now, everyone knows of Monet’s garden at Giverny mostly because of this:

giverny

Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, www.giverny.org

Which you might know better as this:

Water-Lilies-and-Japanese-Bridge-(1897-1899)-Monet

This is just one f the 250 versions of his water garden that Monet painted in his lifetime. “In his lifetime.” Why did I say that? It’s not like he could paint anything that WASN’T in his lifetime, right?

So I went to Giverny, and spent three days there, hanging out at Monet’s garden, taking long walks up the hills that overlook the property, walking along the old railroad tracks to and from Vernon, traipsing in and out of the tiny little streets of the beautiful village of Giverny. I took about a thousand photos of flowers, butterflies, and my lunch. If you’d like to detour and head back with me, back to May of 2013, click here. I do indeed loves me the village of  Giverny.

As a seasoned and rather home-loving world traveler, I am a very efficient when I go overseas. I want to do what I gotta do and then get back to my cats and my Judge Judy. So my trip to France was actually a twofer, because the day after I left Giverny I got on a plane and went to Morocco. Specifically, Marrakech:

P1170833

P1170832

That’s the door to my riad hotel, on the left.

P1180028

P1170807-450x600

That, above, is the courtyard of my hotel in the casbah, which you Dear readers with eagle eyes might recognize from the illustration I did of it in the GoAaF:

P1070499

This illustration of Fatima pouring tea in the courtyard of my riad is my favorite painting in the whole GoAaF:

P1070511

You’ll notice that I made changes to the flooring tiles. That’s because I wanted the little brown bird to stand out in the background (I really enjoyed those little brown birds) and I knew that I could not make that happen by painting a brown bird on a brown floor.  And here’s my tip for painting black-on-black stuff, such as Fatima’s headscarf: leave a blank, unpainted space between abutting black forms to create a line of demarkation (I also do this when I paint black cats). See how I did that? Did you even notice it before I pointed it out? (Honestly, I’d really like to know. Maybe I’m not a clever as I think I am.)

But the reason that I  like this illustrations is because of this detail:

P1070512

I was very fearful about painting the shiny silver forms of the tea pot and the flat tray, and the reflected tea glass.  I got it on my first attempt — whew. The highlights that you see — the bright white areas — is what I left unpainted, and that’s the bright white of the Canson 90lb. paper showing. Tip: In plotting out the plan of attack for any illustration, paint the hard stuff first, (such as a silver tea pot and tray). That way, if it works out you can then paint the rest of the picture around it; if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t wanted a lot of effort and you are free to start over on a clean sheet of paper. . . strategy, my Wonder Ones: the better part of painting is strategy.

As you Dear Readers of the GoAaF know, my To Do List in Marrakech had just two items on it:  1: have an authentic Moroccan tea experience; and 2: go see the garden of the famous French fashion designer, Yves Saint Laurent.

Which is why I spent half an overcast day in the amazing Jardin Majorelle:

P1170848

P1170856

P1180005-450x337

P1180001

P1170869

P1170988

Yep, that’s a lily pond there (above). With palm trees reflecting in it. I was excited to paint this scene because, Wow! Who wouldn’t want to try her hand at painting a lily pond in the middle of a jungly garden? Below is my learning curve when it comes to painting lily ponds in the middle of a jungly garden:

P1070505

I kept painting pictures and ripping them apart and painting them over and ripping them apart until finally I had a pond and a jungly background that I liked. I then pieced together the best bits to make this:

P1070457

Yes! This is another Watercolor RESCUE!

Which became this 2-page spread in the GoAaF:

P1070498

Well, it’s one thing to paint a lily pond from the Jardin Majorelle, but it’s quite another thing to paint the most famous lily pond in the world. Monet’s garden at Giverny is a very intimidating subject for an illustrator — nobody in their right mind wants to re-paint what the Master has already painted. So I put a hold on my plans for a Giverny chapter of the GoAaF, and promised myself that I’d wait until the post-publication amnesia kicked in, and I forgot how truly agonizing it is to live through four years of living with a book-in-progress, that maybe I’d research the possibility of a small pamphlet on the subject of the most famous garden in the world.

Very few illustrated books about Monet’s garden exist, for the obvious reasons, but last week on Amazon.com I found a pop-up book called A Walk in Monet’s Garden by Francesca Crespi, published in 1995, that was the coolest thing I’ve seen about the most famous garden in the world:

IMG_0903

It’s a book for children, so the terrain is much simplified, but the fold-out is so ingenious that I’m sure only an adult could do it:

IMG_0898

(I took these photos on Sunday afternoon so that’s why Top Cat’s Saturday night bottle of wine was handy, to plunk down to show you the scale.) I love it that the large windows in the two studios on either side of the garden have mylar panes!  and it even has the road that runs between the two halves of the garden, the upper flower garden (the Clos Normand) on the right (below), and the lower water garden with its famous lily pond (on the left):

IMG_0901

Since this is a book for children the lay-out of Monet’s flower beds and lawns and plantings is much simplified, so it’s only a schematic of the garden . . .

IMG_0902

. . . so when I need detailed, precise, and conceptual information about the most famous garden in the world, I turn to Ariane Cauderlier, expert authority who knows every inch of Monet’s property, all the ins and outs, highs and lows of the life, art, and ambience of Giverny. Ariane is a former newscaster, and current journalist, author, and photographer who oversees the website for the Claude Monet Foundation at Giverny.org, which is the top-rated website for international visitors planing a voyage to the most famous garden in the world. Ariane is an insider’s insider in the world of all things Monet.

And guess what today is???

It’s OPENING DAY at Monet’s garden in Giverny!!!

giverny-rose-garden

Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Giverny-Impression.com

giverny-alliums

Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Giverny-Impression.com

hillary

Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Giverny-Impression.com

So this is a great day to mosey over to Ariane’s  delicious blog in English called Giverny Impression which today and every day gives you a special peek into the year-round happenings in Monet’s flowers beds and ponds — for those of us who need to escape, every now and then, into the other world of France, gardening, and the peace and calms that reigns over the most famous garden in the world in the morning hours before the hordes of tourists arrive each day.

I got to know Ariane last December when I went back to Giverny for a Winter look-around, and had to get her desk-top calendar, which is only sold in France (but can be sent anywhere in the world for a modest shipping charge):

perpetual-calendar

For the rabid Monet/gardening fan (is that you?), this is the perfect, exclusive, French-imported gift!

For those of us who want to brush up on our French by having a fun conversation with a smart and surprising French friend, we go to Ariane’s French language blog, Giverny News, which wanders out of Monet’s garden from time to time and into London galleries, the history of Impressionism, and Ariane’s own backyard:

aurore-giverny

Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com; Sunset over Giverny Ville

 

dumont-decembre-15

Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com; Winter on Monet’s lily pond

 

expo-ra-londres-800x457

Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com; the Royal Academy (in London) exhibiting the blockbuster show, Painting the Modern Garden

 

caillebotte-rue-de-paris-745x600

Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com, Gustave Caillebotte prep sketch for Paris Street, Rainy Day

 

sanglier

Photo by Ariane Cauderlier, Givernews.com

OMG, you have to read this story of the fat boar (above) who jumped into Ariane’s walled garden last December! It’s a whole other kind of life, there in a 17th century Norman manor house!

Oh, wait — I forgot to tell you that Ariane and her husband Alain . . .

alainariane

. . . have restored a 17th century manor house just down the road from Monet’s garden, and are now hosts of a splendid B&B called The Hermitage:

the-hermitage-bed-breakfast

the-hermitage-bed-breakfast

view from the front gate

But wait, there’s more: I saved the best of the all-bestest ’til last: Ariane, a London-trained linguist, is a licensed Guide/Lecturer who gives private tours of Monet’s garden in three languages (not at the same time). If you really want to get to know the behind-the-scenes Giverny, you must take this tour! Ariane knows all there is to know about Monet, the gardens, the gardeners, and their cats.

I’m not kidding about the cats, by the way. Just ask her, the next time you’re taking her tour.

Ariane knows that I’m a crazy cat lady, so when she went to the Salon of Embroidery Arts in Paris last month, she got this for me:

P1070480

P1070481

Click onto the image to enlarge and have a good laugh, and a great vocabulary lesson. “Le pire, c’est lui” is FUNNY! And: “Niais”: who knew? (Not me.)

Because of a traumatic experience with the cross-stitch when I was 8 years old, I stay away from what the French call le point de croix. But I can see how much fun this would be to sew in a crewel-stitch, a point I am very fond of. And I have 7 cats! And it just so happens that the one who is le pire is also in black-and-white!

P1070310

P1070311

No, wait, maybe he’s le videur. . . yeah, right. As if I could ever get an honest day’s work out of him. . .

P1070338 (2)

P1020771

P1070519

P1070381

P1040017

. . . or any of the other cats who surveil me.

Before I go, I want everyone to know that there were plenty of Justin Bieber backstage passes to go around so, everyone who wanted the pair in last week’s give away, got them, no playing dice with the universe necessary to win.

Remember, keep posting those 5-star reviews on Amazon.com for Garden of Awe and Folly  — the contest is still open for anyone to win the super-duper Quartet Triscuit Give-Away (or any other prize of your choice when we do the numbers in May):

P1070398

Next week I will post the drawings that became these watering cans (above) for all of you Wonder Ones who want to print them out for your own projects. . . and  I will dedicate next Friday’s post to Dear Commentor Leslie, who sussed this out weeks and weeks ago:

P1070382

I hope everyone in the Northern Hemisphere gets a huuuuuuge does of Spring Fever this weekend and does something niais, and comes back to tell us about it. For those in the Antipodean regions of our dear Earth, it’ll be just another weekend in paradise.

Read more

I’ll get to the usual Friday business of painting and ruining everything and fixing up broken watercolors in a minute (feel free to skip to the second half of this post if you just can’t wait to see what is coming off my paint brushes this week.)

P1070122 (1)

. . . But first (shameless appeal for the filthy lucre alert) let me remind you all that I have this new book out that has this killer title. . .

9781632860286

Gardens of Awe and Folly. It’s almost disappointing that it’s about gardens and not, say, about hand-raising baby pandas whilst clearing  my house of everything that does not spark joy so I can go hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 50 shades of gray but there you go: I’m a Capricorn. We are very logical and literal people, even though we are the most weird chimera in the horoscope, even though it’s only a goat and a fish and not, say, a unicorn and a hummingbird. Nope, it’s just a goat and a fish, but there you go: so Capricorn. But I digress.

My publisher, Bloomsbury, has had me sign about 5,000 copies (I’m guessing) that they planned to send out to the tastemakers of the universe for the obvious reasons. So there I was, for a whole afternoon following a very ritzy lunch date with my editor  forever, signing and signing and signing. And I felt bad that I couldn’t come up with something really snazzy, some motto or bon mot other than “Happy Reading!”

But last week I had to sign a dozen copies for my pals (see: pages 25 – 45) at Save Our Pines in Key West [illustrations of the Australian Pines in Key West below]…

P1070405

P1070406

. . . for their fund raising picnic on the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor Park in celebration of  Save Our Pines Day  this weekend on Sunday, March 20 and it came to me!

P1070383

Go Forth in Awe & Folly!

I want that on a T-shirt, bumper stickers, shot glasses, and baby panda baby booties. By the time you read this, I just might have my etsy store up and running (while my trademark application makes its rounds through the USPTO).

I sincerely believe that going forth unto the world in a mindfulness of awe and folly is the secret to happiness or, at minimum, an hour or two off every now and then from the grim and wearying work of being human. Here’s how it works:

Awe:

Unknown

 Folly:

Unknown-1

Sometimes it’s a thin line between the two.

Take, for example, my deep interest in this particular pile of snow that Top Cat and I happened upon some weeks ago in the Whole Foods parking lot near my house:

P1070208

On March 1 my husband and I made a bet whether or not that pile would be goners by March 17. Here it is early this week:

P1070333

Two days later, this is what was left:

P1070339

Note in the background: That’s the mobile vet clinic from the North Shore Animal League of Port Washington, Long Island. Yay companion animal rescue people!

Now usually, photographing old snow would be quite the folly but, as there was a trip to France riding on the outcome of this evaporation, these filthy and disgusting mounds of frozen grit make for awesome subject matter, the thin line here being the intangibility of saving face.

But I had even more reason to celebrate when a mere 25 minutes later I pulled into a mom-and-pop-shop-killing Big Box Store parking lot:

P1070343

WHOA. I did NOT expect to see this — snow piled SUV-high in the Lowe’s parking lot where I go to buy 40 points of bird seed every two weeks! If it weren’t so awesome to see this secret remnant of the Blizzard of ’16 SEVEN WEEKS after the fact, it would be kind of depressing. See? AWE saves the day!

P1070345

Now, of course, I have a new obsession in that I have to drive there every other day to check up on the melt and I don’t even have any bragging rights in the game. This is Yon Pile three days later:

P1070395

And here it is four days later:

P1070404

This was it yesterday:

P1070413

See? Finding awe in a disgusting pile of inedible snow is what makes me me, a person who finds fulfillment spending hours of my life which I will never get back (and I’m not getting any younger) blogging about crap in a Lowe’s parking lot.

I can even find awe in ghostly rat-tailed creatures of the night:

P1070374

He has the cutest little pink feets and the cutest gray Shrek-ears and the cutest pan-on-the-patio manners. In other words, he’s adorable.

P1070376

I am proud — nay, awed — to have North America’s only marsupial pawing through the bird seed on my back patio. (Fear not, the little fella stayed around long enough for me to run out there and bring him a bowl of Friskie’s finest cat food; an opossum does not have to live by sunflower seeds alone, not if I’m around.)

Yes, I am in awe of my opossum even though I know that the opossum is America’s consolation prize for losing out in the Great Marsupial Cuteness Contest to the Land Down Under, where one can, any day, come across a koala  in a characteristic Yoda pose:

koala resting hanging loose while wedged in tree

Or Patrick, the world’s oldest wombat, on the 30th birthday of his nose:

enhanced-3890-1409130667-2

Or Missy the Roo, showing off her toes:

missy-the-kangaroo-and-her-friend-pudit-the-cat

(To Kirra and all my Aussie Wonder Ones from Perth to Pemulwuy, belated Happy Canberra Day!)

And then there’s this. . .

P1070419

. . . which I found growing in the rubble left behind when the county jackhammered our sidewalk to bits last week. Even when this verge had grass it never had crocuses.

P1070421

 OK, that’s all the awe for now because it’s about time we did the weekly “art” thing that I do, where I show you what I’ve been working on and you all go “What?! No Taffy this week?!”

P1070116

P1070119

P1070122 (1)

P1070232 (2)

Yeah, I had to fix that weird short spout.

Pic No. 2:

P1070371

P1070373

Pic. No. 3:

P1070369

P1070370

And then there’s the one that I totally forgot to photograph until I assembled them all together to form the tych-thing that comes after triptych:

P1070398

This, my Wonder Ones, is my first four-part Triscuit! I am in the process of painting another four-part Triscuit because some people might not like watering cans as much as I do, and I want to make sure that, for the first ever Quartet Triscuit Give-Away that I’ll have a few four-part Triscuits for you to choose from. This contest will happen in the month of May (for scheduling reasons beyond my control) and to qualify all you have to do is leave a 5-star review on Amazon.com for Gardens of Awe and Folly, the book which from now on I will refer to as the GoAaF, thanks to Deb Mattin and her Comment of last week — Merci mille fois, Deb, for keeping it classy. I also love “GoAaF” because it sounds a lot like shorthand for my new motto in life: Go Forth in Awe and Folly. Nice. Real, real nice.

To Maryanne, the very first 5-star reviewer, you get a double entry in the Quartet Triscuit Give-Away for being the OG of my dreams.

Thank you, all my Commenter Wonder Ones, for your wonderful Comments last week about the GoAaF; you Commenters inspire me to keep on showing up here week after week (and I’m not getting any younger) to show you pictures of crappy snow melting in the Lowe’s parking lot instead of doing something useful, like learning to brew beer at home, or fighting crime.

Before you go, I do have a give-away this week, and it’s a bit weird but here goes (front):

P1070379

 Back:

P1070380

 These are printer’s proofs of actual 100% real backstage passes for Justin  Bieber’s 2016 Purpose world tour. These 2 passes will not get you backstage — you’d need a $2,000 VIP ticket attached to it to get past Security — but, remembering my own rock star crushes on George Harrison (from when I was age 10 onward) and Paul Weller (all of my 40s, sad to say), I am offering these because I imagine that there’s some Belieber out there — your daughter, grandchild, niece, you — who might get a little thrill out of adding these bits to their/your Bieber archive. Or not, you never know.

Well, I thought I’d put them out there. Just leave a Comment, before that section is closed on Tuesday, with a number between 500 and 600 (I have to keep the numbers interesting for Top Cat) and I’ll let you know next week who won. You can get both, or just one, let me know, in case I need 2 winners instead of 1.

Coming up next week: A very special post! March 25 is a very auspicious day somewhere in the world (guess where) for which I will have a very special guest, and during which I will answer Leslie’s perceptive question from Comments two weeks ago re: new project, but here’s a hint:

P1070382

P.S. About all those 5,000 author-autographed copies of the GoAaF that I mentioned at the top of this post: my publisher Bloomsbury wants me to let you know that they have 4,990 copies still sitting around, in case someone out there knows Oprah, or Ellen, or Rosie, or Taylor, etc. They would be happy to send an author-autographed copy to any Incredibly Famous Person you know for the obvious reasons. Thank you.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Go Forth in Awe and Folly!

Read more

We have a Winner!Top Cat has chosen and last weeks’s one-of-a-kind hand-painted Pub Date Celebration Triscuit with cat and tea goes to Number 171 …

P1070154

. . . which of course no one picked but we’re going with the  closest number without going over, and that number is . . .

. . . # 168

Monique!

Monique, a long-time Dear Reader of this blog, has never won a contest here in VivianWorld so for this challenge she changed tactics and asked her own Top Cat (who goes by the name of Jacques) to pick a # for her and the mojo was tres bien! Enfin! Congratulations, Monique! This Tricuit definitely is so you, all over!

And now let us return to the raison d’être of this blog which is, namely, Watching Paint Dry and, according to this week’s title, Hacks.

You all know that I have a new book out (shameless plug):

9781632860286

But you might not know that the picture on the cover is one of my better hacks which I had to do because, like Jenny Beavan, I have strengths and I have weaknesses in what I do for a living but I’ve found a way to hack around it so no one goes tsk tsk, she’s really let herself go. Read on.

This is how that illustration started out in life:

P1150405-450x473-1-450x473

And this is what it looked like after I  cut out (literally, and I do mean: literally — with scissors) all the crap bits:

P1000631-450x404

I bring this up because, if you remember from two weeks ago that I showed you all a picture of Monet’s Giverny garden allee before I hacked it:

P1060792

And then I showed you this same painting apres hack:

P1070109

When Dear Reader Nancy S. posted a Comment and asked how I did it,  I realized that I should have been more specific about this particular hack. Because, not to brag or nothing, but hacks are kinda my thing. I have a whole category of rescue posts on this blog and if you’re curious you can find them under the blog post category Watercolor Rescue. For today, tho, I want to discuss all the various ways I rescue paintings that have gone wrong, such as all of the above.

Getting back to the cover illustration for Gardens of Awe etc., here’s me in the act of re-drawing the pic around the bits that were salvageable:

P1000643-450x354

(BTW, what I’m showing you here is an abridged version of this rescue — if you care to read the whole ugly story it’s here in a post that I called I Hoard My Mistakes for the Sake of Art.)

Architectural drawing is something that I am really bad at, and I accept that about myself. So it behooves me to avoid doing architecture whenever possible. But when I can’t avoid it, I hack it by keeping the drawing as simple as can be, and if it has to be in any way detailed I paint it in silhouettes as I have done here, below, in the background:

P1000648-450x338

This silhouette trick is a device that I’ve used to great effect (if I do say so myself) in my previous book Le Road Trip:

P1070271

and in the Edinburgh chapter of the DGB:

P1070270

I am always on the lookout for architectural hacks. On a trip to Scotland in 2007 I found this illustration in a magazine:

P1020342

Do you see how the artist, Adrian McMurchie, has flattened the building and yet has still kept the integrity of the architecture?

P1020342

I originally thought that this was a fabulous hack, a brilliant way of avoiding the pitfalls of perspective and as such was something that I intended to use one of these days. But it turns out that Adrian McMurchie is a boy wonder at rendering sumptuous architectural illustration, so this hack might be harder than it looks but still, it’s something to keep in mind, don’t you think?

Getting back to my London rescue, after I’ve dabbed in some surrounding architecture to give a since of place, the last step I take is commitment, when I glue that cut-out remnant in place and I paint in the rest of the gardens around it:

P1000652-450x511

And DONE.

For those of you who are reading along, I dare you to find the “seams” of this cut-out on the cover of your copy of Gardens of Awe and Folly:

9781632860286

No, not this cover. This is a workshopped dummy of the cover, a mock-up prepared by the Bloomsbury art department long before publication in which you can see the seams. Just click onto it and enlarge.

There are a lot more rescues inside this book but let’s just take a peek at this page, the title page  for the first chapter:

P1070182

This is an especially daring rescue because it’s so big. You see, after I painstakingly painted that Beaux Arts Paris apartment building in the background, I painted that foreground allee of trimmed plane trees. (Maybe they are lime trees. I’m not good on those kinds of technicalities.) Well, those trees were bad, bad, bad. And I was not about to start over from scratch, no sir, because that building in the background was a pain in the ass to paint.

So I painted different trees on a new sheet of 90-lb. Carson watercolor paper, cut them out (along the black lines as shown) and glued them right on top the bad, bad, bad trees:

P1070184

And no one is none the wiser!

Do you know that there’s a really famous who else who used the good old scissors-and-glue hack when illustrations went wrong?

This lady did:

P1070308

Perhaps you recognize the work of Beatrix Potter, pictured here in this instance the story called the Pie and the Patty-Pan. If you look closely (which I did), you will see that dear old Beatrix hacked this picture in exactly the same way:

P1070309

Oh yes, Dear Readers, you can believe your eyes. That little dog is a cut out! And it’s an excellent cut out, at that.

Now, there are times. . . many, many times, many many many times. . . when all you can do is paint the whole shebang over again. Like when I recently had a go at depicting this little scene in Monet’s Giverny garden (below). I was using a reference photo, which is quite obvious from the way I painted this picture as a full bleed (“bleed” is when the image goes right to the very edge of the paper):

P1070186

I am still on a learning curve when it comes to painting Monet’s garden at Giverny, so for a first try this was pretty decent. But for what I wanted this picture to do — namely, show off those tall forms in which vines grow in the middle of a flower bed — it failed. There was no way to rescue it. The only thing I could do was start over.

Which I did:

P1070188

Yes, I much prefer the second version.

P1070189

So, getting back to Nancy S.’s query about how I rescued Monet’s allee. . .

P1060792

. . . I admit that I was nervous about going back over this painting because watercolor is so fragile that it can be easily killed by over-work. A lot of times you can’t put a layer of color over another layer of color without the whole thing turning into mud. So. . . I practiced off-site:

P1070165

P1070166

So, OK: I was pretty sure I could layer a dark green over the lighter greens and blues in the foreground without making mud. So I was ready to go ahead and take a chance that I was not going to ruin this picture with my rescue.

Since I did not photograph the actual rescue, I’m going to make this facsimile to show you how I did it:

P1070167

P1070169

P1070171

P1070173

P1070174

There are two reasons why I knew that I’d have to use an undercoat of white acrylic paint to achieve this rescue. First reason is because I had tried just painting a light blue over dark green and it didn’t work. If you look closely below, I am showing you the difference between the white-undercoated blue dots and the no-undercoated blue dots (where my paintbrush is):

P1070179

You can see that without the acrylic undercoat, those blue dots disappear into the dark green paint. So undercoating is the only way to go:

P1070180

Second reason I use acrylic paint is because if I used gauche (as Nancy S. asked), as an undercoat and put blue watercolor over it, I would certainly have got mud. Gauche is water-based, and soluble, so it is not really suitable as an undercoat. It just can’t hold its own against an over-paint (such as above).

P1070181

Et voila:

P1070109

It was a pleasure for me to go back to this beautiful Spring memory of Monet’s garden today because last week, after Taffy had gone to all the trouble of declaring his domain Winter-free, we got this:

P1070267 (1)

Snow. Not a whole lot, but just enough to give new life to a critical pile of snowy crud at the local Whole Foods:

P1070306

However, by week’s end the temperatures were back in tune with my need for it to be gone my March 17. . .

P1070328

. . . and all I can hope is, Is anybody ever going to take that damn trolly back to where it belongs?

P1070328

P.S. For all of you who thought I might have been a bit too harsh with the marvelous Jenny Beavan, here’s a photo of her Oscar co-winner from 1987, John Bright (that’s him on the left), taken in Aug. 2015 when he was 75:

So, have a great weekend everyone. Hope you’re enjoying your perusals of Gardens of Awe and Folly . . . something tells me there might be something coming up for all you 5-star reviewers out there. See you here next week (free of charge).

Read more

Ta-Da: This past Tuesday, March 1, was the official Pub Date of my garden book:

9781632860286

I got an email from my publisher that already this book has been tagged as an Amazon Best Seller — it’s #1 in Gardening and Horticultural Essays. And that’s all because of YOU, Dear Readers; all because of your advance orders (and a glowing Kirkus Review). Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. How can I thank you? Check out the bottom of this post (surprise ending!)…but for now I’d like to go behind the scenes, if you don’t mind.

I think the cover of the DGB is a beaut because it’s the view from a friend’s London balcony — an enchanting view that I photographed in three seasons (you can read all about it in the chapter about the Chelsea Physic Garden).

London is a city that I, like any English-speaking Anglo-child of the suburbs, have had lodged in my brain since the first time I heard of Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, Pickwick and the orphan Pip, etc etc etc. When I was 20 years old I finally got to see London with my very own eyes and it lived up to every fairy tale…London is a trip.

However, London was not the first foreign city I set foot in. When I was 19 years old I lit out for the place that was truly my heart and mind crush: Paris. So that’s why I made Paris the first chapter/garden in Gardens of Awe and Folly. Specifically, I headed into the lovely little garden called The Square du Vert-Galant:

awesome map of Square du Vert-Galant

The one thing that makes my garden book different is that I insist on mapping every garden I write about. I’m the kind of person that needs to see a map in garden situations. Also, when I’m reading a book I just can not stand to read descriptions of landscape, except for the ones I’ve been reading lately about climbing Mt. Everest. But in all other circumstances, I skip the paragraphs about the color and light and mood and topographical features of the land. Bores me to tears.

So I give my Dear Readers a map so that in less than five seconds you get it. Like this bit of Parisian real estate (map, above) in the middle of the River Seine — here’s a picture of that same garden spot from my most recent visit, in December of last year:

P1050197

The other thing that I’m fussy about, garden-wise, is making note of the garden entrance:

P1070156

To me, the entrance is a crucial component of the entire garden experience — especially for this garden of the Vert-Glanat, as the threshold is so dramatic (even in lovely Winter, as seen below):

P1050174

The Vase Gate

I like to visit gardens in Winter because I like to see the “bones” of a garden on display, and hoo boy are they ever “on display” in Winter. And I was thrilled to see this, my No. 1 Paris garden, revealed thusly when I was there last December.

But OMG, May I digress here? Because we here on Long Island just got our first taste of Spring this past weekend with a 60 degree day! In February! So Top Cat and I took our usual 5-mile walk through the neighborhood and my oh my, how we gloated over the fact that Winter is vanquished in our neck of the woods. Ha! Take that, yon filthy piles of left-over snow:

P1070209

And just think, a mere five weeks ago we were ravaged by Winter Storm Jonas — Ha! Now all that’s left is hardly enough make a ski jump for squirrels!

P1070210

Hard to believe that this is all that is left of a 20-inch, knee-deep, white-out blizzard :

P1070211

There’s not even a snowball’s worth of sow left here!

If I lived here (below) I would have shoveled that little pile out of my driveway weeks ago just to be rid of it once and for all for cripe’s sake:

P1070201

By chance we crossed paths with this little guy …

P1070196

…who, according to his collar goes by the name of Rusty. He flopped down onto the road there and started rolling from side to side in what looked like a fit of Spring Fever. Our squeals of delight regarding this cuteness attracted the attention of Rusty’s pal, who also came by to say “Hi”:

P1070197

It was when we ambled to the local Whole Foods that Top Cat and I came across this:

P1070208

Top Cat and I have a bet about whether or not this mound will be gone by St. Patrick’s Day. If I win, I get to go back to Paris in June.

Oh, right. I think we better get back to Paris tout de suite, nest-ce pas?

So back to my No. 1 fave Paris garden: The next thing that I want to show you about the Square de Vert-Galant is this view, which you can gander by walking to the far end of this garden and turning around and looking back towards the Pont Neuf —  this is the view in Summer:

P1070159

And in Winter:

P1050188

Picasso painted this same exact view:

P1050862

Yeah, I agree with you: Picasso’s picture stinks.  (You can see his tableau in the Musee Carnavalet, a darling museum about a ten minute walk away which covers the history of Paris.)  And that white pointy thing in the bushes on the right hand side…what the hell is that?? Could that be the kiosk of the garden guardians?

P1070127

Oh, how I love this little, one-third-of-a-third-room building:

P1050177

The architect was probably Gabriel David, the same Second Empire artist responsible for many of the distinct and lovely street furnishings of Paris, such as its newspaper and magazine kiosks:

P1050851

I even see a similarity to the famous Morris Columns all over the city:

Morris Column

Have you ever wondered how they load up a Morris Column??? Now you know!

I know!! I was on a bus (last December) when I saw this, a sight I have never seen in all of my 40 years of visiting and living in Paris and I jumped out of my seat and ran to the front of the bus to get a good photo of it, and thank DoG the bus was stopped at a red light so I could get a photo, and I am sooooo chuffed that I am able to show this to you!!

Back to the guardian’s kiosk in the Square du Vert-Galant: of course I had go peeping. I had to know what this wondrous space looked like on the inside:

P1070128

BTW, it still looked the same last December:

P1050179

I could do so much with this space. I desperately want to own this little place, or at least get a 99-year lease on it. I want to spiff it up and spend my days lounging in front of a little fire, with my notebooks and my radio and my books, whilst quaffing a culturally appropriate beverage:

P1070158

I can definitely see it. I belong here. (Inside joke: That’s Monet’s water lilies on the carpet.)

And so, in keeping with this wintery theme of Fantasy Garden Spots Where I (and You) Belong, today I am painting for you Dear Readers a Pub Date Celebration Triscuit of that same theme:

P1070131

 

But first. . .another digression. If you read last week’s Comments you’ll see that last week’s Triscuit winner, Deborah Hatt, dedicated her win to her two dearly departed Cats of the Heart. Well, what else could I do but put those sweet kitties into her Monet’s Giverny  Garden Triscuit? My darling Readers, please say Hi to Percy and Buster:

P1070253

Long may they stroll the perfumed paths in that beautiful flower garden in the sky.

OK, now we can back to painting this week’s  Pub Date Celebration Triscuit.

As always, I work wet-in-wet to make some interesting grassy textures:

P1070132

Oh, yeah — this Triscuit’s going to have a tea cup and a cat . . .

P1070135

. . . and a wicker chair with a golden cushion:

P1070136

White is the only acceptable color for wicker furniture, don’t you agree?

P1070137

When I saw that the detail of the wicker was too washed out by the pale background, I decided to go back and paint in some dark stuff in between the wicker-weave. I am probably one of the few people on Earth who find this kind of fuss-budget work to be very relaxing:

P1070139

Now for lots and lots of fleurs:

P1070140

And done:

P1070154

This is the kind of place where you, and I, and cats belong on any old Spring Fever day, right?

I am giving away this special Pub Date Celebration Triscuit to my Dear Readers in honor of, well, my new book and all, and how it’s the perfect gift for everybody you know, maybe even two or three times each. I’ve heard that it only takes one bulk sale of 8,000 copies to get on the New York times Bestseller list so if anyone out there has 8,000 friends please buy this book for them all and make them (and me) happy. Thank you.

All you have to do to claim this Pub Date Celebration Triscuit for your own is leave a Comment below, with your guess of a number between 123 and 8,071…no, wait. That’s too complicated.

Guess a number between 100 and 175. When the Comments close after 5 days (I have to shut it down to reduce the number of days that I get 1,000 spam comments per hour) I will have Top Cat pick a number at random and hope that one of you Dears had mental telepathy. Or is it pre-cognition?

Every one who Commented last week or the week before is eligible!

And now, because Thea wrote a Comment last week that “Taffy beats any sports mascot”, here’s your weekly dose of our favorite beige cat:

P1020546

This is me and Taffy and that’s our feral pal Bibs, at my ankle, in front of the tomato patch in August of last year. I don’t know why I didn’t use this as my author photo for the DGB.

Speaking of which, next week we’ll have to talk about all those 5-star reviews that you, my Dear Readers, will be posting to Amazon for Gardens of Awe and Folly, n’est-ce pas? ( 5-star reviews = another V. Swift book in the future for you. . .  publishers take sales and reviews very seriously). For all you Dear Readers who take the time to vote in favor of me keeping my job, I’ll have a special thank you for you. Stay tuned.

Have a great weekend, everyone, curling up with a good book. You know which one I mean.

P.S. in response to Comments last week that I did not get to answer in the roll: Leslie you’re right! I am contemplating a new embroidery project, and when it’s stitched I’ll be sure to show it here.

Patricia: I wonder if there is some kind of Myers Briggs test that would match up personalities to most likely crafts, altho I’m pretty sure that if left to science I would never have been pegged as an embroiderer. I’m too easily bored, except by things I’m obsessed with, which seem pretty random. I think it’s hit or miss, like love. Or maybe it’s fate, like love. I can’t decide.

 

Read more

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…

P1070153

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.

11167936-large

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:

P1070101

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

P1070103

…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:

P1070062

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:

P1070090

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:

P1070082 (1)

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!

P1070083

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:

P1070086

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:

P1070087

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:

P1070067

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

P1070084

I am a huge fan of herb gardens:

P1070066

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

P1070068

Vegetables:

P1070064

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

P1070091

Besides gardens, I quite liked doing maps:

P1070069

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

P1070088

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

P1070089

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:

P1070075

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:

 

IMG_0060

So let’s pick it up from here:

P1060766

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 . . .

P1060767

. . . 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:

P1060769

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

P1060770

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:

P1060771

Ooooooo, some more blue/purple bleeds for effect:

P1060774

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

P1060775

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):

P1060778

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

P1060788

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

P1060790

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

P1060792

Done.

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

IMG_0060

…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!

Read more

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*.

P1070153

*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.

P1060784

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):

P1060932

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!!

P1070021

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.

P1060994

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:

P1160873

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):

P1060926

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:

P1060927

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:

P1060928

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):

P1060933

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:

P1060935

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:

P1060936

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:

P1060937

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:

P1060938

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:

P1050504

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!!!!

P1060946

P1060947

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.

P1060949

P1060950

P1060952

P1060953

P1060954

 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:

P1060958

P1060960

P1060961

P1060962

P1060964

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):

Giverny tea bag monet garden painting

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”.

P1060965

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. . .

P1070148

P1070152

OK, now it’s DONE.

P1070153

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).

 

 

Read more

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:

P1060892 (1)

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:

P1060932

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:

P1060835

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:

DSCN1192

DSCN1195

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:

P1170189 (1)

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

P1060793

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:

P1060794

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:

P1060795

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:

P1060796

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

P1060797

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.

P1060799

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.

P1060801

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:

P1060802

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):

P1060803

Time to finish that foreground tree:

P1060805

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

P1060806 (1)

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

P1060807

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:

P1060392

Like this:

P1060893

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:

P1170189 (1)

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

P1170190

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

P1060894

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:

P1060766

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.

P1060925

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.

9781632860286

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.

Read more

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

P1160236

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

P1160395

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

P1060826

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.

P1060828

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 :

P1160912

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:

P1060848

Then I mix in some brown:

P1060851

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:

P1060852

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

P1060822

Then I add a tiny tiny bit of black:

P1060854

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

P1060855

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

P1060856

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:

P1060824

And now, Let’s Paint!

First, lay down a few strips of color:

P1060830

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):

P1060831

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

P1060832

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!

P1060833

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:

P1060835

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

P1060837

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:

P1060841

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 :

P1060301

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.

P1060806

Have a great Super Bowl Weekend everybody! Go Peyton!

Read more

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.

P1060525

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

P1060533

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:

P1060591

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

P1060641

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

P1060655

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

P1060699

P1060696

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:

P1170279

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:

P1060351

P1060367

P1060396

Done:

P1060540

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:

P1060540

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:

P1060402

P1060415

P1060432

P1060457

P1060443

P1060461

Done:

P1060463

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:

P1060473

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.

P1060474

P1060484

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

P1060508

P1060513

P1060519

And DONE:

P1060538

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:

P1060713

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):

P1060716

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

P1060723

 

 

P1060735

And I started all over AGAIN:

P1060542

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

P1060733

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:

P1060705

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:

P1060709

 Kitty TV.

 

 

 

 

 

Read more

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

P1060445

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:

P1060342

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!

P1060343

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):

P1060502

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. :

P1060507

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:

P1060505

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

P1060503

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.

P1060523

Look at I, I’m Lady Di.

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

P1060524

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):

P1060501

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:

P1060308

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:

P1060260

And then I painted the rest of the picture:

P1060266

P1060270

I put more masking fluid over the painted surface here:

P1060276

P1060284

P1060285

And then I picked up the masking:

P1060286

P1060287

P1060288

P1060296

 

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

P1060298

P1060299

P1060301

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:

P1060305

See the ripples in the upper edge?

P1060319

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:

P1170279

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

P1060396

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read more