I was so proud of myself for getting this blog post done on Thursday, so you Dear Readers would have it on your screens first thing Friday morning. Then it was after lunch time and I had not gotten any Comments yet, which is weird, until I remembered that I’d forgotten to schedule it for publication. Which I just did, at approx. 12:44 Eastern time today, Friday May 22. So so so so sorry.
So now that we all know that this lovely purple-blossomed tree is an Eastern Redbud (thank you, Deborah, janet b., and a quiet life — see: last week’s Comments), many of you, probably none of you, might be wondering why I mistook it for a Paulownia. I’m so glad you asked! Because it gives me the opportunity to show you my photos of
what I think are probably Paulownias!
This is the Boulevard St. Germain in May and yes, that’s
probably a Paulownia in blossom on the right.
Wait. Is it? Doesn’t this look like another (but much prettier) Eastern Redbud?
I am what I dreaded becoming, as a writer of a Damn Garden Book: the kind of person who frets over the identification of trees which that person would never have bothered to notice before she wrote a Damn Garden Book.
I took this picture in May of 2013, when I was in Paris on a garden fact-finding mission. Mind you, I have been in Paris in many previous Mays but on this visit I was looking at the city with gardening eyes. And Lo and Behold, the Ville Lumiere is lousy with purple blossoming things in May.
Aside from Wisteria, and what is probably not a Paulownia on the Bld. St-Germian, I think all the other trees photographed are Paulownias. Sadly, I happen to know a thing or two about Chestnut trees, some of which I am about to tell you now.
In the photo above, the tree in the foreground on the left is a blossoming Horse Chestnut. In the photo of the Boulevard Saint Germain (way above), the tree on the left is a blossoming Red Horse Chestnut, a hybrid of the Horse Chestnut and the Red Buckeye. There are about 100,000 Horse Chestnut trees growing in Paris. *Sigh* You can read all about the Aesculus hippocastanum in my Damn Garden Book. Sounds fun, eh?
To make up for all that tree talk I am giving you this, from an ordinary public park in Paris:
Change of Topic
This May I went to a book event for Bethany Frankel, star of The Real Housewives of New York and author of four self-help books, the latest being I Suck At Relationships So You Don’t Have To.
The event was held at the Bryant Library of Roslyn, Long Island and, as you can see, the room was packed. The reason I went was because I wanted to make myself feel really, really bad by comparing her book event to the fact that the Bryant Library is my local library and they turn me down whenever I propose holding a book event there. And I must say, as far as the fueling of my self-loathing went, Mission Accomplished!
I also wanted to see what helpful hints I could learn about holding a book event that passes Bryant Library muster and all I can say is, it helps to be Bethany Frankel. She is charming, smart, funny,
motor-mouthed articulate, and personable. She was just wonderful. You might not know that she made decent money in her work life for the first time only when she sold her start-up brand — the Skinny Girl line of booze for women — for $100,000,000, when she was 41. One hundred million dollars…when she was 41 (in lady-entrepreneur years, that’s practically dead).
But as she spoke to the room (standing up, even though a comfy chair was standing by for the convenience of her stiletto heeled footsies) there was nothing in her public demeanor or in her response during the Q&A (that went everywhere from her business success to her parenting philosophy to what’s up with Sonja) that broadcasted that she is stinking, filthy rich. Down-to-Earth, is what I’m saying, as a Bryant Library reject whose very best ideas pan out to minimum wage. She was very impressive, is what I’m saying, as a wise person who knows how many Chestnut trees are growing in Paris.
It was while I was burning with resentment…I mean, listening to the delightful Bethany, that I got the happiest thought of my life, what Einstein called der glücklichste Gedanke meines Lebens (when he figured out general relativity in 1907 SEE! I KNOW STUFF!).
If I ever hope to have a shot at filling up the meeting room at the Bryant Library, I have to become a Real Housewife. And that’s when I wrote out a list of my qualifications, fully intending to brighten your Get Away Day with an uproarious post that the critics would call Hilarious! Transgressive! The usual spectacle of existential dread!
But then I got sidetracked with the whole Purple in Paris thing and I know you want to get a head start on the unofficial Start of Summer holiday, so I will not hold you back from your (and, ahem, mine) margueritas any longer. The Housewives of Long Island side-splitter can wait another week.
Happy Memorial Day, everyone.
James Alexander Malloy, C Co., 175th Infantry, 29th Division, killed in action in Normandy, France, on June 16, 1944.
Horrors. This week I broke my favorite tea cup:
Well, truth to tell, I actually “broke” it several months, maybe a year, ago. I chipped it during dish washing:
And just last week it finally decided to start leaking. Woe, woe, woe is I. For now, I’m using my second favorite tea cup:
Speaking of cats…
This is Lickety, giving his brother Taffy a quick spit-and-polish:
But it’s un-cat like to stay awake for long:
Good thing Taffy doesn’t mind sharing his second favorite blankie:
Taffy also doesn’t seem to mind sharing his sofa with his arch enemy, Bibs, the outside cat who, after three years of training has finally learned how to come inside when we hold the back door open for him:
And now for a few pictures of cute tootsies:
That last cat (above) is not mine. She’s not even American. This is a photo of a shop cat that my sister recently sent me from Argentina. What you can’t see is that she is wearing a pink ribbon whilst she poses in a stall in an antiques/thrift market. A pink neck ribbon! How Cuuuuuuuute. My sister sends cat pix from all over the world. And here is where I make another brilliant segue.
I try to stay on top of my emails. Every day I try to delete them as I answer/act on them as they come in, so imagine my surprise when I noticed last week that I had 4,909 emails sitting in my In Box. As I went thru them carefully, I found way too many that had been long buried in the pile-up. One email that I found was dated Oct. 29, 2014, from my sister, the world-roving cat photographer, mentioning that she was going to Kyrgyzstan for a week (she’s an intellectual property/copyright/customs lawyer/consultant specializing in second world countries in addition to being a world-roving cat photographer).
Yes, Kyrgyzstan. And I ever knew anything about it! Which is to say that if you have emailed me in the past 1 1/2 years and I have not responded, please accept my mille pardons. It’s nothing personal! It’s Yahoo Mail screwing with my In Box email scrolls, marking unread emails as “Read”! Really! I answer every single email I get, which is a dandy system as long as I get emails that don’t skip from my In Box right into the “Read” (past tense) file. I am still catching up — and I will respond to all your kind notes.
In other news, this week the cherry blossoms are giving it up to gravity:
While what may or may not be a Paulownia is still in bloom:
The picture of the may-or-may-not tree is from a recent outing to the village of Princeton, New Jersey, where Top Cat and I stopped for lunch two Sundays ago. It seems that there’s a rather beautiful and old university there, and the streets were packed with parents and alumni in town for a tradition that the kids call the Spring Lawn Party.
The various Eating Clubs associated with the university were each hosting a party, on their lawn. You had to be a Princeton student or grad to buy the wristband that lets you roam from lawn party to lawn party.
I never thought that I’d ever say this about 1%ers, but they were all very cute.
Well, despite this post, I must say that my “book-done lifestyle” so far has been ever so busy and interesting. I’m shopping for a new tea cup, I’m catching up on my emails, I’m driving to Princeton for lunch, and I’m meeting up with a Real Housewife of New York.
Oh, did I forget to tell you that?
That’s a longish story that I’ll have to tell you next week. But here’s a sneak preview: Yes! I’m applying to be a Real Housewife of Long Island!
Because I have such an interesting life and all.
All the live-long day.
There was nothing wrong with this picture. But then the gardeners at the Chelsea Physic Garden in London redesigned this bed of pom pom trees last year, and my illustration became too out-dated to use in the Damn Garden Book. The reason I didn’t just bury this pic in my Failure File is because I love the stones. I must have had a good day when I painted this back in 2012, because I love the way I got the stones to look greenish-gray — and I also liked the way the dirt came out. This is very flukey, when the Muse shows up and you get boring bits of stone and dirt to look “right”. So I wanted to save it.
So, yes, this is another Rescue Story. And yeah, it seems to me, too, that I’ve never gotten one illustration for the Damn Garden Book to look right the first time. That’s why I swear that this will be my last illustrated travel memoir-ish. It’s just too depressing to keep failing, day after day after day…I have better things to do. I think. Maybe. Any hoo.
After cutting out the now-historically inaccurate bit, I went to work:
Blend, blend, blend in the scissor’d edge:
Instead of fussy pom pom trees, I’m going to put in some decrepitude (see: last week’s post), to make it look the way it did on my first visit to the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, in 1999. Mind you, this manuscript must be completed by today, Friday May 8; and I am painting this on April 23. It’s this kind of perfectionism, which causes one to make ridiculously time-intensive last minute editorial decisions, that makes any kind of creative person with a deadline to become the kind of person that everyone warns is very touchy.
Whilst I am being all Impressionist here, I would like you to pay attention to the stump of pom pom tree, that brown stick on the left hand side of the round shrub that stands out like a turd in bowl of pea soup (see below):
My first idea was to paint over it with very, very dark green blades of dark green weeds, but that looked too obvious. So I painted over that mistake with white acrylic paint:
And then decided to do the same for all the other too-dark green blades of weeds I’d already painted it:
Well, I regretted the fix-up.
So I did the only thing that a very tense, touchy, under-deadline pressured author/illustrator could do:
The picture was too monotonous — too much blades of weedy things sticking straight up. It lacked texture. Also, that ball of boxwood had begun to annoy me. It lacked decrepitude.
And so, with an appropriate amount of cursing, I started over….AGAIN.
Blend, blend, blend in the scissor’d edge:
This time, I made very faint pencil marks to plot out TEXTURE:
I made this picture dark so as to show you the faint pencil lines. It’s ugly, but effective. I think that’s pretty much my Philosophy of Illustration in a nutshell.
So far, I’ve been painting for about three hours. I know this because I had not intended to spend all day on this thing, so I’m watching the clock, hope hope hoping that this damn picture WoRKS OUT.
Working wet-in-wet, I drop in some background…
…before I put in the foreground:
When I was 40 years old, I made a conscious decision to change my handwriting.
Ever since I’d learned to write, I had been making a capital “I” that looked like a little round circle. Everybody has some quirk in their handwriting, but this — and the way I made a small “r”(it looked like a pointed stick; Oprah does it too) — had become very irritating to me. So I simply made a New Year’s Resolution and forced myself to change my dopey little curlicue “I” into a tall, slender, stand-alone “I” SANS SERIF, and I began printing a small “r” whenever I needed a Latin rhotic. I also didn’t care for the way I made a small “g”, too, until I learned that my figure-8 small “g” meant that I was very intellectually creative, so I kept it.
I mention this because I am also trying to change my watercolor painting handwriting. I’m trying to be looser, more Impressionistic. So at this stage of the illustration, I was feeling very confident that I was headed for Impressionistic success with this painting:
But, in the end, I saw, clearly, that I blew it:
Not for the first time, did my gut wrench over a Damn Garden Book illustration.
So, You Will NOT BELIEVE What I Did Next!
Yes, I ripped it apart — literally — and STARTED OVER.
Now, this did not happen immediately. I had other obligations — life stuff, and a re-write of the whole London chapter — that I had to pay attention too; and, truth to tell, I was hoping that that last pic would grow on me. But, no, I have too much intellectual honesty and artistic integrity for that.
And, so, five days later, we been again, again:
DONE. I know it’s a mix of persnickety manuscript-illumination and loosey-Roherschadt blots, but it works for me. (That obvious scissor-edge in the dark green front end can be eliminated digitally when the book goes into production, which is OK by me, although I prefer to do it manually, e.g.; I defy you to pick out the scissor edge on the whole right side.)
And I didn’t let the pom pom trees go to waste, either. I put them into their up-dated bed, like so:
I’m DONE. I hand in the complete manuscript today, so from now on in the only fixes I’ll be making on the Damn Garden Book will be inserting (or deleting) commas, accent marks, and redundancies; and not getting annoyed that the proof reader keeps marking my capitalizations of the Four Seasons even tho I sent a note telling her (it’s usually a her) to leave them STET.
And then I am DONE.
DONE DONE DONE DONE.
I’m going to take up a new hobby, and no, it will not be gardening. But, as an offshoot of writing this book, I am thinking about learning the beautiful language of Brazil. Portuguese.
Have a great weekend, everybody. And have a caipirinha on me.
I have to be honest with you today, Dear Readers. Last Week Top Cat bought me a gift from Ye Olde Fine Wine and Liquor Store: whipped cream flavored vodka from France. It was kind of a joke. I mean, really — whipped cream flavored vodka? Seriously. What would anyone over the age of 15 want with whipped cream flavored vodka?
Last night I opened my gift and discovered that whipped cream flavored vodka tastes like the best soda pop you’ve ever had; like liquid bubblegum; like cotton candy with ice cubes; like birthday cake in a glass. It was like drinking Pixie Stix, and we all know that Pixie Stix come in a six-pack. Last night it was all about the “whipped cream”.
This morning I am dealing with the “vodka” part of that equation. So, Dear Readers, please lower your expectations this morning, please don’t make any sudden movements, and please, I beg of you, keep anything foody or shiny out of my sight.
I’ve been meaning to talk about my love of decrepitude for a while, so it serves me right to make this the Topic of the Day.
I love decrepitude in a garden. Not ruin, not neglect, not that other thing that means something like disintegration. (My head hurts. I’m not going to spend much time this week searching for the mot juste.)
Wait. Let me start again.
I painted a remembrance this week, of a garden visit that I’ve always treasured for its beautiful decrepitude. It was a walled garden in London.
I’ve never painted decrepitude, but I had a feeling that it would involve a lot of yellowy rusty-colored blobs.
And scraggly shrubbery:
I tried to keep the yellows and the rusty bits composed because, while nature can get away with being monotonous, an illustration can’t. So I blobbed strategically.
See that blob in the lower right corner above?
Below, is me making that blob look sticky and brambly:
At this point, I was becoming concerned that there was a lot of same-old same-old brambly-ness going on:
Don’t ask me why, but I dotted in some white acrylic paint to brighten and break up the monotonous texture. I also started painting in the background, which I wanted to be really dark because the pic needs contrast:
This is me, making more sticks:
It’s really not that hard. Less is more. I have to keep reminding myself that.
I forget why I took this photo (below). I know I wanted to show something…
…maybe I wanted you to be inside this decrepitude, the way I was in my mind the whole while I was painting it. Because when you back away, like this…
…I think you lose the “there” there. This is one of those paintings that I hated to crop. I like the little dabs of try-out colors that all my watercolors have by the time they are finished. All that marginalia tells a story, the story of how this pic was painted.
So that’s my picture of decrepitude. I made a few more paintings like it, each one more or less, mostly less, successful in portraying the state of lovely decomposition that I call decrepitude. And “decomposition” isn’t the right word either.
This might be the hangover talking, because I’ve now passed the stage of intense, intense focus on not throwing up and am entering the stage of recovery that the experts call “feeling weepy about climate change and the fate of the polar bears” but this garden didn’t want to be weedy and overgrown. It wanted to be beautiful, and be admired. It wanted to be great, like it once was. But it just didn’t have gardeners who loved it enough to keep it in shape. So there was something so brave and epic about the way it flourished, best it could.
Thank you for not making any loud sounds, or frying bacon, or asking me why I don’t remember buying that $495.00 paint-by-number Paris street scene off of eBay last night. Much appreciated.
I went to a day-long program at New York University in Manhattan last Friday, where I was in a room with at least 50 PhDs where things such as “an effective counter-hisotrical narrative”and “alternative epistemic machinery” were said. I loved it.
Mind you, it’s not that my own cat buddies …
… aren’t intellectually stimulating companions (they’re not)…
… but this program at NYU was all about decompiling computer history, a subject I had absolutely no interest in. So I signed up.
I boarded the 8:42 to Penn Station and sat my ass down from 10 – 6 to hear all about the textures of digitization in daily life, and the myths of internet infrastructure, and abstract unintuitive machines, and such. I am happy to report that the lemma of American cultural imperialism is still alive and well, only this time it’s all MicroSoft’s fault.
Remember the good old days, when it used to be rock and roll that was going to take over the world and ruin culture for everybody? *Sigh* That was then. These days, rock and roll has all the cultural hegemony of baton twirling.
Seriously, tho. The program brought together really REALLY smart people, and they all gave my brain quite a workout, which I admit has gone flabby in recent years. Last month, for example, I tried to figure out why Kate Hudson is launching a clothing line based on her “intuition as an athlete and a fashion lover”, and why kate Hudson is famous in the first place, and I just couldn’t do it.
So, please meet the brilliant thinkers who made me think hard about the things they think deeply about:
Here is what Jason Scott (below, in a photo that I took myself and didn’t have to grab from the inter webs), who is the world’s first and most famous archivist of the internet:
Kevin Driscoll (M.S. from MIT, Ph.D. from USC , D.J. from his being a millennial) from whom I learned about the effective counter-historical narrative in the context of myths concerning internet infrastructure:
And superstar Stephanie Dick …
… (Ph.D. Harvard, Alan Turing Centennial Fellow, and lots of other etc.’s), who talked about how the brute force of computer-done mathematic proofs are different from elegance of people-done mathematic proofs and how both embody an intellectual grace all their own, and since she’s a gifted mathematician herself and as articulate as Neil deGrasse Tyson, she was analytically astute and cogent and AWESOME.
Ramsey Nassar …
… game designer, computer scientist, and the kind of Ph.D. that gets to dig deep into secret Ottoman archives in Beruit (maybe it was Constantinople) to discover the Arabian Turing Machine that challenges the entrenched MicroSoftic-imperialistic narrative of the history of computers. As an amateur linguist, I savored his short tutorial on the scriptural form (there isn’t any print form) and mechanics of the Arabic language.
Joy Rankin …
… (Dartmouth, Duke, MIT, and Yale for god’s sake!) who discovered how the Minneapolis school system in the 1970s built a social network before there were personal computers . I know, I know…the 1970s…yawn. I get depressed every time I remember the 1970s. I was not on my game in the 1970s; but neither was the rest of America. And here’s Joy Rankin, born way after the hey day of Tony Orlando and Dawn, researching the 1970s as if they were interesting. Way to go, future MacArthur Genius.
WHY WAS YOU THERE??? you may well ask. I was there to hear the one speaker whose work I was familiar with and am quite the fan of….
… the one and only Stacy Horn.
I know Stacy as the author of my favorite book of 2001 (see above, subtitled “A Morbid Memoir” but its not at all morbid, in my opinion, and is actually a lovely story about the meaning of life and cats).
Stacy is also the author of books about the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory and the cold case squad of the New York Police Dept. Her most recent is Imperfect Harmony, about the psychological and physical well-being to be had from singing with others, based on her 30-years of singing with the Grace Church Choral Society (it’s not a religious book). When I discovered that she’d be speaking about the social network she founded way back in 1990, when she founded the first social network on the East Coast and (side bar) became the hottest IT babe in America (glamor shoots for Vanity Fair, Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, etc.), I HAD to be there.
These are NYU Ph.D. students (above) being captivated by Stacy’s program. Stacy’s talk was personal, historical, whimsical, and AWESOME. She was what everybody else was talking about: a pioneer in the making of computer history.
At the Q & A part of the program
What a joy it was for me to be breathing the same air as this group of people — speaking and listening — who were so intellectually engaged with the world. I always say that I need to get out of the house more often but I never would have thought that a program about decompiling computer history would make it so worth missing Judge Judy, but it just goes to show you.
Wherever smart people work, doors are unlocked. (Steve Wozniak)
The thing about smart people is that they seem crazy to dumb people. (Anonymous, on a T-shirt)
Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss celebrities. (Eleanor Roosevelt)
Smart people know that you can only believe half of what you are told. But only very smart people know which half. (Janina Ipohorska)
Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you. (John Wooden)
Richard Branson, for example, is a total maverick but he surrounds himself with smart, successful people and he listens to them. (Brandon Burchard)
Smart people do amazing things against awful odds. (Kim Harrison)
I think smart is sexy. I like smart people. People that are comfortable with themselves I think is very sexy. My cat is really sexy. (Gina Gershon)
Well. After spending four days slaving over a Book Cover painting that Bloomsbury rejected, I needed to retreat to my comfort zone. So bring on the Triscuit!
This is the third part of a Triscuit Tryptich for the New Orleans chapter of The Damn Garden Book:
Which brings me to a sad story. As you know, I have always called my Triscuit-sized miniature paintings “Triscuits”.
Fun Fact: Triscuits were the favorite snack cracker of the degenerate William Burroughs, who deciphered the etymology of his and my fave snack food as deriving from the French: Tres Cuit. Awesome.
Having endured a pseudo-trademark threat of legal action for a photograph I posted on my blog in 2012 (long story, TBA) I decided to make my relationship with Triscuit legit. I wrote what’s called a “begging letter” to get permission from a conglomerate called Mondelez (Mon-dell-ease) to use the name “Triscuit” in print and bloggy-type postings. I prepared a package that included my 2 books, each Post-It [Trademark] tagged for the pages that feature my “Triscuits”, and sent it hither to the land called The Nouveau Jersey.
I also included a fulll-color photocopy “gallery” of unpublished Triscuits, to impress Mondelez with my artistry:
Three months later I had a telephone conversation with a delightful representative on Mondelez who had reviewed my packet and request, and said that she could not offer me official permission to use the trademarked name “Triscuit”, but also would not bar me from using the trademarked name “Triscuit” either. She said, “Just use your best judgement.”
That is incredibly sweet. In other words, I’m allowed to use the term “Triscuit” in print and blog until Mondelez sends me a Cease and Desist order. I’m OK with that.
The downside of all this is that, ever since I took my original art in Triscuit form to Staples to get a color copy to include in my packet/plea to Mondelez (see above, photo of color copy of my gallery of Triscuits) , I have not laid eyes on these original Triscuits. Somehow, I have lost them all. I’ve called Staples to ask if my Triscuits were found in the color copier, and called them again, and called them again — the Print Dept. has been very kind about keeping all their staff alerted to any scum bag who might, just might, show up to return some original art work he found left behind on the Self-Serve color copier. I also have thrown TWO Find ‘Em parties in my house, and nope…nothing has turned up.
It’s been four months. I have numbed myself to the truth that these treasured Triscuits are gone forever.
Life is a mystery.
Anyhow, life goes on, and against Top Cat’s plea to Keep It Short, I am going to elongate this post for one more story.
I received a package in the mail yesterday, and when I ripped it open I found this:
Of course I recognized the handwriting, and the wonderful hand-wrapping:
I tore the gift paper apart (double-sided! Fancy!):
Turned the treasure over and voila:
If you have been following Liz Gilbert’s blog, you know that this is [an uncorrected proof for limited distribution/review only of] her hotly anticipated new book Big Magic; Creative Living Beyond Fear.
From what I’ve read so far, this book explodes with the charm and voice of her wonderful first-person self that we loved in Committed and Eat,Pray, Love. I will be devouring this book ASAP and I will be reporting on its wondrousness next week. Stay tuned.
P.S. Bloomsbury, having rejected my own painstakingly awesome cover illustration (see last week’s post), just sent me their own idea of a book cover for The Damn Garden Book. I must admit, it’s fabulous. It is sooooo much better than what I did. I love it. I’ll be showing you that, too, all in good time…all in good time.
As you might remember, last week I left you with this incomplete painting for the cover of my Damn Garden Book:
What I am about to show you in this post took three days to accomplish, if “accomplish” is the right word. Hmmmm…let’s say that what I am about to show you took three days to ruin and rescue, ruin AGAIN and rescue AGAIN. And, by the way, in the end, my publisher didn’t care for it. Ha! I’m re-doing this baby over my shriveled with anxiety/exhausted by self-doubt remains!
I think most what I am about to show you is self-explanatory but it’s not very likely that I’ll be sitting around here, loading up the visuals, without butting into your experience of the ruin and rescue that is pretty much my bread and butter as an artist.
I begin by applying liquid masking fluid comme ca:
Joan, this is for you: When I turn on the light box, the sketch that I made on tracing paper appears, like magic, onto my 90-lb. watercolor paper (see below). I use this as a guide before I paint, but I must paint with the light box off (forgive me for repeating myself, but its the only way to see the true color of the paint).
I hum my Painting Stand-Out Leaves song as I paint what I hope will be stand-out leaves:
I have to constantly check the colors that I’ve already laid down on the other side, to make sure that I’m balancing light and dark greens, but not too balancing:
To get the dreamy look of blue-ish-green verdure that I love (but use sparingly), I have to work wet-in-wet:
I now have the idea of introducing yellow into the picture. I start on the previously painted side…
…and I put an equally bright yellow on my “new” side (see below). I also note that the “stand-out” leaves do not “stand out”, so I add one more blob of yellow to appease my sense of composition. first, I paint in a white undercoat with acrylic paint:
But I can tell that the undercoat is very, uh, textural (gloppy), so I cut out a poise and glue it into place:
(Jeanie: I use good old Elmer’s glue.) Please not the lovely blue-ish-green billow I put in above the yellow whatsits:
Since I am desperate to not screw up now, I do the sensible thing (for once) and I make a “practice” painting of the banana leaves I want to do next, to add some texture that will balance those spiky shoots across the way. Note how I edited out the droopy frond because it looks stupid:
It is obvious to me that I need to raise the banana leaves a little bit higher to balance — but not too balance — the composition:
Nope. It’s not right (see below). I’m starting my fourth day of painting this damn thing, and the first thing I realize is that all the stuff I had just put in isn’t enough to give this imaginary garden some pizzazz. I need to go back and add some pizzazz elements down in the lower left hand corner. Yes, I will sacrifice my dreamy blue-ish-green billow for the good of the many:
I know exactly where to find my pizzazz elements — in my huge (note tea bag for scale) binder of failed illustrations that I never throw away — for exactly times like this:
I dig out a Japanese lantern, some spiffy striped leaves I saw all over New Orleans, and a poinsettia tree that I remembered from Rio, and I arranged them so I could see if that’s how I want to go:
Yep. That’ll do.
Because my brain is numb from how much damn time it’s taking to paint this damn thing, I become distracted by the sight of a very, very small beetle making his way across my desk, and I take pity on him. He looks faint with hunger, the way he is wobbling from step to itty bitty bitty step. So I go to the kitchen and I put a speck of honey on the tip of a knife, and I smear it on the desk. Mr. Beetle has no problem finding it (well, I did put it right in front of him).
Mr. Beetle eats, and then turns around and moseys off whence he came, and I still can’t face another whole day of painting in terror. So now is an excellent time for me to mention my new favorite TV show:
Google Images are really small.
I totally escape when I watch this show. It’s about being the last survivor of a world-wide virus that has killed 99.9999% of humans. I watch it and my mind is completely soothed with its premise. Imagine. 99.9999% of humanity gone. Disappeared. Ceased to being.
No war. No terrorists. No Kardashians. No slow drivers in the left lane. No rappers. No politicians. Ahhhhhh. What a paradise. Seriously. I project all my anxieties into this TV show, and the silence and emptiness that comes back to me is Nirvana. I also laugh out loud at the hi-jinks which ensue when one is The Last Man on Earth.
I’m also a fan of Kristen Schaal, who is one of the leads:
Even thinking about The Last Man of Earth puts me in a good mood. I’m even almost ready to go on with this post!
However, my sweet Top Cat is always urging me to Keep It Short so, this is a fine time to take a break from reading, maybe dial up The Last Man on Earth on your On Demand channel, and continue with Part II in the post that follows this one when you are ready for more damn painting.
Picking up where we left off: I’m about to have a heart attack because I can’t seem to get this book cover painting done right the first OR second time arrrrrghghghghghghghghg.
I am now starting my third day of painting. I am so intent on seeing if I can make the big changes that need to be made on this thing that I FORGET to take pictures of the process until I’m at the very end:
As you can see, I’ve cut out a nice arrangement of these stripy New Orleans leaf-plants and glued them on top of my beautiful blue-ish green billow. The I painted a Japanese lantern, cut it out, made a slot for it to slip in behind the white hollyhocks or whatever you them, and put it in place. And then I felt I needed two more stripy leaves, and arranged them in front of the lantern, as you see above. Ta-Da:
Now I see that the tree and the background blobby (on the right) ruins the whole pic. I am totally depressed by this and I know I need a shot of something to lift my spirits but, sadly, I cannot cocktail-ify and paint at the same time so I wipe my tears and Do What Needs To Be Done.
Oh crap. Although I’m not yet committed to this patch-up (it’s still a loose piece of cut-up watercolor paper), I can see that if I want to commit to it I’ll have to blue-up the “sky” under the palm tree to balance the amount of blue paint I’ve unintentionally loaded up under my wisteria arbor:
This is tricky, but luckily I bought a new paint brush and it’s working like a beaut!
Whew. Nothing bled. Next step, remove masking and paint in wisteria:
It looks OK to me.
So NOW I commit and glue the cut-out in place (Yes, Joan; sadly, cutting out and gluing over is the only tried and true method for me). Then I do some blending-in painting:
I check again, and it looks like I need to take away some of the foliage from the arbor. For this, I break out the acrylic paint:
I use the acrylic here because I’m not going to paint anything over it, so I don’t care how gloppy it is. When the pic is scanned and digitized, it will be easy to white-out this mess when they do touch-ups (usually, in my case, to remove scotch tape marks and cat hair stuck in such tape).
Jeanie asked how my cut-outs can look so seamless when done. First, it’s because nobody who looks at an illustration is looking for cut-outs. Second, it’s because I do my best to blend in the cut-outs and I must say, I do it very well. Lastly, it’s because when the piece is scanned, out gets a crazy amount of light that negates the tell-tale shadows of cut-outs and, when it’s inspected for publication, any tiny shadow or blip can be digitally erased.
P. S. White-on-whte cut-outs are the hardest to camouflage.
FINAL STEP: The overhanging boughs. Here?
The stakes are high. These leaves can NOT go wrong. There is no place to start over, fix, or re-do if I screw up these leaves. So I make another sketch:
I can’t put it off any longer. I have to start painting these final, fateful leaves. I take it s-l-o-w. I remember to breathe. I steady my hand.
Welcome to my Gardens of Awe and Folly!!!
Yes, I see a few more things that need minor touch-ups (those wisteria flowers were not worth going to all the trouble of honing a toothpick after all — they need to be beefed up). But alas, my work is done and I’m happy. The way I arranged the title, sub-title, and author name was all up to me, and I decided that this is the lay-out that works best.
And yes, Bloomsbury wasn’t thrilled with it. They want something more, something that will add a note of exotic travel. I say it can’t be done. I say it doesn’t have to be done — the word “traveler” is in the subtitle.
But that’s for next week. Today, Dear Readers, we celebrate Friday with an ice cold beverage that makes us feel as if we are The Last Man on Earth. Or whatever your own fantasy of paradise is.
*** Oooops! I forgot to open the Comments!***
***As of 2:30 pm Friday Comments are open for five days!***
Don’t worry, Dear Readers. Taffy has been fed and watered to his liking this morning so we will be undisturbed for the duration of this post by a pesky but-insky buff-colored kitteh. I think. I hope.
Last week I showed you some book cover ideas that I had sketched out. They are only sketches, the roughest of ideas. And after some discussion with my book editor and the art department and the marketing staff, we all decided that this was the most user-friendly:
P.S.: the title of the book is not Garden Book. That’s what we call a “place holder” until I come across the brilliant title that my editor and the marketing department and the sales department all agree is the perfect “selling” title. (P.S.: I already have that title, which I will unveil at a future date. Note to Joan: Shshshshshshshhhh.)
Anyhoo. Bloomsbury has asked me to give them an actual book cover by April 10, in time for the company’s international sales rep meeting, to have something to show them to get them excited about The Damn Garden Book. So now it’s time for me to turn a rough sketch into a finished work.
First, I made another rough sketch, based on the previous half-baked idea (see above). This time I thought harder about colors, textures, composition, and the limits of my own skills:
I cut out the area that I’d have to keep blank for the title, sub-title, and author’s name; now I know exactly what kind of “frame” I have to design around. For this sketch, I am picturing specific flowers, plants, shrubs, and trees.
The next step is to draw the actual flowers, plants, shrubs, and trees in the forms that I will actually paint:
I drew this all on tracing paper because I intend to paint it on a light box:
I will paint the right side of the cover first because I am left-handed.
But before I can apply paint I have to use masking liquid to reserve areas that I want to paint over. Here I am reserving flower shapes — using a toothpick — on the bottom edge of the cover:
I turn off the light box when I apply color because if I left it on, I wouldn’t be able to see the true value of the hue.
With a tooth pick that I careful trimmed to a fine point, I next lay down more masking liquid in the hopes of achieving a neat-o effect…an effect that I haven’t tried much, and which has never turned out all that appealing before. if I mess it up, there’s not a lot to lose: I’ll just start all over (big whoop — I have so far used up only 15 minutes of my life).
I like it! Then I remembered that I should have left masking over the topper-most fleurs, to “save” them from the next application of paint, so I had to go back and re-mask. But so far, I’m very happy with the experiment.
I like seeing stems, so I try another way of making them, this time just by drawing pencil lines over a layer of green-yellow watercolor and painting in the negative space (see green leafy plant below):
And next, just so the illustration won’t look like it was painted by a two-trick pony, I try out another experiment. I do a light wash and then I “pick up” bits of wet paint with a bit of rolled-up TP. I have never done this technique before, but I’ve thought it out carefully, and I think I can pull it off.
WHEW. So far, I haven’t wrecked the pic (see below)…so far. (I will be leaving in all the masking I’ve applied in the various areas until I get to the end of this day’s work.)
I want to put in some long spiky leaves here to add texture to the image. I have no idea how to do long spiky leaves, but you know me: Let’s give it a whack. See what happens. You ever know. Maybe I’m a genius on a roll.
These long spiky leaves (below) look terrible. So guess what time it is! It’s time for a rescue!!
Yes. This is much more like it:
By the way, from here on in I can not use the light box because of the double layer of watercolor paper that I have to use in order to salvage this operation.
I forgot to take photos of how I painted in a very pale blue sky atop the greenery above, and over the top of the image, across to the other side,but it’s there. I need a sky because I am proceeding to the point in the composition were I need to paint in background stuff against a blue sky. Also, I didn’t think it would look right to paint a “garden” like this against an all-white background (as in original sketch).
So. On to the final touches of Side One:
Lastly, remove all masking, step back, and reveal:
I like the white “flowers” so much that I’m thinking about leaving them as is. I had wanted to paint this with a very [seemingly] light touch, and I’m happy that I’ve been able to rein in my tendency to over-saturate my colors. I think that so far, it’s good.
From here on in, messing up is not an option.There are hanging branches with leaves that I want to paint over the blue sky on this side (see original sketch idea, way above, with hanging leaves on the left side — those are the leaves I want to paint) , but I need to rest. This has taken me 4 1/2 hours to paint — something of a speed record for me because I dried all the paint and masking liquid with a hair dryer.
I don’t usually use a hair dryer because I don’t have the outlets (I live in a 100-year old house) but for this I used two extension cords to plug my Conair into the guest room’s outlet across the hall.
And no, there is not path (see original sketch idea, way above) because I couldn’t figure out a way to insert it into this composition without lousing up the perspective, which is tilted forward, towards the viewer (which you might have not noticed).
But Taffy did.
I am hungry.
I am Taffy and I am hungry.
This is my bowl.
I cannot eat this stuff. It was poured from the big bag of stuff an hour ago. I cannot eat hour-old food.
Miss Lady who feeds me is says that she not running a catering business here, she say she busy, very busy, because she working on book cover designs and cannot keep running into kitchen to check on every cat’s latest whim.
But I see her. She not busy. She just binge watching House of Cards. She not feeding me. I cannot allow this. I am Taffy. I am head honcho of my herd. I show you my herd.
This Bibs. This me, advising Bibs to get off of my pink blankie. Nobody allowed to sleep on my pink blankie on top of UPS box.
Only I am.
I am best cat when it comes to sleeping with style.
I can make sleep out of anything. Even on the Adirondak chair cushions what are resting on a dining room chair. Dining room table is not my favorite pillow, though.
Penelope. She nice cat. She never try to sleep on my pink blankie on top of UPS box, what is all mine.
Why she not share her sunbeam is because she not very nice.
This is Coco:
Coco is not nice. She have her own Ikea chair with heating pad and clean blankies because she very, very old. She is senior citizen cat. She very cranky. Coco has special room she share with Miss Lady, all private and quiet. I bet Miss Lady don’t let her go hungry staring at hour-old food is all I’m saying.
This my mama:
She is most beautiful mama in the world. Miss Lady call her Candy but I call her mama. She very good mama. She is nice to Bibs because Bibs don’t have a mama.
This my brother, Lickety, on very last day of Winter:
I keep eye on him because my mama tell me to be good big brother to idiot sibling. He think he fierce.
He never catch birdie in his life because he way too fat to gain speed on even dumb pigeon. Is hilarious to see, when Fatso think he fierce. But lordy, it takes much energy to watch over him. Is why I am hungry.
Is been hard Winter.
I do not approve of hard Winters.
But all my herd is safe and sound even after First Day of Spring snow storm, when I should been off-duty from watching over idiot sibling but I save him from frostbite anyway.
And instead of medal, Lady Miss give me hour-old food and make me go hungry. Is that nice? I ask rhetorically.
Is time to mind meld with Miss Lady who feed me.
Go to Kitchen. Feed hungry kitty.
Go to Kitchen. Feed hungry kitty.
Go to Kitchen. Feed hungry kitty.
Wait…is working! Miss Lady in kitchen now! Miss Lady getting out new bowl! Miss Lady pouring new stuff from big bag of stuff! Miss Lady putting bowl in front of me!
This will not do. This stuff came from top of big bag of stuff.
I want stuff from middle of bag.
Sigh. I am Taffy. I am apply for new job, as head honcho of new herd. You got job opening for me?