I wish you happy holidays, Dear Readers,
and a joyful new year!
Meet me back here on
January 16, 2015
when this blog re-boots for further mountain-making from the molehills of life and art here on the shores of the Long Island Sound.
The thing I’m most looking forward to about my new blog is getting serifs. Oh, how I have missed my serifs on this lousy Atahualpa theme. In 2015 it will be Times New Roman all the way. You have no idea how happy this will make me. Happier than playing Twister with Ryan Gosling, that’s how happy my new serifs will make me.
Dear Readers, it’s Tuesday, a day of the week that is worth celebrating. Because if you are like me and see no reason to celebrate End-of-Weekend Sunday or Back-To-The-Grind Monday, then you know how very ready you are to praise the Wine Gods by Tuesday.
Dang. I forgot to put the bubbly in the fridge last night. “Whatever shall I do for a quick chill to ease my desperate thirst?” I ask myself, since I like my gratification to be as immediate as possible…
This is the snow in my backyard:
This is my Tuesday happiness:
This is my Tuesday happiness fixing to make me much, much happier, in the snow in my backyard:
Yeah. It’s been a long, long Winter.
Thank you, Dear Readers one and all, for stopping by my hibernating blog. We’re closing up shop this year, but keep tuning in for a fabulous upcoming announcement!
If it’s January 17, it must be left-over birthday cake:
As you Dear Readers may know, every January 16 I make a blue cake, which I wrote about last year in the post called
Blue in a Good Way:
This is my winning entry in the Ugly Cake Contest of 2013.
And I wrote about in 2011 in the post called
Born at the Right Time:
If you want, you can click onto the links which are highlighted in *blue* to read the entire posts of which I speak.
And in 2010 I put in the post called
The Breakfast of Champions:
This year I made my bluest cake ever…
…thanks to the vat of precious blue food coloring that my dear Top Cat found on the inter webs. And, thanks to Dear Readers Maryanne and Jeanie, this year I also got a shot of my all-important Vitamin C[hampagne] in blue. (People, this stuff came all the way from Reims, France!) BTW, Penelope wants to thank you, Maryanne and Jeanie, too, for her collateral gift:
That is, she thanks you for the box that the champagne came in.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who sent birthday wishes.
Yes, me and this blog are still in hibernation, but please feel free to hang out and browse the archives.
My criteria for the Perfect Fall Leaf is that it contain every color of the season in one feuille. Obviously, as soon as I laid eyes on this beauty I knew I’d found perfection for this year’s Annual Fall Leaf Painting Tutorial (2013).
If in previous years you’ve followed my Annual Fall Leaf Painting Tutorial, you already know that after I’ve laid my leaf on 90-pound Canson watercolor paper and traced its entire outer edge, I divide the leaf into its “cells”. The secret to painting a Fall leaf is to paint it cell-by-cell.
I am using size 0 and 00 brushes and my cute little set of Windsor Newton watercolors here — the colors are very bright and rich. Let the watercolor dry throughly before you start a new cell.
This way, you can let the paint colors bleed into each other within each cell (see below, I’m letting my yellow paint bleed into the green)…
…and still keep all the other cells clean and bright and not muddied-up as you add to the leaf (cell by cell):
I’ll just let you watch for the next few frames as I paint in details, cell by cell:
I have to say that I find Fall Leaf Painting to be very relaxing, especially when I add the tiniest details.
The great thing about Fall Leaf Painting…
…is that in the end, you have a leaf that will never fade or crumble or get disgusting looking (tea bag included for scale):
This is what happens to your Fall Leaf the day after you finish painting it, poor thing.
This is especially true with oak leaves! Hoo boy, nothing dies faster and uglier than an oak leaf. That’s why I was overjoyed when I found an unusually ripe oak leaf this year and was able to paint it before the poor thing went the way of all fallen leaves.
For more Fall Leaf Painting Tutorials, please check the Archives of this blog under Watercolor Tutorials. Sure, you might have to wade through some Cat Painting and a lot of Garden Painting and loads of Watercolor Failures that I’ve posted from time to time…but enjoy the browse and if you care to send me a note you can always reach me at vivianswift at yahoo dot com.
We love Pumpkin Time here on the shores of the Long Island Sound.
I detect a slight flaw in the Pumpkin Placement Plan here.
Pumpkin Time is a good time to remember the most lonely word in the English language: Orange. The color gets a bad rap for being garish and unfriendly but some of my favorite things in the world are orange.
Here are some pictures of City Orange from my outing yesterday:
Upper West Side brownstone.
Yes! I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday! The bridge is undergoing loads of restoration so it is u-g-l-y at the moment, but as you can see, the City of New York spares no expense in making tourists feel welcome!
Saki basement bar in the East Village.
And what Secret Garden would be complete without a touch of orange?
Which reminds me, we are painting a Secret Garden today:
Of course, it all starts with a pencil sketch and masking fluid:
I use folded sheets of scrap paper to cover up bits of the picture before I begin to paint the gravel:
When the base paint is dry, I put my toothbrush to good use (which, in between the three times a day I use it for dental hygiene, lays around doing absolutely nothing). I load it up with a mix of grey and black watercolor and then I flick it at the illustration:
This is not really my Dental Hygine Toothbrush. This is my Dedicated Paint Flicking Toothbrush.
Let dry, and voila:
Here’s a painting tip: I save the bottle caps of Top Cat’s favorite GatorAid to use as mixing pans.
To get the many shades of green I need for a garden illustration I mix three different hues of green with two different hues of yellow and/or three different hues of blue. BUT to get the pure yellow that I prefer for my painting I mix two different yellows — Cadmium Yellow and Lemon Yellow. (Alone, Cadmium Yellow is too orange and Lemon Yellow is too bright). And I keep my pure yellow isolated in a GatorAid bottle cap because I can’t be trusted to keep them clean if I put them in a palette-thingy.
Here is where I add some detail to the background wash:
For this illustration I wanted to try out an idea I had, about using some blue in the foliage, maybe to get a more dream-like effect:
I am still using my chalky Grumbacher paints mixed with the tubes of Windsor Newtons, mostly because I love what the chalky paints do when they dry. They leave an interesting residue on the paper, interesting textures that are purely accidental that I really like:
I am thinking that for this picture I want to leave the foliage looking very watercolory, like this:
So far, I am quite happy with the way this picture is going. So now I start to add plants:
I’m being careful not to over-do it:
But here is where I ruined it all:
I tried to paint tree trunks in ochre, which was bad enough, but then I made the mistake of painting them with straight lines. I knew it was wrong immediately. I was instantly unhappy with these wimpy, ugly tree trunks. But still, I thought I could soldier on, finesse the picture with other distracting details:
But those tree trunks just kept bothering me. So, i finally had to ditch the whole picture, having admitted what I knew all along: There is no rescuing a picutre that has a fatal flaw:
Several days later, I went back and had another go at it. The steps were exactly the same as above, but the end was this:
You can compare for yourself:
Yes, the sad fact is that whenever you try something new, there’s a 80% chance that you will blow it. But hey: it’s only a bit of paper and paint. That doesn’t stop me from taking a whack at something new. And, for those times when making a crappy illustration feels too much like failure, there’s always champagne.
One of these days I hope to work up the nerve to paint my favorite time of day:
Twilight in Pumpkin Time.
I love the low light of a Fall evening:
I have to learn how to paint this most beautiful shade of orange. In fact, I think that when we finally invent a word that rhymes with orange, and it must have something to do with this quality of light:
I’m thinking that “floringe” might be the word, to describe the look of artificial lights glowing in a Fall evening. Floringe would be used especially in the case of the lights that shine from the inside out:
The lights that are seen from a distance:
To extrapolate, then, floringe, as the wisp of illumination that almost holds its own against the night, floringe could also be the word used when a blog goes dark.
Yes, dear readers, it’s that time.
I have been blogging for six years. My blog has evolved from a really crappy stream-of-concisouness diary into a weekly presentation of what I hope is interesting and useful and honest information and about the trials and errors of living a creative life. I take a lot of pride in making my blog live up to the intelligence and humanity of my community of readers, dear readers, many whose stories and names and cats I have come to know and treasure, as friends and inspiration. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
And in the same way that I know when my painting lacks necessary oomph, I know when my blog is running out of steam. As both painter and blogger, sometimes I have to get away and be more of a person living in the world than a person who observes it.
So. I will not be here next Friday, or the next. Or the next. I will be writing my Damn Garden Book full time, and showing up as a Commentor on my favorite blogs — if you are not reading The Miserable Gardener you are missing the best gardening blog written by a pure bred border collie ever — and herding my cats. Doing what I can to gather steam.
I do plan on being back in the blogosphere, someday, and I might even post something here from time to time, so please drop by. I’ll have to post updates about theDamn Garden Book, of course — I’m under contract to finish it sometime in 2014. And you can always reach me at vivianswift at yahoo dot com, because I do want more garden photos. We’ll stay in touch. Because when a blog goes dark, it doesn’t go away forever. It only goes floringe.
Meaning, there’s always a light left on. You’ll always be able to find your way to my door.
This is why I am illustrating my Damn Garden Book instead of photographing it:
This (above) is the entrance to the Secret Garden belonging to my neighbor (and most excellent Chilled Wine Cocktail On The Patio Hostess). You have to walk through the wooden doorway to get to this:
Now, if I were a mere photographer I could only give you, the viewer and eventual Dear Reader of the Damn Garden Book, one or the other view of this nifty Secret Garden. GOOD THING I am an illustrator and in possession of an Artistic License. So I can give you both views at once:
I apply masking fluid with a tooth pick:
And I use my second-fattest paint brush to lay in some sunlight:
In this illustration I will be working mostly from the back to the front, laying in background foliage before I hit the foreground:
I’m adding detail now:
Working the middle ground now:
Something told me that I could stop here…
…but a pain in the ass little voice urged me to go on, put in some really dark, dark background:
Tree branch-painting time:
Before removal of the masking fluid:
After removal of the masking fluid:
Painting in the blank bits left by the removal of the masking fluid:
(Yeah, the lantern looks wonky. That will be a later fix-up.)
Hmmmm….I think the dark stuff adds punch to this illustration, and the view is definitely more narrative than anything a mere photograph of the garden could relate….but I think that for my next illustration I will see if I can leave it at the point where something tells me that I can stop here (see above).
This (below) is what is at the far end of that little walkway into my neighbor’s Secret Garden:
I’ll be painting this for you next week and, being as I have either already had a shot at painting this or I can time travel, I already know that it does not go well. But try, try again is my motto. Stay tuned.
Speaking of try, try again, do you recall when I painted this Annie E. Casey Seattle Waterfall Garden for you?
I took another look at it and found that it was lacking in narrative. So I futzed around with it and…
…yes, that female figure is a cut-and-paste (literally). To get a model for that figure, I pulled a chair to the bottom of our living room stairs and I asked Top Cat to stand on the fifth stair and take a photo of me. Photos, of course, lie. The figure of me was foreshortened (as photos tend to do) so I had to improvise in getting the legs right even though I know I would cover them up with a cut-and-paste fern frond.
Tricks of the trade.
Thank you to the many Dear Readers who have sent me photos of their Secret Gardens. If this post gives you an idea of how I will be presenting your garden, should I decide to include it in the Damn Garden Book, I hope this encourages more of you to send me your snaps. And even if you can’t get Fluffy or Fido to post in the actual garden, or there’s a particular bit that won’t fit in a frame, feel free to include that too. As you can see, I am not limited by Earthly geography.
In fact, I think photography is the reason so many garden books are so damn boring. You can’t possible get a great garden captured in lousy photos. There’s always something that gets hidden, or overlooked, or cropped, or foreshortened. I’ve seen photos of famous gardens I’ve been to…
… and they never get it right.
Illustrated Garden Book to the rescue.
Feel free to discuss the awesomeness of illustration over photography.
So first, we drew le chat reduced to its lumpy, adorable snowman-like proportions:
Then I found an image of a really cuuuuute kitty on the internets:
She is of course la Lizzie Cosette of the marmeladegypsy blog. I drew Lizzie in snowman-esq style, just to rough out her shape:
I filled in a few shadows, to familiarize myself with her markings and stuff..
…and then I traced the bare outlines of that sketch onto watercolor paper:
The paints that I’ll be using for most of the color in this kitty portrait are grey (Davy’s Gray in the tube) and my trusty ancient Grumbacher watercolors:
I will mix these colors right on my brush, getting various shades of brownish-grey, blackish-grey, and rusty-grey as needed, and for the most part I’m going to let the pint and the water do what it wants to do:
I do love the chalky texture of these paints.
I am going to start with the face because if I don’t get the face right I will trash the whole thing and start over. So I will work quickly to get some black markings in on top of wet brownish-grey:
I painted the eyes in and, before the paint got too dry…
…I laid in some black around the eye, but I didn’t let it bleed as much as before because bleeding colors is OK for getting a nice effect for fur, but this is not fur:
For the inside of Miss Lizzie’s ear, I used a very pale blueish-grey:
I used the same blueish-grey to paint Lizzie’s chin and I let it dry….
…and then I went back with my paint brush dipped in clear water to “pick up” the paint. I do this because I want a very delicate shading effect here, and subtracting paint is a good way to make an area look outlined, but painterly:
OK, I think I got the face alright, so now I’m going to start painting the fur. Lizzie is a tabby tuxedo, so to give shade to her white bits I use a very watery light blue wash. I just like the look of a very light blue shadow to indicate whiteness:
And, again, I’m going to work wet-in-wet, that is, I’m going to dab some brown and black and grey into the very wet blue wash, to get a nice watercolor effect:
All that, above, is done before any of the paint has a chance to dry. I’m not going to over-do the fur…I’m going to leave the body impressionistic. But I am going to get a lot of detail in the punim because she is soooooo cute:
I’m not painting the whiskers — I don’t have a brush fine enough and also, I like the look of pencil here:
And now I check it against my reference photo. It looks to me that I placed Lizzie at slightly the wrong angle on the paper; she’s leaning too far to the right. To correct that, all I have to do is crop the paper:
That’s better. Also, I notice that I’ve made one ear too pointy, so I go back and add some round-ness:
And I’m going to add a sliver of height to her darling little head between them adorable ears:
And I have to add some white paint over some brownish-grey stuff I painted on her cheek (I erased the penciled-in whiskers on that side before I painted, FYI):
Then I beef up her Cleopatra eye liner:
Add the whiskers back in:
Smooch, smooch, smooch. I love kitties.
So, it’s Friday evening and I’ve poured myself a nice cold of Pinot G., and I’ve met my deadlines for the week (yes, Dear Readers, sometimes people actually pay me to write.) and you and me can discuss the crucial issues of the day.
Namely, Summer is over. I watched it go, sitting in my backyard, at 4:44 pm Daylight Savings Time on the Long Island Sound Sunday, Sept. 22. More of a bummer this year than usual. Don’t get me started.
I did not pick up a paintbrush this whole past week (spent all my time wordsmithing, you know) but I do have something worthy to show you from a spot of painting (let us all now assume English accents) from yonder fortnight.
Two weeks ago I was working on an illustration of the beloved children’s tale, Peter Rabbit. Beatrix Potter is my idol when it comes to illustration, and I have a chapter on London Gardens in my work in progress, the Damn Garden Book, so I was not going to miss the opportunity to reference my childhood infatuation with All Things English, starting with Peter Rabbit.
You know the story. For my illustration, I had to get the lay of the land, namely farmer MacGregor’s garden:
The wondrous Beatrix illustrated it as a walled garden on the edge of a woods. And my favorite scene:
Voila, Le Chat. (they call them moggies in England, by the way.) See how this ties into our whole Paint a Cat saga?
So, here is my interpretation of Peter Rabbit at this most crucial part of the whole story of Peter Rabbit:
(I have blocked out the left hand side for future text, FYI.)
As soon as the paint dried on this thing I knew there was a problem with the cat but I didn’t know what.
I put it away for 48 hours, took a fresh look at it, and it hit me like Thumper:
The cat’s head is too small. Of course!! That’s why it looks more like an ermine than a C-A-T.
But the thing had already been painted, and it’s watercolor, so o lordy, what to do?
I am now going to tell you, Dear Readers, a Trick of the Trade.
All I did was paint a new (right) cat on a separate bit of Canson 90 pound cold press paper (the only paper I use — I love love love this paper) . Then I cut it out, and glued it over the ermine, like thus:
Here’s a close up:
I know from experience that when this picture is scanned for print and published in a book, the fact that it’s a cut out will never register with the reader:
In fact, if I am not about tell blab about it right now, you probably would never have noticed that Peter himself is a cut out, pasted in front of the MacGregor garden in the background:
And you know what? I feel A-OK about this because I have recently discovered that our darling Miss Potter did the exact same thing back in the day when she was watercoloring her way to immortality.
Take a look at this illustration below:
See that DoG? Look closely:
Yep. He’s a cut out. Underneath that Pomeranian, probably, is some small-headed Pug that gave the delightful Miss P. second thoughts.
And if Miss P. can do it, then I can do it.
Last Sunday Top Cat took me into a magical woods on the southern shore of the Long Island Sound…
…otherwise known as The Gold Coast of Ye Olde Long Island…
…where Ye Olde Money of yore transplanted ancient yew trees from the Olde Worlde to make Instant Stately Homes (now gone to ruin)…
…and where the haunted forest is reclaiming ye olde acres of lawns into native wild flower meadows once more…
…where I came upon yon ancient cottage…
…which beckoned me to pause…
…and consider its perfectness as a refuge from the madding world…
…where I could gather inspiration from nature and light and where cats could roam free…
…but there was just one little problem…
…scale. For this magical realm goes by the name of The Muttontown Preserve (I’m not making this up) and it encompasses the last American address of — I’m not making this up — King Zog, the last, deposed monarch of Albania and I conjecture that ye Ole King had a young Princess for whom nothing would do but she had a play house in the American Colonial vernacular.
I can not tell you how much I want this house. If you hear about some crazy cat lady claiming that she is the reincarnation and rightful heiress of the late great King Zog — that’ll be me, staking my claim to this itty bitty ranch house in Muttontown. I’m not making this up.
But speaking of crazy cat ladies…
…it’s time to draw us some kitty cats!
OK. Here’s how I decided was the best way to share my minuscule amount of knowledge of the visual arts, of which I am not a certified practitioner of. First, I am going to show you how I draw a cat from memory:
I start with a bottom-heavy oblong shape:
Then I add hips — by the way, I’m doing this from memory to make a point:
The point is that since I have been looking at cats my whole life I have internalized the basic structure of Le Cat:
And as you can see, the basic structure is no more complicated than that of a snowman:
So really, when I paint a cat, I don’t actually have to sketch out this blueprint — it’s already “on the paper” before I pick up a brush:
But I am showing you the building blocks that I visualize when I look at a cat:
And when I say “sketch”, I don’t mean make those crappy wispy wimpy scritching marks that a lot of people do when they “sketch” — I mean commit yourself to making a strong, unequivocal line:
Voila, The Cat. Now, to make a cat head on, you use the exact same strategy…but let’s go through the basics of the dear little kitty face:
OK. So, now we’ll make another snowman:
And we’ll erase some lines to make the kitty face front:
I hope you can see that drawing a cat isn’t all that hard. But it’s something that every cat lover should know how to do, in case of emergency:
I like this kitty’s little smile. But really, those ears? That tail? Those dangling front legs?
I got this Lost Cat poster from a new book that I just started reading:
It’s very cute and I recommend it. But it got me thinking….how can I apply my cat-snowman lesson to a real life cat?
So I found a really cute cat from the internets:
And now all I have to do is interpret this cutie as a kitty snowman:
You see? All I had to do was get the basic building blocks of this sweet kitty to start her portrait. Again, I have to say, this is a drawing of what I usually only visualize before I start to paint. It took me a long time before I understood that the time I spend just thinking about what I’m going to paint before I paint makes all the difference between a good painting and one that is a crap shoot, so yes, I spend a fair amount of time visualizing. I’m just saying.
Next, I picture the particular markings that make this sweet kitty her own self. She’s a darling tuxedo tabby, which in my mind looks like this:
Then I plot out where the dark and the light spots are:
And now I’m ready to paint.
Which I will do next week. I will paint this adorable sweet kitty girl and show you how I do it, brush stroke by brush stroke.
However, if you are new to cat painting, you can draw your kitty like I did, and do a nice watercolor wash over your pencil drawing and it will look really nice too. I would have done this to my pencil drawing here but I ran out of time this week. SORRY.
And now, for the Winner of our fabuloso Elizabeth Gilbert The Signature of All Things Give Away:
Top Cat picked : Melissa! Melissa, please send me your snail mail address at vivianswift at yahoo dot com and I will send you this beautiful book a s a p. Melissa is a new dear reader — welcome!