amazing watercolor art

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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)…

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…and still keep all the other cells clean and bright and not muddied-up as you add to the leaf (cell by cell):

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I’ll just let you watch for the next few frames as I paint in details, cell by cell:

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I have to say that I find Fall Leaf Painting to be very relaxing, especially when I add the tiniest details.

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The great thing about Fall Leaf Painting…

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…is that in the end, you have a leaf that will never fade or crumble or get disgusting looking (tea bag included for scale):

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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.

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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.

 

 

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We love Pumpkin Time here on the shores of the Long Island Sound.

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I detect a slight flaw in the Pumpkin Placement Plan here.

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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.

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Here are some pictures of City Orange from my outing yesterday:

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Upper West Side brownstone.

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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!

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Saki basement bar in the East Village.

And what Secret Garden would be complete without a touch of orange?

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Which reminds me, we are painting a Secret Garden today:

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Of course, it all starts with a pencil sketch and masking fluid:P1190993

I use folded sheets of scrap paper to cover up bits of the picture before I begin to paint the gravel:

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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:

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This is not really my Dental Hygine Toothbrush. This is my Dedicated Paint Flicking Toothbrush.

Let dry, and voila:

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Here’s a painting tip: I save the bottle caps of Top Cat’s favorite GatorAid to use as mixing pans.

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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.

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Here is where I add some detail to the background wash:

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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:

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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:

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I am thinking that for this picture I want to leave the foliage looking very watercolory, like this:

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So far, I am quite happy with the way this picture is going. So now I start to add plants:

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But here is where I ruined it all:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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You can compare for yourself:

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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:

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Twilight in Pumpkin Time.

I love the low light of a Fall evening:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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So first, we drew le chat reduced to its lumpy, adorable snowman-like proportions:

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Then I found an image of a really cuuuuute kitty on the internets:

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She is of course la Lizzie Cosette of the marmeladegypsy blog.  I drew Lizzie in snowman-esq style, just to rough out her shape:

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I filled in a few shadows, to familiarize  myself with her markings and stuff..

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…and then I traced the bare outlines of that sketch onto watercolor paper:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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I painted the eyes in and, before the paint got too dry…

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…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:

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For the inside of Miss Lizzie’s ear, I used a very pale blueish-grey:

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I used the same blueish-grey to paint Lizzie’s chin and I let it dry….P1190870

…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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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I’m not painting the whiskers — I don’t have a brush fine enough and also, I like the look of pencil here:

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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:

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That’s better. Also, I notice that I’ve made one ear too pointy, so I go back and add some round-ness:

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And I’m going to add a sliver of height to her darling little head between them adorable ears:

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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):

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Then I beef up her Cleopatra eye liner:

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Add the whiskers back in:

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And DONE.

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Smooch, smooch, smooch. I love kitties.

 

 

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Yes, we will be painting together in this post just like olde tymes.

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This is my first try at painting the Chelsea Physic Garden deep in the heart of London. Yeah, it stinks. Those buildings do NOT look like multi-million dollar Victorian townhouses that comprise one of the UK’s most posh neighborhoods.

 

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This is attempt No. 2, where you can see how I tried to be more “impressionistic” with the buildings in the background. Yeah, this stinks too. But I was hoping the flowers in the foreground would save me. They didn’t.

For the record, both these paintings STINK.

And then, I suddenly remembered that I’d already solved this problem once before in my ow Damn Garden Book:

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This is the title page for the Edinburgh chapter. Note the city skyline in the background. Duh.

So I sketched out the buildings that surround the Chelsea Physic Garden in London…

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The next several pictures will be of my renewed attempt to paint the Chelsea Physic Garden but I’ll tell you right now (spoiler alert) that it doesn’t turn out right:

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I like the white space here. I’m going to work with this look later.

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I call this Failure No. 3

Unfortunately, this (see above) is not how the Chelsea Physic Garden is laid out. Those of you who have been to this lovely 4-acre walled garden founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries as a teaching garden where medicinal plants were cultivated will know that I’m trying to paint the quadrant known as the Systematic Order Beds, which actually look more like this:

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I call this Failure No. 4

There still isn’t something quite right. So let’s have one more go at it:

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Failure No. 5

BUT AT LAST!!!!  Ifinally got the Chelsea Physic Garden that I wanted. This picture (below) only took about four hours to paint, not counting the four previous attempts that cost me about 20 hours of my life. Fact is, I’m a better miniaturist when it comes to painting gardens…

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I prefer to tell visual stories in little bits at a time…

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Writing and painting are similar in that to get anything done, you have to be very sensitive to your shortcomings and avoid any picture or paragraph that lets those shortcomings hang out. By painting or writing to your strong points, you develop a style that is uniquely your own. The next series of pictures is of me painting a typical London view, but painting it in a way that highlights my strong points (and hides my weaknesses). Notice how I work front-to-back in this one:

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By the way, I later added people walking on the sidewalk to give a sense of scale. This is the actual view from my friend Wendy’s brother’s flat in Knightsbridge:

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Since I already know that I can’t paint architecture, I’m going to leave those buildings white. Voila: a style.

This tactic seems to work well for London…I wonder how it will work for Giverny? Because I have my heart set on painting this view:

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Ahhhh…the “paintbox” flower beds.

It might even be my nxst Triscuit. Which reminds me! We have a Triscuit to give away!! 

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WOW! I had to ask Top Cat to pick a number between 1 and 56…56!!!  Your Comments were just great last week and I’m still re-reading them  (a Van Gogh Triscuit must be in my future) so thank you, thank you, thank you to all who left a word or two. And just to show you how unpredictable Top Cat can be, when I asked him to chose that number of which he had 56 to choose from, he chose…Number One. So this Monet Triscuit goes to Carol Wall of Vancouver! (Carol please send me your mailing info to vivianswift at yahoo before this Comment section closes at midnight Tuesday, July 2/3!!)

Next week, we head out on another road trip. We’re going to see this garden:

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It’s time to go to Marrakech!

 

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Some days, nothing works out the way you planed. But…P1150574…if at first you don’t succeed, or if at second, third, and fourth you don’t succeed (see above) then pour yourself a nice big gin and tonic and sit around listening to sad songs (I prefer old Motown, the Temptations Since I Lost My Baby and the like) and feel sorry for yourself and seriously consider writing novels (ewwwwwwwwwww) or anything that doesn’t require having to come up with  illustrations, and then take two aspirin AND START OVER AGAIN.

Yes, dear readers, I preloaded my post today before I went to France and it’s a good thing I did because it turns out that I hate blogging on my iPad with a PASSION but before we continue with our previously recorded program (still in NOLA, watercoloristically speaking) here are some pics I took on the aforementioned iPad to show you the beautiful weather in Paris:

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My hotel room in the 6th arrondisement came with this:

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I took these pics with my ipad and boy do I hate blogging on this thing.  So that’s all the Paris I can give you for now, but do read my friend at ParisBreakfasts for her report on my arrival on her home (Paris) turf!

For today please enjoy the following tale of watercolor redemption, and take heart. Sometimes it’s necessary to paint ugly in order to get to the less-craptastic stuff.

Let’s get back to this:

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The problem, it dawned on me after four really awful attempts at painting a most beautiful garden in New Orleans (see above), was that I had  gotten hold of the wrong concept. My original idea for this garden was that I would illustrate it in a  format that I call a “squint”.

The format had worked well for me throughout Le Road Trip, where I used squints frequently:

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These squints — the long, narrow strips of paintings that I used (above) were a lot of fun to do and I think they are vey successful when it came to illustrating France. For the Damn Garden Book I had planned on using vertical squints, rather than the horizontal ones in Le Road Trip:

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This is my thumbnail sketch for a two-page layout using vertical squints. But as you can see (way above, those crappy 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th attempts) it was NOT working for me in regards to this fabulous New Orleans garden I was trying to  paint.

And then I realized that I’d gotten the wrong point of view. Not only were the squints not going to work, but I’d been painting the garden from a very boring full-frontal point of view. You see, the most important feature of this garden path that I’d been trying to paint is the garden gate that had been imported from France, but I’d been depicting it straight-on:

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Oh lordy, this stinks. It does no justice to the story I am trying to tell about this garden. It looks fake fake fake fake.

Luckily, when I was visiting this garden in New Orleans, I had taken many reference photos of this gate so I went back to the drawing board and re-did this gate from an entirely different perspective:

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So let us begin again.

First, I apply masking fluid with my trusty toothpick in the itty bitty bits:

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I use the tip of a paintbrush to apply the masking fluid over the bigger bits:

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When I failed to draw a pleasing mulberry tree branch in the upper right hand corner the first time…

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…I erased it and drew it again, but it was still too gormless to keep:

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So on the third attempt I got a decent-looking branch drawn, and I sketched in leaves.

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I put masking fluid on those leaves and I’ve ever done this before and I have no idea how it will turn out. We’ll see. But I’m already a bit discouraged. This picture as given me a lot of trouble and I’m in a bad mood. So, while the masking fluid dries, I go make myself a cup of tea.

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I want a fancy-colored sky here because this illustration is more about mood (it’s New Orleans, baby!) than meteorology.

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Quickly, I do the wet-in-wet background foliage:

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Even when the paper is only damp, you can get nice little bleeds:

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For brick work I mix two colors of Grumbacher paints with two colors (brown and burnt sienna) of Windsor Newton, for richness:

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See how there’s a Triscuit in the middle of this picture?

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For the Tahitian Dawn Bougainvillea in the foreground I dab pink, orange, and red in wet blobs:

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I lay down a base color for the garden path:

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The stuff behind the garden gate will be tricky:

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Now, for the rambling roses that are big pom poms of bluey-pink:

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Dirt here:

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So far, so good. Now, all I have to do…

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…is peel off the masking fluid and not screw up painting the gate.

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To heighten the rich brown color of the wooden gate I mix blue…

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…and brown directly on my paintbrush…

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…so when I apply it to the paper I get a wonderful bluey-browness here:

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Now for those mulberry leaves, which I have  no idea what I’m doing,  I pray to the big DoG that I won’t blow it this late in the game:

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Exhale. They look OK.

For the lantern I intend to use an old trick I’ve been using for years.

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You have to use Grumbacher paints for this trick, because you need the chalk that makes their colors so matte. I first apply a layer of yellow Grumbacher, and then I make an edge of darker orange and I let it dry thoroughly:

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Using very clean water, I then use a wet brush to pick up the paint in the center:

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And we are DONE:

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I hope you can see how the lantern “glows” from the way I “erased” a bit of the yellow/orange paints. I decided to leave certain planes of the garden gate white — that is, blank paper — because I think the white bits make its unusual shape  pop more this way. It’s also very attention-getting and this gate is really the subject of this picture in the first place.

Oh yes, I am much happier with this point of view than the one I tried, and tried, and tried, and tried to make work before. Right?

I will still be on the road next Friday, so there won’t be a “live” post here, but I could maybe take you on a tour of my work space / studio, which is where I keep my paints, paper, feathers, files, and threads:

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Yes, long before I painted gardens, I used to embroider them.

So if this sounds interesting to you please leave a Comment below…or otherwise I’ll just wait until my return on May 24 to throw something together if I’m not toooooooo jet lagged. Studio tour? Yes or No?

 

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Yes, that’s me, trying to paint New Orleans. It was not a happy experience.
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But first — Cat News!! There has been a  recent appearance of a possible new member of our herd of backyard cats:

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This handsome fella has  shown up on the back patio for breakfast a few days this past week in spite of the fact that Bibs and Taffy get all North Korean on his ass every time they see him. I call him Newton. Hey Newton, if you’re reading this, I got some cat nip just for you (at the end of a Have-A-Heart trap).

Now, what is this I hear  (from Rachel and Sarahsbooks in Comments to last week’s post) about The Bed-book of Travel???

First of all, I thought I had written the bed-book of travel…

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…to be put bed-side for excellent late-night reading.

But it seems that somebody else, namely Richardson Wright, beat me to it in the 1930s:

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The Bed-book of Travel is a collection of short pieces to be read (preferably in bed or berth) by those who have been places, those who are going somewhere, and those who have wanted to go; Together with seven travelers’ tales. This book is now very rare and the one copy I found on-line last week for sale for $70 is already gone. I snoozed and loosed because I spent a few days mulling over this purchase, wondering if I really wanted to read this book seeing as how, if it turned out to be soooooo much better a bed-side travel book than mine, I will want to quit writing/illustrating bed-side books forever.

But the book that I really dread reading is this one:

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This is Richardson Wright’s 1929 Bed-book  about gardening (in paperback re-print from The Modern Library) which I  am awaiting delivery of, and if it’s half as good as its reviews say it is I AM TOAST. And not a nice slice of hot-buttered whole wheat served with a steaming cup of Assam tea kind of toast, nope. I mean a hunk of cardboard-like salt-free rancid Melba that’s been sitting in the cupboard leaning on the stack of Size D batteries waiting for cassette playing boom boxes to come back in style  kind of toast.

I wanted my Damn Garden Book to be THE go-to gardening book for reading in bed…but if it’s already been done I might as well retire my paintbrushes and take up something useful.

Useful, like dancing all day in the French Quarter with my own dear Top Cat.

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Ah, Love of my Life, nobody does a Grateful Dead-inspired free-form solo version of  Zydeco Swing  like you:

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Well, seeing as how I am not yet a reclusive former bed-side travel / gardening book writer  illustrator, I better get with the travel / gardening book illustrating. It’s time to do New Orleans!

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This is the pencil sketch for the full-page illustration that will start the NOLA chapter. It is designed so I can drop text into the middle of it. It is rare (never) that I use a ruler to draw a scene but in this case it was unavoidable with all those necessary straight lines of wrought iron railings and all those pesky perspective lines to get right. To answer Laura’s question from last week, I never attempt to erase pencil lines once I’ve put watercolor over them. It’s impossible to erase thru the pigment. Most times, tho, I don’t mind seeing a little bit of pencil in a painting because it is a ver authentic part of painting.

When it comes to erasing the watercolor, however, I have been known to use a nail file to clean up very small bits.

First, I painted in a quick bit of background architecture in pale blue, to represent a white building in bright sunlight (which will become more evident later in the painting):

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Dab in the background greenery:

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Working wet-in-wet I dab in the pale greens and add detail until I like the shape of the foliage:

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Commentor Judy Jennings asked about getting “natural” shades of green. To tell you the truth, all my greens are unnatural in that I edit nature all the time. My shades and hues are mostly close to the scene that I’ve observed, but if I need to lighten bits up and darken others for the sake of the picture, I do it. I also edit the shape of foliage all the time — see above. I make it a pleasing shape for my composition first, and true to nature second.

My biggest guess regarding Judy’s question about getting a “natural” paint color is that you must always keep your water CLEAN. I constantly dump out my water and get clean fresh stuff. Especially if I am going to mix yellows into green I always get a brand new glass of water. And if I have to work wet-in-wet with lots of yellows AND greens I have two glasses of water handy, one for rinsing the yellow brush-fulls and one for rinsing the green brush-fulls.

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For shadows I use blue with a bit of burnt umber mixed in it instead of black or grey:

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Now I use masking fluid to cover the table and chairs so I can cut loose with the stuff I want to paint behind them:

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While waiting for the masking fluid to become bone-dry, I do the middle-ground stuff:

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I pretend the table and chairs aren’t there and paint the railing-drapping greenery right over the masking fluid:

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I could never do this without masking fluid. Well, I could, but it would either look bad or would take me forever to paint:

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Fore ground:

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Peel off masking fluid, paint what is revealed underneath:

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Even down to the stems of the wine glasses, which I measured or you and are three millimeters high:

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Take a look, and add whatever else this picture needs:

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Not there yet::

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THERE:

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I Hate It. This will definitely require a re-do!!

So now I’m off for two weeks in France: Paris and Giverny; then to Marrakech to see the Majorelle Garden. To give you a preview of the two posts that I have for you in the queue, next week we will see how I manage to paint four really, really, really, really hidious stoooopid pictures of my New Orleans Fragrance Garden…

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…before I happily get it right finally (no, that’s not it above — this picture above stinks!!!!) ; and then the week after that I give you a tour of the knicks and knacks of my workspace:

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I will have my iPad with me in France etc. and Carol of  the highly chic, fabulously popular  Paris Breakfast blog is going to show me how to post from any cafe … so I might be able to send you all a few pictures and a quick update while I’m on the road.

How much you want to bet that what I post will be photos of great French cats?

P.S. Comments on this post will close after five days (nothing personal; it’s the spam, and closing Comments after five days keeps the spam to a manageable level of about 3,000 messages per week).

 

Next time we meet, one of us will be in Paris!!

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I’ve been back from New Orleans a whole week but I’m still under the spell of that city’s tropical secret gardens…

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…especially since it is still cold (still cranking up my electric blankie at night, and dressing in fleece from head to toe during the day) and dismal (rain today, and yesterday, and tomorrow) here on Long Island. Ahhhh, to be back in the French Quarter…

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…where every cup of tea is full of  possibilities, both psychic

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…and esthetic:

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And as if that weren’t enough bliss to get you through the day, the Quarter also has a fantastic book store culture. I started my Book Shop Quest with Beckham’s Books on Decatur Street:

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First things first. Before I paid any attention to the books I had to get a good picture of the book shop cat, Juniper:
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Who, of course, was not going to help me one bit.

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You’ll notice that while not running away altogether, Juniper did everything possible to stay out of focus.

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There’s ten more photos of more of the same blurry cat-like object…and even some pix of a disappeared cat:

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So let’s focus on the sure thing at Beckham’s Books: GREAT BOOKS!

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Finding this on my first day in New Orleans was the omen that convinced me that this was going to be the best New Orleans trip ever:

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I already treasure my copies of The Silent Traveler in Paris and The Silent Traveler in Edinburgh Chiang Yee (1903 – 1977) was a traveling memoirist, like me, who also illustrated his wanderings in ten books under his “Silent Traveler” persona in the 1940s to the 1970s. Yee was in San Francisco in the 1950s but his book wasn’t published until 1963.

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Cable car on California Street.

I love reading travel memoirs from The Golden Age of Travel (capital-T Travel died in 1978), and if there’s pictures, so much the better:

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Japanese Bridge at Golden Gate Park, the same bridge I romped on in 1966 when I was 10 years old.

It was when I went back to Beckham’s Books two days later that I finally got a good picture of Juniper, the Book Shop Cat:

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Ever seen a cat bird-dog someone’s cafe-au-lait? Only in New Orleans, my dear readers, only in New Orleans.

And I found another treasure!

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Irwin Shaw (1913 – 1984),  author of the 1970s best seller Rich Man, Poor Man, writes here about his first visit to Paris on the day of its liberation from the Nazis on August 25, 1944 and of his life as an ex-pat in The City of Light in the 1950s – 1970s. And as if that weren’t thrilling enough, there’s illustrations by Ronald Searle!

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Searle (1920 – 2011) has a delicious sense of humor about Paris that is both timeless, and very 1970s (Paris! Paris! was published in 1976).

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In Ronald Searle’s Paris even the dogs smoke Gaulois.

There are 35 wonderful illustrations in Paris! Paris!

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The good people and cat at Beckham’s Books offer a free map to all the other book shops in the French Quarter, so my next stop was at Crescent City Books on Chartres Street:

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And to prove that my entire visit to NOLA was charmed, I got there just as their book shop cat went on duty:

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I can vow to the 100% truth of this sign:

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Oh, Isabel, I love you so:

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Upstairs at Crescent City Books you will find the Gardening Section, near Isabel’s bed (on those old wooden stadium seats) and her litter box (under the Sale table).

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Is this not the best title you ever saw for a gardening book?

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Of course I bought it. It was published in London in 1973 and I don’t know if you know anything about London in 1973, but that was not a sparkling year for garden writing of the bedside variety.  I imagined stories of delightful garden get-aways, fantastic garden follies, quaint garden indulgences, dreamy garden escapes…

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…instead, I got a book of guaranteed garden enervation.

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In 1970s England, Less Common Vegetables were egg-plant, sweet pepper, and “cob corn”, which the reader is instructed to boil for 15 minutes before eating. Y-a-w-nnnnnnn.

So I guess it does live up to its cover, in a sleep-aiding way. So that means that if I want to read my perfect Gardener’s Bedside Book I’ll have to write it. Unless one of my dear readers does it first. Any volunteers?

Next, I hit the elegant Faulkner House book store on Pirate’s Alley…

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…and I bought a book (I always buy something when I go to a book store, because I want book stores and their cats to always be there for me), a new guide book about New Orleans.

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I asked about a book store cat, but they have a book store poodle here and she was napping upstairs. “She’s in a mood today,” I was told.

Next it was on to Kitchen Witch on Toulouse Street…

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…which sells nothing but cooking and food-related books, which is why they use an old oven as a book case:

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They had three dogs on duty here, but I only took a photo of Jackson the Basset Hound because I did not want to disturb the other two, who  were sleeping in a corner. I did not by a book here — see those amber bottles on the table in front of the toaster (below)? That’s the house’s special red-beans-and-rice-spice that they sell, which I bought so I can not only read New Orleans when I am back home on dreary Long Island, I can taste it too.

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Lastly, there was Arcadian Books on Orleans Street:

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It’s run by a French-speaking American scholar with a strong French-speaking clientele and a slight hoarding tendency:

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You can read more about this amazing place here  but let me quote from a previous visitor:

Some day in this place, the wrong butterfly will land on the wrong bookcase, which will tip over, and the whole joint will go down in a cloud of book dust and really heavy hardbacks…Meaning, this is the most chaotic, crammed, beautiful bookstore in the city. It’s like a portrait of the whole project of reading/knowledge: messy, hard to make sense of, and full of more than you’ll ever have time to take in or understand.

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Also:

The proprietor, however, is shockingly put together and squeaky clean…

And handsome, too, I might add…and on his bulletin board behind his desk, this Frenchcartoon made me laugh out loud:

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Then again, I always find the conditional subjunctive tense hilarious. It loses something in the translation, but this obviously well-to-do sweater-vested middle-aged inhabitant of the seizieme is using a very literary kind of speech to say to his plump little wife, “I should make myself acquainted with a great poet, so that he can have  the benefit of my melancholy.” (Note to Jain: I know you’re reading this on your iPhone, so here’s the French caption that you can’t see in this photo:  Il faudrait que je fasse la connaissance d’un grand poete, afin qu’il puisse beneficier de ma melancolie. Yes, it’s much funnier in French.)

Note the cat under the coffee table (in cartoon above) — that counts as the book store cat.

 

This, dear readers, is my last post before I head off to Giverny, Marrakech,and Paris, where I hope to make the acquaintance of a great poet so that he can make good use of my melancholy.

 

P.S. Dear readers, because of renewed spam activity, I will have to close Comments on my blog after five days. So, if you are reading this on Wednesday or later, I’m sorry to say that you will not be able to leave your message but it’s nothing personal. I’m here every Friday — hope to see you here too.

 

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Maybe you can tell by this week’s painting demonstration that I am in NEW ORLEANS this weekend!  (If you’re in a hurry for a painting lesson and Give Away of this watercolor of the French Quarter, skip to bottom of post. But you’ll miss out on my Lesson in Connoisseurship. I’m just saying.)

Yes, this weekend Top Cat and I are haunting the the great gardens, bars, restaurants, cemeteries, and museums in our favorite American city which means that in addition to guzzling  sazeraks and gorging on beignets we are feasting our eyes on this stuff :

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The New Orleans Museum of Art is home to the Matilda Geddings Gray collection of Faberge — which includes three imperial eggs (left to right above: the 1893 Causcasus Egg, the 1912 Napoleonic Egg, the 1890 Danish Palaces Egg — the mother of the last czar, Nicholas, was a Danish princess). In all my previous trips to NOLA I have managed to avoid the New Orleans Museum of Art but this time a visit is necessary because lately I’ve had to brush up on my Faberge-looking-at skills…

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This is a real Faberge egg, non-imperial, called The Apple Blossom Egg that I sold at Christie’s in the mid-1990s.

Last week I got an email from a complete stranger which is always fun, right? This stranger asked me to look at a piece of “Faberge” jewelry going on sale in a small out-of-the-way auction in the English countryside. He thought he might have discovered an out-of-the-way Faberge treasure, and he asked if could I advise him on authenticity and bidding strategy (seeing as I am a world famous /once famous/famous in my own mind former Faberge expert for Christie’s auction house).

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This is a copy of The Apple Blossom Egg.

I only had photos to look at but still,  it was easy to spot several things about the piece that seemed off. Such as, there was wear and tear in places that didn’t make sense unless the object had been assembled from several unrelated pieces. But the No. 1 thing that was wrong about the item was that it was ugly. So I told him it was fake fake fake. Faberge doesn’t make ugly.

Here’s where I make you a Faberge Connoisseur in ten minutes: Maybe you heard about  this story that was in the news last month:

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My mother sent me this news item about a man from Ohio who is suing the “antiques dealer” who sold him several fake Faberge items including a fake Faberge egg mounted on a snuff box for $165,000. Wait. There are people IN OHIO smart enough to have $165,000 in spare change but still dumb enough to blow it on obvious  fake Faberge? Yes, this egg is an obvious fake  — Faberge eggs go for $5 – 20 million dollars (you pay more if Romanoff hands ever touched it) so your first lesson in Ten Minute Connoisseurship is that if you bought your Faberge egg for a measly  $165,000 you probably bought a fake. Because this is what $165,000 buys you in Faberge World:

Faberge owl seal 4This is a one-inch tall wax seal thingy with impeccable Imperial provenance dating from its purchase in 1910 by the Dowager Czarina Marie Feodorovna (the Danish princess) directly from Fabergé in St. Petersburg. The owl is jade with diamond eyes and the piece still has its original box, which is worth lots of money to a collector. The seal is made of gold and do you see the color of the enamel? It’s a shade of pink that is highly sought after (and worth extra $$$$) by connoisseurs. This is the famous Faberge pink — maybe you can see it better in this object:

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Or this one:

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This is the 1890 Danish Palaces Egg in the New Orleans Museum of Art.

This luscious opalescent pink enamel is uniquely Faberge. It can only be achieved by layering a citron or tangerine-colored enamel underneath a pink enamel in two separate firings, a tedious and delicate process that is beyond the skill of most enamelers (not that anybody these days is doing real enamel any more).

Your second lesson in Ten Minute Connoisseurship is that if your Faberge egg is  mounted on a snuff box it is fake. Why?

Unknown-4 Faberge never made ugly, which is why Faberge would never make an egg mounted on a snuff box. The concept is ugly because it doesn’t make sense.

Unknown-5A snuff box that has a big fat Faberge egg on it would be useless, since snuff boxes are small and meant to be carried in a gentleman’s pocket. So a snuff box with a knick-knack on top of it is an ugly concept that just does not make sense. Or, I should say, it makes as much sense as a whistle with a bud vase attached to it, a toothbrush that is also a remote control for your TV, or a stopwatch on your hairband. Dumb is ugly, and ugly is fake.

So now, dear readers, now that you are connoisseurs, you know how to avoid making a $165,000 mistake when you are shopping for Faberge.

It’s not just Faberge that I hold to a high standard when it comes to ugly. I also hold myself to that criteria: I do not stuff my books with any old illustration that comes off my itty bitty brain. For instance, I painted two pictures last week that are utterly ugly:

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A walled garden in London that doesn’t look anything like the walled garden in London I was trying to paint. That’s supposed to be Victorian architecture in the background. Ew.

And this:

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And yes, when I spend hours on paintings that are ugly it puts me in a very bad mood. I start looking on Craig’s List for  jobs that are better suited to my total lack of talent. I almost mop the kitchen floor before I remember that I hate housework even more than I hate being a failure as an illustrator.  I consider ditching the Damn Garden Book and writing porn instead (porn, even bad porn, sells BIG).

But on this day I made myself a nice big G&T and sat our in the backyard because this week we had two and a half days in a row with sun shine and above 70-degree weather!!

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Taffy in his Sphinx pose.

This was the first time in 2013 that you could step out of your house and smell real, lush, vegetative scents in the air. Grass, forsythia, turned-over garden dirt…ahhhhhhhh. The fragrance of living things! Time to sit outdoors and enjoy a Happy Hour G&T in the golden rays!!

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Lickety right before he sneezed into my gin and tonic.

As you can see, maybe we’ve achieved maximum adorableness already here in Vivian World.

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And the next day it was grey, and cold, and miserable, so I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan to see how REAL ARTISTS GET IT DONE:

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I went to the American Wing and gazed at early American portraits of cats.

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Fur Trappers in a boat on the Missouri River: I thought this was cat  until I looked really really closely and saw that it was a dog:

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This is the entrance to the American Wing:

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This is the view of Central Park from the atrium here:

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And here is a view of Versailles from a panorama c. 1820 in the American Wing:

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Yeah, I thought that was weird too. I really enjoyed the rooms that have been salvaged from stately mansions of pre-Revolutionary America…

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…for obvious reasons:

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And during a stroll to the exit I came across this:

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It’s the entire Matilda Gedding Gray collection of Faberge from the New Orleans Museum of Art!!!

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WTF? All three Imperial eggs are right here, in New York City! Well ain’t that a kick in the pants? (BTW, as usual the eggs were displayed in a case that was far too low. Faberge needs to be displayed at eye-level, please, and make that eye-level for a person who is 5-foot-six, please.)

OK! Let’s make some New Orleans art! Because lord knows that next week , when Ive been to New Orleans and back, I’ll probably be too hungover to draw a straight line.

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Background:

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I’m using my No. 0 size brush, the one that I cut half the bristles out of…so really it’s a No. -1 (negative one) size brush.

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For the iron filigree I’m using my Rapidograph pen:

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And voila, today’s triscuit: (Delicious baked wheat snack cracker included for scale.)

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However, this might suit the subject matter better:

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If you would like to own this Triscuit of New Orleans for your own gallery, just leave a Comment below and Top Cat will pick a winer TBA next week.

It is 40 degrees F and pouring rain as I type this for you on Friday morning on Long Island. I’m off to NOLA in 30 hours. Plllllllleeeeeze let there be lightness and warmth and sun and GARDENS! And dear readers, if I find any those things in NOLA, you’ll see it right here next week.

 

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P1140688I’ll get to the part where I paint with a toothbrush in a moment, but first we have to discuss GUMNUT BABIES:

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Thanks to our dear Australian readers Bev, Megan, Karen, and Marguerite, who kindly answered my question in last week’s post, we all now know what a Gumnut Baby is:

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 A gumnut is the seed pod (“nut”) of the flowering eucalyptus (“gum”) tree of Australia:

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There are more than 700 species of eucalyptus, mostly native to Australia, and a very small number are found in adjacent areas of New Guinea and Indonesia. Only 15 species occur outside Australia, which is very sad because it means that there are, in the world, eucalyptus trees without the world-famous Australian eucalyptus tree accessory:

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According to May Gibbs, the world’s No. 1 authority on Gumnut Babies, “Gum Nut Babies are full of mischief and always teasing the slow-going creatures but they hurt nothing and are gentle for they love all the world.” Cute cute cute.

So gumnut is my new favorite word for when I love something with a world-wide fervor. And I’m gumnut for gumnut babies.

Want to see what a Koala gumnut baby looks like? He looks like this:

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You might have noticed (Jain) that my blog was not up and running at its usual 1:00am pub time today — I was out late last night on the Upper East Side of Manhattan at a swanky gathering of Francophiles. My alma mater, The American University of Paris, was holding its New York conclave at The Edith Fabbri House (she was a Vanderbilt married to a wealthy Italian), a fine Italian Renaissance revival townhouse just off Fifth Avenue:

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I love — no, I gumnut — that I got a New York roof top water tower in this shot.

The alumni party was held in the mansion’s most famous room, the library:

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I’d read about the building before I got on the 5:31 from Long Island that the library “showcases historic panels from the Palazza Ducale in Urbino, Italy”:

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So like a dope I get there, get my glass of French wine, and start asking, “Where are the frescoes? Have you seen the frescoes?” Now I think that “panels” meant “paneling”. There was a lot of dark wood walls in the library, which is why my pictures came out murky”

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And they really don’t show how much fun I had. This was the first alumni get-together I’d ever gone to since I took leave of AUP in 1979 and I really enjoyed myself, meeting very accomplished classmates and talking about memories of our student days. Members of all classes from 1963 to 2012 were there, as was the president encouraging all of us to get involved in creating an AUP community worldwide, and it was a fine evening that I would gladly do again and that says a lot because you all know how much I hate to leave the house. I will definitely stop by the old campus next month when I’m in France and renew my acquaintance.

So, back to the subject of  gum nut babies.

I took Top Cat to the Schmidlapp estate that I told you about last week, the 28-acre $7 million property that had the house…

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Realtor’s photos

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with the fabulous gumnut babies curtains (see last week’s post, but here’s a reminder):

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Top Cat was gumnut for the place. And you’ll never guess what we found! Here’s a clue:

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This is a teeny photo that I found in my Google-rambles in the internet, a 1910 photo of the Schmidlapp estate that is in the Harvard archives (odd, since the Schmidlapps were a Yale / Princeton family). As you can see, there’s a garden there. And judging from the corner of the house pictured, I knew where it was. It was in the back, where I did not trespass on my previous visit because it looked pretty scary:

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OK, it doesn’t look all that scary in this picture, but I was alone and it’s a desolate property and I didn’t want to follow a trail of busted flagstones through a dying forest where nobody could hear my screams. But with Top Cat as my body guard I had the nerve to find the entrance to the secret garden:

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and here is what it looks like in 2013:

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Yes, this is what Spring still looks like on Long Island.  So no wonder I was happy to paint a garden in full bloom. I had already painted this particular view (below) about a year ago when I was still a bit heavy-handed with my new Windsor Newton paints and I never really liked it:

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I also wanted a horizontal illustration. So I re-painted it, starting with the masking fluid:

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I’m using the end of my paint brush to spread the fluid.

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I let the paints bleed a lot for a “mossy” effect around the gravel pathway:

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Now to make the gravel pathway look more gravelly I use scrap paper to shield the parts of the illustration that is not gravel pathway:

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And I take my trusty toothbrush …

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… and I moosh it in a black/brown/green/blue mix of watercolor…

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… and I flick:

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Flicking is fun!

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And voila! I have gravel!

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The trick to painting rocks is to let each bit dry completely before you add shading. Except, sometimes, you want to put shading in while the paint is still wet. It depends on the kind of rock.

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Finito:

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This picture took about 5 hours to paint, what with all the waiting for the paint to dry in-between the actual painting.

Yay! I’ve now finished the Japanese Garden chapter (words and pictures!) of my Damn Garden Book!

Commentor Sarah asked me if I would one day give a tour of my work room where I paint:

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I really have to tidy this place up.

I said, “Let me ask the dear readers.” Does anybody else want a tour of my genius-idea-hatching place?

And now, drum roll please, as I announce the winner of the Garden Triscuit painting:

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Janet B!

 

Have a great weekend everyone — go paint some Triscuits!

 

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P1140492This is the painting-in-progress that I made to cheer myself up on a soul-killing icy snowy March day and we will get back to it later in this post.

But let’s start this week’s round-up with a picture of my Long Island backyard at the very instant that Winter became SPRING on March 20, 2013 at 7:02 am :

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Yeah, I know. Big Whup. And 12 hours later, that Champagne-O-Meter looked like this:

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Top Cat and I went to our usual beach spot on the north shore of the Long Island Sound to toast the first sun set of Spring:

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It was snot-freezing cold and ear-achingly windy and we huddled next to the cement wall along the walkway above this beach, using it as a wind break while I took this photo to show where we’ll be picnicking in a mere 90 days to celebrate the Summer Solstice:

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Yeah, Right. Like there’s any chance in this lifetime that I will park my butt on this bit of perma-frost. Too bad that photography can’t capture wind chill, or my incredulity that I will ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, be warm enough to go on a picnic on this frozen shore.

This dismal start to Spring put me in a Grey Gardens kind of mood, and what better way to indulge my taste for melancholy than an outing to find another Secret Gardens of Long Island:

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In my researches for the long-lost gardens in Great Gatsby territory I dug up some info about the 200-year old Schmidlapp Estate in Oyster Bay (see above, main driveway). To readers from Cincinnati, the name Schmidlapp will be familiar as the rich banking family that still funds one of the first independent philanthropic foundations established in Ohio. This is their Long Island homestead, the 200-year old Rumpus House on their 28-acre estate that has been vacant and for sale for nearly a decade:

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I peeped into the house and found these curtains (see below) in what looks like the dining room. Does anybody recognize these characters? They look familiar — some kind of pea-pod babies from an early 20th-century children’s book maybe?

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The Schmidlapps are an old WASP family so their taste in homes is far less extravagant than the prevailing esthetic currently on display on Long Island (think mock-French chateau). This estate is one of the last, big parcels of land for sale in this exclusive enclave, known since the days of F. Scott Fitzgerald as The Gold Coast. It was originally priced at $35 million, but having gone unsold for eight years the asking price has been dropped to a mere $7 mill. The original Colonial house shows its WASPy heritage (think linoleum on the kitchen floor) so the opinion among realtors is that the when estate is eventually sold it will be broken up for redevelopment into 5-acre plots for mini-Sun Kings (that’s Louie the 14th of Versailles). I told Top Cat that we should get in on this bargain! I want me a ruin (to go with the the completely decadent 60s I intend to have, starting in 2016, so consider yourselves warned)!!

Anyhoo. I drove nine miles to get a first hand look at the estate, thinking that there MUST be a secret garden or two on the property:

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Turns out that the Schmidlapps were not gardeners. I only found lots of bits of lawn surrounded by neglected woodsy bits (this is just one of those lawns — the place has acres and scary acres and creepy acres of this stuff):

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And on the edge of one woodsy bit I came across this:

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I kicked aside the dead leaves and uprooted some overgrown ivy:

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Of course these are pet graves. The Schmidlapps are A-OK in my book and OMG OMG OMG now I REALLY want this place. So please, dear readers, if each of you would only buy a million copies (EACH) of my books I can get this done, merci mucho. However, if I hear that the place has been sold out from under me, would it be wrong of me to go in the dead of night and, uh, ahem, curate these headstones?

There happens to be a 4-acre corner of the Schmidlapp estate that is open to the public as the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden. I will have a lot to say about the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden (Most of it not snarky at all. Well, half of it is not snarky. After all, I must be true to the real me.) in my upcoming Damn Garden Book:

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So, as long as I was traipsing around in the 28-acre neighborhood I stopped by the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden on this dreary March day and found that the care takers were — amazingly enough — clearing out the bamboo that grows along the perimeter:

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This amazed me, and I don’t know why, because this is exactly what the keepers of the great bamboo groves in Japan are doing in March! WOW!! It’s like the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden is a REAL garden!!

BTW, this is a shot of the stunning bamboo forest of Arashiyama, Japan:

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Do you see that thicket that forms the fencing? Well, get ready to kvell, dear readers, because I found this picture of one of the teeny tiny “doors” cut into that thicket fence:

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It’s for local cats and foxes.

I know! I know! That is so awesomely  cute I want go buy me a ton of Hello Kitty crap!!!

And now, we have a painting (see: cheering up watercolor at the top of this week’s post) to give away!!!

So:

For Jeanie and others who have asked what kind of paints I use, this photo is for you. On the left are my newest paints, tubes of Windsor Newton and pans of Cotman paints;  on the right are the Grumbacher paints I’ve been using for 10 years (no, those are not 10-year-old Grumbacher paints — I go through them at the rate of one set every year or so — see the shiny new set ready for defilement):

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The Grumbacher paints are cheap and, for me, easy to use so that’s why I stuck with them for so long before I was alerted (by my new friend Carol Gillot, the artist at the blog ParisBreafasts) that I should up-grade my equipment. Her advise came just in time for my Damn Garden Book, as you can see below (the Windsor Newton painting is on the left, the Grumbacher on the right):

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It took a little getting used to but the Windsor Newton colors are so much better for garden painting. I still use the Grumbacher though, for when I need a chalky, muted tone (I really like the Grumbacher Burnt Sienna and Prussian Blue). I buy my paints in person from Blick Art Materials but their on-line selection is great too.

Now, to answer those kind readers who asked, when it comes to tracing a line drawing onto watercolor paper, my first choice is good old solar power. On a south-facing window on a sunny day I simply tape watercolor paper over my drawing  like so:

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However, if it is too overcast for tracing this way, I will use my light box, pictured below on my desk:

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I like the light I get from my south-facing windows, which is the exact same light that makes using a light box impossible.

There’s a little tube of fluorescent light inside the box so when you turn it on goes like this:

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A light box costs around $20 and is handy as a back-up on a rainy day  — it’s also very useful if you are one of the lucky artists who can paint at night under artificial light. I can not do that — I need daylight to see the colors of my paints, but I’ve talked to other artists who are very comfortable painting after dark. I wish I were one of them.

Now here’s today’s watercolor exhibit!

First the masking fluid:

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Let dry, then paint:

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Remove masking fluid:

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Paint fleurs:

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Tea bag for scale:

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Better yet, a Triscuit:

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For the international readers of this blog I must explain that a Triscuit is a flavorful, baked, whole wheat hors d’ouvre-sized snack cracker made by Nabisco:

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If you’ve been to one of my in-person book events (and I know who you are, Commentors) you’ve heard me encourage every beginner painter to paint Triscuits  (my word for the many miniature landscape paintings that litter my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam)– because you can get a lot of information in a Trisuit and not risk a whole lot of paper or paint. My 2011 holiday card was a panel of Triscuits:

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Lately I’ve gotten out of the habit of painting Triscuits and I have missed them so much that when I was a bit blue this past week I painted a the Triscuit you see above not just because it’s a flowery garden path but because I find Triscuit-painting to be very soothing. Try it! You might like it too!

And if there’s a reader out there who would like to receive my Vision of Summer Triscuit…

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…please leave a Comment and I will have Top Cat take responsibility for choosing the winner at Top Cat random. But special first-come dibs to anyone who can identify those weird pea-pod babies on the drapes in the Schmidlapp’s dining room (see above). That’s still really bugging me.

Have a great weekend! But if you are basking in vernal sunshine please don’t rub it in.

 

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