embroidered gardens

  So, here I am in Giverny. I can give you some quick peeks at what I’m up to here before I return you to the blog post I pre-loaded before I left the USA (I knew that blogging from The Road would be more technologically spiffy than I could handle).

So far, I know that there are two ways to see Monet’s garden at Giverny. You can take it in at ground level…



…or you can climb a hill and see it from waaaaay above. Either way…




…it’s quite a sight.

It’s been chilly here in Normandy, that is when the sun isn’t shining and warming you to your tootsies — those clouds can turn a refreshing Spring breeze into a frigid bone-chilling gust. Some people are even wearing Winter coats but I get by very well with my Seattle fleece jacket. Yes, Giverny is a tourist trap, but not a TOTAL tourist trap. I stayed for my first two nights at a delightful B&B but had to move to the town’s only hotel (a large group of Russians were booked for arrival at the B&B) and while I had the company of a chow named Toddy at the B&B when I took my well deserved Friday evening aperitif…


…there are no such furry ears at the hotel.

You know I will tell you in full all about Giverny when I get back to my desk on Long Island and off this f*#€€**!  iPad, but you already know that while my body might be in France (actually, it’s in Marrakech at this point) my heart is still in my little workroom back home.


This is my butcher-block desk (it’s really only an old kitchen table my sister gave me 20 years ago)  which is situated in front of two south-facing windows. The most important feature of this set up is the chair: I sit in a child’s chair, the seat of which is only 13 inches above the floor. This puts me at just above eye-level with the top of my desk, which is very important for the close-up, miniature-sized painting I do.

Before I started to illustrate my books, this set up was very familiar to me from my years as the watch and clock expert at Christie’s auction house (my job before I got promoted to Faberge). Horologists also work on itty bitty bits (watch parts are veeeeeeeerrrrrryyyyy small) :




So watchmakers sit at specially-made furniture that has a desk top that is about a foot higher than a normal table:



But since I don’t have a watchmaker’s desk — I just have an old kitchen table — I have lowered my seat to make like an horologist when I paint.

That photograph of my desk shows me working on a garden illustration from my Key West photo album, which I will show you at the end of this post.Before I go further, I must tell you that while I was photographing the 4 corners of my workroom I was moving Coco, in her cat bed on her chair in the middle of the room, to keep her out of camera range…and she was so much a part of this post that I totally forgot to take a photo of HER and now I’m in France and can’t do nothin about it.

I keep my photo albums and diaries and notebooks filed away in my closet:


I started a special Garden Book book shelf in there for handy reference. I also have loads of loose photos, filed in shoeboxes in a special  blue bookcase:


Those binders that you see on top of my photo/shoe boxes are the various  Books-in-Progress of original art work that (so far) doen’t have a home in a published book. Those binders are too tall to fit in any regular bookcase, so I found a darling little bedside bookcase that I turned on its side and stacked on top of my sweet little blue bookcase. I have a large bulletin board on the left. Joan Rivers has very good advice about growing old: Never keep photos of your younger self on display around the house…but I have two 8″ x 10″ black and white photos of me on my wall, from my Peace Corps days, because in my mind I’m still 26. I have two more bookcases stacked up to the right, where I keep tea cups and birds’ nests … on the wall in the background there is a map of a road trip through New England that I painted many moons ago. I will have more to say about my love of making hand-made maps in a bit.

But this is my favorite wall, the Wall of Feathers:


Most of these  feathers are treasures that I have found over the years, some of them are gifts from my Dear Readers, all of them represent to me my idea of wealth…

…the same way that Top Cat’s idea of rich is this:


This is firewood that Top Cat chopped himself, and why he has a soft spot for Hurricane Sandy as an outstanding delivery system for excellent quality raw material for his wood chopping hobby. Top Cat loves to chop wood.

It was while I was snapping photos of my workroom for this tour that I came upon some old art projects that I haven’t looked at in years:


I have a box full of old embroidery projects — before I ever painted a garden, I used to sew them all the time. I put a few of my embroidered gardens in my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam:



If you’ll notice, each of those gardens has a black and white tuxedo cat in them; that’s because for many years I put my sweet cat Woody Robinson in every garden I sewed. He was even in this one (on the right):


Only, in order to see him you have to see the entire garden:


I ripped out all the stitches in that gate that appears at the bottom of this piece because it is not the real gate to this garden and after I’d sewn it I felt dishonest for putting in an imaginary structure. This is actually the walled herb garden of the Geffrye Museum in London and you gain access to it through the door that I painted on page 78 (of Wanderers, if you’re reading along, above).

But there’s plenty more embroidered gardens where those came from:P1150642





And then there is this:


That’s a tea bag over by Florida’s Fountain of Youth, for scale. This is the one and only “quilt” I ever made, for a quilting contest in 1992. The theme was America, if I remember correctly, and I love to make maps so this was right up my alley. It was a national competition and I won a third place in Mixed Media and this “quilt” was published in a national magazine. Country Home, I believe.

In this map “quilt” of America I put ll the various historical / ethnic references that I though were indicative of the various regions. In Middle America I put a baseball diamond, to represent The Field of Dreams in the approx. area of Iowa. For Texas and the Southwest I did Mexican-style reverse appliqué and I embroidered Central American creatures and then I did some Navajo spirits and a Plains Indian head dress. For the West Coast I put a Japanese bridge with cherry blossom plus a nifty Chinese dragon…



…which I have to say is the best thing I ever embroidered. In the Ohio Valley / Pennsylvania / Original 13 Colonies area I put an early American sampler-style thing:


Yes, that’s a shamrock in the Carolinas.

In New England I did an appliqué cornucopia, to represent the first Thanksgiving in Massachusetts colony:


To represent  African Americans I did West Africa embroidery and put in some Zulu shields:


I had never done any kind of appliqué before I did this “quilt” and so I am particularly proud of this appliqué eagle that fills the Great Pacific Great NorthWest:


This “quilt” is 100% sewn by hand. Not one stitch was done on a sewing machine. I even appliquéd the entire map by hand, sewing it onto a backing with a stitch that I invented (it’s like a buttonhole stitch, kid of) and then I stuffed it with polyester fill to make it “quilty”. People used to look at my stitching and say that they were so perfect that it looked like a machine did it, and they meant it as a compliment.

I’ll admit it: I used to be a great embroiderer. But oh lordy, it used to take weeks and months to do one single garden and I used to get cramps in my hand from holding onto a needle for 10 hours at a time, so I gave it up. And now I paint.

And now, after almost nine years of painting, I am getting to a level where most of my watercolors don’t stink (I said most: I hope you saw last week’s post where I show how easy it is for me, still, to paint something putrid.)

Here’s my Watercolor of the Week, a picture of Key West that I did right before I left for my Great Adventure in Giverny and Etc. (it’s the work-in-progress that you can see in the photo, above, of my desk with the itty bitty child’s chair):


I’ll be back on home turf next week, blogging more or less “live”, bringing you the sights from Paris, Giverny, and Marrakech. See you then!


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