garden painting

I promised Top Cat that I WOULD NOT DIGRESS this week (he says my posts are getting waaaay toooo loooooong) while I take you to Monet’s famous garden in Giverny (Normandy, France).


I promise to Keep It Short since my previous reports (last week and the week before) on my recent visit to France have been rather wordy and some readers [Top Cat] say I make it toooooo looooong toooo reeeeeeed. So I’m cutting my three-day exploration of All Things Monet in Giverny down to this one post, probably. But pardon me while I set the scene:


For my first two nights I stayed at a marvelous B&B called Le Coin des Artists, which used to be a cafe/grocery in Monet’s day:


The Breakfast part of the B&B was quite wonderful (see: below… those are the same chairs that you’ll find in Monet’s dining room at Giverny and there was always Katie Melua on the CD player. I highly recommend starting your Giverny days hearing Katie Melua sing “Closest Thing to Crazy”   and eavesdropping on the Belgian couple talking about the high price of French toll roads compared to the ones in Belgium but I’m not telling you that story because I Will Not Digress).


And ahhhhhh!! The Bed part of this B&B was heavenly! I really missed my Top Cat when I saw my room because nothing is more romantic than a fauteuil, n’est-ce pas?


Fauteuil only means “armchair” even tho it sounds kind of dirty.

The windows of my room looked out into the courtyard:


In the evening in this same courtyard the delightful hostess at Le Coin des Artistes, Madame Laurence Pain, serves chilled Loire Valley wine with the resident chow (see below: those orange protuberances at the end of the table are chow ears):


I could tell stories about the dogs of Giverny, who seem unable to contain their curiosity and excitement  to be in the company of such world travelers as  moi...


…or the cats of Giverny ,who don’t


…except for this little girl (below) who must be part Siamese for all the talking she did here in Giverny’s “Medieval Quarter”, which consists of one rue…called Rue aux Juifs (Street of Jews) if you can believe it…


…but I will not digress!!!  Neither can I tell you about the many stone walls I had to climb to snoop  into courtyards that are hidden from the street, such as this one (below) where they hide Monet’s so-called “Blue House” where he used to grow his vegetables…


…but Non! Non! I will not digress! We are here today to visit the Monet’s garden at Giverny, so let’s get to it:


This is the map (above) at the entrance to the garden — they do not sell or give away maps of the garden when you pay your 9 euro ($12.50) to get into the garden, which I was telling the young Canadian couple on line with me, who were on the second day of their 6-week driving tour of France  (so they took an iPad photo of this wall map to take with them) and then the guy, whose hobby is geology, wondered what kind of rocks this was in the wall because to a rock hound the world is one big rock puzzle, to whom I said well, if you like rocks and you have a car you  should go see one of the Wonders of the World (rock-wise) at Mont St-Michel close by here in Normandy and they said “Mont What?” etc. but I Will Not Digress


…although you see the guy with the dog (above) on the typically looooooong line to buy entrance tickets: Yeah, me too, I asked myself, “What kind of nincompoop brings a dog to Monet’s garden???” but I saw him later  outside the garden sitting with the dog and I offered to watch the pup while he went inside but he said no thank you, it’s his wife who wanted to see the garden — they have been here before as they often sail their boat from England and moor it on the Seine in Vernon (closest town to Giverny on the Seine ) which goes to show you that people have the most surprising stories if you take the time to chat… but I Will Not Digress… Let’s get to the GARDEN!!!

This is what you see after you enter the garden through the gift shop and pass the lavatories:


Those are espalier’d apple trees IN BLOSSOM!!! and the sign that points to “House” is of course pointing to Monet’s famous pink house:


I timed my visit to the garden so that I’d get there at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and yes, it was still plenty crowded.


But I like crowds. In case you haven’t guessed, I like talking to people when I travel because, well, I’m a professional travel writer and in order to write about travel I need stories. What better way to get them than to get people to tell me theirs? Like this mother/daughter pair (below) I helped because they didn’t speak French and the ladies working in the gift shop are, excuse me for saying, kind of snotty, but I Will Not Digress:

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And I LOVE Chinese tourists because they wear the best hats:

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And for the most part, even tho it’s crowded,  people are aware of other people trying to get a Monet Garden picture and do not walk right into your shot…

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…but not always. And then, if you’re me, you hope that someone with an outrageously fab Monet-Garden-Visiting-Outfit steps into view…


How the gardeners work amidst such teeming humanity I don’t know…


…although I trailed two women gardeners who were pulling off the dead tulip heads with such a delicate manouvre that I was entranced by their gentle touch but I Will Not Digress


But let us rejoice that some people, even in the madding crowd, are able find their private moments…


…which I, as your typical Nosey Parker…


…am only too happy to butt in on. But here’s my redeeming feature: I am the person who, when I see young couples taking “selflies” in places like Monet’s garden, I walk up and I ask “Would you like me to take your picture?” and then I art-direct them so that I get great shots of them in situ (I’m great at setting a scene and getting informative background) and I even tell them “Go on, kiss!” and they DO because I have that kind of trustful face and all.


Monet Garden at Giverny Travel Tip No. 1: If you hang around past 5 o’clock, all the day trippers leave and the place becomes very empty and even the guards are so happy that the day is almost over that they relax their eagle eyes and go MIA so there is no one to yell at you for taking pictures of the rooms…


…so you can stand in Monet’s bed chamber and snap away all you want (photos of furniture are forbidden!)…


…and there isn’t the usual looong line to get the permitted photo out of Monet’s window…


…so you can take in the view that Monet himself woke up to. I usually try to get people in my photos of landscape so you can gauge the scale so…Merci, straggler tourists who are in my picture of the overcast skies of Giverny at 5:30 May 10, 2013:



I want to live like Alice Monet and see a garden like this when I walk out of my kitchen.

This (below) is Monet’s other bedroom window seen from the ground (the house is very narrow) , part of a series of pictures that I took of all the edges all around his garden property because you never see that part of his garden but I Will Not Digress:


I like this picture because it catches the wind that blew in from the depths of Normandy all through Giverny, fluttering the tulips and the tourists:


So. Here I am, the next day, enjoying a lunch of hard boiled egg and baguette sandwich (which I made from breakfast items at the B&B) after trudging to the top of the hill that looms high above Giverny…


…when through the telephoto lens of my camera I peer unto the Jardin de Monet in the valley below…


…and I see that the D5 (a local highway that in this bend in the road is grandly called Chemin du Roy — King’s Way ) runs right past Monet’s garden. This road is built on the old railway line that bi-sects Monet’s property — his famous Water Garden is on the far side of the D5 there. And I think to myself  This I gotta see  but I have nine hours of DIGRESSION to achieve before I check out this Chemin du Roy from ground level:


It’s 8 o’clock in the evening and I am the only soul walking along this stretch of highway…


…where you can  see the paradise that is Monet’s garden, big as you please!  Without paying 9 euro!



The only barrier here is a spike fence and some scraggly shrubs:


All you have to do is walk up to the fence and stick your camera between the fence railings and you get the most beautiful scenes of an empty garden…


…and vistas that are just not available to you when you are actually IN the garden with the hoards of tourists :


I loved being here, in this silent and lonely twilight…


…taking photos of the landscape that really makes much more sense from this perspective:


These are the famous “paintbox” beds of flowers that oh! Made me tremble with pleasure seeing them like this (as compared to seeing them from inside):


You can not get a better shot of the alley than this, from outside the garden walls:


It helps that Normandy is so far north…


…that you still get the gentle evening twilight…


…that best illuminates the spritely colors of flowers…


…so much better than daytime sunlight:


Amazing, right?


Monet Garden at Giverny Travel Tip No. 2: Walk along the D5 after closing hours in Giverny and have this impossibly beautiful garden all to yourself. I did not see another soul the whole time I lurked here. This last picture, you can see, is blurry, which told me that I was losing the light…


…so I walked back into town,  to Rue Claude Monet, the main drag of Giverny…


…and I wished I weren’t so far from home…

P1160915…and went to bed with sweet dreams of my Top Cat and the pictures I would paint of “my” Giverny.

The next day I paid my last visit to Monet’s garden. (I also moved to the town’s only hotel which I did not like so I Will Not Digress further.) It was sunny, which is not so great for photographing flowers so I will only show you this picture (below), which shows the hill on which I sat when I got my bird’s eye view of dear Giverny (that white boxy thing in the background is a pumping station that you will pass half-way on your climb to the top):


This is the last photo that I took of the garden…Farewell, Giverny:


I know that we did not get to the famous lily pond in Monet’s famous Water Garden in this post so I’ll have to show that to you next week when I’ll have a Giverny Triscuit for you, which I did not paint this week because  I’ve been very busy making sure that the backyard cats aren’t dead :


That’s only Bibs, who looks dead but he’s just snoozing under Oscar’s watch.

And keeping an eye out so that the indoor cats don’t kill each other :


That’s Cindy, glaring up at Taffy who is hogging her chair.

But we still have the Paris Triscuit to give away!


And the Triscuit goes to…Jen A.!!!  Congratulations to a long time reader of this blog who recently sent me hummingbird feathers to add to my collection — you have never seen feathers soooooo small and so sparkly as hummingbird feathers but I Will Not Digress, no sir, not meThat’s for next week!


See you next time under the wisteria!






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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 :


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


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:


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:


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:


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:


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?


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:


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):


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


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







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:


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:


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:


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:


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!!!


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):


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):


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:


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


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:


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:


Let dry, then paint:







Remove masking fluid:


Paint fleurs:


Tea bag for scale:


Better yet, a Triscuit:


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:


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:


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…


…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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This is my new office:

I am now concentrating on the writing part of book-making, dear readers, and since I can’t seem to get anything down at home (the cats see me sitting at a desk and, being illiterate, have no respect for the typing part of writing and park their butts right on the keyboard, the better for offering me their sweet chins for a good chin-scritching session). So last week I retreated to the reference room at the Port Washington Library on the Long Island Sound (New York) because they have special dungeons quiet rooms for deep thinkers:


I ease myself into a cubicle, push my piles of paperwork to the far corners of my desk, and start checking my emails. You ever know. Maybe Julia Roberts has read Le Road Trip and wants to star as me in the movie version.


Then I am immediately bored, so I wander out to the lobby and stare out at the rain:


There’s the main street of Port Washington and that’s the Long Island Sound in the far distance.

Then I go to the ladies room, and mosey to the cafeteria for a cup of tea in a paper cup, and on the way back to my cubicle I drop by the Travel Department, I admit, to see if my book is anywhere on these shelves.


Thank you, Port Washington Library, for shelving me in the 914 section!

Then I go back to my desk, fiddle with some papers, get nothing done, check for emails  a few more times, step out for lunch, come back and sit at my desk, feel depressed, do a few random Google searches, and then pack up and go home.

In other words, I treat my writing just the same as if it were a real job.

Good thing I have this painting hobby to help me de-stress from my writing job.


Today I am illustrating the two kinds of palm tress, those that are fan-like and those that are feather-like.


Each brush stroke must articulate palmate and pinnate fronds in a most expressive way.


Bark, whether on a real tree or on a palm tree (which is not really a tree, it’s a grass masquerading as a tree) is mostly grey with a little bit of brown:


I didn’t draw lines here. I let the paint dry, then I painted in between the dry sections and let the paint itself make the striations (this works awesome for waterfalls — I really must show you this in a whole separate tutorial):


Going deep dark green on the feather fronds:


If I hadn’t been sure that all the foliage here made an interesting pattern at this stage, I would not have continued with the illustration:


Now I draw lines for the house I want in the background, from a reference photo of a Key West property (the porch gives it away as classic Conch architecture):


Whew. There’s only a little bit left to go, and as you can see there’s only a tiny bit of this picture left to screw up paint:


But that’s enough painting for one day. So I put it away and gorge on crap TV for five hours before falling asleep in the middle of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills start fresh again the next morning. And in the end I have this:



And now for the Great Koi Pond Picture Give-Away (from last week’s post). I had to leave it up to Top Cat to pull a name at random because I can’t stand having to pick — I have the best Commentors in the ether and I wish I could send stuff to each and every one of you all every week. Smart, funny, artistic, cultured: you Commentors are the reason I dread having to write this blog every day of my life, because it has to be the best thing I do week in and week out in order to be worthy of you readers. Thank you.

And this week Top Cat pulled Gigi‘s name out of the mix — and she also happens to be a brand new Commentor too! Talk about beginner’s luck — and congratulations Gigi. Please send your mailing info to me at vivianswift at yahoo dot com.

See you next week, dear readers!




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WIP is the term that we procrastinators use when we discuss our “Work In Progress”.  Today’s post is going to be a long one because the more time I spend on my blog the less time I have to sit around cursing at my  blank sheet of WIP because the angels are not dictating their lyrical prose to me and I have to actually do all the excruciating work on my own and write the damn thing. Also, there will be a trip to the Met museum in NYC and some talk-back to all the wonderful Commentors from my post about the Barnes Foundation and bad art two weeks ago… so make a cup of tea, have a seat, and expect to mosey with me for the next ten or fifteen minutes.

About my WIP garden book, here are two photos of moi feeding koi (fat gold fish) last year at a Japanese Stroll Garden in my neck of the woods on the north shore of Long Island:


Koi are the greediest fish I’ve ever met. When they know there’s kibble to be had (official Japanese Stroll Garden kibble — I didn’t pitch bread crumbs in there) they will climb over each other and leap out onto the bank of the pond with their mouths wide open to gasp for a treat. I was enchanted.

What you can’t see in this photo montage set-up is that there is a fence in the background, behind the bamboo, that forms the western edge of this garden — I mention it because I’m using that fence as a prominent feature in my illustration WIP (below).

So, to begin, I make a few very faints guide-lines to show me where I’m going to put stuff in this landscape. My pencil lines have to be very light because I will be painting over them and I don’t want them to show through my watercolor — I hope you can see them here:


I’m mostly excited about doing the koi, which I sketch in like this:


Next, I put masking fluid over the troublesome areas:


Now, I have never painted a koi pond before, but I know I want a very watery, paint-y looking effect so I use my fattest brush and keep the surface very wet while I lay in various colors in a swirly motion:


I had to work very quickly here so I didn’t take photos, but I hope this close-up helps:


Now I put watercolor over the masking fluid for the first bunch of high grass that I have to paint:


Then I peel off the masking fluid and use my itty bittiest brush to paint each stalk of grass:


Yes, I’m using black paint for lots of contrast:


For the wall of bamboo in the background I want to let the paint do a lot of the work so I dab dark green paint over a wet wash of yellow, letting the bleeds describe the foliage:


I peel off the masking fluid on another bunch of high grass…


… and repeat what I did previously:


Then I peel off the last bits of masking fluid and I’m ready to finish the background details and fill in the last bit of foreground and start painting the FUN stuff!  Lily pads and FISHES!


Voila — here’s the finished picture with tea bag for size reference (perched where the garden book text for this illustration will go):


Again, here’s a look at the original inspiration, just to show you how interpretive my illustration is:


As you can see, you have to edit (or, interpret, as museum folks say these days) when you use reference pix — and isn’t it great the way these reference pix came together in a way that happily lent themselves to a composition were I had to have a blank area for text??  I love it when life and art work out this way.

Speaking of editing and interpreting…that’s what the Matisse show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is all about. The show is called Matisse, In Search of True Painting

This is a beautifully curated show (and I NEVER call ANY show “beautifully curated”).

You are not allowed to take photos in the galleries so keep in mind that I am hiding my camera in my pocket as I shoot these, to show you how finished Matisse paintings are hung alongside Matisse’s WIP sketches so you can see his thought process as he edits and experiments:


Oh,Beautiful Gallery Girl, I want to come back as you in my next life:


This is what attracted her attention:


Even the wall text in this exhibit was very well done — giving you dates and places of each painting (see two versions of a table-top still life below) without the usual long-winded editorializing, simply letting the viewer make her own interpretations and associations to form one’s own relationship with the art. I think that’s what Commentors Bobbi and Marguerite  and Chel were getting at in my post about the filthy over-mediated experience that is forced upon a viewer at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia (see my post Eye of the Beholder).


To Commentors Vicki in Michigan, Gigi, Sandy R, Christine, and Jeannie who might be avoiding the Barnes because of my complaints about it, I must say that it’s not an entirely worthless experience (as long as you don’t get snookered into taking a docent tour) because at the very least it is interesting to see such a strong point of view in a private collection. I just happen to think that Dr. Barnes’s point of view is almost entirely wacky. Because, as Commentor 365 Dresses wrote, when you hoover up as much stuff as Dr. Barnes did on his purchasing sprees in the 1920s and ’30s, you’re bound to get lucky — but that hardly makes you a connoisseur.

Back at the Met, I wish I’d got a better shot of this guy’s sweater because it was fabulous:


Commentors Laura and Janet B. mentioned the documentary that was made about the Barnes Foundation about how the city of Philadelphia broke the tenets of Dr. Barnes’s will to move his collection from its private quarters in the Philadelphia suburbs to downtown Philadelphia, called Art of the Steal . I’ve seen it, and  I have to say that I can’t really get all that upset about it. So some millionaire’s will, made in snotty revenge  against the Philadelphia establishment, got betrayed by some half-assed social-climbing executor? Talk about having First World problems!

I ask you: How can you go to the Met to see Matisse, in Search of True Painting without taking a quick trot through its other galleries?  You can easily avoid Renoir and Cezanne to wander in  rooms full of Van Gogh!


See this girl, taking shots of the art with her iPad:


I have to learn how to do this!  And OMG OMG — the Monets!


In this one corner you have about $170 million worth of excerpts Monet’s most famous serieses (plural series), from left to right: The Houses of Parliament in London, Rouen Cathedral, Haystacks in Normandy, and Poplars in Giverny. I do not know why they are not in their chronological order, which would be Haystacks, Poplars, Rouen Cathedral, London, BTW. And of course there are lots o’ water lilies:


Thank you, other Beautiful Gallery Girl, for wearing your Monet Water Lily-matching outfit:


And since I’ll be spending a few days in Giverny this Spring, I’ll need to steal study Monet’s own garden-painting techniques:


And for Commentor Kate, who didn’t want us to throw Renoir under the bus, there’s this — his “masterpiece” from the Musee d’Orsay:


I don’t know…I think it’ll take more than that to change my opinion, or the mind of Commentors Monique, Sandy R, and Joan. I don’t know…it’s awfully busy and froofy, I think. There’s an issue here that I’ve heard referred to on Project Runway, and it’s called “taste level”. I just don’t think Renoir had good taste. Right? Wrong? But I promise you, Kate, that I will go see it when I am in Paris and let you know if it does, face to face, what the magician Penn Gillette says great art should do: Make me a different person.  For Commentor Sally, I’ll also look up that Hanged Man by Cezanne whilst I’m there, see if that does the other thing that great art is supposed to do…challenge one’s map of reality.

Thank you, Commentor Tracey, for the tip about the up-coming show at the Brooklyn Museum this Spring about the watercolors of John Singer Sargent — I seem to be on a whole new kick lately where I actually leave the house once and a while (see above). Next stop, Brooklyn!

And now, I want to show you what I skipped over at the beginning of this blog post, when I painted my koi pond. Here’s a quick step-by-step re-creation of how I did it, in case you’re curious:


I started with a dab of blue from my chalky Grumbacher paints before I switched to my grown-up Windsor Newton watercolors (sometimes I like the paleness of the Grumbacher paints):


The secret is to keep everything constantly wet wet wet:


After adding a bit more Grumbacher blue…


I dip into the Windsor Newton cobalt for real depth:




Drying off the brush like this …


…lets you go back and pick up paint, to create highlights where necessary:


Now going in with lots and lots of blue and green on the brush:


Just let the paint and the water do what it wants to do. Let it sit there, and air-dry. It’s all that air-drying that is the reason why it took me three hours to paint my koi pond illustration (at the top of this post). You can’t hurry this step of the process:


And then I paint in the koi/gold fish and I sign it:


If you think it would be helpful to see this little dab up close I will gladly give this away to whoever is interested. If by chance there is more than one of you dear readers who want to get up-close and personal with my koi, I will gather your names and let Top Cat choose one at random. Just leave a Comment below (sorry; I have to close the Comments after five days) to let me know if you’d like me to send you this koi pond — or just drop a note to let me know that I haven’t bored you to death with this loooooong post.

Next week I promise I won’t rant on and on and on and on and on….




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This Claude Monet painting of his beloved waterlilies (1905) was sold at Christie’s New York last week,on Nov. 7, for $43,762,500. Yes, that’s 43 million, seven-hundred sixty-two thousand, five hundred dollars. This is of great interest to me because I just happen to be working on the “Monet” chapter of my Damn Garden Book (sketch, below, in progress):

All the ladies in this picture are versions of me.

Now, if you’ve read my book Le Road Trip you’ll know that I was not really thrilled with my last to Monet’s garden at Giverny — it was crowded and overgrown (in my opinion) and I was in a bad mood. Nevertheless, I have fond memories of the garden from several previous visits and it is those memories that I am trying to communicate. Also, hey — it’s GIVERNY. What garden memoirist can get away with writing a Damn Garden Book without including GIVERNY???    Here’s my illustration of the view from Monet’s bedroom window (a view he was particularly fond of):

Yeah, I know. I’m really crappy at painting flower gardens. Truth to tell, I’m not that crazy about flower gardens, and it shows.

I would much rather gaze at the Japanese maple tree in my front yard than at Monet’s waterlilies, to tell the truth, especially at this time of year:

And the Japanese dogwood tree on the patio is no slouch in the spectacular foliage department either:

If you look real hard you can see Bibs eating his breakfast from his pink bowl in the background, on the left.

Oh! Frost on Fall leaves is ten times more poetic than dew on a rose petal!

And I can tell you: there is nothing at Giverny to compare to the awesomeness of the American Elm tree near my house on Long Island:

I’ve never been tempted to pick a single flower on any of my visits to Giverny, but when it comes to a hundred-year old American Elm…

Here I am putting my crutches to good use to nab me an American Elm leaf to paint. (This photo was taken by my friend Melinda last month — my knee injury is healing just fine and I only use crutches now for whacking at stuff that is annoyingly out of reach.)

Even my dear husband, the Great and Wonderful Top Cat, knows better than to bring me roses. When he wants to be romantic, this is what he brings me:

This is what I love! A bouquet of beautiful fall leaves! My Top Cat gets me, he really does.

Monet had his obsession with the waterlilies  (he painted 250 canvases of his water garden at Giverny from 1899 until his death in 1926) and I have my obsession with Fall leaves:

One of the pages I am most proud of in my book Le Road Trip is page 56:

I am proud to be the first person to have calculated the going rate of a Monet waterlily painting down to the square inch, which was at that time  $23,319.00.

I think this is valuable information in quantifying pricelessness, in that a Monet painting might be so astronomically/mind bogglingly expensive to buy (see above, $43,762,500) that it might as well be priceless, but nothing is truly priceless. Remember, I used to be the Faberge expert for the same Christie’s New York auction house that sold this latest Monet, and I used to put price tags on all kinds of priceless stuff.

When I wrote Le Road Trip, the going rate for a Monet waterlily painting was based on the June 2008 sale at Christie’s London of a 1919 painting that sold for $80,451,178. Yes, that’s 80 million four hundred fifty-one thousand and change. And yes, that’s the record for a Monet at auction.

However, that Monet was big, 40 ” x 80″ , and the one that sold last week for $43,762,500 was about half that size at 35″ x 39″,  so:

The new going rate for a Monet painting of his beloved waterlilies is $32,060.4 per square inch.

And you are in luck! Because the going rate for a painting of my beloved Fall leaves is FREE — which is well and truly PRICELESS — and today I announce the winners of my 2012 Fall Leave Give Away:

Actual leaf not included.

This priceless painting goes to Nadine!    Nadine, send me an email at vivianswift at yahoo dot com and we will discuss shipping etc!

And the winner of this priceless painting:

… is Bobbi!   Bobbi, please see above.

I wish I could send all you dear readers a Fall leaf painting in appreciation for you all, but I would go broke if I handed out priceless paintings every week. I’m no Monet, after all! (Oh, wait. Even if he were alive Monet doesn’t get the millions… Jeeze. Being a famous artist as just as lucrative as being a priceless one.)

And now I have to quit painting Fall leaves so I can figure out how to paint a damn flower garden. See you next Friday — when I hope to have painted a less ugly Giverny..


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