Triscuits

You ask, I giveth. Dear Reader and Commentor Marg-o asked if I could put up drawings for the Triscuit watering cans I’ve painted for the super-duper Triscuit Quartet Give-Away:

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So I enlarged the waterings cans and re-drew their outlines so they’d be nice and clear, and here they are, for your printing and painting pleasure, both the Before. . .

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. . . and the After:

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Before:

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After:

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I couldn’t find the drawings I used for the other two/quarters of the Super Duper Triscuit Quartet,,so here’s another drawing I did that you might like to paint anyway:

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Don’t forget to enter the Super-Duper Triscuit Quartet Give Away!

Did we just invent the latest internet craze????? Probably not, because artists can be stingy giving away their stuff. But not me. Right, Monique?

Last week, Dear Reader and long-time Commentor Monique  mentioned me and the GoAaF in her beautiful  blog  — Merci Monique!, and she also wrote about the  painting lessons I offer here in VivianWorld. Monique thinks my generosity is the sign of a very confident and mature human being. Ha! I have no idea how I’ve pulled that off, giving the impression that I’m a  grown up. Although it is true that, when I bitch and moan at life for making me the Wrong Swift, that is, making me Vivian instead of Taylor Swift, I do use very grown-up curse words, so there’s that in the “mature” column.

Now, you might think a grown-up writer of my, ahem, stature, would wish to be the other famous Swift,  Jonathan Swift, but nope, not me. I don’t want to be remembered for my wit and smarts 269 years and counting after I die: I want to be 25 and in Paris and wander rooftops in a gauzy gown right now, right this damn minute.

Did you watch it? Did you see her in the Square du Vert-Galant?

map of Square du Vert-Galant, Vert-Galant Paris

She even sat under the willow tree I wrote about in Gardens of Awe and Folly!

Paris, Seine River, watercolor of Paris

But getting back to my actual non-Taylor/real Vivian Swift life, and to Monique’s compliment as to my mental state, I want to say that I have no qualms showing you all how I do what I do because, to me, it’s not giving away professional secrets. In my opinion, it’s the same as teaching someone how to write cursive script (not that anybody’s doing that these days). See, I could teach you how to form a cursive A . . .

 

sample. . . or B. . .

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. . . but you’d still end up writing your As and Bs in your own, unique, organic, unavoidable you-style anyway:

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Right? So here’s me showing all you crazy individualists everything I know about painting a tea cup Triscuit:

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The rotten part of painting tea cups is getting the perspective right, which means getting the oval right. So, since it’s my No. 1 Rule to always start a picture buy painting the hardest bit first, I began with the oval shadow under the saucer, and the oval “tea” in the tea cup. Notice that I shaded the “tea” lighter around the edges: if you’ve ever looked at your tea, you’ll see that that’s how it is in real life, because of physics, or math, or gravity, or something.

Next, I use acrylic gold paint to outline the decoration on Tea Cup No. 1 in the foreground:

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You have to use acrylic paint here, because watercolor simply cannot do what acrylic does, i.e., shine. See how it shines when I put it in a raking light? (See: below.)

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Oooooooo…pretty!

Anyway, the rest of this tea-cup waiting thing is pretty much an Instagram so here goes:

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And DONE. Or, I should say. . .

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One – Quarter DONE.

Next week there will be three more from where that came from in order to, you guessed it, make a Super-Duper Tea Cup Triscuit Quartet to be given away in May along with the Super Duper etc etc etc (because not everybody likes watering cans). And Thank you, all you Dear Readers and Wonder Ones, for your kind 5-star reviews on Amazon. Your words are like champagne to me, and you all know how seriously I take champagne.

I have to go now and pack for New Orleans, baby! Because of this:

Wed., April 13  2016   6PM

at Octavia Books in New Orleans, cher!

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513 Octavia Street in fabulous Uptown, NOLA

Best of New Orleans 2015

You know what you get when you get three or more New Orleanians in one room? You get a party! Because in New Orleans, every day that you’re alive is worth celebrating!

So if you’re alive on Wednesday, April 13 this year, here’s the deal:

You bring your Go Cup and I’ll bring mine, and we’ll let the good times roll.

Come join the fun and convo about life, gardens, Triscuits, roses, voodoo, cake, hurricane parties, etc. OK?

(It’s the “etc.” that New Orleans does best.)

And on May 3, Seattle, here I come!

And on May 5, it’s Portland, here I come!

And on May 7, it’s Canon Beach, here I come!

Are you in?

Note:I think we broke the Internet. Several of you Wonder Ones have emailed me about not being able to leave a Comment this week, and I am so sorry about that, being as I love Comments, being as they are the Internet equivalent of sweet little kitties purring in my ear. I will look into the problem and try to curse my way to a solution so we can all “talk” by Friday’s post, in which I exceed all your expectations of what a blog can do. Really.

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Paris is not Nashville.

In Nashville, when people see you point a camera in their direction they do this:

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I miss you, Nashville!

In Paris, when they see you point a camera in their directon, they do this:

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Yeah, that’s a hairy eyeball.

And at my house, when you point a camera in the backyard, you get this:

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That’s Taffy, inspecting the airing-out of the patio chair cushions. Good job, Taffs.

Yes, we had a few days of sunshine here on the Isle of Long but have no fear! This is still the crappiest Spring ever — we’re getting the blow-back from Tropical Storm Andrea this weekend so yay! More rain! (Maybe that’s what’s keeping the cicadas at bay? So far, we haven’t heard a peep from the little monsters yet. So I say, Rain On!)

I hope you all had a peaceful and grateful  D-Day yesterday. Top Cat and I raised a glass of French champagne in homage to our WWII heroes: We Will Never Forget.

Anyhoo. Back to the story of the day, which is how hard it is to take reference photos in Paris…it almost makes me want to turn into a pleine aire painter.

It’s not just Parisians’ stern sense of privacy in public places that makes photographing them so hard. It’s also their No-Se’em policy towards anybody who might look like a tourist (including middle aged ladies in tennis shoes holding a camera a/k/a moi). See here (below) how I almost had a great shot of a bunch of Parisian teens being all European (smoking and drinking coffee in a cafe), except for the un-seeing pedestrian who ruined it:

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For those of you who can’t stand these loooong posts, skip to the end to find the Paris Triscuit!

Well, I REALLY wanted this picture so I gave it another try:

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I hate to say that I took this shot two more times and never got what I wanted. Oh well, when you only have a split second to get the picture you gagne some and you rate some. (Both those words have grave accents on the end, which I can’t find on this keyboard, merde.)

On the street, some people just plain move in on your shot AND WILL NOT GO AWAY:

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I almost got a picture of these ladies counting out change to pay the tab for their afternoon glass of wine. It could have been a cute shot.

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Really? You didn’t see me standing here with a camera up to my face before you stepped in front of me you twit?

Often, people (even little old ladies using canes) are just too fast for me to catch:

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Or they seem to be holding a pose for ever so long, only to stick up an elbow just when I click the shutter:

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Taking photos from behind just isn’t my thing:

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No, when Paris street fashion catches my eye I aim for full frontal. Last month it was c-o-l-d in Paris in May so women were wearing wonderful coats; it seemed that in Paris everyone has a coat that made a statement about style, wealth, taste, self-image, etc…not warmth. I loved this white coat that I saw getting up from the sidewalk at my daily cafe — white, with two big buttons on top and cut-away to show the outfit underneath with slash pockets and wide sleeves, but I couldn’t get her to show it off! I kept snapping away, but all I ever got was a profile:

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Another day, another cafe and this coat had audacious ruffles at the collar and the hem but I couldn’t get to my camera fast enough and just as I clicked the shutter, she turned to leave the cafe.

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I’m so glad that I got this beauty! Now, THIS is a fashion statement:

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I followed this lovely businesswoman, who was walking her dog one morning, for 15 minutes all the way through the Place Dauphine and this is the best picture I got of her big wooly scarf and bright yellow jacket and gauzy skirt, but you can still se how well she is put together:

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Nice red shoes:

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This lady passed me on one side of the street and I noticed her intricately knotted scarf so I ran around and scurried up on the other side of the sidewalk to get ahead of her and try to catch her unawares but I think she saw me coming:

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I took this picture through the window of a boulangerie, just trying to catch people in their normal bread-buying habitat:

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I was just passing through the Canal St-Martin neighborhood when I saw this little duck, paddling all by herself in the wide water, and I wondered if she was lonely:

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Then I noticed the girl in the raspberry-colored beret with the faintly Russian-looking overcoat, who was standing on the edge of the canal, staring at the lone duck just as I was:

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Then the duck swam out of sight but she kept standing there, staring into the water and I wondered if she was depressed and thinking about doing an Anna Karenina so I followed her when she strolled up to the famous foot bridge over the canal and sat down with her feet dangling close to the cold water. I kept my eye on her for about ten minutes, ten long minutes (time drags when you’re on stake out) and then I decided that I wasn’t going to say anything to her (“Hello there, are you going to kill yourself? “) so I might as well mosey on.

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I have a philosophy about depression. Depression is boring. People get depressed over the same predictable things, often for good reason. Happiness, however, is so unusual and so counter-intuitive that it is fascinating. So when I’m faced with a choice between the two, I go for happiness. So I went in search of funner stuff. Crossing off items on my  looooong To Do list for Paris made me happy, so I went off to find the store in the 9th Arrondissement that is famous for its doll house furniture.

Along the way I came across this fetching coat in the 6th Arr.  Shop windows!! So easy!!!

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Can you believe that I found a Redingote for sale??

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Also, I had never heard of a cache-coeur (hide-the-heart) so this piqued my interest. It’s a real thing.  You can read about it here.

Yes, it’s easy to find great fashion in Paris…

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…in all the chic neighborhoods…

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…Rue de Rivoli, St-Germaine des Pres, Avenue Wagram…

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…Monmartre. Yes, MONMARTRE! All these dresses are from my favorite fabric store, Reine — specifically, the remnants department!

P1170431Yes, all these fabulous frocks were made simply by draping fabric remnants (coupons in French). Wonderful texture juxtapositions, frolicsome pattern match-ups, surprising color combinations…I have so much to learn about style, and Paris has so much to teach me.

Which reminds me: I bought one book in Paris about that other thing I have so much to learn about:

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It’s a vintage childrens’ bookcalled Studies of Drawing and Watercolor and I bought it because I also have a lot to learn about aquarelle, n’est-ce pas?  This book is like a coloring book for watercolors — fun, eh?

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And you know why this book is so perfect for me? Guess!

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Right: it’s Triscuit sized!

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So naturally  I was inspired to do a special Paris Triscuit for my dear readers (see above).  Yes, dear ones, you can win this original hand-painted  Paris Triscuit:

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All you have to do is leave a Comment to this post before next Wednesday (when the Comments section will close) and Top Cat will pick a number at random and I’ll announce the winner next week.

Oh, just one little thing. In order to be eligible for this original, hand-painted Paris Triscuit you must have left a Comment for me in this blog within the last four weeks (while I was traveling, when my true blue readers kept in touch!! Thank you!!! Comments are the only way I will ever ask you to pay for anything on this blog. Yay for me!).

And for those who are new to this blog: I still haven’t taken you (in this blog)  to Monet’s garden at Giverny yet…

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…soooooo you don’t know that there isn’t a Giverny Triscuit in the future, and you definitely want to throw in a Comment to get your eligibility for that. Right?

You never know what I’ll be painting next…

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…so you don’t want to miss it!

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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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Now, before we begin todays’s lesson, I’m posting some pictures of my cat Cindy at work (as per last week’s request from Janet, Carol, Patty, Susie, Janice, Sarah, Deb, and Gitana). This is Cindy “helping” Top Cat and me with our 1,000-piece puzzle:

But it’s no surprise that with so much kitty “help”, our 1,000-piece puzzle ended up as as 998-piece puzzle:

And the other day, during one of our rare sunny January mornings, I found Miss Cindy taking a well-deserved rest near one of her biggest projects…

…where she can bask in her sense of accomplishment:

I know, I know: only Cat People will find this cute. [Note her handiwork on the chair here, just a fraction of her entire ouvre on our livingroom furniture.] So let’s change topics toute de suite.

When I first began doing the art work for my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam, I was using Grumbacher paints:

These paints served me well. They are inexpensive (about $20 per 24-color sets like this, get them from Blick Art Supply on line), so I felt very free to slosh around and make mistakes until I got the hang of what I can and cannot do with paint like this. Also, I was working very small (all illustrations in Wanderers are reproduced in the original size) so I could bang about with these paints all day and mess up as much as I wanted without having a major impact on the local landfill.

Here, for instance, is the very first time I painted The Lone Skater (on page 9 of When Wanderers Cease to Roam):
Since this picture is the exact size of a Triscuit cracker I call all my itty bitty pictures “Triscuits”, but I didn’t have a Triscuit handy when I photographed this for you, so I used a Tostito:

But after a few months of practice, I went back and re-painted The Lone Skater and this is the illustration that appears in the book (done with Grumbacher paints):

When my second book ,Le Road Trip came out in April last year, I was contacted by Carol Gillot, the fabulous watercolorist and blogger of Paris Breakfasts fame (parisbreakfasts.blogspot.com) .

She told me it was time to upgrade my equipment. She advised me that Grumbacher paints have a lot of cheap chalk filler in them and I should try painting with a higher quality of watercolor, so I bought a teeny tiny beginner’s kit of Windsor Newton paints at my favorite art supplier Dick Blick:

Oh My DoG. First of all, the Windsor Newton paints are sooo cuuuute!! (See tea bag for size comparison.)

And the intensity of color and the fluidity of the stuff makes painting with these watercolors feel like the Grumbacher had the power of a golf cart while the Windsor Newton has the oooph of a race car.

Compare these two garden illustrations. First, there’s the Grumbacher:

And now, with Windsor Newton:

I think we all can see the chalk in the Grumbacher now. But that is not to say that just because of the vivid, rich color possibilities of Windsor Newton that I have forsaken my beloved Grumbacher paints all together. Oh no. Because I know my Grumbacher paints so well, chalk and all, that I know how to use them to achieve certain misty, pale, subtle effects that I cannot get (yet?) with the Windsor Newton. This, for example…:

…is all Grumbacher. Maybe because of the chalk filler in them, I can trust the Grumbacher to blend and mix and/or stay put in scenes like this — see how the sunset yellow doesn’t get muddy when laid down next to the pink…and how the pink stays in place when it’s so close to the blue? And note the way the blue bleeds so beautifully into the wet wash that I did on the top. I can only do this with Grumbacher.

Let me know if you have ay specific questions about paint or paper or masking fluid or watercolor stuff and I’ll try to include an answer for you in next week’s post too. As Jain says, I have all kinds of wee tips that I’m happy to share!

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