Le Road Trip stuff

I collect old guide books because, well, I don’t read fiction so that doesn’t leave a whole lot else to read. Ha ha ha!

I happened to pick up a 2005 Frommer’s guide to Paris. I thumbed through it and became deep in thought…

I found myself really thinking, debating, hard, about whether or not I should buy this book.  FOR A DIME.

Take a look: the frontispiece photo ALONE is worth every penny of that dime:

While THIS picture (below) cost me about $4,000:

This is the Brasserie du Champ du Mars, a cafe near my old stomping grounds in the 7th arrondisement near the American University in Paris, also called The American Quarter because it’s where Rick Steves sends all his readers.

There I was, taking the exact same photo as Frommer’s!

My photo is from the 28-day road trip that Top Cat and took through France in 2005, the one I’m busy writing about and illustrating EVEN AS WE SPEAK. And when you see my painting of this cafe here (where Top Cat and I would partake of our morning tea and croissants) in That Damn France Book, I just want you to know that I’d already done my illustration before I had any idea that Frommer’s was READING MY MIND.

Next time I go to France, I’m wearing my tin foil hat.

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Because a dear reader asked me, I am going to show you what a Work In Progress looks like:

This is my Damn France Book in progress: a file folder for each chapter plus a few more for misc. notes about France and travel and publisher business stuff that I need to keep track of.  My spiffy Reebok shoe box lets me keep all that flotsam in one, portable place.

This week I’ve been working on the Normandy chapter (green folder, because Normandy is a very lush, green province) and today the WIP (Work In Progress) is opened to the pages where Top Cat and I are taking leave of Omaha Beach and catching a train to a little town called Pontorson:

This is how I block out art work and text. I would like to break up the text into interesting bits, instead of simply left to right wrap around.

This is what I do for every page. Every single page.

I used to wonder why it takes me three years to write a book.  I think I just answered my question.

 

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Top Cat answered the phone this afternoon and came upstairs to hand it to me: “It’s Betsy,” he said. Betsy’s my agent. She only calls when she has really good or really bad news. And we’ve been waiting for three weeks to hear from Bloomsbury  about their final decision about my Damn France Book…

And the verdict is: a huge, happy, double-the-advance -on-my-first-book  YES.

I’m very giddy with excitement and as soon as I meet with my editor and hammer out things like deadlines and publishing dates I will let you all know.

But today I want to show you what I was working on when I got the fateful call: it was an illustration for The Damn France Book and I was having a hell of a time getting it to come out right.

This is the sketch I made of Top Cat and me strolling down a street in a town called St. Malo in Brittany.  As with all my sketches, I have three options when it comes to turning them into an illustration:

1. I can leave it as a black and white drawing.

2. I can do a quick color wash of it on bond paper (it’s crap paper for watercolor, but it gives a nice “impromptu” feeling to an illustration).

3. I can copy the sketch onto good watercolor paper and try to make a “real” painting of it (with shading and light effects and other painterly stuff that I am not in the least qualified to do).

Well, for this sketch I didn’t think I could leave it as a black and white line drawing because there are too many lines here — all those buildings and perspective and all make it look a bit too busy. So I tried it out as a quick color wash on crappy bond paper:

Yeesh. This SUCKS.

So, reluctantly, I copied it onto good watercolor paper and had a go at making a “real” painting of it. I did this reluctantly because I knew there were things in this painting that I had never tried before: light from the shop windows reflecting onto the stone pavements, for example.

I know my limits as an artist and if I stay within those limits I am one happy and self-satisfied egomaniac. But when I wander out into real painterly territory and realize again how much I suck at trying to do stuff that real painters can do, well, it ruins my day.

But I had no choice with this picture. It didn’t work as a black and white drawing and it looked horrible as a color wash.

So I began stabbing at it with my paint brush:

 

Whew. I made it past the buildings on the right hand side of the street without screwing it up.

But it’s the buildings on the left side of the street that are the heart and soul of this picture. OMG OMG OMG I hope I don’t gunk this up…

I look at the finished painting and I think to myself, “I should have left it half-done.”  (Is it too late to un-paint it?)

Now the only thing I have to decide is how to crop it.  Like this?

 

And even after all this, I might not use it at all.  Because  I really hate it.  Why, oh why did I ever quit my job as the Bioterrorism Administrator of the Tea Association of the USA in order to illustrate a Damn France Book??

So that’s what I did today: try, and try, and try again.

And that’s A Day In The Life of A Crappy Illustrator.

 

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These are Four Views of My Desk. It’s where I work and all. And I will be avoiding it for a while.Because I am waiting a Verdict.

I sent my Damn France Book proposal and sample chapters to my agent on Tuesday and heard from her that she got it the next day.

And until she calls and says she loooooves it, everybody in my house is under strict orders to not get on my nerves.

Until then, Top Cat is keeping me sedated with grilled cheese sandwiches and VH1’s I Love the 80s on endless loop.

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quiche

I’ve spent my day working on this illustration for my France book (the part where I shop at the charcuterie for a picnic lunch) and it’s brought back memories from deep, deep down in my past, those dark years in the late 1970s when quiche first came to America.  I remember it as a dismal time when burnt orange was the color scheme, polyester was the fabric,  Tony Orlando and Dawn were the soundtrack, and Pet Rocks were the “in” joke, but wouldn’t you love to go back to an era when our biggest worry was whether or not real men ate quiche?

What I learned today about living a creative life is that it is very difficult to draw snails in a way that makes them look like they are having fun while looking edible as they bop around the border of a charcuterie illustration.  So if you can possibly avoid having to draw snails in any amusing, light hearted fashion, you should by all means do so.  It’s not a huge life lesson, but that doesn’t make it any less of a life lesson.

Elaine Stritch, the Broadway actress,  once told an interviewer about the one piece of advise that her father ever gave her about life: “Be very careful what you name a horse.”

And don’t try to draw cute snails.

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