Garden book stuff



Last minute edits, changes of heart, epiphanies, and overlooked mistakes…it’s been a week of 16-hour work days for me but it was worth it. That neat stack of paper that you see on my dining room table is 184 pages of the Damn Garden Book layed out, pasted down, glued in, and numbered.

Dare I say it? When I meet my editor at Bloomsbury tomorrow (today — it’s 12:08am) my work is done. DONE.

Except for the proofs and whatever else pops up between now and when Barnes and Noble puts it face-out in the Gardening Section next Spring.

I’m so tired that it feels as if I’m typing this drunk. Thank you one and all for your Comments these past 2 weeks, which cheered me so much you can’t even know.

Well. I can’t let you head off into the week end without giving you something besides words…

…so, Dear Reader Casey asked if I would care to give you all a peak at an art work from the Rejects Binder, from the mountain of paintings I did that did not make it into the Damn Garden Book.

This is an old, old painting I did waaaay back, about 8 years ago.


As you can see, I chopped off the top section because that’s my old way of doing foliage (and the Grumbacher paints look pretty muddy to me now). This is what it looked like after I rescued it after 8 years of painting my brains out:


And then I didn’t have a place for it in the DGB. So as of now, it is orphaned with all the other pictures that don’t have a story.

THIS JUST IN: I got an early morning email from Casey, who asked me to do my tea bag thing for this pic, to show scale. So here it is:


You might also remember this:


This was my idea for the cover of the Damn Garden Book, before Bloomsbury showed me their much better idea.

You might be interested in how I re-purposed this. Yes?

SPOILER ALERT: I needed to put in poinsettias for narrative purposes. You’ll understand when you read the last chapter of the DGB.

Anyhoo, it now looks like this (call it “magical realism”, since it IS a portrait of a South American garden experience):


Feel free to discuss.

I can’t stay awake a minute longer.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Sweet dreams.


P.S. I will be out of my “office” until early afternoon, so I won’t be here to approve Comments. But please, send me your thoughts any way, and by tea time I’ll have your bones mots up!  (Auto correct. Bon mots. Serves me right for sticking in some French here.) Your good words. Merci.


Read more

Hello there! Please come in. This is very exciting for me, to be the subject of your . . . what did you say it was? Oh, right.  A  documentary. About Real Real Housewives of Long Island. Righty-ho. Just let me change into something more comfortable, something without sequins. I misunderstood your project. But I can do “real”, if that’s what it takes to get the cameras rolling.

There. I’m all for real, right down to my T J Maxx sneakers. But I’m still going to hold in my stomach. heh heh. Let’s not go crazy with the “real” stuff.

I’m working in my dining room today. . .


. . . same as I’ve been doing  yesterday, and the day before that, and the several days before that. I’ll probably be here tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and maybe a few days after the day after tomorrow. I’m making a Damn Garden Book. Calm down. I know this is mind-numbingly exciting, but we have hours and hours of me standing over a light box like this ahead, so pace yourself.

You’re so cute, the way you say “olden day”, but I assure you, a light box is very present-day technology. And so are my tools, as far as I know, but I don’t get out of the house much:


So this is how I spend my day. I turn on my light box which, as you see, has a piece of lined notebook paper taped to it:


My publisher, Bloomsbury, has sent me a stack of blank-ish sheets of paper . . .


. . . which have  a very pale blue line to indicate the “trim” of each page of the Damn Garden Book —  every bit of art work and text that I place on these sheets has to be composed within those pale blue lines. There are also tiny “register” marks in each corner for later, when the sheets are back in the Bloomsbury production department, so they are not my concern. Whew.


I place each sheet on my light box . . .


. . . and now you can see how that piece of lined notebook paper comes in handy! It’s how I know that everything I lay out will be on a straight line!


I print the text out right here at home, on my own $100 printer, because I’m the only person who has the VivoScript font, the type I designed myself that changes Times New Roman into my own handwriting. So I cut out the bits of text that I need for each page, and I tape it into place. I take the art work that I made for each page, and I glue it into place. Voila: a page of the Damn Garden Book is done! Well,in real life it does take a bit longer than one two three Presto!, but you get the gist of it.

I keep the original art work in plastic sleeves in binders:


The bottom binder is the art that I will actually be putting into the Damn Garden Book. The top binder is art that I won’t be putting into the Damn Garden Book, either because the illustration no longer fits into the narrative or because the piece  is an earlier or ugly version of a final illustration.

There you go again, with the “olden day” stuff. How about we just call my book-making process “artisanal” instead? Yeah, like the way they make beer in Brooklyn.

Anyway: Once I have the text and art properly placed, I take a sheet of heavy vellum — yes, I order it from afar and have it specially trimmed to 10 inch by 10 inch:


. . . and I place it on top of the page I just created.


The vellum protects the fragile watercolor, and it is a space where I or the ensuing production director can make notes. In this case, I am adding instructions for the production director:


I repeat this process over and over and over and over and etc. until I have 174 pages. I’m almost almost there!

So far, I have finished this many pages of the Damn Garden Book:


Yes, that’s six chapters DONE. Well, DONE-ish.

There are always last minute edits, such as changes in page order and cutting out digressions that seemed entertaining at the time but, in the final read-thru, aren’t. However, this far into the process, there are still  last-last-last-last minute changes or adjustments that need to be made, which is why I use pink Post-It flags to indicate where I’ll need to go back and fix. Yes, it does seem like making the Damn Garden Book will ever end. No, those are not tears in my eyes. There’s no crying in book-making!

Oh good, now you get why I have to have a glass of Piont Grigio always at hand.

Now, so far you’ve only seen the dining room fun stuff. Please step this way, where I can show you the den fun stuff. I’ve saved the best for last.


Yes, those are the final three chapters of the Damn Garden Book on my desk. Two of them need one last careful proofreading before I commit to printing them out on my own printer and laying them out; and one needs a whole page of new text because at the last-last-last-last minute it became heartbreakingly clear that the old text stank.

No! It’s won’t be boring at all! O.K., yes, you’ll probably shoot a lot of hours of me sitting still, staring at the computer screen,  cursing to myself; but once in a while I take a break to watch The West Wing on Netflix and that’s quite dramatic . . .

Oh well, I see you’re packing up. O.K., so my days don’t have a lot of action  in them. But I assure you that whatever my life lacks in liveliness is more than made up for in stress.

Still no?

Then can you at least let everyone know that the Damn Garden Book is available for pre-order?


Thank you! And Bye-Bye! Don’t trip over a cat on your way out! 


Read more


The back story: We shucked the first fresh Long Island – picked corn on the cob last weekend for our first true BBQ of the season, and Taffy took the time to haul, one by one, the husks of our freshly-picked corns on the cobs to his favorite spot in the backyard just so he could…


…dive into the joyousness of the moment.

Oh my DoG, I love that cat. And he wants me to tell you this:


It’s not all glamour being a Really Real Housewife of Long Island. Vivian’s whine about the burdens of HEROIC book-making in 90 degrees of Long Island swelter will follow. Stay tuned.

I will be back here later today with the whole story.

Read more

I was so proud of myself for getting this blog post done on Thursday, so you Dear Readers would have it on your screens first thing Friday morning. Then it was after lunch time and I had not gotten any Comments yet, which is weird, until I remembered that I’d forgotten to schedule it for publication. Which I just did, at approx. 12:44 Eastern time today, Friday May 22. So so so so sorry.P1010234

So now that we all know that this lovely purple-blossomed tree is an Eastern Redbud (thank you, Deborah, janet b., and a quiet life — see: last week’s Comments), many of you, probably none of you, might be wondering why I mistook it for a Paulownia. I’m so glad you asked! Because it gives me the opportunity to show you my photos of what I think are probably Paulownias!


This is the Boulevard St. Germain in May and yes, that’s probably a Paulownia in blossom on the right.


Wait. Is it? Doesn’t this look like another (but much prettier) Eastern Redbud?

I am what I dreaded becoming, as a writer of a Damn Garden Book: the kind of person who frets over the identification of trees which that person would never have bothered to notice before she wrote a Damn Garden Book.

I took this picture in May of 2013, when I was in Paris on a garden fact-finding mission. Mind you, I have been in Paris in many previous Mays but on this visit I was looking at the city with gardening eyes.  And Lo and Behold, the Ville Lumiere is lousy with purple blossoming things in May.






Aside from Wisteria, and what is probably not a Paulownia on the Bld. St-Germian, I think all the other trees photographed are Paulownias. Sadly, I happen to know a thing or two about Chestnut trees, some of which I am about to tell you now.

In the photo above, the tree in the foreground on the left is a blossoming Horse Chestnut. In the photo of the Boulevard Saint Germain (way above), the tree on the left is a blossoming Red Horse Chestnut, a hybrid of the Horse Chestnut and the Red Buckeye. There are about 100,000 Horse Chestnut trees growing in Paris. *Sigh* You can read all about the Aesculus hippocastanum in my Damn Garden Book. Sounds fun, eh?

To make up for all that tree talk I am giving you this, from an ordinary public park in Paris:


 Change of Topic


This May I went to a book event for Bethany Frankel, star of The Real Housewives of New York and author of four self-help books, the latest being I Suck At Relationships So You Don’t Have To.


The event was held at the Bryant Library of Roslyn, Long Island and, as you can see, the room was packed. The reason I went was because I wanted to make myself feel really, really bad by comparing her book event to the fact that the Bryant Library is my local library and they turn me down whenever I propose holding a book event there. And I must say, as far as the fueling of my self-loathing went, Mission Accomplished!

I also wanted to see what helpful hints I could learn about holding a book event that passes Bryant Library muster and all I can say is, it helps to be Bethany Frankel. She is charming, smart, funny, motor-mouthed articulate, and personable. She was just wonderful.  You might not know that she made decent money in her work life for the first time only when she sold her start-up brand — the Skinny Girl line of booze for women —  for $100,000,000, when she was 41. One hundred million dollars…when she was 41 (in lady-entrepreneur years, that’s practically dead).


But as she spoke to the room (standing up, even though a comfy chair was standing by for the convenience of her stiletto heeled footsies) there was nothing in her public demeanor or in her response during the Q&A (that went everywhere from her business success to her parenting philosophy to what’s up with Sonja) that broadcasted that she is stinking, filthy rich. Down-to-Earth, is what I’m saying, as a Bryant Library reject whose very best ideas pan out to minimum wage. She was very impressive, is what I’m saying, as a wise person who knows how many Chestnut trees are growing in Paris.

It was while I was burning with resentment…I mean, listening to the delightful Bethany, that I got the happiest thought of my life, what Einstein called der glücklichste Gedanke meines Lebens (when he figured out general relativity in 1907 SEE! I KNOW STUFF!).

If I ever hope to have a shot at filling up the meeting room at the Bryant Library, I have to become a Real Housewife. And that’s when I wrote out a list of my qualifications, fully intending to brighten your Get Away Day with an uproarious post that the critics would call Hilarious! Transgressive! The usual spectacle of existential dread!

But then I got sidetracked with the whole Purple in Paris thing and I know you want to get a head start on the unofficial Start of Summer holiday, so I will not hold you back from your (and, ahem, mine) margueritas any longer. The Housewives of Long Island side-splitter can wait another week.

Happy Memorial Day, everyone.


James Alexander Malloy, C Co., 175th Infantry, 29th Division, killed in action in Normandy, France, on June 16, 1944.

Read more

All the live-long day.

There was nothing wrong with this picture. But then the gardeners at the Chelsea Physic Garden in London redesigned this bed of pom pom trees last year, and my illustration became too out-dated to use in the Damn Garden Book. The reason I didn’t just bury this pic in my Failure File is because I love the stones. I must have had a good day when I painted this back in 2012, because I love the way I got the stones to look greenish-gray — and I also liked the way the dirt came out. This is very flukey, when the Muse shows up and you get boring bits of stone and dirt to look “right”. So I wanted to save it.


So, yes, this is another Rescue Story. And yeah, it seems to me, too, that I’ve never gotten one illustration for the Damn Garden Book to look right the first time. That’s why I swear that this will be my last illustrated travel memoir-ish. It’s just too depressing to keep failing, day after day after day…I have better things to do. I think. Maybe. Any hoo.

After cutting out the now-historically inaccurate bit,  I went to work:


Blend, blend, blend in the scissor’d edge:


Instead of fussy pom pom trees, I’m going to put in some decrepitude (see: last week’s post), to make it look the way it did on my first visit to the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, in 1999. Mind you, this manuscript must be completed by today, Friday May 8; and I am painting this on April 23. It’s this kind of perfectionism, which causes one to make ridiculously time-intensive last minute editorial decisions, that makes any kind of creative person with a deadline to become the kind of person that everyone warns is very touchy.


Whilst I am being all Impressionist here, I would like you to pay attention to the stump of pom pom tree, that brown stick on the left hand side of the round shrub that stands out like a turd in bowl of pea soup (see below):


My first idea was to paint over it with very, very dark green blades of dark green weeds, but that looked too obvious. So I painted over that mistake with white acrylic paint:


And then decided to do the same for all the other too-dark green blades of weeds I’d already painted it:


Well, I regretted the fix-up.


So I did the only thing that a very tense, touchy, under-deadline pressured author/illustrator could do:


The picture was too monotonous — too much blades of weedy things sticking straight up. It lacked texture. Also, that ball of boxwood had begun to annoy me. It lacked decrepitude.


And so, with an appropriate amount of cursing, I started over….AGAIN.

Blend, blend, blend in the scissor’d edge:


This time, I made very faint pencil marks to plot out TEXTURE:


I made this picture dark so as to show you the faint pencil lines. It’s ugly, but effective. I think that’s pretty much my Philosophy of Illustration in a nutshell.

So far, I’ve been painting for about three hours. I know this because I had not intended to spend all day on this thing, so I’m watching the clock, hope hope hoping that this damn picture WoRKS OUT.


Working wet-in-wet, I drop in some background…


…before I put in the foreground:


When I was 40 years old, I made a conscious decision to change my handwriting.

Ever since I’d learned to write, I had been making a capital “I” that looked like a little round circle. Everybody has some quirk in their handwriting, but this — and the way I made a small “r”(it looked like a pointed stick; Oprah does it too) — had become very irritating to me. So I simply made a New Year’s Resolution and forced myself to change my dopey little curlicue “I” into a tall, slender, stand-alone “I” SANS SERIF, and I began printing a small “r” whenever I needed a Latin rhotic.  I also didn’t care for the way I made a small “g”, too, until I learned that my figure-8 small “g” meant that I was very intellectually creative, so I kept it.

I mention this because I am also trying to change my watercolor painting handwriting. I’m trying to be looser, more Impressionistic. So at this stage of the illustration, I was feeling very confident that I was headed for Impressionistic success with this painting:


But, in the end, I saw, clearly, that I blew it:


Not for the first time, did my gut wrench over a Damn Garden Book illustration.

So, You Will NOT BELIEVE What  I Did Next!


Yes, I ripped it apart — literally — and STARTED OVER.


Now, this did not happen immediately. I had other obligations — life stuff, and a re-write of the whole London chapter — that I had to pay attention too; and, truth to tell, I was hoping that that last pic would grow on me. But, no, I have too much intellectual honesty and artistic integrity for that.

And, so, five days later, we been again, again:




DONE. I know it’s a mix of persnickety manuscript-illumination and loosey-Roherschadt blots, but it works for me. (That obvious scissor-edge in the dark green front end can be eliminated digitally when the book goes into production, which is OK by me, although I prefer to do it manually, e.g.; I defy you to pick out the scissor edge on the whole right side.)

And I didn’t let the pom pom trees go to waste, either. I put them into their up-dated bed, like so:


I’m DONE. I hand in the complete manuscript today, so from now on in the only fixes I’ll be making on the Damn Garden Book will be inserting (or deleting) commas, accent marks, and redundancies; and not getting annoyed that the proof reader keeps marking my capitalizations of the Four Seasons even tho I sent a note telling her (it’s usually a her) to leave them STET.

And then I am DONE.


I’m going to take up a new hobby, and no, it will not be gardening. But, as an offshoot of writing this book, I am thinking about learning the beautiful language of Brazil. Portuguese.

Have a great weekend, everybody. And have a caipirinha on me.

Read more

I have to be honest with you today, Dear Readers. Last Week Top Cat bought me a gift from Ye Olde Fine Wine and Liquor Store: whipped cream flavored vodka from France. It was kind of a joke. I mean, really — whipped cream flavored vodka? Seriously. What would anyone over the age of 15 want with whipped cream flavored vodka?

Last night I opened my gift and discovered that whipped cream flavored vodka tastes like the best soda pop you’ve ever had; like liquid bubblegum; like cotton candy with ice cubes; like birthday cake in a glass. It was like drinking Pixie Stix, and we all know that Pixie Stix come in a six-pack. Last night it was all about the “whipped cream”.

This morning I am dealing with the “vodka” part of that equation. So, Dear Readers, please lower your expectations this morning, please don’t make any sudden movements, and please, I beg of you, keep anything foody or shiny out of my sight.

I’ve been meaning to talk about my love of decrepitude for a while, so it serves me right to make this the Topic of the Day.

I love decrepitude in a garden. Not ruin, not neglect, not that other thing that means something like disintegration. (My head hurts. I’m not going to spend much time this week searching for the mot juste.)

Wait. Let me start again.

I painted a remembrance this week, of a garden visit that I’ve always treasured for its beautiful decrepitude. It was a walled garden in London.


I’ve never painted decrepitude, but I had a feeling that it would involve a lot of yellowy rusty-colored blobs.


And scraggly shrubbery:


I tried to keep the yellows and the rusty bits composed because, while nature can get away with being monotonous, an illustration can’t. So I blobbed strategically.


See that blob in the lower right corner above?

Below, is me making that blob look sticky and brambly:


At this point, I was becoming concerned that there was a lot of same-old same-old brambly-ness going on:


Don’t ask me why, but I dotted in some white acrylic paint to brighten and break up the monotonous texture. I also started painting in the background, which I wanted to be really dark because the pic needs contrast:


This is me, making more sticks:


It’s really not that hard. Less is more. I have to keep reminding myself that.


I forget why I took this photo (below). I know I wanted to show something…


…maybe I wanted you to be inside this decrepitude, the way I was in my mind the whole while I was painting it. Because when you back away, like this…


…I think you lose the “there” there. This is one of those paintings that I hated to crop. I like the little dabs of try-out colors that all my watercolors have by the time they are finished. All that marginalia tells a story, the story of how this pic was painted.

So that’s my picture of decrepitude. I made a few more paintings like it, each one more or less, mostly less, successful in portraying the state of lovely decomposition that I call decrepitude. And “decomposition” isn’t the right word either.

This might be the hangover talking, because I’ve now passed the stage of intense, intense focus on not throwing up and am entering  the stage of recovery that the experts call “feeling weepy about climate change and the fate of the polar bears” but this garden didn’t want to be weedy and overgrown. It wanted to be beautiful, and be admired. It wanted to be great, like it once was. But it just didn’t have gardeners who loved it enough to keep it in shape. So there was something so brave and epic about the way it flourished, best it could.


Thank you for not making any loud sounds, or frying bacon, or asking me why I don’t remember buying that $495.00 paint-by-number Paris street scene off of eBay last night. Much appreciated.


Read more

Well. After spending four days slaving over a Book Cover painting that Bloomsbury rejected, I needed to retreat to my comfort zone. So bring on the Triscuit!





This is the third part of a Triscuit Tryptich for the New Orleans chapter of The Damn Garden Book:


Which brings me to a sad story. As you know, I have always called my Triscuit-sized miniature paintings “Triscuits”.

Fun Fact: Triscuits were the favorite snack cracker of the degenerate William Burroughs, who deciphered the etymology of his and my fave snack food as deriving from the French: Tres Cuit. Awesome.

Having endured a pseudo-trademark threat of legal action for a photograph I posted on my blog in 2012 (long story, TBA) I decided to make my relationship with Triscuit legit. I wrote what’s called a “begging letter” to get permission from a conglomerate called Mondelez (Mon-dell-ease) to use the name “Triscuit” in print and bloggy-type postings. I prepared a package that included my 2 books, each Post-It [Trademark] tagged for the pages that feature my “Triscuits”, and sent it hither to the land called The Nouveau Jersey.

I also included a fulll-color photocopy “gallery” of unpublished Triscuits, to impress Mondelez with my artistry:


Three months later I had a telephone conversation with a delightful representative on Mondelez who had reviewed my packet and request, and said that she could not offer me official permission to use the trademarked name “Triscuit”, but also would not bar me from using the trademarked name “Triscuit” either. She said, “Just use your best judgement.”

That is incredibly sweet. In other words, I’m allowed to use the term “Triscuit” in print and blog until Mondelez sends me a Cease and Desist order. I’m OK with that.

The downside of all this is that, ever since I took my original art in Triscuit form to Staples to get a color copy to include in my packet/plea to Mondelez (see above, photo of color copy of my gallery of Triscuits) , I have not laid eyes on these original Triscuits. Somehow, I have lost them all. I’ve called Staples to ask if my Triscuits were found in the color copier, and called them again, and called them again — the Print Dept. has been very kind about keeping all their staff alerted to any scum bag who might, just might, show up to return some original art work he found left behind on the Self-Serve color copier. I also have thrown TWO Find ‘Em parties in my house, and nope…nothing has turned up.

It’s been four months. I have numbed myself to the truth that these treasured Triscuits are gone forever.

Life is a mystery.

Anyhow, life goes on, and against Top Cat’s plea to Keep It Short, I am going to elongate this post for one more story.

I received a package in the mail yesterday, and when I ripped it open I found this:


Of course I recognized the handwriting, and the wonderful hand-wrapping:


I tore the gift paper apart (double-sided! Fancy!):


Turned the treasure over and voila:


If you have been following Liz Gilbert’s blog, you know that this is [an uncorrected proof for limited distribution/review only of] her hotly anticipated new book Big Magic; Creative Living Beyond Fear.

From what I’ve read so far, this book explodes with the charm and voice of her wonderful first-person self that we loved in Committed and Eat,Pray, Love. I will be devouring this book ASAP and I will be reporting on its wondrousness next week. Stay tuned.

P.S. Bloomsbury, having rejected my own  painstakingly awesome cover illustration (see last week’s post), just sent me their own idea of a book cover for The Damn Garden Book.  I must admit, it’s fabulous. It is sooooo much better than what I did. I love it. I’ll be showing you that, too, all in good time…all in good time.



Read more

As you might remember, last week I left you with this incomplete painting for the cover of my Damn Garden Book:


What I am about to show you in this post took three days to accomplish, if “accomplish” is the right word. Hmmmm…let’s say that what I am about to show you took three days to ruin and rescue, ruin AGAIN and rescue AGAIN. And, by the way, in the end, my publisher didn’t care for it. Ha! I’m re-doing this baby over my shriveled with anxiety/exhausted by self-doubt remains!

I think most what I am about to show you is self-explanatory but it’s not very likely that I’ll be sitting around here, loading up the visuals, without butting into your experience of the ruin and rescue that is pretty much my bread and butter as an artist.

I begin by applying liquid masking fluid comme ca:

P1000911Joan, this is for you: When I turn on the light box, the sketch that I made on tracing paper appears, like magic, onto my 90-lb. watercolor paper (see below). I use this as a guide before I paint, but I must paint with the light box off (forgive me for repeating myself, but its the only way to see the true color of the paint).


I hum my Painting Stand-Out Leaves song as I paint what I hope will be stand-out leaves:


I have to constantly check the colors that I’ve already laid down on the other side, to make sure that I’m balancing light and dark greens, but not too balancing:P1000916

To get the dreamy look of blue-ish-green verdure that I love (but use sparingly), I have to work wet-in-wet:




I now have the idea of introducing yellow into the picture. I start on the previously painted side…


…and I put an equally bright yellow on my “new” side (see below). I also note that the “stand-out” leaves do not “stand out”, so I add one more blob of yellow to appease my sense of composition. first, I paint in a white undercoat with acrylic paint:


But I can tell that the undercoat is very, uh, textural (gloppy), so I cut out a poise and glue it into place:


(Jeanie: I use good old Elmer’s glue.) Please not the lovely blue-ish-green billow I put in above the yellow whatsits:


Since I am desperate to not screw up now, I do the sensible thing (for once) and I make a “practice” painting of the banana leaves I want to do next, to add some texture that will balance those spiky shoots across the way. Note how I edited out the droopy frond because it looks stupid:


It is obvious to me that I need to raise the banana leaves a little bit higher to balance — but not too balance — the composition:







Nope. It’s not right (see below). I’m starting my fourth day of painting this damn thing, and the first thing I realize is that all the stuff I had just put in isn’t enough to give this imaginary garden some pizzazz.  I need to go back and add some pizzazz elements down in the lower left hand corner. Yes, I will sacrifice my dreamy blue-ish-green billow for the good of the many:


I know exactly where to find my pizzazz elements — in my huge (note tea bag for scale) binder of failed illustrations that I never throw away — for exactly times like this:


I dig out a Japanese lantern, some spiffy striped leaves I saw all over New Orleans, and a poinsettia tree that I remembered from Rio, and I arranged them so I could see if that’s how I want to go:


Yep. That’ll do.

Because my brain is numb from how much damn time it’s taking to paint this damn thing, I become distracted by the sight of a very, very small beetle making his way across my desk, and I take pity on him. He looks faint with hunger, the way he is wobbling from step to itty bitty bitty step. So I go to the kitchen and I put a speck of honey on the tip of a knife, and I smear it on the desk. Mr. Beetle has no problem finding it (well, I did put it right in front of him).


Mr. Beetle eats, and then turns around and moseys off whence he came, and I still can’t face another whole day of painting in terror. So now is an excellent time for me to mention my new favorite TV show:


Google Images are really small.



I  totally escape when I watch this show. It’s about being the last survivor of a world-wide virus that has killed 99.9999% of humans. I watch it and my mind is completely soothed with its premise. Imagine. 99.9999% of humanity gone. Disappeared. Ceased to being.

No war. No terrorists.  No Kardashians. No slow drivers in the left lane. No rappers. No politicians. Ahhhhhh. What a paradise. Seriously. I project all my anxieties into this TV show, and the silence and emptiness that comes back to me is Nirvana. I also laugh out loud at the hi-jinks which ensue when one is The Last Man on Earth.

I’m also a fan of Kristen Schaal, who is one of the leads:


Even thinking about The Last Man of Earth puts me in a good mood. I’m even almost ready to go on with this post!

However, my sweet Top Cat is always urging me to Keep It Short so, this is a fine time to take a break from reading, maybe dial up The Last Man on Earth on your On Demand channel, and continue with Part II in the post that follows this one when you are ready for more damn painting.



Read more

Picking up where we left off: I’m about to have a heart attack because I can’t seem to get this book cover painting done right the first OR second time arrrrrghghghghghghghghg.


I am now starting my third day of painting. I am so intent on seeing if I can make the big changes that need to be made on this thing that I FORGET to take pictures of the process until I’m at the very end:


As you can see, I’ve cut out a nice arrangement of these stripy New Orleans leaf-plants and glued them on top of my beautiful blue-ish green billow. The I painted a  Japanese lantern, cut it out, made a slot for it to slip in behind the white hollyhocks or whatever you them, and put it in place. And then I felt I needed two more stripy leaves, and arranged them in front of the lantern, as you see above. Ta-Da:


Now I see that the tree and the background blobby (on the right) ruins the whole pic. I am totally depressed by this and I know I need a shot of something to lift my spirits but, sadly, I cannot cocktail-ify and paint at the same time so I wipe my tears and Do What Needs To Be Done.








Oh crap. Although I’m not yet committed to this patch-up (it’s still a loose piece of cut-up watercolor paper), I can see that if I want to commit to it I’ll have to blue-up the “sky” under the palm tree to balance the amount of blue paint I’ve unintentionally loaded up under my wisteria arbor:


This is tricky, but luckily I bought a  new paint brush and it’s working like a beaut!



Whew. Nothing bled. Next step, remove masking and paint in wisteria:


It looks OK to me.

P1000999So NOW I commit and glue the cut-out in place (Yes, Joan; sadly, cutting out and gluing over is the only tried and true method for me). Then I do some blending-in painting:


I check again, and it looks like I need to take away some of the foliage from the arbor. For this, I break out the acrylic paint:


I use the acrylic here because I’m not going to paint anything over it, so I don’t care how gloppy it is. When the pic is scanned and digitized, it will be easy to white-out this mess when they do touch-ups (usually, in my case, to remove scotch tape marks and cat hair stuck in such tape).

Jeanie asked how my cut-outs can look so seamless when done. First, it’s because nobody who looks at an illustration is looking for cut-outs. Second, it’s because I do my best to blend in the cut-outs and I must say, I do it very well. Lastly, it’s because when the piece is scanned, out gets a crazy amount of light that negates the tell-tale shadows of cut-outs and, when it’s inspected for publication, any tiny shadow or blip can be digitally erased.

P. S. White-on-whte cut-outs are the hardest to camouflage.

FINAL STEP: The overhanging boughs. Here?


Or here?
P1010008The stakes are high. These leaves can NOT go wrong. There is no place to start over, fix, or re-do if I screw up these leaves. So I make another sketch:


I can’t put it off any longer. I have to start painting these final, fateful leaves. I take it s-l-o-w. I remember to breathe. I steady my hand.



Welcome to my Gardens of Awe and Folly!!!

Yes, I see a few more things that need minor touch-ups (those wisteria flowers were not worth going to all the trouble of honing a toothpick after all — they need to be beefed up). But alas, my work is done and I’m happy. The way I arranged the title, sub-title, and author name was all up to me, and I decided that this is the lay-out that works best.

And yes, Bloomsbury wasn’t thrilled with it. They want something more, something that will add a note of exotic travel. I say it can’t be done. I say it doesn’t have to be done — the word “traveler” is in the subtitle.

But that’s for next week. Today, Dear Readers, we celebrate Friday with an ice cold beverage that makes us feel as if we are The Last Man on Earth. Or whatever your own fantasy of paradise is.


Read more

*** Oooops! I forgot to open the Comments!***

***As of 2:30 pm Friday Comments are open for five days!***

Don’t worry, Dear Readers. Taffy has been fed and watered to his liking this morning so we will be undisturbed for the duration of this post by a pesky but-insky buff-colored kitteh. I think. I hope.

Last week I showed you some book cover ideas that I had sketched out. They are only sketches, the roughest of ideas. And after some discussion with my book editor and the art department and the marketing staff, we all decided that this was the most user-friendly:


P.S.: the title of the book is not Garden Book. That’s what we call a “place holder” until I come across the brilliant title that my editor and the marketing department and the sales department all agree is the perfect “selling” title. (P.S.: I already have that title, which I will unveil at a future date. Note to Joan: Shshshshshshshhhh.)

Anyhoo. Bloomsbury has asked me to give them an actual book cover by April 10, in time for the company’s international sales rep meeting, to have something to show them to get them excited about The Damn Garden Book. So now it’s time for me to turn a rough sketch into a finished work.

First, I made another rough sketch, based on the previous half-baked idea (see above). This time I thought harder about colors, textures, composition, and the limits of my own skills:


I cut out the area that I’d have to keep blank for the title, sub-title, and author’s name; now I know exactly what kind of “frame” I have to design around. For this sketch, I am picturing specific flowers, plants, shrubs, and trees.

The next step is to draw the actual flowers, plants, shrubs, and trees in the forms that I will actually paint:


I drew this all on tracing paper because I intend to paint it on a light box:


I will paint the right side of the cover first because I am left-handed.

But before I can apply paint I have to use masking liquid to reserve areas that I want to paint over. Here I am reserving flower shapes — using a toothpick — on the bottom edge of the cover:


I turn off the light box when I apply color because if I left it on, I wouldn’t be able to see the true value of the hue.


With a tooth pick that I careful trimmed to a fine point, I next lay down more masking liquid in the hopes of achieving a neat-o effect…an effect that I haven’t tried much, and which has never turned out all that appealing before. if I mess it up, there’s not a lot to lose: I’ll just start all over (big whoop — I have so far used up only 15 minutes of my life).



I like it! Then I remembered that I should have left masking over the topper-most fleurs, to “save” them from the next application of paint, so I had to go back and re-mask. But so far, I’m very happy with the experiment.


I like seeing stems, so I try another way of making them, this time just by drawing pencil lines over a layer of green-yellow watercolor and painting in the negative space (see green leafy plant below):


And next, just so the illustration won’t look like it was painted by a two-trick pony, I try out another experiment. I do a light wash and then I “pick up” bits of wet paint with a bit of rolled-up TP. I have never done this technique before, but I’ve thought it out carefully, and I think I can pull it off.


WHEW. So far, I haven’t wrecked the pic (see below)…so far. (I will be leaving in all the masking I’ve applied in the various areas until I get to the end of this day’s work.)


I want to put in some long spiky leaves here to add texture to the image. I have no idea how to do long spiky leaves, but you know me: Let’s give it a whack. See what happens. You ever know. Maybe I’m a genius on a roll.




These long spiky leaves (below) look terrible. So guess what time it is! It’s time for a rescue!!




Yes. This is much more like it:


By the way, from here on in I can not use the light box because of the double layer of watercolor paper that I have to use in order to salvage this operation.


I forgot to take photos of how I painted in a very pale blue sky atop the greenery above, and over the top of the image, across to the other side,but it’s there. I need a sky because I am proceeding to the point in the composition were I need to paint in background stuff against a blue sky. Also, I didn’t think it would look right to paint a “garden” like this against an all-white background (as in original sketch).

So. On to the final touches of Side One:


Lastly, remove all masking, step back, and reveal:


I like the white “flowers” so much that I’m thinking about leaving them as is. I had wanted to paint this with a very [seemingly] light touch, and I’m happy that I’ve been able to rein in my tendency to over-saturate my colors. I think that so far, it’s good.

From here on in, messing up is not an option.There are hanging branches with leaves that I want to paint over the blue sky on this side (see original sketch idea, way above, with hanging leaves on the left side — those are the leaves I want to paint) , but I need to rest. This has taken me 4 1/2 hours to paint — something of a speed record for me because I dried all the paint and masking liquid with a hair dryer.

I don’t usually use a hair dryer because I don’t have the outlets (I live in a 100-year old house) but for this I used two extension cords to plug my Conair into the guest room’s outlet across the hall.

And no, there is not path (see original sketch idea, way above) because I couldn’t figure out a way to insert it into this composition without lousing up the perspective, which is tilted forward, towards the viewer (which you might have not noticed).


But Taffy did.

Read more