Garden book stuff

Whoever is in charge of naming new paint colors: Bravo!
P1000476I stopped by Lowe’s (the building supply mega-store) the other day (to pick up more birdseed) and on my way out I passed by the Paint Dept.  I dropped my 35-poung bag of bird food and spent a very pleasant half hour picking through the new paint brochures.

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I know macarons have been all the rage in Paris lately, but are they all that well known in the U. S. of A.?

I do love the art direction of paint brochures — the photos capture an entire mood and sense of place and socio-economic aspiration. I get lost in entertaining digressive thoughts when I contemplate the story of each paint brochure photo, but my happiest time is going through the paint chips on display:

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Within this array of color there are hues with the names of Blanket, Off Broadway, Inhale (and an Exhale), Luxury Linen, Poetry in the Park, Modern History, Corner Pub, and Porcelain Pear. Sad to say, but the lovely-sounding Porcelain Pear is the color of thrown up lima beans. If you can correctly guess the hue of any of these other color names, I will be very impressed indeed.  Because frankly, I’m not sure that the color-namers are even in the same room as the colors they are naming. But still, for these evocative mini-poems to be found in Lowe’s Paint Dept., I say Bravo!

However, today, the only color we are exploring in-depth is gray. Hand-made gray.

I make my own grays because I think the hand-made grays have more personality than store-boughten ones.

I start by mixing  Umber and Cyan Blue. I’m using my cheap, powdery Grumbacher paints because I like the texture of them, and I love the way they interact with water. Until Carol Gillott of ParisBreakfasts told me to up-grade my tools two years ago, I only used Grumbacher. I know their properties very well, and still like them for certain applications — but I don’t use the greens and yellows much at all anymore. Windsor-Newton is better.

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Now it’s time to make a bottle cap of gray (because I work small), using bottle caps from  quart bottles of Gatorade . I start by making a puddle of brown paint:

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Then I add dribbles of blue and a drop of white. Note:
a little white gauche goes a loooong way, so use it sparingly:

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Mix together and Voila! I’ve got a bottle cap of one-of-a-kind gray:

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Now, you remember the problem from last week:

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I have to get rid of those wonky railing shadows and, while I’m at it, I might as well re-do the cat so that it looks more like “cat” and less like “orange blob”.

So I cut out the offending bits…

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…and started over. First, I re-drew the offending railing shadows, which ought to have looked like this in the first place:

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Quick digestion shot of my railing sketch illuminated on the light box to show you the trial-and-error of my ways:

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Whenever I draw  a stinky line, I cut it out and tape in a new bit of tracing paper and  draw it correctly — I hope you can see that my “sketch” is actually a collage of about seven scraps of stop-and-start-again tracing paper. I’m not smart enough to get it right in one swell foop, so I give myself a break and destroy the bad while keeping the good — all without guilt.

I used tracing paper for this sketch not because I was tracing it (I WISH) but because I will be painting this picture on the light box, so I need a light-weight paper to let the light shine through it so I can paint the pic without drawing pencil lines on the art work. I never paint on a lift box because I’m a girl who loves outlines, but as this is an illustration of shadows, and shadows, in nature, don’t have outlines, I have to paint “painterly”, for once.

Well, here’s the tricky part. I have to adjust my bottle cap of gray paint by adding more blue, or a different blue, or more water, or maybe a molecule of black, to get the matching hue that I need to pick up where I left off in this pic. It’s the matching that is a bitch.

I started out with this too-greenish gray:

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It needed more blue. After a few tries, I got it. It might not look like it in this photo (below), but this gray tone was a very good match:

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I forgot to tell you that, in order to make bottle cap of home-made gray, you have to keep loading your brush with slurries of brown and blue and white pigment, and then you have to squeeze out those loads, from the paint brush’s brushes, into the bottle cap. It’s rather messy:

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Anyhoo, I began to paint the replacement part of this illustration and I was very pleased with its matching-ness until I got this far…

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…and then I said to myself:”Oh shit. I forgot the cat.”

Well, I was losing the afternoon light anyway because it had started snowing again, so I packed up [put everything out of a nosey cat’s paw reach] and called it a day.

I began again the next  morning. I forgot to take a photo of it, but overnight the bottle cap of gray had totally dried out, so I had a bottle cap of dry pigment ready to be water-activated. This is absolutely the BEST way to paint from a bottle cap!  When you’re starting with a solid pigment it’s very easy to control the very small adjustments it takes to lighten or darken a color, IMHO.

But I had to put off playing with the bottle cap of gray because first, I had to draw a cat. I thought that a crouching cat might look good on this shady Key West porch, so I drew one and taped my new kitty over the tracing-paper sketch like so:

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The line that I drew down the back of the cat is so I will know where the spine is — I was hoping that I could paint a cat that was turning away from the viewer, as cats are wont to do.

But I didn’t like the position of the cat, so I had to peel it of the sketch, like this:

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YES, with a tweezer. And not just any tweezer — that’s my old diamond-grading tweezer, designed with a long needle nose for ease of picking up dropped diamonds from the floor.  THAT’s THE KIND OF PAINTER I AM. If anybody else works this way, I would love to chat. Main topic of conversation: Are we mad genius self-taught users of scotch tape, or what?!?!?

So I re-positioned the cat to be more forward-leaning:

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But now I didn’t like the cat  at all, mostly because I did not like how the tip of the rocking chair’s arm did this:

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So I drew a new new cat, one that wouldn’t go anywhere near the rocking chair’s space:

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But then the new new cat did this:

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No problem, not for me (world champion of Making Pictures Work No Matter How Long It Takes). I just cut away a few of those cat-overlapping floor boards, re-mixed a correct shade of gray, and began to paint the first layer of shadow:

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I painted the cat (yes, I moved his tail to get it away from the rocking chair):
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Then I painted the correct railing shadows. Every time I needed a new brush full of paint, I had to re-mix the paint and turn off the light box to compare that the grays were still compatible — it’s hideously time-consuming. But finally I got this:

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Cut to DONE:

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Top Cat wishes my posts didn’t go this long, but I know that some of you, Dear Readers, don’t mind watching me save my professional watercoloring ass step by step.

Color me Got Away With It One More Time.

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This is what our back patio looked like three snowstorms ago.:

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That orange streak is Taffy, heading into the cat door on the side of our house, off the mud room.

Since then the snow has gotten deeper and icier and depressinger and I didn’t feel like taking pictures of it.  It’s really ugly out there.  50% of the human residents in my house have no desire to venture out of doors EVER. The other 50% is Top Cat, who had to clear a mountain of icy snow from the driveway with an axe.

The only tracks you’ll see in my backyard are made by little birdie feet.

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We got a fresh dusting of snow last night, over the solid ice pack. I don’t know what kind of bird feeds at night.

We are dumping great quantities of bird seed out there to help the cardinals and chickadees etc make it through this horrible Winter.

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In spite of all this misery I knew that  I would make it to Groundhog Day with my sanity in tact because, come Groundhog Day, I was going to be in KEY WEST.

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Mardi Gras beads on the mailboxes. Something tells me that these people would be my dream neighbors.

Ah, Key West. What do I like the most about Key West?

It might be the organic cocktail glasses:

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Typical cocktail-coconut grove.

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My hair always has a good time in Florida. We have an understanding about being on vacation in heat and humidity: my hair lives it up, and I pretend that I don’t care that I look as if I come from the Land of No Combs.

Maybe it’s the local “color”:

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Hey, look! I said to Top Cat, Majorelle Bleu! (At the time I thought it was exactly the color of the house in the Jardin Majorelle that I went to see in Marrakech.)

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 I think I’ll take A picture! I said to Top Cat.

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 The cat had other ideas:

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Yeah, the cats of Key West are in a class all their own.

But mostly, I like Key West because of the Australian Pines on the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor.

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You see, I had business to do in Key West; I had to get in touch with the wonderful people who won the right to preserve this delightful grove of shade trees, against some civic and governmental hysteria over invasive species.

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Long story short, I am in love with this grove of trees and I’m writing about it in my Damn Garden Book. The Save Our Pines people and I had a lovely conversation about the issue and I now feel well-informed enough about the whole controversy and history of this beach to do it justice in the DGB.

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And, having refreshed my memory about the delicate and wonderful presence of these pines, I had to go home and re-do an almost 2-year old illustration I had made when I first wrote about this place:

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Old pic, circa 2012-3

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New pic, circa yesterday. The lettering says: A landscape hospitable in the extreme is one definition of a garden. (Michael Pollan)im. See? See what practice /practice / practice does?? Practice makes tree bark look like bark.

P.S. This is another illustration of Australian Pines that I did about a year ago…but this grove is not in Florida:

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It’s not even in this century.

But this is all that I am contractually permitted to discuss about the DGB.

I also decided that I had to do something about this:

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This is another Key West illustration that I did a while back. The shadows from the railing are a problem. Those shadows look as if they came from a different picture. Or a different time of day. They certainly don’t belong here. Also, I painted this a little too honestly — from a photo of a porch of the guest house Top Cat and I rented the last time we were in Key West that included an orange cat that was ignoring me while I took the snapshot. I think it would be a better illustration if the cat weren’t cleaning itself because I’m not sure that, as is, that blob of orange makes sense. And yeah, the cat’s shadow is all wrong too.

I must make corrections. So far, the picture looks like this:

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I mixed those grey colors from scratch: a little brown, a little blue, a smidge of white. The challenge will be to get that recipe right again when I collage the right railing (and cat) back into this illustration.

And on this pic…

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…I have to do something about that nasty-looking tree in the right foreground.

This is why it’s been taking me years to get this Damn Garden Book done.

But not today! It’s Friday! Time to make a Mai Tai and take a mental vacation back to Key West!

P.S. This is my backyard:

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It’s going to take a lot of Mai Tais.

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Someone has to say it, so it might as well be me: Jeeze. I go away for a year and LOOK at the mess  the world gets itself into. So I’m very happy to be baaaaaaack: Voice of Reason, thy name is Vivian.

Thank you all, Dear Readers, for all your notes last week, welcoming me back to the inter webs.

As per your requests, I will be catching you all up on What I Did on My Year Off, starting today.

One of the things that kept me very, very aggravated busy in 2014 was writing and illustrating the Damn Garden Book. Although I am contractually forbidden from publishing any more than 10% of the content of what is, at this point, the paid-for intellectual property of BloomsburyUSA (YES — they put that in my contract!) I know I’m not flouting my legal obligations to show you these few pages of The Damn Garden Book.

This is Exhibit # 1:

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This book, like my first two, is another  Traveler’s Journal, this one on the Meaning of Life and Gardens.  In it, I travel to thought-provoking gardens far and near; FAR — Rio de Janeiro, Marrakech, Edinburgh, London, Key West, and New Orleans. NEAR —  a Japanese folly garden and a dead poet’s orchard here on my own home turf in Great Gatsby territory on the Isle of Long.

But I start the garden tour in the city were  I have done some of the best gardening in my life. I mean , of course, Paris, The Gardening Capital of the World.

Exhibit #2  is a self portrait, which I call  This is how I do my best “gardening” in Paris:

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Obviously, I’m “gardening” metaphorically. And it’s a rainy day.

 

Both Exhibit #1 and Exhibit #2 are rescues. If you look carefully at Exhibit #1 , you’ll see that the edges of the trees’ foliage casts a shadow. (You can scroll up now. I’ll be still be here when you get back.)

Here’s the story: My big idea for the Damn Garden Book was to immerse my Dear Readers  in the various garden experiences. In order to do that, I had to — cripes — paint full-page pictures, which I am not very good at. In fact, I stink.

I’m a miniaturist for DoG’s sake, but hey, why try to live an artful life if you’re just going to keep on doing what you’ve always been doing? So I tried something new, and painted a lot of full page-size pix, and was extremely impressed by my derring-do. I was much less impressed by the results.

About half of the pix turned out OK.  But the other half looked as if I’d  painted them blindfolded. Or drunk.  I wish!

Most times, I re-paint the pic until I get it right. But sometimes I don’t. Like with Exhibit #1.

Painting those background apartment buildings was sooooo tedious that there was no way I was going to re-paint all those dastardly Juliet balconies. So I just painted new trees on a separate sheet of paper, cut them out, and glued them right on top of the offending verdure. I know! It’s amazing what you can get away with!

Exhibit #2 is also a clever run-around. I compensated for my lack of painting-a-window-that-looks-like-a-window skill by cutting out the window panes of the cafe and pasting  in a separate illustration of a Paris street scene. ***That white goop on the right edge is hiding a mistake I made in painting my shadow.  Computer-machine magic will get rid of the noticeable surface texture when it goes in for production.

In Exhibit #3 we arrive at the gorgeous Paris garden that I think was worth writing 14 pages about:

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Do you recognize it? Here’s a hint: the garden actually is in the shape of a triangle.

Yes, it’s the Square du Vert-Galant on the tip of the Ile de la  Cite!:

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*-*-*-*-

Changing subjects, please consider Exhibit #4, a photo I took on my last visit to the City of Light, in 2013:

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Nice garden!

Here is something that I haven’t  told my editor yet but I’m telling you: I want to  include 6-8 watercolor prints that can be removed from the Damn Garden Book… in other words,  pages that are suitable for framing.  Like, as my gift to my Dear Readers.

One of the subjects I can envision as a suitable for framing is Exhibit #4.

I think the idea of rip-out-able pages is a good one, and I think that if I can pull off painting this charming scene (with enhanced greenery, artistic license, etc.) it could be a collector’s piece. Yes, I said it: Collector’s Piece.

Thoughts? (I enabled Comments!!)

Meanwhile, let’s move on to the Author Photo: As you’ve seen in my previous book jackets, I like to have fun with my Author Photo. No itty bitty postage-stamp size mug shot for me! I want to send a message with my Author Photo, mostly something about how I’m kind of cute.

I was thinking that this photo, taken last September in my favorite cosmo patch along the Garden State Parkway, in New Jersey, near Atlantic City, might do:

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My plan was to photoshop this pic heavily. Add many more cosmos to this field,  swap out my frizzy hair for the hair in this pic (below) (of me on a Good Hair Day):

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But last week, I cut my hair:

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I do not know why I had to show both hands in this selfie.

So back to the drawing table.

By the way, were you wondering, in that Good Hair Day photo,  What’s with the cocker spaniel?

Well, that’s my cocker spaniel, my very own, the one and only Boogie Girl:

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Because another one of the things that I did in my year off that kept me on my toes and put a whammy on my love of sitting around and never leaving the house was I got a DoG. The DoG of my heart, the best damn DoG anyone ever had. She was really something.

Next week: all about the wonderfulness of the Boogie Girl and the havoc her ilk causes in a previously cat-only household.

And when I say “havoc”, I mean it in the most awesome sense of the word.

 

 

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We love Pumpkin Time here on the shores of the Long Island Sound.

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I detect a slight flaw in the Pumpkin Placement Plan here.

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Pumpkin Time is a good time to remember the most lonely word in the English language: Orange. The color gets a bad rap for being garish and unfriendly but some of my favorite things in the world are orange.

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Here are some pictures of City Orange from my outing yesterday:

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Upper West Side brownstone.

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Yes! I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday! The bridge is undergoing loads of restoration so it is u-g-l-y at the moment, but as you can see, the City of New York spares no expense in making tourists feel welcome!

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Saki basement bar in the East Village.

And what Secret Garden would be complete without a touch of orange?

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Which reminds me, we are painting a Secret Garden today:

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Of course, it all starts with a pencil sketch and masking fluid:P1190993

I use folded sheets of scrap paper to cover up bits of the picture before I begin to paint the gravel:

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When the base paint is dry, I put my toothbrush to good use (which, in between the three times a day I use it for dental hygiene, lays around doing absolutely nothing). I load it up with a mix of grey and black watercolor and then I flick it at the illustration:

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This is not really my Dental Hygine Toothbrush. This is my Dedicated Paint Flicking Toothbrush.

Let dry, and voila:

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Here’s a painting tip: I save the bottle caps of Top Cat’s favorite GatorAid to use as mixing pans.

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To get the many shades of green I need for a garden illustration I mix three different hues of green with two different hues of yellow and/or three different hues of blue. BUT to get the pure yellow that I prefer for my painting I mix two different yellows — Cadmium Yellow and Lemon Yellow. (Alone, Cadmium Yellow is too orange and Lemon Yellow is too bright). And I keep my pure yellow isolated in a GatorAid bottle cap because I can’t be trusted to keep them clean if I put them in a palette-thingy.

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Here is where I add some detail to the background wash:

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For this illustration I wanted to try out an idea I had, about using some blue in the foliage, maybe to get a more dream-like effect:

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I am still using my chalky Grumbacher paints mixed with the tubes of Windsor Newtons, mostly because I love what the chalky paints do when they dry. They leave an interesting residue on the paper, interesting textures that are purely accidental that I really like:

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I am thinking that for this picture I want to leave the foliage looking very watercolory, like this:

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So far, I am quite happy with the way this picture is going. So now I start to add plants:

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I’m being careful not to over-do it:P1200010

But here is where I ruined it all:

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I tried to paint tree trunks in ochre, which was bad enough, but then I made the mistake of painting them with straight lines. I knew it was wrong immediately. I was instantly unhappy with these wimpy, ugly tree trunks. But still, I thought I could soldier on, finesse the picture with other distracting details:

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But those tree trunks just kept bothering me. So, i finally had to ditch the whole picture, having admitted what I knew all along: There is no rescuing a picutre that has a fatal flaw:

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Several days later, I went back and had another go at it. The steps were exactly the same as above, but the end was this:

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You can compare for yourself:

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Yes, the sad fact is that whenever you try something new, there’s a 80% chance that you will blow it. But hey: it’s only a bit of paper and paint. That doesn’t stop me from taking a whack at something new. And, for those times when making a crappy illustration feels too much like failure, there’s always champagne.

One of these days I hope to work up the nerve to paint my favorite time of day:

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Twilight in Pumpkin Time.

I love the low light of a Fall evening:

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I have to learn how to paint this most beautiful shade of orange. In fact, I think that when we finally invent a word that rhymes with orange, and it must have something to do with this quality of light:

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I’m thinking that “floringe” might be the word, to describe the look of artificial lights glowing in a Fall evening. Floringe would be used especially in the case of the lights that shine from the inside out:

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The lights that are seen from a distance:P1200145

To extrapolate, then, floringe, as the wisp of illumination that almost holds its own against the night, floringe could also be the word used when a blog goes dark.

Yes, dear readers, it’s that time.

*****Quick note from Future Me: I did shut this blog down in 2013, and I stayed away for a year and got a dog, but now I’m back (as of Jan. 2015) and the blog up and running again. Meet me here every Friday morning at www.vivianswiftblogcom. Now, back to this poignant post.******

I have been blogging for six years. My blog has evolved from a really crappy stream-of-concisouness diary into a weekly presentation of what I hope is interesting and useful  and honest information and about the trials and errors of living a creative life. I take a lot of pride in making my blog live up to the intelligence and humanity of my community of readers, dear readers, many whose stories and names and cats I have come to know and treasure, as friends and inspiration. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And in the same way that I know when my painting lacks necessary oomph, I know when my blog is running out of steam. As both painter and blogger, sometimes I have to get away and be more of a person living in the world than a person who observes it.

So. I will not be here next Friday, or the next. Or the next. I will be writing my Damn Garden Book full time, and showing up as a Commentor on my favorite blogs — if you are not reading The Miserable Gardener you are missing the best gardening blog written by a pure bred border collie ever — and herding my cats. Doing what I can to gather steam.

I do plan on being back in the blogosphere, someday, and I might even post something here from time to time, so please drop by. I’ll have to post updates about theDamn Garden Book, of course — I’m under contract to finish it sometime in 2014. And you can always reach me at vivianswift at yahoo dot com, because I do want more garden photos. We’ll stay in touch. Because when a blog goes dark, it doesn’t go away forever. It only goes floringe.

Meaning, there’s always a light left on. You’ll always be able to find your way to my door.

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So, it’s Friday evening and I’ve poured myself a nice cold of  Pinot G., and I’ve met my deadlines for the week (yes, Dear Readers, sometimes people actually pay me to write.) and you and me can discuss the crucial issues of the day.

Namely, Summer is over. I watched it go, sitting in my backyard, at 4:44 pm Daylight Savings Time on the Long Island Sound Sunday, Sept. 22. More of a bummer this year than usual.  Don’t get me started.

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I did not pick up a paintbrush this whole past week (spent all my time wordsmithing, you know) but I do have  something worthy to show you from a spot of painting (let us all now assume English accents) from yonder fortnight.

Two weeks ago I was working on an illustration of the beloved children’s tale, Peter Rabbit. Beatrix Potter is my idol when it comes to illustration, and I  have a chapter on London Gardens in my work in progress, the Damn Garden Book, so I was not going to miss the opportunity to reference my childhood infatuation with All Things English, starting with Peter Rabbit.

You know the story. For my illustration, I had to get the lay of the land, namely farmer MacGregor’s garden:

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The wondrous Beatrix illustrated it as a walled garden on the edge of a woods. And my favorite scene:

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Voila, Le Chat. (they call them moggies in England, by the way.) See how this ties into our whole Paint a Cat saga?

So, here is my interpretation of Peter Rabbit at this most crucial part of the whole story of Peter Rabbit:

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(I have blocked out the left hand side for future text, FYI.)

As soon as the paint dried on this thing I knew there was a problem with the cat but I didn’t know what.

I put it away for 48 hours, took a fresh look at it, and it hit me like Thumper:

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The cat’s head is too small. Of course!! That’s why it looks more like an ermine than a C-A-T.

But the thing had already been painted, and it’s watercolor, so o lordy, what to do?

I am now going to tell you, Dear Readers, a Trick of the Trade.

All I did was paint a new (right) cat on a separate bit of Canson 90 pound cold press paper (the only paper I use — I love love love this paper) . Then I cut it out, and glued it over the ermine, like thus:

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Here’s a close up:

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I know from experience that when this picture is scanned for print and published in a book, the fact that it’s a cut out will never register with the reader:

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In fact, if I am not about tell blab about it right now, you probably would never have noticed that Peter himself is a cut out, pasted in front of the MacGregor garden in the background:

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And you know what? I feel A-OK about this because I have recently discovered that our darling Miss Potter did the exact same thing back in the day when she was watercoloring her way to immortality.

Take a look at this illustration below:

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See that DoG? Look closely:

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Look closer:

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Yep. He’s a cut out. Underneath that Pomeranian, probably,  is some small-headed Pug that gave the delightful Miss P. second thoughts.

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And if Miss P. can do it, then I can do it.

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Last Sunday Top Cat took me into a magical woods on the southern shore of the Long Island Sound…
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…otherwise known as The Gold Coast of Ye Olde Long Island…

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…where Ye Olde Money of yore transplanted ancient yew trees from the Olde Worlde to make Instant Stately Homes (now gone to ruin)…

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…and where the haunted forest is reclaiming ye olde acres of lawns into native wild flower meadows once more…

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…where I came upon  yon ancient cottage…

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…which beckoned me to pause…

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…and consider its perfectness as a refuge from the madding world…

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…where I could gather inspiration from nature and light and where cats could roam free…

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…but there was just one little problem…

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scale.  For this magical realm goes by the name of The Muttontown Preserve (I’m not making this up) and it encompasses the last American address of — I’m not making this up — King Zog, the last, deposed monarch of Albania and I conjecture that ye Ole King had a young Princess for whom nothing would do but she had a play house in the American Colonial vernacular.

I can not tell you how much I want this house. If you hear about some crazy cat lady claiming that she is the reincarnation and rightful heiress of the late great King Zog — that’ll be me, staking my claim to this itty bitty ranch house in Muttontown. I’m not making this up.

But speaking of crazy cat ladies…

…it’s time to draw us some kitty cats!

OK. Here’s how I decided was the best way to share my minuscule amount of knowledge of the visual arts, of which I am not a certified practitioner of.  First, I am going to show you how I draw a cat from memory:

I start with a bottom-heavy oblong shape:

 

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Then I add hips — by the way, I’m doing this from memory to make a point:

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The point is that since I have been looking at cats my whole life I have internalized the basic structure of Le Cat:

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And as you can see, the basic structure is no more complicated than that of a snowman:

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So really, when I paint a cat, I don’t actually have to sketch out this blueprint — it’s already “on the paper” before I pick up a brush:

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But I am showing you the building blocks that I visualize when I look at a cat:

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And when I say “sketch”, I don’t mean make those crappy wispy wimpy scritching marks that a lot of people do when they “sketch” — I mean commit yourself to making a strong, unequivocal line:

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Voila, The Cat. Now, to make a cat head on, you use the exact same strategy…but let’s go through the basics of the dear little kitty face:

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Got it?

OK. So, now we’ll make another snowman:

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And we’ll erase some lines to make the kitty face front:

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And, voila:P1190796

Kitty Cat.

I hope you can see that drawing a cat isn’t all that hard. But it’s something that every cat lover should know how to do, in case of emergency:

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I like this kitty’s little smile. But really, those ears? That tail? Those dangling front legs?

I got this Lost Cat poster from a new book that I just started reading:

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It’s very cute and I recommend it. But it got me thinking….how can I apply my cat-snowman lesson to a real life cat?

So I found a really cute cat from the internets:

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And now all I have to do is interpret this cutie as a kitty snowman:P1190786

You see? All I had to do was  get the basic building blocks of this sweet kitty to start her portrait. Again, I have to say, this is a drawing of what I usually only visualize before I start to paint. It took me a long time before I understood that the time I spend just thinking about what I’m going to paint before I paint makes all the difference between a good painting and one that is a crap shoot, so yes, I spend a fair amount of time visualizing. I’m just saying.

Next, I picture the particular markings that make this sweet kitty her own self. She’s a darling tuxedo tabby, which in my mind looks like this:

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Then I plot out where the dark and the light spots are:

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And now I’m ready to paint.

Which I will do next week. I will paint this adorable sweet kitty girl and show you how I do it, brush stroke by brush stroke.

However, if you are new to cat painting, you can draw your kitty like I did, and do a nice watercolor wash over your pencil drawing and it will look really nice too. I would have done this to my pencil drawing here but I ran out of time this week. SORRY.

And now, for the Winner of our fabuloso Elizabeth Gilbert The Signature of All Things Give Away:

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Top Cat picked : Melissa! Melissa, please send me your snail mail address at vivianswift at yahoo dot com and I will send you this beautiful book a s a p. Melissa is a new dear reader — welcome!

 

 

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P1190479It’s good to be back just in time for my penultimate Summer post! During my two-week break I went to the annual Long Island Scottish Games Festival at Old Westbury Gardens (that’s a dog in a kilt, above). It’s always good to hang with my peeps, the Scottish, the most fun-loving, light-hearted, sober people on Earth. It comes from all that airy-fairy-gaia-girl-power DNA us Celtic maids of the woods possess:

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Oh, right: us Scottish girls also love to dance with swords, too:

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And as you can see, even the boys of our clan want to be like their magical sisters so much that they’ll even wear the same outfits.

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I also spent a few days in the enchanted land known as Pennsylvania, hanging with my mother (from whom I get my Scottish proclivities). She has a cat named Sammy who knows how to work backlighting and sheer curtains:

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And, yes, I spent an inordinate amount of time sitting in the backyard trying to get a shot of the 6:05 Qantas from LAX.

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Yes, I sat sentry in the backyard whenever the landing pattern at JFK airport shifted to the sky above Top Cat Manor hoping to get the red kangaroo on film. The 6:05 Qantas from LAX is my black orchid, my white whale, my Loch Ness Monster. So far, I’ve only been able to catch the 6:40 Air Berlin from, well, you know where. But note how the plane catches the golden rays of the September evening. Sigh.

I know I promised you a cat-painting lesson. Well, I’m working on it:

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But I have an exciting new give-away for my dear readers! I have received an advance hard back copy of ElizabethGilbert’s new novel, The Signature of All Things:

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Last May Elizabeth sent me a paper-back proof of the novel and I read it in two days. I loved it. And you all know that I do not read fiction…but this is almost non-fiction, as it’s a story about love and botany and is full of real true stuff about plants and gardens and 18th century trade in newly-discovered horticultural species. GREAT BOOK, is what I’m saying. If it’s been a long time since you read you’ve read a book by a really smart writer, or it’s been ages since you enjoyed a sophisticated historical romance, or it’s been eons since you read a book that took you into another realm of being…this book is for you.

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The book itself is a beautiful object — it 499 pages of smooth ivory vellum with a deckle edge. And it’s got two different end-papers, with a pair of botanical illustrations on each:

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This is very expensive to produce, by the way.

I am giving away this advance hard-back copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Signature of All Things to one lucky dear reader!

Please leave your name in the Comments section and, as is standard operating procedures, Top Cat will pick a Commentor at random. The winner of this lovely book will be announced next Friday,right here on this blog.

(Comments will close at midnight, Tuesday.)

It’s down to the penultimate Summer weekend, dear readers. Let’s all go out and do something to make Summer 2013 memorable!

 

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As a writer/illustrator who doesn’t want to bore my dear blog readers I tend to focus on the illustrating party of my work because if I wrote about writing all you’d see is a picture of me sitting at  desk, pulling my hair out.

If I wanted to bore the dear readers of this blog, I would blog about unpacking from that road trip to the Delaware Bay that I took two weeks ago:

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Which I have not yet actually fully un-packed from. Yes, when I go on a car trip I haul out my biggest, ugliest suitcase and pack it with my own comforter and pillows because I do not use hotel blankets and pillows. Ew. Ew. Ewwwwwwwwww.  As you can see, when Penelope decides that this un-packed suitcase is her new favorite place to nap well, then, that suitcase stays un-packed until it becomes a hazard to life and limb (I’ve already tripped over it once, in the dark, when I forgot that there was a big stonking suitcase in the doorway between the dining room and the living room).

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I took this picture last week, one week after than the one above it. I could walk into my living room right now and take anothear pic just like it.

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Honest to DoG, I just took this pic, a WEEK after the one above: That black lump on the EMpire-style chair is Cindy and that’s Taffy, eyeing the Sweet Spot from under the coffee table.

And we all know that as long as Lickety and/or Taffy and Cindy are hovering nearby, dying to take their own turn on this amazing new fabulously comfortable napping hot spot, Penelope will never, never relinquish control of the big stonking suitcase, which will probably rot in this corner of the livingroom before I have the heart to take it way from her. (See: nice Empire-style chair, above, re: how I let these cats re-purpose every object in this house including, now, suitcases.) Which reminds me:

I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the universe for the six doses of Frontline I use every month in May, June, July, August, September, and October. For two tablespoons-worth of Frontline (approx. equivalent to a tea bag’s worth of tea), I generate this much trash, most of it plastic:

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This ought to be a crime. This is excessive packaging and I hate it..but what can I do? Fleas are nasty and disgusting and germy and give my cats scabs .

Universe, please forgive me.

And now, without further ado, let’s paint!

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I had already painted most of the rock face before I thought of taking photos.

But Step One was prepping this picture with masking fluid:

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And here’s how to paint small falls of water  (I’m using a combination of light blue and greenish-blue):

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First, I brush in strokes of clear water:

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And then I drop the paint into the water:

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I like the effect, very watercolor-y. I’m just letting water and paint do what they do when you put them together. (I also leave small areas of dry white paper showing.)

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I had intentionally left some of the rock face unpainted so it would make a soft boundary to the water:

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When I paint rock (which, by the way, I LOVE to do), I paint one rock face at a time. Here is how I do it: I brush in clear water on an area (let’s call it a “cell”) that I have drawn as a surface:

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I am using my beloved cheapo Grumbacher paints here because with all the chalk filler in them, they blend really well (that is to say, they don’t really blend well at all, which is what I like) when I drop them into the “cell” that I have prepared for them. I mix four color right on my little bitty brush — blue, black, brown, and grey/flesh:

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Here is what happens when you lightly drop your brush, which is loaded with paint, into a “cell” that is full of clear water:

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I go back a dab in some black on the edges, and then I let dry. Where I used a lot of brown to paint that bit of rock (above), here I am going with more of a blue-grey color:

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You never know what you are going to get! Well, sure, you can control the areas that need to be light or dark, blue or brown (so that the whole rock face makes sense), but within each “cell” you ever know how it’s going to dry — look at all that texture and interest that is in each rock:

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And yes, you can see that I had to write “ROCK” with arrows on this drawing so I didn’t get confused as to what was rock and what was waterfall. Also, you can see that I have now lifted of the masking fluid that I had previously put down…I changed my mind on how I wanted this main section of waterfall to look.

Truth is, I had never painted a waterfall before I did this picture, so I did some preliminary sketches:

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I tried out several different ways of painting a waterfall, and I cut out bits so I could hold them against what I’ve already painted to see how it would look. In the end, I decided to go for a much loser effect that did not require masking fluid:

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And then I painted the rest of the picture:

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This is one of the best things about re-booting the Damn Garden Book

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…I can open up the scope of the book, thanks to the wonderful negative criticism I got last week.

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And to answer a dear reader’s question last week…no, the title of the Damn Garden Book is not The Damn Garden Book. I call all of my books-in-progress the Damn [fill in the blank] Book because most of the time that’s how I feel about all my books-in-progress. They are such a damn pain in the ass to write, and I wish they would write their damn selves,but they are, in the end, the best pain-in-the-assy things I’ve ever done.

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I have a totally different working title for the Damn Garden Book which my agent and editor use. I don’t make them say “Damn Garden Book”.

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And, to answer another FAQ, no, Top Cat does not take these photos. I take them myself. I use my right hand to hoist the camera, point, shoot, and hope I catch something useful. Half the photos I take are useless.

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I was very happy to paint this new illustration because this is one of the most delightful consequences of receiving that wonderful negative criticism last week and opening up the narrative …

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I get to add Seattle to the Damn Garden Book!!

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This is the famous and beautiful Waterfall Garden Park in downtown Seattle. (I had to leave empty space for text, TBA.)

I am taking the next two weeks off, dear readers, to both get stuff done and do nothing. I forgot to tell you that  the DGB is a GO and the sooner I write the damn thing, the sooner it will appear in stores and libraries. I also want to hang out with men in kilts (the Long Island Scottish Games are this weekend), and re-boot my brain.

I will leave the Comments section open until Sept. 6 so please feel free to leave a comment or question about writing, illustrating, cats, or tea, or whatever.  Because I will check in often and use my spiffy new Reply function to answer any and all queries;  as for the future of this blog, I have a tutorial all about painting cats already planned for Sept 13…

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But, as there are only so many Summer sun sets until Autumn, I must bid you all a fond See You Later, and hope to see each one of you back here on September 13.

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Now get out there and goof off!

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It is December, 1966. I am ten years old and in sixth grade at North Willow Grove Elementary School. In a parallel universe there is a girl my age with perfect hair walking to school with her little sister:

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In this parallel universe this girl’s name is Elizabeth Terry (although it appears that we use the same Lennes Arithmetic book):

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(N. J.Lennes was the chairman of the mathematics dept. at The University of Montana, a fact that I was not aware of until I googled it five minutes ago.) Yes, I drew this picture when I was ten years old in December 1966 (I dated the pic on the back). From the same year I also have two short stories that I wrote and illustrated, both with a main character named Peggy Anne who lives in Oklahoma and made friends with a new girl who had just moved from Canada.

When I was ten years old I thought Oklahoma was the coolest state in the union but I don’t remember why. I am not showing you those two short stories, which I made into chapbooks, because it creeps me out: I have to tell you that it does not give me any pleasure to look at this old stuff. Me and Johnny Rotten both agree (and if you have not read Johnny Rotten’s memoir, titled Rotten, you are missing out on a memoir that speaks to my heart and soul): we hated being children.

However, in spite of the fact that it floods me with memories of a terrible time of my life, I can look at that drawing of mine from 1966  and see that I had pretty good draftsmanship for a ten year old. Yes, I always knew I could draw. Yes, I used to amaze the dim wits in my elementary school  that I could draw FREEHAND, especially since I’m a leftie. No, I do not remember deriving any particular satisfaction from the fact that I could draw well.

Which brings me to the Thought Of The Day.

Drawing well is the worst thing that can happen to an artist.

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Thomas Kinkade, the so-called Painter of Light, whose over-priced mass-produced “art” hangs on the wall of one in 20 American households, could draw.

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I’m picking on him because he is dead and I do not want to call a living artist (oh, honey, I could name names…) banal … but sadly, that’s the trap of being able to draw well. It’s like being born beautiful. Pretty girls don’t have to dig deep to find a personality or an I.Q.; good draftsmen don’t have to dig deep to find their own unique style. Pretty girls and good draw-ers tend to be bo-o-o-o-o-o-o-ring.

Claude Monet couldn’t draw…that’s why he invented impressionism:

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Edward Gorey himself said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, March 2, 1986…

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“Sometimes I think my life would have been completely different id I had ever learned to draw.”

Edward Gory: All his people look the same, he draws them wearing fur coats and in profile so he doesn’t have to bother with clothes or faces, his “settings” are rudimentary…and yet, his work oozes with portent and depth and connotations…

So, if you can not draw as well as the ten year old me (see above), STOP TRYING. And start looking at what you can do well, what you can do  really, really well — color, subject matter,composition, point of view,  etc. — and let that be your springboard to make the art that only YOU can do.

Meanwhile, here’s what I did this past week to make my art a little less banal:

I’m working on a memory of a Brazilian garden for my Damn Garden Book. At first, I painted  it like this:

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But this did not seem true to my memory of it. So I hit upon the idea to represent it more like a true memory:

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Yes, I sliced it. (Truth to tell, I sliced it and then painted over bits of it, and then re-constructed it whole for the blog — which is why there are some subject matter discrepancies in the “before” shot, if you know what I mean.) Now the image looks more memory-like and the text will look interesting on the page.

So, until we meet again next Friday, I hope you’re all hanging out in the back yard and enjoying these last wonderful Summer days.

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I had a really bad idea last week.

But first, a quick digression: Check out this window of W H Smith, the largest English bookstore in Paris, on the Rue de Rivoli (did I mention that it’s in PARIS? As in PARIS, FRANCE?): photo-5

See that book on the right? SEE IT?!?!?!? I’m so excited. I know this bookstore well and I NEVER thought I’d ever have a book in the window! (In my mind, I am buying everyone in the world a glass of champagne because I’m so happy!)

Thank you, Carol Gillot of Paris Breakfasts for sending this spiffy photo.

As I post this, Top Cat and I are on the road, taking a little 300-mile mosey around the Delaware Bay area on the east cost.

We left the Isle of Long via the Williamsburg Bridge…

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The most beautiful skyline in the world.

…and then we drove down the Garden State Parkway through the Garden State (Surprise! It’s New Jersey!) which is a drive that we love because, for one, the Garden State Parkway…

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…is planted with  fields of wild cosmos…

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…and leads us to Top Cat’s favorite playground…

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…Atlantic City. I, too, love AC because I get to say howdy to my favorite feathered friends on the boardwalk:

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This is what my feathered friends look like one second after all the french fries that I was feeding them are gone.

Other sights from the Delaware Bay:

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Somers Point is NJ’s best kept secret.

 

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Rose-Marsh (not Marsh-Roses, which would make more sense) in Cape May, NJ.

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Ochre-colored wooden door with louvres on colonial house in Smyrna, Delaware.

Our hunt for secret gardens took us to the perfectly preserved Revolutionary village of New Castle, Delaware:

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But even on a road trip, I haul my Damn Garden Book-in-progress with me:

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That’s me, working on the London chapter of The Damn Garden Book from the 16th floor hotel room of The Water Club at Borgata Casino in Atlantic City.

The Damn Garden Book got one step closer to publication this past week. I finally got my first three chapters illustrated and written and I submitted it to my agent — I do not “workshop” my writing; I re-re-re-re-rewrite it until I think it’s 99% of exactly what I want (I never get to 100%) and then I show it to my agent. Her feedback was very positive and she thought the book was ready to submit to Bloomsbury as is. So the manuscript is at my editor’s at Bloomsbury now and as soon as she approves the concept, we’ll negotiate a publication date and voila: the Damn Garden Book will be a reality.

One thing my agent observed was how much my painting has become more sophisticated. Well, I said, that’s what happens when you paint every day — you can’t help but get better. For example, here’s a little tiny illustration that appears in my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam (Bloomsbury, 2008)…it’s on page 45 for those of you reading along.

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I drew this little illustration from reference photographs that I’d taken of my old, pre-marriage-to-Top-Cat kitchen:

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Photo montage of my dear old kitchen.

I loved my old kitchen. It had a corner, as you can see, that was just right for turning into a shrine to my love of all things Tea. About a year ago I re-did this illustration, expanding it to a full-page illustration. First, I drew it all over again:

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And then I painted it from scratch:

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I also changed cats — in the first illustration I put my cat Honey on the table — in this new illustration I put Woody Robinson on the table, in his favorite place: with his head under the lampshade.

But I can not leave you without a painting this week! So, seeing as it is August, my favorite month of the year, I’m re-running a favorite post from 2010 that I call: Painting August.

 

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So until next Friday, I hope you’re all enjoying the best month of Summer with road trips real and imagined.

Have a fab weekend.

 

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