April 2015

I went to a day-long program at New York University in Manhattan last Friday, where I was in a room with at least 50 PhDs where things such as “an effective counter-hisotrical narrative”and “alternative epistemic machinery” were said. I loved it.


Mind you, it’s not that my own cat buddies …


… aren’t intellectually stimulating companions (they’re not)…


… but this program at NYU was all about decompiling computer history, a subject I had absolutely no interest in. So I signed up.

I boarded the 8:42 to Penn Station and sat my ass down from 10 – 6 to hear all about the textures of digitization in daily life, and the myths of internet infrastructure, and abstract unintuitive machines, and such. I am happy to report  that the lemma of American cultural imperialism is still alive and well, only this time it’s all MicroSoft’s fault.

Remember the good old days, when it used to be rock and roll that was going to take over the world and ruin culture for everybody? *Sigh* That was then.  These days, rock and roll has all the cultural hegemony of baton twirling.

Seriously, tho. The program brought together really REALLY smart people, and they all gave my brain quite a workout, which I admit has gone flabby in recent years. Last month, for example, I tried to figure out why Kate Hudson is launching a clothing line based on her “intuition as an athlete and a fashion lover”, and why kate Hudson is famous in the first place, and I just couldn’t do it.

So, please meet the brilliant thinkers who made me think hard about the things they think deeply about:

Here is what Jason Scott (below, in a photo that I took myself and didn’t have to grab from the inter webs), who is the world’s first and most famous archivist of the internet:


Kevin Driscoll (M.S. from MIT, Ph.D. from USC , D.J. from his being a millennial) from whom I learned about the effective counter-historical narrative in the context of myths concerning internet infrastructure:

driscoll_xorAnd superstar Stephanie Dick …

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 7.05.39 PM

… (Ph.D. Harvard, Alan Turing Centennial Fellow, and lots of other etc.’s), who talked about how the brute force of computer-done mathematic proofs are different from elegance of people-done mathematic proofs and how both embody an intellectual grace all their own, and since she’s a gifted mathematician herself  and as articulate as Neil deGrasse Tyson, she was analytically astute and cogent and AWESOME.

Ramsey Nassar …


… game designer, computer scientist, and the kind of Ph.D. that gets to dig deep into secret Ottoman archives in Beruit (maybe it was Constantinople) to discover the Arabian Turing Machine that challenges the entrenched MicroSoftic-imperialistic narrative of the history of computers. As an amateur linguist, I savored his short tutorial on the scriptural form (there isn’t any print form) and mechanics of the Arabic language.

Joy Rankin …


… (Dartmouth, Duke, MIT, and Yale for god’s sake!) who discovered how the  Minneapolis school system in the 1970s built a social network before there were personal computers . I know, I know…the 1970s…yawn. I get depressed every time I remember the 1970s. I was not on my game in the 1970s; but neither was the rest of America. And here’s Joy Rankin, born way after the hey day of Tony Orlando and Dawn,  researching the 1970s as if they were interesting. Way to go, future MacArthur Genius.

WHY WAS YOU THERE??? you may well ask. I was there to hear the one speaker whose work I was familiar with and am quite the fan of….


… the one and only Stacy Horn.

I know Stacy as the author of my favorite book of 2001 (see above, subtitled “A Morbid Memoir” but its not at all morbid, in my opinion, and is actually a lovely story about the meaning of life and cats).


Stacy is also the author of books about the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory and the cold case squad of the New York Police Dept.  Her most recent is Imperfect Harmony, about the psychological and physical well-being to be had from singing with others, based on her 30-years of singing with the Grace Church Choral Society (it’s not a religious book). When I discovered that she’d be speaking about the social network she founded way back in 1990, when she founded the first social network on the East Coast and (side bar) became the hottest IT babe in America (glamor shoots for Vanity Fair, Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, etc.), I HAD to be there.


These are NYU Ph.D. students (above) being captivated by Stacy’s program. Stacy’s talk was personal, historical, whimsical, and AWESOME. She was what everybody else was talking about: a pioneer in the making of computer history.


At the Q & A part of the program

What a joy it was for me to be breathing the same air as this group of people — speaking and listening — who were so intellectually engaged with the world. I always say that I need to get out of the house more often but I never would have thought that a program about decompiling computer history would make it so worth missing Judge Judy, but it just goes to show you.

Wherever smart people work, doors are unlocked.  (Steve Wozniak)

The thing about smart people is that they seem crazy to dumb people. (Anonymous, on a T-shirt)

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss celebrities. (Eleanor Roosevelt)

Smart people know that you can only believe half of what you are told. But only very smart people know which half. (Janina Ipohorska)

Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you.  (John Wooden)

Richard Branson, for example, is a total maverick but he surrounds himself with smart, successful people and he listens to them. (Brandon Burchard)

Smart people do amazing things against awful odds.  (Kim Harrison)

I think smart is sexy. I like smart people. People that are comfortable with themselves I think is very sexy. My cat is really sexy.  (Gina Gershon)





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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.



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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.



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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.


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*** 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.

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