The Long and Winding Road Down the Garden Path

Some days, nothing works out the way you planed. But…P1150574…if at first you don’t succeed, or if at second, third, and fourth you don’t succeed (see above) then pour yourself a nice big gin and tonic and sit around listening to sad songs (I prefer old Motown, the Temptations Since I Lost My Baby and the like) and feel sorry for yourself and seriously consider writing novels (ewwwwwwwwwww) or anything that doesn’t require having to come up with  illustrations, and then take two aspirin AND START OVER AGAIN.

Yes, dear readers, I preloaded my post today before I went to France and it’s a good thing I did because it turns out that I hate blogging on my iPad with a PASSION but before we continue with our previously recorded program (still in NOLA, watercoloristically speaking) here are some pics I took on the aforementioned iPad to show you the beautiful weather in Paris:





My hotel room in the 6th arrondisement came with this:


I took these pics with my ipad and boy do I hate blogging on this thing.  So that’s all the Paris I can give you for now, but do read my friend at ParisBreakfasts for her report on my arrival on her home (Paris) turf!

For today please enjoy the following tale of watercolor redemption, and take heart. Sometimes it’s necessary to paint ugly in order to get to the less-craptastic stuff.

Let’s get back to this:


The problem, it dawned on me after four really awful attempts at painting a most beautiful garden in New Orleans (see above), was that I had  gotten hold of the wrong concept. My original idea for this garden was that I would illustrate it in a  format that I call a “squint”.

The format had worked well for me throughout Le Road Trip, where I used squints frequently:





These squints — the long, narrow strips of paintings that I used (above) were a lot of fun to do and I think they are vey successful when it came to illustrating France. For the Damn Garden Book I had planned on using vertical squints, rather than the horizontal ones in Le Road Trip:


This is my thumbnail sketch for a two-page layout using vertical squints. But as you can see (way above, those crappy 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th attempts) it was NOT working for me in regards to this fabulous New Orleans garden I was trying to  paint.

And then I realized that I’d gotten the wrong point of view. Not only were the squints not going to work, but I’d been painting the garden from a very boring full-frontal point of view. You see, the most important feature of this garden path that I’d been trying to paint is the garden gate that had been imported from France, but I’d been depicting it straight-on:


Oh lordy, this stinks. It does no justice to the story I am trying to tell about this garden. It looks fake fake fake fake.

Luckily, when I was visiting this garden in New Orleans, I had taken many reference photos of this gate so I went back to the drawing board and re-did this gate from an entirely different perspective:


So let us begin again.

First, I apply masking fluid with my trusty toothpick in the itty bitty bits:


I use the tip of a paintbrush to apply the masking fluid over the bigger bits:


When I failed to draw a pleasing mulberry tree branch in the upper right hand corner the first time…


…I erased it and drew it again, but it was still too gormless to keep:


So on the third attempt I got a decent-looking branch drawn, and I sketched in leaves.


I put masking fluid on those leaves and I’ve ever done this before and I have no idea how it will turn out. We’ll see. But I’m already a bit discouraged. This picture as given me a lot of trouble and I’m in a bad mood. So, while the masking fluid dries, I go make myself a cup of tea.


I want a fancy-colored sky here because this illustration is more about mood (it’s New Orleans, baby!) than meteorology.


Quickly, I do the wet-in-wet background foliage:


Even when the paper is only damp, you can get nice little bleeds:


For brick work I mix two colors of Grumbacher paints with two colors (brown and burnt sienna) of Windsor Newton, for richness:



See how there’s a Triscuit in the middle of this picture?


For the Tahitian Dawn Bougainvillea in the foreground I dab pink, orange, and red in wet blobs:


I lay down a base color for the garden path:


The stuff behind the garden gate will be tricky:


Now, for the rambling roses that are big pom poms of bluey-pink:




Dirt here:


So far, so good. Now, all I have to do…


…is peel off the masking fluid and not screw up painting the gate.


To heighten the rich brown color of the wooden gate I mix blue…


…and brown directly on my paintbrush…


…so when I apply it to the paper I get a wonderful bluey-browness here:


Now for those mulberry leaves, which I have  no idea what I’m doing,  I pray to the big DoG that I won’t blow it this late in the game:


Exhale. They look OK.

For the lantern I intend to use an old trick I’ve been using for years.


You have to use Grumbacher paints for this trick, because you need the chalk that makes their colors so matte. I first apply a layer of yellow Grumbacher, and then I make an edge of darker orange and I let it dry thoroughly:


Using very clean water, I then use a wet brush to pick up the paint in the center:


And we are DONE:


I hope you can see how the lantern “glows” from the way I “erased” a bit of the yellow/orange paints. I decided to leave certain planes of the garden gate white — that is, blank paper — because I think the white bits make its unusual shape  pop more this way. It’s also very attention-getting and this gate is really the subject of this picture in the first place.

Oh yes, I am much happier with this point of view than the one I tried, and tried, and tried, and tried to make work before. Right?

I will still be on the road next Friday, so there won’t be a “live” post here, but I could maybe take you on a tour of my work space / studio, which is where I keep my paints, paper, feathers, files, and threads:


Yes, long before I painted gardens, I used to embroider them.

So if this sounds interesting to you please leave a Comment below…or otherwise I’ll just wait until my return on May 24 to throw something together if I’m not toooooooo jet lagged. Studio tour? Yes or No?


27 Comments, RSS

  1. I love it..the garden..gate..lantern..
    I am thrilled to have ordered Grumbacher paints..:-) they should arrive end of May..I love my WN..but you made me covet the GS..
    All the details are your hotel’s gardens..Carol’s post was fun to read about your arrival. And tunic top..
    I think the wee embroidery is charming’s one of my passions …a quiet one.
    Your Paris vistas..are exactly how I picture it.
    A studio tour sounds like fun.
    Thanks..and continued joy to you and C And bear.

  2. Elaine

    Studio tour YES. Also, I wonder, how many reservations have been made at your hotel in the past few days since Carol’s post.

  3. Patricia

    Loved your post and loved reading PB’s post about your arrival and ONLY FABULOUS DESSERTS. Will try to embrace that motto and not be distracted by every cookie and chocolate that I see. Yes to a studio tour. I love studio tours almost as much as chocolate! It’s like peeking into the artist’s point of view…

  4. Deborah

    Hydrangea? Is that the name of the big flowers?

    Love the newer version of the scent garden.

    I woke up this morning wondering where in the world Vivian was. It’s not that I’m envious or anything. 🙂

  5. Yes, please, studio tour! And thanks for this — very complete and what a difference!

    Wishing you a grand time in France! Noticed Carol’s post and bookmarked your hotel for future travels. Looks terrific.

    And speaking of France, “Le Road Trip” arrived the other day. I’ve hardly had time to look at it because Rick grabbed it first! But what I saw — four star!

  6. Carol

    Yes!!! Studio Tour most definitely!! You can learn so much about a person and their life from their surroundings. PLUS there’s bound to be a cat or two. Safe Travels to you and Top Cat!

  7. you are an amercian in paris treasure… love all you share, and keep on sharing, what else would i do with an early friday mornings?!

  8. Jeannie

    A studio tour would be fun!!! It might give me the kick in the pants to clean out the chaos room (aka creating room). Your Paris photos are gorgeous. I just love seeing your step by step paintings. I learn so much and appreciate you taking the time and effort to share. Have fun!!!!!

  9. Jeannie

    I forgot to say that I work with cloth and thread. I am trying to move into watercolor. Sharing your needlework has given me hope! Thanks!

  10. Laura

    Thanks for showing how your pencil sketch changed for the mulberry tree. Does erasing damage the paper surface for the paint? What # pencil do you use? What type of eraser?
    I am interested in both your studio and embroidery.

  11. Janet

    Vivian, thanks for Paris. Love the gate and the new garden view. You should go see Denise Acabo at L’Etoile d’or in the 9th I think. Fantastic chocolat, and she’s delightful. I think we’re all excited to see where you make your special kind of magic.

  12. Rachel

    Yes studio tour, bien sur.
    As for that cookie. I think that you, or Carol, could use that cookie as a french Trisket size example. When in France, so to speak. Merci,

  13. Deb mattin

    I H.A.T.E blogging in my iPad , too. My daughter uses Blogsy, which seems cumbersome , but better than Bloggeron the iPad.
    it’s fun following Yiur arrival in Paris via Paris Breakfasts!
    By all means, a studio tour – porn for artists!!

  14. I’m going with hydrangeas as well for the big bluey purple pom pom flowers. Very cool how you made the lantern glow, I’m no painter but it’s interesting to see the technique. I was too late to comment last week but had a laugh at the flattened cat grass left by Penelope. My garden often looks like that, they just love to roll all over everything don’t they?

  15. I do love your first solution best – nice and airy and simple, with a foreground, middle grd, back ground.
    Plus plenty of perspective.
    The second painting, for me is not so clearly’s kind of confusing that I’m on the wrong side of the gate. My eye doesn’t know where to go from there, so it hops to those two grey stones…hmmm.
    Why not try doing small colored thumbnails like your pencil layout sketches.
    Wayne Thibaud does tons of em so how bad could it be? A huge time saver and saver of enormous frustration.
    I’m glad yr in Giverny where you can’t give me a swipe with yr cats paw…

  16. janet bellusci

    stunning garden gate, and what a difference your view switch has made! another beautiful piece, but such fun for me to see how you arrived at it!

    the 6th arr. is where i love to stay when in paris, but i’ve only ever rented apartments. that is one adorable hotel and now part of my “travel file” for future reference!

    i get the j.peterman catalog and always love to spend a good cup of coffee looking over all the wonderful clothes. haven’t yet bought anything, but the day is young!

    would LOVE a studio tour ~ thanks!
    safe travels ~

  17. janet bellusci

    p.s. back in college, during my summers home, i would go to the roslyn duck pond and would sit quietly under the big old trees for hours embroidering cool pictures on denim jeans, shirts, etc. a lifetime ago!

  18. Karen in NOLA

    Thanks, Vivian, for such a flattering illustration of my walkway! With the jasmine now blooming,we are in fragrance overload: my favorite time for this garden. Safe travels around the globe.

  19. You were in Paris? You are in Paris?
    Lucky you.
    No I would not want to post on an ipad which is why I always take my AIR everywhere!

    Your water colors are splendid.

    Have been spending a lot of time in the woods on Long Island (mostly trying to avoid poison ivy)

    Buster says HI

    hope to see you on your return.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *