August Is Good At Arriving At The Right Time (It’s Not Always Gonna Be This Way)

Ahhhhh…AUGUST. My Favorite month of the year!


The garden is in peak shape…




…the weeds are SPECTACULAR …


…even the spider webs are more gorgeous in August:




And the cats are pretty damn cute, too:




There’s even a new boy in town, called Steve:


I think Steve would like to join our herd, if only Lickety, Taffy, and Bibs were not dedicated to keeping him as a “front yard only” cat. For now, feeding Steve on our front porch wall (above) seems to be keeping the peace; but when it starts to get cold then I’m afraid that Sheriff Vivian will be rounding her up a tuxedo kittie no matter what the rest of the herd thinks about it.

So, I’m still going through the watercolor sketches that I was making about ten years ago, when I first took up painting as a prodigy (at age 48)  because I wanted to write illustrated travel memoirs. When I felt ready to make book-worthy pictures, I abandoned the re-iterations I’d been making (see last week’s post) and started doing real “picture” pictures.

Now, many of you Dear Readers know that my first successful watercolor “picture” pictures were my Triscuits:


Since this blog gets new readers all the time, please let me explain to all the newcomers (Hi! Glad you could join us!) that I started out making Triscuits because they were tiny, simple, low-risk, and about all I could handle as a brand new, self-taught artist. I relied on my Triscuits to do a lot of the work of illustrating my first book,  When Wanderers Cease to Roam:





But at the same time, I was painting larger pix on the side, slowly learning the confidence to make double or triple Triscuit-sized pix. So here are a few such Post-triscuit pictures that I made during my, ahem, artistic development:


This is one of the earliest pictures that I did, from a photograph I took of a row of mews houses in my old hometown of Pelham, New York — the village that was the subject of  When Wanderers Cease to Roam.


I never finished this panting because by the time I’d got the roof and upper story done, I understood that I was not particularly interested in painting architecture. Especially if said architecture comes with multi-pane faux-Tudor windows (all it takes to make the whole thing look hinkey is ONE wrong pane).

Here are some other sketches that did not make it into Wanderers:


I have to explain that I really enjoyed “painting”, that is, actually not painting, snow. I loved what you could imply by just NOT painting …


…that is, letting the white of the watercolor paper show through, letting it do all the work, as far as subject matter is concerned:


It’s exactly what isn’t painted that has all the heft the substance and content of these little pix:





The more confidence I got about handling paint, the more ambitious I got for my paintings. In these slightly bigger-then-Triscuits pix, I am trying to add something more than just a well-painted form in the pic…I am trying to include what I call information.

I wanted to make pix that were about something, a place, mood, a season, a point of view.




Ahhhh…perhaps you noticed something happening there, with that last photo (above). What’s happening is that I have discovered a fun, new format for my miniature watercolor paintings; a long, narrow, horizontal format that lets me present “information” in a way that I find artistically fulfilling:


Yes, what you are seeing above are my first attempts at a format that became the motif of my second book, Le Road Trip:


I LOVE this format, which I call a “Squint“.

I have so much to tell you about my beloved Squints, but I am sorry that it will have to wait…it’s August.

And, dear Readers, I will be MIA for the rest of my favorite month of the year (August), but when I get back to Long Island I promise that I will pick up this story of The Squints right where I’ve left off…


And who knows…there might even be a First Ever Squint Give Away in the works.


Please enjoy the beautitude of August wherever you are, and meet me back here on September 4!





28 Comments, RSS

  1. Alica

    So delicious, the cats, the weather, the stories, and the ART. I am, what’s the word?…humbled and amazed (OK, 2 words) at the stuff you have kept HIDDEN from us! Those little vignettes of Long Island life are marvelous! Thank DoG you have this blog to air out these gems that you have stashed away in your sketch books.

    Of course I will miss the next few Fridays we won’t have you but that also gives me something to look forward to in September instead of mourning the end of Summer, it will be the beginning of another Vivian year!

    Have fun. See you in three weeks.

  2. Love seeing the works..:) I have missed that..these are all the things I was smitten with when I first found you through Carol.I’ll never forget our books arriving at the door and that Christmas card..:)
    Your bricks..stones..leaves..always so detailed..I should try scares me;)
    Happy August..we are all so’ s the end to me.. Sept .is a new year.

    • Vivian

      Oooo! Monique — you are the perfect person to solve one of life’s mysteries for me. Everyone knows that the French language is the most beautiful language on earth (yes, they do, don’t argue). However, the ONE word where I think the French let themselves down on is the word for the 8th month of the year. “Aout” is such a…a…we;ll, such an ungracious sound for such a poignant and fine month. Do you agree? Or am I saying it wrong, and “Aout” has a mellifluousness that I am not appreciating?

      And thank you for such a delightful book-appreciation moment. If you love books, and you love getting packages in the mail, then getting a package of books in the mail is bliss (any book, all books, even bad books). Sweet.

  3. Patricia

    I’ll be back in September. I can always go back and re-read some of your earlier posts on Fridays till then.
    The rest of the time I’ll be busy reading piles of books, eating blackberries and running through sprinklers…

    • Vivian

      Damn. I forgot to run through a single sprinkler this year. Granted, I live in a neighborhood where the sprinklers are all on timers and usually go off in the half hour before dawn, so sprinkler-running-thru requires some advance planning…but still. I didn’t even take a walk in the rain; well, not on purpose. It was a very quiet year for thunderstorm this season, and predictions for a very quiet hurricane season do not bode well for a good September drenching either.

      Good to know that you’re out there, hopping thru sprinklers, for the team.

  4. Deborah S.Farrell

    First Jon Stewart and now you?! Makes for a lousy month in my book.

    Nice to see Top Cat. And your progress in learning to paint.

    Happy trails.

    • Vivian

      August here has been beautiful and, going by the ease with which I’ve been able to gather Blue Jay feathers, quite magical too. But this Summer did not turn out the way I thought it would and now it’s almost over. I say that almost every year — that it’s over too soon — but this year I never got the “breather” that I thought I’d get…but I hope you had plenty of room to exhale this season. And heal.

  5. susie

    When I saw Steve, my heart missed a beat! We had a tuxedo who was the spittin’ image of your Steve. And his name was Steve. He’s been gone 7 yrs and we miss him every day.
    All those paintings that didn’t make into WWCTR, I’ve been using WWCTR as a teaching sort of guide, trying to paint like you. And I still can’t get anywhere near your class. I have no patience, either.
    Thank you for letting us see some more of your treasures.

    • Vivian

      You had a STEVE too? Our Steve is still, technically, “feral”. I haven’t been able to trap him yet (I do TNR), and really, I don’t have the heart to do it to him yet. Maybe when it starts to get a tiny bit cool — then I can justify trapping him and bringing him inside.

      As soon as I saw this cat I knew his name was Steve, and I don’t usually give names like that (my other male cats are: Taffy, Lickety, and Bibs). If your Steve was like my Steve, he must have been one cool cat.

  6. Casey

    ILOVED the squints in Le Road Trip and now I know what to call them (Hello, perfect little landscapes and mood catchers).

    What a year’s worth of art is in this one post! I know it’s in the eye of the beholder but only you would look at a pile of Xmas trash and go Now there’s a subject worth painting.

    And now I must find find something useful to do these next three Friday’s but really all I want to do is sit at my computer weeping and hitting the Refresh button until Sept 4 .

  7. Joan

    Oh, this was a treat for the eyes. All the kitty pics are priceless. I once had a Tuxedo cat named Tootsie who lived to be the ripe old age of 18! She was a sweetheart, rescued from the local shelter.

    The little “squints”…just perfect mini panoramas! When you return I hope these are included in a fabulous Vivian giveaway. Heck, I’d even take one of your rejects.

    Enjoy your favorite month during your blog break. My month is October, that’s when I fall in love with fall all over again. Yea! Pumpkins.

  8. Laura

    Thank you for preparing and sharing your own art autobiography. It is through the study of progress that we can all make our own. I especially love the tour of your paintings’ scale and proportions.

    Do you work largely from your own photos? I can’t imagine you painted all of that snow en plein air.

    Somehow watercolor transforms any ordinary subject into something grand and magic. I think it’s the water. The essential water delivers a thin veil of pigment to the paper, which reflects light back up through that pigment for us to see. The water evaporates, disappears. We just know it was there because of the color trails it leaves on the paper. Oooooh, I love how watercolor makes everything look.

    Thanks for being a master at watercolor and letting us tag along.

    • Vivian

      I work from my own photos 99% of the time. For my Gardens of Awe and Folly book, I used a photo of the Chelsea Physic Garden in London by the wonderful photographer Elizabeth Wix ( ) as a reference, with her kind permission of course.

      That’s an interesting idea about the water. I do love getting water and paint to do things together on the paper, and then letting it dry and become part of the permanent record. I am FAR from mastering the media…I think of myself as am embroiderer who is very good at the buttonhole stitch, which is a very good stitch to know, but can’t sew a sleeve to save her life. Good thing I’m into sleeveless subject matter. (ha ha. I am also terrible at making similes.)

  9. Thea

    I love the grouping of color pans, the colors of August. August is the loveliest of months here at our SoCal beach town, now morphed into tourist town. Most of the touristas have fled back to early two-a-day football practice – yes, I’m looking at you, Zonies – and the sun arcs lower in the sky on its way to October light. A virtue of being a newly-returned reader is I have a plethora of posts for catching up until September comes. Bon temps.

  10. Felicia


    What a slush pile! There’s gold in them thar piles! It would break my heart to leave these out, or not share them. I’m so delighted to see these.

    Your snow pictures inspired me last year to begin picking up a brush, so I’m glad to see more of them. Also your pictures of water sprinklers. I’ve tried and tried, but I can’t do the sprinklers yet.

    So have fun the rest of August. I’m imagining your running through the sprinklers soaking up sun and fun and inspiration for the rest of the year!

    • Vivian

      Yes! That’s what I have! A slush file! That is the perfect word for these un-placeable bits. And I should let you know that I can’t’ do sprinklers without masking fluid. The white droplets of water are NOT paint — that’s the blank paper, where I lifted up the applied masking fluid. I thought I had a Watercolor tutorial about that somewhere, but it’s been a long, long time since I did those pix. If I find it, I will send you the link.

  11. Judy Roberts Jennings

    I’m 100% sure that no one paints cats as beautifully as you, Vivian. You capture every muscle and every twitch of the tail, plus your cat faces are superb. Animals are hard to paint in my book–I can’t even draw one to look real–but yours always look as if they could meow and maybe even jump into my lap.
    Have a most relaxing August…

    • Vivian

      Oh, I do love painting cats. They are so much easier to paint than flowers, which I have spent some considerable amount of time doing this past Summer with very little progress so far. But I am SURE that with enough practice, some day I WILL be able to paint a decent flower bed. And of course, I’ve been documenting my trial and error error error error along the way for future posts.

  12. The shovels!!
    Reminded me of New York snow and how I got sciattic from overly-enthusiastic shoveling. Remebrances of things past…
    Enjoy your vacance!
    Fridays will be a barren desert..

  13. First of all, LOVING TAFFY! And all the others! Yes, August is indeed a wonderful month!

    Thanks for the review which was more than a review of how you work for it included new info, at least to me, and I’ve been hanging around here for a long while! Your process and seeing how you learned reminds me how much practice and just doing it is involved in the journey and I need that reminder. I keep experimenting with different media for painting and sooner or later, one will click — the same with style and technique. You remind me that diligence helps foster the loveliness that results after practice!

    And I LOVE the squints!

    • Vivian

      I forgot to explain how I got to calling them “Squints”: it’s because of their format — long and narrow. It reminded me of how the world looks when you squint your eyes to bet a better look at it. Which is what my cats do to me all the time: they narrow their eyes and look at me, and I can read their faces…they are thinking, “Don’t I know you?” (Not their fault that they don’t always recognize me. Without their supper dishes in my hands, I’m pretty much incognito.)

  14. Thea

    You do have a calendar out with your art, right, and I’ve just missed the promo? I’ll take three of the weeklies — make that four, and one large monthly. Thank you. Tell me what I owe when you return, but get them in the mail right away, please.

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