Yay! I’m Back! Just In Time To Tell You All About Squinting!

Hi everybody!!

It’s good to be back in the blogosphere! I hope you missed our get-togethers as much as I have because today’s post is going to make up for my absence — get ready for a two-tea-cupper update on all things V. Swift

Another entry on our Beautiful Word List: Shenandoah.

So, now back to where we left off, at the Squinting thing.


As you recall from my last post, I made a huge leap in my precocious artistic development when I hit upon a new format for my watercolor illustrations. Namely, the long, narrow, horizontal format that I now call a Squint:


I can’t remember how I came upon the idea of doing the Squints, but I’m sure it had something to do with avoiding full-page illustrations, which I still did not feel I could do, even after 2-3 years of painting, even tho I was  already an acknowledged prodigy, having published my first illustrated book at the precocious age of 52.


Getting back to the Squint, I liked the way it could contain, perhaps, a bit more information than a Triscuit:


…but would also look really neat, and unexpected, uh, different when placed on a page:



Although none of the above Squints made it out of my sketchbookI very happily used other, specially-created Squints as the main artistic motif for my second book, Le Road Trip:





I still think they look spiffy on the page.

And now, please allow me to show you How To Make a Squint.

Since I work exclusively from reference photos, the first thing I had to do, in order to find the Squint in each reference photo, was to cut out a frame in the exact shape of a Squint, like, say, this one:


With my “frame” in hand, I roam around the photo, looking for The View. As you can see, below, this view could make an OK Squint…


…but this view is much better, right?


OK, time to get down to business. I make a few pencil lines on the watercolor paper to use as guides, to show me where the horizon is and, roughly, where the foliage will go:


And that’s all I need — the pic is now a composition.

I am using my trusty Grumbacher hobby-quality paints because when it comes to painting sunsets, I know what the paints will do and I trust them — I know that no other paint than Grumbacker will give me the subtlety that I need.


Also, because I tend to mix colors directly on each little disk of Grumbacher paint, I have to rinse each pan before I use them, to get at the pure pan color:


To do the sun set sky, I start with my Big Brush:


I lay in colors by using a method called “Wet in Wet:


See why I like the Grumbacher? So far, I’m laying in orange, blue, and fuscia, and the paints have not gone all muddy on me:


Yes, this takes practice, and a LIGHT TOUCH — do not overdue the brush work here — but the Grumbachers are great for this.

On a seperate bit of paper, I test my blue mixes (I’m using the colors that Grumbacher calls Prussian Blue and Cobalt Blue, and it looks to me like I have a bit of Violet in there too), before committing them to the composition:



To mix and apply the “clouds”, I switch to my 00 Extra Fine brush to dab lightly:





Checking in here, I see that the left side of the sky looks OK, but I need to dab in some more goldenness (that is, orange paint) onto the right side of the sky:


And some fuscia:


Now, we do the water — again, starting with the Big Brush:



For the shoreline, I am going to bleed some black Grunbacher into the damp “water” thusly:


I am, frankly, a little worried here; I might have dabbed in too much black paint, too soon…this could ruin the whole shebang. Oh well. Time will tell.

While this bit is still damp, I go back and make some shadows on the water, still using my 00 Extra Fine brush:



Next, I check to see if so far, so good.  And, so far, so good. I can exhale now.


Since the foliage (back lit by the sunset and, thusly, in silhouette) will be such an outstanding part of this Squint, I will now switch from my Grumbacher paint to my trusty Windsor Newton Lamp Black paint, because I like the density of this paint — it covers better than the Grumbacher Black — and it’s also easy to handle:



After painting in background foliage, I make another check, back to the reference photo.  So far, no major screw ups:


This part of the photograph (below), this sillohouette of leaves and the negative space of the foliage,  here in the lower right quadrant, is, for me, the crux of this picture:


The whole pic will look stooooo-pid if I don’t get this bit right. So I make a light pencil sketch to guide me:


And I hold my breath as I begin to paint the leaves, and to not paint the stuff that doesn’t need painting. Less is More. You can quote me on that:


NOW I can heave a sigh of relief. The negative space looks OK:


And then I go back to holding my breath:


And NOW I can heave another sigh of relief:


Add some upper left hand corner leaves, dab in some lower left hand corner foreground stuff, and then we are DONE …


… DONE …


… Done:


And yes, Dear Readers, this Squint can be YOURS. I’ll even throw in the reference photograph, ALL FOR YOU.


Because of bad planning on my part, and because of normal, yearly, and annoyingly inconvenient data up-dating of this blog (I think it’s called “backing up”), I can not offer this Squint up for giving away this week. Also, your Comment to this post might take a day or two to appear…

…I apologize for this technical glitch but please be assured that your Comment today will be received, and will be in the queue, and will indeed be published, eventually, for the amusement and edification of others, and that your Comment will AUTOMATICALLY qualify you for the contest I will hold NEXT WEEK.

I do hope I have made this incredibly complicated for one and all.

The Comments will close, as they usually do, after 5 days from publication of this post (to deter spam), so Comment Early! And often!

These Squints are fun. We should do this again, real soon.

Have a GREAT penultimate September Summer weekend, everyone!


32 Comments, RSS

  1. Monique September 4, 2015 @ 9:04 am

    I am happy you showed us that you cut out your paper..you use it as a viewfinder too..smart..Of course..
    Great tutorial..I have a question ..are your Grumbachers opaque or transparent..?
    I bought some a long time ago..when yu recommended thm and am such a novice I did not know there was indeed a transparent box also.
    I see glazing..and they use transparent..some color boxes don’t even mention it!

  2. Patricia September 4, 2015 @ 9:35 am

    Love love love your squints. And your last book. Will we see squints in the Damn Garden Book? I especially appreciate a good tutorial.

  3. susie September 4, 2015 @ 10:36 am

    Thank you for the fantastic (I don’t often use that word, it’s overused, but I MEAN it) demonstration.
    Your ‘classes’ always teach me so much…..
    And it’s good to have you with my first cuppa or two on Fridays, again. Welcome back!
    I appreciated the end of August this year as I haven’t done before….I think it’s the most peaceful, reflective time of the year.

  4. jeanie September 4, 2015 @ 3:49 pm

    Holy Maloley, you know your stuff. I feel compelled to go home and try to squint something myself. (No, I am not at home or I might have squinted along with you!) Both the photo and the squint are beautiful but even more I appreciate the step-by-step and how I learn from you. Boy, sure wish I could take a class with you! I’d probably flunk but boy, I’d have a ball! And of course, I’m excited to be entered in the squint drawing!

    Welcome back! I want you to know that you are always missed when you go vamoosing off to have a well-deserved good time! Happy Labor Day — don’t labor too hard!

  5. Deb Mattin September 4, 2015 @ 4:40 pm

    Ahh, Fridays are back to normal – coffee and a post from you !

    LOVE the squint formats – it’s one of the things I noticed right away in Le Road Trip – unusual and lovely.

    As always, fascinated by your process. My foray into watercolors starts and ends with just some random areas of color, so love your explanation of how you lay down color to avoid the dreaded M.U.D.

    Love the idea of the photo frame to find the best section – may try it out in some of my far less grand efforts.

  6. Leslie September 4, 2015 @ 5:24 pm

    Welcome back! I did miss you. To fill the gaping hole in my life, I began to grow milkweed and raise Monarch butterflies. It is an exciting avocation as well as a public service to Monarch butterflies. After they have their way with the milkweed, it doesn’t look very pretty. All over North America, milkweed has been eradicated, with a devastating effect on the Monarch population. But I digress… Peace, Leslie

  7. ann September 4, 2015 @ 5:29 pm

    Love the Squints. Your watercolor looks better than the photograph. I’m so glad you’re back. Happy September.

  8. Deborah S.Farrell September 4, 2015 @ 6:53 pm

    Yay! You’re back! I LOVE the squints. I might even try to do one over the weekend. Me, dilettante Deb. That’s how much I love the squints.

  9. Cathy Ortelle September 4, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

    As a beginning water colorist, I found this post intriguing as well as instructing. Thank you!

  10. Laura September 4, 2015 @ 8:17 pm

    So a squint is about 3 triscuts wide. Do you use the rule of thirds or golden mean when you compose? You have a natural eye for pleasing design. The side by side comparison of Grumbacher and Winsor Newton is a helpful example of paint quality.
    Where is this lovely waterside sunset, BTW?

  11. SusanA September 5, 2015 @ 12:21 am

    Wow, what a gorgeous little painting! Thank you for your detailed demo. I don’t imagine it’s easy to document the process while you’re painting. I love all the sizes and formats of your work in your books, and I look forward to adding your garden book to my collection–and maybe a Squint too!

  12. Mary September 5, 2015 @ 2:05 am

    Today, Sept. 5th , I realized you said you’d be back on the 4th. VERY HAPPY to see the tutorial.
    Good advice about Grumbacher and Windsor Newton.
    I find them superior also.
    Glad you had time off. Glad your back.
    The world once again is spinning on greased grooves.

  13. Megan September 5, 2015 @ 9:49 am

    Hope this is allowed… we lost the internet for ages and I missed being able to comment on the last post, the one with the cats in the snow. We had snow here, thick snow that lasted over 24 hours and we are an hour south of Sydney, Australia… it doesn’t often snow. I made the cat go out for the experience. He was not amused. He left little paw prints, all four together as he jumped from spot to spot, funny for me not so for him. Your painting of the little ginger kitty, Taffy (?), reminded me of him so much. WE have finally after 6 weeks got pretty rotten internet back… small mercies. Thanks for a great blog post.

  14. Monique September 5, 2015 @ 10:38 am

    Again.c’est moi..

    for the pronunciation of August in French..just to add to the confusion..

  15. Nancy S September 5, 2015 @ 12:51 pm

    Vivian, love your squints! Thanks for the tutorial. I may have to try a squint of my own now. I really like your style and would be thrilled to win your squint. Keeping my fingers crossed!

  16. Kirra September 5, 2015 @ 9:12 pm

    Yay!!! You’re back!
    Vivian you are a truly amazing painter, thanks for sharing your process for squints. I think squints are great, though I don’t think I could handle the pressure of painting one myself!
    Down here in South Australia it’s now just spring, but I have missed your summer posts in our last month of winter. I hope you had a good holiday!

  17. Richi September 5, 2015 @ 9:16 pm

    Hi Vivian

    ‘Le Road Trip’ was my inspiration for getting into watercolors and its great to see how you created the Squnits from the book! I came across it about two years ago but only recently started painting on a regular basis (I post my art at https://instagram.com/chalkandpaint). I recently picked up ‘When Wanderers Cease to Roam’ and I’m having a great time reading through it.

    Thank you for sharing your painting process! As always, your posts are enjoyable and leave me feeling that I learned some new


  18. Dennis S September 5, 2015 @ 10:13 pm

    Would love to win your squint for my wife.

  19. Joan September 6, 2015 @ 1:20 am

    OMG! I Thought you were still gone on a vacation from books publishing and blog posting for a little while. Luckily I checked in on the evening of the 5th of Sept. I hope this is in time for the give away which I would love to own, a new version of a Vivian Swift, A Squint!

    Hope the random thing a bob you use for picking the winner is me, but I send good luck wishes to other followers of all things Swift, in hopes of the little squint will find a good home even if it’s not mine.

    Gald to see you back and to look forward to each Friday with a cuppa & a bit of nosh to tide me over in the morning read along.

  20. Judy Roberts Jennings September 6, 2015 @ 12:46 pm

    People wish for many things: Paris, a cruise, a huge diamond, winning the lottery, a Mercedes, lavish wedding, thousand dollar bottle of champagne, a glimpse of THE QUEEN…..
    Spending a day with you is something I’ll just bet zillions of your fans (including me) would covet above all things. Just being in your presence, oh, your artistic, funny highness presence… Watching you paint and LISTENING.
    Your Squints ARE better than your triscuits (no, I will NOT capitalize that stupid cracker we’re all still mad at). You amaze and delight us.
    Happy September…….

  21. Catya September 6, 2015 @ 6:22 pm

    That was a great class, Vivian! (I love how you placed the squint in the reference photo at the end – pretty amazing job!) Thanks!

  22. Dennis S September 6, 2015 @ 8:53 pm

    Vivian, I just realized after looking at your tutorial that you are a lefty. So is my wife!

  23. Nancy S September 6, 2015 @ 8:56 pm

    Vivian, I do look forward to your blog every week. I especially like when I can learn something from you. Thanks for sharing.

  24. Thea September 6, 2015 @ 11:55 pm

    Yay, you’re back! I hope it is with a yippee.

    As painstaking as you are with paint, so you are with explanation.

    Isn’t it satisfying to develop a Method to the point you know you can use just that process forever afterwards? Yours with framing and watercolors looks to have come about by inspiration and proper persistence.

    Hear that sound? It’s me tossing in for the draw.

  25. Casey September 7, 2015 @ 10:48 am

    I am not worthy, but still I put my self forward for the great honor of owning and cherishing a Vivian Swift original squint.

    Sometimes, when I watch you paint, seeing is still not believing. Magic, you are.

  26. Barbara L September 7, 2015 @ 12:35 pm

    I love when you do tutorials. This one was especially interesting, not just for the frame idea, but for the different effects of different paints. I’d love to win the squint, but we have won with the tutorial. Thanks.

  27. Mindy (in Portland) September 7, 2015 @ 1:12 pm

    Well, well,well! A girl takes to heart that her favorite blogger needs a break and dutifully stops checking for new posts. Then, because a girl can sometimes be a bit forgetful, one day she doesn’t come back to see if things might have changed. Much time passes. Finally, on a day when she has exhausted all other possible things to read on the interwebs, she wanders by ye olde blog thinking a reread of a good blog post beats a new read of a not-so-good blog post and my oh my, she discovers MONTHS of new blog posts! She is now justly self-satisfied that she has invented a whole new thing: binge blog reading. Yes, it can be done with enough free time on a Saturday; you can read several months of blog posts all in one sitting as long as you are adequately fortified by a good pot of tea. Ever so glad you are back, Vivian, though I will now have to wait for weekly updates.

  28. Nancy S September 7, 2015 @ 10:21 pm

    I am so looking forward to your new book! Hope to see your new trisciuts and squints in it. I’m going to pre-order from Amazon.

  29. Den S September 7, 2015 @ 10:23 pm

    My wife is in awe of your painting. She has your books and often is leafing through them.

  30. Liz H September 8, 2015 @ 1:10 am

    Brilliant. It would also be interesting to juxtapose squints that vary by technique, color, or theme.

  31. Dana September 8, 2015 @ 7:20 am

    As much as I love your triscuits and your squints, I truly love your humor the most! You are definitely a prodigy and I’m glad you share your talents with us!

  32. Nancy S September 8, 2015 @ 9:19 am

    Vivian, what kind of watercolor paper do you use? Also, have you ever framed any of your squints? I think they would look cool.

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