Howl The Eternal Yes!

Today I want to talk to you about How I Do What I Do.

Wait. That sounds too grandiose.

Today, I want to show you How I Make The Sausage That Is My Art.

Which is illustrating, and which I do from photos.

Yes, I paint from photos. There. I’ve said it. n answer to that age-old question, “Where do you get your ideas from?”, my answer is: “I get them from the photographs I take.” (And yes, I carry a real camera around with me so I can take photos of passing scenes that interest me.)

This is a picture of something I saw on a morning walk in my Long Island neighborhood one day:


Oh, my…I was entranced by [with?] the way the morning light was streaming through the branches of this small stand of young trees. I took the photo, thinking that if I could study it long enough, I might be able to paint such a scene…back-lit foliage on a June day:

P1030840This led to a Summer-long preoccupation with studying the effects of back-light on green grass….as you can see below, when I snapped another pic of the same phenomena:



Please note that I am taking photos of photos, which look like crap when you post them on your blog, to show you the alongside the watercolor studies I did. Sorry about that.

Sometimes I would snap a photo and not know that it would make for a lousy study until after I’d painted it — like this “beach” scene below, taken on a North Shore of Long Island cove, which even with artistic license did not make for a compelling picture (but note: I never throw anything away — even the duds are worth keeping, because nothing that you try to paint ever goes to waste):


One year I went out walking with my camera on Dec. 26 specifically in search of subjects.  As soon as I spied this heap of apres-Xmas trash, I knew I had a “scene”:


Same as when I walked past this bike-and-basketball scene:


Sorry that it’s so hard to see the basketball — but in my mind’s eye, that little blip of orange basketball was THE focal!

This is hard to see, in the photo below, but I zoomed in on a backyard fence on which were poised a line of plastic pink flamingos with an American flag accoutrement that I couldn’t resist (which I also edited [moved the flag] when I painted the scene):


Who wouldn’t have found this little vignette adorable?:


Once I have done my studies, I gather them together on scotch tape them on a page and stick them in my sketchbook, for future ref:


So I repeat: Never throw away your studies! If nothing else, they bring back fond memories of stomping through snow fall on the day after Christmas of a year you can’t even remember…good times).

I confess that I do not put away my garden hose so it suffers in Winter because I am a bad, bad people — and I am so glad! Because this was such a pleasure to paint:


I loved the elegant loops of the hose, and the variations in the color of it — yellow-green, bright green, brownish-green, olive — I had such a fun time painting this, even though I knew I would never find anything useful (publishable) in it:


Another Winter blizzard, another walk around the neighborhood, another fabulous view — you can’t see it very well on the photo, but that little red bow tied around the post was the whole reason that I wanted to paint this very wacky and cool and dilapidated fence:


Old fences in the snow make for wonderful painting subjects:


The challenge here was to paint a white fence IN THE SNOW!!! What fun!!!:


Another fence  (see below) — by the way, all you have to do to get a better view of both these photos and the resultant paintings is to move your mouse onto the photo (as, below, or above) and click onto it…the gremlins of the internets will blow up the image so you can gander at it better (and, in the case below, see what happens when you use yellow-winted masking fluid where you want white snow to be):


GREAT tree house, and a fun way to practice painting a Winter tree:


Could YOU pass by this bit of snow-dusted topiary and NOT want to paint it???:


Or this Adarondak chair???:


The only reason I took this snapshot (below) was because of the candy cane decorations in the lawn — aren’t they adorable?:


Sometimes, when you least expect it, like, say, when you are wandering through a hardware store, you come across a still life that tickles your fancy and lucky you! You have a camera handy!:


A few years ago I went to my local Whole Foods:


And then I got on a whole pumpkin thing:


The thing that I liked about this display (below) was the hierarchy of pumpkins…the big fella on top, the middle fella in the middle, and the two tiny babies on the bottom:

As you can see, I was too timid when I painted in the shadows, made them too pale, and lost the whole POINT of the pic! Those two tiny baby pumpkins on the bottom step just disappear! But that’s why you have to do these studies: to teach yourself to not wimp out! Use that black paint! Black paint is OK!! So are exclamation points!!!!

Now, I took a LOT of artistic licsence when I did the next pic:


The thing that tickled my fancy about this scene was the three small tomatoes sitting on the back step. Why? Why would someone put tomatoes (and a green pepper) on the back step? Why? Were they in the middle of harvesting their vegetable patch and got called away by — what? The bends? An emergency salad-making convention? The desire to compose a sonnet?

I LOVED those three little tomatoes on the back step:

P1030855 2

I also loved the rake — which was a weird, really small rake, which I could never have painted AS IS because it would not have made any sense. Now, earlier that week I had seen a big pumpkin on a front porch, and a squirrel was perched atop it, but I didn’t have my camera and did not record the scene, but I used the memory of that to “jzuush” up my little picture (as seen above).

“Jzuush” is an artistic and fashionista tecnical term for “spiffen up”.

When I saw these Autumn leaves scattered on this sidewalk (below), I wondered if I could make a painting out of it:


Nope. It was obviously above my pay grade. But I give myself props for trying.

I also wondered the same thing — could I make a painting of this? —  when I came across this delightful scene, which I call Picket Fence With Wonky Brick Sidewalk and Autumn Leaves:


I bet that if I hadn’t shown you actual photographs of this…


…you would never believe that my Squint illustration was based on actual fact! Right?

Same here:


Yes, sometimes sun set on the Long Island Sound is just too pinky/lavender/silver to be true:


This is where I stopped blogging for a few hours because I suddenly realized that it was a fine, fine Fall evening and I gasped at the folly of me sitting at my computer when sun set on the Long Island Sound was a mere 25 minutes away!!!  And I jumped up and dashed out the door and got in my car and fought my way through traffic-jam traffic through the Village of Roslyn on the north shore of Long Island and jumped out of my car and ran — yes, I RAN — to the cliff above Hempstead Harbor and began snapping away at the fleeting, all too fleeting display of light of this day, the one and only day of October 8, 2015:



And if I make a painting of this once-in-a-lifetime sun set of Oct. 8, 2015, you can rest assured that I will show it to you all, my Dear Readers, right here.

Oh? That embedded video below? That fantastic dance song that makes you feel twenty years younger just by listening to it? With the armies that fight by glitter that makes you wish the whole world was run by cardboard-weilding pop stars from Brisbane? That’s just my latest reason Why I Am Ever So Glad That There Are Australians To Make This World a Better Place:

All I want to know is: Why do Australians say “Geronimo”? It’s not like the average American yells Ned Kelly …so why do Aussies know about Geronimo in the Land of Oz? Aussies: Please explain.

Meantime, hit repeat and everybody get up and dance!!! It’s the week-end!!!


33 Comments, RSS

  1. janet b.

    it is very VERY difficult to make me long for winter ~ i’m a gardening-addicted, spring and summer girl. but those paintings with kisses of snow are a great reminder of the beauty that’s heading toward us in a few short SHORT weeks. i just loved the fences in snow, the hose, and the bicycle nestled with basketball. as always, vivian, merci! oh, and nice chandelier! very FANCY!!

    • Vivian

      I am NO fan of Winter either, but I have found that painting it makes it a bit more tolerable. Just a BIT. And, in the long run, snow is easier to paint then grass, so there’s almost a benefit to digging the Winter scene. Almost.

      It’s only October and already I am dreading the first snow.

  2. I have to tell you i think you make the very ordinary look extrardinary.I take a lot of pics too..but I have never focused on one thing..I would have walked right by that bike and the stoop w/ the rake..and wow..I won’t now..focusing on one thing ..a vignette within a vignette..may help me..
    I think what I am trying to say is that you paint things much prettier than they are in most cases.

    • Vivian

      Well, that is so sweet of you to say. And I’m glad to know that you will be taking more advantage of your artistic license from now on. Good Lordy, if I couldn’t “edit” the world, I’d be in a bad mood all day long.

  3. Casey

    Loved this. Thanks for the tip about clicking onto the photos in this post to make them bigger, but you actually have to click onto them twice, it’s a two-step process but yes, you get up close to them and really see the correlation between photo and finished illustration. Most interesting.

    And I agree with you about the 1990s, mostly because I was in middle school back then and middle school is the most dreadful time of life.

  4. Barb H

    As much as the way you paint, I have to say it is your vision and appreciation of just the things that capture me and of course many of us, that is thrilling as a way of looking at the world and indeed of being alive. Sunlight on the grass indeed – YOU did it!! Thank you so much for this.

    • Vivian

      I did? Did I do it? Oh — and I mean this sincerely — thank you! Because in my brain there is still a big gap between what I wanted to pant and what I actually painted…but if your eyes see sunlight on grass, then I’m happy.

    • Vivian

      Well, to be fair to this great planet, the beauty is there all along, and since I don’t cook or care whether the housework gets done, I just happen to have the time to go looking for it.

  5. Maryanne in SC

    Oh I’m glad you’re back.
    Greetings from soggy, washed out SC. Yours was a welcome mental excursion. I recognized some of those studies from WHEN WANDERERS… so excellent.

    2 years ago when you took the blog to “florange” you posted an image of a window from your neighborhood. Inside was a lamp and a tiny pumpkin posed on the window frame. I painted that image 3 or 4 times just to see if I could “get it.” I use images from Jeanie’s wonderful Marmelade Gypsy blog the same way – you both have an eye for a story.

    Thanks for “Geronimo” – today’s a good day to dance.
    XOXO – Maryanne in SC

    • Vivian

      Hi Maryanne!!! “Soggy” is an understatement — I have a friend with a garden in your neck of the woods and they are both under 2 feet of water. Good going, too, on the persistence re: pumpkin painting. In the long run, you never regret the hours you spend with a pumpkin, n’est-ce pas?

  6. maria

    What a great post! You made me look up my old pictures and try to paint like you did, small bits and peaces instead of the whole thing, which most of the time comes out horrible (and throwing it away!) I promise not to do that anymore. But… your so called crap or studies are little treasures, piece by piece!
    Thanks again for the inspirational pictures and paintings! Looove it!

    Going back to my painted autumn leaves again! (BTW; I’m in Ireland at this moment, so yes here it’s very autumn).
    Warm greetings,

  7. Laura

    Drawing makes you see more, no matter if it’s from life or (your) photos.
    Artists make the ordinary, extraordinary.
    Vivian, you show us how to carve it out of our personal landscapes with pencil and paint – thank you.
    Keep your eyes open, fellow readers, your art is all around you.

    • Vivian

      Oh, definitely yes: you don’t know something until you’ve tried to paint it. Or draw it. Or paint it: I saw a night table that was a dark wood but I bought it anyway because I knew it would be adorable if I painted it white. And then I painted it. It’s very cute but Good Lordy…there were soooooo many more planes to that table than I “saw”. I’ll probably never paint another night table again.

  8. ann

    You have such a great imagination Vivian. That is why your pictures are so much better than the photograph.

    I also love clouds. Our Walmart parking lot has the best sunsets you’ve ever seen. I haven’t found a better view in the small town of Vidalia. I am still recovering from a bright purple sunset I saw tonight.

    • Vivian

      The best place to see a sunset around here, inland from the shore of the Long Island Sound, is the parking lot of Waldbaum’s grocery store. Sometimes, when I see a good sun set brewing, I drive down there just to get a look, and then, as long as I’m there, I pop into the store for donuts. I figure, what with me going to all that trouble for an esthetic experience, I’ve earned some glazed deep fried dough.

  9. Thea

    My Jazzercise class dances to “Hey, Geranimo,” cute routine, cute song, great cardio. Never knew to credit the Oz, so thanks for that. You make beauty out of crap views, so want to take you on our Heritage Rose tours to see what you’d make of them. Just to be clear: I also notice beauty in crap. I don’t paint, though, I write. All in the eye, n’est pas. May you ever flourish under the light of your own chandeliers.

    • Vivian

      I love heritage roses — you’re not saying they are crap, are you? And if you are, you should know that when it comes to gardens, I love decrepitude. LOVE it. This tour sounds like just my kind of thing.

  10. Patricia Hall

    I’m huddled in the port terminal squinting at my ipad (free wi fi) on a blustery windy day in Sydney Nova Scotia and can’t get your video. I can however overhear multiple phone calls in Tagalog and Bahasa as ships crews call home. I love your eye, your ability to see the beauty in the everyday. If you were here, you’d probably shoot the world’s largest violin.
    And make something wonderful. Thank you for Fridays. And yes, every closet needs a little bling.

    • Vivian

      This Comment is like poetry! I HEAR it! The wind, the Nova Scotia, the background Austronesian languages, the…world’s larger violin? Awesome.

  11. Melissa

    The song’s lyrics are explained as “taking a fearless leap into the unknown of love.” But it does seem like a stretch.

    I love your vignettes and sketches! They could definitely be small illustrations for stories! And some of those little snow scenes wouldn’t be amiss on a Christmas card…

    • Vivian

      I get it! I do! It’s been a while since love seemed so scary, but there were times I remember when I said to myself: Damn the torpedoes — full speed ahead! (Spoken by Rear Admiral David Farragut at the Battle of Mobile Bay, American Civil War, 1864.)

  12. Megan

    Great post and thank you for appreciating us Aussies! We are pretty outwardly looking and we all grew up with western movies, so maybe that is where the war cry comes from? Sadly Ned Kelly doesn’t roll off the tongue as well… Glad to see you are able to see the domestic clip, the international one is not nearly as good. How is Taffy and the clan?

    • Vivian

      Taffy is fine, perfecting his Bondi Beach Bum groove in our backyard (see photo oh him in Oct. 23 post). The one who drives me crazy is our new feral, Steve. Every time he doesn’t show p on my front wall for breakfast or dinner I go all mental as anything. And then, when he DOES make an appearance, I almost levitate from happiness (or relief). A cat should not have this much power over my well being, but he does.

  13. I love the photos around your neighborhood. I love the light and shadows in your paintings – especially the one you claim is above your pay grade!

    I like pretending to be a tourist at home and have spotted all kinds of interesting scenes. The craziest one? I drove by a big bush with large white blobs – which were really someone’s tighty-whities drying out in the sun! Probably won’t try to paint that scene!

    • Vivian

      Oh M G — I would have LOVED to see a photo of that!! That would be one of those rare cases where an illustration just wouldn’t do. I, too, have a have photo of a crazy at-home scene, and I’ll have to post it for you in next week’s (Oct 30) blog.

  14. OMG!!! I am so glad I found a Pin on pinterest that took me to your blog. I sat this morning with my coffee and read at least 20 pages of post. LOVE IT!!

    I know that if I lived in NY we would be fast friends. I do not come close to your ‘non’ talent but I too cannot do fast and loose. That is just crazy. I have two friends that are wonderful watercolorist and they are continually telling me to use bigger brushes. NO NO NO I say, I love little tiny detail stuff.

    I am like you I am still not sure if I have found my painting niche. I love pen and ink watercolor just because of the control feature.

    I am going out now for my daily walk and I am going to find some fall leaves and bring them home and paint them like you illustrated.

    Also, from now on I shall call myself an illustrator and not an artist. I will also get a strap for my REAL camera so that I can wear it around my neck like a tourist when I walk the neighborhood. ‘That ought to stir up some strange conversations with neighbors’ 🙂

    Thank you so much for you uplifting,funny, insightful posts. I have added your blog to my weekly read and your books on Amazon to my Christmas wish list.

    I look forward to next week.

  15. So glad I didn’t miss your commenting deadline! I’ve been in the land of orange leaves and now I think I have more than a few future studies. I love seeing how you make the sausage (and do I recognize a couple of those from Wanderers? Now you’re sending me to the book case!). You remind me that even those I consider most talented must work very, very hard to get the right things. Practice, practice, practic — what is it Malcolm Gladwell said in Outliers?? Something about 10,000 hours to make the experts. Well, you’ve more than scored!

    And yes, I live for the real camera, too. And you remind me — the whole photo matters less than the details. (White fence on white snow? Now that’s a lesson to learn!)

    • Vivian

      The hardest work of all is not hating yourself after the painting doesn’t work out after the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, … 7th, 8th time. THAT’s hard.

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