Let’s Do This!

When: Saturday, November 7, 2015, noon – 3-4PM

Where: The Sunbury Arts Center in Sunbury, PA

Who: Me, and you, and you, and you…but not Taffy:


Taffy will be “busy” that weekend.

Why:  I’m giving a Watercolor Workshop, thanks to a special invitation from the nice people from Sunbury who read this blog. Thank you, Dear Reader Dennis!

What:  I’m going to show you how to paint stuff like this:


And this:

P1040102And this:


And this:


And this:


But not this:


The one thing that I hope I don’t have to share is how to make a desperate rescue ……but anything other than that, I’m fine with. Ask me anything. Well…almost anything. Here’s a story about that:

I met a lady at a rather formal dinner affair a few years ago and, upon hearing that I am a writer of illustrated travel journals, opened her eyes wide in surprise and asked me, “Can you make a living at that?!

Every time I think of that lady I wish bad things would  happen to her. Add this to last week’s list: Asking nosy questions pertaining to a person’s monetary value to society is probably the best way to NOT be interesting.

I came across a very weird observation about illustrators in last week’s New Yorker magazine. It was in an article about a French graphic novelist named Riad Sattouf (seen below with his cartoon childhood self portrait):


This guy is Franco-Arabian and grew up feeling neither French nor Arab and, as a result, he says about his childhood, “I lived a very violent solitude. This is something a lot of illustrators have in common.”

Quoi? “Violent solitude?? OK, I know how French people talk and that “violent” thing is typical flouncy windbaggery, but the sad “solitude” part is, how you say, le bull sheet.

I, for one, was immensely popular as a school girl. The fact that I had red hair and was skinny and was a know-it-all made all the kids vie to be my best friend. Oh, yeah — I also preferred study hall over recess anytime — that made me very big with the tastemakers of elementary school. And moving a lot and changing schools every other year allowed me to reap the affection that my peers always show for the new kid.

Belle of the Ball, Princess of the Playground, Queen of the social hierarchy, c’est moi. I don’t know what this Sattouf guy is talking about when he says us illustrators are bred from childhoods of alienation and loneliness! And besides, he’s a cartoonist — not an illustrator.

About illustrators: New Dear Reader Susan Gillespie’s Comment last week got me thinking about the whole illustrator v. artist thing, so I dedicate this post to her, and to all you “illustrators at heart “.

Illustration will be the topic of my workshop on Nov. 7,  about how different the world looks to an illustrator than to a fine artist.  At the moment I can’t tell you what the difference is (my mind is already on the WEEKEND!) but I’m sure those differences exist, and are profound, and all, and I have days and days to think of something not stupid to say about it.

But what I can show you today is this:

That is how a fine artist (Vincent Van Gogh) sees French food:


And this is how an illustrator (namely, me) sees it:


Fine Art (by Frederick Leighton):


Illustration (by me, again):


Fine Artist (Monet, doing  The Garden at Montgeron):


Illustrator (it’s always going to be me, by the way):


Fine artist (Georgia O’Keefe):




Fine artist (Paul Klee in Tunisia):


Illustrator (in Marrakech):


Fine artist (the great Richard Diebenkorn):




And here is how a fine artist (Henri Matisse) sees Dance:


And here is how this illustrator sees Dance:


I know there’s a difference between the fine artist’s eye and the illustrator’s eye, but I can’t explain it, not this close to the WEEKEND!!! But I know I’ll come up with something for when I have to be smart and workshoppy. And when I do, you know that I’ll share it here, too, with all of you Dear Readers.

By the way, I hear that there are a few spots still available for my  Watercolor Workshop on Nov. 7, so if you are in the Sunbury/Lewisburg (home of Bucknell University) area and you want to hang out with us in an afternoon of “violent solitude” (and yes, we’ll let you sit with us at the popular kids’ table), call 570-286-0818 to register.

And now, I give to you: The WEEKEND!

15 Comments, RSS

  1. Casey

    This is fun, looking at the differences between you the illustrator and them the fine artists, but honestly I can’t tell any qualitative difference. Your Marrakesh house is as arty as Debenkorn but putting them together like that is eye-opening. Fun.

    If I was not an 8 hour drive away from Sunbury I would love to see you illustrate in person! But if you ever come to New England we will make room for you at the cheerleader’s table. That’s right. I used to cheer in high school. But maybe you would have been too cool to sit with me back then.

    TAFFY!! I shouldn’t ask this, but he’s still alive, isn’t he? Or is he just the coolest cat in the neighborhood? And would HE let ME sit at his lunch table??

  2. Marg-o

    I laughed out loud at the picture of Taffy. “Busy”! And then I laughed at the word “windbaggery” and since I know a thing or two about the French I now that’s true, they are a little melodramatic. But that mashup of Diebenkoen and you was hilarious! I don’t know how you found such a perfect canvas but it works to show the difference between a greg artist and a great illustrator: same world, different planets.

  3. Megan

    Oh dear sweet Taffy, he definitely has his priorities right, you simply must soak up some sun. He is soooo gorgeous. Glad you have an opportunity to teach, wish I was not half a planet away. Have fun.

  4. Jessie

    i just found this blog today and i think your show about fine art v. illustration is the best. funny and i hope taffy is keeping warn now that the weather is getting more fall like.

  5. Alicia

    I haven’t commented in a while altho I always love checking in with you, but I can’t get today’s story out of my mind. What kind of assh*le asks an artist, “Can you make a living from that?”

    Really?? That bothers me. How stupid do you have to be to challenge the creativity of another person on monetary return? Of course most artists do not make a living at their work, even from what I’ve read about best selling writers, even a NYT best seller can’t make a living just by books these days.

    Vivian, you and I both wish that bad things would happen to the lady, “lady” who said such a heartless, thoughtless, stupid thing to you.

    And Taffy is really cute.

  6. I’m so far from Sunbury I don’t even know where it is! But if I was closer, boy, I’d be there in a New York minute! They are lucky to have you to do a workshop. And I loved your explanation of fine art vs. illustration. I know just exactly what you mean and I couldn’t put it in words to save my soul!

  7. Snorted my coffee out my nose at the picture of Taffy, all stretched out and living in the moment. My daughter would sing, “I’m a laaaady” while her cat would lie sprawled out on her back .

    I love the compare/contrast fine art and illustration. Also love that both are wonderful, just different. Honestly prefer the liveliness of your illustrations.

    Have fun in PA!

  8. Nancy Shuey

    Vivian, I cannot wait until the Sunbury workshop! I have been a fan of your work for a long time. This will be a treat! See you there.

  9. Patricia

    I’m just grateful you CAN make a living illustrating travel books (and writing them too). Right now, you make me wish I lived anywhere near you so I could be one of the lucky students. On the other hand, after last winter, I’m terribly glad I live where it just rains. No need for the champagne-o-meter in Seattle.

  10. Thea

    That Marrakech take by you? That Dance? Both done by a fine artist. And hell yes I like best the work that seems less painstakingly done (although I am sure you took the pains).

    What I wish is you would come to my little village by the sea (where the sun sets in its proper place). We’d walk around, and you would point out what you spot as a subject for your art. A camera would be involved. Then I’d take you to the locals’ watering hole, and over drinks we’d click through the photos and discuss the whys. Heaven.

  11. bunny

    I prefer the illustrations over those stuck up somewhat famous artists, and sure wish I was in or even near the grand state of Pennsylvania on the weekend you will be doing the workshop, as I have loved your work for some time. Another great blog post, love that Taffy, and I’m quite sure, he will be warm, as I have read much about your love of the animal kingdom.

  12. Laura

    I’m another wanna-be student wishing I could take your class in Sunbury. Best of luck to you in this live teaching gig.

    You teach us every week and this time it is the question of illustration vs. fine art. As your carefully selected examples prove, that line has either blurred or never actually existed at all to begin with, except in the minds of one school of artists hoping to exclude others.

    It seems that illustration may be defined by it’s purpose to directly convey a specific story or message and leave less to the interpretation of the viewer, giving more information to read. What art doesn’t convey a message or story? How can the O’Keeffe or the Klee not be considered illustration? or your still life or figure in repose not be considered fine art? I’m always left with more questions than answers on this.

  13. VivianFan

    No offense to Sunbury but Sunbury is in the middle of, well, Pennsylvania. I’m sure you’ll have lots of pretty nature to look at and be inspired by, just wish it was not in the middle of, well, Pennsylvania.

    I’m with Laura about that you teach us so much about being an artist here every week, but I like the way your illustrationist mind works too. Thank you.

  14. carol

    At last! All caught up with blog. Can’t read it on work computer (shhh!) as firewall blocks server. So read on phone. Because art/travel/cat tutorials are so much more interesting than the world of corporate. Are you going to do travel book on Scotland???? Was Hadrian’sWall illustrated. Fingers crossed that it was. Greetings to Penelope!

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