The Difference Between October and November Means Something Deep About Life in General, Probably

This was October:P1040216

This (same place, same time of day) is November:


It gets worse.

This was October 31 at my favorite local public garden, Cedarmere (home of the forgotten famous poet, William Cullen Bryant):


This is the same place, on November 18 this year:


And this is the same exact place on November 18, 2012:

P1120519 copy

Come with me, further down this path (on Nov. 18, 2012):

P1120520 copy

And take this same walk with me on Nov. 18, 2015:


Let us turn and look back (on Nov. 18, 2012):


And let’s see what it looks like exactly (to the day) three years later:


The difference is not the wild and unpredictable vagaries of Autumn. The difference is this:


Between the time I took the October photo of this woods and the November photo of this same woods, there as been a lot of chopping down of these woods and Thank Goodness. There was just too much beauty going on here. Thank goodness that someone saw that, and chopped down all those offensive red maple trees and cleared the view of all its ability to inspire poetry and romance in the heart of any passer-by. Whew.

It’s exactly like what happened to me this past week. I’ve heard tell that blogs are out of style these days, and that Instagram is now the portal to modern culture and relevancy, and as I like to feel with it when it comes to not turning into one of those people who can’t stop talking about how much better things used to be [before hipsters and their damn tattoos, reality TV, smart phones, rap music, you name it],  I was looking for a way to check out this strange new world via my trusty Apple computer. One thing led to another and another until there I was, “upgrading” my entire operating system to the latest new hip version, which Apple calls El Capitan.

El Capitan has cleared out all the ease and comfort that I used to have when I used my trusty computer — yay — so that I can now, indeed, get a clear view of this Instagram thing. I don’t get it…why people just want to look at pictures of other people’s lunches and relatives and black and white photographs of vegetables… but I’m following Taylor Swift.

And now let’s us have some fun: Last week’s Triscuit…


…inspired Dear Reader Jane to get out her brand new Grumbacher paints and do some dabbing of her own! She sent me this photo of her Triscuit-making:


Well done! And thank you!

And as I hinted at last week, I have some unfinished painting business to get to today, so let us put all thoughts of regretful operating system updates and blog-quitting in favor of snap-shooting what I’m going to have for lunch aside and get to it!

Back to the un-axed days of October:


I start by laying down a few very watery patches of color…

P1040601…including yellow for background “light’:


Working “wet on wet” — over-laying another color onto still-wet paint, I bleed in some bright green in the background:


Now I dab is some middle-ground color:



Well, it looks to me as if I over-did the background bleeds…


…so let’s start over, and this time let’s put down the yellow first (the most important color in this picture):


Then do the blue sky:


Let’s keep the background reds to a minimum this time:


Just a touch of deeper vermillion:


I have an over-fondness of bleeds, I think:


The trick, again, is to dab in color without dabbing in too much (which would make it turn to mud):


Add some ground color here…


…and we have our background wash, ready to paint in the middle and foregrounds:


I must mention painting with clean water is essential to giving life to watercolor. During the course of this wash, I’ve already used two or three changes of water. I use several 8-ounce jam jars at a time, each filled with water, so I don’t have to stop what I’m doing and dump out dirty water for new. I never let my water get any dirtier than this:


Now that everything is bone dry, I dab in areas of color into the middle ground of the picture. Notice that I use the word “dab“. I am not stroking my brush against the paper, I’m just tap-tap-tapping the point of my brush onto the surface. I vary the shape and color density of each dab to give a random pattern effect:


When I want more detail, I switch to my Size 00 brush, but I do not stroke paint into the picture: I still just dab at the surface of my paper:


These yellow in the very center of this scene will be the focus of this picture…


…but I made them too dark. So I’m going to rescue this picture by going over this area with white acrylic paint (I use white acrylic paint like it was Wite-Out):


Now comes the fun part! I get to add dark dabs! And now the picture is taking real form:





I hope you can see how, working from the lightest wash in the background to the darkest bits in the foreground, this picture has a kind of “glow” that imitates light:


Now I’m going to add color and texture to the center of this picture to make those yellow leaves and those silhouetted trees at the end of the trail (which are the focus of this pic) “pop”:



If you compare this (below) to the pic above, you can see how I am now painting a background of dark green color around the light green that I dabbed in, to make the foreground foliage stand out:


And now I paint over the white acrylic paint to make my yellow leaves:


Tree time:



I have already eliminated the fence in the right hand side of the photo because I thought that adding such a feature in this pic would make too much visual clutter…and now I’m thinking that I should have eliminated this dark, back-lit tree also, because I liked this pic more about four steps ago, when it still had happy, impressionistic look. Ah, well, let’s see if we can make this old tree work:


The first thing I want to do is soften the root system, using my favorite trick — the bleed. So I hose that baby down with a brush full of clear water:


While it’s still wet, I’m going to quickly work in some greenery…


…and some brownery…


…and I’m going to spread out some more dirt-ery (using a very wet brush to dilute the paint)…



…and stroke in some black shadowy stuff…


…and bleed in some more greenery and blackery:


Works for me. The more confident I become with my watercolor painting skills, the more I like to let the paints do their watercolor-thing, let the pigment and the water stand like a signature of the flow and spontaneity of the medium.

When I compare my painting to the reference photo, I think that the pic needs some more darkness in the way back, to make the light at the end of this path “flicker” more:



Now I take another look, and something tells me that I am done with the back and middle grounds here:


It’s time to tackle that big dark back-lit evergreen that looms over this scene:


I don’t want to over-do it. Less is more, so again I “edit” this view for the sake of visual clarity in the painting:


I’m calling this picture DONE.



I call this painting Cedarmere Woods The Way It Will Never, Ever Look Again.

I wish you all, my Dear Readers, a Happy and Merry Thanksgiving.

10 Comments, RSS

  1. Megan

    Nothing I hate more than the sound of chainsaws. We need more trees not less, all total insanity. So glad you have those beautiful photographs to paint from. Lovely painting.

  2. Casey

    TWERKING. I hate twerking. And to think that in the olden days people thought the Twist was bad news.

    Why why why did those woods have to be cleared? If I know you, you will track down the guy with the axe and demand answers (please let us know WHY). Oh well. We’ll always have your painting of the way Cedarmere will never ever be again.

    Watching you paint makes me feel productive. It’s a great way to start the weekend.

    I wish you and Top Cat and Penelope and Taffy and the rest of the herd a happy thanksgiving too.

  3. Janet

    Having recently been reminded that I “am of a certain age,” I have no qualms at all about owning up to a total lack of hipsterness. I would be very sad to have your wonderful weekly blog replaced by Instagram — it was bad enough when you went on hiatus. It wasn’t all that long ago that I used to keep up with emerging everything but luckily I’m over that, and I now find myself content to just let things be until it makes sense for them to change/improve. How in the world would you be able to deliver a watercolor tutorial on Instagram for example? Or warn of making a software conversion to El Capitan? I vote for your keeping things the way they are — unless, of course, you care to blog MORE than once a week.

  4. Love this — I actually love it far more than the original photo — so much lighter and brighter and the real essence of fall. Once again, I appreciate the step-by-step. It makes a huge difference. You make me very antsy to have an all-painting day!

    Instagram — I don’t see the point. I much prefer the blog for more detail and the interpersonal connections that are the underlying bonus of all this sharing. To each his or her own, but it’s not mine. I have too much on the plate to add another!

  5. Vivian,

    I’ve pledged this week to give thanks each day for somethine unique, signficant, meaningful….today it’s so easy. I give thanks for Vivian Swift and her blog. I give thanks for your generosity of spirit which inspires, instructs, motivates.

    This is a tremendous post, hours of inspiration today, tomorrow, next week. Thank you, thank you!
    I think you taught a class last week, how did that go?

  6. WWendi

    Hello Vivian!
    I am so happy that you are posting are your blog again! I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts, and I absolutely treasure your books!

    I guess I’m the minority in that I am thrilled that you have found your way to Instagram. I personally enjoy Instagram very much… Mainly because it’s about images and photos. I find it less time consuming than Facebook, and that there is far less personal and political drama.

    I don’t think blogs are “out of style” or irrelevant at all, and Instagram will never replace reading a well written blog! But, I do think Instagram can be a wonderful compliment to a blog, and a helpful tool in reaching broader audience (if one wishes). Obviously, you would not be able to do a full, detailed tutorial on Instagram; but you could post an image of it and direct people to the full tutorial on your blog by linking to it in your profile. I follow several artists who do this.

    Maybe it would help to find and follow the the people who post images and topics that interest you…

    What I love about Instagram is that I have found a tribe of illustrated journal keepers/watercolor sketchers/sketch-journalists and they are from all over the world! There are amazing sketchbook artists from Russia, China, Austrailia, Japan, India, Europe, the U.S., Ireland, Iceland, Norway, etc… These wonderful people regularly post and freely share their watercolor sketches and illustrated journaling! I find it incredibly inspiring, and such a positive in a time when it would be very easy to view the world negatively. Since I don’t know anyone personally, in my everyday life, that shares the same enthusiasm I do for sketch-journaling this helps me to feel connected and keeps me inspired.

    Anyway… That’s just my two cents. I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve taken the liberty of tagging you in a few Instagram posts that mention you or your books via #VivianSwift. You can find me on Instagram @WWendi.

  7. Marg-o

    I love the way you say you let the watercolor do its own thing, as if the picture paints itself! But I know that watercolor doesn’t naturally pool and blend and form itself into an evocation of October without the gifted touch of a real artist. If I let my watercolor do its thing, all I’d have is a puddle of mud.

    So exciting to see what comes alive while you paint.

    I don’t get Instagram, neither. I like stories, but I guess these days that people don’t have time for stories any more. Thank you, Vivian, for bringing so much heart and skill and soul to your old fashioned blog.

  8. Joan

    I’m not a fan of Instagram or Twitter. I’m far from being a hipster, I’m 76 yrs. old for heaven’s sake! Blogs will never be out of style for me. I’ve made too many good friends via the blogs I follow, you included.

    Your tutorials are indeed and inspiration, it was the written and visual context of your first book, When Travelers Cease to Roam that led to your blog. So I’m thankful for your weekly posts, your sense of humor, your rants and outrage at what happens to places like the lovely woods that have been hacked down! For what purpose?

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