Squinting at the Last of My 50s

NOTE: Yes, I did it again, I forgot to turn on the Comments button. But it’s on now, and I would love to hear from you! And now, back to the regularly scheduled blog:

The times call for a bold blue sky:


“The times” being my upcoming birthday weekend in which I say farewell to my 50s without ever having been totally convinced that I ever left my 30s, and “the times” being the time I walked from the small town of Vernon to the much smaller town of Giverny (in May 2013, which I have not painted until now):


I’m glad that I waited, and painted nine other gardens (for the DGB) before I tackled Monet’s garden (and environs) at Giverny. For one thing, I’ve gotten good at not painting clouds — once you get used to picking up watercolor with a bit of rolled-up paper towel, you never have to PAINT clouds … you non-paint them:


For another thing about why I am glad I waited until now to “do” Monet/Giverny, since I did not use many Squints in my DGB it is a lot of fun to be playing with this format again. I’m happy to see that at my advanced age (I am now the very oldest I’ve ever been), I still have control of the fine motor skills I need to paint these very teeny-tiny poplars:


Last week Dear Reader Kirra left a Comment about it being time to call the poor DGB by its real name — Gardens of Awe and Folly. I should explain that the reason I use the shortcut DGB (stands for Damn Garden Book) is because while a book is a work-in-progress I get extremely cranky — the damn thing refuses to write itself!!! — so I call it the Damn [fill in blank] to let it know who’s boss. Also, using an acronym is a great way to store Word files. Even tho I type on a Mac, I use the Microsoft word processing program, and I head each chapter file with DGB because it’s easy to type and is easy to spot in the clutter that is my Documents folder. So I mean no disrespect when I call this new work-in-progress book the NDB (stand for New Damn Book). It’s just a part of my process.


BTW, I should also tell you that I used my trusty liquid masking fluid on the pic below, on the trunks of those trees that take up the center of this landscape — over which I paint the background foliage:


I also used my white acrylic paint to dab in some leaves on that tree in the foreground, over which I am putting on a layer of bright green paint to make it pop:


Another part of my process is the work I do on a work-in-progress while I sleep. Usually, while I am composing a book, I dream incessantly about running through mazes, searching and or fleeing through endless rooms in an abandoned house, climbing hills, and dashing though airports on the verge of missing a flight — in other words, the whole repertoire of anxiety dreams about not being up to the task at hand.


But ever since I outlined this new book about Giverny, I dream of opening bureau drawers and finding a treasure chest of old Christmas decorations, of going into my closet and discovering ball gowns that I did not know I had, and of being on a train that glides through a library full of books that open themselves (and that look like board games, or holograms). So I feel pretty good about this New Damn Book.


Last week Dear Reader Ann made this Comment (about how I changed the scale of several buildings to make them more prominent in y painting than they were in the real life reference photo): I never thought about taking artistic license to make the picture more appealing by making the buildings larger.


I loved this Comment because it observed something important about the difference between what I do as an illustrator and what another painter would do as a fine artist. As an illustrator, I insist that my paintings contain information — in fact, I contrive to put as much information in my paintings as possible, even if that means exaggerating certain elements of the view or editing out other non-essential bits. Fine artists do not seem to be terribly interested in making art that contains any worthwhile information — have you seen the oeuvre of Mark Rothko?


For this little Squint, I wanted the information to be all about the poplars, which is why I put them in the very center of the picture (and saved them for last — I knew that I was going to love painting this group of trees!!):


I was lucky that the photo that I took of these trees was pretty perfect, so I did not have to fudge any details. It was such a pleasure to do this scene…and I think that in the end it turned out to be a very happy picture:


And then there’s this photo…

P1160496 (1)

…which contains this Squint…


…which I will have to warp just a bit in order for it to be as informative as I need it to be, and which I will paint for you next week during my first blog post as a — gasp — 60 year old.


34 Comments, RSS

  1. Casey

    Really?? I’m the first to comment!!

    I love this post for your insight on the difference between fine art and illustration. From now on,when I go to a museum I am going to ask myself how much INFORMATION does this painting give me? I’m like you, I want a lot of info in the pictures that I look at.

    Thank you for giving me the word that I needed to describe why I can’t look at art made in my lifetime and why I love your pictures so much.

    • Vivian

      You know what I don’t get? Still Lifes. I don’t know why they exist. I don’t know what information they are supposed to contain, except “This is some stuff that was laying around my house”, or “Here’s stuff I’m too poor to own”. I have never painted a still life and I probably never will.

  2. I love reading your posts Vivian! Your art and sense of humour put a smile on my face. Don’t worry about turning 60, your best years are ahead of you:)
    I started painting at 60,four years ago, and found an endless source of joy.
    At this age,we can drop the shoulds, sorries, and could ofs, and live out loud!
    Happy Birthday!

  3. Nancy Shuey

    Hey Vivian!
    It’s amazing all the information you can tell with you squints. I just love them.
    Just wanted to wish you the happiest of birthdays ahead of time. Don’t worry about the number. They mean nothing. I have friends who are younger than I am, but act like they are ready for the grave. It’s all in how you think.
    Enjoy your special day.
    Nancy S

  4. Megan

    Happy Birthday to you! I think you are just getting warmed up. Interesting that someone else commented on the best years being ahead of you!

    • Vivian

      Ha! I mis-read your Comment at first as “just getting warned up” and I thought “Warned Up? Is that a thing?” And I like it! Watch out world: You are just getting warned up for V. Swift’s Second Act.

  5. Thea

    Happiest of birthdays! Sixty is a fine age at which to be alive.
    Completed yesterday a binge-read of Peter Mayle’s Sam Levitt novels. I pictured all action in my mind’s eye as through your squints. Had a fine old time. Thank you.

  6. ann

    Happy Birthday! You are getting better with your art as you get older. You see so much more. Enjoyed your squint. I am amazed how beautiful you make your greens. Also, how well you edit your pictures with just the essentials. Thanks for sharing.

    • Vivian

      I think you’re right, Ann…I think that by getting better at editing I am getting a LOT better at making good pictures. I think there is a life lesson to be extrapolated from this, if this were a blog that was that kind of blog.

  7. SusanA

    “I say farewell to my 50s without ever having been totally convinced that I ever left my 30s”
    Thanks for the smile! I thought I was the only one who felt this way, although I won’t be saying farewell to my 50s until December. I hope you have a wonderful birthday weekend!

    • Vivian

      Here’s the great thing about being our age, SusanA: I would rather have been in my 30s in the 1980s than to be in my 30s now. I knew the ’80s were a ton of fun when I was living through them — I pity my born-too-late peers: whatever nostalgia is going to look like in 2046, it won’t be half as bouncy trouncy flouncy pouncy fun fun fun. all I have to hear is five seconds of Billy Idol and I’m jumping onto table tops. Ahhh…those were the days.

  8. I walked that 4 kilometers from Vernon to Giverny once. Never again. That is one Very long, hard walk. I think I fainted upon arrival.
    Very Lovely watercolors of Monet’s Giverny.
    Also very hard to do!

    • Vivian

      Now I know why there are no illustrated picture books of Monet’s flower garden. It is almost impossible to paint! Monet himself hardly ever bothered to paint it, and the few tableaus he did do are pretty icky. No wonder he stuck to his Water Garden. I did that 4K walk twice in one day — if the weather is good, it’s a lovely stroll. The key is to not hurry, and to stay on the D5 (I found it more interesting than the bike path, but the bike path is better if you’re on a bike).

  9. bunny

    Congrats on turning 60! I had a wonderful time turning 60, thing I remember most about it was that I knew I was having fun (cause I kept repeating it over and over). But like the saying goes, age is only a number. And, most likely, you’ll be the same person you were yesterday, just another day tagged onto another day.
    It is a great time to be inspired, and I thank you for the insights, today, and throughout all your posts. Living in the here and now is the way to go.

    • Vivian

      Ha! In fact, I pretty much WAS the same person at 60 years as I was at 59 years and 364 days, only a little bit more hung over.

  10. Topcat

    To the guest of honor on this special day: You are truly one in a million. You did not have the benefit of art school, or college, and look at how you’ve scaled that mountain, with perseverance, and “teaching” yourself how to paint.

    Your talent, and hard work, and discipline, is an inspiration to me, and all of your readers. Your talent and work ethic, shows through every week, in your blog, and the two, soon to be three published treasures: You are a best seller in my eyes, every moment, every day. Turning 60? Like the fine wine I love, you just get better as time goes by, and as I’ve heard, the best is yet to come.

    Keep it up, for years to come. All my love, and appreciation for you.

  11. Happy, Happy Birthday, dear Vivian! I hope your day was jam-packed with oodles of blessings, just the right dose of laughter, yummy food, and gobs of smile-makers.
    And thanks so much for your watercolor squints, tricuits, teabags, and toasts you regularly post to your eager-to-see-more-of-your-work adoring fans. May this coming year be your happiest and most creative year ever. God bless you and Top Cat in all your endeavors.

    • Vivian

      Thank you, Deborah! I think you have hit upon the perfect five-word description of my life: Squints, Triscuits, Teabags, and Toast. All my favorite things!

  12. Biggest, day-late happy birthday greetings to you! (And by the way, who wouldn’t give anything to have a comment like the one Top Cat just gave you on their blog?!) I will tell you first hand, the 60s are very fine! So far, my favorite decade, to be honest (though I wish I still had some of the attributes of the 30s and 40s). Just think — this year FINALLY brings publication of the DGB and lots of fun digging into the NGB (both of which will fill my gift lists for many a delighted recipient!). May your new year sparkle so brightly you simply MUST squint!

    • Vivian

      Awww, thank you, Jeanie, for all the sparkle. The only thing I really miss from my 30s is an earring I lost in Dublin. I still have its orphan mate, which is displayed in a shadow box with a few other small keepsakes, but I wish I could wear the pair again. But come to think of it, I haven’t bothered to wear earrings in over 10 years, so, no regrets after all!

  13. Mary

    Good words from Carol.
    Peace in the family. She knows you have sisters and mother and brother. Peace to all.
    Greatest husband.EVER.
    Luck and hard work. That’s what makes us what we are.

  14. Happy belated birthday Vivian! I think you may find that your 60’s are a lot like your dreams as you paint and write your new book, all full of drawers of delight and treasure, everything coming together nicely, lovely husband, good friends, loving family, successful writer/illustrator and good friend. Isn’t it lovely? Hope you had your blue cake and champagne!

    • Vivian

      Thank you for the B-day wishes, Felicia. The snow did not arrive quite on time, so we scheduled our blue cake for this coming weekend, to go with our bitter Winter-chilled champers, because there is NOTHING as good as a bubbly slushy from nature’s ice box.

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