Winter Gardening

Last Friday’s little storm caught me by surprise, meaning that it blew into Long Island on the very day that the last of the stuff from the monster Winter Storm Jonas had melted, leaving me optimistically out of champagne, so all I have to show you today is a Pinot Grigio-O-Meter:

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The snow started at 9:30 and was over by 3 o’clock in the afternoon which, on a snowy Winter day, was indeed a very Happy Hour. This weekend is predicted to be super cold with flurries, but rest assured that the Pinot Grigio has gone on to booze heaven and there is a new  Champagne-O-Meter awaiting its destiny:


I’m so very happy to hear that last week’s Watercolor tutorial was very helpful to a number of Dear Readers. If you remember, we painted bark:


Dear Reader Sandy Lane left a Comment that she did a happy dance after she painted her first tree (with or without Pinto Grigio, she did not say). And our own Felicia sent me a message — OMG It Works! followed your steps  and on my first try painted the best tree I’ve ever painted.  It actually looks like a tree! I’m beyond excited and so grateful for your tips. And she sent me proof:



Very cool — I love the shadows and the background evergreens! Thank you, Felicia!

So, my Dear Readers, what shall we paint today? How about a nice flower garden? Like, the one in Giverny that I am currently obsessed with? The one that Monet tended for 43 years, from 1883 until his death in 1926? You know, the one with the memorable allee:

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Yeah, that one. I’m using my own reference photograph to draw from:


As usual, I am going to work in miniature, because painting small-scale is where I feel most at ease. First I get my sky in, and then I use my fattest brush to blob in some different shades of green:


I am working wet-in-wet here — meaning that I dab in wet watercolor on top of already wet watercolors — because I like it when the colors bleed in interesting ways, like this:


Oooooooo…I like this bleed so much that I am going to leave it alone, and do my best to make sure that it stays there as a part of the picture. I use my smallest brush to fill out the foliage on top, to make an interesting silhouette. As you can see, even though I work in miniature, I do my background in little bits and pieces; I work too slowly to be able to  paint a background (even a teeny background such as this) in one swell foop:


This picture is going to take about three and a half hours to paint.


One of the reasons it’ll take so long is because I take great care when I have to paint a dark background behind a light-colored object, in this case a small tree in the foreground. I have to say that painting in these fussy details is very, very relaxing for me.


I do not have a relaxing personality. I’m a bit too cranky and antsy to be what most people might call “nice”.  I’m not built for meditation or contemplation or anything like introspection (I am not very deep), but I can get very Zen-y when I have to be gentle and calm to make itty bitty brush strokes around titter-bittier stuff in my teeny tiny illustrations. I just love the slow breathing and the patience it takes. My mind wanders, and I find myself having very gratifying hypothetical conversations with people I truly dislike, tete-a-tetes with pin heads in which I get the better of them with my outstanding wit and wisdom. Oh well. Even in my most serene moments, I like to argue with the world.


By the way, I have to photoshop my fingers in these pictures in order to make them look all smooth and pink. It’s February and my hands are dead dry and chapped and most of my cuticles and finger tips are split and u-g-l-y. I just thought I’d let you know that I’m as guilty as Vogue magazine when it comes to faking an impossible standard of beauty. Sorry.

I’m very proud that I am painting this scene true to life, even though it means that I have to paint a red-leafed tree. I can’t stand red-leaf trees (I don’t know their names but I’m sure a lot of you Dear Readers can tell me). Trees should be green, period. Maroon trees depress me.

You can see how I am doing my best to show off that interesting green blob-bleed on the left side of the picture:


And now for the FUN part! I get to paint the flowers!! Again I am working wet-in-wet, bleeding in blue and purple to make an interesting cloud-like pool of color, which I swipe through to make those vertical lines (for a change of texture):


Time to finish that foreground tree:


The detail that I’m adding in here are the extremely violet tulips that grow at the very top of this allee:

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I make the same wet-in-wet clouds of color for the other side of the allee:


Monet painted his garden furnishings (including his Japanese bridge) a very vivid and unusual shade of green. I match his color by mixing a Winsor Newton (watercolor) blue-green with an acrylic emerald green — the acrylic paint has the “oomph” (the artificiality and opacity) that I need to make Monet’s arbors and trellises stand out amidst the jumble of his very “busy” garden:


Like this:


You can see what I chose to edit out of the scene that I ended up painting by comparing it to the reference photo again:

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Now,  if you compare that photo to this one I took from a very slightly different angle. . .


. . . you can see that I have left out that tall poplar tree smack in the middle of the view:


I really don’t like the way that poplar tree juts up in the center of this view. But, *sigh*, I know that I will end up putting it in, however, for now I can’t bear it. Also, you can see that I go easy when it comes to painting in at the necessary darks in the background — call it lack of confidence, or fear of making the whole thing look too muddy. But I also know that I’ll have to go back and dab in some chiaroscuro as soon as I get the nerve to do that poplar tree.

These are all the exact same issues I will be dealing with when I paint this other view of the allee:


In my world, this is a mural. But that’s for next week.

The other news in VivianWorld is that I got my hands on a pre-publication copy of Gardens of Awe and Folly. Bloomsbury mailed me my official Author Copy.


I took it out of its wrapper and put it on the little table in the hallway where I dump all of our junk mail. I made a cup of tea, and I went to eBay for some reckoning-avoidance shopping (why are all the cool vintage Monkees T-shirts only to be found in the UK??). Then I went to my cardio/kick boxing class at my gym, and I stopped by Loew’s to buy 40 pounds of bird food, and when I came home and did a load of laundry and watched  Judge Judy. Etc.

OK, it wasn’t until the next day that I opened the book for inspection. As always, Bloomsbury has done a superb job making this book a lovely object to hold in our hand. The illustrations are colorful, the binding is archival, the quality of the paper is fine-arty. And then I found one mistake in text layout that is all my fault (I indented a line that should have been left flush) and I slammed it shut.

All in all, I find that the DGB is indeed a lovely book full of wisdom and humor that I desperately wish I could re-write and re-draw all over again, just so I could make sure it is 100% indisputably, with-a-doubt, painfully and putatively pluperfect. I am in agony. The book is done, I can’t futz with it and more, it’s out there and I can’t reel it back in for just one or a few thousand more tweaks.


And then a professional garden writer and horticulturist named Nina Koziol called me up and interviewed me about the DGB for the Chicago Tribune newspaper and website and she didn’t once tell me that I got it all wrong, and we had a delightful chat about the wacky world of gardeners. . . so whew. Maybe I pulled it off.

17 days until pub date. March 1, y’all. I think I’ll send the day in bed.

13 Comments, RSS

  1. I love Monet’s gardens and have never seen them in the step by step..can’t believe you wiated till the next day to open your book..

    I too have imaginary converstaions in my head when I am quiet and painting..I do like a little Spotify on the sie..

    Eva Cassidy yesterday..sometimes just Sleep music;)
    I wonder if it would loosen up my painting if I had wine during..not a good habit to get into I guess.

  2. Casey

    First, congrats to Sandy and Felicia for your painting success. Felicia, I think your trees (both are and soft woods) are awesome. You make me want to stop talking about painting and start actually painting for reals.

    heh heh hehe, Vivian I love your quiet thoughts. Me too, I like to debate Trump and Cruz in my mind every chance I get. I did not know that you could photoshop fingers. Are they your fingers or are you using a professional hand model? That’s a joke. I know how rare left handed professional hand models are.

    But I like maroon trees, they are a nice change of color. I think that tree is a copper beech but that’s only because the copper beech is the only red tree I know of.

    And best for last, YOUR BOOK!! I am sure it is great, don’t let yourself start in on those hypothetical conversations where you argue with yourself!! Judging a book by it’s cover, it is wonderful and just what the world needs.

    And when you start winning those hypothetical conversations with yourself that’s the time to go get the Champagne-o-Meter and send it to booze heaven.

  3. Photoshopping fingers? Really, Vivian? Trust me, no matter how gnarly they are at this time of year, you’d have it all over me!

    The painting is lovely and I like the variations you made from the original photo. The maroon does pop out the background a bit. I only know red trees in the fall. Go figure.

    We’re having our Cork Poppers gig tomorrow — this month it’s the wines of Northern Italy so I’m thinking maybe we should set some of our bottles (well, the whites) out to check out the anticipated snow here!

    I’m eagerly awaiting arrival of my books — how exciting to get your advance copy. Don’t look at the teeny bit no one but you will notice. Look at all the wonderful images and text and smile. Then back to the table and Monet!

  4. Marg-o

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha , painting those wonderful miniature masterpieces is *relaxing* !! Oh, wait. You were serious??? I would be a nervous wreck if I had to steady my hand and paint with a 0000000 size brush.

    I liked Felicia’s tree picture too. Brava to everyone out there who is being artful! And it’s too late, Miss Vivian. I’ve read your first 2 books and sorry, but you sound like a very nice person to me.

  5. Vivian,

    Congratulations on the new book. It’s truly out in the world now and if this first critic is any judge, it’s off to a smashing start. Getting a review in The Chicago Tribune is a big deal. Can the New York Times review be far behind? It will launch beautifully.

    I appreciate you and your reader’s kind words about my trees. I have a long way to paint to reach your level of finesse, but it sure is fun trying. I so appreciate your specific tips and demonstrations of technique. I learn something EVERY time. Thank you for your kindness, (I don’t believe for one minute that you’re not “nice”) encouragement and fine example of success!

  6. bunny

    I still cant paint a garden HALF as good as yours but I can get my dog to bark on command, not paint the bark on command either. But you’re wit and wisdom I still love. Thanks for the Pinot Grigio meter. I got a chuckle out of that one, and, yes, in one swell foop, indeed.
    Hope you got plenty of bark to burn this weekend, I hear its going to be frigid in your corner of the world. Keep them whiskers away from the flames, or make sure they are wet, so they don’t get burned.

  7. Laura

    Like the Moorish tile artists of Alhambras long past, there is one indent out of place. Let it be, dear Vivian. You are just perfect in our humble human eyes.

  8. Kirra

    Every time you post a Champagne-O-Meter, or a Pino Grigio-O-Meter, it makes me want to live somewhere with snow….I really love you watercolor tutorials, though I am not a painter. Good luck with that poplar tree, I agree the red tree is s bit of the odd one out.
    I am looking forward to the DGB release, I’m sure it’s wonderful! However it must be very hard finding mistakes and accepting the final printed book as done. I think there are always mistakes, like the indenting. Some people will notice but I think most won’t! (Don’t think I found any mistakes in your previous books, even if they were there).

  9. The new book looks fabulous, I can’t wait to read it! I ordered a copy from our terrific local independent bookshop – Left Bank Books in Belfast, Maine – and I talked it/you up, so they ordered a few copies for stock, too. Doing my bit!

    p.s. I will notice the error. Unfortunately I am that sort of person. However, I will forgive you because I do not expect perfection from my geniuses. ;O)

  10. Photo-shopping your fingers! Thank you for this confession. I’ve considered doing YouTube videos, but I’ve been a nail-biter ever since I sprouted teeth! No lie! Baby pictures dated in late 1953 (I was 18 months old, for crying outloud!) portray me with my fingers being gnawed with intense concentration. Well, I’m 63 now, so I cannot describe how horrid my nails and cuticles look. Yes, I’ve tried to quit the wretched habit, and even succeeded – twice – but both resolves were terminated when, first, my daughter broke her arm (I went into the ER with nails, and left with jagged stubs), and second, my beloved husband fell off our roof (oh, the terrible sliding sound and his out-cry when he hit the ground!) I chewed those nails down to the quiks, and they have been the most ridiculous excuses for nail ever since (he fell off the roof in 2008). He fractured his shin bone and broke his ankle, sprained his back, and bruised his ribs, by the way. But, praise God, other than being able to forecast the weather with his ankle, he is whole and sound today. I wish I could say the same about my UGLY nails. Oh well … sigh. I’m wondering if there is a photo-shop program high-powered enough to give me view-able nails. So, dear Vivian, THANK YOU for telling us about “editing” your fingers. Perhaps there IS hope. After all, when it comes to videos, appearances are – well – everything. And may I say, I love your little tutorials. You inspired me to buy some itsy-bitsy brushes (before my smallest was a #2 round). I used my new 00 AND 20-00 for painting furry details on a kitty painting I did for our son’s birthday. They worked perfectly. Thanks for this as well! Keep on confessing your little faults, Please … it helps, just knowing you’re not quite perfect (yet). It gives me hope I’m not a complete mess.

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