Triscuits and Cheating.

On the left (below) is the delicious cracker made by Nabisco*, a salty whole grain hors d’ouvre-holder and snack food beloved by Americans. On the right is a Triscuit made by me, an author-illustrator beloved by 6 out of 7 of my cats*.


*Nabisco/Mondelez (pronounced mon-dell-eeeze) has given me permission to use their trademark Triscuit to describe my teeny-tiny paintings up until the time they send me a cease and desist letter. Thank you, Product Manager at Mondelez Global LLC in East Hanover, New Jersey.

*Steve is the new cat #7, a feral tuxedo Manx that I’ve been feeding for five months but haven’t been able to trap yet because he still doesn’t understand that he belongs to me, dammit.


Kirra, this snow is for YOU.

Last weekend it got so cold here on the north shore of Long Island that I had to rescue my Champagne-O-Meter from the backyard (I wish I could put a photo in parenthesis):


For 2 days the temperatures hovered around Zero degrees ( 0 F, -18 C) and I did not want my champagne to totally freeze. So on Sunday morning I put the bottle back out on the patio and left it there for 7 hours (I wonder if inanimate objects are subject to “wind chill”?). And then it was — finally — 5 o’clock and I brought that baby inside and popped the cork and voila! I got a Champagne Slushie!!


Dear Readers, your eyes do not deceive you. This is what deep-frozen champagne looks like, a glass full of icy bubbles! It was fabulous.


Note: A bottle of champagne left out in sub-zero temperatures for 7 hours will freeze from the bottom up. The first glass you pour looks a lot like regular champagne, except for being much colder, but when you set the bottle down after your first pour something happens strange happens and the normal laws of champagne physics break down. The champagne begins to flow upwards out of the bottle, against gravity, in a continuous froth of bubbly foam until you quickly pour a second glass, at which time balance is restored to the Champer-Verse and the stuff behaves normally, except for its being mostly icy slush. At which time you give Thanks that you have a wonderful reason to not totally hate Winter.

Getting back to the Triscuit thing, to long time Dear Readers of this blog that means one thing:  Time for a Triscuit Give Away! For new Dear Readers of this blog, please let me announce that it’s Triscuit Give Away Time!! Which we will get to at the end of this post (feel free to skip ahead to the end if you are like my husband and think blog posts should not go on and on, like mine tend to)  because for now, I want to discuss How I Cheat When It Comes To Drawing Really Hard Things in Perspective.

Consider, for example, a view such as this:


This is the allee of Monet’s garden in Giverny, the main feature of his sumptuous flower garden (which is way better than his more famous water garden, by the way). I took this photo in May 2013 at about 7 o’clock at night, long after the garden had closed for the day. You can read how I was able to sneak this photo, and a lot of others, when the garden was officially closed,which I consider a red hot travel tip, by clicking here. We’ll wait while you read up on this.

Hey! You’re back! So let’s get to it: Drawing all those arched arbors down this rather long garden path/allee is way, way above my pay grade as a draftsperson. I could never do it without cheating. So what I do is, I cheat. First, I have print out a black and white copy of this photo (from my computer, on plain white paper — no fancy photo-quality sheets necessary):


The black and white picture make it easy for me to see the contrast I need in order to trace those arbors onto tracing paper:


I could never see those trellis lines if this photo was still in color. So, in black felt tip pen I trace over the arbors and the horizon, because a horizon is a useful thing to know in any picture, as it keeps the painter from painting things that look like they are floating in the air:


The next step is to trace those guide lines onto watercolor paper (use either a light box or tape the sheets onto a window, if it’s a sunny day):


I slather in the background, using very broad strokes and watery paint. I will try to keep these features very faint in this picture in order to emphasize the foreground — the lovely floral allee:


I have to get those two huge yew trees at the top of the all just right — they are the key to the scale and truthfulness of everything else I will paint:


So I finish these yew trees and then I take a good look at the picture and I see right away that the top trellis/arbor that I drew would not work in this picture. So I erased them and, as the pencil lines were so faint, they are hardly noticeable under the paint of the yew trees (paint tends to “fix” graphite, BTW). And then I was all set to get to the good stuff: the flowers! I LOVE painting these flowers!! And sorry, I got so engrossed painting these wonderful fleurs that I forgot to take pictures of the progress, so here’s a pic of the piece when it’s about 80% done:


I use white acrylic paint to paint over the arbors because I need them to POP, and putting down a base of white acrylic paint before I paint them green will do that:


See? (See: Below)

Clos Normand Giverny Monet garden

You might notice that in the end I futzed the horizon line on the left side of this picture. I did that because I thought it was too strong a horizontal and I thought it was distracting. For the record, that (left) part of Monet’s garden is very complicated — lots of topiary and trained shrubs and big brambly stuff that I don’t want to get into — but I hope I’ve indicated enough of a there there…but I might look at this picture next month and decide it needs more definition. However, for now, it’s done.

Monet panted in series: haystacks, poplar trees, Rouen Cathedral…you know what I mean. Good lord, he painted his water lilies 270 times. So just because this is the second picture I’ve painted of his allee (counting last week’s picture) does not mean that I am done with this view, no siree. I went to Giverny last December specifically to get a sneak peek at Monet’s garden in Winter, which is how I got this photo:


I love gardens in Winter. Love love love love them. I love them so much that I put a Winter Garden in my garden book (in the Edinburgh chapter). I also adore decrepitude — that’s why I had to write about a decrepit garden in London for Gardens of Awe and Folly. To me, a flower garden in December (in the northern hemisphere) is all about decrepitude, and all about Winter. So poetic! So truthful! So soulful! So to me, this view of Monet’s garden is deliciousness times two. I could not wait to paint it! So, without further ado, let me trace those arbors and get down to painting!!!!



P.S. above: Last week I mentioned that I photoshop my fingers for these action pix…this week I just left the band aids on. My hands get very dry in the Winter but that’s OK: I can paint wounded. I’m so very, very brave that way.






 And done:

Clos Normand Giverny Monet garden

You can see that in this picture I left the foreground arbor/trellis intact (the same trellis that I eliminated from the Spring version). It works here, I think. (Fun fact: in total, the allee has only 6 trellises. Trellises? Is that a word?)

I can not tell you how satisfying this was to paint! It was heaven. That’s why, like stout Cortez at that place where he wept because there were no more worlds to conquer…wait. I think that was Alexander the Great, who wanted to keep going; Cortes was the chap full of wild surmise. I could go either way with this literary reference because any hoo, I was not ready to quit this wonderful allee, and as I was sober (it was at least an hour away from Sunday Cocktail Time), I decided to paint a Triscuit as a token of my appreciation for all my Dear Readers:






Voila, the Giverny Triscuit:

Giverny Monet garden gate Clos Normand

Now, I know that some of my Dear Readers do not come from Nabisco countries so they might not know about Triscuits, so maybe this will help set the scale (because I assume that everyone knows about tea bags):

Giverny tea bag monet garden painting

The Triscuit is 4.5 centimeters square, about the size of a Gum Nut Baby. It’s really small, but you know that small is my “thing”.


This is a view of Monet’s allee facing away from the house, towards the big garden gate at the bottom of his flower garden. That’s the gate the the master himself used when he strolled from his studio to his water garden (on the other side of the wall there). It’s a historic gate. And now that I look at it…the gate is wrong. Back to the painting. . .



OK, now it’s DONE.


To win this Giverny Triscuit, all you have to do is leave a Comment in the Coments at the end of this post, and guess a number between 1 and 50. When the Comments close after five days — sorry, it’s a spam-avoidance necessity — I will have Top Cat choose a number and announce the Winner in next week’s post!

The fine print: In order to be eligible  for this contest you must have left a Comment here in the past two weeks.

So Good Luck, my Dear Readers, and keep Commenting…Pub Date of Gardens of Awe and Folly is March 1 and I might be in the mood to celebrate with another Triscuit Give Away (or another bottle of frozen champagne, depending on the weather).



36 Comments, RSS

  1. Kirra

    My entry number for the triscuit (or teabag) is number 4.

    Wow! Thanks so much for the snow picture, with a cat too! I’m guessing you had to shovel the snow at some point. It does sound very cold.

    I remember going to visit relatives in England for Christmas and after a few days realizing they were storing the beer in an entry type room with no central heating and it was always chilled naturally due to the cold weather. In Australia people have a beer/drinks fridge in the laundry or shed!

    I am a bit jealous of your champagne slushy, who knew? Not me! Also I love the digressing nature of your blog. Long stories are best. Thanks for the Giverny tips, I will remember to check them when I get to go there one day.

    Keep warm 🙂

  2. Megan

    Poor Steve! He should be happy to have someone to dote on him. He’ll come around. I love the paintings of Monet’s garden and I like the garden with the gorgeous pink house in the distance. I didn’t get any good photos of the lily pond as there were too many tourists, and that was about 30 years ago so I am sure it is even worse now. Hope I am eligible for the little painting… I normally leave a Taffy based comment… Oh yes a fridge full of beer and cider in the garage, it was 33C here today. Nothing better than an icy cold glass of champagne slushy! I have to put mine in the freezer. Oh and Gumnut babies are smaller than 4.5 cm the big bad banksia men are much much larger though. Thanks for the great post. I choose 47, btw.

  3. Christine

    I cannot wait to hold your lovely new book in my hands on March 1, which finally looks as though it may actually arrive (long wait…)! Also on March 1, I will read the March entry in your “When Wanderers Cease to Roam,” as I do the first of every month as it comes, since I was lucky enough to have that book beckon to me across the aisle in our favorite Borders (so sad now to be Readers Without Borders)back in 2008. I read your blog every week, but rarely comment, so am not eligible (alas!) for the luminous garden triscuit. Thank you, Vivian, for all the glorious, wry, and heart-centered sharings!

    • Diane from Denver

      “Readers without Borders!” How clever of you; is that original?
      And may I use it?

      Diane in Sadly now-Borderless Denver

  4. Oh ME ME..I love this one..♥LOL Can you see my hand in the air?
    Wanted to mention to you..a coloring book you might like..perhaps not to color in but because it’s you..Cats In Paris..I saw it and Googled you..and came upon a blogger who had won a Triscuit..she loves it..framed and everything..
    10 my oldest grandson.

  5. Marg-o

    I am now SO HAPPY that I commented last week! Please pick my number: 17.

    I also like the new way you’re painting here, with the soft edges. I even love the look of the half-finished paintings. If it were me holding the paintbrush I would look at it and say yep, I’m done. Can’t get any better than this. But YOU, you carry on and finish it to perfection.

  6. Maryanne in SC

    Number 49, please.

    And thank you. Looking forward to receiving the preordered copies of Gardens of Awe and Folly in early March. They were promised last summer as birthday presents to August babies!

  7. gayle pickering

    Thank you for a lovely watercolor lesson, and the photos of Monet’s garden. Makes me want to get on a plane to visit! My guess is #17.

  8. Janet

    I especially like today’s post. How could I not? It has cats, champagne, painting, wry humor (always my favorite part), and a contest. My number is 15. I like that you named the new cat a one-syllable boy name. Hopefully Steve will come around one day and realize he has found the Motherlode of Catdom. And though we are having a surprisingly warm week here in the Land of Enchantment, winter is certainly not over and I am planning on making champagne slushies at the first available opportunity. Until now, it’s been quite cold here and our back porch has been functioning nicely as a beer and wine cooler since December.

  9. Adele

    Gee, I don’t think I’ve posted a comment in the past two weeks, but I need to say something NOW because what if 2 weeks from now there’s another giveaway contest and I don’t qualify for that one either…………

    Number 9. Always my favorite. As is your blog — as a very newcomer to watercolor, with absolutely no background or experience in art. I love reading your posts and seeing your works in progress.

  10. Poor Steve. Poor Vivian, not quite yet being able to capture him. He’ll be there. He knows — he’s just stubborn (and bears quite the resemblance to one Lizzie Cosette who is also stubborn.)

    Vivian, I could “watch” you paint all day. But I think even more, I’m motivated to create a champagne slushie. I wonder if I can do it in the freezer? We’re having a Michigan heatwave — up into the 50s today. I don’t understand this winter but I am loving it. At least here!

    Oh, and my number is 30.

  11. Diane from Denver

    Best line ever: “I absolutely adore decrepitude!” Bien fait, Vivian!
    Not to one up you on the weather but this former Garden City-ite now living in Denver, enjoyed high temps of 72-73 deg. F. just “hier.” Incroyable, non?
    Your lessons on how to freeze Champagne, albeit accidentally, are a joy to read and view. Great fun, thanks. Your Triscuit thumbnail is magnifique and I thank you for a great read, comme toujours.

    Best regards,
    Diane in Denver

  12. Casey

    Who in the world goes to Giverny when it is closed just to see it in decrepitude??? YOU, dear Vivian. Nobody looks at the world like you do.

    I’m pretty sure I’m here every week with my two cents, so I am throwing in my guess: 16.

  13. bunny

    Just lovely, so small, yet so full of beauty, and info. Don’t know how you do it! I need my super magnifiers just the see the big square on the outside!!! Pick me, Pick me #2!…Cant wait to get your new book.

  14. Thea

    Beautiful photo, Kirra in the snow. My heart jerked around looking at the bottle in the snow, I so remember the fine taste of a Champagne slushy, buttered toast fingers with pate. Yum to the max.
    Thank you for directing us to the previous post on Giverny. I was thrilled rereading it because your memories mirror my memories of the garden both crowded and not. I too prefer the flower to the water garden.
    I am quite the grump – really cranky with it – because, while I have been a faithful reader, I have not posted a comment. To not risk losing out on the drawing for one of your lovely Triscuits, I see I shall have to post Every Week. Are you ready for a slew of banality? Oh, here goes anyway: 26.

  15. Cathy Ortelle

    Giverny is on my bucket list so you gave me a beautiful idea of what to look for while visiting. I don’t get any snow here in Sonoma County but I will figure a way to duplicate your frozen champagne without a freezer. Happy spring to come!

  16. SusanA

    Your paintings of Monet’s garden are amazing, Vivian! Gazing at them in all their colorful lusciousness makes me happy. I was hoping you would have a giveaway! And I’m so glad I commented on your tree bark–whew! My number is 32.

  17. Laura

    21 I guess, for 21 years of teaching art.
    I love the tracing paper “hack” for perspective. A Simple solution because there is much more difficult work ahead.

  18. The wild kitty’s name should perhaps be Tuxedo. He simply “looks’ like a Tuxedo to me. Whenever someone tells me they cannot think of a name for their new cat, I tell them to just live with the kitty for a few days, and the kitty will name itself. The name will telepathically present itself into your frontal lobe, and Voila!the kitty’s perfect name! I have discovered through experience, once I trap a wild kitty and get it neutered/spayed, it becomes more and more friendly to me, until I can pet it, hold it, and pamper it. I imagine you have discovered this same thing. I say this mainly to help others who may be facing a similar problem, or may be in the future. Usually, community neuter/spay programs will lend you a live-trap and instructions. Some will even come and pickup and re-deliver the kitty! A win-win situation! Annnywaaay …
    As always, I am thrilled with your teeny-tiny paintings. And I appreciate you describing your “cheats.” All of us who paint have our little tricks, learned mostly through numerous mess-ups, failures, and screw-ups – and I love learning how others “fix” their composition, perspective, and color problems. Thanks for this!
    I like your bandaids, Vivian! Maybe this can be my own remedy … however, in order to cover up my uber-bitten nails (so viewers will not be gacked-out) I would have to wear a bandaid on every finger … so I guess that won’t work after all. Sigh.
    My number choice is 12. Happy Painting.

  19. Linda June

    Oh, no! Did I leave a comment last week? Can’t remember!!!

    Anyway, my No. is 41, and I love times 41 your posts. So informative (because I’m a watercolor painter too) and so clever (because I’m not)! I’m a vicarious armchair traveler who has not (until your posts) been to Giverny. Thanks for all your past posts–look for them eagerly so I can read them–savor them–on Saturday morning.

  20. Patricia

    I’m picking #4 as I’m babysitting four year old granddaughter for three days. We just finished our “tea party” (not cold enough for champagne slushies and mommy and daddy won’t approve). We had itty bitty snowball cupcakes, mini blueberry muffins, peanut butter, banana and honey tea sandwiches (with crusts removed naturally) and tuna in lettuce cups. It was by invitation only.
    It was darned elegant. It would only be improved if I had a teabag sized Vivian original.

  21. Christine Kalina

    Oh my, champagne slushy! Looks fabulous! Hope feral kitty gets the point soon and comes in, although now that we are swinging toward spring he may just continue eating at your buffet. LOVE the triscuit!! My number is #44!

  22. Oh no! I had surgery and have been laid up for the past two weeks. I will choose #19, if still eligible. I have two tuxedos: Buster & Rocky
    Both are handsome boys, as is YOUR’S!
    Looking forward to your new book!

  23. My number choice is 10. Love these detailed paintings and the very important advice to use white acrylic to lay down some space to allow your watercolor to “pop”. Would white guache work, or must it be acrylic?

    I’m in winter quarters and don’t have white acrylic with me, so will try guache and find out.

    Also you’ve solved the other all consuming mystery: How does Vivian leave her champagne bottle out sometimes over night without the bottle shattering?! Normally I guess the answer is that it doesn’t get as cold in New Jersey after a snow storm as it does in Iowa. We usually plunge to below zero and stay there after a big storm. Guess I’ll just have to drop by your place for a taste of frosty champagne.

    Good luck this week. Waiting for the baby (book) to drop next Tuesday. I’m all giddy anticipation, can’t imagine how you’re feeling. Take good care of your self this week!

  24. Michelle

    Hi Vivian, I am a new member of your Dear Readers group. I recently found your blog and read all your posts from the beginning (!) so I feel I have been thoroughly Vivianized. I find inspiration in your tutorials and have signed up for my first watercolor class. Hope the instructor is as good as you!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *