To Bitch and Moan Is Human, To Purr is Divine.

Around the time I decided to be an illustrator . . .


Yep, that’s me working on page 96 of Gardens of Awe and Folly, with help from Coco.

. . . I also decided that painting would be a better way of picture-making than sewing, so I packed up my embroidery needles and threads and stashed them away.  I stashed them so well that, when I recently got the urge to see if I could still pull off some blanket and stem stitching, I had to wander around the house for half an hour asking myself, “Now, where did I stash my embroidery kit?” before I found my answer: top shelf, upstairs linen closet:

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Yes, that’s the same adorable vintage lady’s case that I illustrated with the rest of my collection of old timey luggage on page 123 of When Wanderers Cease to Roam:


You can tell I’m a Capricorn by the way I am meticulous about sorting and color-coding and my embroidery threads:

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Seeing these embroidery flosses reminded me of the one advantage that thread . . .

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. . . has over paint:


No mixing necessary. You want to make something green in embroidery, you just pick a thread. You want to make something green in an illustration, you have to futz with all its variables. Like this:


That (above) is me watercoloring the flower bed in the background of this (below):

Giverny, Monet garden, Monet gardeners

I was stalking the gardeners in Giverny because I like wheelbarrows.

So let’s take a quick digression to Claude Monet’s garden (the most famous garden in the world) in Giverny so I can prove my point. Which is something about comparing paint to non-paint, which might not be the most important point to be making right now when I have so much work ahead of me, digging my way out of the dungeon of being a low-mid-list author with a book not on the NYTimes bestseller list and all but hey, it’s either me typing away at this pointless point I’m making, or me crawling back to bed with a large pizza and a vat of Pinot Grigio and spending the day watching HGTV.

So here goes:

I mix all my shades of green almost from scratch, using just water, Hooker’s green, two different shades of yellow, and sometimes a little black. When I paint grass and flowers, I like to let watercolor “do” what watercolor “does”, which is, technically, “pool” and “splotch”.


I read my first Ann Rule book last week. Ann Rule, as everyone from the Seattle/Great Pacific Great Northwest knows, is the million-selling author of true crime books. What I found out about Ann Rule from reading the Acknowledgments of my first Ann Rule book is that Ann Rule used to belong to a very exclusive writers’ group, made up of best selling Seattle authors.


The name of Ann Rule’s best selling writers’ group was The Bitch and Moan Club. I’ll let that sink in for a minute while I mention here that the more I painted this pic, the more I realized that it’s tricky to paint hunky gardeners from the back, for the simple reason that you have to deal with their butts:


I’m trying to make this guy’s butt NOT be the center of attention in this little illustration, so I’ve ove-laid some white gauche onto the two back pockets on this guy’s trousers in an effort to decrease their noticeability. And then I dabbed in some white acrylic paint in the form of tulips in the fore- and back- ground:


Getting back to Ann Rule, and reading about her Bitch and Moan Club: For the life of me, I could not imagine what best-selling authors have to complain about. But here’s my guess:

That every time they cash their royalty checks the bank runs out of hundred dollar bills.

How easy it is to confuse Dallas with Houston while on yet another all-expenses paid 20-city book tour, and don’t even get them started on how horrible it is that room service at the Four Seasons has dropped crab cakes from their Night menu.

How much they miss Jon Stewart, who was such a huuuuuge fan of theirs that he made those pesky TV interviews almost fun.


Paint-wise, I put in all the shades of rose, lavender, and violet that those tulips needed:


And then I decided to ruin the pic by painting in the box-shaped lime trees overhead:


I was actually looking up Ann Rule’s contact info, to write her a letter asking just what does go on in that Bitch and Moan Club, when I discovered that she had died last July(I use “die” instead of “passed away” or the even more dreadful “passed” because I’m a grown up, and because Ann Rule, the maven of true crime, would not have wanted me to punk out). Merde.



So here’s what it’s like to not-paint an illustration:

First, I spent a few hours drawing some bad sewing ideas until I hit upon an idea that wasn’t half bad, and then I traced it onto my muslin, took a seat  (not the comfy seat — that one belongs to Coco), and started sewing:



That (above) is what I can do in an hour and a half. This (below) is when I decided that there was too much of the same dark green thread . . .


. . . so I ripped it out and rooted through my palette to choose some other shade of vert:

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The ripping out and the re-stitching only took an hour. You can tell I’m a Capricorn by the way I keep time sheets on all my projects: in total, I spent 8 hours sewing this piece. And then it came time to wash out the pencil marks . . .



. . . and to rinse out the soap and dry it out a bit . . .


. . . and to fetch my handy re-useable canvas board. . .


. . . to staple and stretch the piece out to dry:


I have learned the hard way that it makes life easier when you make stuff that fits into standard-size frames. So the last step was to make sure that the piece would still fit in a standard 8 x 10-inch frame:


And that it would also fit into a standard 18 x 24-centimeter frame:

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And this is how it looks when all is sewed and done:


Point made.

And you can tell that I’m a Capricorn by the way I can complain about anything. Just yesterday I was complaining about daffodils. Too yellow, and for me, yellow flowers lack sophistication.

Hey, I just thought of something real that best selling authors can bitch and moan about:

How it’s you million-selling authors who prop up the entire publishing industry but it’s that no-show Thomas Pynchon and his crap “literature” that gets the MacArthur award.

See, Seattle best selling authors? I get you! (please please pleeeeeeeeese let me come to your meetings).

Now, before I bid you all a bon weekend and un-cork the Pinot, I have something very important to share with you:






That’s supposed to be the French Quarter.

At 6:00 pm in New Orleans, my favorite American city, on April 13, I will be at Octavia Books talking about going forth in awe and folly. I’ll probably also mention something about cats; how to get published even though you are not famous and you write odd, illustrated, memoir-ish books; and The Secret of Life.  The Lady of the Roses, Karen Kersting herself, will be there!

CcK-Q_1WAAAlLYzOctavia Books is a great independent bookstore known for its happy events, so I know we’ll have a good time! I am soooo looking forward to hamming it up in my favorite American city!

In conjunction with this event, the wonderful Susan Larson, New Orleans’ first lady of the literary scene, interviewed me for her radio program, The Reading Life. Don’t worry, I kept my blabbering answers short, and I only got lost on one question Susan put to me (about finding solitude in a Winter garden) but I was assured that, as our talk was being taped, that the producer would go back and edit out all my stupidity (head bowed in prayer). Stay tuned.

Book events are always such fun for me. I’m pretty sure I’ll be traveling to Seattle in the near future, so I’ll let you know the details as they become available. And no, it’s not because I’m stalking anyone — I went to Seattle and Portland for my first book and I really, really need to get together with all you Wonder Ones of the Great Pacific Great Northwest.

P.S. It’s Wine O’Clock chez moi and I’ve got the nightly news from NPR on the radio and oh dear DoG, I did not know until now that it was April Fool’s Day, until I heard the usual, painfully lame April Fool’s Day joke news item. Please, NPR, I beg of you: don’t try to make funny. You’re too nice, and humor is all about having a slight mean streak.

Thank you.


15 Comments, RSS

  1. Maryanne in SC April 1, 2016 @ 3:51 pm

    Mind blown. Again.
    Don’t know why but I never thought of drawing an embroidery idea with my own pencil. It was either freehand stitching or some store-bought pattern. Another door opened into The Creative – thank you Vivian Swift.

    Throughout March I’ve been re-re-re-reading GoAaF. Then I find myself uncharacteristically buying a *lot* of flowers and herbs at Lowes. Today at lunch: a pot of dill and a pot of pink verbena. They’re going to cohabit a birdcage (roadside find) on the patio and I’m going to paint it.

    Maybe the secret Seattle password is “Raiiiiiiiiin….”

    Cheers to a fine weekend. XOXO

  2. Casey April 1, 2016 @ 3:56 pm

    You had me scared when I clicked onto my Vivian bookmark and you weren’t there! And then it seemed that WordPress was off line for a few h ours. Desperate times, almost lost my will for Happy Hour at TGIF.

    Those lucky readers of New Orleans.

    And while you might not have the quantity of readers that Ann Rule has, you certainly have the highest quality of fans who adore your odd, illustrated, memoir-ish books. And some day, Oprah will find you and then the doors to that exclusive Seattle writers’ club will be thrown wide open for you.

  3. Monique April 1, 2016 @ 4:32 pm

    I wondered where you were this morning also..
    I have my Friday morning routines:)

    I read one Ann Rule book and I forget which one..years ago..I was working..someone passed it around..I liked it..but never thought to read more..maybe I will now..well next fall as Gardens of Awe and Folly is in my hands and my own garden is about to come to life.

    I just prepared a post last week on stitching..sometimes I do a few ahead of time.

    My hoop was the same color as yours..
    I also learned very early on to stitch..on canvases I could frame w/ ready-made frames..and I used to staple my canvas..onto an empty frame..
    I found it easier than a hoop..and it was perfectly stretched:)
    I am hooked on Instagram and stitchers and calligraphers and watercolorists right now.

    I LOVE your books and you are on my best sellers list.

    Have a ball in New Orleans..

    And your stiched Giverny is beautiful.

    so many stitchers are just hooping and hanging now…

  4. Margie April 1, 2016 @ 4:36 pm

    Vivian, I swear, after I read your posts, I’m never sure where to start AND have to go back and remind myself all that you covered. None of your readers can say they get gipped by not having enough to ponder and enjoy with every post. I love crewel embroidery. I love your completed project. Gorgeous! It is great fun to see how you complete your paintings. My hubby and I love New Orleans. We’ve been many times. Too bad it won’t be when you are doing your book signing. Drat! I’m off to think about comet names. xo

  5. Anonymous April 1, 2016 @ 5:25 pm

    The reason I love New Orleans is it seems so *not* an American city. I’ve traveled around a bit, me, and NO retains a specific identity imbued more deeply than any other American city I’ve visited. I LOVE me some New Orleans. You are so fortunate to visit. As for Seattle, pshh. Don’t you know, it’s the city of million-selling authors meeting with each other to bitch and moan. Still, better than my city, around which the mighty Pynchon once hung out to write. And not appear.

  6. jeanie April 1, 2016 @ 5:46 pm

    Well, if your travels take you to Michigan, you have a friend here! Just let me know and I’ll find you — and bring friends!

    Fun to see the two versions of painting — paint and thread! Equally lovely (drawing butts would be hard!) and pretty darned fun! Your five star reviews are stacking up. NYT, you’re missing something!

  7. Vicki A. April 1, 2016 @ 6:17 pm

    So will you be coming to Portland?(Keeping my fingers crossed)

  8. Patricia April 1, 2016 @ 6:24 pm

    Oh, I hope you come to Seattle! I’ve got my copy, ready for signature.

    And isn’t the answer ALWAYS on the top shelf of the linen closet? Where else does one keep their flosses and sharps? Says the someone who’s sister embroidered her designated quilt square for a cousin’s Peter Rabbit baby quilt… Well, she’s better at it than I am. I did cook dinner in exchange

  9. Shirley L. April 1, 2016 @ 6:32 pm

    My favorite city too. Lucky you. Enjoy!!! Keep Saratoga Springs on your radar.

  10. Leslie April 2, 2016 @ 4:48 am

    I thought the computer problem was a mad folly of April Fools. Though there is something to be said for bitching and moaning, I do so prefer an attitude of awe and folly. Your project is sweet . Sewing is a tranquil occupation – and very painterly – stitches to brush strokes. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen . It is a formal garden in Newport, no whimsy, but the blue is good! I discovered it on line. I am planning my own blue garden, blue flowers and silver foliage: morning glories, plumbago, lobelia, chicory, oleander, hydrangea, violets too. And aren’t those some nice words? Magical. FYI: I am bitching ang moaning that my copy of GoAaF is taking way too long to get to south Fla.

  11. Kirra April 2, 2016 @ 5:58 am

    I understand the need to “bitch and moan” like the famous authors but personally I think your watercolour and embroidery are fabulous and very impressive! I hope you have a great time in New Orlens, I’d love to go there one day. That triscuit is very cute too. Keep on purring 🙂

  12. LINDA JUNE April 2, 2016 @ 9:17 pm

    Another great art lesson and blog. Thanks much! Always enjoy reading it.

  13. Marg-o April 4, 2016 @ 3:29 pm

    I’m so glad comments are still open! About how the rich complain, this weekend I was watching one of my favorite all time movies, Notting Hill, and there’s a diner party scene when five Brits and the American movie star are comparing their miserable lives (right: that’s so English) and the movie star who got $15 million for her last picture complained that she’s had two cosmetic surgeries and has been on a diet for the past ten years.

    Well, I’ve been on a diet for the past 20 years and I don’t make 1/100th of $15 million year so, I win!

    Can I complain that I don’t get to see my all time favorite author, Vivian Swift, on the Today Show? that makes me oh so sad.

  14. Deborah Hatt April 4, 2016 @ 10:06 pm

    Thanks (yet again!) for the smiles and the chuckles that swirl ever around me while reading your weekly blog.

    What made me laugh out loud? Well, the comments about painting butts, of course! And you are SO right … it IS hard to paint butts so they do not become “noticeable.” A few years back, I painted a picture for my Dad’s birthday. It was of him, flying his kite on the beach. He was dressed in his blue dungarees, an old flannel shirt, and a crumpled fishing hat. I, too, fretted over this issue, because of the baggy pants … it isn’t easy, having shadows in certain places. It was dab paint on, lift it back off, swipe some paint here, sop it back off there. I THINK I finally nailed it. If I didn’t, my sweet old dad was too kind to mention it to me. Of course, when I see the painting now, I can only see all the other things I would change, if I were doing it today. Sigh … Do you do this when you look back at some of your Triscuits in previously published books?

    Like you, I have my oodles of embroidery flosses labelled and put in numerical order (they are DMC). But I am a Taurus. I love doing embroidery, but go through longgggg stretches of not picking up a needle, unless it’s to fix a sagging hem. It’s weird, how we can enjoy something so much, and yet refuse to do it for ages and ages. I do the same with my paints, alas – just not so long in between sessions. I simply lack a place to keep it all out, and I am basically too lazy to bother, too much of the time.

    I also laughed out loud when you said you “ruined” your painting by painting the trees. I thought they were just fine, but you saying it like that brightened my evening … recalling all the times I “ruined” projects, simply because I had to include “one more thing.” Thanks, always, for your humor and your willingness to share your “flubs.” Because, dear Vivian, aren’t most of our days made up of a series of flubs? — thankfully, most of them don’t matter a fig in the end. Blessings on your week, Vivian!

  15. Leslie April 5, 2016 @ 10:24 pm

    Dear Vivian, GofAandF finally arrived this evening. I am approaching it slowly. Author photo first. Vivian, you look so truly, deeply happy! I looked to see who took this wonderful portrait, and was amazed! Woody Robinson – there’s a familiar name, and a worthy homage. I am savoring my anticipation. Thank you.

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