Paving The Road to Serenity.

Oh, what an awful week. Current events horrify me, and I grew up during the Vietnam War with nightly body counts on the 6 o’clock news, and I was a mile up the road from the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001. So I’ve had a long acquaintance with every day human brutality, but the world has worn me down and this new brand of evil makes me weary and soul-sick.

I just wrote, and deleted, a few hundred words on Orlando, Magnanville, and Leeds. A couple hundred words on these atrocities is too feeble — a million words wouldn’t be enough. So I’m just going to quote the poet Christopher Soto:

Who smiles when the sky swallows its stars?

photo credit:

When I am wrecked and racked, I paint stones.


My favorite part illustrating Le Road Trip was painting the wonderful stones of Brittany and Normandy.



When I paint stones I feel calm, and quiet.


Stone work requires a lot of concentration, but not a lot of attention. I think that’s the definition of meditation.

Secret Garden

(This is the Winter view of (above) — from When Wanderers Cease to Roam):

The stones are my favorite part of any picture, no matter how small:

Secret Garden

And, sometimes, I find a view that is just an excuse for me to paint a lot of stones:

Secret Garden

Oh, how I needed to paint stones this past week, and I searched all my photos to find some stones that “spoke” to me. I didn’t find any. So I turned to the inter webs and I found this photo, by the renowned garden designer Caroline Garland:


This happens to be a very stony picture, of a garden that I know rather well: The Chelsea Physic Garden in London. So these were the stones I set out to meditate upon. First thing, I gathered my mindfulness gear:


I am mixing chalky Grumbacher paints with Winsor Newton watercolors. I use Davy’s Gray here and there, but it is not as good as the gray I make myself, by mixing Peach with Blue, Brown, Black, and Sienna:


Sometimes I mix the colors right on my brush, sometimes I swab them directly onto the paper, and sometimes I smear them together like this:

P1080090 (1)

I am painting a Squint,by the way. I always start with the trickiest bit first:


I’m using black to paint negative space, which is a risky move — I’m using a size 00 brush here:


For each face of an individual stone, I mix ochre, gray, and a tiny bit of brown to get that “stoney” effect:


I let each face, or cell, dry before I paint the bit next to it (this prevents unwanted bleeding):


I re-wetted this little cell here and dabbed n the tiniest among of black, and let it bleed a very very teeny bit:


Yeah, my preferred method is to work in colors while the cell is wet, and to see what kinds of bleeds I can get:


Each of these cells in this pillar was painted individually — yes, they look wonky and horrible now, but just wait:


Calm, slow, careful, and with an empty mind, I painted in these dark, dark shadow lines. It was tight-wire painting, and terribly satisfying:


I put a green-blue wash over the background stones:




You might have noticed that I painted the stone pillar incorrectly — take a look at it here (above and below): Do you see how I forgot to make the top two stones (on the right side of the pillar) 3-dimensional?


So I fixed it, by “picking up” the pigment (that’s why Grumbacher is so good: it lets you “erase”) and painting in the optical illusion of 3-dimensions:


You might also notice those dabs of color in the margins. That’s how I test watercolor shades before I apply it to the pic — no damn color charts for me!


I put in some white acrylic dots in the fore- and background, over which I dabbed watercolor, so the “flowers” would pop:


Comparing the photo to my painting, you can see that I’ve edited the original to suit my limitations as a painter:


Well, also, since the Squint is very small (it’s 5.75 inches x 1.33 inches. . . 14.6 cm x 3.38 cm, I think), the background must be simplified. I also wanted to make this a cheery scene, and so I made it very green — and I used the greenery in the background to define the stone wall and pillar back there, so I wouldn’t have to outline them. I don’t mind outlines, but I wasn’t in the mood for them this day.


I call this Squint, Stonewall.


June 14 vigil at New York’s historic Stonewall Inn for the 49 victims of Pulse in Orlando. Love is love is love is love is love is love is love. cc: Magnanville, Leeds

The other thing I do when I feel so bad is hang with these guys:




I took this photo through the living room window — that’s Steve, of course, dozing on our stone wall in the front of the house.

Now, about Steve: the other day, a woman rang our doorbell. Which is always weird, because who does that? The woman introduced herself and said she stopped by because she saw our cat food bowls set out on our front porch stone wall and she’s a TNR  (Trap/Neuter/Realease) rescuer…OH! I said: I wondered who Steve’s angel was!

Susan doesn’t live near us; she’d been called in by a neighbor on a road behind us about several feral cats and had trapped 5 males — including our own dear Steve (and kept him under observation in her home for a week in a huge dog pen). She’s on the hunt for a female, and seeing our cat food bowls, she rightly took us for Cat People, and wanted to give us her card in case we spot Mama Cat. She and I had a discussion about trapping methods and I learned that HavAHeart is so last century. There’s a whole lot of new trapping technology that has passed me by! I don’t know why I’m exclaiming this! So you know who I’m going to call when It’s time to TNR our dear Dennis:


And saving the best ’til last,


I am pleased to announce the Winner of the Super Duper Quartet Triscuit Give Away is:

Maryanne from SC!


Thank you, all you magnificent  5-star reviewers own Amazon. I confess, I read your reviews to give me courage for when I will sit in a dark room for another three years and try to make something useful and wanted in this world.

Maryanne, we all hope you enjoy your Tea Time Triscuits with a lapful of cats, a heartful of love, and a fluteful of champagne!

Have a good weekend, Wonder Ones; let’s try to hold the planet together for one peace full day.

**Next Friday, if we can get through the week unscathed, I will present the previously schedules post, dedicated to Nancy S., on How To Find Blue Jay Feathers. Spoiler: it involves cat food.

12 Comments, RSS

  1. Casey

    Yes it’s been a sad sad week. My serenity is coming here, to read the latest news of Vivian World events. That tower in Le Road Trip is my favorite illustration, but now I will look at it and meditate on counting the stones. Or maybe I’ll be on watch for an interesting stone wall in my neighborhood.

    My Godmother is named Susan, so it makes me happy that Steve’s got one too. Now all he needs is can official birthday so his angel can send him a beautiful note to make the day special.

  2. Mary

    Haveaheart is soo 2000? Do tell us what are the new capture techniques. Tell us more about Dennis.
    How can you get him to your Vet for neuter? Is Steve still on the front porch only ?

    How did you find Dennis? Are the other “ferels” rejecting him? Please to relay cat stories.
    I enjoy Cat stories 24/ 7.

  3. I am fascinated by your stones and bricks. I love the shading and precise layout of the bricks and the colors in the stones. I also marvel at how painting them can be relaxing – guess that’s because you know how to do it!

    What a sad, heart-breaking week indeed. We all need a refuge and then courage to work to make our country a better place. And kitties, always need kitties!

  4. You have the patience of a saint.
    I find painting , gardening and baking..meditative.of course I don’t paint well..but that’s not imporatnt when you’re concentating..a great way to” se changer les idées”~
    I agree no words for Orlando..that tragedy involves soo much.
    One of my favorite Montreal artists’ had things to say..
    I just love her..

    And she had the right words..
    Thanks for the step by step:)

  5. Megan

    Congratulations Maryanne. I suppose we could just stop watching the news or listening to it or reading about it? After 34 years working in television and doing a lot of news, it just keeps repeating, so sad no one learns anything, and one toddler is without parents, it’s totally insane. Thank you for the cat photos and those stone are marvellous, I love stone and my friend used to pain beautiful paintings of river stones. Very uplifting and informative for Saturday morning, lying in bed with the ginger ninja, who is not happy about the pouring rain.

  6. Kirra

    When I feel down I go to Pilates class and re-read Vivian Swift books or blogs! Thanks for the lovely stone tutorial, it’s a great painting. Congratulations Maryanne on winning the lovely tea triscuit!

    Take care everyone.

  7. It has been a week of horrendous events to be sure. And how tragic, that one individual, with a heart full of hatred and malice, caused such grief and sorrow. I think of this young man’s parents, his siblings, his friends … every single person connected to him, who are not only grieving over his death, but my, how horrible to know your son, brother, or friend brought about such terrible woe to not only his victims, but to an entire nation! We all believe we should have the ability to choose what our actions and reactions are going to be, at any given moment; and, we are glad we are not mindless robots, programmed to simply perform a duty. But, on the other hand, we wish others did not necessarily have that right, when they make such atrocious decisions, out of a heart bent on violence and harm to others. I know, for myself, such tragic events cause me to look in the mirror, and I ask for “eyes to see” any lack of love within my own spirit, lest I too fall and cause pain to others. On the other side of this issue, are the millions and millions of people, around the world, who have demonstrated their love and sympathy toward the families of the victims. One bent man, compared to countless loving individuals —we need to remember this when atrocities happen.

    About stones … I have a thing for stones – much as I do for trees. And stars. During ancient times – several times throughout the Old Testament – Stones were used as a “witness” between two parties. Stones were even given specific names in a couple instances. The children of Israel were also instructed to place pillars of stones various times, as a memorial to future generations, marking great moments, important covenants, or treaties between nations. God told Moses, stones for altars were not to “be cut,” but were to be used as they were, And during Solomon’s day, God told Solomon “do not cut any stones on the site of the temple – only in the quarry.” In the New Testament, the religious leaders (Pharisees) insisted Jesus demand the people to stop praising God. To this Jesus answered, “If they were to stop praising, the rocks and stones themselves would cry out!” (Oh, I would LOVE to see that!) Knowing this makes me look at stones, not as inanimate objects, without meaning or worth, but as something far more meaningful and important – beyond my meager comprehension.

    By the way, I love your stones and rocks, Vivian! They are lovely and you do each one justice. I’m glad they are sources of peace and stability for you. This is as it should be I think – for all of us.

    I also am glad you met the cat-helper face to face. It’s always a blessing to connect with others of like-mind. It brings comfort, joy, and security, doesn’t it? A friendly smile, a warm countenance … many times words don’t even have to be exchanged, when two or more people are together, in one accord.

    After terrifying events and times of profound distress, it is good to grab hold of our focus, and force it around to what is “Lovely, honest, pure, true, and of good report.” My mom loves the song by Louis Armstrong, “It’s a Wonderful World.” And how blessed me are, we can go to YouTube, type it into the search box, and — Voila! There it is! And with gorgeous nature video while the song plays!

    Horrendous events are man-made and they are ubiquitous — ever with us. But we do have, on the other hand, a world full of loving souls, beautiful vistas, loving kitties, birds with blue feathers, and most of all Amazing Grace. Look up and touch the face of the moon, and remember … you are not alone. Not for a moment.

    I await instructions on how to find blue jay feathers! I seem to find everything else, but … ! And congratulations, Maryanne, on winning the wonderful tea quartet! How delightful!

  8. Becky

    It was a week full of awful tragedy. My KatieAnn brought such love and comfort to me as I know your beloved cats did to you. she is always close by my feet….usually laying on them so I don’t get away or sitting by me on the couch….close by to make sure I pet her. It is hard to make sense of such hateful actions. Thank you for sharing your healing moments with us.

  9. nicole

    Beautiful work Marianne!

    Also love the stone work, Viviane. Reminds me so much of Brittany, St Briac (?), and just all of France.

  10. Three cheers for Maryanne! She was so excited that when she came to visit me on vacation (my vacation — and she did the driving to meet me!) she brought prosecco! Yum! If your ears were burning it was because we were talking about you — all good!

    Thanks for the stone lessons. On my Giverny (the town) wall, I’ve had the worst time with the stones on all five versions and now they are more illusions of stones. I decided this summer instead of taking every supply I ever owned with me to the lake, I’m focusing on painting! Maybe some concentrated time will help. Certainly I’ll be reviewing stone walls and bark!

  11. Oh, I forgot — one thing this post so reminded me of was something I dealt with when working as a children’s grief facilitator a number of years ago. When the kids felt they were ready to move on (sometimes after several years of group and some pretty horrendous deaths they’d faced including murder, suicide and AIDS), we would give them a little bag with several stones. One was rough, the others smooth. We reminded them that once the smooth stones were like the rough ones but over time of being tossed and tumbled the rough edges began to smooth. They would never be as they were but that in being the survivor of grief their edges may become less rough over time. Perhaps a very long time. And the stones were to remind them on their very bad days of the struggle to survive. The people in Orlando (and all who have experienced such things) have so many “rough” parts to deal with. One can only hope their edges, too, will smooth in time.

    Yes. Stones. Calm. Cool. Stable. Foundations.

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