I Which I Try To See What Is Right Before My Eyes

How long has it been since I painted this illustration (below)?

Let’s see. . . it’s on page 130 of a book that came out 10 months ago, which means that I turned in the manuscript about 2 years ago, which means that I painted it around 2013 or ’12  from a memory of a trip to Edinburgh that I took in 2006 . . .

. . . so that’s a long, long, long time ago. In fact, it’s been so long since I’ve held a paintbrush that, when our Dear Reader Deborah Hatt requested that I show some Winter watercolor tutorials and I dragged myself to my workroom to get out the necessary equipment, I could not  locate my paper supply. True story. I have stacks of the stuff  (Canson 90 lb), and it is, as you can imagine, a rather crucial ingredient to the magic I make.

But last July, when I did a major clean up in my work space, and by the way the was the same time I quit painting, it seems that I found a diabolically clever place to stash about a thousand sheets of watercolor paper. I had found a place to keep it well out of my sight, as that was how I was feeling at the time. I haven’t been in a good mood for much of 2016.

Well, I looked high and low for that big stack of paper and, after looking hither and yon, I took a Zen Time Out and reasoned that looking through drawers and in book cases was a waste of my time as the paper could only be lurking in an appropriately paper-stack-sized space. Duh. But by then, I’d lost interest, so I went to my computer and watched Love Actually on Netflix instead of continuing the search. Yeah, it’s a stupid movie, but it’s a great stupid movie. Oh, how I wish that I could wake up from this nightmare and find that I live in London and that High Grant is my Prime Minister and I serve him tea every day.

Oh well. Back to the quest: I turned on my Himalayan Rock Salt lamp and inhaled the mysterious good vibes and trudged back to my workroom. And lo, there was my stack of Canson 90 lb watercolor paper, right in front of my face, on the (eye-level) middle shelf of the same closet I’d searched thoroughly the day before. Wow, I said to myself. That is a really excellent place to hide a shit load of paper!

So, Winter. How To. And all.

Because I have not painted in quite a while I am going to start us out with something super easy. So that’s why I am referring you (above) to page 130 of Gardens of Awe and Folly, specifically to the background of that little picture, which looks like this (below):

To the best of my memory, I believe that I painted it with my usual paints, a mix of cheap Grumbacher and slightly better Winsor Newton, plus some homemade gray paint I made by mixing blue and burnt sienna (which could be the topic of a future, incredibly boring tutorial on mixing paint):

I make a wash of blue and gray:

I’ve said before that the good thing about using only one kind of paper your whole life is that you get to know almost everything that paper will and won’t do for you. In the case of my Canson 90 lb, I know  just how wet it has to be to get a good bleed when I work “wet-in-wet”, like this:

I am working quickly here, using more color than I really want because I also know my paints very well, and I know how much lighter these colors will be when they dry:

Oh, how I loves me a good bleed. This really is my favorite part of painting, letting watercolors do what watercolors do! You never now how it’s going to turn out! You’ll either get a happy surprise that you never could have made happen on purpose, or something that looks like puke (in which case you just throw it away and start over and not take it personally).

Anyhoo, while the paints are still wet, I am going to get my Chinese White paint and load up my brush directly from the tube:

And then I’m going to dab it hither and thither — look how cool it bleeds!

(Yes, I am wearing band aids. Dry Winter weather, delicate figure tips, you know how that goes.)

After letting the paints dry, I take a look at what I’ve got, and I think I can work with it:

Next, I load up my teeny tiniest brush with a very watery blue:

And I test out its color strength (and to check whether I remember how to paint trees after such a long hiatus) on a scrap piece of paper:

I want to emphasize how necessary it is to keep a “practice” bit of paper near you when you paint. I use it to try out color mixes, saturations, and techniques before I attack my Work In Progress. Save yourself some heartache and have a practice run at anything you’re about to do before you make it part of the permanent record, OK?

I am using acrylic paint here, called Titian White, because it’s easier to use than the Chinese White, or so I thought, a choice that I regret now that I look at it because I am so out of practice that my handling of the paint lacks finesse. I might as well be scrubbing it on with a busted twig I got from the holly bush in my front yard :

So this is how it looks in the end:

And, because I am an ILLUSTRATOR and can’t stand looking at a picture without a narrative, I have to add some footprints in this pic to give it a bit of a story:

So that is the gist of how to paint a bit of Winter. Neither Taffy nor I think this is a particularly well-done bit of work, but it’s my first time back at the old paint box and although I did expect to get back in the swing immediately, I can see now that it’s going to take some time and patience to get my groove back.

So, next week, we are going to have another go at painting Winter.

The Champagne-O-Meter is at the ready . . .

Last Sunday’s snow fall, first good chill of the season.

. . . and my crack team of assistants is standing by. . .

. . . and, little darlings, it’s going to be a long, cold, Trumpy Winter that we can’t dream or drink away, so we might as well paint it:

Have a great weekend, everyone, and we’ll meet back here next Friday to re-paint those background trees and have a go at those pines. You in?

25 Comments, RSS

  1. LOVELY and so much to learn! After reading this I’m itching to get to my paints and try this technique. And you’ve solved another problem that I’ve been struggling with: how to get perspective with one’s grove of trees. Aren’t those far-away wispy looking blue trees just to die for?!

    Keep “chopping the wood” here at the paint store, we adore it and you.

  2. I almost wrote last week and said;”where are you”?
    But then that looks a bit much I find.
    We just get so used to following blogs..many we write nary a word..others you feel like writing something.
    Anyway nice to have a post..2017 should be better..look at us..we have a lovely PM..and yet complaints are flying around.
    I teared up at President Obama’s parting speech.I wanted him to win when he was elected..and hated to see him go..(who cares about what I think..I am not even an American.)
    I hope you get a MOJO back..I love this lesson..home today..may try.
    My little watercolor is still above the sink here..and I still enjoy it so much.
    I sometimes put things away in a safe place..so safe I have no clue where it is.
    I have been on an organizing frenzy.Feels good.

  3. Megan

    Love the painting, especially the footprints… Nice to see the hibernating cats. We just lost our cat, our last pet and now we are all alone after 34 years always with a fur kid. Life is grim. Grab them and give them all a hug from me.

  4. ann

    So happy to see you painting again.

    I would not be so fond of watercolors without your inspiration.

    Thank you so much for picking up the brush.

    The cats in the audience make the picture purrfect!

  5. Joanne

    I’m in! Your work brings me such joy. Your assistants are adorable and, I suspect, have the best job in the world! I was hoping for a Candy update; hope she is continuing to improve.

  6. Megan

    When I showed my partner your cats on the lounge… he wanted to know if they were in the prime television watching position? Our always had the best seats and they didn’t even watch tv but we got cricks in the neck craning to see. Cats, fantastic creatures.

  7. I feel your pain. I am struggling with conflicting desires – to be informed and to remain sane. They may be mutually exclusive in our current reality. So far all I’ve accomplished is to be moderately well informed and minimally sane.

    Love, love the winter painting and glad you’ll be doing more. I’m not a fan of winter, but your versions looks so lovely- especially when viewed from under a mountain of blankiess while sipping on a cup of hot java !

  8. So happy to have found your through Monique! I look forward to more inspirational posts! I’m trying to find my old watercolor supplies after a move and a LONG hiatus. Inspiration is a good thing. 😉 blessings and hugs ~ tanna

  9. Well, I’m in and I’m delighted you are back. Sometimes you just have to stop for awhile, whether it is for conflicting life experiences that fill the calendar and days or just because you need to recharge. When I saw your lesson today, I thought “Vivian’s BACK!” Not just writing, not just being funny, wonderful, snarky, caring Vivian but back in the paint. Baby steps allowed! It inspired me because I’ve been sort of there, too.

    Well, I like this far better than you do, I think! And perhaps one of the best lesson points is that just doing a scene is nice — but what makes it come alive is telling the story and the footprints do just that. Now my mind is racing, filling in the story blanks!

    Lizzie passes on her hibernation greetings to your gang!

  10. Bunny

    Nice to see you up an’ at ’em again! I, for one, sure missed your wit and talent. It’s time we all go forth into the great unknown again hoping for the best possible results.
    Welcome back!

  11. Kirra

    So happy to have a blog post from you Vivian! Thanks for posting. I totally get the paper finding story, sometimes your previous organized self is a real pain.

    I’ve been on holiday avoiding anything like work since Christmas so hope you had a nice break too!? I went to an amazing music festival here in Australia over New Year and am feeling more positive about this year, I agree 2016 was shitty.

    I love watching you’re painting tutorials, as a non painter it is fascinating and impressive. I will definitely join you in drinking champagne, though it will have to be from the fridge. Nice to see your snow, hope it’s not too cold.

    Happy New Year everyone!

  12. Judy Jennings

    “…a long, cold, Trumpy winter that we can’t dream or drink away.” Finally, my feelings put into perfect words. Thanks, Vivian

  13. Becky

    I love the picture of your “crack team of assistants”. What a scene of pure bliss.
    ….”a cold trumpy winter…” so aptly put. Trying to stay informed but painting really soothes the soul

  14. Maryanne in SC

    And I’ll be the wise-ass that adds a Happy Birthday, even in the bleak midwinter, Trumpy and all.

    I meant to say that at a more timely moment. Had set male-Australian Siri to remind me when it was midnight on the Ile de France. It would have worked, too, had I not left the phone in the car.

    So glad you’re back with us, and painting.

  15. Bravo! Bravo! Thank you for this first installment of “wintry tutorials!” I know what you mean about feeling rusty. I had not painted in about five months, and then, being desperate for a Christmas gift for my baby-sister, decided to paint her a pair of bunny-rabbits. She loved them, and that’s all that mattered to me … but boy, was I rusty! Like anything that is worthwhile, we just need to “do it” on a regular basis, for our own well-being. I felt SO much better for painting those bunnies. I even painted a couple 5×7 Christmas cards! And I always say to myself after getting back in the saddle, “This feels good! I’m going to do this every day! What was I thinking to neglect it for so long?!” But, of course, human that I am, I slide off my saddle, curl up under a shady tree, and fall into repose, far too often for my own good. Sigh.

    I LOVE the effect you accomplished by dropping Chinese White where you put the tree tops! Excellent results!! I am excited to try this myself, dear Vivian. Thank you so much for the tip! See, my dear? We all need your expertise as we splash through our sometimes-muddy paths to successful watercoloring. Believe me, your tutorial is like cool water in a desert land. YOU may feel rusty – but we say to ourselves, “Good Grief! She says she’s rusty?! I WISH I was that rusty!!” Once again, I am blown away by your enchanting results, O Artsy One! Thank you! Thank you!

    Your kitties, like mine, always know how to best wallow in the delight of living. Our equivalent to their state: Drinking a hot cuppa, watercoloring a little sketch every day, an occasional break for reading a fresh chapter in a relaxing “good read,” and yes … wallowing in the delight of living, counting our many, many blessings, and laughing at our own fumblings.

    Happy Trails this week, dearest Vivian. We have a whole new, fresh year to live each day to its fullest, to catch bubbles, collect bluejay feathers, and bury our faces deep into kittycat fur. Glory Hallelujah!

    You are greatly loved.

  16. Patricia

    Love how adding the footsteps in the snow immediately gave the painting context … where has she gone on this cold snowy day? Home to drink champagne or better yet, hot buttered rum and read her copy of “Gardens of Awe and Folly”?

  17. Love!! I just found your blog and since I’m a newbie just starting out on watercolors this post was fabulous. I hope you keep painting the winter away. I am not happy that tomorrow is the day we lose our country to a pretender!

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