All Tangled Up In Blue

Before I forget: I will be in Boyleston, MA next Sunday, Feb. 12, at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden. Details at the  end of this awesome post.

Now, where was I? Oh, right:

I am such a typical Capricorn. I’m musical, fun to a fault, quite the gourmet, and I totally love humanity***.

Ha ha! Just kidding.

If you know a Capricorn, then you know that we are the Vulcans of the zodiac. We are very serious people; practical,patient, determined, and can nurse a grudge better than an entire scrum of Hatfields.

Oh, that last thing might just be me. Point is, you have patted up a watercolor tutorial given by a Capricorn (yours truly) who is still trying to work out How to Paint Winter, so yes, we are going to re-re-re-paint the same damn trees again. Because did I mention that us Capricorns are patient and determined, and awesomely good at sticking with something, sometimes to a ridiculous extent, until we get it right?

Once more, this is the internet photo that I have been referring to for the past three or four weeks in my watercolor tutorials about painting Winter:

This is an excellent photo of Winter. It appealed to me because it had the kinds of Wintery trees that we all love: the snow-covered pine, the snow-covered deciduous, the misty woods in the back ground. And I love the monochrome of the color scheme, which is mostly shades of gray, which does not necessarily make it an excellent reference for a watercolor. Painting in monochrome is hard. I’ve never done it, because, you know, I’ve got my hands full trying to get it right with the whole paint box at my disposal.

So, from what I’ve learned about the limits of my ability (that I’ve been re-working on in my blog posts for the past three or four weeks), I am going to go straight for the green paint when I begin my watercolor again this week:


Let’s see, this is the 5th? 6th? time I’ve painted this snow-covered pine tree. I have a lot more confidence this week, which is why I decided to add another snow-covered pine tree (to the right, see below) for my painting this week. In order to differentiate the trees you can see that I’ve used a bluer color for the 2nd pine tree:

OK, let’s do the snow-covered deciduous tree now:



Because I am not painting in a sky, I am changing the way I do the background trees this time. This week, you can see that I’ve painted in just one layer of color here (see below):

I think, with the white sky that I’m leaving unpainted, that this single color will work better than the way I normally paint background trees, as in this sample:

This week, I am very happy with the way this ridge of blue paint looks (below), because I love taking advantage of letting watercolor do what it wants to do:

Now I’m using pale gray to paint in the background trees:

I’m dabbing in chunks of white paint, hoping that it will add “sparkle”:

So this is how the picture looks so far . . .

. . . before I decide to add an element that I’ve haven’t tried yet in this picture, which is some blue “snow” lines in the foreground:

All I have to do is crop this painting and it is


Compare to last week’s effort:

I’m not saying that this week’s painting is good. I’m just saying that it is better. Patience, determination, etc., all those old, boring Capricorn traits keep me fixated on this scene, try-try-trying again and again, until I can pass off a half-decent depiction. So what if this is the 7th time (and counting) that I’ve been over this same territory? I don’t expect to be good right off the bat — do you?? 

By the way, Top Cat thought the new pic was only OK, but he was really impressed with the back ground. TC is in the print business (big fancy commercial printing, glossy ads and packaging for cosmetics and pharma), and he praised the background trees, namely this bit:

“How did you do that?” he asked; “It looks embossed!” Between you and me, I think that these background trees are crap and, if I paint this again, I will break out a new 00-size brush to get in some really fine lines here and do better with my tree shapes but, having Top Cat’s positive feedback, I know consider this one of my “party tricks” that I can pull out when I need to dazzle a viewer, maybe detract attention from a weakness in a picture. (Capricorns are very strategic.)

What Top Cat failed to notice, however, is that my treatment of these background trees isn’t even naturalistic. It’s pure invention, my own stylization, which I give you permission to borrow or otherwise appropriate for your own devices.

Speaking of Winter, we got another minor snowfall this week:

It only amounted to an inch or two, hardly worth putting out the old Champagne-O-Meter, but I mention it because it was a chance for me to test my cat-sheltering skills. When our last snow storm hit, on Jan. 6, our front porch cat, Steve, huddled in his lean-to by the stoop:

Now, this is Steve’s second Winter at large, and I have no idea where he hid out during bad weather last year, but he made it through so I know he is one tough hombre. But still, I can not abide seeing seeing a cat like this. As soon as the snow melted (which was practically the next day), I fixed his lean-to: I made it smaller (to better trap his body heat) and enclosed that back end, where the snow was blowing in, and I added another layer of plexiglass to his lean-to. Steve appreciates the transparency.

Better still, I re-vamped one of the “cubbies” that I keep in the garage:

It’s a never-used covered litter pan with an extra large-size top on it (for better insulation), stuffed with straw. So when it began to snow on Tuesday morning. . .

. . . I trotted out to the garage to make sure everything was warm and cozy:

I’m happy to say that Steve spends almost every night in this cubby.  As long as I keep my distance, that is, go no further than the doorway to the garage, I can call Good-night to him from a car-length away and he’ll blink and chirp back a faintly cranky “Nighty-nite” to me.

Speaking as a Capricorn, seeing this kitty face on a cold Winter night is about as happy as I get.

But I can get positively giddy reading your Comments, Dear Readers — Vicki in Michigan, Deb Mattin in New Hampshire, Thea in the Republic of California, and Kirra in Oz — all who marched for the cause last week: You light up my day! And all of us who were there in spirit, and who, like Becky, needle our lazy ass, conformist, shit-eating careerist representatives in congress to Man Up against Der Drumpf, I cannot tell you how much you give me hope that America is redeemable. Which I forget on a daily basis.

Note to all our Dear Readers from the midwest, including Indiana, the land of “nice”: On January 30 New Yoker Josh Sternberg helped put the call out, via Twitter, on January 30, for a protest to be held the next day at the Brooklyn home of Senate Minority Leader and New York Senator Chuck Schemer, to object to Mr. Schumer’s collaboration with the Republicans. And what might this platform for civic participation be called?

“What the Fuck Chuck” rally in Park Slope tomorrow. Bring your kids. Should be a blast!

Yeah, that’s what New Yorkers call “nice”. And so, three thousand people showed up to urge Mr. Schumer to get some balls and put up a fight against Der Drumpf and his half-wit supporters.

Somebody say Amen.

Now that I feel my blood boiling and my stomach is churning with pure hatred for those who want to revive the ghost of Antonin Scalia, let’s back away from the politics and resume our meander in the tributaries of my stream on consciousness. Relax. Calm down. Think good thoughts about a kitty cat. Let’s dip our toes back into the La La Land of Yours Truly:

Do you remember how I mentioned that us Capricorns are ambitious? Oh? Did I forget to mention that? Well, we are very ambitious folk, us Capricorns. And exactly how does that pertain to watercolor painting?

Here’s the answer:

I am inspired by these beautiful blue tones of late afternoon. So next week we are going to paint something that I’ve never tired: Monochrome. I’m going to paint a Winter scene in one color — shades of blue. Can I pull it off?

I honestly don’t know. But meet me here next Friday, and we’ll watch me paint on the verge of disaster.

OR, you can meet me in Boyleston, Massachusetts! I’ll be at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden on Sunday, Feb. 12, from 1 – 2 PM. I’m going to talk about how I blew up the garden-writing genre, exploded all its cliches and predictable sentimentality, when I wrote Gardens of Awe and Folly; and how a dedicated non-gardner such as myself pulled off such a feat — a ridiculous achievement matched only by my entire publishing career, which is pretty much a scam (as I am eminently unqualified to be a writer/illustrator at all).

I hope to see you there!

*** Me? A music lover? I detest background music and my favorite song in the world (for the record, it’s My Ever-changing Moods by The Style Council) is something that I can listen to only once every other year, so that I don’t get bored with it. Because I do get soooo bored with noise.

As for fun: I’m heavily into self-medication.

I have the palate of a six year old.

My dearest hope for this precious planet is that people die out and leave it the hell alone.

Wait. This a too down-beat ending of our weekly visit. So here’s some pix of Taffy, frolicking in his Winter Garden:

That cat surely does have exquisite taste in dirt.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

14 Comments, RSS

  1. Megan

    Steve looked cold then cosy. Taffy is just gorgeous. Good luck with the rally. Sadly I agree with your comment about people dying out, I think we are rapidly running out of time. Looking forward to the blue painting next week. Cheers.

  2. Cool snow scene! Hooray for us Capricorns – we get things done. and we don’t like background music!
    Hope to see you on our return from Morocco – that is, IF we bother to come back.
    We will see lots of lovely things there – and some bad ones
    and lots and lots of cats.
    Say hi to Taffy…xxxxx
    ps self -medication is OK we need it.

  3. My mom was a artist..she could talk about anything and know her facts.Not at all ever in a know-it-all way.Just in a knowing way.Her diction and spelling in bot English and French were flawless..later in life she worked as a translator.
    She was patient and kind and so loving.
    She had a great loss in her life by losing a daughter before me..and never ever compared us..♥
    She was that mom.Always there..
    so you Capricorns have AMAZING qualities.
    I like how you persevere and show us..thanks for the tutorials..
    believe me..what’s going on is affecting Canada.:(

  4. Anonymous

    Love your blog and watercolor guidance. Love your books even more, especially for the watercolors. I even gave my daughter, a landscape designer, your “Gardens” book and she was immediately drawn to your illustrations. I am so inspired that you taught yourself. Here in Atlanta we have little in the way of snow- covered trees but the blues/grays/purples of winter are a favorite palette. I feast on these colors in the January sunrises from my east-facing office on the 36th floor. Colors and imagery are my personal antidotes to the political horrors unfolding on a daily basis. Also, your cat pictures and sarcasm make me laugh. Thank you for your inspiration!

  5. Pretty sure that keeping each other going, resisting in all the ways we can resist, is critical to making things better.

    Showing each other good things, laughing together, sharing the positives (What the Fuck, Chuck?!? 🙂 ) — all of these things give us energy to continue to resist.

    ps — totally not a capricorn, but so with you on the peace, quiet, and lack of people anywhere near enough that I can hear them! I want to eat good food, as long as someone else makes it……

  6. Kirra

    Taffy!! Those photos have put me in a really good mood for the weekend – thanks.

    I agree with the comments, you do what you can and try to remember things can change. Even here in Australia people are finding Der Drumpf hard to take, and we’re far far away! Personally I just find seeing him on the tv news with his fake tan and horrible hair offensive…..he just looks like such a nutter, even before he speaks or does anything!

    I think your painting this week is really good, very impressed with how you did those two pine trees in slightly different colours. All this snow painting is a treat for me! Pity there wasn’t enough snow for a champagne-o-meter, I always love that.

    It sounds pretty fun creating hidey holes to keep outside cat Steve warm in winter. Hope he’s doing well with his new upgrade.

  7. TOWER HILL ??? Not far from me, so unless HWMNBN ends the world before then, I’ll be there. Tower Hill is one of my local favorites, and I’m so excited that you’ll be there.

    Can’t believe Steve spends nights outside during the winter! You made him a great shelter, but still, what a kitty !

    I love the “WTF” for Chuck Schumer . Seriously, it’s time for him and many of the other old boys to grow a pair. So far it seems only women are taking on Captain Marmalade. As you can see, I refuse to even say his name .

    The tress are lovely – love the colors and the white spaces – so serene.

  8. Thea

    Ah, the pic of Steve all cozy in his cubby instantly made *me* feel cozy.
    Now, Vivian (yes, you’re right, nothing which follows that phrase can be good), I love your prose stylings and will traipse after you wherever you choose to take us, in mood merry or irate, but “us Capricorns,” such a clunker. My stomach clunches. I am very sure you have strong feelings about phrasing thus. So do I. Love your art stylings too, and I continue to admire even as you point out insufficiencies. Stay strong, and self-medicate. I found that routine quite helpful with coping.

  9. Becky

    Thank you for sharing the tutorials on the winter trees. Snowypines and treeshave always been difficult for me and this definitely helps. I am anxious to try the scene using one color.

    Yes my friends and I are still needling away. The first call was definitely the hardest. But we are determined to be heard . WTF is a good way to describe The ongoing events that occur daily. When I FINALLY got through to Ryan it took me 3 consecutive calls to get me whole message in…..but nasty women do succeed.

  10. Out here in the snowy fields of Michigan farm country, we often get stray kitties and (unfortunately) drop-offs. My own Top Cat, Allen, has become the guru of kitty condominiums over the years. He is a real pro. Right now, for the first time in 26 years, we have only two outside kitties (we have had up to eleven kitties, which we finally were able to find homes for) … one of my present kitties is Lucy, 18 years old! A true testament of how well Allen has housed this little calico lady for many years. We use wooden boxes with gads of straw AND a heat lamp (so to speak) … which is actually just a trouble-light like mechanics use, because it has a little guard over the bulb. He fastens the light up next to the roof of the box, away from the straw. Allen has done this for many years, and so far the kitties LOVE IT, and nothing has ever come close to scorching. We leave the lights on, day and night, until the day time temperature gets over 50. When it is bitter cold, we even feed them inside the door of their boxes. This suits Lucy just fine. We bring the food inside at night, to keep raccoons, possums, and skunks away. Feeding them inside the boxes also keeps the birds from emptying their dishes. We are amazed at how bold the birds get .. especially the jays and starlings.

    Well, I like BOTH last week’s painting and this week’s offering! And I like the distant trees in all your various renditions. I don’t see a bad one in the lot! I really like the composition of the photo with the evergreens and the larger deciduous tree behind … and I also like the fence in the photo, personally (not that you have to like it, of course, O Artsy One). And like you, I LOVE the blues of wintery evenings — that hazy blue, when snow is falling and the afternoon is wearing down. I anxiously await your latest wintery tutorial, dear Vivian.

    Seeing Steve curled in his place with snow sitting atop his fur, reminds me of our horses. The unmelted snow, sitting on top of their winter coats, lends testimony to the incredible insulation outside animals develop for the cold weather. The production of this extra-thick coat begins in the early fall for outside animals. Special hormones and enzymes are triggered by the cooler evenings of September and October. If you live in a colder region, this begins in August. Our horses would often have a good two-three inches of snow covering their backs on snowy days. Perfect insulation! We once had an airedale who LOVED the outside, and never enjoyed being in the house. She loved the snow more than her cozy place in the barn, and would dig out a hollow spot in a corner and curl into a ball. The snow would cover her like a blanket. I would shudder to see her that way, but that was how she liked it! Crazy pooch! God’s Creation is amazing – every detail is exactly right.

    Well, dear Vivian … keep up the lovely winter scenes! I LOVE them!! And they really are a help for all of us wannabees. Happy Trails this week, as you trek forth in search of awesomeness and folly. You are greatly loved.

  11. Carol S

    Taffy & Steve photos…thank you! I would have a hard time respecting Steve’s boundaries. What a pretty boy!
    You have such a kind heart to give him a cozy condo for the winter.

  12. Christine

    You can do it! I love the blue painting from WWCTR…in December, I think (I want to say page 187, but am at work without my book as reference): shades of blue in the night sky and the bare tree branches reaching up and the snow sparkling around…one of my favorites (of many!)! I find it to be very peaceful and mystical.

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