Somewhere In The Canada Of My Mind, A Blue Sky Glows Within A Night Tree.

The snow buried us cat and caboodle last week.

Even the slow-to-snow-panic New Englanders got a little hinky about the storm so my book event at the Tower Hill Botanical Garden was cancelled due to weather. This was a call that I, as a cult author and major American doodler/diarist and loather of the cold, heartily approved of. So we all stayed cozy in our bungalows and coped with The Weather in our own ways.

For me, it was breaking out the 1,000-piece picture puzzle and a fresh loaf of baked-from-scratch corn bread:

Corn bread goes very well with frozen champagne and a snow day with my Top Cat:

Taffy did his thing:

Bibs got in some serious bird watching:

And then the day after the day after the storm, the morning dawned eerily bright . . .

. . . and Dennis ventured out from his guest quarters in our house to inspect the new landscape . . .

. . . while Steve found a sunbeam very much to his liking:

And, oh yeah, a raccoon that I was trying to rescue from my back fence bit me so Top Cat took me to the local emergency room for rabies treatment (we looked it up and called the public health dept., who ordered me there), which is too-long a story to go into BUT all I have to say about spending three hours in an ER is: America, you have to stop being such cry babies when you have minor back pain, for chrissake. I refused to lay down on the Stryker cot the ER assigned me, just so I didn’t have to listen to the two blondes on either side moan and whinge about how much their shoulders hurt (diagnosis: nothing neurologically wrong, try sleeping with a better pillow). And what is with all the double-wide wheel chairs? No wonder health care costs are so high.

Back home again,  I hunkered down and got back to work on painting Christine’s Winter Tree because I’m a cowgirl at heart.

It is vital to use only the powdery Grumbacher “opaque” watercolor paints for this kind of painting because you will need to “pick up” the colors later. The most important colors are the blues: Prussian blue, Ultramarine, and Cyan blue (isn’t that redundant?), which I will be mixing with black and violet:

The next series of photos are my attempts to get good bleeds as I lay down a coat of paint (three different times) that changes intensity from rather lightish blue-violet to deep dark rich midnight blue:

If I am not happy with the bleed, I start over:

I should also tell you that it takes practice to get a nice smooth wash of color that doesn’t show brush strokes.

To answer Dear Reader Vicki’s question from the Comments last week, I photograph my own self while I paint. I paint with my left hand and when I get to a point that I think is important for you all to see, I just pick up my Panasonic Lumix point and shoot camera and snap:


Anyhoo, I did end up with one good wash that had the right bleeds and the depth of color that I wanted — the one on the far right (below):

Some how I got lucky with that one — see that neat haze of brightness on the horizon? that’s going to look good on the finished pic, for sure.

Whenever I paint nature I have to fight my tendency to fall into patterns , so to avoid that I like to have a reference photo within sight when I do Winter trees so I can get a more random distribution of branches that will appear more natural, rather than what I do when I paint from memory:

Pencil guide lines:

I will use two brushes for this tree — a size 1 and a size 00. I start with the fatter brush . . .

. . . but I finish with the really tiny one:

For the next part, all I need is my size 00 brush and some clear water. I will load up my paint brush with water before I apply it to the dry paint, in order to “pick up” the color (kind of like an eraser), which is something that Grubacher paints let you do, which is why I love them:

I use the roll of paper towels that I always keep on hand to clean my brush in between the times I dip my brush into the clear water:

Again, when I am painting in these big snow flakes, I have to fight my pattern-making nature and try to make “snow” appear very random:

See below — I think it looks random, nest-ce pas?

Lastly, I dab in some smaller snow drops (I’m using my trusty acrylic Titanium White, of course):

Crop, and I am


Christine, I hope you like it, because this one is for you.

I can see how you could play with this effect, by putting bright colors in the tree and making halos around each one, or maybe “erasing” a whimsical Milky Way in the background before you paint the tree into the foreground, that kind of thing. I’m thinking, future Happy Holidays card, right?

And you know which world leader is on my ChrisHanuKwanSolstice list?

** Sigh *** Really, doesn’t everybody in the world want to be Canadian at times like this?

Der Trumpf showing PM Justin Trudeau his secret plan to defeat ISIS.

I was listening to the radio when the joint press conference between Der Drumpf and Monsieur Dreamy came on, and I heard JT speaking French — which the damn people at NPR decided to talk over with an English interpretation.

So I ran — yes, I RAN — to my computer to get it streamed live so I could hear my favorite Trudeau person speak my favorite foreign language. Confession: I haunt Youtube for videos of JT speaking French, so I am already a huge fan of Monsieur Dreamy’s bi-lingualism. But today I have a question for my Dear Readers of the Canadian persuasion:

Is M. Trudeau’s accent rather less Celine Dion and more, let’s say, Megan Calvet? Although I can clearly hear the historically impeccable Quebecois accent whenever Celine speaks, I don’t hear it when I listen to The Top Cat of the Tundra, but I don’t know what exactly I’m hearing. Does he have what the Brits call a “Trans-Atlantic” accent? Rather like the way Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn used to speak American English in their old movies? Is it just a tiny bit more French-French than North American French? And is it dreamy?

And so, wonder Ones, if you need to lift your spirits from the latest Drumpf debacle (a new one reliably comes along every 48 hours), there’s this:

O, Ooooooo, Canada.

***Breaking News: I just watched Der Drumpf’s press conference today (Thursday, Feb. 16). It’s official. Der Drumpfster is bat shit crazy. I really, really do not know whether to laugh or cry. To paraphase: Der Drumpf is a comedy for those who think, a tragedy for those who feel. So, basically, if you think or feel, you are fucked. Unless you are Canadian, and then you are living the dream, mes amis, you are living the dream.

Have a great weekend, and à tantôt.

12 Comments, RSS

  1. You made me laugh..I have never heard your president being called ..that..a few other things but not that..

    So about Justin..or he was called dutring his visit by Sean Spicer..

    ..his French is like mine and Jacques’..he is perfectly bilingual..but not in a parisian manner..and certainly not in a slang manner..because you have all 3 here:)I just read this to Jacques and he said..he is like accent in husband can have a charming French accent in English..
    I was brought up in an English neighbourhood..and went to French school..Jacques was brought up in a French neighbourhood and went to French school.
    Justin Trudeau is educated..and his words are music to my ears..not everyone feels like me..but for the most part..people are happy with him.
    I am more than happy..and for the first time in years..I am again interested in politics.
    I loved his dad..his mom(and I still do..) short..Justin’s mastery of both very much the one my mom had.
    So well spoken♥

    I appreciate you candor Vivian and your art..happy I have my Grumbachers..still sad one blue was missing:(

    I will have to refresh my memory and go look at the gaping hole no matter how it gets to me..
    Love this tree..
    I have been painting crappily lately:(How’ that for my vocabulary?:))

  2. Leslie

    Wait. You rescued a raccoon and all you got for it was rabies? Well, that seems unfair. Where was that raccoon during Le Grand Orange’s press conference, when he was really needed?

    I want to hang a double-wide hammock in your blue-sky-tree in Canada. You know, in case the PM wanted to stop by and talk about tattoos and world peace and such.

    Thank you for showing how you do it. You are very generous and as it’s been said before here, you make rethink tat I can do it too. Ha ha. I think that if you filmed yourself painting I would gladly watch your paint dry, over and over.

  3. I am such a beginner with the watercolors but you inspire me. Love all you sweet cats finding those sun spots. As far as I can tell, yes that man is bat shit crazy. Sad to call him president. Now I’m even more envious of Canada!!

  4. Oh, my dear Vivian – a raccoon?! I’m just glad your hand didn’t receive any permanent damage. Out here in farm country, raccoons are a common nuisance. The only way to rid your property of the rascals is with live traps, so they can be relocated to a wooded area. They ARE cute, but they can be, not only vicious, but riddled with disease. Your raccoon was probably thieving from your cats’ food dishes. They will also take over your kitty’s snuggy houses, too, if they are allowed free access. Raccoons do transmit distemper and rabies to other animals, so it’s best to discourage them from visiting. I call the Dept. of Natural Resources if a raccoon is obviously injured, or sick (In the city, one would probably call Animal Control). They will safely, and humanely, remove the animal and take it to a vet, who determines if it has distemper or rabies, or treat its injuries, if they aren’t too extensive. Once we had a serious raccoon problem (too many in the area and they were destroying property), so we called the DNR. They live-trapped the rascals and relocated them into the deep woods. I am just SO thankful you were not more seriously hurt, dear friend! As soon as I read your words about the bite, I gasped. Rabies shots, antibiotics, possible stitches, and pain meds … goodness!

    I LOVE all the pics of your kitties in the snow! And the snow itself is lovely, isn’t it? Presently, just as I reported last week, we are surrounded by rock-hard fields, in varying shades of browns, dull greens (where the winter wheat is sleeping), and charcoal grays … all lovely in its own way, yes – but I would love to see some snow. It is Michigan, after all.

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this week’s tutorial, Vivian!! Thank you SO much! And kudos to Christine, on your sweet “double-tea-bag” sized painting! Isn’t it just too wonderful?! I am so very much enjoying (and learning from) these tutorials, O Painterly One. Thank you! Thank you!

    Well, Happy Trails this week, dear intrepid Vivian. Please, please -No more raccoons (or other wild beasties), okay? How will you paint, write, shoot pics for your blog, delight all us readers, or feed your kitties, without any fingers? Be safe. Be warm. Be blessed.

  5. Megan

    I read, “trying to rescue…” so did you get the raccoon? My sister tried to catch some feral kittens at work, she gained their confidence with food over a fortnight then went in for the catch. The kitten she caught bit her to the bone on her thumb, she did not let go of it but it was small not raccoon sized. She had to go for a tetanus shot, thankfully no rabies here. Love the painting and the cats enjoying the improving weather. Thank you.

  6. Oh dear Vivian, please be careful. Not to scold, but raccoons, as Deborah suggests, are very dangerous for you and your sweet kitties. Did one shot do the trick, or do you have to have more? Praying that you are well and that the raccoon goes on to live a wonderful life in the wild, wild woods, far away from you and your wonderful cats.

    Your winter picture is so lovely. I find dark winter scenes so difficult, you can’t futz the eye with all kinds of distraction. It’s also strangely comforting to see how hard you work at getting the initial wash just right. Makes me feel so much better about all of the “wasted” paper this week as I tried to duplicate your beautiful wash from last week.

    Saw this on facebook today….…. wish we could import Monsieur Trudeau to a leadership position here in the U.S. So jealous.

  7. Kirra

    Vivian – I love your cats in the snow and amazing winter tree painting but I think maybe you should be a political reporter?! Your writing about Mr Orange was really funny and is very accurate. (I kind of can’t believe people voted for him even based on looks – he looks ridiculous!!) It’s like he’s trying to make JT look even more amazing than he already is.

    Thanks for the interesting part on accents/languages, here in Australia we only very rarely see him on the news speaking English. I am impressed you ran to the computer! Maybe I should try some YouTube stalking en francais myself.

    From what I hear from the English they’re not very happy with their Brexit-ering government either, and don’t even bother with ours. Obviously Canada is winning and I think New Zealand may even be coming second.

    Enjoy your champagne, corn bread (looks amazing – recipe?) and puzzle and stay away from the raccoons!

  8. Becky

    I love the painting of the snowy tree and can’t wait to try it. The graduated shades of blue are gorgeous.
    UGH The ongoing press debacle. How can anyone rant (I refuse to say talk) for that length of time and say nothing. And he is off to Florida AGAIN..our tax dollars spent for him to vacation, and hold rallies. Did he forget the election is over ?
    Painting is keeping me sane….and loving my sweet dog.

  9. Bunny

    I totally agree with Kirra, you would make a great political pundit. And I too, loved this weeks tutorial. And, most of all just loved the winter landscape!

  10. Bat shit crazy is understating it. I never post political on the Gypsy but I couldn’t take it anymore and went into my rant about picking on the press. Wonder how many will leave me now…

    I especially loved the washes part of the tutorial. I need to just do a whole few pages of those to get it more easy from the fingers. The finished piece is lovely and Christine should be pretty happy — and if she’s not, I’m sure one of your blogger buds would scream for it!

    Now, about that raccoon. There’s been discussion on this and I won’t reiterate except — be careful of the outdoor guys. I know. That’s part of life on the street (or in the yard or the garage) but I’d hate to see any of them tangle with that guy. And I hope the treatment isn’t bad or painful for you. I know long ago they used to be excruciating but hopefully by now medicine is advanced.

    Well, after a week on the couch (when I was lucky enough to make it there!) it’s good to catch up and anticipate digging out the paints again. Thanks for the inspiration.

    (I love me my Taffy pix!)

  11. Carey

    Magic. I love watching you make magic. I’ve never seen this technique explained in any of the watercolor books I’ve owned and it makes me respect you so much more because WHO but a genius plays around with their art and discovers such a cool bit of fairy dust and THEN puts it out there for us all to use. Very generous. Thank you.

  12. Christine

    How magical to watch the unfolding! The artistic process is a wonder to behold! Thank you for sharing and making February more joyful and less of an endurance test.

    “I’m reachin’ for the stars
    In the sky above
    Oh, I will bring their beauty home
    The colors of my love
    And I will be a rainbow…”

    (courtesy of Robert Plant’s “Rainbow”)

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