And The Music There Was Hauntingly Familiar.

Get your cats and your tea ready:

We are painting today!

No, not this: This is from 2010 when I was painting a page from my book Gardens of Awe and Folly with the help of Coco.


This is a photo from the archives of the New York Times, which sent a photographer to Claude Monet’s house in Giverny in 1922.

In 2012 the New York Botanical garden photoshopped the “unidentified person” next to Monet out of the pic and colorized it for a show there, in which Monet’s garden at Giverny was re-created in one of the hot houses (I thought it was an odd show) :

FYI: Monet preferred fawn-colored tweeds for his suits.

I always paint from photo references, and usually I only use my own photos. . . but I’ve been known to borrow pix from other sources (Hi Jeanie! Hi Elizabeth!), and this photo of Monet at age 82 on his Japanese bridge is irresistible, don’t you think? P.S.: I used the black and white photo for my paintings. The colorized one is not helpful.

I gave it a go way back in 2012:

Way back in 2012 I was still getting used to painting “large” pictures (as a miniaturist, my preferred format is about one-eight this scale) so no wonder the pic stinks.

Last year, after painting many “murals” for my garden book (5 inches x 7 inches is about the maximum size I can go), I had another try:

This painting is ripe for a rescue.

The smartest thing I did, when I re-painted this pic in 2012, was to leave a bit of blue sky in the top right corner. It’s not there in the reference photograph from 1922. I made an edit. I like it better with a bit of sky.

I have to rescue this pic two ways: I have to make it not stink, and I have to make it fit a square format. Lately I’ve been playing around with breaking my pictures out of a rectangular format, and playing with Monet’s own style. . . and that’s what I decided to do with this picture. I decided to leave the top bit intact (but make it better with added color and shading), and to expand the bottom, watery bit, but do it to look like this:

Sorry: I forgot that I do watercolor tutorials on my blog so I’ve already re-painted the top section and glued in a new bottom bit, and here is where we pick up this rescue:

Let me tell you, it was not easy to figure out how to add width and length to the bottom part of this pic. I thought I was good at piecing things together, but this one was harder than it looked. After fiddling around for about an hour, I got it right. . . this is what it looks like from the back:

The first order of business is to camouflage the hard edges. The good news is that there are reeds on either side of Monet’s Japanese bridge in his water garden at Giverny:

Spoiler alert: I know YOU see it now, but I will not notice that the sides of this rescue are uneven until the very end and I will have a mini-crisis because of it.

If you examine Monet’s paint surface closely, you will see that he uses short, dabbly brushstrokes:

I actually find Monet’s brushstrokes to be a bit wimpy. He is not very daring with his use of paint. COLOR, oui; paint, non.

I can see that Monet paints his lily pads blue, and the water green: Weird, huh? I can also see where Monet puts his light dabs of paint towards the center of the scene and his dark dabs of paint towards the edges, so I am trying to copy his color placement as best I can but, really, I don’t know what I’m doing and am just guessing, starting with dark green and switching to medium green:

Dashing in dabs of blue:

Finishing with lightest green:

The only advantage that watercolor has over oil paint is that watercolorists can use the whiteness of the paper to add sparkle to the painted surface. I am not trying to cover every bit of paper when I dab because leaving “blank” areas will only improve the faux-impressionist look I am going for.

When painting the reflections of the reed (or the willows) in the “water”, I use broken lines:

I also make sure that I place the darkest “reflections” correctly before I paint in the rest of the bits:

Here is where it occurred to me that I must show you a very handy painting tip: I keep my pre-painted picture safe from spills and dropped brushes loaded with paint  (it happens all the time) by inserting it into one of those plastic sheet protectors that you can get at Staples:

This is pretty close to how I set up my work space:

You can see that I am using my teeny tiny Winsor Newton paint set along with a few of my cheap-o Grumbacher chalky paints for this picture (tea bag included for size ref). And that’s it! It doesn’t take much equipment to paint your heart out!

Back to the rescue: now that I have come to the foreground of this picture, I have a decision to make about the size of the brushstrokes I’ll be using in this area. As a miniaturist, I’m happy using itty bitty strokes with a 00-size brush for the back and middle-ground of this picture. But it seems to me that the length of the strokes should increase as the picture comes “closer” to the viewer. I am not happy doing long brushstrokes with a bigger brush, so I did some practice bits before I committed paint to paper (I would hate to screw this up at this stage of the rescue):

OK, I think I can live with the longer strokes. So now that I have a plan, I go back to the right edge of the picture (because I am left-handed, my pictures usually start on the right side and work towards the left) and fiddle with the last bits of the pond surface. I have differed from the Monet painting which I am using as my guide in that I made a large area of the pond surface blue, rather than paint it in as green, just because I like the blue. I have to admit that, having painted in this nice pool of blue water, I don’t know how I’m going to get out of it in a way that makes sense visually. I am hoping for the best as I lay in the dark reeds’ reflection:

Another thing that I do, just because I like to, is that I “ripple” the surface of the water:

To do this, all you have to do is take a brush loaded with clear, clear water and swipe it back and forth across a painted surface, which picks up the pigment like an eraser (remember to wipe the brush off on a paper towel before you re-load it with clear, clean water for a second swipe).

Now I use my huge (ha ha, that’s a joke: it’s a size 1) brush to make those long strokes I practiced:

I think I painted that area too dark:

So I let it dry and then I use bright white acrylic paint to dab over the dark bits:

Looking at it now, I think I could have left that area alone — the dark bit doesn’t bother me as much as it did when I was in the throes of hoping not to ruin the picture when I was so close to the finish, but what can I say? I panicked.

I dash in some blue paint and look at those ENORMOUS brush strokes!:

For this last bit, I go easy on the vertical reflections (I use very watery paint and I don’t do much detail):

The last thing I have to paint are those damn water lilies. You can see that Monet put a lot of white/pink flowers in his picture:

I don’t want to do as many because although Monet can get away with it, I think that all those flowers in my picture would look cheesy. All you do is dab on some solid blobs of bright white acrylic paint over the watercolor:

Highlight the acrylic with hot pink, leaving at least half the lily in white :


When ruling out the picture for the crop, I realize that OMG OMG OMG I measured the scene incorrectly:

Whew. Thank DoG I had barely enough of a margin to go back and fix it!

And this is how this illustration will look on the page:


The next time you see this picture I hope it’s in a book about Monet’s garden.

This biography of Stevie Nicks (who needs no introduction) is not an authorized biography, so it has no contact with Stevie’s inner life — but it is excellent when it deals with her work life. The author, Stephen Davis, is a veteran rock journalist so he knows his way around a recording studio and the way in which songwriters cobble together their hits, and I was fascinated to read about the process Stevie went through whenever she had to come up with material for a Fleetwood Mac or a solo album.

Stevie hoarded all her song ideas for years and decades, in notebooks and on cassette tapes, all her bits and pieces — a title, a riff, half a verse, a whole song that never quite gelled — and this is where she started whenever she had to come up with new material. She rifled through her old journals and cassettes and looked for bits of gold dust. I loved reading this because that’s what I do! I never throw anything out!

A few weeks ago I showed you how I re-cycled bits of failed paintings (which I had kept in my Reject File for about three years) into a rescue:

I only wish that I had a producer on hand to direct me on how to spiff-up my pix: Stevie, on the other hand, had access to the best and she was very shrewd when she picked her collaborators and her producers. Producers can be crucial: one will hear something in a song fragment or idea that had been languishing for years, and he can turn into something powerful, something that Stevie would never have thought of on her own.

Edge of Seventeen, for example, is a song that was just a little pop ditty until producer Jimmy Iovine put a stinging Waddy Wachtel guitar riff on it.

Speaking of seventeen:

We must salute the awesomeness of the teenage students of Marjory Stonemason Douglas High School. You can visit the school’s website for tips on how you can support the political action of these amazing kids, or you can to to their  GoFundMe page,  or you can open up a can of whoop-ass and vote to defeat every sniveling, corrupt, crazy, and gutless psycho NRA-loving son of a bitch politician in 2018.

Stay sane this weekend, everyone. I know it’s hard: the NRA idiots are out already, claiming that the latest school shooting is another Sandy Hook hoax. But stay strong. We need you to not let these morons drive you crazy so we can get out and Vote Them Out.


24 Comments, RSS

  1. Kirra

    Congratulations on your Monet rescue Vivian! I’m impressed as always, hard to believe you spent nearly an hour getting that new piece of paper in place, I don’t think I could do it. Love the tip to stop accidental splashes getting on your painting, those plastic slips are handy for many things.

    I think these high school students are really going to have an impact, and good on them! Showing that they aren’t scared or embarrassed to stand up to the dodgy as NRA and politicians. Make America more like Australia 🙂

    • Vivian

      I wish that your Prime Minster had spoken truth to idiocy when he shared the podium with der Drumpf last week. When asked about the possibility of his country’s awesome gun control policies to work in America, he only said that he can’t comment because America and Australia are different cultures. I wish he’d said: “Of course they could work in the U.S., but you have too many gun nuts and too many idiots already armed to the teeth, and you have too many corrupt politicians beholden to the evil NRA for there ever to be any sensible discussion or inaction of sane gun control laws in this shithole country.”

  2. Casey

    Thank you vivian. It’s been a particularly ugly week in America with Republicans belittling teenage survivors of the school shooting with their lies and fake facts and lunatic perverted ideas of democracy. Arm teachers? is that really the country that Republicans want to live in?

    It’s been a very ugly week and your beautiful painting soothes my soul. I am there with you, hour after hour, painting those minuscule brush strokes and diving deep into those waters of light and shadow. It must be a fine way to cope with the brutal, evil reality. I could stare at your finished illustration for days and wish hard enough to feel that I am there on that bridge with Monet. No wonder his art sells for millions. He is meditation and beauty that you can own and put on a wall.

    Thank you for sprinkling your own gold dust onto this weary world.

    Kirra: Make America more like Australia! Count me in!

    • Vivian

      Yes, the N R A wants to force all school children to live with the threat of death, daily, as the price of democracy, because they are bat-shit crazy, evil, and stupid.

    • Vivian

      That’s a cute idea! There have, as a matter of fact, been several pop-up books about Monet’s garden but they are out of print, and too expensive to make these days.

  3. Becky

    Your post blew me away. The intricate steps you take to finish and rescue the painting were mesmerizing. I save old paintings and sketches and it is fun to see how my style is changing.
    I can not add anything more eloquently than you did about the Florida teens. It takes a 17 year old to say and do what a politician will not do. It is evident that the NRA owns the majority of them. And give guns to teachers……that is the stupidest, most assholey idea I ever heard of……
    We are living under a second amendment that is outdated, and politicians who live by the dollar sign…vote them out.

    • Vivian

      This is the right time to make those three initials — N R A — as loathsome as KKK. This organization has to be exposed as a fraud and a threat to democracy.

      And there are few hours more enjoyable, to me, than when I get to rescue a painting. I think painting in miniature is so relaxing and calming that I wish all my pictures could be crap, just so I can go back and play with them again.

  4. Carol

    I got my tea and was ready to watch, but the cats were uncooperative. One actually chose to play in the pile of packing paper from a frame order rather than watch you watercolor. The other chose to nap.
    Your rescue was brilliant! I have attempted to paint that photo in the past and I’m now inspired to try again. I am very much looking forward to your Monet book.

    The last time I was in Giverny, the wisteria was in bloom. It was heavenly.

    • Vivian

      Carol, I would love to see what you did/ will do with that photo. And it’s still open t interpretation. I did it the way I “saw” it, but yours will reflect your own point of view and I’d love to see it.

  5. Good job, Vivian! I love Monet on the Bridge. And you can have any of my photos any time you want!
    As for this week in the news…..
    Very moving little article in the New Yorker about a 15 year old from the high school in Florida who had to hide in a closet for one and half hours and then emerged to have to go two Jewish and one Christian funeral in one weekend for children she had known all her life…
    This is not right. I’m only praying my grandchildren do not have to do ‘active shooter’ drills in elementary school.
    My son should really move the whole family to England where he was born and then we could all get the hell out of here.

    • Vivian

      Having easy access to awesome Mexican food (a five-mile drive to Little Mexico in Westbury, Long Island) is the only reason I am not moving to England right this very minute.

  6. Linda June

    Being a watercolorist myself, I love how you approach a painting. This one is just fantastic–so beautifully colored and arranged. I’m looking forward to your book–sure hope it gets published. I have all three of your past ones, and we need to make that an even number!!! Good luck…..

  7. Your painting is amazing! Love seeing the process. It almost tempts me to pick up my watercolors. Yes, to Stevie Nicks. And yes, we must stay sane and vote them out. Some days are hard to keep my head above water with the craziness in the news daily.

    • Vivian

      Thank you Marilyn — and pick up that paintbrush. Every time I hear someone tell me how “hard” watercolor is I wonder if I’m doing something wrong, because I’ve had a lot of fun trying stuff out with my Grumbacher and Windsor-Newtons. And yes, there are days when I paint utter crap, but that’s because of ME, not the dang watercolors.

  8. It’s so interesting to see your painting step by step. I imagine you pausing from the painting to take all those pictures, and I’m impressed at how carefully you document everything! Your Monet painting came out great. I wouldn’t have noticed the incorrectly measured margin!

      • Vivian

        According to the author of her unauthorized biography, Stevie has said that she can not ever write a memoir because of all the names she’d have to name. she had a lot of famous boyfriends, and she says they are all on their second or third wives, who might not be pleased to read about their husband’s old flame. It’s impossible that Stevie Nicks is turning 70 this year. A 70-year old Stevie Nicks is just not feasible.

    • Vivian

      It’s really no trouble to snap a photo while I’m painting. I have a great little point-and-shoot Lumix. The hard part is remembering to use it.

  9. Hi Vivian, I’ve just found your website. Your paintings are absolutely beautiful, you are very talented. I did a watercolour workshop a couple of years ago and did quite well but haven’t done anything since. Corrupt politicians and greedy business men keep the wheels of injustice turning. But I hope that something positive comes out of this latest tragedy.

  10. Oh Vivian, catching up on two weeks worth of your posts. This one I went through twice, more or less, just for the details. I don’t see how you do it — even when you show us, step by step, I don’t see how you make it work! Yeah, yeah, Carnegie Hall, practice, practice, practice! Your tutorials are outstanding. And the finished piece is terrific. Of course, you know that (and if you don’t, re-read the comments here). But this baby had to take hours. Paint time and think time, too. Fabulous rescue.

    Stevie book sounds really interesting. (And yes, I keep it all, too. Shows growth and yes, sometimes I even go back to it!)

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