I Wish I Could Get It Right The First Time

I’m still at it. Still flummoxed by gardens. My paintings of them still look like crap. If you remember, when we last left off I was trying to do justice to a small walled garden off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh called Dunbar’s Close:

In the past two weeks I’ve actually tried TWICE to re-paint this, but the results were even worse so instead I went back and made certain necessary corrections to make this illustration a tad bit less crappy:


Having failed so miserably, I decided to take a break and go back to my comfort zone, garden-wise. I did a miniature painting of the secret doorway to Dunbar’s Close on the Royal Mile (miniature being my preferred canvas):

This secret entrance is almost totally camouflaged as just another alley between nondescript buildings on the Royal Mile:

There are 83 “closes” on the Royal Mile such as this one that leads to Dunbar’s Close. BTW, I know some of you, dear readers, like to see Where I Get My Ideas From. For this illustration, I plagiarized this reference photos:

Another wonderful garden that I love is in Key West. And when it comes to Key West, I’ve always been very fond of this picture I took in 2005 when Top Cat and I spent a long February weekend there (this is our guest room at the Conch House Heritage Inn, built in 1885):

I love the monochromatic effect of this picture, the long afternoon shadows, and how the orange cat is the only spot of color. So let’s PAINT IT!

First had to draw it:

I had to leave out that second rocking chair — waaaay too complicated for my skill level and I didn’t want to make myself any crazier than I had to.  Of course, there is only one way to paint this drawing: illuminated on my light box:

I really shouldn’t paint without supervision. Thank you, Coco cat.

By putting my 90-lb Canson watercolor paper over this drawing and firing up the light box, the outlines of this sketch show through to guide me as I “color in” the shadows that I see in the photograph. It took me about two hours to paint this:

Yeah, I had to ditch the French door and the window entirely — there was no way I had the manual dexterity to pull that off. It was the rocking chair and the cat that I most wanted to paint any way and if you had not seen the original concept you would think that this was a pretty completely realized composition, eh?

Thank you, one and all, for all your garden book recommendations last week. I’m still searching for the garden artist that I can steal from…I have a specific viewing experience in mind when it comes to garden art, and hoo boy some of the garden books I’ve come across miss it by miles.

Last Sunday I journeyed to the wilds of Westchester County to visit a billionaire’s garden because I wanted to see what a man with an undogly amount of money puts in his garden. Stayed tuned: I’ll  show you, right here, next week.


14 Comments, RSS

  1. Tracey

    The little Scottish garden is too tidy. Perhaps you relate more to the less immaculate, rustic gardens such as Robert’s garden?

    One of the most beautiful gardens that I’ve visited in recent years was Wave Hill in Riverdale.

  2. mo

    what about Longwood Gardens in PA? what a spectacular place. i’m trying to think of “oddball” gardens, like hedges shaped like animals and such.

    i love your sketches, all versions. terrific 😉


  3. Love the wee painting of the secret doorway. Especially the warm red on the outside wall and the peek of green inside, it works so well with all the gray tones. (Love the other paintings too but that little one really drew me in!)

  4. Deborah

    Your painting of the portal makes me waaay less dizzy than the photograph of it.

    Lovin’ your concept of a garden book. This is pretty far off topic, but combines my love of maps & the outdoors: the illustration of the 100 acre woods on the endflaps of my copy of Winnie the Pooh. I’d have to look up who the illustrator was.

  5. jacqui

    Look forward to your Billionaire’s garden….I would think Prince Charles is a billionaire and I love what he put in his garden…conscientiously and sustainably and also in Scotland.
    I feel like a tree full of ripe fruit, dripping and ready to harvest with memories since you have introduced the topic of gardens. Last week I was introduced to Old Moss Womans secret garden. I hope she can be found other than Facebook. If I were going to paint a garden, I would just have to sit in it. If I could choose one garden to visit in autumn, it would be that of Tasha Tudor. The first time I sat and ate in a garden other than a relatives back yard, it was in Ojai, California at Alan Hookers Farmhouse Restaurant. I still use recipes from his vegetarian cookbooks altho I do not think the place is open any longer. My photos of visiting kitchen gardens in the Dordogne region of France inspired me to use tree trimmings to fill potholes in the long driveway and as trellis for growing peas. As well as making a garden scrapbook. Then I discovered The Cook and The Gardener…..You would love all of these….when I get back home I will go across the street from my apt building with my seed collection and add to the new volunteer village center garden. Meanwhile I am going to tea today with an old gardening friend at the new Tea Chai Te caboose that has an indoor garden patio. It is soooooo MAY everywhere!!

  6. Joan

    I love the little painting of the exterior of the close entry….the sky is very moody and lovely. The softness of the colors is enchanting. Reminds me of “the Secret Garden.” One of my favorite childhood books.

  7. janet bellusci

    I’ve been seeing a lot of coverage on this new book about Jefferson’s incredible gardens:
    “A RICH SPOT OF EARTH”: THOMAS JEFFERSON’S REVOLUTIONARY GARDEN AT MONTICELLO by Peter J. Hatch. You may want to explore this book (and the gardens) as well.

  8. Joan

    Vivian: Check out Abbie Zabar’s (of Zabar’s Deli) delightful garden books. I can’t remember if the Potted Herb is the one about her year tending to her roof top garden at her apartment in Manhattan…both books shown in the link are delightful. They are no longer in print but I found them at used bookstores online…her drawings are very nice too

  9. LOVE the porch painting. Such wonderful shadows and a feeling of comfort there. I want to spend some time in the rocking chair. I’m looking forward to seeing your billionaire garden photos. I don’t think I want that responsibility but maybe a millionaire’s garden would suffice for me. 😉

  10. My pets have always supervised me while I garden. Is this true for anyone else?

    I just finished “Botany for the Artist: An Inspirational Guide to Drawing Plants” by Sarah Simblet and found it helpful (plus many of the photographs by Sam Scott-Hunter are amazing). The following books are on hold at my local library (will let you know if they’re any good):
    – “The Art of Botanical Painting” by Margaret Stevens
    – “Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted” by Justin Martin

    Thank you for sharing with us your artistic process (including the messy frustrating uncertainty of it all). I find the art, your various drafts and your commentary interesting in the same way that I prefer rehearsals over the final production. And when you need some comic relief just watch an episode of the Canadian TV show title “Slings and Arrows.” (You think painting is hard? Try directing a group of high-maintenance Shakespearean actors!)

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