This World Was Never Meant For One As Beautiful As Me.

Yes, I suffer as a ham-handed paint scrubber artist.

Preliminary sketches, all of them totally wrong.

I don’t care how many times I have to draw it, over and over again, I am driven by despair and low self-esteem my ideals to get it right.

I don’t care how many times I have to paint it, and paint it, and paint it, and paint it, and paint it, and paint it again, I cry bitter tears over my inadequacies steadfastly pursue my  masochistic perversion artistic vision.

I don’t stop until I get it slightly less crappy right. And do you know why?

Because of you. Yes, YOU.

You, dear readers, are the best people out there in Book World . Thank you all for answering the call to give Amazon a piece of your mind re: Le Road Trip. I am deeply touched and profoundly grateful for your wonderful feedback and guidance to the millions of people who ave yet to buy a copy of Le Road Trip. You deserve the very best reading experience that this pea brained ink-stained egomaniac humble book writer can give, so I slave over every detail on every page that I offer to you, you thoughtful caring seekers of literature.

That goes for the bilge content of this blog too. So, today, I am going to share with you one of my trade secrets. I’m going to show you show you how to paint gravel, such as that which appears in the pathways (above) of my quaint knot garden in Edinburgh:

Let’s say you have a gravel path you want to paint:

The first thing you do is make a quick wash over the entire surface like this:

When the wash is dry, cover the un-painted bits with whatever is handy — anything will do, even scrap paper. For you, dear readers, I used my prettiest purple paper:

You’ll need an old toothbrush for the next step, and you’ll get a far better result if you use a float-topped brush, like the pink one shown here, rather than the fancy pointy one (which, despite its scientific appearance, did not have the necessary aerodynamics):

Dip the tip of the toothbrush into water…

… and scrub the tip of that brush into dark paint and load it up with pigment:

You can use dark brown paint, or deep blue, if you’d like — depends on the kind of effect you want. Feel free to experiment. You’ll notice I’m using my old paints here . For certain textures or color schemes, I like the slightly muted colors I get from these cheap paints.

Now you’re going to use your index finger to flick the bristles of your toothbrush and splatter paint:

Let dry, and reveal:

Now,  when I did this technique on my garden illustration (way above) it was a bit more complicated because the spaces that I wanted to cover with splatter were very intricate. Luckily for me, I had a false start when I first tried to paint this bugger (for the sixth time):

So I took that false start and I cut it up to make a stencil to lay over y painting before I let rip with the toothbrush splatter :


Now, having finished painting this scene for the sixth time, I have recently learned that I might have to do this all over again.

After two books that were the same trim six (9 x 8 inches), I began doing pages for my garden book in that exact same trim size.  But just last week my agent asked me to consider working in a new format.”Try making your new book smaller, like reading book size,” she said. “It’ll help booksellers [people who own book shops] shelve it, and display it.”

I’m all about making life easier for booksellers. I want to make it easy as pie for them to sell hundreds of thousands of my books. I need them to sell hundreds of thousands of my books or else I have no validation as a human being. ha ha.

So what that means is,  my next book might have considerably smaller pages. That is, the same size as 50 Shades of Gray, or Eat, Pray Love.

Hmmmmmm. I like the idea, but I don’t know if I can work in such cramped margins. This might seriously cramp my style. But, if it means more books will be sold

That black rectangle is the size of your average multi-million-seller, compared to Le Road Trip.  This might be the size of my next book.

What do you think?


P.S. My sister pointed out a flaw in my request for Amazon reviews last week, in that some people don’t like Amazon. I forgot to address that in this week’s post, but I will have a Plan B next week. Sorry for the inconvenience — we’ll make it right! I need everybody on the ChrisHanuKwanSolstice list!


36 Comments, RSS

  1. NO! The size of your books screams to me from the shelf that they are picture books, art books, illustrated books. They are not just full of words. I’m all for helping the booksellers, but your book size imparts a lot of information while allowing you the space you need for proper painting!

  2. I’m sure whatever you do will be absolutely gorgeous but I personally like the larger pages. These old eyes like the larger pages. But I also like seeing the images larger.

  3. Michelle

    I like the larger format myself, particularly for a book of beautiful illustrations! I also would like it to be the same size as your other books because I will shelve them together and I kind of like it when they match. (I know, weird personal preference.)

  4. Such dedication!

    When I buy books because I wqant to enjoy the art work, I expect them to be larger. Bookshops seem to be capable of shelving larger books and so do libraries.
    Why would I want all my books to be of uniform size? Next thing, ‘they’ will be telling you to make all your illustrations a uniform size! (‘x’ number of tea bags size?)

  5. Vivian,

    I so love your blog and you have totally entertained me yet again. I don’t personally care what size you make your next book, I just can’t wait to hold it in my hands,


  6. janet bellusci

    hoist the booksellers by their petards!!! i LOVE the size of your two books. selfishly, i was hoping that my (continuing) collection of your titles would be all the same size, as they look so beautiful on the shelf displayed together. plus, it is wonderful to be able to see your GAWGEOUS artwork in a larger format.

  7. Tracey

    I don’t agree with your agent. As a librarian, I see loads of over-sized cookbooks, decorating books, and craft books checked out every day. The bookstore near my branch, Greenlight, has displays of large books and they sell. I’ve bought many large books myself. The problem is with very large, totally square books, which cannot be shelved in conventional library shelves, and your book is smaller than that. In fact, a copy recently floated through my branch as a hold and we had no trouble shelving it on the holds shelf. Art books are treated in a very different fashion from regular fiction by patrons and at least in my branch, they are very popular.

    What matters is a visually appealing book cover and content. A snazzy cover will grab them all the time. Perhaps you should call book three “Fifty Shades of Gardens.”

  8. Connie

    I didn’t know we had that “dang French book” finished!!!!
    I am way behind! Not for long! Just placed my order!!!!

  9. I have tried several times to leave a comment on Amazon..I even changed account names..but alas my real name keeps coming up..I had only ever left 1 comment..and it still pops up:(Years later..a cookbook.

    I don’t like my real name showing up..It was different when I worked and it applied to my job..but not now..:( So I have to just leave my applause to you on the posts I did on my blog..Rest assured I LOVE your 2 books:)
    Selfishly,I like the current size..Both are on my coffee table and they fit together perfectly..I know they are yours compared to the others..On my bookshelves the spine would continue to align…should I move them:)
    I sound nuts..Maybe I am.

  10. Deborah

    I was going to say what Monique said: a change in size would make it hard for me to display your books here, in my house.

    Whenever you introduce the possibility of change in your work (e.g., different paints), my first reaction is always no! Guess I’m not as adaptable as I’d like to think. But there’s always an edge of curiosity, wondering how you’d put your own Vivian stamp on it. But . . . with a book on gardens? I don’t think so.

  11. It’s me again:)

    I keep humming that tune when I see the title..

    Where do you purchase those large palettes..All in blues etc..
    They are just great!For one as beautiful as…:)

  12. Carol

    I prefer the larger book and larger pages. There’s more room to discover new things when I read your books the 2nd time, the 3rd time, the 4th time, etc. I hope your gardens have cats in them, too! Happy Weekend!

  13. onceinabluemoon

    in my opinion, one who is not trying to sell 100s of the 1000s to millions of books, with no real financially vested interest, prefer your original size. you are too talented to be squashed into a smaller container, i love your cozy comfy handwriting and paintings, you are not mainstream, you are creative and quirky. embrace your difference, to heck with mainstream… says she not trying to sell 100s of the 1000s, to millions of books with no real financial vested interest… but, as a reader i know what i like, i want a matched set of everything you sell from hence forth in your original format to be splayed like a deck of cards on my table when guests arrive to peruse to their own amusement. we all know bigger is better 😉

    really enjoyed your tooth brush art, who knew teeth could be so multi functional! gardens are my passion and i already can’t wait to buy your new book to come in its ORIGINAL fun filled size

  14. christine

    I like the big, lush feel of your books! I think the larger size makes your books distinctive and displays your art the way it deserves to be shown. With a smaller book, you lose some of the page in the binding–ok for reading, but not for enjoying books with highly visual formats.

  15. Janet

    I can’t remember a time I bought a book based on its size. I agree with everyone else — I like the current size, especially for a book with illustrations. While I bemoan the loss of so many independent books stores, the reality is that online books sales are likely to continue to grow, and that would seem to poke holes in your agent’s suggestion concerning display issues.

    The 6th version of the Edinburgh garden is lovely — your persistence and perfectionism pays off.

  16. Caroline

    I really need to write you a thank you note.

    I’m deep into the book A needle in the right hand of God about the Bayeux tapestry. I enjoyed Le road trip so much that I had to find out more about the Bayeux tapestry.

    Re size of books – I think Le road trip was just
    right. Not too big, not too small. I need to reread the book and to study the pictures. I got fascinated by the pictures and then caught up in the words. And the calligraphy’s just superb … and I speak as a calligrapher.

    Many thanks

  17. Barbara

    Well, I was just browsing in the Brookline Booksmith (MA), and your book, Le Road Trip, was very visible, in the Travel ~ France section. I believe I spotted it, due to its size. And I smiled when I saw it.

  18. Dee

    Hi Vivian,
    Just dropping in to say “Hi”. Freshly back from a 3-month trip to Europe (during which I spent a measly 3 nights in Paris, just long enough to fall truly,madly,deeply in love with the city, and the rest of France, despite seeing only a little of it through train windows on my way to Berlin), I spotted Le Road Trip in the bookshop. Having spent every cent on my trip, I was overjoyed when, upon paying for the weekend newspapers, I was presented with a $10 voucher, enabling me to justify the purchase of your book ! I love it, so quirky and hilariously funny. You make me smile. And cry, when I think of how much I long to return to France. Not only that, I have now discovered your blog, and cried again upon reading the posts about Edinburgh.It’s my other most-loved place, but I spent three weeks there, long enough to be totally obsessed with going back (I have Scottish ancestry) Tomorrow I am going to the bookshop to order When Travellers Cease to Roam, in the hope it will help me be satisfied with being home again. I suspect there is a dim chance of that, however, I’m sure it will make me smile. And cry. Thankyou. The end.

  19. Emily

    no no no. dont change a very good thing. your book is different and should stand out from all the zillions of ordinary booksof the same size.;and your ardent collectors want all your books to be the same size to shine in a nice grouping. I think it more likely to get “lost” in same-size books.
    PLEASE fight to stay same-sized.

  20. Sandy

    I will buy it what ever the size, BUT I love the current size, it says Special to me, and ART. but again do what you have to I will BUY!!
    Love from Guilford, CT

  21. Joan

    Nay, nay on the smaller size! Squash the idea of smaller right in the bud…I want all to be the same size. A size that lends itself to the paintings which are more important to me than the text.

    I consider these books of yours to be treasures…keepers to be passed on to my kids and grands…PLEASE keep the size. Like one of the previous posters, size was never a consideration when buying a book. I love the square format.

  22. Was it Yogi Berra who said “size doesn’t matter”. You are a wonderful talent, and I just love reading your books, and your blog, So I vote for the LARGE format. You have a style that works with the larger book, you have a talent for laying out the illustrations with your words of wisdom. I can’t decide which I enjoy more, so I want both, without any give compromise. I applaud you for your camping experience at this stage of your life, sure wish I could do it more often as well.
    You are a great talent, and I thank you for laying yourself out there, both in your books, and on your blog. And I hope to really get to know you one day, you and that “Top Cat. He sounds like such a saint, and you are very lucky to have found each other.

  23. Michele

    I agree with the above – I love the size of your first two books – they are just right for the content, and it would be so nice for them all to match on our shelves. Can’t wait to see the new one, and thanks for the step-by-step gravel. Your pictures look so naturally wonderful – now I have more appreciation for what goes into making them thus.

  24. Well I’m sorry to disagree with the hoards of your admirers(Please include me in) but I can not read your books in bed in their current size. Nor can I take them on the subway.
    Maybe they are NOT bedtime reading and I am at fault. But certainly on the subway it would be nice to have them along for amusement and distraction.
    As for the muted effect of those paints, well truth be told they are mostly chalk and very little real color. But the gravel effect is most enticing and I greatly appreciate your sharing with us your trade secrets!

  25. Patricia

    I love the size of your books. They’re just big enough to appreciate the wonderful page layouts and just small enough to read comfortably in bed. And I love the handwritten font … clean, intimate and easy to read. The only thing that would make me happier is to secretly discover another four or five books you’ve drawn, written and designed … under another name perhaps? Please?

  26. Bronwen

    I love both your books and they also look great on my coffee table – and are often revisited by me or picked up by my guests. I vote for keeping the same format and look forward to your third book.

  27. I say if you can live with it and it brings your work to even more people, why not? I’ll but it no matter what size it is. I say an artist has to create AND eat.

  28. Sally

    No non nein nyet, please don’t change the size of your books! No, they are not take-to-bed, carry-on subway size, but they are still small enough to handle easily and are very definitely Sit down with clean hands and page through carefully books. As you seem intent on producing more, having a consistent look is terribly important–customers can find them, owners can shelve them, and collectors (!!) will be happy to have a lovely consistency. Most of my TinTin books are shelved together (awkwardly, they are big), but the consistency just seems “right.”

    You WILL have collectors. Heck, you’ve got them right now, but our collections are woefully small!

    I can’t imagine what horrid things a size reduction would do to your graceful layouts. I’d be curious to know if you publisher has statistics on book size. You can only compare the same book in 2 formats for sale-ability, and I think few picture books have undergone “shrinkage.”

  29. If folks don’t like Amazon (I’m not overly fond of the Big A myself) I say post there anyway because so many people use it *AND* post your review in other places (my personal fave is Powell’s).

    Also, my public library has a reader reviews so I posted a review there as well. Bottom line, it doesn’t matter where, just post somewhere and the more the better!

    And don’t forget to rave about Vivian’s books to your local bookseller. Or take the mystery shopper approach and pretend you only just heard about Vivian Swift and see if the bookseller has heard of her or her books. This is especially fun to do while traveling.

  30. On the size issue: Like many of your readers, I enjoy the unique size of your books, but I think you could switch to a smaller format (if nothing else just to try something new). Knowing you, you’d make it all your own in look and feel and we’d love it. So, I vote that you follow your gut.

    My only concern is the reduction is space with which you’d have to work (and, consequently, the space we’d have to peruse your work). Do you know what would the binding be like? I enjoy laying your books fully open and not having to fight to keep them open.

    Some issues to consider about sizing down:

    1) Loss of white space – the “empty” spaces in your books are delightful. In an age of TMI, your pages are at once stimulating and relaxing.

    2) Loss of visual and emotional range – for example p.8 of WWCTR would be too small to read and so you’d have to remove parts. Of course, simplifying can work brilliantly and be powerful. It can also result in reducing the richness and complexity of the reader’s experience. I’d say that it’d be true of the heartbreak and hope you give us on pp. 80-81. Another example is p.179 which would be unbearably crowded in a smaller space, but what to leave out?

    3) The artists among us will want to SEE what you’re doing. Going to a smaller size makes that difficult.

    4) I was in the University of Washington Bookstore a couple weeks ago and they had a small round table full of travel books near the entrance. I notice a few things:
    a) They had your France book on display!
    b) Your book was the only one displayed upright (the rest were trade paperback size and stacked in piles around your book)
    c) Even without being upright (though that always helps), your book was noticeable because it was *different* – different due to the size/shape and having lots of white space on the cover which made the cover colors and title stand out.

    Whichever way you go you will I know you’ll create a breathtaking book and I’ll be right there in line to get my copy!

  31. parisbreakfast

    Sisters are by nature contrarians. My sister always disagrees with me even if it’s over whether it’s day or night.
    It’s a must-do.
    Amazon has become the default, go-to book review site and their numbers count in the publishing world.
    Bring on more book review contests etc. IMHO
    The more the merrier.
    Has yr sister written a review on Amazon for LRT?

  32. Weighing in a bit late on this, but I wanted to say I too prefer the current format for your books. The first one caught my attention precisely because it stood out on the shelf. If you are thinking small, like Sara Midda small, that is way TOO small. Kinda twee, and also hard on the aging eyes.

    p.s. I reviewed the damn France book on my blog, just after publication; perhaps I convinced one person or maybe even two to buy your book(s). I have never reviewed a book on Amazon and I don’t really want to start…

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