Brighter Days Ahead

Top Cat and I celebrated the Winter Solstice in our usual fashion here on the shores of the Long Island Sound. But we were not alone in welcoming back the light…

…is there anything better in a dog’s life than a beach, a ball, and a hoomin with a good throwing arm?

It was one of the better Solstice sun sets (yes, that’s the Manhattan skyline lit up with the last rays of the sun with Westchester on the right).

And then I went to Philadelphia…

…to check up the Monets at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

They have a wonderful collection of 21 Monet canvases, hung in five different galleries (I don’t know why they are not hung all in one place).

Art museums are odd places. I rarely go to them any more, just to browse the walls…I only go if there are specific things I want to see. There is a world of difference between seeing a reproduction of a well-known painting and seeing it in person, and I’ve only seen these particular Monets in reproduction. So I was excited — even though there must be half a dozen almost exact same versions of this view of Monet’s Japanese bridge in museums around the world.

However, there is only ONE of these:

Hanging all by itself in a dead-ended gallery was the very first picture that Monet painted of his Japanese bridge when his water garden at Giverny was brand new.

This picture has always been cataloged as having been painted in 1895 [click here to see for yourself] but as you can plainly see:

…it’s dated by the painter himself as 1892. Yes, I called the museum when I got home and let a message about this for the curator of European Paintings Before 1900. I haven’t heard back from her yet.

I wandered a bit through the rest of the European Art galleries and saw many excellent pictures…

…but I get burnt out after two hours of museum-ing, so I headed home.

Besides, I have paintings of my own to work on. In this case, it’s a two-page illustration of a wonderful little landscape designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (at the William Cullen Bryant estate on Long Island) for my book-in-progress, the Damn Garden Book:

Yes, I was painting this scene from reference photographs that I took on November 18, 2012.

One of the reasons that I never paint in situ is because, until the picture is completed… tends to look like nothing but a hot mess. I can live without a baffled passer-by stopping to ask me, “What is that you’re doing?”

The other reason is that at any time during this process I can ruin the whole thing and have to start all over again and I do not want witnesses. Also, November tends to be cold here on the Long Island Sound and I’d rather paint in warmth.

Since I am left handed I started this two-page illustration on the right side — here’s the left:

And this is how it all comes together (with tea bag for scale):

If there is another painter on the internet with the guts to show her work like I do, step by pitiful step, I’d like to know about it. Because I’m pretty sure I’m the only writer/illustrator who puts this kind of stuff out in the ether and I think that’s pretty awesome of me. Or shamless…your call.

I got an email from a new blog reader this week, asking about the brushes I use. I told him that he’s given me a possibility for a post for next Friday: Tools of the Trade. Anybody else interested?


21 Comments, RSS

  1. Mary

    Welcome back ! Good to know you had a productive 2 weeks off. I enjoy the “works in progress”. Keep it up.
    Except for the hair, I thought the lady in one picture was you. (lady facing man, discussing a painting).
    Good pics of North Shore, too.
    Dogs are always happy…
    I think all of us are happy with your posts. YOU do what you want.

  2. Cheryl Carr

    Happy New Year Vivian,
    It is a pleasure to watch your work as it unfolds. I agree with you regarding plein air painting–the inner critic becomes the outer critic (or so we think). There is a nature writer/artist who often places her step by step works in progress on her blog. Her latest was posted a few weeks ago. A step by step painting of bats (as I said, she is a nature artist). You may have to go back aways to get more. Try checking out Julie Zickefoose’s blog. Your blog and Julie’s blogs are the only two I visit, and they are both wonderful!

  3. I would never paint “plein air” ..unless I was with a group of students..that were beginning…
    Love how this unfolds.It’s truly beautiful.
    I can’t wait for the DGB..I guess there is no way of knowing a projected date?
    I thought it was you and your husband also:)
    Love the beach~
    Again..Meilleurs Voeux !

  4. Jen

    Happy New Year, Vivian.

    Your beech tree enchants me, with the stab of fire-y red (Japanese Maple?) off to the left. I am damn excited for your Damn Garden Book. I remember a post or two last year, post publishing of the Damn France Book, in which you lamented not knowing where to find inspiration for your next damn book adventure. So glad for you (and us) that you found a material that fits and inspires.


  5. Deborah

    Holy cow! The visual universe is expanding, in a good way! First my husband & I get an enormous flat screen (almost room-sized) tv, then I see a gianormous, two-page painting you’ve done. It’s beautiful.

  6. Rachel

    Thank you as always for revealing the *tricks of the trade.* I seem to remember that there are tricks that Penn & Teller NARRATE as they go along and still we are mystified at the result. I would love to read about your *tools of the trade* although I think the best tools are your eye, hand and vision, not currently on sale at Cheap Dick’s. So glad to see the report of your trip to Philly. And that you have seen the Barnes in situ. Stay warm and cozy…Happy New Year.

  7. Yes, speaking as a lover of art supplies, I would enjoy seeing and hearing more about your tools. Brushes, paper. Pens too, though I suspect you may have already mentioned what you use for your line work and lettering, and I have spaced it out. I recently saw an exhibit of Edward Gorey’s original drawings, and so much of his ink pen work was staggeringly good, it made me want to see his materials. Not that they would have explained his unique and peculiar magic…

    An aside – you are not alone in your museum-label righteousness. A few years ago it so galled me that one of my very favorite paintings in a local museum contained a typo in its label description. A dreaded misplaced apostrophe. I thought it was a disservice to the painter and the painting (not to mention the viewers). I finally wrote down the fact of the typo in the museum guest book (too shy to tell someone in person). Lo, when I next returned to see the painting (it is on permanent display), the typo had been corrected. Happiness.

    This comment is way too long already, but one more thing – your two-page spread is lovely. Composition, color, tree, wee bridge, and all. I paint outside a lot but find ways to hide so people don’t see me and I can work with no interruptions. I also paint from photos I’ve taken, when necessary. So much of getting to the finished painting is being okay with the fact that it is indeed a total mess until things start to get good. Whenever that is! ;o)

  8. Joan

    I follow several artist’s blogs who do show their works in progress. Some have tutorials on various techniques which is always fascinating to me. They often show “tools of the trade,” something all artists love to see for some reason.

    I love the whole picture of the garden scene with Beech tree. Seeing how you paint is very interesting and helpful. Thanks for showing us all the ways you tackle a painting. Yes, please show us your tools…

  9. it is indeed a treat to watch a master work, your step by step is almost enough to encourage a layman to try, but after i eat a cookie this too will pass~

    this garden gal can’t wait for the damn book!

  10. Sandy R

    Of course we Need to Know the tools of the trade, it is quite interesting to watch your creative process. Had to be facinating to see these Monets up close and personal!
    And Yeah – longer daylight !!!

  11. Jeannie

    Yes please, I am most interested in tools of the trade. I have begun to teach myself to paint and my seat of the pants approach is frustrating. 🙂 Gorgeous illustrations. I love Olmstead’s gardening style. We have a few gardens by him out West and they are favorites. Have a wonderful weekend and Happy New Year!

  12. Laura

    Please share your tools and media for watercolor and drawing. I would be most interested in how you describe your experiences using the variety of products you use. Have YOU thought about making a tutorial video? Who wouldn’t love to hear you talk us through one of your paintings? Vivian Swift – the next YouTube sensation!

  13. Would love a tools of the trade post! I also love the step by step stuff… the leaves inspired me to try my own and I was really happy with how they turned out! Thanks for this lovely blog.

  14. I never appreciated the Impressionists until I saw my first REAL ORIGINAL painting in person from then on I was hooked. Books just don’t do them justice. Loved seeing your work in progress..That IS pretty awesome. 🙂 and yes I would love to see your tools of trade.

  15. I love your trees. We have fantastic camouflage looking trees here that look like they are melting into the ground. Remind me to send you some pictures of them. Happy Solstice!

  16. Susie

    Yes to tools!
    And I second a video…..watching you work would be a treat and a half. Or more!
    Of course, we’re happy with whatever you want to show us, your fans can’t get enough of your art. I very much appreciate your step-by-step pages, I learn so much.
    And don’t you name your brushes?

  17. Parisbreakfast

    These look a lot like Turners watercolor beginnings
    Maybe better
    Very lush & very inspiring
    The Monets are in different rooms because of donor hubris
    No other reason

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