Just another day at the office.

This is my new office:

I am now concentrating on the writing part of book-making, dear readers, and since I can’t seem to get anything down at home (the cats see me sitting at a desk and, being illiterate, have no respect for the typing part of writing and park their butts right on the keyboard, the better for offering me their sweet chins for a good chin-scritching session). So last week I retreated to the reference room at the Port Washington Library on the Long Island Sound (New York) because they have special dungeons quiet rooms for deep thinkers:


I ease myself into a cubicle, push my piles of paperwork to the far corners of my desk, and start checking my emails. You ever know. Maybe Julia Roberts has read Le Road Trip and wants to star as me in the movie version.


Then I am immediately bored, so I wander out to the lobby and stare out at the rain:


There’s the main street of Port Washington and that’s the Long Island Sound in the far distance.

Then I go to the ladies room, and mosey to the cafeteria for a cup of tea in a paper cup, and on the way back to my cubicle I drop by the Travel Department, I admit, to see if my book is anywhere on these shelves.


Thank you, Port Washington Library, for shelving me in the 914 section!

Then I go back to my desk, fiddle with some papers, get nothing done, check for emails  a few more times, step out for lunch, come back and sit at my desk, feel depressed, do a few random Google searches, and then pack up and go home.

In other words, I treat my writing just the same as if it were a real job.

Good thing I have this painting hobby to help me de-stress from my writing job.


Today I am illustrating the two kinds of palm tress, those that are fan-like and those that are feather-like.


Each brush stroke must articulate palmate and pinnate fronds in a most expressive way.


Bark, whether on a real tree or on a palm tree (which is not really a tree, it’s a grass masquerading as a tree) is mostly grey with a little bit of brown:


I didn’t draw lines here. I let the paint dry, then I painted in between the dry sections and let the paint itself make the striations (this works awesome for waterfalls — I really must show you this in a whole separate tutorial):


Going deep dark green on the feather fronds:


If I hadn’t been sure that all the foliage here made an interesting pattern at this stage, I would not have continued with the illustration:


Now I draw lines for the house I want in the background, from a reference photo of a Key West property (the porch gives it away as classic Conch architecture):


Whew. There’s only a little bit left to go, and as you can see there’s only a tiny bit of this picture left to screw up paint:


But that’s enough painting for one day. So I put it away and gorge on crap TV for five hours before falling asleep in the middle of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills start fresh again the next morning. And in the end I have this:



And now for the Great Koi Pond Picture Give-Away (from last week’s post). I had to leave it up to Top Cat to pull a name at random because I can’t stand having to pick — I have the best Commentors in the ether and I wish I could send stuff to each and every one of you all every week. Smart, funny, artistic, cultured: you Commentors are the reason I dread having to write this blog every day of my life, because it has to be the best thing I do week in and week out in order to be worthy of you readers. Thank you.

And this week Top Cat pulled Gigi‘s name out of the mix — and she also happens to be a brand new Commentor too! Talk about beginner’s luck — and congratulations Gigi. Please send your mailing info to me at vivianswift at yahoo dot com.

See you next week, dear readers!




18 Comments, RSS

  1. Parisbreakfast

    Fab work space to procrastinate in…
    I h,ave envy…
    Fab aquarelle comme d’habitude
    I don’t understand how you get so much detail at that size?

  2. janet bellusci

    i am sitting here, in front of my laptop with my FIRST cup of coffee laughing out loud at that lucky dog having his monkee spa treatment. what a sweet shot!

    the tropical scene you showed us in progress is absolutely beautiful. i understand the artist’s impulse to beat themselves up over their work, but really, vivian. this is lovely. and list though it may (i don’t see it), i just love the trailing plants you added “at the end” ~

    okay ~ google earth addict here. never thought to go to GIVERNY, so i will. i have, however, dragged myself through the streets of paris via google earth, and hovered over the pyramids, all while i was supposed to be working…shhhhh.

  3. Oh I have been doing this all wrong.. instead of getting the flea stuff for my dog, which doesn’t work, I need to get her a couple monkeys..Why didn’t I think of that before?? lol Too Cute.
    Love your blog posts they make me chuckle every time I read them. Why is it when we TRY to write nothing comes..maybe you need the fur balls for inspiration. 🙂 Congrats to Gigi.. lucky gal.

  4. Patricia

    love today’s post … but then I always look forward to Fridays and your inspirational / tutorial / humorous comments.
    Writing the first line of a story or comment is always a pain in the butt. It’s got to be the perfect hook to lead into what’ you’re writing. I cheat and write everything BUT the first line and most times decide it’s just FINE and doesn’t need anything else … I may also just have lower standards than you.

  5. Giverny works for me! I’m thinking your day (or the writing part) sounded a lot like mine, except I’m in the office and the view isn’t so nice. No travel books in sight, either. And again, I am really appreciating the tutorials. And a note that tonight I am happily giving a newly arrived copy of When Wanderers Cease to Roam to a traveling artist friend who is retiring from her day job. I know it will be her favorite present!

  6. Sandy R

    Ahhh I do look forward to your Friday posts. It’s a mini vacation to France or LI or who knows where with a painting demo to boot!! Your painting is sooooo Key West AND I did not know palm trees are a grass. I’d say your library time in the dungeon is paying off!!

  7. Jen

    Oh damn. Garden Book, I can’t wait to have you in my greedy little hands!

    I think those monkeys are actually a crack team of field surgeons who travel to 2nd and 3rd world countries to implant special brains into stray dogs with the hopes of obtaining an army of brain-implanted dogs for future world domination. I think the future will be full of garbage eating, going for walks and licking.

  8. Bunny

    Just don’t get frustrated about the creativity, you have an amazing talent, as evidenced by your first two books, and of course your recent paintings are head and shoulders above your older works. You have to realize, once them pathways are opened, and something will trigger it, then its off to the races. If only Van Gogh could have had someone like myself, imploring him to be patient, maybe he would be all ears!!!

  9. Joan

    Fascinating tutorial on the palm trees. I didn’t know they were a species of grass! However, I do know that poinsettias are related to cactus!

    This little painting of Key West is great…I don’t see the “listing to the right” that you mention. I was in Key West a few years ago…you have captured the essence of the place perfectly.

    The doggie spa photos are priceless…thanks for including them.

  10. Love the (trunk?) of the palm tree..Perfect..why didn’t I think of that?
    Where is all your snow?
    Seems like yesterday you had a ton..we still do..and had more and will have more.
    Moi aussi j’ai bien hâte d’avoir ton nouveau livre dans mes mains♥

  11. Gigi

    Oh my gosh! After the week I’ve had, this is the most wonderful surprise. I adore the koi pond painting. I thought the moon and stars were not in alignment and I’d have *no luck* at all. But now I see it was Top Cat’s positive vibe that attracted the slip of paper imbued with the hapless events of my week. The closest metaphor I can come up with is – attracted like dust on the shiny ebony surface of the piano, and you know how that goes…

    Where does all that dust come from? And what makes it find the glossiest furniture in the house? And what enables me to ignore that dust so very well when there is *fun stuff* to do?

    I have learned that late night writing is never ever clever. But that doesn’t stop me. So back to the blog. Thank you, thank you for drawing my name!

    I love the dog-monkey photos. Longer ears, and that dog would be my Dublin, who now lives with and watches over my 91-year old mother. Yep. He wakes her up every morning by kissing her face and licking her toes. He is enormous. She is not. But they are very fond of each other.

    I will forever be amazed at Google-Earth. It is a wonderful diversion for ignoring work or fending off creative block. Or just appreciating that I am a tiny little speck of stardust on a great big shining planet.

    Some days I work just as you have described. And there is no water cooler in sight…

  12. I find it so hard to write in the corners of our days. This is a great quote about what it’s like to get yourself into the writing after and interruption. I especially like the image of a huge ship with engines that need warming.

    “One of the hardest things to do…is to stop writing it for a while, do something else, fulfill this engagement or that commitment or whatever, and pick it up exactly where you left it and carry on as if nothing had happened. You will have changed; the story will have drifted off course, like a ship when the engines stop and there’s no anchor to keep it in place; when you get back on board, you have to warm the engines up, start the great bulk of the ship moving through the water again, work out your position, check the compass bearing, steer carefully to bring it back on track … all that energy wasted on doing something that wouldn’t have been necessary at all if you’d just kept going.” – Philip Pullman

  13. Jeannie

    I have always had a fear of monkeys. I don’t know why. The dog at the monkey spa made the hair on my arms stand up. I can handle spiders, snakes, but draw the line at monkeys! Love the palm painting, especially as I sit here listening to the rain pound on the roof. 🙂 I am so relieved to know that I am not alone on the procrastination front. Have a beautiful day!

  14. Judy Jennings

    I’m here to tell you that your koi pond painting is a thousand times better than the real thing you showed. Each step of your demo made perfect sense, but actually doing it myself was laughable. You are an amazing creature, a funny, talented amazing creature.

  15. Judy Jennings

    P.S. How can I send you the most delicious dark chocolate i’ve ever had in my life that I just discovered at our local Amish store (in thanks for your writing those two Beautiful Books just for me)?

  16. its so enchanting to ease drop on your days and creative process. love your bark, and enjoy that you take a bite out of the rhobh too, confession is good for the soul 😉 your details delight, like the nasturtiums tumbling down the wall. thanks for the weekly chapters you provide of days in your life~

  17. Boy, that library’s come a long way in the last 12 years since I’ve seen it! How lucky to be provided such a wonderful space to just do nothing –er, procrastinate –er, feed your imagination.
    It’s fascinating to see how you create your watercolors layer upon layer.
    Does it exist in your mind, and you uncover it step by step?
    Or do you create it as you go along, building it up step by step?
    Or are those unanswerable questions?
    I spent a few years oil painting, classical still lifes, but ultimately quit because I felt I was simply copying with no vision of my own, and perhaps no courage to let loose and experiment.
    Happy now back in photography, but still have these questionings about the mind/eye of an artist.

  18. Judy Jennings

    P.P.S. If anyone applies masking fluid with a paintbrush, make sure that it is NOT a good brush, and before you begin, dip it into dish detergent first and work that into the bristles. The brush will clean up much more easily when finished.

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