I’m gumnut, thanks — How are you?

P1140688I’ll get to the part where I paint with a toothbrush in a moment, but first we have to discuss GUMNUT BABIES:

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 2.24.19 PM

Thanks to our dear Australian readers Bev, Megan, Karen, and Marguerite, who kindly answered my question in last week’s post, we all now know what a Gumnut Baby is:


 A gumnut is the seed pod (“nut”) of the flowering eucalyptus (“gum”) tree of Australia:


There are more than 700 species of eucalyptus, mostly native to Australia, and a very small number are found in adjacent areas of New Guinea and Indonesia. Only 15 species occur outside Australia, which is very sad because it means that there are, in the world, eucalyptus trees without the world-famous Australian eucalyptus tree accessory:


According to May Gibbs, the world’s No. 1 authority on Gumnut Babies, “Gum Nut Babies are full of mischief and always teasing the slow-going creatures but they hurt nothing and are gentle for they love all the world.” Cute cute cute.

So gumnut is my new favorite word for when I love something with a world-wide fervor. And I’m gumnut for gumnut babies.

Want to see what a Koala gumnut baby looks like? He looks like this:


You might have noticed (Jain) that my blog was not up and running at its usual 1:00am pub time today — I was out late last night on the Upper East Side of Manhattan at a swanky gathering of Francophiles. My alma mater, The American University of Paris, was holding its New York conclave at The Edith Fabbri House (she was a Vanderbilt married to a wealthy Italian), a fine Italian Renaissance revival townhouse just off Fifth Avenue:


I love — no, I gumnut — that I got a New York roof top water tower in this shot.

The alumni party was held in the mansion’s most famous room, the library:


I’d read about the building before I got on the 5:31 from Long Island that the library “showcases historic panels from the Palazza Ducale in Urbino, Italy”:


So like a dope I get there, get my glass of French wine, and start asking, “Where are the frescoes? Have you seen the frescoes?” Now I think that “panels” meant “paneling”. There was a lot of dark wood walls in the library, which is why my pictures came out murky”


And they really don’t show how much fun I had. This was the first alumni get-together I’d ever gone to since I took leave of AUP in 1979 and I really enjoyed myself, meeting very accomplished classmates and talking about memories of our student days. Members of all classes from 1963 to 2012 were there, as was the president encouraging all of us to get involved in creating an AUP community worldwide, and it was a fine evening that I would gladly do again and that says a lot because you all know how much I hate to leave the house. I will definitely stop by the old campus next month when I’m in France and renew my acquaintance.

So, back to the subject of  gum nut babies.

I took Top Cat to the Schmidlapp estate that I told you about last week, the 28-acre $7 million property that had the house…


Realtor’s photos


with the fabulous gumnut babies curtains (see last week’s post, but here’s a reminder):


Top Cat was gumnut for the place. And you’ll never guess what we found! Here’s a clue:


This is a teeny photo that I found in my Google-rambles in the internet, a 1910 photo of the Schmidlapp estate that is in the Harvard archives (odd, since the Schmidlapps were a Yale / Princeton family). As you can see, there’s a garden there. And judging from the corner of the house pictured, I knew where it was. It was in the back, where I did not trespass on my previous visit because it looked pretty scary:


OK, it doesn’t look all that scary in this picture, but I was alone and it’s a desolate property and I didn’t want to follow a trail of busted flagstones through a dying forest where nobody could hear my screams. But with Top Cat as my body guard I had the nerve to find the entrance to the secret garden:


and here is what it looks like in 2013:

P1140626 2




Yes, this is what Spring still looks like on Long Island.  So no wonder I was happy to paint a garden in full bloom. I had already painted this particular view (below) about a year ago when I was still a bit heavy-handed with my new Windsor Newton paints and I never really liked it:


I also wanted a horizontal illustration. So I re-painted it, starting with the masking fluid:


I’m using the end of my paint brush to spread the fluid.


I let the paints bleed a lot for a “mossy” effect around the gravel pathway:


Now to make the gravel pathway look more gravelly I use scrap paper to shield the parts of the illustration that is not gravel pathway:


And I take my trusty toothbrush …


… and I moosh it in a black/brown/green/blue mix of watercolor…


… and I flick:


Flicking is fun!


And voila! I have gravel!






The trick to painting rocks is to let each bit dry completely before you add shading. Except, sometimes, you want to put shading in while the paint is still wet. It depends on the kind of rock.






This picture took about 5 hours to paint, what with all the waiting for the paint to dry in-between the actual painting.

Yay! I’ve now finished the Japanese Garden chapter (words and pictures!) of my Damn Garden Book!

Commentor Sarah asked me if I would one day give a tour of my work room where I paint:


I really have to tidy this place up.

I said, “Let me ask the dear readers.” Does anybody else want a tour of my genius-idea-hatching place?

And now, drum roll please, as I announce the winner of the Garden Triscuit painting:


Janet B!


Have a great weekend everyone — go paint some Triscuits!


22 Comments, RSS

  1. janet bellusci

    i’m so psyched that i won the triscuit!!! thank you (and top cat) so much!!! i adore it…or should i say i’m GUMNUT about it!! and you’re right. this spring on long island (and in the hudson valley) has been so dull and slow coming and colorless, it is fantastic to have some beautiful watercolors to look at and inspire us. but hold on: monday it’s supposed to reach SEVENTY DEGREES!!! so i end this post the way i started it: WOOOO HOOOOOOO! ! ! ! !

  2. Oh my what a trip! or many trips…I’m still fathoming ze gumnuts. Oh aren’t you glad you went AUP/OUT!I knew it would be swell. Hmmm…wonder if you’re up for gummy masking fluid lecons in Paris. I’m sure the stuff exists here. We could have a Gumup Meetup with French gummers…oh well guess I’m losing it
    Have a Gumnut weekend!!!

  3. Christine

    Great stuff, as always! That estate…wow. If I weren’t short of the entire asking price, I would snap it up–seems like a bargain to me, and a great work in progress. Also loved the baby koala and the giant rabbit. And the paneled library, wonderful!

  4. The fluid would certainly be at that beautiful art shop you showed us Carol..Charvin..You both are going to have a ball..

    It’s all very Secret Gardenish back there beyond the arches..I love it..and the round garden..

    Now I really know what a gumnut is..having just read Carol’s post and remarked on the child in red..when I first saw the gumnut pattern I pictured it all in red for Paris..mais c’est un non-sens..because it should be green:)

    I had learned the toothbrush technique but never associated it it
    ‘s use with rocks etc..:) Thank you.
    I am going to try and paint a Triscuit.
    LOVE the Giant bunny..and I can’t wait for the book.
    Good for you Janet B..love it..
    and we had snow this morning..the winter that never ended.

  5. Susie

    Super duper, every week I think “This is great, how on earth will Vivian surprise us next week?”
    But you always do…. amaze and inspire, educate and make me laugh. And sometimes, like seeing that neglected garden, make me sad. But the baby Koala fixed all that….

    I take special note of your watercolor posts, you teach things I’ve never seen in all my scads of books.

    Looking forward to your Grand Tour. Of your genius-idea-hatching place.

  6. janet bellusci

    now that i’ve calmed down, i wanted to say WOW, i love the gravel technique. thank you for being so informative.
    oh, and RALPH. he’s just amazingly huge, and looks so soft. i would love one here at the farmhouse, but i’m sure MUSHY, warrior princess and country cat, would be most intimidated by him (she is only about 6-7 lbs!). at present, she lurks in the windows early in the pre-dawn morning, watching the local bunny (way smaller) who hops around our frog pond.

  7. So many delightful things in this one post, Vivian, and yet, the jaw-dropper for me was your mention of Edith Fabbri. Here is why: she owned a summer house in Bar Harbor and eventually tore it down for tax reasons. My parents moved to Maine and bought the land in the late ‘sixties and built a new house on the foundation of her old house. This was my first home and it was a true eden. Unfortunately, in the way of such things, it didn’t last. Long story short: divorce, house sold, family moved. But, I still have some things that belonged to Edith, things that survived the demolition of her house, and I’ve read about her life, and frankly she kinda haunts me. I’ve never been to see her NYC house. Someday. Loved your pictures of the library, wow.

    And, I must say, the baby koala… OMG.

  8. Well, I would LOVE a tour of your painting place!

    Gumnut — that’s pretty darned enchanting — the word itself, not to mention the cute little kids in the curtains.

    But are you quite sure that big bunny isn’t a joke? Oh, he’s very handsome — I think he could stand up to a predator in fine form! The koala is pretty darned cute, too.

    Well, you have had a delightful and fun week. Thanks for sharing it with us — and your painting techniques! Happy weekend!

  9. TinyDancer

    I love — no, I gumnut — catching up with you every Friday. You do a lot for someone who never leaves the house!

    And OMG I want a Gumnut Baby HAT!!!!

    And to our Australian friends: I’m sure there are a lot of Americans who have spent years wondering what a “gum tree” if they were like me, when I was a Brownie Girl Scout and we learned a song about kookaberries sitting in the old gum tree, merry merry king of the bush is he…and now after all those years I learn that a gum tree is a eucalyptus. Good to solve that mystery after all these years that a gum tree is a eucalyptus! And I think a kookaburra is a kind of bird.

    I don’t know any songs about koalas but I wish I did.

  10. Gigi

    Thank you for your inspiring, as always, post. I learn so much from you, and I love that you share your wanderings with us.

    The big bunny is sooooo adorable; I would love to have one of my own, hopping around my garden. Thank you for making my day with those photos.

    Please post more about your genius hatching place. I’d love to see where a genius artist spends her days!

    I’m glad spring has arrived somewhere. As I type this I’m watching snowflakes falling, but I try to enjoy the beauty of the way a snowfall freshens up the place, and at least it’s not too cold.

    But mostly, thank you, again, Vivian, for teaching us how to paint the way you do. I’ve been such a fan of yours since I first found When Wanderers Cease to Roam, and I often take out my paints and try out your lessons.

    A happy spring to all!

  11. Joan

    Wow! Giant Wabbits, baby Gumnut Koalas, that fabulous estate with the secret garden. All fabulous…very pouty about not winning the triscuit painting, but I’ll wait patiently for another try should you make one available.

    Love the tutee…and the pics of your workspace.

  12. ok, i am not gonna lie, i did look for you 11 pm my time, thinking maybe i could get a jump on my day, but dawn for is much better, i can ponder your delightful posts during the day until i can back for a comment on something larger than a cell phone.

    i think i am as smitten with you and the gumnuts, in fact i had ordered a book about may last week, but it won’t arrive until the end of the month. i must have ordered it from england or australia to be taking so long, next time i will read the fine print… a bit of eucalyptus history for you, from one author to another, jack london imported them to the his home in glen ellen in sonoma county, his intent was to create a forest of lumber for the california market. the wood is not suitable for building, but his original stands are still there. they are very common in california now, but alas, no gumnuts or koalas gracing the branches… but i am thrilled you shared this tidbit with us, its so nice to learn from blog reading~

    what a gorgeous library… i so want a new house to have a new wonderful reading room…

    and that rabbit, won’t it be fabulous in your mansion with those adorable gumnuts and wonderful gardens you will be restoring 🙂

    just curious, were you taught to flick your toothbrush, or is this a home gravel remedy? it is amazingly effective. i thought you had abandoned the triscuit in the first pic and were not promoting dental hygiene through art instead of calories~

    congrats to janet, i hope she enjoys an early summer~

  13. Gigi

    Another Gigi posting here. Seems like I was the only Gigi in the world (who wasn’t in the movies) for the longest time – and now I see and hear my name regularly. Baby koala! Giant rabbit. And gumnuts in between. This is a delightful, fun, and educational blog! I really enjoyed seeing how you recreated the painted scene. This sort of do-over demonstration is very encouraging to those of us who dabble and blunder our way through painting. Will the secret garden show up in that Damn Garden Book? Can’t wait for next Thursday night – but so glad you had fun, where you will go, there will be frescos, won’t there?

  14. Laura

    I visited Senneliers art shop on “the left bank” in Paris on Tuesday after a visit to the Musee d’Orsay. They have been making pastels, mixing paints and selling art papers since 1887, from what I understand. I adore the narrow space lined with overstuffed oak shelves and cabinets stocked with every necessary art supply. It was like stepping back in time.
    I followed that with a visit to Mariage Freres tea shop which smelled like a garden upon crossing the threshold. Since “printemp” in Paris is about a month behind this year, it was a joy to be saturated in a cloud of floral teas.
    Art, art supplies and tea…all in one day in Paris, made for a very “Vivian Swift” adventure, n’est pas?
    I am looking forward to your blog posts from Paris next month.
    Shall I also look forward to you next book about restoring an estate?

  15. like I wasn’t in love with that property already and now you show me there’s a secret parterre garden. where’s my cheque book already?! Unfortunately I can’t lay claim to being Australian but I did spend a year there once upon a time. Enough time to learn about the fabulous gumnuts.

  16. Jeannie

    I am gumnuts for that estate!!! A secret garden!!! I am glad you solved the gumnut baby mystery. It seems that you are being sent a message – first Koalas and now gumnut babes. Perhaps a trip Down Under or you should REALLY by the estate! Thanks for always inspiring and amusing me. Yes, I would love of tour of your atelier. Have a wonderful weekend.

  17. whimsy2

    Thanks again for the painting lesson. I love the gumnuts explanation And…to cut down on drying time, couldn’t you use a hair dryer at a distance?

  18. Parisbreakfast

    Mitavite Gumnuts® is Australia’s original and most trusted feed especially formulated for aged horses and ponies. Highly nutritious, palatable and safe to feed, Gumnuts® provides a unique balance of vitamins and minerals specifically
    formulated to address the challenges of old age. Omega 3 oils, antioxidants and essential amino acids are provided in a highly digestible form. Gumnuts® reduces to a soft mash when water is added.
    You didn’t say we could eat them did you?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *