Dancing in the Streets

Yes, that’s me, trying to paint New Orleans. It was not a happy experience.

But first — Cat News!! There has been a  recent appearance of a possible new member of our herd of backyard cats:


This handsome fella has  shown up on the back patio for breakfast a few days this past week in spite of the fact that Bibs and Taffy get all North Korean on his ass every time they see him. I call him Newton. Hey Newton, if you’re reading this, I got some cat nip just for you (at the end of a Have-A-Heart trap).

Now, what is this I hear  (from Rachel and Sarahsbooks in Comments to last week’s post) about The Bed-book of Travel???

First of all, I thought I had written the bed-book of travel…

High res Cover

…to be put bed-side for excellent late-night reading.

But it seems that somebody else, namely Richardson Wright, beat me to it in the 1930s:


The Bed-book of Travel is a collection of short pieces to be read (preferably in bed or berth) by those who have been places, those who are going somewhere, and those who have wanted to go; Together with seven travelers’ tales. This book is now very rare and the one copy I found on-line last week for sale for $70 is already gone. I snoozed and loosed because I spent a few days mulling over this purchase, wondering if I really wanted to read this book seeing as how, if it turned out to be soooooo much better a bed-side travel book than mine, I will want to quit writing/illustrating bed-side books forever.

But the book that I really dread reading is this one:


This is Richardson Wright’s 1929 Bed-book  about gardening (in paperback re-print from The Modern Library) which I  am awaiting delivery of, and if it’s half as good as its reviews say it is I AM TOAST. And not a nice slice of hot-buttered whole wheat served with a steaming cup of Assam tea kind of toast, nope. I mean a hunk of cardboard-like salt-free rancid Melba that’s been sitting in the cupboard leaning on the stack of Size D batteries waiting for cassette playing boom boxes to come back in style  kind of toast.

I wanted my Damn Garden Book to be THE go-to gardening book for reading in bed…but if it’s already been done I might as well retire my paintbrushes and take up something useful.

Useful, like dancing all day in the French Quarter with my own dear Top Cat.


Ah, Love of my Life, nobody does a Grateful Dead-inspired free-form solo version of  Zydeco Swing  like you:



Well, seeing as how I am not yet a reclusive former bed-side travel / gardening book writer  illustrator, I better get with the travel / gardening book illustrating. It’s time to do New Orleans!


This is the pencil sketch for the full-page illustration that will start the NOLA chapter. It is designed so I can drop text into the middle of it. It is rare (never) that I use a ruler to draw a scene but in this case it was unavoidable with all those necessary straight lines of wrought iron railings and all those pesky perspective lines to get right. To answer Laura’s question from last week, I never attempt to erase pencil lines once I’ve put watercolor over them. It’s impossible to erase thru the pigment. Most times, tho, I don’t mind seeing a little bit of pencil in a painting because it is a ver authentic part of painting.

When it comes to erasing the watercolor, however, I have been known to use a nail file to clean up very small bits.

First, I painted in a quick bit of background architecture in pale blue, to represent a white building in bright sunlight (which will become more evident later in the painting):


Dab in the background greenery:


Working wet-in-wet I dab in the pale greens and add detail until I like the shape of the foliage:


Commentor Judy Jennings asked about getting “natural” shades of green. To tell you the truth, all my greens are unnatural in that I edit nature all the time. My shades and hues are mostly close to the scene that I’ve observed, but if I need to lighten bits up and darken others for the sake of the picture, I do it. I also edit the shape of foliage all the time — see above. I make it a pleasing shape for my composition first, and true to nature second.

My biggest guess regarding Judy’s question about getting a “natural” paint color is that you must always keep your water CLEAN. I constantly dump out my water and get clean fresh stuff. Especially if I am going to mix yellows into green I always get a brand new glass of water. And if I have to work wet-in-wet with lots of yellows AND greens I have two glasses of water handy, one for rinsing the yellow brush-fulls and one for rinsing the green brush-fulls.


For shadows I use blue with a bit of burnt umber mixed in it instead of black or grey:




Now I use masking fluid to cover the table and chairs so I can cut loose with the stuff I want to paint behind them:


While waiting for the masking fluid to become bone-dry, I do the middle-ground stuff:



I pretend the table and chairs aren’t there and paint the railing-drapping greenery right over the masking fluid:


I could never do this without masking fluid. Well, I could, but it would either look bad or would take me forever to paint:


Fore ground:



Peel off masking fluid, paint what is revealed underneath:


Even down to the stems of the wine glasses, which I measured or you and are three millimeters high:


Take a look, and add whatever else this picture needs:


Not there yet::




I Hate It. This will definitely require a re-do!!

So now I’m off for two weeks in France: Paris and Giverny; then to Marrakech to see the Majorelle Garden. To give you a preview of the two posts that I have for you in the queue, next week we will see how I manage to paint four really, really, really, really hidious stoooopid pictures of my New Orleans Fragrance Garden…


…before I happily get it right finally (no, that’s not it above — this picture above stinks!!!!) ; and then the week after that I give you a tour of the knicks and knacks of my workspace:


I will have my iPad with me in France etc. and Carol of  the highly chic, fabulously popular  Paris Breakfast blog is going to show me how to post from any cafe … so I might be able to send you all a few pictures and a quick update while I’m on the road.

How much you want to bet that what I post will be photos of great French cats?

P.S. Comments on this post will close after five days (nothing personal; it’s the spam, and closing Comments after five days keeps the spam to a manageable level of about 3,000 messages per week).


Next time we meet, one of us will be in Paris!!

21 Comments, RSS

  1. Ha! I just learned yesterday how to post from Printemps.
    Love your blobby foliage as always.
    A new cat onboard?
    Don’t see why you can’t bring me Penelope then?
    No need to buy a new food bowl.
    Hard to believe you will be in France next Friday or is it Morocco.
    Can’t wait ;))

  2. janet bellusci

    as i look over this post to make my comments, it is so FULL of fun things…where to begin? well, NEWTON is a sweet little darling!! hope the north korean hostilities cease and he can relax into the lovely life provided by you and top cat. speaking of TOP CAT ~ loved loved loved his dancing in the streets. this from a certified deadhead (and i don’t just mean in the garden!) finally, if i painted half as well as what you call something that STINKS, i’d be one happy farmgirl!
    bon voyage!!

  3. Jen A.

    Hi Vivian,

    Have a wonderful, romantic, delicious, inspiring, “work” trip to France and Marrakech! Can’t wait to see what you’ll post for us from there and when you get back.

  4. Patricia

    You show me step by step but in between, magic happens. I’m pretty good drawing in pencil (bless erasers for that) but watercolor is a constant struggle for me. Please tell me you studied since birth (lie if you have to).
    Bon Voyage!

  5. I know you’ll come back with oodles of pix of Paris cats. Also ones in Marakech. Looking forward to it.
    Your painting is just beautiful. The work involved must be accomplished in pieces; not to blemish the previous step. Thank you for sharing with us the “know how”……
    A Friday blog worth waiting for, as usual. I wouldn’t miss it.

  6. Deborah

    Oh, pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease get some photos of French poodles! Pretty please? With powdered sugar on it?

    Traveling mercies.

  7. Your garden book is in no danger whatsoever! Richardson Wright’s book is so wonderful that I have read it 3 times…once straight through,and in 2 different years reading it along the calendar it is meant to follow. However, it has NO wonderful watercolors. Enjoy!

  8. Your handsome stranger reminds me of Damien Lewis somewhat:)

    But your lovely company seems much friendlier..and a wonderful companion..I practiced doing some brick and leaf work because of you..am in a bit of a rush..will come back to study these beauties..

    I can’t believe you don’t like that one!

    Amusez-vous bien les filles..
    Au revoir et à bientôt~

  9. Jeannie

    Oh! People watching!!! My favorite hobby. I used to work at Sea Tac airport and would watch people on my breaks. I was taking a creative writing course at the time and there was ample inspiration!
    I was wondering how you would attack the iron work. That would drive me bonkers! I love it, but all those curly q’s!!!
    Newton is so handsome! He looks just like my Jr. who was only with us for 2 years but brought much joy. (He was named after Ken Griffey, Jr. Hey, he chose a baseball family as his temp home.)
    Bon voyage!!! I look forward to seeing French cats. Do they meow with an accent? 🙂

  10. Speaking of “men in New Orleans”. My niece met a musician from France in New Orleans about 5 months ago. They’ve had a whirlwind affair since then and as we speak she’s in Nantes meeting his family. Sounds pretty serious. He lives in Nantes so she could possibly end up there. Maybe you could drop by on your France trip.

  11. i feel such pressure to comment before shop closes, i have no time to expound now and before i blink you will be making us persona non grata, so let me say gracias for a rockin good time with top cat and low cat and art and humor and happy trails to you and thanks for leaving us such wonderful tidbits while you explore the world!

  12. Rachel

    Just wonderful. Yes, Richardson Wright is great but different from you. You are so lucky that no one snatched up TC for being the cutest guy in all your photos. Avez une bon temps. Perhaps the http://www.marmottan.fr/ will be on your agenda??

  13. First off, this was one of the most fascinating to follow step-by-step! You make us think we can all do it! My SC friend Maryanne was inspired to get starter colors after I told her about your spot! You inspire so many!

    OH, beignets!

    And delighted you are headed to Paris and Giverny — two of my favorite garden-visiting spots! How lucky to connect with Carol as well. You’ll have a grand time — and yes, I want to see those Paris cats. (Peter Olson seems to have tremendously good results finding great cats at the cemeteries — not quite in the garden category, but you never know! I suppose there is a certain garden quality…

    And in closing, Top Cat is looking mighty fine! That one just made me smile! (And thanks for your kind comments on the Gypsy. They mean so much; more than you know.

  14. Deb mattin

    Love kitty talk and pictures, but mostly how we’re going along relatively seriously and BAM, you throw in something snort-the-coffee-out-your-nose funny like “going all North Korean on your ass”!!!!
    Love the swirly iron work on your New Orleans porch. Oh , and if I could paint something like your “stooopid hideous” picture I’d be one happy mama,
    have a great time in Paris!

  15. Elaine holmes

    Hey, I have the Tailor of Gloucester too! Looking forward to the collective postcard from Paris. Have a wonderful time

  16. i just LONG to walk into one of your paintings! to walk up onto that porch! to walk through that garden gate! I really mean – LONG – it’s very emotional feeling to be welcomed into your paintings.

  17. May I say in my own defense: I have re-read the Richardson Wright books precisely *never* and I have re-read your books *MANY* times.

    Top Cat – a man who dances in the streets AND surprises his wife with the gift of a plane ticket to Paris – treasure this paragon.

    Paris, Marrakech, sigh, humph. One of the reasons I love your books so much is that they take us readers (who do not travel much) to places we’ve always dreamed of going. I know The Damn Garden book will be another such series of journeys. If your illustrations thus far are any indication, the book is going to be fabulous (as if we were in any doubt!). Have a wonderful trip –

  18. Laura

    Bon voyage! I would love to enjoy how you interpret Giverny in watercolor. This is just a magnificent time of year to be there. You are taking the ultimate “sabaticle”. Oh the tea, the wine, the cheese, the art, the carbs’!!! Enjoy everything that we miss from these shores for us.

  19. Bunny

    Your attention to detail is superb. I have long considered how you are able to swirl the colors, but keep them looking so vivid. And thanks again, for taking us places, and showing us how to do it. And I can’t believe you are self taught, and have only recently taken up painting watercolor. You make it look so easy. Like Deb commented above, your swirls, floor patterns, and brick work are great.
    I can’t wait to hear about your trip to Gay Paris, and the hinterlands. We will get to see things through your magnificent viewfinder, and steady hand.
    Wow, and a man who is not afraid to shake it, in the streets of New Orleans! Gang em style? Should be a new dance–the TC shuffle. Let’s see if we can go viral on the internet!!! Bon Voyage…

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