About Me, My Cats, and My Art Work

I live in a 100-year old house on the Long Island Sound with a husband and four cats. And when I say “four cats”, I mean “eight cats”. But you can’t just blurt out that you have EIGHT cats or else people will think you’re a Crazy Cat Lady. Ew.

So I start off telling about these four cats of mine, and once I know you well enough, I add on the four that also live in the house. But I feel like you and I are friends and that I can be truthful:

And the truth is, I have a herd of eight cats.

And when I say “eight cats”, I mean 12.

Plus 2.

Here is a completely random sampler of my work:

wwctr 6 Summer

More sample art work

January scene









If you want to watch me paint, all you have to do is look for blog posts under the category Watercolor Tutorials.

47 Comments, RSS


    Great to see you again tonight at Wide World Books! Your presentation was very well done–you are a natural when public speaking–but I already knew that! Glad you got to experience our nice weather–and tea at the Sorrento. What bliss, huh? Enjoy your time in Portland and Cannon Beach.

  2. Patricia

    I am very sorry to have missed you in Seattle. Thanks to Wide World Books, I was able to leave my book for signature. Loved the note inside!
    We’re off to Vienna, Prague to Berlin via riverboat shortly (that’s why we’re cramming a month of theater into two weeks). Any wonderful gardens I should look for? Favorite brew pubs?

  3. Nancy S

    Wow, wasn’t sure how to leave a comment, but I finally figured it out. Duh! Anyway, thanks so much for your tutorial on teacups. Loved it! Keep them coming!

  4. Karen

    I love your book “When Wanderer’s Cease to Roam! I have Nancy Pearl’s podcast to thank for finding it. I have a copy for myself, and I sent my sister a copy in New Orleans. I know she will like your other books also. Your artwork is beautiful, and you have a great attitude about life. I am going to share the book at work I think it will be great for a co-worker who has lost her brother and her dad in the same last few months of 2015. I really want her to focus on the beauty that is still available in life, and I think your book will help.

    I can’t believe I just missed you in Seattle a few days ago 🙁 I so would have gone to that. I hope you are working on more books.

    Karen Horvath

  5. Michael

    Being a wanderer myself I intend to purchase When Wanderers cease to roam to read during my wanderings around the Scotish west coast.
    I loved the photo of yourself and Topcat 🙂 on the beach with a sunset backdrop near where they made the movie Local hero, my claim to fame is I
    Had the privilege to have taken that photo 🙂 I was that hero.
    enjoy your blog, Happy wandering.

  6. d

    Dear Vivian,
    I am so awed and inspired by your work.

    With your permission I will share parts of the paintings you do in your blog with my grade 3 students. I have been teaching them how to do the technique ‘aquarelle’ in the form of postcards which we’ll be sending to the many grandparents that have visited our class.

    I still have a watercolour book of trees that my parents bought me when I was in grade 4. I still use it though it’s gotten a bit tattered over the years.

    Merci mille fois!


  7. Nicole Coudoux Staudenmayer

    Hi, I just discovered watercolor painting a few month ago… quite late in life, but love it even if not good at it. Discovered your site a few days ago, and I cannot believe how beautiful your artwork is. The Giverny garden, the café in Paris, the croissants. Just want to say thank you, and I will keep watching.
    PS I have 4 cats and a HUGE dog, all shelter animals, some just walked in the backyard. I think someone killed the possum I was going to adopt this last spring.
    Have a wonderful MD week-end.

  8. Karen

    Where have you been all my life? I just discovered your delightful books and am slowly devouring “When Travelers Cease to Roam.” Delights on every page. Love your beautiful painting, your hand-lettering, and your great attitude. And the embroidery! Do you still do it?

    Sorry I didn’t know about you before your Portland trip, as I’m just down the road in Corvallis. I hope you come back soon!

    P.S. Also love all the b/w cats – I have tuxedo siblings, boy and girl, and they are the best!

  9. Paige Swift

    A friend sent me an article about your books… because my daughter is also named Vivian Swift! She is 16 and will be in NY/Brooklyn this summer doing an internship for Mary Howard Studios in Red Hook. I will be there also.

  10. Jill Elizabeth Baron

    Just read your review of garden books in the Guardian and I am your new big fan! Thanks for the recommendations. Just bought your books for our university library. And gave a 5-star review on Amazon. Can’t wait for your books to arrive.

  11. Hi Stranger! Always thinking about you, but never seem to have time to catch up!!!! How are you? Miss your daily works of art, and sweet commentary! I hope life is treating you well, hugs from Marilyn and me!

  12. Emily Anderson

    Hi Vivian, How do I contact you. Country Life Magazine would like to discuss potential use of your paintings of Chelsea Physic Gardens. Please could you drop me an email.


  13. jan murray

    I discovered your gardens book yesterday in my local library and couldn’t put it down! I have described it as absolutely delicious. My birthday is in September so I have requested that my children buy me at least 1 of your books because I just have t own them. Real treasures. 🙂

  14. Gina

    Hi Vivian, I’m a fan of yours and am wondering if you happen to know where I might find your book “When Wanderers Cease to Roam”? I tried ordering it on Amazon but it’s been out of stock for quite a few months. I read “Gardens of Awe and Folly” and really loved it and now I’m in the middle of “Le Road Trip”. I’m anxious to read your other book too since the first 2 I’ve read are so beautiful. Thank you,

    • Susan Morgon ( Ohio gal from SoCal )

      I hope you have found the book by now, but if not, try some of Amazon’s used copies, for sale by 2nd parties, or try bookfinder.com. If there are copies being sold anywhere, bookfinder will show them.

  15. Bunny Medeiros

    I serendipitously discovered your book “When Wanderers Cease to Roam”on my library’s fundraising, discounted, used book
    shelves…absolutely charmed by it.
    It called to me because I have been working on a memoir, the gist of which concerns my lifetime challenge in cultivating roots.
    I watched your video at the Seattle bookstore & loved it…especially learning that your lovely little watercolors were “triscuits.”
    I shared your book with the group of 5 women who were in my Artists Way group last summer.
    Thank you for being a delightful part of my 2016.

  16. Hello Vivian – I found your Black Cat Cigarette factory ads using google and read the section on your page. I feel as if you are a doppelganger. My website is a private one full of my own interests which sometimes catch people’s eye. I hope you don’t mind but I have used two of your images (with linked credit) because it’s all too funny! I have an interest in cat art in advertising (not withstanding the Black Cat adverts which belong on the Black Cat page) and have devoted a page to it :
    Then there’s your write up about your us journey – I actively went seeking this factory years ago and all the passengers were oblivious to its existence – my write up is on the Black cat home page (where your pictures are sitting :
    I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I did in your blog.
    Best wishes

  17. mary

    A precious friend gsve me your book saying that she reads it randomly at 3am on those waking nights. I am grateful to her and to you…..the delight of your words and heart and paintings tickle me to my toenails this blizzardy 11pm.

  18. Samantha

    Hi Vivian,

    I discovered your books at the library one day and fell in love with them. My favorite is Gardens of Awe and Folly and I read it every few months. It makes me feel so happy! I have always loved plants and gardens and would love to visit the gardens in your book eventually. Thank you so much for writing my now favorite book!

  19. Anonymous

    Please stop your language about Trump. I like your books and tutorials, but your vulgar political comments are a real detriment to your blog.

  20. Hello…..
    I, too, have a remote control for my radio so I can turn it off when it starts playing jazz.
    I laughed SO hard when I read that, and then I added you to my list of living people I want to have lunch with, along with Neil Young, Michelle Obama, and Kris Kristofferson, to name just a few. You were already solidly on the nomination shortlist, but that clinched it.
    For one thing, it’s so brave of you to come out and say that in public. I am always embarrassed by the fact that jazz makes me feel like I am going to have a seizure. I mean, jazz is so amazingly cool, brilliant really, and the fact that my brain is not able to get with it really embarrasses me. For me, trying to listen to jazz is similar to pondering infinity, the universe, and death; my brain malfunctions somehow, and I have to unplug it by thinking about spoons or something, and then in a few minutes it usually will come back on.

    Also, I plan to borrow a few things from you.
    For example, I have no brothers, only a sister, so it’s just us girls.

    When I say, “a sister”, I mean 2 sisters, because people might start to think I have, you know, an “attitude” about men, if they knew I was from a group of women. They might perceive a bias of some sort.
    But, when I get to know people better, I’ll tell them how many sisters I really have.
    That way, they won’t have to be nervous around me until later.

  21. Janice

    Secretly celebrating July 4 by reading ‘When Wanderers Cease to Roam’ in solitude! Not doing what I don’t want to do! Sorry family. There will be more years for grilling and games but this evening will be memorable to me for traveling the world via Vivian Swift…what a pleasure!!!

  22. mary

    Dear Vivian,

    I write to ask for your help regarding a visit I made to Marrakech years ago.

    I remember visiting a beautiful water garden in this amazing city. In the back corners of my mind, I believe I was told that Claude Monet painted this garden. I know he visited Morocco.

    Is my memory correct ?

  23. frank

    I enjoy your work, it’s inspiring~.

    I too like to make small triscuit-sized watercolors. I even have one of St Malo (although that’s a two-triscuit )

  24. Hello Vivian, I am new to your blog and love your books, painting and the “personality plus” kitties. Can you tell me how to comment on individual posts? Your recent posts says “discuss” and I could not do so. Thank you, Vivian, and have a lovely Thanksgiving holiday. Susan Lowell

  25. I want to be a subscriber to your blog. Is there a place to sign up or will this plea do the job? Just received your book, “Gardens of Awe and Folly.” Wonderful. I am certain you know of Sarah Midda, who is also crazy about gardens. Thanks so much.

  26. Tony Leonard

    Hello Vivian
    I am a Florida resident and green thumb and I have been in search for a wolliemi pine for months. I’ve recently read your book gardens of awe and folly. You mention that there were over over 20,000 in my state in different nurseries. I feel like I’m chasing a ghost. I was wondering if you would be willing to contact me or be able to provide any informoation as to where I could I could acquire a wolliemi pine. Your work is brilliant and I completely and thoroughly enjoy your work. Any help would be much appreciated.
    Thank you,

    • Vivian

      Hi Tony —

      It seems that when I researched the Wollemi, the tree was something of a fad in Florida gardening. I remember that at the time (2012-13) that I could find several nurseries selling Wollemis, but I just did a quick internet search and couldn’t find any nurseries in FLA. The pines are still popular garden features in Australia and the UK, but to get one sent to you you’d have to settle for a tiny seedling and they are, apparently, very tricky to grow from such.

      To be honest, the Wollemi is not a great looking tree. Have you seen one? I saw the big one growing in a corner at the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, and it’s a scraggly, Charlie Brown Christmas Tree kind of tree. Just saying.

      I wonder if you can contact garden clubs and botanical societies in our area. Someone might actually be growing a pine, or know better how to get one for you. Six degrees of separation and all.

      You could also track down a few agriculture departments in FLA universities or colleges, and call up one of the professors and ask what they know about getting a Wollemi. Professors are great to talk to because they usually are very willing to lend their expertise — I imagine talking to civilians is a great break from lecturing to underclassmen.

      I got my figure for the number of Wollemis in FLA from a yearly publication from the Florida Dept. of Agriculture that tracks exotic imports, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it was called. Florida has taken a harsh stand against importation of exotics and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had something to do with shutting down commerce in the Wollemi.

      Good luck on your quest.

      Long Live the Australian Pine!

  27. Robin Askew (Ms)

    Hello Vivian,

    I have just finished reading your absolutely wonderful ‘Gardens of Awe and Folly’. And even before I had finished it, I knew I needed to share it with others. So I ordered two more copies – one of which I will give to a very dear friend of mine, who is also an artist. Which I wish I was – to be able to paint such lovely watercolours as yours to record and evoke all the journeys I have made – or dreamed of making. Now of course I am definitely dreaming of visiting as many of those gardens from your book as I may be able to.

    Some of them I have mentally added to already planned trips hither and yon. Most of these have to do with tracing the bygone footsteps of my mostly British ancestors. So now when I go to do that in and around Aberdeen, I will not miss looking for that hidden garden you found in Edinburgh. On my last visit to the UK, I also traversed the route of Hadrian’s Wall. Although not on foot like you! And in the other direction. As I was sort of following the route taken by a 4-times great grandfather, who moved in about 1725 from Kendal to Newcastle upon Tyne.

    But the only public pay-to-visit garden I and my traveling companion visited on that trip was the rather over-the-top topiary garden at Levens Hall – not far from Kendal. Not that I have anything against over-the-top stuff per se. But I can’t say that I find extravagant topiary to be my cup of tea. Even if my favourite brew happens to be named after an earl. And that I can count one of the earl-iest (but just knighted) owners of Levens Hall among my ancestors. But as he died in 1641, he was not responsible for the topiary garden, which was first laid out and planted between 1694-97.

    And talking of knights – or more to the point ‘Dames’ – I really enjoyed your blog entry on the incomparable Helen Mirren. Long may she reign o’er us – theatrically-speaking of course! But I must put in a word for two more Dames of British stage and film: Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. I first saw Judi Dench as Sally Bowles in ‘Cabaret’ at the London Palace Theatre in 1968. And I’ve loved her in everything else since. And Maggie Smith I first saw in 1962 (when I was all of 17) in ‘The Private Ear’ and ‘The Public Eye’ by Peter Shaffer, and which I’m pretty sure I saw at the Oxford Playhouse – rather than at The Globe in London. Somewhere I have the playbill, which Maggie kindly signed for me – although not back then but many years later, when I saw her in Noel Coward’s ‘Private Lives’ at the Stratford Festival Theatre in Ontario, Canada. That was a time (late 1970s), when she also came to dine a few times at a restaurant I co-owned in nearby London, Ontario, which was called Auberge du Petit Prince. L’important c’est la rose!

    Which brings me right back to your Garden book. As well as your ‘Le Road Trip’, which I just received – and know I will enjoy reading. And I’m already in love with your watercolours in it. But I’m still relishing all those in ‘Gardens of Awe and Folly’. And I do not have to die of ‘saudade’ for it – as my copy will permanently reside conveniently close to where I sit for my morning cup of espresso. However, I do die every day for so many saudades I have for Brazil – and all my friends there. I did not live in Rio de Janeiro – having divided my over ten years there mostly between São Paulo and Olinda (beside Recife). And obviously it would have been (and still would be) virtually impossible to visit the same garden/jungle you did in Rio. But I can visualize all the lush exuberance and feel the sense of awe you had there. ‘Wow’ indeed … Opa!

  28. thomas jeff

    My name is Thomas Jeff from SC. I actually observed my wife has
    been viewing your website on my laptop and i guess she likes your
    piece of work, I’m also impressed and amazed to have seen your various
    works too, : ) You are doing a great job. I would like to receive
    further information about your piece of work and what inspires you. I
    am very much interested in the purchase of the piece (in subject field
    above) to surprise my wife. Kindly confirm the availability for
    immediate sales.
    Thanks and best regards,

  29. Hannah

    I just want you to know that you have inspired me! A friend showed me your book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam and it changed me. It showed me that there is beauty wherever we are and if we can’t appreciate where we are, we won’t appreciate anywhere. I then read your other two books and absolutely loved them. Recently, my husband and I went on a last minute trip to Paris. I found the Square du Vert-Galant. It was just as you described it and it was my favorite part of the whole trip. The way you revel in the present, taking time to paint and think, while also being spontaneous, adventurous and philosophical is traveling at its finest. You have the perfect balance between travel and staying at home and finding the beauty in both. I appreciate your genuineness. Many travelers travel to impress. You do it differently. You are real, raw, and expressive. When I read your books, I feel like you’re a friend sharing a cup of tea and talking about life. I’ve started my own blog, hoping to share adventures abroad and adventures from home! Thank you for sharing your beautiful work and inspiring others to be adventurous!

  30. Glen Day

    I’m not a traveler, only a reader. Found your book, when travelers cease to roam, at the art supply store. Love the art, and now I have to find the other books you’ve done. And who says twelve, plus two, cats makes you a crazy cat lady! Me, I figure as long as I can feed them……welcome! I’m sorry about Dennis. I never put cats and cancer together till I had one get sick. He didn’t want to eat, tho he would indulge me by eating the cooked chicken livers I fed him by hand. Sorrow, sadness and woe. But new cats come in, and sometimes they move in! Or don’t, but will talk to you, which is also nice!

    • Vivian

      Thank you for stopping by! You are so right about our dear cats. In fact, the neighbors and I are actively waiting to see who Dennis sends to us. The next stray who wanders into my backyard will, I know, have been given to us by that sweet cat, because he knows that this is the right place to send a kitty who needs love.

      • Diane klieforth

        Ok I can’t deny it any longer. I am your doppelgänger. My husband has told me for several years to write to you. The coincidences are just too eerie. It dawned on me slowly as I read “When Travelers Cease To Roam” that Pelham was the village you wrote about and painted. Pelham, which I still think of as home in spite of having lived previously (and after )in Europe, the Middle East, and on a desert island. Rescue cats ?Check. (Even flew several back with us to the U.S. from that desert island) 100 teacups? Check. Fluent in French? Check until I had a TIA a few years ago (in spite of no risk factors and being “too young” per the doctors), embroidered part of the Bayeux Tapestry in college??? Check!!! There’s more : amateur artist, published author of exactly one essay in a national magazine .But it’s the Puffin quest that brings me to write you as these coincidences are just too strange. On my bucket list for years, I’ve hunted for Puffins in Maine and Alaska but not in the right places in Maine and not the right time of year in Alaska . I’m very happy you finally saw one -and that you published the photo. Thank you from all of us armchair Puffin hunters.It was even better because it was small and hard to see but just splendid when enlarged.
        I haven’t even mentioned my shame and disgust at the “current resident of the White House” as a British reporter referred to him when Trump was first elected. I appreciate every string of colorful epithets you have uttered on that subject even though no words are enough, are they?
        My late father, a U.S. diplomat and later undersecretary of the U.N. spent his whole life working for peace and the betterment of mankind. I’m glad he didn’t live to see how quickly and shockingly our country could be manipulated and controlled by an emperor with no clothes nor the worldwide ramifications.
        I could go on with more similarities between us. If I liked any other alcohol except a little champagne I might say we must be twins. I guess I’m not your doppelgänger after all. But I bet you and I could have fun heaping derision on those who abuse the current buzzword , “curate”. What’s next? Do you curate your cat food collection ?Nor do I. What about your skin care products.? Your underwear drawer perhaps? What’s with that, anyway?
        As a former art history major turned art dealer perhaps I’m a wee bit sensitive on the subject. Or not.
        Thanks for your always entertaining prose and charming artwork.

  31. Scott Stiefvater

    Hi Vivian, I hope you are well. I came across your beautiful book “Wanderers” while cleaning out my moms house. She recently passed. It was quick and un expected. I just felt I had to reach out to you. You have touched us with your grace and beauty, and I’ll always remember you. Just wanted to say hi. XOXOX

  32. Dear Vivian,
    I hope you are well! I am in love with your books – they are my companions and my comfort.

    Some years ago my friend Michou sent the first chapter of my book to you, through a mutual friend, Nadine, in the hope that you would illustrate it. Sadly that could not happen, but now I would love to speak to you about another matter. It would be a delight to connect with you. Thank you!
    Wishing you the best,

  33. Jackie Mineo

    Well, you outdid yourself today. I found your blog several months ago and am addicted.
    Couldn’t see that you take comments on the blog though…
    Salutations from a Long Island expat. And PLEASE keep the blog going.
    Great watercolors BTW.

  34. Hello Vivian. I recently came across your 2016 Guardian article on top 10 books about gardens. Interesting assortment. I appreciated reading through the different kinds of books.

    However, I am yet another person who loves John Muir. It’s not always known that as a child, he endured much physical abuse by his father, who also discouraged his inventing. Muir obviously found personal healing and restoration in the woods and mountains. While anecdotal, one possible interpretation of Muir’s writings is that the wilderness can help heal childhood wounds. It’s a possibility that is likely the subject of current research. It’s obvious that Muir wasn’t writing in order to make people feel trapped in a pre-modernist lifestyle. He found solace, wisdom, and healing in observing the natural world, and he wanted to share it with others. Though, he also didn’t like the writing process – he hated being cooped up indoors. So, perhaps if you were to tell Muir, “I don’t like reading your writing”, he might say, “well, I didn’t really want to write it in the first place!”

    I’m glad to have found your blog though. I do love gardens. Four years ago we bought a 1840s brick farmhouse in the middle of Ohio that needed a lot of care and attention. Poorly landscaped. Derelict garden. We are working to renew the property. It is much more work than I imagined. Slowly, things are improving. The garden yields a bit more each year.

    All the best – Todd

  35. Juan Ortiz

    I remember your smile and it lit up the Marine House in Niamey, Niger like no one else. I still have your drawing of you exercising in our courtyard. White pants, red top, and of course your red hair in a bun. A smart and talented lady you were and now even those words are trivial compared to what you have accomplished.

    The Peace Corps lady that has done so well in life.

    Always en mi corazon


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