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Yes, we will be painting together later in this post (it’s very looooooong today, go get a cup of tea) but first OMG OMG OMG I have to tell you about my visit with Neil DeGrasse Tyson:

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When Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is not writing best selling books about astrophysics or dropping by The Daily Show to chat with Jon Stewart about cosmic stuff he is the Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History on Manhattan’s upper west side. I once went to a party and was in the same small room as Neil DeG. (he and I have the same literary agent, the great Betsy Lerner) and we smiled at each other over the hors d’ouvres buffet table but I was too star struck to say anything. I do have me a gigantic a crush on the awesome Neil DeG.

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On Wednesday night Top Cat and I went to see Dr. Neil DeG. host the 14th Annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate at the AMNH. The topic for the evening’s duscussion was The Existence of Nothing and Neil DeG. was moderating a five-person panel that consisted of a physicist (expert on “time loops” and time travel) and a physicist (expert on elementary particles) and a physicist (expert on string theory ) and a philosopher (with a mathematics degree from UVA with a special interest in large cardinals) and a guy who writes about science (expert on Zero and its twin, Infinity).

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iPhone pix of Neil DeG. on the left with the panel on stage at the Lefrak Theater at the AMNH. I forget to bring my camera. I’m very stoopid.

During the ensuing give-and-take it turns out that every body on the panel had a working knowledge of general relativity, topology, Star Trek, Saturday Night Live skits from the ’70s, cosmology (observational and theoretical), dark matter, negative curvature, and the history of science. Since everyone eventually agreed that even in the empty vacuum of space on the edge of the universe there is something (the laws of physics, whether or not we know them, for one thing; energy is another) the real issue was whether nothingness as a theoretical construct was important, interesting, or meaningful to the future of science and/or mankind.

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At least, that’s what I think the discussion was about. As I sat and listened to the whole thrilling two hour debate all I could really get  through my head was  Boy, I am stupid.

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Me, trying to understand the difference between Cosmology and a Cosmo.

I think it’s because I spend too much time watching reality TV that I get the mistaken impression that I’m smart. For example, this week the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills went to Paris and it was so stupid that I felt like a genius compared to Kyle, shown here on her visit to the Pont des Arts:

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I know and love the Pont des Arts. I put it in my book, Le Road Trip:

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Imagine how freaking crazy it makes me to watch as Kyle and her husband put their padlock on the railings of the Pont des Arts, an idiotic custom that has begun since I was last there. Lovers put their initials on a cheap hardware store lock and they snap it onto the chain-link fence, trashing the look and feel of the place. It is nothing short of desecration and there was Kyle, oohing and ahhing over her lock — and then telling her husband that she hopes her kids will one day come and see their parents’ lock on “The Love Lock Bridge”. As if her crappy lock was now a permanent fixture in the City of Light. Yes, she’s that STUPID.  (A man from the Paris street cleaning department comes with bolt cutters every week and chops off the damn locks that tourists insist on putting up.) I believe that Kyle thinks the name of the bridge is actually The Love Lock Bridge, and I believe that she hasn’t got the curiosity to read a damn guide book to find out anything else about the bridge except for her damn lock.

On behalf of Americans with half a brain and a respect for the history and beauty of Paris, I apologize to the citizens and the street cleaners of the 6th arrondissement.

ONE  MORE digression before we get to the painting. P1140307

That’s Mrs. Cardinal in the foreground.

Yes, it snowed again this past week on the Isle of Long. It started to fall around 1 o’clock in the afternoon last Saturday.

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After giving me the hairy eyeball, this guy turned and pointedly glared over his shoulder:

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I know that look. That look means that there is a big fat furry pest too damn close to the bird feeder.

That’s Taffy, under the bird feeder, and this is his “Who, me?” look:

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The flash captures the scene better:

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And here I thought I was finished with the Champagne-O-Meter for the season. Ha!

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I happened to be working on another Key West illustration, how ironic, when it began to snow.

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This is a picture of a grove of Australian Pines on the beach at Key West. I find it very meditative to apply a lot of masking fluid and I would rather meditate on applying masking fluid than on the *@##! snow. For the big tree trunks in the foreground, BTW, I don’t use my customary toothpick — I use the end of one of my paint brushes (the end without the bristles):

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If you are bored with these “Me Doing A Watercolor” demonstrations, feel free to skip to the end of this post. There’s another cat picture for you down there! But for those of you hanging in with me, this is how I put in the horizon of sea and the sky in the background:

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Then I put in a wash of yellow (this is how you paint foliage that is back-lit):

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While the yellow wash is still wet, I start dabbing in shades of green:

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I like working in my chalky Grumbacher blue paint into the shadows here:

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Sorry for that show of my injured finger tip. With the Winter making my skin so dry I have split a lot of my fingertips from all the typing I’ve been doing, writing the Damn Garden Book. These fingertip splits are very painful, like getting a new paper cut every time you tap the keyboard. Type-Writing is hard! Literally! Poor, poor, pitiful me! After I finished painting this picture I soaked gauze in Vitamin E oil and taped up my sore digits so they can heal overnight:

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Taffy, on behalf of the world, shows me the amount of sympathy I am due. By the way, he is yawning, not gagging, altho gagging would also be an acceptable response.

So, back to the painting, where I’m laying in colors — wet-in-wet style…that is, I’m layering colors in a series of washes that overlap (using my fattest brushes):

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More shades of green for foliage — this is the part I love:

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So this is it so far:

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It needs, now, some real dark bits:

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Do you see where I’m going with this?

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And now we put the masking fluid to good use!

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After I’ve peeled off the masking fluid, I’m ready to get to the heart of this scene:

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I’m going to leave some of the highlights on the left side of the tree trunks just plain blank white — I’m going to let the paper do the work:

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But with other tree trunks, I’m going to go for a yellow-green highlight:

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I think the mix of highlights gives texture to the lights and shadows of this scene:

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And Done. I am in love with the Australian Pines in Key West (but, sadly, they come sans koala bears). I would love to have an Australian Pine grove in my backyard, and I wish there could be wild koalas romping in their poetic shadows. Did you know it was SUMMMER right now, Down Under?

Here on the shores of the Long Island Sound, it snowed again on Tuesday!!   Yay.   And Thursday!!   Yay.

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This is not the footprint of a koala bear.

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These are not the tracks of a koala bear either.

These are Canada geese tracks in the snow, but OMG OMG OMG I wish they were koala bear tracks in the sand.

I hope this post wasn’t too long today — and dear Monique and Whimsy2: I read your question from last week’s blog so next week I will show you how I trace onto watercolor paper. And you know what? I’m in such a good mood (still got those koalas on my mind, plus I’m sipping a G&T while I’m typing this) that whatever I paint for next week’s blog I will give away. Stay tuned.

 

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Last Friday there was a blizzard here on the shore of the Long Island Sound. Oooo, so pretty:
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That’s the Champagne-O-Meter in the center.

On Saturday the sun came out. Sill kind of attractive, in a good old Winter kind of way:

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On Sunday the forecast called for warming weather. Winter is starting to look worn out:

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On Monday I had to remove the Champagne-O-Meter from the side yard to the fridge because I hate to see warm champagne. Now it just looks sad out there:

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On Tuesday it rained all day. Those are small puddles of grey water pooling in between the dead grass:

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On Wednesday it was Spring-like and the trees look like dead sticks and the yard looks like crap:

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It’s now Thursday and the yard still looks like crap but it’s way cold. As soon as I finish my blogging I’m going to the fridge and opening that bottle of champagne because I’m pretty sure I won’t be needing it for any more blizzards this Winter and I have something to celebrate: I have champagne in the fridge!

Also, a wonderful new reader from Australia emailed me that she went to see the blockbuster Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra — and found Le Road Trip  on sale in their book shop! I can’t believe that I wrote a book that the National Gallery of Australia sells in their book shop. I feel very important.

I’m itching to show off my Australian accent to my cats, but  I can only talk Strine when I’m slightly loaded so I am DYING to get to that champagne.

Have a great weekend everyone!

 

 

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Because instead of having rich friends who talk behind my back (which is why I LOVE The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, New York, Atlanta, OC, and NJ) I have cats who have no trouble getting in my face:
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Also, I do not spend my days shopping or party planning. Instead, I spend my days sitting at a desk, which is even more boring than it sounds because when I write I sit at a desk that faces a blank white wall because it’s better for my creative process to have NO DISTRACTIONS. Did I mention that I have cats?

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Having a camera crew following my every move would probably make my cats all nervous and skittish:

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But then again, maybe not.

I lead a pretty interior life, not suitable for film.

I doubt that what I consider really exciting is anything that would make for great TV:

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Last Sunday I was thrilled when I went out to re-fill the cat food bowl that I leave outside for our opossum friend, and I found  that he’d left me a present and I ran in to tell Top Cat GUESS WHAT!!!  MR. POSSUM LEFT ME A CARDINAL FEATHER!!!!  

In my experience, reality TV people only get this excited over slander law suits and when another Real Housewife looks at them funny.

The BIG news around here is Another Blizzard on its way.

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The latest panic started on Wednesday when Lonnie Quinn of the TV@ Weather Center cut into my Judge Judy time to show us what might, maybe, possibly, could happen in the next 48 hours. This is the dire forecast for Thursday:

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But it was what could maybe, might, possibly, could happen on FRIDAY that got him really riled up, so much so that he had to roll up his shirt sleeves and jump onto TV to let us know about it 48 freaking hours in advance:

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Jeeze, Lonnie. Even by my low standards of ordinary life this is a non-event.

BTW, I got the Champagne-O-Meter ready for this March blizzard. This is Thursday:

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And this is Friday:

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7am: Those are kitty cat tracks behind my Champagne-O-Meter.

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9am: Still snowing. This is the Japanese dogwood tree that shades our back patio and today is leaning over into the side yard. The only other time I’ve seen it like this was right after SS Sandy.

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Noon: That tree branch is almost touching the ground.

Commentor Judith asked a very interesting question in the Comments last week. She asked Does [an illustration]  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?

Oh yes, definitely YES I plan a picture out before I paint it. For instance, when I did this picture (the one I painted for you on last week’s blog):

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I absolutely planned beforehand what I would paint first, what went second, what had to be done thirdly, etc. I thought about what shape I had to paint, where the darks and lights would go, what range of green colors I would use. In a future WIP show-and-tell I will show you how I plan a picture because ever since I’ve been taking the trouble to stop and think before hand about what goes where, I’ve found that I don’t screw up as many illustrations. But that’s me (I’m a Capricorn).

Some people might love the process of painting so much that their canvases are opportunities for discovery, but not me. I am a results-oriented person and I quake until I have a plan of attack mapped out in my head. But that’s me.

As I write this it is 6:39 Thursday night and whoa, nellie. There are actual flakes falling from the sky! I hope to have a great Champagne-O-Meter pic for you tomorrow!

 

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This is my new office:
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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:

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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:

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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):

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Going deep dark green on the feather fronds:

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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:

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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):

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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:

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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:

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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!

 

 

 

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WIP is the term that we procrastinators use when we discuss our “Work In Progress”.  Today’s post is going to be a long one because the more time I spend on my blog the less time I have to sit around cursing at my  blank sheet of WIP because the angels are not dictating their lyrical prose to me and I have to actually do all the excruciating work on my own and write the damn thing. Also, there will be a trip to the Met museum in NYC and some talk-back to all the wonderful Commentors from my post about the Barnes Foundation and bad art two weeks ago… so make a cup of tea, have a seat, and expect to mosey with me for the next ten or fifteen minutes.

About my WIP garden book, here are two photos of moi feeding koi (fat gold fish) last year at a Japanese Stroll Garden in my neck of the woods on the north shore of Long Island:

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Koi are the greediest fish I’ve ever met. When they know there’s kibble to be had (official Japanese Stroll Garden kibble — I didn’t pitch bread crumbs in there) they will climb over each other and leap out onto the bank of the pond with their mouths wide open to gasp for a treat. I was enchanted.

What you can’t see in this photo montage set-up is that there is a fence in the background, behind the bamboo, that forms the western edge of this garden — I mention it because I’m using that fence as a prominent feature in my illustration WIP (below).

So, to begin, I make a few very faints guide-lines to show me where I’m going to put stuff in this landscape. My pencil lines have to be very light because I will be painting over them and I don’t want them to show through my watercolor — I hope you can see them here:

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I’m mostly excited about doing the koi, which I sketch in like this:

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Next, I put masking fluid over the troublesome areas:

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Now, I have never painted a koi pond before, but I know I want a very watery, paint-y looking effect so I use my fattest brush and keep the surface very wet while I lay in various colors in a swirly motion:

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I had to work very quickly here so I didn’t take photos, but I hope this close-up helps:

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Now I put watercolor over the masking fluid for the first bunch of high grass that I have to paint:

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Then I peel off the masking fluid and use my itty bittiest brush to paint each stalk of grass:

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Yes, I’m using black paint for lots of contrast:

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For the wall of bamboo in the background I want to let the paint do a lot of the work so I dab dark green paint over a wet wash of yellow, letting the bleeds describe the foliage:

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I peel off the masking fluid on another bunch of high grass…

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… and repeat what I did previously:

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Then I peel off the last bits of masking fluid and I’m ready to finish the background details and fill in the last bit of foreground and start painting the FUN stuff!  Lily pads and FISHES!

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Voila — here’s the finished picture with tea bag for size reference (perched where the garden book text for this illustration will go):

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Again, here’s a look at the original inspiration, just to show you how interpretive my illustration is:

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As you can see, you have to edit (or, interpret, as museum folks say these days) when you use reference pix — and isn’t it great the way these reference pix came together in a way that happily lent themselves to a composition were I had to have a blank area for text??  I love it when life and art work out this way.

Speaking of editing and interpreting…that’s what the Matisse show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is all about. The show is called Matisse, In Search of True Painting

This is a beautifully curated show (and I NEVER call ANY show “beautifully curated”).

You are not allowed to take photos in the galleries so keep in mind that I am hiding my camera in my pocket as I shoot these, to show you how finished Matisse paintings are hung alongside Matisse’s WIP sketches so you can see his thought process as he edits and experiments:

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Oh,Beautiful Gallery Girl, I want to come back as you in my next life:

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This is what attracted her attention:

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Even the wall text in this exhibit was very well done — giving you dates and places of each painting (see two versions of a table-top still life below) without the usual long-winded editorializing, simply letting the viewer make her own interpretations and associations to form one’s own relationship with the art. I think that’s what Commentors Bobbi and Marguerite  and Chel were getting at in my post about the filthy over-mediated experience that is forced upon a viewer at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia (see my post Eye of the Beholder).

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To Commentors Vicki in Michigan, Gigi, Sandy R, Christine, and Jeannie who might be avoiding the Barnes because of my complaints about it, I must say that it’s not an entirely worthless experience (as long as you don’t get snookered into taking a docent tour) because at the very least it is interesting to see such a strong point of view in a private collection. I just happen to think that Dr. Barnes’s point of view is almost entirely wacky. Because, as Commentor 365 Dresses wrote, when you hoover up as much stuff as Dr. Barnes did on his purchasing sprees in the 1920s and ’30s, you’re bound to get lucky — but that hardly makes you a connoisseur.

Back at the Met, I wish I’d got a better shot of this guy’s sweater because it was fabulous:

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Commentors Laura and Janet B. mentioned the documentary that was made about the Barnes Foundation about how the city of Philadelphia broke the tenets of Dr. Barnes’s will to move his collection from its private quarters in the Philadelphia suburbs to downtown Philadelphia, called Art of the Steal . I’ve seen it, and  I have to say that I can’t really get all that upset about it. So some millionaire’s will, made in snotty revenge  against the Philadelphia establishment, got betrayed by some half-assed social-climbing executor? Talk about having First World problems!

I ask you: How can you go to the Met to see Matisse, in Search of True Painting without taking a quick trot through its other galleries?  You can easily avoid Renoir and Cezanne to wander in  rooms full of Van Gogh!

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See this girl, taking shots of the art with her iPad:

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I have to learn how to do this!  And OMG OMG — the Monets!

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In this one corner you have about $170 million worth of excerpts Monet’s most famous serieses (plural series), from left to right: The Houses of Parliament in London, Rouen Cathedral, Haystacks in Normandy, and Poplars in Giverny. I do not know why they are not in their chronological order, which would be Haystacks, Poplars, Rouen Cathedral, London, BTW. And of course there are lots o’ water lilies:

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Thank you, other Beautiful Gallery Girl, for wearing your Monet Water Lily-matching outfit:

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And since I’ll be spending a few days in Giverny this Spring, I’ll need to steal study Monet’s own garden-painting techniques:

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And for Commentor Kate, who didn’t want us to throw Renoir under the bus, there’s this — his “masterpiece” from the Musee d’Orsay:

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I don’t know…I think it’ll take more than that to change my opinion, or the mind of Commentors Monique, Sandy R, and Joan. I don’t know…it’s awfully busy and froofy, I think. There’s an issue here that I’ve heard referred to on Project Runway, and it’s called “taste level”. I just don’t think Renoir had good taste. Right? Wrong? But I promise you, Kate, that I will go see it when I am in Paris and let you know if it does, face to face, what the magician Penn Gillette says great art should do: Make me a different person.  For Commentor Sally, I’ll also look up that Hanged Man by Cezanne whilst I’m there, see if that does the other thing that great art is supposed to do…challenge one’s map of reality.

Thank you, Commentor Tracey, for the tip about the up-coming show at the Brooklyn Museum this Spring about the watercolors of John Singer Sargent — I seem to be on a whole new kick lately where I actually leave the house once and a while (see above). Next stop, Brooklyn!

And now, I want to show you what I skipped over at the beginning of this blog post, when I painted my koi pond. Here’s a quick step-by-step re-creation of how I did it, in case you’re curious:

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I started with a dab of blue from my chalky Grumbacher paints before I switched to my grown-up Windsor Newton watercolors (sometimes I like the paleness of the Grumbacher paints):

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The secret is to keep everything constantly wet wet wet:

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After adding a bit more Grumbacher blue…

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I dip into the Windsor Newton cobalt for real depth:

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Drying off the brush like this …

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…lets you go back and pick up paint, to create highlights where necessary:

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Now going in with lots and lots of blue and green on the brush:

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Just let the paint and the water do what it wants to do. Let it sit there, and air-dry. It’s all that air-drying that is the reason why it took me three hours to paint my koi pond illustration (at the top of this post). You can’t hurry this step of the process:

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And then I paint in the koi/gold fish and I sign it:

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If you think it would be helpful to see this little dab up close I will gladly give this away to whoever is interested. If by chance there is more than one of you dear readers who want to get up-close and personal with my koi, I will gather your names and let Top Cat choose one at random. Just leave a Comment below (sorry; I have to close the Comments after five days) to let me know if you’d like me to send you this koi pond — or just drop a note to let me know that I haven’t bored you to death with this loooooong post.

Next week I promise I won’t rant on and on and on and on and on….

 

 

 

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Heeding all the dire warnings about the on-coming blizzard that would paralyze the entire northeastern corridor of the United States of America (last Friday), I set up the Champagne-o-Meter at dawn:P1130744

But the morning’s flurry did not last, and it mostly rained all day until around 3 o’clock in the afternoon:

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Then the snow stated coming down, icy and fast and heavy:

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The dark of night fell early on this day, the day of ye wrathful blizzard nameth NEMO:

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And lo, next morning across the land all was calm and white and verily I say unto you that the breakfast beverage was finely chilled indeed:

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When this storm got serious — that is, around 4 o’clock on Friday afternoon, all the local TV stations went berserk, into Full Panic Mode:

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Wall-to-wall coverage of the flakes and all possible flakes, all futures flakes, rumors of record-breaking flakes, etc:

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Does this happen where you are? Over a measly blizzard? All regular programming on all network channels was pre-empted by Storm Team coverage (they took off Judge Judy!!!) and we are treated to weather alerts for the NYC subways (that’s tube, or metro, for all you readers in the UK, France, or Rio):

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This is Jennier Lopez/ sister updating the latest delays on what New Yorkers call “the trains” — not “the subway. eIf would enjoy seeing how provincial New York City TV can be — all it takes is a snow storm:

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NOBODY takes a TV crew to Staten Island except in cases of potential disaster. Other reporters are forced to stand out knee-deep in the flakes in the distant suburbs:

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And forced to go live from the front seat of their news vans:

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And as if having to report from New Jersey wasn’t bad enough, they made one guy cover the Bergen County jail, where the prisoners were allowed to have extra “yard” time to shovel the sidewalks of their home-away-from-home:

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But hey…New York is still The Big Apple and one lucky reporter got to cover the kids waiting on line outside NBC Studios…

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… for stand-by tickets to see Justin Bieber on Saturday Night Live the next night.

It was a long, long line and there were even parents on it!

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No matter how far back the reporter went, there were always more people who were nutty enough to stand out in a blizzard (some had even set up camp from the day before):

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I once waited on line for five hours (in 1974) to buy tickets to see Elton John, but it was a mild day, and it was inside a Sears store (the local Ticketmaster franchise). I do hope some of those little girls got their dream tickets for SNL.

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Then the news van drove up Riverside Drive, my old stomping grounds on the awesome Upper West Side:

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This, my dear readers, is Grant’s Tomb…

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…(resting place of U. S. President Ulysses S. Grant and answer to every first-grader’s favorite joke: Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?)

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Yes, twilight brings out the best of a snow storm in the big city.

And up north, in the Westchester suburbs:

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And way out on the East End of Long Island:

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And closer to home:

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Penelope watches the snow falling in our back yard.

Thank you, one and all, for your fabulous Comments on last week’s post about The Barnes Foundation. Everyone had such thought-provoking things to say that I want to do a follow-up post next week. We will, as the great joan Rivers says, “tawk”.

 

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The first thing that annoyed me about my visit to the Barnes Foundation museum in Philadelphia was the building.

The taxi dropped me off right in front of the place and, as I stood there staring at it on a cold Sunday morning in January, I could not tell where the entrance was. At first, I thought that this was just a too-clever design by an architect trying to be relevant in a world that tolerates whatever Frank Gheary throws at it. But now I understand that the museum’s imposing facade is simply in keeping with its mission to make sure that visitors are thoroughly demoralized by their experience of the people and the art of the Barnes Foundation.

By following someone who looked as if he knew where he was going I discovered that the entrance to the museum is located on the back side of the building. Once inside, the lack of signage in the lobby gives you ample opportunity to be scolded by attendants when you wander past the inconspicuous gallery attendants, searching for a coat check or an admissions desk or the art as you blunder your way through the elaborate entrance formalities — guards tapping your tote bag with a wooden stick to appraise its girth, trudging downstairs to secure a locker for your over-sized tote, the quest for officially-approved see-through plastic bags withheld  by unhelpful coat check staff  for the stuff you don’t want to leave in the flimsy lockers…those were the second, third, and fourth things that annoyed me about the Barnes. Finally, you are permitted to find your way towards the galleries, which are located in an airy, well-lighted inner sanctum of the museum.

Dr. Albert C. Barnes (1872 – 1951) was a Philadelphia physician and chemist who made a huge pile of money in pharmaceuticals at the turn of the last century and spent a lot of his fortune acquiring a connoisseur collection of 20th century art.

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The Barnes Foundation faithfully preserves Dr. Barnes’s highly eccentric theories on art appreciation by meticulously reproducing the way he hung his pictures…

P1130736…in groupings that allegedly highlight his important theories of line, light, color, and space. (You can’t take pix inside the Barnes so I’m showing you the rooms as they appear in the Barnes catalog.)

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Dr. Barnes mixed his pictures with furniture and industrial hardwares that “enhanced” the esthetic philosophy that he wanted to teach to all classes of people so that they could achieve enlightenment.

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Dr. Barnes was, by all accounts, a liberal and generous man. He paid his pharmaceutical factory workers very well and encouraged them to find uplifting things to do in their leisure time and welcomed them to visit his collection to study fine art for their betterment.

I have not bothered to learn a thing about Dr. Barnes’ philosophy of art because:

1. He takes art waaaay too seriously.

2. His writings are still in manuscript form and are about 1,000 pages long.

3. His theories of art are clearly wacky.

Now here is where I tell you about the docent that pissed me off. When I turned in my $40 ticket for my docent-led tour, I was told that I’d have to wear a headset in order to hear the docent who was scheduled to do my tour because he had a very soft voice. I don’t know about you, but I do not pay $40 for the privilidge of wearing some greasy old previously-worn headphones. So I complained that I would not have booked the tour if I’d known I’d have to wear their cootie-ridden headphones. (I didn’t say cootie, I’m not that crazy.)  And the gallery attendant tried to cow me with, “But Jonas is one of our best docents!” And I , not having been born yesterday, said, “Well, jeeze, you would say that.” And I meant it to sting.

So Jonas the docent shows up and he’s about 90 years old, cadaverously thin and stooped over, and I’m going to be generous and say that those wet spots on his grimy  khakis were drops of Darjeeling tea that he’d just spilled on his pants. And he tells me, when I refuse to put on those filthy headphones, that “all the museums in Europe use headphones”. “I don’t  [give a rat’s ass]  care what they do in Europe,” I told him, and he shrugged and whispered in his delicate wheeze, “There’s always one in every group.” Whatever that means. So I listened to him for five minutes and it was obvious that old Jonas was giving the Impressionism for Dummies version of art history. Nothing that you wouldn’t have already known if you’ve ever read a Wikipedia entry on the subject. So I went rogue.

I went through the Barnes all on my own, and this is when I found the next-to-last thing that annoyed me about the place. It was all those ugly pictures! In my opinion, Dr. Barnes’ collection suffers in quality and relevance by its preponderance of paintings by that over-rated hack, Pierre Auguste Renoir:

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I loathe Renoir. His stuff looks like it should be decorating tins of cheap butter cookies sold by WalMart. His work looks so knock-off to me.

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Dr. Barnes bought 181 Renoir paintings, and many, many, many of them are pictures are of what Barnes himself called “fat nudes”:

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I detest the way all of  Renoir’s figures look to be boneless, arms and legs as limp as worms and torsos that look as if they were made of bread dough. I abhor the way his brush strokes seem tentative, as if he has  no idea where the edges are and can only guess where the background ends and the foreground begins. I detest his garish sense of color. And I find his subject matter insipid. And look at the faces of these ladies: they are UGLY!!!

The only painter I like less than Renoir is Cezanne:

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Dr. Barnes has 70 paintings by Cezanne, and they are all depressing.  Cezanne also can’t paint a figure that looks remotely human (see above) or attractive (see above). I, for one, would not pay one cent to look at an ugly nude (see above) least of all if I had to pay $5 million for it (the going rate for a Cezanne these days — it’s said that the entire Barnes collection is worth $25 billion, so Dr. Barnes certainly knew how to invest his money).

529_600_bf300_i2rCezanne landscapes lack poetry, narrative, or even a point of view. How would you feel about this vapid landscape hanging in your living room???

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Cezanne is famous for inventing a style  that look as if the canvases have been vigorously scrubbed with paint, as if painting is a really, really, REALLY hard thing to do. I, for one, am not hoodwinked by the theatrics.

And here’s the last thing that annoyed me about the Barnes: I was the only person I saw without a head set. Because even if you don’t take one of their lame docent-led tours, people gobble up the  self-guided audio tour that lets you use your smart phone as your guide. That, coupled with the fact that the galleries are designed to enforce a certain viewing experience that conforms with Dr. Barnes’ weirdo-o “vision” of fine art, means that the Barnes goes out of its way to mediate every interaction you will have with the art that is hanging on its walls. It’s like the Barnes is the Matrix of the art world.

Jeeze. If I’d wanted such a passive, consumerist experience I would have just stayed home and watched TV.

But, unfettered by Barnes propaganda, I did manage to have a few delightful moments with art as I roamed untethered in its halls. I adore this little portrait by an unnonymous North German Master:

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I would have hung that portrait between these two superlative Van Goghs:

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Instead, Dr. Barnes made these Van Gogh pictures the book-ends to some icky Renoirs and some drab Cezannes:

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It was near this room that I again crossed paths with Jonas the docent, still whispering his insights to his sheep-like followers, telling them that “when you look at a medieval religious painting and you see someone with a halo that means that’s a saint.” As my mother used to say…”No shit, Sherlock.”

I should mention that I went to Philadelphia to meet my brother, who went to the Barnes with me and who also ditched the docent and wandered around looking at all the cool stuff I liked. We spent an hour and a half in the galleries and then Jimmy (my brother) loaded us in his Camry and drove us up Broad Street towards the ancestral home in the Philadelphia suburbs. At one tricky 5-point intersection a guy driving a beat-up Honda in front of us made a bone-headed left turn into traffic and as my brother hit the brakes he said , “What a docent.” And he meant it to sting.

The weather experts tell us that we’re going to be blasted with the first real Winter Blizzard this weekend in the Northeast of the U.S.A.!! Yes, I have my Champagne-o-Meter at the ready and in case we get snowed-in I have my survival plan all set.  I’m reading the biography of the most fabulous governor that Texas ever had, Ann Richards, and I have plenty of popcorn and strawberries in the larder. What more do I need?

Have a great week-end, y’all.

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It’s c-o-l-d.

It’s so cold on the Long Island Sound…

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…that the low tide froze. Here I am at the William Cullen Bryant Cedarmere estate, which is two miles from my house, tramping around the cliffs trying to get a good reference photo of the Mill House so I can paint it:

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This Mill House is situated below the high ground of the estate, perched precariously close to the water’s edge:

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(That’s the Mill, behind all that dead spartina grass.) To get this shot (above, the other side of the house where apparently the sky is not so blue) I had to scramble down hill through the woods and hop onto this old dock. I was wearing my beloved but bulky full-length Winter coat and the whole time that I slipped and slid through the bracken I kept thinking that this is how my idol, Edith Holden (author of The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady) died. She drowned in the Thames River, trying to reach a branch of chestnut buds on its bank.

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This is the stream  that drains from the pond on the Cedarmere high ground into the Long Island Sound I took great care to NOT fall into.  Note the beautiful icy edges! Jeeze. What I do for my art.

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This Winter I have fallen in love with the William Cullen Bryant Cedarmere estate. You’ve seen my homage to it in Fall

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But it is also heart-breakingly beautiful on an icy bitter cold afternoon in Winter:

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But enough with the local scene.

As you know, I’ve been painting a tropical garden lately. Well, it’s time to ‘fess up that I’ve been painting that garden from memory — the only remembered garden in the book. It’s a long story, but when I was in Rio de Janeiro in the mid-1990s I did not take a single photo. I was being too cool. Long story. But in order to paint it, I have to rely on all kinds of painting tricks.

Cue the masking fluid!

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My most ambitious masking project yet.

P1130503With my night-time sky done, I’m starting on the  greenery (see above, and below):

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I’m trying something new for the background, something that is almost pure design, not taken from nature:

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I’m going to play with some blue-green foliage too:

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There is an actual plant that grows in Brazil that has these wonderful stripes on its leaves:

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(I’ve never painted this plant before, so I should NOT have begun painting such a prominent leaf, front and center, until I’d gotten the hang of it…which is a tip I hope I remember in the future.)

Now I’m ready to peel off the masking fluid:

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And DONE:

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Nothing keeps me warmer on an icy Winter day on the Long Island Sound than painting a tropical garden. Except receiving wonderful little packages in the mail from the lovely readers of this blog, that’s extremely heart-warming. And cats — they keep me warm, too, when they glom onto me while I take my 4 o’clock tea break and watch Judge Judy. Oh, and a shot of cold medicine in the tea cup (yes, we have a cold to go with the cold here on the Long Island Sound).

Keep warm, dear readers, wherever you are.

 

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You know what they say about watching paint dry…well, this is like that, only with masking fluid:

I use a toothpick to lay down my Windsor Newton masking fluid because it’s very viscous and I can’t handle it with a paint brush. In this illustration, I am protecting my foreground subject (mailboxes — I love mailboxes) with the masking fluid:

I can get into tight corners better with a toothpick than with a paint brush, which is important considering the small scale of my work:

You have to make sure the masking fluid is bone dry before you go to the next step. Notice that all I have here are a few lines drawn in pencil to guide me in this illustration. In other words, things can go very, very wrong at any point in this operation:

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As I paint in the background (using my chalky Grumbacher paints with a lot of water for a light, pastel effect) the masking fluid protects my mailboxes so I can be loose with the watercolors:

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I’ll be using a lot of green/blues in this picture, and a lot of yellow/reds. I use my fancy Windsor Newton paints for all the yellows and greens I need, and the Grumbacher for orange…and I’m also using two different cups of water for the cool (green and blue) colors and the warm (yellow/red/brown/orange) ones and I change the water frequently to keep the paint colors crisp:

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You can see that I’m working on an Autumn scene and unfortunately  I’ll have to paint fallen leaves. I have no idea how to do this, so I’m winging it here:

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Now time for background detail:

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See how the yellow wash is peeking through the dark foliage? And the masking fluid is giving me a lot of freedom to slap on paint without worrying about my mailboxes:

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This picture as a steep perspective, so here I have to “go big” in the foreground:

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And now I’m ready to peel off the masking fluid and get to the mailboxes:

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Cool, right?

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And then, mailbox No. 2 looked wonky to me, so I re-did my drawing:

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I left the foreground without detail because I will be dropping in some text down there:

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(I think I’ll have to go back and fix that black mailbox. I think I made it worse with the re-drawing of it.)

This is an actual road on the north shore of Long Island that leads to the wonderful Autumn garden of the 19th-century poet/journalist William Cullen Bryant. When I first started painting, all I could manage was a Triscuit (see left, below). Well, look at me now! I’m painting Super-Size!

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Just shows you what a lot of practice can do for a Bear of Very Little Talent.

And now, an announcement:

Le Road Trip is being published in CHINA!

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You know what they say about China. “You take an author with a small cult following in the USA  and translate those numbers to the billion people in China and you have an author with a small cult following in The Middle Kingdom.”

Question of the day: Does this post leave you with a craving for Triscuits?

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Now, before we begin todays’s lesson, I’m posting some pictures of my cat Cindy at work (as per last week’s request from Janet, Carol, Patty, Susie, Janice, Sarah, Deb, and Gitana). This is Cindy “helping” Top Cat and me with our 1,000-piece puzzle:

But it’s no surprise that with so much kitty “help”, our 1,000-piece puzzle ended up as as 998-piece puzzle:

And the other day, during one of our rare sunny January mornings, I found Miss Cindy taking a well-deserved rest near one of her biggest projects…

…where she can bask in her sense of accomplishment:

I know, I know: only Cat People will find this cute. [Note her handiwork on the chair here, just a fraction of her entire ouvre on our livingroom furniture.] So let’s change topics toute de suite.

When I first began doing the art work for my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam, I was using Grumbacher paints:

These paints served me well. They are inexpensive (about $20 per 24-color sets like this, get them from Blick Art Supply on line), so I felt very free to slosh around and make mistakes until I got the hang of what I can and cannot do with paint like this. Also, I was working very small (all illustrations in Wanderers are reproduced in the original size) so I could bang about with these paints all day and mess up as much as I wanted without having a major impact on the local landfill.

Here, for instance, is the very first time I painted The Lone Skater (on page 9 of When Wanderers Cease to Roam):
Since this picture is the exact size of a Triscuit cracker I call all my itty bitty pictures “Triscuits”, but I didn’t have a Triscuit handy when I photographed this for you, so I used a Tostito:

But after a few months of practice, I went back and re-painted The Lone Skater and this is the illustration that appears in the book (done with Grumbacher paints):

When my second book ,Le Road Trip came out in April last year, I was contacted by Carol Gillot, the fabulous watercolorist and blogger of Paris Breakfasts fame (parisbreakfasts.blogspot.com) .

She told me it was time to upgrade my equipment. She advised me that Grumbacher paints have a lot of cheap chalk filler in them and I should try painting with a higher quality of watercolor, so I bought a teeny tiny beginner’s kit of Windsor Newton paints at my favorite art supplier Dick Blick:

Oh My DoG. First of all, the Windsor Newton paints are sooo cuuuute!! (See tea bag for size comparison.)

And the intensity of color and the fluidity of the stuff makes painting with these watercolors feel like the Grumbacher had the power of a golf cart while the Windsor Newton has the oooph of a race car.

Compare these two garden illustrations. First, there’s the Grumbacher:

And now, with Windsor Newton:

I think we all can see the chalk in the Grumbacher now. But that is not to say that just because of the vivid, rich color possibilities of Windsor Newton that I have forsaken my beloved Grumbacher paints all together. Oh no. Because I know my Grumbacher paints so well, chalk and all, that I know how to use them to achieve certain misty, pale, subtle effects that I cannot get (yet?) with the Windsor Newton. This, for example…:

…is all Grumbacher. Maybe because of the chalk filler in them, I can trust the Grumbacher to blend and mix and/or stay put in scenes like this — see how the sunset yellow doesn’t get muddy when laid down next to the pink…and how the pink stays in place when it’s so close to the blue? And note the way the blue bleeds so beautifully into the wet wash that I did on the top. I can only do this with Grumbacher.

Let me know if you have ay specific questions about paint or paper or masking fluid or watercolor stuff and I’ll try to include an answer for you in next week’s post too. As Jain says, I have all kinds of wee tips that I’m happy to share!

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