Garden Sketch With Mimi isn’t just Mimi in the garden. It’s Mimi in the garden where she used to hunt for food to feed herself and her kittens and sneak sips of water from the water bowl I had outside for my own cats.
I remember seeing her in just about this spot in 2007, the day we lost Lucy, very pregnant with the four big black cats you see here every day, hunting for chipmunks to feed herself and her growing kittens, the day all our lives changed. Here she is on June 27, 2013 and she owns that garden, napping happily while working as an artist’s model as she still does today. No more hunting to feed kittens, no more running from unneutered male cats and neighbor’s dogs, no more mincing down icy sidewalks on those tiny paws. Mimi turns 16 this year and July 29, the day she came here, is her nominal birthday. While I celebrate her every day I especially want to recognize this moment. Of all the art and photos I’ve created of her, this one represents her change in status best of all. Now Mimi owns that garden, and naps happily knowing she has a loving forever home here with me.
A favorite painting
It’s also one of my favorite paintings ever. As I’d said below when I’d originally posted it, I’d planned something different but came up with this. What was I expecting in the five minutes or less that Mimi actually napped here and the 15 minutes total I had to do the sketch before the sun moved enough to change the shadows?
This was not what I’d intended but I like it anyway. It’s Mimi napping in the shadow on the cool bricks among the geraniums, near the vintage aluminum tub where I grow pole beans. Mimi was so happy to be outside she only rested in each position for less than a minute, and the sun was in and out behind the clouds. The temperature was in the 90s and we weren’t doing much but looking for a comfortable spot.
I had wanted something a little tighter in detail, but I like the details this one has. I did a light pencil sketch underneath because it’s so small I knew I’d run out of space if I didn’t give myself some guidance about Mimi, the geraniums and the barrel, but aside from that I just painted.
In part I was using the quick and easy eight-color grade-school set that’s easy to carry and use. I really need to get a set with a greater color range if I’m going to paint outdoors.
But what was my purpose with this painting? Sometimes I sit down to capture the details of the moment, and some day I’d like to do just that with the reference photos from this, but with my actual sketch, and all my daily sketches, my purpose is just to capture the essence of the moment and share what moved me to render the scene.
In this case it was a relaxed Mimi in the shade on a hot morning, stretched on those familiar bricks next to the cool anodized aluminum tub where I’ve always planted pole beans and surrounded by my geraniums saved from year to year, a spot loved by many other cats before her. It was a scene I loved for my love of my garden, my appreciation of Mimi relaxing in a place she’d once hunted for food to feed her kittens, and the memory of the generations of cats before her who enjoyed that very spot, this little patio and the verdance of my garden.
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How I created the painting
I remember dropping everything, taking a quick reference photo thinking what a nice painting it would be, then deciding to sketch the scene right then, perhaps as a study for a final painting. Quickly—color? yes! Geraniums, mimi, leaves, sun, bricks. Pastel? colored pencil? watercolor pencil? I could see the brush strokes. It could only be watercolor.
I do try to work directly onto the paper with watercolors when I do them as daily sketches just to practice my confidence with the brush, but in this case the perspective was tricky, and I knew Mimi never stayed in one place in the garden for more than a few minutes. Watercolor is tricky in that you need to let one area dry pretty much completely before you paint next to it, or the colors will flow into one another. Sometimes you want this, sometimes you don’t, and sometimes if you’re not careful you end up with muddy water on your paper. This one had to be bright and colorful so I sketched her first, making sure to catch her air kneading with her front paws as she relaxed, then the outlines of the flowers in relation to where she was, the anodized aluminum planter and the bricks, then just some swirly lines where the leaves were and knew it was time to start painting. I was glad I’d remembered a little jar of water kept with my art bag in the shade.
Again, I began with Mimi in dark blue, then as I began to blend in the black for her shadows, she was up and gone at some noise further in the garden. When I’m not directly with her, I clip her harness to a long leash so she has mobility, but I don’t have to drop my painting, or the laundry or the vegetables I’m harvesting if she decides to chase something into the neighbor’s yard.
I continued working around with the red and pink geraniums next, then the greens in the background, then the bricks and the leaves around the geraniums, just getting basic colors down to block out the areas, letting each dry enough before painting into it or next to it, adding color where I could as the painting quickly dried in the heat.
I got all but the deepest shadows and the blue background right then because I needed for it to dry completely and couldn’t decide on a background color. Later I added the darkest areas, blending a bit where necessary, and decided the blue made me think of the little bit of haze in the air on a hot, humid summer morning.
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