Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Creating A "Manly" Bathroom

As I discovered years ago when we bought our house, you are never done ... ever! There is painting, one repair or another, planting, weeding, mowing ... some kind of improvement to your home. It hasn't been any different with my, in comparison, small condo.
     As I have related here, the condo needed a lot of work to make it livable, at least for me. We gutted and rebuilt the kitchen, every room was painted from a bilious green in the dining room to asylum green and an even worse gold in the bedrooms ... you get the picture.
The bathroom as I originally saw it. Cleaned up it was good enough 

... for now! See the off balance, dark to the left and pure white to the right.
     As a movie freak growing up, I have always remembered a Doris Day, Rock Hudson movie called "Pillow Talk." Some of you may remember it. Its a story of a womanizer played by Hudson  (an
irony, no?) who shares a party line with Day who is a decorator. Those of you who remember party lines, hands up! Anyway, every time Day tries to use her phone her party line partner is busily wooing one woman or another. She tries everything to get rid of him to no avail. Well, they meet through a mutual friend where he charms her until she finds out he is her party line partner. To ingratiate himself he hires her to re-decorate his apartment. For some reason his apartment always struck me as the way a man should live. Dark woods, dark walls, black leather furniture with chrome accents ... very masculine. Of course it had some other "wooing" features with buttons that turned the couch into a bed, "mood" lighting, soft music and champagne on ice.
Well, I had the dark wood only
it was only on one side of the bath!
     The shocking and I guess funny part is what she did to it. She turned it into a Middle Eastern bordello that was hysterical in just about every way. I vaguely remember the transformation but never forgot the original.
     After I got over the original girlie colors I had chosen for my condo, I picked a palette of two greys and a wine red with all trim pure white. I wanted the contrast of white trim with distinctly contrasting walls. A sense of drama. Only the living room is a light grey, an attempt to make it appear larger. The bathrooms were ignored other than scrubbing very dirty walls white again. I never liked them but there were other more pressing matters, I had literally two months to remodel, paint and move. It was nip and tuck, believe me.
Glidden's Stewart House Brown
did the trick!
     However, I have never given up on the bathrooms and finally hit upon painting them, small as they are, a dark color. I disliked that one side was dark ... floor to ceiling dark wood with a granite sink and boring and solid white on the other sides. It felt like the room was tipping to the side. Definitely not Feng shui! The problem was that I really didn't want to introduce another color into the palette, and didn't want red in another room nor a darker variation of red in say a maroon. Grey's really didn't go with the wood cabinets so ... what to do? 

     One day in Walmart, I noticed they had a paint department. I looked at their Glidden paint chips and found a brown with a heavy charcoal tint, in fact it offered three variations. I brought it home, taped it on the bedroom wall for awhile, then put it in the bathroom on the wood trying to decide which of the three I liked. Finally deciding I went back to Walmart not once but three times and could never get any service in the paint department. This Monday when it was closed for yet another time I walked out, drove across the street to Home Depot and found that they too carried Glidden. I bought a gallon and figured both bathrooms could go dark!
Not the finish nor the color I was expecting!
     I really wanted a flat finish but the lady mixing the paint, startled that I would use such a dark color for a bath, said I needed to use a satin finish. Well ... okay. I really wanted flat but I guessed she knew best. However, when I started to paint the bathroom over shiny white walls I began to question her judgement. The paint went on and looked like a milk chocolate stain that from the bedroom looked like the inside of a Hersey's bar. I plowed on and since this is the desert with about 10% humidity, the wall I started on was already dry. The second coat added the depth and dark color I wanted from the beginning.
     All in all it didn't take all that long to paint and I let it dry as I took a nap. At 71 you never pass up an opportunity!
Almost finished and its exactly
what I wanted!
     When I woke up I noticed that without the lights on, it appeared to be a dark charcoal and since the walls in the bedroom were a dark grey the effect was perfect. I think though, that what spurred me on was the new, much quieter bathroom fan with an LED light and moisture sensor. It was a Delta fixture that made sitting on the pot feeling like an interrogation room! "What are you doing there? Where were you the night of the 15th?" 
     Now painted, it calmed that light down and felt, well, like a very masculine place to sit!
     The other thing I noticed last night as I looked into the bathroom, in the dark of night, as I headed for one of several potty stops was that everything was easier to see. The lighter or white towels, the towel racks, the sink and even the toilet were easy to see in the glow of the LED nightlight. So, there really was a bonus to making the walls dark.
   Oddly, using such dark paint doesn't make it feel so cramped. The shower over the tub with white tile up the three walls and on the ceiling over the tub, the doors for towels and the water heater on the back left are white and I left the area around the lights white so it doesn't feel so dark. The best thing, at least to me is that the room finally feels balanced. There is dark on the left and the right. 
     Would I do it again? You bet. The color is a nice contract to the grey bedroom and goes well with the cabinets and counter that I inherited. Once I decide what to do with the guest bathroom, that has the same style of cabinets and counter but a yucky fiberglass shower, it too will go dark!
     I love color and the use of contrasts for a sense of drama. I notice that what I have been doing and using is now all the rage in the decorator magazines. I guess I may just be a trendsetter!

The completed bath!
Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ...

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Is There A Place For Great Art in Science Fiction?

Author Cixin Liu
I recently finished Cixin Liu's trilogy of THE THREE BODY PROBLEM.  A sci-fi fan since I was in grade school (my mother had to intervene and write a note to the local librarian stating that I could read any book I wanted figuring I wouldn't get the racy parts anyway) beginning with first Ray Bradbury and on to Issac Asimov's FOUNDATION trilogy. Ray's MARTIAN CHRONICLES was scary to me in the 6th grade and it took several tries to get past the Martian's killing the astronauts.
     I've read many many sic-fi books and seen just about every sic-fi movie since about the age of 6! One of my favorites, seen over 50 times is Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY with a close second being Ridley Scott's BLADERUNNER. Both these movies and many others talk about man and space and what may lay ahead.
Cixin Liu's Trilogy of THE THREE BODY PROBLEM.
     After reading a review of THE THREE BODY PROBLEM, I found it interesting that an unknown Chinese author, to Americans at least, could win every Sci-Fi award both in China and the west. It piqued my interest. While the books are long and Westerners have no familiarity with the names, the trilogy is stunning in its reach and scope. His unease with Communist China is there for all to see. I was amazed that he was allowed to publish.
     What is especially interesting to me is to see the science fiction world, actually the race to space that I stayed up for while growing up only to watch yet another Vanguard Rocket launch go up in flames. I wondered how China, an arch enemy to Americans growing up, would look at this same search. Can you really tell a tale that has any real validity? The answer is a resounding yes.
     We start with the THREE BODY PROBLEM set right during the Cultural Revolution at its very worst. For me, reading or watching any kind of violence is nauseating but I stuck to it as young teenage Red Guards humiliate a famous Chinese physicist for his "wrong thinking" and bourgeoisie attitudes. He is roundly denounced in front of his recently closed university and finally killed in front of his family. 
ISIS and Al Queda were not the only ones
favoring beheading. This was for sale at a
antique store in Hong Kong
I don't think Americans can begin, in anyway, to understand today, the cost this inflicted on China as it tore itself apart. Our Civil War would be an the closest comparison. 
   However, while we lost 700,000 in our conflict, 15% of our population, China lost an estimated 25-30,000,000 souls. This on top of the recent end of The Great Leap Forward where millions more died.
   Finally our heroine grows up. Unbeknownst to the Red Guards, the military had built a secret "Red Coast" base to explore the heavens in a search for extraterrestrial life. The daughter of the murdered scientist becomes a physicist herself and is approached to carry on the work of her murdered father. She can never leave but faced with a bleak China she agrees and in that agreement sets off a chain of events that will doom the world.
     THE DARK FOREST sets the stage of how the earth will defend itself from an invading alien force that will take 400 years to reach our solar system. Liu explores the human psyche and manages to cover just about all the possibilities of how we, as a world, might react. He leads us through a variety of stratagems that finally at the end makes the aliens, who have crippled all scientific development, agree to a kind of draw. A human, the one they feared most, came up with a deterrent, "the black forest defense" that wouldn't save the earth but would destroy both species revealing their locations to others in the universe.
     For me, what is revealed about not only world thought, and conclusions but especially Chinese thought is how different we might see the world. While Americans, especially, sacrifice to save one person, Chinese thought is more for the entire society. The aliens who wrestle with three suns and its devastating effects on their civilization provide an even deeper search for preservation and seize on the thought of colonizing a stable planet in a stable solar system.
   However, in preparation for their arrival, the draconian way they will treat the human population brings to mind the movie SOYLENT GREEN. What can he learn here? The Trisolaris solution is terrifyingly similar. Not only similar but even probable given our history.
   DEATH'S END literally talks about the end of the earth. When a handover of power that controls the "dark forest deterrent" fails, it becomes a rogue starship that takes the initiative to use it and Trisolaris is destroyed. The invading force flees into the universe but the location of earth is revealed. An unknown force launches an attack on us and as the solar system begins to change killing all that live in it. Our heroine and her best friend find that they will be able to flee, one of the few, of billions, that will. 
     Visiting a museum created on Neptune, before it too will be destroyed, they begin to take what treasures of human civilization with them that they can. One scene, their removing canvases from frames to save space and enabling them to take more in a light speed ship, is one man's asking to keep the Mona Lisa. The women opt to take Van Gogh's "Starry Night" because it so well captures the wonders of space in ways man would never have known until he went to space.
     I was especially moved at this part as I had seen Van Gogh's masterpiece at MOMA in New York city and was stunned by the majesty and force of his painting. Oddly, it is ranked as the second most popular and known work of art in the world ... behind the "Mona Lisa." Western culture is clearly known in China as well.
     What I especially liked about Liu's writing was how he used art and culture even in the depth of chaos. Traditions and culture both from the west and east are honored. And his speculations may not be that far off. How can we be the only race of people in the universe? As we are discovering on Mars, it had a viable atmosphere with water and possibly early life. How far it got we have yet to discover. Was there life? Just last night a scientist noted that we could have drank the water. They also have discovered Martian rocks on earth. Did they bring the seeds of life here? 
     Liu writes a thoughtful, artful tale. one that should give humans pause.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ...

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Secrets of iPhone Photos Revealed

     I don't know about you, but as our smartphones become better and better cameras, I have decided that I don't want to lug a backpack with one of two DSLR's and a plethora of lenses. I have done enough of that. Call it rebellion at a cranky old age.
     My first realization of this truth was after I spent hours honing my sale item photos to look like what I saw when I photographed them against a black backdrop. My Nikons would try to make that black background 18% grey much to my chagrin. Even when I got that grey back to black, the colors of my birdhouses never had that same pop. I use a lot of color and I quickly discovered a black background made those colors pop. It was only after a friend asked me to snap a photo with my iPhone 5 that I realized, for some reason, the phone saw the colors exactly as I saw them. I never used a digital camera for my store photos again.
The original photo. Dark
and gloomy.
Clicking the image gives you a 
variety of options including editing
the photo, third option from the left.

     While I was on a recent trip to Hong Kong, I was having trouble with the lighting at the Great Buddha monastery complex and while trying to get the colors not quite so gloomy, went to my tried and true method of  hitting the color correction layout at the bottom of the photo, next to the trash can. As I lightened it, shown here with a photo of the lines at the Hong Kong airport, you can see that the windows light has more or less cast those wanting inside as dark shadows.
     So I clicked the third item from the left to see if I could get some definition of the people there. Here is what the screen looked like:

   If you look carefully you will see a white dot surrounded by smaller dots. Touch that and another screen shows up.
The bottom of the photo gives
you several options to correct 
things in your image. The white
dot is for making light or darker
corrections of your image.
     You suddenly have a great deal more power to adjust your image!  Since I have come to rely so much on my phone not only for images for my ETSY store, but as my one and only camera I was very surprised!
Clicking the white dot gives you 
this new menu that allows even
more adjustments.
     The new wrinkle, for me at least, was the three horizontal lines at the right edge, just above the lighter adjustments you can make. I had never paid much attention to them before. I was amazed when I clicked that and a whole new menu appeared, one that I had never seen before! In many ways it was like I suddenly had the power of PhotoShop right there on my phone only it was part of the image adjustments that Apple included on the iPhone 10.3.1 iOS. It was part of the operating system. When I thought of all the Apps I had on my phone to accomplish what I discovered was part of the iOS, was I surprised. Here I had the power of powerful editing on my phone and I never realized it. So, I started playing with it and as you can see in the photos, while they are not ideal the finished photo looks far better than the original.
     There is no right or wrong here. 
Here are the additional options
that are built in to the iOS to
help improve your images before
posting them to Facebook, or 
sending to relatives and friends.
Here, you can see when adjusting
for brilliance the people are
beginning to show up.
     You can play with as many or as few of the options shown here (left)... anything that might help the quality of your photos. In fact,  on a photo like this, I tried each and every one of the options trying to get an acceptable photo. It is not easy and in this case, running the image through PhotoShop after downloading the image from your phone to your computer might be a better option. However, don't discount the power built right into the software of your phone.
     As I have already learned, the images of newer smartphones are good, darn good and when printed to say a photobook, look quite nice. No one, unless you were or asked a professional photographer, would ever know these images were not from a DSLR.
     What amazed me though was a sort of return, in Hong Kong at least, of cameras being used that used ... gulp, gulp, real film! It is easy to buy there and have processed. I wonder. Vinyl records are coming back, is film coming back as well?
     As you can see here in the final image that while not award winning, you can see the people, the gate and even the clouds in the sky quite clearly. It is a definite improvement over the original image.
Here is the adjusted photo all
done in the editing software of
the iPhones 10.3.1 iOS.
     If you have a smartphone, you might want to start poking around like I finally did. I became quite adept at lightening or darkening images but had ignored the three small lines that appeared on the right of every edited image. 
     Of course, you don't have to stop there. You have a variety of color options that mimic styles of photography from the past ... you know like chrome (Kodachrome), Sepia tone, and other kinds of, to me, weird color. There is also a B&W option that will turn any of your photos into amazing black and white images. 
     I hope this helps you and encourages you to, like me, not settle for just the image you snapped but so see if you can improve it. I have been amazed at how ho-hum images can become really something to be proud of to post and show your friends and family.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ...

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A Modest Proposal

Welcome to the friendly skies of United Airlines
 Reading about the Senate airline hearings in the online news and watching it here on the TV news in Hong Kong, which I might add has high interest since United dragged off an Asian customer and they have a huge presence in Asia, it seems that what most passengers deal with daily had to be violently confrontational before Congress would act. The diatribe of one hearing member resonates with all of us. Why did he and others on the panel wait so long! I guess we need to drag a member of Congress off now and then to get some action!
     Biometrics have existed for years regarding airline customer satisfaction and each year is worse than the year before. That didn't stop the Airlines from overbooking, creating ever smaller seating ... I should know.  My first pulmonary embolism was after a 4-hour flight from LAX to New Orleans.  I literally went to the ER 24 hours after landing. The flight didn't create that PE but the cramped seating, my doctors told me, acerbated it.
     Some airlines are obviously better. And to the President of United, SORRY doesn't cut it anymore. It's time for a realistic AND fair airline bill of rights for consumers, one the airlines may not like.
  feel the pain.  To be sure we know who they are, each seat pocket must include a folder with photos and management position of each and every individual that runs the company, INCLUDING the Board of Directors, to make sure they are flying Coach. No exceptions. If caught, $100,000 fines for first offense, escalating greatly if caught again.  NO PRIVATE jets either. Maybe it might even be better to hand out the flyers as we board. As we struggle to get to our seats we can check out those in first or business class. Violations can be posted online, fines assessed later.
CEO Munoz and President Curry of United. No perks for you
   NUMBER 1: No CEO, President or executive from about mid- level management on any airline would be permitted to fly any class but Coach. Let them
     NUMBER 2: Stiff fines for overbooking. Then if they still want your seat Bidding starts at 5 times the ticket price. For most of the flying public, we have a reason to be on a plane. Let's make it worthwhile to wait.  With computers today there is no reason to overbook.
     NUMBER 3: Standby flights. Why charge to change your flight? If you find yourself suddenly available or events conspired against you, airlines usually have several seats of no shows for standby passengers. You have to pay for the flight anyway. Does it matter how or when it was paid?
     NUMBER 4: I waited 8 hours last year at SFO for a flight crew. Same flight every day, same flight number. They didn't know they needed a flight crew? Really?  Our plane and about 300 passengers were there. Fines! BIG fines and reimbursement for food , the waiting, missed connections and how we were to get where we needed to be. I arrived so late, train service from the airport to town had shut down.
     NUMBER 5: no one should board a plane then wait more than an hour to be airborne. NO ONE. If you know there's a delay, let passengers stay in the terminal. Horror stories abound of trapped passengers on flights stalled by snow, rain, storms, whatever. They know we can't take off, keep us off the plane until it can depart.
     This might seem draconian but, CEO's unfortunately don't understand much unless it affects their bottom line. Maybe their salary too should be based on consumer satisfaction. United's Munoz would be paying stock holders back rather than getting millions of dollars for actions, maybe not this serious, we have all known for years. Rudeness is definitely there.
   There might be some more consumers satisfaction training for flight attendants as well. Some are a delight ... others, well, you know them as well. I realize there are unruly passengers. However, how many got started with a rude flight attendant? My recent flight on United was good enough but would it hurt the attendants to smile now and then? The passengers don't like the 15 hour flight either.
     These are suggestions from where I sit. Let's hope Congress interviews a few members of the flying public too. Their ears would surely burn. 
     I'm just sayin'.

Monday, April 17, 2017

I've Got A Little List - I've Got A Little List - Of Society Offenders Who Might Well Be Underground

Koko, The Lord High Executioner with his "little list"

 In 1885 Gilbert & Sullivan, those irreverent songsmiths took London by storm with THE MIKADO, set in old Japan but referring to the English political scene of the day ... sometimes quite nakedly. The tale of forbidden love, an art form as old as the ancient Greeks, it brought up some interesting comments about life in Victorian times and, as I am finding out, the 21st Century as well. In it, Gilbert and Sullivan expressed the frustration they and a goodly part of Victorian society felt about their quite stuffy government. Sound familiar?
   One of the great and famously funny songs in it was: "As Some Day It May happen" with these opening lyrics:

          I've got a little list — I've got a little list
          Of society offenders who might well be underground,
          And who never would be missed — who never would be missed!
          As some day it may happen that a victim must be found ....

   In the last 24 hours I have found two "society offenders" who I am beginning to consider might well not be missed,  actually quite a record for me. The first was the post office, one of the first in the world created by Benjamin Franklin and now, well, put it this way, under Franklin heads would roll just like they were supposed to in THE MIKADO.

    I had to get a deed notarized and had a bill to pay my lawyer so after getting my signature notarized, I went to the Palm Springs Post Office to mail it with a Return Receipt Requested. I asked the clerk if I needed to send it, say Priority Mail, but he said no, it would arrive Monday, no later than Tuesday. It is only about 120 miles from Palm Springs to Century City in the heart of Los Angeles. Priority Mail is no great shakes either.
   I hung around all week just in case something else needed to be filled out. Still quiet on the western front I decided to go see the wild flowers in Joshua Tree National Park last Friday. No news is good news right? Wrong. Glancing at my email when I returned, it was now 5:30 pm and signals are non-existentent (at least for AT&T) in the park, I noticed one from my lawyer. It told me they had not received the letter I sent April 8th. The deed was due at their office no later than April 14th ... that day.
   I was furious and realized there wasn't anything I could do this evening but then pursued it on Saturday. Using the "receipt" tracking number I followed a letter that seemed to have taken the slow boat to China. They didn't even get around to delivering it until Saturday, a week later, a day the office was closed and there was no one to sign for it. Adding insult to injury they said they would either have to pick the letter up or arrange to have it re-delivered. 
   A late call this morning to my lawyer confirmed what I found online - still no letter. I drove over to my post office and a clerk helped me finally tracking down the post office it was delivered from and they wouldn't answer their phone.
   Trump may be a lot of things, few good to many but he IS right on one thing, our government is dysfunctional. You have legions of public servants that could care less. I can hear the howls now. But I ask you, public servant or not, how have you been treated by other public servants? Is it any wonder people do 80 - 90% of their letter writing online? Maybe some shouldn't, ask Hillary, but for most of us it is a reliable way to reach others. I don't know how much longer the post office can continue to exist. Lines are looooooong, everyday, there are few at the counter to help you, maybe none if its break time and while more expensive FedEx and UPS tend to be far more reliable. However, by this afternoon the letter was finally delivered.
What good is "Good paint at a good price" if there 
isn't anyone to mix it for you? I never got it.
    My other experience today was at Walmart. Everyone in the retail world is getting more and more upset with those of us who let our fingers do the walking at sites like Amazon. Just about every retailer in the United States is starting to close stores as the relenting fingers shop online and not at their stores. If their experience was like mine today at Walmart, good riddance.  
   I still have a little painting left to do. I found the color I wanted at Walmart and hot off chores, like going to the post office, decided to get the paint. Well, there was no one there. Walking nearly half the length of the store to find an employee I asked a clerk how to get someone in paint. He said he would page for me, and someone did.

This little piggy had empty shelves. Old home

week at the register though.
   Finally a lady showed up but she couldn't help me. "The lady you who does this must be at lunch. Are you done shopping?" I said, "This was all I wanted today." "She's probably at lunch but should be here in 10-15 minutes." Forty minutes later still no clerk. Walking the store it was like they were going out of business. The entire Apple and Microsoft sections were gutted. Want an iPad? A Surface ... you won't be getting them here. Instead everyone was busy chatting it up at their own register. Checking out the TV's half didn't work and those that did had the wrong information or none at all on them. Would you buy?
   Yes, there were many things in the store but it seemed that every clerk was shopping pushing laden carts around like a shopper. Its nice to restock shelves but customers are more important. Of course, no one knew anything and more than a few can not speak English.
  The irony of modern life is that the more we hear "You are important to us and someone will be with your shortly,"  shortly being 20-30-40 minutes on hold. There is less customer service today, not more.  Hence, I too have a list. I've already written about Target and it seems that Walmart is not far behind. I hear about their new web store but if its anything like it was online and is in their stores, Amazon will drive them out of the marketplace as well. To be fair, Amazon is not without flaws. Prime customers do not always get their items in two days. I am here to tell you about that as well!
Really? You need four people to stock 
a shelve? In my retailing days

we did it alone.
   I would hazard a guess and maybe a prediction, if customer service that we so often hear about isn't practiced as we're told it is (or as we all witnessed with United Airlines) there are going to be a lot of people without work. Two great forces are colliding at the same time in the retail industry ... online shopping and companies, like Amazon who are increasingly doing the fulfillment of orders in their warehouses with robots. Are sales positions next? I know for sure I wouldn't want to be a taxi driver. 
   We as a society need to reexamine our work ethic and employees need to hold their bosses accountable for the work they do, and vice versa, just as do stock holders need to hold the companies they own stock in accountable. We are at the beginning of a robotic age and we need to prepare for it. 
   It has been talked about, written about and studied as well as proven. The way to survive in the age of Walmart and even Amazon is to provide outstanding service to their customers. It takes 85% more time and effort to get a new customer than it does to keep a regular one happy. You can argue this all you want but it was true 50 years ago and it is true today.
   One more word to the wise ... if you are a shop owner, service provider of any service, greet whoever walks in the door or answer your phone. You don't have to follow customers around like a puppy dog, but acknowledge them and be ready to help them when it is clear they need some help. Get off your phone, chatting or texting. Tend to the business at hand. A bird in hand beats two in the bush!!!

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ...

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Creating A Birdhouse Saloon

Last Chance Saloon, Palm Springs
When I was a kid, you know when dinosaurs roamed the earth, the Western ruled entertainment. I remember listening to GUNSMOKE, HOP ALONG CASSIDY, ROY ROGERS, THE LONE RANGER and such on the radio! Then came TV and they had all my expected cowboy kings there too! Like Sheriff Woody in "Toy Story" we all wore western duds, carried cap guns and were rooting' tootin' cowboys! The western ran in my blood from a long heritage of immigrants I can trace back to the Mayflower.
   I have stressed in many of my blogs the importance of creating an individualized birdhouse, one that you feel comfortable creating but forces you to think outside the box. That time, of course, is when you start either making or buying a birdhouse to decorate.          
Here is the new blank birdhouse
all ready to be decorated. I had
already decided to add an old
tire along with the cow skull!
   Living in Southern California with it's rich history of make believe Western roots (Hollywood), its long tradition of being both part of the wild west and its Spanish heritage, its not hard to see its results all around you. Here in Palm Springs, home of probably the largest collection of mid-century architecture and furniture (you can't drive anywhere without seeing a 50's house these days) yet at the same time Indian-American, Spanish and Wild West architecture sprouts up everywhere alongside. Heck, I live in a condo that attempts to mimic New Mexican pueblos. With a name like "Pueblo Sands" what else? Oddly, it is a counterpoint  that gives Palm Springs, in particular, a kind of old West charm.
As you can see, it didn't take much to 
quickly convert this to a saloon.
     When I first started painting birdhouses, one of my first was converting this birdhouse (left) into a saloon. It resembled an old store front but when I looked at it I immediately thought of a saloon. Maybe I had just seen a western movie, time for a beer, but well, it just looked like a saloon. I had purchased four resin cow skulls and came up with this moniker ... LAST CHANCE. I thought that resin cow skull said it all! It surely was the last chance for that cow.
    My first attempt  was snapped up by a lady from Texas who was creating a man cave, with a Western theme, for her husband. She wrote back after getting it saying that it was perfect for the man cave and even her husband commented on it. It was fun to do but then I couldn't find any more until recently. I had used my cow skulls up but found more and finally with the condo ready and the studio begging me to visit, I grabbed this birdhouse buried in my storeroom where it had been left moving and saw what more I could do, see if my skills had improved.
     I actually started this while babysitting a gallery show I was in but once that duty was done I got deeply involved with remodeling then moving and being creative was cast aside. Moving was exhausting and finishing up the remodeling of the condo was about all I could do. This project sat on my work bench then got put away. I did several other projects as I am sure many of you understand, I wasn't really ready to tackle it just yet. So, there it sat trying to make me feel guilty.
     Looking for paintings to take to Spectrum, I found this sitting on a metal storage shelf and brought it back to the studio. I had wooden tires and thought besides the cow skull, that would make a good addition. I started doing the whitewash to give the drawn boards a rustic feel. I thought a tile roof was perfect to cover the porch. Back in the day it was considered a right of duty to be patriotic so the red, white and blue for the roof seemed perfect as well.
The front may look normal and rustic but I wanted

a desert scene on the back. It takes many coats of
wash to get just the right effect!
   Next came the back and sides that I would again paint as a desert scene with an arroyo, saguaro cactus' fading into the distance that took time to layer and build up. While doing this we had a terrible windstorm in Palm Springs that felled trees, knocked power out and literally stripped the leaves from the bougainvilleas that were all over the complex. Walking my insisting dog to pee, even I was startled to find that half of the tree into the entry of our pod had fallen as well. While the dog didn't care, I did as stuff was blown and falling everywhere. I didn't work that night instead huddled in my chair in the living room expecting the power to go out at any minute as the windows rattled and things blew all around my patio. After recovering the lid to her dog food twice, I dragged it to the dining room door.
Back and both sides carry the desert 
theme so that it can be viewed on 
any side/
   Walking her the very next morning, surveying all the damage everywhere I noticed lots of branches and twigs. Hum, I thought. I wonder if that would add a hint of authenticity to my saloon. Picking up pieces that were about the right size, I came home and tried them out. It really did add a lot to the feeling of this birdhouse. I knew it was never meant to go outside anyway but would be a fun display piece that could be viewed from all sides.

  Only after the entire birdhouse was painted, only then could I begin to put the "additions in place. It was tempting because I wanted to get it finished but the idea of working around the "trees" and skull before all the antiquing was in place made me settle in for the long haul. The back and sides took the longest time to build upbecause of the layers of colors. 
You can see the bead used to support the skull at the top
and the pot is in place under a window. The skull is off
to the side awaiting gluing.
   Finally, I could add the tire, branches and skull. I ended using a small bead of wood behind the skull to keep the skull flat when resting against the top overhang. The bead was about the same depth and worked perfectly.
Ready for sale!
            This is a fun project and for now decorates my living room with other desert and western themed birdhouses. I plan on putting this up for sale on my ETSY store though and hope that it will have a wonderful home that enjoys its one-of-a-kind status.
    The next time you visit Michael's, Hobby Lobby or A.C Moore, take a long look at what's available then stretch your imagination on what the possibilities could be. I know that I sure do. I guess us artistic types see in mind's eye the possibilities before even that first drop of paint hits the surface! Be sure though to let your idea take flight on its own. Never be afraid to change in midstream. I think some of the best ideas I've ever had were when I asked myself ... what if?
   All of the paints are acrylic, mostly Americana from DecoArt. I use superglue because it dries quickly but be careful ... fingers get glued too. The matte finish was also DecoArt Matte that keeps the flat dry look of an old building with a slight shine bringing out the colors. Many of the details were done with a liner brush or a black Sharpie ultra-fine point.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ...

Sunday, April 9, 2017

What Is Truth?

Watching the news during the Trump era, especially the Supreme Court nominee fight, budget fights over healthcare, attacks around the world by religious groups and the personal issue of a divorce, I have had this nagging thought running through my head these past few days. It was, a question that was first asked over 2,000 years ago by Pontus Pilate to Christ after Jesus' rebuttal to Pilate's question in John 37: "Then you are a king?" "You say I am a king" answered Jesus. "For this reason I was born and have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to My voice." To that Pilate asks, "What is truth?"
     This haunting question has troubled Christians and not more than a few non-believers since Roman times. A million debates have swirled around this very question and some answers have led to more than a few wars.
    We do know however, these facts about truth:

  • Truth can be hard to hear. Bad news can also be true.
  • Telling the truth is not always accepted by the majority. Often, the minority can be right.
  • Telling a lie many times does not make it the truth. Witness Hitler. Tell a lie long and often enough it begins to sound like the truth.
     The first time truth got in the way of a people was soon after Jesus was crucified. Its ironic that as Easter and Passover are days away the world today is no more ready to hear what truth is than it did in the time of Jesus. Same fights, same arguments, and pretty much the same people. The Zealots of Christ's time wanted change now. They hated the Romans. It disrupted their way of life and like Americans in our time, Romans brought change and in their attempts to make the lives of the people they conquered better, in many ways, they made it worse. A scene in a movie the other night struck me. American soldiers couldn't understand why the wells they dug for Afghan women were always destroyed. It turned out in their rigid society that was the only acceptable way for them to socialize. They got to leave their compounds to get water.
      Change is hard ... and maybe harder for rigid backward societies. Change is a threat and must be resisted at all costs. However, that resistance in its own way makes us intolerant and blinds us to accepting others and their beliefs. The most moving religious comment I ever heard was from the Dali Lama. After speaking he was asked the question, "Should we all become Buddhists?" He looked at us a long while then finally responded, "NO! Follow your own traditions as they all lead to God." Not what anyone expected. The auditorium was dead silent!

     We all think that love conquers all. That love is a truth.  I am here to tell you it isn't. Yes, we all know people for whom their love lasts until their passing. However, we also know far more where the truth becomes a lie and we have changed and people divorce. There are many ways to examine and talk about the truth of love but, as I have recently experienced, there is also a time to discuss when that truth is gone and another truth takes its place.
      Since moving to Palm Springs, living in a heavily Gay community, I have experienced a very different kind of truth. We are taught many things growing up and for most of us they are relatively true. Yet at the same time we discover, as much as we don't want to, that the world is not black and white ... it is covered with shades of grey. Men can love men, women love women and people born as one sex truly believe they are the other. It is hard to accept because we were trained not to. I can remember relatives talking about the fags and queers, men that did disgusting things. As a child I knew that I didn't want to be "those" people, whoever they were. And yet, later in my life, I realized that I was. So what is the truth then? Didn't God make us all ... Gay and straight?

     America is as polarized today as it was in November 1860. God fearing people in the North and South knew they were right and that God was on their side. The South's justification for slavery was anathema to the North who was industrializing rapidly and didn't understand that the south had in its slave labor much the same drive for industry. The Northern banks held the debt of the South and they hated that. The South's industry was on the backs of living beings, not machines. It was actually an economic war. The bulk of American exports were cotton, fully 50%! In 1860 alone we shipped to England 1 billion pounds of cotton, the very item they needed for their own fabric mills and industrialization. So again, what is truth? A war against slavery or an economic war?
     I remember going to the Ellis Island where most immigrants came for decades to the United States. My father and his family was in this tide during the 20's. However, just before this time millions of Italians reached our shores, something over 20 million! Fearing a Catholic pope and millions of his believers laws were passed by Congress in 1925 that only allowed 250,000 a year to settle here. I remember Opa saying that he had to be sponsored by someone already here and he could not receive any government subsidies for 20 years. Posters and editorials in the island museum lined the walls from the 20's with calls and arguments that are exactly like those used against Latin Americans today. Even the language. Check for yourself. It should be noted though, they had to come by ship, not walk across the border.
     You listen to statements by the GAO, or other agencies that give out figures regarding expenditures, details of changes to the planet, changes in governments, missile firings, the list goes on and on and then listen to the Democratic or Republican take on these facts. You sit and wonder how can they both see the same facts, the same numbers and come up with two totally different responses? What is truth? I am convinced that they see the world through their own ideologies ... that is their truth. Yet, maybe to everyone else it isn't. It is becoming more apparent, they may be the representatives of their constituents but they are not listening.
     This was a republic founded on compromise. So far in the 21st Century that has been thrown out with the baby and its water.

     Will we ever know the truth about our neighbors? Is their truth different from ours? I would hazard a guess and say that yes, it is. One of the greatest weaknesses of the LBJ presidency was his complete misunderstanding of Viet Nam. He could never grasp the concept, the idea as Doris Kearns Goodwin so ably pointed out, was that LBJ thought everyone wanted to be an American. Since I was in Liberia, West Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer during those years, I knew for a fact that while many admired the many things we had, they didn't necessarily want to be Americans. That is true the world over. It is still a lesson our state department has yet to grasp. Truth is truth and yet it is not always your truth. 
     We helped such enemies as Germany and Japan become democracies yet upon closer inspection they are often quite different from our own. They were / are shaped by their own histories and traditions. America is literally a melting pot and vast numbers of immigrants have come here for over 400 years. We displaced those already here yet the very fact they were already here changed our lives as well. Foods, style of government (the Iroquois Nation had a Supreme Court long before England and maybe even Rome) that our forefathers studied and added to the Constitution ( Executive, legislative AND Judicial) as separate branches and checks against the other. Native Americans showed us how to live and how to adapt to a land vastly different from Europe and Africa. They helped the colonists create the nation we are today. So yes, our TRUTHS have changed and continue to change even today, and now it seems, every day.
      In ancient Greek, the word for truth was aletheia that means to un-hide or hide nothing. Yet, as we all know today, that is what we struggle for ... maybe more than ever. Because even a statement seems to have multiple meanings depending on who is making it and hearing it.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ...


Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Quilted Birdhouse

Alan starting a new Crazy Quilt Birdhouse

at the Indian Wells Spectrum Art Show
     As a kid growing up I was surrounded by women who had some kind of craft as a hobby. Most sewed. I can remember hours spent at the fabric store as my mother leafed through the pattern books trying to find just the right item to make ... be it for her, my father, for me and later for my sister. I guess I got a discerning eye about clothing because back in the 50's famous designers lent their names to McCall's, Simplicity and all the other pattern makers. I can remember admiring Coco Chanel's designs and hearing my mother mutter, "Less may be more but these things are (then looking at me) 'hard' to make!" I got any number of shirts most that I hated to wear because they were homemade and to me, looked it.
     She also knitted, crocheted and later in life made creations that employed all three. I however, was content to draw or paint, skills that I guess I inherited from my father.
     My Mom made some quilts but it was my grandmother who was the quilter, and rug maker and knitter.  In college my best friends grandmother had beautiful, heavy quilts mostly made during the 30's when nothing went to waste. I can remember one quilt made entirely of old ties. Man, I wonder what that would be worth today! Quilts could be made of anything and one, an especially heavy one was made from old men's suits. Sleeping upstairs in an old uninsulated attic of an Oklahoma farm house in winter, you needed those quilts, several in fact. No one realized of course they were treasures.
There may be only 7 base colors but it still makes a mess!
       I can remember a show in a small museum in Memphis that showed Tennessee quilts from the 1850's. Many were gorgeous, true works of art. The amount of work in them was stupendous. I don't think anyone would even waste the time today. A friend in a home in Southern California had a crazy quilt from the 1840's framed behind plexiglas that was huge and stunning.
     Most people don't realize that quilting is the only original American art form. I am sure that colonists recognized that many manufactured goods would be difficult to obtain or even afford and had to make do with what they had. Hence, quilts. They inspired the very first recycling.
     By now of course, it is done around the world and many are influenced by their own design traditions. It is because my wife also quilted and had a stash of quilting books that I would look at, I quickly realized that those designs could easily be transferred to my birdhouse painting. In fact the designs of Pennsylvania Dutch, Norwegian Rosemaling, Germanic, Polish and Russian folk designs shared many common motifs as did the quilt designs.
Here are the painted fabrics on wood. Seven colors 

usually make a base then each fabric has the same
design used on the same color base coat. 
      It was the crazy quilt though that caught my eye. In fact, the very first one I did I entered in a contest sponsored by DecoArt. Since I used their paints primarily, when I got the email to enter, I quickly finished and photographed my very first Crazy Quilt painted birdhouse. I found out a month later that I was one of three finalists chosen from entries nationwide and then while on an Alaskan Cruise found out I had won! Just think ... a man painting crafter. I then branched out in a variety of colors and items ... birdhouses, plates, kleenex boxes, even cubes that could hold a 3" x 5" recipe card.
     Most of them sold on ETSY store and when I couldn't find a new creative mood, could always do a Crazy Quilt design.
     That was what prompted me to start one at the Spectrum Art Show last month. I figured that everyone else would paint (and they did) so I painted a birdhouse having marked it all up and then began painting the background. You'd be surprised at how many people stopped and talked to by me asking questions.
     Then I got distracted but after spending all the time setting up my studio and then sorting it so I could actually find things, sat down this week and seriously got to work. I also started another birdhouse because Crazy Quilt designs are complicated and its a three dimensional object while a painting is not.
Here I show the "fabrics" and the
Craftsmart pen from Michaels that
I used to create the stitching. 
      It is difficult to pick colors and I have experimented with various combinations ... all similar colors such as reds or blues, a variety of colors such as this one, pastels, strong colors and all seem somehow to work. After all, our relatives had to use whatever they had. Only today do modern quilt makers head to the fabric store and buy fabrics.
The stitched birdhouse. All that remains

is the antiquing that gives a new item an
aged look, a seeming heirloom.

     For me, the finishing touch, before I purposely antique the items, is the "stitching." I have tried a variety of gold colored pens and such. The one that worked the best for me in the past were the thin points using nail polish designed to make fingernails fancy. Those enamels were perfect and were not affected by varnish. When the enamels became too expensive to replace I tried a variety of inks hoping to find one that wouldn't resolve the minute I put acrylic varnish over it. So far, the only one that seems to work is the Craftsmart brand from Michaels. I think that the stitching gives it the perfect finish replicating the look of hand stitching. The beauty of course is that the "fabric" is painted and won't fade.
The finished Crazy Quilt birdhouse painted, stitched

and antiqued for an old, older look!
                     These are fun to do but because I try to use every color on every side, it is easy to smear paint. The red base used here had white polkadots and since this color was used everywhere I would get so zealous putting on dots I would forget that the other side or sides may not be dry yet. Usually it wasn't. I used the base of a wooden chopstick dipped in white paint ... over and over and over again!
     Oddly, these are a great way to get the juices flowing again. Because of the complexity of color and design, it forces you to focus and remind you that if you are going to spend all the time such a project requires you might as well do it right. If you face such similar blocks, maybe you, like me, can recreate something that was successful in the past. It tends to unlock the freeze and get your juices flowing again. It has for me!!!

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ...