Friday, October 21, 2016

Huey Long (Eugene McCarthy - your choice) vs. Lady MacBeth

I am an American. Not a German-American or English-American, just a plain old American. That said I could be a hyphenated American because my father was German. His family immigrated from Saxony to the United States in the 1920's. I am first generation. My mother, however, is almost directly descended from the White's that came over on the Mayflower in 1620. So then yes, I am a WASP - white, anglo-saxon, protestant.

I love America. I was born in Ohio while my father was a translator at the Nuremberg trials. I grew up in Oregon, went to Oklahoma State for college and after a stint in the Peace Corps ended up in California in 1970. Aged 71 now, I have lived more than half my life here.

I am also a Republican ... an ashamed Republican but still perilously hanging on to the Grand Old Party, a party I have no doubt that Lincoln would find disgraceful. My earliest memories of being a Republican are of me standing on a street corner in Portland, OR handing out, at the age of 7, "I Like Ike" buttons" to passers-by. I wish I still had a few of them in fact. I really liked Ike then and still do. Years later I realized we shared the exact same birthday - October 14th. In college I campaigned for Barry Goldwater driving down the rural roads in Oklahoma stapling Barry's campaign signs all over the countryside. As a young adult I was involved with the old 59th Republican Congressional Central Committee in Los Angeles and was even the committee president several years until my first child was born and I had new responsibilities.

Huey Long of Louisiana in his heyday!
A student of American history, Teddy Roosevelt is my hero and feel that if we ever needed him the time was now. Even though she is a Democrat, my current political hero is Elizabeth Warren who, like Roosevelt, stands up for what is right and is merciless to the creeps that tear down the fabric of our social contract, the Constitution, while enriching themselves.

Watching the debate Wednesday it became apparent to me just how flawed BOTH candidates are. Trump caused me to "remember" the legacy of Huey Long from Louisiana who was a demagogue that could, under the right circumstance, have brought the republic down. Watch Trump again. There is little difference.

Hillary as Lady Macbeth
Then watching Clinton I suddenly seized on the memory of Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth. After all, she had killed her first husband. To me the contrasts of Hillary and Elizabeth were striking. Here was one grilling and condemning the CEO of Wells Fargo for an unbelievable dereliction of leadership while our candidate was making cosy, and getting paid quite well, with the very people who nearly brought down not only our own economy but narrowly missed destroying the economy of the entire world. In its wake you have the Middle East, China and Europe still trying to dig themselves out of this morass.

So we have a candidate that is the poster boy for greed, and is proud of it, and a candidate that left a trail of blood throughout the Middle East, that not only set up her own private server (she was first lady 8 years ... she knew better) but after being subpoenaed to produce all of her illicit emails turned around and destroyed over 33,000 of them. Actually, I am surprised they can't find them. It is my understanding that once written they are out there somewhere in the cloud because once written they never go away no matter how hard you try. Somewhere, they are on the server of the Internet provider she used.

Guardians of the middle class? Any class other than their own? I doubt it. If any normal citizen had said and done the things these two brush off as inconsequential, we would be behind bars. Seriously. Think about it.

However, they both have their admirers ... people that believe in them no matter what kind of things they have said or have done. But not all. Watching PBS News last night, they had a feature on extremely poor citizens of Wilkesboro, North Carolina. They struggle every day to survive and their take on either political party is not kind. They all, every single one, feel abandoned. After 8 years of a Democratic presidency they look at Trump, a "dazzling" billionaire as someone outside the political morass of Washington who provides hope. Like Trump said, "What do they have to lose?" I wonder if Caesar Augustus told the Roman senate something similar.The United States is a great nation. It has welcomed, more or less reluctantly, people from all over the world. Some have succeeded beyond all expectations and made our lives better and been a beacon of light. That said, I also am more than aware of the flaws in our system. Being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia, West Africa, often traveling across the continent, talked to many that maybe admired us but certainly didn't want to live like us. I remember bringing news reels to my small village and showing them the flight of Apollo 11. They were incredulous and couldn't believe that we flew around the same moon they could go outside and see that night. While the youngsters wanted to come and many did during 25 years of civil war, most stayed home. LBJ suffered the same delusions. He just couldn't believe that every Vietnamese didn't want to be like us.

The struggle is fairness, leveling the playing field so that all have a chance to succeed. Isn't that the very reason of the Revolution? Taxation without representation? There is no "official" royal family in the United States but we are a stratified society nevertheless. With enough money, you can get off the hook, the same hook I would imagine that most of my readers could not escape. For readers of ANIMAL FARM, the sign on the barn at the beginning of the book said, "All animals are equal." At the end of the book, when the pigs (very apt I might add) take over, the sign now reads, "Some animals are more equal than others."

We design, believe it or not, the society that we live in. Every vote, every law passed or reviewed by the courts, creates (designs) our society. If you don't think so, read the United States Constitution. It is quite clear in what can and cannot be done. While the document is nearly 250 years old it contains many truths and much wisdom on how to create and live in a moderate, secular society. The Constitution is a social contract between it's citizens and the citizens we elect to represent us. This is something many groups in this country have ignored to the point of creating an idealogical chasm that seems, at least before this election, impossible to cross. America's greatness is its ability to meet and compromise ... not dictate! That Trump would even allude to not accepting the vote of the electoral college is anathema to our very system of government. To even hint at this is to say goodbye to the American Republic and usher in Imperial America ... PAX Americana. More than one historian has observed the similarities of Ancient Rome and its potential here in the United States. Let's hope and pray they are wrong.

I make no recommendations but instead hope you will vote or as Edmund Burke observed in 1795 as America struggled to become a nation, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (and women) to do nothing.” I DO urge you to vote! Every vote counts as Al Gore acknowledged the other day; he lost the Presidency of the United States by about 567 votes. For better, or worse, the republic must go on. You do count. Please VOTE!

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to explore earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design and art affects our lives ... and always has. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Transforming White Paper Masks Into A Halloween Costume

White paper masks
When I first stumbled on these white paper masks in a small but amazing "general" store in the middle of nowhere on Vancouver Island in Canada last April, I just looked at them and moved on. What on earth could you do with these, I thought? However, as I continued to be amazed at the unique and very inexpensive art supplies in this store, I suddenly remembered my friend was coming to visit me around Halloween here in Palm Springs.

Snowbirds, Gays and everything in between go all out for Halloween in Palm Springs. No, it's not a raunchy affair like in West Hollywood ... more of a family affair, more or less. Jesus was our bartender at Lulu's, we saw men dressed, and quite well I might add, as Polynesian beauties, the Pope with his girlfriend, even a dominatrix leading her husband around with a chain around his neck. Even the kids get involved. Third place in the evenings costume contest went to siblings dressed (and quite well too) as minions, one of my favorite cartoon characters!

While I haven't worn a costume in years, I was so intrigued by what I saw on a visit last Halloween I decided that this year, friend from China in hand, we would dress up! But as what? I bought the two white masks and thought that I would be inspired by masks for sale at the weekly street fair and what I remembered from New Orleans and Brazil. But a costume too? Never!!!

Two sided - red and black reversible
robe with amazing embroidery

When I visited Hong Kong again last July (2016) I mentioned to my friend that it would be nice to find something we could buy and wear in Palm Springs for Halloween. Even more reluctant than me, we toured the seemingly endless opportunities to shop there. If you haven't been to the Night Market on Temple Street in Kowloon, open from 6 pm to midnight every night, you have truly missed a shopping opportunity of the first order! It may be, ugh, junk, but fun junk. Really!

We struck gold though when walking through one of about three malls at The Peak, the top of a mountain behind Hong Kong with a spectacular view of Hong Kong, Victoria Harbor and Kowloon, especially on a clear night! Looking at all kinds of things we really didn't need, we stumbled on a row of racks crammed with robes. The first few were eh, but as we worked our way down the row we found more and more beautiful sateen robes with amazing embroidery on both sides! They were $269 HK dollars, too rich for my blood until Qiang said, that is about $35 American. Trying one on (one must be very careful in Hong Kong ... their large would be very small to an American), I found it fit perfectly and I liked the slinky feeling of the fabric with, even if machine made, beautiful embroidery.
Traditional Mandarin hat with pigtail

I bought it. Then I told him I needed a traditional Mandarin hat so I could dress as an educated Mandarin from the old days. He said he knew just the place.

On another day of shopping (I swear this is the national sport and the locals know the prices of absolutely everything too!) he took me to an alley lined with shops. These small shops are everywhere and usually line the alleys with small booths stuck up near the walls where shopkeepers sell just about anything you can imagine and maybe more. There, hanging on the wall alongside the shop were latex masks of just about everyone famous you might know along with those you don't. Inside the dark dim shop we found the proprietor, not a very friendly sort, and inquired about the hat I wanted. She went somewhere and returned with a stack of red and black hats, complete with golden embroidery and the old traditional pigtail. I bought it.

To make the costume complete I searched for but couldn't find the type of shoes they would wear and figured black Crocs would give about the same effect. I mean here, we never worry about the rain.

Could this be a tiger mask?
When I came home I pulled out the two masks but just couldn't decide just how I could use them in my costume. Then, after my friend sent me a photo of a tiger backpack he bought for his costume I realized I could convert the large, butterfly shaped mask into a tiger face! How easy (or hard) would that be?

Comparing the photo he sent to the colors of paint I had or could mix up, I decided to paint the entire mask a tiger tan color. However, the shape seemed to be a real obstacle. I forged on first adding the white brows, cheeks and other white areas of the face where they would appear cutout or not. After I was satisfied with the white, I let that dry and using the end of a flat brush more of less squashed the paint tip down on the face to create the tiger stripes. It was far more fun than I ever thought.

The finished tiger mask
I used DecoArts Traditions paint for their opaqueness and was pleased with the coverage I got considering the mask was painted completely tan. The Traditions white and black coming later had no problem with coverage. Letting this dry, I put on a bit more white and then a bit more black especially around the eyes making sure the stripes stood out from the tan face. All considered, especially since you won't see the nose, I think it does a credible job of capturing a tiger's face with an unusual, butterfly shape!

I used DecoArts Matte varnish, two coats in fact, to give the paper more strength and to protect the paint from sweat and such.

While it may have looked difficult, the tiger mask proved to be the easier mask to paint. Using a small butterfly shape with very definite formed lines and circles proved to be more of a challenge.

The raw, white butterfly mask

I realized the mask had to mirror the robe and hat so I used matte black paint top and bottom leaving the central flat area red. To pick up the gold embroidery on both the hat and the robe I used gold for accents. Painting the black first proved a challenge when I used red in a band across the mask around the eyes. Several coats were needed to hide the black.

Because it was so detailed, I ended up using a liner brush to paint the gold! I again used Traditions paints ... black and Naphtha Red and got pretty good coverage even though I was sloppy with the black. Interestingly, the gold paint I used from the old Delta line did an amazing job of covering both sloppy red or black paint.  
The Chinese themed mask ... finished?

Finished Chinese themed mask ... bling and all!
The Chinese Mandarin costume
I liked the look of this mask and had to admit it works well with the costume. However, a neighbor noted that I should use some of the Michael's jewels I was planning on using on a new birdhouse. Jewels? Really? It isn't gaudy enough? They assured me, glam was in and so I relented and agreed to add "jewels" to the gold circles for a bit more bling. I guess if I had come this far, what was a bit more? After all this is Palm Springs and excess of anything is not unheard of. After adding the jewels I had to admit they really did give the mask more of a Mardi Gras look, one that would be perfect for Halloween.

You may be wondering how does it all fit together? Was I too crazy? I don't know, look for yourself? Is this costume a keeper? Something to trot out every year? It certainly was fun for me to design and put together.

I think the lesson here is that we need to always be aware of the things we stumble upon, no matter where, and to grasp how they might be used in our creations. Did I design this? Certainly! And, you can too. It just takes the time to gather things you like, see how they might work together and then work on the parts so that they DO work together. Here, by using black, red and gold, I was able to design an outfit that mimics what might have been seen in days past. It ties together with color items that we might otherwise have never seen.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to explore earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design and art affects our lives ... and always has. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Why The Post Office Loses Money (And will continue to do so)

Our friendly neighborhood post office
When was the last time you went to one of these? Are you like me and hold off that trip as long as possible? The time before last, when I went to my "nearest" post office, there was a long line in the middle of the day, only two windows were open and in 15 minutes not one person had moved. By the time I left, the line had doubled in size.

Since I was heading east anyway, a friend and I stopped at the next available post office. There was a line there as well but at least it moved. It was a sobering experience to say the least.

Post Office patrons waiting, waiting, and ... waiting
However what really got me mad was my experience yesterday when documents I needed for a loan had to be sent to an escrow office 90 miles away. As usual this was the sight - long lines yet again. It too was at a relatively, at least to my mind, dull part of the day. Not only did the line look like this but there was only one person behind the counter. Yup one and he was busy yucking it up with a woman at the counter.

To add insult to injury you were greeted at the door with another employee with a pad of paper questions. It was a list of things that she asked you. Each answer was checked off and when done, she handed the slip to you and told you to present it to the clerk behind the counter. What made it even more infuriating was that he took his time behind the counter and she waited in the lobby for the next patron. We all just stood there. It would seem to me that her services would have been better served behind the counter not as an order taker that waited for the next patron.

Then this clerk, when done with his customer, just left. There was no one behind the counter. We all looked at each other, then the paper taker and back at each other. One person left but two or three more entered the line. Finally, after 5 minutes (the post office thoughtfully had a clock so you can watch time fly, or not, as you wait in line) he returned and took the next patron.

I don't know what that paper did because lo and behold, he too asked many of the same questions. When I finally got there I pointed this out but he said he was required to. So ... what was the use of the woman waiting around asking questions if they were going to be asked anyway? She would have been better utilized behind the counter rather than standing around. I can tell already, Christmas is going to be a joy at the post office here in the Coachella Valley. It is this kind of behavior that drives businesses and patrons to seek other means ... notably FedEx and UPS. There are many in Congress who have voiced the same observations as they all make money and the post office loses billions every year!

IRS call that took 56+ minutes
before I could talk to an agent
Of coarse much of this has to do with the system itself. Have you ever dealt with the DMV, stood in line at the post office, dealt with any city, county, state or federal agency and not waited? I received a letter from the IRS that sent me into a panic. I had already been dunned over $5,000 in owed taxes that my accountant found was incorrect. It appears it can take up to 90 days for the IRS to post a check if you owe taxes. So now what? I even took a phone snapshot of my wait time (left). The lady was very nice but today, Oct. 6, 2016 I still have not received the documents I requested last month after a 56 minute wait.

Civil servants, who have protections that are far above and beyond those enjoyed in the private sector, seem to relish making you wait ... in person, on the phone even in answering letters or email. The bigger the line, the slower they get and the longer you wait. Truly, doing business with them is like watching time go backwards. There is no incentive, at least in their minds, salary and benefits aside, that gives them incentive. I know people who would kill for their jobs.

Many people are unaware that when the I-10 freeway collapsed in West LA, after the Northridge Earthquake, CalTrans, our highway building / maintenance program said that it would take from 6 - 9 months to repair the broken overpass that collapsed onto the freeway. Traffic was a nightmare as you had to get off the freeway via a ramp onto city streets, wind your way to the next good ramp and proceed going west towards Santa Monica. The city fathers soon discovered they were losing millions (money turns the crank) as freight lines, trucks and anyone moving anything tried to find other solutions. The daily commute was a nightmare. The cost of moving goods through the city skyrocketed. Everyone was up in arms. The thought of up to 9 months of this? Deplorable.

In their desperation they put out bids and incentivized any company that was awarded a bid that they would get $1 million a day bonus for every day they beat their estimate. A bid was let to a private firm that said 90 days. That sure beat the at least 6 month estimate by Cal Trans so they got the bid. The upshot? It was completed in 61 days. Even better than it was before and became a model for every retrofitted overpass in the Los Angeles basin.

Is the Post Office an anachronism? In this day and age with everyone sending emails ... even fancy ones are available in just about any email software program, who uses them? Junk mailers for sure, politicians, solicitations, utility bills, a stray birthday card and packages. But ... for how much longer? With Amazon playing with drones to deliver goods, you wonder if the post office's days are numbered. For any package too large for a drone there is always UPS and FedEx. Sure they aren't as cheap as the post office but they are fast and pretty reliable and would ultimately save taxpayers from bloated salaries, too many workers with unusually high costs and no way to get employees to work smarter. However, my experience with UPS and their franchise stores shows a lot of improvement is needed there too. Its a sad day when you know more than the guy behind the counter! UPS needs to tighten their training and then keep checking it is being followed.

How, you may ask, is this design. Design covers every aspect of our lives. Be it a pretty brochure, the trip that we take and yes, the someone who designed the very processes that are being followed in delivering our mail. That original post office was started in the 1700's by Ben Franklin. At one time, it was the most efficient postal delivery system in the world. It was a wonder, but like many of our institutions developed over the years, there have been resisted improvements over the years. I was witness to this in college. The linotype hot lead type of printing was replaced by cold type offset printing, then desktop printing that put the control of the page layout with the editors stopping the need for as many press room employees. Newspapers have failed because they lost their way in presenting the news. Marshall McLuhan, media guru in the 60's, would have welcomed the digital age as he said so famously, "The medium is the message." New processes, new techniques! I think that Ole Ben would have wrapped his arms around a computer ... anything that could get information from here to there instantly. The lack of speed was the Bain of his existence!

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to explore earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design and art affects our lives ... and always has. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

ART & CRAFT: The True Story of Forger Mark A. Landis

Mark A. Landis
I just watched one of the more stunning art or artist themed offerings available on Amazon Prime's movie channel. The subject?  About masterful forger Mark Augustus Landis who never charged a penny for his "masterpieces" yet managed to dupe museums for over 30 years! It is one of the more compelling and perplexing tales I think in the annuals of forging. It definitely reminded me of another book I read about forgeries and how to make them. The astonishing statement in that book was the authors statement that up to 40% of all masterpieces in art museums are forgeries.

This movie basically is about the mission of registrar Matthew Leininger who in doing his due diligence regarding any purchased or donated work of art discovered that pieces donated to Oklahoma City Museum of Art by Landis were also being shown in several other museums across the country. Since few artists, excepting Monet, ever make successive works of the same subject he came to realize that the donated works were also "donated" elsewhere. Ah, the Internet is having an effect in rooting out forgers.

Born in 1955 in Virginia to a father who was a lieutenant in the US Navy, he and his parents were
Poster for Art & Craft, the movie about Mark Landis.
Directed by Sam Pullman and Jennifer Grausman It poem
posted to many places around the world including the Philippines, Hong Kong, with NATO in Europe, France, London and finally Brussels where Landis began forging stamp cancellations for friends. His father died of cancer when he was 17 after moving to Mississippi where he still resides. He was admitted to a Kansas hospital with a diagnosis of schizophrenia being unable to cope with the loss of his father. It is a moving scene as he reads the report about himself from that time. Yes, he still had the documents! I don't think that I would have kept them. He seemed unfazed by the various descriptions of his mental state.

Landis at work. Every artist will recognize the tools and products he uses!
While the movie lightly touches on this, it is clear from watching him throughout the film that he is, well, not quite right. Yet somehow, he remains an amazing artist making copies using the very latest technology. I thought, well, he definitely isn't as simple as he appears. However, it is the scene where he goes to Hobby Lobby to buy frames for his work that makes you realize just how easy it is to make a masterpiece.

While he never graduated from college he did take classes at the Art Institute of Chicago and then in San Francisco where he worked on the maintenance of damaged paintings. For over 30 years he copied, giving his work to a variety of museums, churches and other public entities often of the same subject noting that "it gets easier each time you do it." Well, yes, I guess so! I know that when I would lose a days work doing graphic design work, the second time around certainly was faster to do as I had already worked out the problems I faced the first time.

Meininger and Tullos preparing for the show "Faux Real"

Landis with his forged "Mona Lisa"
Ultimately though, It was Matthew Leininger's obsession in stopping Landis that ruined, in many ways, his own life. A variety of magazines discovered this forger over the past few years and even some of his identities, one including a Catholic priest who gives away his masterpieces. After he attempted to give away another work saying that it belonged to his mother the director of that museum asked his register to examine the "gift" and the investigation revealed the fake. Museum director Mark Tullos teamed up with Meininger to expose Landis and ultimately organized a gallery showing of his work entitled "Faux Real" with 60 of his creations and the priest outfit he used in some of his donations.

Landis, viewer and Tullos at
Gallery show "Faux Real."
The irony in all this is that Landis had not actually broken any laws despite his deceptive activities.
No legal action has come forth. However, the film does show him meeting people at his show who ask him, "With your talent why don't you create your own paintings? Sign them with your name?" In fact he did his own original paintings but, of course, they never seemed as important as the masters he copied.

If there ever was a question about an artists talent Landis would certainly be the person to question. Here was an immensely talented artist who while skilled may have lacked the very factor that makes a great artist - the ability to create his own vision; not only create his own vision but be able to put it on canvas in a style that is uniquely his own. Like he said earlier, the first one takes much time and thought, it becomes easier with each successive copy. The masters he copied already had done the heavy lifting, all he had to do was faithfully copy what they had already done.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to explore earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design and art affects our lives ... and always has. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Crafting A Yellow Birdhouse: Additions Make All The Difference

Basic birdhouse, new feet, wooden
hearts and wooden trees.
One of the things I have to be aware of, when you are on blood thinners, is to beware of very sharp objects. Anyone who takes this medicine knows what I am talking about. A cut to the average person becomes a slasher movie in very short order for me. Yet, I am never completely happy with the items that I can buy.

Even though I forgot to photograph the birdhouse in its raw state, it still looks pretty bleak here. Adding the feet takes it a step above the original state and the addition of wooden hearts gives a dimensional embellishment to the painting that will follow.

Thinking the sides were a bit boring, I added wooden cutout trees and planned to paint them "treelike" and would glue them at the end of the project.

Armed with a pencil, pen and soft eraser the birdhouse takes shape!
This project started off as a sketch, one that I worked on at the new Palm Springs Art Group's studio, Studio 9. It happened quickly and during that afternoon I was able to create two designs!

Choosing a body color is often quite difficult. I try to decide on a basic color and based on that add other colors that I think compliment both the body color and what I envision in minds-eye. It may sound easy but can lead to all kinds of problems, especially when the colors don't work out the way you thought they would.

Putting the colors together
When we were decorating the new upstairs master bedroom after completing a second story on our home, we spent many hours deciding what colors we wanted up there. By dormering the roof front and back we would have lots of light but how could we tame the south facing windows? We settled on a peach paint for the ceilings and some of the walls but the bedroom portion was to have a forest green wallpaper and curtains. The wallpaper had small flowers arching across the walls yet went well with the peach paint. Trust me ... you had to see it. For carpeting we picked a medium coral color that won out over a pale mint green seen in the wallpaper. We felt the mint green would have made it look too dead. Since we couldn't find anyone to paint this new area, I would spend hours every night, after work, painting peach paint on new drywalled ceilings and walls. Next we had the wallpaper man come to put up the wallpaper and the next day the carpeting man so we could move upstairs before Christmas.

I will never forget the night after the wallpaper was put up. I dashed upstairs and looked at what had been done. I thought I had been sucker punched it looked so ugly. The deep green didn't go with the walls at all. With the carpeting man coming first thing in the morning all I could think of was that I was going to have to paint another color all over again and this time on top of the carpet and wallpapered walls. When my mother-in-law, there to let the carpet man in, called me the next day, urging me to come home for lunch, I went with a heavy, HEAVY heart. She was all smiles when I walked in the door and motioned me to go up and look. I can remember trudging up those stairs thinking, can it get worse?
I tend to paint the back to
mirror the front, many times with
a fake black bird-hole.

When I opened the door and beheld the carpeted room, I was stunned at how wonderful it looked. It was simply perfect. Somehow, that coral carpet pulled it all together just like the samples we had looked at and agonized over. Two of the three were disasters. When all the pieces were put together it worked. For artists, for many other people as well, colors work that way.

Painting the roof makes a difference.
I started this birdhouse at home, trying out the colors to see what would happen. The yellow was very bright but could handle the red and white as well as the three greens I chose ... black green, a Hauser Green and a citrus green. The dark green on the base was a wonderful contrast to the red feet and the various "leaves" were used from dark to light up the red hearts.

Once I got the front, back and sides painted, I stumbled yet again. What to do with the roof? For many years I would ignore the roof and either draw tiles, straw or use a multi colored series of strokes on top of a dark color ... usually an uninspired brown. I have moved away from that but what to do here. Like my home, the roof is very prominent. Finally after a bit of experimenting, I decided to try using the same colors for the roof as well as the trees setting them both off against the yellow.

Picking up the dark green from the base, I used teals and raw sienna stokes picked up from the tree to see what it would look like. The wonderful thing with acrylics is that you are merely another coat away from perfection! Putting two hearts on each side of the roof picked up the hearts on the front and back and made it look more unified. It is so tempting to add color and then more colors before you realize you are dealing with 15 or 20 colors.
Painted but not aged.

Just like the wild layouts in the early days of desktop publishing where a page might have 6 or 7 fonts and was usually unreadable (they had to call in retired typesetters to teach a new generation the secrets of typesetting) adding more and more colors does not make a craft lovely. If you study the finest pieces, the ones you might like the most you will see there are only 8 or 9 basic colors. Much Chinese and Japanese pottery used just blue on a white base to create some of the loveliest designs ever seen.

The antiqued final
What makes it lovely is those colors are repeated over and over yet in different and exciting pairings. I've had classes where just the face of a Santa had 15 different colors. It took so long to get those colors for just a dab, that I mixed them to the horror of my table mates. Coco Chanel had it right, "Less is more." It really is.

My style and yes it my alone is that while I use bright, vibrant colors, I really want each of my pieces to look old not new. I have always tended to antique each piece after taking a class that showed how bright, maybe discordant colors can be brought together when the whole is toned down. I loved the concept and couldn't wait to go home and put a few of my already finished, and admittedly garish pieces, to the test. I loved the effect and was especially pleased when people would ask where I had found this lovely old birdhouse, tray or platter.  When I said it was something I had done, they would stare, pick up the piece and give it the once over.

So, we don't have to just settle for what is out there in the marketplace. Just like scrapbooking I would guess, it is what you add to the project that makes a delightful whole.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to explore earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design affects our lives ... and always has. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

An Artists Senses: Sight, Hearing, Taste, Smell, Touch

SMELL: Dogs have a fantastic sense of smell - 100,00 greater
than ours
Every morning, and I mean every morning, my dog Maggie wants to go for a walk. Not just around the perimeter of the condo complex for the WPP (walk, pee and poop)  but outside the gates into the "real" world. Even though, at least during the heat of this summer, we go very early in the morning, usually around 5 a.m., if not earlier in the dark of night, we follow about the same two routes ( I let her pick the one she wants). She always manages to find something new to sniff.

I finally became aware of smell the other day after Maggie smelled the same place about five days in a row. I realized that no matter if we went on the same route each and every morning she was constantly sniffing. I could only wonder, what was she smelling and how wonderful it must have been to her! I really have a terrible sense of smell but she sniffs and sniffs during the 30 or so minutes that we walk every day. What is her world like?

Recently I became acutely aware of this and wondered, how different her world must be to mine. Now Maggie is a black, and greying, 9 year-old Labrador Retriever. Unlike most breeds not only does she sniff the ground she looks up observing things above her as a good retriever should. Since moving here she has become a lizard catcher par excellance! She will even jump to catch lizards once narrowly missing a foot long one on a 5 ft. wall. Some she eats, some are left as "gifts" for me.

If we consider the 5 basic senses: sight, hearing, taste, small and touch, I began to muse about about our senses and how they affect how we see the world. Even though artists are considered mostly involved with "sight" I realized in many ways we are influenced by the other senses as well.

SIGHT: Dali, The Melting Watch
Starting with "sight" I realized that there are two kinds of sight - what we see around us and as artists, minds eye. While we can see the world and many great works of art record what the artist sees, an artists minds eye can often be as moving and unique as anything around us. If there were any artists that personify "mind's eye" it would have to be Picasso or Salvador Dali, ironically both famous and art changing Spanish artists. To me, they revealed how they felt they saw reality rather than portrayed reality itself.Are they wrong? I think not. We are so influenced by the world we see and don't see that sight is often considered to be the artist,'s, especially painters, greatest sense.
Ancient Egyptians recognized the importance of the eye

However, I say, not so fast. The other senses often influence us in ways we may not always be aware of. Anyone who has even seen the Disney movie "Fantasia" knows that the challenge for Disney and his artists was portraying how they felt the music they heard could be portrayed. Who can forget
HEARING: With iPod's and headset is music far away?
"The Night on Bald Mountain," "Ave Maria" or Beethoven's "6th"? Even "Dance of the Hours" with hippos and crocodiles dancing is memorable. I know that I cannot hear Strauss's "Blue Danube" played without seeing the Pan American shuttle flying to the space station in Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Hearing today is not just the cacophony of the daily noise but noise we bring with us. Gone, mercifully, are the boomboxes of the 70"s and 80's. Now we see people twist and shout walking down the street thinking they have lost their minds ... that is until you see the ubiquitous white wires dangling from their ears. Hearing, as the painting clearly shows on the left, is something that affects and is often a subject of our art. Remember, Beethoven, deaf as a door created the greatest symphony ever written stone deaf. They had to turn him around so he could see the applause after its first performance! Was he a great artist? He  had both sound and art in mind.

That said, think record covers, concert posters, even t-shorts and hats, all artistic items extolling or recording the passage of music in our lives. Our here in the Coachella Valley the number of concerts create a blaze of artwork on billboards, advertisements, even the tickets allowing you in! There is simply no shortage of art.

How valuable is poster artwork? Watch "Antiques Roadshow" sometime and see what some of those posters from Woodstock, a Beatle Concert, Rolling Stones circa 1972 are worth. Sound begat art!

TASTE: Those who know, how what flavor this truffle is!
Taste may seem to be a risky choice for art but then ... look at the artwork you see on just about every package. Restaurants in Japan make models of their dishes so everyone, but especially Westerners, can go look and point. I know, my daughter was allergic to fish. Can we say the model maker was not artistic? The challenge was to create a fake meal that looked real and very, very tasty.

If you think that food has no place in art, think again. Some of the most famous and most important paintings in the history of art revolved around food.
Cezanne - apples, pears and peaches

Paul Cezanne and many, many others have made food, and paintings of food some of the hallmarks of their art. Eating food, meals and even what's left over have all had a place in art. Yes, taste is often portrayed and is considered an important piece in the history of art.

That leaves us with the last of the five senses, touch. Who among us doesn't remember finger painting? It was one of those rare moments, usually in school, where we could get paint all over our hands (and frequently ourselves) and could smear it all around. We already knew that doing that at home was not good. To do it in school, of all places, with the often sour-pussed teacher lurking over us, was a thing to behold. I discovered on a visit to my sister that she had taken up coloring in adult coloring books. While not as messy, it was not unlike the sudden infatuation we had with finger painting.  While we were told  not to go outside the lines, we can now if we wished. There is a kind of freedom, within bounds to be sure, to pick the colors and method you want to color with.  I really wouldn't be surprised if some sort of fingerprinting made a return ... only this time for adults! Just smearing that paint around with literally no limits sounds both liberating and sinful!

TOUCH: Possibly the most famous touch in art history,
God reaching out to Adam on the Sistine Chapel
If you are an artist like me, or have observed artists at work, we are not above using a finger to smear a line, or enhance a stroke. I am usually covered with paint after craft painting. Sometimes your creation just needs a little help, help that darn brush just can't manage to do!

Your senses are literally your greatest ally. Let not just what you see or feel define what you do and create, don't be afraid of your mind's eye ... how it perceives sound and smell and taste. The next time you prepare a dish look at the random way your leave your food, the knife, the cutting board. Is it something that is artistic? Could you paint it? Improve the composition? Does it make a statement? Do you take the time to record it? A quick sketch, a cell phone photo? Why not?

Look at great art and see how each of our senses have been portrayed from the ancient Egyptians until modern times. It you want to see what artists have done since time immortal, go to Google's home page, click images and when that comes up type in touch, sight, taste and see what comes up. You will be more than amazed!

Art does not exist in a vacuum, it brings to our consciousness the things that happen around us each and every day. That is what we so often just ignore.To improve your art, you must listen to all your senses! You will be glad you did!

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to explore earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design affects our lives ... and always has. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Creating a Red, Black and White Birdhouse

Back in the day ... the 60's in fact, when I was a Journalism / Advertising major at Oklahoma State, the director of our school, Dr. Allen, usually our advertising instructor, taught all of us to make small sketches of every ad we were going to create. They were usually small rectangle's that showed where we planned on putting the elements; copy, headlines, artwork. After a few forced tries, at least for me, I suddenly realized that the possibilities were, well, what desktop publishing in the future would be, endless. Now everything I create be it a birdhouse, a canvas painting, even arranging things in my home, each one gets a series of tiny sketches to see where things will be placed. Trust me, it saves a whole lot of time. Its much easier to "X" out a failed idea or erase an errant line than on a canvas, watercolor paper, moving heavy furniture or in my case wooden birdhouses!

The original Red Birdhouse Sketch

A sketch is, for me, an important way to arrange the elements I want to use and I find that once a design is settled on I don't waste time worrying about it once its completed. Now that is not to say there are new elements that could change all the careful arranging but it gives me a place to start.

Visiting the studio that a few of us artists have started and are supporting, I brought my folding table and chair but had no supplies with me. However, I always carry a legal pad and pencils so I got that out and started sketching two birdhouses I wanted to do ... this red one and another design that uses a base coat of yellow. Before I knew it,  I was completely absorbed and heard little of what was going on around me.

This medium sized birdhouse, started as a Wal-mart $1.00 special. At 5 ¾" high, it was a over an inch taller than the smaller ones found at Michael's. I had spotted it earlier that morning in my own studio on my way out for the usual host of chores. On the left you can see that the ideas from the original sketch are being drawn. The back of this birdhouse is naked as the day it was bought! If you look closely you can see a fairly faithful rendering on the wood taken from the sketch. It doesn't always work out this way. However, for once I sealed the wood seeing if I like the effect better and if it would cut down the number of coats of paint I would need. (Hint, it didn't even though the black was black and I used DecoArt's Traditions Naphtha Red).

Pencil sketch and details worked out!
Once all the sides are sketched in, the painting begins. While this item is larger I always manage to create little details that demand a very fine brush. I usually use a liner to get me into those tight places.

Starting with red and white paint
top to bottom
When people pick up these pieces and look at all the sides, they have no idea that unlike a canvas that is usually painted on the front side, birdhouses have seven sides ... front, back, two sides, roof usually in two parts and you can't forget the bottom. Even if its a solid color, every brushstroke takes time.And yes, they DO take much more time to create, more than I would like to admit to but I enjoy the creating, whimsy and at times the oh and ah's! I guess that's a little part of why we paint.

Since I don't know about other artists, my workbench is usually a scene of chaos ... colors I plan to use litter the surface, the water tub, paintbrushes laid all around and as you can see, the sketch pad that was used for reference many times because I painted over my sketch!

Here is an example of a lesson I have yet to learn despite the creation of a few hundred items: PUT THE BASE COLORS ON FIRST, THEN SKETCH THE DETAILS IN. The second coat of red obscured pretty much all the details of the roof up upper sides, the white was a bit more forgiving but all hope was lost with the black. Ah, well! This was one time that I really used my sketches.

Once the three background colors were in place, using them inside the other colors must be done. It was at this time I introduced gold, the fourth and accent color I hoped would pull all the other colors together. Because the paints didn't dry

all at the same time as
Getting closer ... adding the golden accents
you went around the sides there are inevitable smears ... on you, your painting apron and most of all on the birdhouse. Ugh!!! I hate to wait and used some of that time to work on the yellow birdhouse.

I must admit the liner brush, I have several slightly different versions, and I have become fast friends. While I like using pens like Sharpie's and such, I find that you have to be very, VERY careful when using them. Often, the inks are dissolved when you use acrylic varnish. After all the hard work of putting them on you grit your teeth and then try to put as light a coat as possible over the ink hoping it will retain its sharpness and color. That was one of the reasons I was drawn to Comic-Con, I was curious to see what kind of pens they were using and as I imagined, they were using things I had never heard of. I can see a trip to the local art supply store in my future and buying one of each type and see if it will work for me.

The final product:

Never content to use just the birdhouse I buy, I always try to add additional elements, improving the things that you buy just off the shelf.  Since I am on blood thinners and have to avoid sharp objects; saws, sanders, anything that can cut the skin and case me to bleed, I have to be creative and keep an eye out for things I can add on items creatively! In this case this birdhouse was only about 6 ½" after I added the round painted gold wooden beads that gave it a different and definitely unique look that set it apart from the original.  I urge everyone to consider this concept. It doesn't take much to make your creation distinctive ... fake flowers, birds, trees, any number of things that make your final creation stand out from the crowd. Go ahead and try it! You will be surprised at the difference it makes. One word of warning though, lay your additions on your item, scotch tape it even because once you glue it on, it could be on forever!

One additional observation, you might have noticed, this is a definitely abstract or possibly an art deco design not the usual Rosemaling or Pennsylvania Dutch I use. I needed to try something new!Maybe you do too!

Thank you for reading the KrugsStudio blog. I try to talk about all things design. Every aspect of our lives are designed by someone. Well, as we all know, some designs are more successful than others. I encourage you to read earlier blogs. They discuss all kinds of things you might enjoy!

Friday, September 2, 2016

WHO Designs Medicine Bottle Caps: From A Senior Struggling to Open Them!

Look familiar? You want one and get many!
Having reached a certain age, the number of prescriptions I take has increased with the increase in years. Sound familiar? While, in fact, the number of medicines (meds) I take daily has rather dramatically decreased, the struggle to open some of them has not. I know many seniors whose prescriptions have increased though. You want one and as the photo so clearly shows, you get many, too many.

I have wondered why someone, anyone, has not invented and patented a prescription bottle cap that simply gives you one pill, the number the vast majority of us take at any given time during the day? Everyday I curse the three or four or none that magically appear or don't appear as you fish around for them. I'm convinced they wait for me in their special drawer. I can just hear them, "Here he comes, tighten up!" Maybe like screams in the movie "Monster, Inc." the struggles give them more power over us. They may be on to something. In fact we do age a little bit more every day!
Can't open it? Give it to a kid.

When my son was about 3 or 4, I remember struggling with one when I had yet another sinus infection. After watching me struggle, he asked to try it ... you know the one you push and twist and well, it doesn't? He took it from me and opened it without even flexing a muscle. I stood there looking at him. My in-law's,  it seems, had already discovered the same thing. An adult can't open it? Give a childproof bottle to a kid, they can open it.

I have watched friends and relatives struggling with the same thing especially a favorite aunt who had so many medicines I wondered how she ever kept track of them. She took them morning, noon and night in a kind of medical ballet I didn't envy at all. I still don't know how she did it.

First we try the hands, then the hammer and if all else
fails, there is the trusty crowbar.
During her weekly ritual filling her next weeks case, I witnessed a scene not unlike the women on the left and while she never (or hardly) swore the looks on her face told volumes about her feelings. In fact her struggles caused her to loose track and she had to check what she had already put in to make sure she didn't miss a thing. I would have helped but that would have altered her mo-jo so I would just sit and watch. Its almost like watching a chess game. Where will they move? How long will it take?

Later when she was no longer able to do this herself my uncle had to be the medicine guru in their home, a task I didn't envy!

Why do bottles have to be so difficult? I can understand a child opening them and taking an overdose of something. My daughter as a teenager grabbed a bottle of my blood thinner and popping my pills instead of her's, prompted a call to the CDC that urged us to get her to vomit them out. One 3 mg. warfarin tablet would be OK but not 4. I don't even remember what she was on, probably her steroids during an asthma attack. While I held the phone and listened to the CDC, my wife urged her to vomit the pills by sticking a finger down her throat. It worked. However, that still doesn't explain why bottles are so difficult to open.
It appears ICE BREAKERS has already solved this
dilemma. You can choose one OR many.

The other day, while riding in a friends car, I fished out a container that contained mints, ICE BREAKERS. It was hot here in Palm Springs, my mouth and throat were dry so I looked at the case to find where it opened. You can imagine my surprise when I saw it clearly marked ... for getting ONE tablet at the top and MANY tablets at the bottom. Whoever invented this clever solution is missing out on a patent fortune! Just imagine what his or her patent would generate if every prescription bottle on earth gave us this option? I mean, it would be like "sliced" bread!

Will mean the end of "Push Down
and Twist? I sure hope so!!!
 Ice Breaker Mints works for me!
So, a simple and existing solution is already among us and well, no one is even giving it a try. I bet that thousands, no millions of people around the world would welcome this amazing cap and its designer as if they were a hero, akin to the discovery of polio vaccine, flu shots even remedies that solve countless other diseases that we manage to accumulate in our lifetimes and require that ubiquitous orange, plastic medicine bottle with that nasty, twisting white cap that never relents urging "push down and twist." Its the 21st Century; time for a change, right?

I urge you to send this column to your Wal-Marts, RiteAids, Walgreens, CVS and any other pharmacy you use and ask for ... no DEMAND that they switch their caps to something akin to this. We can ask for a simple cap, if there are no kids around, that is still tight enough to spill everything on the counter when you get it off.  Here, you would get a tab merely big enough to get one tablet, that wouldn't open or give you more than one. How simple is that? Let me know what you think.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please, take the time to explore earlier blogs where the emphasis here and always is to explore the ways design affects our lives ... and always has.