Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Color Wheel Plus Tubes and Bottles of Colorful Paint

I have to admit, I AM a color junkie. While I bemoan the fact companies bring out new colors barely distinguishable from older ones, I belly up to the bar the minute there's a hint of a sale. I bet in small acrylic paints I have nearly 300 colors! Really. Tubes of it are around 30.

What got me to think about this was putting up some new (old depending on your view) paintings on my Etsy store, alankrugfineart.etsy.com. One was an oil I had left unfinished for a few years, the other a wild acrylic that took a boring scene and after madly adding colors it took you by the neck and shook you around a bit.

It was the oil painting though that gave me pause. It was originally a plein air oil painting of a garden. I loved the scene but never could achieve the vibrancy of real life. Suddenly I took it down where it was hidden in the hall, dragged out my by now neglected oils and added the reds and yellows, deep and lighter greens and lavenders for the shade and got it to pop! Yes, I took a lesson from Van Gogh and put the colors directly on a palette knife and went to town! It is now exactly what I wanted and had hoped to achieve.

While I have my share of oil paint tubes, my original teacher had a fondness for turquoises and greens that we all bought willy nilly at Dick Blick as well as other colors to "augment" the basic 12 or so colors that the masters have used since the Renaissance! I may have 30 tubes or so but some are duplicates. I didn't have the color? Well, I mixed it. Then I discovered the world of acrylics.

I tackled "Stairway to Heaven" an all acrylic painting next. Here I had to be sure I used the right bottle of paint. Picky picky picky. That drew me up short. With almost 300 bottles of paint, some so close to each other even I, who has a very critical color sense, might have trouble telling the difference. Because I didn't write it down (that's another blog) I grabbed what I thought was the closest and then put bits of it all over the painting just to be sure. This time I rubbed the colors softly, "expressionist" style over the wild colors and textures to smooth it down without losing the vibrancy the painting had.

Peaking through my work area, I have a glass top bench, was my color wheel. Truth be told I rarely use it. I have violated the rules for so long that I oftentimes wonder, why bother. This time though, I studied it and realized that in most cases I was using the complements of colors on the wheel but not in ways most painters do today. I never wanted colors to be jarring. I want them to compliment each other and in either my craft items or paintings leave surprises for the viewer to discover. I bemoan the fact our world is so dull. I remember vermillion and white or turquoise and white cars with matching interiors. A glance at a parking lot today is nothing but white, black and silver cars. I remember women weren't afraid of colorful frocks and men's shirts, while maybe garish were not black.

My advice? USE COLOR!!! If you have trouble with your colors get a color wheel. Put it where you can see it and start using it. Every season is a chance to be colorful...spring, summer, especially fall and even winter with subtle grays and whites with stark black. We have so many chances in our lives to use color why not start now?

Do you need all those colors? Probably not. If you are getting started or it an old hand, get a new book, take out just the recommended colors and see if you can't create just about every color you will ever need. Don't be like those people at the craft shows that have to have "that" color. I learned long ago if you wanted to get it done, mix a little of this and a little of that and move on!

Visit Krugsstudio@etsy.com for some colorful crafts and alankrugfineart.etsy.com for some interesting oil and acrylic paintings. Thank you for reading my blog.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Columbian Exchange: How Columbus's Voyages Changed Everything

Several years ago I read a book, 1421, that told the story of five treasure fleets sent out by the Emperor of China to map the entire world. And map they did.  When they returned home five years later political fortunes had changed - ships, maps, treasures, even some sailors were ordered destroyed and it was never mentioned again.

As with all things ordered by imperial fiat, things survived. The author notes mysterious maps slowly trickled into Europe, maps that may well have made the Age of Discovery possible.  The Chinese knew, as the ancient Greeks, that the world was round and came close to its exact size. The surviving maps are usable today.

I just finished Charles C Mann's book 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created and was introduced to "The Columbian Exchange."  The theory, now accepted globally, tells how the world changed forever with the first voyage Columbus made in 1492. He brought diseases, bugs, animals, and many other things the New World had never seen before. He took back foods and new bugs and diseases the Old World had not seen. Nothing like this had occurred since the time of the dinosaurs.

The peoples of the  New World suffered the worst. In the time it took him to make his second voyage over 50% of Native Americans were dead where Europeans had interacted with island peoples. While gold was not discovered, they discovered a series of plants, tobacco and sugar, would make them wealthy beyond their dreams. To make up for labor needs to replace native deaths, slaves from Africa were imported along with a variety of goods and living plants bearing yellow fever and Malaria, diseases unknown in the Americas. The results were devastating. Indians and Europeans had no immunity to these diseases either and died in some cases days after leaving the ship.  It was discovered Africans raised in areas where it was endemic usually survived. Hence their importation increased in numbers we will never know the totals to.

Before you think America was immune, Southern deaths on rice, tobacco and cotton plantations could be horrific up to the Mason-Dixon Line, the limits for the mosquito that carried both diseases. This book explained so much of what I saw and read about in Virginia.  When the Indians died of European diseases, there weren't enough laborers in Europe so Africans seemed the perfect answer.

This exchange affected the entire world. Remember Spain was looking for a shortcut to China. Silks, gold, spices and porcelains were in huge demand. By the time they reached Europe they cost a fortune. Finding a shortcut would increase profits and cut costs.

The discovery in Bolivia of a mountain of silver changed everything. China would buy ALL the silver they could get.  They paid with silks, spices and porcelain for decades. As it was doing in first Spain and Europe, now in China, the sheer volume of silver undermined the financial system that some might argue is still trying to recover. Globalization started.  The entire world was affected as no nation or peoples could escape its affects. This book explains how and why. I couldn't put it down.

This book is a "must" read.  Globalization is not new. Rome may have ruled some of the known world, Columbus's voyage changed forever the world. We are digesting this still!

P. S. Art wasn't immune either. Religious and profane combined as well.

Please visit KrugsStudio.etsty.com for wonderful crafts and AlanKrug.etsy.com for a collection of oil and acrylic fine art paintings.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Creating Thank You Gifts

One of the good things (or bad things depending on your point of view) is that after you visit someone you always have a "thank you" gift in your arsenal or have the means to create one. However, I have also discovered that what you think is the perfect gift may not be. I have never forgotten a clever Federal styled birdhouse in the shape of an old fashioned mailbox that hasn't been seen at a friends after receiving it as a Christmas gift. I never did that again.
Nightlight or Birdhouse?
The dilemma for me was what to create for a relative. I could do a birdhouse in the purples that she loves or after stumbling around in the dark at their house wondered if they wouldn't enjoy a winter styled night light.

I had a ready source of almost three dimensional trees (I loaded up in San Diego) so after some discussion decided to use pretty much the same colors and motifs but on two very different items. Then after looking at them decide what she might enjoy more.

I wanted a simple "forest" look. I used two shaped trees on each piece but while the colors were pretty much the same and they were decorated more or less, they also were shown in a winter scene with mountains and snow and used differently!

All of the painted trees and background where done working in this case from the sky down. Lightest colors on top and increasingly darker colors moving to the front while the extra trees were painted and decorated but not glued on until the background was pretty much in place. It did look strange and after they were glued into place, the trees became two of the four legs on the birdhouse, additional work was needed to make them fit in.

While creating them I worried about what I was creating. Half done anything looks considerably worse and unfinished compared to the final item. For me, using a scene like this, it is creating the depth and while stylized, giving a sense of what the scene is about. I also wanted a bit of flash so used glitter glue and a variety of paints in varying thicknesses giving yet more dimensionality. If the carved trees had depth, I felt that some of the painted trees needed more as well. Photos don't capture the effect but it is far removed from merely a smooth, painted object. The snowflakes, in white and iridescent purples also added a bit of flash and color. I have a bag of them so....

Can you guess what the winner was? The "loser" has been put up on my Etsy store.

Please visit KrugsStudio.etsy.com for these items and many more as well as AlanKrugFineArt.etsy.com where I am migrating all of my paintings. Thank you for visiting my blog!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Jefferson's Monticello

Jon Meachams's book THOMAS JEFFERSON made me more interested in the man who wrote our DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE from England, was both a Vice President, Secretary of State and two term president. He was such a conumdrum writing about liberty and being a slaveholder.

We had to leave our time share July 3rd, of all times, so headed to friends who live in Mechanicsville, a suburb of Richmond. Well, maybe to some a suburb as they live on 10 acres in the middle of nowhere! It was hard to believe you are near the start of the great American metropolis that stretches from Richmond all the way to Boston. Oddly though, you can get out of the city and into the wilds far easier than in Los Angeles unless you are a mountain climber!

Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello
When I discovered we were only 1 ½ hours away from Monticello, I just had to go!

It was a beautiful clear, sunny day that wasn't too hot or muggy. Because it was the 4th of July weekend, there probably were more people than usual but it was all handled with aplomb and we had a wonderful tour guide who showed us much of the workings of the house and plantation that was originally 5,000 acres, a common size in those days.

Jefferson raised a variety of crops including tobacco, rice, barley and the vegetables they ate. The home is near Charlottesville, VA but I believe back in the 1700's you pretty much had to be self sustaining. What surprised me was how far he was from Williamsburg. It must have been a two or three day journey depending on the weather. Looking at the furnishings, books, all that was required to furnish and maintain a grand home and bustling planation, I can't even imagine what it took to get materials there.

He was an inventive man constantly adding to and taking away from his home. In fact, what we see today was his second home. He didn't like the first. There are some wonderful innovations far ahead of his time. His was a constant, searching mind.

Yet, some things are hard to understand. His love of liberty and his inability to regard all humans as his equal while at the same time depending on them and their ingenuity in carrying out his ideas. However, I then questioned how often do we step out of our own comfort zone, take a chance against the prevailing wisdom. Could he and all slave owners have freed their slaves and rehired them as free men as was being done in the North? I have always wondered what the cost different would have been. Wouldn't it have been cheaper to hire them and let them worry about food, housing and such?  Would this country have evolved under very different rules? Would we have avoided the Civil War?

When Frederick Douglas and President Lincoln discussed the possibility of buying all the slaves, freeing them and sending them back to Africa two points came up: One, the cost would have been around $4.5 billion, far more money than the government had; Two, as Douglass so clearly pointed out, "Its our country too! We helped build it just like every other man and woman here." Lincoln to his credit couldn't disagree but felt that the white man and the black man would never live in peace. We are still fighting the battle.

The United States of America is a grand experiment. It is still evolving and despite all the angry rhetoric we hear on a daily basis I am reminded of Colin Powell's words, "Democracy is messy. Its raucous, loud and divided. However, be aware when there is quiet, when there is no descent, watch out. That means the days of our democratic republic are finished." You have to wonder if Roman's felt the same way when Augustus Caesar declared the empire. Maybe after 500 years as a republic  they were just tired of all the battles.

Monticello is a World Heritage Site and gets no money from the Federal Government. It is well preserved and depends on the generosity of the public. Should you visit? By all means. It a window into our past and the tensions that ruled the founding of our country!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Vacation In The South

Port of Jamestown, VA
This year we decided to stay in the US for our vacation. When a friend wanted to see Memphis, especially Graceland for her 60th Birthday, we agreed to go with them...having a daughter there helped with that decision! Also, finally getting a week for our timeshare in Williamsburg, VA really helped as well. So starting with Memphis, then Nashville, Williamsburg, VA, then Richmond, Washington, DC ending up in Northern New Jersey we had quite a trip. 27 days to be exact.

After a two day trip getting to Memphis, thanks to American Airlines, we got into the swing of things. We stayed on Beal Street and had a rental car. Our friends went to Graceland, we went to hang with our daughter. We saw the completely refurnished Civil Rights Museum, went to B.B. Kings place, took the Sun Record tour and of course ate at our favorite hole in the walls. Trust me, if you have never eaten fried chicken at Gus's, you ain't had fried chicken. Its to die for.

Next stop was Nashville and we barely made it there in time to see the Grand Ole Opry. We stayed at the Grand Ole Opry resort and had a great time with many legends of Country Music. I didn't really know the names but was familiar with many of the songs. New to this it was still quite a treat. We took a tour the next day and saw the sights including the Parthenon, The Country Music Hall of Fame and the city in general. The weather was warm and humid...but wait there was more and stickier to come.

Our one big mistake was planning on getting from Nashville to Williamsburg. As we learned its not 11 hours, it more like 13 ½ hours counting food, gas and potty stops. We left around 7 am and rolled in around 8:30 pm. The country is beautiful and green...Californians notice such things coming from the land of drought. Our iPhone amazingly got us there on the first try. We weren't always so lucky.

We had a lovely two bedroom unit, big enough to live in in fact, for just the two of us. Williamsburg was a few miles away and we went there just about every day.

While I went to college in Oklahoma, I have never spent much time in the south. This was the longest time I have ever been there and my first time ever in Virginia. Having just read a book about Jefferson, Jon Meacham's book THOMAS JEFFERSON, I felt I was all set in dealing with early American colonial history. What I found was a very different telling of the facts I had learned in school and perpetuated as an adult.

We forget that the very first settlement by Europeans in North America was in Roanoke, VA. When the supply ship returned many months later the settlement and the settlers were gone. It is a mystery that baffles historians today. The next attempt was in 1607 in what became Jamestown, a good 13 years before the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock. Mostly just men and boys, these were trades people looking first for gold and then product to send back to raw material starved England. Jamestown struggled for years and in one winter, 1609-1610, the settlement went from 500 to 60. However, more settlers arrived, farming began in earnest and the colony survived. They have done a wonderful job of recreating Jamestown and you can see archeologists working the site. An old Episcopal church still functions, they have recreated the fort and three old fashioned ship replicas dot the harbor. After viewing life in the 1600's, and the beastly weather at times, I don't think many people would want to go back in time and live there.

What I felt was missing in my eduction was that rice, wheat, barley, and tobacco became the staples of Virginian exports to England. Tobacco quickly became its biggest crop after a less harsh type was brought in from the West Indies. Because all agriculture was labor intensive, and became more so after the cotton gin was invented, their solution was slavery. As demand for product grew, the demand for labor grew and then with cotton, exploded.

Much of this tale is ignored in history books. While it is true that slavery lessened and was finally abolished in the north, it grew in the south. The north became more and more industrialized and like the south needed more and more labor as the south remained stubbornly agarian. Both had tremendous needs for labor and handled that need in very different ways. Europe literally had "huddled masses yearning to breathe free" and governments happy to get rid of them. Africa had a tradition of slavery where the original traders had no idea what awaited their sales when they got to the new world. In fact, most couldn't even speak to each other! Until the 21st century the migrations to the new world were the greatest the earth had ever seen! At the start of the Civil War, the US exported 1 billion pounds of cotton, 50% of all exports the past year. Many attribute the English Industrial Revolution to American cotton and England suffered much as the South did during the war years.

The Civil Rights Museum in Memphis was remodeled and if anything is even better than before. However, you read the words of Jefferson, his "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness" and pause. This from a man with over 600 slaves at the time of his death, with a slave mistress that went against everything he wrote. In museums, recreations of towns, reading and seeing first hand what life was like for both whites and blacks is a sobering affair, one that I am glad I didn't miss. If anything I am more curious about events from the southern perspective for after all, four of our first five presidents were southerners, Virginians in fact.

Thanks for reading. Be sure to visit KrugsStudio.etsy.com for some new items that will reflect our trip.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Day At The Met

There is no doubt The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is one of the premier art museums of the world. On our recent cross country trek we ended up with relatives in Northern New Jersey. They are minutes away from a New Jersey Transit station that ends at Penn Station in NYC so on the ladies shopping day, a rainy, unbelievably humid day, they dropped me off for my day at the Met. 

It takes an hour by train and it took me another hour after criss crossing Central Park twice to finally arrive. New Yorkers are pretty much like Angelenos who don't know directions much either. However, everyone was kind and dripping wet I finally arrived. 

In retrospect, I should have started at one corner of each floor and kept on going. Because some art is not my cup of tea I avoided it. After criss-crossing those galleries a few times, asking guards a million times I went with the flow.  

If you have never gone, put it on your bucket list. It has in its collection just about every artistic era since man scratched on rocks, and archeologists have discovered it. A day is simply not enough. Going with the flow takes you into amazing collections. While I went to see the painting, generally anything after about 1500, the crafts and primitive sections and even Greek pottery had amazing designs, designs I will try on birdhouses. The inventiveness of all peoples is truly amazing and they do a good enough job explaining where, when and if available, why. 

While the entire facade appears under construction (every block in the city literally has construction going on), the interior seems in order. You now enter through an impressive Egyptian collection but since I've been there and seen the originals, I went on.  The primitive collections drew me in. I wasn't prepared for that. I took many photos to study later and finally found the impressionists. 

What is intriguing with primitive art is how many cultures often came to similar solutions. Geometries are used in Native American art, Oceania, Egypt, Africa, even Asia. 

Galleries and collections seemed repetitive in theme but not artists. I found several rooms of Impressionists then would see more in another gallery. However, as I searched for this era or that, I began to follow the eras and studied techniques used in each. While we love Impressionist artists, it did not just happen in a void. I remember being amazed looking at paintings in the Prado how some artists used color and sweeping brush strokes 300-400 years earlier. 

What marked all paintings of any era was the depth of color the artist achieved. I noticed that artists during the time of the American Revolution didn't have the similar depth.  To see a glorious Romney, Gainsborough, Reynolds and study close-up what's in the shadows, is to understand the difference of applying one layer of color to multiple layers that brings a richness to the main subjects you can achieve no other way.

I learned that the difference between good art and great art is this richness of depth. Even the shadows count! Next time you looking at art, see what's in the shadows. You will be surprise.

Monday, July 7, 2014

AMERICAN AIRLINES: Descending To Third World Status

Years ago when we took a trip to South America we had what we all thought was a draconian tour director guiding us around Peru and Brazil.  Up at 4 or 5 each morning of our flights, we ALWAYS took the first flight out.  We found out later the first flight of the day  was the only flight that left on time. The second one usually had delays but the third was a toss up, really.

On a recent trip to Memphis we fell into the same scenario.  Friends whom we met there left two hours before us and made it. About the only thing that worked right for us the first day was the limo that picked us up on time and dropped us off in front of AA gate. In fact we were through an awkward checkin where another passenger printed out our boarding passes when the AA personnel couldn't, got checked by the TSA with two hours to go.

We boarded our plane on time, a plane that had come in from Florida apparently just fine. We left the terminal, were literally next on the runway when the pilot says a pressure gauge on the right engine was reading high, too high.  He headed back so the mechanics could check it out. We all groaned as most on this flight had connecting flights in Dallas, some going as far as Munich!

I applaud the pilots caution but I didn't applaud his comment that this plane had had the same problem a month ago but then it went away, well, until today. We finally pulled away and took off from LAX at the exact time we were to have landed in Dallas. We were three hours late.

In Dallas we landed when we were supposed to be in Memphis. There were no more flights so while they did put us up at a hotel, it was to be another day up at 5 am with no suitcases. Luckily my wife grabbed toothbrushes and toothpaste from a big bowl on the counter. Obviously, Airlines have this problem a lot.

We repeated the airport drill at 5:30 am the next day and our plane left on time. While waiting for our suitcases I headed to the rest room. Coming out there was a gaggle of people peering into a glassed in but dark room.  Seeing shadowy shapes of suitcases I peered in too. I saw my suitcase.  Getting my wife, I said isn't that your suitcase? Yes it was. Then probably too loud I asked, "How could our suitcases get here and we couldn't?" A Greek chorus answered me , "Yeah, how come?"

To be fair it's not just American. Friends we connected up with had delays on Southwest. I think the bigger issue, how companies are designed and run today, is that you delay as long as you can. Looking down from the Skytrain in Dallas I saw American Airlines planes at least 30 years old. Do they still fly old Douglas DC-9's? The paint was half gone, the silver of the aluminum stained and dirty. I can remember flying in the old days. You dressed nice, they fed you and your ticket included everything. Today however, it's nothing more than a old Trailway's bus with wings.