Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Third Time Is The Charm: Simplifying A Design For Beginners

Teaching my first craft class has been a unique experience. Just like being a Peace Corps teacher in Africa, you learn to get lessons across by the seat of your pants.
The thing I learned in the first two sessions with a Pennsylvania Dutch mini birdhouse was that for beginners it can't be too complicated. I didn't learn the lesson well enough for the second project, another birdhouse.
Three birdhouses based on one design!

The second project was supposed to be this birdhouse, the first one on the left. I realized after teaching the first birdhouse, that this was way too complicated. I think a good teacher wants to help their students to succeed. I know I did.

This brought me to the middle one where things were bigger hence easier to paint for shaky hands unfamiliar with paint, brushes and experience. I was satisfied that I had done a good job until looking at it again later, I realized it still might be too complicated, hence the third birdhouse on the right. One bird, big leaves and flowers that kept the flavor of the original birdhouse but made it doable. To be fair by the end of the second class, some of the students were getting the hang of craft painting and even followed the lines drawn. Not all however.

How do you tackle such a problem? In my art classes, it was pretty clear what we are supposed to do. You pick the class you want to learn, the teacher gave us the materials we needed and the teaching began. However, one teacher, teaching us Rosemaling on a wooden bowl with a lid, encouraged us to do our own design. She then taught us what we were supposed to trace on the piece. Hopelessly lost, I packed up to leave when startled, she realized what I was doing and stopped and came over. I told her what I had done and that I didn't have enough skill in Rosemaling to "wing" it so was packing up. She asked how many others were having trouble and half of the class raised their hands.

She then gave us a quick course on Rosemaling, how to play with the forms and then moved more cautiously visiting us nearly constantly to help us with our "own" designs. It turned out well and I am quite proud of the finished piece.

It was this in mind that I was constantly on the prowl with my neophyte learners. I would show them what to do and where and immediately went around to show them, often using their own hands, what to do and how to do it. Once they knew what I was trying to teach they did very well. Not all of course but most. I learned that this was the first time any of them had ever done this type of craft.

I have a feeling that we crossed a hurtle for several and may have more luck with a very simple flowerpot with nothing but straight lines, dots made from the other end of the paint brush and petals using the push, drag and lift motion. To make it even simpler I will mark in white pencil the lines on the dark brown pots. It should be fun. Adding floral foam, sticking in a fake flower and tidying that with moss they will have created their very own decoration!

Simplifying maybe is a parable for life. We tend to make things far more complicated than they need to be I realized. While I love the first birdhouse, the last version is in many ways far more powerful. Maybe its time for all of us to step back and look at what we do! Create a design and see what happens when you create another simpler version. You just might like it better!

Thank you for visiting. Please check out my earlier blogs. I hope that I both educate and enlighten.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Days In A Museum At A Price?

If you are a museum lover, like me, entering one can be a magical experience. After reading Christopher Knight's article in the Sunday Los Angeles Times awhile ago, I read the replies of his victims. This article has ignited a storm of anger and outrage, especially from the museums he used as examples of being commercialized.

My very first memories of going to a museum are with my Opa in Toledo, OH. The Toledo Museum of Art, a grand edifice built during the age of museums (1880's - 1920's) with many masterpieces, was my introduction to the world of art. We did the same thing with our children. They love going to them even today.

I have always loved art and finally in the 5th and 6th grade my parents enrolled me in classes at the Portland, OR Museum of Art. I can remember still being in awe of the Van Gogh Paintings on loan when they were building a new Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. Week after week I saw them and loved the bright colors and expressionist style they had. I felt like it was a homecoming when I finally got to spend a day at yet another new museum for Van Gogh that I found out was closed soon after we were there and remodeled yet again. The two big surprises were that Van Gogh used a frame with strings at a variety of angles to help him keep his perspective and that several of the colors had faded within years of being painted only discovered behind the frames edges when paintings were cleaned. This is the purpose of a museum - to inform and educate!

San Francisco Museum of Art
Knight's article alleges things that are not being considered with the "responsibility to serve and educate the public through direct, personal encounters with works of art," taken from the Art Museums Directors code of ethics. He pointed out that a private, for profit firm,, arranged a private tour of the De Young Museum for $3500! This definitely takes "Personal encounters with art" to new levels, don't you think?

Some museums have more cachet than others. The local museum would definitaly not have the cachet of MOMA, The Metropolitan, the National Gallery of Art or the Art Institute of Chicago. Should a museum, any museum stoop this low? Should they allow their collections to be used for private viewings or for anything else that detracts from their mission to educate the public and that would mean all the public not the Daddy Warbucks.

Discovered in an acient shipwreck
The concept of a museum for centuries was unknown. Wealthy collectors and royal families held on to what they considered valuable pieces of art. They established a code where a collection of artifacts and other items of artistic, scientific or historical import was their personal property. Of course when an empire was defeated, these treasures were the first to go. The loss of the library of Alexandria is still mourned today. The irony there was the invading Muslims destroyed it but by saving other books of classical learning that they found, those books fueled the Renaissance and assured the rise of the west.

The first museums may well have been in ancient Greek temples dedicated to the Muses who were the patrons of the arts. The first museum not associated with gods and temples was Plato's collection. Early museums began as private collections of the wealthy. The first "museum" was the Capitoline Museum founded by Pope Sextus IV when he gave many of the churches ancient statues to the Roman People in 1471. The Vatican Museum opened to the public in 1506, the Armories of England opened in 1660 though those with money were visiting it since 1592. That was definitely a preceident. The 1700's saw the rise of Natural History Museums as scientific studies of animals and the distant past rose in the general consciousness.

After the French Revolution, the Directory took over the home of the Louis XVI, the Louvre. and using the copious amounts of treasures in it, made it a museum open to all the people.

The Louvre at night!
When Napoleon marched across Europe he was infamous for his looting of local museums and collections that soon filled the Louvre. While some of it was returned not all of it was. He set an example for Hitler over a century later who looted the Louvre as well.

Napoleon wasn't the first but he was the first to loot on such a grand scale. The problem always remains, how do you give it back? We are still struggling with the Nazi era, from 70 years ago.

From around 2010 most major museums began to digitize their collections and make them available online. Now, if you couldn't travel to Paris or Amsterdam or St. Petersburg, you could look at their collections as close as you wanted and as long! There is some discussion that this has cut into attendance figures and has forced museums to create dynamic and exciting exhibitions.

We all know that museums are struggling. The down economy has reduced giving and museums with their fixed, many think bloated costs, have had to look for other ways to fund new exhibitions and bring in an audience. According to Knight there has been too much collusion by the museums hungry for money and companies such as that are willing to help them. To private companies it is merely maximizing your product and what a product they have!

Knight seemed to hate the fact that a museum would bring in a gallery to help with an exhibition. Reading an article later, the museum who suddenly had a treasure trove of Samari armor and such had no one on staff that knew much about it so yes, they reached out to a gallery in Santa Monica, CA with vast experience with Japanese history and artifacts. Was this a wise decision? I think it was. Let the experts decide. I disliked the American Indian Museum in Washington, D.C. for its lack of focus and poor, fractured explanations of the various tribes.

I'm not saying that is an innocent victim. Owned by Traina Interactive Corp., exists to enable rare experiences and connections benefitting worthy causes. Check them out, they have just about every experience you can imagine... for a price!

Not mentioned by Knight was the history of art itself. Nearly every artist we love and revere had a patron. Michelangelo had the Medici's, Jackson Pollack had Peggy Guggenheim and the list goes on and on. Pieces that changed our perceptions of the world from the Renaissance and even before had some kind of patron. Artists have to live too.

Baltimore Art Museum
Online one can find the Association of Art Museum Directors guidelines and they make for
interesting reading. They are written in such a way that allows profit and non-profit entities lots of wiggle room. "Proponents of exhibition collaboration with for-profit enterprises often make their case by citing changes in our global culture. Their argument is that 'education' and 'entertainment' as well as 'art' and 'experience' are becoming more and more fused." In invoking the guidelines of 1971, the revised version in 2001 makes no reference to advances in every aspect of the modern art museum.

The mission asks these questions: 
Does this collaboration further or detract from the museum's mission?
Will the collaboration enhance public access to important works of art?
Do the motives of the for-profit affect the non-profit institution's critical judgment?

The public rarely sees what goes on behind the scenes until, of course, they are brought to the attention of the public by the media, especially the giving public. They ask, "Why do you need me when there is some mega-corporation willing to hand over money?" Historically, there has always been money given to artists and later museums to further their missions. You hope and pray that the mission guidelines stated above are followed. But what Knight doesn't address is, would we know the difference?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

PACKED IN A TRUNK: The Lost Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson

HBO recently showed a documentary of an artist I, and I would gather a great many others had never heard of before, Edith Lake Wilkinson.

Born in Wheeling, West Virginia in 1868 she was an only child of devoted parents. She showed an early talent for art. Leaving at 20 for New York City to follow her "muse," she enrolled at Columbia School of Teaching as it was known then and became involved with the art community there and taught for a few years as well.

She met another student at Columbia, Fannie Wilkinson, and they became fast friends and many believe lovers. Since they both had the same last name. they posed as sisters.

In 1914 she went to Providence, MA helping to found an art colony there and returned each season until 1923.

In the art colony she became interested in block prints especially the Japanese masters. Each color had to have its own "block" and registration was paramount. Look at a print by Hokusai. Working with local printers she started a style where the block was colored and then pressed onto paper. Known as white line prints it turned out that she had pioneered this technique in Providence a year before a male printer who historically was considered the first to use this method. A German around the same time was experimenting with it as well.

Wilkinson used a variety of media - oil, pastels, block prints, charcoal and watercolor. She had her own style though I saw echoes of early Matisse. She a definite Expressionist bent and was inventive using a variety of subjects. Nothing escaped her sight and talents.

Her parents died in a freak accident at their home when she was 57. The executor of their will was a lawyer who systematically looted her inheritance, said she had dementia having her committed in 1923. She was released nearly a year later. The lawyer had her committed again in 1925 and it was in a asylum where Wilkinson died in 1957 - 30 years of life with no more art. Was she insane? She would have been after all that.

The HBO documentary was written and filmed by her great niece, Jane Anderson, an award winning screenwriter, playwright and film director plus an artist herself. Shown at the Palm Springs Movie festival in 2015 it won a series of awards.

Opening up the trove of art
While the family knew about the trunks of paintings and they were rediscovered in the 60's, some items were removed but most were put back in. They were not opened again until Anderson opened the trunks, saw the paintings and decided there was a story here but more importantly, clearing up the mystery of her great aunt and showing her art to the world.

Wilkinson's pioneering white line art
Part of her journey took her back to Providence where she saw a few pieces of her aunt's art along with her block prints sprinkled after all these years in the local galleries.  One of the discoveries after a hundred years was that her colored block prints was clearly marked 1914, a full year ahead of the person credited with the technique. It is amazing! Here we had an American Expressionist that had been lost.

It was an exciting documentary  of discovery in that an artist who had a tremendous talent, was liked by her fellow artists disappeared almost without a trace. Having no advocate other than her lawyer looting her blind, that she was found and given the one man art show she deserved, 90 years later, is in its own way a miracle.

The niece also has a wife and are raising an adopted son. Anderson's color and subject sensitivities are very similar, eerily so. Before she even knew about her aunt, her artwork used many of the same bright colors and subjects,
only in todays world, not the world her aunt knew. Paired together you have to wonder about genetics! They both have an Expressionist bent using large blocks of color coupled with linework that  accents their work almost as if they were the same person.

Also amazing is that many of the scenes and buildings that Wilkinson painted in Providence are still there but often with new purposes. The market shown (bottom right) is now a gallery and held the first one man show of Wilkinson 90 years later.
The old West End Market is todays Larkin Gallery

We lost a great talent to greed. Here was a woman who was probably gay and more of less suspect because of this. With no family member to step in and be her advocate after her parents died,  she was the perfect target for a ruthless lawyer who in putting her away only had to pay for her care in an asylum that gave her no stimulation while he lived off her inheritance. I think I would begin to lose my mind with day after day of no stimulation. Pictures of the rooms and institutions certainly were nothing like that available today. She was left to linger and I'm sure to hopefully die.

While this was a recent HBO presentation, if you have HBO search for this. I am sure it will be released to other venues if not already. Its an amazing story one of ultimate triumph for human talents.

Thank you for visiting and reading my blog.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Teaching A Class, Second Lesson

Learning New Strokes
After an interesting class last week, I decided that my students needed to learn some basic techniques before we finished their mini birdhouses. So with plenty of scratch paper, brushes and paints in hand, I had them practice first the down stroke to be used for the flower petals and commas for the leaves. Granted they are all elderly seniors and none have done this kind of art before but the big discovery was that not only did you show them how to do something, you had to go to each one and many times use their hands to show how a stroke was done. What a world of difference from a painting convention! I was the one that needed the handholding. They were better after practicing and some made real progress. However, the idea that they could use these same strokes on their birdhouses just alluded them. I was patient and praised  them all especially those starting to get the hang of it. At first glance you might think it wasn't worth it but the looks of pleasure and the concentration on their faces made every moment a wonderful memory. It was truly an ah-ha moment!

Real concentration
We had pretty much put three of the colors (of 6) on the birdhouses last week so we put on the green leaves, the white flower petals and the yellow centers achieving some interesting results. Even though the lines were there to follow, they rarely used them. Look at the concentration though! Considering this was their first ever project like this, I realized I had made it too hard. However, I was told later that two of people in my class never came to crafters so it must have had something that attracted them.

Next we moved on to putting in shading, giving depth to the white petals with a light wash of yellow and a lighter green on the edge of each leave. Last to go on were the white dots using the end of their brushes. This was one of the hardest things to teach. Every single one tried to paint dots on with the paint brush bristles. Once I showed them to use the other end, dip the brush end in paint and them make nearly perfect dots on the birdhouse, they couldn't stop!

The variety of backs
We weren't really done. The bases needed to be painted, I thought I might add highlights with a Sharpie, but the hour was up and I did't want to drag this out another week.  Several students were done in their minds too and well, we were.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here are the finished backs. My sample is on top. It was my first original birdhouse since I came to the home; not my proudest creation. I didn't think it would be hard to do. Wow, did I have a lot to learn!

Every single birdhouse had the same outline as my birdhouse (I drew the same pattern on every blank birdhouse) but as you can see in the five samples below mine, what they painted is very, VERY different.

I looked at this and realized this was how art evolves. Someone, somewhere, had an idea and the next artist, in his mind, improved on the concept. Most art is built on something that happened in the past. Some of my students had more skill than others but as I have always maintained does that make their less talented art any less? All were proud of what they had done. The one on the middle right is stunning! In her mind, this was what she saw in those outlines while never using them.

After I got over the fact that they would never follow my design and offered only their interpretation of it, I began to really have fun. I was there to teach them some basics, guide them with techniques they could try, they were here to see what they could create.

I was given a bunch of plastic flower pots and after finishing this birdhouse project realized I needed a simpler, less detailed item for them to work on next time. We shall see. The best part is that I don't need to prepare a thing!

Check out my other articles. There are some amazingly gems in here! Thank you for visiting my blog.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

"We Trained Hard...."

Anyone that has worked for corporate or unionized America, artistic or not, will recognize the meaning of this quote: “We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.” — Roman satirist Petronius Arbiter who lived in Rome between 27 - 66 A.D. Known more for being a biting satirist, many of his comments had more than a ring of truth and plenty of bite. It was this that got him killed. Its very sad that words written 2,000 years ago mean the same today.

Look familiar?
Sound familiar? It can be your art teacher, gallery owner that represents you, the media, online store, friends and family. You are on the cusp of a breakthrough and someone, usually wanting to make a name for themselves, comes up with a new strategy, that I might add, won't work. Read the comic Dilbert sometime or read the story about the creation of Ford's Edsel.

“I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to sit quietly in his room.” — Blaise Pascal (1623 - 1662). I must admit, my new and most unusual ideas come from sleep, I'll wake up with the problem solved or in the midst of doing something mindless, like taking a shower, just lying quietly trying to take a nap. Meditation never worked for me. I just fall asleep.

The 19th Century American writer Henry David Thoreau said it best though: ‘It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?’ Don’t confuse activity with results. There is no reason to do a good job with something you shouldn’t do in the first place.”

Have you ever done this? Ever? Its so easy to just do something. After all this has been drilled into us from time we were kids. "Idle hands are the devil's workshop." Artists or anyone who creates has times in their creative process when we just do something or as Charles Munger says, ‘We’ve got great flexibility and certain discipline in terms of not doing some foolish thing just to be active – discipline in avoiding just doing anything just because you can’t stand inactivity.’

I don't know about you, but I DO feel guilty when I am in, shall we say, a hibernating mode. Why are you not painting you ask yourself? The paint, the item that idea you wanted to try. Where are they? When I had my Etsy store I spent more time on that than I had ever done when I had my own graphics business. For all that time and labor, I was making maybe 10¢ an hour. Truly this is unacceptable on any level. At least for now, I am glad to have that off my back. Oh, I paint still but it is not the driving force that it once was. Truth be told, I am having more fun and not so afraid of having a failure. As I've written, even a failure to me is a learning process leading me, overtime, to try what I've learned from my disaster. Given as a gift, the receiver has no idea of what you think. If they like it, all the better.

What do you want to accomplish? As Warren Buffett says, ‘There’s no use running if you’re on the wrong road.’ Buffet may not be an artist but he hit the creative process dead on. We are guilty of running and often we don't really know where we are going. 

If you feel guilty about periods of inactivity, or worse, seem able to break out of a cycle of inactivity, maybe there is a cause. Could it be you are pushing yourself too much? There's a reason companies are required to give their employees vacations. Europeans have up to 5 weeks a year. Northern Europeans with a shorter work day as well are as productive or more so than Americans. Oddly, Americans who work both overtime or stay in the office (often doing not much) are afraid to take even the days they are guaranteed. The vacation is a time to recharge, to do something else, see something else even think something else. These quotes are words of wisdom from the past. What is sad, is that nothing has changed!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Is Graffiti The New Art?

Aaron Horkey
I don't think a day goes by today when a driver, at least in the Los Angeles area, doesn't see some graffiti. You whiz by hardly giving it a thought other than thinking  those damn kids, messing up the walls again!

I used to sneer at it as someones 15 minutes of fame. I had to admire some of the places they placed it, but thought that it was, well, graffiti! They were defacing property, public and private. Now with nearly 24 hour gridlock here, you have more time to look at the work. In fact along the 110 freeway heading south and north out of town, the city, in a moment of wisdom, commissioned artists to decorate the walls because they knew someone would anyway. One famous piece on the side of a building was of an elderly women with a flowing multi-colored afghan against the stars and moon on a dark blue background. I think that is gone now because a new building was built in front of it, hiding the magical image. In many ways, this is really a loss.

Brendan Monroe
My view of that changed after we hosted a high school student from Brazil for a few weeks. He, and increasingly others thought that it was art and his aspiration was to be a famous "graffiti" artist.  This would be art just not the same as before. Much of it, if you discount gang tagging, is actually well thought out and can be quite beautiful and is beautifully painted. The shading, composition, coloring is dead on. I began to question myself as to why do I find this so offensive? Is it because it appears to deface someone property? Maybe it IS art! If it is, what a waste that is here and gone so quickly. Maybe that IS the point. I have read scathing reviews of the Impressionists by the critics of their times. I don't think you'd be allowed, even today, to use the words they did. The "new" in art is never recognized at the time and nor appreciated if it is.

David Meggs-Hook

When we went to Berlin and saw pieces of the Berlin Wall that had been saved and a huge stretch of it still upright along the highway heading to Prague, the concrete covered with graffiti, I realized that there is truly an international style that seems to span all continents. I had our friend stop and I took photos of a few sections to use for maybe my own graffiti at another time. We found another wall in Prague that actually didn't look bad though it was obvious more than one person had done the work. I think the Czech Republic doesn't like this and allows this art in a few places only.

When we were in Rapid City, SD we discovered and alley that was totally covered with graffiti. Nowhere else, just this alley. It too was a riot of colors and styles more adventuresome maybe that anything I have seen in Los Angeles.

I have long thought, use canvas, let us buy your work! They obviously need a patron, a Peggy Guggenheim to buy a few pieces from some of these artists. Obviously some of this truly is as engaging as Pollack, Klee, Miro, Calder. The is art work just not something that we are used to seeing. Oddly, we seem to enjoy chalk artwork on sidewalks and such but cringe at it on a wall. Of course, they are using spray cans with real paint and it is very hard to remove.
James Burrough

You have to laugh at how they restrict the purchase of spray cans. Every place that sells spray paint has it behind a caged, locked enclosure and you have to wait for someone to open it for you. Judging from the amount of graffiti that hasn't worked, like ever!

The Long Beach Museum of Art in homage to these artists has opened their museum to street artists and studio artists that want to be street artists and let them paint whatever they want. The exhibit opened June 26th. From these photos it sure looks like an exhibit worth seeing.
Jeff Soto

In many ways it seemed to combine a kind of realism with abstract and bold colors. Each artist has his own style yet somehow it is clear that its DNA came from the street, although in this case the best that the street has to offer. You may agree or not agree but there is a combination of Dali like exactness, fantasy and superb skill.

The article I read about this didn't say when it ends. It probably depends on weekly audiences. It did say that when this exhibit ends, the walls will be painted white again and another exhibition will take its place. Am I crazy? These and probably many other items "are" works of art. Maybe that the point. Just like on the street, it soon fades away. The Long Beach Museum is located at 12-98 19th Street, Long Beach, CA, 90803. It just may be worth a visit!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Teaching A Class At Last

When word got out that I painted "crafty" items such as birdhouses here at the home, I was asked to create one that I could teach to those interested. So, looking over what they had, the activities director and I went to Michael's to get  and complete sets of what we needed. We needed decent brushes, cups
Beginning to paint.
to put the paint in and a few new colors to replace those all dried out  paints plus of course, birdhouses! With coupons in hand and on smart phones we roamed the store. You must do that you know, you just never know what else is available. Other than the victims, the birdhouses in this case, everything else was re-usable.

I got busy one day a month ago to try my hand on a new birdhouse, my first in quite awhile. I wasn't all that pleased. Colors didn't work quite right, the pattern was artist being a critic of his own work. However, the director was overjoyed and so that would be the design. Grabbing the birdhouses we bought that day I used a pencil to outline the pattern on each one and we put them away for the class.

Class day arrived and I was reading a book for my book club when I heard an announcement from the Activities Director inviting all to come to crafts class at 10:00 am. 10:00? Because I am doing something else a few days later at 10:30 am I looked at the clock, jumped up and looked at the calendar. Goodness it was 10:00 today! I got dressed, grabbed my apron and headed down to the Activities Room. I wanted it all set up before the class started and I still had 15 minutes. I hate going to a class and nothing is ready. Trust me, the paints were out, the 6-cup trays for their paints were in place with a choice of brushes, cups with water and lots of paper towels. Once we had determined who would paint and who would sleep, we got started.

Birdhouses lined up with the master.
I had everyone paint the roof red and the heart on the front and sides of each birdhouse. Well, lets say they painted. I held hands with brushes in them showing them how to paint a stroke. It did help I swear. They tried to hold the item in front of them to paint. Sort of freehand style. I stopped that urging them to hold it again themselves, yes we had painting bibs on, or to hold it against the table. I can't paint just holding an item in front of me. Once they did that, they were more successful but with an average age of about 80 we had no budding Monet's though they did look like rather impressionistic versions of Pennsylvania Dutch design and one Kandinsky inspired. This, for everyone of them, was something they had never done before. Its not like conventions I've gone to where everyone is probably more experience that me! I think next week before we do a thing I will practice strokes again watching them as I realized they had never been taught to paint. There's going to be a lot of hand holding. We will do that again on scrap paper. There are some designs where you flatten the tip of the stroke and then pull up for a point. I don't know if they can do it but until we try, we will never know, right? Practice makes perfect.

The Dutch Master and a Kandinsky version.
One of my complaints of conventions is that teachers use so many colors. Everyone is upset if they don't have the color they need and at times, the tension is palpable.They are trying to create as exact a copy as they could. No worries here! They grabbed one of six colors, those I actually used; with that  color painted away until some got too enthusiastic and I had to pour paint back into a bottle and take the rest away. One resident is very cantankerous but wants to be involved in everything. She just painted away and ended up with what I can best call an abstract painted birdhouse. (See left). Actually, certain sides of it are very abstract and appealing. The Pennsylvania Dutch would never recognize it and probably say she was haunted by demons!

We spent an hour working on this and some were eager to continue. They use thick coats of paint so I told them they had to let it dry. Acrylics dry fast but not that fast. We would finish the birdhouses next week. I know that today I was finished.

After lunch, I got back to my room and slept hard for at least an hour if not longer. I have heard favorable reports of this class so I may gain more students for the second project. We shall see. We plan on finishing up next week and I will post those finished birdhouses.

This had been a learning experience like being a Peace Corps teacher. You don't know what their skills might be but I DO know you can refine them, no matter what the age.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Biting Off More Than You Can Chew

As I continue my birdhouse projects, I want to show how one birdhouse led to another. I know, its quite a leap but the simple idea of one really caused me to want to try a technique on a larger piece.

One idea leads to another.
Because I wasn't sure of my skills after my illnesses, I concentrated first on small cheap $1 wooden, what I call mini-birdhouses. Sometimes they are even on sale for 50¢. It don't get cheaper than that folks!!! All they are good for is accent pieces in ones home. Done right though, they add color and on closer inspection, interest, to your home. Its a chance to show a one-of-a-kind piece of art that is very affordable. They might ask how did that artist do that! An artist can't ask for more of a accolade that. And, it attests to your good taste.They make great gifts.

The first birdhouse was pretty sad but it was the starting point for a class of 6 senior residents. As an "artist" no completed project is a failure per se. If you are wise and paid attention, there were lessons learned and let me tell you, they were many! More about that in another column.

I continued painting the bodies of three orange, another yellow and finally bright blue. I designed patterns to use and put freehand on each one. I really liked the yellow base color before I realized the design chosen for it got switched. The flowers coming out of the painted vase seemed perfect and it stayed where it was.

Since I have never liked the plain tops of any birdhouse, mine included,  I got the idea of creating a world of vines with leaves wrapping around all six sides. To top that off, I created a painted trellis that seemed somehow to tie the whole thing together. Photos don't convey the complexity. It is a favorite of mine of all those I have done.
The vines of misery!

I have several star birdhouses that have given me pause over the years making me wonder why on earth I bought them. A sale is a sale but....The first one was a disaster and the sooner forgotten the better. However, the shape was and remains a challenge. I decided that maybe the sides, nearly three inches wide, would be perfect to really create vines with buds and flowers. With a pencil in hand I created a twisting, twining series of stems with leaves and places for the buds. That was easy but a bit tedious and I couldn't wait for it to end. That should have been the first clue.

Using just one color, DecoArts Black Green, I painted and painted and painted those dark vines and leaves - so far 5 hours and counting worth! The buds took minutes in comparison. You know what the worst part is? There is still no shading, no flowers in the leaves, no lines in the leaves so who knows how many more hours will be spent doing that. The final decision will be do I add a trellis here as well? What and hide all that work? Its a possibility still. Lets see when the front and back are done as well.

The front and back are using a more traditional Rosemaling design with arching shapes but Black Green as a base. It certainly won't take 5 hours to do them, that's for sure.

I came to realize though that for all the moaning and groaning, there is an element of pride that I could conceive of this. Will it hang together? I really don't know. I hope so. I do know that if I hadn't done the small birdhouse and tried some crazy ideas from a dream, I would never know. If its a failure I have learned, yet again quite a few lessons. One is, don't bite off more than you can chew!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Creating An Adventuresome Mini Birdhouse #1

You have to always be aware of things that you look at for new ideas. As I have discovered, ideas can come from just about anywhere. Looking for a new design after painting solid, yellow and orange, I wondered now what? Since I always layout a design (well usually) on paper to give me a kind of roadmap on how to put the design on the actual item, I did three designs, generally all Early American, or my interpretation of them, then penciled them on the actual birdhouses. I made a mistake by reversing the designs on the blue and orange birdhouses not realizing it until I was all done. What to do? I could erase but both actually looked doable on the background colors I had used. They were intricate and very detailed. The blue and yellow ones would be the most demanding or at least so far.

Early Americana
Michaels had a mini birdhouse sale recently and when going there with the person in charge of crafts, I decided the 50 cent price was just too good to pass up. I bought a few as well. Since I was in charge of another craft I wanted something different than what I was doing the first time. I wasn't especially proud of the birdhouse I created for the first class I teach on the 14th of July, however, it could be as easy or complicated depending on the ability of the artist. This time I wanted something different and more daring in color.

Projects always look awful, at least to me, at the start. I paint in the background with solid areas first. I know that is a more complicated way to do things but it works for me. Its the details that elevate a piece to art and something different and exciting. Inspiration in this case was from a tapestry from the 1700's I spotted in an Early American craft book. I realized I had never seen anything like this; coned flowers, interesting hairy leaves and of course birds. I had wanted birds on either side of the hole and perch and put them in as well.

Everything I do has to have a heart somewhere and in this case its front and center front and back. The birds are aqua with lavender wings. It took awhile before I would commit to that. Choosing colors in important and I wanted to continue the vibrant tones. Teal and aquas grace the leaves and my trusty Sharpie pens added detail. Its too bad the photo just doesn't show the vibrancy and yes, immediacy of the design. I used a matte finish and discovered there was still a little sheen that complimented the entire project. The final coat of varnish gives vibrancy to each piece.

I have created another version of this design with a larger images that will make it easier to paint. Larger birds,  leaves and coned flowers. I think using the end of a brush to make dots will be a hit! If approved I get to paint the sides of the birdhouses and put on the pattern with pencil. Other than designing it, I will wait to see how the first class teaching seniors turns out. Finally, after years of trying it looks like I will finally get a chance to teach a class.

What is disturbing is that people seeing such items want one and in away expect to get one for free. I am brave enough now to say, they're not free. If you want one they can start at $25 and go up from there. "You have no idea, despite the size, of the amount of work that goes into this, upwards of 15 hours each!" I haven't sold any yet. That doesn't stop me of course. I don't mind giving them to those who have done favors for me, people I care for and I know will appreciate the gift.

Get looking and painting. There are a million ideas out there. Don't be afraid to make your own!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Making Do

When we are searching for something to use for our latest project often we get confused and say, "Do I want this style or that. Will that style compliment the item and on and on." Are you ever that way? If you are then I am in good company.

Box #1 Study. Combining Rosemaling and Pennsylvania Ditch
As I get back into the crafting mode again, I have decided to "blend" styles and add my own touches along the way. Why not. 90% or all art springs from a variation of art before. The impressionists were not really new. Turner led the way in their own time but wandering the Prado in my youth I was stunned to see flashes of it in Goya, Velasquez and other famous artists from the Low countries. El Greco could be considered the father of Cezanne.

I have looked at three blank wooden boxes for awhile now and finally decided that I should work on at least one of them. I took a kind of Rosemaling "S" and wrapped it around all sides so that no matter how you viewed it, there was the red vine snaking round each side with interesting things sprouting from it. Details came from my love for Pennsylvania Dutch and when combined seemed a harmonious whole. Remember though, this is my first attempt at this. I discovered its the details that can set a persons style apart from others.

The completed box.
Choosing colors is always a dilemma for me. I love color and want each piece, usually, to be vibrant and alive. However, that can cause problems because you can easily box yourself into a corner. You love these two or three colors but need another. Oh, dear! Which one? Here the problem was what wash do I use on the wood that will bring out the colors, keep them bright but not overpower them? Taking a shower at decision time I had a vision of using Burnt Umber as a wash giving the box a teak like finish. I loved it. You get ideas at the strangest times and places! I often have dreams that solve that kind of problem for me.

One new wrinkle, for me, has been the way I handle the dots that spring from flowers. Its traditional of course. In my haste, however, by using the end of a chopstick, the paint may not have time to dry on the first side. I discovered that had happened here and wondered how I could get rid of that. Then it hit me, why not add even more? The effect is like adding baby's breath to the dots and is very attractive. I imagine, this will be my signature in all subsequent pieces!

I use this box as a catch-all; reading glasses that don't work, keys, a small transistor radio in case the big one hits, extra watch, TV remote, coins...the detritus of life. It sits right by my reading chair on a table my grandfather made for my grandmother using burled wood and an old sewing machine base.

I have two more such boxes and haven't decided what I will do with them. I have been more or less captured by my mini birdhouses and finished one of those as well.

What I am saying is that the possibilities are endless, they really are. We can copy others but you will have far more satisfaction if you add your own touch!