Monday, March 28, 2016

The Dissonance of Colors

Colors and shapes mimic the desert
dissonance |ˈdisənəns|• a tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitableelements: dissonance between campaign rhetoric and personal behavior.• unsuitable or unusual in combination; clashing: Jackson employs both harmonious and dissonant color choices
After decades of trying to get the colors "right" I have finally realized that mother nature rarely follows the rules of man. The other day while walking my dog, I was watching all the landscaping that is going on along Ramon Road in Palm Springs. Grass is slowly disappearing as the rush to plant desert landscaping to save water during the California drought proceeds. It hit me that the landscapers, taking their cue from the desert, were using different rules as well.To be granted, some of these plants are not native to California or even the American desert but all are known to tolerate heat and lack of water ... or less than the amount of water grass needs to survive. I noticed that they were putting in some kind of drip irrigation to help the new plants survive and hopefully thrive. Yet look at these colors ... yellow, magenta, a red bordering on vermillion, as well as a variety of greens, tan dirt. A painter might faithfully record such a scene but to western, northern eyes they appear a bit discordant.
Buddhist Shrine

Not all cultures view colors this way. Visiting Hong Kong recently I was struck over and over again by their use of colors. Red is used everywhere! My case is point is this Buddhist Shrine we happened on. Can you imagine something like this is a Christian Church? Christian Churches tend to be monochromatic unless you have stain glass windows. This seems to be the only allowable way you can add a bit of color. However, not only are the shrines vibrant they also seem to violate Western views of the color wheel. Green and red, splashes of blue and orange, gold and a variety of greens.
I remember in one of my first advertising classes in college. Our director was also our teacher and he gave us a quick review of the color wheel ... what would work and what wouldn't. He was especially disparaging of red and green used together unless it was for Christmas. Always a kind of closet rebel I took that as a challenge. My ad, in those days we had to literally draw the headline typefaces, was for a line of women's clothing. I used red and an avocado green with tints of both of them for contrast. Black ink was a given so we were told to pick two more colors for a two-color ad. When I walked in with my masterpiece, I spent the entire day Sunday creating this, there were stares and a few gasps. I sat down and when he walked in, had us stand up one by one and show the class our creations. Most of the ads were pleasant enough but nothing really stood out until I showed my ad. The red literally popped off the page whereas the green became a foil, much like leaves on a tree filled with flowers, better than black even. He looked at it, then at me, shook his head and muttered, "I knew it. You took this as a challenge." I nodded and got an A.

Hand blown vase
We may not always like what we see when rules are disobeyed.This vase is a case in point. I didn't like its use of color yet it attracted me enough to take a picture of it. It is striking and would surely create comments. I began to wonder as I stared at it are we too used to playing it too safe? Then when an item uses colors in a new and challenging way we dismiss it ... at first? Is this what Van Gogh did? Not only was his brushwork unrefined, he used stark brilliant colors, usually, colors that in many cases vibrant off the canvas. Once seen who can ever forget the moon and stars in "Starry Night?"The clash of similar colors in his "Sunflower" series.
Expressionists and many abstract artists were especially eager to use colors in this new way. After the Germans and especially Kandinsky, Russian born but German living, saw their first Van Gogh, German art turned upside down. They never did like the dreamy landscapes of the French Impressionists. They wanted the brute force of color and shapes. Then they created their own.

Hong Kong Street at night
They would have loved the far east. Doesn't this normal street scene seem like something ripped right out of a Van Gogh painting? Its colorful and its colors vie with each other reaching out to passersby to stop and look! On one hand they are very discordant ... blues and purples and reds, yellow and shocking greens all mixed together in a jumble of color. I was so struck I had to record this with my iPhone that luckily recorded exactly what I saw.
The most popular blog I wrote here had to do with color. We all want to be sure that we use color "correctly." Yet, I ask, what is the correct use of color? Sure, we know that one color doesn't go with another ... or can it? We can look at a color wheel to get an idea of what is and IS NOT acceptable. Again, these rules seem to apply to western eyes only. Anyone that has ever been in the Orient or India knows that their use of color

literally boggles the mind. I say that is a good thing. I think artists should be working with color, colors, finding new ways to express feelings and emotions with color than some of the shocking, bordering on pornographic images they create. In temples I saw in Hong Kong, the detail work on temples had no problem mixing beautiful blues with bluish green separated with white stripes. Looking at the color wheel we see clearly the relationships between primary, secondary and tertiary colors. Yet how many times have you seen adjacent colors used and often to great effect. Some fast food restaurants use orange and red together as it stimulates you to eat more and faster. Muted tones are more conducive to a slower, calmer pace of eating, resting or sleeping depending on the room. Just think of the last hotel room you stayed in. It almost put you to sleep before you were ready to go to bed.
Even the lowly cactus is colorful
urge you to look at natural color more carefully around you. See how it is used. Is it boring? Is your art boring? Now I'm not saying to just slap any old paint on the walls of your house, the canvas you're painting or flowers you are planting. However, you need to be aware of how color(s) can be used to spice things up ... remove the boring and make lives more interesting. This cactus sure did!

As a kid growing up in the 50's color was all the rage in cars. Turquoise, vermillion and white, black, pink and white cars, even yellow and white. Cars were a showplace of your good and colorful taste. Then cars became white, silver and black. You could look down a parking lot and realize they just about all looked alike. Red made a comeback as did candy apple red. However, it was the Fiat 500 and Mini Cooper using a variety of 50's pastel colors that seemed to turn the trick. Now we are seeing blues, rusty reds, shocking greens, yellows, gorgeous metallic browns alongside the
1955 Ford Fairlane
white, silver and black cars that still dominate but are slowly being replaced. Will we ever see the return of that era? Who knows but for me it IS nice to see color on the roads again. However, I doubt we will ever see a Ford like the one at right. Can you believe you could buy this gem right off the showroom floor?

Yes, you need to learn more than the basics of color. You might want to read my blog FUN WITH COLOR written in Oct. 12, 2013 for the basics. Maybe its time to review it again. Life can be colorful or dull. It is up to you. However, the choice remains and will remain yours, and yours alone. My suggestion? Get some color in your life.
Thank you for reading my blog. I cover the way design affects our lives and urge you to check out my earlier blogs.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Setting Up A Studio ... At Last!

The studio at the beginning ... once the most dangerous room in the house!
They say that parting is such with sorrow but after 30 years of living in the same place, to me moving is such with sorrow. To see what you have, all of it at one time in one place is well, it's overwhelming!

When I moved to Palm Springs I pretty much segregated the bags and boxes to the rooms they would ultimately go in. As you can see the studio (the smaller, second bedroom) was packed to the gills. Boxes teetered on either side of the narrow path through and you took your life in your own hands when you entered. The washer and dryer was in this bedroom's closet so it was always an adventure. What would fall on you next? Trust me, they did too.

I left this room for last. The master bedroom saw the creation of a new computer work station, the living room saw its boxes slowly disappear as things were put away, new shelves and furniture added so that finally everything had a home. It was a time consuming, tedious task, one that has taken more than two months.

Last but not least I needed to tackle the studio. I was feeling creative and needed to create! Such incentive!!! It was such a mess, there were so many boxes I truly didn't know where to begin. I bought two more freestanding metal shelves, assembled those and then just put things on them all as I emptied box after box. Where did this all come from? This is truly mine? Tubs of unfinished items followed tubs of completed items.  Trips to the small storage room helped create more space ... but I realized that at some point they would have to be dealt with as well. For now, just getting in the room was a priority.
At least you can see the floor!

I toyed with the idea of adding another table, one that could be used for projects that needed to be assembled, put aside for the meantime or to be used for shipping IF I ever opened my Etsy store again. Shopping with a friend at COSTCO we found a folding outdoor table that was the right size and if necessary could be put away. I demurred buying instead helping him load his purchase in the car.

Not having the cabinets or shelves I had before, I jumped at the chance to relieve a friend of a 4-drawer filing cabinet and take a drafting table off his hands. Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered that the distance between the file cabinet and the wall would take that drafting table top perfectly. Since It had no base I wondered exactly how I could prop it up when I got a flyer from Harbor Freight Tools with a sale on sturdy plastic saw horses. Measuring them in the store I found they were 22" wide and would support the 36" deep top with a minimal overhang, one that would not be unstable! For $20 I had my base.

The studio ready at last. While never pretty, everything has a home!
That done, the worst task of all began. Organizing the mess on the shelves. Magazines, books, paints and an assortment of parts and pieces let alone finished paintings, some framed, many not, needed homes if only to just get them off the floor. Some paintings were taken to the living room to be hung while others, not all, just needed to be put away. It took several days of shifting before I felt that it all made sense with the most used items around me ... back and side with other items clearly visible on the shelves that lined one long wall.

The drafting table sits in front of a window that has sun all day long hence the curtains that contain a great deal of the heat and the easel sits on the side but is easily moved if necessary. Printer, radio and craft books are all within easy reach while canvases and other craft items sit on the tops of shelves out of the way but easily accessible when needed.

Paints, extra brushes, printer and radio are to my left. The
books of inspiration are behind me. The perfect niche!
My paints are all on my left side in either a turntable or on shelves especially designed to hold the paints. Tubs are also on shelves with an assortment of items I add to my birdhouses ... fences, feet, trees and whatever else I've managed to accumulate over the years. Each item I create is usually embellished in some way making it distinctive from the items you buy off the shelf. It goes without saying that each piece I create is either a Rosemaling, Pennsylvania Dutch or whimsical design that I come up with. Finally, after many years, I have the work space I have always dreamed about! It probably isn't perfect but it sure beats what I had for many, many years!

Paintings and crafts now grace the walls and window sills of my new home. And, it really feels like home, my home.
If you have a space as I now have, you might want to rethink it like I did. The stuff was all there but how it was arranged and set up, for me at least, makes all the difference in the world. If nothing else take everything out, measure and then slowly add things back in. The shelving was less that $50 at Target for an easy to assemble 5-shelf metal shelving. The work station was a gift but I have seen them for about $100 at Dick Blick or online at Amazon. Mine has a central tray and four smaller ones on the side. The glass top tips and there are plastic trays on either side to put paints, glue and whatever else you might use regularly. It need not be expensive. Michaels, JoAnn's, A.C. Moore, even Walmart has items you can use. Wait for the sales or coupons to save even more! You can, like me, design a space that suits the way you work.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please check out some of my previous blogs. All of them relate to design in some way and how design affects our lives.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Pedestrians Be Damned!

Living in California, Southern California especially, we and everyone else hears about "our" healthy lifestyle. We promoted the seat belt, smog abatement leading first the nation and then the world into finding ways to make the air we breathe better and ultimately healthy. (This lesson apparently slipped by the Chinese who now have the most unhealthy and possibly the deadliest air on the planet). Then there was the push for walking though many sidewalks in Los Angeles are the worst in the county, bike paths, coastal protection that we are now seeing is still up for sale and the recent sacking of the Chairman of the AQMD (air quality metro district) in Southern California that sets the guidelines of permissible pollution. They just passed a bill in the Assembly that says you have to be 21 to legally smoke a cigarette yet waffles on medical marijuana. It is a conundrum.

Walkers are encouraged to walk until they work!
Do these things work? Well, yes and no. The day my son was born in October 1981 the smog was so bad you couldn't see across the street. Since that day and that event we have never had anything like that happen again. The smog hasn't disappeared but what there is we barely see. To be fair to the Los Angeles basin, the Native Americans called it the "valley of the smokes" because it was so prone to being foggy, dusty and smoggy before "civilization" came to make the situation worse.

The transition from the anything goes mentality has not been easy and every interest group has put up roadblocks to delay or in some cases stop laws aimed at preventing additional pollution. Many cities and counties across the nation have added walking, bike paths and mass transit to encourage this type of exercise. However, when they want or need to work on the sidewalk or shut down the subway as in Washington, D.C., you are left to your own devices.

Having just come from an hours walk with my dog, something I do just about every day because of health reasons and she wants and demands it, I was struck by the fact that no matter where I have gone in Southern California how little thought and care is given to pedestrians. If there is a sidewalk people riding bikes use them and think you are intruding for being there even though there are signs that warn you NOT to ride on the sidewalk and stating a fine if caught. In fact today, in Palm Springs, there are bike paths with that name and arrow painted on them where us walkers are not allowed to be. However, there is one small catch ... there is no where else for a walker to walk!

When you walk a dog you must pick up your dogs droppings. There are signs everywhere with a minimum fine stating this but not a trash can for miles! I see many dogs on my walks ... do the owners just leave their gifts behind? Am I the only fool carrying a little blue or grocery plastic bag around looking for a place to deposit it? You hope to find a bus stop where there is always a trash receptacle but evidently the streets I walked on today do not have that. I never saw one.

Woe be to the poor pedestrian if there's an accident. We waited and waited
to cross. Evidently cars are more important and well, we just crossed!
When I lived in Alhambra and had no vehicle I walked everywhere within a 2 mile radius. Luckily everything that I might need was there but it was not a pleasant walk. You had to plan which side of the street you needed the most things on because signals were so looooong that you could die and be buried before they turned to let you cross. I'm discovering the same thing in Palm Springs. The big gripe is that it signals walk and about three seconds later, often before you are even off the curb, the hand comes up telling you not to cross. The other wrinkle out here is the talking signal. Its says "wait, wait" "wait" until it finally says walk then counts down the seconds you have to cross. Talk about getting a hitch in your get-along ... no dawdling is allowed! The frustration level is so high people J-walk with several fatalities here recently, like last week!

Not only was one corner closed, ALL four corners were. 
This lack of respect? for pedestrians is also shown with street construction people. We passed block after block of torn out corners that had yellow tape around them with signs that said, "Sidewalk Closed." What are you supposed to do? The poor walkers become billy goats as they struggle up and down hills fighting their way through cactus and desert landscaping as they cross the street to continue their walk. To make matters worse both sides of the street are torn up. My dog could have cared less and probably welcomed the adventure of fighting through the landscaping. At 70 I was not so easily won over and have a few scratches to prove it.

The design is this, at least to me, if you want a healthy, happy citizenry, do what it takes to promote healthy citizens. Instead, we get that make do with what you get. City, state, county state and the Federal Government need to speak to us with a unified voice. Either they encourage us and create the ways we can lead a healthier lifestyle or not.

On a visit to Amsterdam we were stunned at the number of bikes ... they even have their own lane! It turned out that the Dutch had gotten lazy like Americans and would drive their cars, despite gasoline prices that would cause riots in the states, down the block to the store. Noting the increased weight of its citizens the mayor of Amsterdam began riding his bike to work. Within months the streets were once again filled with bikes! This was a design that worked. Hopefully many more American urban centers can learn from this and treat pedestrians and bike riders with the respect and good health they deserve.

Thank you for reading my blog! Please check out earlier blogs that talk about life ... lives that are always designed, whether we realize it or not!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Visions of Color In The Desert

Sunrise in Palm Springs, CA

My real first memories of my surroundings growing up were those in Oregon. We lived in Portland but had frequent trips to the coast through green valleys and hills covered with evergreens. It was, in retrospect rather boring. Lots of green and since it rains about 60" or so a year, grey. I can remember the lights being on when I left for school in the winter and them being on around 3 pm when I returned home. Grey, green, rain and gloom! The flashes of color, the roses, the rhododendrons and azaleas and peonies provided a slash of color against the omnipresent greens.

The first time I saw what I guess you would call a desert was on a trip to Grand Coulee Dam in eastern Washington. After miles of the Columbia River with green hills nearly tumbling into the  river, it was a shock reaching the high plain where the dam was located. I mean there wasn't a green thing in sight during the summer. Miles and miles of dusty brown and weird trees and bushes as far as the eye could see. It was a shock. Looking at the dam rising up to nearly impossible heights in this dun colored scene was shocking. Below, an emerald green ribbon of water cut through the desert heading to the parts I knew, not this desperate, deserted scene.

It was hot, cars didn't have A/C like we do today and all my sister and I could think of was get out of there. You have to understand that to western Oregonians any temperature over about 80º was a heat wave! My mother used to make us play in the basement that was always cool!

When I was in college my mother, recently widowed, decided to move to Albuquerque, NM. She got tired of the rain and indeed the previous summer it rained just about every day. I know, I was trying to paint a house and had more down days than painting days.

New Mexico was a revelation not only because of its ancient culture but because of its landscape. For the first time I got to study the hills and valleys. After a morning Sociology Class we would head out to explore. When summer school was out we even explored more. Santa Fe, Taos, Farmington, Las Vegas, Roswell to look for aliens, Los Alamos with it secret labs, Bandelier National Monument, White Sands, Carlsbad with its caves and Las Cruces. It was like discovering the world again. Rather than brown or tan, the world took on colors that played with your eyes. At sunrise or sunset colors became pinks and deep rose, the shadows were purple just like the in Early Sunset magazine covers. The Sandia Mountains behind Albuquerque would turn a vibrant pink with luminous purple shadows almost defying every art technique we had been taught.

The biggest surprise was how the desert turned to color, literally overnight from the summer monsoons. Suddenly the flowers bloomed leaving you stunned. What is this you ask? How can such a drought stricken place have this much color. Yet, dry for months at a time or from an overnight rain, there are colors there; certainly not the ones we have been trained to use or even think of but just as beautiful and amazing as anything else we will ever see.

I can remember my first trip to the hills west of Lancaster, CA to see the wild poppies. Not
only were there poppies, there was a whole collection of wildflowers vying for your attention. It was amazing. When I moved there in November of 1970 there was no preserve and only a few came. Now its a stampede and the joy of those early days are just about wiped out. However, faithfully, rain or shine, they reappear each year delighting audiences that travel from far and wide to see them. I ask you, does that look dull? Have you ever seen anything like it unless you've been there?

Moving to Pallm Springs, CA, literally a desert, I have again become surprised at the color around me. The first morning I was in my rental condo drinking coffee in living room I was startled to see the scene unfolding in front of me. The windows face west and look at Mt. Jacinto, about 10,000 ft. above the desert floor. It is pretty much a dull tan all day, a blue shadow at night. However, this morning when the sun was just right the entire mountain turned pink. I sat there stunned. To be honest, I usually sit and watch the scene unfold with a cup of coffee. It doesn't last long but to see the colors appear puts to rest that the desert is dull and boring.

During a recent storm, yes we DO get rain, a rainbow graced us for at least an hour.
Going outside to walk my dog, drivers pulled over to snap a photo of the sight. As you can see in the photo right, the clouds had already started to cover the mountains and it rained later that afternoon and evening. However, it still provided a wonderful contrast in colors, something that is just never seen when the grass is always green. 

Even the city of Palm Springs is embracing the drought by removing water hungry grass and trees and replacing them with more desert friendly plants. Just because they are desert friendly, it doesn't mean that they are dull and boring. In fact, they are anything but! Walking my dog and watching the process, I am surprised by how pretty and colorful desert tolerant plants
really are.

One of the big surprises to me was how popular and how the bougainvillea thrived in this desert climate. Used to seeing them in tropical Liberia, they seem equally at home here. They are everywhere in vibrant magentas, reds, blends along with a whole host of other desert friendly plants that add color all year round. That is certainly different than what most plants can offer and makes living here so wonderful.

Since I haven't been here a summer yet, we will see how this all fares. Some of the things will not change ... the blue, almost blinding skies, the shadows, the morning sunrises, the occasional clouds that change colors whenever the sun breaks through. colorful flowers and even more amazing colored cactus.

I urge you all to pay closer attention to the colors that surround you. See just what mother nature has done ... what colors has she used, if the effect is harmonious or jolting. I might add that just because its jolting, that doesn't necessarily make it bad. Study how colors blend, what colors are dissonant, what are complementary. Don't be afraid to use these combinations in your own work. If nature can do it, why can't we? Let the exploring begin!!!

Thank you for reading my blog. Please check some of the others. They cover a wide variety of topics but all with an eye on design.