Friday, July 21, 2017

"You Have To Ask For It!"


After weeks of unrelenting heat, winds, minor and nearly major dust storms and a car that while washed awhile ago accumulated dust the very day it was last washed, I decided that it needed a good cleaning inside AND out. I took it to the local car wash where we have had differences in the past over missing items but I wanted it cleaned well for a trip tomorrow, yet needed to get some grocery shopping done and be home in time for the air conditioner technician. It was another frustrating day talking to brokerages and lawyers and I was beat already ... and, it was only 10 a.m.
   Going in to pay I asked, just because, "Is there a senior discount?" "Sure," came the reply. "Really," I said? "Sure, you just have to ask for it."
   Growing up in the 50's I can remember the reluctance of anyone to ask for a discount; I think my Grandmother called it haggling with a certain tone of disgust in her voice. No one did. Now, that didn't stop them for looking for the best deal, reading the weekly grocery ads OR not getting their Green Stamps but you paid the sticker price. 
Don't you believe it. This reminds me of my science teacher in 
high school whose slogan was keep your mouth shut so you
don't embarrass yourself asking a stupid question! If that is
true why bother to go to school?
   When my mother moved to New Mexico when I was in college, we made several trips over the border into Juarez. I can remember friends telling us that you never, ever paid the asking price! When asked what to pay they said replying something in the range of 50 - 66% lower than asking and then bargaining from there. I never got the hang of it but my mom sure did.
   On my own in Africa I got a little better but I was intimidated by the fact they were so poor and, to them at least, I was a king with abundant things ... things they would never have. I sent my houseboy out to do the dirty work. He was relentless too!
   After I married I had a wife that was a supreme bargainer. I always felt uncomfortable and she would have me leave the area while they got down to "brass tacks." I usually got what I wanted for a price that was nowhere near the original asking and so I was content to put the onus on someone else.
Right on!
   Moving out to the desert and living alone again with not much money changed my mind.  Places like Walmart, Big Lots, Aldi, even the 99¢ store became my haunts. And somehow, I was able to create a decent enough home that looked lived in and was comfortable with very little money!
   Meeting a Chinese friend who lived in Hong Kong, and another mainland Chinese friend who lived in Palm Springs with his husband, they both taught me, finally, to ask, just ASK! I watched them do it and even when you think there's no hope, time after time, there was. The Chinese friends husband is like me ... reluctant to bargain and lets his spouse, who is never ashamed to ask, to do the dirty work. Shopping with Tony or Qiang is a life changing experience.
Why pay more than you really want?
As we get older, we really do eat less!!!
   Living in Hong Kong is very, very expensive. My mainland friend while working there was signed up with everyone and was always getting "deals" on his iPhone that he could use. Several times I got things there cheaper than I could even get here! He would get coupons for clothes, meals, trips ... all kinds of things. After that harrowing experience in the Walmart store in Shenzhen (Black Friday is everyday in China) where items are even more expensive, I understood.
   Asian customers come by the busload to the Cabazon Outlets 30 minutes from where I live. They roll empty suitcases around that they fill with things to take home. My mainland Chinese friend could buy 4 Brooks Brothers polo's here for what it cost for one in Hong Kong! In fact when he visited me here, at one point, I looked around and got deja vu ... look, look I said. He looked around and finally said, what? Now remember we were in California at an outlet mall. "I am the only white person here! Its like being in a mall in Hong Kong." He looked again and laughed, agreeing with me. They KNOW a bargain when they see one! Why shouldn't we?
   So you might consider, at any age though older might be better, ask for a discount ... anywhere. There are deals and sales not advertised that the clerk knows about. In fact at just about any store there are deals even on the sale items. ALL YOU HAVE TO DO ... IS ASK FOR IT! You'll be glad you did.

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

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Turning Off The NOISE!

I woke up from a dream this morning  ... a kind of nightmare actually, only it was after a short early morning nap. Maybe its the unrelenting heat out here in the desert. In the dream I was traveling with friends in a Spanish speaking country. We were on a tour, I think, and for some reason I got parted from them. They told me to "call" them when I was ready to come back and I wandered happily about until I got tired. It was hot and dusty and I was ready to return to them. When I went to call them my phone wouldn't work. All it could do was play movies, some in English, some Spanish and others I had no clue where they came from. Try as I might the phone wouldn't shut off, reboot ... nothing. It did things I never knew it could do but it couldn't make a call. I gave up and cried. The people around me tried to help, lent me their phones, but I realized I didn't even know where my friends were. It was hopeless. Then, finally, I woke up!
  In a way, this dream and events of the morning created the perfect storm. Courtesy of Dilbert, this Sundays cartoon featured a robot threatening to be happier than us ... until Dilbert adjusts his programming making him as miserable as many of us are. I had watched Joel Osteen who encouraged us to "turn off the noise" noting, correctly I think, that bad vibes, cell phones, miserable people, the daily news with breathless tragedies and events drag us down. Last night I had been watching a TV movie about a workaholic that just couldn't seem to put his phone down at the expense of friends and family. I noticed even in Hong Kong couples on dates didn't talk to each other but with heads bent were looking at their cell phones as they tried to eat.
   Then this morning I had been talking, actually texting, with my friend in China about the iPhone after he asked me if I had heard about the iPhone 8. Now that he is back in China we can only use FaceTime on our phones sporadically as his wi-fi isn't strong enough at times. We do text though. 
   I related to him hearing about the first iPhone in January of 2007 at the yearly MacWorld in San
The first iPhone
Francisco. Rumors were in the air and being convinced to go, had gone to my first MacWorld with a friend.  Walking in, just as Steve Jobs finished his keynote speech we were greeted by a gigantic image of the new iPhone. I was disbelieving that something like that would ever reach the marketplace, then standing in line ... #222, June 29, 2007 at the Glendale Galleria Apple store and getting that phone. 
   The day after the announcement we heard David Pogue, the head tech guru at the NY Times, talk to an incredulous audience at MacWorld that this, the first iPhone, would be the definitive device of the 21st century. "This," he said, "would change everything."
   Texting to my friend I began to realize how much had happened in the past 10 years. I went to Europe a few months later taking it with me. The AT&T guy at the store said don't worry, your iPhone won't work over there. How wrong he was. It DID work and in all my trips abroad, even to Egypt and Jordan, better than it ever did here. Riding the subway to the hotel in Copenhagen I followed the blue dot to the correct station with a crowd of onlookers that somehow knew exactly what I was holding in my hand. Standing in front of New Harbor (new in about 1629) I asked another tourist if they would take a photo of my ex and myself. About 20 volunteered. I was having a ball with it until a friend here texted me about the horror tales of those getting $1,000 phone bills by using the phones overseas. AT&T still didn't get it years later. iPhones work just fine and as I wrote earlier this year the photos they take are fantastic and look magnificent when printed in a book. When you own a smartphone, you literally hold the world in your hands.
   Yes, the iPhone and its technology and spinoffs from that technology has transformed our world. In fact, rather than at a walk, it is now running and soon, many of us fear, racing us to new and uncharted territories, ones that we may not be able to understand or even absorb. More noise. In my texts I began to realize that the US, like China and Russia, have elected governments that hunger for the old days ... days many of us realize will never, ever return leaving us fearful of the future.
   The electric, driverless truck saves on so many levels.
   No pollution at the polluted ports, no workers that

   have to work 20 hours a day ... but then NO jobs either!
   German automakers just revealed work on big rigs that will never have a human onboard. The prediction here is that in 5 years, all long haul trucks will be driven by software guided robots replacing the need of about 1.85 million drivers. Über is experimenting with driverless taxi's in Philadelphia and so far, there haven't been any serious accidents or deaths. 
  EVERY industry is threatened. Volvo announced that in two years every car they make will be either electric or a hybrid. I drove a Tesla Model S that in some versions is the fastest production car on the planet. At $100,000 it's cheap compared to say a $500,000 Ferrari or $2 million Bugatti Veyron. Tesla is building charging stations all over the country and more come on line each and every day.
   Governor Brown raised gasoline taxes to rebuild our infrastructure here in California because at his bidding we did too good a job buying cars that got better gas milage or hybrids and electrics that used much less gas, a tax cash cow. The public paid for his dreams, not once but twice.
   The smart home is next from key locks, to refrigerators that we can look into at the store to see if there is anything else we need even if they told us what was already there, to cameras watching our babies, deliveries and the thieves that steal deliveries, turn lights on or off a world away ... you get the picture. The control is there, in your hand.
   FoxCon, a huge manufacturer from Taiwan, that makes cell phones, tablets and other things digital is looking to build new factories here. What the cities and states courting them don't seem to understand, these factories will be filled with robots who don't need breaks, health care, can work in the dark and cold, 24/7. Stung with repeated reports of human worker violations their existing factories in China are replacing humans with robots!
The evolution of robots
   Will the world, as Issac Asimov wrote in his FOUNDATION series, reject and literally outlaw robots and the AI (artificial intelligence) technology that goes with it? His original trilogy, that he built on for years, talked about humans, their fear of robots and the extremes they went to outlawing them and crushing anyone who even dreamed of such a device. It was science fiction in the 50's, suddenly it is reality today. In fact, we were served a hot steaming dish by a robot in Shenzhen, China in May of this year!
   Another big industry that may fade away is, gasp, the automotive industry, as we know it. Predictions are that NO ONE WILL OWN A CAR anymore. Using your smart phone, you page a car, it takes you, driverless of course, where you want to go and your phone pays for the trip not unlike an Über trip today. No money changes hands ... everything is digital. In fact, it might be a much cheaper form of transportation. Just think, no purchases of a car, no gas bills, maintenance, insurance, just pay for the time you need it! Now the garage can be turned into a man cave with a robot bartender!
   We are rushing into the BRAVE NEW WORLD that Huxley predicted but could never have imagined. How we deal with it is, literally, in our hands. Here are Asimov's three laws:

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

   So, the question remains ... how do we turn off or at least turn down this whirlwind of change, this roaring that seems by the day to be growing ... growing louder? We as a society, as humans on earth better find a way or the life that we have will be torn apart increasingly with random acts of violence. We hate change and yet, as history has shown us, it is inevitable. Possibly, Asimov had it right. Maybe we should insert instead of robot the word human in his three laws of robotics...

A human may not injure another human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A human should must obey orders given fairly to it by another human being unless it conflicts with the First Law. A human must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First of Second Law.

Of course, with variations, isn't this what great prophets and teachers have tried to teach us all along?

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

Sunday, July 2, 2017

It Started With An Abandoned License Plate ....

   Thoughtfully folded this found license 
   provided inspiration for a new style 
   birdhouse! How it would end? No idea.

Recently, on my usual early morning walk (early being sometime between 4 - 5 am when my Lab wants to eat), as we were walking east along Ramon Road here in Palm Springs, I spied an Oregon license plate in the brush just below the airport. It was folded and standing there, images of things I could do with it washed over me. Picking it up I had a vision of using it as the roof of one of my birdhouses. I had seen photos of birdhouses on Pinterest that used old license plates so ... I thought, why not give it try?
The beginning
   I thought, at first that I would use an Oregon theme. The plate has a pine tree on it so I could festoon it with trees and maybe even include a scene of Mt. Hood, rivers and such. Forestry!
   I wasn't all that convinced to use this theme and concentrated instead on several other birdhouses letting this one percolate a bit more.
   Once the others were completed I decided to try the birdhouse with the license again. What to do. Looking at all the accessories I had I hit upon a wooden pine tree half. It was tall so thought it would be perfect on the back. Then came several variations of a picket fence. One fit under the perch on front so I pulled that out. And before long I had quite an assortment of things that I could put on the birdhouse.
   Finding the pieces to use was the next battle. After picking
   items randomly it suddenly seemed to flow together 
   in ways that continued to evolve.
    Looking at these items I suddenly hit upon this theme: why not make each side the symbolic items of the four seasons. Once I hit upon that theme, suddenly it all fell together. I put items loosely on each side and then worked to get them to flow through the seasons. Summer was the front, autumn became the right side, winter with its tall, thick pine tree the back and finally a woodcut bouquet with painted flowers spring.
   Once summer was completed, it was
   a simple step to keep adding the
   seasons on each of the other sides.
      Using the colors from the old license I painted the entire birdhouse a medium teal. The roof was white as was the base color of the license. I used a deep burgundy as the base color and found some wooden beads to turn into feet.
   After painting the body, I next painted the roof white. The license was not a perfect fit so I want to make sure it was coated and ready to have the license fitted permanently on top. 
   With the roof sides and base painted I started one side at a time. The front was first. Flowers were painted behind and above the fence. Two types of flat flowers were glued between a button for depth and another button was put on top of that! Adding a small birdhouse cutout above the opening seemed the perfect touch ... a kind of house within a house.
   I found a "harvest" sign with a hanging pumpkin, added a variety of leaves painted in autumn colors, even found a wooden acorn half ... there was autumn. 
Winter fading into Spring! Pine cones
and snowflakes add the perfect touch.
   Winter was fun. Resisting the urge to make it a Christmas theme, I opted instead for snow, pine cones and snowflakes, the perfect symbols for winter. Having grown up in Portland, OR I can remember snow days and hours spent sledding down the hills that surrounded us. I lived in the Mt. Tabor district, on the slope of an old extinct volcano.

   While rain seemed to be never-ending in Portland, endless heat seems to be the norm here in the desert. Odd that I would end up here.

   I used a cutout of a wooden bouquet for Spring adding colorful flowers to compliment the big flowers. 
   Because so many of the sides had items going beyond their sides, I felt that I needed to add some feet to the base. Midriff bulge didn't look so good! So poking around in my collection of balls, turnings, and beads for feet I hit upon these turned beads. It took several coats of deep teal to cover them but I think it all looks pretty good. I felt it was the final touch that it needed.
   Tiny bird and tiny birdhouse add 
   a wonderful touch. Always keep 
   them guessing!!!
   In my search for the feet I came across some miniature birds I must have purchased during one of my week long outings at the Painting Convention in Las Vegas. I knew that this birdhouse was never going to go outside so I thought well, why not? There is a perch, I have a little bird ... its a marriage made in birdhouse heaven!
   One of the things I do everywhere with the things I create ... where I live decorating each room, yes even the bath, and in my creations, I want there to be unique details, the unexpected. I feel that there should be something for you to find, something to see, beyond the safely tried and true that makes you reach, touch, read, and view. 
   As an artist, self proclaimed I guess, I still have the drive to be an artist and I want to be unique expressing my vision, one that may go against the popular style of the time yet that clearly fits me and lets me express myself.
   I urge you to do the same. Like this lonely license tossed aside in the desert scrub, you never know where an inspiration will come from. What I do know, and urge you to know as well, take the chance. Try to do something beyond your comfort zone. As they say, come on in ... the water is fine!

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

Designing A Travel Album With Apple & Shutterfly

Remember the Kodak Carousel Projector?

   After years of being subjected to dark rooms of endless travel slides ... while always interested, even, yes even fascinated, I began finding, as I got older,  myself more and more nodding off. I mean after a good meal, a few glasses of wine ... in a darkened room, well, you get the picture!
   After a few such episodes of friends travelogues, I decided to try something else. A Mac user because of my graphics business, I discovered that Apple's iPhoto program offered the opportunity to create a printed photo album. No more slides, hundreds of glossy photos laying around and especially, I wouldn't bore friends that were bribed to watch my travels with the promise of food first, booze and a na... travel photos, later. The  advantage was that you could show a large number of people your travels at the same time. The disadvantage was you felt you were bribing them to enjoy your vacation with the risk they wouldn't. You hoped no one noticed their, ugh, nap!
Kodachrome ... "gives you those nice bright colors"
memorialized by Paul Simon, was the standard film 
of the era before digital.
  I had my first camera at 5. My parents, especially my Grandmother were picture takers! Born in 1900 Grandma called every camera a Kodak even when I showed her my first SLR, a Minolta SRT-101. Purchased in Ethiopia during my Peace Corps years she marveled at what it could do but never understand why you would shoot slide film and not photos!
   My first photo class was in high school where as yearbook editor I printed about half of the photos, even taking some, that were used in the yearbook. As a Journalism / Advertising major in college I again had to take photography using a YashicaMat twin-lens camera with 120, a square format film.
You could print photos of your vacations or ...
 as I discovered, print your very own photo book!
   After shooting hundreds if not a few thousand slides during my Peace Corp years, I turned again to photography as a hobby. I found a darkroom that you could rent by the hour, then my girlfriends family let me turn an old outdoor playhouse into a darkroom. I purchased a Durst enlarger and would spend a few hours each week printing photos for a hobby and now and then freelance for various organizations.
   Every year I printed my Christmas cards and my helpers were children that even barely sitting up had a job exposing, developing or fixing the prints.
   When in my 50's I started my own graphic design business, I quickly realized that desktop publishing was here to stay and found scanning slides was an expensive proposition forcing me to consider, then use, digital cameras. You very quickly learned that while before you might have been limited to 36 frames on a roll, digital photos allowed far more photos with the only limitation being the size of your card. And you printed only those you wanted, not all.
   Then when we started a family hundreds more photos accumulated. For many years I created a yearly album but finally after several trips to Europe in desperation I decided to try what Apple's iPhoto had to offer. I have to admit it wasn't love at first sight. By then I was pretty experienced using QuarkXpress, a desktop publishing program that in the 80's and 90's was the most popular program around. iPhoto just didn't "seem" to have layouts I liked. I soon learned to adjust. Over the years it too has become more sophisticated allowing a broader ranges of choices that compliment the kinds of images we can take today, especially the panorama that the iPhone touts and I use, often!
iPhoto then, Photos now, presents many options for creating an album

   My first attempt in iPhoto was after a trip to Europe in 2007. It was a struggle with options I often didn't like but once published, I was proud of what I had created. Being anal I carefully picked each photo, ran it through PhotoShop to tweak and then reimported the images back into an iPhoto album so that I could arrange in what I thought would be a sequential order, something I quickly learned was not an always simple thing to do. Unless you sit right down after you get home, load the photos into your computer and get to work, you begin to ask ... "were we there Tuesday or Wednesday, or did we go before or after ...?" In fact, I am still having trouble with this. With my last album I decided to give up sequence and instead focus on the place or event! Yes, I could have kept a daily diary of my trips but I preferred to take photos instead. Evenings were for meals, chatting and sleep!
   My second album was with Shutterfly on the recommendation of a friend. This was a trip to Egypt, a trip I had dreamed of since I was in grade school. We started out with a gaggle of friends going but as the year went on, one after another dropped out. Finally in October, my spouse asked if I really wanted to go ... and I said yes! Just the two of us went. It was a good thing we went. Soon after getting home the Arab Spring began and we may not ever be able to safely return there again.
   This was the trip of my lifetime ... or at least one that I had wanted to take all my life. Yet, after a red eye to Paris, resuming the next day to Cairo then on to Aswan to our boat near Luxor and Karnak, my DSLR Nikon DX-40 refused to fire. Here we were in front of The Avenue of the Rams at Karnak and my camera wouldn't work. I cried. Then I remembered I had thrown in my tiny Canon Elph, smaller than a deck of cards with only 10 MP images, and 3X telephoto at the last minute. I ended up taking 2400 photos with it and the images I got from this tiny camera were stunning! Best of all I could carry it in my pocket or hide in the palm of my hand. Things were SO huge, you often wished for a wide angle lens instead of a telephoto!
   Shutterfly had many of the same features that Apple offered and the prices were about the same. What I found in both cases though that if someone asked about your trip you could say a few words, hand them your album and they could go as fast or as slow as they wanted and there were no lights out nor soft snoring in the dark!

   It is truly a wonderful way to remember a trip. All the places you wanted to remember are there, at hand in a book with the original digital images safely stored in an external hard drive in a folder that, should you want, allows you to make a separate print to frame or give as a gift. A book takes up little space or at least far less than those photo boxes at Michael's that clutter up your shelves! 
   Here is the trip to Norway and Denmark in 2013. The fjord that morning was like a mirror stunning in stillness and clarity. Below are the opening pages of the eventual 100 page record of our trip.
   The book once laid out, as you can see, right, allows you to see the layout from page to page creating a tapestry of images. Each page can be enlarged to see greater detail and allow you to write descriptions of the layout and edit what you have written. Though if there is one complaint, editing text is harder than picking photos. You only have Twitter length type spaces to write descriptions. 
  Apple has all the images rest on the bottom of each page and you pick and drag them to your spot. Both are quite similar. I finally went back to Apple because every computer has Photos as a program and I found it easier to use after a long time away from it. Shutterfly seemed to have become more complicated.

  This is a wonderful way to remember a vacation and share with friends. If you traveled with friends, it makes a nice thank you gift for sharing their time with you. After a few years, you will look back, as I have, to where you have gone and refresh in your mind what you have seen. Friends, while browsing my books often stumble on them I find. They too look them over and ask questions about where you have been. Its a wonderful memory and worth the effort!

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

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Love Affair With Mini Birdhouses

Raw wood and a copper
roof transformed into a
hanging decoration
When I started painting birdhouses, I started small, with what I call a mini-birdhouse. I didn't have the confidence to have enough "to say," I felt, with a larger one. It didn't take me long, after trying a larger birdhouse to, as they say, "Find my voice," and for awhile I didn't bother with small ones again.
When starting with a plain birdhouse,
its not what it is but what you can do
with it!
   However, as I did more and more, I found a wide variety of designs making it easier to work experimentally on small birdhouses that cost $1 than one costing from $5  to $10. Believe me, there were many mistakes made. 
   Hours spent checking out the competition made me realize that you could do so much more, with any size, than just putting a color on the sides and roof, adding a flea bitten painted flower and calling it quits. It was their small size that encouraged me ... and I am finding that it is again, here in the desert! One of the prime movers is that I found a whole bunch of unpainted mini-birdhouses and it is so hot you don't even want to think about going outdoors.

   Though, they are quite plain, with out much or any design, the challenge is what you can do with them! And, I love an artistic challenge.

  Take the birdhouse at above. I bought several and was intrigued with some abstract modern art I had recently seen and was convinced that I could do the same thing, the abstract part, as an artist on a birdhouse as I saw done with a canvas. While birdhouses or anything 3-dimensional is a challenge, I felt up to the task. What I came up with captured the spirit of the canvases I had seen yet also created a kind of 21st Century birdhouse.
   As you can see, they are all the same wooden birdhouses transformed by the addition of feet and some pretty wild colors. They remain mini-birdhouses but in the right setting, could make a true accent and color statement.
Here is the basic sketch I did of four birdhouses
painted with the same pattern but with colors
that matched their season ... hence my
Four Seasons Birdhouses
Here is the finished product, THE FOUR SEASONS

  As a college Journalism and Advertising major, our director insisted that we make mini sketches. He would have us draw small boxes on plain paper (the boxes similar in shape to the ad or paper feature) and then with a simplified palette sketch in the major photo, headlines, captions and body copy. He told us that it would help us create a flow, something that would guide the viewer through the article or ad. Once we hit upon a design we felt would do that, we would then, back in the 60's, begin the long laborious task of drawing an ad by hand that almost looked like it had been printed. We labored hours each week, trust me.
Have some fun. The mini, copper roofed
 birdhouse begged for something different.
It sold so I guess someone else thought
so too!
   I continue this even today. It is soooo much easier to make designs and their corrections on a piece of paper, usually scraps from chopping up scrap printer paper, pages from my Dilbert Calendar, anything that allows me to sketch out designs and get the placement right. If you notice from the sketches I do the front, back and side(s) leaving nothing to chance. The design is then sketched by hand onto the birdhouse after a decision is made to leave the wood alone and stain later or if there is to be a base color. A word of caution. DON'T be too heavy handed with the pencil. There are always some marks left behind that will need to be erased before you either varnish it or, as I do, antique it. Once there is a coat of anything on top, that mark will never, ever go away.
This is also the time to be experimental.
While I no longer have this birdhouse
it remains the most viewed item on my
Etsy store. That led me to try another
version ... this time round!
   Since a mini birdhouse will be much cheaper, even, cheaper after certain holidays), the only true real expense is your time. Your wooden "canvas" is cheap and it will require little paint. The true downside is because they are small they take as much time to create as a larger birdhouse. It was this that led me to do several at a time. Once a coat of paint in on, there isn't the time or space for it to dry. Do two sides, let dry and have another ready to work on.
The original design had a grid going all
around with small hearts and flowers at
the intersections. A slip started a 
Rosemaling "S" and I went with it.

   I also discovered using the same design but different color ways, that in the process of hand marking and hand painting each birdhouse will be subtley different. On the glance they appear to look alike, it is only on closer inspection that you will notice the differences.
   For me, the changes usually are for the better. At that point you have to design to go back and change the others or to leave well enough alone.
Not fond of green, I felt that I should give
it a try. Here I used brown and green
just like a tree.
   I can't begin to tell you how in the process of either drawing or painting a birdhouse one day you might slip and find that you like that "mistake" better. I think if happens for me, about every time. Really. It is at that moment you have to make a decision.
 Using color is another big advantage, especially with acrylics. You can play with them here on a small surface and either paint over it or throw the mess away if you don't like it. You don't feel you are out much. Never ever think of a reject as a loss either. It taught you a lesson that you would never have learned if you hadn't tried it. We have have projects that we feel are, ugh, bad, awful, there I said it,  can be loved by someone else. I sure many great artists have had the same experiences. So try it out then see the reaction!
   However, if you sell your items you might give your "reject" a try out before sending it to file 13. One of the things that has surprised me more than anything else is how colors and designs I end up not liking can oftentimes be liked by someone else. I guess, when you look all around, if we all liked the same things, our world would be pretty boring.
Choose from a variety of shapes
   That is what drives me to not only to be creative with the design and paint, it is the little things that you can add to the surface, somewhere that makes each one unique in its own right.
   One of the things I like is the inventiveness of mini-birdhouse makers. They seem to offer an endless variety of things to paint giving us even more reason to try them out.
   Finally, I know that painters look down their noses at crafters ... all you have to do is look into their eyes when you say you paint, birdhouses, and you will know what I mean. But, as I pointed out visiting the La Quinta Art Festival this year, more and more canvas art is becoming 3-dimensional. Artists use several painted canvases joined together, looking for depth. We are seeing more collages that are becoming more acceptable as I watched more than a few patrons lugging their find out to the car. There was one that I really really liked and will probably remember as the one "that got away." It seems that people want their canvas world to be like more like their real world, 3D. Witness the sudden growth of 3D glasses, and artists are understanding these new requirements and are stepping up to fill the void. Will you?

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

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Tale of Two Mini Lighthouse Birdhouses

One of two lighthouse birdhouses
   Yesterday it was 112º here in Palm Springs, CA. The weather lady says it will continue to climb until it reaches 119º on Tuesday. Needless to say there will not be a great deal of outdoor activity other than walking the dog at 5 am and hugging the shadows as you sneak out to the pool enjoying its slightly cooler temperatures ... for at least a few more days. Once summer really hits you might as well bring your bar of soap and shampoo when going to the pool. The water is THAT warm! However, the HOA frowns on such actions so its just easier to stay indoors ... well, until the dog has to pee. Even she waits until her eyeballs turn yellow! She has turned expert in finding the shadows while tippy toeing to the shade.
   One of the things I've done is to convert the second small bedroom into a studio. There with my radio playing audio books or the iPad playing movies from Amazon Prime, I can paint to my hearts content. In the process of creating a birdhouse as a birthday gift, I dragged out a few of the too many mini birdhouses I own and between coats on the big birdhouse put a base coat on the small ones. Here is the tale of two of them ... $1 purchases at Michaels that at some time I thought were cute. Now, not so much.
First coat - Cobalt blue base color
   After reopening my ETSY store, one of the items that seemed to get constant views was another simple, small cobalt birdhouse with hearts and flowers long gone but still in their collective memory. Since it was gone, all I had were photos of it. Not wanting an ordinary lighthouse painted birdhouse and knowing people loved looking at the older, colorful birdhouse, I decided to try to create a round version on not one but two mini lighthouse birdhouses. One would feature flowers, the other swans, designs that were on the other birdhouse not divided into two!
Adding the red using a liner to create the hearts outline and
then a round to fill them in. Red added to top and bottom
   I have to admit cobalt blue is a very favorite color. I have a cobalt glass collection and am always on the lookout at the thrift stores for additional pieces.    Friends here know me for my love of red. I guess a red dining room, a glowing red Mazda and red accents throughout the condo would give a clue. So its red and blue.
   Between coats on one birdhouse I added colors to the other mini birdhouses as I waited for paint to dry. I have discovered that the DecoArt Traditions Extender makes painting so much easier without diluting the opaque color of the paint. When you are painting such small items, you are often reduced to using a liner brush to get even the simplest design painted. The extender is a godsend in helping with that process.
Side view of Floral Lighthouse
   It was at this point that I had to decide. There just wasn't enough room on a round birdhouse to recreate the elements used in a square one so ... since I had two birdhouses, I decided to take the floral elements and use them on one birdhouse and take the swans and use them on the other.
Floral Lighthouse back
   Decisions, decisions. Taking a pencil I drew on one creating a nice balance from front to back and working out the views front, back and sides. I should point out small may be better but it is not better on a small birdhouse. After getting too wrapped up in getting a color on all sides of one lighthouse and then finding I was smearing it, learned to do one side, put it down and then work on the other. Acrylic's dry fast, especially here in the desert, hence the extender, but not that fast. So it
really does pay to work on two (or more) at a time to avoid the inevitable smearing. As you can see your space and margin of error are pretty limited so you learn to do one thing and then move on to the other project.
   For me it is a constant design process. You are often so absorbed in what you are trying to do you actually don't hear or are in some ways even know where you are. It is a constant series of decisions and concentration of what you are doing and what you want to achieve. Very often a mistake will lead to another design decision that you realize is even better than the one you were trying to achieve. Serendipity I guess!
Swans Lighthouse back
   When I started doing this craft painting for sale on my ETSY store I did a series of birdhouses in sets of three. Everyone thought I was crazy but I worked hard on my designs and realized soon enough that even the same design that was hand drawn and hand painted there were differences. Even more amazing, they all sold! As I worked my way down the "line," by the time I finished the last one, the first one was dry and ready for the next step. While I didn't use the same design here I did use the same colors which made it easier most of the time. The extender made the drying time a little slower and I wished I had had three lighthouses. No matter, there were three other styles waiting.
Swans Lighthouse front
  In many ways craft painting is harder than painting on a canvas. A canvas is two dimensions ... width and height. However, after attending several of the world class art exhibits here in the desert, even that old rule seems to be changing. Multi-media canvases with many additional items besides paint are being created and many of them stand a canvas as we have always known it on its ears!
   When crafting on usually a wooden or maybe ceramic surface, you have the front, back, top, bottoms and sides to worry about. ALL sides are seen and getting them all balanced takes time.
   One of the things these birdhouses has shown me that despite the use of the same colors, there is easily an infinite variety of designs that can also be used with the same colors. That may be a concept that I might want to try. Using the same colors on a variety of items and designs. It certainly would make the painting process easier. As it is now, I have far too many paints and choices. You almost spend as much time trying to decide as actually painting!
   They are finally  finished and posted on my ETSY store.

   Here is the working list of items used in this birdhouse:
  •    Birdhouse - Michael's, $1.00@
  •    Paint: 
    • Birdhouse base - Folk Art Cobalt Blue
    • Roof / base - DecoArt Traditions Naphthol Red
    • Tulips / Swans / Accents - Traditions Opaque White (and one coat usually works too!)
    • Leaves - Folk Art Hauser Green Light
    • Leaves - Old Delta Dark Forest Green   
    • Top - DecoArt Dazzling Metallic Gold
    • Small Flowers / Stamens - DecoArt Americana Cad Yellow
    • Painted accents - Folk Art Pumpkin
    • Shadows - Liquid Shadow
    • Lines: Sharpie Ultra Fine Orange
  •    DecoArt Satin Finish
If you are interested, these are available on my store. Check it out at

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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Hearts & Flowers: Creating a new mini-birdhouse

Hearts & Flowers Mini-birdhouse
   After a few days of amazing weather when it was hard to concentrate, the heat is on in Palm Springs. All day long now my phone beeps that we are under "An Excessive Heat Advisory." Well, after all, this is the desert. So, while I was getting my gift birdhouse ready, for once I am ready for a birthday a month away, I also started working on a series of small birdhouses.
   I have too many and truth be told they are more difficult to work on than a much larger one. Don't let that $1.00 cost trick you. It takes as much time on one of those little devils as the $5.00 + versions. When you're craft painting, from my experience, bigger IS better.
  So as the big one dried, I put on the base coat of 5 small birdhouses. Of course they were different colors ... cobalt blue, sand, granite grey that was distressed and one, painted on a whim, pink.
    I had already painted a small round birdhouse with a Naphthol Red roof. The bottom was still raw wood. What color, what color? Suddenly I looked at the pinks and picked one that was almost a rose color rather than bubblegum and thought it went well with the red. I would distress it anyway so pink it was.
     The next step was, well, now what? I was tired of hearts and tulips and hit upon making the front and back a wide vase full of calla lilies. I sketched them in and realized it was perfect. The white lilies stood out from the pink but not too much. Since just about all of my pieces have a heart on them, somewhere, I dug into the packet of metallic hearts I got in Hong Kong. There were hearts with the heart center punched out leaving a heart shaped hole. The parts punched out were in the same packet and placing a few at the base realized their shiny shape complemented the flowers and so it was chasing tiny hearts with tweezers as I tried to get them in place on top of the SuperGlue.
Adding details helps
   After the flowers were in place and painted in, a "V" design went around the base and the tiny hearts were glued at the tips. Its a feat not gluing your fingers together or to the birdhouse!
   One idea was to create faux tiles on the roof. I have tried and liked adding a design on the roof, something that goes along with the theme of the design below. I tried calla lilies draped hanging down from the peak. I liked it and felt it worked with the vases of flowers below.
   The final touch was adding screw hole plugs to the base, as feet painted gold that lifts the birdhouse a bit from the floor.  Finally I added a deep burgundy to the base, darker than the roof.
   Design wise its a departure for me. No Pennsylvania Dutch flourishes, no Rosemaling swirling "C" or "S" shapes. Just a simple vase with a few calla lilies, front and back.
   The majority of the painting was with either a liner brush for the small details or a small round brush to fill in the areas after they were defined with the liner. If you make a mistake, let it dry and go over it again.
Gold feet, shiny red hearts
compliment the vase and lilies
   To tone down and get all colors to "agree" with each other, I used a burnt umber wash. It adds a bit of family heirloom look even if its brand new and the colors aren't too garish allowing it to be used as a decoration in just about any indoor setting.
   Adding all the items together, the cost is minimal. However, as we all know, the value of the time it takes to create an item is many, MANY times the value of the materials used.
   I hope you like it. It started out as an albatross to me as I don't like pink. Yet, that said, pink and rose pink items have sold in my Etsy store and that may have been the incentive to add yet another one to see what kind of a response it gets.

   Here is the working list of items used in this birdhouse:

  •    Birdhouse - Michael's, $1.00
  •    Paint: 
    • Birdhouse base - Old Delta Pink Quartz
    • Roof - DecoArt Traditions Naphthol Red
    • Calla Lilies - Traditions Opaque White (and one coat usually works too!)
    • Leaves - Folk Art Hauser Green Light
    • Leaves - Old Delta Dark Forest Green   
    • Perch and feet - DecoArt Dazzling Metallic Gold
    • Vases - DecoArt Dazzling Metallic Festive Red
    • Stamens - DecoArt Americana Cad Yellow
    • Shadows - Liquid Shadow
  •    Chinese reflective hearts
  •    Screw hole plug feet (4)
  •    DecoArt Satin Finish
If you are interested, this will be offered on my store. Check it out at

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Under The Gun: Creating A Fabulous Birdhouse

   If there is anything that I have learned, too many times the "gifts" you have spent literally hours creating too often end up being unappreciated. They are opened, looked at, put aside and then the next item is reached for and your gift forgotten. I have suspicions it becomes another white elephant gifted to the next hapless soul. There are many crafters and you feel few appreciate your work.
Starting with a raw Michael's birdhouse.
Not very Santa Fe Style I admit.
   When my sister asked pointedly for one of my fabulous birdhouses, something I have rarely given to anyone nor feel are especially, well, fabulous, I was surprised. Here I had brought things from Hong Kong as gifts so was taken by surprise. She knows I enjoy creating things so maybe she is being kind.
   She lives in the middle of nowhere New Mexico in an old adobe house and she has an eclectic collection of things ... in reality probably no different than my collection from Africa, Ethiopia, Japan, China and who knows where else.  I guess this collecting runs in the family!
The first step was finding colors that
would be used in New Mexico
   This time I really had to decide just what kind of birdhouse to create. Somehow I felt Pennsylvania Dutch or Rosemaling just didn't seem right. I Admit, I have always admired the "Santa Fe" Style, especially their use of colors, so decided those colors would be a starting point.
   The birdhouse I purchased at Michael's didn't look very New Mexican but I had a plan. The first part of that plan was the use of colors. I felt that the colors and added items would help me convert this to something "Territorial!"
The turquoise fence completed the colors.
Next faking a tile roof!
   Color was key. It had to be New Mexican, not Floridian nor even typical of California. Anyone whose ever been to Santa Fe or Old Town Albuquerque knows what I'm talking about. Color is one of the most important factors for the feel of place.
   Once those colors were in place it was a matter of adding things, giving it a bit of dimension beyond the tri-plex of flat sided birdhouses. Since this was never intended to go outside, I felt that I could add all kinds of things. After wandering both Michael's and Hobby Lobby I found things that I could add and felt would be perfect ... a wheel, chili's, small flowers in tiny pots, even a half pot!
Turquoise becomes the coordinating color
   While the color blocks looked good, it is the way you decorate that elevates this from a mere birdhouse to a kind of Santa Fe fantasy. It is deciding what to add and where to put it that makes the old grey matter work. I had seen cobalt blue used on many doors, usually against a strong rust, gold or terra cotta so decided to create doors around the perches. Using the turquoise of the fence, I felt it added a touch of color to the perches and tied all the colors together. The base was a DecoArt Americana Graphite that I purposed distressed. While it is tempting to add lots of color(s), limiting them and repeating them on your project makes it stronger. 
By adding items to break up the flat surfaces
it gains a real lifelike dimension.
   To complete the "look" I decided to give the illusion of tiles on the roofs. Paint can do some amazing things and it looks pretty good.
   Now that the colors are in place, it was time to add things. I found a small birdhouse that I glued on the tallest section and then used cream colored lines to decorate below that.
Here the contrasting wheel breaks up the flat,
straight surfaces. It echoes the rounded door.
  Next came an old wheel leaning against the fence painted like an old wagon wheel. The final touch was to add a half flower pot and then paint cactus coming out of it.
   The final step for me has always been giving the entire project an "antiquing" coat, usually a brown wash used on the edges. It tones down overly bright colors and helps tie even the brightest colors together. I also feel it gives it an old look, something that has been in the family a few generations. 
   Does it ever go the way you plan? Rarely. This time, and this is one of the first complete new items started this year, I have allowed it to develop. Looking for things I decided that it would be fun to dig in the collection of things I had adding only items that were needed like the flowers in pots on the small porch and the string of chili's that hang on the porches of many homes in New Mexico.
Its that small birdhouse, flower pot
and chili's that complete the "look!"
Antiqued and finished. 
 It was fun to create and gave me a chance to try some new ideas ... the use of colors, what and where to add things, and how to create the feeling of a style despite the items that are available.
   Of course I wanted a rounded, adobe style birdhouse but had to do with what I could find. It is the little things that give anything you do the kind of visual clue that you are looking for. It may not be fabulous, but I think I have achieved a look that she will enjoy to show. Somehow it looks New Mexican!

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