Sunday, August 26, 2018

"Crazy Rich Asians;" The Return of the Romantic Fairy Tale

I went to see "Crazy Rich Asians" today. With all the hoopla about this film, the fact all the characters were Asian, the first time since 1993, is merely a romantic story of the mega rich who just happen to be Asian. Go to Hong Kong sometime. Great, almost staggering wealth co-exists beside grinding poverty. Tesla Model S's are like Chevrolet's here ... and right hand drive to boot! This is in fact, I sheepishly admit, a kind of Hallmark romantic movie (you KNOW it will have a happy ending), from  what I saw, it is and does.
     Having just watched the old Black and White classics "Bringing Up Baby" and "The Philadelphia Story" and recently Hallmark's romantic movies on the weekend, and "Baby Steps" about a Gay Chinese and white American who attempt to get married and have a child, I couldn't help but make comparisons.
Ice Queen Momma!
     It's a classic story ... boy meets girl, girl loves boy, the boy has a family problem of some sort accepting his girlfriend, usually an uncompromising mother, especially an Asian Ice Queen, like in "Crazy" and "Baby Steps" and finally at the end there is a happy ending. Just like in a fairy tale. Of course there is the day after and .... 
The rich ARE different! Here in the late 1930's.
     The fact that "Crazy" has essentially a totally Asian cast is quickly forgotten. You are quickly transported to a world most of us will never know.  No matter who you are, we all 
have friends such as these, maybe not so wealthy but certainly as zany. In fact, I felt that the wealth often got in the way. A side story is one of the sisters was married to a commoner who couldn't accept his place in this rarified atmosphere. He had a loving, doting wife but felt marginalized and in the end the marriage dissolves. The New York Chinese-American girlfriend had no inkling her boyfriend was not only rich but ultra rich. This is a story as old as time. However, in some ways, the wealth got in the way of the story. There is no doubt though that it did add the tension needed to proceed.
I don't know about you but I have never, ever lived
in a house like this. The closest? An historical tour.
     There is no doubt that the rich don't live and  don't behave like the hoi polloi. The girlfriend was considered a commoner not fit for marriage to the heir of the family fortune any more than the groom in "The Philadelphia Story" could accept what he felt was unproper, upper class morals. The telling scene in "Story" was when the groom to be saw and thought the James Stewart character not only swam drunk with his fiancée but bedded her as well. When she reads his letter aloud to all her friends where he states he is ending the ceremony because of her behavior it was instantly apparent the middle class and rich live in two different worlds, not unlike the spectacle we see everyday now in Washington, DC.
Bride and groom Batchelor party with fast cars,
helicopters and fast yachts.
     The rich are different. Americans hope and yes, pray, that they can move ever upward into this stratospheric atmosphere because, well, isn't that the American dream? Samples of it surround us daily and in our history. That this wealth was accumulated often under shady circumstances is the elephant in the room we don't talk about.
    What makes "Crazy" so interesting is that the ice cold, scheming mother was herself a commoner and points out it took decades to be accepted. "You," she points out to the girlfriend," don't have it." There is more to this plot but you get the jest.
     My college sociology professor pointed out that the morals of each class are quite different. Oddly, though, the poorest and the wealthiest morals are often the same. Why? The rich don't raise their children, nannies do. Where do nannies come from? The poorest class. Every Sunday in Hong Kong is the maid or the nanny's day off. The parks and byways are filled with throngs of mostly women from the Philippines. They are everywhere. Hidden during the week working, they have a day free and escape their six-day-a-week prisons to meet, rest and relax before yet another week begins.
     So while all the secrets of the ultra rich are not shown here but they are in "Baby Steps" where the Gay couple cannot find a suitable surrogate mother to carry their fertilized egg and enlist the help of the Taiwanese mother's maid to carry the baby.
     What does get lost in all the glitter and vapid spending is that all the wealth in the world cannot buy happiness, self worth, self-esteem. The wonderful sister can't keep her husband who feels that he is a mere boy toy. His wife doesn't give him the "care" he needs as she helps others and buy expensive items she feels compelled to hide. When confronted with his affair she seems to have no emotion, and he wants her to care, to feel something. So, money can't buy you love.
     I love a happy ending. There are too few of them in life. Possibly in these tense and stressful times this is exactly what we need. However, along with the happy ending there needs to be something more. An emotion, love that comes from inside, love that cares. An exotic location, a love story and after despair a happy ending that means something. Tell me, can we ask for anymore?

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where my emphasis 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 ETSY store ... I am adding many new and exciting, collectible birdhouses and craft items. Many of the items talked about here will be for sale there!

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Past Returns Again

One of my favorite movies is BRINGING UP BABY. I first remember renting it as a VHS Beta movie when my kids were small. We didn't have much money and for long winter evenings and weekends we would prowl the $1 a night Video-store for the latest fare. Kids today have no idea of what I am talking about.
     After it appeared that we had seen all the movies I thought fit for my 6 and 2 year old to see, we had to start going back in time. Always a Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn fan, I checked out, among others, BABY!
     You can imagine the shock of the kids having to watch a black and white film but soon they settled down. It started with a chuckle, then a laugh and soon we were literally rolling on the floor with laughter. It was silly of course but had not a dirty word, with only slight sexual innuendos an adult would understand. Probably PG today. We laughed at screamingly funny scenes as they wrestled with first "Baby" and finally a wild "Baby" who escaped from the circus. After it was done we were so weak with laughter they begged to see it again. And in truth we had missed dialogue through the gales of laughter. It became a family favorite.
As you can see "Baby" is no baby!
      Now, many years later I again have been drawn to movies from the 30's and 40's. It just seems to be such a simpler time. After watching the nightly news you are weak from incredulity. When you meet up with friends and even hint at talking about the daily debacle they hold up their hands and change the subject. 
     Anyway, after months of looking I finally found BABY in a collection of romantic comedies. Sitting in my lounge chair, popcorn and lemonade in hand, I prepared to "see" if BABY was as funny, as compelling 40 years later. It was.
     It started with a chuckle, then a laugh and soon I was gasping for air as I laughed. It IS silly and maybe predictable only when it isn't. They made a great team and again, I fell in love with it all over again.
     However, I would be remiss if I also didn't note that besides the silliness of the film, the fantasy of their lives. Few people had a home like her aunts or lived in an apartment like hers. That wouldn't happen until the Golden 50's. It was a vision of what was to be but that most might never see.
     Doing some fact finding I found out the facts of what life was like during the last 1930's:

                                YEAR                      UNEMPLOYMENT                            GDP

                                  1937                              14.3%                                    5.1%
                                  1938                              19.0%                                   -3.3%
                                  1939                              17.2%                                    8.0%
                                  1940                              14.6%                                    8.8%

     Not a pretty picture, or, at least as pretty as this film. I guess we have to remember films in that era were trying to take people's minds off the economy and tickets were 25¢ or so and you could smoke! There were even prizes to lure patrons in. Cheap carnival glass was collected by all.
     On the other side of the DVD was THE PHILADELPHIA STORY that was even more illuminating. Again it chronicles the rich and "their ways." It begins with a scene of a husband and wife battling each other. She gives him his golf clubs taking one and dropping the bag before he can grab it. Then she takes the club and breaks it in half over her knee. He in turn puts his hand over her entire face and pushes her back through the front doorway. Definitely not PC but it got laughs in its day.
     You soon learn they are now divorced, something rare in that era but seemingly normal with the rich. Also, the father has a mistress in town and everyone knows and not much is said. There are many shenanigans and soon a reporter played by James Stewart (who won an Oscar for this role) and a photographer played by Ruth Hussey appear to "cover" the upcoming wedding. There is a house less than 1% of the American people could afford let alone visit at the time and you learn the Hussey's role also had been divorced, something Stewart didn't know.
     There is a pre-bridal party the night before the wedding and the bride has several dressing downs about her attitude from her father and ex. She drowns her sorrows by getting too drunk. Stewart brings her home, they swim and as they go to bed the groom and ex-husband spot them.
After the swim and off to bed.
      Late the next morning the bride wakes up, most of the cast is there as she reads a note from her groom. In reading that aloud and then in the grooms presence, he is shocked she would read it to them and yet in the wording you realize the differences of the values of the rich and middle class. The groom was convinced Stewart had seduced his bride but nothing happened. I paused it as I remembered a lecture of my sociology professor in college. He told us the values of the very rich and very poor are quite similar, primarily because the rich spent little time with their children and their children were raised by poor maids, nannies and such. Societies norms are created and upheld by the middle classes. The groom raised poor had worked hard to move up in the world but his family values were still in place and middle class.
The letter!
     Cultures and societies are designed one way or another. There have always been a servant, plebeian class strikingly shown in Ancient Rome. The kings and queens of Europe, Emperors in Asia and the Emirs of the Middle East all had classes. The America's were not immune either. England's may have been the most rigid though I also learned that class was alive and well in Germany today.
     Today we face great turmoil between the haves and have-nots. Much of our economy, not only here but in Europe and Asia is controlled by a very few, the very few you will see in these films and a new one not yet seen but clearly understood, CRAZY RICH ASIANS.
     If there is anything I've taken from these films, besides some laughter, is that the grim cycle of the 30's is being repeated again in our era. The only thing we don't know, though maybe we do, is what happens next. I repeat Edmund Burkes 1795 statement, "For evil to persist, good men need do nothing." The disparity between the classes around the world is growing and the only question is for how much longer?

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where my emphasis 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 ETSY store ... I am adding many new and exciting, collectible birdhouses and craft items. Many of the items talked about here will be for sale there!
Check out some new painted quilt designs and pieces embracing some natural items found in nature.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

What Is Old Is New Again

The original MAGNUM, p.i.

The other day, watching reruns for some of the shows I missed during the season, I was startled to see that "Magnum, P.I." was getting a reboot. The Tom Selleck character was being replaced by a new, to me, Hispanic actor but with all the drama of the original. You know, babes and fast cars. 
2018 reboot of MAGNUM, p.i.
     I have to admit that I pondered that for awhile. It was never a great show but launched the career of Tom Selleck and countless other babes in tiny bikini's shows, notably "Baywatch" a show that was shown and known throughout the world. I remember our AFS student couldn't wait to go to the beach and "see" Baywatch. He saw it in Austria.
Murphy Brown 20 years ago
     Then they announced the return of "Murphy Brown," another show with the same old characters, like me, about 20 years older. Again most if not all of the original cast would be returning. If they are anything like me, they are now seniors and probably have all the aches and pains anyone in their 60's, 70's and 80's has. I am not sure it makes for humor but then look at how many years the "Golden Girls" played. I guess we will have to see. I would be remiss though to ignore the fact that they are all, ugh, getting a little long in the tooth.
2018 Murphy Brown
I think that the biggest shock of this season was how fast the reboot of "Roseanne" rose to the top and then crashed and burned after Barr's rant about things that really she had no business discussing. She and many of her fellow actors need to learn the lesson that they are, well, actors. They are portraying someone that they are not, and probably will never be.
    I think that the now overtly Gay flavor of "Will & Grace," may have lost the original crowd that made it a favorite. While it clearly is aimed at the LGBT community, few that I know in that community like this show. I began to wonder, is that all Hollywood can come up with? Reruns, reboots, never-ending  shows like a "Rocky 2, 3, 4, ....23."
     Will we see a return of "Father Knows Best" now called "Mother Knows Best" (she did back then too), or some form of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" set in an assisted living home or even "Gunsmoke" set in the woods with everyone using a cane? 
New Roseanne
   Will "Cheers" return and deal with the opioid
epidemic catching a few laughs along the way and, shudder, will we see "All In The Family" again? It certainly was questionable then and possibly even more divisive now! However, on a recent TV show, Rob Reiner was asked about a reboot of "Family" and laughing he said, "A reboot? We don't need a reboot, Archie is in the White House."
     It seems that today, there is a dearth of new ideas in an entire range of the arts. Hollywood with its endless 2, 3, 4, et reboots of all shows. Really, how many original movies can withstand a second try? Lucas did manage to create three rather good space operas with "Star Wars 4, 5, 6 but going back to 1, 2, 3, the stories were less successful unless, you, like the cast on the "Big Bang Theory, are Comi-con junkies and wouldn't brook any criticism.
The networks new Will & Grace seems to be 
working on the theory if you haven't seen it before, 
it's new to you, right? 
     Revisiting the past is not new. Hollywood is, well, lazy. Better to know the money you know than the one you don't. After the first "Frankenstein" movie in the 1930's think of all the spinoffs that came from that. Mel Brooks finally put the nail in that creature's coffin when he made "Young Frankenstein." How can you be scared after you've realized the monster has a huge "swanstücker" and after bedding the ladies they sing ... "ah sweet mystery of life I've found you ...." How many versions of "Dracula" and "Ben Hur" do we need?
     We are entering the age of the Baby Boomers, a 75 million class of babies born starting on January 1, 1946 until 1964. As we age we find that the world has gotten more complex and confusing on so many fronts. We have started to long for the simpler times of the past. There are signs everywhere. TV, music, books, tours visiting the past (think Route 66), even food.
     One item that I find amusing is how just about every restaurant menu now includes macaroni and cheese. Remember those blue Kraft boxes that cost about 5¢ each back in the 50's? When my mother didn't want to cook for our family of 4, out would come several boxes, some frozen peas and some kind of dessert. That was our dinner. I don't know about you, but macaroni and cheese doesn't cut it anymore with this 72 year old.
    I stumbled on a new Netflix original series "Black Mirror" that is quite original. The initial story about a programmer who by capturing co-workers DNA creates a game with the people he works with who, unlike his real life, do his bidding in his digital life. It is a mirror of what lay people think of silicon valley. The tale of a mother who via an implant in her child loses that child after seeing everything her child does literally through the child's eyes. Is this the future we want? Planned, watched over, monitored? Are we already in 1984 and don't know it? Many fear that we are losing our humanity where the digital present is the digital drug of our future!
     Yet, the past is everywhere. The endless viewing of "I Love Lucy," the increasing popularity of 50's homes, food and furniture. Modernism Week here in Palm Springs gets bigger every year attracting people from around the world. Desert winter cabins built in the 50's for $10,000 are now sold for over $1 million. When West Elm opened their new store here in Palm Springs I entered and stopped cold. The sales lady cheerfully greeted me and asked what I thought of the store. "I think I just walked into the living room we had growing up!" She laughed and said, "You're the fifth person to say that today."
     It isn't that the past is bad. But as Peggy Lee sang, "Is That All There Is?" In my lifetime we have made breathtaking advances on so many fronts: computer technology, automobiles that may soon drive themselves, the Internet, medicines and treatments not even dreamed of before, feeding the world, instant news and not just "fake news" either. We can literally be in touch with anyone anywhere in the world. The dream of the video phone was eclipsed when your cell phone could connect you and no one seemed to worry if their hair was done or not.
     For all these advances there is one question that no one seems to ask. Are we any happier? Do we need the endless feed of news. Do we need to know in real time about some event thousands of miles away shown as if it's next door? We live through our cell phones often connecting with each other through a digital feed. Yet  true human loneliness is growing as we become increasingly disconnected from the real world entering into a digital one. Traveling on the subway in Hong Kong or Beijing the cars are silent as virtually everyone is staring at a cell phone. You see this on the street, shopping even eating. One restaurant here posted a sign that stated, "We don't have wi-fi. Talk to each other."
     The past is where we've been. Today and tomorrow is where we will go. I guess the question is, how will we go there?
Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where my emphasis 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 ETSY store ... I am adding many new and exciting, collectible birdhouses and craft items. Many of the items talked about here will be for sale there!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

It Started With Some Pods

The pods that I finally saw
     One of the great things about being an artist (and often disconcerting to those that aren't) is that you see the world in a different way. Not different as in strange, just different. You can go all day and while you note the things around you, suddenly, something will catch your eye! A door, a mailbox, the light against a building or the way the sun reflects off beach sand. Today, more than ever you can capture that moment, as many do, with their cell phones. To the tune of about one billion a year.
     For my latest painting frenzy that trigger was tree pods.
     Now you have to understand we have one tree in our condo common area that has a dark cluster of pods that will start falling around this time of year. About two weeks ago, I noted that they were falling again and looking a bunch that fell together in one cluster suddenly had a kind of artistic epiphany. Now you have to understand I have walked past this tree for 365 days, give or take a few, two and a half years, about 3 to 5 times a day as I walked my dog on what I call our WPP (walk, pee and poop) run. But
Pods in tree
on that day, I look at them, picked them up, cleaned them and grabbing a birdhouse began to consider how I could use them. It was that simple and that hard. You can see them, or any scene and walk right past ignoring them. The hardest part is coming up with a way to use their almost sexy, sensuous form.
     When I was in college I can remember a photography class project. We were not to leave town, we could only go a few miles away from the campus and we had to find things to photograph. So many artists and photographers think only foreign or exotic places are worthy of a photograph. Ansel Adams was one of photographers we discussed. Ignoring the majestic views and mechanizations of Adams, he wanted us to see the beauty, complexity in our own "hood."
     Oklahoma State University had a lovely campus. Most buildings, after the initial few, were designed in the gracious red brick English Georgian style so that even new classrooms and dorms used the red brick and simple lines of that period. The gardens and pond were used for many wedding shots taken by students getting married during and even after graduation. We even had our own 19,000 acre lake! They were off limits. However, it was this exercise that made me very aware that there are many good "shots" around us if we would stop and take the time to look. I got an A for a dramatic cemetery statue shot against the sun.
The project that started it all -
a tree pod birdhouse
     Grabbing a birdhouse I played with my cluster deciding where I could glue pods on. I had four sides and decided that each side of the roof would get some as well. I used one here, two there and finally settling on what went where laid them out and using them as a kind of template drew around each one. Then I added more and more lines until I reached each side's edge. That was the easy part.
     Then noting that deep brown of the shell and the golden seeds that remained in some of them, painted the inside outline gold, that was where the pods would be glued. Radiating from the gold I added a deep brown layer to match the pods, some burnt sienna, pottery red, a very thin line of turquoise, a harvest gold and finally a buttermilk edge to give it depth. Each pod was designed this way and I added painted pods as well.
     It might be a bit too busy though. I added feet to the free standing birdhouse, and bronze colored shiny beads to empty pods to give it a bit of color and bling. It goes against all my previous birdhouses yet I am very proud of it. I feel that I have combined the ordinary products of man with the creations of nature creating, if nothing else, a decorative item that can provoke any number of discussions. I must admit Gaudi and his fantastic, Art Deco, naturalist designs were also an inspiration. I realized in the hours it took to paint this the TV show I had recently seen about his cathedral in Barcalona was an inspiration. Nature rarely uses straight lines so I tried to soften mine.
The next victim - the chest.
Round feet added later
give it a finished look
     Gathering more pods I happened to look at a small two drawer chest sitting on a shelf in my studio gathering dust. Again I could see another design using more pods. This time however, I wanted there to be exposed wood, the light natural look of pine against the dark pods and the colors surrounding them.
     Grabbing the chest I again laid out what pods I had (a friend taller than me grabbed some more off the tree for me) deciding that only the top, front and both sides would be graced with pods. I outlined and numbered each group and decided to use a metallic bronze color this time. I also used only five colors radiating out from the background bronze paint, where the pods wold be glued, allowing plenty of the natural wood to be exposed.
The painted back. Here you can see
the real pods and the painted ones.
It can now fit flush against a well.
     One of the hallmarks of my items, including just about everything I paint, is to finish all sides whether it might be seen or not. My mother-in-law made a comment about this when I first started out. She explained that seen or not, completing, painting all sides of something I did made it seem finished, considered. It showed that I didn't take the easy way out. She was right of course even though it adds much time to each project. Many items may never show the back but I realized maybe if they were they would be used and displayed in such a way that they were "finished."
     So it was in this vein I decided to paint the back of the chest but used only painted pods in case someone wanted it against a wall and didn't want to fuss with pods in the back.
The finished chest
     Again, I used five colors radiating out from the bronze back where the pods would be glued starting with deep brown, a sliver of Vermillion, then burnt umber, clay red, and harvest gold.
     Once you determine what you are going to do, its easy to do but it IS tedious and time consuming. I have listened to one audio book and started another with this project. However, to me, at least, it is a lovely chest and certainly one that nobody else would ever have. I realized that even if I were to do five, despite the use of the pods, the colors of paint, each one would have it's own feel, its own look. Combining the straight lines of man, with the variety of curves in nature is rewarding in itself.
     I hope that showing you my process, gathering things that might be around us, you too will find and use found items in such an artistic way, creating something unique and indisputably your own!
Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where my emphasis 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 ETSY store ... I am adding many new and exciting, collectible birdhouses and craft items. Many of the items talked about here will be for sale there!

Friday, July 27, 2018

It Only Takes One ....

The Cranston fire begins and by nightfall reached 7,500 acres.

This past few days have been hot in Palm Springs, no, let me rephrase that, it's been HELL! Days of 118º, 119º and finally 120º with unusual humidity have pretty much sapped the energy of just about everybody leaving in its place a kind ennui that is hard to snap. I even have to rouse my poor dog to go out and do her duty!
     Walking my dog, this morning at 5 a.m., through the smoke and ash it was 88º, down from the 93º of the day before. After a certain point, hot is HOT! Barely able to see the mountains to the west because of the smoke, I began to reflect walking towards them the effect one person has on our lives.
      This fire had been started the day before by a single man who was seen and caught after throwing three incendiary devices from his car. Not even a resident of the community he was forcing to flee, his actions caused in it's wake the evacuation of thousands, houses being lost and untold damage to the forest in this mountain eerie that is often a refuge for those that live in the desert below.
All highways in and out of the mountains were closed.
All highways are two lane, twisty, winding roads.
   His actions made me reflect on the actions that one person can cause and the consequences they set in motion.
   One of the first person's that came to mind was Alexander the Great. Through his energy and force of character he conquered, in his time, most of the known world. With his actions, he set in motion a force needing thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands to make his actions take flight. What he started changed history, changed the world. It ALL started with just Alexander, one man.
     There are many historical figures that through their actions and energy have caused great movements in history. Julius Caesar, Christ, Mohammed, Genghis  Khan, Charlemagne, Napoleon, our own George Washington, Queen Victoria, Karl Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Winston Churchill, FDR, John F. Kennedy, Ho Chi Minh, Martin Luther King; historical personages that left their mark on the world changing it in ways barely imagined in their own time.
     In the world of business there are many figures that have probably eclipsed elected figures. The Medici, the Lords of England with their far-flung empires, The East India Company, the Astors and Vanderbilts, the Mellons, J.P. Morgans, Rockefellers, Andrew Carnegie, men that all changed the world of commerce and oftentimes the directions of their very nations. In our own times consider what people like Bill Gates, Bill Grove an immigrant that founded Intel, Jerry Yang, founder of Yahoo, Wozniac and Jobs co-founders of Apple Computer, the world's most valuable company, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook,Stever Bezos, founder of Amazon and now the world's wealthiest person .... have created.
     All it takes is one, sometimes two.
    What is not understood though is that while one or two figures have a creation, a vision, a message, for it to succeed they need followers, believers. While the person that started this fire most likely acted alone, he has fellow fire-starters that think much the same way he did. A firemen in this county was recently convicted and sent to jail for doing the same thing. His reason? More fires meant more days of work. We may never know the why, but we need to be vigilant to reduce another such action.
     A great leader, a single person, can cause many to follow them and their vision. That vision can be for the benefit of all or harm many profiting only a few. History is filled with these figures. They can be so wonderful creating a form of admiration they are forever admired or so vile as to inspire continuing revulsion. The sad part, even these people, horrible as they may be, still are remembered. However, that is not all bad. They set the standard for what we as a people should never want or ever follow. They remain the signposts of what one person can do and show us the path that should never be followed.
     You may wonder how can such vile actions be considered art. They may not be art for most but these actions are definitely a form of design, just not one most people would ever consider. Make no doubt, every one of the actions required to start a fire were done with a very definite design. For a people, a country or a world to survive the impulses of the "one" at the expense of the many, we need to be vigilant. Vigilant for evil as well as for goodness, but even more vigilant to distinguish between the two.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where my emphasis 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 ETSY store ... I am adding many new and exciting, collectible birdhouses and craft items. Many of the items talked about here will be for sale there!

Monday, July 9, 2018

Zentangling A Teapot Birdhouse

     Right now it's hot in Palm Springs. Friday it reached 118º and cooled down to, you ready? 93º. So to avoid the heat (even my dog will say no to a walk outside to pee) I paint.
     After an orgy of painting to get ready for Halloween a friend suggested I do an inventory and number all the items I had created. I did just that; an inventory of all the items I have completed in the storeroom. Then those painted were logged in and numbered in an Excel spreadsheet. It was creeping up to 300 items. In the last 6 - 7 weeks I have done more than 30 items.
     Tired of Halloween's black and orange and fresh off of inventorying all my items, I decided to clean out and arrange my studio yet again. I still couldn't find anything and in the process of putting books and paintings away, creating files for items I wanted to do, styles to study, I happened on a book of Zentangles, after finding page after page of them I had printed off the Internet and filed.
     Looking at that book and the birdhouses I had purchased at JoAnn's, two shaped like a bird, two as teapots, I thought, why not take the two dimensional Zentangle's and put them them on a birdhouse? While they are everywhere, I had never seen a Zentangle on a birdhouse and here I had two different designs that begged for for this treatment.
The blank teapot. Here it looks like a birdhouse.
Do I try to fool the birds?

     The challenge with any project we do is, what will we do with it? How can we design it to its best advantage? So I picked one up and started sketching on one of the teapots. Since I had already done two cutout bird shaped birdhouses, I wanted to get even more serious in converting a Zentangle. The first teapot was pretty good but I had bigger plans for #2.
     The first thing was trying to decide what designs I wanted and then where I would put them. I didn't mind that they were different just that they would work together. And that is not always easy to do.
     After discovering the black Sharpie pens would blur, and feather in the raw wood, I put a seal coat over everything and then sketched out the various designs. After trying several in each area with the trusty pink eraser nearby, I finally got what I thought would be attractive and create a co-hesive design. 
Here you can see the pencil marks on top of the seal coat
and the beginnings of the marking.

       The beauty of a Zentangle, no matter how complicated, is the contrast of black and white. I have however, also noticed the power and effectiveness of black, white (in this case light raw wood) and red. Playing with it as you can see to the left, this would create a strong yet attractive image.
     So with black Sharpie in hand, with an ultra-fine point, I began to fill in the pencil lines listening to a James Lee Burke murder mystery audio book.
     As the item progressed I added a few more lines and flourishes that brought the various parts, the spout, the handle, the body around the hole for birds more and more together.
    Nearly everything I do has a heart in it somewhere and so, it wasn't all that hard to add them to the handle and around the entry to the birdhouse opening. Yet it is not paper; now and then imperfections of the wood would cause a wavery stroke.
Here you see much of the ink has
covered the pencil outline.
     With the exception of the one red heart, all the black lines and fills were added first. Once I had a complete picture of the lines, the line weight and placement I felt that it would be easier to add another color, in this case red. It is a temptation to add more colors, alá adult coloring books but I felt a three-color palette was the way to go.
Color makes the difference
jewels add a bit of sparkle.
     I added the hearts around the bird entry first and left only the single red heart on the handle.
     The last problem was how to tie the lid and the base to the rest of the design. Since Zentangles are basically doodles, I played with the base using lines and arcs to echo the curves of the base and black and puffy paint red as lines on the lid echoed again on the base under the design above.
     I tried using a Sharpie for the red hearts but it just didn't cover like the black. So with a liner brush in hand, and DecoArts Traditions Naphtha Red paint, I painted inside the lines of each red heart.
     Art is alway an experiment. You get a blank surface and then try to fill it. Each time you paint or draw is an experiment even, as I saw in Shenzhen, where artists paint two, three or more paintings at the same time, of the same subject, you have one experiment even if there are multiples because we are human, no two are ever exactly the same!
The completed Zentangle Teapot Birdhouse
     It is this challenge that inspires the artist, the challenge to see what you can do, if you can create something that is both new and unique. 
     As a final touch I decided that some of the small "jewels" I had would both fit into the small holes near the entry and give it a bit of glitter. When it hangs there is a bit of sparkle that is just right ... not too much or too little.
     Am I a good Zentangle artist, probably not. But I am not bad at finding a raw, blank surface and seeing its possibilities.
     Finally you have the back. You can leave it plain but I felt that as this is a hanging birdhouse, the back had to have something, some color. I opted for a grey color so that it would not distract from the front ... the design, the color.
     When you walk the craft aisles, be aware of the possibilities. Take a chance as I did. You might be surprised at what you can do!

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where my emphasis 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 ETSY store ... I am adding many new and exciting, collectible birdhouses and craft items. Many of the items talked about here will be for sale there!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Age of Intolerance

     America, from its inception has always had its own form of intolerance. The Pilgrims so revered in our history were Puritans, the loathed English religious sect, that under Cromwell, ruled England after a civil war that beheaded the English king and practiced a form of religious intolerance that finally got them kicked out after yet another civil war that led to the restoration of the English monarchy. Hated at home they fled first to Holland and then finally arrived at Plymouth Rock in 1620. Not an easy group to live with, bigoted, intolerant, they first befriended the local Indians, themselves in trouble because European diseases had decimated them then ultimately stole their lands and tried to rid New England of its indigenous peoples.
     Since the election of 2016, the levels of intolerance between just about every group in this country has reached heights not seen in 50 years, maybe even earlier. It is as if all the gains we've made as a nation had suddenly been wiped away. Watching the daily news we see it everywhere in this country. However, it was this image, seen on Facebook, that has caused me to finally address, as they say, "the elephant in the room:"

No matter who and what you are, in an X-ray you all look pretty much the same!
     When you X-ray anyone, be it at the doctor's office or the TSA checkpoint, our bones are pretty much the same. Some taller, some smaller, some wider and others narrow. What we may see on the surface as "different" is very little different inside, unless you're a pirate with a peg leg! It could also include: Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim, Hebrew, Taoist, Hindu. Them bones are pretty much the same.
     Even more interesting are the recent DNA studies of modern Homo Sapiens and their relationship, genetically, with the previous humanoid, Neanderthals. Where we were taught, as kids in school, that we had "killed" them for domination of the earth, it has been discovered that modern humans contain up to 4% of Neanderthal DNA. My recent DNA test said that I had 3.3% Neanderthal markers, that I was 100% European primarily of Northern German / French blood with a quarter of English-Irish-Scottish blood. 
     Studies have shown that Asian groups even have a higher percentage of that old DNA. The real irony is that Africans have very little or none of that old DNA "stuff" at all! Humanoids have been originating in about the same place in Africa for millions of years. No one knows why.
     When Spencer Wells came out on the stage, at a speakers talk I attended, and said, "There really was an Adam," the room was as silent as a cave." Then he added, "...and he was black!" The oxygen was sucked out of the room.
     To be intolerant, to find another cultural group less than equal, you have to be taught. I can remember watching my children as they grew up with the multi-cultural, multi-racial cast of friends that were in our lives. A local Rotary president when my son was born, my wife would have missed all the activities so we just brought him along. He was always up anyway, he thrived with groups of people, and still does. One African-American in the club took to him as if he was his own son. A big, fit man, standing at least 6'5", my son's arms would fly out to be held by this man. My ex-wife has a Kenyon AFS (American Field Service) sister from Kenya that always visited us to help with the babies. We had Hispanic, Chinese, Japanese, Black and Korean friends who we would see at our home, our work and our church.
     I just finished the book CHINESE AMERICA by Peter Kwong and Dušanka Miščevic. While this book talks about the treatment of Chinese in America, and it was pretty dismal, it also talks about all immigration to this country. They stated flatly that the United States of America was founded by white protestant men for white protestant men. One of George Washington's first acts as president was to sign restrictions on immigration.
     We've all heard about the Irish migrating to survive the potato famine there in 1847. What we don't talk about are all the other large immigrations that occurred and the way they were treated. Touring Ellis Island, a place my father and family went through in 1925-6, I was so surprised to see the posters, cartoons and newspaper articles of the 1910's and 20's decrying the massive immigration of Italians. Change the people and it could be Hispanics coming here to survive the oppressive regimes at home that the United Nations seems helpless to stop today.
     Our first massive immigration, a forced one, was the importation of Africans that were bought and sold as slaves. What many Americans don't realize was slavery was not outlawed in New York until 1795. Nearly every colony had slaves and indentured servants. The servants were freed after 7 years of labor. The slaves, until freed in 1865 after our own civil war, never were.
     In order to farm the land, vast lands unlike anything seen in the old world, you needed many hands. Since the Indians were killed through battles or more likely by disease, someone had to work. We all know the sordid tale of slavery and how it demeaned humans ... ultimately both slave and owner. Slavery in the new world was unlike anything ever seen in the old. That white men could say, as is written in our Constitution than anyone other than a white person was three-fifths of a person, well, it boggles the mind. Yet we did.
     Much has been written about race and culture and many other things about humans. What has not been written much about is that each one of us has the potential to change the world, to mate and create another human that come into this world unknowing but with the simplest needs to survive. Just like the old line about the church is wonderful but then you have to let in the people, ALL peoples of the earth have the potential to make a change, a difference and can mate and, as the Bible talks about in the Tower of Babel, differentiate. 
     When you look at that Hispanic fleeing to save the lives of their children, the Muslim praying, a man of color, any color, who appears different remember the image of those bones above. Inside we are far, FAR more similar than we are different. We need, as a people, as Democrats and Republicans, Christian and Muslim or Buddhist, Catholic or Protestant that there is more than binds us together than tears us apart. The tearing only succeeds when we let it.
     This is not to ignore the bullies of the world. There are many and even in my own lifetime we have lived through many. They must be confronted be it here at home or anywhere in the world. Yet, we have to opportunity to find what keeps us together as much as we do that tears us apart. My favorite line from the New Testament is when confronted by the adulterous wife and those who would stone her, Jesus utters, "He who is without guilt cast the first stone." One by one they disappeared and Jesus asks the woman to go and sin no more.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where my emphasis 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 ETSY store ... I am adding many new and exciting, collectible birdhouses and craft items. Many of the items talked about here will be for sale there!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Let's Hear It For The Red, White & Blue

How different they can be even if the main colors are the same!!!

After an orgy of Halloween items, 22 in fact, I needed a pause, a change. I wasn't really ready for the Green and Red of Christmas just yet so on a foray to Michael's to buy some small square blocks to use for feet on my birdhouses, I was greeted with THE FOURTH OF JULY! Everywhere the store was decorated and I realized that the two items I had done to pay homage to this holiday were, in fact, sold.
     Coming home I looked at the collection of small, unfinished, mini-birdhouses I had and picked three that I liked. I considered it a challenge to use the basic three colors, come up with different designs using the colors - designs that would go well with each one.
     And, here they are. Very, very different but in keeping with at least the colors of the holiday. Not sure if Betsy Ross liked the colors, the British surely did with their red, white and blue Union Jack. They are striking colors that stand out at any time of the year!
     I added feet to the round one and used golden stars for contrast that honor the stars and stripes. Several red lines wind around the piece in wavy lines. Golden stars added to the roof add emphasis to three stars on the front and back and one each on the sides.
     The star theme was easy to adapt to the middle birdhouse. It already had a metal star and metal roof on it's bare wood frame. Again, I added feet so it can stand or be hung. The silver wire hanger looks good hung or standing on a table top. The challenge was how to decorate the body already scored with horizontal lines. I alternated red and white on top and put a red and blue checkerboard motif below. A little silver glitter and silver feet complete the balance of colors.
     The last birdhouse retained the red, white and blue but hearts, one of my favorite "signatures" replace stars for the third birdhouse. The same colors were used but with a different emphasis of red and white curved lines with a blue roof and base. The jewel in the curve of each bottom red line on all four sides adds a bit of sparkle to the piece.
     As I have said many times before, we may all start with the same surface but oh how differently we make them turn out. I wanted to show here just how different they may begin but in using the same basic colors how they become siblings when shown together.
     This is a wonderful challenge. I urge you to do the same! Find two or three blanks ... be it canvas, a birdhouse or even a wooden box and in using the same colors come up with three different designs. You might be surprised at just how good they will turn out.
     These items and many more are available on my store. Check out:

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where my emphasis 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 ETSY store ... I am adding many new and exciting, collectible birdhouses and craft items. Many of the items talked about here will be for sale there!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The ""Art" of Gardening

I was stunned to find out that Plumeria's
love the desert. I joined the Plumeria
Society here and find it makes me a
better gardener in general!

I have had a garden since I was in grade school. My German father disliked yard work of any kind and my South Dakota born mother thought it was beneath her. This from a woman who made us read Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette - and tested us no less!
     I managed to eek out a few vegetables and flowers along the fringes of our house. I never forgave my father the year he painted the house and got paint drops all over my garden. Many of the vegetables became inedible. 
     We rented our house in Portland and the landlord provided us with a lawnmower to mow the yard. We were on a corner lot with our house on 67th, a large open space and a duplex on Glisan with a backyard as well. The beast was self propelled and dragged me every week around the yard much to my dad's delight. It meant that he didn't have to do it. Since it rains all the time the grass was green pretty much the whole year. Only a silver thaw or snow relieved me of my duties.
     I had a pretty good "green thumb" and no matter where I lived, there was a garden. When we re-did the entire back yard in our San Gabriel Valley home, I had them build me five 4' x 8' raised garden beds to replace the ground garden I already had. I got more than enough zucchini, other squashes, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn and much more.
     They put in an irrigation system but it had to be turned on and off which was a drag if you were gone a few weeks in the summer.
This is typical of all first floor units in my complex.
     When I moved to Palm Springs in January of 2016 I had already become an orchid killer. No matter what I did, both in Alhambra and now Palm Springs, I would get lovely blooms from the plants I bought, they would finally fade away and then die. No matter what I did, I could never get one to survive the initial blooms. In disgust I finally both a plastic one at IKEA. Now and then it gets a bath in the shower.
      When the opportunity came to purchase a condo in the complex where I was renting, I decided to approach the seller and see his unit, behind mine. I was not prepared for the yard it offered. I have yet to see a condo with a yard like this. Even though we had the same inside layout, I had a long narrow concrete patio and he had a yard! Not including his patio, the yard measured about 25 ft. deep and 45 ft. wide. I did have a long narrow patio with a balcony above my bedroom door. There were many succulent and cactus type plants but it was apparent no one had a garden. It had a palm tree, a massive rather rare cactus and  an old, mature lemon tree. I had seen my neighbors back yard years ago but was surprised at how much more space I had. I later learned it was built for the original builders son who lived here for many years before selling it to the board member I purchased it from.
This was the original back yard as it was when I purchased my condo.

     I had two months on my lease left when I purchased my condo so we had to two months to gut and rebuild the kitchen, add fans in each room and for me to get everything painted. Then there was the moving. After that frenzy I had no stomach for what I knew would be another major project - creating a new garden complete with irrigation.
     I was, however, getting ready. UC Riverside has a campus in Palm Desert and offers some great gardening classes open to all. I attended several paying particular attention to growing in the desert. Your summer is our winter. Many plants cannot take the relentless heat. So we plant in October for a harvest in the spring. Weird, no? As I write this it was 111º yesterday, it will be 109º today!
     Since I had brought a plumeria branch with me, I heard about and started attending the local Plumeria Society meetings nearby. As you can see above, they thrive here in the desert. One member has one 20 ft. high. They appear to be just about everywhere. I now have five! They love the heat, hate wet feet and once established can put up with the heat. They love sandy soil and hope you ignore them rather than drown them. I learned much about planting, anything, from them.
     This year I decided the time had come for a garden complete with irrigation. Talking to our maintenance man here at the condo he made suggestions on what could be done and admitted that my unit had flooded. We came close last year when we got an inch of rain in an hour and water lapped at the dining and bedroom doors. The fake wood is cupped from flooding in the past.
     His first step was to put in a French drain so that will never happen again. However, it was done when I was on a trip so I returned to see a huge pile of sand in the yard. I guess the hole was big enough for coffins and then had to be filled with rocks and gravel. The sand came from the hole.
     I returned home to what looked like nothing had happened. However, he replaced the pavers and, I discovered, had also installed the irrigation system that was on a timer! I could just imagine myself watering three times a day out here when it gets up to 122º like it did four times last year. Now I could get 4 emitters to a line coming up through the soil or along the patio walls! I could put them in the pots that needed water and near plants in the garden knowing that now they would get three short waterings a day. I can adjust it of course but for now we will see how it works.
    One of the things I learned was that you could use concrete blocks for a raised bed garden. I liked the idea because it wouldn't rot, there were no bad chemicals to get into plants and it would be easy to move or change. A trip to Home Depot for costs also showed that you could get not only dead grey but pleasant tan blocks, not that different from the stucco at the condo.
   The only bad thing was that the only dirt we had was, well, sand, the same sand that came out of the new French drain. So reluctantly I had him put the sand in around the irrigation risers and then before I planted added amendments to the soil though I am sure it will not be enough.
     It would have to do for now as I knew that I was taking a chance planting a garden this late in the year. As you can see (right), the irrigation is in place, the sand filled in the raised portion of the wall and after adding amendments and putting the irrigation nozzles  in place felt I was ready to plant. This was in May.
   I bought corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, large and cherry, several squash and watermelon along with chili and sweet peppers at the nursery. From seed I tried green beans, pole and bush, corn, and several flowers but other than the corn and beans the others have struggled. Then something, who knows what began eating the pole beans. I have had some luck with soap, oil and water sprays but whatever they are, they are relentless. 
     As you can, the back yard seems well organized and things are growing. The corn is to the top of the wall. The corns seeds are not all that far behind.
     The last thing I wanted to do was to compost all my scraps. I have been amazed at how much green debris there is from cooking. I had another area to the right of my gate of dirt that I could also brick in and look for an easy way to compost. I found two plastic bins that are adjustable on Amazon and have started putting table and kitchen scraps in it. Looking online to see what you could compost I was startled to find newspapers, used paper towels, kleenix and other items were also suitable besides green items. They all needed to heat up and break down of course, but already the volume of what I throw out has decreased substantially. I am trying to get our maintenance man to put grass clippings in now and then. It sure makes it easier to get rid of leaves, weeds and other things you otherwise would have to drag over to the dumpster, that's for sure.
     What happens next? I really don't know. I am keeping a kind of mental record of this first try. Some things seem to be fine, others, mostly due to insects feasting, are struggling. I wanted to plant flowers to ward off some of these problems but can't find what I want and they are struggling growing from seed despite being planted first in seed pots.
     However, now that I have started this adventure I realize that gardening, just like painting or drawing or doing any of the other arts is an art that is every bit as intensive of our attention. As the weather heats up I will hide more and more in the A/C of the condo and nurse my new garden in the early morning and evening, avoiding the heat of the day!
     I will add updates as something more happens.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where my emphasis 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 ETSY store ... I am adding many new and exciting, collectible birdhouses and craft items. Many of the items talked about here will be for sale there!