Thursday, September 2, 2021

The Challenge of the NEW!

This was a long way from designing birdhouses yet fun to do in many "new" ways!

Last year,  when I asked my daughter what she would like for Christmas for herself, husband and my granddaughter she thought awhile and then said, I would like you to create a Hanukkah Village for us to put on our mantle. While my daughter is a born and raised United Methodist, he husband is Jewish and I knew they were combining faith traditions as they raise their daughter, my granddaughter.

She sent me a photo of the houses she wanted to use, (left) three different sizes of paper mache houses that had removable roofs. The Hanukkah tradition is for each day the candle burns, 8 days in all, there is a small gift for a child each day. With these, they could put a gift inside. I loved the idea but the challenge was that Hanukkah was less than a month away!

I hurried over to the craft store to get two sets of the houses and thought I would use a wooden birdhouse (that really didn't look like a birdhouse) and use a wooden tree I decorated with snowmen skiing down a hillside to a frozen pond for the seventh and eighth pieces. There was room in the birdhouse to hide something and a space in front of the snowman tree.

The challenge? How to design each one so they were unique and yet festive enough for the Holiday Season.

A birdhouse converted to a synagogue

I first tackled the wooden birdhouse that I made into a synagogue. I found some Hanukkah decorations and used them on the birdhouse keeping the synagogue as simple as I could. It turned out to be a kind of Spanish style synagogue but with a few simple additions it was passable.

It was fun and that made me learn to use my scroll saw because the next item was a big, formal house with columns! I added lintels, feet became attic windows and of course you needed holiday decorations. 

I had amassed a collection of items and for the first time I found that I was able to use them to embellish the items with more than just with paint. My two story houses with removable roofs were put to the test.

A little adobe house with removable roof
What was so fun was that I got to do all kinds of detail work with a variety of objects that I found new uses for. I had never done anything quite like this and found that I would spend just about all night working on these fragile houses creating a kind of village from as you can see above, from nothing!

The challenge was to decide HOW to decorate each piece. The Hanukkah tree was already done and the synagogue was finished but now what? I two two large houses to do, two mid sized and two small houses left. I wanted each one to be different but how?

I was given free reign on how I wanted to decorate them and I didn't want them to all be too formal. I next tackled one of the small houses and converted it into a Southwest adobe style with visible wooden beams coming through the walls, front and back, Southwest colors and details complete with cactuses. It was fun. I did the other small house more in the Spanish Territorial style you would see in New Mexico!

The two midsized houses were a challenge. I finally decided to paint one in the Pennsylvania Dutch / Bavarian style with dark walls and hearts and flowers similar to what I had seen in Bavaria on several trips. It was dark yet remained colorful with large red hearts and tulips adorning front and back. Adding a tree also added a German feel.

The second large house I decided to decorate in my wildly colorful "crazy-quilt" design incorporating both Hanukkah and Christmas elements. While I am not all that familiar with Jewish traditions some decorations at the craft store helped. Here I used Christmas colors and each base color had it's own design. The rub was that I used Christmas and Hanukkah wrap instead of fabric prints. It was a challenge with an amazing amount of detailing required.

The last mid-sized house I made blue with snowflake patterns with a small birdhouse decorating the front. You "know" I had to get a birdhouse in somewhere. As you can see from the photo at the top the village is quite colorful and was a hit at my daughters house.

Packing them all in a box was yet another challenge. The miracle was that they managed to arrive with little damage despite the damage to the box. Pieces that fell off were easily glued back on and it was unique as displayed on their fireplace mantle.

Sometimes you need a little, in this case a huge shove, to use your talents in new ways. This would be a wonderful gift for family, friends or yourself, something unique that you created! With tender loving care, this would be a decoration that could be used for years and handed down to the next generation. Who doesn't have Christmas things from years and generations past? 

With the holidays just around the corner I hope that I have inspired my readers to attempt the same thing!

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!

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!

Friday, August 27, 2021

Vincent van Gogh: A Journey

Out of the blue one day recently I got an email from Taschen Books about a sale they were having. Luckily for them, they featured a photo of a book about Vincent van Gogh they were having a sale on. Even at $50.00 it seemed a bargain as it would include ALL of his works, sketches, pen and inks and every painting he ever made. Of course, I bought it.

When it arrived I realized that it was huge. Over 750 pages not including index and oversized pages. As I started to read it though, I was struck by facts that I did not know and I already had a number of books about him, including his letters. I glanced through the letters but never sat down to read them.

I knew he was the second son born with the name Vincent but did not know he was born on the same day as his brother's stillborn death. There was a small cemetery in front of the vicarage house he grew up in and each day he could see his name sake's headstone.

His was a tortured journey that we have all heard about. But seeing all, not some of his paintings showed his slow but steady development as an artist. None of his work in Holland and with the miners in Belgium showed the brilliance that was to come. The authors of this book call his THE POTATO EATERS his first masterpiece but also note that it is a set piece, each face has been posed and that it was not truly an actual scene. Yet, in its own way, captured the essence of their lives.

My introduction to Vincent was as a 5th-6th Grader taking art classes at the Portland Art Museum. My

Blossoms: Almond Tree In Bloom
father was naturally gifted and watching my doodles decided that I needed some training. For some reason the van Gogh collection was at the museum on a world tour as they were building a new museum dedicated to his art in Amsterdamn. So every Saturday I would walk past this vast collection as I went to art class. Often I would have to wait for my father who was the manager of the Schick Electric Shaver Shop in Portland, OR. He had to work half day Saturday's. I would wander the gallery and look at each painting. My favorite of all was Blossoms: Almond Tree in Bloom. When I finally saw the "second" new museum I was surprised to find this image prominently displayed on everything ... scarves, notebooks, coffee cups. It was like visiting a long lost friend. Then when my friend in lockdown in China showed me a picture he hung from his purchases in Shenzhen, China, I was stunned to see it was a faithful copy of BLOSSOMS he bought there. Our tastes were more alike than I realized.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art had a show a few years back on Expressionism. The first painting you saw, one the curator worked five years to get and use, was a van Gogh painting. She felt that he represented the beginning of a movement of artists who went beyond the Impressionists and created what was called Expressionism. She had a point.

It is clear that when Vincent went to Paris his painting palette changed but his style became more forceful, more distinct. Yes, he dallied with Signac and Seurat's Pointillism, and some of Cezanne's increasing abstract's. He was enamored with Japanese wood block prints, even organizing a show of them, but all in all he was faithful to his own style. There was no one painting as he did.

The world's second most recognized painting, behind Leonardo's MONA LISA,  is Vincent's STARRY NIGHT that now resides at MOMA in New York City. While I think it belongs in Amsterdam, we are lucky that we need only go to New York City to see one of man's most recognizable masterpieces. I read somewhere that astronomers say he even has the stars right the night it was painted. The painting is not huge, like say Seurat's SUNDAY AFTERNOON ON THE GRAND JATTE, but to stand in front of it you find yourself drawn into the swirls, even floating above the town in blue and yellow splendor.

THE RED VINEYARD by Vincent van Gogh
Vincent is famous for only selling one of his 1,000 plus drawing, etchings and paintings. THE RED VINEYARD was sold for 5 Francs that he soon gave away. He was aware that in death his paintings could become more valuable. Millet, an early mentor, had died and he watched his paintings that could be purchased for a pittance suddenly fetch amazing sums. Dependent on Theo, his art dealing brother who financed his career from his own income and from the inheritance he received from his father who cut Vincent completely out of the will, van Gogh wrote and talked about the fame of artists after they died.

He was forever grateful to Theo who in fact had most of the paintings stored in a warehouse and would now and then enter them into show competitions. The first two paintings that were ever shown were THE POTATO EATERS and IRISES that is now in the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

IRISES by Vincent van Gogh
I have a funny story about that painting and was surprised to learn it was one of the first paintings he would show to the world. The Getty bought the IRISES for $56 million long before the Getty Center was built. It was, at the time the most any painting had ever fetched at an auction. The now Getty Villa in Malibu was the first museum built with Getty's oil money. His house was torn down and an accurate copy of a Roman villa, patterned after a real villa in Herculeum was built. It caused a storm when it opened but was soon accepted for what it was.

 My family and I went out to see IRISES but we could not locate it anywhere. It was the first such painting the Getty had ever bought and looking back, there was really no room to hang it in. Finally giving up my kids found the new media room with Wi-Fi and 20-30 computers all hooked up. My 10 or so year old son immediately latched on to one and my daughter and I looked around the room. I spotted a painting at the end of the room almost in total darkness and walking towards it realized here was the van Gogh. The woman in charge came up and asked me if I knew what it was. Speechless I just nodded. Getting closer she turned on the lights and I probably gasped. Looking at it I said, "I certainly have a better place to hang it than here!" "Where?," she asked. "My living room over my fireplace." After a good laugh she explained the dilemma they were having on hanging it. It was then and remains today one of my favorite paintings.

Vincent knew many of what are now famous Impressioinists of the day and lived for a short time with Gauguin. They were too different in style and temperament. He learned from and somewhat copied all their styles yet never let his own go. He was aware of own style and was liked by his fellow painters.

The mental breakdowns hit him hard and yet during his time in St. Remy and outside of Paris, in Arles, where he died, he produced some of his greatest masterpieces. Painting usually outdoors there is an amazing video on YouTube where they have found bugs, always a constant threat, buried deep in his paint. After he came back to the north of Paris, just before he died, he painted 80 paintings in 60 days. Many are considered some of his finest masterpieces.

WHEAT FIELD WITH CROWS by Vincent van Gogh

While we may never know for sure, many believe this was his last painting. To me it represents a direction that he was moving, moving to abstract expressionism something that he didn't understand and yet moved towards it with each painting. While there is no doubt there was an element of insanity in his death, his new doctor in Arles, Paul Gachet was experienced with patients like Vincent. That he didn't see anything alarming in the behavior just before the fatal shot on July 27, 1890, something happened to put that bullet in his stomach, and his refusal of medical care that led to his death two days later.

Van Gogh was commercially unsuccessful during his lifetime, and he was considered a madman and he and many others considered himself a failure. He only became famous after his suicide, something that he felt would happen and soon was seen as a misunderstood genius in the public imagination. His reputation grew in the early 20th century as elements of his style came to be incorporated by the Fauves and German Expressionists. Germany  missed the Impressionist period completely and quickly artists changed from the salon style painting favored in France as well as Germany to a vibrant form of Expressionism. The German art world moved from staid Dresden to growing, libertine capital Berlin and it was there that Vincent's art was shown, admired and started a movement.

There Vincent first attained widespread critical and commercial success over the ensuing decades, and is remembered as an important but tragic painter whose troubled personality typifies the romantic ideal of the tortured artist. Today, Van Gogh's works are among the world's most expensive paintings to have ever sold, and his legacy is honoured by a museum in his name, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It holds the world's largest collection of his paintings and drawings.

Is every derided, ridiculed, criticized artist another genius? We can never know. But, unless we try and continue to improve our craft we may never know with our own art. If you were, even today, to compare Vincent's work to what the French, the British and German Salons were exhibiting, they would probably be considered the scribblings of children. Some today might make the same comparison. Does the majority of the art world we see them that way today? No.They are visions of the world without restraint and for many, that is enough!

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!

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!


Friday, July 9, 2021

Remember When "Mail" Meant a Personal Letter?

Mail today is anything but the kind of mail I remember as a kid. In those days, the 1950's, getting the mail generally meant getting a few letters from family, bills and The Saturday Evening Post. There was no email, junk mail to speak of or anything like the materials we receive today. I remember the highlight of the year was getting the Montgomery Ward and Sears regular AND Christmas catalogs! There was no Amazon. We got the newspaper every day too. And post cards! Remember those post cards from exotic places? I do.

Yesterday, July 7, 2021 I received, for once, only letters, well, of a sort. Each and every one of them was some kind of a plea for support or beyond ridiculous,  claims.

Since I have bought a few things through catalogs during Corvid I now average, in a month, about 100 catalogs, many for women. I am a single, 75 year old single man.

Let's go through yesterday's cache.

First was the 2021 ASPCA Membership Card. I lost my dog to age and illness last January. I have never joined or even been involved with the ASPCA. My enclosed Membership Card also requires a donation. The trouble is if you send a donation now in a month, even a week, you will be solicited again for more. There is a never ending cycle once you give that never stops. I know; I donated to Habitat For Humanity and get solicitations every or every other week.

Then there was the Luekemia & Lymphoma Society with a nickel enclosed along with address labels. Even $18.25 would do so much. Yes. today until the next solicitation for double that.

I need to explain that I am not a mean hearted old crouch. I do believe in supporting certain charities and organizations that are close to my heart. What makes me angry is that the people you want to help sell your name and address to others until your mailbox resembles a tsunami of paper crying for help! If you look up these charities, as I have, the amount that actually goes to the charity you "want" to support is pretty meagre. Some that have good records with the funds they receive have abysmal records on the people they will and do not support.

Next was a post card titled DR OZ CREATES. What did he create? A pill that, and I quote, "creates enormous erection, increase in thickness and width and crazy length increase and it gets biggest deal in medical history!" I think the medical profession needs to pull his doctor's license. I have prostrate cancer and ALL the limitations that comes with that. No pills for me.

How about "HEALING HIDING IN YOUR HOME?" Yup! I too can have Supermarket Super Remedies for only four payments of $7.99 after a FREE 21 day preview. For my effort whether I keep it or not I get the FREE Get Energized. And in case you want to know, a stomach cramp can be solved with a cookie, a gingersnap no less.

An "Important Notice to: ALAN KRUG" came from Consumer Reports a magazine I have talked about before. I don't necessarily trust them because what they test is now, in this moment. The true test is what happens 6 months, a year down the road. And for me, it has not been good. After your yearly subscription you get letters like this asking for more money. They also send you tickets asking that you support a raffle they have every year as well. Since my luck as a gambler is zilch, I don't support that either. The only thing I have ever won was a contest for something I designed and I paid for the birdhouse and paints that created it.

United Service Organization is next and I think a new one for me. The letter included an American Flag magnet and the back of the letter says there is a FREE 3-by-5 American Flag saved for me. Since I already have my uncle's and Mother's service flag's I won't be needing that either. I have nothing against the USO and believe they provide needed entertainment from the troops but if I donate I will only get even more mail!!!

Finally this one really caught my attention as it screams SECOND NOTICE and warns that DEADLINES ARE ENFORCED! Inside it notes that it is an OFFICIAL PRIZE COMMUNICATION re: $10,000.00 a week awarded for 52 weeks. I was even given an Authorization Prize number. All I have to do is call 1-888-588-4027 and provide the secret number and confirm my address. I don't think so. On the back are the STRIKE IT RICH XII SWEEPSTAKES "Official Rules" you need a magnifying glass to read. Also in small type, no purchase necessary to win, you find that it is sponsored by National Magazine Exchange. How many magazines do you think you buy before you get off that phone call?

I  long for the good old days. To me, and many others in  my age group, there is nothing quite like holding a letter, seeing the writing and enjoying the occasional photo. I keep them and treasure them many times before either filing them or throwing them away. I just purchased a Canon scanner and I find that is a wonderful way to keep those letters and see what they looked like. Need it again? (I hate reading things on my huge iMac screen.)  I can reprint each and every letter, including emails, should I have the urge to see them again.

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!

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!


Sunday, July 4, 2021

The Beauty and Challenges of Mola Design!

 Since I started craft painting, I have become enamored with a variety of folk styles. As a break from my graphic design business I started painting birdhouses with traditional Pennsylvania Dutch design, probably as a result of my German heritage. My German father was quite gifted but never in my memories of him did he make or paint things in this style.

The mola that inspired it all!

            Yet, when I bought that first birdhouse those many years ago, that is the style I choose. The irony to me was when we went to Amish country in Pennsylvania I was stunned to see that nothing was in that style anymore. I was the sole "Pennsylvania Dutch" artist.

            Next I became smitten with quilted things. My ex-wife had been doing quilting and looking through her books and viewing a friends antique "crazy-quilt" realized there was something timeless in these designs that could be transferred onto 3D objects, i.e. birdhouses! My first "crazy-quilt" design was a hit as I won a national contest in design and received a bunch of paints and materials from DecoArt for my trouble. Starting an ETSY store a short time later it was one of the first things to sell. I have since created a variety of birdhouses, trays and boxes with these "painted" fabrics including a metal mailbox that proudly hangs somewhere in Germany right now! 

        However, after helping a friend and his partner finish hanging a variety of paintings they had collected over the years including Mola’s. The gift of one of his mola's, shown above, after owning them for years when I was married, made me realize these designs would and could easily be adapted to 3D objects from the 2D objects that they are. Created by the Kuna, now spelled Guna Indians of mostly Panama, these colorful textile items are made in cloth appliqué where design are cut through the top cloth to colorful cloths below creating patterns and amazing designs. One look that night of this gift made me realize this was a style I had to try out. So I did.
          No sooner had I finished it and posted a photo of it  on Facebook that a friend offered to buy it. I discovered, though, that these designs are fiendish in their creation. 

      The old, "traditional" molas had either a black or deep burgundy top cloth layer. That makes sense as it allows the colors that show through appear brighter and more colorful. So, I too decided that my items would start off being black or deep burgundy. I even went to Lowe's with a burgundy mola to get an exact match of the color! 

  However, I soon discovered that many of the bright colors, the reds, oranges, yellows and even some greens and purple were transparent or semi-transparent and needed to be painted twice or even three times to be clearly seen.

   To proceed you had to paint the wood a base color, then sand it as the paint raised the grain of the wood, then  sketch your design in pencil and then, and only then begin to paint in the sketched lines with white or cream colored paint. That ensured the reds, oranges, yellows and other transparent colors would show. Lines of white or cream needed to be painted where transparent colors would be. The other challenge was taking two dimensional designs and putting them on a three dimensional object. 

            The birdhouse at the right below has designs on both sides of the roof, the bottom, the spout as well as the four sides. You try and hope that the design will create a cohesive whole. And trust me there  is no guarantee. The PARROT BIRDHOUSE was first tried as a photo frame to test for the procedure, laying down of colors and design. That was easy. Then to take that design and put it on a wooden watering can birdhouse was probably madness but something I just had to try.

            As you see many of the elements of the frame are now on the birdhouse. The parrot is on the front and back around the hole for birds, the floral motif on the left of the frame is used on the front top, back of bottom of the watering can creating a cohesive design despite the fact it is 3D now. I even used the same colors. Is this successful? I don't know, you judge. However, what this suggests is that there are ideas out there everywhere; we only need to know where to look and when we look analyze how else they might be used. I am going ahead full steam with more mola designs using this motif because I enjoy  the  challenge, am happy that I can use all the colors I love and hope that others will like them too. 

   To me, today has become very boring. All you see is white, grey, black in cars and now even homes and what people wear. The United States has to be one of the worst in the way of color use. It's as if people are afraid of color. Where are the vermillion, the white pink & black cars, brilliant blues and enchanting reds I remember of my childhood? 
    Here are other examples of things I have created using the mola style.A metal roofed birdhouse with three front opening with roosts in its wood base. Again the sides, front and back plus bottom are decorated with mola inspired designs. I used a  paper marché cactus in a mola pot for this cactus pot. The pot is painted with the traditional burgundy and the paper cactus is painted to look like the real thing. No watering required. The finishing touch was adding real sand at the cactus base. A small eagle faced but bird top and both sides 3" x 3" x 3" box decorated on all sides in a mola design. The same technique for  all these items is  required. Whenever a transparent color is to be used you must paint a white base line first, then add the color. And even that is no  guarantee that it will work on the first round of color. Another interesting wrinkle is to add puffy fabric paints. They leave a little texture and are washable when wet with water just like acrylics. To keep all colors fresh and like new for a long time, each item is painted with an outdoor satin Varathane varnish.

            Good luck!


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, November 2, 2020

Do WE Need Influencers? Apparently WE Do!

One of the more disturbing, to me, effects of social media has been the increase in the number of people who we allow to influence us. Not content to follow the old TV format of some popular sports figure, Joe Namath comes to mind, making a pitch for some product he gets paid to shill, whether he uses it or not. Good ole Joe was trusted because he was an awesome football player. Mickey Mantle, another shill from a time gone bye, was revered until it became known he was drop down drunk off the field.

Some of these current "stars," get paid up to $1 million to post on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and the like. Can you imagine? AND, you know what? I don't know a single one of them and frankly could care less. That said, I am 75 and figure they have nothing of interest to influence me with unless they're pitching a better laxative, pain killer or some new fangled item to make me look say, 74?

Personally I find it one more step we are taking as a society, as people, from having contact with, well, people. And even more in thinking for ourselves. Corvid aside there was once a time when girlfriends would head to the mall and together make a decision about what they liked or not and that was that. You tried that decision at school, usually, and depending on where you were on the social pecking order you either influenced your peers ... or not. Those "not" left a lasting impression.

Because we are creatures of habit and more than willing to let others influence us, marketers and corporations are having a field day where for next to nothing in production costs, they are willing to shower influencers with money and let them do the work. It's kinda like that message you get when the person you call doesn't want to answer the phone will tell you (electronically) that you are so important but they can't get to the phone right now so please leave your name and number and they will call you back shortly. Heard that one? Let me tell you, they NEVER call you back. The other excuse is Corvid-14. In eight months they can't get their supply chain in order? Really? If anything the pandemic has exposed just how lazy many companies and people are.

In case you don't know, an influencer is someone with the power to influence your purchasing decisions. They can have but not always, authority, knowledge, position or a relationship with the audience that often negates the other three categories. We want to be liked and an influencer makes you feel that if you use their product you will be the belle of the ball. You can put lipstick on a pig ... and it's still a pig.

Today social media reaches 3.484 billion people, 45% of the people on earth, who are actively on the Internet. It's literally a gold rush for just about any company that exists. That said, here are the four basic types of influencers:

Mega-Influencers: These are people with a vast number of followers on their social networks. Vast means millions. There are no fixed rules on the boundaries between these different groups but usually they have made their celebrity offline - movie stars, sports figures, actors, musicians, even reality stars like Donald Trump. Because of this, marketing wants these people and is willing to throw money at them for their endorsements. This influencer tends to be fussy about what they endorse keeping an eye on the future and what could come back and bite them.

Macro-Influencers: One step down from the Mega crowd they tend to be more accessible to marketers. They have followers from around 40,000 - 1 million. This group has two main groups: B-Grade celebrities who haven't made the big time and successful online experts who have large followings, like cooks, writers, environmentalists, even some politicians. Macro-influencers usually have a high profile and be excellent at raising awareness. There are far more so its easier for a brand to find one and work with them.

Micro-Influencers: These are ordinary people who have become known for their knowledge about some specialist niche. They have gained a sizable social media following among devotees of that niche. They tend to range from 1,000 to 40,000 followers on social media. Often, marketing reaches out to them first. They also are picky about what brands to hype. Some are paid and others are not paid to promote a product. These influencers are usually from Generation Z, who spend more time on the Internet than any other media. This group will, in reality, become the influencers of the future.

Nano-Infuencers: And finally we have the smallest group of influencers that only have a small number of followers. They tend to be experts in obscure or highly specialized fields. In  most cases they have fewer than 1,000 followers. Most marketers feel they lack much influence but while cheap they carry a tremendous influence on their followers.

Personally I don't follow any of these people. If I need help I go to Google, explain what I am looking for and read what comes up. I've found YouTube can just about teach you how to do anything and have often used it to fix something. Many food web sites not only have wonderful recipes they practically take you by the hand to make sure you do it right. For me it's situational. I am not a follower.

However, that said there is another kind of influencer that I never thought of as that before. These would be by types of content.

Bloggers: A blogger is an influencer in social media that has the most authentic and active relationship with their fans. Marketers are finally realizing and encouraging this. Bloggers have connected with their fans for some time now and the trust they have earned from their fans translates into fans wanting to try out your product. Blogs can be about anything and over the years have 100's if not 1,000's of fans who trust them.

YouTube: The video go-to place to see much of the world. I just discovered you can see old movies, learn to use your Cuisinart, build a shed. You name it, they can show you how. 

Podcasts: Another form of video that covers an amazing spectrum of "things" is a podcast. You can find     podcasts on just about any topic on earth. Religion, politics, books and interviews with their authors, how to take a photo, how to cook a meal. Podcasters themselves have become celebrities and their followers pay attention to what they may say or use, hence they are also an influencer.

Social Posts: It is rare that a blogger, YouTuber or Podcaster relies on just that site. They usually have a social media site like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest touting what they are doing and driving traffic to their site. In fact, the majority of influencers now make their name on social media and promote heavily how and where they are trying to influence you.

Before I say that I never even look at these people, many 50 years or more younger, I must admit that I do look at things that rate the quality of a product many marketers would not approve of. I do check out the ratings of an item on Amazon by clicking first the 1 star reviews. You might as well get that out of the way and if you feel you can't live with the deficiencies listed I move on. If I can live with them I click on the 5 star ratings. I also read CONSUMER REPORTS who I feel need to review an item today and then in six months. I can't even begin to list the items I bought from their recommendations that in a very short time became simply junk. I stopped using them but did return to read what they looked for in an item and I followed that list. We didn't always agree and I still don't. I've noticed that MOTOR TREND has started keeping initially highly rated cars for a year and reporting on what the experience was like. CR also queries consumers about cars and their experiences. You soon learn all the glitters is not gold.

Personally I resent even the idea of an influencer. Why do we follow in most cases a person who often knows nothing about anything and is paid for it? What does Kim or any Kardashian bring to the table? They can't act, wear too much makeup and wears clothes far too tight. Really, what does a sports figure know about a deodorant or power mower? Before you blindly follow someone you might want to do what lawyers call "due diligence." Find out what do they know and does that benefit you in any way?

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!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020


    One of the funniest yet thoughtful movies of this or any time is the now classic GROUNDHOG DAY starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell. This 1993 movie tells the tale of a narcissistic weatherman from Pittsburgh with aspirations of hitting the "big" time. Assigned to go to Punxsutawney, PA for the annual Groundhog Festival February 2 to see if the groundhog sees his shadow or not (seeing it means 6 more weeks of winter) he goes with his producer and cameraman.
    It is not a pleasant journey and he makes it clear this is beneath his "talents" to have to go. He alone stays in a bed and board, the hoi pollo stay at the local hotel.
    Our first day with Phil is a combination of trite events and disaster. After being obnoxious to the kindly proprietor of the B&B, he stumbles into an old classmate, an insurance salesman. After stepping into a foot high puddle he arrives at the ceremony in the town park late but in time for the unveiling of the poor groundhog who looks like he'd rather be in bed. Seeing his shadow all groan! Phil reports this condensingly live and they hustle into the station's van for their return to Pittsburgh. Only, in ignoring his own weather report they get caught in a snow storm and have to return to Punxsutawney. He leaves them to their own devices and finally in a snit goes to bed.
    The next morning the day seems to begin again. Sonny and Cher sing "I Got You Babe" on the clock radio, the world looks about the same outdoors and as he leaves he realizes that this is exactly what he did yesterday. Oddly, he remembers but no one else does. This day is a little different only in that he knows what is going to happen. Try as he might, he CAN'T change it.
    The story line by the writers was timeless. The studio wanted it to be two weeks but as the movie
Does he or doesn't he?
progresses you realize the timeline is much, MUCH  longer. That's the joy and frustration.
    Next he tries to die. One day he grabs the groundhog, steals a truck and drives over an embankment where he and the groundhog die when the truck explodes. The next morning promptly at 6:00 am the radio starts singing "I Got You Babe." More suicide scenes follow but gradually he begins to realize that there is something more he is to learn. Eventually he does.
    There has never been a better depiction of hell, even better than Dante. He made it a place of torment but GROUNDHOG DAY makes it ordinary but ordinary the same forever. While no one remembers Phil does and finally has the presence to begin to change internally. He learns French, plays the piano, becomes a friend to those in need, in short, a better and kinder person. It is that new and changed person that finally nets him the woman he wishes to partner with who finally sees in him a better man.
  Now you may wonder what that has to do with today. I woke up the other morning and looked 
at what I would do today. GROUNDHOG DAY popped into my mind and I realized that today would be pretty much like yesterday, and the day before that, another words, pretty much how my life has been since March 18, 2020 when the governor of California ordered the shelter-in-place (SIP) order for every Californian.
    To be fair, every day is not "exactly" like the day before but on the whole it is. I walk the dog early before most people are up, usually around 5:30 am, I come home, make coffee, chat with my friend in China, eat breakfast and find something to do. I paint and have put new items in my ETSY store, I worked on a photo book and got that done and printed. I scrubbed the yucky black grout on my tiles floors, read books, lots of magazine and watched Netflix and Prime shows. I got rid of cable so watch the evening news on my iPad and cook all my meals every day. The only times I leave, besides the 30 minute walk outside the gates in the morning is for:
  1.             Doctor appointments though many are now virtual
  2.             To go get medicines
  3.             Grocery Shopping
and often I bundle chores together so I don't have to drive every day. I have spent up to 10 days without driving. Friends go shopping every day just to get out of the house. There are times, trust me. If we could leave before there was, well, no there to go too. Everything was closed.
    That was about all that was open until early June. However, it appears opening up is cause again for alarm. Riverside County is second highest Corvid-19 count only after Los Angeles County. Some restaurants have had take out but after reading that a famous restaurant in downtown Palm Springs closed after reopening because an employee tested positive for the virus, further desires to eat out or even buy a burrito at the restaurant at the end of my driveway stopped. 
    A friend concerned about my well being sent me the risk factors for a variety of "opened" activities rated from 1 - 9. Eating out at an indoor restaurant is rated a Risk factor of 6, a drink in a bar is a 9! Who's to say someone working there isn't positive and shows no symptoms? Beijing is more or less quarantined after one case ballooned to over 200. One restaurant had seven workers who tested positive. People and fish tested positive in a fish market. Now they are all closed. Sure 21 million live there but, and it's a big BUT, no one knows who may have it or where it will pop up next. Our valley and our county are seeing 50% spikes over the past week.
    So, for me every day is about like the day before however, to be fair every week is like the week before. During one of my ZOOM meetings, one that worked, someone about my age wondered, "Is this the way I live the rest of my life?" She put in words what I was feeling. Peggy Lee's old song suddenly boomed in my head, "Is That All There Is?"
    Much has been written about this and I won't dwell on it except to ask, IS this all there is? Getting it and living after is not without effects. Hearts, kidneys, liver even blood and for sure lungs are affected during and probably long after. The could be, first attempts, as bad as the disease. Ask anyone in the LGBTQ community. The first drugs killed as many as they saved. These are all things to definitely ponder as we shelter-in-place in "our winter and now summer of our discontent." Dying to get out may just give you that chance!

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!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Dogs Don't Practice Social Distancing!

     As we Californians practice "social distancing" now for the third week, starting our fourth week
Miss Maggie - the dog that knows no boundaries
tomorrow, it dawned on me yesterday, after stumbling over my dog, yet again, that dogs DON'T practice social distancing. I became aware of that fact after leaving my condo to go to the bank, shop for food and get medicines at the pharmacy. I completed these four tasks in about two hours. It was my first time out to even do these minimal (allowable) chores in 10 days. Even if I didn't see anyone I knew, it was wonderful to just be where humans were masked and six feet away as they all were.
The morning walk ritual that is done
visitors here or not!
  Having a dog you must go outside, in my case, four or five times a day. We have our long walk first thing in the morning, usually before the sun is up, then there are the WPP's (walk, pee and poop) around our condo complex starting around 5 am, then another around 11-12:00, then 4:00 or so to get the mail, and the finally one around 9:00 pm. I don't have to worry about forgetting, a cold nose on an elbow reminds me, just like when it's time for dinner. I may forget, she never does.

     Usually, we don't see anyone in the complex though there are many dog owners here. If we do she heads straight to the owner to be petted. In fact I think she thinks she's a human. I stopped taking her to the dog park to play with the dogs. I realized she ignored her "kind" instead making the rounds of the humans sitting watching their dogs. Being owners they would give her a few pets and she would give them a lick or two, then move to the next one. So much for playing with the dogs.
Meditating in place!
      In fact, shelter in place has meant for her that her master (though I really am not sure who the boss is here) is now always around. She brings her duck to play tug-of-war, licks some part of me to be petted and is ever watchful of dinner time. We have never had so much "together" time before. During a "normal" week I would leave for meetings, dinners, game night and sometimes be gone for hours as she laid out on the patio or dug through the trash inside our condo.
     I now have a constant companion. I go to the kitchen and when I turn around she lays in front of the way out. Read or watch TV in the living room, a black lump is alongside my chair. There is even no privacy in the bathroom. At least she's not as bad as my last Lab. He would follow me into the tiny inner bathroom, close the door and lay in front of it. At 100 pounds, he was an obstacle in getting out.
     Seriously though, in these times where so many of us are living alone, there isn't a better companion. I have come to realize you hunger for contact and no matter how often you Skype, of ZOOM or FaceTime they are not substitutes for a human hug, or chatter, just BEING with another living being. A dog loves to be petted, trots behind me wherever I go ... kitchen, living room, patio, bedroom or the studio. I have learned these past few weeks to stand and look around to see where she is, actually how close she is and is it safe to walk?
Visiting the Grand Canyon with Maggie
    I don't think we could have designed a better companion. Somehow, a robot just doesn't seem to be a solution, a cold metal and plastic object that even if it talks is, well, not human, not something you would want to pet.
     When my partner was here from China, we drove to see my sister in New Mexico with a stop at the Grand Canyon. To her, a car ride is a car ride just as long as she is with me. I find her sprawled out in the back seat like some teenager. I have to urge her out to pee. I need to go now more than her. My sister has three dogs and mine fits right in with dogs sprawled all over the place.
     In fact as we were gazing out at the majestic canyon a man asked about my dog and asked if he could pet her. It turned out he had just lost his dog who looked exactly like Maggie and we were both stunned to find out they both had the same name! His dog had aged and turned grey just like Maggie. He petted her awhile and finally moved on. Maggie watched him go tail slowly wagging like she understood.
     My daughter wrote to see how I was doing and to ask if Maggie was talking back to me yet. I had a good laugh but noticed her looking at me with a grin. How could she know?

After nearly 14 years, my Maggie had to be put to sleep. After returning home from a doctor's appointment she met me at the door and followed me around as usual. In the bathroom I could hear a knocking and when I looked out the door found her in convulsions on the floor. With the help of friends we took her to the vet. It had gone on so long there was fear she had brain damage and I felt that I had to let her go. In the few weeks since I still look for her and even call her when I come in the door. She truly was "man's best friend!"

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, April 13, 2020

A Custom Order Kick-Starts Juices Flowing During SHELTER-IN-PLACE

We will probably look back at this time, this "shelter-in-place" time as the lost days. I know they have been for me. Rather than having nothing to do, I found that I had so many possibilities that I was literally frozen in place with Indecision. I have unlimited hours to watch Netflix or Amazon Prime, enough books of my own, unread I might add, to start a library, lots of unseen DVD's, can cook and yes I could paint, birdhouses my forté, and own a daunting stack of blank canvases. Then, there's the yard. What did I do? I wrote a few letters, did a little baking and watched ALL six seasons of HOUSE OF CARDS, a grim gritty Washington D.C. drama that saw an amazing actor's downfall and a story line that could be out of Washington today. I have no doubt this is a far more accurate view than what we saw on the, in retrospect, fuzzy WEST WING.
Inspiration is only a few clicks away.
     At the beginning of our third week of shelter-in-place here in California, I noticed a message on my ETSY account asking if I would be interested in painting a birdhouse that had edelweiss flowers against an Alpine setting. I had been looking at the studio and carefully closing the door for weeks now and going in thought, well, why not? I asked if they wanted it round or square and they wanted four corners for their cabin in Colorado. They were really going to use it.
      We "all" know the song "Edelweiss" from THE SOUND OF MUSIC but I had no idea what they looked like so off to images in Google to find the flowers and some Alpine scenes.
     What I envisioned was a kind of two dimensional painting on a 3D subject, carrying the view around all sides, and the roof. However, I had never actually tried to do that and this was my chance. If they didn't like it there was always the store to sell it on.
Starting with pencil marks to show areas
I started from the bottom up
defining the lower levels first
     My idea was to layer the hills and mountains and use larger flowers in front with smaller ones in back to give the birdhouse depth. Snow was shown on the mountain peaks and a kind of ice river running down one of the sides. Since it already had a cord to hang it I didn't have to worry about adding feet.  For some reason I decided that I wanted to frame the meadow at the base first thinking that each layer moving up would be less intense and finally reach the mountain tops and be crowned by the sky. In fact, the sky was one of the first finished areas I did. The clouds and colors set the tone for the rest of the birdhouse.
You can see the layers of hills as
I moved up the mountain. The flowers
would come next.
Next the flowers were saddened
increasing the feeling of depth.
     On both the foreground and the mid-mountains I used a feathered brush that gave me many thin lines for grass and was used for the rocky stones in the mountains. It worked well. To capture the ruggedness of the snow I used a palette knife and was so pleased with the effect I also used it to suggest the craggy mountains going dark on dark. Finally, with the addition of the flowers you could see the white flowers set off against the darker Alpine setting. As they were filled in and the florets of yellow added and dots of golden yellow and magenta across the field near the base I achieved the look I wanted.
The solid green base helped but
something was missing.
Painting  the base like the birdhouse base
completed the look tying it together
 The last problem was the base itself. What to do? I finally painted it a solid deep green but was not happy. I got out the cut feathered brush and repeated the strokes used on the lower birdhouse. The effect was perfect for capturing the base of the birdhouse.  
      Now, what to do with the bottom? Since they were planning on hanging it I decided to paint the very bottom with a large edelweiss so that no matter how it was viewed all the sides were painted, something you rarely ever see in a painting. I think I achieved what I set out to achieve and the reaction from the soon-to-be owner was very positive.
No space is neglected. A large edelweiss
   I used a variety of paints mostly DecoArt or Plaid. I like Plaid for its dense opaque colors, however, it tends the thicken faster than most other craft acrylic paints.
     I guess I proved to myself that you can have it both ways, a 3D scene that when viewed on an object looks like a painting glued to a 6 sided form. Never say never until you give it a try!
    I am so pleased with this I am trying a variation in the round. No matter how many you try, even with the same design they each have a wonderfully unique, distinct personality.

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!