Monday, December 31, 2012

Year's End Reflections

For whatever reason, whenever the end of the year comes around, no matter how bad the year may have been, we wax nostalgic about it. Lists of 10 appear like magic...lists about the best, the worst and just about everything in between. I am suckered into reading them because I learned long ago they are never the same and are in fact as different as each person is different from the other.  That is what makes the world interesting. Kinda like artists I guess.

While I have no 10 best of anything, I find that as I look back over the year there were many milestones along the way. In both my art and craft painting there were huge improvements in design and execution. A friend told me after giving her my Christmas present that they were looking at other gifts I had given them over the past few years and they were surprised at how much my work had improved, not that it was bad before, but better, more confident.

After going to the Las Vegas Painting Convention and taking a variety of wonderful and excellent classes I decided that maybe I too could teach.  While that remains to be seen, those classes are next year, it was an attempt to stretch as an artist. I remember so well that even though I only taught elementary education classes in the Peace Corps, that in the process of teaching you quickly discover that you need a variety of methods to teach the same thing.  I learned the basics of math and English, science and history like I never had before. I suspect teaching people to paint will be much the same. There are many ways to achieve the same end.

Then there was my crazy idea of painting crazy quilts on birdhouses, trays, note holders and a wine carrier. They were wild and crazy. Entering the first of three crazy quilt birdhouses and winning a DecoArt national contest was yet another surprise! A guy winning in a world of devoted women crafters? And at Christmas I was again surprised when that same birdhouse was sold on my store.

I have discovered a marked change in painting style as well. I was heading more and more into a kind of realism mode, one that may be fine for some but was the opposite of what I wanted. For realism I had my camera and in fact am toying with putting prints taken over the years for sale on my store to sell. What I wanted was a kind of Impressionism, but one of my own, a variation of what had come before. In an earlier blog, about how a painting can go so wrong, I saw first hand the struggle I have faced all year. The struggle between perfectionism and catching the spirit of the scene or objects. I admire those that can in a few quick strokes define their subject allowing the viewer to fill in the rest of the scene. Amazingly, we do. If you look at a Monet you realize while there are many colors, they create the depth and detail our minds fill in.

Then there was the store on Etsy.  Months went by with no sales.  I renewed and pinned and Tweeted it seemed to no effect.  Then suddenly a sale would trickle in, then more until I had a decent Christmas! I certainly couldn't live on what I sold but in a way, it is a kind of affirmation that what you so lovingly, and there is no other word for it, created strikes a resonant chord with others. A friend came over to purchase some of the items she had seen online and was so surprised at what I had done. She couldn't believe these were mine yet we had known each other nearly 40 years.

Yes, it was an interesting year. I'm not done by any means and have plans for more paintings and craft items. Heavens, I better because unpainted items are all over the work area, shelves and workbench in the garage. That's why I look at this painting a day group and wonder, now WHAT would I do with 300 more paintings?

Wishing you all A Happy New Year!


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Down Time With An iPad

I think that every now and then people, creative people especially, need to get away. In an age of never being turned off with cell phones, smart phones (well you'd think if they were so smart they'd leave us alone right?) the Internet, the need to just tune out is greater now than ever. I read once the most popular vacation sites are those completely cut off from the, well, the world, the entire world. There are those in the medical community who are concerned about all this "connectness." We never turn ourselves off. For the first time in decades the stress of modern living may have stopped our advance to longer lives. There are signs already that we may be dying younger.

After a few days of relaxing and recovering from a nasty illness of one kind or another, I've found out that at first I was bored, then realized I finally had time to read a book NOT art related in any way to art or crafts. Solving mysteries in Botswana brings back memories of simpler Peace Corps times.

While my art materials were far away, I still had my iPad. For the first time in a long time I launched an art program and started doing some abstract art I've been reluctant to do with real paint and canvases. My oh my. What fun. Make a mistake and you simply undo. Can't stand that color, a few pokes and another is in its place. It's ecologically PC and you can create, save, start another till you run out of memory. There is a freedom that is unexpected. You create with no more boundaries than your screen and it appears memory.

This is no work of art by any means. However, it represents several hours of playing around, blending, erasing, learning how the tools work and what those tools do.  Ironically these digital tools act exactly as the real thing. I didn't use and in this case waste a drop of paint.

So much for down time though. Or is it? Playing on my iPad is just that. There is no pressure to produce, there are, at least for now no great expectations to produce anything. It provides the luxury of experimenting, just seeing what happens without the daily pressure to create. Daily pressures often keep us in safe territory. We burn out because we are caught in a rut. The beauty of digital tablets is that you have the freedom to experiment, stretch your own limits and even venture into a direction you've wanted to venture but felt would lose your audience. Here you can try new ideas, settle certain stylistic techniques, and when confident enough move over to the real thing with a confidence you've already tried.

There will be plenty of downtime this week. Yet, when a artistic thought long hidden appears, I am not without resources. This was created in ArtRage but there are many others to choose from. It's fun, it gives you unimaginable freedom and tablets are more and more affordable. You definitely need to get away but to recharge some of us artistic types need to just play!


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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

What On Earth Is This?

Pinterest, for those who don't know, is a HUGE time sink. It is like looking at millions of other people's private scrapbooks only you get to peek too! At times its amazing what people post.

I stumbled on this the other day and am finally moved to say, well, something. I can't help but think what John Lennon is thinking about his wife's latest venture into clothing design. I mean, I can't think of a single man who would ever wear this except maybe at a costume party. Maybe that is the point. Then why even make it? Why even consider that this is appropriate men's wear unless you were going to a bacchanal?

However, to be fair, men designers do make some pretty outrageous designs that they expect women to wear. So maybe in her own way, she considers this and the rest of her new menswear line "turn about is fair play."

Men, ESPECIALLY men, are not used to being objects of attention or attraction. Six-packs, abs, hair removal are relatively recent  worries and they say that men getting cosmetic surgery is approaching 50% of all such surgeries. Kinda smacks of the fall of the Roman Empire doesn't it?

Guess I'm an old fuddy ruddy but you can rest assured I will never wear this or any of Yoko's designs.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

How Can A Painting Go So Wrong?

Friends have been giving me persimmons the past few weeks, something only I will eat in my household. Because I was getting them from several different sources I discovered there were several differences in shape and color. Not TOO different, but different enough.

One of my favorite colors is vermilion, a deep orange red that seems to pulse with light and color. Its as if it were lit from within. I couldn't resist painting these persimmons as I was trying to become more skilled at painting the still life. Since I was using acrylic paints, they would be dry by the time I finished.

I had seen an interesting combination of orange and a yellow green in a painting that I found distinctive and attractive. So, I started with a greenish yellow background as the persimmons had been photographed on a rippled glass table. Since I knew I could never achieve that effect, a green cloth would have to suffice. Not too happy with that, I moved on to the persimmons. Somehow, it just didn't seem to be going right. There was no life, no color. I was painting them as a solid not allowing the light of the vermilion to show through. I was, well, tole painting. It was supposed to be my vision of impressionism. In trying to paint them like a realist (I mean, I already had a photo, why paint it?) I quickly realized that this wasn't my style, my voice. If that wasn't, what was?

Needless to say, I quickly came to hate this painting and it sat on my work bench as testament to my being unable to create what I saw in minds eye and couldn't get my hands to paint.

Saturday, after a nap, still recovering from whatever illness I had, I got up, threw the first painting away and started from scratch. I put in a blue and white checked tablecloth, made the fruit larger, changed several of the positions plus making them fill more of the canvas and before I knew it, two hours later, it was nearly done. I was, well, stunned. I realized at that moment you really could do a painting a day as Raymond Logan and many others do. It is a form of mental exercise that gives you a chance to experiment and test ideas each and every day. You still have time to work on larger paintings and have a sense of accomplishment!

Now, I'm not saying I'm going to try that, but I can see no reason not to try more things, found items around the house to "portray" and then see where it falls. It surely opens up ideas and subjects that you might never have tried and experimented with. Logan paints just about every day and sells his dailies as an eBay auction item. I can only wish for that but then, you never know. I do know though, that if I did a painting a day, we would soon run out of room to store them all.

My experience is that paintings CAN start badly and no matter what you do, often become worse. I mean, would you have guessed the same person painted the first and second versions of these five persimmons? When disaster strikes, and the subject is worth it, start over again. Since the first masterpieces were X-rayed, we have found that many paintings, the masterpieces we know and love were originally sketched very differently from the final work of art. What seemed to work as a sketch often didn't work as a painting. If you have done any painting at all, I am sure you know what I mean. So, don't be afraid to quit one and start another. You never know what happens the second time around.

Happy Holidays,


P.S. Be sure to check out my store at

Saturday, December 22, 2012


Recovering from a bad week of illness I finished an amazing book by B.A. Shapiro called THE ART FORGER. I had heard of it and aside from the romantic angle, it tells the story of an artist who while having an artistic vision of her own also has an amazing ability to copy or duplicate other people's work. In one case to create an original for an artist with creative block. When she can't stand the accolades he is being given declares it her own and is made to paint it again while being watched.

I guess it is a time honored tradition to copy great works of art and is and of itself no crime.  However, selling it as an original is. Hence the plot of this book.

It is based around authentic events, the theft of 13 masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990. Focusing on one of the masterpieces, it leads us on a search for the original Degas' "After The Bath."

The story revolves around how authentic is the work? The copyist heroine has a checkered past but as a trained reproduction painter, trained by "" no less, has a gut feeling something is wrong. After a class encounter between fighting classmates in a detention home where she teaches an art class, over painting technique, she realizes that one is left handed and the other right. Inspecting her Degas after looking at and photographing the brushwork of other Degas' realizes it IS a forgery and the forger was left handed.

What is astounding in this book is what forgers have done through the ages to copy and resell paintings as originals. No painting of any time and era is immune. The driving force is a kind of fanaticism of collectors who want an original, a one of a kind. They don't even seem to care that no one else but them will see it. It is theirs and no one else's.  The ultimate power trip. The estimate today is that 40% of all art on auction is fake and thousands of fakes adorn the walls of museums all over the world. In fact a sculptor of Greco-Roman art fakes exposed his dealer when he discovered he was paid $200 a piece and the dealer was selling them for hundreds if not millions of dollars. When he had a one man show at the Met in New York City to show his masterpieces, it was a flop. People WANT to believe they are seeing an original not a copy no matter how skillful. Good thing the Romans weren't so picky. We may never have seen the glory that was Greece as the Romans copied, and copied and copied again.

Why is an original so important you ask? An artist who has a vision, who is able to get us to react to his art is one of a kind. Who can not be humbled, if you're an artist, in front of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, a Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Monet, Van Gogh or even Pollack? They bring something to us that was not there before. They create for us, a vision that was never seen, or noticed before. The quiet moments of a Vermeer painting come to mind.

There is an amazing comment from the book I repeat loosely here about conscious dissonance. Many experts are fooled because they want something to be true whether it is or not. Like a scientist who knows (or thinks) he's right and fakes the study to prove it. When it can't be repeated its revealed to be a fraud. The art world is insular and wants things to be as they should be but often aren't.

Forgers go to great lengths to make the forgeries look, feel and touch real. I won't go into the details, but when someone declares a long lost painting is an original, you may wonder, is it really real or is it a fake in the "style" of? Fun reading for art fans everywhere. I know that my paintings will never have this problem.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Why Not Use Color Year Around?

I was looking around from my sickbed in the den today and noticed that I hadn't moved my wild clock and the even wilder crazy quilt trays when we decorated for Christmas. The "monster" that belongs on the wall in the living room had also been plopped down on this as well. Suddenly it hit me. Look at those colors. Reds and blues, greens and yellow, oranges and purple and just about every other color in between.

It got me to wonder, why do we suspend our color sense for a month every year and then return to the same, and often drab environment we call home? We have no trouble letting red and green, the deadly opposites on the color wheel, run riot in our homes during Christmas. I will never forget the director of my Journalism School telling us this very basic lesson. I then created an ad with these very colors and got an A. He was a surprised I would do it and had to admit that it worked. It wasn't a Christmas ad either.

Is it that we find the colorful too, well, colorful? We need drabness to quiet our lives? I can remember the first trip we took to Denmark to visit a couple that we have been friends with now for over 30 years. They took us to a mall to show us what they were like in Denmark. I couldn't get over the use of color. I mean COLOR! My friend said that in Denmark merchants needed to use lots of color to get people to buy. In America, on the other hand, they needed muted colors to "calm" them down to buy. Really?

That could explain a lot of things. Our world here in the states is often drab. You look at a parking lot and it is filled today with black, silver and white cars. Not a few but nearly every one. The red or burgundy ones stand out in a sea of cars resembling asphalt. I can remember in the 50's when just about anything goes. Oranges, yellows, reds, teals, pink. Who can forget a 1956 Dodge that was black, white AND pink? Or the glorious orange and white Oldsmobile with a matching interior?

Homes here in Southern California are frequently drab too. Tans, beiges, maybe a muted yellow or green and if it is another color, well, people stare and not necessarily with admiration either. Many housing developments have a proscribed color wheel that gives you the "acceptable" colors to paint your house. Its, drab, drabber and deadly dull.

Now, I don't believe that you need to have red, purple, poisonous green or cobalt blue walls everywhere, but I do think that every room needs a spot of color. Something to focus on. How many hours do you spend just admiring a Christmas tree? It is literally a cacophony of colors. We set it in a special place and make sure the lights are on so that all can see it and admire it. You admire it at that time, why not use color the rest of the year as well?  Doesn't every room in your home deserve the same treatment?

Its a thought. After the holidays the monster returns to the wall, the Santas will be taken down as the rest of the wildly colored monsters return. There is not drabness in this household.

Don't forget to visit my Etsy store at:

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Artist Raymond Logan's Gallery Show

A few months ago my wife and I stumbled on a small gallery in Monrovia heading to a movie. Late, we postponed going in until later that day. In the window was the painting of an old radio that I recognized from somewhere looking at art on the Internet. The style arrested me so after the movie we headed back. At the time there were only a few of his paintings.

The owner was an affable guy and we soon were deep in "artist" talk though I admitted that I was definitely not in the league of those in his gallery. I signed his guest book and soon forgot the artist and the gallery. Its hard enough developing your own style and sometimes looking at other artists can be an inspiration or a cause of depression. An artist, unfortunately, is always comparing himself to others.

When we received a postcard announcing Logan's show I told my wife we had to go. So, last Saturday, after seeing the movie "Lincoln, " we headed over to the gallery before dinner. We were not disappointed.

The walls were covered with all manner of Logan's paintings. Old Kodak cameras, old radios, phones, bottles, bottles, even a faucet handle plus a few buildings - all in amazing colors, unique brush and palette knife strokes that utterly captivate.

His use of oils that constantly blend colors, often jarring colors in each stroke that when viewed make a wonderful and harmonious whole. To break up drab or plain backgrounds his use of subtle stripes and diamond shapes in colors that compliment the objects is amazing. By taking simple objects, objects that no one would pay much attention to, he somehow takes them and with dazzling colors and brushwork makes them objects to admire.

Born and raised in California he is a graduate of the Art Center in Pasadena, CA. After many years in advertising and graphic design, things subtly shown in his paintings, he decided to paint more. His painting a (most) day since 2007, helped him hone his style and often led to larger paintings of his small studies. He auctions his dailies on eBay, most likely where I saw his work while helping a friend set up her store.

For those local art lovers, Logan's show is from 12-15-2012 until 1-31-2013 at the Sycamore Gallery, 116 E. Lemon in Monrovia, CA. Call the gallery, 626-357-6200  for hours. Prices are reasonable and note the unique framing also made by the artist!

A Single Daisy

Flowers and I have been on a roll. I started with classes at the Las Vegas Painting Convention several years ago and was amazed that I could actually paint a white calla lily, several in one painting, in fact. It was all curvy in shades of white and lavender shadows against a black background. This was in oils.

Then last year I decided that I wanted to do the same thing with a Bird of Paradise I noticed walking my dog. My trusty iPhone got a pretty good likeness. Zeroing in on just one bloom and taking out the background, replacing it with solid black, I was able to bring out a vibrance and saturation of color using acrylic paints that surprised me. It didn't take all that long to do. Hence, this was one of the reasons I submitted it to teach in Vegas in 2013. I also noticed that unlike oils, I could float the paints like I did in my craft painting to get the richness yet roundness I needed. If you were a crafter, YOU could do this painting. The best part of course was that it was dry when you were done.

I have gone back and forth with oils and acrylics and frequently combined them. I loved being able to use one color in acrylics as a background then painting in oils on top of it never worrying that the colors would blend. I let a little of the background peek through and found this gives a richness that I at this stage of my painting career hadn't mastered using just oils.

DAISY, my latest acrylic painting, is from an actual scene outdoors but painted like a still life. The flower stands out in stark, almost photographic relief against a blurred, fuzzy, almost abstract background. I had selected that one flower out of a stand of many, almost like a camera uses a narrow depth of field to isolate one object when there are so many.

The colors - oranges, yellows, a wide variety of greens, purple (yes purple in the background shadows), raw umbers and vermillion create an almost realist and abstract painting together. The daisy literally appears to jump off the canvas.

While I am not sure when, if ever, I will get off the flower kick, I have learned a great deal in painting them. Flowers teach you a great deal whether you realize it or not. For one thing, there is the focus. Flowers demand that you place close attention to their shape. One misstep and you have another flower, or more likely a mess. You MUST pay attention to what you see in life or what you might see in a photo.

Then there is the feeling the flower inspires. What does it look like to your artists eye? What do you feel about the subject? Finally there is the timeless question, do we have to paint only what we see or are we, as artists, given license to paint what we think we see and feel?

I think that we as artists have every right to paint what we feel. Is this daisy the same one I saw and photographed? No. The shape is pretty much the same but the colors have been enhanced. Do you know what it is? Yes. The daisy shape remains but it stands in a swirl of color. While photos never can capture the depth of the actual range of colors in a painting, you can get a feel for this. You know its a daisy and can sense that is in a field of flowers and in this painting at least it appears to leap off the canvas, almost begging to be touched, to be picked.

If you haven't, give flowers a try. I have about eight flower paintings now and find that each one gets better with more richness and depth that when I started painting them. They have also enhanced my other paintings because they have made me pay closer attention to what is and is not important in a painting. Anything that teaches that, is a subject definitely worth exploring!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Time To Be Thankful

After many months of no sales or those that seemed and were months apart, I have had many sales, at least for me, the past few weeks. After a year on and several other sites, now abandoned, you begin to wonder!

The sale that surprised me, as so much of my heart and soul has gone into this series, was the original Crazy Quilt birdhouse that won an award in DecoArt's creativity contest this past summer. I heard about the contest at almost the last minute and had just finished the first attempt at "crazy quilt art." I found out I won in Juneau, AK when our ship docked and we finally had a signal!

There have since been two more birdhouses, a Notepad holder that was found at a yard sale and a variety of trays. In fact, the notepad holder has sold as well.

I don't want to brag and I don't want you to think that I am. What I do want to say though, is that it nice to see people purchase items that have been hand made, not something that, while nice and even attractive, is one of thousands or millions. When you buy from KrugsStudio or any other crafter, you are getting a one of a kind work of art! Even when I make three of something, they are NEVER alike. The design is close but because it is hand drawn and hand painted, no two are never alike. Each and every one is unique just like a real Degas or Monet or Pollack. Those ARE works of art. However, if you watch ANTIQUES ROAD SHOW, I am always amazed at the values to what are certainly hand crafted items made many years before. Maybe you will enrich your grandchildren.

I truly urge everyone to check out sites like Etsy,com, and other sites that promote those of us that have taken what was once a hobby up a notch. There truly is something to be said in having your own work of art!

A great deal of time, time you will never be paid for as I have been reminded by so many store owners, goes into a piece. You can't say the birdhouse or the pad holder were something done in a few hours. Try at least several evenings of more than several hours each. Hopefully you begin to understand the amount of time goes into each item we sell and often for less than what you might buy in a brick and mortar store.

Check out my studio at:  Be sure to check out the other sellers there as well. It is amazing there are so many talented people from around the world. There's still time before Christmas.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Deactivating & Now Deleting Facebook, Part 2

It turns out that removing yourself from Facebook is an ordeal. While you CAN deactivate your account pretty much at the time you decide to do it (I had to go online to find out how to do that, thank you very much) it seems that it takes 14 days to "delete" your account. It is "designed" to do that.

Now I feel that is the time they need to data mine whatever you might have there. 95% of all that I had on my account was from others. I really wasn't a very adept user. A friend, one of many that I told via email that I was deleting the account,  explained that they wanted to make sure you want to delete it. He explained that it took server time, which is money, to delete you and they wanted to make sure you really wanted out. I find that a rather strange account when you figure that when you delete something off your computer, its gone in a moment.

However, is Facebook, like the hated East German Stasi, so record bound that it actually takes that long to delete your records? There was an amazing movie about East Germany's secret police. When the wall fell, the West German government opened all the records that had been kept on East German citizens. The German's were stunned that there were huge buildings with row after row of records about them. It turned out that everything they did and saw and who they hung out with and even what they ate was recorded. Sound familiar?

As to the responses from friends and family, it seems that it is a generational thing. Older people, those around my age of 67 were far more likely to not have a Facebook account. As you move down the age scale the number went up but even there, they posted little or nothing and some were amazed at how the feed grew. Others liked hearing about friends and family and found it a way to keep in touch. Some were addicted to the games. But even in this group, I heard several who were getting increasingly upset about the way their lives were being tracked and put up for all to see. Many admitted it was a time sink and had also thought about opting out. Maybe Wall Street is right. They too are wondering if the bloom is off the rose.

One friend said that there were ways to keep some of this information off your page. I retorted that I had to do a search on Google to find out how. Facebook was useless and frequently obtuse. You could go up and down every menu and still not find what you wanted. Its clear that while they may be buddies with Apple, the easy and friendly user interface hasn't migrated over in the friendship. Each time they make a change, they need to revisit not only the past issues that were private but new ones. It should be a simple check list with a statement and a yes or no if you want or do not want this service. It needs to be inviolable. Facebook already has a poor record on this.

He also noted that it was a free service and they had to find someway to make money. Ever heard of ads? I would rather know that there was someone with an ad who wanted me to buy something rather than a sly, under the dashboard tracking of what I did and where I went or was without my knowledge. One is open for all to see. The other one reeks of Huxley's 1984 or the infamous German Stasi.

Facebook needs to get back to its original mission - a way for friends and family to stay in contact. They can mine all they want but someday, and sooner than they may think, the well may end up dry.

Alan Krug:

Check out my Etsy store too!  See, an open invitation!!!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Why I Deactivated Facebook

Today I deactivated my FACEBOOK account. Before I explain why, let me give you some background about myself.

I am 67. I was one of those who were the last to be born in what is called the "silent generation." We never elected a president. We are pretty much those people they call the silent majority. Our parents went first through the worst depression this country had ever seen then had to fight a war around the world. Boomers started Jan. 1, 1946. I was born in October 1945.

While I was raised as a baby boomer, I'm not. However, in my lifetime I had seen all the wonders of the last half of the 20th Century and the wonders of the 21st. We had the first TV on our block. I remember traveling across country and realizing that Oregon, where I grew up, was very different than say Kansas or Idaho or even Ohio.

We went to the 1967 Seattle World's Fair and were told that soon we would see live broadcasts from Europe and a week before my father died at 40, we did indeed see a live broadcast.

My friends and I spent hours all night waiting and watching first the failures then the successes of our space program. I can remember the first computer I ever saw as well as the first laser at a laboratory Los Alamos in NM.

OSU was in the forefront of computers and offset printing. The DAILY OKLAHOMAN ran a colored photo on the front page of the paper every day in 1963, It was the 90's before the LOS ANGELES TIMES could say the same thing. We filled out computer cards for our classes and all my engineering friends fought to get time on the mainframe that ran 24 hours a day. My iPhone 5 probably has about a million times more capacity and power. While it took up the entire third floor the administration building it only had 9K memory.

I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia the day they landed on the moon. We had just narrowly avoided being killed when the springs of the money bus we were riding in gave way and the bus went over the edge of a 50 foot embankment. We got hung up on the way down and lived to tell the tale. I had my faithful Phillips portable short wave radio with me and as we scrambled out of the doomed bus heard these words, "The Eagle has landed."

As a young father I took a Basics coding class at the local JC. I was never very good at it and when I had the chance to get an Apple Iic from friends who had purchased a newer machine, I bought it. Then I scrimped and saved to get a PowerPC 6100 the day they came out.

Yes, I am an Apple person. Coding, formatting my hard drive and all the other technical stuff is just fine for geeks. I was learning graphics and eventually had my own graphics design firm - all Apple based. We understood each other in ways I never did with PC's.

I was at MacWorld in 2007 when Steve Jobs announced the iPhone. I remember all of us staring in awe and amazement at the idea. With few exceptions, none of us thought it would work. Then the next day I heard David Pogue speak and he told us that it did work (he got to play with Jobs phone) and it would be the definitive device of the 21st century. "It will change everything." He was right.

Yup, I was in line on June 29, 2007 to get my iPhone. I was recovering from a blood clot and heart attack so had the next day to play with the phone. It was ridiculously simple to use. By Sunday I was a pro. To this day, when someone gives me a phone that is NOT an iPhone I can't use it. Its kinda like Windows, You start to stop? Or like my African kids telling me, "Teacher, I am going to come." Huh?

That is how I feel about FACEBOOK. I have never been able to work it well and while I understand the concept, I feel that Mark Zuckerberg has no business knowing about my business. Every friend, family member, my tastes and what I do, where I go is not an marketing opportunity for his company to exploit. As I read today about FACEBOOK I realized I am not alone. There is a Catch-22 going on. People are increasingly uneasy about FACEBOOK. Besides being a time sink, they too are getting increasingly leery about how their information is being packaged and sold. They want to leave but also don't want to lose contact with their friends.

I found out today that my text messages are somehow being broadcast on FACEBOOK. To remove that feature, or any feature for that matter, just about requires a geek or kid of 12. I looked at every menu and couldn't even see how this had happened or how to turn it off. There have been some heated arguments about my FACEBOOK page at home (I have an store and a blog that promotes the store and things in general) and what shows up. So, today in frustration I gave up. Its gone.

Am I alone? I would certainly like to hear from others what they think. However, don't expect me to contact you through FACEBOOK. Its back to regular old email for me.

Check out my store at There's still time for Christmas shopping and shipping!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

From "Ho-hum" to "Ho" "Ho" "Ho!"

At the risk of sounding like Martha Stewart, there are many things you can do on the, um, "cost effective" side rather going out for great expense. (I like "cost effective" SOOOO much better than cheap. An English friend introduced me to that concept years ago and it has done me well!)

My wife called me the other day from Michael's and asked if I wanted these wooden boxes to use as gift containers for my class of 1st and 2nd graders. For a buck a piece I said sure. I was planning on giving them candy anyway and this was perfect.

However, when you look at them you think, $1 for the box and about $30 of work time and additional materials making something of it. True, its a challenge so I dove right in. It was actually fun and easy.

Since there already was a snowman on one style and a gingerbread man on the other, one side was easy. Wondering about what to do on the back I looked at some snowflakes that I had left over from another project. So, snowflakes were matched up with the snowmen and a star was used on the gingerbread man. These additional items were painted separately, allowed to dry and then glued on. Gorilla glue works well but takes awhile to dry. Be careful and make sure it stays in place.

I wrote each students name on a box and painted away, first with the background color mostly a stain of red or green on all sides and the bottom. Then the figures were painted on. The stars had to be painted and the snowflakes only required some jazzing up. Then they were glued in place. Several layers of an antiquing glaze was applied. I tend to like DecoArt's Traditional Burnt Umber that is floated on all the sides and sometimes on the figures to tone down colors. They start off usually too bright so a little glazing overall tones down all colors and makes them work better with each other.

All that was left to do was fill them with peppermint flavored salt water taffy and candy canes. Be sure that each and everyone is the same. If not, the kids will be sure to let you know that so and so got more than they did. Its nothing new. We did it as kids too!

The beauty of boxes such as this is that they can be used year after year. Sure the ribbon handles may fail but they can easily be replaced. Beside being used for gifts, they make wonderful candy containers that can be used every year as you decorate for the holidays.

Always be alert! You may never know where your next "cost effective" treasure might be.

Friday, December 7, 2012

How To Sell A Car, Yard Sale, Etc.

I live just off a major state highway under the guise of a boulevard in the San Gabriel Valley of Southern California. For some reason, people think that its OK to park their cars on the streets with for sale signs on them. Some of the cities have passed ordinances stopping this but so far, the county nor my city,  hasn't gotten around this eyesore that can also be dangerous as people slow down to look on a highway that is busier than most freeways I've been on in other states.

I walked past this example for several days now and thought, as a "design" item, this sign was the perfect example of what not to do.

You see the same thing with yard sales, another example of terrible signage. A marks-a-lot may look big when you are making the sign at the kitchen table but tacked up on a telephone pole about all you can see driving past, if you can see anything, is the sheet of paper.

You can bet that one of these days, at least in California, those signs will be illegal because people slow down to look at them and could get hit from behind causing accidents. As you can see in the photo at left the street is packed and remains so all day and well into the evening. It can take up to 5 minutes just to turn right from my street onto the highway.

The other part of this sign thats bad, besides a phone number a driver will not be able to read (I blurred it to protect the guilty) because a single line of a marks-a-lot is impossible to read, is price. A dollar sign? Its free? If you're going to risk parking your car on one of the busiest streets in the entire San Gabriel Valley, or anywhere else for that matter, you better at least let them know what the price is. In fact, a GOOD sign would have that information in LARGE, BOLD NUMBERS so there is no doubt to the passing driver what you want for your car! You can bet if they like the car and really like the price they will pull over and write down the phone number. That is salemenship.

The same goes with those Yard Sales signs. Its nice to have an arrow and address but again, the arrow and address need to be BOLD. The letters and numbers need to be almost too much when handheld but legible tacked up on a pole. Use a large sheet of  colored paper too. Theres a reason most signage created by the city, county and state uses a background color. That makes it stand out from the rest of the signs around them. If necessary put two or four sheets together. That way, when you post your sign, IT WILL BE LEGIBLE.

Design is very much a part of our culture. Good signs get you to where you want to go, poor signage, like that found in much of Los Angeles, does not. I read once where some wag, protesting about how useless the freeway signs in Los Angeles were noted, "Signs in Los Angeles are designed to tell those who know where they are going that they are almost there." No greater truth has ever been spoken.

Be brave with your signs - BIG, BOLD LETTERS and colorful paper - then watch how that improves your chances of getting people to where you are trying to sell something.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Necessity, The Mother of Invention

This year, I decided, what the heck, I will give gifts of my crafts, gifts were especially created "for" the intended person. Why wait till the last minute, look at things you've already done and blindly grab. I'm afraid that many of us are guilty of that. I had already completed items for my daughter and son, now it was time for friends. I should qualify that by saying friends that actually appreciate the gift!

As a deal scrounger at craft stores, Michael's being the only one near me, I will usually buy more than one item. If it has potential at least three and sometimes more for smaller items. However, some items once they are home and sitting around prove to be harder to work with than others. Ever been there? I don't know a creative type who hasn't so if you NEVER have creative block I need to hear from you.

I have had these sleighs for years now. I don't even remember when I got them. They leaned against the wall on my four high metal bookshelf in my craft area "creatively" hidden behind others things. Trying to find where I had put something else to create that special Christmas gift, I saw those sleighs again.

Suddenly It dawned on me, the giftee loved snowmen and I could run a few from top to bottom. I sketched out a few ideas and actually settled on two. Lining up three snowmen seemed to allow me to create a kind of three graces, vertically. What would they be doing? I roughly sketched them in place and finally decided maybe they could be, what, singing? So, I created singing angel snowmen complete with gossamer wings and songbooks. After that, it went much faster. I decorated a few wooden snowflakes and artfully placed them on the sleigh as well. The runners of the sleigh are painted with a purple and gold checkerboard pattern and the whole thing has been "aged" to age all the elements together. All it needs now is the raffia tie at the top. It can be hung on a wall or placed on the tabletop.

Craft surfaces, like a blank canvas, are really just 3D surfaces that beg to be decorated. Here is an example of the blank sleigh, and one that is painted. I am always surprised when something like this is created.

Oh, and the other sleigh? It will be a horizontal scene of snowmen gamboling across a frozen landscape. It has been sketched in but I have been sidetracked by yet another set of gifts of which the blank box cost $1 and I will probably spend in time and additional items another $10 each if not more!

Need some gifts? There's still time. And, as a matter of fact, there are some pretty good deals left at Michael's. There are so many ideas out there, get to work!

Be sure to check out my store at .

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Framing the Subject

As if an artist doesn't have enough to worry about, like creating a piece of art on a canvas, when he is finished, or at least thinks he is, there is the frame to consider (though some might say worry about). A frame should be a simple thing, right? Any casual visit to Aaron Brothers, Michael's and a host of other frame shops might cause you to disagree. Simply put, it isn't simple in any way.

I can't even begin to believe just how many frames there are out there. And, if you take your artwork to any of these places you will find out just how wrong the majority of them can be.

While a frame is often a personal thing, the artist and the "owner" will most likely have very different tastes. The owner has to hang the piece in his home or office. The dictates there are often color and style of the furnishings. And while the color of the painting might work, any old frame will not.

I have gotten into the (bad) habit of framing my paintings. Even in my own home we have a very different perspective of what we think is the "right" frame. As the samples show on the left, each of these paintings has a different frame. Is it the right one? I don't know. They seemed right at the time.

It is a rare artist who can paint where one style of frame fits all. I have seen that with photographs and while I am sure a black frame around every photo is considered sheik, I don't find it that way at all. Frames though, like everything else have a style, a personality and after a few years, that style will have gone out of date. Think bell bottom pants, and crushed velvet.

The adobe home in the upper left has a dark frame with a linen mat that separates the painting from the frame. Is it the best frame? I don't know. It seems to work because I rarely look at the frame. Its in my green bathroom so there isn't much to compete with and I look at the painting itself! The upper right frame is a semi-ornate frame that houses colorful fruit painted in an impressionistic style. The colors are bright as is the gold frame. Again, too bright? Does the frame detract? The bottom right has a lake scene with an antiqued gold but simple, almost plain frame. It doesn't add or subtract from the painting in any way. The other scenic has a simple cherry stained wood frame that has no mat, nothing to separate the painting from its border...the frame. I have considered other frames over the years but end up liking this frame because it too adds or subtracts nothing from the painting within.

Frames are very personal items. Never buy one without the object that it is to house. Trust me, I have learned the hard way. The frame should always compliment (to you at least) the painting, print, photo, etc. It is a way to define its place in your home and showcase the artwork it protects. A frame can be the perfect finishing touch to your masterpiece!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Exotic Still Life

As I move more and more into acrylics, I realized that I hadn't tried a still life in acrylic or oils. I know that just about anything is available for sales these days. Any time spent on Etsy or some of the painting web sites shows many, MANY small paintings of fruit, avocados (a big hit) and who knows what else. The styles can be anything from so detailed you almost say, get a camera, to so loose you have to ask, is that an apple? A tomato? Maybe a weird red plum?

Every artist struggles to find a style and many times its a small still life that allows one to experiment. If you look at many of the impressionists you can find many small studies that through the years show their continuing experiments with color and style.

When my wife started getting rather exotic Asian fruit from her kids around Thanksgiving, I was drawn to the colorful persimmons and a strange magenta colored fruit with brilliant green leaves and highlights. The challenge of course was putting the round magenta and two rusty orange colored persimmons together in the same painting. In many ways they go against the accepted color wheel triangle but they were fascinating.

I tried a variety of background colors but finally hit upon a blue and white fabric. The blue with a counterpoint of white seemed to work with all the colors. At least the colors definitely stand out. I wanted the bright oranges and magenta to stand out against the blue. The brown of the stems and the various greens of the leaves are a fine counterpoint.

No matter what the size of the painting it is often the combination of colors, shading and intensity that makes or breaks a painting. I think one of the finest examples of colors, shape and intensity is Monet's  "Rouen Cathedral Series" where he painted the church using a different canvas for each time of the day starting in the morning through the entire day till sunset. The colors of the light that plays off the same surfaces of the day are amazing. There are photographers that wouldn't try that yet Monet did. I think that series more than any other gives us a tutorial of how colors work and change.

Shape is important too. I was just about finished with this painting when my teacher noted that the magenta fruit was not the right shape. It wasn't either. In trying to get the colors to work I had somehow neglected to make sure all the fruit were round, something that drew me to it to begin with! Luckily with acrylic it was merely a few strokes away and there it was, round as could be!

There is a lesson here as well. Color is important. It can be bright and cheerful, gaudy even or it can be muted, dark, mysterious or dour. But shape also has a part to play. You can put a variety of shapes together. However, some will work and others not. You need to keep an eye on what you are doing and be true to either what you wanted to portray, in this case three round shapes with interesting protuberances (still life's are so patient and never going away, well until they spoil of course), or a totally personal "vision" of what you feel they should be.

There is no right or wrong. There is just your painting.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Mammon Friday!

Black Friday, Black Thursday or Black...Mammon Friday from the old Roman god of greed?

Now that Black Friday is gone, I personally think "Mammon Friday" is a better name, maybe it is time for some reflection. To see people lined up all week on TV, see them passing up a celebration with family and friends to instead wait in line with strangers on a sidewalk to save a few bucks is to see greed and avarice in action. They are not being thrifty but greedy because the savings merely allows them to buy more stuff!

I won't even discuss the fact that these men and women must feel that their time sitting and waiting, often with their kids (ah the lessons they'll learn), is far less valuable than the savings they'll get. It's kinda like saying, "I can't be broke, I still have checks." Meals remain uncooked, houses uncleared, personal hygiene ignored, and family time, study and interaction forgotten.

When I was a kid in church, we were taught that two of the seven deadly sins were greed and avarice. They were regularly taught and discussed. They were bad things and we all knew it.

Merchants were usually open six days a week; most stores were closed on Sunday. You could count on four days a year when everything was closed and no one dared violate that rule. New Years Day, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas were holidays for everyone, consumers and employees. Stores closed at 6 pm the night before so everyone was home for the holidays. There was no Black Friday and I suspect many a merchant didn't take until the day after Thanksgiving to become profitable for the year. If nothing else, their banks wouldn't have stood for it.

Then slowly and during my 67 year lifetime, a new kind of ethic grew. Store hours became longer, more and more stores pressed for the repeal of "blue laws," and before long stores were open seven days a week. That was merely the beginning. Holidays that were relatively benign suddenly became events.  Christmas had already fallen by the beginning of the 20th century. 

New Years Day soon became an orgy of food, drink and football. Valentines Day was elevated to fancy gifts such as jewelry, candy and flowers. A conspiracy of the florists to get in on the good times? Easter became not the celebration of the risen Christ but a reason to buy fancy new clothes, gifts and candy for the kiddies. We looked for the risen Easter Bunny's eggs.

Mothers Day followed and became not only the biggest phone day to call home but florist day of the year. However, the poor Dad's received the most collect phone calls of the year and a tie on Father's Day.

Then comes Memorial Day, the 4th of July followed by Labor Day and quickly it's a horse race between the witch, the turkey and Rudolph. Often they are all displayed together in the same store.

Its all by design. Think about it. Do we need all of these shopping experiences in a year? This doesn't even include anniversaries, birthdays and weddings. This in a country whose houses have doubled in size over the past 50 years and you STILL need to rent a storage unit to store all your stuff?

I think that we as a nation have forgotten two things, the difference between NEED and WANT. The same rule could be applied to quality of ownership and loads of junk.

Do we really need all this stuff on Black Friday? While walking today with a friends five year old daughter, she asked me what the meaning of Christmas was. I paused ready with the standard rhetoric then decided to express that it was a celebration of the birth of a man we believe will forgive us for our bad things and in his forgiving us will give live forever. It was a time to be with family and friends and be thankful for what we have and to help others. We should give simple gifts to express our love. It was not to be buying and spending a great deal of money for gifts. She seemed satisfied.

Each year there is a kids toy that eclipses all others. People go to great lengths to procure that toy. How many days does that desire last? Did you know that more actual numbers and more dollars are spent on video games now than movies? I think it's a three to one ratio. How long before that game is history? Or was the must have toy alone and ignored?

We buy gifts for others in a spasm of good cheer but rarely look at them. It's massed produced and has as much personality as a rock. I hear over and over from store owners about the cost of things. You never hear about quality, the wonder of having a unique piece that no one else will ever own. Think about it. What would YOU rather have? I've heard the best gift to give is the one you want.  Why not buy less but something more personal? Unique. One-of-a-kind?

I urge you to not only look at my Etsy store at but check out all the other unique hand made items on Etsy as well. Support singular artists rather than conglomerate corporations where your purchase is not even a blip on their radar. Trust me, it IS a big deal to me (and I'm sure many others) when you buy one of our creations.

We can talk about design, even love or curse it, but we must be ever mindful that design is not just things but ideas as well.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Importance of Teachers

There isn't a one of us out that that doesn't remember a teacher, one or more that changed our lives. Sure there were some bad ones but the good ones. Ah, they made such a difference.

The same goes for art teachers. I remember my first art teacher in the 5th and 6th grades at the Portland (OR) Art Museum. Oddly, the past few months I remember more and more of what we did and the lessons she taught us. The one I remember most was a series of portraits that we had to do, first of ourselves (ala Van Gogh whose paintings were adorning the museum at the time) and then our classmates. I hated it. She seemed to watch me with interest but it was this statement I never forgot, "You aren't all the precise at capturing the true likeness of someone but you sure capture their spirit."

In retrospect I guess that is praise but I knew that I wasn't very good at capturing people and avoid it when I can. Now photographs I am very good a capturing their likeness, but painting is a bust.

I didn't have much formal training in high school and none in college. We did a lot of artwork but as a journalism-advertising major our "art" was designing ads. I remember the hours capturing a font on paper and that it took all day to create an ad. On my computer now it can be done in about an hour, if that.

Around 2006 my wife and I went to a joint City of Sierra Madre and Creative Arts Group show where many of the artists that live there threw open their homes for an afternoon and you got to meet, talk and often watch them work. I watched one woman painting oils and told her I knew where that was. We started talking but since she was using oils, something else I avoided, I moved on. On one of the bus tours (the city can be hilly) I stopped at another house and she had a painting in progress for us to see. Chatting some she asked if I painted and I said it had been a long time (the tole painting didn't count in my mind) and she said here, give it a try. Again oils. I politely dabbed and she grabbed my arm and in sweeping motions we put paint down! Her style looked familiar and it turned out the woman I met earlier was her teacher and mentor. I was hooked.

I took a 14 week class and it was mostly a disaster. Margot was a patient teacher and would start a painting, have us watch then go back and do what she had done...or try anyway. I was pretty good at making mud. This went on for weeks but for once I stuck that session out. The last class she had us pick a photo and gave us 90 minutes to paint it. I picked a wonderful sunset (sunrise?) in Yosemite that I learned later no one would touch. It was simple, rich yet with subtle colors. I painted away. I had the underpainting (I used acrylics) and oil on top in about 45 minutes...or that was how far I got when everyone around me said, STOP, STOP. It doesn't need ANYTHING else. And it didn't.

Then I got sick, missed a few sessions and in the midst of the next one took a few oil classes in Las Vegas. The trees that I did there were a turning point. For some reason even though that was more of a Constable style, it changed my style to something else. After a few paintings that I was immensely proud of and my teacher didn't like, I finished the session and never came back. I had definitely taken a different path and am not sure how and why even now.

I was very despondent. I didn't understand why my style had changed. I only knew it had and was. By then I was going to The Tole Bridge in Norco, CA and Diane was supportive of what I was doing. She had a teacher who told her she didn't have any talent and almost quit herself. She encouraged me to keep trying. Don't get me wrong, OUR styles are very different as well. She however, gave me free reign and would point out ways to make a painting stronger, make the painting your vision not necessarily what you saw in life or a photograph. She keeps reminding me, "That's why we are artists. We paint what we want!"

One of the interesting things I noticed at the Painting Convention was how many of the teachers were taking other teachers classes. Questioning a few they told me you have to. There is always something new, some technique, some new product they haven't tried. If you don't evolve, you become stale, stagnant. Since I haven't found my "style" yet, I guess I have a ways to go!

Be sure to check out my store at  There might be the perfect gift for your loved ones. AND, if you check out the Fine Art Section, the evolution of my painting as well.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Las Vegas Convention Part 2

I mentioned that I have attended the Painting Convention in years past. 2009, 2011 and 2012. I missed the year after we blew our wad on a trip to Egypt ... a place that I don't think an American might want to go right now. It was the dream of a lifetime for me and worth every penny. I did miss the convention.

After a great series of classes this year, I got a wild hair, supported by my teacher and a close friend, that some of my paintings could easily be taught. They were not difficult and people watching me as I created the original versions, thought they were amazingly simple. I thought about it, dropped the idea but with more encouraging decided at the last minute to submit two classes to be taught by me.

Now, I am NOT a teacher despite a two year stunt in the Peace Corps 40 years ago. My serious painting is about 5 years old and paintings that I would consider showing and yes, teaching, maybe a year or two at most. Any artist has to create a style, a unique vision of what he not only sees but what he "feels." My vision, as I start each new painting is still evolving. My favorite artist, my hero, is Van Gogh. When you look at his earliest paintings, dark, dank gloomy things, to those painted just before he died, the change in style, color, and design is breathtaking. He never gave up and his style kept evolving. While I could be considered cheeky, I believe that I can teach others the things I painted!

The first of my classes is "Two Lilies," actually a mixed media painting with the black being in acrylic and the flowers in oils. I learned from a class taken earlier to outline the canvas and paint the black first, then put in the color. Putting color over black, especially white is, well, hell!

It actually uses about four colors but look how it blends and becomes almost a living flower! Rather than using a whole bunch of colors, I wanted to use a few and show how easy it is to let the colors show the beauty of nature. I am teaching the class from 5 - 9 pm Tuesday, Feb. 26. The class, materials and such is only $42.00.

My "Bird of Paradise" class is an all acrylic painting but again, I outlined the flower and painted the background black leaving the flower portion blank ready to add color. It amazingly uses only a few DecoArt colors. The richness and depth comes by adding nearly transparent layers to allow the same kind of layered lighting we see every day.

And I must admit that to get the subtle shadows that I needed, I floated colors just like I might on a craft or tole painted object. It just shows you, you never know exactly when one of those techniques you learn in one class could be just the trick in creating another! This class is being taught Wednesday, Feb. 27th from 1 - 5 pm. Again the costs is just $42.00 and not only will you have fun you will have a beautiful painting to hang on your wall just like mine is right now in my living room.

Check out the web site, for a comprehensive list of classes, deals, costs, etc. The convention is being held at the Tropicana Hotel so be sure to ask for convention rates! If you are a painter or crafter, tell your friends. You will not be disappointed. I certainly haven't been! In fact, it seems that each year gets better and better!

If you want to see more of my work, please check out my Etsy store at:  I'll be glad you did!


Monday, November 19, 2012

2013 Las Vegas Painting Convention

For the artists and crafters in all of us, one of the joys of "creating" is the learning of new techniques, painting styles and trying new ideas and products. In fact, after my first convention in 2009 my personal artistic style started to change, only I didn't realize it though my teacher at the time did.

This Feb. 24th through March 1, 2013 is the Las Vegas Creative Painting Convention held at the Tropicana Hotel.

The convention offers a variety of classes in acrylics, oils, watercolors, theory and mixed media. Choose from over 150 regular classes plus extended classes on both weekends. A world class selection of teachers, many very famous both in the United States and internationally, will be there to teach you. You are guaranteed to not only start a project but leave each class with a finished product. In fact, I was selected to teach two classes as well - florals; one of a magnolia in oil paints, and a magnificent "Bird of Paradise" in acrylics. Since this a new retirement venue for me, I urge you to check my classes and all of the others at:

At this years convention (I wrote about it earlier this year) I was heavy into oil painting classes. Each teacher had a different technique, style, way to approach their work. In a short time I found that oddly, each one had also influenced me in ways I hadn't expected. That is good. They helped me focus on what was important in the painting, then work your way to the front and when there, make sure the front was worth looking at.

Lately I started using this technique with acrylic paints. Nothing fancy or expensive, just simple DecoArt paints, the kind you find in a myriad of colors in small plastic bottles. You buy them at Michaels, Hobby Lobby and the like. I realized that the years of craft painting hadn't gone wasted and that by continuing to learn about acrylics I could use many of the same techniques.

Check out the convention web site. If you have any interest at all, you might find classes that you will not only like, but help you move a few more steps forward in your craft. Many classes are still open and you can sign up online.

If you want to see more of my own art and crafts, check out

ARGO-Is A Movie Designed?

The word "design" has for some reason always been described as how something looks. A car, a house, a dress, a building, maybe even an advertisement. It was designed. It can and does mean so much more. Here is how it is defined in the dictionary:

design |dəˈzīn|nouna plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment, or other object before it is built or made: he has just unveiled his design for the new museum.• the art or action of conceiving of and producing such a plan or drawing: gooddesign can help the reader understand complicated information | the cloister is of late-twelfth-century design.• an arrangement of lines or shapes created to form a pattern or decoration:pottery with a lovely blue and white design.purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind anaction, fact, or material object: the appearance of design in the universe.verb [ with obj. ]decide upon the look and functioning of (a building, garment, or other object),typically by making a detailed drawing of it: a number of architectural students weredesigning a factory | [ as adj. with submodifier ] (designedspecially designed buildings.• do or plan (something) with a specific purpose or intention in mind: [ with obj.and infinitive ] the tax changes were designed to stimulate economic growth.
I think a good addition to that list would be a motion picture. Who of us can't list at least five movies that impacted us in some way? We all have our favorites but when you look closely at any of them, you can see that they were written, acted, filmed and edited with a "design" in mind. I would bet many of us wish we could do that with our own lives as well!

I went to see Ben Affleck's movie "Argo" yesterday based more on anything else from the recommendations of friends. I can remember all too well, the events in Iran in 1979 and how it changed in many ways America forever. Did I really want to relive it again?

It certainly isn't a touchy feeley movie, it wasn't "Twilight" and it certainly wasn't "Skyfall," a movie I had seen the week before. It starts almost as a propaganda movie listing the sins of the CIA who toppled the duly elected president of Iran in 1953. He had had the temerity to nationalize all oil companies. We toppled him and installed the Shah.

Suddenly you are at the gates of the American Embassy as the crowds shout for our heads. After all we were the demons of Satan. You see the storming of the embassy and watch six embassy staff who in processing Visas could literally put on their coats, walk out the door, through the gate and onto the streets. Brave stuff actually.

What was not so "brave" was the fact the British and New Zealand embassies turned them away. Only the Canadians would take them in and they literally lived in the home of the Canadian ambassador until they were smuggled out months later.

Actually its a movie within a movie as the CIA operative put in charge of smuggling them out when the rest of the embassy staff was still hostage, got friends in Hollywood to help create a false movie to be shot in of all places, Tehran. Cheeky, no? As tense as this movie is, and I mean fanatical revolutionaries, AK-47's drawn chasing a Swissair 747 down the runway as it takes off with our anti-heroes, has you gripping your armrests and NOT breathing. Yet, it is also a funny movie. Alan Arkin as a famous director and John Goodman as a famous make up artist, give the movie more than a few laughs as they literally "diss" Hollywood.

I guess you could research this in far more detail but the most important point of this movie is that it is true. These people were employees of the embassy, holed up for months and were smuggled out literally in front of the noses of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, a great many I learned who had been educated in the United States. Its a movie you must follow closely. A comment here, a statement there suddenly has a meaning, a purpose and you could be lost.

I trust that in many ways, Affleck didn't embellish too much. He had a story to tell, a gripping story in fact, and he let it unfold. Just the way all good design should. Be true to your story, your design. Make it your own.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Where Does Inspiration Come For You?

I learned years ago that I loved color. Then around middle age, it seemed that middle aged men went two different directions, yellow pants and garish plaids, or tan, cream and grey. Now of course there's black. My favorite comment to explain that color choice was on the Cybil Show when one of the cast stated, "WE love black until there's a darker color." That got a laugh but how true it became. I know youngsters who only wear black...pants, t-shirts, shirts, coats, hats, underwear. They say its easy to make a choice and easy to wash too. Its ALL cold. When we live in a world of color, black seems to me to be the anti-thesis.

I was the second color choice. Beige, tans, creams in clothes cars and just about everything else. I hadn't started to paint again so color was pretty much off the radar. This was a kind of a come down when you look back at it. When I got my GMC pickup the one comment was it better not be beige. Its a dark, I mean DARK hunter green and I love it.

One day my wife and daughter went shopping and asked if I needed anything. Looking at a rather filled closet said no, I had plenty. They returned hours later with bags and bags of things. Three or was it four, went upstairs on my side of the bedroom. "These are for you Dad. I'm here to help," said my daughter. She flicked and discarded about 70% of what I owned. And my wife, not to miss getting into the act said, you look terrible in tan. Makes you look like you're dead.

Since I had already been at death's door and had no doubt she knew what that looked like a few years before, that comment hit home. After stripping my closest,  shirts of teals, turquoises, reds, oranges, blues, even a lavendar and purple, colors I realized I loved but would NEVER buy myself appeared. My closest was totally transferred. Of course the bags of clothes that trooped downstairs were such dear friends; I would miss them.

It was strange that I had allowed myself to limit my own color palette. One of the things we really enjoyed was collecting the Mexican Monsters from Oaxaco. We have never been there but knew of places that carried them and whenever we would show up they would show us the latest. Our mantle, all 30 or so feet of it, is covered with these monsters. LOOK at the colors! In fact, when I am at a loss of a color combination, I have been known to fetch one from the mantle, carefully check it out at my bench and then begin again. The colors are so wild and, yes, outrageous, but amazingly they seem to work.

It is strange that we have some much color around us, yet it seems hard to actually use color. Listening to my ladies at painting class, overheard conversations and even talking to other artists, there is so much discussion and concern about color. There have been so many studies about the effect of color on people, but it seems that rather than embracing it we shy away from it. Yet, there is also a balance. Have you ever walked into an art show, an office or even a friends home and felt uneasy? I am very sensitive to color...but of course, the sensitivity to color I have may not be yours. So, as artists, designers, even consumers, we need to make it clear what we like and don't like.

My wife has finally returned to Coldwater Creek. She felt that they had a color selection that didn't flatter her. After reading about their sliding sales, they finally realized it too. Even as I man, I walked in with her the other day and felt comfortable. It is so easy today to discover what customers like. And no matter how you present them, yucky, dead or kiddie colors, with horizontal stripes or plaids across a middle aged bottom, will never sell. Why even bother? Get a focus group. Show them your line. Its certainly a lot cheaper than throwing an entire seasons selections away. Right?

The artist only has to watch the world around them. If anything, they should select and surround their self with colors. Get out there and look around. You will see what I mean. However, one more comment. If you become too trendy to your era, you will end up like the artists of the hippie 60's and the go-go 70's. Colors that NO one would touch today with a ten foot pole.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Does New Technology Have to be Ugly?

In a highly unusual decision, MOTOR TREND MAGAZINE named the Tesla Model S its 2013 car of the year. Why unusual? Its the first time the first model of a new car company has ever been named and the first time a car without a petroleum based engine has ever been named. Yes, you heard me right. This gorgeous car has a lithium based battery system and is refueled by plugging it in.

Now before you think this is some fluke consider the specifications. Depending on your battery pack, the range for this 4 door sedan ranges from about 140 miles to up to 265 miles on a charge. Tesla is starting to build charging stations and for those trying to go to San Francisco from Los Angeles you will have a 30 minute recharge stop. Before you sneer at this, consider that getting on the freeway will be a breeze - it can take you from 0 - 60 mph in 4 seconds. Not bad for a 4700 lb. vehicle. Oh, and its made in Fremont, CA.

Another consideration - please look at it. It is beautiful. Its not weird, or strange, it doesn't look so odd that you wonder, well, just because its different, does that mean that grace and design go out the door?

I can remember the day we saw the GM EV-1. We had gone up to Santa Barbara, CA and for some reason on their fairgrounds, they had a showing of this new all electric car. The first models only had a 40-50 range, a weight limit, could seat only two adults and had a small space in the back for your groceries. After all that would be about all you could use it for. A trip to the grocery store or the mall.

My wife drove it and was instantly in love. However, you could only lease the car and at about $400 a month it seemed like an extravagance. GM was able to get the milage up to about 120 miles between charges, but the car never really seemed to catch on.

The styling was sleek and attractive. With more promotion and tweeks to increase milage it might have been a success. And in light of advances today, GM not Toyota might have owned the market.

Toyota had an early 4 door, in 2001, a diminutive sized car suitable for Japan but not on the freeways of America sharing the road with 18 wheelers and SUV's. It wasn't ugly but it certainly didn't turn your heart either. It was for the geek crowd who wanted to be on the cutting edge and had the bucks to indulge.

A few years later came Prius 2 that was bigger and more popular. Toyota decided that because the car was different, I guess, that it should look different. And it did. It had a silly smile, way too small tires and a much higher price tag. Many wags pointed out over and over again (even back then) that the difference in a Prius and a regular gasoline car's costs would take you about 8 years to pay back the difference.

 Let the stampede begin and it did. Honda had first a two seater then four seater Insight, the first that mimicked GM and the second the Prius. They have versions now for the Civic and Accord but they haven't been stellar sellers. And lawuits are now in the courts over the loss of battery life.

GM spent years showing variations of what became the Volt. The car was pleasant looking proof you don't have to create some weird design to offer a unique car. The Volt takes a different tact. It uses batteries and a small gas engine, Only when the batteries discharge the engine kicks in and recharges the batteries, they do not directly power the car. It started selling slowly but very aware of the disaster and lack of faith in the EV-1, GM has stuck with this car and sales have been climbing. The fact, after the rise of gas here in California by $1 a gallon in about two weeks, it made the message that most owners refueled about once a month something they could identify with.

The Nissan Leaf is a return to an all electric car. One look and it becomes evident the rules of design don't have to apply. Not only is it an odd assortment of stylistic ideals, it also hasn't improved much on range over the original EV-1. Originally it was announced to have a 40 miles range but now its in the 100-120 mile range.

Which leads me back to the Tesla. Elon Musk of PayPal and SpaceX fame, decided that while it wouldn't be cheap, it certainly didn't have to look weird, or be tiny to show what new technology could be an do.

Design should never and need never take a back seat to technology. After all, remember that some of the first smart phones were geeky things from the likes of Palm and Blackberry. When Apple brought out the iPhone, millions, hundreds of millions of consumers realized they didn't need to squint at terrible screens, laboriously enter facts and that you could really cruise the internet in a device that fit in your hand.

I am not saying that we should reward design blindly, but I am saying that all things considered we should reward the companies and products that take design as seriously as technology. Our lives are complicated enough as it is.