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.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Who Decided How Much You'd Pay for Something?

I had an interesting conversation with a store owner this morning. It regarded seeing if there was an opportunity to either sell to her or consign some of my craft creations in her store. It looked like a match. The large store was filled with all kinds of what appeared to be handcrafted items.

She quickly put me straight. "No, we don't do that anymore. We need large quantities of each item and price is very important. To sell something you've created you would be lucky to get the cost of your materials. You'd never get your time out of it."

I have in the past made three or four items with the same design but because its hand done, they are never quite the same. Quickly going through the store its apparent that the items for sale likely had an original. But looking on the base alongside the creators name and studio were the words sure to chill any crafters heart, " Made In China." So what some crafters have done is, like me, created an original but unlike me, sold some company their design and had thousands made to be sold to gift stores clear across the country.

This leads me to the question, who demanded that original crafts items, hand made and lovingly created, usually one of a kind, had to be cheap? If you are like me, $50-75 for a stamped Santa, one of thousands perhaps is not cheap. Is a $29 birdhouse at Michael's with minimal designs that much cheaper than a one of a kind, lovingly painted birdhouse I created selling for $39 and maybe a little bit more? Are we a nation that needs to fill our homes with cheap reproductions? Have we lost an appreciation for the truly unique? One of a kind?

We complain about how everything is made in China or Mexico or now Vietnam Nam. We lost our jobs. Who made the decision? I don't think it was you or me. It was one CEO after another who tried to squeak a bit more profit on every item, never decreasing their price. So their cost was less, our cost was the same or more and one by one jobs were lost. Crafters were lost, and the options for artists dramatically narrowed.

This gave rise to shops like Etsy, however, touching and handling will never be replaced by a video screen. What's an artist to do? How does one finally breakaway from the pack?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Can JC Penny Be TOO Cool?

Most men, myself included, rate shopping pretty low on the things they like to do. Sure, hardware stores, maybe if your a gardener, the nursery, us geeks like Best Buy, the Apple Store and increasingly the Internet, but to go shopping at Penny's, well, only when the wife throws out the clothes you've had since college and gives you the choice, "You buy or I will." That's something sure to send a chill to the average man's blood.

If you have never been to a Nordstrom's, Coach or even an Apple store, it's certainly a treat. In sections all over the store, items for sale are tastefully displayed. A few items are on each rack, wide aisles and sales staff there to help you yet without being insistent. The Apple Store is even better. Table after table is loaded with computers, iPads, iPhone, even the latest iPods (remember those) are there for you to play with. What's even better, you have speedy Internet connections and many programs that you really want to use are there on their products. How sweet is that? Couple with the "genius's" throughout the store and the Genius Bar to take your item, and they have created an empire that sells more dollars per square foot and any other retailer on earth.

About a year ago, the stumbling J.C. Penny lured the Apple store genius away to become their CEO and revamp a tired, over 100 year retailer. It had been slowly losing profitability and the realization of the board was if they cut the prices anymore, why stay in business? Penny's was a confusing collection of sales on top of sales and then when you got there, there were even more discounts. Only fools EVER bought something at retail. Hence Ron Johnson's attempt to remake this company. Not only a new look, but very stable and simplified pricing.

I went through Penny's today with my wife, I guess my first visit in several years. WOW! What a change. I have read some of the comments online, mostly NOT flattering but I found that prices were fair, easy to find and I didn't have to wait for a sale that was inevitable in the old days. Items were tastefully shown, the aisles were not so close, it was bright and cheerful, racks were not bulging so that after the first two looks, you moved on. Maybe its too masculine? My wife was certainly sold on their new look.

I wonder what the kind of shopper prefers shopping at Sears (surely one of the most depressing experiences ever in modern retailing) to this? Considering that Sears has one of highest cost of sales and slowly declining sales, who is their customer?

Design, the way we experience the things of our lives, is everywhere. The cars we drive, the furniture we buy, even the house we bought compared to the one we didn't, someone at some time had to make design choices that we have to live with every single day the object is ours.

I had a boss once who told me that quality is discernible even to the not sophisticated. He said, take the markings off a Chevy and a Mercedes and show them to 10 people and have them tell you which was the item with the highest quality. Eight of ten would chose the Mercedes. And he's right. We may not be able to define quality, but we sure can spot it.

Don't settle. Don't be lured by just pricing. Why not support stores that offer good value, an enjoyable shopping experience, that treat you as a guest to their establishment not just another number. Life is too short to just exist. Make the journey tasteful along the way.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

To Norway and Beyond in 2013!

For some reason, when I first started craft painting I started with Pennsylvania Dutch designs.  Blame it on my Saxon heritage (my father was born near Dresden) but the simple yet elegant designs fascinated me then and still do today. I continue to use many of the stylistic forms but add some of my own as well.

After taking a class in Rosemaling, I was captivated. My first attempt on my own was a large windmill birdhouse. Using the class project and some images taken off the Internet I came up with a design and  colors but quickly realized its one thing to paint a plaque and another a four sided birdhouse! Next I tried a plate and it was a lot easier.

Our Danish friends have wanted us to go to Norway with them for years. It seems our visits never had enough time. When they saw the birdhouse they seized on this as the perfect time for us to go. Fly to Oslo to meet them and drive all over to the villages famous for Rosemaling. I guess each one has a variation of the tradition that makes them unique. Is that a trip made in heaven or what? Plus I've heard the scenery literally takes your breath away.  So, it looks like the end of July we will be spending a few weeks in first Norway and then at the tip of Denmark near Skagen.

As I am getting more and more involved with acrylic paints, I may also be able to take my paints along with me! There are small sets you can take and while maybe not the best, canvas boards are definitely lighter and take up less room than a canvas. Our friends have a cabin half buried in the dirt (yes it has a real living grass roof even) and when we get there we can walk through the heather and forest to get to the Baltic Sea. It is a painter's paradise and many of Denmark's most famous artists either lived or painted in this area. There is in fact one of their finest art museums within a stone's through of both the North and Baltic Seas. On our last trip there I took a photo of my wife and our friend Lis with a foot in each sea. You can even see a difference in the color of the sea.

Like Joseph Campbell said, "Follow your bliss." I may not sell very much but I am sure having fun following my bliss.

If anyone has been to that area and has suggestions, please let me know. We are at the planning stage now!


Friday, November 9, 2012

Google's Canceling My Adsense on My Blog!

If you have ever wondered how Google makes it's money, you need look no further than their Adsense program. I started this blog a little or a year ago and was intimidated by the process and felt that trying to write a few articles a month was enough. I already knew that there was some kind of hierarchy on each search page where like in ANIMAL FARM, some animals were more equal than others.

However, once I was through that, and after receiving emails from Google encouraging me to consider putting ads on the blog, I agreed and signed up. I never did figure out though how to see if I made any money until late last month. I had accrued something under $2.00 (I have no record because when I tried to claim it, I was told it was on hold because I needed a pin. You have to apply for it and then wait weeks to get it in the mail.) The mail? Really? And Internet company uses the "mail?"

Trying to get more readers, and yes hopefully more clicks as well, I began sending emails to all my of my friends and relatives encouraging them to check out both my ETSY store and my blog. And suddenly I was getting over 100 readers a day on my blog and lots of looky-loos on my store. Thats good, right? Evidently not according to Google. Here is the letter I received:

And everything as gone. I had checked on my stats once during election day and was so tired that night I came home and went to bed. It was a 4:30 am to 10:30 pm day.

Clicking on the links it gets better and better. The only person that gets to make money AND get the word out is Google and the advertiser. They are most likely charged a few bucks a hit and you get, if you are lucky, pennies.
I do admit, that for months the ads I got were pretty crappy. They had nothing to do with my crusade about good art and design. But after I started getting readers, there started to be some good ads, I mean ads that I in fact wanted to check out... and as I have learned to my chagrin did.

I had long ago clicked the box that wouldn't count my checking my blog. I certainly never dreamed that clicking an ad on own personal BLOG was instant disbarment. Oh how wrong I was. This, the coup de grace is the final message set I received:

I guess its a way to get their money and your money and not have to pay out a cent. How cool is that? I seem to remember a figure that had reached maybe $40 and was warned over and over that I couldn't claim it without a pin. So, they feed off me and anyone else who writes a blog, give you at best a piddly amount (I hear they take in $300 million a day) and live on another day. Whatever happened to the slogan, "Do no harm?"

Thursday, in my mail I received the long awaited PIN from Google. I think its such an irony that an Internet company has to use the mail. Does that mean their own servers are not secure enough? They can look at me, a small time blogger and cut me off at the knees by saying that I was cheating the system, but can't even manage the security of their own system? There can be many arguments to be made how everyone except the Blogger benefits even if some kind of cheating is going on. More clicks, higher the placement. Higher placement more they can charge. It goes on and on.

In fact I have been told by friends the past few weeks that their Gmail accounts have been hacked. I went to Gmail with two things in mind: 1. they filtered out all the spam and 2. it was rock solid and safe. Well, its not very solid and safe and they are greedy as hell!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Election Day, 2012

I was a poll inspector Tuesday, one of many in CA who is supposed to be the guru of things a clerk may not be aware of. No matter what the problem I can either give or get the answer. You hope so anyway.

To be a poll inspector you take a live class, then an online class and you are given reams of material to read. Very little has changed over the years except to make what should be simple more and more complicated. And in fact, while there are live people in training, they make you watch the same poorly made and embarrassingly sophomoric videos that you've watched for years and then yet again online. After the horrific day I had, it strikes me that the State of California could hire Apple Computer to set up their systems and procedures for them. If they can make something as truly complicated as a smart phone fun and easy to use, they could make the voting process faster and better too. Then hire one of the movie studios (Disney?) to create some world class lessons. As it stands, truthfully, they haven't a clue. The lack of art and design is embarrassing.

You pick up your materials about a week before the election and are supposed to go through them. I learned not too. If you do, you will NEVER be able to pack them back in the tubs and the tubs once opened have lids that pop open strewing materals all the way to your car. There is no order, there is no packet one for this, packet two for that. You have a table guide of course then scramble to find the bag that material is in. It took us several hours for some things. Some things were never found.

The InkaBlok checking system must be pre-shuttle in design. They warn you to plug it in right away as it takes awhile to warm up. After 30 minutes of nothing happening (we could hear the hum) I was told to restart it. Finally, at 6:59, a minute before the polls opened, it lit up and swamped from at least 30 people waiting to vote we forget to tie it down. Those first two hours were hell. Every problem and many more that I have never encountered plus a near 911 call happened and we had 11 hours to go.

Part of the problem was that California was weeks late in getting the voting materials out. I didn't receive my booklet until well into October. We had already been hearing about the propositions on TV for months but had nothing to compare them too. Then our sample ballots came even later. A good friend in desperation went online and received his vote by mail ballot last Saturday. It HAD to be at the registrar by 8 pm Tuesday and he knew that would never happen. He gave it to me and I put it in my ballot box.

California has this notion that everyone wants to vote by mail...whether you do or not. In fact page after page came marked that way in the official roster and I got two more lists, including one the day before with even more. I heard person after person tell me they didn't want them and had never asked for it. Period. In fact, an amazing number of pink envelopes were filled out during the day. You have to wonder, why bother if you're going to show up at the polling place anyway?

There is a way you can vote even if the roster says you received a ballot, that is by Provisional Ballot. You fill out a envelope with your info that the registar verifies, you vote normally and if they find you didn't vote VBM (vote by mail), your ballot counts. The dirty secret is that it won't BE counted for weeks. In a regular election you may have 6, 8 or 10 provisional ballots. My precinct had 102. We were going nuts. At one point every one of my voting booths was filled with people voting provisionally. It got to be a joke until we found out that other precincts, including the other one in the same hall, didn't want to do the work so were sending them to any other precinct. Garvey School, a Buddhist Temple, and others that couldn't be bothered. I called my coordinator and told her what I had been told. She said she would write it up. I said, "NO! Call them and stop it!"

20% of our voters were provisional, an unheard amount. I heard that a friend up north was running into the same problem. So, how could we know in a few hours the tally when those provisional votes haven't even been verified yet? It leads one to consider Mayor Daley of Chicago's dictum, vote early and vote often.

In fact a woman who voted in my precinct returned a few hours later and tried to vote again. I called out and stopped her after they gave her another ballot. I said, "You've voted." "Well, that was another name and another address," she replied. "One person one vote," I snapped back. Double voting is a Federal Offense. She left, registration form in hand.

We are so afraid of offending others who speak other languages that we had brochures of 7, 8 maybe even 9 foreign languages. The two most asked for, and the ones we didn't have were English and Chinese. As several Asians said, but I thought we speak English here? Well, not in this precinct I guess.

The thing that fascinated me was that several of my clerks spoke various Asian languages. Talking about how the translations compare with English, they admitted that by inference and concepts they are often very different. That was why they wanted the English version. You have to wonder.

As busy as we were, only about 500 voted out of a potential of 1700. It is sad that here is this great country and the opportunity that we have to make our voices heard so many citizens can't be bothered. It was fun to help the new voters or new citizens vote. They were serious and spent time carefully going over their ballots.

The polls close at 8 and oddly after the crazy day were had, the day ended with a whimper. The booths have to be packed, the Inkavote system turned off and packed, all the stuff that is given to set up is returned to the big black box that is the ballot box during voting, we struggle to balance the votes, ballots, all the other things, hopefully putting the voted ballots in the "red" box and the roster and street maps in the green stripe envelope, packing up and then returning all the materials to a receiving center.

This year, it turned out to be a nightmare. It took nearly an hour to be unloaded. Watching the enfolding scene, it resembled a Keystone Cops movie. One or two working and the rest just standing around. Several people got out of their cars to walk up and see what was taking so long. Basically, not much coordination and what appeared to be no one in charge. By the time I left the line had only grown and you can bet there were many upset people. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and by 10 p.m. I was not jolly anymore and didn't suffer fools lightly. We were all tired and didn't deserve this kind of end of day treatment.

The system is flawed. The state and definitely Los Angeles County left down its citizens. Since there is a deadline for items to be on the ballot, there is no excuse voting materials took so long to reach the voters. In its rush to make sure everyone votes, it tends to forget those that speak English. Witness no English materials for voters. We only had one set in Chinese, and of the other languages we had materials for, no one asked for any other than Vietnamese. Tons of unused voting materials on paper is now in the landfill today.

Too many voters were thrown into voting provisionally because of what was printed on the roster. And even if they actually want to vote by mail, the ballots came so late that many could have voted any other way than taking that ballot to their polling place. Kinda defeats the purpose doesn't it?

And finally, with all those mistakes, when are those ballots actually counted? I mean, if the registrar has to check each and every provional ballot, and there had to have been tens of thousands how can you have a definitive count in two or so hours? Those ballots are sitting somewhere, untouched AND uncounted.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Good Design Is A Beauty To Behold

In a world becoming more and more complex, complicated, as as some of us get older, at times unfathomable,  I thought we should celebrate those who try to simplify our lives.

I am an Apple fan; Apple computers, then after several generations of those got the very first iPhone and finally an iPad 2. Each in its time was a model of simplicity. As I noted earlier the Mac OS 10.8 has ballooned to a third party book of over 850 pages and I have reached page 50. Did I ask for all this? Not really. Unless I am literally creating something in PhotoShop or that miserable InDesign, I find my iPad is just fine. I'm writing this post on it right now.

The first viewing of the first iPhone at MacWorld left most of us speechless. I braved the lines at launch and after a day felt very proficient. And who will ever forget the video of a two year old using the first iPad?

A friend, a lifelong programmer and PC user broke down and got an iPad. He couldn't believe it was that easy to use. I've heard complaints about the lack of manuals but after a few pokes most people are up and running.

Apple has taken the study of ethnography to its heart and dispute a misstep now and then still creates some of the simplest and powerful gadgets on the planet to use.

Ethnography got its start when the first Xerox machine was a plop. In desperation Xerox brought in people and filmed them using their new machine.  What they saw amazed them. The engineers had designed a machine for themselves. No one else could use it.

Even by the 70's Xerox copiers remained challenging. When we got a huge Sharp copier we were stunned at how easy it was to use. We used it until there were no longer parts for it over a decade later. The company never again has a great a copier.

A few companies continue to push the envelope and should be rewarded if they succeed. The question we need to ask ourselves and the products we buy, do we need all this? Will we ever use it? How many items have we paid too much for because it "could" do this or that ... Then never once used it? A bunch I bet.

If you have an iPhone or iPad I bet you use it every day. It's become so much a part of your life you can't live without. THAT'S great design. And I will give a nod to Android too. However, it is not my cup of tea and requires a bit more skill to maintain than my iPhone. All I's saying is this, if you can't figure it out at the store, will you at home?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Good Design

Good art is a lot more than a painting. There is the art of life as well. And part of that art is good design. I have always been amazed that.people have settled for the half assed design of Microsoft products. They are slow, cumbersome, and have nothing that resembles an intuitive bent.  I mean you sign off at start? Really? Each new version has a glossy home page but one click in and you're  back to drab and dreary. Half of the screens haven't seen a refresh since Windows 95. And what's that MS DOS line at start up? In 2012?

And then there's those graphics sure to please a five year old but an adult? Windows 8 is sure new and different but a few clicks in? You get my point.

Netflix is another case in point. Talk about a lousy interface. Lets say you start a movie and want to stop and move on. Or even worse WATCH the movie and don't want the 5 minutes of credits at the end. It will sit there forever asking if you want to resume. Is there an option to cancel? Maybe in the code but not on your computer. I've had it and deleted them tonight. My credit card was compromised and they won't get a renewal with the new number. And Hulu. 10 minutes of ads to watch a 20 minute show? At least I can zip past the ads on my recorder. Goodbye Hulu.

And as much as I love Apple they are now the bloat kings of the universe. My computers started up and shut down in under a minute until 10.6. Now, like MS the minutes tick by. Granted they don't have all the updates of Windows 7 ( I timed it one day, took over 30 minutes before I could log on) I can foresee a day in the (near) future when that will happen too.

The processor speeds go up and so does the crap they load. If anything things are slower now than 10 years ago. I mean SLOOOOWER. Do I need all the stuff OS 10.8 does? No. Did I ask for it? No. Are a few geeks driving an OS at the expense of the rest of us? Probably.

Software AND hardware people need to get back to the basics. Do what you do WELL. No bloating, no fancy tricks. Use simple straight forward design young and old can master. IOS was elegant and fun. Now? Not so fun anymore.

Watch your clients. Learn from them. Just because you can do gadgety things, should you? Remember a million blinking VCR's flashing 12:00? To program them was hell. The 12 noon solution? Black electrical tape over the time.

My solution for lousy apps? Deleting and complaining here. Pass the word around. 

The Artists Hurtle

As I write this I am listening to Mussorgsky's PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION and am struck by how he was able to capture with sound, what it is like to go from gallery to gallery in a  museum. The images, feelings, the way you pause to study a painting, then move on. All with sounds. It made me remember my visit to The Met.

Of course as an artist you don't want too much of that going on. You want your audience to "see" what you have created, not hear it, but hats off to Mussorgsky ... he did a pretty good job.

This brings up a point though, do you ever have a song you hum when you create? Does it change for each project or is it the same song? As I continue to work on my plumeria's, there is always a song flickering through my mind but I realized that I don't even remember what it was and I worked on this yesterday!

Why? Because when I am painting, I am so focused on what I am doing that I really am not aware of things happening around me. Here the struggle was to get the blending of the magenta and vivid yellow on the off-white flowers. It would have been a snap with oils but a bit tougher with acrylics. I am not finished with the flowers.

However, it wasn't until I finally put a layer of green on all the leaves that the picture started to fill out. The orange of the background is still there but muted, edged and through washes under the leaves creating a depth that green alone could never give.

I wanted to show the continuing saga of art creation. How, as we continue with a piece, it can change and become something very different from where we started. That can be good or bad depending on what happens. Hopefully it will be done next week.