Monday, April 29, 2013


One of the things recent design got right, I think, is the realization that beer making as a craft, in the United States, has finally gotten back on track. I mean, the Colonists realized the importance of beer, the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians made it and as far as we can tell everyone drank it. Why you might ask? Because it was simply safer to drink than water.
Art by Chris Searle

Cruising through the Etsy store I happened upon this poster for sale. I laughed out loud because I have been saying for years now that "Life is too short to drink crappy beer." Chris Searle hit the nail on the head. He managed with a piece of art to say what I had thought. When I showed this to a fellow who appreciated a good beer more than me, he heartily agreed. Here is a perfect example where art not only imitates life, but reflects the feelings of life.

There was an article a few years back that said the making of beer saved civilization. As more and more people peopled the Nile and the Tigris and Euphrates valleys, the birthplace of civilization, though the Chinese might object to that, the risk of pollution grew. In fact, no one was very willing to drink the water even then (meaning up to 6-7,000 years ago) because it was unsafe. I mean like FATALLY unsafe. It was where people bathed, pooped, urinated, washed and who knows what else. Trust me, we have no corner on the market for pollution.

However this happy accident happened, the use of wheat fermenting in water, it created enough alcohol to purify the water and make it safe to drink. It was centuries before distillers realized that yeast could speed up the process and even later, like a century or so ago, that hops gave it distinctive sharp, bitter and sour flavors.

Europe seemed to be in the forefront of brewing beer and those distillers made their way to the new world. When hops were discovered, they were able to create even better brews than ever before. So rather than a rather dark, sweetish beer, of varying quality and taste, we have a whole range of beers ranging from "light" beers, to lagers, amber ales, IPA's, stouts and just about everything in-between. Beer making was so popular and its use so widespread that Benjamin Franklin was moved to say that "beer is our proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

Prohibition was not kind to anything alcoholic and beer seemed to take the hit the hardest. While they smuggled whiskey and scotch in and made bathtub gin, beer took it on the chin. Hundreds if not thousands of small breweries closed and few were able to make the transition to something "wholesome" to sell. When prohibition was repealed, beer was universally made with an alcoholic content of 3.2%. If it was higher, it had to be called something else. The flavor of such a brew was but a shadow of itself.

In their eagerness to complete breweries sprang up again but unless you had really special taste buds, the difference in taste from one side of the country was minimal if not non-existent. However, in the 1980's the great grandson of a brewer in the Boston area found the family brewing recipes and started a small brewery to test the waters. Today, Samuel Adams, probably the biggest of the craft brewers, found that there was indeed a market for something better. Not to be left in the dust, a generation of men and a few women who had visited the continent and tasted what beer should taste like, began to experient themselves and the craft brew market of less than 1% or all beer sales has grown to something like 7% of all beer sales.

If you think I am deft, or drunk, you needed to watch a short lived cable show about brewmasters. There were only several shows aired, but the first highlighted the owner of Dogfish Head Brewery in DE. Honestly, that is the name. It told the tale of how they crafted a special beer for Sony Records called "Bitches Brew" to celebrate the 40th anniversary of a Miles Davis now classic jazz album.

As I watched him mix this concoction, not really knowing what would result, I was struck how that was the way I designed a new project. A little bit here, a pinch there, maybe something added here and taken away there.

We design the things we live by, each and every day. At work, at home, in our heads, in our play. Never forget this and keep a sharp eye on things around you. Oh, and for those who do imbibe, take a little adventure and drink a really good craft beer. Once you do, the Coors, Millers and Bud's you drink won't have much of a flavor.

Visit TheArtofChrisSearle on He has much fun artwork. Don't forget to visit I am always adding new things as well.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Where Design Ends and Living Begins

There is nothing, absolutely nothing in our lives that hasn't been designed. Whether you are thinking about the chair in front of your TV or the fire in front a cave 10,000 years ago, our lives are designed. Someone, somewhere has already been there. Consider, who made the chair? The TV and most of all, who created and then made the TV show you want to watch? How was that fire made? Who decorated the cave? 

The newest edition of WIRED magazine is touting its 20th anniversary and wow, what a ride that has been. At least they acknowledge that what they predicted on the whole was wrong, terribly wrong. I might add, they at least tried to point us in the right direction.

In 1986, if memory serves me right, William Gibson wrote a book called the NEUROMANCER, that like Kubricks "2001: A Space Odyssey" in 1968, changed forever the way we looked at Science Fiction and hence, for all intents and purposes the future. They both wrote about things we had never really dreamed of before. Calling on AT&T from the International Space Station, the shuttle ride on PanAm, the dirty, alien Asian invaded Los Angeles, they portrayed a future most of us couldn't even imagine yet now completely understand. 

However, they also when talking about design, and the importance it makes in our lives, they credit a German, Walker Gropius, and the Bauhaus School of Berlin, of making changes in our lives that effect us still today.

Who would ever believe this factory was built in 1911? It is like one of Frank Lloyd Wright's prairie homes built about the same time in Chicago. Where did they come from? Why were they so different? And they WERE different. We have seen so many variations of this theme it looks merely modern. Can you imagine how this compared to some older Victorian factory? Just down the street?

This exact feeling hit me when we went to the ruins of Saqquara in Egypt. The Step Pyramid, widely credited to be a prototype to the pyramids of Giza, had all the mortuary temples required of a Pharaoh. However, there was no decoration. It looked, well, post modern. Simple, smooth, almost severe in shape and execution. And this was older? Like 2800 or 2900 B.C.?

I will never forget the day my wife told me she got a new student from Viet Nam. He was from the hill country and didn't even speak Viet Namese. When she gave him an iPad to use for the class project he looked at it like it had come from, well, Mars. To him it had. Amazingly in a short time he was able to use it and much better than he could speak English. THAT is the measure of good design.

Our guiding principle was that design is neither an intellectual nor a material affair, but simply an integral part of the stuff of life, necessary for everyone in a civilized society.
Walter Gropius 

F-15 Sofa Designed in 1920
It is people like Gropius that shape our destinies. Each and every day. They raise our sensibilities, our ability to function is an increasingly complex world; or they try to.

Here is another example of Gropius and how he changed the playing field. This is the F-15 Series, designed as a sofa and chair in 1920. I think that if you were to wander Living Spaces today, looking for a contemporary sofa you might find something just like this. As modern as this may look, the design is nearly 100 years old.
We tend to forget the importance of design in our lives. I want to point out that we are wrong. Design IS the key to our lives. In each and every person, in each and every day, no one exempt. The next time you pick up that beer and sit in your Barcolounger, or a women picks up that needlepoint and threads away, remember that someone, somewhere designed it and just about everything else in our lives. The key to good living, one that we often brush aside, is to reward the ones that make our lives easier, simpler without demeaning us and to cast aside those that have yet to learn the lesson.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Learning Rosemaling Basics

I took my first Rosemaling class in Las Vegas. I took it because I like the image shown for the class and it seemed to be in the vein I was going with doing my Pennsylvania Dutch designs. You can imagine my surprise on hearing what the designs were and where they came from. It was tough but I was hooked.

My first attempt at home was this plate. I found a design to start with and created this design for the wooden plate shown here. However, it was worked on in fits and starts because I often didn't know what to do, especially how to do it.

I found a few books but they were mostly designs with minimal instruction. It was like you were supposed to know how. I wish.

We are going to spend a week in Norway this summer traveling with Danish friends. They kindly humor me and we will definitely spend time in Telemark, the center then and now of Rosemaling.

Many mysteries though were solved when they sent me a book on Rosemaling printed in English. Impossible to find here, it mentioned that to handle the amazing curves and flourishes you need to have one hand steady the other. And yes, it works. While this is just a start you can see the beginnings of rich curves and flourishes painted over a rough sketch of what I wanted to do.

Rosemaling had its heyday once but attracts audiences still. I guess it could be argued it influenced many other countries and styles, then and now. In an era of sameness where everything looks like every other item, the colors and sensuous shapes of Rosemaling catch your eye.  The intricate lines, shading, colors and amazing flourishes are like no other.

I certainly will continue this. Be it a craft or a fine art painting, practice really does make perfect.

Monday, April 22, 2013

InDesign 5.5 vs. QuarkXpress 9.5

I made a big mistake. When I upgraded my trusty now four year old iMac to OSX 10.7 I opened the door to losing about two-thirds of all my software. Some still worked, Quark 7.5, my trusty layout program, worked against all odds. However, when the hard drive died, so did Quark. I couldn't believe that it worked before on the old hard drive but not on the new one. I dug in my heels and refused to pony up the $300 to upgrade to QXP 8.

Since I lost all of my Adobe products as well, I decided to get the suite that included InDesign 5.5. I figured, well, it can't be that different and everyone is making the change. Oh, how sorry I was and am.

After battling it for several months (including fits and yelling at my screen) working on a clients price list, I proposed that we simplify the layout. You can imagine how I cringed over that. But, I gave InDesign a try and let me tell you, if InDesign was the only program for desktop publishing, cold type and hot wax guns might still be in every magazine and newspaper office in the world. Like Dreamweaver, another horrible program, things happen in sudden and maddening ways. It mystifies me how a company that has such a wonderful, intuitive photo program could have created this monster.

It wasn't always this way. Quark came out after PageMaker back in the 90's and soon became the de facto standard around the world. PageMaker was soon relegated to inhouse law offices and such while Quark did the heavy duty publishing work. It was everywhere and did amazing things. There were upgrades every now and then and everyone was happy. Well, everyone but Adobe. So they came out with InDesign and the first two releases were awful. Slow, nothing worked right but they kept plugging away.

Then after Apple came out with OSX, Quark stumbled. They were not ready for the new operating system, not once but twice in their own upgrades. We had to wait several years to get a program that ran natively in Apple's OSX, a stable Unix based software operating system. Adobe pounced and was fully ready. While still not all that great it integrated easily with other Adobe products. Slam dunk. Quark never recovered.

Now at 67 it could be said that I am an old fart that doesn't learn new things well. And that may be true but I know that when I create a type or photo box it better remain both a box and stay at the exact same size as it was created. Like Dreamweaver, InDesign suddenly grows and wrestling it back to the correct size is frustrating.

So, I did bite the bullet and ordered Quark 9.5. Installation was a nightmare. After two hours I was in an endless loop. It would say installed and then when opened start the installation process all over again. Frustrated I said I wanted my money back and wrote an email to Quark saying that. However, my tech person, a wonderful and patient women sent an email and asked that I try additional steps. It didn't work either. Then she called me and after several tries we met again online and on the phone and finally, it installed. Oddly, the installation on my laptop took minutes. Not one gulp! It is very a rare event today to find people this dedicated and I will have to applaud Quark for being so persistent and helpful. I have several projects already planned and you can imagine my relief. In the few small things I have already done, it went exactly as I planned.

So, I am again a relatively happy camper. The old commands work but I am finding many new things I don't understand and sadly no one is writing third party books again. I learn visually and so I will miss my QuickStart books for this program. Now, if only Quark would get someone to write a manual and post it online as a PDF. I would be really happy!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Making Guacamole

You never know where a new idea for a painting will come from. Living in Southern California we are blessed with the ability to grow all kinds of fruiting trees. When we re-did our yard a decade ago, we planted avocado, lemon, peach, orange and apricot trees.

Making Guacamole - an original acrylic painting by Alan Krug
One day recently I was eating one of the avocados from the tree in our yard. Looking at the slices I thought I would like to paint them. A small painting. Then I thought well, why not get a lemon a couple more avocados and add a tomato as if I was getting ready to make guacamole? I grabbed our trusty mini wood block cutting board, added a knife and after a variety of arrangements taken with my phone, settled on this shot.

I was in the midst of my cactus series and while I printed a photo of this photo session, didn't think much of it for awhile.

Last week, after finishing the last of the cactus series, I wanted something else. I needed a release from cactuses. I enjoyed them and was amazed at the depth of colors and detail in them but four were enough.

Gathering up my photos of potential new paintings I found this and using a small canvas, actually one of those from my aborted Vegas classes, created this small still life.

I painted the entire canvas a peach color, similar to my favorite DecoArt Peaches and Cream color. In fact I like it so much I took a bottle over to Home Depot and had them color match and make me a quart of paint. This makes a wonderful base canvas color when you allow touches to show through and compliments color, especially the greens!

Since this is acrylic, you can build up colors rapidly. I started with the greens in the avocados and built up the greens from the darkest to lightest. When I painted the lemon I also under-painted the tomato slices as I've learned reds are much richer with a yellow base coat.

I must admit that this is not the painting I envisioned. This, in many respects is very realistic, so much so it could, at first glance, be a photo. While it didn't turn out impressionistic there is a lushness that reaches out, a realism that makes you hungry! It turned out this way with the addition of small yet important touches that give it a depth I didn't expect. An Alizarin red wash, a red violet in the depths of the tomato, a violet and purple wash in the shadows gives the darks richness. The final touch was the addition of white highlights again on the tomato and adding shine to the avocado seed.

Its the details that bring a painting to life.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Art of Terror

I have always believed that our lives are in many ways performance art or if not art certainly, performance design. Many would disagree with that until they have to deal with a bureaucrat, their doctor or just how to turn on and program their DVR. Remember putting that black tape over the flashing 12:00 on your VCR so you wouldn't have to look at it flashing, like forever?

Our lives for the most part are designed by our fellow humans. Even something as simple (internally complicated) as your car was designed by someone and usually someones.

The Boston Marathon seconds after the bomb went off.
Is TERROR any different? It is an act created by humans to intimidate other humans. The cause can be noble or not, but it is not a natural act. A Natural act, like an earthquake or tornado is something we definitely have no control over.

In a sense, a bombing, such as what happened in Boston yesterday during the annual Boston Marathon, is an act of cowardice. The intent of course is to intimidate. Watching an interview with Matt Lauer last night on NBC who was interviewing three locals, not one of them was intimidated and several were literally seconds away from being where either of the bombs went off. When asked if they would return next year, all three said yes. One of the three said, "We Bostonians are pretty tough. This isn't going to stop us."

Scenes seconds after the first explosion certainly seemed to emphasize that emotion. Rather than running away, runners, paramedics and cops all ran towards the explosions and may well have saved more lives because they put caution to the wind to help their fellow human beings. If anything, the bomber or bombers rather than intimidating instead created a form of solidarity I am sure they did not intend.

There are many legitimate things to protest but they need to be out in the open. They need to be discussed and here in America we have the right to the protest and have free speech. To hide behind a mask, a backpack, to create an event with objects sure to harm is being, well, a coward. They do not have the courage to protest openly so, like Timothy McVay in Oklahoma City or just like Al Qaida they kill anyone that happens to be, women and children. Is there any difference between the Taliban and some of the right wing groups in the United States? That means woman and children who really have no reason to be assaulted, are.

Like Newtown, those people, those parents have a design as well and it is to create a society where this kind of behavior is never again tolerated. I would guess that our politicians need to listen a little more closely. Just like Senator Portman, a staunch anti-gay advocate, who suddenly had to face the reality that his son, whom he loved dearly, was gay. Does a staunch NRA advocate need to lose a loved one to an assault rifle for him to see the light? We are entitled to our opinions, and we have guaranteed rights but have we twisted intent to become the law rather than the spirit of the law? Wasn't that the message of Jesus...and many other holy men?  As a God fearing nation, we are entitled to pray to whomever we please. We are not entitled to murder those we disagree with.

So I ask you, is our life a design created by ourselves or possibly one that is created by a higher being? Only you can decide the answer to that but man has the power to craft a better world  and violence is not the answer.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Las Vegas Painting Convention Redux

After a crippling series of back spasms in February cut short my first attempts to teach my painting to a group of artists at the Creative Painting Convention in Las Vegas, I got a letter Friday that hopefully renewed my opportunities for teaching in 2014. I had submitted six paintings and was hoping I would get two smaller four hour classes next year. I knew my record wasn't too great but....

PLUMARIAS by Alan Krug
I was elated that at least one class was chosen, and a 6 hour class at that! The plumaries in my backyard had been photographed and one of the photos of them was painted. Luckily I had carefully documented this painting, the last before I began my cactus series (which I also submitted). In retrospect, it was one of the last paintings I thought to offer. You just never know.

I will tell you that THIS time, I will not wait until the last minute to find a few "artist guinea pigs" to teach. As I learned from the oil painting I never got to teach, what you think happened may not be what actually happened. A teacher I know told me that even after 25 years of teaching, she had to re-write her instructions after teaching her class. She had made some mistakes and had to come home and rewrite what she had written.

You have to wonder, do you think that a Monet, or Gauguin, even Van Gogh could teach you how to paint in their style? I think that it takes a special kind of person that can teach others how to paint their own artistic work. And whether you like the style or not, each artist has their own unique technique.

From the moment that I started taking art classes, I was struck by how different each student's painting was from the teachers. Often, you would often wonder if they were, in fact, painting the same thing. It seemed to make no difference. In my art class in Sierra Madre, CA, classes in Norco, CA or Las Vegas, if there was a group of people painting the same painting, trust me, they were NOT alike.

However, the next logical question is, does it matter? If that is your vision of what you see and you are happy with it, again, does it matter?

Anyway, I am excited and hope I will be able to teach this class. It will be a kind of vindication and proof to me, that what I teach has some value to others.

I urge all of you to check out the web site, and check out the artists. The new catalog should be ready by July 2013. Hopefully, I will see you there!


Friday, April 12, 2013

The Limits of a Digital Immigrant &

My wife is a teacher who is using Apple Computers and iPads in her classroom and has had much interaction with Apple Inc. itself. There is an interesting concept out there that states our kids, at least those born in the 80's and later, are digital natives. That is, they have never lived in a world that didn't have computers at home.  Us old farts, that is the rest of us, are digital immigrants. We started using computers when we were nearly or were adults. They aren't "native" to us as they are to our kids. I grew up with TV, they grew up with computers.

I can remember my first computer. It was a Texas Instruments TI-99. It wasn't really very sophisticated and you had to hook it up to a TV for a screen but it was, along with the Commodore 64, one of the first affordable computers for the masses. I used it to write letters, keep our finances and when my son got old enough, maybe 3?, he played games on it. Soon though, he became more skilled at it than me.

There was a progression. Next came a used Apple IIc, then I had the use of my mother-in-laws Powerbook 170, where I learned to use QuarkXpress 3.1, then I saved up to buy a PowerPC 6100 the week they came out. You have to laugh. My iPhone 5 has about a thousand times more power than that PowerPC but it was built like a tank and when I gave it away, it still was going strong.

I did take classes to learn Quark but the rest of programs that I would use when I started my own graphic design business were self taught. I used on a daily basis Quark, PhotoShop, Illustrator, Word and eventually did a few web sites using Dreamweaver, surely one of the worst programs ever designed. If Quark and desktop publishing acted like Dreamweaver we would still be printing using cold type, hot wax guns and Xacto knives. It was a struggle but I managed to get those pages up and maintain them.

I have been retired about 5 years now and while still doing some graphics work with old clients and a few new ones, I have thankfully given up doing web pages. Well, that is until now. I friend thought that since I had an Etsy store, I also might want to increase my web presence with my own web site. He is right. Most of the sellers on Etsy have both.

I've noticed that geeky things I could easily do as a kid and younger adult have become harder to do, let alone understand. I could hook up a hi-fi system at the drop of a hat. I was able to connect all kinds of things to my first computers and usually, if there was a problem, find the answer. Not anymore.

Since I signed up with GoDaddy, I realized I've reached my digital limit. I can barely even get on my web site and haven't a clue on how to go behind the screen that says it is under construction. When a friend offered to help me and in fact called GoDaddy to get the passwords, pins and all the rest sorted out, we in fact WERE able to access the web site. However, when I logged out and tried to get back in it again, I was back to square one. An hour shot. He couldn't believe it either.

I just don't get it. So here I am, frustrated and in a sense betrayed. If its that hard to use, let alone understand, I will gladly let the younger generation deal with it and continue what I enjoy, can understand and get satisfaction from. As to GoDaddy and their web site, adios!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Tale of Three Boxes

When I was teaching a class of first and second graders how to use computer software, MicroSoft Word and iPhoto, I realized after the first class that their attention span would be, at best, about 20 minutes. So, I bought from Oriental Traders several items that I could use to entertain them after my 20 minutes were up.

One of the things I bought, just in case, was a wooden cube with a bent wire that could be used as a card holder. However, the train whistles proved to be a much better toy before I began to let them write what they wanted. I never dreamed they could have so much to say! I ended up with 12 wooden boxes with a curlicue wire that at best was a card holder.

Stumbling on them the other day I thought, hey, this is the perfect interim product to "create" and put in my store. My "Last Chance" series was taking much longer than I anticipated so... as you can see, with along with a bag of wooden whatnots, I created several "card" holders.

Again, the cubes were a blank slate, no different than a blank canvas. After I rediscovered a bag of little whatnots I began to play with the possibilities. I think they are pretty nifty considering that the box itself is plain and offers nothing and yet everything in the way of possibilities.

One box used a sample of everything...circles, squares, stars and hearts, the other a variety of stars painted in gold and silver. Using a nail pen, I was able to create a kind of heaven not all that different from a starry night! What fun. If anything, its an example of what to do with, well, a blank slate, canvas, cube or anything else.

The hardest thing to do, and yet the most original for an artist IS to think out of the box. Why accept what has been? Think about what has NOT been. Take it from there.

I have no idea of whether they were sell or not but I haven't found anyone else being so adventuresome. There are about 8 more to go! Oh, the possibilities!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Humor As A Selling Tool

As an Etsy store seller, I often don't see a lot of humor in the selling part. I love what I do and am constantly exploring things to make and ways to get them sold. That said, I am also always looking for new ideas, new twists on what I do.

However, the other day, when checking up on those I follow I noticed an unusual Birdhouse covered with wine corks so,of course, I clicked on it. You can imagine my surprise when I read the following:

"All the wine (I'm assuming from the vast quantity of corks shown) was consumed humanely in California." I passed it by, then stopped, went back to read the description again and burst into laughter. With all those corks, is there any other way to consume the wine but, well, humanely? I can't seem to find the seller but I do want to congratulate them on their hysterical prose! It sure caught my eye. I'm a little jealous, they sell more Birdhouses than I do. Maybe I should switch from beer to wine!

That brings up my point, is there a place for humor when we sell what we make? Absolutely! In fact, maybe we should use it more. How many ads do you remember? Now how many of them were funny? I don't know about you but with rare exceptions, the few I remember were funny. That's been my complaint about Super Bowl ads the past few years.  First, most aren't very funny and seeing them once is enough. Makes you long for the Doritos rat, the Bud frogs, the racy GoDaddy girl doesn't it? Or how about the Honda guy looking for his big shirt? For those overseas it turns out his daughter turns it into a gown the guy wears as he goes off to work. It's, well shocking and funny at the same time!

My advice, and I need to follow it as well, is to add a touch of humor in those descriptions. They may not buy that item but they may well remember you in the future. We all have a story to tell.  Let your spirit, love and humor shine through!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Art of the Game

Believe it or not, everything in our lives has a design. Now it is true that maybe the design comes from no plan but planned or not, there is a design. As my wife says, no decision is still a decision.

The same rules apply with art. An artist, a movement, may have a purpose or "design" in mind and it will or will not take hold. The majority of what we call art movements were people who were of a like mind, such as the Impressionists, but whose talent and vision was very different. They were rebelling against the staid formality of the Salon. They were grouped because of what they did, not necessarily how they did it. That could be said of any movement.

Dodger Stadium
One of the biggest things to hit Los Angeles over the past year, other than a nasty mayors race, has been the transformation of the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball team. If there ever was an art and design movement, this is it.

I don't imagine many readers here are baseball fans but it is the venerable American sport, even if we can't seem to win the World's Classic. A very high percentage of Americans follow at least their home team, often passionately. At its peak the Dodgers had one of the highest, if not THE highest season attendance records in baseball. Once the O"Malley's sold the team to the McCourts, it was a increasingly steady downhill slope. Even before the brutal beating of a Giants fan from Northern California by Dodger thug fans here in Southern California, on opening day several years ago, the team and stadium became a place to avoid. Last season attendance dropped about two thirds. Of course, the messy divorce of the McCourts made great daily headlines but created sinking hearts and fear to all Dodger fans.

The courts finally settled the divorce AND who would purchase the team. Magic Johnson, a well loved local boy, Peter Gruber, et al, put up the winning bid and then turned around and remade the team. Literally! Besides going on a spending spree for players that would make even the Yankees high flying ways blush, they also spent $100 million on the stadium, built in 1962, and literally falling apart by the McCourt era, who literally sucked the franchise dry.

We bought tickets online for a discounted Friday game a few days ago. The drive up to the last Gold Line station for a ride down to Union Station took longer than getting to the stadium. The free Dodger Shuttle got us from Union Station to the stadium in under 15 minutes, unheard of in notorious Los Angeles traffic. Hour drives up the hill are the norm! We got our will call tickets and in we went.

People were everywhere to help you find your way but the new signage in the lot helped a lot too. We got to our seats on our own! Food was expensive but you expect that, but the options had increased four fold! The stadium was clean, well lit, the walkways wider. The new light boards are as clear as your home TV, they had interesting new graphics displaying the history of the Dodgers, an amazing sound system and best of all, CLEAN bathrooms. This is art and design. Its as if the new owners listened to what the fans said and well, did it.

It was heartening to see families there again. They are encouraging that. There were plenty of people there to make sure nothing happens and if it did, I am sure, like at the Rose Bowl, you are gone before the fans even realize what has happened. The scariest thing we saw all night was a drunk on the Gold Line going home.

Our lives are filled with design that others have created. The car your drive, the home you live in, even the appliances you use. They didn't just happen. There was design. We should reward those that give us products the are easy to understand and use. Yes, and punish those that don't. Is there a method to this new Dodger era? Sure! Its to make money. Yet, in their willingness to attract us, they have come to the realization that how they design themselves will depend on how we will reward them.

Be sure to visit my store on Etsy ... and become a follower here as well. I welcome all comments!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Cactus Patch - The final cactus painting

From the beginning, I had wanted to paint a series of four cactus plants starting with the flutes, the flutes with flowers and after the flower, the fruit. I did it in a rather odd order putting the first painting in the middle. These were all cactus I saw on my morning walk with my dog Maggie. She is very insistent and so we walk. I should point out the doctor is persistent too but he's not there every day giving you the "look."

The first painting went well. Almost easily. I was stunned to find that rough strokes of paint could create an amazing amount of depth. The painting had four flowers and I loved it.
Beginning of Cactus Patch

The next painting was a struggle. Though it only had one flower, it had an amazing number of flutes, something that caused me to change my method of painting. However, it too became a success, at least to me and looks without a doubt a complicated yet amazing cactus painting.

 My third painting was of a cactus fruit after the flowers die. The process was fast and I was barely able to get a decent image to work from. I hated that painting and was ready to toss it when I realized it was my painting and I could do whatever I wanted. It was saved at the end.

This painting, to be the first in the series, is simply a series of cactus flutes. No flowers, no fruit. I spotted it on my morning walk and was astounded at the variety of greens that could be seen from one mass. I show it here after the original sketch on the canvas with the deep green shadows painted in. This was acrylic so no long painful waiting periods for the paint to dry. Oddly enough it is quite easy to discern and could be considered a painting in itself!

Beginning of coloring of Cactus Patch
This second step shows the flute edges painted in a series of greens, pinks and beiges. It continues to be interesting and is still clearly a cactus. There was much thought given to ending it right there. You "know" what it was, so why fill in all the rest? It would only complicate a rather striking painting, no?

Looking at and working on the painting yesterday, I began to wish I had stopped. Filling in the greens...yellow greens, blue greens, it seemed that I could never get it right! And anyway, in art, what is right?

I stuck it out and began with a series of yellow greens, blue greens, browns and butter colors to fill in each flute and see what I could do. I was amazed that brush strokes that appeared random, even lazy when viewed from a distance appeared to create a photo realism I never wanted and in fact hated.

It is true, why not simply just take a photo? Why not indeed. Yet, there was something in this painting that made me proud, gives me a confidence I lacked before. I seemed to capture at least the vitality of cactus, he subtly that is easy to miss in the interplay in colors.

Final of Cactus Patch
This painting is on the one hand very realistic. You can just about feel those thorns reaching out to snag you. The greens - yellow green, blue green, avocado green, white green seem to burnish these plants and give them amazing life. While its true that a photo would have given you the scene as it was, a painting gives you an "impression" if you will, of what was there. It has its own spirit, more than a rendering of what was there.

I wish you could see the original. There is a depth of color the photo cannot convey. There are colors and nuisances that disappear, ;The interplay of lights to darks, the shadows to the sunlight all in fact create a world that most if ous would never pay attention too.

Anyway this series is at least complete. It was certainly a learning experience in more ways than one.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Collector's Art: A Visit To The Huntington Library

Yesterday my wife and I decided to visit the Huntington Library, not far from where we live. It was a glorious spring day in Southern California and with everything starting to bloom, decided the middle of the week was the best time to go. We hadn't been in years.

Well, since she was on spring break as a teacher, so were the hordes at the Huntington. However, it was a beautiful day and the site is over 200 acres in San Marino.

We had heard about all the renovations, the rebuilding of the Japanese Garden, we figured that the newer Chinese Garden would have filled in by now, the remodeled house and library exhibits. We had the tour all planned.

Gainsborough's "Blue Boy"
I am a senior now. I remember when I first moved to CA in 1970 that the Huntington was free. When I moved down to the San Gabriel Valley from the Lancaster area, you could visit as many times as you wanted. And I did! I always gazed at the "Blue Boy" by Gainsborough and Reynolds "Pinkie." It cost me $15 to enter as a senior and $20 for my wife. Quite a change. Maybe all those free visits from the past are catching up with me.

Speaking of changes, oh how the Huntington has changed. And to my mind, not for the better. First of all, the entire place seemed to be under some kind of construction. People protesting the lack of union workers met you at the entrance, construction sounds filled the air and yellow tape was color of the day everywhere.

We hit his home first...what does $42 million buy? Not much. If anything the homey atmosphere of the past is now a cold white chiffon that smothers the life of everything. The gallery where "Blue Boy" and "Pinkie" reside has a deeper green brocade and may be the most comfortable room in the house. What they have done is take a home and turn it into a sterile museum. They did a good job. I'm sure its safer, fire, earthquake but goodness, what is wrong with color? Paint is paint white or not.

Gazing at my favorites, some moved for odd reasons, I began for the first time to ponder, why would you want the portraits of people you never knew in your home? I could see florals, landscapes, city scenes and such, but people? Not your own or even a distant family? The main gallery is filled with Gainsborough, Reynold's, Romney's, all glorious and not in any way his family.
Van Gogh's "The Pipe Smoker"

I first became aware of another collector, Albert C. Barnes who became a collector after his company became fabulously wealthy in the 1920's. At the time of his death in 1951he had amassed a collection of 580 Impressionist and Post Impressionist paintings in his home outside Philadelphia. No one is exactly sure what he paid for this collection, 183 Renoir's, 7 Van Gogh's, 60+ Cezanne's, plus a priceless Matisse, but the value on the web says about $30-40 billion today. A documentary about how the Philadelphia Art Museum broke his trust says they valued it at $4 billion but if it were to go on auction, could fetch as much as $400 billion. I mean, these artists aren't painting these any more! I remember in the 80's when the Getty purchased Van Gogh's "Iris" for $56 million. That was over 30 years ago. So, do the math.

Its now a done deal and while he was quirky, one of the things he did, was hang his art salon style, that is in rows often on top of each other. There you could see and compare the art in ways you might and could never see before. The new museum has kept this tradition and each display is true to the original hangings. Was Huntington's house done this way or was it the way I saw yesterday?

We didn't get to the new gallery. I guess through gifts and purchases they want to jump into the more modern period as well. Instead we went out to the gardens and saw the new Japanese Garden that is lovely and nicely done though I miss the vermillion paint of the old moon bridge. The Chinese garden is undergoing more construction and parts look barren and neglected. The library had two rather uninspired exhibits and the majority was closed off. No Gutenberg Bible, no Lincoln letters, no biography of Franklin. All in all not an especially grand day. The weather was wonderful, flowers and trees were in bloom but somehow, the simpler, more staid Huntington was nicer and more accessible.

I think that once a bureaucracy gets involved with something, they tend to forget what the original owners intent was. The Huntington for years was like a peek into someones home, you saw how they lived and certainly while grander, was personal and I felt, inviting. A proud owner showing what he had collected. We all know people like that.

But museums are bureaucracies and they "know" more than we do. What they don't realize though is that they create the same thing everywhere and it gets to be boring.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

IS Facebook Losing Its Edge?

I had a fascinating discussion with a young woman yesterday while finding out if my Medicare Provider still had a program that would allow me free swimming at the local Y. (Did you know that the old YMCA and YWCA is now just the "Y?")

As we chatted she asked me what I did now that I was retired and I mentioned painting and having an Etsy store. I handed her my card and said if you're really bored, you can look at either my store or read my blog.

Really she asked? She had an Etsy store as well. I added that I had deleted my Facebook page for a variety of reasons (already listed in earlier blogs) and she startled me by saying she doesn't have a page either. I told her that I post things on Pinterest but that most of my viewers seemed to come from Etsy anyway.

I quizzed her a bit more about Facebook and she had about the same reservations that I had. Nothing you put there is private she said. She had friends with unpleasant experiences and then there was the revelation Sunday that some girls in the mid-west had their "private" photos posted all over Facebook.

There is a trend and you are seeing more articles about how it is not the "in" thing with the "in" crowd anymore. I think the original intent was. It was fun. Friends could keep in touch and as everyone has since learned the things you posted there soon made their way to places you never wanted them to go.

And of course its a great time sink. I know that many companies are using Facebook and we are literally beseiged by them to "favor" them. Soon it will be just like the radio, we interrupt this never-ending stream of ads to play a song. No wonder cars offer ways to play your music off your iPhone, iPod and such. There are no ads there.