Monday, December 30, 2013

The Delicious Sin of Pinterest

Screen Shot of Pinterest After Renewing Etsy Items
As an artist who paints or draws or does anything thing that ends up displaying an image, you are drawn to images...Your own images and the images of others in a need to know what they are doing! If you haven't, and it seems that still many have not, the place to look and see is Pinterest, that great secret fun and BIGGEST time sync of your life!

Not only do you find art, photos, crafts but clothing, recipes, decorating tips. With judicial board selecting it's very easy to find tips on how to do artsy fartsy things and so, SO much more. Beware that search box!!!

Not only can you post your crafts or art there, you can just pin just anything you see on the Internet.  Besides what you post, you certainly don't need to post anything, you get to see what your friends and their friends are looking at as well. I don't know if its as intrusive as Facebook, but this is the land of images, often stunningly gorgeous images. You get to create boards to remember your favorites that can be a public or private (they allow "private" boards).

For an artist it can be invaluable. I can't tell you how clicking on a piece of art has taken me into adventures that rival the old card files at the library. I would go in to the library with a class topic to research, say democracy, and by the end of the evening be checking out the fall of the Roman Empire marching up and down the non-fiction aisles. With Pinterest, you are on the same kind of adventure and before you know it, it's well past bed time. Really, it's that addictive.

I find one of my greatest delights is seeing new things, or more likely new to me. Van Gogh is my favorite painter and while I have several beautiful books of his work, now and then a piece I have never seen before crops up.  I enjoy seeing new artists, really cool cars, tech info, even recipes.

You can pin others boards that feeds into your daily stream or "pin" images to your own boards to check back again and again. I have boards for all my Etsy store categories, even my blog, but have other boards for things I want to see another time. Your stream moves pretty fast after awhile, but the general Pinterest flows like a waterfall. However, I have never seen my items there but someone must as I do have items pinned now and then. Some even venture to my Etsy store.

It's easy, free and sinfully time consuming. If you haven't set up your very own Pinterest account what are you waiting for?

The holidays may be over but Valentines day is about six weeks away. Visit for a wonderful selection of gifts for your loved ones.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Curmudgeons Lump of Coal

If there is anyone out there who doesn't think their lives are designed by forces they never see, think again. They are. From the bed you sleep in to the house you live in to the clothes you wear, cars you drive and the work that you do plus the government you live under, someone(s) has made a conscious effort to design how civilization should work. Since man came out of the forests and tamed that first animal and gathered that first harvest, every aspect of your life is designed.

As we can all agree not every design is a winner which leads me to 2013's lump of coal. The problem is where to begin?

Obamacare probably deserves the biggest lump of coal. In a nation that probably was key in inventing the Internet and embraced it in ways DARMA never conceived, it's a national disgrace that will not soon be forgotten. Why our national government hired a bunch of hacks (not hackers who probably could have done as well in one night) is stunning. With a nation of 40 million citizens, or not, uninsured, plus untold more who were lied too and had insurance cancelled, why they they thought a system that at best could handle 50,000 at a time was good enough staggers the imagination. Especially when fines would be doled out if you didn't register. Clearly there wasn't anyone in charge. Amazon could have handled them all in one day and in a few hours.

That leads me to the next lump, our government, Congress in particular but the executive mansion isn't off the hook either,  has the worst approval rating since the Tea Tax levied by England in the 1770's. In fact, hemorrhoids were more popular on a poll rating. Well, we always knew the government was a pain in the butt but now we know just how much. A year of standoffs resulted in the government shutting down after already living under the sequester that started in March. An article I read said this would be the worst do-nothing Congress in history. That's just fine with me. As we have seen, they seem to have trouble enforcing the laws they already have.

Moving down the scale, there's the State of California. I live there so I know a little more about it than the scandals we read about in New York, Illinois, Florida and a host of other places where the natives and their governments are restless and greedy.

The city of Bell, CA is the poster boy for corruption in government. This blue collar town of less than 50,000 was paying its city manager around a $1 million a year in salary and perks, his corrupt assistant over $500,000 and the list went on and on. The city councilmen were making nearly $100,000 a year. Not bad for a position that usually gives you $100 a month IF that. One city. The Comptroller of the Golden State just released preliminary findings that showed Bell is really the tip of the iceberg. Milpitis, a small town in the Bay area was paying its city manager well over $500,000 a year or about five times what the Mayor of Los Angeles makes in a city 1,000 times larger. A state senator caught red-handed accepting bribes and water districts that shovel out money by the bucket.

If you go down to the county and city level, it gets better. A columnist for the Pasadena Stars News gave a lump to the people who are shutting down Baldwin Ave. just above Valley Blvd. for two years to lower the street under the railroad tracks. Can you imagine? One of the most important streets in the San Gabriel Valley and a direct entry and exit from an interstate freeway? Two years? You can imagine the hoots the first intercontinental railway people would have had over that. Twenty or so years ago, Alhambra, a small city to the west lowered their tracks because in an emergency there was no way to service the southern part of the city when a train came through. They invited all the cities around to go in with them to reduce costs. Not one city did. Now, from Alhambra east through the valley the southern cities are being torn up to finally lower those tracks. The cost is probably about 10 times higher. In the northern areas the towns are being torn up to extend the Gold Line and every major street for 20 miles is torn up for improvements or for train tracks.

Which brings me to something near and dear to my heart, light signals. The State of California has passed laws that will encourage and allow driverless cars. This is a state that has spent 100's of millions of our tax dollars to digitize the DMV and it is still "in progress." Like FAA control towers everywhere we are running on 50's technology. The thought of a car with a driver is oftentimes daunting but a driverless car with the state of our technology? Truly terrifying. They have never heard of the use of packets, a discovery AT&T made years ago to send information on their copper wires. Traffic signals are willy nilly and often every lane of traffic on big highly traveled streets sit there because the signals can't tell they are there and use arrows to tell cars to turn when there is no one there. There are smart signals but California seems to have never heard of them. Its a shame. Milan Italy back in the 70's had a strangling traffic problem that they improved with the use of software that regulated signals and improved traffic by 20 - 30% in the first year. That was the analog age folks.

If there is any point to this, well I guess rant is a good a word as any, its that people made this mess but you the people can also improve it. Hats off to the jury that found that Bell assistant guilty, the FBI for exposing a corrupt state senator, the press for many of the other revelations that we read about. Sure, some news is silly and oftentimes hides the true problems that need tackling. As voters and citizens, you have the right to speak out. We may not agree with each other but to remain silent is to continue to invite these problems. Remember it is better to tackle them BEFORE they are a problem because it takes far more effort to correct them, if they ever are.

Developing A Style Of Your Own

One of the most difficult things for me as an artist has been developing my own personal style. It is relatively easy to copy or mimic an artist though in my case, never very well. What happens along the way is a kind of transformation going from what I see another artist doing and then in the process of painting or crafting myself, transforming it into something quite different. I guess there is really nothing wrong with that because many believe that all art has been derived from what came before.

I used to get that sidetracked in school. I'd go to the library with a topic in hand and hours later find that I had moved into another realm entirely. Then when test time came I found that it wasn't that I didn't know the topic, it was usually that I had learned too much and could argue either way. I find that I am often that way with my art as well.

 Erin Hanson of redrockfineart
The other day I was looking at what other people I follow on Etsy were favoring and in the process found a few artists that I favored as well. One was an artist, Erin Hanson, of redrockfineart.etsy, that had a style that I really, really liked. In fact she painted in a style that I, at one point, had wanted to paint myself.

Hanson has a style of what became known as the Southwestern School of art style, a kind of Impressionism that developed in California and the Southwest during the early 20th Century. It had a strong color sense of the Southwest fueled by colors from nature and Mexico. Whereas in France colors were light and bright, the colors in the Southwest were strong, vivid with earth tone reds, turquoise skies, purples and pinks that were shown at sunrise and sunset. Gauguin would have been right at home.

I'll never forget the first time I saw one of those spectacular sunsets in Albuquerque, NM. My mother had moved there from dreary Portland, OR during my sophomore year in college. Talk about a change! Days of rain exchanged for nearly endless days of sun. Anyway, the mountains behind the city are the Sandia's, a tall majestic range that runs north and south.  I puzzled at their meaning, watermelon, until one night there was a spectacular sunset and the mountains turned watermelon red and the shadows were clearly purple. It was spectacular. In an instant I realized the source for a style that gets big bucks still today.

For me the hardest part is putting colors that are not seen for colors that are.  I greatly admire Gauguin for doing exactly that. As discordant as his colors are, the scene, beautiful as it is, somehow makes sense. Hanson's red skies with a splash of blue, lavender trunks of trees in shadow, vivid underlying reds and orange backgrounds capture the vibrancy I have yet to achieve.

Oddly I can let colors run wild in my crafts, and often do, but am more hesitant in my painting. I find that I do better with smaller themes than larger. My landscapes tend to be bland but simpler scenes are vivid because I have narrowed my focus concentrating on form and color.  I think my WHITE FENCE works because the simple white fence acts as a foil for the riot of colors surrounding it.

Painting is a process. We are swayed by what we see. To not try to change and evolve can be, for the artist at least, a kind of death. So, while still trying to find what my style is, I have managed to understand what I am good at.

Please visit I have a variety of art and crafts across a broad price range.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Combining Motifs To Make It Your Own

In passing, I have mentioned that I was very enamored of Rosemaling, a Norwegian painting style, that literally means rose painting. Over the years it developed into a very detailed and free flowing style. Since I wasn't from any of the towns famous for this artwork and my love also of Early American Pennsylvania Dutch designs, I call my work Krugmaling. You can bet roses and I are not on good artistic terms, but the motifs of both crafts amazingly do work well together. In fact, I have no doubt that one didn't begat the other.

Rosemaling & Pennsylvania Dutch designs combined
Searching for a gift for my daughter for Christmas I found a good solid wooden tray in my stache. Not the thinner ones from a craft store, but ones I picked up at a painting convention. Since my daughter loves to entertain I thought this was the perfect tray surface to decorate and practical enough to use. When not in use it could be displayed as home decor.

Looking at several Rosemaling books (I can't read a word, they're in Norwegian) I caught the idea I wanted and on the stained wooden tray sketched out my design. Those white chalk pencils are perfect for that. Once the paint is in place, it can be wiped off with a damp rag. As usual, I then picked out the colors, always an arduous task. Since the wood had been stained a dark black walnut, just about any medium to light color would stand out. So I picked rose, pinks and peaches for the flowers and medium to almost pale greens for the leaves ... lighter on top and darker on the bottom. And because I am weird, I made the central pattern a bit off of perfect symmetry. I wanted there to be a top and a bottom. Why? I just did.

I left the ends bare. I figured that no matter how many coats of Varathane I put on, the paint where the hand holds are would be the first to go. I did decorate each long side borrowing motifs from inside the tray. It stands out even if just seen from the side.

I love the graceful curves of Rosemaling. Nothing is really ever straight. It resembles a vine as it curves its way into the world. In fact, many of their designs are variations of an "S" or a "C" and can either be alone or together. I wanted a central flower on each of the four sides and designed a leafy vine to tie them all together. I have played with this concept on my birdhouses but this is the first time on flatter surfaces. Personally, I think it works quite well. I guess its a matter of taste but I must admit since I started playing with this, it has gotten many views and in fact the last birdhouse using a Rosemaling motif was sold in a matter of days.

Art in many ways is built on what has come before. Anyone studying the progression of art knows this. Is there anything original? Of course but not quite as much as we would like to believe. The re-invention of perspective in the Renaissance changed nearly a thousand years of art. The flat, almost two dimensional art of ancient Egypt was replaced by three dimensional art used in ancient Greece and Rome.

There is nothing wrong in combining styles to create a new one. Modern art is nothing but that exact thing. I urge you to "play" a bit. Do you have a favorite motif that you "always" do? Why not marry that with another style and see what happens.

Be sure to visit See some of the examples I am talking about.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Using DecoArts New Americana Multi-Purpose Satin Paints

One of the wonderful programs that DecoArt has is a program for artists called "Helping Artist Program" that helps with samples, pricing, etc., for artists that are teachers. Now and then you also are given samples of new products to try with the hopeful intent that you will use it in your classes and create a demand for the product.

Before I was struck down with a spinal injury in February they had given me paints that I would need to teach my two classes at the Las Vegas Painting Convention. Later, they rolled out a new line of paints, their Multi-Purpose Satin paints. I asked for and they sent me a set but they sat unused for awhile. I didn't have a project I wanted to use them on.

IPA Glasses all decked out with DecoArts new Satin Paints
When I asked a friend what he would like for Christmas, he thought a moment and said he wanted me to decorate some IPA (tulip) glasses. I agreed and scrounging around at the $1 Store no less, found 6 of these glasses, Made in America I might add, for $1 each.

When you read the label on the Satin paint it appears that you can put it on just about anything, and I MEAN anything. Here is what they say, "Excellent adhesion on wood, metal, glass, terra cotta, ceramics, paper máché, most plastics, fabric and canvas. Wow, what is this, a jack of all trades and master of none? So, I put it to the test.

For a new line they have a wonderful and colorful collection of paints. Some are maybe too close but I believe there are about 50 colors and as you can see in the photo, cover the color spectrum. Since I had never painted on glass before, I created a design and put it on an old wine glass. The first problem, surely one glass painters already know, is that the paints streaks. They  recommend one or two coats but I soon learned that you have to apply it with a soft brush and I found thicker than you would say on wood. Because you applied it thickly, you had to made sure it didn't run. I had glasses laying on their sides all over my desk. And because you are painting two sides, you have to paint one side, let it dry and then paint the other. Luckily, unlike wood, if you make a mistake you just wipe it off!

I created six designs, taped them inside the glasses and then painted on the glass using the inside glass templates. One side today, the other side tomorrow. I kept adding color and then more color and made some attempt to show the same colors on all glasses because they were a set. The designs were very different but I hoped the colors would tie them together more than just the glass shape alone. As I moved from glass to glass, I had to be careful not to touch the new paint! The other issue was that since this was my first attempt, I just couldn't get the fine points I expected and when I did it wasn't where I wanted them. I tried to go from major areas needing lots of paint to increasingly smaller areas until finally with a liner getting the fine details. It worked better if the paint was dry though I did have some fun introducing one color into another (wet) one. You need to wipe the brush though as it will contaminate the colors and you end up with a mess. I found the best route was to let the earlier color nearly dry before adding another color on top.

Like I said, in this case its impossible to paint two sides at once. I had paint (still do) all over my hands and finally, when one side was done either called it a day or moved on to something else.

I paint mostly wood items and wanted to try these new Satin's on a birdhouse I was also working on. While some regular Americana paints are opaque or translucent depending on color, I found Satin's were more translucent over a broader color range. I don't think I will give them up quite yet for Satin's but I can see their value especially on non-porous surfaces ... metal, glass, plastics, ceramics.

The paint can be cured and air dried for 7 days or for dishwasher safe items, you put them in a cool oven, turn the timer and leave them in there for 30 minutes at 325º then leave them there to cool off with the oven door open. Its as simple as that.

I have washed a glass by hand with no apparent problems but have not tried one in a dishwasher.

The beauty of this is that it opens so many creative drawers. Now there is just one paint for non-porous surfaces. While the color range, compared to Americana, is limited, there are more than enough colors to create things. I mixed a few of the colors with no problems.

If you have been dying to try painting on something other than wood or canvas or paper, you might want to give them a try. I believe they are being stocked at all the usual suspects ... Michael's, Hobby Lobby and I would guess A. C. Moore. Many independent shops also carry DecoArt products, a company that has become the preeminent brand of craft paints today.  For more details and information check them out on the Internet,

Christmas is fast approaching but Valentine's Day is not far behind. Check out for some wonderful Valentine's Day gifts for that loved one.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Designing The Rest of Your Life

Multnomah Falls - a work in progress by Alan Krug
When we're young, we all think that we are invincible. With your first serious illness, that resolve begins to weaken but as soon as you are well again, you again become immortal and life goes on.

My first serious introduction to mortality occured when I was 55. A blood clot brought me within minutes of dying on a trip to New Orleans. Somehow I survived. More clots appeared a year later but in 2007 nearly 62 years old I got ill again with a clot that started in my heart and moved into my lungs. My life changed forwever. I more or less retired, fought for my Social Security and took up my art and craftng with greater intensity.

With a large collection of painted birdhouses, other crafts and canvases spilling all over the house and garage my daughter encouraged me to open an Etsy store. It turned out that my teacher whose really my mentor, who has been painting and teaching painting for over 25 years, liked the idea of an Etsy store too. I did her store before my own learning along the way. Once I got hers up I worked on mine and within a year had well over 100 items for sale. Now I approach 200 and have a few retired until the appropriate season returns.

During this time I had left one teacher for another and during the past two years watched my own abilities become better, some say much better. I took the chance and submitted paintings to be taught at the Las Vegas Painting Convention, I've joined the Pomona Valley Art Association and again entered paintings to be judged by an outside judge and hung paintings on the gallery walls to sell.

Artistically I seemed to have much to look forward too. While the store ebbs and flows with sales, I truly love painting. A blank canvas, unpainted birdhouse, a fetching tray or wooden plate are all invitations for decorating.  Entering my first three paintings to be indepentendly judged, I was both surprised and pleased to be awarded a second place prize on a painting I had literally finished two days before, my WHITE FENCE.

However, what is remarkable is that I was able to possibly finish my best painting during one of the most tramatic times in my life. In September a lump was found, a biopsy in October confirmed cancer and since then it has been a constant round of tests, meetings with doctors all trying to put together a plan of attack. Painting for me is a way to leave the real world behind. Instead of focusing on cancer I instead focus on design and color and balance ... in both what I working on and at moments what is left of my life.

While the cancer is considered aggressive the surgeon gives me hope. I plan on continuing to paint and with that in mind hope that I continue to improve! The last two years have been amazing for me in that I have grown so much as an artist. I get raves (but sadly few sales) from Etsyians who see my work and have had wonderful comments at the gallery. It is heartening. It is, at long last a dream come true.

So, in the days to come, God willing, I will concentrate on something that allows me to express myself, designing my life for the time that is left. Maybe it takes some catastrophic event in our lives that finally makes us focus.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

My First Gallery Experience

Second Prize in PVAA Art Contest
Painting for fun, relaxation or whatever else you want to call a hobby is one thing, but it is something else when you decide to move to the next (logical) step and show your art to the world.

For me, it was a big step just to show my crafts and paintings on because what if you put your things up and nobody came? It happens. How often have we done something that we are so proud of and nobody else is? I'm afraid all to often. But as Scott Adams says, we learn from the failures, NOT the successes.

I have sold a few things on and have been given the opportunity to teach at the Las Vegas Painting Convention that was cut short by illness. It was the lack of Etsy sales and the desire to branch out to a wider physical audience that finally got me to join an artists association. I think it might have been a very good move.

I joined the Pomona Valley Artists Association in late October and nearly in the same breath brought paintings over to show in their Gallery SoHo. While it took some time to organize and decide what worked together and what didn't (it was amazing to see them laid out all together on the floor) it soon became apparent what DID work together. However, once on the wall, one painting just didn't seem to fit, another was inserted, and finally it worked.

I had just missed the monthly contest where anyone in the group can enter paintings for a set fee so when December rolled around I made sure I was there. I had a landscape of a Chinese village, a bird of paradise and WHITE FENCE, a painting that was finished on Thursday, framed on Friday and brought over Saturday. You can imagine my surprise when I turned up at the gallery to put my monthly 5 hours in to see my painting received 2nd place. Not bad for a neophyte.

The Gallery SoHo is in the basement of an old newspaper building. The gallery is nicely arranged and there is a variety of styles and artists to give you a wonderful cross section of art today. However, the location, into the lobby and down a flight of stairs in not the best. I was and am surprised when someone does show up and actually looks at everything we have to offer.

You want to be helpful but not cloying so the protocol seems to be a greeting at entrance, reminding them to ask if they have any questions and then to let them wander the gallery. We have a guest book and encourage them to sign in and leave either an address, home or email.

There is always room for improvement however, we have a problem with some walls that leak when it rains. So, at times, certain walls are not available for hanging.

If no one visits the gallery and you were alone, that time would be realllllllllllllly slow. It is quiet, still and lonely. You literally feel like your are in a dungeon. This day I was working with an experienced member, I am a trainee, so we chatted and I helped rearrange her place on the wall. Later on another couple arrived so we got to chat and the time went by faster.

I will continue to enter paintings because the judge is someone not part of the association and is never the same person. While you can never fathom what leads them to make certain choices, it is always pleasing to win something. Its just too bad that they don't leave comments for the artists. That would make the process better and give pointers to artists about what to improve and what to leave alone.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Item Tracking Your Products

If I learned anything from my days as an assistant manager, it was to measure turnover of your stock. We had some control over what we could order and I quickly learned hot sellers required more stock, something I might add needs to be taught today. Any manager worth his salt would be ashamed and possibly fired by the number of empty hooks in stores if any of my old district managers was around. You have to wonder how many sales are lost? Yet everyone seems busy putting stuff on the shelves. What ARE they stocking? Obviously not what people want. Those hooks and spaces are still empty.

Now I am faced with the same dilemma in my own Etsy store. I began tracking my items in October using a program on that itemizes your Etsy store and tells you views, items favored and ratios, giving you have a quick snapshot of items.  Once sold or expired though you lose those counts. Renewing an item however, restores the count so you can see what happened in the past up to the day it expired.

There are some items, after a few renewals, I am prepared to withdraw. That's easy. Obviously there is no interest and maybe it can be returned to the product mix and a new audience at a later time. If you've never seen it before it's new to you.

The dilemma though is what do you do with those items that have a high volume of views, are favored frequently but never sell? I have several items with near or over 600 views, a viewer to favored ratio of 4-8 yet remain unsold. Is the price too high? Too cheap? How do you find out?

Malcolm Gladwell's new book DAVID VS GOLIATH tells the tale of a new vintner. His wines were highly rated but sales languished.  At $10 a bottle they were a steal but sales were low.  With a suggestion he began playing with his pricing using $10, $20, and $30 price points. To his surprise his sweet spot was $20 a bottle.  He sold all that he had.

Everything has a price. My aunt ran the bakery for a food chain and would tell me the same thing. If an item appears to be too cheap people think it is. When she raised prices making obscene profits they would sell out.

However, I have single items. Pricing is always an issue. My newest birdhouse sold before I could track it. Perhaps I need to do some time tracking of my own to discover the amount of time involved and see if I can hit the sweet spot in pricing. It's an unusual way of tracking art and crafting but hey, you never know! It might be interesting to find what people are willing to pay for an original, one of a kind item and if some items are valued more than others.

There's still time to order.  Visit for original, hand painted fine art and unique crating gifts!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Saving Every Little Thing

It's strange how something someone says or does ignites memories. Reading the profile of someone who favored an item of mine, I was struck by the effect her grandmother had on her and the effects my grandparents, aunts and uncles had on me. She mentioned how her gramma saved everything, recycled long before it became fashionable. I remembered the same things growing up. And my people were either from the Dakotas or from Depression era Germany after WW I. To their dying day NOTHING went to waste. My aunt had hundreds if not thousands of neatly folded plastic bags, aluminum bowls, gift wrap or boxes neatly packed away to be used again. Nothing went to waste. Emptying my uncles house was a nightmare. And my mother-in -law. We have a store of office and picnic supplies for years yet!

Quilting Is America's Only Unique Craft
Quilting is a unique American art. It all started here. There are many stories about how it came about but it boils down to the fact many Americans were in the wilderness and had to make do with what they had. Scraps of cloth, and especially, during the depression, old clothing that couldn't be patched anymore, were turned into something useful like a blanket for your bed. No central heating in those days. Nights were cold and winter's were long. You wrapped up in a blanket it not around the kitchen stove.

Patterns were developed as ways to disguise the piecing of fabric and over time they become more and more intricate. Quilting bee's were common especially in the Mid-West. It became both a production line and social gathering as fingers stitched and gossip was traded. What began as a necessity became an art. Even the Museum of Modern Art in New York City has a stunning collection of quilts.

While my parents were frugal over the years I've become much less so. I will open a drawer and be surprised to find something I just bought again. I didn't remember where it was so I got another. We have too much stuff. My wife, who wants to thin the herd so to speak, would never, ever consider a storage unit. Our garage looks like one right now. You really do have to wonder why anyone would need to fill a storage unit. Few houses today are small. If anything they are often double the sizes of the homes we grew up in. 

We are not saving because of bad times, we are storing because we have too much.  We've filled the house and thinking we may need it later, the storage unit. It would be interesting to see how many times people actually come to retrieve something as opposed to putting more in. Watching that show "Storage Wars" I'd say not too often. The way those storage units were packed how would you ever find anything?

Our economy would tumble though if everyone acted like we were living in a real depression as many think we are. It doesn't hurt to save not does it hurt to reuse. Remember that many a great master used their canvases more than once and some even painted on the back. Great art then does't come from new stuff, it comes from using what one has. i urge you all to keep that in mind.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

How To Fail And Still Win Big?

I have always been a great Dilbert fan and have over the years kept digital copies of the gems. I have also read many of Adams books and while very funny, sadly mirror too well the American corporate culture. A friend recommended his newest book and I immediately got it from Amazon and read it.

Scott Adams of DILBERT fame's newest!

While it has moments of humor, HOW TO FAIL AT ALMOST EVERYTHING AND STILL WIN BIG, it is also a journey of Adams life of wins but also many loses. In fact, he points out that often it is the losing that gives us the strength and knowhow to try again. He documents those loses in detail. It is probably the best book I have read about achieving success.

To me the most important part of the book, though there are many other points I will follow up on, is his separation of "goals" versus "systems." He makes a clear distinction that I never had thought of before.

Many of us have goals. We want to lose weight, we want to be better artists, we want to exercise more for a nicer appearance or for our health. So we start working towards that goal. He points out, truthfully I sadly admit, that goals are often broken with an amazing number of excuses and before we know it, we give up. How many of you have kept those New Years Resolutions beyond the first week?

He says a better way to achieve an end goal is to put a system into place. He uses as his example Ernest Hemingway. Every morning, before he did anything else, old Ernest would write 500 words. Every single day. That was his system. If could be more but never less. When he was done he could do whatever he wanted. Drink probably. Yet after a point in time those 500 words became a book. That may have been the ultimate goal but because he had a system in place, books became realities. They weren't hopes. They were not dreams. They became realities. We can do the same thing. An artist needs to find the best time of their day to be able to spend an hour to work at whatever they do. Get away from distractions, find the best time each day where you can leave the outside world and work on your skills.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book OUTLIERS also makes an important point when he says anyone could be anything they wanted IF they put 10,000 hours into it. He lists many who have achieved this very goal and for it to work, whether they consciously thought of it or not, they worked at it every day until they achieved what they wanted. They had a goal in mind, but a system in place. Mozart by age 8 had practiced enough each day with his father's guidance to write a concerto, Bill Gates by about 15 had coded enough to be an expert, and the list goes on and on.

What both authors are saying is that we need to do practice, practice practice. Practices are not goals, they are systems. They might lead us to a goal but the point with a system is doing, NOT wishing. He cautions that we need to not do so much we get bored and tired of it, but consistently a little every day. I know from my own experience that when I sit down everyday for an hour or two I become a little bit better. Stop for awhile and I have to work again on skills that I thought I had mastered. Like a fine machine, our skills "need" to be used and fine tuned. Systems help with those skills.

The next time you complain that you don't have the skills to do this or that, you should ask yourself, "is this a goal or have I been steadily working towards that skill with a system in place?" It makes a lot of sense. I say give it a try. I am.

Visit for a wonderful selection of Christmas gifts. You will find a wide array of birdhouses, craft items, acrylic and oil paintings and fine art photography. Any of these items would make wonderful, unique gifts.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Daring To Be Afraid

I don't know about you but when I start a new project, there is always an element of fear. I am excited to start but I am always afraid that it won't turn out the way I want. I am literally afraid of failure! Yet, even when I paint something I don't like, I realize that I have learned something. So, I have to remind myself, it really isn't a failure at all.

To tell the truth, my projects rarely end up the way I thought they would. Artists who are used to being daring and by tempting fate are not be afraid of what they are trying. I should learn that lesson too. However, I do believe that there IS a time and place for every project. Here is a perfect example.

WHITE FENCE by Alan Krug of KrugsStudio
This painting of a white fence in Descanso Gardens was a scene I saw several years ago. I loved the simple composition and the riot of colors but didn't feel I had the skills yet to capture this in a painting. Looking at photos I had taken and printed out a few weeks ago, I found this in my stack and set it aside. I seriously considered if I was ready yet. Finally, I decided I was.

Even though I haven't painted an oil painting now in over a year, I find that I am still using that technique with acrylics; working from dark to light. It seems to work for me and so ... that is what I continue to do. The other technique that my mentor has stressed over and over again is to paint from back to front. In fact, I covered that in an earlier blog. It's amazing how often though I try to violate that rule. I get wrapped up in some area and want to get it done and then realize I need those same paints in other areas. This painting is a perfect example of both issues. Let me tell you why!

This is only an 11" x 14" canvas and yet it took as long to paint as my larger canvases. The entire canvas was painted a deep, deep black green. At first glance it looks black until you put some black on it. I then sketched in the fence using a white pencil. Seems easy enough right? Wrong. Instead of putting in the fence that separated the foreground from the background I put in the foliage in the background behind the fence. First three tones of greens worked their way from back to the fence. Then three pinks were used starting on the right moving haphazardly to the left. That was the right thing to do until we came to the fence. The background spilled over the fence that was still only an outline.  Needless to say in I "had" to paint the off-white fence. I didn't want it to be glaring white. The grain clearly showed so I opted for a soft milk white instead. Then the flowers were added from right to left spilling over the fence creating a riot of pinks with leaves thrown in now and then. As I moved across, then yellows and Cad Red were added to favor the actual scene.

To create the dimensionality of the fence I used a soft grey to show the shadows cast by the flowers and outlines of wood grain. Suddenly it began to pop off the canvas. I dabbled the grey around the flowers and leaves creating a nearly realistic look that didn't detract. If anything I gave the flowers behind the fence far more dimension.

Before the foreground flowers were painted another dark green was used for leaves and stalks. Then the flowers were added again going from darker tones to lighter as the flowers moved from shade to light. My last items were the leaves that had no flowers but formed a foil for the colorful flowers. The visible dirt was build up from burnt umber, then a variety of tans and something I mixed from the colors left over from the flowers with white. Tips of yellow were added to the foreground flowers to give them depth as well.

Was this what I expected? Yes and no. It was definitely the painting I wanted to paint but yet it became something more. I proved to myself that I could handle the complexity if I stayed with a system. The mistake, if it was really a mistake, was to ignore the fence until nearly too late. In some ways it worked because the area behind the fence needed to be finished first. Painting the fence when I did enabled me to move from back to front without much of a sacrifice of time or paint. It also allowed me to be a bit sloppy and use the white to cover the mistakes behind the fence or on the fence. The system worked as both the areas behind and in front of the fence went from dark to light with no apparent sectioning of one or the other. It flows perfectly together.

I am proud of this piece. I was afraid of botching it up. Yesterday, starting again after two weeks it was very tempting to leave it unfinished because what had been done up to that point was exactly what I had hoped for. I was afraid the foreground would kill it. I moved past that fear and was able to finish what I had started.

I urge everyone out there, crafter, artist, writer, anyone to move past your fears. Learn from your failures as well as your successes. I read somewhere that to not fail is to not live. So?  LIVE IT UP!

Visit my store as there is still time to order for Christmas!


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Tale of A Wooden Christmas Ornament

Wooden Christmas Ornament by KrugsStudio
When my wife brought home wooden Christmas tree ornaments from the local craft store, I looked at them (now mind you I was encouraged to NOT buy any more things) and wondered, well, these LOOK like the fragile glass ornaments that most people have so...what do you do with them? Duplicate a glass decoration? At least it won't break when dropped (a common occurrence in our household with ancient English and German decorations and Labrador Retrievers with very active  tails). I wasn't really ready to accept the tried and true. I wanted something more. Something different.

There were three, and I would guess each one cost a paltry $1 each. So...what DO you do with them?

I thought long and hard and decided that no, I would not try to replicate the glass versions from 100 years ago. I would come up with something new. And new? Yes, my "Crazy Quilt" designs.

As It Began
It has been interesting to hear people comment about this series. At the Gallery SoHo in Pomona, CA, I have had an opportunity to tune in to actual conversations regarding this series. "OMG, look, these are painted fabrics on a birdhouse, tray or whatever." People are stunned. I remind them that they never have to worry about fading. It was painted on and then sealed. For me, those decorations using the "Crazy Quilt" designs seemed a natural. Here I show the one with a snowman and a gingerbread man but there are several more. One has two versions of a Christmas tree and the other is pretty freeform. Just a variant of fabrics with a star on a golden circle. To make the whole process easier, I used many of the same colors on all three but they turned out to be very different from each other ... which IS good! Each one has golden thread stitching all of the pieces together- well paint anyway.

I spent a great of time creating each one. The irony is that you can never ask as much in price for such an item as artists feel they can ask for their art. To me a canvas is a canvas. However, for every hour spent on a painting, and I am getting pretty good at creating those in a relatively short time, to the time spent on a ornament or birdhouse is disproportionate to the amount of time spent on a painting. While the painting I might ask $200, for a birdhouse even though in reality it took far more time to create and finish you would only ask from $40-60. Kind of an irony isn't it? There has to be an irony in this. IN fact, I visit craft stores all the time. While I am reluctant to criticize, I find those people who are reluctant to pay the price an "artist" asks as too high, I find their rational to justify a purpose at another store where millions of the same item are for sale as spurious. How dare they. How can they, though admittedly Thomas Kincaid was a master, justify asking those prices for a "copy?" And I ask you the same thing. Are you willing to pay $1000 for a giclee of a Thomas Kincaid painting yet are reluctant to spend a few hundred, or less for an original painting from an up ad coming artist? Many are. Kincaid's are counted in the thousands, an original as one. Now you know how the Peggy Guggenheim's got rich. They took a chance.

In this case we have an original Christmas ornament made of wood that could, in theory, last hundreds of years! The wood presented an idea, and the idea was transformed into something that I could and more importantly "wanted" to do. Check it out with more pictures at: Christmas is a-comin' and there are many really nifty items still being made by craftsman there.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The "Piggy" In The Piggy Bank

When I was a child, you know back when dinosaurs roamed the earth back in the 1950's, one of the very popular gifts we received as kids was a treasured piggy bank. In fact, I developed a fondness for pigs and make it a point to see them at the County Fair still. Of course with the gift we were reminded how important it was to save and to put as much in that bank as we could. Then there was the ritual of opening a saving account at the local bank and putting money in it now and then. I can remember squirreling away the passbook and pulling it out to see how my savings was growing. We even got interest, if anyone remembers what that is. A few hundred dollars back then was, to me at least, a lot of money. Much of it came from my paper route, a losing proposition except for the kind tips I would get.

Then in high school I had assorted jobs highlighted by being a busboy in a Chinese restaurant, owned by the next door neighbor of my best friend. While what the cooks were eating then is quite normal to me now here in Southern California, back in the early 60's Chinese-American was definitely an apt term for food we ate that no one in China had ever seen before.

We design and are designed by our parents with values that they hope will make us good citizens when we become adults. Saving, being frugal were much admired traits by parents and grandparents who had somehow survived the Great Depression. They knew what it was to wont and while I used to snicker at my Grandmother and Aunt saving every plastic bag, I realized as I got older they often didn't even have that to carry food they bought or could find. Habits die hard.

Where did we go wrong? What brought this up was a comment my wife made when looking for said "piggy bank." In several stores they had to look around, one with no luck, another with one choice. The same for Toys R Us. They had one choice, a meager plastic thing she would never buy. It hit me what a sad commentary this is to modern life. Rather than encouraging our kids to save, everyone encourages them to spend spend spend.

Think about it. Ads to buy pummel us at every turn. Now, even the Internet is finding more and more creative ways to sneak those ads in. In case you didn't know it, and should, every search on Google that you enter, the first four or five listings are PAID ads. Click on those and Google gets money. While it could be as little as a few cents per click, a 100 million clicks adds up to lots of cents. We, and especially our kids, are not being encouraged to save, we are being encouraged to spend.

Watching "Antiques Roadshow" I am amazed and often stunned by the values of items. One of the hottest things going today, and I noticed that a few replicas are starting to be made, is antique piggy banks. Someone had one in nearly pristine condition that was worth around $10,000. Can you imagine? For a piggy bank? I would bet, now this is Southern California and other areas of the country might be more frugal, that many of the households within a 15 mile radius of my house, have no piggy bank.

So, I would guess that "piggy" won out and as a debtor nation, there is nothing left in the bank.