Friday, March 21, 2014

Tale of Three Pagoda's

A few years after I started painting birdhouses and craft items I hit upon the idea of buying three of a style, especially if they were on sale. I don't know why as I hadn't even heard about Etsy yet. I guess I figured they would make wonderful gifts. Three seemed like a good number and was an efficient use of time! One design, three products!  I could use the same design on three items rather than just one and paint them all together. By the time I finished a color on the third one, the first one would be dry. Not hard to do with the use of acrylic paints!

It was an interesting concept and after a few years I did manage to sell most of the items I had created three of after I opened my Etsy store. Each one was hand painted after being hand sketched so while they were similar they were still original hand painted, one-of-a-kind items.

Raw, Unpainted Pagoda Birdhouse
On one of my early buying sprees, I picked up three pagoda birdhouses. They have sat in the garage for years. Truth be told, I just didn't know what to do with them. One day, looking at all the loot I have picked up over the years I came across two pot metal dragons I picked up on a trip to Quartzite, AZ. They have a gem show every winter and I always browse the venues to see what they have. On a whim, I picked up two dragons.

Dragons in hand I then scoured the garage to see where I could use them. I vaguely remembered the pagodas and found them...all three of them. Picking up the first one, I sanded the rather rough exterior and then brought it in to my work desk.

iPad in hand, I searched the web for photos of Asian temples. I was surprised at the variety. So many colors, designs, complexity! As I looked closely at each one, I discovered design ideas that I could use, even in a simplified form. There was no way I would ever be able to duplicate those designs on a small wooden birdhouse. Here are the results.

Three Birdhouse Pagodas by KrugsStudio
My first attempt was the red pagoda. I had planned from the beginning was to use the dragons on the roof and luckily realized they faced in and not out on the roof. I decorated balconies, doorways and was faithful in creating a tile looking roof. Red is a popular temple color so with golden accents it was certainly different than anything else I had ever created.

But I wanted more. A close Chinese friend and I talked about Chinese art and temples and he gave me a brief lesson about the temples, their decorations, traditions, how they used dragons.

The golden birdhouse was literally spray painted gold. I was able to get the insides, outsides and everything else in-between gold! I decided to wrap a dragon around the base and use wisteria branches coming down all the sides. It was a dramatic contrast and wasn't so ornate. It was more in line with what I felt were Western tastes. However, the motifs were definitely Asian just simplified! You can see more detailed photos on my Etsy store. A wisteria branch wraps around the roof and on each of the six sides the wisteria blossoms hang down.

The last pagoda, the copper colored one on the right (above) was the most detailed and complex. My friend explained and sent me many photos showing temples with dragons,  explained their use of colors, what they meant and how they were to be placed. It seems that if one dragon faces left, the next one faces right. The standard body colors are either blue, red and yellow or gold. Every dragon chases an orb that represents the sun. EVERYTHING is very stylized and a proper temple has a phoenix at the top.

I used a blue, then red and finally a yellow dragon on each tier of this birdhouse. The first balcony has a stylized sea where the dragon both resides and rises from. Some fly so the top balcony has stylized clouds against a blue sky. On top is a fiery phoenix symbol in all cultures of rebirth!

I have never tried to create this complex or such a unique birdhouse before. As complex as I felt Rosemaling was, this is far, FAR more complex, more detailed. As in all art, the elements are meant to flow into each other. Whether I got it right or not, it does create a unique statement. I included the elements I could do and tried to be faithful to the concept of a temple since I realized I could never include all of the almost overwhelming details.

The lessons learned here are:

1. Never give up. If the first one doesn't work right, try again. While I am proud of all of the birdhouses, it is the final and most complex one that I am the proudest of. It showed me that I could learn and adapt and with time and patience excel.

2. There is always more than one way to create something. Even the same theme can often be used over and over again if seen in different lights such as time of day, season, emotional feeling, colors, style and most important skill. Think Monet's "Church at Rouen" or his haystack series. The church shows the same location at different times of the day. Seen together, you realize how different a place can be during the day! The other shows haystacks at different times of the year.You will find that even if you do the same thing over and over, each time you become more proficient, more skilled. While I didn't want to create the same thing three times here, I did want to create something more and more authentic, more complex yet in deference to what I could handle. As I was trying to do that, I also became more aware of the history, tradition and how I could and would interpret it.

If you have never tried this, I urge you to do so. I fought for years this very concept asking myself, "Why would I ever want to do the same thing again?" After I did it a few times I began to understand why, you just become better and better at it!

Please visit for more photos of these birdhouses and the wide selection of crafts and fine art I feature there. Thank you for visiting.

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