Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Clash Of Cultures: A Trip To An Antique Store

I just spent a week down in Escondido staying at a time share. While we passed up the "opportunity" to spend even more on another time share (we struggle to use the week we have) it was a welcome break for both my wife who's a teacher and I realized, myself.  The aches and pains didn't go away but a change of scenery can do wonders.

Culture Clash!
While I am always on the prowl for a good art gallery (they are getting harder and harder to find, in CA anyway) every place has plenty of antique stores. The one we discovered in Del Mar, CA turned out to be a gold mine for my wife. She found a Singer "Feather Weight" sewing machine with just about all the attachments for far less that she has ever seen on eBay! In fact, she has lost many a bid on just this machine. For her its the perfect quilting machine.

For me, it was an overwhelming culture clash. Take a careful look at this photo. While heavily Asian in design, Chinese, Japanese, Pacific Islander mix willy nilly with ornate Western style gilt frames, cut glass, tables, shelves of indeterminate design and well, a whole lot more! In fact, this is one of many other consignment spaces, some even more jammed! Many look more like something straight out of the bar scene in the first "Star Wars" movie, a bar with "peoples" from every galaxy known to man! Talk about culture clash. The question I couldn't help but ask was, how can you find anything?

But, that's the point. You go in with a item in mind...whatever you collect. Once I started doing that myself, it was amazing how your mind filters all the rest away. Oh sure. There WERE unexpected discoveries, maybe a painting, a frame or box that you realized you could use. However, I had to laugh out loud when one space was selling a finished gourd for $22.00. By finished I mean that the rough growth texture was removed and it was smooth and finished like, well, a babies butt. Since we had been to the gourd farm in Fallbrook, we know you could get the same thing for about half of that and it would be drilled to be used as a birdhouse.

Like a flea market, maybe a bit elevated from that, your trash is going to be someone's cash.

The other thing that hit me was, someone, somewhere in time actually treasured all these items. I looked at much glass ... blue, green, red and Carnival glass, maybe cheap in their day but still used and treasured. What Grandma may have won in a movie theatre in the 1930's suddenly was worth many hundreds, a figure she would never have fathomed. Willow patterned china was next to Calico. I realized that if I ever really needed to see something to draw or paint in the flesh, head down to the nearest antique store. Most likely they will have some variant of what you want or will know someone who does.

Next time you visit any antique market check out what I found out. Ideas will jump out at you along with colors that until you see them together you would have never, ever used. There has to be an endless combination of still life scenes just waiting to be put together! Arrange and if you're not going to buy, your trusty smart phone can record the image for you to use when you get home.

Always, ALWAYS keep your eyes open for the next great subject. From the many vintage dealers I see on Etsy I know they do. As painters though, there is always some treasure that on a canvas might well be the best painting you have ever created!

Please visit for a wonderful line of craft and birdhouse items. Mother's Day is coming up and I offer a wonderful selection of items moms, sisters, aunts and grandmothers would love! Please be sure to visit, my new fine art studio store. This store is transitioning between KrugsStudio and its own fine art store.

Monday, April 28, 2014

IS "Heaven For Real?"

During my vacation, one of the things we did was see the movie "Heaven Is For Real." We paid an outrageous amount ($63 for three adult tickets) at Cinopolis somewhere in the Del Mar area.

Before I discuss the film, that I enjoyed a great deal, I have to pause and talk about movie theaters. Cinopolis is trying to create the "at home" experience. You have a little table with a light, two very nice leather chairs that recline almost as flat as a bed and a menu to bring snacks and drinks...even beer and wine. While it tries to be an at home experience, the sound is a little better and the screen a lot bigger it is not home. We sat a few rows up from the screen on the edge of the room. For $1.39 at RedBox I could have had roughly the same experience, paused it for potty and snack breaks AND I didn't have to drive home when the movie was over. I also would have been $60 richer. From what I saw Friday night, the only reason movies are making more money is that they are charging about three times what they charged even a few years ago. I would bet that total number of patrons is down.

Colman Burpo of "Heaven Is For Real"
After about 30 minutes of previews (wait, was this cable TV or NBC?), the movie managed to start. And what a movie!

"Heaven Is For Real" recounts the true story of a ministers 4 year old son who had a near death experience in the midst of a appendix operation. He survives and afterwards relates what he saw a little at a time. It is disconcerting especially to the good "Christians" in the town and church. I'm sure the book goes into far more detail, my wife assures me that it does, but the main story is there. Even to the Christian faithful, it seems a bit too much to swallow and the minister, already struggling with debt, finds his job on the line. Listening to Colton talk made me think of the line, "Come to me as little children." No one could then and even fewer can do that today.

I was raised a Lutheran, my father was Saxon German. After getting married I started going to the Methodist Church and both of our children were baptized and confirmed Methodists. So I am pretty mainline but find the Methodist Church at least encourages thoughtful discussion.

As any military man and now woman knows today, there are no atheists in the trenches of warfare. Many of us in our daily lives are also touched by some superior force if we but pay attention. Only after a literal near death experience in New Orleans in 2001, I was 30 minutes away from dying because of genetic blood disorder that caused pulmonary embolisms, I went from a believer to a BELIEVER! Later my pulmonary doctor told me somehow I had survived an earlier event that was misdiagnosed but I would not have survived the second. I became convinced I flew to New Orleans to be saved...and I was.

Colton's tale is not very different from those recorded around the world. People have recorded events like this in every culture and nation on earth. It seems to say whether you are Christian or Buddhist, Muslim, Mormon or Sikh or Hindu, God is trying to reach out to us. I heard the Dali Lama once say "To follow your tradition. ALL paths lead to God."

I truly believe God has a design for us. We are part of a greater plan. However, like artists everywhere, I, like you, am not sure what that design is. Maybe that is the challenge!

I do urge you to see the movie. See what you think. It espouses no line, if anything it is almost non-denominationall. It just wants to you consider Jesus if you are a Christian and God for everyone else. it has a slow start and the critics hated it. That alone makes me pay attention. Critics these days seem to only endorse movies that are violent, have too much sex and love it even more if the two are combined and are over the top. Wouldn't you love to see their Internet history trail.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Learning To Draw People

I have spent a lifetime avoiding the human figure. That said, I avoided a lot of other things as well. Trees, oil paints, landscapes. I was comfortable with things like houses, boats, piers, even a factory or two. I could see their edges and forms and went from there.

However, when I took my first oil painting class I discovered it was also a course in landscape painting. Me and trees? Definitely not a good combination. I did get down the mountains, distance coloring and with many struggles the trees. A teacher in a class I took in Vegas got us to see how a tree was constructed and that painting hangs in my home office still. That was my breakthrough and I am not afraid of trees anymore.

While there are 7 billion of us on earth the idea of painting people has always remained daunting. A close friend suggested I try but then when a customer commented on the quality of my crafts but the less than stellar people on some of them, I decided to act. Baby steps.

I brought paper, pencil, a BIG eraser and Chris Hart's book FIGURE IT OUT: The Beginners Guide To Drawing People and try to spend a little time each day mastering the human form.  I am still on heads, one of the most important parts anyway but have been surprised at what makes a good head. A few simple strokes changes everything.

I'm not ready to share, but if you like me struggle with people, there are some good books out there.  While I'm sure there are videos as well, they'd  go far to fast for me.

Visit for wonderful crafts and fine art.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Taking A Break.

This week is my wife's Spring Break. A 4th grade teacher with Leadership Day and Open House all on the same week before her "break," it's an understatement to say this will be a low key week.

However, I realized that it will be for me as well.  The cycle of doctors appointments, physical therapy with mind numbing exercises to tame those nerves (exercises which do continue on vacation by the way), working on new projects have all taken their toll. The sciatica will not get better - I hurt all the time so I find myself weighing what I will and will not do.

I have not handled my trifecta of diseases well. Maybe in my own hubris I neglected the warning signs until each one followed the other finally with limiting effects.  In many ways it has humbled me. The surprise was the willingness of some to help. You expect the loss of know, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. That sort of thing. What we find hard to accept is that hidden in the shadows are those who want to help and enjoy you as you are. As many can probably attest, accepting that is hard.  To be hardy, robust and perfectly capable is the norm.  We never plan for the day when you are no longer hardy or robust or find caring for yourself is difficult.  Where each step shoots pain from top to bottom in ways you never thought possible.

There is another side though that has surprised me as well. By limiting my mobility, I have found that my creativity level has climbed.  It seems that a bit of stillness makes you more contemplative, better able to solve design problems there on the edge of cognizance.

The perfect example was the rocket birdhouses.  Tall, wood, relatively ugly birdhouses I picked up at Michael's no doubt on sale.  They've been around a few years at least. Maybe I envisioned a flower power motif but looking at them recently I cringed at that thought. Waking up one morning after a particularly rough night, I saw in minds eye clearly what I wanted. A rocket going through space.  Not just any space either.  With planets, solar systems, stars, galaxies, you know the works. The question was how do you do that?

I'm sure few people think of artists, particularly, as problem solvers but we are.  Every time you pick up a brush, pastel, pencil or pen, you're attempting to solve how you will get what you see inside your mind onto something that anyone can see.  As I started to sketch the outlines of the rocket, captains windows, portholes, the idea of the rocket and space merging made sense.  Saturn below as the rocket barreled on into stars and galaxies became a metaphor for mans yearning to break free.  See what's out there.

There comes a time though when we need to unclutter our minds.  Read a few good books, travel, see long put off movies or recorded TV shows, visit museums even see old friends. Activities that allow our minds to rest, absorb new ideas, chill.

I have to admit it's not easy but I realize I have plenty to do when I return home.  There is nothing I can do about it before so why not chill? Which reminds me, my murder mystery is due is a few days so I better get back to see who "done" it!

Visit Unclutter your minds too!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Is It Time To Find A Manufacturer In Asia?

Several years ago I became painfully aware that the items I was using, birdhouses, trays, and other craft items were subpar. It was painful to realize that for all the time and work I would put into something, the "surface" was less than ideal. Then, when after more than several coats of Varathane, my favorite birdhouse hanging outdoors came apart I realized that I needed to find better products as my standard surface so these kinds of problems would be a thing of the past. Michael's and Hobby Lobby just weren't going to cut it.

Wozniaks Conundrum
After looking at suppliers on Etsy whose pricing would put my initial cost at around $20 each, I designed about 6 birdhouses and had a friend with ties to Chinese manufacturers look into having them made. I then balked at the cost of $15,000 to buy and ship to the states. Even more, what would I do with all those birdhouses? I thought maybe I could wholesale the blanks, and use what I wanted for my creations. After contacting a few of the retail sellers with stores on the Internet, I realized that they could buy something similar for about my same cost before I marked it up. No one was interested. That project died stillborn.

Today though, I read that Etsy is going to promote Etsy sellers and give them the opportunity to sell to major retailers. The fee is $100 for a year with the standard 3.5% selling fee when the sale is complete. Since they opened the floodgates last year for mass production of items designed by Etsy store owners, I guess it would be the next logical step.

However, it puts owners like me at a terrible disadvantage. You have to laugh at Wozniaks conundrum shown above as he struggled to make the first Apple computer. For a creative person we do well to get one item made, let alone many. Here he tried to marry a by now an old analog system, the Remington Typewriter to a CRT of the new digital age. This is just about how I feel. A creative artist suddenly competing against the mass production of items once sold singly to maybe millions. As, as well all know, Apple too migrated to China.

Today I make one, maybe up to three of the same design but because everything is hand sketched and hand painted, there are differences from the first to the last. Its inevitable. What steps does one follow to make more? The allure of success beckons but as we all know, the public has fickle taste.

The problem as I see it are many. They include:

  • Finding a reliable quality surface
  • Finding a manufacturer who will be that "reliable" source
  • Being able to afford that source
  • Finding clients that are interested
  • Finding the manufacturer that can replicate faithfully the original design
  • Organizing the sales and shipments of the products
  • Keeping up with a stream of new products
  • Finding even more new clients to replace those that fall by the wayside
  • Setting up and managing a business something creative types are lousy at
  • Remaining creative
I am sure I missed a few other steps but you get the point. The creative process really can't be taught. You can learn techniques, you can copy but there has to be a spark in each artist that makes them original. Malcolm Gladwell says that you can do anything if you're willing to spend 10,000 hours doing it. However, I would question whether one could become a Monet, Sargent, Turner or Picasso with just the repetitive hours in hand. There is something that can't be taught, some divine spark that transforms some artists from being merely good, to sublime.

So, the conumdrum for me is do I want to do this? Do I want to take what I create and sell them to the world? I don't know but I think that now, I would be willing to try!

Visit You won't have to worry about finding anything in my store in Home Goods or Tuesday Morning!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Designing Landfill Trash

Anyone growing up in the United States generally from the Great Depression lived in the best of times and for a long period, starting in late 1929, the worst of times. Despite the worst of times many breakthroughs, computers and TV's come to mind, were made that paved what would become the best of times.

For centuries, nay millennia, items that were owned in a home were passed down from generation to generation. The Industrial Revolution both reduced the time it took to create something new and made those items much more affordable. It also introduced the idea that an item could become "disposable" by choice not just when it broke or couldn't be repaired anymore.

The venerable AT&T Model 500 Phone
This very fact was made quite clear yesterday when the charger I used to keep both my iPhone / iPad and Bluetooth earphone charged in the car died. I'm not sure when this happened but the red light didn't come on anymore. I hadn't used the truck much over the past few months so taking it apart found that the fuse had blown, or so I thought. A trip to RadioShack for a new fuse proved abortive, there was now an ominous rattle and the light never returned.

For some reason, our old AT&T phone sprang to mind. That thing was tough. I mean it went through two kids, two parents and lasted decades. We went from a two party line, to single party, then direct dialing using the same old phone. In those days you either remembered the phone number or had nearby some kind of a phone book. About the only phone number I am sure of today is my cell phone number (after a hesitation) and my home landline number. Here, in my hand as I walked to the trash, was a plastic cigarette lighter plug-in barely two years old that for some reason committed suicide. Clearly it was never designed to take the kind of abuse the Model 500 did from its many falls through the years. You know what? It didn't look any worse for wear the last time I saw it either.

Today, everything we buy seems to have a short shelf life. No matter how well or expensive clothes are, fashions change so fast that "in" today is "out" tomorrow. Used clothes have created their own industry for those less "in." Cars, literally computers with wheels, change technically so fast you feel pressured to buy for the latest safety features. However, I read recently the average age of cars in the US is 11 years. Considering the number of recalls the past year you don't know whether to buy new or sit tight.

Everything is like this. In fact, the consumer is so important today that if the buying machine stalls even a little bit Wall Street reacts with a nose dive and the GSA makes dire predictions of future economic activity. So, manufacturers clearly do NOT want things to last very long. Where once a manufacturer could and would brag about the quality of their product, they tout its "technical" advantages full well knowing that more will follow next year. No? Think of cell phones. The new Samsung Galaxy 5s just came out. Bigger this, faster that, creating a phone you can barely hold anymore. The downside though is that everything before is toast. Did we really need yet another phone? No, not really. Its just a manufacturer trying to increase its bottom line. The same with everything. Cooking pans that barely keep their coating a year, refrigerators that last maybe ten years when the venerable old 1950's GE lasted decades, the landline phone that lasts three years if you're lucky?  Three? Well, factor in the cost of the new batteries it needs, you might as well get a new one. However, that is dicey as the programming gets more and more complicated with each new model. After three years I got my nephew to set both the time and date on my AT&T phone. I finally am not living in 2021! My iPhone settings take seconds to correct. If only most things worked that way.

Next time you empty your trash, think about this. How many of the items were broken from poor design, shoddy construction, cheap materials or all three? Then consider, did we want this? When you purchased it, were you looking for items that were designed to fail? In a short time? So, manufacturers ARE designing landfill trash because we, the buyers, are not demanding better just more. Maybe its time to re-think our positions. We might stumble a bit but there is nothing wrong with demanding better products with our hard earned money. Those that get it will thrive. Others not.

Visit to see hand designed or hand painted products that will complement your home for years to come.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Art Teachers: When Is It Time To Move On?

Nearly everyone needs or needed a mentor sometime in their life. If you think back carefully enough you may have been lucky to have such a person. Whether a parent, teacher, friend, co-worker or boss it was this person who gave you the courage to go on.

That said, it should also be pointed out that many of us never have had this person, or, one that had your best interests in mind. Belonging to a gang or any stripe usually means that the whole is better than the individual. Interestingly enough, gangs organize themselves pretty much along the same lines as the military. There must be some programming in our genetic code. As for the military it is all ABOUT the group.

Having an artistic mentor didn't really apply much to me until I was in my late 50's. I took up what I found out later was "tole" painting because I wanted something artistic to do, that was cheap and didn't take up much space. Since I loved Pennsylvania Dutch (could it be because my Dad was Saxon?) I bought cheapie birdhouses and decorated them. People were surprised and with each one I got better and better. It was later that my daughter suggested I open an Etsy store since my creations were that different. She was right. Sales started out slow but have grown each year and I too have become even more adventurous. 

The rejected WATERLILIES
 I had always wanted to learn to paint with oils and finally found a person whose style I liked and seemed a good fit for me. Definitely a senior in her 80's, she painted in the loose style that I hoped to emulate. And for awhile it worked. However, after taking classes with other teachers and going outdoors with another group my style began to change. It grew farther and farther away from my teacher's and after one painful evening of critique on several of my, at the time, proudest paintings that I had done on my own and not in class, angry to the point of tears, I silently put my paintings in the car, finished the remaining sessions and never took another class from her again.

I had already moved on. Now, I am at the same crossroads again. My style has matured and is again very different from my current teacher / mentor. That was brought home to me after a series of paintings I did at home recovering and finishing a painting I had started before my surgery. It was a wonderful still life, one that I was even amazed I had done or that I could do. It was at the very end, the moment when it was exactly what I wanted, that comments were made about adding another color that would, to me, deaden the dark background from the brilliant subject. I didn't want to do it but, at her suggestion I added the color. When I got home I removed what I could and at that moment realized the time had come to move on.

I also realized it is a fine line between suggestion, pointing out what maybe another might consider a flaw and respecting what the artist did. I know from other times that if everyone draws the same thing, it comes out very different. I remember the first time I got up, went to the back of a class to see my painting and was stunned to see that most of the others were different, I mean DIFFERENT from what the teacher was teaching us. I became aware at the moment that we all "see" differently.

I did reach out to painting friends for suggestions, art groups to join, teachers to check out and received in return nothing. Not one response. I guess art, like writing is a lonely endeavor. What Van Gogh wrote about over 100 years ago is still true. Art is a lonely road. 

I am not giving up by any means, in fact just created some of my neatest birdhouses yet. There are also two paintings waiting to be done and so ... life moves on.

Please visit KrugsStudio to see my new letterbox and birdhouses. Birds in space?

Friday, April 11, 2014

WAS American Artist, Thomas Kincade, "The Painter of Light" A Good Artist?

Thomas Kincade
You know how once in awhile, one of those sites you signed up for and then ignore suddenly comes up with a real zinger? I was hitting the delete button the other day when I spotted the question posed above on, one of those sites that I still can't actually get a handle on. THAT question though did get my attention.

I can remember when the Kincade phenomena started back in the 90's. Kincade seemed to do with art what Garth Brooks did to Country Music. They merchandised it and made fortunes doing it! NASCAR did the same thing as have all the major sports.

The consensus of the replies on Quora was that he was not much of an artist by any critical standards but that he was a brilliant businessman. Well, that was true until he wasn't. He had huge bills and the lawsuits were piling up.

Kincade made a fortune by marketing his work, extraordinarily well, by making art that his audience liked and by appealing to their sense that most art out there today was elitist. First off, his art is sentimental kitsch. Kincade famously called himself the "Painter of Light," but as other critics have pointed out, his technical ability to depict light is sorely lacking or ignored. As an artist who imitated the effects of Impressionism, at some point to extremes, his paintings lack the challenging use of color and form that characterizes Impressionists that made their art such a breakthrough. It is noted as well that he doesn't demonstrate careful observation of nature either. You would never mistake a Kincade for a Monet. He was, as a friend points out, a powder room artist.

In many ways, Kincade was an Andy Warhol figure without Warhol's irony. Kincade however, was a savvy marketer and got people to open galleries of his prints, charge outrageous prices for them and found an audience that was willing to pay. It all goes to show that people love art, but what that art may be, is not what the critics like. As I pointed out earlier, it was the public not the critics who loved the 1913 Armory Show. Kincade's saccharine scenes remind me of the drivel that covers the walls in just about every hotel and motel in America...or for that matter Europe as well.

He literally gave his audience what they wanted...again and again. I can remember one couple interviewed on "60 Minutes" who had over 130 of his pieces. Can you imagine? 130 prints of those images? They didn't want to be challenged artistically, they wanted to feel comfortable and good.

The Hay-Wein by John Constable
Kincade understood that. He never challenges, instead he conjures up a world that never existed, in another time thought to be simpler, more harmonious, peaceful. The challenges of the real world today, even for the simplest job is in many ways far more complex that most jobs were even 20 years ago. Kincade came along at the right time with the right product and made a fortune. Is there anything then wrong with his art? No, not really. But we cannot, should not hold it up as one of the standards of good art either.

It is interesting to consider another "painter of light," most notably John Constanble who is credited with creating the modern landscape back in 1750's England. There is no doubt that Constable knew how to use light and he used it to full advantage. It is interesting to note though that there are similar elements in both of these artists. While Constable was recording life as he both saw and lived it, looking at these scenes 200 plus years later we find they reflect a totally different time and place, one where there wasn't all news all the time. Things were unhurried and compared to today, leisurely. Yet, would we really want to live there and then? REALLY? Where disease and filth were the standards of the day? Manure and garbage covered the streets, and a simple cold could mean a quick death.

The difference, more than anything else was that Constable recorded what he saw, presenting it in the best light possible. Kincade uses these same elements to appeal to another time. Constable wasn't pandering, Kincade was. He understood what his audience wanted and it wasn't the end of the 20th Century, it was somewhere in an unadorned and bucolic mid 18th Century.

New York, Central Park at Sixth Avenue by Thomas Kincade
Was his art always this way? Heavens no. His early, struggling years produced some wonderful art, art that has not been tainted yet by nostalgia and lack of discernment. Somewhere along this road he hit upon his style, found a audience that was willing to pay and capitalized on it.

One of the most fascinating things though about his art, is that he never sold the originals. Ever. Everything he sold was a print or a giclee of the original. Are the originals worth anything? We may never know. His galleries however continue to sell his prints and critics are finally taking a closer look at his early, very impressionistic works. (See his view of New York City, left, before the kitsch period) He wasn't bad and in some cases his art is both touching yet remains challenging and intriguing in ways the works he is known for aren't.

Ultimately what someone thinks of art, or his art, is really "in the eyes of the beholder." Kincade knew this and marketed it well, very well!

I urge you to Google Kincade's early work and look at his early years. He was growing as an artist producing works that could rival many of his contemporaries. If anything, you will be like me, sorry for what could have been!

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Come On iTunes, Let's Get It Right!

I don't know about you, but I am sick and tired of reading or hearing about a great new iPhone / iPad  app, a "must have" the critics and geeks write and talk about that when you go to get it, or at least check it out, the iTunes store says there is no such app. If this has happened to me once, it has happened 100 times. And you know what? I'm sick of it.

Jony Ives hasn't gotten to this yet. It will be "flat" soon 
This really was brought home last night when I deleted an app I use to find out the listings on my Charter Communications cable. Zap2It was acting wonkie, especially after the botched changeover by Charter from what they had, a mix of analog and digital to who knows what. If its all digital now, you couldn't prove it by me. Since Charter has done what I consider one of the worst roll out jobs in changing their lineup and channels, Zap2It has ceased to work. Nor has TV Guide or any of the iPhone TV apps, if you can find them. Use the Charter App you say. Even with my Charter bill in front of me, I couldn't log on. I gave up.

I deleted Zap2It and was going to re-install it only to find, yup, you guessed it, the Apple App store telling me yet again that app didn't exist, though it had a few minutes before. I guess since it didn't work anyway, there was no loss.

What is it with the iTunes store? In fact, what is it with Apple? It seems each upgrade from around iOS 6 for mobile / tablets and 10.9 for computers, each one is worse than the one before. What was easy has become incredibly hard. Example: I am trying to clean out my iPhoto files and transferring them to an external drive and burning a back-up DVD. Before you just dragged them over from iPhoto and whatever description you had went as well. Now, you have to export and make darn sure that you have checked all the correct boxes so the info you spent hours on in iPhoto travels as well. No more drop and drag and if there is, it is so hard to find in preferences I gave up.

In fact every "simple" program that Apple once had and was known for is now more complicated than Windows, almost across the board. I remember a parody by the Microsoft people on how they would design an iPod box in the "Microsoft" style. Apple iPod boxes were Zen like with only a name, a logo and a photo. The MS version was so complicated they even had to add a fold over flyer to include all the information, crap really, they felt you had to have. Less than a year later, when the Zune came out (remember them?) their box looked exactly like the parody. And like the parody, the Zune disappeared from sight.

It seems to me that when an editor, columnist, talk show hosts and talking heads talk about a great app, it should be in the Apple Store. Searchable. In fact, because it was often heard but not seen, variations of the name should be included as well. We shouldn't need a degree in computer science just to find the thing. Better yet, if it isn't yet available, say available only as a beta test, don't give it to anyone to review.

Let this be a word to the wise. There may be great apps out there lurking in iTunes; good luck finding them.

Check out What you see is truly, what you'll get!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Who Would Have Ever Guessed That Ford Motor Co. Was All About Great Design?

Yesterday, I spent the day with my wife's new to her, 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid, Ford's cute little answer to the Toyota Prius. Reports on the car have been good and several car magazine's thought it was, in fact, a better value and all around better car than the Prius. Really? From Ford? Hollywood must be in shock. While they may be the "beautiful" people, they seem to love ugly duckling cars. And the Prius, from first to current model, is certainly an ugly duckling.

I'm not sure if it was developed first in Europe where gasoline prices hover around $8-10 a gallon, but last summer C-Max's were thick as fleas in Europe. They even make a slightly larger S-Max, something Ford should seriously consider for sale here in the states as well.

We first checked them out soon after my surgery when our 8 year old Buick started acting weird. We have friends who bought a C-Max just after they came out who extolled its virtues. We weren't in the market so agreed it was amazingly roomy for its size. In fact, it was darn cute.

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid
When her car started acting up I thought my wife would want the Ford Escape or something in that size...smaller than the Buick but bigger than the C-Max. However, she took to it like a duck to water. After a trip to the desert where we noticed the transmission slipping, we started looking seriously. Back to the dealer, a test drive and after half hearted haggling we decided to move on.

Never say never to my wife. She found her car and before I knew it, she found one on the CarMax web site and it was in Irvine, CA. I called and had them bring it up. Why it would take four days to drive an hour is anyone's guess but once the car arrived, a few days later, we went over to see it. Here she is above in her pearl white glory.

We went prepared too. Pink slip, check book, debit cards, we were ready. And it was still cute. My wife insisted I drive it because the Matrix she bought I hated. After stalling it about four times on our street (it was a 6-speed and trust me no BMW in the shifting department) I never drove that car again. So, I got behind the wheel and if you have never driven a hybrid, you pay far closer attention to the dashboard. When turned on there is no sound, nothing, NADA. It is totally silent. You look for the message..."The car is ready to drive." And, it is. On the freeway the salesman said, "Give it some gas." The sound is hardly encouraging and I thought, OMG it will take forever to just reach 60! Then I looked at the speedometer and saw I was going 75 mph. I guess it can go up to 110 mph not that that's legal anywhere in the U.S. Your highway milage might suffer too. Its supposed to get 45 mpg city. We haven't reached that level yet.

After about a month we still have yet to put another tank of gas in it. In fact, after the first week, my wife said the gas gauge doesn't work. We started a list. Then a day later she noticed that the gauge had moved about a 32nd of an inch. It really and truly sips gas.

When my wife noticed in a recent rain that the windshield had pits in it I went out to look myself. Looking at it with the sun shining through I realized that it had been pitted...a sandstorm? Who knows. More important, who cares. We keep our cars until they rust through and a pitted windshield only gets worse. Back to CarMax several times yesterday to get the windshield replaced I got a chance to try the car out. While I love my GMC pickup, I had an absolute ball with this car. The service people did too.

Driving home with a new windshield I decided that this car was definitely a keeper. For once, a car company decided to listen to their buyers and cram as much of what they wanted in one small car that was fun to drive and economical to own. Around town you can carry 4 people in style. On a long trip it is too small for 4 and their luggage but for two perfect. The back seats fold completely flat and with all the other amenities, you would travel in style. I really liked that the key fob opens the tailgate with a double click. Once loaded, you push another button and the tailgate lowers and locks itself. You don't even need to wiggle a foot.

Good design, no matter where, is rewarding. Not only for the buyer but the seller as well. If your customers love your products, they reward you with more purchases and really good word of mouth. If you have a lousy products you will soon join the ranks of the unemployed. While it is never easy, once learned, good design begins to multiply within itself. Look at Apple. First Apple Computers, then the MacIntosh, the iPod, the iPhone and the list goes on and on. Since todays cars ARE nothing but computers on wheels, car companies had better pay closer attention to their buyers. Ford has. While I agree the Sync system they tout is hard to use, it was a snap setting up our iPhones on the C-Max system. Now when you call, we don't have to lift a phone. The car does all the heavy lifting all by itself!

Always demand better! Reward those that give it.

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The Second Round: Its All About Composition

Surfin' California Birdhouse by KrugsStudio
I remember reading as a teenager that the great Tchaikovsky was commissioned to write his two great ballets "Swan Lake" and "The Nutcracker" by the great Russian ballet director Ivan Vsevolozhsky. Being the artist that he was, he chaffed at the details of what he had to write. While "Swan Lake" was completely written under this tight regimen, after about half of "The Nutcracker" was written to tight control until he complained about how many bars for this dance or that so the reigns were loosened. Some say for the worse.

The point is, sometimes we create our greatest works when there are limits. The world's greatest, well ALL, architecture has limits. Architects usually have time, money, and space constraints and struggle to make the greatest statement with what they had. Think of these iconic buildings and you will know what I mean: The Eiffel Tower, The Parthenon, The Great Pyramids, The Great Wall of China, Hoover Dam, the old and new Trade Towers, the Golden Gate Bridge, all iconic in their designs yet serving their functions extremely well.

California Dreamin' Birdhouse by KrugsStudio
I completed my second version of my first birdhouse commission yesterday and sent photos of both versions to the client. While I envisioned California on the first, rectangle birdhouse, it was the second attempt using many of the same elements on a round version that it came together. As I worked on it, I thought about Monet and his many versions of waterlilies. There is nothing more pleasing and soothing than being at the Met and seeing his nearly 180º painting of his beloved waterlilies. Any single part of it leaves you breathless and taken as a whole, stunned. How could he have captured this and not only this but the many variations before and after? Is it man's nature to continue to try and hopefully improve? Do we restrict ourselves when we try just one version of something? How many more possibilities are there out there?

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art had a wonderful retrospective on the work of Ansel Adams years ago. One room was devoted to nothing but possibly his greatest photograph, "Moonrise Over Hernandez, New Mexico." I had a chance once to buy a print signed by him for $500 but we were a new family and that money was needed elsewhere. I learned later that after he died, similar prints were now worth over $10,000. We can always remember I guess what could have been and just move on.

Since visiting the site of the photograph, not changed much in the 30 or so years that intervened, I was always drawn to the Adams photograph. He captured both the desolation and the eerie beauty of the place. However, what fascinated me was that from that very first photograph he never stopped improving it. As you circled the room you saw the evolution of the photograph until you see what is the definitive version we see today. It took many years and many prints but finally he achieved what he saw in his minds eye. The image that blew me away though was the 4 ft. x 5 ft. print of what was pretty much his final version. If there was ever a lesson in never giving up, Adams had shown, at least me, the way.

As you can see clearly here, the composition on both birdhouses is pretty much the same. However, and its a big difference, is that the composition "feels" different on the two different surfaces. While the square birdhouse has wonderful, almost seamless transitions from side to side, the design really flows on the round surface. There is no corner, no sudden stop in the design and as you turn it, you easily move from one idea to another. Before you know it, you are back at the beginning.

Is one better than the other? It depends. The client picked the round version. I agreed. They are both interesting in their own ways but the client had a vision in his mind and as I continued to develop the concept I found that I agreed with him as well. I urge everyone to not try just one but several. It may seem boring, but as I learned early on and am forcing myself to learn again, there IS much to be learned the second and third time around.

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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Should We Depend On A Photograph?

Some artists, though in reality not all that many, paint outdoors. A few years ago I joined a local plein air group that went out every Friday to paint. For some reason, Fridays seemed to be really crappy days and so there were about as many days I didn't go as I went. Either it was cold, windy, rainy, yes, even here in "sunny" California, or so hot the paint dried on the brush before you could paint it on the canvas. And, it was oil!

Multnomah Falls, Oregon
Painted, Multnomah Falls, OR
However, when I did go, it taught me a lot and how to be speedy. Speedy you ask? Sure. From the time you started and hopefully finished a few hours later you realized those shadows had moved, the colors had changed. In the summer, quite a lot. After that, I always took a photo of the exact spot when I started, from the exact angle where I was painting. It was to be my reference for those annoying little "details" that always seem to be needed later on.

It was the memory of this painting that caused me to pause when I read that another painter wasn't so sure that painting from photos was a good idea. As you can see here, what I saw at Multnomah Falls, or at least what the camera saw, and what I painted are different. Oddly, the straight RAW photo had far more color and details and it was that, that I drew from!

My first experience with this dilemma, was one of those strange SoCal days that opened my eyes. I had found a quiet pond in Descanso Gardens in La Cańada / Flintridge, CA that just begged to be painted. There was a small waterfall that trickled into the pond filled with koi that would bob up to be fed. The setting was amazing. This was November but, as usual, the skies were clear with a stray cloud now and then. In the midst of painting I heard thunder and looking up noticed a few more clouds but the day remained bright and sunny. Suddenly, the sky darkened and before we could react it poured. I mean POURED. It literally washed the oil paint off the canvas.

We were ALL drowned rats and my paintbox filled with water. We were afraid to run. It was a choice, stand under the tree or make a mad dash for the clubhouse. We stayed in place. A few minutes later I drove home all wet and miserable. I realized though, the beautiful canvas I had started was gone. All that remained was the acrylic underpainting. I hurriedly printed out the photo and began to paint again.

The first thing I noticed however, was that the photo didn't resemble anything I remembered. As the shadows moved I changed what I saw. The photo saw everything, I mean EVERYTHING while my mind had selected parts I wanted to focus on and ignored the rest. After struggling for another hour, I gave up, put the paints away, dried out the paint box and waited until the following week. I arrived at the same time as I had before, drove the painters who thought they wanted to paint there away and got down to work. It just wasn't the same. I couldn't capture the magic and near breakthrough I had managed the week before. I did the painting, and for weeks after tried to play with the waterfall changing this and that over and over again. The photo was no help. Shadows were different, maybe my mood was different, I was never happy with it. A niece saw it and fell in love with it. That Christmas I framed it and gave it to her. I look at it when I visit and can only see the failure.

As you can see in the painting above, done from a trip last summer, there are many differences. Color, I brought forward what I thought was important and let other details recede. I think that all artists do this. I know the artist who wrote that column did. If anything, he was very clear that great art, or any art, is very subjective. There are things in a scene that captivate us, things we focus on. Other things, we ignore or let fade in the background because they don't either move us or add so much detail that they overwhelm what we see in "mind's" eye.

I used a photo to paint MULTNOMAH FALLS. I was traveling with relatives and far from home had no paints. It is not my best work by any means. Should I have painted it? By all means. Was it a lesson, again, an emphatic YES! I would say however, that before we say no, no, no, we do need to study a scene that we might paint, capture it as we always have with the difference being, study the photo, study what you remember in your mind and THEN paint. You never know what might happen. It was the final few hours of the falls that made me realize what I had felt about the falls, years of seeing it as a child growing up, that made me pick what I wanted to show and what I wanted to leave out.

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