Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What You CAN'T Do At The Apple Store

By assessed market valuation, Apple Computer is the most valuable company in the world. With a stock price slowly regaining its high value, a share will set you back $624.56 as of today. The company is valued at $538.34 billion. That is more GDP than 80% of the countries in the world create in any given year. It might be even higher. Maybe Cupertino can become a city state along the lines of the Vatican City. They act like it.

Gotta Go? There's A Cheesecake Factory At The Corner
If you have ever been to the Apple Store it is almost like a Zen experience. Everything is white. Backlit images of products are displayed along the walls, row after row of products are set up for you to play with to your hearts content and hordes of blue t-shirted technicians are there to answer your every question. I never realized how awed Microsoft was until I stumbled into their store by accident. The only thing they didn't copy was the Apple, oh and the crowds. The Microsoft store is a very lonely place.

Lets look at the statistics before I go into my story. Apple stores took in $4.5 billion last year in sales. That was up 6% from the year before in a still struggling economy. There are 416 stores in the world and Apple plans to open another 30-35 more this year. The average store averages $10.9 million a year in sales and they get, on average, 18,500 visitors per store per week. Pretty impressive figures you have to admit. Measuring their stores on a square foot sales basis they sell more than any company on the planet. Far more than Harrad's, Tiffany's or any of the fancy stores that might come to mind, even Wal-mart.

Stores are remodeled fairly often. In fact, the Pasadena Apple Store in Old Town Pasadena was closed for several years to do...I don't know what. It looked pretty much the same as when it closed. I guess if you've got the cash spend it. What they didn't do, I found out yesterday, was re-open the public restroom.

Tuesday my wife's iPhone 4 died. After a trip to the AT&T store, they told her she would have to take it to the Apple Store to have the battery replaced. She loves that phone, has the same connections as her iPad and could see no reason to get a new phone. So up we went.

This is an Apple home. I bought the very first Apple PowerPC computer the week they came out in 1994. As a graphic designer I didn't really have much of a choice. I have had a PC but after about the third virus gave up and used Apple exclusively. If my clients used Word we were good to go. Today we have two iPhones, two iPads, two laptops and I have an aging duo-core iMac. I walked into to 2007 MacWorld just after Steve Jobs announced the iPhone to the world. When David Pogue told us all the next day this was the device that would change the world we wondered, Mac heads or not, what he was smoking. Yet, on June 29, 2007 I was number 222 at the Glendale, CA Galleria. As we know, he was right! I even bought 10 shares of stock for $93 a share, a bargain today!

We had no idea how long this would take and was told that it would be an hour before they could fit us in. That was ok. I could play to my hearts content. Then they checked out the phone and yes, the battery was dead and that it would have to be replaced. You couldn't leave it, you had to wait. It would take around 30 minutes and cost $80. My wife agreed and so we waited. Well, 30 minutes came and went and no phone.

After my prostrate surgery in January, continence is still an issue. I am better but have a 90 minute bladder. Well past that time I quietly asked an Apple employee where the rest room was. "We don't have one. If you need to go you will have to go down to the Cheesecake Factory on the corner." Stunned, I said, "Really?" "Yes. Go in and its in the back corner." I was utterly humiliated. I was starting to leak and needed to go now, not a three or four minute walk down Colorado Blvd. How they ever got a permit for this or any of their stores without a restroom with the volume of customers is beyond me.

I am not done with this. Tim Cook and most of the Apple board and maybe the Pasadena City Council will get a note about this as well. I am sorry. The population is aging and unbidden our bodies are starting to go. I didn't want prostrate cancer or any of the other afflictions I am dealing with. It just happened. That Apple, a company so revered would treat their customers like this is simply beyond the pale. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Alan Krug

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Its Time For A "National" Discussion Of Mental Health

How many lives is it going to take before this country gets serious about mental health? How many kids, acting like adults, how many adults acting like kids, how many PTSD soldiers, how many sick or elderly will it take before the people of the United States and their elected officials sit down "together" and discuss what is appropriate to protect not only the lives of our loved ones but the lives of those so desperately crying out for help? If you really want to either shut down or cause a riot at the dinner table bring up the subject of mental health.

Listening to the father in Isla Vista whose son was shot down getting a snack it would be so easy to blame the gun lobby. They are surely not without guilt. You do not need an AK-47 to go deer hunting. Ask any NRA member about limiting his rights and you can be assured of a real argument. However, lets look at the facts, at least in this case.

Rodger killed three people with a knife. He stabbed them to death. That's pretty up close and personal. What rage in him triggered such violence? Then he started driving around. Yes, he used guns and three deaths are attributed to him using a gun. However, he also used his car as a battering ram hitting people on the streets, killing one. The argument then is do we ban knives and cars too? Clearly there is something wrong with our procedures that allowed a person like Rodger to get guns but there are other factors in play here too.

Do we, as the Mayor of Santa Barbara so clearly said, work on ways to identify and get those in need of mental help, HELP? Rodger was not without visits from the police. In fact they even have a card that has to be filled out after each visit. However, did the police see those YouTube videos? Did they read the 137 page manifesto? How would they know? However, his parents did and were literally on their way to their troubled son as he was on his rampage.

Many professionals blame the current mental health state of affairs on first Governor and then President Ronald Reagan. There was a movement to "save" money and the ACLU had filed a series of lawsuits about putting people in mental institutions against their will. In an era of deregulation it was the perfect marriage, some would say, in hell. People like Rodger and many many others, people we choose not to see living under bridge viaducts, remote canyons below the freeways, alleyways, doorways on Broadway in Los Angeles, many of these people were cut loose to be "free." They were and are not free of their illnesses today, if they were ever.

New laws were put into place to protect these people and at most, unless it could be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt they were mentally unfit had to be cut loose in 72 hours. The questions remains, the CATCH-22 of our times, if you were insane would you know it? Are you are right mind if you have committed an act that endangers not only your life but the lives of others? What many citizens fail to realize is that our Constitution guarantees you rights, many rights in fact. However, your rights end when they infringe on the rights of others. Think about it. Your rights end when they infringe on the rights of others. Your rights can be taken away and appropriate laws are in place that allow just that. Why are there not appropriate laws to protect you, and others, from yourself?

Mental health abuse goes back even before the beginning of time. Every society has dealt with it in a variety of ways. Even today, in the 21st Century, for many being insane is a frightening word and thought. We are simply not prepared to deal with it. Every event in the past decade, every man-child that has committed some kind of carnage has had parents that were either clueless or unwilling to face the facts. Here in Rodger's case, his mother thought giving him a BMW would give him more self esteem. Before we condemn her though, consider, what kind of training did she have? Her son apparently had much counseling, did she? Who helps the parents of these children? In hindsight what would we have done? Would we have been any different? This needs to be part of the discussion. A mentally ill person does NOT operate in a vacuum. Others are involved...and all of them need to be in the discussion. We have to get over this idea that what you think is yours alone. If it might endanger others, then the rules need to be amended, the individual should not be allowed to wallow in them alone. The book needs to be open to all who need to know.

We need to work out a series of procedures that are national, that protect the person from undue incarceration yet realize the reality of their situation. A mentally ill person cannot make a valid decision. We need to have places to take these people, people to interview them and if possible their parents. We need a place to place them and help them heal and if not, keep them so they are no longer a danger to themselves or others.

Tell me, which is cheaper? What will the investigations cost? Is there any way to put a value on the lifetime of heartache the surviving family members must deal with? The definition of civilization is that you do not kill the stranger when he appears in your midst. Might not the same standard be applied to the mentally ill? We do not kill them instead trying first to make them whole again and failing that, protecting them to the end of their days?

We need to be far more aware of social media and make it loud and clear for everyone to report the kinds of posting Rodger did. It wouldn't take a health care professional to know this person was in trouble.

We have a Bill of Rights, maybe its time for a "Mental" Bill of Rights that informs each and every citizen of his rights and when his rights may be taken away. We owe it to the memories of those lost and we need to, as best we can, deal with it in the future.

I urge, each and every one of you to begin the discussion. The time has come and we as a nation owe it to ourselves and our fellow citizens.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Creating Something Beautiful - Using Rosemaling Outdoors

Rosemaling Outdoors!
Crafters, oftentimes myself included, have a set of beliefs about what designs, motifs, styles should go where. This was born out to me roaming the exhibit hall at the recent Society of Decorative Painters Convention in San Diego.

One of the things that struck me though was that there was't a single birdhouse, well one rather funky style, for sale. Would the bird have figured it out? Since birdhouses are my "thing" I was very disappointed.

I was though off of a both low and high, I have to admit, experience dealing with Rosemaling, the Norwegian traditional folk art that has captivated me.

Looking over packets for ideas that I could use, I was suddenly struck with the idea that no one, and I mean no one used these wonderful and fanciful designs outdoors. I envisioned a black birdhouse with the wonderful reds, greens, golds with splashes of white on three sides and top of some wonderful birdhouses I purchased from a wood worker in Mississippi. These things are strong and sturdy, heavy and would, it taken care of, last for years outdoors with or without the original design.

Using Americana and Traditions paints from DecoArt, I painted the birdhouse. Then I started drawing with a white pencil all over the face using "C's" and "S's" that I had learned from Gayle Oram. This time I wasn't intimidated. It would be my design and I had a pretty good idea of why I wanted to do. It was my design and I wasn't trying to blend hers and mine!

It was fun and instructive. I purchased a set of brushes for just Rosemaling. I made sure they were pliable, could hold enough paint as I made me swoops over the face of the project and was pleased that it went so well. Each time I get better at this and I think that this is, for now at least, my best piece yet! I will continue to work on Rosemaling on birdhouses. I still have more and have, what I hope is a ready source for the future.

If you have a motif, use it wherever you want. And who knows, in this case, the birds will have the best house in town!

Please visit for more birdhouses, crafts and photography. I also have a fine art store at Thank you for visit!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Creativity - Choosing Between Yours And Mine

A friend of my wives give her some old circa 1990's magazine that she thought I would enjoy. One of the first articles I came across was titled "Creativity." It was a written by Nanette Hilton, a teacher herself, who was encouraging readers to create their own designs. "Somewhere inside you are ideas, pictures and dreams just waiting to be expressed. Create your own designs!"

This struck me because that is what I have done and said for years now. We should go to classes to learn techniques, use new products and see what the trends are but we should create our own things.

Have missed painting conventions for two years now, I was ready and found it wonderful to finally get to go to one. As readers of this blog you know I have become increasingly infatuated with Rosemaling, a Norwegian craft painting technique that was popular in 17th & 18th centuries around Telemark, Norway. Each village around there developed twists and motifs of their own. However, by the mid 1800's it fell into disfavor and was briefly resurrected in the United States carried by immigrants from Norway. It didn't regain much popularity here until the early 1900's mainly due to an artist who single-handedly resurrected the style in Wisconsin.

"Bean Pot" taught by Gayle Oram
I  missed the early registration for the Society of Decorative Painters Convention but was able to sign up for two of Gayle's Oram's classes. When we were beginning to trace her design, in the second of my two classes with her, on the primed beam pot she challenged us to freehand the design, make it our "own." I was game and did my "C's" and "S's" with abandon. However, when I began to add the rest of the elements I realized I was lost. How could I get her elements on what I had started as my own? I did put her design on the top.

As we began to put the colors on I quickly became lost and disoriented. I was not alone. During the first break I put everything away and went up to her and told her I was going. I was clearly not ready for this class. I thanked her and she immediately came over, looked at what I had done, checked out several others and stopped the pot painting and gave us all basics on what Rosemaling was all about.

I then worked on the top with the design she gave us and then incorporated as many of her motifs on my own design. It was at this point that I realized you can't mix the too. She clearly had a design and goal in mind. No different than when I create my own. Trying to combine though is tough and so, I did the bottom as I would do it, using the ideas I already knew, borrowed what I could and went on to paint the pot. As I told my partners unless someone actually saw a photo of the original pot, they would never know. I used the same colors, Rosemaling technique top and bottom, they were very different anyway and made good progress on the wonderful pot. I think it would be the "perfect" jelly bean pot, don't you think? It is wood so should last for years with  no fear of it breaking in California earthquakes!

Its not done, one of my bugaboos of the convention. There is still a Norwegian slogan that goes around the lid but I can do that here at home and a little more detail to add. However, the question is, is this my pot or someone else's or is this a hybrid, a work of two artists?

BE CREATIVE! Use what you learn and then doodle your way to your own design. Come on in. The water is fine and you will be far more proud of what you created than what you copied. Trust me I know.

Please visit for wonderful crafts, birdhouses and photography available in all price ranges. Also, I have opened a new fine art store at Stop on by! Paintings ARE your very own vision of the world.

We Visual Artists: Dealing With Galleries And Forgers In The Movies And The Real World

I am always drawn to books, articles or Internet revelations about events in the art world. Over the past few months these revelations have been fast and furious.

It is a movie though that oftentimes brings the full impact of events to life. A case in point would be George Clooney's movie "Monuments Men."  It was one thing to read the book but quite another to see the depth of what the Nazi's had done. Well over 5 million art treasures were looted from individuals, museums, and churches across occupied Europe. Those deemed worthy were hidden away while degenerate art was exhibited and then sold or disposed of. While only telling part of the story, two scenes took my breath away and had me close tears. The first scene, showing the galleries of the Louvre stripped was almost beyond comprehension. To read the dry words is one thing. To see it, or an approximation of it is another. However, it was after they realized the art was hidden underground in salt mines, and a soldier flipped the light switch to illuminate the mine you realized with horror what the Nazi's had done. As far as the eye could see, crates of paintings and statues filled the mines. One after another.

Then after it was revealed last year the son of one of Hitlers art dealers had over 1,400 works of that degenerate art in an apartment in M√ľnich, you realize the hunt is still not over. We are talking values of hundreds of millions of dollars. The German government has been unable to find most of the owners and it may well revert back to him.

Yesterday I had a spinal shot to relieve five months of sciatica and was sent home to lie down and rest. Lying on the couch in the den, TV on and remote in hand, I stumbled on not one but two movies about art.

"Boogie Woogie" was a Sundance film primarily about art galleries, their owners, artists and the shenanigans they all pull. It seemed from what little I know about art dealers true enough and revolved around one of Mondrian's paintings called "Boogie Woogie." The wife of a increasingly destitute and dying owner starts a kind of bidding war to sell it between rival galleries. You quickly realize they are not very honorable men and soon women as well. We are dragged into the dealers lives and we discover they are a sordid lot ... artists and the dealers who represent them. Back stabbing, raiding artists, breaking away to start ones own gallery and every act in between.

I am following  a series of email classes from a dealer in Phoenix, Xanadu Gallery. His purpose is to help artists get shown by dealers. Hopefully his advice, which I find little to disagree with, is better than the movies.  If I have any complaint, for an artist there is a lot of business work and not much time for art work.  Something I find on my Etsy stores as well.

"The Forger"
"The Forger" is about a 15 year old boy under the care of social services who artistic ability is stunning. A gallery owner finds the boy, assumes foster custody, and gets him to paint a long "lost" Whistler. Yes, a dealer with crime in his heart. Another artist, also a forger in the past, befriends the boy and the battle is joined.

Forgers fascinate me. To be a good one you have to have talent as good or better than the original artist. What made the original artist amazing was his ability to put down on some media a vision of what they saw.  Here lies the rub. Many forgeries are painted in the style of a Monet or Renoir and are not always direct copies. They are then sold as long lost works of art. The Van Gogh rolled up in a Norwegian attic comes to mind. Not signed, it languished in that attic for a 100 years. It was written off as in the style of Van Gogh until finally a curator saw both a sketch and discussion of in in the letters of Van Gogh to his brother Theo. Signed or not, its worth millions!

60 Minutes recently interviewed the worlds best forger who has painted and sold his forgeries for decades. Finally arrested and facing bankruptcy because of the discovery of what he did, he pointed he passed curators tests for decades. Some estimates say up to 40% of all works in museums are fakes today. Of course we could all hope that 100 years from now we are worth forging as well!

We all have talent. Some more than others but I would urge that before we copy too slavishly, we also try to develop our own voice, develop our own style. Classes are fine but let your own talent ring true. I am beginning to try on my own creations some of the "techniques" I learned at the Society of Decorative Painters" Convention. I fully realize that these techniques will enhance and make my own art and make what I am trying to portray stronger and closer to what I see in minds eye. Copy what they did...only in that class. I have my own ideas and plans! So should you.

Please visit my fine art store at I also have a craft, birdhouse and photography store at Come on by! There are many unique and yes my own creations for every price range!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Society of Decorative Painters: How To Create A Better Convention

Since I missed going to the Las Vegas Painting Convention two years running because of illness, when the opportunity came up to go to the Society of Decorative Painters (SDP) Convention in San Diego I checked around, talked several times to the society and despite being a man, joined. The ladies were nice and finally, after several calls, I received the materials a new member is supposed to receive.

Here was where the first misunderstanding occurred. I paid for what I thought was membership AND registration to the convention. Since I had missed the deadline, I was told that I couldn't sign up for classes online but had to appear in person. Watching the class availability drop almost by the day I again called and was told that was not possible. Finally she admitted she was late in posting some of the registrations and that was why the numbers changed.

After a doctors appointment Monday I scurried down to the Town & Country Resort in San Diego. I got there about 1:30 after checking into my hotel across the freeway. Why spend $119 a night when you can pay $46 a night including breakfast?

The doors for registration, checking in and such didn't open until 5 pm. People were milling about when I arrived at 1:30. I was told the society people had been here since Friday. You would think you would want to check in the locals and get them out of the way. By 4:30, when I came back, the line snaked around the hallways and through the grand foyer. Since I didn't know where I should go as I didn't have classes yet, I went to the registration booth. She couldn't find me in the roster so sent me to the sign up classes booth. They didn't know what to do and sent me back to registration where the line was, well, long! I had an angel by that time who shepherded me through the registration process which was agony to watch. The folders were not ready and they had to put them together. The woman assigned for name tags hadn't a clue of what of do. One person had to do the work of three and yes, there was grumbling. Finally, officially registered, I was taken back to class sign-ups, selected my classes and was done in less than 10 minutes.

Town & Country Resort is a lovely place. Its huge which is surprising considering land values in San Diego. I would guess it was originally started right after the war when land was cheap and then, over the years, buildings were added. There are signs everywhere but mean nothing. Its like LA freeway signs, they tell those who know where they are going they are almost there. Each and every day I had to ask an employee where a room was. Everyone gets lost and all complain, even the employees.

The Exhibit Hall is in the Convention Center, as far away as humanly possible from every other activity. Rather than grouping all the of the classes around a central core, they are everywhere in places no one can find. At a class I had one night, you would never guess that was a "ballroom" the door was so small and ivy covered. It was next to the restaurant I tried to find the day before.

When I entered my first night class I saw a variety of Ott and LED lights, some with long extension cords snaking across the carpet. It soon became apparent why. The lighting was so dim you could never be sure which color you were using. In fact, I didn't even know what my bowl looked like until I took it outdoors the next day. Unless the teacher has a light projector to show what she was doing it was so dim we often had to go up and look at what was going on.

Think these tables are small?
I have never seen work tables so narrow. They are at most 18" deep and when you are painting on a portable easel, you have to be VERY careful not to push too far back. Everyone has lots of stuff, brushes, water tubs, the area to put your paints, and the project itself. Often, with a very popular teacher you are cheek to jowl.

One of the big draws for many is the Exhibit Hall where a wide variety of vendors and teachers come to sell their wares. Now many classes begin at 8 am. Not the vendors. After the opening day they wander in at 10 am and if you were planning on doing anything during the day or in fact have that 8 am class, you will not have much time to shop. In fact you find that your morning is shot for any type of sightseeing or shopping. Vendors please note.

Tables loaded up!
Everyone has been very nice and helpful to me. Since I'm the only man in the room actually painting with them they find me a curiosity. So, of course, we chat. Many of the things I found annoying so did they. I wonder if the "staff" listens to the members who only want, what I did, an enjoyable, learning and refining their skill sets experience!

I humbly propose a series of things that should be considered for the convention in 2015 and beyond. Its not too late to change and I think in the long run, it would be more satisfying for all concerned:

1. REGISTRATION. There is no reason to make everyone wait until 5 pm (it was 5:15 in fact) when the staff has been there three days already. Convention people need to work Saturday and Sunday. Every other convention I have gone to knows this. Its a once a year event and they need to get things up and running. 12 noon should be the latest registration begins. There were special classes in session. Registration is special too.

2. BE PREPARED. So much time was wasted putting brochures together behind the registration desk. They should have been shipped ready to be handed out. Put someone who knows how to use the computer program in place to make name tags. Don't have people just standing there doing nothing as the line watches grumbling about why there aren't two people "working" there. There are only one is working.

3. CHECK THE FACILITY. SDP staff needs to check out the facility. With the staff at the site, they need to map out a core area and the classrooms around it. There were lots of electric scooters but the rest of us, many well into our senior years had to walk. It was not appreciated as we lugged our things around.

4. CHECK OUT WORK AREAS. Tables we used were completely unacceptable. We tried to cram what we needed to work on an area smaller in depth that a laptop lap pad. By the time your palette, water, brushes and project were on the table you could barely move. Popular classes had us cheek to jowl. Lighting, especially at night was unacceptable. It was so dark and dim you could barely make out one color from another. I'm sure its romantic for a dance or such, but when you are creating something with a paintbrush, lighting is important. If there is nothing that can be done, it should be mentioned that you might want to bring a portable battery powered light. Long orange extension cords snaking around the room are unsafe and just about everyone tripped on them.

5. FINISH PROJECTS IN TIME ALLOTTED.  I took 5 classes and I have five projects to finish when I get home. I really liked my teachers and the projects we did. I didn't like that even after 9 hours I still have a few hours more to do on my painting when I get home. A class must be done in the time allotted. Teachers need to be realistic and make sure we get done. Of my classes only two used paints I own already. What will happen to the others? Every student needs to get a card to fill out regarding various issues including "did you get done?" Staff need to review these cards and come up with a way to encourage teachers to be more realistic or submit projects that can be completed in the time allotted. If there is no change then stricter guidelines need to be made and enforced.

6. A MENTOR PROGRAM. It would be nice that all first time registrants had an angel. There were many events I heard about after the fact because I didn't realize they were important. I knew I was late but if I had had someone who watched over me and encouraged attendance at SDP events, besides classes, the convention would have been more important to me.

I've learned a great deal this week. I am glad that I came. The proof of course will be if I see a definite improvement in the work that I do. I just can't wait! Will I be in Chicago next year? I sure hope so. My health has been an increasingly limiting factor but already I can't wait to go!

Thanks to all the ladies that helped me. You were my "angels."

Please visit for a variety of birdhouses, crafts and photography. My new fine art store is migrating all my paintings to

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Search For A Real American Birdhouse

I love to decorate birdhouses. I don't know why, I just do. As for birds, well, that's up for another discussion. I do know that there are many, MANY bird lovers out there, my Opa being one.

His pity on the poor birds was amazing. He would buy stale or day old white bread (he would never eat the stuff) and around noon everyday would go out near his birdbath and tear up the bread and spread it all around, at least a loaf at a time. There had to be nearly 1,000 birds waiting, in every color and shape. It was gone in the blink of an eye.

Years later, maybe it was those memories, wanting to create something, who knows what, that got me turn to a simple birdhouse. In most cases they give you a large blank space on four sides to decorate. Anyway visiting my Etsy store knows what I can do with those sides!

The conundrum though has been to find birdhouses that can go outdoors! It has been a search for several years now and while I did find a supplier in China, I just couldn't justify the cost and the quantity! If I tried to wholesale them that would take even more time than decorating them.

One day not long ago I discovered on Etsy a guy in Mississippi who was making birdhouses from recycled wood. The cost was perfect but the freight was a killer. As much to buy the birdhouse as to ship it. We went back and forth and he agreed if I bought 5 or so at a time, he could get the price down a bit. I bought them. I'm glad I did too!

As you can see, they are nice thick pieces of cedar wood nailed and glued with a front opening to clean them out. The wood was a little rough but after sanding I was good to go. I started it right after we returned from our Spring Break.

Our Danish friends had sent me a book (in Danish of course) about a painting tradition called Kellinghusen. Popular in the 17th and 18th centuries in Northern Germany and Jutland it was different than the other styles prevailing at the time. I was intrigued and playing with the motifs created a new birdhouse with my bona fide outdoor suitable birdhouses!

The surprise though was that finishing it last Sunday I posted it on my Etsy store Monday morning and before the day was done it was sold. WOW! Either my timing was right or there really is a desire for decorated birdhouses you can use outdoors. Needless to say, I am beginning my second version with these birdhouses and using variations of the Kellinghusen motifs. Maybe the second time can be a charm too!

I do want to offer a word of warning though to people who buy such things. No matter how good the paints and various varnishes are, to protect your outdoor items, you will need to re-coat them with Varathane or whatever is recommended to protect them. Weather is tough on finishes. Heat, cold, rain and snow all take their toll. At the first sign of flaking, sand the area and re-coat. Doing it when this process starts will protect the underlying paint and keep it looking just like new! In fact, I am now offering a service to re-paint birdhouses I have sold for outdoor use. For $60 I will re-paint and re-seal the birdhouse. Freight to and from me is the customer's expense too.

Please visit for a wonderful selection of birdhouses and craft items. They are offered in every price range and make wonderful gifts for birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and the holidays!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Society of Decorative Painters: Class Is In Session

Are any of you going to the Society of Decorative Painters Convention in San Diego next week? I would guess, if you read this in the United States, you are either a member of a guild or the society or have at least knowledge of the group.

I joined mainly because it was just as cheap to join as pay the convention fee to take classes. I hear that they are having "hard" times and well, there could be some very salient reasons why. We can discuss that at another time.

I have a hunger, yes, truly a hunger for classes. Why you might ask? Because there are always new products and techniques that make painting of either crafts or fine arts easier but more importantly, BETTER. They give you the ability to concentrate on the subject NOT the object.

A  stint in a rehabilitation center to re-learn how to walk in 2013 caused me to miss the Las Vegas Painting Convention to the tune of $200 - sign up and failure to show teaching classes fees.

In 2013 I signed up yet again to teach a class in 2014, only it was after prostrate cancer surgery, something I didn't know about a year in advance when I submitted items to be considered for classes. Life just gets in the way. I simply couldn't imagine standing, four weeks after surgery, for 6 hours teaching a class. I canceled as there were only 3 students signed up.

Artists, of any stripe and ability always need to take classes. If they are good, they want to TEACH a class. I can't even begin to tell you the potential for learning when you teach. There are techniques, new technologies out there that I need and want to learn! I would be the first to admit that.

As a teacher for two years during my two year stint in the Peace Corps, I realized that I had learned more teaching elementary classes, 5 - 8th grades,  than I had learned during my entire education - K through a BS in Journalism. Why? Because, as I quickly realized, everyone learns differently. I was in the middle of the jungle and the only resources I had were a few books and myself. I had to find a way to teach my students with the limited resources I had. On our few trips to Monrovia, Liberia, we would literally raid the USAID office grabbing anything we could to work with our kids. I managed to get a SRA Kit, a reading teaching tool for kids. They read, take a test and if they pass move on. I got a whole bunch of books for them to read based on the number of words in English they knew. So we had books with 1,000 words, 2,000 words up to 6 or 7,000 I think. I had all boys my first year, some older than me, and after reading a Mark Twain book, I had a class of 12 Injun' Joe's. Really.

It was only I got home that I learned my 8th grade class not only passed the national exam to enter high school, but half jumped two grades, one three and the rest started out as sophomores.

Teaching can be a valuable tool, just as important as the latest brush, the newest paint, or book filled with ideas. A good teacher pushes us to stretch our talents. So I am hoping that this is exactly what I am going to get. The classes left (registration was already closed) hopefully will do just that. I am hoping to get a balance of craft and fine art painting. I love both and want to improve my skills in both. The three years I attended in Las Vegas did just that. My style changed so much I found that my teacher and I needed to part ways. Currently I am at another crossroads. I need to find someone that will take me to the next step or, if I follow Malcolm Gladwell's advice, complete my 10,000 hours to become a master painter. It could happen!

I am in the process of dividing my stores so urge you to continue visiting for crafts and birdhouses. I am adding items all the time. My new store, will have all of my paintings. Please visit there as well. Thank you for reading and I may see you in San Diego!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Tug Between Crafting and Creating Fine Art

"Along The Path" by Alan Krug
Every artist dreams of being a fine artist. By fine I mean being a Rembrandt, David, Titian, Renoir, Monet or Picasso. The world of crafting, usually dismissed as "tole" or craft painting ranks in the category of those who wished they could but can't. Considering the number of teachers and students out there and the conventions they travel to each and every year I would say as a profession, craft painting is alive and well. It just can't get any respect. In fact, a painting is easier to do. I know!

Which brings me to my dilemma, I simply like to do both. Really.

When I started painting seriously back in my 50's, my entry was painting birdhouses. Simple as that. I got a few paints, some brushes and not really knowing what I was doing was intrigued by a friends book on Pennsylvania Dutch art. I photocopied the book and have those pages still. The complicated world was reduced to a simple series of shapes and now and then people. Colors were few but bold. It appealed to my graphic design sense.

Then I was given some more books (now they are spilling out of the shelves) that showed that you could move on from simple strokes to strokes with more colors, colors could float and so on.

It was attending my first Las Vegas Painting Convention in 2009 that I realized the magnitude of  craft painters. Usually the only man, these women had buckets of brushes and gadgets I had never seen, ever. They were in a sense, the crafting groupies and hung on every word. If I didn't have the "right" brush, 10 women did and lent it to me. It was he first time since I was in elementary school I realized you had better paint within the lines!

The painting classes  that I took changed my fine art forever. I had been following in much the same manner my oil painting teacher. We were given terrible photo prints and led step by step through the painting process. She would use colors we didn't see in the photo. After gripping about that one of the students who had seen my craft painting finally said, "Fine art is just the same thing. Use the colors you feel not just the ones you see. You have no problems on your birdhouses."I have struggled with that advice ever since.

Standing in the back of the room and looking at all the paintings, paintings we were all doing of the same subject, I was amazed at how different they were. The teacher would then go around and "correct" our mistakes so that everyone had just about the same thing. While it took me a few years later to understand what I had done at the outset, changed the painting the class was doing creating what to my mind was a better painting, it took years to liberate me. I had made a breakthrough. My style of painting had changed. I would never paint the same way as my teacher ever again.

Summer Garden Birdhouse
I realized, after I tried to open a new Etsy store, AlanKrugFineArt, two very frustrating days of hell, that I had indeed had changed my style and my art. Slowly I was beginning to develop a style that I could call my own. No, its not quite there but looking at those paintings as I labored to enter them all over again, I could see for the first time what was happening. Etsy by NOT letting you transfer items from one store to another had forced me to look at my work and since I was entering items that expired in one store, I could see where I had been and when entering my latest, where I was going.

The same thing was happening in my crafts. I finally found an affordable outdoor suitable birdhouse from a guy making them from recycled wood on Etsy. The weekend was hot and I was still fighting my various illnesses so Sunday, blank birdhouse in hand, I created a new one that could go outside. Using old Kellinghusen designs from Northern Germany and Jutland I created a bright cheerful home for our feathered friends.

I am glad I am separating my stores. Each one has taught me many lessons but buyers find it hard to understand how one person could do the same thing.  I know that when I see such a store it is easy to get lost and you just move on. I am gratified to see that people are finding me and following me.

There is one thing though that has not and I hope never changes, my love of color.  If I hear any comment over and over again, its a kind of surprise about my use of color.  In a world of black clothing and white cars, don't we deserve some color in our lives?

Please visit for wonderful birdhouses and craft items and for my original, one of a kind (no print or giclee's) paintings.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Finding My Way Painting "ALONG THE PATH"

Painting is a highly personal process. It is an attempt to create what you feel about something as well as the world in general. We are influenced and bombarded by messages constantly, most of which we are unaware of. It doesn't mean they aren't there but by now most adults have created filters. Many healthcare professionals feel that it is the lack of filters that cause mental illness.

In a way, maybe art reflects that lack as well. There has been a deep correlation between mentally ill patients and their art. All you have to do it consider Van Gogh and you will see what I mean.

I started and finished my latest painting, ALONG THE PATH after studying some recent photos I had taken and decided to focus on little things rather than the grandiose. I'm not good at that but tighter subjects with a single source of focus seem to be my strength. Here is a step by step recording of that process. This painting is a perfect example of how and why you need to paint from back to front!

Step 1
Using only a 12" x 9" archival polyester canvas, a product i have really learned to love, I randomly used a warm black and raw umber scattering and blending it across the canvas. I did pay attention to the background lights and darks captured in the photo.

You see white circles that are used to indicate the placement of the flowers. The first group was much too small so I washed these off and started again. With a white erasable pencil (or black if a light canvas) its a great way to get your objects where they need to be.

Step 2 with photo

Once satisfied with the flower centers, I began to put in the succulent stems that are behind the flowers. Full well knowing most these would be hidden, but then so would the background, you put them in because, well, you never know. They peek through petals, gaps in flower coverage so put them in. You will be glad you did. With rare exceptions I wasn't going to let myself get involved with the details. I wanted some green, green that looked like stems and only did details on areas I knew would show later on.

You can also see the original photo and it is filled with color. Wait, there's more!!!

Step 3 - flower background
Because I already had a dark background I knew that the yellows, oranges and magentas I would be using would NOT cover well. Most of those colors are transparent and don't cover much. Every flower, no matter what color was first painted with a warm white.

I added a bit of red creating pink to the flowers that would be magenta. You can see that the background stems are peeking through and give a degree of depth already. A flower or two were added to fill in areas that were "empty." We are artists and can do whatever we want to create a pleasing composition. Rarely is a painting a true capturing of reality!

Step 4 - adding color
Now its time for the flower colors. Again ... think back to front. Darker flowers tended to be behind the brighter flowers. Put those in first!

Step 5 - basic flower color in place
I tried to show how the magenta flowers, generally covered with other flowers and how the deeper orange flowers were behind the brighter yellows. Does it have to be that way? No. However, even if the image was more flat, a good artist would create layers to make the image stronger with greater depth.

As you can see below, with the flowers all painted in place, it is a pretty dreary image. The yellows are all too much the same as are the other colors. There is nothing to create a greater depth of field. It is at this point that many artists fail because they:

1: fail to find shadows or
2: fail to realize there is a pecking order. Some flowers are behind and below others.

I found myself looking at this and wondering, what was next? What do I do now?

Step 6 - adding depth
In previous paintings I realized that I had not done what I was trying to do and explain here. My painting THE WHITE FENCE came together when I added the shadows the flowers created on the white fence. The colors were there, the stark white fence was there but when I studied that old photo, you know the ones, taken for some in the future project, I realized it was those shadows that made the image so enticing. It is still my best and favorite painting. Here I went to work.

I started shading with washes of each color. I didn't want to change the color I merely wanted to make it richer without degrading it. Since oranges and yellows are usually transparent a dab of raw umber deepened the colors without changing them. The yellows were washed with other colors but not so much they didn't retain their original color. A bit of off white was added to the left because these petals had a subtle reflection of light that I felt make them stand out. They became the focus of the painting.

As you can see, already the painting has changed. The flatness of step 5 has been greatly altered in step 6. There is now a hierarchy, flowers on top, the middle and near the ground are creating a three dimensional quality that until now has never been there. This was how I left it.

Looking at the painting again in the evening, I still felt there was something missing. And while a photo doesn't capture it well, I went back to the background and scrubbed in washes of green and brown. I also added a bit of those colors again to all the flowers creating an even richer hierarchy. I really wanted only a few flowers to dominate and used the rest of the scene to highlight them!

Painting, writing, music composition, movie making are all journeys. Every practitioner will tell you that often what they started with and what was finished are often very different. Its not a bad thing. You need to seize those opportunities and you will be surprised, as I was, by what you get!

Please visit for my new fine art store. This and other paintings are there for you to view and purchase if you wish. For crafts and birdhouses please visit for a wonderful selection of items ready to ship and just in time for Mother's Day. Thank you for visiting my blog.