Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Conundrum Of Etsy

In my musings last week when I thought I made a decision to let KrugsStudio.etsy.com and AlanKrugFineArt.etsy.com run itself down, I also began to ask why? In theory Etsy should be a wonderful marketplace and for some it is. For the vast majority though, something in the vicinity of 1.5 million souls, we wrestle with getting our names out there and sales made. What makes it harder in my mind is that Etsy, unlike any of the others, Amazon, eBay and now Alibaba, is afraid of advertising and using some of our paid money so Etsy will be on the lips of every buyer out there.

Looking at my "favors" as that is all that is recorded, I began to realize more than 90% of the viewers that favored me we also sellers, not buyers. It was after getting my hands slapped for thanking people who visited my store (yes, that's illegal in the Etsy universe) I truly became aware of who was checking me out. And yet, every single item I have sold was to a buyer, no sellers among them. Now I have bought items from Etsy sellers and keep an eye on the competition as well. Its like the owners of the stores at the mall are busy checking each other out and there are few "outsiders" that enter and maybe purchase.

It was very disconcerting when people at the gallery show asked if I sold in other venues. When I said yes and handed them a card with my Etsy store address I got nothing, and I mean nothing, but blank looks. No one had heard of Etsy and in fact other than a few such as my daughter and wife among them, neither has anyone else. It appears then that for the vast majority of sellers, even at 20¢ a four month pop and millions of items listed, Etsy and a very select few are the only winners.

Advertising is the key not just on the Internet but magazines, TV, newspapers, the sides of buses and the names emblazoned on sports stadiums. You may not like AT&T but you will still go to the stadium that has their name on it. Personally I feel that its time for Etsy to spend some of that cash and advertise, get their brand known out there. While you may not know a thing about Alibaba over 500 million Chinese do and after watching Jack Ma on 60 Minutes Sunday, so will you. He's brash, not afraid to tackle new things and personally driven. His sales are bigger than Amazon and eBay combined and unlike Amazon has made tremendous profits. Other start ups like Etsy are around but for most part are irrelevant or are for me. I wonder if I could sell on Alibaba...for once be ahead of the curve?

A friend has pointed out there are a bunch of things I should do including getting my own web site. When I had my firm I did web sites for several clients who paid me handsomely to do it. It took a lot of time but as the hours ticked by, so did billing. It was difficult, I was entering my 60's and it just wasn't fun. I was a print man and told one and all that if desktop publishing was like web design we would still be using hot type set on a Letterpress. While kids today may think its fun corralling pages and photos to where they belong, I did not. There was a box and you put either a photo or text in it and it didn't move around. Period.

The amount of time a site takes can be staggering if you want to remain current and relevant. Its a day job. That is not what I signed up for. I love the creative aspect and always have. However, I don't make enough to afford a web site designer. Just like Etsy, they would make money and I might not. So I only ask that I get to create and sell my birdhouses and that Etsy make my job easier and more worthwhile by advertising its great collection of artists from around the world.

Please visit my craft store at KrugsStudio.etsy.com and my fine art store at AlanKrugFineArt.etsy.com. Thank you for stopping by and reading!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Apple's iOS 8, NOT Ready For Prime Time

From the moment is became clear that Apple was going to bring out larger phones with the iPhone 6, I knew I had to have one. While my iPhone 5 was pretty reliable, the screen was small and I wanted something a little bigger. The operating system wasn't very reliable despite updates to both iOS 7 and iOS 8. In fact I wrote about it here last year. I still shake my head in wonderment that Maps could take me from Nashville to our time share in Williamsburg, VA but it couldn't take me 5 or so miles across town.

A friend carries two Android phones, a Nexus 5 and an even larger Galaxie 5. They were close  to what the rumors said Apple was going to offer. The Nexus wasn't bad but almost at the limit of my small hands. I would have to have a "sturdy" case for the larger phone that was almost too big for my hands. I could see dropping it a lot. Seeing them together today at the Apple Store I'm glad I picked the smaller phone.

I've read about the problems with iOS 8 and the litany goes on and on. The first update shut down everyone's phone that installed it. A day later another appeared and I think everyone waited to see what would happen. My iPhone 5 started acting up after the download. Some glitches didn't affect me but 6 users that downloaded it had no phones for well over a day. There was also a glitch on the fingerprint sensor that I can tell you still malfunctions. DON'T ACTIVATE IT!

There is a list of problems. Bluetooth syncing, problems with the thumb sensor, can't remember your passwords and today iCloud was down and wiping out information on both the 6 and backups to iCloud. I spent 90 minutes with AT&T trying to get the phone to remember the message password, one that I had written down two years ago. Finally he wiped it clean and it finally worked.

My experience today was after we used my thumbprint for security, it seemed fine. Then talking to a staffer at the store regarding iMac issues, we needed to use the phone. It wouldn't turn on without a pass word number. We got into a heated discussion over this since I had never entered a numbered code, just my thumb. It didn't make sense. In any event we could not get into the phone. We were locked out. Doesn't this sound like Microsoft? Have your customers do the product testing for you? That phone had to be replaced.

On Flipboard tonight they were talking about how Apple is working on iOS 8.1, 2 and 3. I say lets get 8 ready for prime time first. I am sick of the Microsoft direction of Apple since Jobs died. Heads would have rolled over iOS 8 and the phone bending. You KNOW staffers have been using these for months. It never bent in anyones pocket? Ever? Too many knew it could be a problem and they went ahead with it anyway. The long litany of problems documented daily since the launch is deplorable. This isn't the Apple I've known and loved. I have two weeks to decide and my trusty iPhone 5 is always there. My advice is to wait a little longer. The phone is pretty nice. Keep it out of a back pocket or tight skinny jeans. Why anyone would put a piece of glass in their back pocket then sit on it for hours at a time and expect nothing to happen is beyond me.

Apple iPhone 6 and iOS 8 are not ready for prime time. With each generation I am beginning to wonder if they ever will again? Lets be honest here, Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs. And witnessing the debacle of the past two weeks, daily software issues and phones that bend, not a good manager either.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Stumbling To Creativity

After the two weekend long art gallery showing with no sales and weeks of no sales on my Etsy store, this week I have not been able to pick up a brush or even read an art book. I concentrated on chores and other events. It was as if the creative part of me just dried up. Instead I spent my free time reading Pat Conroy's book THE DEATH OF SANTINI: The Story of a Father and His Son and fighting Quark.

Conroy has always been a favorite writer with his THE RIVER IS WIDE, THE GREAT SANTINI, THE PRINCE OF TIDES, BEACH MUSIC and now this, the final chapter of his father's life. If it weren't true, editors would have laughed him out the door. The sad truth though, is that it was real. As often happens, reality is far worse than anything we can dream up.

What makes creatives like Conroy be creative? Of seven children, he became a noted author and a sister who is crazier than a march hare, became a well respected poet. They both turned to writing to try and make some sense of their lives. Is this any different than many other great creatives? Does violence have to occur to be creative? Why does the violence make some creative and others, like the youngest brother, commit suicide? There certainly are many but it appears the creative is more the violent one towards his family. With a father and an enabling mother he and his father only became close after Conroy beat up the father in the father's last attempt to abuse his wife and children in a drunken rage. Taping his father in his final days he find out what his father did for the military and the demons he lived with all these years and never spoke of.

While I am sure as a child, the abuse Conroy and his siblings describe is without imagining, there is a kind of despair that haunts all creatives. There is not one great artist who didn't go into deep despair sometime in their life, many after achieving success, because, I believe, they feel the world around them differently. Recognition as I realized is important. It is an affirmation that what you create matters. I felt Monday that while people may talk about it, they didn't like it, any of it, enough to buy. I looked at the walls covered with paintings and tables filled with birdhouses and despaired.

Talking about this feeling during the week with friends, we finally reached the conclusion where they felt if I liked the creation, then I should stick with it. As one friend pointed out, its not as if you depend on it for a living. We both got a good laugh out of that. However, sad as it may be, there is an element of recognition that we crave. Of the three artists showing, there was one sale heavily discounted but no more. It was one of the worst shows in memory. No one knows why.

The local San Dimas paper did a wonderful write up me and said my paintings "had an organic style" that I may well use from now on.

I am feeling better. I am through with the book, have started to organize myself, get other projects done and am eager to paint something again.

Please visit my craft store at KrugsStudio.etsy.com and my fine art store at AlanKrugFineArt.etsy.com. Thank you for stopping by and reading!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What DO You Do With An Ugly Birdhouse? Cinder To Cinderella!

Artists are always looking for a deal. Sometimes, more than I would like to admit at least, price is more motivation than "what the hell am I going to do with that?" So, puttering around last week with paintings and birdhouses safely at the gallery, I was ready to paint again.

Flower Petal Birdhouse
I'm hoping this is the only one I bought because it was a challenge to decide what to do with it. Rockets can literally be rocket ships soaring through space or done right, cactus plants that fulfill in 3D what you create on a canvas. But this? What is it anyway? There is no other way to describe it...butt ugly. The challenge then is to figure out a design that takes advantage of whatever the crazed creator planned for it and create a thing of traditional beauty!

As you can see here, I have begun to sketch in a possible pattern. Again, I decided that while many of the elements would remain the same, front and back designs would be different. The constant was the wide sides with leaves and flowers so they would be visible from any angle. Now, of course, how to pull it off?
Flower Petal Birdhouse - back

The one saving grace with projects like this is that the costs are cheap. I am sure this was a design Michael's wanted to unload and it would have been cheap to me. While you do lose time and some materials, the amount paint on a birdhouse is very, very small. The investment is time...and there is plenty of that! And yes, this one consumed days and hours to create. I almost threw it out several times as I would box myself into an artistic corner not sure what direction to go.

Bottom of Birdhouse
Once colors are painted on though, in most instances the die is cast! Hours and hours go into a projects like this. In case there was a great deal of doubt and only the other night when I decided to use a kind of net effect did it seem that I would be able to tie it all together. I noticed this was a favorite Rosemaling technique either today or 300 years ago. Just how much detailing can you add? It turns out quite a bit. It soon gets lost though and this seemed to be the best way for me to fill void. In fact I had to go over it again as the wood stain used to color the base wood almost wiped out the Yellow Ochre I used. So...back to the drawing board and another layer of Ochre. However, it adds quite a bit of depth and allows the white flowers to stand out from the base color. I was happy.

If you look at the birdhouse that was just beginning to get paint and some kind of a color palette,  and what is the finished item, you can see that somethings changed and other elements were enhanced. That certainly is one of the beauties of acrylics. However, you still have to plan and be very careful. I could change every flower but I could not correct the base if I decided I wanted to change location of the flowers. I guess it could be done but why? Get this done and learn your lesson and move on. It would not be the first time.

I remember taking a class from the Rosemaling guru Gail Oram in May. She encouraged us to freely interpret the design she gave us and we all scribbled away. However, when it came to painting what we had done we had no reference. I packed up to go after an hour of struggling...I took the class to learn from her not by trial and error. Alarmed she came over once the class was aware of what I was doing 6 or more did the same thing. She went back to the basics of the technique. I did the lid and feeling successful with that went back to the body I had changed so much. It was at that moment I realized you could do any number of things and it would still be traditional and quite beautiful

Please visit my craft store at KrugsStudio.etsy.com and my fine art store at AlanKrugFineArt.etsy.com. Thank you for stopping by and reading!

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Case Between An Abstract Birdhouse and an Abstract Painting

Last week I was very swept up in the recent gallery show and getting a clients catalog ready for his trip to Chicago. Frustration with Quark (what else is new) and dealing with them trying to figure out why a PDF made with Quark suddenly had lines that were not shown in Quark, printed from Quark but materialized in a PDF and yes, printed. The idea of painting was put on hold.

However, once you are creative and the stress level of life grows I've found that doing something is the best way to relax. I had started one abstract birdhouse but was not really happy with it. I found three more that were the same design and proceeded  playing with more abstract visions - using circles, squares and triangles and learning as I went playing with new techniques.

Looking at my paintings in the gallery, I was struck by how similar and how different painting a birdhouse was compared to a painting on canvas or paper. In fact, I have toyed with the idea of taking the 3D designs and putting them on a canvas just to see the whole! What a challenge. As you can see here, the designs wrap around all four sides and extend into the roof. You never see all the sides at once. The question remains, does it make any difference? Would it be stronger or is this the best way to save a little mystery? The sad reality is that while you can charge $200-300 even $1,000 for a painting of just about the same subject, because the design is on a birdhouse or any craft project, the most you can hope for is anywhere from $30-50. Maybe if you were famous but looking at items on Etsy, craft items that are truly collector items, they are priced much less than a painting. It was this thought, and watching people comment on the birdhouses in the gallery, that made me realize that even IF I decided to paint a version of these on bigger birdhouses, they would still feel pricing was high. The larger birdhouse idea is definitely on hold but the canvas idea may be next.

Those who have studied the history of art know that it wasn't always so. Craftsmen and painters were on a more even keel. Churches, palaces, public buildings needed figures, altars, 3D images of the saints and it took craftsmen to do that. This became very apparent to me when, after seeing the devastated ruins of the Frauenkirche in Dresden in 1996, what remained after the firebombing in 1945 and what I saw again in 2007 restored to its glory looking like the day it was built in 1741 (the Germans had the original blueprints, of course), you realize craftsmen and women had a place then and have a place now. It is a mystery to me why one has triumphed over the other.

Never give up. If you like the crafts you do, go for it. I certainly enjoy the creation process and while I wish they were valued more am still proud as I ship each one to a home that I am sure will enjoy it!

Please visit my craft store at KrugsStudio.etsy.com and my fine art store at AlanKrugFineArt.etsy.com. Thank you for stopping by and reading!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Relishing The Colors Of India

One of the things I noticed between the three artists showing at the 2nd Story Gallery this month was how different our art was. One artist, who is East Indian, has an interesting pointillist style that uses small dots of color to create her images. The colors are brilliant but on white paper, generally smaller with a black frame, they don't have the color value of my own art, the crafts particularly. There are merely dots of bright color swallowed up by the white. The other artist is also talented, working on his BFA, but his pen and ink, oils or watercolors tend to be muted. A small jewel like oil of cherry tomatoes on a nearly black background pops out against his muted other selections. Is this because of his art training or his own choice? We, Americans in particular, are afraid of color.

In a slow moment, I told Kruti that I finally am ready to visit India. The colors that one sees around them there every day just about boggles the Western mind. "You must have a totally different color wheel than the west because, well, you would never see the colors I've seen in books and movies in Western Art of any kind."

Can you imagine a scene like this (image to the left) anywhere in the Western world? Even in Latin America, known for bright colors, there would never be a scene like this. We had a good laugh over my comment. However, I pointed out my "Birdhouse Village" basically violated the color wheel as I just couldn't get the combinations I liked so played with colors to get what I wanted. She noted that several of my choices are seen everyday in India. I felt proud!

Recently I had seen photos of a festival in India called THE FESTIVAL OF COLORS where everyone throws powder on everyone else. Believe it or not those colors wash off but wow! Have you ever seen such colors? So rich and vibrant soon to just be washed away? I don't think I want to get in the middle of this but I would love to record it and would have to ask, where can you get paints with these colors? How stable are the colors, the pigments? Obviously they have been doing this a long, long time.

She said because of the myriad cultures in India there is usually some kind of festival every single month and that color in one way or another plays a part in each and every one.

If you, like me get hung up on color or lack of them, a quick look at the images in Google about the festival or anything about color in India should satisfy most color junkies. You will find that colors we have been told to never use together can actually look pretty exciting next to each other. Just like Impressionism wasn't considered painting by the Salon, Impressionists violated the rules by merely observing what was around them inside and out. They discovered a very important lesson. Nature was far more inventive than man in its use of colors.

If you doubt what I'm saying, go for a walk. Look at the plants and trees and their use of color. Flowers that may look purple are usually comprised of far more colors and tones. A pink Hollyhock can be pink, rose, faint pink with a strong yellow center with deep reds or roses streaming out to each petal. In fact, it is stunning how much color is there in one flower. Again, if you are hung up, there is always images on Google. I'd say give India a try first!!!

Please visit my craft store at KrugsStudio.etsy.com and my fine art store at AlanKrugFineArt.etsy.com. Thank you for stopping by and reading!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Two Nights At The 2nd Story Gallery Show

I did it. I took a step forward on a quest to become a little bit better known artist and after two jittery nights I made it through! However, when I got home I crashed and more or less slept 8 hours, something I never do and am still tired as I write this.

When I signed up months ago I really didn't know what to expect. I thought it was all about fine art. I never dreamed crafts would count but I am glad they are there. However, after two nights of friends and relatives (not mine I might add), competing with the country fair and weather that would suck the lifeblood out of you in a heartbeat, there are few sales. I realize this is a local show and purchasing or not, wonderful people visit just to see what's going on! Just a warm wonderful comment is affirming and many have taken my brochure so there is still hope!

As crazy as it is and only brought at the last minute is the wild, expressionist painting I did of myself. Everyone comments and most have said they like it. Maybe I need to offer to paint one for anyone for $500! Send me a photo I can manipulate, give me an idea of the colors you would like me to include and give me a month or so. There never ever would be two alike. Its something I surely might consider.

Truthfully there is something here for everyone!
The birdhouses have been a hit. Everyone looks and comments and my only sale so far was a mini-birdhouse thrown in at the last minute. I never tire explaining the design process and how I try to make each of these birdhouses or trays or whatever unique. It is as demanding and time consuming as any painting. Remember a painting is flat and only wide by high. A birdhouse has at least 5 sides if you don't paint the bottom. I just can't do the front and leave the rest alone. All sides are painted and tell some kind of story be it a desert scene, pattern or design. I want everyone to look at it from any angle and see something new each time!

They seem to enjoy the uniqueness of each one and most admit they have never seen such work before. So it is gratifying.

Yet, I have a lot to learn. The other two artists are selling cards. I totally forgot to bring a book to encourage people to give me their email address. You can read, read, read but I am an artist not a business manager. So many of the suggestions that I used came from my wife. Guys, don't let anyone tell you you see the world the same as women. WE don't. The black velvet, my wife's idea, was the perfect foil for my colorful crafts. We sprinkled them around the three rooms in the gallery and where the wine and such was, I was the only artist with items front and center on the conference table.

I now have a few days to rest up for the second weekend. One thing I learned for sure was to avoid the freeways. It took us over an hour to go what, 15 miles? Friday evening. Then, I stupidly thought since it was Saturday we could take the same route and there would no traffic. Silly me. It took even longer going east of the I-10. And while Friday everyone was heading east, yesterday it was bumper to bumper both ways.

If you live in the area, please come by! There are three artists. We are wonderfully different. Here is the address:

2nd Story Gallery
Walker House
121 N. San Dimas Ave.
San Dimas, CA 91773

Showtime on Sept. 19th & 20th is from 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm. All are welcome and you can buy and take home with you that night if you wish. Be sure to introduce yourself! Wine and hors d'oeuvres are available!

San Dimas has their Western Days the first weekend in Oct. so they asked if we would leave our artwork up in place. Of course!!! One more weekend to hopefully sell. I want to point out that no matter how good or wonderful a photo is, there is nothing like watching the expression of a potential client as they look or, after asking, pick up your items. Nothing beats being with the real thing!

Please visit my craft store at KrugsStudio.etsy.com and my fine art store at AlanKrugFineArt.etsy.com. Thank you for stopping by and reading!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Leading Up To My First Gallery Show

Nearly a week ago I loaded up the truck and headed out to the 2nd Story Gallery in San Dimas, CA. The gallery is in the old Walker home donated to the city years ago. It looks more like a hotel than home! We talk about McMansions today, they had size AND land!

Anyway, I was the first to arrive so loaded up the dolly and got all 21 paintings upstairs with a minimum of fuss. Trust me this was the only thing that went smoothly for the two weeks leading up to the hanging.

When still a member of the Pomona Valley Art Association, one of the members announced last year that the gallery was looking for artists to show in the monthly gallery shows. They are always the second and third Friday and Saturday of the month. I got the email address, sent for an application, filled it out and sent along some photos to prove I was an artist. They contacted me a few days later and I picked September. The next available slot was January and to me sooner was better than later.

I went out I think in June to see how much space I would have and then came summer, a month traveling, then a trip to Vegas and several intensive weeks working for a client trying to get their price list ready by Sept 1. I knew that had to stop as the deadline was looming and there were materials I had to create as well.

I have documented my hate-love relationship with Quark 10.2 and it lived up to its hate. I spent hours trying to design a brochure showing my paintings and then suddenly it stopped working. I could see it but not save, print or make a PDF. I wasted nearly half the day before force quitting it and taking a nap. A friend suggested I see if there was an update so after about 6 minutes that it takes to launch (no, I am not kidding, I timed it) up pops an update, nearly 500 MB. So I installed that and went in to paint. I had had enough of computers, particularly Quark, for the day. A paint brush and a bottle of paint with something to paint are always reliable old friends. Luckily the next morning it was back to normal and it has to make you wonder, why would you release an update that would cause so many problems. Don't they test it? Ever? Or are they too busy having fun in the hallways? It worked today and that was all that counted.

Early attempt at hanging
Deciding what to take is the hardest question of all. The suggested pricing guideline was $500 tops and I have some paintings I will not sell that low. Period. However, as I discovered there were plenty of others that I could. Using CraftSmart's reading of views and hearts from my Etsy store I looked for those with the most views and favored. If they were popular on the screen chances are they would be popular in person. A photo never, ever captures the nuance of color in a painting. Trust me, I know.

The tale of my business card was even more horrific. I originally wanted a card that was two sided. I went to the printer who had printed the KrugsStudio cards and told him what I wanted, the new Fine Art card on a jump drive. Then I started getting calls they the fine art card didn't work. After saving as a JPG, then TIFF, a PDF and who knows what else all with similar results, I said forget it. I got out my Avery precut business cards and printed a 100 on my Epson printer. Maybe not quite as spiffy but it got the job done.

So Saturday I headed out and met a friend who helped me get all the paintings up. The gallery has a nifty pole system with a hook on one end that hangs from a small railing near the ceiling. There are flanges that go up and down, tighten with a screw and allow your paintings to hang without any damage to the walls. We had every one hung in under two hours in two different rooms.

The surprise though, and repeated often as a reminder was, where are the birdhouses? Birdhouses? How did she know? I mumbled something to the effect I didn't think craft painting had a place with fine art. Oh no, you have to bring your birdhouses! They are works of art explaining to the others my birdhouses were different than most any others out there. I agreed. They will even have a table for me to display them! So, I better get cracking I realized. This development was not something I had planned on. But secretly I would love to thin the herd with some new stuff.

Before I left, I got all the name tags with sizes, type of paint and prices in place. The gallery manager came in and said for my first show I had done a wonderful job! I was pleased. Now, lets see if we can get a few sales. With the beastly weather we are expecting this weekend (days of over 100ยบ), not sure many will want to venture far from home. There will be wine and eats so that might do it. Costs nothing to look.

I have to admit, there is something amazing you feel deep inside seeing your art displayed somewhere besides home. Many of these paintings are in either the house or office but never together. I have decided that I will place the Southwest flavored birdhouses under the cactus quartet and place the rest on their table. That is yet another adventure that I will describe after tonight (Sept. 12, 2014).

Please visit my craft store at KrugsStudio.etsy.com and my fine art store at AlanKrugFineArt.etsy.com. Thank you for stopping by and reading!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Why Analog Is Still Better Than Digital At Times

I am getting ready for my very first gallery showing of both my paintings and crafts. I am nervous, on edge and frantic. To just get the paintings hung in the gallery last Saturday was a feat. It had been a horrible week with nothing working. I will detail that after I go to the opening tomorrow.

Useless Digital Light Timer by GE
Last night however, I was getting some 20+ birdhouses ready to show as well. I create and paint them and then put in a tub. Some are varnished, most are not. So I had a bunch of varnishing to do.

Walking into the living room there was no light on. It was fine the night before. Turning on other lights I found the timer to the left. ( I should note that I threw it away last night and the actual time when I took the photo was 9 am). Somehow it was set to be on 2 hours a day - 5 pm to 7 pm. No matter what I did, I could not change it. There are NO instructions on it and obviously GE is one of those companies that scoffs at the simplicity of Apple products along with the rest of the world. And that is why Apple is sitting on so much money there are only two or three companies it can't buy for cash in the world.

Good old fashioned timer by Toastmaster
The old analog timer was sitting on the window sill so I unplugged digital hell, plugged in the analog timer and there was light! How simple was that? My only complaint is that you only have one choice a day. Other versions went off in the dark morning and again on in the evening. I didn't care. I wanted light in the evening over no light at all.

The one thing about Toastmaster products is that the back side is covered with instructions. It leaves no doubt what you are supposed to do. I never read them because I simply turned the dial to the correct time, moved the grey tab to the time I wanted the lamp to go on (it works with CFL bulbs too I might add), then you move the black tab to when you want the light turned off. Its done. Its literally that simple.

Maybe I am an old fart. Yet, when you buy something you expect it to work without an advanced degree in engineering. Remember VCR's with the forever blinking 12:00? One of the funniest moments on TV was when some wag took a piece of black electrical tape and covered the clock. The audience went wild and I choked on my beer. Of course! Why not?

My new philosophy is if I bring it home and despite following instructions that often resemble Urdo I can't get it to work back it goes for a refund. If we ALL did that, a whole bunch of consumer products would clean up their acts. That's my take!

Please visit my craft store at KrugsStudio.etsy.com and my fine art store at AlanKrugFineArt.etsy.com. Thank you for stopping by and reading!

P.S. 9.15.14

After coming home from my gallery showing the house was dark yet again. Unpluging the cord from the timer and into the extension cord, "there was light!" Guess where that Toastmaster is right you? Yet, the trash. Is there a timer that really, REALLY works?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Learning A New Technique Step By Step

After creating my "Abstract Birdhouse" I realized that I made many missteps along the way. I sealed the wood after the first few marks with my Sharpie started to feather into the dry wood. I didn't like that. But when I added color after sealing I could't quite get the watercolor effect I was looking for. All in all though, I was able to pull it off but when it was done realized I could have cut my time and effort by about half. For $25 I paid myself about $3 an hour.

Step 1: Creating Your Design
This time, I put the lines in with a pencil as light as I dared. However, I knew that once the lines were in place they could easily be obscured by the next step, using acrylic paints like watercolor for a running, dripping watercolor effect.

It takes a lot of time to create a design whether it's abstract, Pennsylvania Dutch, Rosemaling. I always start on paper and then transfer my designs by hand onto the surface of the item to be painted. Well, as you might have guessed, what looks good 2D changes dramatically when its 3D! Each of the sides does not stand alone and you have to make sure you carry the design around your item, in this case a birdhouse. A design is just the starting point. I should also add, some improvisations turn out to be very successful!

Step 2: Adding Color
After you are happy with all sides comes the colors you want to use. This is rather a blind event too. You never really know how it will turn out and have to wait until its dry. In fact, I've had to put several coats of paint, sometimes in heavier coats to get what I want. Remember, NO sealer yet. You want the paints to run and feather just like they would on watercolor paper.

This appears to be a good start! You can add more color after the sealer is put on but I feel that you want to get as much running and blurring as you can before that step. Once the sealer is on it will not be as spontaneous. I was lucky here in that I can see the pencil outline. It isn't always the case and then it may not be what you want. In this case, being abstract you can add more lines and not worry. There is no real focus its more about forms and colors.

If you are happy with what you see, and remember this is still the underpainting to the item, then put on your coat or two of sealer. I don't want my pens to run. If you do, then skip this step. I wanted precise lines and even though hand done, the feathering I saw on my first attempt made it look cheap. Artistically its up to you.

Then comes the "inking." I have about 6 or 7 pen thicknesses but find that I only use three or four. Its often hard to tell one from the other and you have enough to do. The hardest part for me was deciding what areas got the thickest lines. Once that was done, it seemed the rest came easily. It reminds me of the hundreds of technical drawings I did for a several clients. Thick, middle and thin. What was thick and what was thin made a tremendous difference. It will here too. If you mess up you can always make a line thicker...no one will be the wiser.

There will be four birdhouses in this abstract series and while three are nearly the same shape, I decided to give them different leg treatments. We will see if this is enough to make them stand apart yet remain part of the series.

I've used hearts, circles, triangles and squares in inventive designs and colors for my abstract series. Again, no one else is doing anything like this. Each one can stand on its own and yet could make a wonderful collection together.

If you paint on wood and want to try achieving a watercolor effect or even put Zentangle's on wood, this guide should help you through the process.  Happy Painting!

Please visit my craft store at KrugsStudio.etsy.com and my fine art store at AlanKrugFineArt.etsy.com. Thank you for stopping by and reading!

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Costs Of Being Disenfranchised

In 1096-99 Pope Urban II called for a Crusade, a recapturing of Jerusalem taken by the Muslims in 1076. Because they were so close to Constantople, The Patriach there appealed for help from the Europeans (though I am sure he regretted that after they sacked the city). A great army was gathered that grew as it went across Europe and finally reached the Holy Land.

Crusaders Storming The Walls Of Jerusalem.
There are many theories why this occurred. While it was true Christian pilgrims were hassled by the Muslims, few could make that journey. There are other ideas too.

One of the more intriguing theories is that around 1090-1110,  Europe was in relative peace, there was enough food and England, France and Germany had a birth explosion similar to what is happening in the Middle East today. Families were so large there there wasn't enough land, jobs, or opportunity to use up this labor force. As the pope noticed, idleness breeds discontent and to suck up this excess energy the first of several Crusades began.

Like today, ALL over the world, you had a young hormone driven male population with nowhere to go, nothing to do. However, what became different was the effect these Crusades had on history both then and today. Over and over again there were battles between the west and east as they traded land for power and wealth. Armies take many soldiers and sadly, soldiers die.

The capture of Constantinople by Muslim forces in 1453 created a huge shift in the fortunes of both east and west. It came at a time when Europeans were beginning to master the sea and rather than pay the prices and taxes on items from the silk road, the dream began to find another, a more direct way.

Again, Europe had managed to come back from the plague in the 1300's, one that may have killed half of the population. No one worried about Crusades and there were few young men around to fight anyone, anywhere. The Age of Exploration was yet another way to again find "jobs" for these youth as someone had to man those ships.

Wars and disease over the centuries "thinned" the herd and kept things more or less under control. The population grew but slowly. Unknowingly Columbus set off one of the largest die-offs of humans ever known. European diseases were unknown in the new world and Native Americans literally died by the millions. By the time explorers reached their settlements what they saw where the survivors. I can remember as a kid we were told there were only 3 million natives in North America when the new world was discovered. The continent was nearly empty. Now the estimates are closer to 90 million. And, if that wasn't bad enough, the yellow fever and malaria brought over from Africa killed even more natives AND Europeans who had no more immunity to them than natives. Only the slaves, who had lived with these diseases for millenniums were able to work. That set the stage for slavery on a huge scale.

As the country became more and more able to produce its own produce, products, grow cotton, tobacco and rice, the demands for labor grew. The invention of the cotton gin created a unprecedented demand for cheap labor. We exported one billion pounds of cotton in 1860, over 50% of our exports yet we were only 30% of the cotton market worldwide. Even as the Civil War roared, the demand for labor was high. Losing 650,000 able bodied men was a staggering loss and had to be made up somewhere. And so they came. Italy, Norway, Sweden, Germany. However, this demand would not go on forever.

A friend gave me a book, written by a Frenchman, who in 1998 said that while the past, America in particular, always had an insatiable need for labor, the labor saving devices, many of which were American inventions, were creating a problem. There were now more people than jobs. Not only were there fewer jobs available, the salaries of those working were expensive (Europe) who had shorter work weeks, generous vacations, earlier retirements than the United States and most other countries worldwide.

After the Civil War America had around 5 million African-Americans in need of jobs. The plantations couldn't afford to hire many so they became a type of uneducated itinerant class moving from place to place or stayed on the old plantation as free men with conditions that were not much different than slavery. With the return to restrictive laws by whites, African-Americans started moving north and west. It was not easy and in many ways they were as segregated as they had been in the south.

African-Americans today have one of the worst records of advancement. You have to realize for every Michael Jordan there are thousands of black men in jail. A visit to the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis gives you a balanced and fair accounting of what it was like to be black in the south. If we think we have moved past those outdated concepts consider Donald Sterling and Bruce Levenson. Of the two, Levenson's email left no doubt where he stood. Then to hear him castigate Sterling well...the pot calling the kettle black.

The United States and actually the EU have a problem. They are increasingly getting inundated with hordes of people from other cultures and values trying to find a better life. Toffler predicted in the 1980's that the 21st century would see the greatest migration of people in history. 14 years in, he is proving to be right. While it comes at a time, Europe in particular, that their populations are declining, they and the new residents are having a difficult time getting along. It isn't simply a matter of the Danes eating their bread differently than the Swedes. You have immigrants who don't want to change. Muslims don't understand Christians and vice versa. All westerners see on the news, now daily, are Muslim men and women, doing in the name of Allah monstrous deeds.  Beheadings, car bombs that are just as likely to kill their own people in secretariat violence as not. In many ways, they really don't need these people.

What do you do with all these people? As both the education level rises and the available jobs dwindle you have pretty much what we saw during the "Great Recession." Thousands of students graduating with degrees and no place to use them. If you think this is an American problem, guess again. Many Middle Eastern countries have and continue to educate their children for jobs they will never have. 28% of their population, nearly a third, is 15 -28, these governments have a daunting task of finding work. An enlightened government policy on job creation, encouragement of entrepreneurs along the Western model would go a long way in bringing this region into the 21st century. There is nothing in the Koran that prohibits this. Some Arab states have led the way. Buying the future with oil however, is not an option for most Arab countries. As much as they may not want to hear this, a close study of the business success in Israel would be a model and path anyone or all of them could follow.

It is the same world wide. It would be well to remember the hi-jackers of 9 / 11 all had degrees and many advanced degrees.

There is much to be done. How do you get restrictive governments, wildly restrictive "movements" to learn that your faith does not necessarily preclude following modern business practices (after all Mohammed was a merchant) and allowing all to be educated. That realization would be a first step.

That is my take on this discouraging and seemingly unsolvable problem. To not try, to not encourage all sides to enter in meaningful dialogue goes against what all the followers of Abraham, the father of Jewish, Christian and Muslim have been taught.

Friday, September 5, 2014

My First Gallery Show

Tomorrow, Sept. 6, 2014, I will hang my paintings in my first real art gallery show. There will three of us showing so it gives a bit of variety when people come to view the fine art.

The venue is an old house, the Walker House, given to and now maintained by the city of San Dimas, CA. I had heard that they were looking for artists and so I sent in my application along with some photos of my art months ago and was accepted!

As you can imagine the past few weeks have been hectic. Why do we wait? On the other hand why are things so complicated?

I finalized the paintings I would take as they recommend a $500 cap on prices. Then this morning made the cards for each of the paintings.

After designing the brochure I hope to hand out my version of Quark, 10.2, refused to print or create a PDF yesterday. It crashed. I did everything I know how to do to no avail. Finally I checked for updates and 453 MB later I installed it. This morning it printed and created PDF's like it always had. What the???

You have to wonder. Why would you release any software with such critical issues? The consumer should not be the tester (though Microsoft has gotten away with that for years). These software companies have plenty of overpaid geeks that you hope are doing just that. I'm a-thinkin' they are too busy trying to decide which BMW to buy than getting down to business.

Then the printer who was doing my business cards called and after another tense two hours and every file known to man said I needed to do something I had never heard of before that finally made me cancel the order. While the printer is being bitchy, I printed them here at home. There is more than one way to skin a cat. In retrospect I probably could have made them two sided as well.

A friend is going to help me hang the paintings and because we are a week early any mistakes, missing items and such can be brought to the gallery before it opens to the public next Friday.

If you live in the Los Angeles Metro area, come on by. It is from 5:30 to 8:30 pm Sept. 12-13 and 19-20. There will be refreshments and you will get to meet the artists! I'm excited to even be there. It will be a new experience for me. Maybe artists are pubic junkies too. However, you are putting yourself, exposing yourself and your ideas to the public. As we all know, it can be brutal. I have come to the conclusion that you will never know if you never try. I am hoping for the best!

Please visit my craft store at KrugsStudio.etsy.com and my fine art store at AlanKrugFineArt.etsy.com. Thank you for stopping by and reading!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

What A Difference A Style Makes

"Abstract Hearts Mini Birdhouse"
The other day I saw an abstract heart watercolor that tweaked my fancy. Looking at it between coats of paint as I worked on my "Norwegian Village Birdhouse" something seemed to click. Grabbing a small wooden birdhouse I began to doodle on it starting with the heart similar to the watercolor then expanding it on each side. I wanted to make sure that my creation was as composed and whole in three dimensions as the watercolor was in two.

As I began to outline my pencil lines with Sharpies and other permanent ink pens, I noticed that they feathered on the dry untreated wood. I then put a coat of sealer on the sides and returned to my other project letting that dry.

A wonderful discovery was that while the sealer did stop the running or "feathering" of the inks, it still allowed a watercolor painting affect. Next time, however, I will put the background colors on first and then fill in the design with the inks. The watercolor effect on untreated, dry wood would be similar to painting on dry watercolor paper. While you will know what the lines will be and where, the colors would be free to roam!

I might add DecoArts Traditions Extender to my acrylic paints to achieve much the same effect as I could with watercolor paints. In fact, now that I think of it, I could use watercolor paints as the background colors, seal the wood once they've dried, put on the lines and then varnish the entire completed birdhouse!

Back of "Abstract Hearts Birdhouse"
You may wonder about using watercolor paints but they have a transparency you rarely get with acrylics no matter how thinned down. Its all about pigment. They may be a bit more fade resistant though I would have to look into that. Since this is not great art, I would be long gone by the time there would be fading if someone still kept this in their family.

To me, the beauty of this concept, using abstract designs is that is gives me another dimension to work with and no matter how its viewed, on any side, the design shines through. There are many, too many cutsey and shabby chic birdhouses out there but few that mimic modern life. In fact, I feel because of this modern, abstract look it invites you to pick it up and look at all the sides! The birdhouse becomes a contemporary canvas where the design trumps the utilitarian purpose of the birdhouse.

But alas, while I was planning on a series of these mini and then hopefully larger birdhouses, since I posted it on my Etsy store, it hasn't received even one view. So, am I ahead of my time or is there  room for yet design motif on the common birdhouse? Maybe I am too anxious. Its only been a day

The other thing I did was add round beads for feet. This seemed to dress up the birdhouse and adds a bit of flair to what was a rather boring, plain base. However, don't use Gorilla Super Glue to attach them. It literally took ALL day for it to dry. I haven't used a glue that took that long since the days of Elmer's White Glue.

If you are so moved, let me know what you think. Is this something that has potential? Or, do I just go ahead, artistically blind and play away or walk away? Stretching what we do and know is always fun and brings some interesting discoveries along the way.

Please visit my craft store at KrugsStudio.etsy.com and my fine art store at AlanKrugFineArt.etsy.com. Thank you for stopping by and reading!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Completing A New Birdhouse

As a spoiler I am going to show you my new completed birdhouse, Norwegian Village Birdhouse. I mentioned it in my last blog and was pretty torn up about what to do with it. Surprisingly it is turning out to be one of my most successful introductions. On Etsy it has had many views and hearts!

Norwegian Village Birdhouse
This was started as a paean to my Pennsylvania Dutch days but then slowly at first and more quickly later on picked up some Norweigian Rosemaling along the way.

I have a whole bunch of yellow paint and decided that it is a cheerful color that needed to be used. By painting the roof a black green I could pretty much do whatever I wanted with the rest. Country Red, Vermillion and Orange for the flowers seemed the perfect compliments to the three tones of teal that I used for leaves. Somehow it all worked together and with some antiquing, I got rid of glaring colors and mellowed them all into a wonderful whole.

But it wasn't always that way.

First attempt at back of birdhouse
I used a different pattern for the back, something I had never done before. I loved the front though I fell into my old trap of making the birdhouse hole a flower. However, Rosemaling opened up new possibilities that I wanted to use on top of the flat Pennsylvania Dutch design for depth. I think that worked out pretty well.

However, I used a totally different pattern for the back and it wasn't working very well. I didn't know why. The colors just didn't seem to work and I didn't want to waste a lot of time trying to figure out why. I hadn't don't any new traditional birdhouses in awhile, and felt under the gun to try something new and different. Besides, I had tons of yellow paint. Just before I completely colored it all out after a good sanding (I dreamed this believe it or not) I decided to get rid of the connectors to the flowers. And I did. I painted the four parts yellow again but used the darkest teal for the lines. Suddenly it all began to take shape. By using Vermillion dots in the squares of the hash marks it seemed to tie all of the colors and designs together. Even the roof fit in!
New lines, new opportunity!

It was amazing to me what those very minor changes made to what had become far too static. Adding the leaves but remaining true to the limited palette, every part of this birdhouse worked. No new colors were introduced with the exception of brown for the antiquing. I floated the brown on one side of a wide angled brush that only had water on the other side. Moving the brush up and down and all around I was able to keep browns on edges that would fade with the water into the interior's of each side. In fact, it almost looks like its 100 years old. We saw lots of that in Norway only they really were hundreds of years old.

This helped tone down colors that were too bright and yet allowed muted colors to stand out. I never know what colors will do this so its a wonderful mystery each and ever time!

Finished back of Norwegian Village Birdhouse
That is the wonder of acrylic paints. It gives you a chance to correct mistakes measured in minutes not hours or days.The whole corrective process maybe took an hour. As long as I could run the teal over the yellow I was ready to proceed and did.

This is one of my most cheerful birdhouses. Using an oil based varnish (remember you can put oil on top of acrylic as that is what gesso is but NEVER put acrylic on top of oil - never, ever! It will cause the acrylic's to sluff off ), I have been assured it will hold up for years. At the first sign of dulling, spray or paint another layer or two on your birdhouse.

Please visit my craft store at KrugsStudio.etsy.com and my fine art store at AlanKrugFineArt.etsy.com. Thank you for stopping by and reading!