Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Continuing The Conundrum Of Etsy

This past week, I have gotten an extraordinary number of treasury requests. For those readers who are not Etsy sellers, a treasury is a collection of products for sale from a whole bunch of Etsy stores arranged around some kind of a theme. Some are straight forward and others are grasping at straws. Looking at them I realized, for the first time, that its Etsy sellers clicking and creating lovely "treasuries" of each others work. The problem is that it is only Etsyians work and rarely do those treasuries go outside the Etsy universe, if ever. We can click all we want, favor and such but I realized that this is a bubble. There is no way out.

A Typical Etsy Treasury

What do we do? I know that for the 1.5 million sellers on Etsy there are probably less that 200 success stories defined as selling hundreds if not thousands of items a year. Many of us got angry when these people got Etsy to allow them to continue to sell products that were being made overseas. The argument was that they designed it and had to have others make it so they could keep up with sales. I said then and I say now, how does that make what you're selling a hand made craft? There was no answer and the silence rings still! No matter how lovely the necklace you see at Macy's you can rest assured that there are more in every Macy's in the country. Someone designed it, somewhere it had to be made in quanities to go to thousands of stores. However, this does not make it a hand crafted item.

There is a wonderful gallery we found in Sonoma, CA called the Terra Firma Gallery. Each and everyone of the items they sell are unique, made by very talented craftsmen and artists. I'm not saying that I want to be considered in that league but I feel that stores such as this, especially in a wine traffic center probably has a better chance of selling something. I know I bought my daughter a wonderful graduation gift there when she earned her Masters In Social Work. This is something she can wear and treasure her whole life. There lays the conundrum - Terra Firma artists are competing with a few other artists (not millions) and you can make the decision to enter or not.

What can we do? I guess we can open up our own store or gallery, or create a web site that extols our creations beyond Etsy. The latter certainly would be cheaper! We were discussing selling on the web yesterday and not one person in the room of 8 women and two men had ever heard of Etsy.

The decision becomes, when do we leave mother's milk? Does there become a time when all of our time and energy needs to be on our own site? Its scary but until we dip our feet in the water we will never know.

Several Etsy sellers have made a career out of selling books, guides, etc. on how to sell on Etsy. In fact Timothy Adam was one of the first and I have to say buying and using his book was no different than doing nothing. He has seminars, classes online and a whole bunch of other ways to get a few bucks out of you. My experience seems to show the only person who made a profit in that deal was Tim.

People who are mostly sellers and readers of my blog from Etsy have remained silent. I am at a loss for a solution and wonder who among you have found a successful alternative solution?

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, October 27, 2014

American's Making Do

Making Do!
The other day waiting for my wife to retrieve the phone she lost at Target I suddenly focused on the car facing us. It was a pick up like I purchased new in 1994 and replaced in 2003.

As you can see in the photo, it has seen pretty hard days yet somehow manages to soldier on. What intrigued me though was the "creative" use of different items to more or less make it legal. The little lights poking through some kind of wire, wire holding the headlights in place and other touches as well. If the cops ever stopped them I'm sure it would fail every safety test known to man. While it is funny or clever I might wonder what would happen if he was behind me when he tries to stop. The odds are not good.

Christmas Tree Leg
As I grapple with new ideas, paints, designs, I realized that many artists are combining "found" items more and more. I was never happy with a simple, plain birdhouse. I wrote about how just the simple addition of "feet" changed the look before a drop of paint was applied.

Then I found some interesting trees, snowmen that were half cut at one of the shows and used them in place of one of the feet. The front had a three dimensional feel, the back was flat and easy to mount on my birdhouses!

This Santa Birdhouse has Santa carrying a decorated tree. I found scraps of Christmas decorations and found ways to use them. Why settle for "same old" look when you have items just laying around begging you to use them!?!

For me at least, its the sense of adventure, pushing the limits I have and being more than willing to try what others have already done but in my own way. All art is derivative whether we want to admit it or not. One style leads to another then leads to another. There's noting wrong with this. While you can't copy you sure can use someone else's  techniques for your very own projects. Before you start your next project, do like I did and poke around those hidden recesses in your work area. You might be very surprised at what you'll find!

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!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Treasures of Wal-Mart

Straight from Wal-Mart
I know, I know I can see those lips curling, noses up in the air and fingers about ready to click me off at even a hint of that terrible name! But hear me out.

A few weeks ago I was near a Wal-Mart and needed something related to growing. My memory is pretty bad these days. Anyway while the garden center was becoming Christmas, there hanging on the back wall, were some birdhouses, feeders and such. Made in the USA, as rare as chicken teeth today, they must have had 8 or 9 styles. Inspecting them and noting they were red American cedar, I bought a few. None cost me more than $10 and they offered features you would never see in a craft store. Twisted metal hanger, lucite for the feeder and easy loading. You lift the roof and filler' up. Buy the big bag of seed. They may be little birds but they eat like pigs. Really.
With winter a few weeks away for much of the country this is the perfect gift! The birds will appreciate it.

What attracted me was they were all ready to go outside. You have a choice of boring or you can pay more and have a work of art that they may not notice, after all their little brains are thinking food, food, food but placed properly you can enjoy it outside a window. Here is my first attempt. This is sealed with oil Varathane that will give years of life to your bird feeder. When it starts to look dull just give it a new coat. And a word to the wise use sponge brushes. When done throw them away. Forget messy and stinky mineral spirits.

While I didn't sell much at the gallery show I did learn that people don't give much credence to the amount of work artists put into an object. They think we are playing and rather than charging $200 for who knows how many hours of work $20 seems reasonable. I wonder if their bosses can initiate a similar deal. I know a great many people who do little or nothing at work yet manage to complain how stressed they are. How would they know?

I have wandered Wal-Mart as rarely as I can. It is crowded, the kids are out of control and while I haven't seen the shoppers of Wal-Mart in person, some come very very close. However, there may be some other departments to check out. I am pleased enough with the quality and proud to purchase American products!

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!

Do You Have An IPad?

The other day in deep frustration trying to get some project done I kept poking at my iMac screen. "Where is the app, why aren't you doing anything I shrieked?" That was when I realized this wasn't my iPad, it was my iMac. (In fact I am fighting my iMac as I write this.) I use my iPad about 80% of the time now.

Tim Cook needs to consider two things:
1. Making the screens on laptops and iMac's touch sensitive. Jobs said famously "no one wants to reach across their keyboard and touch the screen. Here's a surprise Steve, YES WE DO! Sadly Microsoft has done this with terrible tablets, worse laptops and even worse software. I wouldn't touch their new OS 10 for months after the release. Apple has followed the same playbook. It took three weeks and three updates to give us the OS we should have had the day the iPhone 6 launched. Cook needs to note that yes the mighty Do fall. The list of the fallen is long and deep. Another debacle like that and even the faithful lose, well, faith. If Jobs were alive a whole bunch of employees would be looking for jobs.

2. The other option would be to make the iPad so close to a laptop you wouldn't need it anymore. A couple of ports, click on cover and keyboard, maybe a bigger screen and if the weight were kept reasonable, you would never need a laptop. I have written columns on my iPad using a Bluetooth keyboard. I can't import photos so its back to the iMac but you get the idea.

The Unveiling of the iPad
The beauty of the iPad is that you don't have to hunt around tool bars, applications; you find the icon, touch it and it launches. It takes seconds where if you are using you computer program, say Word, it takes forever. I've timed it up to 5 minutes. That is unacceptable.

Our fingers are so much faster than any mouse. You touch and something happens. You click your mouse to one, two, three or more additional steps before you have a program to use.

This was apparent when samples of the original iPad were taken to retirement homes. It didn't take them any longer than a kid to figure it out. They loved them and many refused to give them back. There were scuffles I guess. Do you blame them? There are times when a mouse confuses me.

Within a week after the release of iPad 1, a YouTube video when viral when a family videotaped their two year old given an iPad for the first time. After a bit of inspection, poking of buttons, it was up and running in two minutes and and she was playing games the parents had installed. At 2! I remember a few weeks later going through the TV department at Target where a gaggle of kids was leaning on the platform filled with TV's. Bored, I watched them swipe the screen and when nothing happened turned to look at the sales lady. The sales lady had to turn away she was laughing so hard.

There is concern that the pace of sales has slacked off. Well, how many DO we need? We do need them but we are going to spend up to $900 for incremental updates. Work on the software. Give us exciting and useful things to use on it.

I have noticed most of my doctors are using them now and enterprise is more and more adopting them. Did you know that every priest in the Catholic Church has one and it has everything they will ever need to conduct a service of any kind in any language. Since it has wi-fi built in they are never far away from updates. United adopted them a few years back and put the information of every airport in the world on them. Now rather nearly 100 pounds of books it weighs two pounds and they put them in a messenger bag.

David Pogue famously said at the 2007 MacWorld when the iPhone was revealed, "The iPhone would change everything." How right he was. Now if Apple will ask us what and where we want to go.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Disabled Placard is NOT A Free Ride: How Police Departments Are Missing Out On A Cash Cow!

This past week I have had to deal with a whole bunch of issues including my health. I visited several doctors and had an evening CT Scan. What I started to notice was how few "Handicapped Parking" spaces there were available. I got my placard last year when my back really started to go. It really hit me yesterday when trying to park at Target a driver refused to move so I could straighten out my truck. I gave up and she sailed into the space one space closer to Target. She bops out and furious by then I said, "You can't park here." "I have placard" and pulls it out. Looking at her I then asked, "Is that for your mother or father?" She nodded yes. "You still can't park here, they are not with you." She locked her car and marched into the store.

Several years ago a CBS News crew started watching the areas when real handicapped people could not find a parking space ever. It turned out that small shop owners got there before 7 am, put up the placard and the car sat there all day. They are too stupid to realize they were blocking the very customers they were trying to attract.

I noticed in my scan today this warning: The Illegal use of a disabled parking placard could result in a maximum fine of $4200. How many of these fines do you think have been handed out?  Why weren't the LA cops following that news crew? They could have raked in up to $100,000 on one block. Money crunch? Lets make those who think the rules don't apply to them find out they do. Most will never repeat it again. If they do and their car is towed, it might give them pause the third time. If any entity is going to pass laws, they are for the good of all, not some. We have far too many people today who think they are special. A daily viewing of celebrity bad boy or girl behavior is proof of that. The judge may not do much but my mother would have slapped me all the way to Sunday for any of that behavior. In fact all the mothers I knew growing up would have. If you were there and guilty you got a taste of the punishment as well with my mother's blessing.

Let's put it this way, did you know that the FCC can fine unsolicited phone calls? In fact they can fine a person or telemarketer $7700 per call if you are on the "Do Not Call" registry. You want to know how many fines have been levied? One! 

How many states, cities, counties have fined citizens for just this behavior? If you are disabled, you hurt. You are unable to do what you once could. I have been reduced to tears it hurts so much at times. It limits you and you literally calculate how much energy and time it will take to do something. Many times you simply stay home.

We need a new protocol. In mall parking lots the guards should keep an eye on cars using Handicapped Parking, especially ALL day. Give them a warning and log them. If they see it again, call the police. They have nothing better to do anyway. Athletic and concert venues do the same thing. Streets all over every town, village and city are fair game as well. You don't need to be there 3-4 hours before the concert. Its an employee too lazy to park where they should. And "meter maids" could have open season on the very things CBS saw. One could raise enough fines in a month to pay their salary and benefits with lots left over for the rest of the year. Its time to pressure our officials.

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, October 12, 2014

Dreams of Mini Birdhouses

I woke up this morning thinking about mini-birdhouses. Of course, the fact that I had finished one last night, one of my most adventurous could have had something to do with it.

Next I created a new category on my Etsy store, a "mini" birdhouse category. That took about 5 tries. Etsy really has a problem. Finally, at least two of the mini's were put in that category even though 10 of them made it on my new Pinterest board.

Another motivation, probably in the back of my mind, was that I either sold two or three mini birdhouses at my gallery show. So, I decided they should be featured separately from the larger birdhouses. The dirty secret is that no matter what size a birdhouse is, the amount of work on them is about the same, the smaller ones maybe more because you are fighting smaller and tighter spaces. I started using them as test items and realized that they deserved their own original designs. They were fun to do and I have sold more than a few.

I had wanted to try crackle paint for awhile as well as the chalk paint I had. So, this birdhouse was painted a blood red. Once that was dry, then came the crackle layer. Heavens, I must have watched dozens of YouTube videos and each one had different advice. One English woman suggested using Elmer's glue, waiting until it got pretty tacky then covering that with the top layer of paint. She and many others used hot air guns but I decided to just let it take its course with the DecoArt Crackle Medium. The chalk paint didn't take long to dry and with crackling it created a wonderful base finish. Soft, smooth, just the right amount of crackle that wouldn't and didn't take away from the design on top.

Rosemaling is a very intricate and exacting format. I am an infant with the technique and as with all things practice makes perfect. Each time I achieve maybe one small breakthrough and it tickles my fancy. Craft is a form of fantasy, one that we willingly chose. If there is any shame in all this its that outside the craft community, with very rare exceptions, what we create is rarely appreciated. I can remember discussing this at the gallery show. Most viewers eyes glaze over. Yet, I would be that each and every one with hobbies of their own would do the same thing. We each have to choose our weapons accordingly.

Finally after the design was finalized, painted on and allowed to dry. I began to sand it, creating a shabby chic look that fit the crackled background perfectly. What do you think?

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, October 10, 2014

Changing As You Go - The Tale of a Star Shaped Birdhouse

Raw Star Shaped Birdhouse
After weeks of not really doing much in the way of creating, I just didn't know how to proceed with this birdhouse. I probably should have put it away and chosen another design from all that I have!

There was the art gallery show, I was busily finishing a clients projects and I have been battling some kind of an unrelenting cough!  Once the client's project was done, the gallery show mounted it was time to catch a breather. However, after two weekends with a few friends visiting, not all that many patrons visiting us, with nothing in the way of sales, I went in a funk. Two months of no Etsy sales will do that to you. I got some redemption on the final day of the Wild West Days several weeks later when I sold two of the small birdhouses.

My inspiration for this star birdhouse was a restored art decor theater where we had gone to a concert in West Los Angeles. I had time to look around and was intrigued by the involved designs all around me. Many theaters built in Los Angeles during the 20's and 30's were literally movie palaces. By the 60's Many were torn down for something more "modern" until Disney restored one of the grandest in Hollywood, the El Capitan! This theatre was more geometric and color wise boring while the Pantage's in Hollywood has geometric and soft curves and colors that combined combined for a more different effect.

For me, the challenge was to use some designs and when I realized how complicated they were tried to figure out how to have intricate detail and open spaces.

Adding more stars, front and back added additional depth and I felt interest to the design itself. However, thinking that I was done (see photo right), something still wasn't quite right. While the bottom front was detailed the upper part was plain. The struggle was then, do you leave it alone? I do know that this morning the white star I had painted on the star round the bird hole distracted me immensely. Cream wasn't used anywhere else and so, I realized it had to go.

The photos don't do a good job of showing this but I used an orange wash to tone down the cream points in the star. The balance is better and it also holds all the other colors together well.

If there is any point to be made here it is for artists to think out of the box. I did get a kick at the gallery show as people looked at my birdhouses astounded by what I had come up with. A "Rocket Cactus?" How about an outhouse birdhouse painted as a desert scene on all sides? A rocket becomes a space ship roaring into space. What we need to do is to stretch our minds beyond that we think we see and run with it. However, and sadly at that, while it did provoke many discussions it didn't cause any sales. Yet, as friends and family have said this is something you enjoy so yes, run with it. Maybe I am ahead of the curve!

While I can't figure out how to do it in Etsy, I am running a 10% off everything on my KrugsStudio Etsy store until Nov. 4th. If you have admired something, this is a great time to buy! Christmas is coming and hand created gifts are for many more precious than anything they could buy that was mass produced.

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, October 9, 2014

Days of Reckoning: Cleaning Months of Messes

This has been quite a year. The past three months in particular have been busy and hectic. I spent over 135 hours working on a clients catalog price list, a PDF version of same, then an Excel Spreadsheet that his dealers can enter their discount in and know what it will cost them. And finally, using Quark to make changes to their color product catalog creating a PDF version. Every single one of these items took hours of time and usually took me away from my craft and fine art painting. In fact, I haven't done a fine art painting in months!

The sad remnants of past projects!
It was creating the invoice today that I looked around my office and work bench and realized what a mess. While I continued to do a few new birdhouses and such, I would move on to the next one leaving the debris of the last one. I just put new "stuff" over it. My office was even worse. Really. Drafts of the same things and finally printouts to compare. I was stunned at the changes that were not caught and so that had to be rectified as well.

Of course there were many other events happening. I fired the gardener when they laughed at my instructions to lock the gate not once but two weeks in a row. I told them when my dog got out it was I who would have to hunt her down not them. On their last day the gate was locked.

Getting ready for the Elton John concert our tankless water heater quit. I took a cold shower bringing back memories of my days in the Peace Corps. Then the air conditioning quit the night before a party my wife was giving at our home. With endless days of 90-100ยบ here in Southern California (the new Anasazi Chaco Canyon and the disappeared?), there was no way we could invite people to come over and sweat into their wine glasses. Though my trusty A/C guy did make it and fixed the air in good time, even better than before, the housekeeper didn't. No call, no answer of her phone all week. Must be nice to not have to work.  I vacuumed and dusted paying a price with my back. It looked nice and everyone was happy.

In the midst of all this, I displayed my art at the Second Story Gallery in San Dimas. In many ways it was very disappointing to both the gallery and the three artists showing there as there were no sales. However, it was awesome to see my paintings displayed salon style on the walls. At first I couldn't believe what I was seeing was mine. Really. You see them when you paint but displayed together was stunning. The colors simply shimmered on the walls and while many came and looked none of us had sales. Yet after four evenings of displaying and chatting with the people who visited us, the fact there were no sales was depressing. In fact there was a week when I didn't touch a paint brush and left everything were it was. I even entertained the idea of packing up painted and unpainted items and just taking to Good Will. Maybe someone would enjoy them. It at the time an emotional drag.

Because the city was having "Western Days" they asked us to leave our art in place. I had about 20 paintings and about 20 birdhouses painted in a variety of styles. In fact I ended up selling two mini birdhouses and while not much money it was interesting and fascinating to talk to people. They had never seen work such as this and a few took my brochure and business cards. You never know.

Then because I have two Etsy stores, I battle my Charter Cable modem each and every day because no matter what their modems are, they can't hold a signal more more than about 5 minutes, I swear. Are they the worst? Possibly. They sure have no problems charging more. In frustration I told the customer service person to get it when you can because everyone is moving to the cloud. We will have no need for their restrictive polices, something our FCC hasn't figured out either. My daughter hasn't watched a show on TV in years. She may watch DVD's but everything else is on her laptop. I do the same on my iPad.

Its been a trying past few months but I can see counter tops devoid of stacks of papers today. As as soon as I get my two overly involved birdhouses done, that will be cleaned and the paints put away.

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!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Battling Inkjet Printers: Epson No, Hopefully Canon Yes

Below is the letter I wrote to the Epson CEO who, it turns out, is headquartered in Long Beach, CA, maybe 20 miles away.

I won't go into detail yet again. You read the details and why I finally wrote it after the events of the past week. Companies have for too long hidden problems with service, with items they make they are well aware that have problems (witness GM and Toyota) who both had huge recalls again this week.

I was angered at Bose who didn't want me to Tweet  publicly their lousy service and product. It still doesn't work right. For years most of this kind of behavior has been swept under the rug. Upper management, especially CEO's had better pay close attention or they will join other companies in the trash heap of history. The difference is that today it can happen in a day.

Here is the letter:

P.S. TODAY IS Jan.9, 2015. The Epson printer died again for the 5th time. I got rid of it to a friend who loves Epson products. We shall see. I will never buy Epson again. 

The new Canon MX 922 arrived yesterday and he helped set up the wi-fi printing today. We shall see but so far it prints wonderfully, automatically two sided even. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Joan London, Angelina Jolie and Me.

Joan London after chemotherapy
While it has been in the "TV News" for weeks and there is even a bald photo of Joan London on the cover of PEOPLE magazine, I was finally struck yesterday at how well women have been able to make breast cancer known. The pink ribbons, the walk-a-thons, public notices, baring all to a public they don't know is awe inspiring until its not. Where are the men with prostrate cancer? Don't get me wrong, cancer of any type is horrifying. Too many dear friends have passed and that memory lingers still. I cried all the way home when two urologists found my lump. It didn't get better from that point and I am struggling still with some of the after affects.

The dirty secret is that men and women are diagnosed with prostrate and breast cancer at the same rates each and every year. Men have a slightly higher survival rate and it's said most men over 80 may have the cancer but it wasn't a factor in their death. When you get the diagnosis earlier, depending on the stage and Gleason score, there is watchful waiting for men. However, in England they made a rather grim discovery that what the biopsy showed and what the reality was can be very different. Once they had the actual cancer it was often worse than originally diagnosed.

That was why I got angry with AARP with their irresponsible article about how the DRE (digital rectal exam) and PSA tests weren't that important. John Hopkins encourages every man from 50 on to get both tests EVERY year, from 40 if someone in your family was diagnosed. For some reason African-American men have the highest rates and lowest diagnosis rates. I never got a satisfactory answer from AARP and have let my membership lapse.

London is definitely not out of the woods yet. I can feel for her children and their fear and most likely terror at the thought of losing their mother. Having a father that died at 40 when I was 16 and a sister who turned 7 the day after he died I live with the memory still. Then and now there seems to be no reason or understanding. All we can do is trust in God.

Jolie had mastectomies because it was discovered she had the markers for breast cancer. While it had not shown itself yet, she opted to have them both removed to remove any possibility it would occur.

Every man AND woman can get cancer but men, for whatever reason, stay mum and quiet as mummies when the subject comes up. A blabbermouth by nature I spilled the beans at my monthly poker night. I explained what was happening and that I still hadn't decided what I would do. They all looked at me, sat still as stones and then the game resumed. End of story. It was later that I found out another member of the group was even further in his prostrate cancer than me and the only hope for him with a Stage 4 diagnosis, Gleason 10 and PSA in the hundreds was an experimental chemo being developed at City of Hope, one of the first places to try it. He sat stone silent while I talked and he has never told me any part of his story since. For him, a friend told me, it has been almost a miracle. His PSA is 1.5 (they worry at 4.0 and above) and he looks and says he feels great. I told my urologist before they put me on those horrible hormones or radiate me, that will be my next course of treatment should it be necessary.

I think its time for men to give up the stiff upper lip and show some compassion for both themselves and their fellow men. We don't even have to write the playbook. Just look at and follow what the women have done. They seem to have no problem going public, why should we?

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!