Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Crazy Quilt Tissue Box

Step 1 - getting the design on the item
Trying to keep myself busy and my mind and hands active I decided that the plain wooden tissue box on a small table next to my chair needed something. I didn't want it too colorful or even a solid color or stained wood, I definitely wanted a little more character than a plain wooden box.

If you have never tried creating a crazy quilt design, try to pencil in what you would think fabric scraps might look like on an object. I have used this on birdhouses (my first series), wooden plates and now this tissue box. The drawn "fabrics" are all shapes and sizes depending on the item you are making. The secret of a good crazy quilt is that you use whatever is at hand ... cottons, velvet even suiting and tie materials.

Before doing anything though, I gave the item a light sanding feeling for rough edges and iffy sides. When I felt that it was smooth, I was ready. You might want to use a sealer for your next step making sure the wood was 100% dry before putting on the base coat. I was going for a more primitive look and usually like the look of paint getting soaked up by the wood.

Your next step is to pencil in the "Crazy Quilt" pattern. I had a dream about it and in that dream I had done each of the sides and the top in different color ways ... 
Step 2 - coloring the fabric base colors
blues, greens, reds, yellows and purples on top. It was an interesting idea. However, as I started painting I realized that "pieces" of fabric from the other sides needed to be brought in. This helped keep the palette in a kind of continuity with the two sides it was touching.

I tried to use a base color at least twice on each side. That way you didn't have to use too many colors (I used something like 35 as it was, WAY too many?). Yet, it seemed that I needed to use this many to keep the continuity I wanted where base colors blended into the next side. I started with the top using purples that would blend in with the four side colors of blue, yellow, red and green. Finished, I think it worked.
Step 3 - flat base fabrics of paint completed

While painstaking, it is important to follow these steps and see where the colors take you. It is not always easy and I repainted more than one fabric scrap to make it's color fit especially as it would creep around the side into the next color way.

Once the entire surface is painted (No, I didn't seal the box first as many would do because I didn't care whether the paints soaked into the wood or not. However if you are having problems stop painting and seal the wood. You can always continue painting when the sealer is dry.) Then comes the real decision making time. What designs do I give my painted "fabrics?"

As you can see from Step 3, on the left, the base of flat fabrics is often ragged and complicated. It seemed right to me to do this because of the variety of scraps I have seen leftover from a sewing project. It would have been easier to make more or less squares but then, where's the challenge? Here you can also see the red, yellow and purple sides. Notice how they tend to invade each others spaces. I believe that it makes for a better continuity.
Step 4 - adding fabric design on base colors

Now for the designs. For me, this is never easy. While I am using gel and Sharpie pens for designs, this is not a smooth paper surface and lines don't always go as straight as you would like. The same goes using even liner brushes with paint on them. Probably I don't have the steadiest of hands but more than once I feel thwarted by the surface as I draw or paint a line, circle or square. If you wanted a more perfect surface then probably a coat of sealer well sanded would give you a smoother surface. I wanted to have a kind of hand-drawn feel. I didn't want it perfect. What's the fun of that?

As you can see here, on the blue, green and purple sides, (right) the fabric designs are being added on. I often used the same design giving it a different color way as I went around the sides. In the end it would be changed the minute I started to "antique" it making the patterns and sides become far more unified and making individual differences less noticeable. That was my goal from the beginning. The solid flat colors can be jarring (look at Step 3 again) and even with the fabrics in place a bit much. I say this loving color!
Step 5  - The finished, antiqued box
However, when all is in place, the base colors and fabric designs,  I think that there needs to be a process that makes it all work together. For me it is the antiquing, a wash of brown heaviest on the edges and washed inward. That's why I usually use DecoArts Traditional Raw Umber rather than black because with age things go brownish not blackish. It is a matter of preference. I believe you could use any color you wanted depending on the look you wanted. I have tried other colors but for aging something I find that dark browns seem to work the best.

As you can see in Step 5 the antiquing has given the box and instant antique look, a look where after years of use the box has achieved a patina of old age just like you might find on something old around grandma's house.

The last step, for me at least, is to take a gold pen, or one that will write on the acrylic and put in the stitching that would be used to hold the fabrics in place. That's right, each and every piece of "fabric" is "sewn" in place with golden thread. As daunting as that sounds, it can be done in about an hour. After all that has already taken place ... putting on the base coat, then the fabric designs what's another hour? When you are looking at it or holding it, it gives the entire piece a very finished look.

If you are a crafter, get out some object and give it a try. I am going to try a wooden photo frame next and possibly teach it to my class of seniors. This is something they can easily do and have something they can be proud of. Add a photo and they have a wonderful memory of family or friends using a piece of art they created themselves.

If interested in buying this small treasure, contact me in comments where we can reach a deal.

Thank you for visiting my blog. Comments are always welcome. Please check out my earlier blogs as they range from a wide variety of comments on design and how it affects our lives!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Finishing the Seniors Second Craft

Successful senior crafters
Despite a rough start for me, today was a kind of triumph for my crafters. A new member came and after finding another pot, had her start though there wasn't a chance she would get done today.

For those that were here last week, they had pretty much painted the stripes, dots and pot lip on their plastic pots. 

The finished pot
Today we finished the pots by putting the daisies, I had planned for four, on the sides. After a bit of practice and time spent showing them together and again personally, I had them work on their daisies. One interesting senior, who doesn't speak a word of English, who pretty much does her own thing, painted Chinese characters instead of daisies. I have to admit that it looked very nice. Since I can't or read write Chinese, it was a pretty nifty twist.

Recreated Flower Pot In Chinese
Once the pots were finished, painted and hopefully dry, I pressed floral foam into each pot and had each person pick their own artificial flowers. Once they were pressed in, we then kept it "authentically "real" by using real moss. I must admit they looked pretty nice. In fact they were all very proud and I encouraged them to take them to their rooms but bring them back for the next class. I would coat the paint with a varnish because unless that extra clear coat is there, the paint scratches off the plastic pot quite easily. 

While I am sure each of these crafters learned something new and had their horizons stretched, I have to admit that I learned a a great many new things too. When I think of an idea for a project I assume that it will be followed as closely as possible. I mean, after going to four or five Las Vegas Painting Conventions and one Society of Decorative Painters (SDP) convention that was the point! You left with a near perfect item.
Another variation of a design

We say we go to these conventions to learn, hopefully, new techniques but we slavishly copy what the teacher has already created. At the SDP, as I recounted in an earlier blog,  one teacher encouraged us to "do our own Rosemaling thing" and that got us in trouble. As she taught what she had already created I realized my "winging" it was trouble. Completely unable to follow what she was doing, I realized what I had done didn't follow her design at all. I packed up and was all ready to leave when she came over, asked why I was leaving and after explaining she asked the class how many others had done the same thing. A whole bunch raised their hands. So much for doing your own thing.

This, however, is also an example of how I was going to teach my crafty seniors and fought their impulse to stray. When one senior really did her own thing I realized, what I had done had no meaning to her. She was happy with what she had created and to be honest, the sides of the birdhouse where she used her own, ugh, design, impressed me! It was amazing in fact. I put her birdhouse away so it wouldn't disappear.

Today, as I was teaching daisies she had other things on her mind and the pot above is what she created using Chinese. Once the flower she picked and the moss was in place she broke into song. It was in Chinese but she was so proud. We all stopped what we were doing and let her hold up her pot and sing. It was a defining moment for me. The photo on the right is a rendition of my design but done in her own way. Is it any less? She was very happy and proud. Who am I to criticize? It dawned on me that this is what artists do all the time. They may go to school, do their teachers bidding but when the time comes they must make their own way. They must create their own vision and not use someone else's. 

Teaching these seniors has been ultimately a wonderful experience. They can see what I have done, after all the sample is sitting there in front of them but unlike all the classmates at every convention I've been too, they are willing to take a chance and do what they want! I don't think a teacher can ask for anything less.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Brown Is The New Green: Living In the Drought of California

Dead lawn in Alhambra, CA
Taking my morning walk early to avoid the unrelenting heat of the past week, I noticed one lawn after another looked like the one shown here (left).

I am sure the entire world knows that California is in the midst of the worst drought in its recorded history. How did this happen?

It wasn't all that long ago that having a lawn that looked like this, lets say as soon as last year, you would get a citation for failing to maintain your property. Now, its a badge of pride. You are conserving water. 

The same was done when a property in another San Gabriel Valley city took out their lawn and used Astro Turf instead. The city was quick to issue a citation about that too. Now, as you can see in this 
Astro Tuff vs. a dead lawn.
photo, many cities are encouraging homeowners to do this exact same thing. It looks good year around, saves using smog producing lawn mowers and all it takes to keep clean is a blower! How nice is that?

Growing up in Oregon, water was rarely an issue. In fact you usually had too much. Still though, dams manage most of the rivers creating electricity and water management. 

The thing that has always amazed me, and I have lived in Southern California since 1970, is how poorly the state has managed its water. Rain water just ran down to the sewers and out to sea. Really? They were all for building huge dams, 100's of miles of aqueducts and other grandiose projects. However, simple things like saving the rainwater that fell on the streets seemed beneath the planners of the Department of Water Resources. The liberal north has been begging the DWR to dismantle the Hetch Hechy dam east of San Francisco, their main source of water. Those people must have found something else to agitate about as not a word has been said about tearing the damn down the past year. 

Evaporation Saving Black Balls
The Sunday Los Angeles Times had a big article on how the state was going to plan for the next drought. I guess there is nothing they can do about it now except having Gov. Brown asking all of us to use 25% less water. He is asking a state that is the most efficient state using water in the union to use even less. It looks like it is working. However, we are already using 25% less water than we did 20 years ago.

Locally, the city reservoirs have been adding black floating balls to literally cover the open water saving millions of gallons of water from evaporating. Black seems like a strange color but as a spokesman said, "we want to save the water, we don't care if its warm or not." Millions have been purchased at a cost of 36¢ each yet are supposed to last 10 years and can be recycled. It will be interesting to see if it works.

A Familiar Site on California's Freeways.
In a region that is naturally more desert than not, the idea of having vast green lawns will have to change. Some homeowners, knowing that they will pay through the nose for water, tore out lawns and planted desert landscaping instead. The idea caught on! The state has had two state sponsored rebates to help pay for the removal of your lawn and replacing it with rocks and desert loving plants.

The Times article talks about DWR's future. There will be more sewage treatment plants, recharge basins and desalination  facilities. They are looking for high efficiency projects in steps rather than grand projects like more dams, aqueducts and such. Steps like reducing thinning overgrown forests something Native
The drought is closer to home that we know!
Americans knew 200 years ago, fixing leaky delivery systems, gathering more data on water usage and encouraging more efficient use of water. Finally they are retooling their flood control systems to capture rain runoff and funnel it to underground storage. The cost of this and other measures will be $500 million but already, they say it is paying off. Locally developed water development is up 50% and imported water down 40%

There was a fascinating broadcast on "60 Minutes" where Leslie Stahl interviewed a water treatment plant manager. He said when they are through with waste water it is purer than what you would get out of your tap. He wolfed down a glass while Stahl after demurring finally drank her water. She had to admit it tasted good and you would never know that awhile ago it came from homes and had who knows what was in it. We could cut water usage down quite a lot using recycled water. It seems to work on the space station!

Agriculture was slow to use more efficient methods.
Agriculture, historically has been the biggest user of water in California. Some of the crops really have no right to be grown here. They have huge water demands that would be better grown where water is more plentiful.

50% of urban water usage currently goes to landscaping ... or did. However, the state and water company rebates and some very talented landscapers have created beautiful yards that actually offer more than a boring old lawn. The challenge is changing the habits and minds of Californians. After all we are a state of transplants. Many come from colder climes yet for half of the year they have rain and flowers and the time to mow their yards. Having the
Drought tolerant sustainable yard
greenest yard is a badge of honor. As New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and now California have discovered, this vision wasted untold amounts of water and wasn't sustainable. This drought probably wouldn't have been as bad if many of the proposed policies were already in place. Americans are reactive and rarely look far ahead for potential problems. The DWR says it has learned its lesson and is planning for the next 100 years. With a forecast of 50 million Californians in the near future, they better be. As we have discovered there is only so much water to go around.

The irony is that there has been more rain storms in Southern California this summer than in recent memory, certainly since the 70's. Where did the water go? Storm drains that kiss the Pacific Ocean.

Oroville Lake in Northern California
As you can see above, yards do not have to be gravel and a spindly cactus. Many of the best are
beautiful and offer far more interest than a green lawn with the added demand of less care and maintenance. Its win-win for all concerned.

However, as you can see on the right, not following the new proposals will make lakes like that created behind Oroville Dam look like this. Every one. It is shocking but when you realize that 50% of the water was sucked to water lawns and who knows what else, something has to be done. There are rumors we will have an El NiƱo of epic proportions. Will we? The experts say that even if we do, it will not end the drought. It is time to maximize the collection of those rains and while it may not end the drought, it can certainly give us a lot of water that in past years would have flowed to the sea.

If you think California is alone, think again. I read a book several years ago that said wars would be fought over, guess what? Water, yes, water. With 7 billion people on earth, clean drinkable water might well be more valuable than gold. It is showing us the effects here first. We can only hope the lessons we learn here can be used around the world. You would think with 70% of this world covered in water there would be enough. The issue, and one that could well be fought over, is there isn't enough palatable water, at least yet. California can yet again lead the way!

Thank you for visiting my blog. Please read a wide selection of earlier blogs that address the issues of design in all its myriad forms.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Museum of Bad Art: Celebrating Bad Art Since 1993!

Unknown, Lucy In The Field with Flowers.
Rescued from the trash, 1993
One of the apps that I have on my iPad and iPhone is called Flipboard. You can select topics and the news or magazine items that feed into them. I have news, technology, business and museums. There have been some interesting museum articles of late but the one that caught my eye (cross-eyed?) was the article and paintings in The Museum of Bad Art (MOBA). I truly believe that art created by anyone for any reason is the artist's attempt to express themselves but even I had to admit these were pretty bad.

The article stresses the museum has "exacting standards." Director Louise Sacco notes that "when considering new acquisitions MOBA looks for artworks with that special quality that sets them apart in one way or another from the merely incompetent." They scour flea markets, thrift stores and curbside trash to find striking pieces worthy of the MOBA spotlight. However, even doing this can produce amazing finds. The Jackson Pollack that a woman found in a yard sale in Covina, CA. Purchased for $50, she insisted after many tries that this was a genuine Pollack. A forensic specialist finally found fingerprints in the paint that were his. He neglected to sign it. The value? It started at around $5 million. Not bad for junking it. However, it should also be noted that finds such as this are very, very rare. She was one lucky lady.

Anonymous, Blue Tango purchased at a thrift shop
Indiana, 2014
The article notes that word has spread and that they received "donations" from around the world. Now even trash collection companies call the museum with tips on especially bad finds. In fact you can submit a painting to I'm sure they will appreciate checking it out!

I don't know about you, but I could have sent a few of my failed paintings and recounted one such event not long after starting this blog. I wanted to paint five persimmons yet no matter what I did I couldn't get it right. Sick with a cold I tried again after a nap. Not even looking at the first failed attempt I was able to start all over from scratch on a new canvas creating a charming painting complete with a newly added checkered tablecloth the persimmons were sitting on. It took me two hours. Guess where the original went? I could have submitted that. 

What were these artists trying to say, to create? Dancing dogs, Really? Every time we pick up a brush and put paint on canvas, well, you just never know. Looking at the photos in the article you just have to wonder. What was the artist thinking of?

The museum's beginnings date back to 1993 when antique dealer Scott Wilson spotted an oil painting 
The Better To See You, My Dear
Acquired in a barter
in the trash, his infamous "Lucy In The Field With Flowers," found in 1993. Friends encouraged him to start a collection that was shown first in his home. Attendance grew so much that he had to find a more permanent home first in the basement of the community theatre then finally he found a permanent home in Somerville, MA, another theatre. Can you believe this?  They also operate two branch galleries ... in Brookline and South Weymouth near Boston. Regular artists must cringe.

The collection is home to over 600 works with approximately 60 shown at any given time. Everyone is an original but cannot be on velvet, paint by numbers or well-known kitschy works. The museum's slogan is "art too bad to be ignored." I guess!

Jack Owen, He Was A Friend of Mine
The MOBA museum works long and hard at building the finest bad art museum in the entire world.
They take their mission very seriously. They are often shocked and indignant at derisive comments and innuendos. I mean, how else would you take a collection such as this? Now really.

"Guernica" by Pablo Picasso
Going a step further though, have you ever been to MOMA in New York City or MOCA in Los Angeles and looked at the art there? These are modern art museums and you definitely will not find any Impressionists there. Isn't some of it, well, a bit different? Over and over again you hear patrons, usually in their older years, that find what they are looking at is strange, even crude. Hitler sure did. They wonder at why it is even there. It isn't even art, or what they think of as art. Many of Picasso's later pieces are strange to the untrained eye. That these MOBA artists are not there to explain and define themselves in some ways adds to the mystery. I look at these pieces and wonder, "What is their story?" What are they trying to say to us? There are plenty of revered modern artists whose work clearly upset their audiences. Duchamp's "Nude Descending A Staircase" caused riots in Paris. Many famous artists that we love and revere today were not loved and revered in their own time. Maybe familiarity does not breed contempt. Showing a single Van Gogh painting for the very first time to patrons in Dresden, 15 years after his death, changed German art forever.

For a much wider selection of MOBA's collection go to Google, select Images and type in Museum of Bad Art. Trust me it is there in all its glory. If its bad art you seek, you will not be disappointed. Looking at them I find that some aren't quite so bad finding that many famous artist's styles were imitated. You see Van Gogh, Seurat, Matisse, Da Vinci, even attempts at Picasso and Chagall. It's literally a smorgasbord of styles and art.

Take heart, it appears there is a museum for the rest of us!!!

Thank you for visiting my blog. Please check out some of my other posts. I find that everything in the world is designed therefore subject to scrutiny.  Comments are always welcome.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

(Street) Art Is All Around Us

In my mind, there is a vast difference between a gang tagging their territories like a dog peeing on a light pole, fire hydrant or fence marking his space, and elaborate, often thoughtful graffiti art found on freeway walls, railroad cars and other places where the artist(s) hope their vision will be seen. Along the I-10 freeway in Los Angeles scenes greet us all the way into the city center. You gotta love those retaining walls -spaces just begging for inspiration!

I remember the huge and last remaining wall as we drove from Berlin to Prague that had been spared until the construction project behind it was finished. Every inch of that wall, the wall that separated East and West Berlin, was covered with what at the time I called graffiti. but am beginning to accept as modern art. We even stopped and I took pictures.

It's rare that art makes leaps such as this until we started seeing elaborate and often amazing work that taken seriously and carefully could be considered a step beyond abstract art with added highlights of fantasy. The Long Beach Museum of Art just opened a show entirely devoted to street art except it is now on their interior walls.

Just as Turner's later paintings influenced the now loved art of
Smugone from Lord of the Rings movie
Impressionism, much of this "new" art, graffiti to many, could easily be influenced by computer games that are awash with fantastical creatures and images that couldn't but help influence these artists. It might not be a bad idea to look into the artists making the printed and computer art that is almost as real as life itself. The transition from games to the big screen has been amazing. Some artist, obviously a Tolkien fan, created an amazing image from the films on a blank and cracked wall. These artists are original in their use of images and surfaces. Some are very serious and others are funny. 

Paint isn't the only media used. I am sure many of you have seen chalk images either in person or at various fairs, contests or on the Internet. They are incredibly detailed and create ephemeral worlds that will soon be gone with the next rain. Every Father's Day weekend at the Paseo
Street Chalk Art
Colorado in Pasadena, California, the entire mall is given over to chalk artists who have about two days to create their own personal worlds. Many are beautiful and you almost cry at the thought they are here today and certainly will be gone tomorrow!

Look closely at this cave. Would you dare walk over it? Doesn't it look real? Even more than real. You notice passersby avoid the chance!

However, some art is not in places where great numbers of people will see them. Some, like the painting on the right, done by an artist on a sidewalk, differ from what they create in their studio because they are small images done on the street, locally. Here a little gremlin is helping sweep up the leaves of autumn. Simple, funny and elegant in its minimal design. Don't we all wish for our own minion? When you consider, think of all the time and effort it has taken to think about then create these scenes. Is it any different than creating a painting? Any less work?

Wall art in Vitoria Gasteiz, Spain
I think that the time for sneering is over. The body of work decorating walls along freeways, office buildings, homes even schools IS art and should be recognized for what it is. The tragedy is that it will soon be gone. It cannot be preserved and being subject to the elements is certain to fade and disappear. I can think of several amazing scenes, one, the famous scene of the ocean lapping at the coast of Arizona, a freeway ramp all that is left of what was California. The last time I saw it, it had faded so much you could barely see its details.

This painting on the wall of an apartment in Spain is literally a work of art. Reminiscent of Southwest Art here in the United States, it recalls Native American elements plus those of Mexico and the great Southwest. Who wouldn't be proud to come home to a place decorated such as this? It is like living in a museums painting!

Look around. We are inundated with art all the time and don't even realize it. Is it all good? Heavens no. Much of it though, is and deserves the kind of recognition that we reserve for famous artists. If we can be convince them to paint on more permanent media, they will have a legacy that will last and rival the artists we revere today!

Thank you for reading my blog. Please check other articles I've written. ALL are considerations of the designs of life and what we do with them.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Preparing For The Second Seniors Crafting Class

The first crafting class I taught at the assisted living home last month was, to put it kindly, a learning experience for me as this was my first time being the teacher. Considering that none of them had ever done paint crafting, especially with Pennsylvania Dutch designs, I learned a lot. Besides age, hands in your 70's and 80's can be very shaky. At 69 there are times I can't do what I did even 10 years ago. So there is no shame in that. I stressed and showed each student how to hold their projects to minimize the shaking. Realizing that I set the bar too high for a neophyte crowd, I quickly decided the next project would be much, much simpler.
Beginning pot, first design and the final design
I was given a bunch of plastic flower pots, pots that once housed orchids, to use. Mostly in a dark chocolate color, I created a plaid design in three colors with one of the colors used for the lip on top of the pot. For a bit of color I added a bright green dot in each plaid square to compliment the cream and red stripes. Four white daisies were added on top of the plaid for a bit more design.

The more I looked at it, I realized that while they might be able to do the vertical stripes, going around the entire pot horizontally would be a challenge. Heavens, it was a challenge for me! I didn't worry about the daisies as we had practiced, and would again practice, the press, drag and lift of the petals. They all more or less mastered that when I taught them last month. I felt this design was still too hard. So I thought it over again sketching ideas on paper before grabbing a pot to paint.

The Second Crafting Project
I created the final design with 8 simple stripes that could all be the same color or alternated, a series of dots doing down each row in either single or double pairs using the end of their brush and then painting the top lip. Once that had dried I would mark the circles for the daisies would go in. When finished they would have a cute pot they could keep or give as a gift.

If they wanted to continue, once the painting was done, dried and probably varnished so the paint would not easily scratch off, we could push in florist foam, add a fake flower and clean that up with  moss. Again they would have a wonderful room decoration or have created a gift for a loved one.

Actually the sample in the photo above and to the right as well is the third sample. The second one was taken from the activity room! I guess they liked it and didn't want to wait to create their own.

I used rather "bright" colors and plan to encourage my class to do the same thing. Other than using a color that will stand out from the dark background, they can use any colors they like. This will make it a lot more personal, something that I want to encourage. We will see how it goes in a few days!

If you are looking for something to decorate for a gift and have a spouse or friend with a green thumb, you might find pots the they discard are suitable. If not, they are easy to find at most stores that sell gardening supplies and even crafting stores sell pots. Clay pots especially have to be very clean and dry before using.

If you use a clay pot, I would recommend an acrylic sealer to hold and keep the paint on the pot. DecoArt, Plaid and other companies sell what they call "patio paints" that are acrylic with easy water clean up of brushes and hands. I don't know if they are really any better than standard acrylics paints. I would think using a sealer and finishing with a coat or two of acrylic varnish, any acrylic paint would do just fine. The secret is to make sure each coat is dry before moving on. Sealer, let it dry, decoration acrylic make sure it is very dry and finally varnish, make sure that is dry. If you are using a pot for real plants an extra coat of varnish can't hurt.

Thank you for reading my blog. There are many more and I encourage you to check them as well. Comments are always welcome and ideas for new ones entertained.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Decorating A Star Birdhouse

Star Birdhouse - new beginnings
Have you ever purchased something and when you started to work on it didn't know why? I did, this star shaped birdhouse. It didn't fit in any of the parameters that I was used too. Yet the price was, well, just too great to pass up! In fact I don't buy items that are too unusual if they are nearly impossible to decorate.  So much for that theory. My first attempt was going art deco. It was a disaster.

Decorating a mini birdhouse I decided I should do more than just paint the roof, it deserved decorations too. I wrapped the top with vines and then used a kind of lattice to cover it. With the bouquet of flowers below it made for a fetching design even if on a small scale. In fact the small scale was what made it so hard to do in the first place. It was a nice effect and I wanted to use it on a larger surface.

As you can see, it works on a bigger scale but takes forever to do. I spent 5 hours painting it in the vines, leaves and buds after over an hour penciling it in. Goodness, who would have ever thought! I used DecoArt's Black Green then went over the entire structure adding DecoArts Olive Green veins for another hour.

The front and back had a kind of quasi Rosemaling (Krugmaling really) design that I created from a variety of styles that I hoped to again put under a vine and trellis roof. It is never easy let me tell you. Do you ever get sucked into a design and wonder why you continue? I could have stopped so many times but just couldn't.
Star Birdhouse - finished
After the vines and buds were in place I worked first on the front putting in a variety of design elements that were repeated on the back. There is even a black circle mimicking the birdhouse entrance.

After this was done, front and back, I then worked on the trellis for the roof. I didn't want to wrap the entire birdhouse this way, only the roof just like what you'd see in an arbor.

End View of Star Birdhouse - roof and sides
Even when I used a small straight strip to follow when painting the trellis pieces, I discovered that something was missing. Using a black Sharpie pen I followed the trellis outlining each raw umber strip on its edge. Then I followed that up with shadows and finally achieved the depth and dimension I wanted and needed. I guess you just have to keep experimenting until, well, you get it right. Limiting it to just the "roof" was a wise decision. Too much of a good thing is just that, too much! 

I had just one more thing to do, tint the entire raw wood birdhouse using color to bring together all the really separate elements. I felt that tinting the entire birdhouse a pale blue-green then antiquing would achieve a unified harmony. The judgement is yours of course but finally I believe I did get more or less what I envisioned.

Like so many creative projects, the experience of creating anything is a new and total experience. No two items are ever the same, even if you, like I did for awhile, decorate three items at a time. Because it is all hand done, each piece develops a unique persona of its own. In that, I speak from experience.

As I always say, never be afraid to try something new, try to mix it up, use new colors or shapes. You might just end up with a masterpiece!

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope that you will sample some of the others articles as well. You will find that I cover a whole range of topics - all with design in mind!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

"Mr. Turner"

To me, one of the most amazing painters of all time is Joseph Mallard William Turner or JMW Turner, the English romanticist painter. Known for his landscapes, seascapes, water colors and print making, artistically he had an amazing life. In his time he was known as "the painter of light" truly more amazing that anything painted by Thomas Kincaid.

Born in 1775 he showed great talent at an early age. He sold his art before he was even a teenager at his fathers wig making and barber shop. Even then it was of a mature style of an artist many years older. He entered the Royal Academy of Art School at 14 and was accepted by the Royal Academy at 15!

The movie "Mr. Turner" recounts the final years of his life, a time when he was thought to be washed up. Yet in fact, he produced possibly his greatest works. The movie is fascinating and I found confusing in that the director's style is amazingly opaque. You learn about his life, his father, the women he had children by and ultimately the woman he ended up with, in one of the most unusual edits I have ever seen in a film. It can be at times daunting to understand what and who and why these people are here. In fact painting takes a back seat as we learn about the man. One thing that was clear was that he was openly mocked about having too many "seascapes." He cared not.

The Fighting Temeraire being towed to be broken up
It is amazing to see events that inspired Turner. The towboat bringing the Fighting HMS Temeraire to be broken apart is especially moving. Coming to rescue Nelson when his flagship HMS Victory was destroyed during the Battle of Trafalgar, the Temeraire was especially meaningful to all Britons in this 1838 painting. The film recreates this scene.

Landscape painting had its Renaissance during Turner's lifetime. There are several scenes showing the competitions with paintings stacked floor to ceiling with a variety of subjects. You see Constable, who is considered by many to be the father of the modern landscape, working still on a painting he has submitted. Turner by the end of his life had elevated the landscape from a lovely scene to a thing of moods and feelings. You can't help but be moved by the swirl of colors and vague objects. However, he was controversial in his day.

Fishermen at Sea
As a younger man he would paint during the winters and travel in the summer. He traveled extensively in England, favoring Wales, but also going to France, Switzerland and Venice often. One of the things he was known for was a sketchbook he carried with him everywhere. He might do nothing for days and suddenly see a subject that would cause him to spring to action. Known originally for his watercolors that he also always carried with him, his oils began to be painted in layers of washes that created a light effect rarely seen by any other artist. The effect is stunning. He once lashed himself to a mast during a very turbulent sea crossing to see the effects of lightning, rain and waves. He would then translate that to his paintings in ways never done before. Compare this to one of his Venice scenes (below).

For me, studying up on him, the transformation of a figurative artist to impressionistic one is astounding. He sets an example of what an artist, of any stripe, should be, pushing the envelope! His first oil was "Fishermen At Sea" (above), a storm tossed vision of what it was like for those making a living fishing. Already we can see in 1793 the future. While other paintings were far more detailed, due no doubt to his architectural training, features became far less distinct and he expressed often the moods of nature. Objects were merely decoration.

I think his time in Venice showed him clearly the effects of lights and darks that he learned to use effectively. The contrast between the Grand Canal in Venice and his dark brooding "Fishermen at Sea" cannot be ignored. It recalls early Van Gogh paintings that dramatically changed when he went to Paris going from dark moody images to light!

Eruption of Vesuvius
Turner never married but did father two daughters. He never had many friends except his father who remained his assistant for 30 years. When his father died in 1829, he suffered from bouts of depression the rest of his life. He died in Chelsea in 1851 living with but never marrying Sarah Danby for 18 years.

Suitable subjects for Turner were the dramatic - catastrophes, shipwrecks, fires, natural events like storms, rain, fog, sunlight and rain. The critic John Ruskin who adored Turner described the artist as one "who most stirringly and truthfully measured the moods of nature."

Rain, Steam & Speed - The Great Western Railway
Strangely despite warnings, he used paints that knowingly would fade. He loved Carmine, a red that was brilliant at the time of painting but would fade in his lifetime. Some of his paintings looked washed out because of this. Using his oils like watercolor putting oil wash after wash created etherial effects unlike anyone of his day. In fact his work is considered by many to have influenced the French Impressionists, particularly Claude Monet who studied his works extensively. 

There can be no doubt that Turner knew how to set a mood. It developed over the years from nearly perfect architectural renderings to an increasingly impressionistic style that would soon become, in France, Impressionism. Mocked in life, Turner is now seen as a kind of liberator in art. The camera had been developed and there is a scene in the movie that is amusing when he has his portrait taken, yet he foresaw, as many didn't, that paintings could express a mood no camera could.

His dying words were "Sun is God." Oh, and what a glorious sun (and moon) he painted!

Turner's lesson to us all is never be afraid of going outside the box. If you feel that what you are trying to express is limited by what is around you, try it anyway. Take the luxury of trying something new, something never done before. It is this daring that continues to move art forward. It is too easy to copy the past. It is not written that you have to follow it however. Good luck!

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