Saturday, February 25, 2017

Why You Shouldn't Buy On eBay ... Especially As A Guest

Why did it take 150 years to make this
French easel? A lug to carry, a handle
and wheels make the load much easier
      As an artist you are always on the lookout for a product that makes doing your art just a little bit easier, right? You know I am. So you can imagine my surprise and well, joy when rambling along the streets of Dafen Village in Shenzhen, China, lo and behold there was a French Easel. a real beauty too! Not only was it traditionally styled, very well made, it had two wheels on the bottom and a telescoping handle just like what we see on suitcases today. My old one, a lug to carry with either the handle or strap, once filled with paint, brushes and the like seems to weigh a ton. I have tried carts, trolleys, everything including a wagon to carry my easel and a paintbox around.
The old easel top, the new one with black
handle on the bottom. 
     When I spotted this beauty I wanted it right now. Oh, close, how close I came to buying it too. At $40 US it was a steal and I wish I had. However, it was bigger than my suitcase and with a suitcase and backpack I could see no way to get it home on the plane without a hefty charge for another bag. Looking at this photo now and knowing what the one I finally bought looks like, I can see the product sold in the United States is far inferior. My old and the Chinese one have morticed edges that give the box greater strength.
Two peas in a pod?  Almost! It is clear the new one on the
right is not as nice as the one I saw in China.
     Setting it up for the first time today to compare it with the older one I have had for years, I wanted to write an article about my new toy, a comparison. In setting it up one of the supports on the back leg kept coming out of its space. Then, getting it finally to stand, I noticed that the front legs didn't seem to set well into the notches for them even after the nut was tightened. Then, suddenly I heard a snap and looking at it kneeling, I noticed that the problematic strut holding the back leg in place had broken. Oh great, I thought. I haven't even used it yet. The back leg was now wobblier that before and the strut that was to hold it in place was now broken.
The broken rear strut
She may be smiling but trust me, I am not

     After seeing it in China, when I returned to Hong Kong I began searching Amazon for a product similar to this and did not find it. There were lots of the French easels in an amazing variety of prices like the one I already had, but not this new, hoped for easier to use treasure. I couldn't find a one. So, I searched the web for it and found it on eBay. Since I was in Hong Kong, I ordered it from the eBay store on my iPad and since I wasn't home and didn't remember my eBay account info, I hardly ever use it anymore, signed in as a guest.
     Today, looking up the name of the seller on the package I was rather startled to see that it had been shipped from Jerry's Artarama warehouse in North Carolina. After a frustrating attempt to find the correct extension (are there no receptionists anymore either?) I finally got through and told them my problem. They were very helpful merely asking for photos and the order number. Oddly, there is no hint anywhere on the package or label that gives you a clue it came through eBay. My, how far the mighty have fallen. However, I was pleased that Jerry's, I guess on eBay's behalf was taking care of of my claim.
Would you want this donation?
     This evening checking my email I received a note from Jerry's that they were crediting my account and that I should destroy or if usable in any way donate the easel to a group ... school, senior center, whatever. If I'm afraid of it collapsing, why on earth would I give it to anyone else? They were going to credit me $83.99. Well, that was very nice of them but I paid $129.00, a loss of about $46.00.
     So now, I have an unusable French easel and a $46.00 loss for something that would have cost me $40.00 in the country that made it. And, far better made too!
     Not happy with this turn of events, I then turned to eBay and what a frustrating time that was. Because I had signed in as a guest, there seemed to be no way for me to even find my order. In short, no matter what I did, I couldn't find my order anywhere so I eat the $46.00 and dump the easel.
     You think I will buy from eBay again? I may check out Jerry's Artarama as at least what I wanted was cheaper there than on eBay. And they responded quickly.
     Is eBay offering the best price in town? I don't think so, or at least not anymore. Someone, somewhere was making a tidy profit. My advice then is that while there may be deals on eBay, it is not like it was in the old days and you would be better off checking around on other sites first. The reining queen has become a dowager.

 Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always have. Comments are always welcomed!

March 11, 2017

I was able to get in contact with the seller of this product who after seeing the photos above, gave me full credit for the French Easel. Since they didn't want it back I know have my old easel and may try to find someone handy with recreating broken wooden parts and make an attempt to fix it. It is unusable as it now stands (or falls as I have read from others with similar products). I do thank them for a prompt response.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Artistic Dafen Village in Shenzhen, China

     Since I was invited to a banquet in Shenzhen and I finally had my visa so that I could enter China, my friend in Hong Kong did a little homework and discovered that there was an artist's village of sorts in Shenzhen; Dafen Village. He forwarded a link to me and it looked like something we could do since we were going to be there anyway. However, I simply was not prepared, nor was he, for what we found there. In fact we didn't have time for the art museum!
     Shenzhen is a newer modern city that sits just over the border from the Hong Kong territories. People from Hong Kong go over for items and services and vice versa. In fact, after a bus ride to the border, walking to immigration at the border and entering China was easier for me than coming home and going through U.S. Immigration at SFO (San Francisco's airport). Go figure. Once across the border we took the subway and went to our hotel room, did a  little walking around and then got ready for the banquet.
     The next morning we got our belongings together, as we had to return to Hong Kong that day, ate and then boarded the subway for the Dafen Village Station. Getting off and walking to the area we passed a Walmart; I told my friend I wanted to visit it just to see what it was like. We did going back and OMG! It was like Black Friday here in the states! I have never, EVER seen that many people in a Walmart ... or in any other store in my life! I was told that was just a normal day!
The first shop was you enter Dafen Village
     Entering Dafen Village I was not prepared for what we found there either. I mean it was like Dick Blick, Michael's, Hobby Lobby, Aaron Brothers, all the art catalogs and every art show you have ever seen all rolled together in one place! I could have easily spent hours checking out the first shop we saw ... and as we walked it got better!
     Years ago I seen a show on "60 Minutes" that talked about painting mills in Asia. There would be 50 "original" paintings in a row and one artist would start at one end and paint the same thing on every canvas. They would be followed by the next "artist" who painted something else on all the canvases. This went on until all the canvases were done. Ever wondered where all those original works of art at the corner gas station on sale for $49 each came from ... well, somewhere in Asia.
     It wasn't just paintings, though there were plenty of those, it was supplies, raw unpainted but
The rolling French easel ... something
I could only dream about!
primed canvases, framers everywhere with truly beautiful frames to choose from that blew you away. The problem for me was how on earth was I going to get anything I bought home? In fact I found a treasure ... a real beautifully built French easel that was well built but with a modification that made me almost cry ... not only was it a French easel it included two towing wheels and a telescoping handle. It retained every other feature with even more storage space. I was sooooooo tempted but didn't buy. At $40 it was a steal. I checked on Amazon later and found even they didn't have one.
Alan's Monet styled water lilies painting
     However, it was just the number of items available. Shops were filled with art, of every kind from traditional Chinese art, to European masters, Impressionism that was alive and well as was Van Gogh. While some were quite amateurish, many were very, very good. I was tempted to buy several amazing Van Gogh "Sunflowers" paintings that at a glance looked like the real thing. Some were ho hum but some were truly beautiful. In fact, I succumbed finally and bought an oil Monet styled water lily painting that was still unframed that they rolled up for me and put in a tube so I could carry it home in my suitcase. I am framing it here now. I didn't ask what it would have cost me to frame it there. I might have really cried when I heard the price!
This gives you an idea of both the available art and the available frames. This was just one side alley.
     I recognized some of the more modern art pieces from my days on ETSY. Either the artists here were selling their items there, and there were many Chinese sellers on ETSY, or they were copying styles they saw.
iPad to the left and bracing stick to the right!
     One of the things that was fun for me was to watch these artists. All were willing to let you watch and even photograph them. Right off the bat I noticed two things, many used iPads with the image of art they were painting and the other was the use of a stick to keep their hands steady. I was amazed and am now trying to figure out how I can do the same thing. These artists were young and if they needed some assistance, what about an old man like me?
     At another gallery, we saw not only his hundreds of finished paintings stacked up like sheets of paper but watched him paint two paintings at a time of items that he had already painted in a variety of other interesting color combinations. I know from experience that as long as you paint two or three things at a time, even if the pattern is the same no two pieces are really alike. I myself did that for a time. It was a great way to get more than one of a wonderful design. By the time you got to the first item again, the paint had dried! I would sell one, and keep it posted as there were, for awhile at least, a second or third item available.
Two is always better than one! I can't believe how they

dressed. If that was me, and he was using oils, they
would be all over me by now!!!
     Art is a very subjective thing. My friend and I found a three part painting of a traditional Chinese branch with flowering blossoms on it against a textured silver background for around $200 in Hong Kong. We found something similar that was even bigger and checking it out realized it had to come from here. Same construction and similar style at half the price.
Qiang carrying his paintings
     My friend found a lovely triglyph of a wonderful, sunny alley of trees that he really liked where we purchased my painting. He couldn't decide and was about to walk off when I asked, "Do you really like these paintings?" When he said yes, I then asked, "Will they look nice in your condo?" With another yes nod I then pointed out that for $60 he would always regret not getting them. If I had learned anything in all my travels, was that if I liked it, who cared if it was valuable or not, if I really liked it. I had learned to buy because I would remember and regret everything I saw and liked that I hadn't bought. He purchased them.
Shop till you drop takes on new meaning in Dafen Village
    I do know one thing, I want to come back. Hotels are plentiful there (a small city in China is say around 3 million) and cheap. I really want to explore what's available and get things you simply can't find here or at the prices we saw here. How I can do that I'm not sure but there must be ways don't you think? Or as the Chinese merchants say all the time, "No problem!"
     I can think of no city, town or village that is quite as dedicated to art as here. There is so much to see and explore that you could easily spend a few days visiting each shop, finding things you have either never seen before or have hungered for and can really enjoy and learn watching the artists at work.
     After an afternoon of looking we wanted something to drink before we headed back to Hong Kong. We found a kind of pub I would guess that true to form was almost like an art gallery playing American oldie goodies on the sound system and was filled with arty types deep in discussion. What fun for every and any artist!!!
     If you ever get to Shenzhen this is a must see on your tourist list. You will not regret the time! Its not far from Hong Kong, an hour bus or train trip away. However, you will need a Chinese visa to visit while, at least for now, you don't need one for Hong Kong.
In Dafen Village art is simply everywhere!
Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always have. Comments are always welcomed!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Using the iPhone 7+ As Your Only Travel Camera!

Panorama View of Hong Kong at night from The Peak. Colors and intensities are well balanced.
     I just spent two weeks in Hong Kong. Its my third trip in two years and yes, my best trip yet. What made it even more wonderful was that for the first time in my life the only camera I took was my iPhone 7+! No more separate chargers, no more batteries, no SD cards, no, just the phone that remains a lifeline to me health wise ... something that I have to carry with me each and every day!
     I will never forget the trip of my lifetime ... the trip to Egypt at Christmas 2009, a dream I had had since I was exposed to Egypt in the 6th grade. Finally, almost 50 years later I was standing at the entrance to Karnak and my wonderful Nikon D40 wouldn't take a photo. No matter what I did, nothing seemed to work. Yes, I stood there and cried. Here, at great cost I might add, I was fulfilling a lifelong dream and I couldn't even record it. I will never forget this moment nor forgive Nikon for the poor quality of their lenses. For you see, the motor in the lens failed, but I wouldn't know that until I returned home and took it in to be fixed ... not once, but twice for the same thing. What did work and took over 2400 photos was my very small Canon Elph camera, smaller than a pack of cards, that I threw in my camera bag at the last minute and discovered would easily fit into my pocket or palm for a large panorama or smaller, intimate shots, barely causing a ripple on the scene. My wife was very happy about this development though I wasn't at the time.
Plate image shot through plate glass
Detail of plate above using the iPhone 7+ at 10x
      It wasn't until I published a book of my photos that I realized that at only 10 megapixels and a 3X zoom, that tiny camera, in most cases, did exactly what I needed. I never took my big DSLR on a trip with me again.
   This wasn't the only revelation regarding iPhone photos and DSLR's. When I had an ETSY store online, you were encouraged to post 5 photos of what you were selling. I dutifully did and hit upon using a black background that made my brightly colored birdhouses, trays, etc., pop! The problem was that the DSLR, a Nikon 3200 by now (I guess I'm a slow learner) would try to make the background 18% grey and I would literally spend hours in PhotoShop trying to make the background black again and retain the brilliant colors of the original item. Someone asked me to send them a photo of one of my items so I snapped a photo with my iPhone 5 and was stunned at how it recorded the scene exactly ... pure black background with brilliant colors the way it was setup. I never used the Nikon for ETSY again.
Once you master the panorama mode its hard to go back! Now you have a one additional step of magnification.
    A trip to Europe a few years later taught me the iPhone would take amazing panorama's so I began to use my phone more and more. When I graduated to the iPhone 6 I found it took even more amazing photos, discovering that night shots were often better than with a small digital camera.
     Which leads me to the iPhone 7+. I have owned an iPhone since I was at MacWorld and it was revealed to the world in January of 2007. Disbelieving it really could do what we were being told, I became convinced when I heard David Pogue talk about the iPhone he used that belonged to Steve Jobs ... a working prototype. When I took it to Europe a month after it was released I was stunned to realize everyone there knew what I had and had no problem getting someone to take photos with it.
     I remember using it in Egypt and Jordan again being stunned that it worked better there than it ever did on the AT&T network at home. When the AT&T guy called, as we were standing in front of the Treasury in Petra, asking us where we were and if we knew what our bill was at the time, we didn't as the AT&T store assured me the phone "wouldn't" work, he reduced our $600 phone bill to $60 and explained how to not use the phone! Pogue told us that the iPhone would change everything ... we know now he was definitely right.
A big complaint is that you don't get much detail
from a cell phone. This was taken at 10x, 15 feet away
       So on this trip I took my trusty, well tested before I left, iPhone and was ready to really see what it could do. You know what? I wasn't disappointed.
     Hong Kong is a photographers paradise. New and old, sometimes very old rub side by side and just beg you to snap a photo. As hilly as it is (a billy goat might have problems) there are panoramas that really do need to be taken. Out comes the trusty iPhone, move the screen to panorama and snap away. There is even and arrow for you to follow for some semblance of keeping level. New on the 7+ is the ability to double the size of the panorama.
     Another new feature, still labeled "beta" but working just fine is a "portrait" mode that is simply amazing. You get two photos ... one of the scene as it is and one with the item you want as a portrait (it works not only on people but things and flowers I discovered) and the background magically is out of focus.
This figurine, shot through glass is
the regular view

The same figurine shot with the Portrait mode
keeps the figure sharp, fades the background
 Night shots are amazing with black nights against all the colorful illuminated signs that litter Hong Kong like a child's scribbling. There simply is nothing like it.
     We took the Star Ferry across the harbor to Kowloon to watch the light show and using the video feature was amazed not only at the quality of the video but that it clearly captured the music being played on our side of the harbor! Ferries glided by as the lights on the buildings played out a symphony of light being recorded on my phone. My first day there I saw not one but two Lion Dances in celebration of the Chinese New Year.
Even candlelit scenes are not a problem
     It is said that nearly 90% of all photos today are being taken with smart phones and Apple says over 50% of them are taken with an iPhone. There certainly were a lot of them around me in Hong Kong everywhere I went. Yes, there were a few diehards lugging DSLR's around but for once I didn't feel jealous and can say without too much of a doubt my photos may well have been as good as theirs and my camera fit into my pocket, would make calls, surf the Internet and text friends.
Architectural detail is simply amazing!
      So, if you have ever wondered, take a look at my photos and see for yourself. You may well own one of the finest cameras around, it just happens to be with you all the time in your phone!
     One word of warning though, when you backup your phone and download your photos be prepared for very long download times, hours even ... or at least it was pretty long on my iMac. This is unacceptable. Even SD cards don't take this long and the DSLR images are about two times larger at least. To be fair, my iMac is older and that could have easily been the reason it took so long. Again though, an SD card is much, MUCH faster! So, I plugged my iPhone into a newer and faster MacBookPro, downloaded the images, put them on a flash drive and loaded them into the iMac. I'm sure a newer computer would have handled it in one fell swoop. It isn't as elegant but it worked.
     You can see though, that the iPhone can handle any number of photo imaging quite nicely and the best part, it fits easily into a pocket or purse! You have to take it with you so use it for a camera too!!!

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always have. Comments are always welcomed!

Decoding "LA LA LAND"

Emma Stone as Mia and Ryan Gosling as Sebastian
Recently I saw the movie "La La Land" with a friend in Hong Kong. I had convinced him that from all that I had heard this was a new American musical in the grand old tradition. After all, it got 7 Golden Globe Nominations and 14 Oscar nominations. In fact, after talking with him and friends, Gay or straight, it was more a homage to Hollywood itself ... a kind of insider musical more than anything else. No one I knew liked it much. Its been a long time and Hollywood, if nothing else loves to remember its glory days and pat itself on the back.
     Growing up in the 50's we could see either in the movie theatre or the stage the original versions of great (to us today) old musicals ... "Annie Get Your Gun," "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," "Oklahoma," South Pacific," "Singing' In The Rain" and later "The Man of La Mancha," "Company, " "Hello Dolly,""Chicago," "Cabaret" and on TV the musicals of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Ethel Merman and the like. There are musicals made in the 30's that have yet to be topped today, in black and white or color. In fact, watching some of those reviews in Vegas makes me pine for Busby Berkeley ... women once really could walk in high heels!
I bet LA drivers loved this freeway closing, the tour de force opening the movie
     As far a musicals go, "La La Land" is really, eh! The songs are ok, not great. I couldn't hum a bar after leaving the theater; the acting alright; Ryan Gosling, the heart throb of millions of woman did a fair job at dancing (no Fred Astaire for sure) and was good at emoting that desire for success. Emma Stone was alright but the weakest link in the singing department and not all that right for the part. She was no Audrey Hepburn, Julie Andrews nor Ginger Rodgers or even Ethel Merman.
     Visually Damien Chapelle, the director, did an amazing job of creating an eye popping movie. Many of the places used, including the Rialto Theatre, since closed, in South Pasadena brought back many, many memories of my past life. However, as visual as movies are and must be, there has to get the glue that makes it memorable.
    As my friend and I discussed this movie, over several days, he dismissed the musical part and instead focused with laser sharpness on the story itself. I agreed, and if you didn't know,  this doesn't have a happy ending ... it clearly showed the desire, the conflict of success over love, ambition and success over being in love.    
Convincing Mia Jazz was important in life
     For me, it was the missed opportunities of life. As we discussed this, I felt the scriptwriter caught this single fact with unusual clarity. I began to wonder how often do we in life have similar opportunities? How often, how many people do we meet and don't connect with like one of my favorite movies, "Four Weddings And A Funeral?" The Hugh Grant character loves Andie MacDowell while he is loved by the wealthy, frosty Fiona (Kristin Scott Thomas) and doesn't even realize it. What is the glue that attracts us?
     After several chance encounters, the freeway, the nightclub that brought Mia in to hear Sebastian and his rude ignoring of her, they finally meet, fall in love ... all the cliches of the musical. Only, it didn't end there. She wants, after 5 or so years of trying to be an actress, a success while he wants to keep "jazz" alive and start his very own club keeping jazz alive. It is this very ambition that causes them to  stray from each other and in their own rights become what they want to be. But you have to wonder ... is it who they want to be?
Keith (John Legend) offers Sebastian a job
      A friend in a "modern" jazz group gets Sebastian to sign on and they are a success. Between recording and touring they are torn apart. Her one man acting show ends up bringing her to Hollywood and success. 
     The most telling and, I believe, saddest part of the movie is that five years later you are shown her family ... new child and husband. Going to a dinner they get mired in the usual legendary LA traffic, get off the freeway, have a private dinner together and heading back to their car hear music from a new club. Going inside she sees the name and logo she designed for Sebastian years before, hear's jazz and once inside they see each other as the song goes, "Across a crowded room." Suddenly you are transported to another life, a life that could have been ... their marriage, their child, but like all things, reality strikes while he plays "their" song. She leaves and with her leaving all hope for the reconciliation you long for.
     Its hard to make a judgement on a movie. You either like it or you don't. However, in this case the musical part, to me, is wanting. The character part asks serious and probing questions. Are our lives designed by us or are they guided by forces beyond our control? We may never really know.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis here is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always have. Comments are always welcomed!