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The idea that it is necessary to go to a university in order to become a writer, or even a man or woman of letters (which is by no means the same thing), is one of those phantasies that surround authorship. -- Vera Brittain
I don't like listening to Sean Hannity, but I happened to jump in the van yesterday and heard a few minutes of his show. Hannity was going on about how outing Foley right now is a dirty trick because these revelations about Foley came to light after it's too late to have a replacement in that Florida election. Foley's a Republican, so this gives the Democrat opponent a coast into victory in November. Hannity also made comparisons to other Democrat foibles from the past and the Democrat handling of those.
Apparently, Denny Hastert, the majority leader in the House, is mad as hell because he says that someone sat on these revelations about Foley. That's worth being mad about if more kids were harmed by sitting on the information, but another Congressman says that he told Hastert about all this earlier this spring.
Wrong is wrong. It doesn't deserve comparison to anyone or anything else. That some Republicans choose to spin this disgusts me. Hannity is an idiot for doing so, and if Hastert was told about this earlier this year and he missed his cue to protect the pages on the Hill, he ought to resign as majority leader yesterday. Other conservative bloggers are making the same call.
There should be zero tolerance for anything like this. And if "leaders" fail to act, then we should have zero tolerance for their "leadership."
I have a few serious problems with the Republican party at the moment.
Spend happy nature. Too many Republicans in leadership positions have seemed to think that government spending on their choice, pet projects is a worthy endeavor. The creation of a public database to track earmark spending is now law, but would never have been so if not for the blogosphere on the right and left. And it saw daylight in spite of a "secret hold" by a Senate Republican.
Bush's hesitancy to sign into law the Secure Fence Act. This is National Security 101 - it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this one out. Leaky borders = national security threat. But Bush is hemmin' and hawin'. Um, yeah...
If Democrats would be serious and have a real plan to conduct the war on terror, I'd be ready to pull the lever in November for Democrats this time, if only to help give the Republican leadership a vote with my feet and a clear wake up call. Not that I expect Democrats to be any more ethical or principled - I don't. But "conservative leadership," by definition, should be both conservative and leadership, and I'm seeing a very spotty track record in the issues I've raised.
Our leaders in government should:
Have zero tolerance for those who break the law, no matter their political stripe.
Disallow sexual harassment and the predation of minors.
Seek to secure the US from any terrorist threat.
Lose the notion of our tax payments being a barrel full of goodies for them to raid.
Duh... as if any of those were arguable at all.
As I watch the Democrat left eat their young (or old, in this case, in the form of Lieberman vs. Lamont) over the war in Iraq, I wonder who exactly does deserve any vote this year. It's all quite infuriating.
ETC: Bush will sign the Secure Fence Act into law later this month. And earmark transparency was signed into law. Pardon my grumbling... I dunno. The Republications have always been shitty with PR, and this just goes further to that point. So let's look at the bright side:
Foley was canned and will go through investigation by the House.
The Secure Fence Act will be law.
Earmarks will be publicly searchable.
We're five years after 9/11 without a terrorist attack.
I've only been painting a short period of time, but I've got some tips and tricks for anyone who might want to hear. I figured while I'm home today with a sick child who is now resting, I might jot these down.
Tip #1: If you want to paint, then paint! I know it sounds silly to have to say it, but it's much like Virginia Woolf said: "The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair." The same is true of painting. If you want to accomplish something, then first move to the place where you would do it, and then do it.
Tip #2: Embrace fear. I feel inadequate to work with quality on every painting that I begin. It's true. But I ignore it and dive in anyway.
Tip #3: Embrace "failure." I'm okay with failure. Neither success nor failure define a person, but the effort. And my past success is no indication of my future result. In fact, success can heighten my expectations and intimdate me from trying. To hell with that.
Tip #4: Paint exactly what you see. Painting itself is not a matter of dexterity. It's 50% a matter of seeing things truly. (The other 50% I'll get to in a moment.) But it rests in the ability to see things as they really are. That apple might be red in parts, but it is a wide array of colors in the spectrum if you really look at it as it truly is.
Tip #5: Learn colors. Mix colors. Take every color in your palette and mix each with the others and learn the combinations of them. Learn which ones are weak and semi-transparent and which ones are strong and opaque. Color is such a powerful tool in an artist's hands. This is the other 50%. Whatever else follows is style, I think.
Tip #6: No black. I left black out of my color palette a long time ago, and I'm much better for it. If I need "black," I mix deep browns (blue-orange, purple-yellow, red-green) or I mix blue and green and red together. Or I use a strong purple. But each of these have a warmth to them, and frankly, "black" just isn't in the world. It's flat and lifeless. Seriously. Look around. It's hard to find.
Tip #7: Limit your palette. Paint harmonizes better with fewer colors. I generally start a painting by choosing the 4, or at most 5, colors I plan to use. White is always present, but I try to use it sparingly. It pulls the life from a color when mixed.
Tip #8: Learn composition. The more the eye darts around the painting, the more interesting it is. If something is front and center, like a portrait, there's no discovery or movement.
Tip #9: Less is more. If the brain has to work a bit to assemble the painting and fill in the blanks, the more drawn people are to it, in my opinion. I'm not talking Jackson Pollack in terms of making the brain work, but an exact replica of life doesn't require any imagination or bend us in any way. Like people, a painting becomes more interesting when it's not "perfect."
Tip #10: Mix up your subject matter. Try new things. Paint trees, people, animals, houses, nature... enjoy the challenge of new subject matter.
Tip #11 Get rid of the yellow lights. Look at the difference between a true artist's white light and the light bulbs you buy at the store. I don't care how "white" the store bulbs purport to be - they're not white. True, white bulbs are expensive, but oh so worth the cost.
I've heard the maxim before to "know your audience." Edward Tufte tells us that this generally leads to dumbing down our message. I so get that.
Instead, he offers, we ought to focus on our message, and he quotes Gore Vidal: "Let the writer write, and let the reader read."
Edward Tufte is known for his ability to make the complex digestible. This started with a quote of his that I read from Tom Peters web site where Edward says, "To simplify, add detail." Okay, that's a head-turner of a phrase.
I found no help in interpretting that quote, and I don't find it intuitive or obvious. I do, however, feel something simmer on the backburner of my brain. I'm cooking on this notion...
I think I find some help, via the link I provide above, when Edward says that we ought to "reduce impediments to learning." Adding detail to something is a means to answer the questions that burble forth when confronting a troublesome concept. I think for most of us, when presenting complex material, we want to reduce it to bullets or charts. And that can be helpful. But if the reader truly seeks understanding, we make it easier to understand when we provide detail and background that the user can drill into, if necessary. Understanding brings the "A-ha!" sense that we hope to invoke in our audience. Then our point is obvious and we've truly communicated. This may be the simplicity of which Tufte speaks.
No one listens well when we dumb down our message. That's not knowing our audience; that's condescension. Rather, when we challenge folks to come forward and join our perspective, then our audience knows us.
The real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait.
Humans are creatures built to recognize patterns. We look for patterns so that we can know things, and once known, we can then move on to knowing other things. A smile = friendliness. A car moving toward me = danger. These are things we learn, know, and then our reaction to these become instinct and not something thoughtful. This is the efficiency of being human. It allows us to multitask. We anchor to things taken for granted that now exist on our periphery.
I've said in the past, as an axiom if you will, that anger is borne when we don't get our way. We don't always get angry, but if you find yourself mad, it's because the results you expected and wanted didn't turn out that way. The patterns we know and expect are no longer true, and our foundation of truth in the world becomes questionable.
Generally speaking, humans don't care much for change. We're not looking for chaos, but chaos seems to be looking for us these days. We refer to variety (chaos) as the "spice of life," but most of us don't have a palate for habeñero peppers. Know what I'm sayin'?
In relationships, we find constantly that people aren't always logical. They won't fit our patterns. Sometimes this is a good thing, such as when our partner appears with lunch in hand and a hand-written note telling us how special we are to them. This is a pleasant and welcome surprise.
Other times, we find change afoot in our partner or in our relationship, and we have to invest the time to get to know the change and to reacquaint ourselves with these new patterns. Too much of this will squash a relationship. Too little might bore us. We all want "just right."
People are, at best, "nearly reasonable, but not quite." Thus, the craziness inherent to relationships; our partner does what we don't expect, and vice versa. And so perhaps we try to form fit each other to the patterns with which we're comfortable, or we adapt ourselves to these new patterns. Which is why some people just opt out of the whole thing. "Too much work," they sigh.
In relationships, "wildness lies in wait." It's to be expected and sometimes it's a white-knuckled ride.
I tweaked the beatcanvas site so that on the left side now you see "Stories." Pretty much all blogware shows content in reverse dated order, so that the most recent entries are first. But that makes for a lousy story - stories are never, "The end... The princess kissed the frog... Once upon a time." But that's the oprder in which a blog tells a story.
I wrote beatcanvas' blogware to show "threads" - which would show the entries in true chronological order. "Thread" is an overly geeky term that no one would understand. Pardon my nerdness. "Story," on the other hand, is universal...
If you click on any story links here at beatcanvas, you get the tale of whatever the topic in proper dated order - from start to finish. I think this is the right format to tell the story of each painting, and for other things as well. Enjoy!
Working on the painting tonight and I think I've decided on the title "Holiday Glow." I reserve the right to change my mind of course, but that seems fitting enough for now.
I have detail work to do on the sections that are new, but it's coming along fine, I think. I do need to fix an angle problem that I have in the store window, but I'll get to that in the next go pass at it. (ETC: Now somewhat fixed... at least the angles are better...)
I brought the humidifier out of the shed today and I have that going beside me. With acrylics, I need humidity, otherwise the paint dries too fast to remain useable for long.
I also video'd my work in a trial of youtube... I'll upload that when the video is done cooking.
This is my last break before I finish it up. I'm making my final considerations about color choices and composition.
Posting my progress to the web site here helps me look at it from a fresh perspective and see what problems I might have that I might not otherwise see. On a complicated painting like this one, such a practice is a good idea and prevents serious problems. For example, I would not have caught my error in the window angles had it not been for publishing the scanned image.
The local Borders, God bless it, has placed their first order for my cards. They want 30 Connection Packs. I was expecting, like, 10.
How cool is that?
It's a nice validation that I'm doing what I need to be doing. Let's see how they sell, and if they sell well, I have a shot at getting them into more Borders stores nationwide.
It does bring up a point, though. Repeatedly, I've found it hard to get my cards into local retailers because most retailers are franchised or somehow connected to a national chain. The purchasing decisions are not localized at all, but centralized at headquarters, wherever that might be. That's unfortunate. The Borders approach is valuable - because it allows a simple test of the market to see if a product might have legs, and if so, then the entire chain can benefit by retailing a popular and previously unknown item. But when centralized, carrying the item comes down to the hunch of a single buyer for the entire chain instead of going with a market test at a few stores.
Lucky for me that Borders will do this. Their sales might help legitimize my product so that other retailers have the confidence to also carry my line. We'll see. But it's a big moment for me... makes me smile to think of the story of this adventure and how it's grown.
I found, when I got my little cards, that size matters. The little cards can't be mailed. Sure, you can put them in a larger envelope to mail them, and I've actually successfully mailed one, but it got delivered with a note warning that the size was non-standard. And people will want to, you know, mail cards...
The Post Office says that the minimum size for mailing anything is 3½" x 5". My little cards are 2½" x 3½".
I feel like Goldilocks, and I've tried Papa Bear's bed, and Baby Bear's bed... how about just right?
(I don't think the little cards are a mistake... they do have their uses. But I need to offer something that's mailable and small.)
That's the smallest size there is, and it's called A-1. Small and mailable. That works, and so I think I'll order up a bunch of those.
Back when Lincoln was president, it was odd and a stigma if a person was an employee. Everyone learned how to make their own way and had their own business. The Industrial Revolution changed that, which brought about the assembly line worker. Everyone in their place, doing the same thing over and over, which made them an expert, of sorts, in their function. Efficiencies gained came about in the means by which they might increase their speed, but their job was to stand in place and do their function.
A few generations later, corporate America expects exactly that from its people. Everything has become a McJob, where management doesn't really need your expertise or out-of-the-box thinking - just perform within your function. Read the manual. Stand in place. Screw in the damn bolt, if you please. That's your job.
Here's a quote that I think is apt:
"I am often asked by would-be entrepreneurs seeking escape from life within huge corporate structures, 'How do I build a small firm for myself?' The answer seems obvious: Buy a very large one and just wait."- Paul Ormerod, Why Most Things Fail: Evolution, Extinction and Economics
Historically, that's true. It was Drucker who said that most of today's management consists of making it difficult for people to get things done.
And here's a nice graphic that I've lifted from Tom Peters:
The Matrix of corporate America wants us to believe that we can't function outside of our McJobs. So not true. There's a better world, one without the constraints of a job description. Thankfully, there are many small and even mid-sized companies that pull the best from their people by allowing them elbow room. But I can't name a large company that fits this bill. Which of course means that, as Ormerod found, these large will be small companies soon enough.
You've all heard of photoshopping, that ability to enhance a picture/change a picture so that it looks almost real. I've done that before. Here's my picture of Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks with Saddam Hussein.
Looks like they're having a good ol' time, right? Sure, except that it never happened. In the first picture, that's actually Maines with her husband, but I photoshopped Hussein's face in there, and but for the pink of Saddam's ruddy skin into the lilly white of Maines' husband's chest, it might pass as legitimate.
I did this one too - it's more realistic. This kind of thing can get you into trouble, so I don't do it much.
I stopped at my grandmother's house over the summer and she asked me if I could blend a friend's two family photos together so that the resulting single picture looks like a family portrait. Sure, I told her. No problem.
Hmm... notice the darkness around the edge of these 70's photographs. Notice too that to blend them together, I'll have to make an arm where none existed before. I can't just stick them together.
I managed to do it by copying bits of the father's fabric and molding these bits into a sleeve. A little shade here, a little highlight there. I think it comes off fairly realistic.
So if you ever have to do something like this, try that approach. I printed this out on photo paper and sent it to her. She plans to give it to a friend of hers, the mom in the photo. Kind of cool to be able to do this.
As I painted this, I realized how when I paint, I really don't think much about painting itself. I notice the colors and strive to mix the colors well, but it's kind of an edge thing - not really aware. It's all about intuition and gut. As I mix, the color I need will leap to my mind like it came out of nowhere. And so I'll mix it. I know that this comes from habit and experience and trial and error, but I've learned to trust it and just let go.
I once heard some famous batter say that... that his secret to batting success was to not even think about batting. He just let his body swing. Thinking about it screwed it up. And that's makes sense - the conscious brain is much slower than instinctive responses, and when that ball travels that fast, there's no time for a conscious response.
Isn't it that way with most things though? The guitarist, who mives fluidly through a solo and just feels his way along the song. The mom, who recognizes the subtle sounds of her home and her baby, and knows with an almost sixth sense that something is wrong. The speaker who stands before hundreds of people and knows just what to say and how to say it to keep their rapt attention. It's instinct, built by practice and experience.
It's also trust. And for that reason, I'm grateful for painting. It teaches me to trust: the colors, the brushes, the process... that's valuable for so many areas of life. Think about relationships...
I'm still doing background work, but I can feel it come forward. It's almost like painting with my eyes closed, which probably makes sense to no one, but that's how it is.
I read Jeff Jarvis this morning and then found this blog, that of an Iraqi blogger who asked other Iraqi bloggers if the war in Iraq was worth it, basically.
I encourage you to read it. It's not a good assessment, but it is a good barometer of the people there.
A commenter in the conversation says that Americans are the real deal - that we fought for our liberty and won it and that, today, the need for liberty runs thick in our blood, so much so that we're willing to give our lives for it.
The Iraqi blogger replies that while that may be true for Americans, it's not true for Iraqis. He quotes the commenter in his reply:
"Americans believe as much in freedom as Muslims believe in Islam and Allah."
I agree. But they can believe in freedom on their lands. Why do they have to impose it on others? YOU CAN’T IMPOSE FREEDOM. Freedom should be adopted by the people, not from other forces from other countries. That’s why you see it did not work in Iraq. I have to say that Iraqis are not fans of freedom and democracy because it proved to them that this freedom is being used by the extremists who are controlling them now.
Bella, here on my site, has been making something of that same argument for a while now in her comments. Hat tip to you, Bella. You might be right. We led the horse to water, but we can't make it drink. If Iraqis aren't willing to fight for their own freedom as we Americans have, then we shouldn't be there.
But on the other hand... I look at Japan and Germany, places where we "instituted" democracy, and it was hell for them at first. Gangs and thugs ruled in places there for a while too. But they eventually became stable and peaceful democracies, and for the betterment of not just their nation, but for the world.
It's an open question whether this will happen in Iraq. It damn well better. But if there are no Iraqi patriots to fight for the future of the country rather than the fattening of their own personal future, then I don't see how it can.
Further, writing that makes me think of my own country, and how frequently our politicians fight not for the future of their country, but for the fattening of their own personal futures (earmarking, cronyism, etc).
Power is such an evil thing. I really hate politicians - simply because power can't be trusted in the hands of those who seek it.
My son, Aaron, came to me the other day and asked for a new wardrobe. Over the summer, he changed his hair style and started growing some hair on his face. He's 15. He's coming into his own and therein lies the confidence to be his own man.
He asked Tamara to go shopping with him and help him coordinate. Her impeccable style sense was perfect for that request, and so the two hit the stores.
Here he is in 2005 - a typical teen.
But if you know Aaron, that image doesn't fit him.
As his dad, I'm pleased to see him be unafraid to express himself in his own voice. It's been a cool transition.
I really enjoy reading Camille Paglia. I don't agree with all of her points, but she's so lucid that to ignore her thinking is dangerous, in my opinion. This link starts the beginning of a 5-page read, but it's worth the time and her honesty is refreshing.