Step Lively

Staten Island Ferry

Staten Island Ferry

Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges

Leaving our homes, crossing bridges or stepping onto a ferry, and we’re transported to another shore. Likewise, at times we must leave the world of creating to the somewhat distant land of displaying what we have made.

Sharing and promoting our work takes resources away from creating, however, the internet offers access to tailored audiences and makes viewing and ordering comfortable for our patrons.

Step lively onto the ferry is what I was recently thinking when leaving the shores of creating and launching my artwork online for sale at SAATCHI ART.

I’ll periodically make original paintings and affordable prints available. My artwork has international themes with the aim of connecting shapes to show beauty. I’m starting with a series from New York City including the Staten Island Ferry and the bridges that I’ve traveled many times. Please take a look and tell your friends who may be looking to fill a blank space on the wall.


Birthday Call: Your Reason to Connect

Otto Calling

Otto Calling

Are you curious when you receive birthday messages from people who you hardly know? Social media seems to broadcast our special day from the highest mountain for all to hear. In contrast, how do you feel when an influential person in your life remembers and gives you a phone call?

For many people in our community April 15th has meant more than tax day but this year is different. It was Otto Kroeger’s birthday and (using his brother Bob’s expression) sadly Otto is now “on the wrong side of the grass.” Otto’s work on personality type was far reaching and we can still learn much from him. He was a great communicator of ideas and a connector of people and one simple thing he did practically everyday had big impact.

For several hundred people, on our birthdays, wherever Otto was in his travels, he would call us with his wishes. He had an incredible memory for dates supplemented by his little notebook always in his shirt pocket. He was a telephone guy – never embracing email or electronic greetings. Otto was personal and so were his phone calls. For him, birthdays were a reason to joke, to share ideas, and to catch up with friends.

This is something we all can do more of to keep our friendships from tarnishing. While calling people on their birthday is often reserved for family and the closest of friends, Otto considered so many as close friends and his yearly calls became tradition.

One year when Otto called my wife with his best wishes. I answered the phone and pretended to be surprised to learn that it was her birthday. I thanked him for reminding me while I still had time to buy a gift.

I wish I could call him today. When larger than life figures pass, they can no longer do any wrong, they can be idealized for their strengths and with the voices they leave, we can continue to follow their guidance. Otto’s voice remains strong in my mind. If there were ever reasons to celebrate or just about any reason at all, Otto would pick up his phone to call. Something we all can do more often.


Can Your Final Thoughts Spark Fresh Inspiration?

Red or white?

Pleasant surprise!

Have you ever discovered one last piece of candy in a bag that you thought was empty? Or found a five dollar bill in your jacket pocket left over from last winter? In a way this happened to me when thinking I was completely done with my book CREATIVE YOU. The final manuscript is submitted, the Facebook page is up and I even noticed it’s already listed for preorder on Amazon when the publisher surprised me by asking for 5 more words to balance out a page. If you were given one last chance to write or speak about something you cared about what would you say?

What would you say?

What would you say?

While first impressions are very powerful, so are our last thoughts. Do you ever sense something is going to be the last time? I still remember 16 years ago: knowing the moving van would be coming in the morning and instead of packing, I was standing in the dark, squinting at a stopwatch, scooping my test strip from the developer and submerging it into stop bath. I wanted to get the exposure right since I knew this was going to be one of the last black & white prints I would ever make before boxing up my enlarger and trays.

Sometimes we see the end approaching like the final episodes of a sitcom or the last sip of wine and other times we are taken by surprise – as we unknowingly have a last casual conversation with a friend before they unexpectedly disappear from our lives. Foreseen or not, ends can produce strong memories and provoke powerful inspirations. finishdictionary

Our final impressions are often the cumulative of our experiences – like learning just the right place to watch the last sunset while on an island vacation or just the right meal to order in a favorite restaurant that is going to close. When things end we are left with our memories – and for some people memories become sources for inspirations.

They did for Edvard Munch, most know for “The Scream” who was inspired by his intense childhood memories. He said “I don’t paint what I see but what I saw.” While, there are many ways to be creative – reminiscing isn’t what inspires everyone. Picasso said “All I have ever made was made for the present and with the hope that it will always remain in the present.” And he continued: “I have done it without thinking of the past or of the future.”

When you are aware a chapter will inevitably end, do you try to preserve your memories? What do you keep? And how do you plan to use them for future inspiration? Or do you prefer to let go of the past and gain your inspirations from what is happening now? What will you do with the very last piece of candy?


Natural Beauty: What kind of tree are you inspired to be?

on the rocks

on the rocks

Even though Seinfeld episodes are supposedly about nothing, so much happens in each show – likewise, do you ever have a supposedly lazy day that is filled with inspirations? Looking back, some of my favorite paintings were inspired from events that happened unexpectedly on a single day. A rainy day in London and a foggy day in Huangshan China come to mind.

Magical days are conjured  when we step off our regular path. Last week, I made some changes in longitude which brought me to San Francisco. Within 24 hours, I watched the waves break on the Pacific, hiked Mount Tamalpais, strolled through the ancient Muir Woods, had lunch on the dock in Marin, and drove through wine country in a convertible with one of my oldest friends. I only had my toy camera but it was sufficient to make photos that will bring back my memories.

“Fresh beauty opens one’s eyes wherever it is really seen, but the very abundance and completeness of the common beauty that besets our steps prevents its being absorbed and appreciated. It is a good thing, therefore, to make short excursions now and then to the bottom of the sea among dulse and coral, or up among the clouds on mountain-tops, or in balloons, or even to creep like worms into dark holes and caverns underground, not only to learn something of what is going on in those out-of-the-way places, but to see better what the sun sees on our return to common every-day beauty.”  Described the naturalist John Muir In the Sierra Foot-Hills (1894)

Experiencing natural beauty inspired me to finally have an answer if Barbara Walters asks “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?” Of course the answer is a giant redwood. These are the tallest trees and frequently live 600 to 2,000 years  even though they don’t look a day over 200. What kind of tree would you be? Can you recall a single day that  filled  you with inspiration?

Coincidentally, within a bowl of smooth metal shaped stones on the counter of a Sonoma antique shop, I noticed one with Chinese characters so I picked it up turned it over to read the word “creativity.” John Muir said “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. “ Do you think this could be true?


Original Copies or Original Sins?

Seeding our clouds for a rainstorm of ideas

Seeding our clouds for a rainstorm of ideas

Like dialing your rival at the same moment they try to dial you, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone at the same time as Elisha Gray. Bell got to the patent office first and legally received the credit and fame, but were they both being original? It’s your call?

A certain number of people read the same news, watch the same movie, face the same problem and have a collective ah-ha moment to offer a collective solution. You could be thinking of a “new” idea and unbeknownst to you, somebody on the other side of the globe is thinking the same thing. It’s discouraging to come up with a “original” idea only to enter a few keywords into a search engine to find others are already standing in the same space.

Paul Bloom described in a TED  talk how especially in the arts, we appreciate originals more than copies. He tells how a once admired masterpiece lost its value when it was discovered to be forged and how a gifted violinist, who was appreciated in concert was largely ignored when anonymously playing at a train station.

What can you to do to be original? As you are saturated with information, does too much stimulation prevent you from being original? A talented artist and prolific writer Val Erde recently asked the good question: “I do think that the more I’m on the internet – certainly with my habit of always filling up my mind with stuff I read on it – the less creative I am in terms of originality. Does it affect you the same way?”

Original and salt free

Original and salt free

Of course we are all influenced by our environment. Filling our heads with the latest thinking on subjects is like seeding our own clouds for a future rain storm of ideas. Everything we do is done in our own way and is somewhat original.

Some people believe that art is a reflection of our environment and culture -so as the kaleidoscope of our world changes, so does what we produce. Don’t worry so much if someone else is doing something similar – do your own thing and soon your brief overlaps will dissipate.

“Yes, one may make mistakes, one may perhaps exaggerate here or there, but the thing one makes will be original. You have read in Rappard’s letter the words: “I used to make things now in this, then in that style, without sufficient personality: but these last drawings have at least a character of their own, and I feel that I have found my way.” I feel almost the same thing now.” described Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo, c. 22 June 1883

We all have a unique experience and we all express things differently – as you put some words together, draw some lines, or dance, it’s possible someone else has done this before but when you add your own context and write a paragraph, paint a picture, dance a number, then it’s likely to say that this hasn’t been done exactly the same way. Does awareness of others increase or decrease your originality?


Does Your Life Come with a SOUNDTRACK?

Riverside Park

Do you pair music with exercising, driving, or creating? Seeking a new song to play on my iPod while running along Riverside Park, I tried New York State of Mind by Billy Joel. It’s a near match with references to the Hudson River and Riverside and will make a perfect pairing someday when my pace slows down. What perfect pairs have you come up with?

Sometimes music and venues are logical mates:  Gamelon +Bali or Buffet + the Islands, but other combinations like Patsy Cline + New Delhi,   or Jack Johnson + Borneo  are like peanut butter and bananas – meaningless to most people but stuck together for me.  You must have some unusual pairs joined by strange events too. Continuing to listen to Joel’s Greatest Hits, I heard Piano Man as I passed the train piers and Big Shot near the boat basin before turning around as Scenes from an Italian Restaurant played.  These songs carried me back to childhood summers listening to A.M. radio.  Does your life come with a soundtrack? Do you add new songs or do you continue to listen to your favorite 45s?

Songs bring back memories and jog our imagination and many people use music to set a mood and provide inspiration when they create. Music itself can be a compliment to a piece. Dance and film are linked to music but what about cooking or painting? When you play music while creating, did you ever consider linking the particular songs to what you make? Try playing the song during a meal you serve or while displaying a painting to set a mood and help others fully appreciate your intent?  Everything is better with the right music.

At the end of my run, my iPod suddenly became silent and dark. Using all the king’s horseman, I was unable to bring it back to life –  maybe Mr. Joel was right and the good really do die young.


Perfectly Off Balance


Small sailboat provides balance

When something is off balance, you notice right away: too much coriander in the curry, the picture hanging over the fireplace is crooked, or the volume in the left speaker is too low. You adjust and like fixing a wobbly table, you mentally stack sugar packets under a leg to set things right.

We learned to balance our seesaws, bicycles and check books but sometimes balance doesn’t have to mean equal. Look at the photograph and use your finger to cover the sailboat in the upper left corner. Without that tiny speck of white, the much more massive plants and flowers look off balance.

On a recent trip to the British Virgin Islands, I heard a surf instructor tell his student: “balance is not always gained by standing in the middle of the board.” Shortly later, someone handed me a Zen card with the words:

“The center is not always the point of balance”

And all of a sudden a lot of things made sense. Achieving balance does not require equal, opposite or symmetrical forces. Leverage can be used to balance the small with the large. Sometimes one cute habanero pepper can balance an entire pot of gumbo or a holiday weekend can balance a five day work week.

Equilibrium spans many disciplines but for art – shapes, colors and lines are arranged to produce a whole that is harmonious and pleasing. Talking about balance got Henri Matisse in big trouble when he said: “What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter – a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.” The critics banished him for creating “decorations” instead of serious artwork. Who would want some of those decorations now?

Sometimes we just have to step away from the middle to find our true balance. What do you think?


Drawn to Draw: Turn Seeing Into Something More Fascinating

Drawn to the Sun

Drawn to the Sun

Have you ever watched a seabird appear to change colors from white to aqua as it dives toward the ocean or turn to gold at sunset?  Of course the bird doesn’t change but the reflected light does. One way to appreciate life more fully is by learning “how” to look, since beauty and interesting effects of light are all around.

Most of us think “drawing is hard” and are never taught or motivated enough to move beyond stick figures. Many people don’t know that drawing is not an inborn ability but a skill that anyone can learn in a short time with a little practice. The simple exercises in Drawing on The Right Side of The Brain can give anyone enough skill with a pencil to increase his or her appreciation of the world.

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand,” taught the philosopher Xun Zi. 不闻不若闻之,闻之不若见之,见之不若知之,知之不若行之;学至于行之而止矣。

“Do to understand” is where drawing comes in – Drawing is just applied seeing. Try sketching a person’s face to reveal and observe features and expressions in ways you’ve never seen before. Try sketching a landscape to see details of the ground that are hidden from most people and really get to see the subtleties of clouds for the first time. Try to draw the view from your window at different times of day, or in various weather conditions.

Even if your drawing isn’t very good, you will begin to notice things differently.  These activities open the shades to a window that lets you see the world as an artist. With new appreciation for nuances  your seeing will be transformed into something more fascinating.


Your Space and Time

Not yet sunset.

Not yet sunset.

Where do some of your best photographs come from? When traveling, after we arrive at our destination, everything is new and we capture our first impressions. After staying for a while, our perceptions deepen and we notice things we never would have on first glance.

After spending a week in Krabi, I learned the terrain and how to take advantage of local weather and lighting conditions. Even after a short time, our perception develops.

We prize child prodigies for their gift and honor young artists or writers for seeing things in a new way, but you can almost hear Rod Stewart singing: “I wish that I knew what I know now. When I was younger.” What if we approached subjects armed with a lifetime of experiences and a deep understanding of the world and human nature? Wouldn’t this give us more tools to be creative?

“The normal adult never bothers his head about spacetime problems. Everything that there is to be thought about, in his opinion, has already been done in early childhood. I, on the contrary, developed so slowly that I only began to wonder about space and time when I was already grown up. In consequence, I probed deeper into the problem than an ordinary child would have done” explained Albert Einstein.

Whether or not they started as tots, many creative people made their greatest contributions latter in life using  seasoned approach to produce profound innovations. Every time you look at the same painting or watch the same performance, you see it differently base on your accumulation of experiences. What long settled assumptions will you revisit with the eyes of experience?


Green Potato Chips

Potato of the Sea

Just watched a Ted talk where the speaker believes our sense of artistic beauty results from a Darwinian adaption effect – and it got me thinking whether this applied to colors and more importantly, what about those green potato chips?

As kids, before knowing better, we used to search for those chips with green edges, prizing them as extra flavorful. Fortunately nobody turned green, but maybe this notion came from our natural appreciation for the color green.

The human eye has a higher sensitivity to green than to any other color. It’s the easiest on the eyes and soothing. Spend too much time in a grey city or a cold climate and then travel to a lush environment and notice how your eyes soak up the saturated green foliage. Green Christmas trees look extra welcoming during a snowy December.

Shades of green are usually up to some good. Not the florescent green of poorly maintained swimming pools but the desirable growth of plants. We have learned to trust green beans, peas, and paper money. Artists often mix their greens and so do chefs, but curiously, mixed green salads are not made of blues and yellows. Green is often used by designers to evoke trust, growth and nature. Pantone, the color matching authority, predicts this year’s new hue will be “honeysuckle,” which is a hot pink. I predict that its green complement is going to be more socially conscious and grab some limelight.

– So what do you think? What associations do you have with the color green?