Monday, November 30

Visiting an Art? Museum in LA

Today’s Image
The Museum of Jurassic Technology

I’m back at the blog after a long holiday week-end in the US. I was out of town, and, as always, I try to shoe-horn in an art visit when I’m traveling, if at all possible. Being on a short schedule, I didn’t know if it would be possible on this trip.

But, as luck would have it, there were a couple of free hours on one afternoon, and I had made a short list of art venue possibilities if time allowed. I tried to select ones that were relatively close geographically so that travel should not be a factor.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, I was in Los Angeles, one of the largest metro areas in world, and traffic is always a consideration. Travel times can double or triple at the slightest freeway provocation. That turned out to be the case, so my plans went out the window.

However, some of the locals said there was an interesting museum nearby they’d been wanting to visit. While it was not an art museum, they did think there was some kind of art exhibited.

I should have known this would be a little bit different. For one, this was Los Angeles, and second, they said it was called something like the “museum of strange things" or something like that. So, we Googled the place, which is actually called The Museum of Jurassic Technology. From the name, I assumed it had something to do with dinosaurs or something but not art.

Their website doesn’t exactly explain what all is there, although it does say “guided along as it were a chain of flowers into the mysteries of life,” as if that explained everything. It also says the museum serves both the academic community with a specialized repository of relics and artifacts from the Lower Jurassic as well as the general public by providing a hands-on experience of “life in the Jurassic.” What on earth?

Well, now I had to go.

It’s tucked away in an old building so unassuming that you hardly notice it. See Today’s Image. It’s so unassuming there was a hand-written sign on the door that said something like “yes, we’re open, please come in.” When we entered, we could barely see because it was so dark, but there was a person at a desk who gladly took our “suggested donation” of $5US each.

I was surprised to see there were actually a good number of other people there, too, enough so that you had to move around each other carefully and say “excuse me.” I wondered how they had heard of this place, but didn’t really want to know.

I am not going to attempt to explain anything, and certainly not everything, we saw. That’s mainly because I can’t. I’m still not sure what some of the exhibits were. For one, it was so dark that you could barely see anything, and reading the placards placed next to the exhibits was almost impossible. The descriptions of the exhibits on the placards, while grammatically correct, made little sense.

One exhibit was a model of a waterfall, with actual flowing water, on a river between Brazil and Argentina where, in the 1930s, there had been an attempt to build a bridge; but the bridge had collapsed, and although there were many attempts by the Sonnenbergs—I think that was their name—to rebuild it, it never happened. There were three “listening stations” that you progressed through to hear this “fascinating” story.

Many of the exhibits are enclosed in glass cases, and you had to look through a magnifying glass to actually see what it is—one was intricate artistic carvings on what looked like an almond.

Another exhibit was the head of some furred creature that looked like a weasel, or maybe it was a hyena, and when you looked through the viewer, you could see--and hear-- a woman barking and making sounds like the animal, or so I assume. And don't miss the one on trailer park culture.

The closest thing to artwork were colorful collages of flowers, flowers in vases, crystal chandeliers, and other “objects” produced entirely from the scales of butterfly wings. Did I mention you had to peer through microscopes to look at each one? There was also a room full of x-ray photos of flowers that you had to look through 3-D opera glasses to see—if you want to call that art.

I won’t attempt to describe other exhibits, other than to provide a link to the Wikipedia article on The Museum of Jurassic Technology.

When you’re in LA, don’t miss it!


Monday, November 23

Take a Walking Tour of Your Art Supply Store

Today’s Image
Icon for Art Supplies

Continuing my last blog, which was my walking tour of one of my favorite art supply stores in town…

I left us at the end of the aisle where all the oil paints are displayed. You can find all the major brands. At the end of this aisle you have choice to make. You can either continue to the back of the store where there is lots of room to roam around, or you can make a hard left and visit even more aisles with more art supplies. I usually choose to go to the back half of the store to see what’s happening back there.

I don’t think I mentioned in the last blog, but this retailer also has a pretty complete choice of frames and framing supplies for all kinds of artwork in addition to a full-service custom framing department. There are about four aisles filled with all standard sizes and shapes of frames for every occasion including very ornate carved wood to the latest colors in metal frames.

I may have mentioned I’m frugal, so the only frames I buy here are the metal sectional frames that come in the colors black, silver, and brass and only when they’re on sale. I will buy a matte that’s cut to the size I need, but I usually don’t get the plexiglas here if I’m framing a watercolor because I think it’s too expensive—I get that at a big-box home hardware supply store. Of course, I do it myself and assemble the frame and plexi with my artwork.

Anyway back to my walking tour. The whole middle section is now relatively bare with just a few tables and easels haphazardly placed. However, this retailer is one of the few who caters to artists and those who want to improve their skills with real, live, hands-on art classes held right here in the store. I have been in the store when a lesson is in session, and this area is full of students, easels, and paint. Professional artists are available who give lessons in oil, acrylic, and watercolor as well as general drawing classes. That’s one of the things that makes this store unique.

Moving on, the entire left rear quarter of the space is devoted to canvases. I do believe they have the largest selection of canvases of any of the art supply stores in this area. There are rows and rows and stacks and stack of stretched canvases in all sizes from tiny ones to huge, almost mural sized ones. They also have a selection of rolls of canvas and stretcher bars in case you like to make your own. And there is always a sale on some of them, and you can save a lot if you shop carefully.

As you come toward the front of the store, there are even more aisles. One is devoted entirely to easels, bags, boxes, carrying cases, and portfolios for artists to transport their art supplies and artwork. They have a very good selection (although I think a fishing tackle box from a sporting goods store works just as well for paint, pencils, and paint brushes).

The next few aisles contain an assortment of items that, while not necessarily considered specialty, are possibly purchased less often than paint, paper, and brushes. I’m talking about drawing instruments and graphite pencils, colored pencils, watercolor pencils, pencil sharpeners, and art markers with points in all widths.

Then there’s a whole side of one aisle that contains nothing but pastels, hard and soft, in all shapes and forms. And over to the right is a book and magazine section with a fairly good supply of how-to and art technique books.

By now, we’ve come full circle, and we’re back up front near the long checkout counter. Near the checkout is a bulletin board with artists' and galleries' business cards, ads for art lessons, upcoming art shows and exhibits, and other art communications.

So there. You’ve completed the walking tour with me. I hope you enjoyed it, and that the next time you’re in your favorite art supply store, you’ll take the time to really see everything that’s in store.


Thursday, November 19

Tour an Art Supply Store With Me

Today’s Image
An Icon for Art Supplies
Courtesy of Microsoft

I’ve mentioned before about how much I enjoy visiting art supply stores. I’m like that little kid in the candy store.

In this blog and the next one, I’ll take you on a walking tour of one of the art supply stores where I buy some of my supplies. Of course, I can’t mention ever item or type of art supply, just know that it has a very full and broad inventory. I hope you enjoy reading about my tour as much as I enjoy taking you on it.

Although there are at least a half dozen or so of what I consider to be bona fide art supply stores in my area, I usually shop at three that are relatively close by. By bona fide, I mean they carry a full line of supplies for all media as well as tools, supports, paper, and just about everything else related to the creation of art. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with those big box national or regional chains that include craft, scrapbooking, framing, and particularly holiday seasonal supplies, but that’s not what I’m blogging about today. I’m talking about a “real” art supply store for artists.

First, the store is in a suburban location, which is great for me. Some of the other art supply stores are naturally located in the areas where a lot of artists have their studios, where the art galleries are located (gallery row, etc.), and near art museums. I, however, don’t live in or near any one of those places, so I’m grateful this retailer remembered there are many of us artists who live all over the metro area.

This store is tucked away in a shopping center that is at the intersection of a major freeway and a major thoroughfare, but because of the center's design--all the shops face inward--it’s not obvious to passers-by and never crowded. Maybe that’s too bad for the owner, but great for me.

When you enter, they usually have placed some clearance items right there, so you have to either notice or trip over them. Sometimes it’s canvases; sometimes it’s art books and how-to books; sometimes it’s paint or watercolor. Whatever clearance item it is, I like that they showcase it as it brings out the bargain-hunter in me.

Over on the right wall is all the paper and drafting supplies. There is every kind of paper you can think of from big rolls of tracing paper to full-size, 300-pound watercolor paper and everything in between including all kinds of card stock for printing and even yupo. There’s also a section with electronic projectors for projecting your art project on a large support or venue.

The next aisle over is paint brushes—all kinds of natural and synthetic brushes in all sizes (from no. 1’s to way-big brushes for painting murals or whatever) and shapes (bright, filbert, round, flat, you-name-it) including sponges and foam brushes.

Opposite that is watercolor and gouache. Not every brand is on hand, of course, but I think I counted six or seven of the popular ones. They have student and artist quality paint in all sizes of tubes and forms including tins or square containers of dry watercolor.

The next aisle over is all of their acrylic paint. I do mean all as it takes up both sides of the aisle. I believe this store has the biggest variety of acrylic paint of all the stores in the area I have shopped at including all those down in the art district. There must be at least ten brands available, again in student and artist quality, and they come in tubes, jars, bottles, even tubs of all sizes. The choice of colors seems almost limitless, but it’s not, of course. They have way more than your usual palette colors, at which I’m sure some artists would take offense, but I like the choices available (remember, I’m a big fan of acrylics). They also carry a couple of lines of the new, slower drying acrylics

Moving around the corner to the next aisle, you’ll find all the oil paint. There is every bit as much choice in oil paints as there was for acrylic paint. All the major brands are represented in student and artist quality. I forgot to mention, at each section or display of most brands of watercolor, acrylic, and oil, there is is usually a color chart or marketing brochure or whatever that describes the attributes of the paint to help you make a choice. Very helpful.

Well, there’s still a lot of retail space to cover, and I’ll continue my walking tour in the next blog.


Monday, November 16

Two Books About Diego Rivera

Today’s Image
Acrylic on Canvas
Byrne Smith Copyright 2008

I noticed recently the number of viewers to the OrbisPlanis is steadily increasing, so I wanted to take moment to thank the regular viewers/readers and let you know I appreciate your continued patronage. I also appreciate your sending the link to the OrbisPlanis to others who may have an interest.

A while back, I mentioned I was reading a biography on Diego Rivera and would blog about it when I finished. Well, I finally finished it. Actually, I received two books about Rivera earlier this year. One is Diego Rivera by Andrea Kettenmann and published by Taschen, and the other is Dreaming With His Eyes Open, a Life of Diego Rivera by Patrick Marnham and published by the University of California Press. Today's Image is an acrylic I painted a while back that reminds me of Rivera's homeland in Mexico.

The former is a relatively concise book that summarizes the life and work of Rivera in succinct chronological order. It also contains dozens of colorful images and photos of Rivera’s paintings and murals during his long career. I like being able to view most of Rivera’s important work in a book that is easy to open and thumb through quickly. At the same time, it also includes a lot of information about the work so that you can take your time to study each one if you like.

The other book is an exhaustive biography on the life and times of one of the most complex artists (in my opinion) I have read about. It’s 317 pages of margin-to-margin text, plus a colorful insert of selected works and appendixes with chronology, source notes, and a most complete bibliography. This is one of those biographies that, once you get into it, you feel almost as if you were tagging along unseen through Rivera’s life with him and his colorful, to say the least, family, friends, and acquaintances.

The book takes you from Rivera’s childhood in Mexico to his student painting days in Paris, Moscow, and Spain to his success in Mexico as a muralist and then on to a productive, but turbulent, period in the 1930s in the United States. It ends with his later artistic life in Mexico.

Before reading these books, I had only the briefest knowledge of Rivera as a muralist and the husband of Frida Kahlo, an artist in her own right and whose life is the subject of many books. What I did not know is that he was quite a force not only in art but also as a political figure. I get the impression that he was equally as famous for his mural artwork as he was for his socialist views, many of which are portrayed in his murals. He and Frida Kahlo were members of the Communist party in Mexico and even entertained Leon Trotsky in their famed Casa Azul home in the late 1930s.

There’s way too much detailed information in the book to cover in a blog, but one of threads in the book is Rivera’s famous and infamous infidelities. I lost count of the number of his affairs with many women, even including Kahlo’s sister.

One episode I found interesting was his business dealings with the Rockefeller family and a mural commissioned for the opening of Rockefeller Center in 1933. Without going into all the intriguing details, it was ultimately destroyed before it was unveiled due to Rivera’s adding a portrait of Lenin, which was not in the original design of the mural.

If you like to read biographies about famous artists, as I do, you may want to put these two on your list.


Thursday, November 12

Name Those Unusual Colors & Add Some To Your Palette!

Today’s Image
Icon for Today's Blog

You may not have noticed, but I hope you did, that I recently added “puce” to the Artists Factoids section over there on the right-hand side of the blog (yes, -> right over there). I add new terms to the list whenever I run across an art word or term with which I’m not that familiar.

When I was writing about the color, Mars Violet, a few blogs ago, I ran across puce and decided to add it to the list. Anyway, it got me to thinking about the names for some of the other colors with which I’m not all that familiar.

It also reminded me of some of the creative names for colors that online retailers give to the colors of their garments. The names sound like nice paint colors or colors in nature, but, yet, you never really know what the color is. Here are few examples I’m talking about: stone, moss, thistle, seagrass, loden, sapphire, seaport, meadow, and my favorite, chile pepper. Please! Be more specific, so I don’t have to pay for return shipping when I thought I ordered a green shirt, but I receive a blue one (seagrass)!

Anyway, I decided to see if I could find a few other colors that I consider to have unusual or less-than-common names. Here goes:

Sepia Artists may know sepia from photography or printing tones and tints, it's a dark brown-gray and comes from the Greek word for cuttlefish—why, I don’t know.

Fuchsia A pinkish-purple color named after the flower of the fuchsia plant; it’s cousin, electric fuchsia, is often used instead of magenta for some applications.

Cerulean You probably know this blue hue, too, which comes from Latin for heaven or sky and is applied to a range of blues from azure through greenish-blue; the pigment was discovered by Andreas Hopfner in 1805, and chemically is cobalt stannate; George Rowney, of the Daler-Rowney brand of paints, began to sell it in 1860.

Madder Also known as Rose Madder for its rosy tint, it's from the crushed root of the madder plant.

And from a most interesting site, The Phrontistery, is a very complete list of lesser-known colors, a few of which I had heard of:

Amaranth A reddish-rose color named for the flower of the amaranth plant (from Wikipedia).

Aubergine The French and British term for eggplant, it’s the color of eggplant, a very dark purplish-brown (from Wikipedia).

A bright red, tinted with orange used in the vermilion pigment, chemically is mercuric sulfide (from Wiktionary); do not confuse with Cinnabon!

Chartreuse Named because of its resemblance to the green color of one of the French liqueurs, it’s 50 percent green and 50 percent yellow (from

Saffron A deep orange-colored substance consisting of the aromatic pungent dried stigmas of saffron and used to color and flavor foods (from the Greenbelt blogspot).

Sorrel Basically it’s the color of chestnuts and is used to describe the yellowish-red or reddish-brown color of horses (from

And several from Phrontistery, of which I had not:

Aeneous Shining bronze color

Corbeau Blackish green

Eburnean Ivory colored

Ianthine Violet colored

Mazarine Rich blue or reddish blue

Piceous Reddish black

Virid Green as in verdant (you’ve probably heard of Viridian green)

As I often say, there’s always something new to learn in art.


Monday, November 9

When's the Best Time for Artists to Create? When Are Artists Most Productive?

Today’s Image
Passage of Time
Courtesy of Microsoft

I find Mondays to be the best day of the week for me to “do art.” By that, I don’t necessarily mean that the artwork or painting I do on Mondays is better or more beautiful (in my humble opinion), it’s just that I, for whatever reason, feel more motivation on Mondays. Is that weird?

Some artists will say, “Ugh, I hate Mondays.” Why is that? I think, for one, it’s the natural rhythm of artists in a world where (mostly) Saturday and Sunday are considered the week-end, and Monday signals a feeling of impending… something. Like responsibility, I suppose. Artists are not necessarily known for their conventional work habits (or being responsible for that matter).

Artists’ work habits are, I’m sure, as varied as the human populace itself. I’m talking about purely creative artwork here, not the commercial kind where you are paid to be somewhere to “art” or even art that pays you a commission. That kind of art is a job, and that’s not what I’m talking about.

Let’s face it, art is not a 9:00-to-5:00 job, although I’m sure there are artists who clock themselves in and out at regular hours on a daily basis. Who are those people?

Some artists have settled into a routine, if you want to call it that, of working more or less around the same time on most days. I have noticed I tend to work less on the weekends unless I’m really feeling the need to finish something at a particular time, which isn’t the usual case for me (thank goodness).

I used to say it was because the daylight in my studio was only good for so many hours of the day, and even that changes with the seasons. That is partly true, but I think it’s also because of a lifetime of having your life shaped by the clock and real-world responsibilities. Oh, those.

Many artists are less conventional, or is that more unconventional? For any number of reasons, and I won’t even speculate as to what those may be, they work whenever they darn well feel like it and if they darn well feel like it. Ah, the artist’s life. I say if your juices are flowing mostly between the hours of midnight and 4:00 a.m., then go for it.

Are you a hit-and-miss or a dab here and a dab there artist? I mean, can you only concentrate for relatively short periods of time before you lose interest or those juices I just mentioned stop flowing? There’s nothing wrong with that method, of course, especially if you like the result, but you may want to have your attention-deficit-disorder--ADD--level checked.

Or you may be the kind of artist for whom there are not enough hours in the day in which you can spend creating art. I know an artist who rises mid-morning and begins to paint. He paints the rest of the morning and takes a lunch break. He paints all afternoon until he takes a dinner break in the very early evening. He then relaxes for a few hours, but goes back to his studio around 9:00 p.m. and paints until 1:00 a.m. That’s a lot of painting.

I, myself, am good to go for a couple of hours at a time. I can really get into whatever I’m doing—sketching, mixing colors, painting away, whatever—for about two hours. Then, I need a break. I need to step away and focus my eyes and my mind on something else for a few minutes. After that I can go for a couple of more hours. But that’s about it for me. Call me lazy, but please, not to my face!

When is your best time to “art.” Today's Image is an icon for the passage of time--no pressure in that.


Thursday, November 5

A Tip & A Trick for Artists

Today’s Image
A facsimile of the color - Mars Violet

What art-y thing shall we discuss today?

No, really, I would like your opinion. Like anyone, and especially anyone who writes a regular blog, news column, or email newsletter, there are days when I could use a little oomph from the muses.

Oh, I’ll always think of something to say, but please feel free to leave a comment or email me ( with anything that’s on your mind.

OK, no deep, mind-shaping discussion today, just back to business with a few odds and ends about art that are on my mind.

I’m happy to report that I found a new color to use that I think will really help when I’m painting watercolor landscapes. All right, there’s a disclaimer; I didn’t actually “find” the color myself. It was suggested to me by a watercolor artist.

I haven’t used it yet, but I will on my next painting, which I’ve started. It’s a landscape vista looking up a hill with trees on the left side and a statue on the hill. The reference photo shows the rocky hillside to be a distinctly violet color.

Therefore, the color—Mars Violet—was suggested to me. One manufacturer is Holbein, but there are others, and it may be called something else by other manufacturers. I haven’t bought a tube myself yet, but when I get the CI number and specifics, I’ll give you that.

The artist gave me a small sample in a little container. When I painted several swaths on a strip of watercolor paper, I immediately knew I would use this color for many landscape-painting applications. Since the word violet was in the name of this color, I was expecting something along the line of a purplish, lavender-ish kind of a hue that could be used in a sunrise or sunset or something.

However, when I removed the cap on the tube I could see immediately it was more plum-like or maroon, that is, with a definite red tone. When I painted a light swatch and then a dark one, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there is a good bit of brown (red + blue + yellow) in the color. It has a definite earth-tone tinge that makes it perfect for certain landscape applications. defines it as grayish-purple color (although I don't see much gray at all) made from iron oxide, which would account for the reddish brown. Remember the color—Mars Violet.

I also wanted to tell you about another “find.” Again, this was also suggested to me, but it’s a good tip or trick of the trade or whatever to know.

I use it for lifting (removing) watercolor when you need to make a color correction or you make a mistake, which I’m sure never happens to you either, or you just change your mind. It works better than plain water.

One brand name is Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, but there are other brands, such as the Target brand, erase-away. It’s actually a stain-lifter, spot-remover product, but someone discovered it works great for lifting, and I concur.

You use it with water, and you need to be very gentle. Gentle is the key word, or you’ll compromise the watercolor paper, not to mention your painting. After it’s wet, but not soaking wet, gently rub it on the area to lift and the color will, “as if by magic,” be gone. Of course, with the truly staining colors, such as some of the pthalos and some of the deep reds, etc., what you see is what you get, and nothing will remove those.

So, keep those cards and letters and comments and emails coming.


Monday, November 2

Can You Teach Someone To Be Creative? Can Creativity Be Learned?

Today’s Image
Adobe Afternoon
Acrylic on Canvas
Copyright 2007

I recently ran across one of my first acrylic paintings (and Today's Image). At the time, I felt so creative, and it was an energizing feeling. It got me to thinking.

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m not that creative,” or worse, “I’m just not creative”? Maybe the person was feeling particularly inadequate after having visited an art museum or art gallery. Maybe they had previously tried drawing or painting and gave up when their efforts did not meet their expectations.

Too bad. How unfortunate to go through life, or the rest of your life, feeling uncreative.

I’m talking about creativity in artwork—drawing, painting, collage, sculpting, and the like. Of course, there is creativity in every human endeavor, and I don’t like to ever impose limitations, but for the sake of this discussion, the focus is on creative artwork.

Can you teach someone to be creative? Hmmm… I am not really qualified to say in the same sense that an art professor or psychologist would be.

I will, however, give you my opinions on the subject for whatever they’re worth. Some may seem to be in contradiction with each other; be that as it may:

I think creativity is not equally endowed by every person.

I think not all people are able to express their creativity through artwork.

I think all people have the ability to be artistically creative at some level.

I think people can unlock some level of creative expression if they are willing to take the time to try.

I think some people are overflowing with the ability to create art.

I think creativity is as varied as fingerprints and snowflakes.

I think the new, the different, the unusual, the out-of-the-mainstream, and the avant-garde do not necessarily equate to creativity.

I think one man’s or woman’s creativity is another man’s or woman’s eye-sore.

I think creativity, like art, is in the eye of the beholder.

I think creativity is not a learned behavior (if it can even be called a behavior).

I think you cannot teach creativity.

What do you think?