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Thankful Thursday XXV – The Biggest Craft Fair…

Last week I mentioned one of the relatively good new byproducts of our cyber-age, namely delivery services like Door Dash. This Thursday, I’m thankful for another creation of our wired times – Etsy.

When I was a kid, artists would have booths in local flea markets selling their wares – hand-painted T-shirts, framed pictures, crocheted things, you name it. Sometimes you’d see a truck parked in the corner of a dusty gas station with paintings (as likely as not mass-produced) propped up against it for sale. It was an alright way for creative types to share their work and make a few bucks. But that might have been the limits of it… a few. After all, it was a bit of a crapshoot. They’d have to rely on the right person coming along at the right time, and having cash on hand and a desire for their particular piece of work. Maybe a hundred, two hundred people might pass by their table in a day, most of them disinterested. If the person who would absolutely love your painting in their living room was the next town over, it would probably be going back home with the you, gathering dust. Similarly, if you were in the mood to add something unique to your walls or wardrobe, you were playing lottery-type odds expecting to find something just right among 20 vendors in a local clubhouse on a Sunday afternoon. Etsy has changed all that to the benefit of the creators and shoppers.

Now, to state the obvious, anyone with a computer, tablet or smart phone, anywhere, can see your creations and order them, and by looking for a specific category, find your needle in the huge haystack quickly. Rainbow-colored wool scarf? Picture of Paris on a rainy night? Union Pacific-adorned baseball cap? Rock that looks like WC Fields? All there, just a click or two away. Suddenly that person who would absolutely love your painting who’s in the next country over will find it, its days of gathering dust gone with the wind.

I love it. I’ve used it to sell books I’ve written (a few copies), baseball caps I’ve customized (a handful), and a few wall hangings or paintings (well… at least I’ve listed them ). Never made a lot of money off it, but it’s nice to make a few extra dollars and find someone appreciative of my work at the same time. On the other side of the counter, I’ve purchased a couple of cool vintage photos, some one-of-a-kind clothes and gifts for others on it that I’d not have found at the local Walmart or Kohls.

Ironic in a way, isn’t it? The internet has allowed Amazon to become one of the world’s dominant companies and biggest retailers, mass-marketing everything from books to soap to pharmaceuticals. But at the same time, it’s allowed individual tiny home businesses to set up and offer an alternative to the conglomerate mass-marketed products homogenizing culture across the globe.

I’m thankful for little craft fairs and the people who create for them. And for the world’s biggest, virtual craft fair, the one at our fingertips.

PS- the talent behind the picture above is someone else’s; the painting is not mine. But thanks to Etsy, it could be…

Thankful Thursday XVIII – Bob Ross

If “zen” was a movie, he’d probably be on the poster for it. Perhaps then, between insurrections, contested elections, deadly pandemics and weekly mass shootings, there’s good reason he’s more popular than ever. Indeed, last year at the height of the pandemic, reruns of his show were the top-rated shows on the BBC in Britain. This Thankful Thursday, I’m thankful for Bob Ross.

Ross might just be the most famous American painter. And the most critically panned one as well. But the dude with the big afro is a lot more than that. He’s a source of quiet relaxation for many and inspiration for millions more.

Ross, for the few uninitiated, was a painter from Florida who rose to fame in the 1980s with a half-hour TV show on PBS. In the 11-year run of The Joy of Painting (sometimes renamed things like “Bob Ross Painting” in re-runs) he became something of a cult figure, a stature only heightened since his unfortunate death from cancer in 1995. These days one can find Bob Ross bobbleheads, Bob Ross coffee mugs, Bob Ross calendars, Bob Ross coloring books, books of Bob Ross sayings…there’s even a Bob Ross chia pet for those who want their very own ugly clay Ross-head with a green afro!

The magic of Bob was two-fold. One was that he did a surprisingly good painting, generally landscapes, from start to finish in each half-hour show. Two, and perhaps more importantly, he did it while chatting away in a friendly and low-key way that defined “laid back”. Compared to Ross, the crowd at a Jimmy Buffett show would seem wound-up and out of control. Ross loved wildlife and from time to time would interrupt his show to bring in a little squirrel he’d rescued from a busted tree or film of some animal he’d seen outside. He painted serene settings, more often than not containing some mountains, a little lake and some trees… needed a place for the happy little squirrels to live, after all. Viewers began to love – and perhaps make drinking games out of – his regular little quotes like “happy little trees” and “we don’t make mistakes, just have happy little accidents.”

Surprisingly for such an incredibly laid-back guy, Bob was largely shaped by the Air Force. He signed up young and rose to the ranks of seargent. For several years he was assigned to a base in Alaska. He loved the scenery there and decided to try and capture that and share it for others. But he hated the job, per se. He had to be “the guy who makes you scrub the latrines, the guy who screams at you for being late.” He decided once done with the military he wasn’t going to be “that” guy again.

Ross had a real flair for painting, and a well-trained artist’s eye for lighting. He also had a gift for teaching simple techniques to the masses…and for irritating critics. He took some art courses and found instructors were big into minimalism and abstract – not his brand of folksy realism. “If I paint something, I don’t want to have to explain what it is,” he said. Over the years, he painted an estimated 30 000 canvases. What they lacked in diversity (there were an awful lot of paintings of mountain lakes, forest trails, cabins in the woods and the like) he made up for in charm, and broad appeal.

The magic of Bob Ross though, was that he showed us it was OK to do something we enjoy, even if we aren’t very good at it. It’s OK to have pictures on the wall that you like and tell a story no matter what art critics might think of them. You could be a surgeon or air traffic controller, but when you got home, you could “chillax” and do something where your screw up was soon rectified and turned into a “happy little accident.” I can guess that thousands upon thousands of people have taken up painting, or other arts because of his influence and his reassurance that you don’t have to be great at something to make it worthwhile. And certainly thousands upon thousands more get reprieves from the daily stresses of the world by laying back, watching his little trees and cabins take shape and wondering if this will be one of the extra-lucky weeks where he has a baby squirrel on his shoulder.

So if you’re bored, or stressed out this weekend, why not think of Bob? Pick up a canvas and a brush. Or maybe a sketchbook and some pencils. Or even just head out to the garage with an old guitar. Have some fun, be a little creative and be content in the moment.

Movie Extra 2 : Loving Vincent

For my second pick in this movie bonanza (being run at SlicetheLife), I take care of the “Historic/Biography” category with a visual stunner – 2017’s Loving Vincent.

Loving Vincent flew somewhat under the radar upon its release, rather like its subject did in his lifetime. It’s a look at the life and death of Vincent Van Gogh… but it’s also a whole lot more than that. Amazingly, we learn the great painted over 800 canvasses in his final eight years…but sold only one while alive.

The movie was the brainchild of Polish artist Doroto Kobiela, and is a collaborative project of Polish and British film companies. While interesting enough as a story, the thing that makes it memorable and outstanding was the method of making it. It is billed as the “first fully painted animated feature film.” Indeed, although using rotoscoping (which as I understand it is the method of using live action film and drawing over it for added realism), the movie is finished in the only way fitting a great painter. Its 95 minutes are comprised by 65 000 or more oil paintings! A staff of 125 professional painters created the movie by painting every scene in a style reminiscent of the great post-impressionist… so much so that we actually see some of his most famous works come to life – “”Wheat Field With Crows,” “Portrait of a Postman”, and of course “Starry Night.” The result is like a very high-end graphic novel come to life. To accentuate the story, the “present time” bits are in vibrant color while most of the flashback bits are told in a more photographic-looking B&W.

The story itself is essentially a bio of the last year or two of Van Gogh’s life. The artist was besides a painter, a prolific letter-writer. After his death, the local postmaster, a friend of his, finds a last letter Van Gogh had written to his brother, and he sends his son on a journey to deliver it in person. The son, Armand, (voiced by Douglas Booth), starts out grudgingly, thinking Vincent an insignificant crazy man… something mirrored unfortunately by the artist’s self-perception. “”What am I in the eyes of most people – a non-entity, an eccentric or an unpleasant person…in short the lowest of the low,” he’d written before adding “I should one day show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody has in his heart.”

Armand finds he can’t deliver it to Van Gogh’s brother Theo, but sets out to find a person who would care about it, meeting with those who knew him, loved him, even despised him along the way including the innkeeper where he’d spent his last months and the doctor who treated him. As the miles go by, the courier’s opinion of Van Gogh improves and in the end he not only finds himself an admirer but openly skeptical of the report that Van Gogh had commit suicide.

The film, which its producers described as “without a doubt, the slowest form of film-making ever devised in 120 years” had a budget of about $5.5 million, and made it back easily at the box office although it was far from a blockbuster. Critics tended to like it, with it winning the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival award for best movie and being nominated for the Best Animated Movie Academy Award (which it lost to Coco.) Rotten Tomatoes call it “a dazzling visual achievement” and the only real complaints about it anywhere were that the visuals outdid the story somewhat. Indeed, Loving Vincent might be a bit of “style over substance” but since it still told a compelling story and the style was so good, its an entirely forgiveable shortfall.

In short, Loving Vincent is what you wished Art History lessons were like in high school. Once you see it, you’ll never feel indifferent again when you hear Don McLean sing “Starry, starry night…”

I saw it recently on Hulu, although you can find it in hard copy too if you look around.

I give it 4 swirly stars out of 5.