Tales From The Field: In Which I Explore An English Garden Shop

garden shop 3

Two years ago, in 2015, we spent a some time in England before going on to a business meeting my husband had in Bucharest, Romania ( you can read about my adventure there here). My main hobby is gardening. In England it’s a passion, to put it mildly. And one of the things I learned on our first trips there in the 1990s was about the GARDEN SHOPS. Oh my. We may have big garden centers in the US, but I’m pretty sure there are few, if any, that are anything like this typical one, Stewart’s Garden Centre, just outside of Christchurch.

I had a list of seeds I was looking for…

Garden Shop 2

This was one of about eight display racks from various companies. I managed to not limit out the credit card. I love the quintessential English wallflower. In the tiniest pocket garden in the front of an attached house, if there’s anything planted there it will probably be a wallflower. So I made it easy for myself and got a packet each of every color I could find. The English also love, love, love their peas, so this was the place to pick up some. It was late in the season and there weren’t a lot to choose from, so I got three and hit the jackpot with Hurst Green Shaft. The best pea we’ve ever eaten. Had plenty of seed left from last year so growing a bunch of it this year.

garden shop 4

But what really grabbed me, starting with the display of everything barnyard at the top,  plus gnomes, was the vast number of animal species available, many quite exotic. Really, have YOU ever seen garden statues of meerkats in four sizes available at Home Depot? Didn’t think so.

garden shop 5

Seriously, how cool is this?

garden shop 1

And of course there are plants. Lots of plants. Hibiscus. So very English.

garden shop 7

MUST have red geraniums, of course.

garden shop 14

Bedding plants. Petunias front and center.

garden shop

Part of one aisle, about halfway down. I think there were at least four, plus various side areas. And of course a place to get a cup of tea.

garden shop 8

But back to the animals. This juxtaposition of species stopped me in my tracks.

garden shop 11

It was a little overwhelming. Oh, look! a lion on plant pedestal. I think staff is having too much fun.

garden shop 12

This display is what the fine old English word “gallimauphry” was invented for. A nude, an eagle and a modern sculpture fountain thingie.

garden shop 9

The English do love their hedgehogs. And I know you want a closer look at this one.

garden shop 10

Finally, after all that one needed a good tipple. And it just so happened they had “Hairy Potter Beer”.

garden shop 15

“Well-seeded” we were finally done and ready to head north to Stonehenge. You can see more photos from the trip here.

 

 

 

 

 

Ch-ch-ch-changes for 2013

camel-head-8-27-12I’ve decided to consolidate my blog and my website into one here on WordPress. I’ve started the transition by creating a gallery page with my Mongolia paintings and also one with the pieces for the Sea of Cortez show. And I’ve created a gallery for the journal sketches that I did on my last trip to Mongolia in August and September of 2012. You can find all of them in the navigation bar.

The WordPress Gallery feature is, finally, everything I’ve been searching for and not finding for years and years as a way to present my art. I’m not impressed by what’s out there for artists and sites like Flickr and Google photos (which I also still use) are visually very cluttered. It’s super easy and fast to create a gallery, upload multiple images, add captions, add to the gallery, arrange the images in whatever order I want, delete anything I decide I don’t want and publish it when I’m ready. The thumbnails are nicely presented with a thin line around them and the slide show background is plain, uncluttered black, just what I wanted.

Over the next month I’ll be adding pages here with content from my website. Once I’m done, we’ll re-point the url so that it will bring you here, but to a new, static home page from which you’ll be able come to the blog or any other page.

I wasn’t unhappy with Sandvox, the app on which I built the current site. But the trend is towards using a platform like WordPress for both and these days there’s no reason not to. Now I will only have to update one location instead of two and I can certainly use the time saved for other things….like painting.

Adventures In Social Media- 10 Sites I Use And One That I Don’t (At Least For Now)

The-Recliners-#2-Polar-Bear600I was at 30,000 ft when the global economy melted down. I don’t think there’s a connection, but the truth is that everything was fine when I left for my late summer/early fall 2008 trip to Mongolia and by the time I landed about five weeks later in San Francisco everything, well, wasn’t. With a vengeance.

My plan had been to send out packets to galleries over the winter but, knowing there was likely to be a shakeout with some to many going out of business, that didn’t seem like a smart move. What to do? What to do? I needed to keep some career momentum going without spending a lot (read “any, if possible”) money.

Social media to the rescue. I had already started this blog, but decided to join Facebook and Twitter, then also added LinkedIn. I wasn’t sure how beneficial any or all of this would be, but they existed, they were free and it seemed to be a direction the online world was heading.
It’s been four years now. All the original sites are still going strong and others have come along, some of which I’ve tried and dropped, some of which I’ve added to the mix.

'Shrooms- iPhone photo processed with Camera Awesome using FX and a frame
‘Shrooms- iPhone photo processed with Camera Awesome using FX and a frame

I’ve been reviewing my social media choices in light of Instagram’s Terms of Service face plant earlier this week. I had downloaded the app some time ago, did one photo, Facebook bought them and I quit using it. Then I recently connected with a young journalist, Faine Greenwood, who works for the GlobalPost news site. They pay her to post photos and she uses Instagram to give them a little special visual omph. Hum, I thought. Maybe I ought to take another look, so I did. And was impressed by the social media aspect they had evolved while I was away.

I reinstalled the app and started to post some images and familiarize myself with how to best use them. Then came the announcement a few days ago of their new Terms of Service (TOS). Suffice to say they were completely unacceptable and outrageous. Life is too short to worry about what idiotic thing they/Facebook will do to try to monetize the site. They could just try charging their users and providing value, but that option seems to have completely escaped Zuckerberg. There’s plenty out there about it on the web, so a google of “Instagram TOS” will probably unearth far more links than you have any interest in reading. But do check it out. And see the note and link below.

Upshot was that I deleted my account and the apps. Now I wanted to find another photo tweaking app and also a way to use them on some kind of social media platform. This led me to….taking a look all the social media I use and what kind of synergy I can create between them because that is one of the truly powerful changes in the off-line vs. the online world- the connections that can be made (there’s a reason why it’s called the “web”).

I ended up downloading a photo effects app called Camera Awesome to both my iPad and iPhone. I love it, but it doesn’t have a social component. I had been hearing some good things about Flickr, which I’d also quit over a year ago because I was suspicious of how difficult they made it to delete an image. But I heard that it had been greatly improved across the board. And, of course, they are already owned by a mega tech company, Yahoo who has, so far, never stumbled into any of the mallet-headed mistakes that some of the others have. And they really can’t afford to make anyone unhappy at this point.

So I looked at Flickr and saw that they’ve added all kinds of image controls. I found that, in fact, my images from before had been “archived” not deleted. Argh. But this time when I deleted one, I got a message in red saying that it was truly gone. So clearly they made a needed change from the sneaky thing they were doing before.

Then I took another look at Tumblr, which had fallen by the blogging wayside for me due to time and not being really sure what benefit I was getting. Now, since it’s an image-centric platform with a lot of creative people using it, it’s the perfect place to post my Camera Awesome enhanced images, which currently includes both actual photos and images of my iPad art.

Note (12pm, Dec. 21): it appears that Instagram has gone back to its previous Terms of Service with all kinds of statements about how the new one didn’t really say what it clearly did and some other “dog ate my homework” excuses. I don’t regret deleting my account because I wanted them to know there was a consequence, even though I wasn’t even a minnow in their quite large pond. I might start there again. Stay tuned.

Mongol Horse- iPad drawing processed with Camera Awesome using a filter and frame
Mongol Horse- iPad drawing processed with Camera Awesome using a filter and frame

So here’s my current list of the social media sites I use, along with the benefits I feel I get from them.

1. WordPress blog– I chose WP over Google’s Blogger because it was much more sophisticated in how it does things, at least at the time, and I didn’t really want to be more involved with a big company like Google than necessary. Their support is quite good, both written and through email. I’ve been able to customize my choice of theme to my liking and the new media uploading and display function is a big improvement over what they had before. I faithfully blog twice a week, unless I simply cannot due to travel or illness. That frequency feels about right to me for what I blog about: Mongolia on Mondays and everything else on Fridays. It has become invaluable to me as a repository to link to for all kinds of content about what I do. Write it once, link to it forever. What’s not to like? https://foxstudio.wordpress.com/

2. Facebook– What can I say? It’s a love-hate relationship shared by tens of millions. I have valuable and valued connections that I wouldn’t have any other way, but the stuff they do behind the scenes drives me crazy. I’m hanging in for now, but if they really start to insert video ads with sound into my newsfeed and I can’t block them, then I’ll be open to picking up my toys and moving to another sandbox. In the meantime, Christine Lin, a writer for The Epoch Times, left a message through my public page a few weeks ago, requesting an interview. We spoke on the phone for an hour, which resulted in a 1500 word story, “American Artist Susan Fox Paints Genghis Khan’s Mongolia” that appeared in all their English language editions in both print and online versions. The latter included six images of my paintings.

This is the link to my public page. I reserve my private page for family and close friends. Please “Like” this page for all my art news: https://www.facebook.com/SusanFoxArt

3. Twitter– Clearly valuable. Clearly and equally has serious time-suck potential, but cannot be ignored if one is serious about social media. Answer? Auto-post from other sites I use and check in at least once a week to see what’s up. It’s the site that is most connected to all my other sites. I should probably look into one of the utilities that lets one queue up and schedule tweets. Ah, something to add on the app that is my bonus item below. https://twitter.com/s_fox

4. LinkedIn– Focused on professional networking, but has a lot of artists and other art professionals on it. Hadn’t been using it or going to it much except to post the latest book I was reading. Entries with links to my blog posts show up there automatically, so there is always fresh content, which is important on any social media site. I recently started to go through the suggested connection list and found an American journalist who had written part of her information in Mongolian cyrilic, which got my attention. Within a day or so after connecting, Allyson Seaborn, who is an editor for the UB Post, wrote to me asking if she could interview me for a feature, which we did via email. You must have an account to view my profile, but here’s the link to the LinkedIn home page. http://www.linkedin.com/home?trk=hb_tab_home_top

5. Pinterest– This was 2012’s social media darling and as a visual artist I had to check out a social media platform that was all about…images. I like it although I’m not sure what its best use will be for me yet. It’s definitely eye candy to visit and there are a lot of artists using it. It is also possible and quite easy to offer things for sale, like paintings and prints. This is the one that seems to be the most demanding as far as keeping the new content coming due to the high volume of pins. http://pinterest.com/foxstudio/

6. Tumblr– It’s a quick and easy to use blogging platform, much simpler than say, WordPress. It’s also very image-centric, but in a different way than Pinterest. I’ve seen very little of this kind of longer post. It could be a perfect way for someone to try out blogging since it’s very simple and straightforward to post text, images and video. There are a wide range of bloggers from artists like me to institutions like the American Museum of Natural History to typographers, photographers, book sellers, musicians and writers. As I said above, it’s the perfect platform for my “enhanced” images. http://www.tumblr.com/blog/beyondtheredwoodcurtain

7. Flickr– I’m back on the site after a long hiatus. I like what they’ve done about protecting user’s rights. You can reserve all rights or post under a Creative Commons license. They also have an agreement with Getty Images, under which Getty can invite you to sell image rights to them, so there is a potential, and attractive, revenue stream there. I will definitely be hoping to take advantage of that with some of the 60,000 images I’ve shot in seven trips to Mongolia, plus two trips to Kenya and some to Yellowstone. Heck, I’ve got great shots from right here in Humboldt County. http://www.flickr.com/photos/susanfoxart/

8. YouTube– I’m personally just not that into video, except for Mongol music videos and Henri, Le Chat Noir, but that clearly puts me in a minority position. I’ve got a lot of great footage from my last trip to Mongolia and would also like to post painting demos. All I need is that eighth day the Beatles sang about. But, like Twitter, YouTube is too popular to ignore and I don’t intend to. http://www.youtube.com/user/MsReynard?feature=mhee

9. Constant Contact– The days of mailing out “real” newsletters are over. Sites like Constant Contact are a BIG improvement. While not strictly “social media’, you can’t beat being able to send news directly to people who you know are interested in what you’re doing. And you know that because they choose to continue to get your newsletter. Opting out is only a click away. With snail mail, you never knew for sure if you were wasting time and postage. This one I do pay for since my newsletters are image-intensive, requiring me to pay for the necessary storage capacity. There are other good options out there like Mail Chimp, but Constant Contact was the first out the gate and they have given me no reason to go elsewhere.  http://www.constantcontact.com/index.jsp

UPDATE 1-15-13: 10. Google+- As you can see below, when I originally wrote this post, I wasn’t using Google+, but that has changed. It dawned on me that, having acquired over 1000 people who had liked what I had posted enough to put me in their circles, that Google+ isn’t about socializing for me, it’s feeding content about me and my work to all those people who have indicated an interest. So I don’t really look at the news feed much, if at all, but I post all my blog links and anything else I’ve been putting on other sites.

Some of you may have noticed that Google+ is missing. I have a presence there, but I find it pretty useless and only check it once or twice a month. I really dislike the interface, hardly anyone I know is on it and there seem to be a lot of people, including artists, who are using it purely for marketing, which is a bore. Google+ is not a threat to Facebook at this point.

So now having looked all these sites over, I’m going to make a graph of which ones are connected and which aren’t and see how best to create the optimum synergy between them. Then I can just kick back and, as the spider-in-chief, survey my wonderful web.

BONUS APP!- Priorities, the best organizing, list-making app for the Apple world that I’ve found. Good user interface, pretty colors, highly customizable, connects to iCal, the Apple calendar app. I plan to start using it to track my social media “schedule”. It syncs on all my devices…iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro and iMac through their website. http://handcarvedcode.com/apps/priorities/

To Finish Yesterday’s Post….

I ran into serious problems posting the images of the kittens yesterday and finally gave it up and wrote to tech support. Turns out, doesn’t it figure, that it was something I had done with a setting that I shouldn’t have. But the reason I bring it up is to pass on how quick and great the tech support was! Three Cheers for WordPress!

So, since it’s the next day, here’s a new ART THOUGHT FOR THE DAY, one of my all-time favorites for truth and pithiness, from Edgar Degas, who knew a thing or two about painting:

“Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.”

NORTH COAST OPEN STUDIOS

Had a good turnout this year. Lots of nice people, many of them first time visitors. Here’s a photo of the studio ready to go, with Niki also ready to help with hosting. He appointed himself Official Escort To And From The Cars, much to the amusement of the attendees.

HOT OFF THE EASEL

Just finished this one yesterday. The reference was a print photo that I had been meaning to paint for ages. It’s important to see the warm tones in the snow leopard’s coat, which is similiar to polar bears. It’s an oil on canvas on board and is 24″x18″, so the head is life-sized or maybe a little larger. If you are interested in snow leopard conservation, check out the Snow Leopard Trust at www.snowleopard.org.