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Art(work) Is So Unpredictable

July 25, 2011

Was it the fact that I’d been seriously neglecting my art development (sounds so corporate, eh?), or was it stupidity? Maybe it was both.

I started with the greatest of intentions. I’d spend ten minutes working on this one project before moving on to the dozen other, hot projects that needed my attention. Six hours later I was finally wrapping it up. Sheesh!

This is the essence of the problem of working on, dabbling in and learning how to create one’s artwork. Sure, I justified to myself as the time ticked away, I can use the final product in several other places. As I progressed through moving each section and redrawing parts that needed new alignment and a fresh look, I kept thinking, “This will only take ten minutes.” Ha!

The further you get into each shape, brush stroke and whatnot you see something new to tweak. Wouldn’t this look better with this curve added? If I just smudge this part, it will balance with the other side. A shade lighter will make this part pop. The possibilities are endless.

Dachshund with Cornucopia

Clip from Dachshund and Cornucopia

One of the great problems of creating art is that how ‘finished’ a piece is is entirely predicated on the creator. Where one artist may be satisfied with a stroke her and shift there, another may take the same piece and work on it for days, weeks or even years. Beauty and completion are in the eye of the beholder.

As Sondheim once said, “Art isn’t easy.” But is it worth it? That depends upon your point of view. You may not see the value in the changes. And if no one sees it, or the time lost fiddling on this project is extremely costly to something else that couldn’t be recouped, the time investment could be a bust.

On the one hand, it was very satisfying having gotten this not-too-heavy monkey off my back. It was some art development I’d wanted to get completed for some time. On the other hand, I am seemingly terrible at time management on occasion. It’s this latter part that drives me nuts.

I’m glad to have made one giant leap forward. Now the trick will be to continue chipping away at work without each visit lasting a coon’s age. Damn, it’s annoying to be creative!


Making Sense of Wine…or Not

June 29, 2011

It’s been awhile since my last blog post due to the workload of posts I’ve been writing for other sites and my own newsletter (which isn’t yet linked into the blog). But the post below is also cross-post at Women for WineSense. I just thought for those not reading about wine, this would make a nice diversion. Although not about design (except for my squeezing that question mark into the wine glass below), it does discuss some major changes in marketing coming down the pike. Enjoy. — MM

Wine in Glass with Question MarkIn the past week and a half, a number of wine events occurred in my life that got my gray cells working overtime. First, I attended a lovely dinner of wine bloggers, wine writers, wine critics and wine makers. I am none of these, but I am an avid reader of wine publications. And this is due to my desire to learn as much as possible about the business, its marketing and sales, and what makes great wine.

There were reportedly upwards of nineteen bottles on the table, a few of which I did not, sadly, get to sample. Conversation was quite lively as various parties chimed in with their opinions on specific wines, geographic characteristics for growing and farming techniques, alcohol levels, and much more. My goal was pretty much to soak up the knowledge floating across the table and try not to embarrass myself too much as the least knowledgeable one at the table. Overall, I don’t think I did too badly.

The second event was a small blind tasting. I have historically been horrible at these, and the trend continued that night. It should be noted that the majority of wines poured were French, an area of wine knowledge for which I have far less understanding than I do for the wines of the U.S. (But I usually completely bollix domestic blind tastings as well.)

After the blind tasting I felt suitably humbled with a rather permanent sensibility it will always be three step forwards and a minimum of two steps back for me in wine knowledge, from my lips to my brain. Somewhere along the way the synaptic connections just don’t get made as the libation slips past my olfactory senses, over the taste buds, and down my gullet.

My wine education of domestic production has always been more along the lines of knowing where the edge pieces of the puzzle are located–even if the pieces in the middle are missing or heavily jumbled. I can make sense of what I’m drinking, where it came from, and the general characteristics of the terroir. The wines of France, on the other hand, seem something akin to Mr. Spock’s 3D chess games – way too far beyond my ken to even grasp the outer edges of the game.

Since the French use an entirely different system of identifying their wines (by geographic location and not by varietal), I can’t compare puzzle to puzzle or the sizes and shapes of the pieces of French wines to U.S. wines. France’s wines are a whole separate game, and I’ve yet to get a handle on the rulebook.

Sure, there are regions from which I love the wines the French produce. There are wineries whose product I love. But it’s continually frustrating because I can never compare wines from the U.S. with wines from France. It’s an apples-to-oranges exercise in futility. (And it’s not that I’m trying to determine if one wine is better than another in comparison.)

We humans seem to have a ongoing desire to compare things. It’s one way we learn, evaluating one similar item against another. Our brains are just wired this way.

They even managed to compare wines in the famous Judgment of Paris in 1976, when the real experts were able to compare U.S. wines side-by-side with some of the finest French wines. (Why can’t I makes sense out how to line them up side-by-side?)

It would seem I am not the only American with this frustration. As I lamented my lack of French wine understanding (for which I frequently turn to the blog stylings of Samantha Sans Dosage to up my educational level), lo and behold a number of articles landed in my inbox on this topic.

The first grabbed my attention as a marketer: “French wine industry ponders shift in marketing strategy.” That’s a pretty substantial move for an entire industry. What could possibly spur an entire industry – one long steeped in history and tradition – to shift its thinking and strategy so dramatically? The answer dropped in my box but a few days later: “French wine consumption drops by three billion bottles.” Ouch!

The message (to the French) appears to be coming through loud and clear: Adapt or perish! The latter is unlikely and undesirable to happen. But given the sorry state of wine consumption in France alone (the intake per capita has dropped precipitously in one generation), they know some dramatic changes are in order. But what should they be?

The French method of organizing and categorizing wine is vastly different than here in the States. (And remember, I have a hard time myself understanding how it all works. So this explanation will be quite bare bones!) Given French wines have been around for thousands of years and the formal system of ranking and categorizing their wine has been around for hundreds of years, it was originally based upon the most common logic of its time: geography.

Rule #1: Sell your wine to everyone close by. Transportation costs are then lowest. They’ll remember your wine if you describe it as being ‘over two hills in that direction.’ This system has worked for hundreds of years.

Rule #2: Once you’ve sold to everyone nearby, expand your market further geographically. Now the folks farther away need more information in order to remember if your wine is better than the guy’s ‘three hills in that direction.’ Along comes a ranking system to designate if the wine ‘two hills over’ is of better quality (for a variety of reasons) than the one grown ‘three hills away.’

Are you confused yet? Well, this system worked just dandy for a few hundred years when folks with but a single horse and buggy didn’t travel far (nor did the wine), so it was easier to keep straight in their heads what wine came from which location.

Fast forward a century or two and several major changes have taken place which have resulted in this long-standing system not working nearly as well as the French would like. Aye! There’s the rub!

The biggest monkey wrench is that the U.S. doesn’t categorize, organize or prioritize its wine production by geography. (Napa Valley wineries and producers will vociferously argue this point – and they’re right to a certain degree – but that’s getting ahead of the story.)

Much to the French’s endless frustration, American wines (above and below the 49th Parallel) are identified primarily by varietal before geographic origination. The French probably gave little thought to this deviation from their own system when it was established long ago–before the U.S. producers made wine that amounted to a hill of beans.

But now this is a problem, the U.S. is gaining market share and France is losing market share – even in their own backyard. Furthermore, Italy’s wine exports continue to kick *ss in the U.S. (And they do actually list the varietal on their labels!)

So what should we all do about this conundrum? How should we make sense of it all? I, for one, do not wish the French to change how they make their wine one iota. I aspire to understand it and identify it better (and to drink a lot more of it!) I do believe the time has come for the French to squeeze varietal names onto their labels (however small they wish to make it in size). This option was granted to them in 2004, but it is difficult to change an industry’s practices so entrenched in tradition and history. But a second challenge remains: the French are far more accepting and understanding of blended wine, of which a great deal of production includes several varietals. They won’t all fit on the label! (We don’t squeeze them all on our labels here either.)

Americans have less understanding of and greater resistance to making blended wine purchases. Some are suspicious that a blend must represent a great vat of unknown leftover wine that’s been dumped together (which is hardly the case). Others simply view blends as a great gamble to purchase than something that’s identified as “California Chardonnay” – another misconception.

As a consumer, I see my wine education much as Lewis and Clark must have seen America: “What? Another mountain to climb on the other side?!” I’ll continue to lumber off to blind tastings in hopes that my abilities improve the longer I’m at it. I’ll continue to try new (to me) French wines, seeking out mnemonic devices so that I get one step closer to identifying them correctly in a blind test.

As a marketer, I hope French wine producers evaluate their options from the point of view of what will best help the consumer better understand their product(s) faster and easier. (Speed and simplicity improve the ‘likability’ factor of a product much more, spurring purchases.) A little sensibility in marketing goes a long way in increasing sales.

For another perspective on wine education, check out The Return on Investment of Wine Education.

The Creativity Factor, Part 2

April 29, 2011

Have you ever wondered how many tries some caveman made before he got the wheel right?

Did he (or she) need to invent fire first in order to make the wheel? Or did a stone wheel in motion provide enough friction to create fire?

I guess I should leave that one alone. The chicken or the egg thing can go round and round indefinitely. Either way, it was a load of creativity that brought out these wondrous inventions long ago.

When we look back now at what it took to chip away at a chunk of stone sans power tools to form a big circle, it’s quite daunting. This recognition of the obstacles to overcome never seems to deter the great creators from the past.

That caveman, Michelangelo, Galileo, Marconi, Edison, Disney and many others all had great determination to see their ideas come to fruition—regardless of the impediments before them.

While the results of great creativity are seen in an infinite number of inventions, artworks and thought processes, they all are borne of a few key characteristics. From one masterpiece in art, science, the humanities and so forth to the next, each of the creators had superlative skills in three areas.


Also known as determination and downright perseverance, one deal-breaker between those who are great creators and the mediocre masses is that they just don’t give up. Ever. Period. Michelangelo spent seven years on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. And that big marble statue? More than one sculptor before him had tried and given up on the difficult stone to form it into art. Now the David is considered one of the most amazing works of art ever created.

From Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life [not an affiliate link], these comments about the genius of Mozart:

“By the time he was twenty-eight years old, his hands were deformed because of all the hours he had spent practicing, performing, and gripping a quill pen to compose…  As Mozart himself wrote to a friend, ‘People err who think my art comes easily to me. I assure you, dear friend, nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not industriously studied through many times.’”

No wonder Salieri was pissed! I bet his hands were in better shape….

Thomas Edison was famously mis-quoted as stating it took him no less than 10,000 attempts to invent the incandescent light bulb. (In fact, he said, “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”) Exactly who do you know who has the patience to stick to it a zillion times?

Like Marconi, Edison had no real hobbies or outside interests. Both were well-known for their dogged determination. Failures didn’t set them back. And for both, some of their failures were public and quite spectacular.

Lack of Fear

While Edison waged a propaganda war against Westinghouse to prevent adoption of his competitor’s low-voltage AC electric current delivery system, he ultimately lost since Edison’s DC delivery proved less effective over longer distances. Despite the potential financial loss and public embarrassment, he continued on with a myriad other inventions….

Walt Disney first moved to Hollywood with little funds and a dream to start his “Alice” cartoon series. After considerable success with Alice and the Oswald the Rabbit series, he incurred a huge business loss and lost the rights to the characteres and most of his business. He was not deterred. He started over – fearlessly – and Mickey Mouse was born.

Early Mickey Mouse


Despite numerous setbacks the most creative among us eschew the challenges and obstacles in our creative paths to forge new works.

Crankin’ It Out

One thing held in common by the most prolific and successful creative minds throughout history is the sheer volume of work they produced. I’ve been searching high and low in my own archives, memory and the internet for a study I read about awhile back. (But I’ve obviously not been creative enough to find it!) The study researched what made various artists and composers truly great versus those whose work was good – but not necessarily superlative. In it the researchers examined the works of artists such as Picasso, and composers such as Mozart or J.S. Bach (and many others). Their conclusions were that the differing factor between these well-known creative artists and others was simply that they produced far more volume than other well-regarded artists of their day. And as a result, while many of their works were wonderful, the probability that some were outstanding was greater in those producing a much greater volume of work.

Manuscript by Mozart

In theory then, if the rest of us ‘creative types’ just produce a greater body of work, we will be more likely to strike creative genius. (Yes, I can hear your Beavis and Butthead chuckles from the other side of the monitor! I did say, “In theory….”)

Go forth and create!

The Creativity Factor, Part 1

April 6, 2011

Creativity is Boundless by Pixelnase Pic

“I’m not creative.”

I hate to hear that. Everyone is creative. Usually folks who say that claim they aren’t artistically bent or have no musicality, can’t dance, can’t paint or draw, etc. That is such a small frame of reference!

Creativity is a state of mind.

Thinking of a new way to solve a puzzle is being creative. Mothers who make napkin holders out of dried twigs are creative. The engineer in Cary Grant’s “Operation Petticoat” who kept an engine running by using one of the nurses’ girdles to connect key moving parts is creative (as was the team that created the CO2 filter from incongruent parts in Apollo 13’s darkest hours).

Creativity can be a group or individual activity. In fact, we all have the gift of unique creativity.

It’s simply unlikely any two people are going to come up with the exact same idea at the same idea. When you look at major discoveries and inventions across the centuries, most have come about as a result of several scientists or inventors racing the clock to beat one another to The Big One. Galileo, seen today as the discoverer of the sun as center of our planetary system, was dogged by Johannes Kepler’s contrary views. In fact, Kepler was the one insisting that the tides were caused by the moon, a notion dismissed by Galileo. So everyone seemingly came to ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ conclusions in their creative endeavors.

In modern times, we had the race for wireless transmission between Marconi and several others at the turn of the 20th century. This type of creativity was fostered from the Industrial Age onwards with a flurry of inventors, from Alexander Graham Bell, to Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse (amongst others), all racing against one another at times to achieve new breakthroughs in electricity and other related disciplines. One’s breakthrough might spur another on to new creative achievements.

Most of us do not achieve the same level of recognition for our creativity as Marconi or Walt Disney or Bill Gates. And while these three gentlemen received numerous accolades for their accomplishments, all had teams of ‘creators’ working for them towards their creative goals. In fact, Disney actually called his Imagineers. Perhaps their greatest creative achievements were actually in their abilities to build their teams, foster the creative environment around them, and mold the teams’ creative results into the final product they desired.

What do you do to foster creativity in your own life?

What Exactly is an Ad?

March 21, 2011
The Witches by Goya

The Witches by Goya

I don’t know about anyone else, but the last week or so has felt very unsettling, very strange. I’m sure it’s related to the disaster in Japan. It is so overwhelming, tragic and sad. I just can’t seem to  digest what seems to be incomprehensible cruelty upon the lovely people of this island nation. (And I don’t mean to belittle the events in the Middle East, in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain, but the visuals to the eye are quite different in Japan at the moment.)

Prior to all of these events I had been commenting in a series of posts upon the elements of good design. In the first newsletter I focused upon light and movement, using George Seurat’s painting, “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” as an example.

The second installment in the series looked at balance and tension. Here I cited a Volkswagen ad with Snow White in the image and a Loctite Glue ad as examples for the visuals.

All the while I’ve been trying to plan visual examples of other important elements to good design, and my mind kept coming back to the two artists in this post. No, none of these pieces are ads. That just seems so trivial at the moment to use an ad that’s trying to sell an ordinary, everyday product.

Goya’s painting “The Witches,” at top, has all the ‘elements of good design.’ It’s just not an ad for anything. Or is it?

Perhaps anything that sends a message is, in some form, an ad for something. In Goya’s case, perhaps he’s trying to say we are all unsettled, disquieted and out-of-sorts. Perhaps that’s his ‘ad’ to say, “What are we going to do about it?”

The Colussus by Goya

The Colussus by Goya

In “The Colussus” I see parallels to Japan’s quake, tsunami and nuclear problems towering over the populace – a problem bigger than the people. It seems not unsimilar to “The Witches.”

I’ll leave out the discussion on light, movement, tension and balance in these paintings since these fellows obviously know how to create these elements of design in spades! Even in a very chaotic piece, such as Heironymus Bosch’s creepy “Hell” (below) these elements are brought together in a wholly original way.

Hell by H. Bosch

Hell by H. Bosch

Are they ads? They may not show a product or a company logo, let alone a slogan, but in many ways, these paintings are ‘ads.’ They are selling questions and choices. “How do you want to live your life?” and “Are you bothered by this?” and “Do you want to go down this road?”

We’ll return to our regularly scheduled blogging shortly, but for now, “What are we going to do about it?”

Should Wine Have Three “S’s” or Three “G’s”?

March 7, 2011

Just when I thought it wasn’t possible to have another wine commercial released so soon, Moët & Chandon introduce their latest campaign, starring Scarlett Johansson as their new celebrity ambassador. The video below isn’t so much a traditional, storytelling TV commercial as it is a compilation of their photoshoot and planned print ad campaign.

Moët & Chandon’s campaign theme is “glamour, grandeur and generosity.” You can read more about the photoshoot itself and the Paris-based creative agency plans here (which also shows the YouTube video).

My two cents: They’re obviously not going for the beer crowd, humor, or anyone else who’s never had sparkling wine before. In the U.S., there has been much discussion in the sparking line segment of the wine industry and amongst those that provide its marketing and advertising: How can we best reach a broader market — those that still believe sparkling wine is only for personal celebrations, christening boats and New Year’s?

This campaign from France decidedly has no interest in reaching that new market in the U.S.

While we may be used to the tenets of Sniff, Swirl and Sip in the wine biz, there is room to include Moët & Chandon’s Glamour, Grandeur and Generosity. They’re not after the beer crowd because it’s not their price point!

Perhaps eventually…  if we work a little harder, we’ll eventually be able to make use of more of the alphabet in wine marketing.

Old Spice Meets Old Vines

March 3, 2011

It’s rare to stumble upon fun and clever commercials. It’s even rare to see one for the wine industry. Since this one is both, I thought I’d share.

I originally found this on Dr. Vino’s site, but for our purposes I’ve provided the link to the commercial on You Tube:

It is a wonderful parody of the current Old Spice commercials. You keep waiting for someone to announce it’s a commercial for a specific wine. But it isn’t. It’s really a promotion for the Zinfandel Festival in Paso Robles.

What a great job it does of educating the viewer and grabbing your interest. Well done!