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Norwegian Musings and Polish Thoughts

Living Like an Aristocrat on a Middle Class Salary

Outing, by Steve Henderson


I love the orthodontist's office. Not because he cleans me out as he cleans up my kids' teeth, but because he stocks recent People magazines, and while the progeny is back in the room of wires and bands, I am the voyeur watching Jennifer Garner on an outing with Violet, Oprah eating cupcakes, and Matthew McConaughey finding any excuse to flash those abs.


One of my favorite photo stories involved Paris Hilton shopping for the hour and facing the back of the car with her boxes and bags and hatboxes and packages -- the chauffeur was off somewhere and the poor girl didn't know how to open the trunk.


Talk about living differently from the rest of us.


For some reason, we envy the life of the rich and famous, and if the upshot of such a life is that one doesn't know how to open the back of the car, much less put things in it -- or take them out later -- then what is it that we are so envious about?


I know. I know. Unlimited money.


However, if we put things into perspective, those of us swimming around in the middle class live better than the average aristocrat of the early 19th century.


Think about Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley of Jane Austen fame -- despite their vast funds of wealth, it took them an entire day to travel 60 miles in a rattling carriage, less on horseback. We hop in a heated or air conditioned car, depending upon the season, and get there in an hour.


True, they had cooks and servants to lug their meals down dark, drafty hallways to a cavernous dining room lit by candles made from rendered beef fat, the food in covered dishes to prevent the heat from escaping -- and once you lifted the lid, you might be looking at a small bird, head intact, nestled amongst vegetables overcooked to the point of dissolving.


Their clothes -- trousers with no zippers, by the way, for men; cumbersome skirts and underskirts and corsets and stays for the other half of the population  -- were washed by another; and when they washed themselves, they did so in metal tubs into which a servant poured hot water. Personally, I don't mind the washing machine, and I prefer a private bath of unlimited hot water, complete with a non-slimy soap not made of the aforementioned rendered beef fat.


Let's not even talk about the more intimate details of the bathroom situation.


Many of the things we take for granted -- electricity, indoor plumbing, drinkable water, antibiotics, personal hygiene, comfortable furniture, and an incredible array of food choices -- were all things beyond the reach of the wealthiest segment of society 200 years ago, so comparing our situation with theirs, we live like kings.


Ah, but we want to live like kings in the present age.


Actually, despite the lack of unlimited money part, we do have the ability to enjoy many indulgences of today's world, without the burden of being followed around by the paparazzi and being expected to look like a 16-year-old Greek Goddess while we are struggling through our 40s. While we may not have as much spare time as we would like, and no doubt most of us would prefer not to spend the time we do have scrunched into a grey carpeted cubicle or cheerfully asking "May I Help You?" of a rude, snappy, disgruntled customer, we can accessorize our personal lives, time and space with affordable luxuries that provide a warm glow of contentment every time we see them or use them or walk into the room where they are.


Example: every single pair of socks I wear is handknit. Can Donald Trump say that?


Granted, I knit them myself, but the pleasure I get in the actual process is equal to the pleasure I receive in the finished product.


A lavish meal? Learning to cook is incredibly easy; and if you have five high quality ingredients and a modicum of know how, it doesn't take much to eat very, very well.


Fashionable clothes? I know a struggling single mother who is always stunningly appointed -- she finds name brand, designer wear at the local Good Will. Another young mother invests in a few quality pieces and builds her wardrobe around them. I'm no fashionista, but I knit or sew pieces that I love.


Art on your walls? Ah, this is where you can shine. Do you have any idea how many emerging and mid-career level artists there are out there who are very, very good but who do not charge the price of a small house for their work? As the manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art, I strongly suggest the paintings of this Norwegian Artist, whose work is affordable, professional, beautiful, and ready to turn your home into that of an aristocrat.


Little luxuries for the feet, good food, nice clothes, fine art -- they're more within your reach than you think.

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The Punctuation Princess Says: Easy on the Exclamation Points! Please!


Cascadia by Steve Henderson


One of my favorite features of our daily newspaper, other than my own column, of course, is the Letters to the Editor page.


I have to hand it to the people at the Walla Walla Union Bulletin -- not only do they print a balanced array of opinionated writers, from Clarence Page to John Stossel -- they make a genuine point of printing each and every letter, and other than fxing obvius spllng mstakes, they keep the content pure and unadulterated.


With all respect to Misters Stossel and Page, I read the ordinary people first, and as a writer, I get especial enjoyment out of the variety of ways a variety of people have of saying a variety of things.


One itsy bitsy element stops me in my tracks, however, and this is the overuse of exclamation points.




These little ditties are like Tiramisu, the cloyingly rich Italian dessert composed of Savoiardi finger biscuits dipped in strong coffee, and encapsulated with Mascarpone cheese, spirits, sugar, cocoa, and double cream.


If it sounds like something that you shouldn't eat for dinner every night, you're right. Too much of a good thing.


A good thing!


In the same way, exclamation points are punctuation items meant to be brought out for that special occasion, when the selective choice of the right adjective, adverb, noun, or verb, just doesn't do the job.




Sometimes an inarticulate grunt or gasp or cry of anguish manages to express our feelings on the matter, but an entire composition of these utterances makes one wonder why the primeval Neanderthal bothered with the scratches on the cave walls in the first place.


Too often, people tack an exclamation point to the end of an insipid sentence, with the mistaken notion that it will somehow infuse hot scarlet overtones into a sepia-toned lithograph:


"This is so stupid!"


or, for even greater emphasis,


"This is soooooooo stupid!"


Aside from the obvious point that calling people or complex issues stupid does nothing to bring the other side into your court, this verbal laziness undermines the integrity of the writer, giving the reader the impression that this person is overly emotional, underly sensitive, and possessive of a working vocabulary of less than 500 words.


The better authors give examples:


"The other driver pulled into the opposing lane and rapidly accelerated to pass me -- in an elementary school zone, during the lunch period, and at the crossing intersection. It is amazing how quickly a stout, middle-aged former heavy weight boxer crossing guard can react."


or understate the issue for emphasis:


"I found the mayor's conduct unprofessional when he flung his Dixie cup of fruit juice at the opposing councilman, and question whether his explanation that he had tripped is a valid one, given that both men were sitting down at the time."


Decidedly, when a writer takes time to frame his phrases into strong constructions -- using words more complex than "nice," "dumb," "cool, man,"  or "gross," then the letter on the whole is not only more interesting to read, it is highly likely that it actually says something, whether or not we agree with the writer's opinion.


So, take that little box of exclamation points and put it in the back of the cupboard, removing it only on special, special occasions -- which, incidentally, pretty much never occur on resumes, cover letters to prospective employees, business reports, or essays for a 101 English paper.


Invest in a physical thesaurus or use an online one, and play with different words in your writing (you might want to confirm the meanings in a dictionary as well -- you can call your fiancee "buxom", but she probably wouldn't appreciate "ample"), and if a particular sentence doesn't have the punch and panache you want without an exclamation point, it probably needs more thought as opposed to a line with a dot.


While you're here, we at Steve Henderson Fine Art invite you to join our free, monthly e-mail newsletter list, in which we summarize the events of the month, including Steve's recent works and Carolyn's recent articles.

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Buying a Painting Online: Make Sure That What You See Is What You Get

On the Horizon by Steve Henderson


As I mentioned in an earlier article, Purchasing a Painting over the Internet: Is It Safe? buying original fine artwork online is an increasingly viable and enjoyable way for people to improve the look of their living room walls.


Anyone who has looked up a recipe online knows that there are thousands of choices, and even a five-star rating does not guarantee success (against my better judgment, I once made a banana bread recipe calling for two cups of mashed bananas for one loaf of bread; the result, despite the five-stars, was a thick conglomerate of baked umber ooze more suitable as a doorstop than breakfast).


A painting, however, is more of a monetary investment than failed banana bread, and the prospective collector of an artist's work wants to ensure that what he is seeing, and has fallen in love with, on the computer screen, looks even better once it is unpacked and hung over the sofa.


The first step toward achieving this satisfaction is using the common sense that I should have used with the banana bread recipe: if something doesn't seem right -- with the work, with the artist, with the website -- then don't blindly plunge ahead thinking that all will come out right in the end. If you have questions, then ask them, and continue asking questions until you are satisfied with the answers.


At Steve Henderson Fine Art, we communicate with studio clients via e-mail and phone, beginning with the initial contact ("I saw this painting I absolutely LOVE on your site,") and following up with a series of communiques that acquaint us all more firmly with one another. Although Buy Now buttons are appended to studio pieces on the website, we have found that prospective buyers want to engage in conversation about a work first before hitting the button or sending the check, and rightly so.


Many clients want to know the story behind a particular piece -- why Steve painted it, where it is located, whether it was painted on site or in the studio. Because Steve uses reference material that he has collected personally -- and not from stock photo sites -- we are able to supply a personal story for each work, from the historic Hughes House setting for Madonna and Toddler to the quirky race hiker encountered on the 9-mile trek to Hidden Lake. The Fruit Vendor remains my favorite story, a soft-spoken, Colombian market businesswoman who always saved behind the counter a special bunch of  bananas for her regular customers.


The story behind the work is an added bonus, as most people decide on purchasing a painting because it latches onto their psyche and demands to be a part of their lives. What matters is that they own it, and through the years, their own stories are added to its history.


It is important to us, when dealing with clients who are unable to come to the studio and see the work in person, that they have a firm idea of what the painting looks like in real life. An image on a backlit computer screen can look more  -- or less -- vibrant and colorful than it actually is, and

 Steve works to mitigate this issue by ensuring, through PhotoShop, that the image posted on the website is as accurate a replica of the original as he can make it. Individual screens vary, however, and what looks one way on one screen looks slightly different on another.


In our communications with clients, we send larger views of the work so that the buyer can zoom in and see the nature of the brushstrokes and the application of paint. If there is a gallery nearby (and with several in the Northwest, one in Arizona, one in Montana, and one in Connecticut, there are options), we encourage the buyer to visit and see Steve's works in person, to get an idea of his overall style and palette.


Because a painting is an investment -- and a personalized one at that -- many quality galleries have a policy of allowing the buyer a set period of time, generally two weeks to 30 days, to fully finalize the sale, with the option of returning the painting -- unharmed and in its original condition -- to the gallery should the buyer decide not to make the purchase.


We also ascribe to this policy, and it is in both our and our clients' best interest to ensure that everything we can possibly do to educate a client about a work -- BEFORE we complete the bill of sale and send the work to the client's home -- is done. To date, we have never yet welcomed back a work from its outward journey, and the general response has been, "It looks even better in real life than it does on the website!"


So, how much can you expect to pay for an original painting by an emerging or mid-career artist -- the best, most affordable source of original work for the collector of non-Lear-jet means?


An excellent question, and one that deserves a future column of its own. Stay tuned . . .

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