Sunday, August 10, 2014

For Suzi Ortiz
Originally published August 8, 2014 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel

Suzi and I were different in many ways. She listened to The Fray and Florence and the Machine. I prefer Paul Simon and Crosby, Stills and Nash. She was a dog person; I am a cat person. She has a vast network of friends that she worked hard to cultivate and preserve; I have only a small handful. We were 16 years apart in age and maybe not so much alike; but that didn’t seem to matter much. She had a green thumb when it came to nurturing a friendship—diligently tending to ensure it would thrive.

Suzi and I didn’t read the same books. She loved the “Twilight” series and traded books with her sister, Michelle, but we rarely recommended books to each other. I think I only passed along one book to Suzi - “The Art of Racing in the Rain” - because it was the best dog book I ever read, and she loved her dogs. But she ordered tons of magazines to support the various school fund-raising causes of her nieces and nephews, and brought them all to work for me to enjoy. I suspect she ordered Rolling Stone just because it was my favorite.

Unlike me, Suzi wasn’t exactly an art consumer. She had trouble covering the large white walls of her home with art – most of what she framed was small drawings by loved ones and photos of her nieces and nephews – items with sentimental value. But the “walls” of her Facebook page were covered with photos of her wide circle of friends, her family, her projects and trips, and her beloved golden Lab, Mia. In that way, she was a great historian – documenting and reminding me and all her friends of the great times we spent together.

Suzi wasn’t a maker in the traditional sense—she didn’t paint, build, knit or sew. But she did have some very special talents. Every spring she made the very best strawberry jam, in huge quantities, to share with all her friends. For many years at Halloween she dressed in elaborate costumes and decorated her house for all the neighborhood kids to enjoy. And, for every baby shower she was invited to, she made a personalized diaper cake.

To assemble these signature cakes, she spent countless hours searching for just the right diapers, tiny wash clothes she rolled into flowers, and other decorations to complement the theme of the party, and the interests of the mother-to-be, from Mickey Mouse to the University of Oregon ducks.

One thing we did have in common—besides working together in adjacent offices for 6-1/2 years—was hiking. We hardly missed a week, hiking 3-4 miles after work with Mia (an ardent squirrel-chaser) in the hills surrounding our Morgan Hill office, at parks like Christmas Hill, Harvey Bear and Mt. Madonna. Sometimes friends Celia and Angela would join us. These were special times, when Suzi photographed unexpected encounters with snakes, lizards, coyotes, tarantulas in the fall, and radiant sunsets, posting them all on Facebook. As Uvas Reservoir evaporated to almost nothing this spring due to the drought, she documented the stages and posted them on Facebook. I was the former newspaper photographer, but she was doing all the reporting.

Unless it was breaking news, we usually didn’t share too many personal details at work – instead saving all our updates for the weekly hike. We recounted TV episodes we loved: Naked and Afraid (Suzi), Work of Art (me), and Project Runway (both of us). We shared the highlights of weekend trips: Suzi to Reno or Cedarville with her boyfriend Leo and the dogs, or me on various outings with my family. We blabbed about the usual stuff: family, friends, our health, home, projects, work, fun, etc.

She may not have been the devoted crafter I was, but she supported my obsession in countless ways. When I got interested in making furniture out of pallets, she asked Leo to find some discarded ones at work. When I wanted to make a chair for the Symphony League’s Rare Chair Affair, she started collecting rusty cans, bottle caps and other cool detritus for me on the beach excursions she and Leo took with his metal detector. She had a large collection of colorful duct tape and brought me a flower she had made along with the instructions for other duct tape creations. She also sent me photos of projects to inspire me—like a floor covering made from pennies and resin, or the striking garden bench Leo made from a vintage Chevy truck tailgate.

I still have the instructions for a project Suzi emailed me a few months ago: making accent garden lights using Mason jars and stake solar lights. This week, I shopped for the materials and put some together to serve as glowing reminders of my bright, nurturing friend.

Suzi died suddenly on July 16 at the age of 43. Every day I encounter another detail of my daily routine that has been forever altered by her loss: our Rav4s are no longer parked next to each other at work; there was no flurry of texts last Thursday night when season 13 of Project Runway began; I can no longer overhear her phone conversations at work, charming all her clients with her endearing laugh. I miss Suzi in so many ways.

But it also hurts to know that I missed an opportunity—the chance to recognize, while she was still alive, what an extraordinary friend I had.

Friday, July 25, 2014

What it means to be a geek
To boldly go where lots of people are headed
Originally published July 7, 2014 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel


More than a few DIY books are being published lately with the word “Geek” or “Nerd” in their titles: “Geek Crochet,” “Geek Chic,” “Knits for Nerds,” and “World of Geekcraft” to name a few. So it follows that there must be a lot more geeks out there than I would have guessed. Just exactly what is a geek?

What was once used to describe a socially inept person (and before that, a bizarre carnival performer à la Ozzy Osbourne), “Geek” now describes someone who is no longer so marginalized. It has become more broadly inclusive, referring to knowledgeable and obsessive enthusiasts, with just a whiff of awkward and weird.

In his new book, “The Geek’s Guide to Dating,” Eric Smith says that even though geeks may need some extra help when it comes to social skills, they “possess plenty of admirable qualities that are sorely lacking in most normals,” such as the ability to think deeply, recall minutia, find solutions and retain a wide-open mind.

He also defines three broad categories of geeks:

  1. Pop Culture Geeks – includes comic book fans, TV and film geeks, and gamers

  1. Technogeeks—includes geeks who favor internet, Apple, PC, or social media

Angie Pedersen says she wrote “The Star Trek
Craft Book, “to pay homage to the quintessential
 essence of ‘Star Trek’—[which is] the encouragement to
 seek out new experiences and embrace the spirit of
adventure.” Projects in the book include a Spock Monkey
 (made from socks), Coasters, Reversible Dog Vest,
Vulcan Hat and Tribbles.
  1. Academic geek—includes book geeks, history and politics geeks, and math and science geeks

To find out more about geeks, I talked to freelance writer Chris-Rachael Oseland, who proudly refers to herself as a second-generation geek. Since being a geek wasn’t exactly trendy in the late 1980s, she says, her mom would lie rather than tell people she was taking her young daughter to a sci-fi convention. But Oseland remembers those gatherings fondly as “a safe place to grow up.”

Twenty-five years later, geeks have mainstreamed and their conventions are more popular and numerous than ever. “This is truly the golden era,” says Oseland. “People want to be a part of the subculture because it’s trendy.” Oseland links the geek rise in acceptability and desirability to the growth of tech jobs and big special effects in movies. With a masters in ancient Middle East history—she says she’s both an academic geek (owner of 3,000 books) and a pop-culture geek (sci-fi, gaming, steampunk, horror, comics, your name it).

She lives in Austin, Texas, self-publishing her cookbooks with geek-themed recipes. By far her most successful cookbook, “Dining with the Doctor: the Unauthorized Whovian Cookbook,” has sold an astounding 15,000 copies. To create the recipes, Oseland spent a year re-watching the first six seasons of the popular BBC series “Doctor Who,” to create dishes that would tie in with each episode.

Those who crochet may enjoy making these
 amigurumi figures of Lieutenant Commander Data
 and Captain Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next
 Generation. Besides step-by-step instructions,
 The Star Trek Craft Book also provides background
 information about the characters and lots of
 photos from the many seasons and incarnations
 of the popular TV series. 
Other cookbooks she has in the works are “The Kitchen Overlord Illustrated Geek Cookbook,” “An Unexpected Cookbook: The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery,” and “The Noshing Dead: the Unauthorized Walking Dead Cookbook.”

In true geek fashion, her first cookbook, “Wood for Sheep: the Unauthorized Settlers Cookbook” was written to enhance her social life. “It was in self-defense,” she says. “I don’t know what it is with geeks, but if you get five in a room, at least three will have something wrong with their digestive system.” To keep the game nights she hosted going, she developed recipes that were sensitive to everyone’s dietary restrictions.

Chris-Rachael Oseland’s website,,
features many of her geeky culinary creations, including
 this “Dune” inspired Sandworm Crudite made from cucumbers,
 red bell peppers and hummus. In her illustrated recipes
 she says, “Whether you’re entertaining visiting guests from
 Caladan or have recently had emergency dental surgery, this
soft crudite platter should delight any new visitors to Arrakis.”
But her bizarre culinary creations are as much fan art as they are tasty, diet-sensitive party food. Picture a giant sandworm from the classic sci-fi book series, “Dune” (a sequence of sliced cucumbers), rising up from a desolate sand dune (a bed of spicy hummus), with gaping jaws full of crystalline teeth (pointy chunks of cucumber), surrounded by the gory remains of some unfortunate natives (shreds of red bell pepper)—a dish she calls “Fremen Crudite Plate”—and you begin to realize there’s a whole genre of cookery never explored on Iron Chef.

“Making is a huge part of geek culture,” says Oseland. “It’s one of the defining hallmarks.” And what special talents do geeks bring to making things? “A lot more attention to detail,” she says. The geek maker-mentality is, “If you’re going to make something, make it well.” Oseland is currently taking sewing classes to costume herself for sci-fi, fantasy and comic conventions. “You gain street cred for having made it from scratch,” she says.

But can anyone who is passionate and knowledgeable on a topic be a geek? Can one be a baseball geek, a yoga geek, NASCAR geek? Oseland refers to this recent trend as “the devaluation of geek.” When it’s applied to everyone and everything, it loses its meaning. She says “nerd” might be preferred by true geeks.

For a good dose of authentic, fun, geekiness, log-on to Chris-Rachael Oseland’s website,, for her recipes, cooking videos, cookbooks, commentary and photo index of her bizarre culinary creations. To support her next project, publishing “The Kitchen Overlord Illustrated Cookbook,” look for the link under the “Books” tab.

“Today we use the magical powers of prayer, insanity and root
 vegetables to create a very special hero formerly unknown
 to the worlds of man,” writes Oseland in her introduction to
 her Potatoes Diana recipe. Not only does she provide the recipe
 with step-by-step photos, but also the backstory of th
e famous superhero, Wonder Woman.

A little something for everyone from a fake-meat-stuffed Starfleet Insignia made with puff pastry for vegans, combined with her non-vegan Starfleet Academy Cafeteria’s Horta Meatloaf.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Art Abandonment Project
Random acts of guerilla art
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel

On a bench along the shoreline of Lake Balaton in
Hungary, Friedel Kammler dropped handcrafted
 jewelry made by Jenny Potter and Donna Furgason,
 Canadian friends that Kammler made through the
 Facebook group. They sent the jewelry to Kammler
 to be abandoned in Hungary so their work could
 “crossover the ocean.” (Photo by Friedel Kammler)
You’re sitting at the bus stop, anxious to get to where you’re going, and you notice a Ziploc bag with a small note inside and something else you can’t quite identify, resting beside you. The note has an elaborately penned letter “A” and the title, “A Gift for You.

You are intrigued, so you pick up the bag and squint to read the rest of the note: “Art Abandonment is a group of artists sharing what we love to do by leaving artwork in random locations across the globe for other to find and enjoy. Today the Universe picks you to receive this gift with the hope that you enjoy it or pass it onto someone else. If you wish, you can send a message to to let us know it was found.”

You turn the bag over to inspect the contents. You think, “Is this for real or some new advertising scheme? Nothing is free, right? What do they want?” There’s a bracelet made of strung beads inside the bag. You open the bag and slip the jewelry around your wrist. It’s kind of cool. You start to relax and feel kind of lucky, like the universe is smiling on you.

The founders of The Art Abandonment Project—Michael deMeng and Andrea Matus deMeng—want you to feel this way. It’s their hope that, through giving away art, the world will become a slightly better place. They created a Facebook page for the group ( and have just published a book, “The Art Abandonment Project: Create and Share Random Acts of Art,” promoting their concept.

Michael deMeng and Andrea Matus deMeng, married
authors of The Art Abandonment Project, teach
 and exhibit their artwork internationally. They live
 in Vancouver, British Columbia and started the so that
 others could share their techniques for making and
 abandoning art. (Photo of their artwork provided by
Michael deMeng)
In the book, Michael deMeng (a Canadian) explains, “Obviously, one could easily abandon art without becoming a member of the Facebook group. This [Facebook] page merely provides an opportunity for others to see the good deeds of the group members as well as share experiences and feelings about the topic.” So members use the page to post photos of their artwork at the drop sites, discuss creative topics, and suggest good locations for abandoning their art.

Michael also discusses the pros and cons of various drop locations:
·         Retail stores: Good for exposure, but the juxtaposition with items for sale might be confusing to shoppers, or unappreciated by store owners.
·         Planes, trains, boats and other public transit: Your art could travel far and end up on another continent, but unidentified packages aren’t popular among security personnel.
·         Nature: Remote locations make your gift that much more unexpected when found, but weather is a factor and discovery may take longer.
·         Adrift at sea: Romantic notion, but not worth the pollution potential (unless it’s biodegradable)
·         Hotels: Good chance it will be found, but may end up in the lost and found cabinet since housekeepers don’t want to be accused of stealing.
Joanne Archer contributed several photos of her abandoned art
 for The Art Abandonment Project book, including this piece left
 on a rocky beach, including one of the standard labels provided for the
 Facebook group. In the book she says, “Once I abandon something,
 I can forget all about it. I have no wish to know who found it,
 nor receive thanks. I only hope that the finder enjoys it.”
(Photo by Joanne Archer)
·         The Big City: Plenty of people in all walks of life, but avoid locations where it might just be perceived as trash.

On April Fool’s day, Friedel Kammler dropped a collage he created with
 parts from printed paintings, on a safety-ring in the Harbor in Fonyod,
 Lake Balaton, Hungary, which made a nice tableau. The second drop that day
—a tiny altered matchbox, with a golden stone inside painted with the
 words “Love is Forever”—was left in the clutched hands of two public
 statues—Adam and Eve. (Photo by Friedel Kammler)
Some abandoners prefer complete anonymity and leave their gifts without a note or even a signature on their art. But, those who leave a note of explanation with the opportunity to respond by email, can sometimes get encouraging validation for their efforts. One example: “Last night we decided to take the kids to the park just before dark, and there on a tree was hanging the most beautiful piece of art, with such an appropriate message, (live out loud) with a clock and beautiful flowers, it brought tears to my eyes, I feel so lucky to have found this beautiful work of art, how can it get better than that? Thank you!!!”

With 14,000+ members, the Facebook-linked group has spread all over the world. When I sent out a request to members for photos of abandoned art, the first response came from Friedel Kammler of Hungary. For April Fool’s Day, he made two “drops”—a collage he created from a painting, left on a life-preserver near a harbor; and a tiny, altered matchbox, with a gold-painted stone inside inscribed with the words “Love is forever,” left in the clasped hands of a naked Adam and Eve statue. Friedel also scatters the work of two Canadian friends he made through the Facebook page, who send him packages of their own handcrafted items to be abandoned in Hungary.

Art Abandoner Gari Vibber says she left this parcel
 on the Oswegatchie River before ice-out. The April
 Fool’s Day challenge put out on the Facebook page by
 Michael deMeng was to make a drop in an unusual place.
 She says the gift was a photograph with an inspirational
 saying, “double-sealed in a waterproof container
 and set free to find its way.” (Photo by Gari Vibber)
Another artist I heard from—Gari Vibber—who creatively abandons jewelry and photographs in icy locations in upstate New York, said, “First, I must tell you that this is such an enlightening, upbeat, encouraging group. I have long been an anonymous, pay-it-forward, random-act-of-kindness kind of gal... this growing movement has insisted I step out of my comfort zone and try new things.”

Besides this drop on a car wash change machine, Gari Vibber of
 upstate New York sent photos of her artwork left on a
 windshield while the owner was out on Lake Ontario ice fishing,
at a restaurant counter with pasta and spaghetti sauce for sale,
 and on a “take me” table at a local church. (Photo by Gari Vibber)
After hearing from these artists and their generous pay-it-forward attitude, I decided it was time for me to step out as well. But deciding what to leave seemed as challenging as finding the right location. Should the gift be not too gender specific? Should it be something practical, such as note cards or jewelry? Should I make my first drop locally or further away? I wanted to be anonymous, but I also wanted the finder to know that this was an intentionally abandoned item, not just forgotten. Maybe too, it was a little hard for me to let go.

Finally, I put the standard AAP note inside a Ziploc (along with my gift) and asked my husband to make the drop. He chose a picnic table near a church parking lot. The gift was gone by the next day, set free to find its own way.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Vivian Maier and Jon Sarkin
Artists by strange circumstance
Also: Cabrillo Extension, Aromas Garden Tour, and Bay Area Maker Faire
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel May 2 and May 9, 2014

“Finding Vivian Maier,” currently showing at the Nickelodeon Theatre,
 is the critically acclaimed documentary about a mysterious nanny, who
 secretly took over 100,000 photographs (including this self-portrait) that
 were hidden in storage lockers and, discovered decades later. Some consider
her one of the 20th century’s greatest urban street photographers.
Finding Vivian Maier
I’m hoping I have the chance to see “Finding Vivian Maier” (currently showing at the Nickelodeon) at least one more time before it’s gone. I loved this documentary about a mysterious woman, who knew she was a good—maybe even great—photographer, but kept her massive body of work hidden away until the day she died. She worked in New York and Chicago as a nanny for over 40 years, had no close family or friends, and even the families she lived with were unaware of her passion and unusual talent for photography.

She was born in New York in 1926, moved back and forth to France with her mother, and returned to New York as an adult in 1951 where she was hired as a live-in nanny, and purchased her first serious camera: a Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex. On her days off she wandered the streets of New York, documenting urban America. 

When she moved to Chicago in 1956, Maier was nanny to three boys, and had access to a darkroom, which allowed her to develop film and make prints. After the boys were grown, she bounced from family to family, accumulating hundreds of rolls of undeveloped film. By all accounts—from her employers and the now-grown children she helped raise—she was an eccentric, fiercely opinionated, intelligent and intensely private person. Some implied that she may have been mentally imbalanced as well. Making photographs must have been Vivian Maier’s way of understanding the world, and finding her significance within it. She didn’t need any more than that.

Maier’s massive body of work—kept in delinquent storage lockers—would come to light when, in 2007, cardboard boxes of her negatives were purchased at a local thrift auction house by a Chicago real estate agent, John Maloof. Ever since his remarkable find, Maloof and others have dedicated themselves to collecting her work, constructing and printing an archive, and promoting her rare talent through the making of a film and gallery exhibitions around the world.

View her beautiful black and white street photographs and read more about Vivian Maier at

Cabrillo Extension SummerArts Program
May EL Wire Class Land Sharks (photo by Tina Baine): Todd
 Williams, who will be teaching in Cabrillo Extension’s
 SummerArts Program, likes to take his remote-controlled EL wire
  land sharks to Maker Faire Bay Area each year, thrilling the
 crowds as them “swim” around one of the darkened exhibit halls.
EL Wire expert Todd Williams shows his Cabrillo Extension class, how to 
work with electroluminescent wire. Explorations in EL Wire 101 is just one 
of 33 community art classes being offered this summer at Cabrillo College.
 For a tour of the amazing art facilities, exhibits student work and
 demonstrations, come to the “Art Party!” at the Visual Applied & 
Performing Arts (VAPA) Open House on Saturday, May 17, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
In order to make the impressive Cabrillo College visual art facility more available to the people who paid to build it (see your property tax bill), and to offset the fact that CabrilloArts (community courses) will be taking a one year hiatus starting next fall, Cabrillo Extension is offering an unprecedented 33 SummerArts classes beginning this June, including 21 new classes that have never been offered before. The selection is broad and tantalizing, and includes stop-motion animation, handmade teapots, stained glass and steel-based furniture. I took the Explorations in EL (Electroluminescent) Wire 101 class from Todd Williams last year, and I can attest to the high-quality of the facilities and equipment available at Cabrillo, and the value of learning from a professional, experienced artists.

Workshop Coordinator Patrick Stafford says Cabrillo Extension is also offering something new for teens this summer. “There will be 2 one-week sessions in which [middle and high schoolers] will be able to experience a sampling of most of the different media taught in the art department,” says Stafford. In DiscoverArts Camps, teens will have the opportunity to experience ceramics, jewelry making, woodworking, collage, screen printing, painting, 3D assemblage, blacksmithing, camera-less photos and hacking toys (ala Sid from Toy Story). To register go to

Maker Faire
The next Maker Faire Bay Area is coming up soon, May 17 and 18 at the San Mateo Event Center. If you’ve never attended this making-frenzy-fest before, I promise you won’t be disappointed. There is so much to see and do—from high- to low-tech DIY—so plan to arrive early and spend the entire day (or two). For details and advance tickets go to

Candy-colored irises stretch over a broad hill-side at one of the stops on the Aromas Country Garden Tour, held Saturday, May 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Aromas Garden Tour
Sponsored by Aromas Hills Artisans, this year’s garden
 tour held the day before Mother’s Day, will featur
e artists in each garden, demonstrating their talents.
If my mother lived nearby, I would treat her to a day of exploring country gardens and art on the Aromas Garden Tour, held May 10, the date before Mother’s Day. Local artists will be stationed in each garden, painting irises, carving or weaving guitar straps, with some of their wares for sale. In my opinion, the three not-to-miss gardens are the iris gardens, where you can see hundreds of these candy-colored rhizomes in bloom and pick out ones you’d like to own; the protea farm with these incredibly large and extraordinary South African flowers, blooming on a lovely hill overlooking Aromas; and—because it’s time to replace your thirsty lawn—the brand new, drought-tolerant demonstration garden behind the Aromas Water District, with drip irrigation and all plants labeled. For details, go to
Jon Sarkin: When Brain Trauma Results in Art
I just finished reading “Shadows Bright as Glass” by Amy Ellis Nutt, the remarkable story of a man who became an artist overnight, with an obsessive need to create. In 1988 Jon Sarkin was suffering from tinnitus, hearing a continuous, high-pitched screech that grew louder and shriller every day until it was nearly deafening. After months of seeking treatment, he resorted to radical brain-surgery, from which he suffered a major stroke. To reach the clot and save his life, his surgeon had to carve away thin layers of his brain. During surgery his heart stopped twice, depriving his brain of oxygen. When he awoke later, he was a completely changed man--emotionally detached from his wife and child, and, although he tried, unable to return to his normal working life as a chiropractor.

Jon Sarkin is described on his website as “a prolific, 
even compulsive, artist who creates elaborate drawings
 and paintings cluttered with words and images.” Sarkin
 became an obsessive artist overnight after complications
 during brain surgery. (Courtesy of Princeton Day School)
The transformation was very difficult for his family, but even harder on Sarkin, who not only knew that he lost a part of his brain, but that he had lost his identity as well. Nutt’s book chronicles this prodigious alternation in Jon Sarkin’s personality and sense of self, and how making art became the bridge back to a meaningful life. For me, the transformation of Sarkin from a hard-working family man who occasionally sketched and painted, to someone who had become completely consumed with the need to make art, says a lot about the brain’s belief in art’s ability to provide answers.

For Sarkin, his brain was working overtime to solve the essential problem: Who was he? “He knew he was consumed with getting his thoughts and sensations down on paper, as if only then, looking at the colors and shapes and words, would it all come together into a pattern and make sense of his past and his present,” writes Nutt.

Jon Sarkin’s cluttered, stream-of-consciousness, crazy quilt style is anything but linear, but it has caught the attention of the art and publishing world, where his work has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, ABC Primetime, This American Life, GQ, ArtNews, and galleries in New York, Los Angeles, and around the world. I encourage you to see Sarkin’s work at

Friday, April 25, 2014

Turn your photos into art
Blowing up SLR photos into something special
Originally published April 18, 2014 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel

Since his printer’s width limit is 44 inches, Steve made his largest image—Jack Kerouac
 Alley in San Francisco—by printing on two panels which he had to match
 up perfectly when framing and hanging.
I’ve been the designated family photographer for years and love to add a good family or vacation photo to our hallway gallery. But

I’ve never really considered blowing a photo up large enough to display in my home like art. Would that even be possible with my 8-megapixel camera?

I go visit a friend—Steve Snyder—whose roomy home is like an art gallery, with his vibrant California landscapes and macro photography displayed on every available wall space. Steve likes to shoot classic California scenery in places like Capitola Village, Big Sur and Yosemite, and print as large as he possibly can. His large-format Canon printer allows him to produce canvases up to 44 inches wide, and many more inches long.

I ask Steve if someone like me, with an old digital SLR, could also produce poster-sized photos. “Absolutely,” he says. “It depends on the image.” To demonstrate, he points to one of his most popular images—huge orange carp swimming in a koi pond—which he says he shot with a 2 or 3 megapixel camera quite a few cameras ago, and hung above a doorway.

Why does this relatively small file blown up to 39”x50” still look good? Large photos make you stand back farther to take them in, and “when you’re standing back so far, you don’t need so many megapixels,” he says. But why does this photo in particular work? “Because it’s a big graphic image,” he says. “You’re not looking to see all the little pores in the fish’s head. You probably wouldn’t want to.”

One of Steve’s most popular images of a koi pond was shot several years ago with a 2 or 3 megapixel
 camera, but still looks great blown up to 39” x 55” in the entry way of his home.  Framing under glass
 would add unwanted reflections, so Steve used canvas in a floating frame, which adds a black space
 between the image and the frame.
 In contrast, he points to a huge, abstract image hung at eye-level nearby—an extreme close up of a polished rock, shot with a 36 megapixel Nikon. “I want to see all the detail,” says Steve.

With his macro photo of a polished rock, instead
 of wrapping the image around the edges of the frame,
Steve maximizes the printed size of the photo
 by adding black to the wrapped edge. In the black
 band he’s added his name, date, and title.
Generally speaking, a landscape will stand up to enlargement much better than a portrait, because the details of faces are so much more important to a viewer than being able to count the leaves on a tree. But the print medium also matters, says Mike de Boer, store manager of Bay Photo Lab in Soquel. “You can’t do metal if you want to go really big. It really exposes the qualities of the image. Canvas is much more forgiving,” he says.

Both Mike and Steve helped me understand some other basic principles for making high quality photographs.

  1. Set your camera for the largest file size possible. For my old Canon, I have a choice of “Large” for a 3.3 megabyte file, “raw” for an 8.3 megabyte file, or both simultaneously.

  1. If you shoot raw files (preferred by most art photographers), you will have to have software such as Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom in order to download the photos and save them as JPEGs. A raw file contains the data exactly as it is collected by the image sensor, and “gives you a much wider ability to fix images, especially in troublesome exposure areas,” says Mike. Or, as Steve puts it, if you shoot raw files and save them as JPEGs, “you won’t have more information, but you’ll have better information.” (One note: If you shoot raw, or raw + JPEG on vacation, make sure you take lots of memory cards with you for storage of those big files until you get home.)

  1. If you do any editing of your images, make sure you always save them at the highest quality setting—12 for a JPEG. Another option is to copy the JPEG or PSD files you want to enlarge to a memory stick and take it to Bay Photo, where a technician will sit with you and edit your photos in Photoshop with your input. (Basic editing, such as darkening the sky or improving colors, is free; “art work” editing, such as removing objects, is charged by the minute.)

  1. Adobe Photoshop is still the professional choice for photo editing software. But a less expensive and easier-to-use option is Adobe Lightroom. One way to get Photoshop at a more affordable price is to take a high school or college-level photography class (which might also improve your photo skills), so you’ll qualify for the much-reduced student price. Adobe also offers free downloadable beta (testing phase) versions of Photoshop and Lightroom.

  1. Steve noticed the inexpensive, chipped lens on the front of my camera lens to protect the lens. He says cheap filters will create reflections and color loss. Better to go without a filter and use a lens hood instead. Or, for landscapes, use a high-quality polarizing filter.

  1. Don’t use your $99 ink-jet printer (limited to 8-1/2 x 11 paper) or do inexpensive DIY framing for fine art photos. Printing on photo paper is still done, but there are so many more options that will enable you to frame your photos without glass and its distracting reflections. On you’ll get a taste of the huge variety of printing and mounting options out there, such as:

·         Canvas—implies the richness and quality of a painting, printed with archival inks on high-quality ink-jet printers. Canvas can also be wrapped around 1-1/2 inch deep stretchers, making the additional expense of glass, matting and framing unnecessary.
·         Metal—vibrating with luminescent colors, these durable prints are created by infusing dyes directly into specially coated aluminum sheets. Metal is growing in popularity, and is available in glassy, matte and other finishes.
·         Floating frames—available and very effective for canvas and metal prints, floating frames create a black space between the frame and the print so that the print appears to be floating.

Mike says the quality and size of a printed photo are also determined by customer expectations. “We talk to people and see what’s acceptable to them,” says Mike. “In the first few minutes, we can usually tell.” An employee since 1998, Mike’s seen Bay Photo’s roll change quite a bit in 16 years. “The interactions with customers used to be a lot shorter,” he says. “Now we’ve become a social place where people hang out and we talk about images.”

You can also upload your photos (if the file size isn’t too large) and order the exact treatment you want through,, or other online photo processing sites. To see Steve Snyder’s photo album, go to 

Tina Baine
For an archive of my columns go to

This is my photo  before I decided to take it to Bay Photo, of the green hills above San Martin at Harvey Bear Ranch Park. Mike de Boer improved the image by darkening the sky and heightening the color saturation.  He suggested I have it printed as an 11 x 17 metal print, which I did for about $50.  The finished print is really stunning.  I would have liked to go larger, but the loss of detail would have been noticeable.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Refinishing kitchen cabinets with time, effort and savings
How I stayed busy, got a new kitchen and read 5 books over 26 weekends
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel March 21, 2014

A recent article in Popular Mechanics says that the national average cost for a minor kitchen remodel is about $18,500, while a major overhaul comes in at almost $54,000. Better Homes and Gardens reports that the average price of an upscale kitchen is a staggering $107,973. These numbers might encourage us to do something we shouldn’t with our 401(k) or kid’s college fund. But when I told my contractor that I wanted to spend less than $10,000 (including new appliances), he told me it was possible if I kept my 1980s cabinets and refinished them myself.

Cabinets typically make up one-third to one-half of the average total kitchen-remodeling budget, according to the National Kitchen and Bath Association. But there are ways to trim cabinet costs such as:
  • Using standard-sized stock or RTA (ready-to-assemble) cabinetry. RTA cabinets are finished, pre-drilled and delivered in a flat pack along with all the hardware needed for assembly.
  • Replacing cabinet doors, drawer fronts and cabinet moldings, but keeping and refacing the existing cabinet boxes and framework with veneers.
  • Opting for doorless upper cabinets.
  • Adding new hardware, a few glass inserts, and paint or stain to update the existing cabinets.
Throughout this months-long process, I “read” several
books, so earbuds are an essential component of cabinet
 refinishing. Of course you’ve got to crank up the volume
 when sanding the cabinet doors after stripping.
Another option is illustrated on the cover of the hipster guidebook, “It’s Lonely in the Modern World”: forgoing upper kitchen cabinets altogether, and just stacking your dishes on simple shelves.

I decided to strip and re-stain rather than prime and paint because I preferred the look and warmth of wood. I refinished some cabinets long ago, and hoped there was new technology to make the process safer, easier and faster. Like any home-improvement project, there are multiple ways to go about it, so it took some time to research and compare methods and materials. Basically, refinishing involves these seven steps:

1)      Remove hardware and wood trim:  Use a drill or screwdriver to remove all the hinges and pulls, and a taping knife and pry bar to remove the wood trim. I decided to replace the hardware, but if you are going to reuse it, store pieces in labeled Ziploc bags until you have time to soak and scrub them clean. Also label the location and orientation of each drawer and front with painter’s tape. Mask the surfaces around the cabinet boxes with painter’s tape and cover the floors and counters where you are working with plastic garbage bags.

Liquid strippers work best, but for vertical surfaces use
gel, which won’t drip as much. I used Citrustrip,
 a bright orange gel that smells decent enough,
worked pretty well, and claims to be non-corrosive,
 non-toxic and biodegradable. Paint on with a cheap brush,
 allow it to work awhile, then remove with a plastic scraper.
WORK WISELY: Stripping is a nasty business. Whether you are stripping oil-based paint or varnish and stain, spare no expense on protecting your health. Buy thick rubber gloves, a big box or two of disposable nitrile gloves, eye protection, a sanding respirator, and a vapor respirator (the serious, $50 kind). Work outside or with windows and doors wide-open (drought years are optimal in this case), read all labels and use the appropriate protection whenever you are using chemicals or sanding, even when working outdoors or with so-called safe products. Also be conscientious about how you are disposing of all work materials—many of which don’t belong in your garbage can. For every step of this process there are products that claim to be safer to use than traditional solvent-based products, so I suggest reading some online MSDSs (material safety data sheet) to know all the risks before you choose.

2)      Clean:  Remove grease and dirt from the cabinet and drawer front surfaces with a trisodium phosphate solution (TSP), and wipe off with a wrung-out sponge. Allow the surfaces to dry completely. If you’re going to install new hardware that won’t use the same screw holes, fill in the old holes with wood putty. (If you are going to paint your cabinets, you don’t need to strip them—a HUGE time-saver. Roll on primer tinted to match your top coat, allow to dry, then roll on the paint.)

3)      Strip: I used Citrustrip, a bright orange gel that smells decent enough, worked pretty well, and claims to be non-corrosive, non-toxic and biodegradable (but still use gloves and a vapor respirator). Paint on with a cheap brush, allow it to work awhile, then remove with a plastic scraper. Apply a second time if necessary. Remove any remaining residue with fine steel wool (.00001) and odorless mineral spirits or pre-stain.

4)      Sand: Using an orbital or finish sander and 150 to 180 grit sandpaper, sand all surfaces until the bare wood looks uniformly clean and feels smooth. You may need a stiff brush or detail sander to get into corners or groves. (I used bamboo skewers.) After sanding, wipe the surfaces with a dry cloth to ensure all dust is removed.

TAKE A BREAK: Breathe a big sigh of relief (away from any dust and fumes) because the hardest, most tedious part is over.

I spent about $500 on everything I used to refinish my kitchen cabinets—including replacement hinges, pulls and knobs. Most of the tools can be used again for other home improvement projects.
5)      Stain: Find a paint store like South Bay Paints in San Jose, where a clerk spent about an hour with me, opening cans of stain and dabbing various shades onto the back of my stripped and sanded cabinet door until I was satisfied with the color. Gel stain is rubbed on and the excess removed with cut-up tee-shirt strips. Follow the directions on the can, and don’t let the stain sit for too long or it will start to gum-up and the excess with not wipe off. Let the stain dry for 72 hours before applying the finish coat.

One of my favorite aspects of Holly Scrimsher’s
 remodeled kitchen is her magnetic knife and scissor
 strips, hung above the sink on her wood laminate walls.
6)      Apply finish: I chose to brush on a polyurethane top-coat on with a 2-1/2 inch, white china bristle brush, but polyurethane can also be sprayed on. Following the grain, make about two passes with the brush, and then one very light final pass, before moving on to the next piece. If you apply too heavy a coat, you must continue to brush it out to avoid runs and drips, so strive for light coats. After a few hours you can sand very, very lightly with 220-grit sandpaper and apply a second light coat. No matter how careful you are, there will most likely be a few drips, but only you will notice them.

7)      Replace hardware: If you’re using existing holes and hardware that fits those holes, this will go fairly quickly. If you are making changes, use a plastic template to mark the screw holes, so that they are consistent from cabinet to cabinet. Use a tape measure to find the center of drawer faces and center the template on that mark. After reattaching the fronts to the drawers, drill pilot holes before screwing new drawer pulls into place.

REALITY CHECK: Lowe’s website has a helpful refinishing guide with a chart for determining the type of the existing finish on your cabinets (wax, shellac, lacquer, water-based, varnish, polyurethane, oil, or paint) in order to use the proper stripper. At the very end of the guide, in tiny print, they say, “Before undertaking refinishing, remind yourself that it takes a lot of time and effort.” In retrospect, I don’t think I read this warning in any of my other sources, and if I had, it was probably much too subtle to have discouraged me. Working 2-4 hours a weekend, it took me about 6 MONTHS to complete the cabinets (with hardware help from my family). But it was worth it, because I saved thousands of dollars by doing it myself, and my whole kitchen remodeling project would have been beyond our budget without it.

Tina Baine
For an archive of my columns go to

Lisa Jensen and James Aschbacher’s kitchen is all about those Bermuda Teal cabinets. “We didn’t want to spend a fortune on either fancy veneers or (ulp) entirely new cabinets,” says Lisa, so they decided to keep their 1960s plywood cabinets and power up the color. “We wanted something more fun,” she says. They scrubbed all the surfaces with a vinegar solution to remove the grime, and James (a professional artist) then painted all the cabinets “very meticulously” by hand. “Our friends and other visitors loved the new color instantly,” remembers Lisa. “During Open Studios, it’s hard to steer people out of the kitchen & back to the art! I was the only one who had reservations after James finished painting the first cabinet. An hour later I loved it!” (photo by Lisa Jensen)

With wood (or wood laminate) on every surface, Holly Scrimsher’s kitchen feels like a cozy mountain retreat. Holly, and her grown children Wendy and Jess, spent last summer remodeling the space from floor to ceiling, doing all the work themselves. She says she spent about $3,400 (not including appliances) for the entire project. Her maple-finish cabinets were purchased assembled at Home Depot, replacing old cabinets with about six coats of paint. A seasoned woodworker and all-around handy person, Holly was able to create, customize and improvise whenever necessary, like when she and Wendy used a car jack to hold the upper cabinets up while they fastened them to the wall. After trying vinyl floor tiles as a backsplash/wall covering, she finally decided to use laminate flooring instead for a much more practical and economical version of wood paneling.