Vacation Inspiration: Bringing Great Ideas Home

August is  almost universal vacation month. In honor of vacation it’s time to celebrate all the ways travel can reinvigorate life—and not only when we are away from home. What I love best about travel is how it—a vision that I can bring back home.

A bench in Parc Guell

On a trip to Spain, I visited Gaudi’s Parc Guell in Barcelona. The fabulous and unconventional tile work played out on such a large scale is shocking, exuberant, and mesmerizing. It is difficult to believe the park was constructed in the early 1900’s—it reminds me of the explosion of color in the 1960’s, when psychedelia influenced both color and form.  Gaudi  reminds me that there are always new color combinations. You can put murky colors next to bright, use texture to add another element to a wild mix of colors, and, most of all, enjoy riotous color without making an immediate value judgement of whether it “works” or not. Just enjoying is the point.

City Hall, Santa Barbara

The middle photo, which was taken at City Hall in Santa Barbara, CA, is a happy riot of color, but in a completely different way. Here the tile shapes are square, and the design is more subdued, but there is still plenty of excitement. The black and white diagonal lines add spice to the circular patterns of the rest of the tile. It’s a pleasant sort of tension that makes me see all of the elements separately: the arches at the top of the wall, the plant growing up the middle, the inset of flowers on the diagonal lines, and then look again and see a beautifully balanced whole. It is playful and calming at once.

On a trip down the California coast, I saw this fountain, from the Alcazar Gardens in Balboa Park, San Diego. I love its star shape repeated over and over, in so many different ways.  It was very difficult to just stand and admire, without hopping in! It’s a good lesson that design can be lighthearted without being whimsical and inspiring without being serious. 

Balboa Park, San Diego

What all of these enchanting places have in common—besides the fact that they all feature ceramic tile, a personal passion—is that they offer instructive decorating lessons.  Here is what I learned: be bold and inventive with color. Don’t be afraid to throw an unexpected element into a design, like a diagonal line or something roughly textured next to something smooth. The sound of water is both soothing and uplifting. It can also block out less desirable sounds, such as traffic. Even the simplest fountains look and sound great. Why not take that a step farther and build an unusual shape?

One way to be bold with color is to gather a range of colors together and play. My favorite way to do this is to use color chips from a paint store, cut up. Put some surprising combinations together; use a color you would normally never consider with a few you like and see what happens. Another way to enlarge your vision of color is to look at paintings in museums, in books, or in postcards. I collect postcards of paintings I particularly like when I visit museums. Not only are they fun to display on a tiny easel or two, they are wonderful guides to color possibilities.

To make sure your rooms are lively, or even just that the pillows on your sofa are intriguing, throw in a curve if there are many square or rectangular shapes. A round table in the midst of a square space brings balance and grace to the room. Put a bold stripe next to a splashy print. Use arches to soften a wall.

Wherever you go, enjoy the way your perspective shifts when you’re not at home, and it’s not business as usual.  I’ve found many wonderful objects to bring home from my travels, but the best souvenirs are the ideas brought back and adapted to make your home your own kind of fabulous.


Finding True Love at Summer Art Shows

The summer's abundance of art and craft shows is a great opportunity to find interesting, original art that is very well-priced. It's a chance to stroll around on a sunny day, seeing the work of many artists, without the pressure or the rarefied atmosphere that can sometimes be part of the gallery experience. Whenever I visit these shows, I notice people lingering over paintings or prints, clearly undecided. Is there something better in the next booth? How can they be sure of the quality or value of the piece? Will other people like it?

I bought this monoprint at Paradise City years ago. 

I bought this monoprint at Paradise City years ago. 

First things first. Who cares if other people like it? If everyone liked it, it would have to be an impossibly bland image. The first and only rule in buying art is to please yourself. There is no reliable way to affix monetary value to art. The market may value one artist highly and ignore another, only to reverse that opinion ten years later. So there's no sense buying art as an investment. If you are drawn to a painting, and consider it "good," that is the main thing that should influence you.

How to know if something is "good", or if your interest is an authentic feeling, rather than a passing fancy? In other words, what, exactly, is art? My quick definition of art is a piece that allows you to see the world in a new way. It is a small visual revelation, or revolution, really, since it upsets the accepted order of things.

Another way to define art is to decide what it's not. It's not nostalgia, or merely decoration, or something that makes you feel completely comfortable. It is more than that: an image you can't forget, that brings real delight every time you look at it. Because it is beautiful, but also because it has allowed your own vision to expand.

This is an oil by R. Michael Carr. I found it at the Virtu Art Show in Westerly, RI

This is an oil by R. Michael Carr. I found it at the Virtu Art Show in Westerly, RI

So there you are, wandering from booth to booth, until something catches your eye. You walk by, then return. When you take a closer look, the image becomes even more interesting. It's time to fall in love-- judiciously.

When I am standing in front of a painting that arrests my attention, I try to determine if I simply like it--or if I can't live without it. Think of it as the difference between one date and a marriage. Make sure it's a piece with staying power.

Walk away briefly, and come back to the piece a time or two more. This is not to make you look ridiculous-- it is a good way to surprise your eye. Do you notice something new, or have a deeper appreciation of it, each time? Art, as opposed to a merely pleasing image, invites you to look closely, to get lost in the world of the painting. For me, looking at a captivating painting is like taking a little trip into the realm of the color, image, composition, and vision of the painting, and emerging a bit dazed, but refreshed, and changed for the better.

Another of R. Michael Carr's paintings, this time from the Mystic Art Show

Another of R. Michael Carr's paintings, this time from the Mystic Art Show

Don't worry about the size of the piece, and don't worry about where you will put it. You will figure that out. Most people are remarkably consistent in their tastes-- you will probably see all kinds of connections to other objects you like when you bring it home.

If you are asking yourself if there might be something better in another booth, you're not sure enough to buy. It may be gone when you return, but if you check out the entire show and come back to find someone else has snapped it up, talk to the artist. He/ she may very well have something like it that is not on display.

Speaking of the artist, outdoor shows are a rare opportunity to talk with the person who created the art. Asking him/ her about the painting can result in a deeper appreciation and understanding of the piece. Even if you are not in the market to buy that day, it's always a treat for an artist who works alone to hear that you like the work.

If you've come this far, don't second-guess yourself! Grab it before someone else does. Buying art means looking deeply, taking a chance and trusting your own perceptions. For most of us, that's not easy, but the rewards are more than worth the risk.