About Craig Webb

The Kremer’s Pigments experience

Kremer's Pigments store shelves with bags of pigment
Kremer’s Pigments sells all types of raw pigments and chemistry in baggies and jars.

Last week I had an appointment in Manhattan and I used this appointment as an excuse to buy art toys and visit Blick’s Art Supply and Kremer’s Pigments.

Baggies of pigment at checkout
A selection of earth pigments and inorganic pigments in my check-out basket.

This year of pandemic I have made three journeys into Manhattan to buy art supplies. Most stores were closed in the first few months but in July the art supply stores began to open. I called ahead and mapped out a journey from SoHo to Herald Square.

I have used my pandemic quarantine time to paint and draw. The media I work with are sumi ink, pencil drawing and egg tempera. Each has their place in my expression. Egg tempera is special for the chemistry of it and the vibrancy of color.

Over the past few years I have made occasional trips to Kremer’s Pigments on 29th St. to buy powdered pigments. The powdered pigments come in baggies and look like the baggies of marijuana one might have bought in the 1970’s. The pigments come in all colors and some are also sold in jars.

Kremer’s sells various types of chemistry to mix with the pigments, paint brushes and other art tools.

I started by purchasing just a few color pigments to use with my sumi ink paintings. Sumi ink provides a strong black and a zillion shades of grey. One light bright color such as yellow ochre can offset the monochromatic color scheme with a complimentary eye-catching pop.

A mix of earth, inorganic and dye-based pigments
Expanding my selections of reds, yellows and blues. the Terra Pozzuoli works great.

I also picked up various earth pigments, starting with a limited palette. My artist training focused on printmaking so working with a limited palette appeals to me.

It did not taken long before I embarked on supplying myself with a full spectrum of color pigments.

Most of the pigments come in baggies. At home, I transfer the pigments into plastic spice jars and carefully peel the sticker labels from the baggies and paste them to my jars.

In addition to the earth pigments such as umber, ocher and earth greens, I have acquired many cobalt and cadmium-based colors – intense reds, oranges, yellows, greens, blues and violets. The earth pigments are not hard to handle but many pigments are toxic and I have to work carefully with them.

Because the pigments are the straight stuff, I can add them to various types of binders to create all sorts of painting mediums. Kremer’s supplies items such as gum arabic to make watercolors, additives for egg tempera, oil paint or inks such as ox gall and walnut oil, linseed oil, waxes, shellacs, and crystallized gums to make varnish.

Cadmium, Cobalt and earth pigments, more brushes
Cadmium, Cobalt and earth pigments, extending my palette. I always need more brushes. I have started to explore iridescent mica pigments too.

The store sales assistants are a little shy because of Covid-19 but they are really quite helpful and knowledgeable about different types of chemistry that artists might use.

It is quite an experience to come in person into the store and see the pigments on the shelf in baggies. I like to come and see. Kremer’s offered classes in the spring on how to make stuff or do certain art tasks but I don’t think classes are available at this time.

Because of having to close at the start of the pandemic and the vagaries of supply and demand, some supplies are often out and on reorder. Kremer’s also has a website where pigments can be ordered over the Internet.

Working with dry pigments is a taste and experience that is not for everyone but for those of us who really delve into the chemistry and science of making art, Kremer’s in New York City is a real joy.

More pigments, more paper, more brushes
Lots of earth colors this time, and two tones of Alizarine Crimson. I paint on wood and printmaking papers, and I draw with pencil. I add a few tools and supplies regularly.

The girl with the pink hair

A tragic event happened this summer in Seattle during the Black Lives Matter protests that I keep thinking about; what I came to see, and what I learned about myself and my relationship with racism.

The Black Femme March against racism and police violence, a festive, peaceful protest for BLM was followed by a drive-by hit and run that killed one person and badly injured another.

Summer Taylor

Summer Taylor

The person who was killed was a 24-year-old named Summer Taylor. The injured person was Diaz Love, a 32-year-old from Portland, Oregon.

I saw Summer Taylor’s photo on Twitter after the event and at first I only knew them as “The girl with the pink hair”.

I have since learned that Summer Taylor used non-binary they/them pronouns. 24-year-old Summer Taylor with the pink hair worked at the Urban Animal veterinarian clinic by day and was an activist by night, participating regularly in the Black Lives Protests, which had continued daily for months, and still continue to this day.

Reading about the protest and Summer Taylor’s death the following morning on Twitter, I came upon a video of people participating in the protest before the car incident.

In the video the protesters are dancing together.

A crowd of festive, peaceful protesters gathered on I-5 in Seattle dancing to The Cupid Shuffle to celebrate BLM

The Black Lives Matter movement, the media and the conversation about it has made me aware of race-based injustice and triggered recognition of my complicity with systematic racism. I have come to recognize my relative comfort of privilege in American society and also the pang of fear I have about losing that privilege. Privilege feels like some sort of edge that I need to lean on to get by. We live in scary times. Letting go is an act of trust.

This video grabbed my attention and made me stop and think. There they are. The protesters are dancing together, having fun. Demonstrating a society without racism and a new vision of what life can become.

Watching the dance, I see that equality for everyone is not a win-lose proposition. It is a new possibility that everyone can be privileged, and we will be better for it.

When everyone is privileged we will all be smarter, safer, more engaged, wealthier. There will be a bigger pie. There will be more, not less. Everyone will share equally in human rights and be entitled to dignity and respect – an equally privileged place in society.

Building websites using Squarespace

Recently two different people spoke to me about building websites using Squarespace. It’s been awhile since anyone has mentioned the subscription CMS platform and it was surprising to be asked about the product on two occasions.

Squarespace gained market share and popularity by advertising on NPR and public radio stations like WNYC*.

Working to design within the Squarespace platform is like trying to paint a bedroom through the door keyhole. The CSS can only be accessed through Squarespace’s proprietary user interface. The proprietary user interface is kept locked away because Squarespace charges subscription-based fees and the way to charge the fee is to insert a roadblock to thwart web development.

Many Internet-based services such as Squarespace are designed to insert themselves into the service in order to extract money from the transaction or work. A common example of that business model is LinkedIn, where users upload their personal contacts. LinkedIn’s business model is to make it difficult for users to access their own data unless a fee is paid. Trolls build bridges and extract payment to cross. Working with Squarespace is a little like that.

The first person needed to publish sales content for a third party startup. Using an off-the-shelf Squarespace template might be good enough for this purpose. Editing the front-end design or maintaining the website are not concerns. The website will probably not need to exist in six months.

The second person who asked about Squarespace already has a mammoth website built using WordPress. The WordPress website is the primary marketing hub for the client’s entire business.

The WordPress website, built over a fifteen year period, has rambling content, a lack of cohesive brand development and an unplanned site architecture. None of these faults require a technical solution.

The website utilizes multiple custom plugins and consists of many different types of content. It is hard to imagine porting the existing content successfully to Squarespace.

WordPress is utilized for some 25% of websites worldwide. WordPress has a wide and deep technical ecosystem; most of it is public sourced (free to use). WordPress website maintainers are able to access the website from within the user interface and from without, as long as access to the site host location is available.

If there is a strong need to redevelop the website, there are many much better options to use than Squarespace. What the second client really needs is to invest in knowledgable web developers to maintain and develop the website. Lacking that, switching to Squarespace will not solve problems. It will increase them.

* Here’s a little marketing secret: If you have a mediocre Internet technology that you want to foist onto consumers be sure to advertise on public radio. Public radio stations are advertising hungry and will promote anything, without question or testing for quality; and listeners will suck it up, also without any further investigation.

The Web Development Environment and my learning curve

Recently I am building websites and teaching myself web development technologies. My specialties are HTML and CSS. I am also learning JavaScript.

My history is that I am self-taught. I come from a graphic design background creating print media using Quark, Photoshop and Illustrator. I am an expert using Photoshop and Illustrator, having worked in advertising and also working as a CD designer for Sony Music.

I got tired of buying new iterations of Photoshop. Each new version meant that I could no longer open other people’s newer files and there was never anything new that was worth the steep price. I started with Photoshop II and after thirty years the program still has the same onerous user interface.

What I liked about web design is that I don’t have to buy anything to work. I learned to type using TextEdit and for many years that’s how I worked. In a pinch I still jump onto TextEdit to stomp out a quick test or prototype.

The first bit of web development technology that I embraced was SASS, using Compass. In order to use it I also had to learn to use MAMP. Now I was working in an “environment”. Somewhere along the way I started to use a more sophisticated text editor, Sublime Text. I am still using Sublime Text.

Bit by little bit I am learning to use the terminal. I have a cheat sheet that I sometimes refer to. Along with the Terminal comes GIT and Github, Homebrew, Node, NPM. Setting these things up has never been easy. It often requires months and months of study complemented by lot of trial and error.

I was an early adherent of CSS and when HTML5 and CSS3 came into being I was on top of it, learning from the best web mavens on Twitter. I learned to build websites with cross-browser fixes, many of which are still actively in use today.

Eventually I taught myself how to build a theme for WordPress and I have built a few. WordPress requires a language called PHP as well as JavaScript. There are many ready-built themes that are available for WordPress, some are very complicated and for sale, others are introductory. I am stubborn about knowing the code so I took the extra trouble to learn how to build from scratch.

Recently I helped a client with her WordPress. It had a sophisticated drop-and-build functionality that was hard to learn. Part of what made it hard to learn was that she hadn’t touched it for two years and the complicated functionality was out of date and broken. Over the last two years PHP has evolved quite a bit and her server settings were out of date and frankly a hacking hazard. Dozens of plugins were out of date too. Any small change might freeze the program, providing a white screen of death.

But when it comes to learning how to build, use and maintain the working environment for the “modern web”, I have lagged behind. I missed out on learning how to use Grunt, for instance. There is a long list of technologies that have come and gone.

I am working to catch up. Some time ago I decided to break my website into template components. This is supposed to be a time-saver, so that when I want to change a thing in the webpage footer I don’t have to copy-paste it into thirty pages. I can change it on the footer template and all of the pages will update all at once.

I already created my website as a WordPress theme but it uses PHP and I decided that I would like to learn to build it using JavaScript. The cool kids use JavaScript, and so should I. I embarked on learning to use a technology called Handlebars. I had started to learn Handlebars back in 2012 when it was something of a new thing but I gave up after a couple of weeks because I could not afford the time. By now Handlebars has been supplanted by newer build technologies. Backbone. AngularJS 1–10 or so, React. But Handlebars is the granddaddy of all of these and more. Its working methodology has been adopted and incorporated by many others and it is JavaScript.

In conjunction with Handlebars I have also needed to learn to use Gulp. Gulp is also JavaScript. Gulp is built upon a technology called Node, which is also JavaScript.

So for the last year or so I have worked to learn how to use Gulp. Gulp is something called a task runner. It processes SASS instead of Compass and squeezes code to be small and unreadable and other stuff. In addition to processing SASS into CSS Gulp runs Handlebars to convert templates into HTML.

Did I mention that I like to write code, using TextEdit? Learning how to install Gulp through the terminal and program it to do what I need it to do has been difficult and time-consuming. There are not many tutorials and I could not understand the language of those I found. I did not know the paradigm. I am getting it slowly.

All of these things come in versions and when one of these becomes updated with another version, the others have to come along too, or the web design working-environment will break.

So recently I was designing happily in SASS and Handlebars when I saw a message in my terminal that my Yarn program was in need of an update. It is easy to hit “update” and without thinking about it much I did so.

These bits of program have a thing known as “dependencies” so when I updated Yarn, Yarn updated Node, and the version of Gulp that I had worked long and hard to build no longer worked. So I have had to learn to code with the new syntax of Gulp, Gulp 4. I am starting to understand JavaScript code and lingo so this has been easier than the first go-round. Lately there are some new tutorials that are easier to follow but most tutorials are written for Gulp 3; the cool kids have moved on to other task runners such as Webpack or Parcell. Along the way I have discovered that AutoPrefixer had to be updated and it’s programming changes are still unexplored. The old ways of using AutoPrefixer no longer work. Also Uglify, a bit of program so ubiquitous that it’s name has become a verb, such as “uglify your code”, is also obsolete. I have replaced it with Terser, the new thing.

I had intended to write a how-to about these technologies but instead I am writing about the distancing of design engendered by adopting a complex build environment, how hard it is to learn, keep up, and how brittle it is.

Recently I watched a video tutorial where the tutor was using a text named Visual Studio Code. He was able to load a SASS capability into VSC, link it to his browser and code just like that. No Node, no Gulp. Huh.

Visual Studio Code is owned and built by Microsoft and is free to use. Recently Microsoft bought Github for a small fortune so it looks as though VSC can interact with GIT and Github. I am searching to see if it can also process Handlebars. I bet it does, and I will be using it soon.

The month of April

I am thinking this morning about the month of April 2020.

This month some 50,000 American people have died of Coronavirus Covid-19. That is more people than the quantity of American men and women who died in the Vietnam War – a statistic.

I remember how people acted and felt and thought about the Vietnam War. How I experienced life as a child when Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy died. When Kent State happened. When the Mai Lai Massacre happened. I remember often how we played “Combat” in 1965 and how I played “Hippie” in 1968. I remember how long the war was and how our perceptions of the war changed.

I remember how strongly I felt about the Vietnam War as a child and even as an adult. When AIDS was an epidemic of death, I wondered why, then, I did not seem to be as strongly affected as I was as a child about Viet Nam. Many of my friends and acquaintances disappeared. I stuffed my feelings and didn’t talk about it.

When 9/11 happened I went as close to the towers as I could get. It was because I was afraid that I would not feel it; that a “moment in history” was happening and I might not be fully present for it.

So I’m wondering, thinking, meditating on the fact that 50,000 American citizens have died of Coronavirus Covid-19 in the month of April 2020.
My next thought is that the dying and death isn’t over. We still have an active epidemic in May, June, the rest of 2020, and beyond.

It is so difficult to grasp.

50,000 becomes a statistic. 350,000,000 Americans divided by 50,000 is 7,000.

One in 7,000 Americans have died. I do not know 7,000 people but I do know of one man who died. I know people who know people who have died.

The Disappeared. No longer with us. Ghosts of vibrant talented loving people who often sacrificed for others and often died because of it.

This day I will remember the people who died in the month of April 2020.

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Craig Webb Art provides all aspects of New Business Communications Development including project management, creative development, copywriting and graphic design.