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5 Reasons to Enjoy Cacti

Growing a cactus is generally a love it or hate it part of the gardening world.  They make some of the best plants to grow and it’s even possible to plant varieties that produce fruit and eaten.

Some of the advantages of cactus in a garden are:

  • Low maintenance –  You really don’t need to worry about watering them everyday.  In the Texas summer when the temperature reach 105° in the shade, the heartiness of  a cactus plant is well suited to the dry and drought  conditions of August.  You do want to generally avoid tall-growing cacti such as a Sedona like cactus due to the intense storms that can roll off of the Great Plains.   A tree branch being torn from a tree in a 70 mph wind gust is bad enough, but an entire cactus with spines?  That’s a little frightening.
  • Little trimming –  Generally, you can let a cactus plant grow as it wishes however, if a cactus ever needs trimming make sure to use heavy work gloves and a good pair of garden shears.
  • Go long periods without nourishment  – Cactus can survive in desert climes with little water and little minerals from dusty and rocky soil.   Miracle-grow isn’t a necessity.
  • Cacti put out fruit that used in various candies and jams –  I learned this 1st hand when I was a student in archaeological field school.  Along with learning how the Native Americans cooked turtles, not for the weak of stomach, we foraged for prickly pear fruit during our time off.   It’s full of moisture and is just the thing when your hot and thirsty.
  • Security –  One of the most overlooked reasons for having a cactus garden is security.  Placing cactus strategically under windows is a great deterrent to a burglar.  Also, you can plant them as a border for other plans in a garden.  They serve as a natural defense against animals like dogs and coyotes.


There are some down side to cactus in a garden.

Cacti that receives too much water too much can start to rot and become an invitation to rodents and insects.

The largest deterrent to a cactus garden is pets and small children.  The curiosities of pets  or children child under 10 years old are generally not compatible with cactus.  These critters need to be trained about these plants so that a painful trip to an emergency room or veterinarian is not necessary.

Here is a good website with some further information about cacti:



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The Power of Form in Art and Photography

Perhaps it is confusing to see the difference between a shape and a form.  A form is nothing more than a shape with 3 dimensions. So,

  • A square becomes a box.
  • A circle becomes a sphere.
  • A triangle becomes a pyramid
  • A biomorphic shape becomes identifiable as something in nature.  Think of why a kidney bean is a kidney bean.  It has the same shape as a kidney.

It is important that any fine art contains at least a shape or a form in every picture.  Why?  Since a form is a 3 dimensional shape it performs the same job as a shape but in a more realistic way.  It communicates an emotion or a message that the artist wants people to see.

When a person draws a flat circle and places the continents on it, people identify it as the earth.  But it lacks depth. Sure, we can name the shape, find the meaning, but it’s only when you turn the circle into a sphere that an entire new dimension shows in our 2 dimensional drawing.  That portrayal of the earth as a 3D image gives it more realism.


Sphere CC by Lemonade_Jo
CC by Lemonade_Jo

How do they do this?  In drawing, shapes become forms by using shading.  Photographic art accomplishes this with light with lighting. This fact becomes the focus point where the two forms of art differ.  In drawing you have to create a form out a shape by adding shading to the drawing to give it that 3rd dimension.  In photography, it happens automatically.  A photographer must manipulate the light creating the form to get the effect they wish.

Because you are taking pictures of an object in 3D and your camera is creating an image in two 2D, you can instantly create a powerful form in a realistic way instantly.

Hanging Grapes by Andrew Chianese
Hanging Grapes


However, the real power of fine art is the ability to take an image and highlight a particular form in the photograph to give it more significance than any other.  We can do this by using the aperture setting and creating a depth of field in our image.  We can highlight a sphere, make it the center of attention, and place it in crystal clear focus while turning everything else into a blurry mess behind it.

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4 Rules of Lighting and the Outdoors Photographer

One of the great aspects of lighting in photography is that it doesn’t work the same for everyone all the time.  There are general guide rules of lighting, but the solutions to making a photographic shot better are not always so cut and dry.  Some typical rules include:

  1. The closer the light source the harder the light and vice versa.
  2. The larger the light source the softer the light  and vice versa.
  3. Sunlight is always hard light unless in the shade.
  4. A flash will always give you a hard light unless you diffuse it or bounce it on the subject with a reflector.

Those rules are pretty easy to live with and with a little imagination you begin to see possibilities that will improve your photography.  However, sometimes the situation you find yourself in is not so forgiving.

Let’s say you are a photographer faced with the task of photographing the lions of the Serengeti.   Your only solutions to controlling the hard sun light is to use filters, the time of day, and possibly something in your environment to help you create some shade.   It’s not always possible, nor advisable to drag your entire studio with you.

Indeed, outdoor photography has it’s own lighting challenges in that you can’t always ask a subject to help you with the shot.  Flashing a strobe light in the face of a large bull will result in a great action photograph but probably not the kind you were hoping for.  Further, location is an issue also.  I know of a tree that, when in bloom, is gorgeous and has not one but two distinct colors of the flowers.  The problem?  The two angles to capture the shot with the best lighting are either in the middle of a busy 2 lane road or standing on active train tracks.  I can’t move the sun, and I can’t move the tree.  Yes, solutions to this problem exist, but none of them are particularly easy or inexpensive to do.

Weather can also play a factor in your lighting plans also. I had a photography instructor who swore that the best weather to take pictures on was an overcast grey day.  The light would be diffused by the clouds and he instructed us to use those clouds as our grey cards to find our neutral grey.

In a way, challenges to correct the lighting or sometimes even getting the lighting outdoors to do what you want is what make this form of photography fun.  The lighting found outdoors constantly create opportunities of creative thinking and doing things  “outside the box.”

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4 Qualities of Any Artist

It doesn’t matter if you are a photographer, designer, painter or sculptor, you have the 4 qualities listed below.

Intelligence-  Most people learn to hate this word.  It defines so many things about us as people that it is frightening. Some people think it is your IQ.  Others believe it’s the number of professional certifications and degrees you have on your wall.   No matter what your degree, your IQ, or what school you attended, you must have an operating definition of what your job is.  If you’re a designer it’s creating and implementing your design for the client.  A wedding photographer needs to have knowledge of how a wedding is typically organized and use that knowledge to decide what shots to take and so forth.  When your working definition of your job and the definition your boss, client, partner, etc..  have are different, then unhappiness and confusion begins.

But it’s not that simple. – Other intelligences also exist and you’re not good at all of them. Don’t worry, no one is good at all of them, it’s why we have the personalities we do. Your social intelligence has a large effect on your ability to market and create a brand name for yourself.  Your ability to work with models, clients, or even the guy behind the paint counter at the hardware store is dominated by your social and emotional intelligences.  Your ability to work extensive technological devices like DSLR cameras, computers, cell phones, and even your DVR at home is your technological intelligence and so forth.  An idiot savant is an extreme example of this principle at work.

Ambition – What is your ambition level.  What is your goal orientation?  A seeker of goals is not necessarily a maker of them.  A seeker is the person who finds or is given meaningful life influencing goals and then completes them .  A maker is what you are on New Years when you know by February you will have forgotten them.   Do you keep a record of your designs, compositions or photographs to look at later and track how far you have grown in your field?

How you work towards that goal is your ambition.  Can you take criticism?  Do you take a negative experience like rejection and turn it into a positive outcome?  That is your ambition.

Curiosity-  How often do you ask why?  When you heard that a camera’s aperture influences the depth of field in a photograph, did you take it on the authority that someone was telling you, or did you grab your camera and try to figure out how it worked?  Are you able to suspend your belief or disbelief in a topic until you can research it and find your own answers?  That is you curiosity level.

Mindset-  How do you react to failure?  If you have a failure happen in you life or business how do you react?  Let’s say your USB or the camera memory cards fail before you are able to get the images or design work on to your backup computer.  Do you go out to watch the sunrise with tears in your eyes?  Curl up in a ball?  Do you laugh it off?  Or, do you find a dark corner with something to pummel?

Still another aspect of mindset is your willingness to try to go past your natural ability and improve your technique to the next level.

These 4 qualities are essential to your success as a photographer or designer.  They will show you where your weaknesses are and how you can either improve them or respond to them in a positive way.  Can you see these qualities in your own lives and art?

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4 Tools to Hang Pictures, Posters, and Prints

One of the most frustrating things about art is how to display it on a wall.  This is actually a problem that dates back to the earliest civilizations.  Unfortunately, most of us can’t use the solution our ancestors did.  They simply painted or tiled a mosaic on the wall.  In today’s world, most landlords would tend to frown on that solution.

So, the modern world has come up with some ingenious solutions to get around this issue.

nail hook

1.  The Hammer and Nail- I didn’t really want to state the obvious, but this list wouldn’t be complete without it.  This category would also include the nail held picture frames.  There are three issues I’ve always seen with this method.  The first is hammering the nail in straight while not damaging your walls or thumb.  The second is leaving enough of the nail exposed outside of the wall to securely hang a picture on it.    The third is leaving a hole in your wall after you discover that the picture is off-center, not that this has ever happened to me, yeah right…


2Hurricane Hooks, Monkey Hooks, and Jhooks- These things look like a long U-shaped nail with a hook on one end.  I’ve personally used these to great effect.  They hold a decent amount of weight and you don’t need to use a hammer to install them.  The drawbacks to them is that they are difficult to install if there is something behind the drywall where you want to hang your picture.  While it is fairly easy to twist these things through drywall, a lack of space behind the wall or a stud will stop it cold.  Unfortunately,  they also leave a hole in the wall.  You can buy these at most hardware stores.


3.  Putty- This putty is usually sold in small strips and comes in a white or blue color.  Any teacher who has ever had to put up posters in a classroom knows this stuff by heart.  It basically sticks your picture or poster to the wall.  I’ve had mixed experiences with these putties.  I learned after many trials that its important the putty is fresh, don’t try to reuse it, and the paint on your wall will have an effect on how well and how much weight the putty will hold. Putty is great for a simple poster, but there is no way I would trust a glass framed picture or a full-sized painting to it.    Duck Poster Putty


4.  Command Strips- 3M sells these removable self adhering picture hooks.  Like the putty, I’ve had mixed experiences with these.  I’ve had some of them work for a long time, many years in fact.  Some of the stickers just gave out after a couple of days.  That being said, the company as improved the adhesive since I used these for something as big as a picture.  When hanging an expensive or weighty piece I always double up on them regardless of what the packaging says they can hold. That way if one of the hooks gives out, I will notice it before my art goes crashing to the floor.  I love using these things for hanging light objects like rope lights or x-mas lights because they are easy to take down and perfect for temporary displays in the home or office.

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