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Friday, May 22, 2020

EPRStudiosShop for marine life art on Etsy

Screenshot of EPRStudiosShop Etsy site

EPRStudiosShop is the Etsy outlet for an artist from Oregon USA with the strapline ‘Created by Hand: Inspired by Life’. It features a small but good quality range of apparel and artworks and is popular with buyers, with many returning for further purchases. The shop has been active on Etsy since 2017.

Designs mainly feature local animals and marine life, with fish of various kinds, sharks, manta rays, whales, turtles and nautilus motifs. Apparel doesn’t just mean t-shirts, either, although of course there is a selection of t-shirts. Many people, me included, live in short sleeve tops for practicality and ease of wear. There are men’s and women’s white tees here too. The women’s tees are available in v-neck and scoop neck variations as well as the standard crew neck shape. Both men’s and women’s tees feature various designs and a selection of sizes. Helpfully, there is a size measurement guide included with each page to ensure buyers choose the correct size.

The shop currently has 21 items in total to choose from, including a pair of flip flops with a shark design, a bikini with the same print, available in black or white, a choice of hoodies (octopus or shark), a sweatshirt and a backpack. There are also stickers for sale in some of the designs. These are ideal for laptop decoration, although my laptop is now so decorated, it better hadn’t ever break down or I’ll lose many of my favorite stickers if it has to be replaced.

EPRStudiosShop currently has three posters in their range: Swimming with Turtles, Whale Migration and Underwater Amaze. The Whale Migration poster is available in a range of sizes from 8” x 10” to 16” x 20” and all posters are printed on museum grade matte paper.

Designs mainly feature shades of blues and greens with occasional pops of color, although the fire octopus design on the one piece swimsuit and hoody catches and holds the eye, and the nautilus is a riot of pinks and oranges. One of the orders which has been reviewed is a manta ray print in blues and purples, with the big ray front and center.

EPRStudiosShop’s designs are created in watercolor and acrylic so whether your taste runs to bold and bright or pastel with careful shading, there is bound to be something here for you. Postage is free for many items, and there are products available at all price points. Each piece states approximate delivery time as well as cost in local currency. Depending on the item, delivery time can range from a couple of days to several weeks. Large parcels shipped from overseas may be subject to customs charges, which can delay receipt even further.

The artist is entirely self taught and takes great pride in their work. The shop’s co-owner has been a watercolor and airbrush technique teacher for over 10 years and also volunteers in a scheme helping young artists.

The studio accepts custom orders and can be contacted through the shop’s page to discuss details. There is also a gift wrapping option available on most choices, although as the shop is based in the US, overseas customers should factor in the lead time as well as the extra cost likely to be incurred in import fees for larger items.

All that said, the marine life theme is unusual and makes a change from the somewhat generic nature of the ranges on many other e-commerce sites, especially the larger companies. For an unusual gift or eye catching interior decor, it’s often better to buy a handmade item. That way, both the buyer and the artist benefit. These handmade products may cost a bit more, but the buyer is unlikely to see another one the same anywhere.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

We Are the People statue by sculptor Tommy Zegan

Images of We Are the People statue by Tommy Zegan

Some readers may recall the recent GoFundMe campaign launched by Simon Harris to save the UK's Sun newspaper, which is experiencing financial difficulties due to declining readership. It is still active, but has yet to raise its £20,000 goal. The last update, just over a month ago, read:

I couldn’t find [bank details for Rupert Murdoch], and he wouldn’t return my calls, but I do have the bank account details for a fund supporting Essex food banks, so I’ll just give them the money instead and try again tomorrow. 

This raffle reminds me of that idea. Because, ladies and gentlemen of the political persuasion, we have here a raffle to win the chance to present the current US Commander-in-Chief with a statue, reported to be worth $150m, of himself. It is officially titled "We The People" AKA "Donald J. Trump and his Magic Wand" and is a handmade stainless steel sculpture by artist Tommy Zegan. It is suggested that it may end up being a centerpiece for the current incumbent’s Presidential endowment building to the nation.

The statue is approximately lifesize, according to the blurb (6’3”) and made of 316 surgical grade forged painted stainless steel. Its value makes it the most expensive sculpture in the world by a living artist.

The raffle’s prize is for two people (winner plus one) to be flown to Washington DC to present the man himself with this statue. The winner will also receive hotel accommodation for the stay and a full size fiberglass replica.

Now here’s why it reminds me of that GoFundMe page: the majority of the proceeds of this raffle will be given to both the Trump2020 campaign and the Disabled Veterans Fund. Charity will benefit from this.

This raffle is likely to appeal to the core of the current President’s re-election campaign, but the statue may not. It may be lifesize, but the representation looks like a caricature. I’m not familiar enough with the sculptor’s work to say whether this is his modus operandi however. The inspiration is said to have come from a comment made by former President Obama about the then-Presidential nominee in 2016. I can imagine a few R-voters having some words to say about this. Don’t shoot me. I’m a writer. I write about what I see in front of me. At the moment that’s the PR piece for this sculpture.

Tickets are $10 each with one free entry for everyone. No purchase necessary, a free raffle ticket is available for every household via the website. Should punters wish to contribute, they can do so through the raffle page.

Remember that proceeds are going to both the current incumbent’s re-election campaign plus disabled veterans. There is no guidance about how much of the proceeds will be given to each of them, however. Personal choice whether you contribute, share or pass.

I’m a Brit. I have no skin in this game.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Patchion COVID-19 key worker patches

Red and black COVID-19 patch
Screenshot from Patchion website

Working at all in the time of coronavirus is difficult. Performing a key worker role is vastly more challenging in a world where even something as simple as going grocery shopping can be an assault course.

Therefore it is apt that there is a range of paramedic and healthcare support COVID-19 patches available on Patchion. The last time I saw patches was back in school days, when they were given out for mastering certain skills in clubs and classes. It is good to see they’re still around. There is a certain sort of longevity about something which is sewn onto a prized item of clothing. Now key workers and their supporters have a different and subtle way to show their opinions, maybe as an alternative or addition to the #ClapforCarers initiative.

The selection is available in various colours and sentiments, with the most eye catching being a range of circular patches featuring Anglo Saxon descriptives relating to the COVID-19 coronavirus. There are several other designs too, ranging from the traditional red and white STOP road sign style logo to a couple of rectangular KEEP CALM AND… options.

The COVID-19 circular patches have the strapline round the outside and a representation of the virus in the centre, picked out in four colours. The biohazard symbol range has the symbol alone, no strapline, and is available in a variety of colourways. The patches are embroidered in vibrant shades with hot cut borders to ensure they don’t unravel.

This may be jumping on the bandwagon, but those who love and collect patches are likely to appreciate an ironically commemorative way to remember the efforts which our key workers make all day, every day to ensure their patients are cared for as best they can manage it. Key workers often develop a ‘keep calm and carry on’ demeanour as a coping mechanism, so these patches are ideal ways to express this.

Camouflage COVID-19 patch
Screenshot from Patchion website

The various colours and phrases allow current medical and other frontline key workers to express their feelings depending on their preference and background. The camouflage colours may appeal to the many key workers who have moved into the public sector from the armed forces, while the red and black may attract veterans. The blue and white patches are surely targeted at front line medical staff whose jobs require them to deal with the effects of the virus and its outcomes on patients simply as part of their daily tasks.

Some of the patches may be better worn on casual clothes than uniform, however. I doubt any boss would be too keen on an employee turning up with a patch proclaiming OPERATION ENDURING CLUSTER**** on their sleeve. Fortunately, there are other phrases: NHS ARMY MEDIC, NHS ARMY VETERAN, NHS ARMY VOLUNTEER, OPERATION WORKING TOGETHER and an old-style yellow acid smiley with a facemask. Apparently, many ex-Forces members are also keen bikers, and one or more of these patches could make a great addition to their leathers.

The round patches with the straplines are approximately 3.5 inches or 9cm in diameter and available in sew on, iron on, self adhesive and velcro fastening options. The biohazard design is slightly smaller, at 3 inches or 7cm diameter. Most designs have been produced in a limited run of a maximum of 100. Some of the colourways are selling fast, so potential buyers are advised to check the range out sooner rather than later to avoid disappointment. They are affordably priced, with average cost between £1.60 and £2.50 (GBP).

Patchion can also produce limited runs of embroidered patches to custom designs, to boost staff morale or raise a wry smile. The website remains open for business and the company continues to provide a full service even during lockdown.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

ChatLive Random Video Chat app

ChatLive Random Video Chat
Screenshot from app homepage on Google Play

I thought random chat had gone out with the demise of the yahoo and aol chatrooms a decade ago. I remember all sorts of inappropriate text from those places back in the day. Propositions and sexual requests were common and ‘ASL’ or ‘Age; Sex; Location’ was the usual, very bald, greeting to any chatroom entrant.

Seems like these chatrooms have now moved to video, along with all their risks and warnings. One of the current crop is ChatLive Random Video Chat which advertises itself as ‘the easiest way to meet and make new friends online.’ It allows users to text or live video chat with people from more than 190 countries. This is an adults only app for those aged 18 and over - it picks a random new user and pairs them with someone else in a private chatroom.

Anyone familiar with dating apps will probably ask, ‘so what’s new?’, given the ‘swipe right’ age of Tinder and Grindr. However, if chatting with strangers floats your boat, ChatLive is one of many options for the curious to try. Users choose whether their next match is male or female through the gender filters, and either user can end a chat at any time. They should adhere to the usual safety guidelines regarding not sharing specific personal or location data with strangers. The app developers ask users to be polite and friendly, and stress that all personal information is stored securely and not sold on or shared. Users remain responsible for their actions and words within the chatroom.

This is not a friending app, it describes itself as a dating app for adults only. According to the Washington Post (November 2019), there have been numerous reports of unwanted sexual acts being performed for the camera on these types of apps. Usually these incidents tend to be men targeting women, so females should be aware that not everyone who wants gratification in this way will go to a licensed triple-x site. Many reviews of these apps mention this issue, and the article asserts that some sites are better than others at policing their users. It is difficult to judge where ChatLive falls on this scale, as on Google Play there are currently only 13 reviews, all 5 stars, all saying the app works well and the reviewer enjoys using it. There are no stats regarding numbers of downloads.

Apps like ChatLive Random Video Chat can be fun and friendly, but they should be used with care.

Monday, May 4, 2020

The GRACE Pictures, Dalls TX - wedding photography with a difference

A sample wedding photograph from The GRACE Pictures - rings and shoes
Wedding photographer to the colorful and discerning

Social distancing may be all the rage right now but that doesn’t mean happy couples can’t still have their photographs taken. They just need to be a bit more creative about it. Fortunately, the founder of the GRACE Pictures in Dallas TX has a knack for capturing just the right moment.

Firre, originally from Central Africa, specializes in wedding and destination photography and has had a busy order book with around 50 weddings a year recently. He has some unusual shots on his website, with an impressive portfolio just bursting with color and happiness. He covers Dallas-Fort Worth and Irving as his home patch but loves traveling and is quite happy to attend any wedding as the official photographer, anywhere in the world.

The GRACE Pictures also covers engagement parties and hair and makeup sessions before the wedding, so the couple have a full record of the whole event. There is plenty of evidence of pampering sessions for both bridesmaids and groomsmen, as well as every variety of indoor and outdoor wedding, reception and portraits of the wedding party.

In fact, Firre has such a special bond with his clients that he offers the "client for life program" as an option for couples looking for wedding photography and more. This will then give the couple and their family two sessions a year with the GRACE Pictures for the foreseeable future. The results so far include maternity photos for many of his brides, and no doubt in future, this will expand to cover the progress of many of their children as well.

On their Instagram account, the GRACE Pictures lists the firms and people they regularly work with. These include wedding locations, video producers, makeup and hair specialists, planners and caterers. This not only brings their services to prominence, but it offers ideas for couples who are not yet at the stage of booking their services. And for those of you who wonder, the GRACE Pictures covers some really unusual and colorful weddings, from all cultures and nationalities - and held in some great locations too.

Firre likes to meet, or at least call, a couple before the big day to discuss details and get an idea of what they are expecting from him. He offers all kinds of extras, including engagement photographs, copyright release, photo editing and enhancement. The GRACE Pictures also has an ‘investment’ page. I like that terminology. Couples invest time and energy into their marriage. Why should they not also invest in their choice of photographer? The cost of an official photographer is an expected part of the day, after all, no matter how many other people with cameras and phones are in attendance. There are also details of how the GRACE Pictures will handle the big day and delivery of the photographs, and information on the Client for Life program. I don’t recall meeting our photographer before our wedding, never mind being offered a lifetime photography program, so this shows that times have moved on in the last decade or so.

Even these days, professional photographers are an essential part of any wedding. If a guest doesn't want to be photographed, they really have to make themselves scarce to avoid the wedding photographer’s lens. The GRACE Pictures will both seek these guests out, yet respect their preference not to be photographed. That is the mark of a good photographer.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

My Almeria website - travel guide to Spain's Almeria province

Cabo de Gata, beach, part of Cabo de Gata-Nijar natural park
Image from pixabay CC0.

Here in the United Kingdom, we’re all in lockdown. Yes, the sun is shining, for now, and those of us with gardens have been enjoying them. But even if we can’t go on holiday, at least we can plan, dream and wish. Sites such as My Almeria are ideal for a few hours’ gentle reading and dreaming. At the end of an afternoon spent reading about the province, I can almost smell the fruit trees and greenery.

The Spanish province of Almeria, according to My Almeria website, has 20 destinations, over 100 villages and more than 750 points of interest to see. If you’re planning a touring holiday in this region you could easily put together an itinerary from the list on this detailed website. Each main destination has a comprehensive set of information available, including what to see, beaches, walking routes and trails, weather and a selection of videos.

What’s more, clicking on any link in the Almeria town to town section on the homepage will take you to a short piece on each town, with photographs, a map, additional links to festivals and other points of note such as places to visit, the local agriculture and history. Scroll to the top of the page and there is a list of all the localities in the same area, so you could choose to base yourself in one town and visit as many of the other places of interest close by as you can manage during your stay.

The Cabo de Gata-Nijar naural park is a logical place to stay for those who prize natural beauty and great views. There is plenty to see without venturing anywhere else, but Almeria has many other stunning locations. The Los Filabres-Tabernas region on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada and Sierra de los Filabres in the northwest of the province offers many examples of Moorish and Christian architecture, while the Alpujarra of Almeria has eye catching scenery, houses built on terraces on the hillsides in many locations and abundant greenery, thanks to vineyards and fruit trees.

No matter what kind of vacation, getaway, escape, holiday or break you are looking for, Almeria can provide it. The My Almeria blog also showcases some of the area’s highlights. So at least while we’re all in lockdown, you can let your mind travel, just as I have whilst writing this. It is very difficult to adequately describe such a detailed site. There is so much information, and so many layers of links and photographs and words. It truly is an armchair traveler’s paradise.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

New gig on Fiverr: Sing or Rap your Lyrics

Brandon (above) will sing or rap your lyrics
Image provided and used with permission

Brandon Leuchtag wants to sing or rap your lyrics. Not that he’s incapable of writing lyrics himself; he just wants to challenge himself by using other people’s words occasionally. His gig on fiverr is there to challenge lyric writers to find him something to sing or rap about, while his existing body of work, available on YouTube and Spotify, shows his work to date.

He offers very short, sharp tracks in the manner of mix tapes. Some tracks sound like I Am the Walrus era Beatles, others lean closer to some of the crossover rap releases currently in the charts, with a world weary lazy snapping beat that adds atmosphere and depth to the track. He’s happy using explicit lyrics where needed, and he’s not alone in the rap genre for that, either. Some of the style’s biggest hits have had to be remixed for radio play to remove explicit content.

Brandon says that music has saved his life and guided him where no one else could. Many people will recognize those statements even if they are not fans of his style of music. His sound is gritty, raw, stripped back, sometimes dissonant (Whack) or muffled (Red Pill). He raps steadily, not stopping for breath but still leaving space for the words to be heard on many tracks. Gratitude reminds me of the way Eminem sounds on Lose Yourself, with a stream of consciousness style that just happens. The snare drum on Dream Day snaps away rhythmically in the background while he spits the rhyme over a barely heard melody. On Really Real, he is accompanied by an acoustic guitar and has either double tracked himself or has a friend helping with the vocals.

Brandon says that for the fiverr gig, he will take a writer’s lyrics and rap or sing them. If the writer doesn’t specify how they want the track to sound, he will add a beat as he feels led. The writer can then use the results in any way they want. For modern lyric writers, Brandon’s gig is an interesting way of hearing how another rapper would handle their lyrics. For Brandon, it is a chance to give lyric writers their moment in the sun, challenging himself in the process with varied topics and different styles. He offers 24 hour delivery and allows the writer to use the results in any way they want to, including commercially. The savvy buyer, though, would be advised to mention his input anyway if the track is used anywhere, as it may lead to more coverage for both people.