Sunday, October 18, 2009

"That painting looks just like a photograph"

The feedback says "Beautiful. Looks just like a photograph." That's because it IS a photograph.

This fraud technique, often referred to as "water painting" or "computer art," isn't new to eBay, but lately it's becoming far too commonplace. More and more of this fraudulent art is popping up as scam artists have discovered a way to literally print money. This fraud has become a particular problem in the area of ACEOs, small format art that can be produced and shipped inexpensively.

So how is it done? There are several ways of digitally altering a photograph using software like Adobe Photoshop, but the most prevalent technique seems to be the watering down of inkjet prints. The "artist" downloads a photo from the Internet, prints it on watercolor paper, wets it down, and smears the printer ink around with a brush. Often, a few details (like whiskers on an animal) are added with some white acrylic paint so that there are visible brush strokes. Colored pencils are also used in the same manner. An acrylic medium or varnish will also leave brush strokes and help to further the illusion of a painting. The video below beautifully illustrates how the process is done.

To the trained eye, the fraud is obvious, but sadly, many art collectors do not recognize that their purchase is not an original painting, and believe that the "artist" has mastered photo realism. There are several sellers on eBay right now who are PowerSellers, with Top Rated Seller badges being displayed on their auction pages. This is only making the situation worse. Why would a buyer question the item when eBay says the seller is "Top Rated?" (The flaws with eBay's Top Rated Seller badge is a rant unto itself, so I'll leave it at that for now).

Red Flags:

- This type of art has a very distinct look to it. It may be photo-realistic, but is washed out, grainy, blurred, and devoid of detail. Colors are watery and drab, lacking the color pigment that would be seen with actual watercolor paint.

- The seller is listing in volume, perhaps 10-15 items a day. A true watercolor ACEO would take hours, if not days to complete. A fraudulent piece of art can be created in less than 10 minutes.

- Images may be stretched or distorted. This happens when the fraudster manipulates the photo in order to make it fit into ACEO size.

- The artist has no bio, and displays no work-in-progress photos. If you DO see WIP photos, they are usually not representative of the style of art that is actually being sold (in other words, you can also steal and/or manipulate WIP photos).

Think you bought a fake?

If you believe you have purchased a fake, scan it at high resolution or view it under magnification. If the work was generated from a computer printer, you will see a dot pattern, usually in magenta. The image to the right is a 1200 dpi scan representing a small section of a fraudulent watercolor. The magenta dots are clearly visible.

As they say, a picture speaks a thousand words. This video speaks volumes. Enjoy (or not).

Thursday, July 2, 2009


You may remember this little gal from a previous entry, back in May. It's hard to believe, but in only one month's time, she is now a full-grown adult, living on her own, and doing what squirrels do during the summer months - fatten up for the winter months.

I believe that she's a female because she has remained in the natal burrow with one other from the litter. This is normal behavior for female roundtails. The males have already moved on to new burrows of their own.

I'm amazed at how quickly small animals grow, especially rodents. She's nearly doubled in size, eating a diet that is almost exclusively vegetarian. They eat leaves and twigs, seed pods that drop from the native trees, cactus fruit, and the occasional carrot from the nice lady with the camera. I've read that they also supplement their diet with protein from insects, primarily termites. Thank you!

Anyway, just posting this so all can see the remarkable transformation that took place in only one month. Had I not been monitoring this litter of roundtails, I would never have recognized her (though her extreme willingness to pose for my camera may have been a clue).

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Okay, technically it's "scat," but I love saying the word poop. I feel compelled to post this picture, so as not to be outdone by fellow artist and bio-nerd Ann Ranlett.

Last night it rained pretty hard, the first desert monsoon of the season. This morning I found what was left of this coyote scat - all fur and bone fragments. I pulled it apart a bit to check out the bone fragments, and found a dime-sized jaw bone with teeth intact (upper left of photo). You probably have to be a major nature lover to appreciate this, but I thought it was pretty cool. Whatever this coyote ate, it was eaten whole. I'm thinking small rodent, probably something nocturnal, like a mouse or baby pack rat.

I regret to inform you that this photo will not be available for sale anytime soon, nor will it be appearing on any greeting cards or refrigerator magnets (hmmmm . . . refrigerator magnets). If any of my fellow artists would like to use it as a reference photo, you have my permission. You're welcome. ;)

Monday, June 8, 2009


George Carlin did a fabulous routine about the importance of “stuff.” We all have “stuff,” and we store the stuff in plastic containers to keep our stuff clean and organized. When we have too much stuff, we move it to a storage facility to make room for MORE stuff. That’s why we need houses. “Your house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get MORE stuff.”

Guilty as charged.

You don’t realize just how much stuff you’ve accumulated until you reach a certain age, and start questioning why you’ve had have all those Rubbermaid containers stacked up in the closet for, oh, a few decades or so.

If the economy cooperates, we’ll be moving back to L.A. soon. Every time I move, all this stuff moves with me, and goes from one closet to another. Not this time. I’m getting rid of all this stuff . . . plush toys, trading cards, old magazines, hundreds of CDs and DVDs that I listened to only once . . . it goes on and on. All the stuff is going. Okay, all the stuff EXCEPT my ACEOs and my South Park collectibles. Some things are sacred.

This is really a long-winded excuse explanation as to why I’ve been concentrating on my photography in recent months, and haven’t painted a thing. Somewhere beneath all the wreckage is my art studio. I’ll find it eventually. I hope. Then I can paint some stuff.

Five minutes of non-stop laughs: George Carlin on "stuff."

Saturday, June 6, 2009


I just couldn't stop laughing after seeing this poor momma squirrel, who apparently has some VERY hungry babies in the den.

She's going to make a great greeting card. "Motherhood looks good on you. Really, it does." ;)

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Last month I noticed a roundtail ground squirrel running around my property. She had taken over a den that had been abandoned by another squirrel, and was running about madly collecting leaves and food. She very small and thin, so I guessed her to be a juvenile setting up house. I was thrilled to see her, as roundtails are a bit of a rarity.

On the evening of Memorial Day, I was surprised to see two tiny heads poking out of the den. Babies! The next day came two more, and two more after that. A litter of six, which is a lot, especially for such a tiny mom.

In the last few days I’ve snapped hundreds of photos. Ahhhh . . . the beauty of digital cameras, to have the ability to click away endlessly without the worry of running out of film.

Hubby says this guy looks like a Power Ranger. Can't wait to put him on some Cafe Press items. What personality!

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Last year I bought a vinyl plotter, and thought I would try my hand at a decal business. After buying a decal myself on eBay, I noticed that most decal sellers were PowerSellers, with an extremely high volume of sales. After all, decals are a pretty recession-proof product. People LOVE to put stickers on their cars . . . they're inexpensive and fun.

Well, it did take off, in a way that I never expected. I sold thousands (though only half left feedback), made PowerSeller, and after eBay took their commission and pint of blood, even had some mad money leftover. But it was hard work, and long hours, and was taking me away from the things I REALLY wanted to do, like paint.

Last month I started feeling pretty crappy, and my doctor told me I was on stress overload. There were other issues at play, but eBay was one of the biggest. I was exhausted. Not physically exhausted - mentally exhausted. See, eBay has changed. New CEO with a lot of insanely bad ideas, the biggest being a change in policy in which sellers can no longer leave negative feedback for bad buyers, which caught the attention of scam artists pretty quickly.

Prior to starting the decal business, I read a lot of horror stories on eBay's community forums about feedback extortion, but had never experienced it myself, as I was mostly selling art, and art buyers, for the most part, are a notch above that sort of thing. Not so with decal buyers. I found a never-ending supply of non-payers, blackmailers, and feedback extortionists . . . scammers that held all of the power. I will say that I had some truly wonderful buyers, but for every new friend came another email saying "I never got my item. Send another one right away. BTW, I haven't left feedback yet." Veiled threats, that eBay dismissed, because the threat wasn't direct enough.

I can't say that this decision was easy to make, after working so hard to build up a business that included many valued repeat buyers. But I had to pull the plug, so I've slowly been ending my listings. From over 100, down to less than ten.

As hard as it was to start closing up shop, I'm feeling pretty liberated right now. It's awfully darned good to be free of the constant stress . . . that horrible anxiety that hit me every time I dropped something in the mailbox and stayed with me until I saw a positive feedback. I felt like a sitting duck, just waiting for that inevitable unjust neg.

Ahhhhhhhhh . . . I'm sitting here this afternoon taking a nice deep breath, and feeling pounds lighter for the burden that has been lifted from my shoulders.

And now, I think I'll start painting again. Maybe I'll even get rid of my writer's block and get back to that poor novel that's been sitting on the back burner for so long.

Sounds pretty good to me.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


I have nothing to say, but feel obligated to post something as I now have a follower. Hi Ann! :)

So here's the deal. Last summer I took a writing class at UCLA Extension, and we had an assignment to start a blog. I created a blog about my struggles with writer's block. Talk about an exercise in irony. Suffice to say, I never wrote anything in the blog, and it died a slow death somewhere out in cyberspace.

So this is round two. A place to talk about my art and photography, quote Monty Python, and grouse about the mismanagement of eBay. Yeah. That should give me plenty to write about.

Alrighty then.