If you must know, the topic for our discussion today – shadows and attention to details – came to mind while watching “Columbo” on Roku.

Here’s Columbo riding through a chemical plant on a golf cart with the lovable nutty genius-murderer Roddy McDowall, and the shadows in the background keep changing. Some are morning shadows; some are late-afternoon shadows.

If you’ve ever hung around a movie set, you know how this happens. Segments for a two-minute ride on a golf cart might be filmed days or even months apart when, somewhere down the road, the director realizes he wants to change a camera angle or a word or two in the dialogue. And if he doesn’t bother to film it at the same time of day – or even the same time of year – the shadows in the background are going to move about erratically.

And then there are the segments filmed on boats or near the water. In the sitcom “Keeping Up Appearances,” although Richard is rowing, anyone who looks at the water knows that he and Hyacinth are obviously tied up at a dock. In one of Hitchcock’s movies, a boat is moving over choppy water, and a second later in the next shot, it is flat calm. You’ve spent time on the water, perhaps you’ve even worked on the water for years, so you can’t help noticing these things.

It’s pretty hard to fool someone who lives on the coast of Maine when some movie director tries to cut corners in scenes dealing with boats or water. We probably notice these things because of our background.

But then there are individuals who are born with a natural talent. Only a few of us know that Sherlock Holmes produced a monograph in which he identified no fewer than 140 varieties of tobacco ash. But most everyone in the civilized world knows that James Bond can identify 237 kinds of wine, foreign and domestic, by their distinct aroma.

My old next-door neighbor, Gramp Wiley, can distinguish between taurine and indicus cattle by either the odor or the color and texture of their manure on a farmer’s boots. One time I went into his trailer, and without even looking up he said, “You’ve been over to Steve Dennison’s. He’s the only man within 40 miles who has Black Herefords.”

You might have a natural talent when it comes to raising radishes or fixing diesel engines or playing jazz or being able to produce humor on demand.

Years ago, I was asked to speak at the National Seat Belt Coalition in Washington. A year before, my Saab had been broadsided by a fire engine that ran a stop sign coming home from a fire. My passenger and I pinwheeled several times, but because we were both wearing seat belts, I was able to play for a dance at the Camden Legion three hours later.

I spoke in the capacity of a survivor, but thinking it would be nice to add a bit of humor, I called my friend Richard Warner in Rockland and said, “Richard, in 10 minutes I’m speaking to the National Seat Belt Coalition in Washington, D.C. Quick. Give me an opening line.”

And without pause, Richard said, “Washington, D.C., is an excellent place to hold the National Seat Belt meeting. I can’t think of a town in the entire country where there is a greater need for restraint.”

You might disagree, but I don’t think you can learn how to paint pictures. If you don’t have at least a spark of innate talent, you might as well sit back and applaud the work of others.

St. George, where Marsha and I live, is infested with artists, so there is an inordinate amount of wine and cheese offered up during the summer months. We are valued patrons of the arts, and we get to rub a lot of arty elbows.

No matter how large the crowd, it is always easy for us to study the paintings on the wall because most of the attendees are standing in the middle of the gallery, pretending to drink wine while looking for someone famous. So although I am incapable of drawing anything more than stick men with balloon heads, I have learned to appreciate the art of others and can view it with a critical eye.

I once complimented an excellent artist on her dexterity and attention to detail. You could see exactly what it was she had painted, and I told her so. She hung her head and said apologetically, “Yes, I can’t seem to get past that.”

Here’s a tip from a seasoned art critic, and it’s yours for free. Again, it has to do with shadows. Although an artist might spend all day or even several weeks working on a painting, you can learn a lot by looking at the shadows: If they are all leaning in the right direction, that person paints from photographs.

The humble Farmer can be seen on Community Television in and near Portland and visited at his website:


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