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December 2011

November 2011

The Dreaded C-Words

In 1984 Suzi Gablik made this observation about the effect that Modernism, and Post-Modernism, had upon art and culture: that the “values of the marketplace” had replaced or undermined any sense of a “meaning-giving function” in the art being created. Artists found themselves in a cultural and economic system that rewarded those who created commodities that met the needs of the Art Market.  As Andy Warhol stated, “Why do people think artists are special? It’s just another job.”

In this 2011 article from Intelligent Life magazine Warhol is described as “the art market’s one-man Dow Jones.”  It would seem that Gablik’s observations about the influence of the marketplace upon current art markets has not declined over the past 27 years but increased.  More than ever it would seem that art has become a commodity.

Even on the local level there is influence – a general sameness in what is being offered, a cautious refusal to take risks outside of the most deliberately provocative markets - risks that go both ways, toward the avant-garde as well as toward traditionalism. And while Gablik did not foresee the equalizing influence of the internet, she did address the negative consequences of our cultural slide into Pluralism, where so many ideas about the value and purpose in art, offered by so many artists each exploring unlimited freedom of expression, have muddied the waters to the point that our culture has lost a sense of any “pattern of meaning” in the art it promotes.

Realistically, considering the social and economic environment that exists today, an artist cannot ignore the forces of the marketplace unless he is willing to withdraw completely and work in isolation, seeking neither recognition nor income. But in our own art practice, whether we are working for profit, for recognition, for pleasure, or for anything else,  are we - or should we be - confronting the dreaded C words?

No, not commodity.  

I am thinking more about these C words:






Creativity is the conceptual opposite of commodity. Courage is necessary to resist the status-quo and to live a creative life in harmony with one’s inner values. Compassion allows the artist to find his path between the competing interests of the market and his authentic artistic voice.  Compulsion drives the artist’s need to reflect the image of the world as he sees it in both his art and his practice, and culture is the carrier of all that we value. 

What is our art for? 

What is your art for?

Please leave your comments, ideas, thoughts…

Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist is now available for the Kindle.  If you would like a signed copy of the actual, hold-in-your-hand, able-to-write-comments-on-the-pages book, please email me and I will send you more information.  


Sign Posts Along the Way

This year I am participating in10th Annual 100 Artists Show at the Mary Lou Zeek Gallery in Salem, Oregon  - a very special art show titled the “Art of Communication."  The challenge set for this show was that each artist would receive an object in the mail, which would then be used as a starting point for a piece of art. 

A few weeks ago we each received a blank sheet of paper, with a stamped envelope – the envelopes were part of a "date of first issue" collection found at an estate sale, so the dates were from the 70’s, 80’s.  We were then partnered with another artist, and were instructed to write something on the blank sheet of paper – a note, story, poem – whatever we were inspired to write.  This would then be sent on to our partnered artist, and each of us were to respond to what we received by creating an “art object.”

Here is a brief quote from the Mary Lou Zeek Gallery:

“This year the proceeds from the 100 Artists Show “The Art of Communication” will be used to fund a special after school art and writing project for kids.  We want to replicate the DNA of this 100 artists show pairing children with each other as art pen pals and perhaps even with some of our 100 artists…an important component will be to record what takes place so that the curriculum can be shared free of charge with other communities across the country who are interested in this hands-on experience.”

My partnered artist is Jeanne Levasseur, a talented landscape artist from Portland.  Her inspiration was to write a poem, and she took some of her cues from the postmark date on her envelope of December, as well as a large  image of the Christmas themed postage stamp printed on the envelope.  The inspiration I sent her took the form of a story, played out in a letter from one young art student to another who had moved away to fly an airplane for the forest service (the image stamped on my envelope) – it will be very interesting to see how the various postmarks and images can “communicate” a story or personality or moment from one artist to their DNA partner artist, who in turn “communicates” that inspiration to the public in the form of a work of art. 

no title yet, 8 x 10, oil, ©2011

This is my current planned submission to the 100 Artists Show - unless I paint something I like better between now and the deadline.  It's actually the third painting - I was a little rusty and had a few "twenty-minute tone jobs" before I started to get the rhythm back. 

The 100 Artist Show will run from February 1 through March 3, 2012. All artwork will be online and for sale, as well as in a Blurb book - also for sale. As I get more details I will post them for you. The opening reception will be held on First Wednesday, February 2, 2012, at the Mary Lou Zeek Gallery, 335 State Street, Salem, Oregon  97301  It’s going to be a great show!

This is Thanksgiving Week, a time to be grateful for family and friends and the support that is all around us.  I am both humbled and very appreciative for the support I receive from the readers of this blog – and especially from those of you who have purchased Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist.  I am truly grateful for your overwhelming support.  I value all the emails I have received and I am so glad you are finding the book meaningful.  However, in all the edits and rewrites, there is at least one sentence that did not make it into the final version that I wish I had included – so I am including it here – feel free to write it in the book if you like:

There comes a point when you have to open your hands and let go of your expectations, when each brushstroke is an act of faith.

There is another quote from Robert Henri that I have always found meaningful:

“There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom. If one could but recall his vision by some sort of sign. It was in this hope that the arts were invented. Sign-posts on the way to what may be. Sign-posts toward greater knowledge.” (Page 13, The Art Spirit)

Have a very Happy Thanksgiving.


Learning to Paint without Copying the Painting

     I have a student who is addicted to copying another artist’s work as a learning tool.   I have tried many strategies to build her foundational skills, but she just won’t trust her own instincts.  Since there is another major dust-up in the artist blog world about one artist infringing upon another’s work by creating a painting identical to the original, I thought I would share some ideas on how to learn from other artists without slipping into the trap of copying the work. 

     In Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist, there is a section on How to Mentor Yourself.  Here is an excerpt:

Try an Intensive Study

Set up your own intensive study program.  Select two or three artists who effectively demonstrate a technique you want to learn, and study their approach in order to teach yourself the underlying process.

For example:

Identify the artists that interest you and pull up their work on the computer or in books. Look for differences and similarities, going back and forth: how do they apply the paint, or use color temperature, or handle edges, or interpret subject matter?

Write out in bullet point fashion what you are noticing and refer to this information when you work, instead of the artwork images.   When you understand on this level it is far easier to incorporate the ideas through your personal interpretation and not unconsciously copy another’s style.  (page 51)


     Here is an excerpt from a worksheet I created when studying John Singer Sargent and Fechin:

o     Fechin paint application: thin hog brush strokes, looks like 2-3 value shifts in the color, very close, one stroke, change value, second stroke, change value, etc.  Darks appear to go on first, then lights on top.  Thicker paint pulled in to create an edge light against dark, dark first, then light, then a brush stroke at an angle to drag light over dark/dark over light very soft pressure, to soften edge.

o     Both use “spots” of the same color “around” the center of interest, subtle, to direct the eye. 

o     Both have the majority of the painting very loose, thin paint, then develop a thicker application with smoother/more finished edges in the center of interest

o     Sargent uses (background) a transparent for the dark (brown), then in the light areas, layers a cool light, then a thin dark, then a warmer light, and a warmer dark in the shadows – olive greens, Naples yellow, red iron oxide mixed loosely with white and with a darker cooler red – 3 values in the reds

o     Both artists use 3 values of a color in the mid tone areas where there is light, very loose cooler darks, thicker paint in area of interest, spots of color/pattern in area of interest, more abstract in supporting areas.

o     Dramatic value contrast, primarily achieved in the mid tone area with a small accent white, small accent dark

o     White accent  works with darkest dark, or darkest mid tone, to become the center of interest

o     Light mid tones are warmer, darker mid tones are either warm or cool and used to direct the eye.  Sargent uses a cool dark in the shirt next to the boy’s warmer mid tone light face, and the bottom of the shirt is a warmer dark but very close to the same value, thinner paint, the cooler darker area is more opaque, solid.

o     Fechin in winter scene keeps all of the mid tones warm, reserving the cool for the darkest dark accent in the water and the darks in the windows.  Color range is yellow ochre, violets, cobalt blues, (windows first stroke violet, second stroke cobalt blue, same value, third stroke highlight slightly lighter cobalt blue) burnt sienna/red iron oxide.  Uses the same color palette in Taos landscape, snow – first stroke white, top stroke blue/white. 


     Many artists rely on photo references while trying to learn to paint – I remember one fellow art student who began a lovely large abstract painting. Her colors were vibrant, her strokes loose and energetic, and then she opened a book about Richard Diebenkorn and her painting process changed – she would look at the book, look at her painting, and then copy some bit of something that she saw in the book that she admired.  Over the course of several days her painting lost all of the original spark and became a dull, lifeless copy of Diebenkorn’s style.  While the change was very obvious to the other students, she seemed oblivious to the similarity. I remember she was frustrated that no one else appreciated what she thought was her best effort yet.

     I want to believe that most artists are really unaware of how heavily their work can be influenced by that of another artist: when they are actually looking at the reference while working on their own painting they unconsciously incorporate far more of the original work than they realize.  If you are trying to improve your technique, try an intensive study.  Think in terms of discovering a process and then interpreting it through your own voice.

 THUMBNAIL_IMAGEI structured Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist as a Business Plan - but it's unlike any Business Plan you may have encountered.  Here is another excerpt:

Remember this: your Vision Statement opens your mind to the possibilities and directs your goals, while your Executive Summary describes the roadmap you will take to reach those goals.

Direct Engagement with your art on a daily basis enables you to experience your creative life in the moment, and balances the business pressures you will face in the marketing and promotion of your work.

The combination of these elements will help keep you grounded in the real world, without undermining your dreams.


Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist is now available on Amazon here.  


The Important eBay Question

Elizabeth B Tucker asked this important question about how I handle my mailing list with eBay customers: 

One question, two actually....1) Do you automatically add the person who bought your work to your email list? and 2) Do you send out a notice to your list every time you put something up on Ebay, or just let the "public" find you?

Thank you for bringing it up, Elizabeth, because Ebay has a very stringent policy against marketing to their members outside of the eBay system. If you do so, they consider it spamming, and you risk being banned from the site.

Here is how I manage my mailing lists with regard to my eBay clients:

I use an excel worksheet with a code that tells me they bought through eBay.

I do not initiate any contact outside of the purchase communications.  If they email me then I consider that a permission to add my email signature with website information in my communications back, but I do not ask them to visit my site.  What I do is include the bio/vita in the shipment so they have the artist contact information with the painting.  I think you have to be very careful that you do not violate - or appear to violate - eBay's rules against trying to complete an eBay-initiated sales transaction outside the system as a means of cheating them out of their commissions. 

I do not email eBay customers when I post a new auction - I think this would definately fall under the "spam" definition that eBay is so adamantly against. What I DO use is the same tag lines in my listings: Paintings From the Oregon Outback or Sue Smith, to make it easier for clients to identify my items.  Many of the repeat purchases came from items listed on the same day or over several days spaced close together. In one case, a previous eBay client emailed about a painting she saw on an expired auction and I put it back up on eBay with a Buy Now, emailed her, and she was able to purchase it immediately. I think there is also a way for clients to "bookmark" you as a "favorite seller" and check in to see what you have available.

If I had started an "auction-type" blog (which I haven't) then all updates would go out to those who had subscribed (opt-in), with links to the auction site.  I think this is the best approach to avoid being listed as a "spammer."

I do send out Christmas Cards to my eBay clients with a "thank you for supporting my art" message.

I do send occasional postcard mailings where there is an announcement/accomplishment that might reinforce their decision to  have purchased my art and generate interest in looking at my website and signing up for my newsletter.

I do try to respect their privacy and do not consider them in the same "marketing category" as those who have opted-in for my mailings, so my marketing efforts are far more passive with these customers.

While I don't think that eBay "owns" your clients anymore than a gallery "owns" the clients, I treat the relationship in much the same way, respecting the boundaries and obligations while still promoting my art, opening the door for subsequent "permissions-based" marketing as the client desires.

Please add any comments or experiences to help clarify what can often be a gray area in marketing.


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THUMBNAIL_IMAGEAncient Wisdom:Emerging Artist is officially launched today through my eCommerce page.  The book will soon be available on Amazon, and they are in the process of converting the files for the Kindle. 

Here is an excerpt from the section titled Know Your Market:

"While your marketing efforts may not address all three goals at once, it is essential that your message addresses the prospect's point of view: what's in it for me?

Go back to your journal and pull together thoughts and words that resonate emotionally.  If you have testimonials from buyers all the better: having someone else describe why they responded to your work is a strong motivator for others considering a purchase."

This is the perfect book for you if you feel "stuck" or "discouraged", no matter what your age or experience. 

Art is life...create on purpose...step into your dream




Selling on Purpose

Taking control of your art business often means making the choice to sell your work on your own. 

This doesn't mean selling all of your work on your own.

This doesn't mean setting up your easel on the corner with a donation can at your feet. 

This means making a decision to create work specifically for a particular niche.  Work that is different from your usual work.  Work that is special because it's affordable and appeals to people you might not otherwise connect with in the normal day-to-day interactions with your primary art business.

Over the past many months I have been selling my work on purpose.  And with the profits I have been able to accomplish the following goals:

  • purchase unique art supplies that I normally would have considered a luxury
  • purchase an Isaak Levitan book that I would never have considered, given the cost
  • pay the small fees associated with several on-line art competitions without having to worry about whether or not I had the money available in my checking account
  • pay the membership dues of one arts organization
  • pay more than 50% of the cost for the American Women Artists group ad in Fine Art Connoisseur
  • sell another painting from my website to a collector who first found me through this process
  • sold again to a collector who has purchased from me over the years through this process
  • haven't had to expend a lot of time and energy building a following of fans through a blog
  • built up my mailing list with clients who have purchased my work
  • done it in a no stress, perfect-for-the-introvert environment, at my convenience

And this process?

It's no secret - eBay.  In fact, Jack White wrote a fascinating article on the Fine Art Views Blog, which offers another point of view. Sure, there's lots of really bad art on eBay.  Yes, they have those annoying rules, sometimes hold your funds for 21 days with what seem like arbitrary reasons, and both eBay and Paypal take their cut of the action.  True, not everything you list sells.  There's always the chance that your fabulous painting, which you sell for a pittance, will end up at a street fair with a huge pricetag and you'll never be paid what you're worth.  And if these statements or ones similar to them are annoying you right now then you aren't thinking about the title of this post: Selling On Purpose.

Consider these successful, personal experience ideas:

  • You create work specifically for this venue. It is different, smaller, but still represents your talent, professionalism and creativity.
  • You know going in that eBay loves a low price point.  And affordable shipping costs.  You create in a size that keeps your costs low and can be sent in a small box Priority Mail (don't use the "if it fits, it ships" box because you can send it for less in your own packaging and still get the Priority speed.  Always add in the delivery confirmation).
  • You surprise your buyer by including your bio, a postcard, a magazine where your ad is marked prominently, or some other "thank you" that directs them to your website where your real art is available. 
  • You think in terms of quantity. This is not an individual price idea but an accumulation of small sales approach because you are dealing with a purchasing demographic right now that is looking for "affordable."
  • You also think in terms of quality.  Do your best work.  Just do it smaller. Take these buyers as seriously as you take those entering a gallery.  Imagine the good will and repeat interest when they receive what they thought was a nice painting and discover it was painted by a real artist (we're talking Jack White here).
  • Plan ahead and have plenty of inventory on hand before you start listing.
  • Experiment to find the best days and times for your auctions to end.  In my experience there is very little meaningful activity until the final hour.  My best days are Mondays and Thursdays, ending at about 6pm PT

On average, I sell approximately half of what I list.  Some things are re-listed and eventually sell.  Others never appeal to the audience so they are retired for another day.  There also seems to be a cycle: I will sell multiple items in the same week or month, for several months, and then sales decline for awhile. 

On average, my prices are in the $30 to $60 range, for 5 x 7 and 6 x 6 paintings.  I do add in a shipping charge in the $7 range.  I have sold larger work, offering free shipping once, and a $15 charge another time; in both cases the purchase price of the painting equalled the shipping charge so it was either a wash or a loss for me after the fees.  Since calculating shipping charges is an annoyance and a time drain, I experimented until I found an amount that was consistently accurate.

Some of the more interesting clients I've encountered include one who asked me to repaint  a small area of the painting after she bought it, another who loved to email me to talk about his art, several fellow artists, a few who became repeat buyers, two who went on to purchase full price paintings, one who signed up for my email newsletter and has continued to follow me for years, several who live in major art destinations, and many more wonderful enthusiastic people who loved their paintings. 

Maybe not what you equate with serious art.  But worth it.