Sunday, September 27, 2009

lack of communication


by Edgar Allan Poe

There are some qualities — some incorporate things,
That have a double life, which thus is made
A type of that twin entity which springs
From matter and light, evinced in solid and shade.
There is a two-fold Silence — sea and shore —
Body and soul. One dwells in lonely places,
Newly with grass o'ergrown; some solemn graces,
Some human memories and tearful lore,
Render him terrorless: his name's "No More."
He is the corporate Silence: dread him not!...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Beads, Jelly Beans and EGO...

Artist Trading Card 1/1
September 2009
Rick St Dennis//all rights reserved
collection of DIAN CRAYNE

I am currently consumed with Artist Trading Cards-what a satisfying art form!

Whoever thought of it and got it moving was a genius and it seems they will go on as an inexpensive and fun way for Artists and crafters to express themselves and their creativity.

The ATC is also rapidly becoming a way to express ones personal issues and even are parts of programs to collect cards on specific topics to make a statement.

A spousal abuse/domestic violence group is asking for cards about having a voice against violence and a bride will cover her gowns skirt with ATCs on the topic if they can get enough participation.

Artist Trading Cards are supposed to be traded never sold but the internet is rife with many people asking ridiculous amounts for their work-like one fellow who beads sports cards and then sells them for three hundred bucks each…having ruined the card by defacing it there can be no intrinsic value in the card itself and from what I saw on the website the work isn’t so spectacular that it deserves such lofty prices-but that’s my opinion who knows if the poor fool is actually selling any?

I remember back ten or so years a woman in the east who made quite a name for herself doing beaded sports and other trading cards but what she did was to actually BEAD a copy of the card onto aida cloth using thousands of beads in creating a single 3 ½ by 2 ½ inch piece.

Doing a card took many days and she even did one for whomever the sitting president was at the time (which is how she got noticed).

There was also that outfit that did famous paintings or portraits out of Jelly Bellies-another labor intensive and time consuming pursuit-seems like rhinestone or sequin versions also were around at the time.

The point is how various artists value their work and how those values are perceived by others.

I think many things in ETSY are very inexpensive-I wouldn’t hand crochet wash cloths and then sell them for a couple of bucks for instance-seems far too cheap for such an endeavor.

Remember those scarves that were made from Italian fibers back a few years-very popular and simple but time consuming and the materials were expensive-they had a fur look and at upscale department stores and boutiques they could be several hundred dollars.

You’d see really nice versions at craft shows and people would be complaining because they were fifty or sixty dollars---I always love it when a group of people walk into a booth and one is interested in an item and one of the others says “Oh don’t buy that, I’ll make you one.”

HELLO? Am I sitting here or do you assume that artists and crafters are immune to rudeness?

I always wonder if they ever do actually go home and knock out a Xerox copy of something they saw at a local craft show.

"Why is it so expensive?", is another question I used to think was really nasty and rude-but here I am complaining about some guy who wanta a few hundred dollars for beading a football player-not actually even the entire card-just parts of it-why IS it so expensive?

Oh, oh my other favorite-"Do you do these by hand?"---as opposed to...?

I thought it would be funny to get a t shirt that said-NO I USE MY FEET-but then I would have been in trouble again-political correctness sure has an impact on a sarcastic sense of humor.

I knew a woman who prided herself on being a Xerox machine-she would steal ideas from anyone and everyone she knew and was quite vocal that she had no real creative ability but she was really a good copyist.

She made a lot of money so she was doing something right; man did she hate it when the tables were turned and someone copied one of her copies…get out of the way because the volcano was about to blow!

I, myself, would be upset if I thought that my work was perceived as anything but original and my own.

That’s me; I like coming up with new ideas and even if I were influenced by someone’s work I would certainly not intentionally copy them.

Difficult in this altered art style, since we draw from the same sorts of images and ephemera to seem original.

I have been exploring dark subjects and more technique that an actual attempt at a style-funny that in trying not to be like others I have developed a style that is quite identifiable and am now trying to diversify away from that formula compositional form.

I seem to be fascinated with Vampires and somehow semi-lesbonic ideas neither of which as a topic are particularly fascinating to me but they seem to come up again and again in my work-also carnivals…but those ARE of interest to me and a friend Debbie (I think she uses Deborah professionally) Christopherson was the bearded lady in Showtime’s series CARNIVALE which I loved and hated to see end after 2 bizarre seasons.

Maybe I should get interested more in less warped images and try to do things that are happy and uplifting? Whimsical even...

I certainly won’t be doing anything with beads and sports cards-jelly beans… none of that stuff.

Three hundred dollars…if nothing else he has confidence…or is delusional…or both.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Craft Fair to Craft Business Part 4

In my previous 3 posts I have given you a huge amount of things to think about when starting down the road to selling your creative efforts to the public (in person).

The internet is a new market and sites like ETSY are becoming busy and popular sources for imaginative and unusual items, surely more such sites will follow.

I understand that in the near future cable television will be joining the direct home sales market and you will be able to purchase time on a “virtual” store channel and have your wares beamed into millions of homes in your target market at reasonable costs to you, the artist.

Just a few more thoughts and suggestions in this final chapter of what is rapidly becoming the Gone With The Wind of BLOG posts:

Think, listen, make notes and move slowly and steadily towards you goals-don’t make jumps that will demand more than you can successfully deliver-it’s a sure road to depression and failure.

Believe in yourself and listen to your instincts-if you have done your homework and have really planned out your course of action you will be fine-exhausted but fine.

DO NOT start out in business so deep in debt that you can’t ever climb out and NEVER jeopardize your home, family or personal security for the sake of an art show.

If you aren’t making a profit set a date when you must give up the idea of doing craft or art fairs for now-you can go back to the idea later. DO NOT continue to lose money or start charging up your credit cards thinking things will get better.
Be sure to read my section on keeping your business finances and personal finances separate-this is very important!!! Keep good records and every receipt that you get-even if they go in a large manila envelope-you will need them for the tax preparer and they should be kept for 7 to 10 years after you have settled your taxes.

If you start doing the Art thing as a full time business be sure to pay into Social Security-the tax preparer has forms you send in quarterly-I didn’t keep up with this and now I’m sorry-I will be retiring far further in the future than I might have wanted.

You CAN NOT make a business producing products with supplies you purchase retail with the exception of ART (paintings, drawings etc) and even then there are many ways to improve your profits by buying wholesale or from discounters.

Be careful of overbuying-wholesale buying is like dancing it requires agility and balance-think before you start investing in grosses of items unless you know that it is a component you will use in several ways or are regularly selling out of.

Wholesale buying is a drug and frequently buying a half gross saves over buying a dozen and buying a full gross saves over buying a half gross-then you start getting into master packs and all sorts of other levels-next thing you know you own ten thousand of something and you saved a lot off the wholesale price but what are you going to do with them?

THINK…CONSIDER…then move-your instincts are better than you might think and they will become honed with time.

I have known kind, meek, mild people who become ferocious monsters when it comes to negotiating purchases.

Start small but think big- GOOD ENOUGH is not GOOD ENOUGH: Your name will be on your work make sure you are proud of what you produce and how it is presented-always be professional in manner, grooming and appearance…ALWAYS!

MEN especially can become very sloppy when they are hot and tired and are doing a show out in the sun in mid-august---that doesn’t explain why you didn’t wash your hair this morning or clean your nails-and you can carry an extra clean t shirt so if you get sweaty setting up you can change into a clean shirt to sell-they have travel size everything so toothpaste a toothbrush and deodorant can go into your tool box.
I think I have labored my point long enough-the ART biz can be lots of fun-I enjoyed it for many years and at some point I might find myself doing fairs again-I don’t know.

What I do believe is that the information I have shared with you is solid and based on many things I learned the hard way-with this knowledge I could have been even more successful and much more organized.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

From Craft Fair to Craft Business PART 3

The cream of craft shows are the long running circuits that offer TV commercials, heavy newspaper advertising and bring in the crowds because of their careful jurying process.

The Country Folk Art Shows (CFA) are a year round tour that mainly covers the east coast but has tried shows on the west coast as well.

The Harvest Festivals (THF) have been doing some of their locations in California for over 30 years and most for at least 25-they are primarily a California Tour but at times have tried shows in several western states and Texas.

These shows usually run 3 days Friday through Sunday and sell you nothing but floor space-everything else is extra and you must meet strict rules and levels of talent to get into the shows-CFA runs from $400.00 to $1,600.00 for a space depending on size-there is also a premium charge for a corner and a charge for electricity, your work must match their theme, you have to build a 3 walled booth and it also must be themed.

THF is about the same price but their corner premium is double CFA’s however THF has a wider range of artists and the work is more contemporary-many of the artists in THF shows are also in galleries and top juried art shows as well.

CFA has no food or entertainment THF has both-both have an entry fee for customers and actually use some of the same venues for their California shows from there however they are very different.

CFA can bring in the high end buyers and people are there to shop especially at shows like Edison, New Jersey.

It is not uncommon for the aisles to be so full that customers will step into your booth and shop just to get out of the crowds.

CFA also has an early buyer policy on Friday evenings-they charge a higher admission for the privilege of getting first shot at the merchandise but the crowds are there and so are the sales-some of the best shows I ever had money wise were at CFA shows-and comparing apples with apples CFA in Pleasanton, CA was worth more than triple what THF brought in.

In Los Angeles it's not uncommon to see well known celebrities shopping at THF.

That’s MY experience it doesn’t mean that other artists don’t do better than I did or worse at either show.

I have also sold to the walls-that means totally empty shelves-on both tours.

When you decide to go with this kind of show tour you really have to have your products and production methods solid and you have to be ready for the expense of doing 3 to 6 or more of these shows in order to cover the fall season leading up to Christmas-this also means having merchandise that includes fall and winter themes, gifts and home d├ęcor items that are still within the look and rules of the shows.

It is also not uncommon for artists and crafters to have other fall favorite shows and split their wares between a city sponsored show and a convention center show on the same weekend (Half Moon Bay used to be one of those split weekends with THF.

I always did the Vegas Christmas Spectacular show instead of the THF Pomona Fairground show strictly because I could make far more money in Vegas.

No one can teach you how to do these shows, each has its own feel and flow-and each city they are held in has a diverse group of buyers-you feel your way at first and after doing the shows for awhile your display techniques and product choices become almost automatic.

I found THF shows too constraining and had a better time at CFA where I could literally set up a gift shop with a widely diverse collection of products-also Rhonda and Keith Blakely the producers are personable and friendly and their dedicated regular exhibitors get good spaces and exposure because they are more hands on as producers than THF-this said I haven’t done THF since they changed management, my opinions are based on the days when they were also owned and run by two families of producers.

Many tours like Southern Lady and others seem to come and go so research your geographic area to decide whether or not there are enough shows for you to do and how expensive it will be to do them.

I have also included a few links at the end of this post with some regional listings I do not endorse any of these companies other than as information for you to peruse.

As I mentioned we drove across country and did shows in the North east and Florida as well as California and Colorado with CFA-you have to plan enough time to get across the country in order to arrive the day before set up in the first city-that means motels gas and food for several days-then you need to stay in the city where the show is over the weekend-CFA offers a host hotel generally with a discount rate for exhibitors many artists travel in RVs so they carry their accommodations with them.

We always planned for 3 or 4 shows on a trip so we might do Rochester, New York, Edison, New Jersey and a third city in New Jersey or Pennsylvania-the producers plan the tours so the shows are an easy day or so drive apart-in between you can do a little sightseeing or you can work on your products and get ready for the next show-we often did a combination of both.

You need to be ready for the huge onslaught of buyers, restocking the booth while it is full of people, long hours on your feet and weeks of travel away from home-many people have product shipped to them at the convention center where the show will be held so it’s there when they arrive-however this can be risky if the boxes go missing-you also have to be ready for dealing with unions, breakdowns (car, merchandise, mental) and how to do your banking on the road-We arranged with a bank manager to accept deposits by mail-we would go to the Auto Club and buy travelers Cheques with the cash we were sending for deposit and stamp all the checks and credit card slips then Fed Ex all that to the bank back in California-I also have been known to walk around with several thousand dollars in the toe of my boot or to have a money belt full of hundreds when we couldn’t find an Auto Club with enough Travelers Checks on hand.

Thankfully we were never robbed nor did we have any major problems with our vehicle or our bodies but we knew people who had their cars and vans stolen, were mugged and had major illnesses or injuries while far from home so you learn to be ready for anything.

I remember well a show where we took up a collection of cash so a couple from Arizona would have enough money to buy gas and eat on the way home-their shows were not good and they were, literally, broke and stuck in Upstate New York-not fun.

Artists are usually kind and generous people so they were taken care of although we never saw them again so I guess they changed their plans so far as the art business was concerned.

In my career I have been through rain, wind, thunder, wild fires, tornado warnings and electrical storms, empty shows when I had too much merchandise and packed shows when I was short of goods, I have watched while junk sold for big bucks but my better items sat there and had the thrill of selling something I was proud of for a price that it was worth to someone who really loved it---ART can take you everywhere.

During my career in Arts and Crafts Faires I visited 41 of the lower 48 states and parts of Canada.

It is a thrilling, infuriating, wonderful, horrible,exhillirating, exhausting and challenging business and I know several exhibitors that are still doing shows in the late 70’s/early 80’s-it can be a good retirement job.

Whether you do one show in your local park a year or you travel the country I hope you have even a fraction of the fun and rewards that I got from the Art business.

In the final installment I will sum up some of my experiences and add some tips for those who are leaning toward trying this as a profession.

From Craft Fair to CRAFT BUSINESS Part 2

You have made it through your first craft show in the park and you did OK-your costs were not too high and you enjoyed the experience.

What did you learn?

Hopefully what sold and what didn’t-what colours were popular and what kind of person is your customer.

For most of my career my best customers were women between the ages of 25 and 45.

You can’t tailor your ART to sell to a specific group=but you can edit it to weed out the things you thought were “sure things” but you packed away when the public was unanimously indifferent to them.

My rule on that area is this: Give anything 2 or 3 shows in different areas, if it is still a slow seller or worse a NON-SELLER donate it to a thrift shop or throw it away if there isn’t any part of it you can salvage.

Did you listen carefully to peoples comments and questions-customers will often give you great feedback and suggest items you might not have thought of-keep one of those blank journals in your tool kit and write down those ideas.

Did you start building a mailing list or an email list? This is a good thing to do-just don’t abuse it-send people only important info on where you will be showing-I also always send really high spenders a thank you note- HANDWRITTEN-to remind them of me after the show-if you’re going to do that do it within 10 days after the craft faire otherwise its wasted and be sure to include-"I hope you are enjoying the pink and purple zebra you purchase from me"...or whatever, if they are big spenders they may have purchased lots of stuff but they WILL remember the item from an artist who cares enough to send a thank you note.

How did your displays work, did you keep your booth well stocked, what else could have worked better?

Think about, journal about, talk about every detail to anyone who will offer constructive input-we don’t need naysayers-and again make notes.

Plan your next show: Remember you will have good shows and bad shows once in awhile a GREAT show and occasionally a total dud.

I found in my business that I did better when there was a gifting occasion coming up shortly following the date of the show but not too shortly-people tend to shop well in advance so a show 4 to 6 weeks before Mothers Day might make you some extra sales while a show two days before Christmas finds the checking accounts empty and the credit cards full.


Are you going to take credit cards? In my day fully 70% of sales at many shows were on credit cards so without them I would have had lower income-these days people are more careful about credit but DEBIT CARDS are popular.

Something to think about-there will be a person at your bank who will help you with the credit cards and setting up a business account-all the financial stuff you need to do if you are going to continue doing craft shows.


Keep your personal money and your craft business SEPARATE-do not pay the gas bill or the kid's dentist out of the business-pay yourself a specific amount and mark that on the business check then put the money in your personal account thats where the dentist gets paid from the personal account.

At tax time you will learn how to get deductions for your home business; your tax person will be very happy if you keep things separate and have good records.

Conversely don’t buy craft supplies with your personal credit card-borrow from yourself and put the money in your business account then later pay yourself back for the loan and use that to pay your credit card-you are two separate entities in one person - crafter and yourself - keep them financially independent of each other-TRUST ME on this one I know what I’m talking about.

All of your proceeds went into your business account, you figured out the costs and profits-HOW MUCH will you reinvest in the business AFTER you have broken even-I like 25 to 50% of the profit to go BACK to the business-that’s the way the business can grow.

Even if you are doing this very part time you will need entry fees and new tablecloths-whatever, there’s always something and craft supplies go on sale-wouldn’t it be nice to have money put aside to be able to buy some and not feel guilty?

Keep your receipts for everything!

Check the current tax laws but you may be able to deduct business in the home fees and many more items-when you buy paper towels sell part of them to the business if you use paper towels in your work-that way they are a deductable business expense-COSTCO can be your friend! You are buying for two now-but don’t try to deduct jelly bellys or beef jerky unless you eat them exclusively at craft shows-the IRS is not going to buy that as a business expense.

I actually used to make tins with candy in them and decorations on the outside and top-in that case the candy was prepackaged and I kept the Costco receipt with just my crafting food purchases along with the receipts for the tins and the supplies to make this item-never had a problem deducting it.

Do NOT do your own taxes when you are in business unless you are a former accountant and even then only if you are up on tax laws-you will be filing IWO or three returns depending on your romantic life-have it done by a professional!


Keep Notes
Keep Receipts
Make your business a business
Keep your personal stuff and your business stuff separate
Make new things, get new ideas and have fun

Remember magazines, periodicals and anything that is exclusively for the craft business is a tax issue and may be deductable so keep the receipt separate-if you buy Martha Stewarts Living it may not be a deductable as Altered Art magazine or Crafters Choice-copy of the check from the business account stapled to the receipts and all filed away=well done!

I would say it takes a good 6 to 12 shows over the period of a year or so to decide if you are going to be successful as a professional crafter and if you can make it a business.

You may enjoy doing it but if you aren’t making money…
HOBBY is the word that comes to mind.

Also some crafters stick with home and church boutiques, it’s less work hours staffing a booth and setting up-often you just drop off your stuff and an inventory list and then go back and collect what didn’t sell and a check.

I would miss the PEOPLE doing just those kinds of shows so I decided to make CRAFTS my life.

The next step up is to look for professional promoters who do shows in malls OR there may be a crafters area at your local county fair (you’re not ready for the STATE FAIR yet-even a county fair can be weeks of work days from early morning to late at night and cost thousands of dollars to do-we want to move up carefully and within the learning curve.

You need to read the information from promoters carefully-they may do several shows a month but you may not qualify for all the shows-some malls only allow flat art, jewelry and pottery no crafty things-others have specific exclusions-it all depends on the mall association-remember your sales cut into theirs even though you are what is supposed to be attracting bigger Crowds to the mall-that’s why they do mall shows.
I did a few and didn’t love them-so I moved on to convention center shows like THE HARVEST FESTIVAL.

You are now moving into a higher level of expectations of quality and content-you will need better displays and you can expect higher sales although they may or may not materialize.

The first year you try a bigger show circuit sign up for no more than two or three shows as close to home as possible-you can expand later-I would actually do ONE and learn from it.

Read the promoters info carefully-you will probably need your own lighting, walls, carpet, things must be flame proofed-no more sheets for table covers now you have to step upward and you will be paying way more for a 10 x 10 space…show fees are often hundreds of dollars plus electricity.

I would not DO a show that I had not attended=and go when the show should be busy like Saturday at 1 pm-how many people are there? Are they buying> WHAT are they buying? Do you see a lot of booths that look like yours (if so forget this show-too much competition) how is the quality of the work at the show, are the artists friendly?-there are also esoteric things to consider is the show crowded and there are not enough bathrooms? Is there food and drink for sale and is it TOO expensive? Are there places to sit down and relax or is it shop, shop, shop?

Customer comfort is very important-if they are paying 5 to 10 dollars to PARK, then another 10 dollars to get into the show and have to pay 20 bucks for a sandwich and a beverage-how much are they going to feel like spending more money for your work?

All you can do is go with your gut feeling and try it-use the same principals we’ve already discussed-prorate reusable investments, stick to a budget and get ready for the show with a reasonable sales projection-I would also schedule a “fall out” show for a week or two after a convention center show the first time you do one.

That gives you an answer when a customer ASKS where will you be showing next and also gives you a chance to sell anything you have too much of after the BIG show.

ALWAYS be courteous, smile and be exceptionally well groomed when you do shows-be VERY aware of your breath, be sure your fingernails are clean and watch out for cologne and perfumes-better to smell like a freshly bathed person than a perfume counter-I wear a slightly spicy cologne and very little of it at shows-spice tones and powder/soap smells are the least offensive to people-heavy floral can be deadly and drive them right out of your booth.

I had a beautiful booth with a lavish look at a show.

I invested in expensive rose chintz curtains for my displays-the whole booth was shabby chic with antique lace valances and that beautiful rose chintz so I thought I would guild the lily and used CASEWELL AND MASSEY essential TEA ROSE oil on the curtains in a mister so people would see roses and SMELL roses.

Do you know how many people are allergic to Roses?

Not only customers but my neighbors as well.

In part 3 I will move on to more information about circuit shows tours.

Monday, September 14, 2009

From Craft Faire to Craft Business-PART ONE

How to enter the craft faire market depends on what you’re selling and where you live.


What I want to share is some general information that I have distilled from over 40 years-yes FORTY I did my first outdoor art faire in 1969-of selling my goods at everything from street shows to major convention center shows across the USA.


There are many kinds of shows and you will probably want to start small-it can be remarkably expensive to do a craft faire, even a local one and there are many considerations like displays, weather and how well your product will stand being exposed to sunlight etc.

Visit as many shows in your area as you can, talk to artists that are showing work that is similar to yours-NEVER ask a jeweler or a potter about how shows are-for some reason they either do very well or terribly and are not a good gauge of how other types of art may be accepted.

There is usually an entry fee for shows I have paid as little as $10.00 and on occasion several thousand dollars-it usually depends on the length of the show, the advertising budget and the projected attendance-also you may be required to pay a percentage of your sales to the promoter-I do not do shows with the exception of upper end home boutiques where I don’t collect my own money for sales (there are shows with central cashiers and you get paid after the fact but how do you know what sold and what was shoplifted at such a venue?).

You need to consider how much you will invest in doing the show, do you need any kind of a business or vendors license and even if insurance is required-often fairs will ask you to carry liability insurance which is available through special event companies.

Once you have carefully considered the expense of doing the show you need to project how much you can potentially make from doing the event-my formula (and it’s a pretty good one) is this: for every 100 people attending 10 will look at your work and one or two will buy something.

Some books on the topic claim the standard is 4 to 5 percent of the attendees will buy something from you-I have been to shows where 20 plus percent bought and others where 1 percent bought so I go by my formula pretty religiously.

I would categorize shows as follows:

• Home or Church Boutiques
• Local park or street fairs sponsored by the city or a civic group
• Local shows in malls or parks sponsored by a small promoter
• Art Association shows
• Regional professional art shows
• Art Festivals produced by professional promoters
Craft and art show circuits in convention enters
• Holiday shows, County Fairs and other seasonal professional shows

2. COST versus SALES

OK so let’s make up a fictitious show and see how we will manage to make it profitable:

A local show is taking place in the park, it’s the 5th year running and you know it gets a good crowd; it also happens before Mothers Day and Easter and seldom rains on that weekend.

The park where it takes place is shady so a canopy is not needed just displays, chairs and products.

OH, some shows provide canopies but not many-my first easy up cost five hundred bucks-at one point I had 6 of them.

The entry fee is $50.00 for a 2 day show plus a $25.00 fee to the city for a vendor license there is no commission.

The show rules state that you cannot use card tables, all boxes must be stored under your display tables and no display can be higher than 6 feet-you have 10 feet wide by 10 feet deep in which to show your product and there is NO electricity.

Also tables must be covered to the ground with cloths and folding chairs are permitted but not lawn type chairs they must be directors chairs or other canvas type chairs with a professional look (OH YES they do get this technical).

$75.00 plus how much for your display materials?

That will depend on what and how much you are showing.
You will need tables or display panels of some kind and you will have to be able to set up quickly-often shows must be set up by a specific time and taken down and reset the next day, again by a specific time-how will you get your displays and your products to the show?

Will you need to rent or borrow a van or small truck? More expense, what about business cards? Pricing materials (if you use stickers make sure they are easily removable by YOU not the customers).

The first show you do will NOT be the most expensive-the BIGGEST show you do will be, but the first show will cost some money so set a budget and stick by it-I would say three 4 foot folding tables, sheets to use as covers (buy new ones in neutral colours at a discount store), some 52 inch square table toppers so your tables don’t look like they are covered with sheets-3 of those, one per table and 2 chairs, you will also need a sales book to write receipts get the carbonless kind, price tags and a tool kit of pens, tape, staplers etc, anything you MAY need-and your carefully packed merchandise.

Let’s say that all this costs another $150.00 for the displays (it’s a reusable investment) and another $200.00 for your merchandise, don’t forget the $75.00 we already spent to do the show.

$425.00 and that doesn’t include food and unforeseen expenses so let’s add $75.00 for those things-so were in $500.00 to do this show.

Now you have to price your items-remember you will not make a profit until you have made back the $500.00 it’s costing to do the show-you may want to prorate the cost of the displays over 10 shows that takes some of the pressure off so we need to clear $290.00 to make back the costs.

That’s $290.00 AFTER deducting the cost of making your items-if a decorated cigar box costs you 10.00 in supplies anything over that amount is your profit so selling them for $17.50 makes you $75.00 if you sell all 10, the $100.00 cost must be returned to expenses you only count your PROFIT toward the cost of the show.

SOME ARTISTS DISAGREE WITH ME ABOUT THIS (as do some accountants) because they say I am charging myself twice but if you spend $175.00 and you make $175.00 you are in the hole for the cost of your supplies so you can only count the amount OVER the costs.

You need to have items in a variety of prices ranges-always make sure you have clever little irresistible items that sell for less than $5.00 and even more that sell for less than $10.00.

As you learn your business you can edge up your prices.

My most famous item was known as Music Box in a Bag-you can find it on my portfolio under Country Folk Art-I put a 13 note music box movement in a bag with a bow and the winder stuck out through the back-$1.75 for the music box, 17 cents for the bag and maybe 50 cents for ribbon. (I started selling these in 1979).

I sold them first for $5.00-put the music box in the bag, hot glue the bag top shut insert winder cover glue with bow-I could do about 4 dozen an hour for which I paid myself $10.00-I valued each finished item at $2.50 and sold them for $5.00, then $6.00 by the time I stopped selling them I was getting from $10.00 to $12.50 per bag, I had cut the cost to $2.00 and could turn out 12 dozen (that would be a gross) per hour AND the bags were hand painted.

I still valued them at $2.50 because I had added 2 employees to help produce them but my profits had soared from $120.00 for 48 items to $360.00 for 48 items and I went from selling out 6 or 8 dozen per show to selling over 6 to 8 GROSS per show-but the shows at the end cost more and ran more days so it’s not quite a spectacular as it sounds-the point is find a great product and exploit it just make sure it’s original.

That was MY ten dollar winner.

Here's something scary to think about while you wait for part 2-when I wanted to do $20,000.00 at a show I figured I needed $30 to $40 thousand in stock so the booth wouldn't look picked over by the end of the show AND I usually did a 3 show circuit, 3 days per show at $1,500.00 entry plus electrial for a double booth (10 by 20 feet) that required a huge van and a huge wells cargo trailer loaded to the roofs plus luggage, a full time partner on the road and we drove from California to the east coast and did the shows in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania because we could make more money on the east coast-it usually took the better part of 6 weeks but I made about 20 to 25 thousand per show and as much as 50 thousand a show at Christmas-that meant I was carrying a quarter million dollars in stock (at retail) besides my elaborate displays, lights I did it I will never know-and I sold seasonal merchandise and usually did at least 2 if not 3 trips to the east coast a year plus a 17 day county fair where I had to build a building to house my booth and a week long Christmas spectacular in Vegas with 5 booths of Holiday decor the first week in December.

I also had 3 to 6 people working for me at home and often supplemented my goods with other crafters items (I charged them a commission to sell) OR I would buy hand made items while we were in the east and sell them back here at home-Amish and Mennenite items were great to fill in and use for saleable display pieces.

The answer to your question is 7 days a week from morning till often 1 or 2 am for about 6 or 8 weeks then hit the road for 6 weeks then come home and start over-I also would make things in motel rooms and even in the car while we drove-those music boxes were often put together in the motel rooms where we stayed between shows...6 months working to make the items and the other 6 to sell them.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

So you want to LICENSE your ART...

I have had a number of questions on two subjects LICENSING YOUR ART and HOW TO DO CRAFT FESTIVALS so in today’s post I will address the first topic and later this week I will attack the 2nd.

When you go into shops and even the supermarket and see images of sports figures, cartoon characters or artist’s works on products you are being exposed to the licensing business.

Many artists’ names come to mind immediately like Mary Englebreit, Thomas Kinkaide and Donna Dewberry when you discuss art and licensing.

Generally a company or an agency will approach an artist and discern their interest in the licensing market.

There are formal contracts and lawyers involved and eventually a product or products will be produced using the artist’s work or inspired by the artist’s work.

Mary Englebreit for instance went from direct representations of her illustrations on flat objects to elements pulled from her paintings on fabric and even 3 dimensional figurines.

If an artist is popular enough like Mary or Thomas Kinkaide (the painter of light) they don’t have to worry about being a sculptor or knowing the fabric business; products are produced in sample form and they lend their suggestions for alterations and details but in some cases never even see anything other than photos until the product is on the market.

I got into licensing by accident it happened that the owners of a needlework company called Candamar Designs here in California were at an art festival back in the 1980s where I was showing my pen and ink originals and they talked to me at the show, left a card and made arrangements for a meeting at their business.

I got to tour their factory in La Mirada and go to lunch, we agreed on the basics of an agreement and about 2 or three weeks later I received a contract which I ran by a lawyer.

Once the contract was in effect I loaned them artwork which they adapted as needlework kits with my name on them as designer and I was paid a royalty per kit sold.

KNOW that it can be months or even more than a year between signing with a company and ever seeing any money.

I know artists who signed contracts and had companies go out of business before they could ever collect any royalty checks.

Depending on the company and the product it can be anywhere from 2 percent to 7 percent of the wholesale price of the item and most companies will send you a detailed spreadsheet with the items sold, at what price and how much you were paid per piece and in total…I found that most companies paid quarterly but occasionally you will find a company that is small enough or staffed enough to pay monthly-T shirt companies and sometimes rubber stamp companies will pay a flat fee up front and you might be able to negotiate some free product but no royalties other companies will give you work money and a lower percentage still others have exotic combinations of all of the above so anything is possible.

I always made sure I got at least one or two PORTFOLIO pieces of the finished item, T Shirts I got a dozen and if the company paid a onetime fee I also negotiated from 2 to 12 free pieces that I could keep or sell-since I was doing a lot of art and craft shows I had a place to sell these products and it increased my take from allowing the companies to use my work-it also gave my regular customers new opportunities to purchase items when their walls were full of flat art or as gifts.

Also you can often make arrangements to buy your products from the company (under the normal rules their wholesale customers abide by) at wholesale prices.

If you don’t understand wholesale prices you need to educate yourself as a business person if you intend to venture into making your art a part of the Licensing field.

SELDOM is the wholesale price of any item HALF of the retail market price.

In the old days some products used to have the retail price printed on them-those were the days before bar codes.

Most items have a suggested retail value so for the sake of this discussion let’s say the item is $10.00 US.

Wholesale would be $5.00-that’s standard BUT let’s say the item is purchased by a major chain and they buy all or most of the product produced-they will negotiate a better deal; it could be 50/10, 50/25, or even 50,25/10.

That means you take the $5.00 wholesale and then deduct an additional percentage for quantity.

50/10 would be $5.00 less 50 cents (10%) or $4.50; 50/25/10 would be $5.00 less $1.25 (25%) less an additional $.37 cents (10% of $3.75) for a wholesale price of $3.38-if you have a 5% contract you get about 17 cents per unit sold.

Some items sell for so little that your percentage is based on dozens or even half or full grosses (a gross is 144 items).

If you are asked to license your work ask a lot of questions make notes and be sure that all you discuss is covered in the contract you sign-CLEARLY covered.

A T shirt, wearable’s and accessories company may take one design and produce it on several types of shirts each with a different price and each with a different minimum quantity required per size to purchase…they may also put the same design on tote bags and even towels-make sure you know how you are being paid, per item, per wholesale unit, per dozen???

A wholesale unit can be a specific prepacked quantity of any item that comes in sizes or a collection of designs like cards that come with a display or rack-there can be a discount on such a purchase because they are forced to take a lot of stock but also the company will not be paying you for the price of the display if it is not free so know the terms.

Every company I licensed with sent me a catalog and price sheets just as if I were a wholesale customer THEY set the prices, only the highly favored few artists at the top of the industry will ever be included in any price negotiations.

There are many books available on art as a business and I could go on and on with the intricacies of this business-don’t have your money spent before you make it and because you get a big check once don’t expect the same check every month-many licensed artists are happy if they get a hundred bucks a month average.

I’ve also saved the bitter truth for the very end-you are as good as your contracts-if you want to license your work you must be highly original but also very accessible to a wide variety of consumers-in other words you’d better be GOOD and you’d better be POPULAR.

Because you do well in one market it doesn’t mean you will do well in every market and your style can be in one day and out the next.

You also must produce new designs regularly or on demand depending on your agreement and many things you design will NOT be used by anyone-be sure you have clear cut agreements on how designs are licensed-is the company buying first rights, exclusive rights, right of first refusal etc...

The companies who use your designs are taking a huge risk that your work will make them money-if it doesn’t you’re out-read the cancellation clauses very carefully and once you are out make sure the company can’t go on using your art without paying you-it must all be in the contract.

Some companies even have liquidation clauses-if they have to dump your items to a discounter you get a small percentage of the remaining merchandise or NOTHING-be careful before saying yes to that one-again it must be clear in your contracts.

Finally, NEVER go into business with anyone on trust and a handshake (especially family or friends).

Always treat every transaction regarding your artwork like a business and have something in writing so there are no tears and bad feelings later on.

Some of the closest friendships in the world have ended because of business deals and partnerships that went south and there were no clear written agreements to refer back to-just DON’T DO IT!

It’s a lot of fun to go into a shop and see your work being displayed as wearable art or placemats or party napkins but there are very few artists who ever get the privilege of this experience and it gets harder every day in this bad economy.

I was turned down by an agent just recently because my work is “too dated” and no one wants the altered art or digital stuff there’s too much of it around all ready.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Give yourself TIME...

Sketchbook cover
Rick St, Dennis
1998 copyright

What kind of thinker are you?

Do you think in circles, squares, lines, shapes…what is your best guess?

I, myself, think in movements-the eye must be led from one place to another but must eventually come to rest at the center of interest having assimilated the images passed on the voyage.

Whether its colour or lines or shapes there is a way to compose elements so that this process is a success.

I have talked before in this blog about symmetry and asymmetry but composition is far more complex in most cases than simplistic descriptive titles.

A very symmetrical circle or pyramid can be populated by the most asymmetrical design entirely composed of symmetrical objects…as transparency and layers become involved shapes within shapes are created…it becomes extremely complicated like advanced mathematics.

Looking at samples of altered art, ATCs (artist trading cards) and even more complicated assemblage/collage pieces I see how simple some can appear and yet how much though and attention to composition has gone into them-conversely I see complicated, highly textured pieces that when dissected are very simple and many pieces that bridge the range of possibilities between the two.

A way to start looking at how you think is to doodle, grab a student grade sketch pad from the local drug store stationary department and use a pencil-whenever you have a few minutes just put down shapes and shapes on shapes-make yourself little challenges like a pleasing combination of 5 circles of different sizes or 1 circle, one square and one rectangle and all must overlap at least one of the others but none can be contained entirely within another shape.

Teach yourself…forge a path and see where you repeat yourself then challenge yourself to break your own patterns.

I have old sketch books full of bizarre renderings of abstract and representational compositions, pages with nothing but eyes, noses and endless variations of hands.

I never asked anyone’s opinion of any of these exercises or personal assignments because, going back to my previous post, they were done for me not for anyone else’s critique.

I could see that I had a problem with hands, also the way heads sat on necks and how bodies changed when they were twisted and back then I had no access to life drawing classes or nude models so I worked until I was successful within my own vision of what I wanted to achieve.

Beyond this I looked at many books and images that showed things like Disney’s approach to animation, Frank Frazetta’s approach to motion, Beardsley’s arrangements of lines and compositions, literally anything from which I could cull a sense of vision however diverse that vision might be.

Remember WALTER FOSTER art books? I lived for them, I devoured them.

And PBS art lessons even when they were bad…when you are hungry enough even bad recipes can nourish the body, same with bad art, you learn sometimes more from what is terrible and nourish your sight in a positive way.

In later years after I did have a few life drawing classes and instruction in rendering fabrics and how to portray textures and objects in two dimensions I honed my skills and built upon the base of what I had taught myself.

I kept the parts I liked and layered upon those selected parts of what I had learned.
Showing my art at street fairs and art shows where the public feels not only at liberty to comment on your work but almost compelled to let you know their opinions I was compared to Beardsley and called “Disneyesque” and whimsical-Frazetta like…those who viewed my work would pick out the parts of each picture that I had learned from looking at that artistic style in the milieu of that with which they were familiar.

I always thought I was very much influenced by Alphonse Mucha and for a period my work was very arte nouveau but eventually I became very much me, I developed my own style.

Through all of this and as recently as immediately before I started this blog entry I have never stopped doodling and I have never stopped making lessons, challenges for myself…little assignments that stretch me to do something in an area where I am not as strong as others.

I can stand over you and I can show you how I see in your work but I can’t make you see it-that’s your job-I can guide but I will never force a vision.

It is consummately hard to put into words concepts which are better demonstrated-maybe someday in the future there is another book or a video or a holographic data disc that will make all this easier for me-what I am trying to do, and I know I have been repetitive and will continue to state the same concepts in alternate ways, what I am trying to do is get you to start moving forward, to believe in your ability to do whatever you envision and to have confidence in the process-YOUR process.

When you feel it is too simplistic see it more complex and when it is too complex edit yourself.

Do it in doodles.

I will see something in my head but not the fully completed piece so I doodle it out-I play with various possibilities and arrangements-almost invariably the answer will come to me or I will find a new direction that is superior to the one I was originally set on.

I even doodle in Photoshop-it’s not messy, easy to erase and move components and change colours-typestyles and textures…I dump as much as I keep because often I am playing and in playing I learn so it is never time wasted.

Finally GIVE yourself the gift of time-even if its ten minutes early in the morning or late at night.

We become so invested in the “have tos” of life that we neglect the “want tos”.
Allow yourself the time to do something you want to do because it enriches you.

I assure you that you will become a kinder, more tranquil, less stressed and anxious person-maybe not immediately but at the point at which you stop feeling guilty and realize that the time you allot to yourself is no different than exercise, diet and medication in the total health of your mind and body.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

How to swing on a TRAPEZE...

I have been thinking…

I should be actually creating something but instead I have been thinking about creating something.

Life is like that sometimes.

There are occasions when what I want to do seems so daunting that to even contemplate a beginning sets me into a backward motion.

There are those who think what I do comes easy to me and without any birth pangs----wrong!!!!

I remember seeing a trapeze artist in the circus when they still had circuses in tents; her big trick was in the midst of a huge swing her trapeze seemed break away and she plummeted toward the floor catching the merest edge of a bar with her toes.

It wasn’t easy, it didn’t look easy and I’ll bet she did a lot of thinking and practicing before she attempted the feat without a net.

As artists we have no net.

We do, but often we don't see that we do.

Our practice failures usually go in the round file and we then fall into deep depressions because we have failed ourselves again.

Did we fail or did we think we failed?

A trapeze performer would know because the floor rushing up to meet them would be validation enough.

As artists we have only our own sense of plummeting and insecurity to gauge by-what others say or any reassurances don’t hold the weight of a good solid smashup from 30 feet up.

Do we know when we have done something that is good enough OR is it ever good enough?

I think yes, I think every creative person has done something that they are proud of then they spend a great deal of time and energy trying to do it again and again instead of comparing each thing only to itself.

This exercise in futility is what makes us melancholy and insecure.

How do we stop the treadmill and start going forward?

How do we perform without a net?

We must do two things and take them seriously to heart:

The first is we listen only to our own inner voice that knows if what we have done is satisfying to our self.

Doesn’t have to be great or a first prize winner it just has to be OK by your standards.

This requires one to set the standard high but not so high that every challenge will be a flop.

Secondly, and this one is hard, we have to go ahead and put it out there in that bright spotlight where our work is subject to critique and back stabbing bastards, morons with no taste and even a fan or two who tell us they love our work-we smile and ignore all of them…

UNLESS you are in a class and you trust the ability of the instructor to give you an honest critique from which you will learn and advance-smile and ignore all comments good and bad-be gracious but be like Teflon-nothing sticks.

I have seen some really bad art produced by people who have no clue that what they do is really terrible and here’s the jibe-they are successful they sell the crap as if it were fabulous.

I have seen wonderful artists who sit beside their displays at art shows and are so apologetic that people walk by and never notice that they missed a treasure because they were beguiled by the crap with a personality.

For every one of the latter I assure you that there are a hundred at home that never even took the plunge-they are happily swinging on their trapeze with no intention of any daredevil antics like putting their art on public display.

IF you thought of it as something else would it make a difference? If it weren’t the product of your creativity but something mechanical you did well-MATH comes to mind…

It would be no different because we are programmed to have this ego connected to everything we do, the product of our doing is scrutinized and judged and graded-or so we perceive-and we often fail in our own eyes.

I ACHE, more than that----I suffer empathetically along with someone who doesn’t begin to know how to believe in themselves-I’m not a champ at the process but I have had some success with a few trapeze stunts when there wasn’t much of a net because I had people who were there to catch me when and if I fell.

I read or hear someone going on about how insecure they are about their ability and I want to instantly bandage the wounds and smack whoever made them so…scared…fragile.
Some say a good smack upside the head would knock some sense into the insecure, fragile one…I disagree they have been smacked enough.

NOW there are those people for whom DRAMA is a lifestyle, they live and breathe it-they know very well they are good at whatever they do but without the drama the entire exercise is without a certain perverse reward…they get the praise and they get the safety net and all the while they are getting away with murder (metaphorically).

I think DRAMA QUEEN is over used but I was recently accused of moving in a sphere of Drama myself.

I had to think about it long and hard and I realized my safety net is a bit tattered and just maybe I was a little guilty of needing some extra attention.

While I am not proud of this admission I am willing to share it because I am not by far perfect and I think there in a humanist quality to needing even if it is not in the best way.

Also having recognized it for what it is I can move away from it and back towards practice, thinking and finally going for the big TAH DAH!

I know I am on very new and unexplored ground artistically these days but I have enough tools and abilities to see me through these first difficult explorations into unknown territory-I will prevail because I want to.

And there it is; for all the thinking and compulsing and anxiety and whatever else holds us back from doing the thing we are dreading in the end we must WANT to do it.

We must want to do it and we must take as much of our ego out of it as possible-we are not trapeze artists, we are not going to hit the concrete in the center ring at 90 miles an hour in front of a crowd of cheering audience members, we are simply people who want to express themselves with creativity and we express ourselves in a way that speaks to ourselves.

What others think or how they perceive what we do doesn’t matter, their grades are irrelevant, their opinions are as well so long as we have been true to our vision and pleased the hardest person to please-our inner self.

Now that you know how to swing on a trapeze do you think you might contemplate something more...dangerous?

You KNOW you want to,

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Process...

digital assembleage
September, 2009
Copyright Rick St. Dennis MFA

How do you start out to create a digital assemblage piece?

With an idea; I am sharing a piece here that I just finished that has a Carnival/Halloween theme but it is (as you can see) more complex than that.
(Larger version available on my online Portfolio under assemblage

What it is about exactly is up to the viewer.

Is the woman the source of the intrigue or is she caught up in it? How do the children fit in and who is the man?

I’ve added clues-the lipstick print, the spilled liquid (is it blood) the spider is crawling away from the web but look at how the shapes touch and where is the woman looking?

To me my compositions must tell a story.

This particular piece started with the strange picture of the masked children lined up against a wall-they reminded me of prisoners about to get shot-executed…

The masks were strange and alien and from there I evolved a story of a carnival passing through town at Halloween-I remembered Ray Bradbury’s story about the “AUTUMN PEOPLE” and I decided the man was the culprit here.

The children are the victims and the woman is caught in the web of love, lust and murder.

Add a little bit of the arcane and wrap them all in circles that entrap them and you have the” Carnivale Bizarro”…a place where no one wants their child to go.

The background for this piece is entirely layered out of transparent layers that are composed of yellows and purples-a touch of hot pink-the shapes of the stars pierce the layers so that textures are fragmented.

I then added the man and ravaged him by editing out parts of the picture make him “not a whole person”, remember I think in puns and euphemisms.

The devil masks went in next then the children then the woman and in between various circular elements that make a web of their own, entrapping the players in a maze from which there is no escape.

By erasing the image of the web into the image of the woman I also made her fragile-she is caught in a web but she is also shattered like glass-that is how my thought processes work.

I can't just make pretty pictures-there needs to be a narrative in the background with some substance for me to be happy.

I had actually finished the entire piece and saved it and I just wasn’t satisfied so I went back in an added the half skull mask-finally “fingering” the man as the agent of death.

I somehow wanted more words but I just couldn’t find a place where they added to the composition or satisfied me so I did as I advise students-I edited myself and left anything else out…

The wonderful thing about digital art is that I can go back at any point in the future and add or subtract from this composition since I save everything in an open layers format-I then save a flattened version ay a high resolution and compress one for the web.

Many people don’t know that anything over 72 ppi is wasted as that’s what the web handles.

I like CS4 so much now that I have made friends with it-we still argue now and then but it does have some wonderful features that make life a great deal easier.
I hope this short explanation answers the initial question in this post, “How do you start…”?

I suppose the easy answer would be with COLOURS but for me the finish is inherent in the starting it’s a process and often finishing one piece starts the next-that’s how my alphabet came to be.

OH...picking the colour for the type was the hardest part of finishing this piece-I was drawn to a colour more garish for the "Carnivale" title but I couldn't make it work-I accidentally tried this dull teal and it was perfect for my vision.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


I love to think outside the box…

My brain seems to function in that way without actually taking a journey in that direction.

My particular “strength” is the elevated pun (see my online portfolio “T” under alphabet).

When I was producing my alphabet I didn’t actually start out to even come near any letter being a “normal” interpretation such as one would find in a children’s alphabet book.

A is for Apple has no apple in sight rather it is a comment on Eve and Eden, I is about an emotion, a perceived personality trait not frozen water.

In each composition the images and the text support the letter more that the letter inspiring the artwork.

Vitruvian you must admit is a somewhat esoteric word to represent V-it is of course a composition based on Di Vinci,

There is also a colour rhythm that may not leap off the page at you on first viewing but watch from square to square how certain colours weave their way throughout the collection. They are anchors that help the viewer along.

Many colours were sampled from the main image in the separate piece-N for instance was inspired by the
picture of an eccentric Frenchman posed fetchingly in a sea of sienna tulle-the close play of skin tones and fabric made this then altered image irresistible as NUDE…not what one might expect as a classic nude but evocative of all nudes.

Toward the end I was in a place mentally where I really wanted to diverge from my letter if for word format and thus TEA is for Toad and Y NOT? were born.

Again puns, but X is for the unknown is just classic math and the nexus of this
image is in the quote “There’s danger in the unknown”.

I really enjoyed doing the alphabet so much so that I have been going back and adding second version like the ALICE “A” included in my slide show on this blog-how many I do will be dependent on my inspirations-I also have started a file for the 7 deadly sins-they will be large and more complex but starting them lead me into Vampire images-don’t ask me how-that’s just how my demented brain is wired.

I am extremely into layering and sometimes I doubt anyone but me can begin to pick out how many elements are buried in the backgrounds before any other images go on top-the transparency becomes an important tool-almost nothing in any of my compositions is 100% opaque.

I also have gotten heavily into using brushes as erasers and especially to soften the edge of pictures that I drag into a composition-I want them to exist in a state of early decay, worn away, ghostly.

If you ever have the chance and it’s the right time of year by all means visit BODIE (a California ghost town) and nearby MONO LAKE a strange world of Volcanic forms, strange spires of TUFA (the mineral deposits left behind by hot springs) and a ghost town that has been preserved in a state of arrested decay.

The colour palette is narrow; the light is peculiar and harsh especially in the early hours of morning.

You can find some great images of BODIE online but none of them so justice to the experience of wandering through it yourself.

I was there as the sun came up and cows were my only company as they grazed their way through town towards higher pastureland in the next valley.

The close play of colours and how there are certain colours that lead your eye (or assault it as the case may be) are fascinating.

This is I think, how I am wired.

BODIE is very hard to reach-they have kept is so on purpose but I have been there a number of times.

The site draws you on an artistic level-this isn’t Knott’s Berry Farm or some roadside attraction where they have attempted to capture a memory, what exists here is a part of the past or was naturally here.


Even Pompeii where people actually died on the site didn’t affect me like BODIE-Pompeii is eerie and horrifying for knowing about the misery and suffering that were a huge part of the cities end but BODIE is a place that is waiting for a return, a town that was deserted because it had no more to offer, the suffering is in the buildings not in it’s inhabitants.

Places like this are enormous influence on what come out in my art later but often not as you might expect.

I took from Bodie a collection of colour pallets and textures, perhaps an appreciation for the compositions of still life’s in time, Gettysburg left me with emotions which have haunted me ever since I visited there I have yet to grasp those emotions firmly enough to put them into my work but they will be there eventually…Valley Forge is all about pink and white because it was the first time I saw dogwood in bloom…

As artists we collect so many images, colours and fragments that eventually find their way into our painting, drawings and other work.

Perhaps the difference in what I do is to use the inspirations in ways that have nothing to do with the actuality of the place from whence they are drawn.

This is not to say that some element of the emotional aspects of the place don’t find their way in or influence the end product, they may and they have but not as often as you might guess.

Going outside the box requires leaving behind just a bit of the totality of a memory, I carry the strongest elements with me and a bit of the subtlety but not all-it is a snap shot that becomes layered with other snapshots so at the end I may be seeing Bodie layered with Summer grass in the Hudson River Valley and flowers from a late afternoon in Tarry town overlain with sunset in Santa Fe and rock formations along Interstate 40-they are all components in the great stored image library in my head.

Dragging out a word or a song lyric can bring the images with them and then I cherry pick the collection to my benefit.

I don’t know if this gives you an idea of how my creative process works-I have never actually tried to explain it before and I’m not sure I know why I wanted to share it now-I guess because I am on unfamiliar ground and as I venture forth I am more aware of how and why I do thing than I might be in more familiar territory.

I hope you take away some inspiration from this post.

Thinking outside the box in somewhat scary foreign territory can be exilliarting fun and I recommend it highly.

Only you can decide to go there...once you have crossed outside your comfort zone you may find it hard to come back.

Whether or not that is a good thing is something you will need to decide.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


It has been oppressively hot here in Southern California, Made worse by the smoke from numerous wild fires and the humidity flooding up from the south.

Despite the fact that we seem to have had hot weather for many years here, homes are just not constructed to fend off high heat, humidity and likewise cold and damp conditions.

We are used to mid to high 70s and when it rains we all stare at the sky like baby turkeys, most of however do not drown in the process.

Hot weather and I do not get along, I have always hated it and much prefer foggy, overcast and cool like San Francisco and Seattle however I like the terrain down here and the way things are less claustrophobic so I guess I’m stuck.

When I left the San Fernando Valley and moved to the beach I left my AC behind as well.

Air conditioning wasn’t needed this close to the surf line in times past now it may be an expense I will have to bear.

I don’t feel particularly creative when it is so miserable and close, I can hardly breathe much less consider exercising the agility of mind needed to put colours and images together to make good designs.

What I want to do is lay immobile in the breeze from a fan and do absoluty as little as possible.

Its cooler today, I can actually think enough to blog but even the heat from my lap top is irritating.

Oft times when I don’t physically ART I will think art and consider possible creations entirely within my head.

I have tried to explain in the past that I see, I think in images…so when I look at a blank surface the basics of a composition are already there-not however on the surface but rather in my head.

Then it’s a matter of getting those ideas down so that my brain doesn’t run ahead of my hand.

Colours and textures get changed and amended small changes get made, it’s all about adjustments and tweaking isn’t it?

I believe that some artists get frustrated because they are unable to tweak.
I found this to be true when teaching decorative painting.

Many painters had become consummate copyists but in that process has lost their ability to change things to their own tastes (something which I attempted to encourage).

While I fought in vain to teach ART they were stubbornly dedicated to something else.
Being at crossed purposes with ones students can only lead to a bad end.

I think I reached some people in the midst of all that frustrating collision of styles and techniques, at least there were those who told me I did.

At the end of the day the most important thing I suppose is to have somehow made a difference in the rocky road another travels.

If you can move a stone or two out of their way or send them down a less irregular path then you are successful as a teacher, perhaps the most important thing is to show them the way to navigate between the rocks and still stay on course-I haven’t yet come to a conclusion about any of this.

I always want people I come in contact with to do well and feel good about themselves.

As I’ve often said we are all damaged people, we persevere in spite of the damages we suffer.

When there is a huge rift in our lives it seems as if nothing will ever be the same again and many of us abandon the single thing we need the most, our creativity, almost as if we are punishing ourselves and withholding the thing we love most.

Perhaps we feel it’s disrespectful or self indulgent to do something that makes us feel good when we are expected to feel so bad, another one I have no decision on yet, I do however have a theory:

I think it’s like oppressive heat we are made immobile by the weight of discomfort, sadness, illness, whatever and we have to get to cooler climes metaphorically in order to function in that way again.

I think it was so in my life.

As I have come back for a very nasty time I redevelop a bit at a time but it has taken the longest to get back to being exited about creating again!

I am still rallying my resources, I am collecting bits of this and that, I don’t think we even aware how we discard and push away things that could tempt us.

Then there is that long arguing with one’s self about rejoining life.

Those who are creative are luckier than some others in that we do have a muse that is insistent and alluring, we can be tempted and we eventually will give in, at least most of us will.

ART has seen me through some really glum times.

On the other hand I have gone without it, at least without a major form of creativity, for long periods but have always come back eventually however much changed I was in the interim.

I can’t imagine my life without ART and I hope there will never be a reason that have to.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


I was looking at the moon this evening-orange and huge, floating on the horizon in the wafting smoky haze created by fires here in southern California and for some reason I thought of this song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta THE MIKADO:

The sun, whose rays
Are all ablaze
With ever-living glory,
Does not deny
His majesty —
He scorns to tell a story!
He don't exclaim,
"I blush for shame,
So kindly be indulgent."
But, fierce and bold,
In fiery gold,
He glories all effulgent!
I mean to rule the earth,
As he the sky —
We really know our worth,
The sun and I!
I mean to rule the earth,
As he the sky —
We really know our worth,
The sun and I!

Observe his flame,
That placid dame,
The moon's Celestial Highness;
There's not a trace
Upon her face
Of diffidence or shyness:
She borrows light
That, through the night,
Mankind may all acclaim her!
And, truth to tell,
She lights up well,
So I, for one, don't blame her!
Ah, pray make no mistake,
We are not shy;
We're very wide awake,
The moon and I!
Ah, pray make no mistake,
We are not shy;
We're very wide awake,
The moon and I!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

MONDAY, MONDAY...can't trust that day...

Monday's child is fair of face,
Tuesday's child is full of grace,
Wednesday's child is full of woe,
Thursday's child has far to go.
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child works hard for a living,
But the child born on the Sabbath Day,
Is fair and wise and good and gay.

I am Saturday’s child, alas…

There was an ongoing discussion about this since I was drug into this world on July 16 of a year near the exact center of the century past.

If there was spring forward that year then I was actually born on the 15th which far more reflects my opinion of my personal attributes.

“Loving and giving” suits me to a tee (T? Tea?).

There are those who will disagree (mostly born on Wednesdays) and who cares about anyone else’s opinion on this topic anyway? I am drawn to Friday and have never found any fascination with Saturday one way or the other.

I do and have worked hard for my living to that I will agree. I wish I had been better at just walking over people and had been just basically more selfish all round-I would have more to show for the work.

I also wish I had been far more adept at saving money. I earned a fair amount and I spent it or gave it away.

I do have a treasure from all my work (though that too is dwindling)-I have wonderful friends mostly from their association with my artwork in some manner. Friends are true treasures.

My generation has been so decimated not only by war and AIDS but by other illnesses as well-many of the girls I went to school with have died from assorted cancers and the boys from heart attacks.

There have also been a rash of drowning, hit and runs and other accidents that have harvested the souls of those who played important parts in my past.

I heard a theory that we notice death more at a point in our lives when the generation before us (parents especially) are gone and we take up the duty of standing sentry at the portal between this life and the next.

Having lived through Vietnam and AIDS I have to say that I was well aware of my mortality long before I became an orphan.

It’s another odd part of my way of perceiving things but I defined myself as an orphan when my mother died in 2006 – I wonder how many of us bother to think about that or picture ourselves in that light?

Children are allowed to be orphans and are the focus of some fair amount of sorrow, pity and cuddling.

As adults it’s sort of a sympathy card and a potted plant-then we are expected to cinch up our suspenders and get on with it.

A bit of a cheat don’t you think?

I wanted and needed a great deal of pity and cuddling…I got the cards and potted plants in abundance.

Not that friends were lacking in their attentions, they weren’t-I think we don’t consider that anyone over say 16 or 17 may need to be held while they weep on the sofa while the delicious fragrance of bread pudding wafts in from the kitchen.

People send plants for funerals why don’t we change that tradition and start sending candy or assorted pastries; Baklava would have really taken the edge off my misery.

I don’t go to funerals-I find them barbarous and useless.

The loved one isn’t there nor are they sitting around in spirit form keeping track of who was or wasn’t sitting there miserable while the funeral director counted up the proceeds and lamented that he/she couldn’t convince the bereaved to buy the solid bronze urn.

I don’t think anyone I knew would have wanted me to be any more unhappy than I already was…OH! And another thing, WHY do we bury people in SUITS or other such uncomfortable garments?

I like the idea of pajamas or a caftan, something silky and luscious - no shoes, no belts and no sports coats that open up the back so they don’t have to break your arms to put it on…YUCK!

I’m ranting again, sorry, this is a part of my therapy and if I can’t share this with you then who?

We owned the plot already BUT my Mother’s funeral ended up costing somewhere around $16,000.00, I’m not sure for what; my sister took care of it.

I was home grieving, sick and miserable…I did NOT attend, Mother knew I would not attend we had discussed it and it distressed her.

She would have preferred I be there HOWEVER I expressed to her that she would be in heaven getting reacquainted with those that had gone before her and probably playing Canasta with my Grandma not hovering in angelic gauze over the green metal casket (floral tribute additional-a LOT additional).

Regardless I am a very loving and giving person no matter what day I was born on or the fact that I don’t go to funerals.

I write a hell of a sympathy card and usually send flowers in lieu of potted plant though I must admit that I did on a couple of occasions get caught up in the terrarium craze and those went off to the bereaved…my belated apologies for the lack of chocolate or bread pudding.

I am actually astonished by the fact that funeral establishments do NOT sell confections as a part of their services…

Probably health regulations or some such don’t you think?

You can find out what day of the week you were born they have many such free services on the web---one such site also had the poem that I cut and pasted above.

See, they were thinking, THEY should be in the funeral business.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What do you SEE?

There are things you can look at and then there are things that you need to SEE…really see.

We should have classes in how to see when we are very young – they used to try, we were taken to the natural history museum but few people are qualified to actually train another person how to look at something.

I always thought ‘art appreciation” was a strange name for a class.

How do you teach someone to appreciate something?

I suppose a criminal locked up long enough learns to appreciate their freedom and someone who has never had good cooking and suddenly is exposed to good cooking can appreciate that one dish may be prepared better than another …but art is such a personal experience.

I guess I learned to appreciate the work that goes into various “art” pieces and techniques but it is subjective on my part and as I’ve said previously what I like is not necessarily what the “experts” find wonderful.

Seeing happens…you have to want it to happen and if you do, it will.

It’s a matter of looking at a sunset and not seeing a sunset but rather the delicate assemblage of colours and shapes that make up the scene before you.

You look at a piece of fruit and you start to see apples as not just red, green or yellow but made up of many very delicate values and colours in a wide range.

The closer the play of values you can discern the better you have learned to see.
I was trying to teach my nephew once about composition and tonality in black and white photography, we were out shooting bits of this and that around town.

At one point I saw that the shadow something created was more intriguing than the very complex item that made the shadow.

A reflection can be far more interesting than that which is reflected.

Fragments arranged carefully exceed the value of the whole.

The Hudson River school of art taught people of the time how to appreciate a spectacular view in one glance. There is a “too muchness” to it as beautiful as it all may be.

I prefer a close up to a wide angle in many cases but then I look at what Stanley Kubrick did with BARRY LYNDON…

Barry Lyndon is not a very good movie mostly because Ryan O’Neil is terribly cast in his part.

Marissa Berenson hardly says a word but looks as if she stepped out of a painting from the period, she didn’t need to act. Poor Ryan on the other hand doesn’t act very well and despite being handsome just seems uncomfortable and silly…STILL…

There are long shots in Barry Lyndon that make you catch your breath mixed with close-ups that are equally wonderful and filled with detail and subtlety.

The film has been called “painterly”.

I think there are a number of films that fall into this genre of being glorious eye candy.

Today we are so busy trying to figure out what parts are CGI that we hardly have a chance to enjoy the grandeur of a vista or the delicacy of a detail.

I wonder if THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (film with Daniel Day Lewis) was really appreciated for the complexity of its details.

How many films take time to lovingly wander down a well set table, examine a delicate diamond pin or linger over the art on the walls of a room where the action is taking place?

There’s a famous Bougereau heavily featured in the film as well which immediately gives whoever had the good taste to include high kudos.

ART today has stopped being about grand vistas.

I’m not sure I totally understand the trends but some of it I find fetching indeed, some of the things that are being done grab me and spin me around in a way that is absolutely unique to NOW.

Someone witty once said that a portrait is “a painting of someone with something wrong with the mouth”.


A portrait can tell you a great deal about the subject if it is done well.

Do an image search on U S Presidential portraits…it’s a fascinating commentary on art over a couple hundred years in America.

The portrait of Kennedy stands out…it seems to speak about him as a contemplative man some of the later paintings seem to belong on postcards…perhaps that was the intent.

Salvador Dali was an artist that loved to have his portrait done and loved to do portraits-it makes another interesting search for a lazy afternoon to peruse both…his portrait of Mae West is especially interesting.

So this post was about Seeing, learning to see…in writing it I learned that I have many ideas about many ways of seeing so the best I can do is suggest some things for you to look at as I have done.

An Amsel Adams photograph may never replace the actual viewing of the Yosemite Valley or the Grand Canyon but it will help you toward a new way of looking at or seeing either just as a Georgia O’Keefe painting is yet another view of the desert distilled through an artist’s eye.

Next time you see a very ornate painting try to look at the details and not the entirety of the composition…there are many fine painting that could be cut into several smaller pieces that would be superior to the whole.

In an earlier piece I wrote about my teacher Rachel Ulrey; I was doing a watercolour of a street scene, tenements in a row, very advanced for me.

She suggested that a study of one window might be a better place to start-the irony of which was lost on me for many years…everything starts with a single step not a tap dance routine.

What I have said to my students is this: look for a single flower in deep shadows, much harder to find than a daisy in a field of daisies…it’s about stopping, carefully looking and finally seeing.

Gallery of presidential portraits: