Notes from the Studio

The Aging Artist: When Your Collectors Want Advice on Downsizing

Recently an aging client from years gone by contacted me about reselling one of my paintings.  He is downsizing and wanted to know what gallery handles my resales.  That I am not nearly famous enough for that probably disappointed him.  I made some suggestions and provided informative links.  His dilemma is increasingly common, and you might do well to consider tackling the downsizing subject in your own newsletter or blog.


Please note, the guidelines and expectations for reselling high- and middle-end art by nationally known artists, deceased or living, are not the same as for lesser known living regional artists.  This article is for the collector who purchased artwork simply because of its appeal—and not because of any idea that it might increase in value.


Downsizing your art collection or inventory is a challenge.  In my experience selling pre-owned art is much more difficult than selling new art through galleries.   The challenges are:

  • Art buyers want the artist/gallery experience.  Without it, they are less willing to shell out big bucks.
  • It is difficult to create an attractive display of the art you want to sell without having strangers invade your home.  And if you put the work in a garage/yard sale, you will get pennies on the dollar.
  • In most cases, if you attempt resale, you will not get what you paid for the piece.  Few local/regional artists become so hot that their early work appreciates significantly.
  • Some frame styles become dated.
  • Frames that look worn or damaged from abrasions or cigarette smoke detract from the total value.
  • A smoke-darkened painting likewise has compromised value.

So what can you do?

  • Donating the artwork to a qualifying charity* may be the easiest route.  Check with the current IRS regulations on the donation of art and collectibles.
  • Giving art to family and friends is best appreciated when the recipient gets a painting he/she previously admired.
  • If you have quite a lot of art and collectibles that need to go, contact an estate liquidation expert. They might be willing to handle it.
  • Collectors, recognize that you received years of enjoyment from the art work.  Art is a risky investment, and you need to be very astute or lucky to come out ahead.
  • If you work through a resale gallery, expect to pay about 50% in commission.  Assuming you want to recover your purchase price, a painting you paid $500 for would have to resell for about $1,000.  Is that really likely to happen? 
  • Don’t charge for sentimental value.

*Qualifying charities are not limited to Salvation Army and Goodwill.  Following natural disasters, there are often temporary donation centers for good-condition home furnishings and art available free to those who lost everything.  Churches and senior-centers often accept appropriate art.  Use your imagination and ask around for more potential recipients.  And don’t forget to verify that the donation will qualify for a tax deduction.


This 2015 link to IRS addresses regulations for charitable donation of art and collectibles:


This 2013 article may be slightly dated, but is full of helpful information in lay language:


These links will be less reliable with age.  Please do your own research for current law.

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Book Review: The Art Forger, by B. A. Shapiro

The 1990 theft of thirteen art works from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston is the distant backdrop for this mystery novel.  Briefly, a talented artist who augments her income by painting legal high-quality copies of masterworks is drawn into the world of illegal forgeries.


In spite of a little hole in the story-line, I enjoyed the mystery and history.  Most of all, I ate up Shapiro’s descriptions of Degas/Claire’s painting process:  I painted vicariously.  And when I came to my easel this morning I painted better, and with more pleasure, than usual.  Clearly, the technical aspect of painting interests me. 


I recommend The Art Forger as a fun and sometimes inspiring read--especially if you are an oil painter.

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The Aging Artist: Staying Creative in a Retirement Community

Many artists are approaching retirement, or are already there.  I use the term “retirement” very loosely, because artists usually just keep on doing what they do until they no longer can see, or hold a brush, or handle the heft of clay.  


Long before we sold our home, we considered whether to move into an “over 55” community, which is simply a senior development, or to move into a continuing care retirement community (CCRC).  We chose a CCRC because we do not have children to take care of us when we begin to fail.


The CCRC we selected is a new high-tech 30-story high-rise with handy public transportation, close to art galleries, museums and theaters.  I never thought of myself as a city girl, but boy, did I change quickly.  I would not go back to the challenges of my lovely home:  In a handful of years before we moved two friends had been seriously injured in falls off their roofs, and another two friends had died in falls down their stairs.


This article has suggestions for selecting a CCRC in which you can continue to flourish as an artist.


What artists should look for in a CCRC

  • Generous community studio space.  It may or may not have natural light (ours is in the basement) but it should have bright lighting, sturdy tables, comfortable chairs, and ample space for a variety of art and craft activities.  Ask about the budget for arts and crafts, and the frequency of classes and creative activities.  Having a director in charge of this is not necessarily an asset:  We plan our own classes, hire instructors and volunteer ourselves.  We get what we want.
  • The apartment/house you are considering should be large enough to allow you to have a scaled down studio.  Click here and read the blog entries to see how I adapted a small room to painting.  I also quilt here.  I don’t recommend using the community’s studio as your personal studio.  That can be very limiting and inconvenient unless it is all you can afford, and it gives you no privacy.
  • Other artists in the CCRC.  My CCRC attracted many working artists.  Some are active in the community studio, others are not.  Never the less, we all know and encourage each other.  A few maintain off-site studios, a good option if your apartment is small and you are mobile.
  • An art activities budget provided by the CCRC.  Our art committee prepares and submits a budget for activities and materials for the year.  It is always approved.
  • An active, inclusive art committee if there is no activities director.  Get a calendar of current activities in the studio.  Plan on becoming part of that committee.   Make your contribution to a vital creative experience for all residents.  If you can, attend some of the art activities to gauge their quality.
  • Other happy, active artist residents.  Ask your contact person to introduce you to resident artists.  Have dinner with some of them before you make a commitment.  Are they happy?  Friendly?  Have they tried and enjoyed new creative activities since moving in?  Come armed with lots of questions—they will be happy to answer, I guarantee you.

We have oil painters, water colorists, weavers, sculptors (clay, metal and wood), photographers, print makers, quilters, wearable art seamstresses, book makers, miniaturists—all in residence.  It is glorious.  I am surrounded by more creativity on a daily basis than I was in my private home.


New and updated CCRCs are not your grandmother’s rest home.  Increasingly, they are designed to promote a very active and involved lifestyle, physically and intellectually.  New communities offer larger residences.  Most have apartment style living, but some also offer individual houses.  If you choose apartment style, check for good sound-proofing.  My CCRC is so heavily sound-proofed we do not hear anyone’s TV or flushing toilet.


Location may or may not be important to you.  Some cities have a more vibrant art scene than others, and this may affect your choice.   Do your homework—don’t just select the one closest to your kids. Selecting a CCRC—the place you will live for the rest of your life—is a big job.  It is far better to make the move when you are healthy, rather than under duress.


There are books and online information that will help you choose the right CCRC.  The most important factors are the quality of care and the financial stability of the CCRC.  However, I don’t know of any sources that will help you find a place that will fill your needs as a still-working artist.  I hope this helps.

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Regular Blogging--The Results are In!

The Big Oak

Blogging Regularly Improves Website Optimization


Last October 2014 I began the effort to revitalize my blog.  After 1 ½ years of infrequent updates my website had fallen off Google’s radar screen.  Anyone searching “oil paintings California (or Oregon) landscape” would not find me in the first 6 screen pages.  With a goal of blogging weekly (I almost achieved it!), and a promise to let you know the results, I can now tell you—It is making big and not-so-big differences.  Here are some of my observations:


Improved Search Engine Results—On Google searches for “oil paintings California landscape” I am now on page 2.  And “oil paintings Oregon landscape” places me on that coveted page 1.  Showing up early in a search is important to the general health of your website and therefore your career.   If you are wondering if regular blogging matters—it does.


How I did it:


TopicsThe most popular blogging topics have been about blogging.  I would think artists would want to read about how to be better artists, but no, you want to read about better blogging.  Second most popular topic was the compact, space-efficient studio.


Length—Initially I tried to write very short posts.  They didn’t engage me, and didn’t allow space for stories or support of a concept.  So I wrote articles in the 700-800 word range (much more fun for me, and apparently for you, too, because you read them.)  Best of all, some of the articles got reprinted by FineArtViews and BrushBuzz.  That rocketed the number of visits to the moon.


Another thing about length:  Old-school thinking is that catchy blog posts must be short to match the short attention span of readers.  Current research debunks that, proving that visitors prefer 1,000-2,000 word articles if the content is there.  Search engines prefer longer blog posts, too, resulting in more opportunities to reference your website.


Frequency—I was doing well, posting every week or two.  Suddenly, 3 weeks ago, I stopped.  I remember asking myself, "Why am I blogging?" and I couldn’t come up with a good answer.  I need to establish stronger motives that keep me engaged through those periods I would rather not bother blogging..


If you are going to stick to a plan, it has to be interesting and achievable.  Research shows that daily posting is best, but I sell $500 paintings, not $15 widgets, so I contest the research.  Websites that contact you too often are like guests who stay too long—smelly.  Find a posting frequency that makes everyone happy.


It has been just over 3 months since I began revitalizing my blog.  The pros say it takes 3-6 months before you can see a difference.  I can see it already.  Here is a chart that illustrates what has happened since I restarted the blog:


4-Month Period of:
Visitors Avg. Actions Avg. Time Bounce Rate
Jun 1-Sep 30, 2014 (no blogging) 319 3.1 1m 44s 46%
Oct 1-Jan 29, 2015 (regular blogging 714 3.1 3m 19s 44%







  • Visitors and the time they spent on my website more than doubled.
  • Oddly, average actions and bounce rate stayed the same.
  • I remind you, my position advanced to pages 1 and 2 in Google searches commonly used to find me.

Am I getting value for time invested in the blog?  Yes, if I focus on visitors, their time on the site, and search engine placement.  However, if I get distracted by things such as bounce rate, the results are discouraging.  About bounce rate (which I do think is important), FASO has a Daily Art Show that features images submitted by artists that day.  Visitors click through them in rapid succession, resulting in one click on each artists website.  That results in lots of visitors, but a heightened bounce rate.


If you followed my posts on blog burnout and how I revived my blog, you gained insights about the benefits of blogging regularly and how to deal with burnout.  I hope you have also discovered new reasons to blog and new ways to inject pleasure in the process.



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How to Find Your Voice as an Art Blogger

If you are currently publishing a blog—or just considering it—you want to do yourself proud.  A blog reflects on you as an artist, potentially giving you tons of credibility.  At its best, your blog is part of your creative expression.  But blogging can be a bit of a struggle.  Just as it took time to develop your style as an artist, your art blog will also take time to become a good reflection of you.  Fortunately, there are guidelines to help your voice evolve.


Read lots of blogs—art and non-art

Writers of every ilk read a lot.  When you like something, you tend to emulate it.  You may like and emulate several bloggers.  This is good.  Out of it will evolve your own voice.


Some questions that might help:

  • Are you serious or fun?
  • Do you write like you talk?
  • Are you writing content you would like to read?

Your temperament, speech patterns and interests should be reflected in how and what you write.


Create a swipe file for those blogs and bloggers you most like to read

These are the examples you will want to follow.  Their styles, length of articles, topics, and how they respond to comments are elements worthy of your study.


Expect your taste to change over time.  The blogger who inspired you this year may bore you next year.  You may have become more discerning, or he may have become—well, boring.


Write regularly, whether that is daily, weekly or monthly (monthly is stretching it)

Doing anything well requires doing it regularly.  Eventually you will discover that some of your topics are much more popular than others.  It might be because some topics have wider appeal, or perhaps you wrote with more conviction.  Try to discern why some of your posts succeed and others don’t.


Pick topics close to your heart

Your writing voice will show commitment if you believe in your subject.


Your article should be about one thing.  Stay focused on your topic.  This article is about finding and honing your distinctive voice as an art blogger.


Tell a story

Some of my most popular posts were a series about downsizing my studio.  I wrote about the sadness, humor and compromises involved in going from a very large dedicated studio to a corner in a small study.  I wrote about how I adapted everything I need into this small space and how well it works. Photographs enhanced the descriptions.  I never dreamed anyone would care about this topic.  But during the Great Recession a lot of artists were downsizing—and they cared.


Review and edit the next day

I compose in MS Word then transfer it to my blog platform.  Word has a little more page space, and there is no chance to mistakenly publish a half-baked post.


Let your article rest for a day, because it will look different the next day.  Proofread  for incorrect words that your spell checker missed and broken sentences where you cut and forgot to paste.  Most of all, review the flow and clarity of the article.  Show your reader that you care.


If writing doesn’t jazz you, find a non-wordy style that is capable of carrying your ideas.


If English is not your first language, write anyway.  A Chinese-American artist blogger was in my favorites file for a couple years.  What he lacked in correct grammar was more than compensated for by his passion about art and his informative blog.


Write for your readers

A current fad is to create a set of identifying features of your “one” reader, and write for that reader.  It may help.  But I find it more fun to think of a group (I’ve got groupies!)  Do whatever works for you.  The idea is to write for your reader(s), not for yourself.


Know that readers will come and go.  They may follow you for a couple months or forever.  Their needs change.  Your insights change.


Take a little risk

Keep in mind that what you put on the internet is available to your parents, spouses, bosses and art galleries.  Forever.  So be mindful of what you reveal.


That said, you can write about write about hurdles you face and how you overcome them as long as you write with humor or dignity.  Understand your personal tolerance for risk before you post anything too revealing about your thoughts and activities.


Love your blog

Enjoy writing for it.  Enjoy the personal growth that will result from developing topics.  And relish the occasional conversation that is generated by something you write.


In Summary…

These tips will help you develop your distinctive blogging voice:

  • Read lots of interesting blogs
  • Save them to a swipe file
  • Write regularly
  • Pick topics close to your heart
  • Tell a story
  • Sleep on it—edit the next day
  • Write for your readers
  • Take a risk
  • Love your blog


Have fun, and add to the list if you wish.

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VMRC 2015 Prospectus is available

Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC) posted the prospectus for its 2015 exhibit .


I've praised this exhibit before, and will continue doing so.  They've sold every painting I've sent to them since I discovered them about 5 years ago.  And they are wonderful to work with.


There is no commission.


Your only expenses are shipping and the $35 entry fee for 3 submissions .


Most of their sales are in the $200-400 range with a few over $1,000.  Click here to view last year's exhibit (prices in red indicate sold.)


If you think your work will fit in this exhibit, I encourage you to include it in your 2015 schedule.  They have a nice office space they convert to gallery space once a year.  It is virtually no work on your part--you just ship your art.

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Movie Review: National Gallery

In this documentary tour of the London National Gallery’s exhibits in 2012, director Frederick Wiseman gives you a behind-the-scenes view of the presentation, maintenance and boardroom politics of fine art.  He doesn’t seek controversy or drama, instead presenting a calm and enlightening story of the paintings (by docents). You observe the National Gallery Board’s discussion about  balancing museum dignity with the need for popular exposure.  And most fun for me, you look over the shoulder of one of the Gallery’s master restorers while he repairs damaged paintings, gilt frames and sculptures—and he tells you what he is doing!


Go easy on the sodas and coffee:  National Gallery is 3 hours with no intermission.  Don’t wait for Netflix unless you have a very large TV—it needs a big screen.  I do have a small gripe:  While docents were being filmed, I really wanted to look at the paintings under discussion.  (Sometimes the docent got more on-screen time than the painting.)  Aside from that, I loved the film.  Because it is informative with approachable language, the film is interesting to non-artists, as well. 

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Why Do YOU Paint--and How Do You Explain It?

In the prior post, Why I Paint, I discussed some of my environmental concerns and how they affect my landscape paintings.  Because the environment is such a controversial topic, I rarely address it verbally in relation to art.  I neither want to offend nor argue.  Above all, I want to protect my privacy.


How do you deal with controversies in your art?  Do you hold back?  Do you expose all of your motivations?  Do women withhold more information than men when talking about their art?  Is it a generational thing?  Do today’s young artists speak more freely than did artists 50 years ago?


The internet has given us uncensored freedom to write.  No one can interrupt us or throw rotten tomatoes.  We can delete critical comments like they never existed or we can take our time developing a well-thought out rebuttal.  Either way, we can defuse controversy on our websites.  It is a little more difficult in person.


Maybe you size up your audience (whether one person or many) before deciding how much of yourself to reveal.  Conversation is easy enough when people agree, but how do you handle a confrontational visitor at your gallery opening who has just listened to your talk and vehemently disagrees with you--loudly?


Most artists have a fairly set patter that has served for many years.  It reveals enough to make the collector feel included.  But in the last few years I’ve questioned whether I’ve been lying by omission to my collector base:  I haven’t given them the deeper reasons.   


My dialogue with the painting is critical during the creation of the work.  When the painting is no longer in my home, the dialogue is finished.  The dialogue the collector has with the painting is equally important.  And if collectors take paintings home only to find that all they can think about when they look at the painting are the things I said—then I have gone too far.  How far can honesty go before the artist’s truths dominate the conversation a collector might wish to have with the painting?


How much thought have you really given to why you paint?  How do you explain such personal motivations to a stranger?  For decades, statements like painting is the language in which I am most proficient, or oil painting is all I wanted to do was all I was willing to give.  No one can dispute those two statements.  I’m not brave.  I don’t know how much privacy to let go of.   How much do other artists reveal about their deepest motivations, and their political and social concerns that influence their artwork?  

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Why I Paint

It is difficult to write about my paintings.  The expression I put into them is personal, and represents my feelings about the environment and our use of it, as well as a certain spirituality.  It is not relevant whether or not I belong to a church, am agnostic or atheist:  I cherish this beautiful earth.


I have long felt my paintings are an effort to ease away the abuse that we heap on the earth with our constant scraping, gouging, polluting and endless taking.  I am part of the problem with my requirements for hot water, bright lighting, abundant food and a reliance on the petroleum industry for transportation, heating and many of the fabrics and furnishings in my home.


No one should be surprised that California and parts of eastern Oregon are experiencing devastating water shortages.  When you mine groundwater (pump it faster than it can be replenished) you will eventually run out.  Rainfall will never replenish California’s deep aquifers.  Only deep snow pack in the Sierras Nevada range will.  The snow has to be deep enough and the temperatures low enough to make that snow last most of the year—all year in the highest elevations.  Snow pack has been diminishing for decades.  The current drought is horrible, but Californians could have gotten through it unscathed had they not been using water for the last 75 years like it had no end.


I look for ways to leave a smaller carbon footprint.  I’ve even questioned my selection of materials used in painting.  But when people tell me what they experience when they look at my paintings, I resist compromising them in any way.  If my paintings move people to cherish (and take better care of) our unique planet, then I have not painted in vain.

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My Landscape Palette

Have a sweet Thanksgiving day!


Whether you are a plein air or studio painter, you need to select and stay with colors and brands that work easily for you.  Colors by the same name vary from one manufacturer to the next, making it hard for you to learn how to mix your colors predictably.


Lay out a complete palette each time you paint.  Even if you don’t think you will need a color, put out a little dab.  You may need it for tinting or toning, and if it is not there your color mixes will suffer.


Lay out your palette in the same order every time.  This keeps you from dipping into alizarin crimson when you really wanted burnt umber.  There are many good layouts—pick what makes sense to you.


I have used the same selection of colors for decades, deleting or adding just a couple, and upgrading to professional grade oil paint when I could afford it.   This is my landscape palette, arranged warm to cool, from left to right:

  • Titanium white (Old Holland), opaque and permanent, a nice dense white.
  • Alizarin crimson lake extra (Old Holland), transparent deep violet red, this is actually Quinacridone, a permanent alternative to the old fugitive alizarin crimson.
  • Cadmium red light (Old Holland) opaque, dense red with a hint of orange.
  • Cadmium barium orange (Grumbacher P-T), opaque, simply a very pleasant orange.  Grumbacher paints have a lot more oil and carrier in them, rendering them less intense than Old Holland.
  • Cadmium barium yellow pale (Grumbacher P-T) opaque.  Sometimes I buy Old Holland lemon yellow instead, but lately I have preferred the weaker Grumbacher because of developing cataracts.
  • Yellow ochre light (Old Holland) opaque, an ugly color but invaluable as a mixer!
  • Burnt umber (Old Holland) transparent, warm brown, very dark.
  • Viridian green deep (Old Holland) transparent, cool deep green.  This is the only green on my palette, and is useful in skies as well as in the landscape.
  • Ultramarine blue (Old Holland) transparent, deep dark blue with a hint of violet.  Usually my only blue.

Additional tubes I rarely use:

  • Naples yellow (Old Holland) is on my palette only if I am painting bleached summer grass.  For years I got along fine without it, but again—the eye problem seems to create perception problems with yellows and purples (complimentary colors, which I find interesting.)
  • Cadmium barium yellow medium (Grumbacher P-T) opaque, nice for wildflowers and mixing some greens.
  • Ivory black (Old Holland) is available, but rarely used.  It makes nice greens, and in some situations works well to reduce a hue.  If over-used it can make a painting look ashy.

Learn which pigments are permanent.  Some manufacturers post the pigment’s permanence on their website.


Anything with “Hue” in the name is an inferior substitute for the real thing.  Better to have a very limited palette of high quality paint than a lot of tubes of trash.


Professional grades of artist oil colors are far superior to student grades.  They contain more pigment in proportion to the oil, and are more finely ground.  Even if you cannot afford the more expensive cadmiums, you will probably be able to afford the umbers, siennas and ochres which cost very little more in the professional grades.  Think of it as “student grade paint is to professional grade paint as margerine is to butter.”

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