Sell your art locally

woman at easelOne of the most successful ways that I’ve sold my art has been through local businesses, using the community art association as a liaison. If your goal is gallery representation, local sales can build your reputation and add credibility to your resume. And, your income from local sales can exceed what you earn with some galleries.

First, find nearby art associations and join some

Most communities have an art association of some kind. You’ll find them listed in the yellow pages of your local phone book, and sometimes online. Look in categories such as “Clubs”, “Associations”, and so on.

These groups are usually a mix of professionals and eager amateurs. At their (usually monthly) meetings, I’ve seen everything from gorgeous, $10K watercolors to crocheted dolls in unnatural colors & fibers. No two groups are the same.

Art associations sponsor regular–at least annual–gallery shows in their own meeting place or in a town hall or library meeting room. They often have at least one outdoor art show, at which you can display your art and perhaps demonstrate your techniques. Most art associations also have some juried shows and at least one or two annual shows that are open to all members, regardless of expertise.

Art association meetings include regular demonstrations (of art technique) by artists who usually sell some art to the members while they’re there. This can be a good outlet if you want to do demos; start by creating a form letter that you’ll send to every art association in the phone book. When the demo is announced, make sure that the publicity mentions that you’ll have art for sale, too. The art association takes a commission based on how much you sell, and everyone goes home happy.

Then, the art association helps you display your art locally

Many art associations have working relationships with local businesses, especially restaurants, bookstores, beauty salons, and banks… anyone with blank wall space that wants an “art show” to generate interest. (They use this to attract visitors and for press releases, publicity, etc., themselves.) Libraries are less likely to be able to offer work for sale, but it depends upon the local laws.

The best way that I’ve seen this work, is if the sales go through the art association. That is, there is a business card (for the art association) next to each piece of art, with a price noted and how to contact the art association for more info. Of course, this should be something better than voicemail; someone needs to be on hand to answer the phone. A member who works at home is good for this job. (The art association can have a single phone number, and use Call Forwarding to whomever is manning the phones that day/week.)

Art associations handle merchant accounts and credit card sales, too

The art association makes the sale, and has a merchant account at a bank to accept credit cards. The art association takes a percentage of the sales, usually about 20%. At the end of the month, the association issues a check to everyone whose art sold that month.

If you don’t have a local art association, start one. If you are in an art association that doesn’t have this kind of relationship with local businesses, bring it up at the next business meeting and get it started.

Yes, there are issues to sort out, including how the art is insured, if it’s protected from damage (especially in restaurants, smoky halls, and beauty salons) and so on. You can check with other art associations and see how they handle it; generally, I don’t fret about this too much, but some artists do. I’ve had small pieces stolen from shows, but never anything that was taken off the wall. (That said, it can happen, so never show your valuable art in a setting that makes you nervous.)

Anyway, that’s the general idea… really just the tip of the iceberg. I hope this helps!

What is ‘true art’?

    Background: In December 2003, a debate flared up online when someone used the phrase ‘true art’ and tried to suggest that some artists’ works aren’t really art. This was my reply. I think that it applies to many discussions about art as a profession, so I’ve included it here.

If we start debating what is “true art,” we’re going to have problems in a hurry. Most of them will be semantic.

Recently, I laughed out loud when one directory-type website put all “physical arts” (ballet, etc) in the category of “sports.”

I understand their dilemma. I mean, some of the gymnastic work that I see at the Olympics (for example) are very definitely “art,” but they’re also sports. How can anyone draw a line between the two?

So, let’s not go down any path that involves saying what’s “art” or “true art,” and what isn’t. There will always be debates about the nature of crafts, and where mixed media art fits in, and so on. That’s just semantics.

In my opinion, it’s art if you say that it’s art. Period.

Along the same line… Let’s not reduce our discussions to what artistic compromises and marketing techniques are acceptable or moral or anything like that.

Most of us make compromises now & then, if not in our art then in our marketing, to secure an income.

I follow trends and statistics to see what’s selling well at eBay and elsewhere. And often, I look at them and realize, “Cool! I’ve wanted to try some art in that style. Now I have a good excuse to do that!”

I learn from the process, and the art usually sells.

Is it all true, meaningful art? I haven’t a clue. It’s creative and it’s fun. I call it art. That’s all that really matters.

Teaching at National Art Events

If you’ve been teaching at shops for awhile, national art events might be your logical next step. However, they’re not the best choice for everyone.

For the first year or two, expect to lose money teaching at art events. Event paychecks may look juicy, but when you factor in travel, supplies (that you provide), and prep & recovery time, it can equal minimum wage.  Events often require more complex classes, with far more info, more demos, plus more handouts and supplies that you provide.

To learn more about paycheck issues at events, see my article, What Art Teachers Are Paid.

You’ll need to create very different classes than what you usually teach at shops.  Students won’t pay high event prices for classes they can take — for far less — at a local shop.

You’ll need to steadily create new classes, anyway. Some of your event students will go home and teach the exact same class… for far less than you’d charge. They may even use your handouts without your permission. (Almost every teacher has dealt with this at least once. Be gracious about it, but be certain they’re crediting you for the original information. After all, that’s good for your reputation.)

Some teachers continue teaching at shops.  Many don’t.

Within a couple of years on the national scene, other income opportunities will open up.  National events make you into a ‘name’ in this field. Your artwork might earn higher prices in galleries. You may discover licensing opportunities, book contracts, and — of course — fabulous networking… but don’t count on that your first year or two.

The tricky part can be bringing in income during those “bridge” years.  Etsy is one of many options.

Teaching at national events propels your career so quickly, it can be breathtaking.  It’s not a smart choice for everyone. But, if it works well for you, the personal rewards — far beyond the paychecks — are tremendous!

More Dangerous Women

For another art doll exchange (a swap), I decided to modify my earlier “dangerous women” cloth doll design.

I rarely work from a pattern anyway, so any time I decide to repeat a design, it’s not likely to turn out the same as the original.

The photo above is one of a series of six dolls, created in mid-2000.  Most of them looked alike, though no two were identical. 

The dolls were each about five inches tall, not including the hair. The bodies were made with preshrunk 100% cotton, the hair was “doll hair” wool, only loosely tugged to give it volume. The face was drawn on with waterproof pens, and then ironed on with Stitch Witchery.

The arms and legs were stuffed before being attached to the body. Then, I added a star charm to one hand on each doll. Finally, I sewed on sheer wings (not shown).

Each doll was machine stitched, except for the final seam where she sits down, and that was closed by hand after stuffing.

All six were sent to the swap, and are now in other people’s homes and galleries, making mischief.

The original pattern, created and scanned as a GIF, can be downloaded here. Be sure to enlarge it to scale.

Gesso – What It Is and How to Use It

Gesso can be a useful option for artists journals as well as painting and mixed media art. I use gesso often, because I often create heavily embellished pages in my journals. I need the extra strength that gesso adds to my art journal pages.

If you create heavily embellished pages in your journals, as I do, gesso can provide more support. It can strengthen the paper you’re working on.

However, you don’t have to gesso pages in your artist’s journal. In fact, most artists never use gesso in their journals. I only suggest it if you’re working with paint, heavy embellishments, or mixed media.

What is gesso?

Gesso is a primer. It looks a lot like paint, and it goes between the surface you’re working on (the support) and whatever you’re using for your artwork.

Originally, gesso only came in white. Artists put it on surfaces such as:

  • Canvas
  • Wood
  • Hardboard (such as masonite, MDF or plywood)

On wood and hardboard, the gesso is a two-way barrier. It prevents the board from soaking up the paint too much. However, it also prevents any acids, oils or glues from migrating into your finished painting. (The latter could spoil the colors.)

On canvas, gesso prevents the fabric from soaking up the paint. The colors won’t bleed, and you won’t use as much paint.

That’s a good reason to use gesso on paper if you’re painting in your art journals: You’ll have more control over the color, and you’ll save money on paint. (Generally, gesso is a lot cheaper than paint is.)

Gesso makes the surface a little stiffer. It can also give the surface a little more texture (called “tooth”), so the paint sticks better.

Today, gesso comes in many colors. White is still the most popular, but black and colors are also widely used for art journaling and other art. So, the gesso can be part of your finished artist’s journal page, too.

Pages 31 - 32 from the Decluttering Journal

Gesso is useful for mixed media artwork, too. When I’m using a cigar box as the support for an art shrine, I almost always cover it with gesso… unless the design on the box is going to be part of the finished shrine.

(Also, some wooden cigar boxes look spectacular if they’re simply polished, so the wood shines.)

What’s the difference between gesso and regular paint?

Gesso is usually thinner and creates a slightly rough surface when you apply it.

Long ago, artists made their own gesso. They mixed calcium — like chalk — in a thin base of animal glue.

Yes, it was rather smelly. It also had to be shaken or stirred regularly, because the chalk quickly settled to the bottom of the mixture.

I don’t recommend making your own gesso, but if you want to try it, here are a couple of websites with recipes:

When you see religious paintings and icons painted on wooden supports, gesso is probably underneath the artwork. That gave the wood some “tooth” so the paint stuck to it (and didn’t peel off), but it also kept the paint from sinking into the grain of the wood.

By the mid-20th century, gesso began to change. In 1955, the first water-based acrylic gesso was created by Liquitex, the paint company. That gesso could be used underneath oil paint and underneath acrylic paint.

In recent years, some artists have questioned whether or not acrylic gesso is the right product to use under oil paint.

That’s not an issue for most people working in art journals.

However, if you also work with oil paints and want to buy just one gesso for both, discuss this with someone who’s current on this topic. (Or, look it up online to see what the latest theories are.)

Gesso and artists journals

As many of us began to create art journals, we found new uses for acrylic gesso. For example, it’s ideal for use under collages.

Note: The acrylic/oil issue shouldn’t affect art journalers who use oil pastels and crayons over acrylic gesso.

However, since the oil in oil paints, oil pastels, and similar products can weaken the paper in your journal, it’s a good idea to treat the paper with a coat of gesso, first.

When I journal, I use white gesso most of the time.

However, I’ve also used black gesso as part of the finished work. Here is an example of a page with black gesso on it. It’s from my Decluttering Journal.

Decluttering Journal pages 23 & 24

I used rubberstamp letters (alphabet letters) and an opaque (pigment) white stamp pad. I also added details with a white gel pen. The “tooth” (rough texture) of the black gesso can work well with opaque (pigment) gel pens, such as Sakura Gelly Roll pens.

How to use gesso

Like paint, gesso can get messy if you play with it. I usually spread newspaper on the desk, table, or floor where I’m working, just in case.

Shake the gesso container so it’s well mixed. Whether it’s acrylic gesso or traditional gesso, it’s still likely to separate.

Because gesso is water-based, you can use a regular brush to paint it on. I use a sponge brush for fast coverage.

If I’m working with an art journal, I apply a thin coat of gesso to one side of the page. That’s usually enough.

However, if I’ll be using heavy embellishments and the page needs to be very strong, I’ll use gesso on both sides of the page. Depending on how thick the gesso is, I may apply more than one layer to each side of the page.

Remember that the binding of your journal is also subject to wear & tear. Sometimes, especially when it’s a spiral-bound journal, I’ll paint gesso out to the edges of the page, including around the holes where the wire is.

Also, a journal with heavy embellishments will only hold up to a certain amount of page-turning. (In my classes, I often pass around my journals so people can look through them.) I closely watch the condition of my journals, and “retire” them from classroom use when they start to show signs of stress.

Cheap gesso has more water in it and will take longer to dry. If you’re going to apply gesso to the back of the page, too, be sure to let the paper dry completely before painting that second side. Otherwise, you’ll seal in moisture and weaken the paper.

Does price or quality matter?

No two people are likely to agree on this question.

When I’m using white gesso — which is most of the time — I buy whatever’s cheap. It works fine for my art journaling pages.

I often buy gesso in large tubs — like ice cream containers — to save money. As long as you put the lid back on securely, gesso stores well.

That’s sort of the best of both worlds: By buying in bulk, I get the best price for a higher-quality gesso.

When I want a colored gesso, especially black gesso, I spend considerably more and shop for very good brands.

In addition, I’ve tinted small amounts of cheap white gesso for special projects.

I start with a jar or paper cup that’s partly filled with white gesso. Then, I slowly add coloring until I achieve the color that I want.

For color, I’ve had luck with:

  • Plain (unsweetened) Kool-Aid
  • Dr. Ph. Martin’s concentrated water colors, added drop by drop to white gesso
  • Cheap watercolor paint drizzled into the gesso
  • Adding acrylic paints to the white gesso

Remember: If your Kool-Aid contains a sweetener, that can attract paper-munching insects and rodents.

Getting fancy

You’ll find a variety of gessos, each created for different kinds of art.

In addition to colored gessos, some companies make a “hard gesso” that goes on thick and can be sanded to a smooth finish. Although this product would be too heavy for use on regular journal pages, it could be useful on a heavy journal cover or other rigid support.

Gesso powder will mix into acrylic (and other) gessos to make them heavier, thicker, textured, and so on.

Summary

  • Gesso is the primer. It helps paint stick to any surface, including paper, cloth or board.
  • Gesso prevents paint from soaking into your journal page.
  • Gesso strengthens paper so that you can apply layers of collage and heavier embellishments.

You don’t have to use gesso, ever. It’s just an extra tool for certain kinds of art journaling.

Artfest Doll

Many years ago, I taught at Artfest.  It was a golden era, and I had a wonderful time.

At one Artfest, organizer Teesha Moore gave us simple cloth dolls.  I think her grandmother had assembled them.

When I received mine, I promptly embellished her.  Here’s the result.

Artfest doll - 2001 or so

(I apologize for the size of the image. It’s from around 2001, I think.  All of my online images were very small, because — with dial-up connections, and some people paying by-the-minute for Internet service — load time and file sizes were a big concern.)

My embellishments:

I added rubber stamps, beads, wool hair, antennae with beads, and wired, rubber-stamped, paper “faerie wings.”

I think she’s in storage right now.  When I find her again, I’ll be sure to take a better photo and add her to this website.

How to Collage in Your Art Journal

This is from a letter to the old — now closed — ArtistsJournals2 list at Yahoo!Groups.  I wrote it around 2002. Some of the information (and the terminology) has changed.  We started calling them “artists journals.”  Then, people began calling them just “art journals.”  Then, I started saying art/journals.  As of 2012, we’re back to calling them artists journals again.

Whatever you call them, they’re illustrated diaries or journals, and they’re important.

Here’s my early article:

I’ve been doing these quick collages for months now, though not consciously doing them daily. Now, I’m starting each day with a collage, the same as I used to to morning pages. I allow myself a half an hour for the collage process, and often go back several times throughout the day to add things until I’m pleased with it. But it all starts with the determination that, whether it’s good art or not, there will be a collage when I’m finished!

What I do, as in my Artfest journal, is to gesso throughout my journal so the pages are strong enough to support collages here & there. I’ll leave a few pages for writing, then two or three pages that are prepared for collage. That forces me to avoid having an all-text journal. My current journal is fully gesso’d pages, because this one will be entirely art.

I use any gesso that’s cheap, from the fine art supplies section of Michael’s. Gesso makes the paper stronger, so it doesn’t suck up the glue or paint so much, and it has “tooth” to grab whatever I apply to it in layers. I buy only the white gesso. Yes, you can buy it in colors, but if you start with white, you can add color to it (in small batches) with watercolors (including Dr. Ph. Martins), acrylics, even food coloring or unsweetened KoolAid if you like! But I’m happy working with white, usually.

I have images stored in folders, kept in a heavy cardboard portfolio, to use when I want to do a collage. I also keep a stack of magazines & newspapers on hand for my collage work. And I go through and grab whatever images, words, and phrases strike my fancy at that very moment. If they connect somehow, great. If they’re completely disrelated, that’s okay too. It usually makes sense to me when I put it all together, in the context of my thoughts at the time.

I love layers in my work. For this reason, I’m very big on using colored tissue paper. I use Golden Gel Medium (soft/gloss) for the adhesive, and when the tissue paper is saturated with the gel medium, it remains translucent after it dries.

However, the gel medium will make the paper buckle sometimes. I like that, because I’m very process-oriented. I’m not interested in a collage that looks pre-printed. The buckling and extra glops of gel medium work for me. But I know that not everyone likes the buckled-paper look.

I apply the gel with a sponge brush. I often forget to rinse them, so they’ll be used just once or twice, and I stock up on the cheapo ones (10 cents each on Michael’s sale) regularly.

While the page dries, I’ll place a piece of waxed paper over it so I can turn the page and either write or do another collage. If it’s facing another gel’d page, I’ll keep waxed paper between the pages for a week or two until the gel is fully cured. Otherwise, the gel remains tacky enough to stick to the facing page.

I also highlight some of my work with different types of leafing… gold, copper, etc. I adhere it with gel medium, too. Don’t get caught up in using the most/only perfect adhesive for the job; gel medium works well for almost anything. When it won’t hold, I use Household Goop!

For some of my work, I think in terms of other means to attach stuff. On a “hurting” day, a bandaid may hold an image in place. And there are grommets, paper clips, straight pins, safety pins, and so on. Think beyond tradition and rules!

I never fret because an item means that the journal won’t close nice & flat. Frankly, by the time I get done with the gel medium on lots of pages, the whole thing is so buckled that it hasn’t a chance of closing nice OR flat, ever again! *grin* I sew a button to the front cover of the journal, and a piece of string (I like hemp twine) or ribbon attached with a grommet to the back cover, so I can tie the journal closed when I carry it around or shelve it.

These collages are exciting to me, because I never know how they’ll turn out until I start putting the random bits of paper together and realize what the internal message is. It’s sort of like bringing what’s deep inside me, forward.

I hope to teach more journaling classes in the future, because I have a bazillion techniques to share, and sometimes it works best in a class where people can actually SEE how this works, and experiment, hands-on. But I love collage and I love journaling, and what I learn about myself and others in the process.

More? You’ll find additional notes on collage techniques in my Insight Shrines class handouts (in PDF format), and my letter to Erin about art/journaling.

You can see one of my journals, and “page” through it. It’s my Artfest 2002 journal. And, from time to time, I’ll display my actual art/journal pages here, as I create them.

Artists Journals – My Letter to Erin

Below is an article about creating an artists journal.  I wrote it early in 2002.  Before you read it, here’s the backstory:

Back then, I was preparing to leave a difficult marriage.  My then-husband wanted me out of the house, but I insisted on staying until my youngest child finished high school.  It probably wasn’t one of my better ideas, but it seemed like the right thing to do, at the time.

Emotionally (and sometimes, mentally) I was holding on by a thread.  The Harry Potter books were what kept happy outcomes in my mind, and several supportive friends were invaluable to me.  They made sure that I got out and saw people, regularly.  I am so grateful to them.  I’m sure that I was difficult to deal with, at times.

One friend in my circle of friends suggested that we could all get together and create our own version of Hogwarts.  It would be a place to learn things like authentic bookbinding, assemblage and found art techniques, and so on.  Of course, it was a fantasy, but several of us were going through difficult times.  Pretending it might be real, someday… that helped tremendously.

One day, my wonderful friend Erin asked me to explain how I worked on the journals that I kept during that time.  The journals were where I expressed my hopes, fears, aspirations, and anxieties, usually through my art, but sometimes with accompanying text.

I replied to Erin, and then I posted my (slightly edited) explanation as an article.  Here it is.

My friend Erin asked me how I work on art/journals.

Generally, I have a couple of them going. One is my angry one, that no one will ever see. It’s unattractive, but keeps me from venting too inappropriately sometimes. Pain and rage are scribbled on its pages.

5" x 8" journal entitled "Hogwarts Journal."Then I’ll have the one at hand. Right now, with maybe ten more pages left in it, it’s my “Hogwarts Journal.” (That’s it in the photo, at left.)  It’s a journal that started as a place to jot notes & sketches for the university I’d love to create someday, either on my own or with my friends.

I started this journal because my partners-in-crime for this project are as busy as I am.  I see one member of the group infrequently, but for longer periods of time. I figured that I could just hand him this journal when our paths cross, and it’d save me hours of explaining my ideas (and probably forgetting half of them) .

But though I thought I was finished with this journal weeks ago, it was always at my elbow, convenient for adding more art & ideas, often unrelated to Hogwarts.

Now it’s nearly full, with about 1/2 Hogwarts ideas, and 1/2 totally different art & ideas.

I also have an event-related journal in progress (I’m writing this in Feb 2002, immediately after Celebrate Art!) And another one that seemed like a good idea before the event, but I didn’t like the stilted not-really-art that I produced trying to deal with pre-event stress, so it went into the trash yesterday.

(No, I don’t usually throw out art, but honestly, this was truly awful stuff, beyond redemption!)

Generally, I start with standard sketchbooks. You know, the ring-binder kind that they sell at Michael’s, and other art supply shops. I like the 5″x8″ size. (For the following illustrations, I’m using my Hogwarts journal.)

First, I gesso & paint and then collage the cover. (Gesso keeps the paint from seeping into the paper.) I use whatever gesso is cheap & available in bulk.

Recently, I added a hemp/string & button closure to this journal, because the pages are too irregular for it to stay closed. I lace the string through two mini-grommets I’ve mounted in the back cover, and I wrap the hemp/string around the antique button loosely sewn on the front. (It’s secured with a smaller antique button on the inside of the front cover.)But, next in the process, I start the title page, which will evolve as the journal does. This one isn’t finished yet.

Along the way, I’ll alternately write and make art in the journal. (I like the phrase “make art” because it sounds like “make love,” and it’s an equally passionate expression.) I deliberately gesso ahead a few pages when I’m doing art, to make certain I keep punctuating my journal with art.

Below is an early page from this journal. This collage started with line taken from a magazine: “You’re not alone.”

A page from my journal, reminding myself that no one is truly alone.

This entry was from the time when I deliberately dropped my boundaries and started accepting hugs from people again.  And I discovered that some friends give fabulous hugs, while other people in my life… well, my own journaling on that page says it:

“I need someone to hold. Someone who won’t pull back at the first sign of release, and withdraw behind the mask as if the whole thing was a little distasteful. Someone who looks me in the eyes and smiles beyond his lips, with a knowledge of the ages and a sense of comfort like returning home to a place I never really left.”

The tissue paper–like most of my images–was applied with Golden Gel Medium (soft, gloss). This leaves the tissue transparent enough to read the text through, while giving it the sense of layers that I value in my art.

Generally, my elements are antique paper (from flea markets), magazine images & text (W magazine and Nat’l Geographic), art & text that I create on the computer, and acrylic paint, glitter, and sometimes gold leaf. Surface embellishments include found feathers & other items, antique buttons, freshwater pearls, and… whatever else finds its way into my art supplies!

And yes, the pages do buckle and bubble beneath the gesso, paint, gel medium, and layers. That’s why I use a string-and-button closure. And no, I don’t mind that it’s such an irregular and funky design. I’m very process oriented, and if the pages buckle and warp… so be it.

So anyway, that’s today’s art blurb. I hope it helps!

Dangerous Women Reaching for the Stars

Dangerous women, reaching for the stars… they were some of my earliest pindolls from one basic concept. I made them in 1998 and 1999.

My concept was this: Work with a simple, triangular design.  Create dolls that could be pinned to a curtain, or — for courageous people — worn on a lapel.

These are from the first batch of dolls.  Only three were made.

 

(That image is from my scanner.  Back then — before digital cameras were popular or even very practical — I scanned everything.)

Each doll is about 6 inches tall.  I made them for a swap.  If you own one of them, let me know!  I’d love to know where they live now.

close-up of one dangerous woman, reaching for the stars

Above is a close-up of one of them. The other two had already escaped into their own fantasy world, and are probably plotting dangerously creative adventures.

Make your own dangerous women!

Click on the image for a FREE copy of the pattern

Dangerous Women

Teal Magic Doll

Teal Magic“Teal Magic” was the name of the first series of art/assemblage dolls I made after I met other dollmakers online and joined swaps.  That was around 1997 or 1998, I think.

That’s one of the dolls, at right.

The body was a simple wooden block, painted with copper-colored paint.  I photocopied a corset and hand colored it, and then glued that image onto the block, to represent her torso.

Her head was a translucent white 35mm film canister, with a paper (printed & hand-colored) face attached.

Her hair sprung out of the film canister.   The hair was yarn, embroidery floss, and some wires with beads attached.

The arms were sparkly ribbon with glass beads for hands.

The legs were made from vintage, plastic “crystals” (probably from a lamp or chandelier) and antique buttons covered where they were attached to the body.

I don’t recall how many of them I made.  Certainly no more than 10, and the number was probably closer to five or six.

I kept one doll and sent the rest to the swap.

At the time, one of my SoHo chatroom friends (from GeoCities) joked that I’d named the dolls after him.  His surname (in real life) was Teale.

I’m still very proud of those dolls.  No one else was making anything like them, at the time.