Swaps and Documentation

mailbox and flowersSome swaps say, “Documentation will be provided,” or something like that.

Here’s what that means:  The person organizing the swap will provide a list of everyone who participated in the swap, mailart call, or whatever.

In some cases, that list may be just people’s names.  In others, it’s each person’s name and address.  (If you don’t want your address in the documentation, tell the swap/call organizer.)

Sometimes, the list will be included in whatever you’re receiving by return mail.  More often, the list will appear online for everyone to see. (Again, if this is a privacy issue, let the host or organizer know.)

Some swaps may not include a list of participants.  (Mailart calls usually do.)

However, here’s another tip: If you’re in a swap that’s 5-for-5 or something like that, the list of participants is not a list of whose art should be in the envelope you receive.

Unless the participant list is established before the swap – and that’s rare, although some hosts (like Red Dog Scott) may do this – you will never receive one item from every swap participant.

What you’ll receive is the number of items specified when the swap was announced.

And, you may receive a list of who else participated in the swap.

Swaps and Postage

old-fashioned postage stampWhen organizing an art swap of any kind, postage can be a Very Big Headache.  Here are some tips to keep the postage problems to a minimum.

Different people send items that are varying sizes and — more importantly — different weights.

Even in a cloth doll swap, you never know who’ll embellish their dolls with feathers, and who’ll use metal hardware, lots of beads and/or thick clay additions.  Weights can vary considerably!

Never assume that the package being sent to you will require the same amount of postage as the one you sent to the swap host.


Many people — including me — insist that the swaps have to fit in a Flat Rate Priority container, either the Flat Rate envelope, or a particular Flat Rate box.  That resolves most postage issues, since all the packages will cost the same to ship.

Then, we ask for postage to cover shipping the swap to you.


IF you want Delivery Confirmation, include the postage to cover that, as well as the completed form, already addressed to you.

Remember: If you don’t ask for Delivery Confirmation and your swap is lost in the mail, you cannot accuse the swap host of failing to mail it… unless the entire group never received their swaps, either.

(Though I sometimes decide to send a swap with Delivery Confirmation to all participants, I pay for that myself unless I made it part of the swap rules.)


It’s important to send exactly what the swap host requests.

  • Send the right number of items.
  • Send the exact amount of postage requested.
  • Include a mailing label or an addressed return envelope/package… whichever the swap host asked for.



  • Send a different amount of postage because you think the swap host made a mistake.  If you think he or she made a mistake, ask the person! (I often “round up” five or ten cents, to compensate for the people who send not quite enough postage.)
  • Put your postage on the return envelope, unless the swap host told you to.
  • Omit the return envelope, IF the swap host told you to include it.
  • Omit a mailing label that already displays your address.  Swap hosts should not have to hand-address the packages.
  • Ask the swap host to use a different form of shipping than was announced in the swap.

In other words, read the swap instructions and follow them exactly.

While you may scratch your head and wonder why I’m taking the time to spell this out, I recently hosted a swap* and 100% of the participants sent me less postage than I asked for. (It wasn’t worth the trouble to get the missing cents, so I paid out-of-pocket at the post office.)

Hosting a swap can be more work than people realize.  Make the host’s work as easy as possible.

Swaps are wonderful fun!  Encourage people to host swaps by making their work as easy as possible… follow their rules!

*Don’t ask which swap it was.  It’s over.  I’ll make the rules far clearer — and I’ll be far stricter — in future swaps with that group.

Doll Swaps – How the Numbers Work

question markWhen you’re participating in a doll swap through an online group or community, the numbers may confuse you.  Here are some tips to help you understand how doll swaps work.

Aisling’s note: I posted this explanation at the WildArtDolls group at Yahoo Groups, where — in the past — people regularly swapped dolls. As of mid-2015, that group hasn’t been active for years, but we may re-energize it in the future.


When a swap is 3-for-3 or 10-for-10 or anything like that, it means you’ll receive the same number of dolls that you sent.  You’ll send four dolls and receive four in return, or whatever.

It does not mean that you’ll receive one doll from each player.  When hosts organize swaps, they have no idea how many people will play.  So, a 5-for-5 swap means you’ll send five dolls and receive five in return, even if 150 people are in the doll swap.


Many swap hosts figure that organizing the swap is enough work.  They don’t necessarily want to make something for the swap, too.

The swap will be announced as 5-for-4 or 10-for-9, or something like that.  The first number is how many dolls you’re sending.  The second number is how many dolls you’ll receive in return.

You’ll send the requested number of dolls, and the swap host will keep one of them (as a thank-you gift) before sorting the dolls to send out.

At the present time, most swaps seem to be organized that way.  So, if you sent 10 dolls but received 9 in return… that’s exactly what you were supposed to receive.


Some doll swaps are organized for fun, but also to benefit a specific group, usually a women’s shelter or a children’s hospital, or something like that.

The charity is always specified in the swap announcement, and a link usually helps you understand why this is an important charity or organization to help.

However, we’re generally careful not to sound like we’re trying to recruit people to join or support the charity.  It’s a fine line, but an important one when the charity is related to a particular religion or political group.

Generally, if you don’t want to contribute one swap item to that charity, you should not participate in the swap.  It’s considered rude to say, “I’d like to swap with members, but that’s all.”

Those doll swaps may be something like 5-for-4 or 10-for-9, but they may be 7-for-5 or 10-for-8, or something different.

So, you might send 6 dolls and receive 4 in return.  One of your dolls might be kept by the swap host as the usual thank-you gift, and one of your dolls will be donated to the charity.


Though I can post tips like this, every doll swap is different.  Always read the rules carefully, and follow them to the letter.  That will make the swap more fun for everyone, including the swap host and you.

If you have a question, comment, or a suggestion about doll swaps, post it as a comment, below.question mark

Magpie logic

I’ve been completely redesigning my office/studio this week.

The room is a normal bedroom size, about 12′ x 12′, and it serves two important purposes:  I write in this room, and I create art here.


The writing requires lots & lots of reference books within easy reach.  I write on a variety of topics — mostly related to art, travel, history and/or paranormal themes — and I’m well-known for my exhaustive research using obscure (but fascinating) references.

Writers need to promote themselves and their books.  So, I have stacks of PR materials, including a dozen different styles of business cards, each tailored to a particular audience. I need to access them easily when I get a call from an event or a reporter.


My art is all over the place, sometimes literally.

080401-3treesbush-illus-dsI paint with oils and acrylics.  My canvases can be 36″ x 48″ or larger, and as tiny as 3″ x 3″. It’s easy to lose the little canvases and difficult to store the huge ones.  They end up in boxes, behind doors, in closets, under beds, etc.

I also create fabric art, especially dolls and wearable art, plus quilts.  My paper arts require considerable space, including my basic collage supplies (lots & lots of magazines) and embellishments.

Then there are the one-off assemblages that occur to me at odd moments, which — completed or in gestation — take up space.

Placing all of my writing supplies and all of my art supplies in the center of my studio floor… well, it’s been exhilarating and enlightening.

Magpie syndrome

magpie-black-billedI often think of myself as a magpie, in a way.

Sometimes, I see things that spark a project idea.

More often, that project idea is how I explain to myself why I need to own whatever-it-is. It’s how I justify the acquisition.

This is important: If I stay locked into that project idea and don’t explore other options, that collected object becomes clutter.  Two years later, I have only the vaguest memory of the painting, collage, shrine or doll that I intended to make.  The energy is lost, at least partly in regret.

Don’t let the guilt obliterate the energy of the object, or how it resonates — no matter how quietly — with your creative impulses.

That’s what I’m learning as I open boxes and rediscover half-finished projects and objects that never realized their greatness in completed art.

yorkh1-day1sdswAt least half a dozen paintings were in limbo, waiting for the technique I’m currently developing in my work.  (The photo at right is an example.  It’s barely started, but I love the glow of the houses facing the sunlight.)

Until I hauled those paintings out of the closet last night, I had no idea those paintings were such wonderful starts. With a fresh eye, I can see what works — and what doesn’t — and the energy is surging off the canvas as I admire it.

(I thought they were just bad paintings that I’d paint over, eventually. But, every time I looked at them, I wanted to cry because I could see the sparks of brilliance in them.  I couldn’t bear to paint over them, and now I’m glad that I didn’t.)

Yarn intended as doll hair now sings to me as embellishment wall hanging.

Books that I purchased are falling open to illustrations and phrases that almost glow with inspiration.

This is a very cool experience.

Though I realize this can be an excuse to accumulate clutter, I think it’s vital to avoid the extremes of collecting or purging, compulsively.

I’m also mindful that — from a bigger perspective — if you’re supposed to create a particular work of art, the supplies will probably show up, almost on their own.

However, as I sit here surrounded by art supplies, books and projects, I’m astonished at how precisely my “magpie collection” is fitting into place.  It’s as if I always knew that this day would happen.

It’s a concept worth considering.

My paintings: Three Trees (Bush Park, Houston, TX)
York Harbor View (York Harbor, ME) – in progress
Photo credit: Magpie – Juha Soininen, Finland


Cheap Art Manifesto

peace_sign_shadow-illusMany years ago during the hippie era, we dreamed of a free society where everyone had access to what’s important in life… including art.

The following flyer, distributed by the Bread & Puppet Theater, is a classic example of our dreams. The date on this flyer is (ironically?) 1984 — when the hippie movement was reacting to the self-serving 1980s — but the sentiments are timeless.

I wholly support this manifesto. This is one reason why I put free art online for you to print out at home, as often as I can. It’s why, in 2004, I cut my workshop prices in half, and then taught a series of entirely free art classes, too.

It’s why I protest when anyone is making an immoral profit from art and/or artists. And, it’s why those who are making immoral profits won’t like what I’m doing… though they’ll use other excuses.

However, there is one line in the manifesto that may confuse you as a professional artist: “Art is not business!”

In the hippie context, and as Bread & Puppet said, the Cheap Art movement was launched “in direct response to the business of art and its growing appropriation by the corporate sector.”

That is, it’s a mistake to treat original art like any/every other commodity. Business cannot control it. Art is unique, by definition. When it loses its originality, it’s something else; that’s a discussion for another day and another webpage.

The point is, if you try to make a fortune off art, particularly at the expense of others, you drive prices into a range where the average person can no longer afford them. And, in my opinion, that is immoral.

Even as a highly successful artist whose works regularly sell in four- and five-figure ranges, you have to make some art available to everyone regardless of their incomes or budgets.

Here is the Cheap Art Manifesto. Feel free to copy it, print it, put it at your own website, and share the message with others.

(Though the footer on all of my webpages automatically says “copyright…,” any time I say that it’s okay to copy or print something, it is.  The Cheap Art Manifesto has no copyright.)

Crafts Fair Marketing – On-site ideas

soap75Years ago, when I worked in fashion in Los Angeles, a co-worker at the May Company told a great story about a desperate ad campaign.

He’d had just a few hours to write a newspaper ad for the ugliest argyle socks ever made.

He wrote this headline: “You’ve never seen socks like these!”

The socks sold out the first day.

Obviously, one should never underestimate the power of a good headline… and the way that curiosity will attract people.

What’s among biggest hurdles at a large art show or crafts fair? Getting people to your booth… before they’ve spent all their money at other booths.

Bring a friend or hire someone to mingle in the crowd with half-sheet flyers that have a clever headline. It could be a direct steal from the argyle headline such as, “You’ve never seen yarn like this!”

That might be enough to bring customers to your booth. Or, you might want to add an extra incentive, offering them an extra freebie. Maybe you have a free, vintage knitting pattern for them. Or you offer free gift wrapping. Or… well, anything free is a good idea.

If you know a food vendor who’ll be working at that fair, maybe you can offer your shoppers a “10% off ” coupon for a large beverage from that vendor. Though that will send shoppers away from your booth, it may be enough to get them to your booth in the first place. Then, your challenge is to sell them something before they leave.

You might also ask the food vendor to give his or her customers a coupon good for something free or discounted at your booth, as well.

Curiosity is a powerful sales tool. Adding a freebie may not be necessary, but it can help.

The game at any art fair or crafts show is to attract shoppers to your booth before they’ve spent their money elsewhere, or bought from a competitor.

Advertise at the show, as well as before it. Be creative. After all, that’s what you do best!

Planning for your future

artist-monalisaval-jThis morning, I read Seth Godin’s blog in which he posted a joke set of predictions for 2008.  (He claimed to have written them in 2002.  Obviously, he’d written them this week.)

But, as he concluded his post, he stated his point very well:

“…just think about how impossible it is for your to predict what your life is going to be like in four or six years… being ready for anything is the only rational strategy. So, why exactly are you planning on the future being just like it is now, but with better uniforms?”


Many of us have accepted traditional goal-setting strategies.  They include looking ahead five years to what you can reasonably achieve, but perhaps with a slightly starry-eyed vision.

That’s where I recommend a shift to the Getting Things Done view, mixed with a little of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits…

Think in terms of wild success.   I mean success beyond your wildest expectations.  How would that look?  How would your life be different?  What would your workday be like?

And then, plan for that.  Take the steps to integrate those changes into your life right now.

Remember what you’re doing this for.


Is it to be a successful, well-paid artist?  Well, do you dress like one?  What about your car… is it as immaculate inside (and out) as it would be if you had a chauffeur to maintain it for you?  Do you always have nice, upscale business cards with you, to hand out to fans (or people you’d like to have as fans or clients)?

Are you doing this to be famous for future generations?  Okay, what are you doing to create a name for yourself, right now?  Do your PR strategies include getting your paintings into highly visible locations, such as your town offices, state offices, the offices of your Congressional reps, every local museum… and then work up from there?  Have you contributed (or contributed to) a very visible mural in a public space?

Are you working on your art so you can be a full-time artist?  That’s great; how much time are you dedicating to your art.  I don’t mean the commercially successful art that can be the first step into the marketplace. I mean strange, deeply expressive and authentic art that may never match the colors in anyone’s sofa, and may only make sense to you.

The fact is, no one can predict the future with certainty.  The five-year plan was fine when five-year intervals could be predicted.  Today, life moves and changes at a vastly faster pace.

Don’t plan for the forseeable future.  Plan for a wildly successful future.  That’s what’s within your reach, and perhaps sooner than you think.

Start now.  Plan with the end in mind:  Success beyond your wildest dreams.

Yahoo Groups – changing moderators

Do you need to change a Yahoo Group moderator or owner? Here are step-by-step instructions.

I’ve started around 20 (or more?) Yahoo Groups, including AJmarketing, wildartdolls, and ArtistsJournals2 (AJ2, now WAJ2).  When they become too popular for me to manage, I generally turn them over to new owners and moderators.

So, when people need to change Yahoo Groups moderators or ownership, they often ask me how to do this.  Here’s my reply:

Here’s how to switch moderators/owners at any Yahoo group:

1. The current moderator/owner goes into the list of members.  That’s accessed by clicking “Members” in the left column at the Yahoo Groups page.  See the long, tall graphic at right.

2. Click on “Edit membership” under the name of the person who will be the new moderator/owner.  (See the second illustration, below.)

3. Click on “Change to owner” … or “Change to moderator” if that’s more appropriate.

4. If the person is simply being appointed as a moderator, the owner will assign privileges in the next screen… how much the new moderator is allowed to do, that affects the entire group.  (For example, unless the moderator is trusted, the owner might not want to give him or her permission to delete the entire group.)

5. Click “Make moderator” or “Make owner” at the foot of the page.  At the next screen, if you’re back at the individual’s membership screen, click “Save changes”. (That’s important.)

6. The new moderator/owner will receive notice of the change, and may have to reply that it’s okay.

7. If the old moderator/owner is leaving, he or she will go to his (or her) own membership page in that group, and select “Make member.”  Be sure to save the changes similarly to what you did in step 5, above.

8. If the old moderator/owner is leaving the group, he or she will then choose “Leave  group” at the group’s homepage. (There may be a similar option at the membership page.  Either one will work.)

That should do it!

The importance of leverage

Today, I was reading a blog entry by Rick Sheffren, Leverage: Maximize your income in minimum time.

It reminded me of the potential leverage of past accomplishments.

As artists, we don’t always pause to update our resumes (CVs).  We participate in swaps, group shows, and see our works published in zines and magazines… and all we do is tell our friends.

Everything that you do as an artist holds the potential to move your career forward.

No matter how small the project, or how many other artists were involved, your participation is still news.

It doesn’t matter if you were part of the project because it was open to the public and you simply signed up for it.  Frankly, art collectors don’t always know which are invitational projects and which aren’t… and many don’t care.

It’s the quality of your work that matters, as well as the audience that see it.

Sign up for every project that you can, if you can participate with quality work.

Then, be sure to add your participation — and a photo or scan of the art — to your website and your CV.

Some of your most powerful leverage is what you create for fun.  That’s where the best energy can be, and it’s the energy — not necessarily the technical expertise — that separates mediocre art from art that soars!

Beginners, unite! Consign your way to success.

Every year, new art galleries and crafts shops open. Often, they’re launched on a shoestring. They need consigned items to sell.

Every year, new artists and crafters decide that this is the year they’re going to launch their careers. They need places to show their artwork.

New shops and new artists can help each other. But, since both parties are beginners, it’s important to consider a few important points.

First, can you afford to consign your work? If you need income this week, you’ll do better if you can find a shop to buy your work, outright.

On the other hand, it can be brilliant business strategy to consign your art in a shop that becomes a local (or tourist) favorite.

Consignment works like this: You provide artwork for the gallery or shop. When it sells, you get part of the selling price, and the shop gets the rest. It’s not unusual to see a 30-70 split (the shop keeps 30%) or a 70-30 split (the shop keeps 70%).  The latter should probably be avoided.

In a perfect world, the split is about 50/50. After all, you’ve put time, materials, skill, and originality into your work. The shop is showcasing your work, providing valuable wall, floor or counter space for it.

Consignment can be great, ho-hum, or a nightmare. There are many factors.


Are the shop’s standards high enough? Your art can shine in a setting with a good mix. However, if visitors take one look at most of the art and say, “Ick,” they may never even see your work.

Likewise, if the shop can’t find enough good artists and it’s obviously half-empty, that drives away customers. At the very least, they want a shop or gallery that provides a wonderful browsing experience.

However, if the shop owner does business with a collection of great artists, you can be in fabulous company… and build your reputation while you increase your income.

Visit your markets regularly and be sure that your work is shown in the best possible light.


How soon will you be paid? If you aren’t paid within 30 days after the work sells, you may want to look for better opportunities.

Who is setting the prices, and are they in the correct range? If you’re new and the shop owner is as well, consider getting a second opinion about the prices. Items won’t sell if they’re priced too high or too low. (From my experience, items are generally underpriced. If your art isn’t selling, try a higher price for two weeks and see if that helps.)


In the past, I’ve worked with multiple consignment shops and galleries each summer. Some of them will succeed and some will fail. However, a few will sell my work so rapidly, I may have to phase out the less successful shops, just to meet demand.

Even though I’ve supplied galleries and shops for many years, I still can’t predict which items and which shops will be successful.

It’s important to be on good terms with the shops you deal with.  Open communications — and flexibility — are vital.


Discuss risks with the shop owner.

If there’s a fire, or the sprinkler system dumps water on everything in the shop, or if your work is stolen, what happens? Either you or the shop owner (or both) should have insurance, or be willing to cover the risks.

The shop owner may want you to carry insurance, as well. For example, if you’re making children’s toys, be sure you have liability coverage. It could be a shock — and a huge expense — if you have to recall 200 wibbly-wobbly toys because the manufacturer recalled the plastic eyes that you used.

(That said, those kinds of disasters are rare. Insurance can turn disasters into speed bumps instead of career stoppers.)


Although I wholesale some of my crafts to shops, I like to work with at least 50% consignment galleries each summer. (That’s my favorite tourist season in New England.)

The reason is simple: I love the flexibility of working on consignment.

If I get tired of making a particular item, I can simply discuss alternative products with the shop owner.

If a line of products doesn’t sell, I can take it back and place it in another market where it will sell. And, I can put different items in the shop where they collected dust. Everyone wins!

If I’ve committed to a shop and delivering the art is more trouble (or expense) than I expected, I can renegotiate terms.


Generally, I wholesale enough crafts to cover my basic expenses. After that, I focus on consignment shops and galleries. I negotiate good commissions, I work closely with new shop owners, and we all have fun.

I work primarily with seasonal shops and galleries… stores that open in June and close when the tourists go home. I work all winter, building my inventory, and then I can take most of the summer off. Most of my ‘work’ in the summer involves visiting my favorite tourist areas, checking on shops, and delivering products. Then, I go to the beach. Or the mountains.


Consignment shops and galleries can be a great way to launch your arts and crafts career. You can reduce the stress on both sides, by having a clear agreement with each shop owner.

Start with a standard contract, and modify it to suit your needs.

Here are some sample contracts, online:

Sample Artist-Gallery Consignment Agreement, from Michael Dunn

Sample Consignment Agreement for Artists, from Mark Henson

Consignment Agreement Contract – free sample

Some “worst case” advice, from attorney Richard Stim: Consigning Your Arts and Crafts


It’s smart to consult books about consignment art sales and artist-gallery consignment contracts. The following are two of the best.

Business and Legal Forms for Crafts

The Artist-Gallery Partnership