Some practical questions

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Dear Artist,

Yesterday, Linda Lee Nelson of St. Paul, Minnesota, asked some practical questions. Thanks for these, Linda.

(Q) Do you budget or monitor your costs and labor?

(A) I don’t budget — perhaps I should. I like to be oblivious of costs and I certainly don’t keep track of time spent on given works. My assistant is responsible where I am not. While art materials are relatively minor, larger items like buildings, travel and transportation are monitored. Like a self-employed farmer, practically everything, including the dog, is either deductable or depreciable.

(Q) Do you divide work into profitable and not so profitable? Do you do some work just for joy?

(A) I’m one of those artists whose regular work is done for joy anyway, but there are many sketches, experimental figurative work and playful abstractions that may be just given away. They offer a different kind of profit.

(Q) Do you make your income more on teaching workshops, or have other diversification?

(A) By far my main income comes from my paintings. I do occasional workshops as a change of pace, the need to find out what I think, and for the joy of seeing others flourish. Painter’s Keys does not make a profit. I subsidize my twice-weekly habit with my painting.

(Q) Do you have health insurance and how do you pay for it?

(A) In Canada, health insurance is universal and relatively inexpensive. We pay about $300 every three months and this covers doctor visits and most hospital procedures. While I’m on a first name basis with an excellent doctor, I’m not using him much. Apparently, most health care money is burned up in the last fifteen days when the doctors are trying to keep you alive — which makes me think Jack Kavorkian had the right idea. I think when I definitely can’t paint anymore I’ll pull the plug.

(Q) Do you have any financial plans for retirement income?

(A) When I was quite young I started saving a small amount every month from my painting sales. I also contributed to a tax-protected savings plan (RRSP or 401k) which has now grown significantly. At age 75 I’m still painting and I don’t often need any of the invested money. On the other hand, collectors are including my paintings in their retirement plans.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: Dealer to artist: “I’ve got some good news and some bad news. A guy came in here and bought ten of your paintings.”

Artist: “What’s the bad news?”

Dealer: “He’s your doctor.”

Esoterica: If I had to do it all over again I’d have kept better track of my work (photographic archiving and record keeping, particularly names of places and people) and I’d have focused more and taken wiser notice of my environment, particularly when I was in my twenties. I’d have worked harder, earlier, to balance the three prongs of my painting activities — working from my own reference material, working on location in the field, and making things up from my mind. I’d have been more supportive of others as well. FYI, we’ve put some of Linda Lee Nelson’s work at



Letters of encouragement
by Marco Bell, Sarasota, FL, USA


070111_marco-bell

“Griffin Arabesque Detail”
original painting by Marco Bell

My wife and I are full time artists and we get great encouragement from reading your installments. The most significant comment you made in this last letter was regarding your (Canadian) healthcare program…Yay!!! Cheers to those North of the US that can boast of that. I’m envious, as I haven’t been able to afford any since 1984 when I was an Art Director. And equally admirable is your attitude about one’s final days… Bravo! I simply had to write to Thank You. Keep up the great work, and live long (enough) and prosper!

There is 1 comment for Letters of encouragement by Marco Bell

From: Dottie Dracos — Jul 01, 2011

Yes, I like your final comment: “. . .live long (enough). . .





Canadian health care
by Dr. Glen Champion, Saltspring Island, BC, Canada


I think you misled your correspondent, Linda Lee Nelson, regarding our health care here in Canada — $300 every three months does not fully cover “Doctor visits and most hospital procedures.” Here in Canada we also pay high liquor taxes to pay for hospitals and a large part of all other taxes goes to support our health scheme. Misinformation such as this has led to the health care debacle in the US.

There are 5 comments for Canadian health care by Dr. Glen Champion

From: Beverly Theriault — Jun 30, 2011

I think most people in the US understand that you pay higher taxes to subsidize your health care system…I would love the opportunity to do that! We pay high taxes here also but most of our taxes go to subsidize wars. Believe me, most US citizens would rather support health care.

From: Dottie Dracos — Jul 01, 2011

From this US citizen: Hear, hear!

From: alison — Jul 01, 2011

I would be THRILLED to pay higher taxes on liquor in order to have a health care system that is affordable!

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Jul 01, 2011

Canada has its priorities straight. In the US, the real cost of health care to the public is hidden because we do not account for costs that end up being paid for: conditions that become serious because of deferred health care; use of emergency rooms for problems that could have been avoided with regular care (with many costs absorbed and passed on in charges to other patients or the state); people becoming disabled from avoidable health conditions, resulting in increased costs to social programs; loss of the contributions to the economy by people no longer able to work; family breakdowns from the impacts of illness or resulting medical bills or both. I hope you get the idea. I am proud to live in a state (Vermont) that is taking concrete steps toward a universal health care system that is efficient, effective, and compassionate. Other states who claim to be creating “universal coverage” are failing because they will not buck the insurance corporate lobbying to preserve their control. I think they are starting to rethink how they are going about it, tea party notwithstanding. It’s the people who are speaking up.

From: Anonymous — Jul 01, 2011

we here in the US are very ashamed that we cannot take care of our own, but can send billions of $s to support other countries and wage war after war, all with taxpayers monies





Estate planning
by JoAnn Clayton Townsend


070111_joann-townsend

“Ninja”
acrylic 48 x 36 inches
by Joann Townsend

These are really interesting questions. Thank you for allowing them and being so candid. I have an additional one. Perhaps you haven’t thought about it since your paintings have more value. My work does sell (from a few hundred up to $3,500), but I’m not terribly prolific. My concern is about what happens when I’m gone and there are scores of my canvases left behind. Some are beautiful, some are good starts, and some I don’t think so highly of and plan to repaint. Much can just be donated as art supplies to the local arts center. But beyond what family wants, what becomes of this material? Yard sales? Any ideas?

(RG note) Thanks, JoAnn. Your concern is the concern of many. An artist needs to act wisely and providentially regarding a creative estate. I’ve dealt with the subject before — prior letters and their further input can be found here and here.



Pulling the plug
by Sheila Psaledas, ME, USA


070111_robert-genn2

Paintings by Jack Kavorkian

I agree with Linda Lee’s comment about letting Jack Kavorkian take care of the final details. I also loosely budget, because I am getting more sales now and my accountant will scratch and shake his head if I don’t give him some meaningful paperwork at tax time.

(RG note) Thanks, Sheila. And thanks to all the others who wrote advising me how to go about pulling the plug. It might come as a surprise to some, but Jack Kavorkian enthusiastically took up painting late in life.



Second opinion
by John Ferrie, Vancouver, BC, Canada


070111_john-ferrie

“MW5”
acrylic 24 x 30 inches
by John Ferrie

Here are my answers:

(Q) Do you budget or monitor your costs and labor?

(A) No, and although I only really buy three things for being a painter, art supply stores are like a shoe store for women. They can be like painters “crack.” We buy what we need, buy what we don’t need, stock up and pay far too much for an exquisite brush that we are only going to abuse, leave to dry and torture with solvents and pigment.

(Q) Do you divide work into profitable and not so profitable? Do you do some work just for joy?

(A) Of course. Ninety percent of what we do is just for us. We ponder and wonder if things are going to read. But an actual gallery showing can be a long way off. Meanwhile, we want to keep our hand in the process and you never know when the next big thing is going to happen. Perhaps with this piece….

(Q) Do you make your income more on teaching workshops, or have other diversification?

(A) I have a regular day job that I call my “money job.” I’m a waiter in a restaurant. I am good at it, though, and often find a client in the field there. It is fast and usually easy money… I don’t take my job home with me at night.

(Q) Do you have health insurance and how do you pay for it?

(A) Robert and I live in the same city so I have the same coverage. But good luck getting anything ‘extended’ when it comes to health, i.e. dental or otherwise. Artists can be a flakey bunch and not terribly responsible. Coverage can be extensive.

(Q) Do you have any financial plans for retirement income?

(A) I am about to turn 50 and for the first time in my life I am living debt free, have money in the bank and I have an RSP. I cannot believe how grown up I am. Saving money in any form, especially when you are an artist, is CRUCIAL! I wish I had listened to that advice when I was younger. But when you know better you do better. I will always be a painter. Whether or not people will want my works when I am 75 is another story.



It’s in the book
by Ron Wilson, Victoria, BC, Canada


070111_ron-wilson

“Toledo Lamps”
original painting by Ron Wilson

I have a copy of your 2010 book that includes all of your email letters for the previous ten years. I’m not a good reader. A passage or two at night is all I can manage before my eyes tire — I’m only on page 623… like all your Kelly McArthurs, life gets in our way, and in reading your book we see there’s someone out there who feels the same way as we do. Nearly all the twice-weeklies resonate, yet your Box of Paint rings so true that I had to write and express my appreciation. I am not that stow-box person but your Esoterica describes my own youthful meanderings so very aptly. On behalf of (if not all) your readers — thank you.

(RG note) Thanks, Ron. It’s definitely not a book you can sit down and read through at one sitting. I recommend people who have The Letters first read the section at the back where all kinds of subscribers whom I have never met write to tell me where to get off. Some say nice things too. It’s a hoot. It puts the whole effort into perspective.

There is 1 comment for It’s in the book by Ron Wilson

From: Anonymous — Jul 01, 2011

I appreciate the response. Thanks Robert.





Part of the enlightenment
by Betty Leonor, Bakersfield, CA, USA


070111_betty-leonor

“To live dreaming”
oil painting by Betty Leonor

I do not have formal art training, and though I’ve been painting for over 20 years, the first 19 years I didn’t paint for the public. I painted only when I had the time and for my own pleasure. Your guidance was heaven sent when I found a used copy of your book ‘The Painter’s Keys’ 3 years ago. It was the first book I read right when I had decided to leave my day job and solely paint. I have not looked back. The hardest part for me though was going public with what always to me was only personal. I have read all the suggested books from your letter on going back to basics. I have my websites with the pieces I have created since following your reads. I do get positive feedbacks from my tiny fan base but I do not know how to get more recognition, if a gallery would notice me, or if there is a place I should turn now. I am interested in signing up for your Premium Listing but I am not sure if my work is in the right stage yet or suitable. Please advise. Thank you again for so much enlightenment.

(RG note) Thanks, Betty. The Painter’s Keys is now in its third printing and has been responsible for not a few leaving their jobs and becoming full time artists. I have answered Betty privately and with encouragement. Also, I wanted to mention that I do look at the work of every single artist who asks for a Premium Link on our site, and I offer a personal, confidential assessment. While we don’t guarantee an immediate roaring success, with our large daily volume of visitors from all walks of life we certainly help artists to become better known.



Something to think about
by Linda Nelson, Arden Hills, MN, USA


070111_linda-nelson

Untitled
original painting
by Linda Nelson

WOW!!!!!! Robert, I can’t thank you enough — for your time, for sharing your own answers, and for opening the conversation for others to think about and join in with. And to see my work at the top of the Painter’s Keys site — all I can say is how I started this email…..WOW!!!!!!











There is 1 comment for Something to think about by Linda Nelson
From: Keith — Jul 03, 2011

Great job on the painting, very natural,clean and subtle.





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Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Some practical questions

   
From: Kay Christopher — Jun 27, 2011

“Painter’s Keys does not make a profit. I subsidize my twice-weekly habit with my painting.” “If I had to do it all over again…..I’d have been more supportive of others as well.” Robert, your generosity is truly amazing. While I realize it is a creative endeavor for you to write and must be good for you in ways, the amount of good you do in the world with your Twice Weeklies is truly amazing. You have singlehandedly changed my life a great deal and I am just one person. You are truly remarkable and my appreciation for what you have given me is enormous. Thank you!!!

From: gail caduff-nash — Jun 28, 2011

“he’s your doctor” – very funny. good bits of advice there.

From: Nina Allen Freeman — Jun 28, 2011

Your focus has apparently been on your paintings instead on record-keeping, which was the right thing to do since you say they have been supporting you and your family. Your twice-weekly letters and sharing your knowledge with other artists like myself is so generous and makes a huge difference to me. Over the years, developing as an artist, I felt that I needed to work on my painting alone. Others told me to this or that or to paint this or that and these “helpful” people just confused me. I have other local supportive artist friends, of course, but, your letters and comments from other artists tell me that I am not alone and all the issues that I struggle with, we all struggle with. When I am having difficulty finding the time and peace to work alone, the time to find my own voice, I can read the next letter from you and feel connected to artists around the world. Thank you for your generosity.

From: chipmunk — Jun 28, 2011

Canada is enlightened when it comes to caring for its citizens. If only the United States had universal health insurance! So many of us struggle to get and keep a job just so we can get health benefits that, if purchased on our own, could cost upward of $1000 or more each and every month! Very difficult for a starving artist.

From: Dwight — Jun 28, 2011

I’m a few years older than Robert and have been living from my art about as long and this is a good column about what to do and what to do earlier. However, the best part of the column,especially for younger artists, is the Esoterica at the end of the column. Amen to that!

From: John Ferrie — Jun 28, 2011

I like these questions. Here are my answers. (Q) Do you budget or monitor your costs and labor? No, and although I only really buy three things for being a painter, art supply stores are like a shoe store for women. They can be like painters “crack”. We buy what we need, buy whaty we don’t need, stock up and pay far to much for an exquisite brush that we are only going to abuse, leave to dry and torture with solvents and pigment. (Q) Do you divide work into profitable and not so profitable? Do you do some work just for joy? Of course. 90% of what we do is just for us. We ponder and wonder if things are going to read. But an actual gallery showing can be a long way off. Meanwhile we want to keep our hand in the process and you never know when the next big thing is going to happen. Perhaps with this piece…. (Q) Do you make your income more on teaching workshops, or have other diversification? I have a regular day job that I call my “money job”. Im a waiter in a restaurant. I am good at it though and often find a client in the field there. It is fast and usually easy money…I don’t take my job home with me at night. (Q) Do you have health insurance and how do you pay for it? Robert and I live int he same city so i have the same coverage. But good luck getting anything ‘extended’ when it comes to health, ie. dental or otherwise. Artists can be a flakey bunch and not terribly responsible. Coverage can be extensive. (Q) Do you have any financial plans for retirement income? I am about to turn 50 and for the first time in my life, I am living debt free, have money in the bank and I have an RSP. I cannot believe how grown up I am. Saving money in any form, especially when you are an artist is CRUCIAL! I wish i had listened to that advice when I was younger. But when you know better you do better. I will always be a painter, whether or not people will want my works when i am 75 is another story. Today, that is just me. John Ferrie

From: Marvin Humphrey, Napa Valley — Jun 28, 2011

The most common question: “How long did it take to do that”? If I kept punching my “Time Clock” in and out, my thought-processes would be sabotaged. My studio ambience is disconnected from the concrete world.

From: Conrad Arpa — Jun 28, 2011

When painters stick to it and build a lifetime of work, the work becomes known and collected. The work itself becomes wealth to the artist and the people who supported him or her, particularly in early life. A steady, proven track record of fairly consistent growth and acceptance is its own retirement plan.

From: Derk Hagar — Jun 28, 2011

Fear of socialism keeps Americans from embracing universal health care. Many of us live in a state of constant anxiety that we are going to get sick. In the US, getting sick can be synonymous with going broke. Obama tried hard to give us a simple system, but as usual the big lobbyists and the powers that be won out. They had too much to lose. With a proper, universal health care program that would be spread over everyone, rich and poor, we would all have one less thing to worry about. Self employed artists, in particular, do not need more things to worry about.

From: A. K. Renfrew UK — Jun 28, 2011

Artist to art dealer: “How many paintings of mine have you got in stock?” Art dealer: “Plenty.” Artist: “I’ve got some bad news. I’m not feeling very well.” Art dealer: “Nothing trivial I hope.”

From: Cynthia Kukla — Jun 30, 2011

Your recent letter on your art business decisions was very honest and sound. Your whole site is wonderful. I have shared your web address w/ various of my students.

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Jul 01, 2011

Wlle, another of those interesting (not) male vs female discussions. Robert, you must be having a dry week. As for the “test”, monitors are notorious for being highly variable in color and hue representation. People are notorious for having variable color perception, depending on individual differences (including genetic, one of which runs in my family) and environmental factors. For the heck of it, I took the test on one computer and scored low, on another computer, mid-level. I think the numbers are irrelevant. As for that matter, is the test in this context. Some artists with quirky color perception have done very well, both in history and comtemporary. Looking forward to your next letter.

From: May Lynn Perdue — Jul 01, 2011

I work strictly for my own satisfaction. Good thing, too.

From: Robert Hutchison, Oklahoma — Jul 01, 2011

May Lynn Perdue, well and wryly said!! It is so true of me that I draw only on black substrates, using vine charcoal.

From: Alice Bowden — Jul 02, 2011

Thank you for the fascinating letters. I enjoy reading it a lot. Do I remember correctly you mentioning that you deduct your dog as a business expense? Once I thought I read that, I didn’t go back and check; there was too much pleasure in thinking this is true. I took the color test twice. The first was at nighttime using one of my two monitors. My score, as a female, was a pathetic 74. The next morning I still felt a tad humiliated, so I took the test again on the second monitor using daylight. This time the score was 19. I don’t know if it was the monitor or the daylight that did it, but I sure felt better. Just a quick note: in the U.S., the high medical expenses for the elderly don’t just last a few weeks. It goes on for years. Both of my biological parents are still alive at 86 and 90. They have been using unbelievable amounts of medical care, and it started when they hit their 80’s. How about 5 cancer surgeries and radiation that burned the bladder, bowels and female parts so badly they were permanently damaged? Heart tests. Multiple times. Fractures. Multiple times. Extended, repeated hospital and nursing home stays for recovery. Doctor visits out the yin yang. Assisted living due to fraility. At least 20 cat scans. That’s the one parent. Assisted living due to blindness and dementia and fraility. Doctor visits (ineffective) out the yin yang for deafness, blindness, dementia, depression. Constant nursing care for the indwelling catheter. That’s the other parent. Guess who gets to take the parents to all these medical visits, the nursing home, etc? Don’t forget all the trips to get prescriptions and lab tests! Don’t forget finding the assisted living facilities and moving the parents! I’m like you. I am going to pull the plug when the time comes. But the doctors down here just don’t want to give up! I had a step father who was pressured by physicians to go on dialysis at the age of 85. Good grief! He had multiple other major health problems. Diabetes. High blood pressure. High cholesterol. Heart problems. An arm he could no longer use. He couldn’t drive and would have had to get transportation 3 times a week to a dialysis center, spend hours there, spend a day recovering after each, all so he could get one good day a week. Might make sense at 20, 40, or 60, but at 85? He declined and people (doctors and some family members) were upset. One doctor said, “But I’m in the business of saving lives!” Sorry to rant. It’s just that things have gotten crazy here. People think that because they CAN throw the highest in medical technology at illnesses, they should and must do this at all times and whatever the cost. And if the doctors don’t, they’re likely to get sued. But I won’t go into that…

From: Elsie Christian — Jul 02, 2011
   
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