Build the factory


Dear Artist,

During the last while I’ve been giving my two bits worth to several would-be painters. These folks are young, well educated and talented. They want to talk about the business of making art, the possibility of going to art school, their future in art. They also check my modest brain for what I might think galleries want, price points, popular sizes, that sort of thing.

While this is all very nice, I’ve glazed over a few times, and frankly told one of them to paint a hundred paintings and give me a call when she does. There was a significant silence on the other end of the phone — as if it was just around the corner that I might coach creativity into her. “Think of yourself as a factory,” I said. That was the end of that call.

Not many of us can be convinced that working in a factory is a lot of laughs. Being a factory may be even worse. But there’s something to be said for building one and getting into it.

Artist-wannabees need to find a physical place to be. For artists who think big and lofty, an unused loft in a rust-belt town might be the choice. But a factory can also be in a corner under basement stairs, or an easel at the bottom of a garden. Factory is a mental thing.

An art factory is a place where unmarked supports enter on one side, become caressed with the physical manifestation of human imagination, and are subsequently pushed out the other side. Whether these modified supports are commercially destined or not, it’s a process that needs to take place.

When the factory gets the steam up and things begin to happen, the worker becomes hooked. Also, as skills are learned, techniques defined and directions found, the place begins to look like a perpetual motion machine.

Theoretical folks don’t always understand that the factory itself turns its operator back into a student. The factory becomes a school. If you like the idea of do-it-yourself learning, and you are curious about what you might be able to do, a little private factory is one fine institution. If your factory starts small and gets productive, you’ll need a bigger factory. “Room service? Send up a larger room.” (Groucho Marx)

Best regards,


PS: “You need a room with no view so imagination can meet memory in the dark.” (Annie Dillard)

Esoterica: I often ask folks how much they like working on their own. Funnily, almost everyone says they love the idea. But when push comes to shove, many can’t go long without phoning somebody, or hanging out. It’s a distracting world. It may also have something to do with the interactive way kids are raised these days. Unless aspiring artists are particularly introverted or antisocial, it can be a struggle to achieve the full factory focus that creates proficiency. For some folks it only comes with maturity.


Forty hours a week
by Paul Edmund Herman, Arcos de la Frontera, Spain


oil painting on a Moroccan fired-clay platter – used for bread

He Haw! Your letter made me laugh but I agree wholeheartedly Robert! In thirty years as painter it has been the most common failing I have seen in young artists: not realizing that though the inspiration must be artistic the method must be disciplined. Being a painter requires at a very minimum the 40 hours a week. “Sincere” artists who wait for inspiration to pick up their brushes find themselves waiting longer and longer between paintings. When uninspired, one does uninspired work but he still learns, and the more uninspired work he does (in the minimum of an 8 hour workday), the more frequent will be the visits from the muses (who have never respected the idle).

If I think of romantic characters like Lord Byron or P.B. Shelley, images of wild amorous affairs, travel, adventurous and noble spirit and lying around with minds blasted by sensual drugs come to mind, but in-fact both these men spent extraordinary numbers of hours alone writing, editing and agonizing over words.


One hundred is minimal
by Chuck Marshall, Mason, OH, USA


“Sufi Storyteller”
oil on canvas, 36 x 48 inches
by Chuck Marshall

I have heard and used many times “go paint a hundred paintings if you want to learn to paint.” Although this isn’t the only answer to learning to paint, it certainly has huge rewards. I teach artists at many levels in their journey at becoming artist. Typical of today’s society, everyone wants to learn everything in a week and get on with creating great art. Paying one’s dues is a lost concept, and is even considered an insult when brought up.

I get asked every so often how many paintings I’ve done in my lifetime. I have no idea how many, but it is probably in the thousands. All that means is I did maybe 10 good paintings after all those thousands over a 50 year span. This is my idea of good paintings, and I sold many a painting out of those thousands good or not. I will retire only when it is physically impossible for me to continue. Until then I will continue paying my dues and hopefully learning. If I get lucky I may get another good painting in the process.


by Gail Mally-Mack, Detroit, MI, USA


“Blue Earth”
mixed media
75 x 45 inches
by Gail Mally-Mack

The factory is a good “building” in every context of the word, really, metaphorically, and in spirit. We live in a time where the mind set of the entertainment world dominates. We want what we want now. We deserve money, notoriety, fame, success. It’s called “Affluenza.” We see this in our schools where many children cannot read, and the writing on a college level is very poor. They are not putting in the effort and don’t even know they must. I teach art in a Community Art Center and am amazed that the people who wish to learn art have no awareness of the hard work that it is. They feel the first line they draw is a masterpiece and when they see that it isn’t feel they have no talent. They are shocked at how much they must learn to master the basics. Not only physically in manipulating their tools and materials but in visual knowledge; composition, color, form, and other foundation information. Also how important it is to study and learn from the masters and non masters. SEEING, LOOKING, INTERACTING, DOING continually. The “factory” the space, the commitment, the time invested is vital. A poet who writes in another language must first learn the language. A musician must master their instrument and know the music.


One hundred as life lesson
by Brigitte Nowak, Toronto, ON, Canada


“Summer Chair”
oil painting
by Brigitte Nowak

There’s a fine line between knowing “what the public wants” and being true to one’s own vision, and knowing where and when to compromise — or not. Your advice to paint a hundred paintings is sound: After 100 paintings the wannabe painter should begin to see what they are capable of, the direction their brain and imagination may take, whether there is truth and beauty to be mined. It may be that painting 100 paintings for their own sake is deemed too hard, or not rewarding enough, and that is a life lesson in itself. It may be preferable to take up accounting, or cooking — honourable (and often creative) callings both.


The painting nest
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA


“Lake George”
oil on canvas, 4 x 3 feet
by Eleanor Blair

For most of my life, I’ve also used factory metaphors for my painting process; working at home was a ‘cottage industry,’ before a big show, I was in ‘production mode,’ worried about ‘inventory.’ I thought about ‘efficiency’ and ‘market-driven pricing.’ But now I find myself using different metaphors. Although I have a fancy studio/gallery down on Main Street, I do most of my painting in a renovated single-car garage at home in what I call my painting nest. The Painting Nest environment is intimate, personal, private, comfortable and safe. My paintings grow, evolve and burst into existence. I reflect, focus, nurture, and love to paint. Maybe it helps, when we are just starting out, to think of ourselves as painting machines, but ultimately painting shouldn’t feel like working; it should feel like living.

There are 2 comments for The painting nest by Eleanor Blair

From: Anonymous — Sep 11, 2008

Couldn’t have said it better myself! Thank you Eleanor for capturing what I feel is the “.heart of art”

From: JR Vondrasek — Sep 16, 2008

One of the fine arts is Life itself.


Art school mythology
by Diane E Leifheit, Paul Smiths, NY, USA


“The Lilys Were Gareth’s Idea”
pastel painting, 23 x 17 inches
by Diane E Leifheit

When I was in school in the early ’90s our design teacher arrived one day and informed us, “New York City schools are graduating 10,000 art students a year. There isn’t enough room for everyone.” Indeed, a counselor/illustrator at the school graduated as an art student and was counseling to make ends meet. Another artist on the campus, a painter who was very prolific, constantly going through materials, yet working in video editing, told me he had no room in his life for a relationship, friends maybe, some ‘snuggle time’ occasionally but nothing at all permanent or serious. Art schools churn out tons of artist wannabe’s who look enviously at the living famous and curiously at the hardworking locally recognized artist. There is a lot of competition out there. Add that to the fact that a young artist has not even been noticed yet and it gets pretty discouraging. School only hands out the tools to get there. The diploma means only that the aspiring creator has the basic skills. Nothing in school prepares them for the hard work, disappointment and frustration of being a living artist seeking recognition at any level. “Gotta pay your dues.”

One hundred paintings? whether they are viable or not, is a great first year goal. How else will you find your voice?


Now’s your chance!
by Dana Bolton, Stratford, ON, Canada


original painting
by Dana Bolton

I am recently unemployed (from factory work), and my whole family is telling me, “Now’s your chance!” But I keep saying, “I am used to working in a factory, I wouldn’t know where to start.” I never thought of art in those terms before. It makes perfect sense, and makes this thing seem much more do-able and practical. I’ve always been the whim sort of artist, waiting for mood or inspiration to strike like some kind of divine right, or like trying to catch or discover some kind of rare plant or insect that only exists very briefly under specific light, temperature and barometric pressure. This just makes it ordinary, like mastering any kind of skill. I already have a studio built (glorified shed), on idle for five years. I have the table; sought after for many years, and of course the proper light, replaced numerous times for faulty inspiration radiant lighting. I’m always looking for excuses… I think I’ve run out. Common sense prevails. This is the third reality cheque I’ve cashed this week.

There is 1 comment for Now’s your chance! by Dana Bolton

From: Suzette Fram — Sep 12, 2008

I think we all, at one time or another, find excuses to stay out of the studio. Some wait for inspiration, others find too many other things to do. Those are all avoidance methods to keep us from facing that blank canvas, from facing ourselves and trying to find in ourselves the necessary strength and discipline to get on with the job. There’s also the fear of not finding those things, and realizing that we are lacking somehow. The only answer is to get in there and get working. The rest will come.


Artistic duo share passion
by Laurel Knight, Bend, OR, USA


“Trumpet Man”
oil painting, 7 x 5 inches
by Laurel Knight

I have been an artist all my life… but only recently have I been able to paint full time, as my children are all raised (except for a 15 year old grandson that we are raising since a baby). My husband is a sculptor, and we met 25 years ago, both single parents and fell in love and into business together. At the time of our meeting, my husband was a sales representative, working for a company that sold bronze products, one of which was his relief belt buckles. And I was a hair stylist at a salon. Both of us were working in an artistic field, although it wasn’t directly working with our fine art. As time went on, we decided to make our art together. One project after another, we set out to make a commercially viable art product. So, as we raised our children, with all the many trials and tribulations that a combined bunch of 7 kids brings with it, our personal fine art took a back seat. Long story short, all these years later, and many hours of combined business learning, as well as the personal explorations as artists, we are both pursuing our fine art together. We have the wonderful benefit of being able to work together, but in separate studios, so we can create our individual art, as well as critique each others work. We also have the brainstorming meetings over coffee in the morning.


Obsessive production
by Norman Ridenour, Prague, Czech Republic


“Rough Neck, Secrets, Valley”
wood sculptures – red oak, african wood and spalted maple
by Norman Ridenour

Produce, edit and burn. My mother always said that to become a good cook one needed a large dog to eat the mistakes. I am lucky, I work in wood and have a fire place. Still produce, keep it all for a while, study it, learn from it and do not be afraid to burn the rejects. BUT PRODUCE, more and more, all the time. Obsessive behavior is required. Thomas Edison said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

Young Picasso in Barcelona was a dandy — tailor made clothes and the whole bit. (There is wonderful painting in the LA County Museum of his tailor which he did in payment.) But he would get up early, (early for a Spaniard) work like the devil was on his tail, dress for the afternoon round of cafes, and then go back and work until mid-night. Why was Mozart a child prodigy? Because by the time he was 15 he had played hundreds of pieces, over and over. Being anti-social may be cause or result.




Value of joining daily painters
by Diane Morgan, Indian Wells, CA, USA


“Sweet Temptation”
oil painting, 8 x 6 inches
by Diane Morgan

Telling an artist to paint 100 paintings before asking for a critique is a meaningful admonition. Until this year I only managed to create about 20 paintings a year. In April I decided to join the ranks of the daily painters. It has been the best thing to happen to my career. I make a point of doing one small painting a day, in addition to working on larger pieces. Some days you don’t feel like painting, but you do it anyhow because you have made a commitment. I rather quickly passed the 100 mark. This daily assignment has increased my productivity, improved my creativity and painting skills, and opened up several opportunities for me that would not have happened. I’ve also begun listing the daily paintings on eBay and they are selling! I’ve become a little factory and the regular production is producing a steady income…  all accomplished in a not-so-lofty extra room in the house with no view but my easel.


Factory as classroom
by Kim Attwooll, Tryon, NC, USA


“Glowing Tropics”
watercolor painting
by Kim Attwooll

I have had the good fortune to be in my wonderful factory since 1996. Sometimes it was a spare bedroom, for the present time it is a glorious studio large enough to produce prolifically and teach in. The factory becomes a safe place… giving the artist more experience and the confidence to tweak, explore additions, play with options and find countless new directions. While all that is great stuff, if the artist is inclined to pass on the many discoveries, the joy of teaching further enhances the teacher. I feel that my growth as an artist has been richly served by my constant search for how to best demonstrate a point in class. The Internet, coupled with my library of how-to books has honed my focus and clarified so many obscure subjects. This gives me the confidence to pass on skills that open creative doors for me and my students. I have no training as a teacher but a strong desire to share the excitement I feel here in my “factory.” In this very busy schedule your Painter’s Keys plays a wonderful part and is highly recommended to all.


Art in a hospital
by Wayne Wright, Wyoming, USA


original painting
by Wayne Wright

I was involved with art for a few years until I married and a family and a job overtook my art because I let it. Now, at 59, I have no wife or family or job or home, I am without the trappings of that, I don’t even have a friend. I have a vicious form of mental illness called bipolar that has reduced my quality of life more and more until I am now institutionalized, most likely for the rest of my life. Contacts, such as you, Robert, connect me to the ‘real’ world, but a funny thing, I now have the time and talent and energy not to sit and feel sorry for myself but to lose myself in the arts. I have published a book about my experiences with my mental illness, and I am working on two more now. I have resumed painting and am just pretty darn good at it. I am expanding into drawing and watercolor from my usual acrylic landscapes. I teach an art class here at the center. I just want you to know that we can indeed make our own factory, maintain self-dignity and make a contribution to society. Thanks for your fine letters and I hope that you will actually see this instead of a member of your staff dumping it, you perform a fine service to the arts. Thank you my friend.

(RG note) Thanks, Wayne. Readers may be interested to read Wayne Wright’s Odyssey in Hell, his remarkable journal of experiences at the Wyoming State Hospital.

There are 6 comments for Art in a hospital by Wayne Wright

From: Erin — Sep 12, 2008

Thanks for your essay Wayne. I hope you keep painting because you are darn good at it.

From: Ruth Rodgers — Sep 12, 2008

As the mother to a daughter with bipolar, I was especially touched by your letter, Wayne. I am comforted to know that, despite your challenges, you have found a niche where your obvious talent and skill can flourish. Best of luck with your career.

From: Anonymous — Sep 12, 2008

You’ve lost a lot Wayne but you’ve gained great insight. And your art, it is all yours buddy! No one will take that from you.

God bless you.

From: Roberta Hinderliter — Sep 12, 2008


As any one with trials and tribulations you, my friend, have survived and have found that you have been given tremendous gifts and you being you, have shared that knowledge.

I can’t wait to read your Book(s) and visit with you in person.

From: Sylver — Sep 14, 2008


From: Liz — Sep 15, 2008

WAYNE, Your letter really touched me. Your work looks very fine and I hope you can continue to explore this incredible world of painting and art- yes, you are pretty darn good. I look forward to reading your book. You have much to teach us and I’m glad you’re able to maintain your creativity and reach out to us all. You are performing a fine service to us as well. Thank you.



Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Build the factory



From: Anonymous — Sep 08, 2008

Wow! This is perfect for me to read. I just decided today that I want to concentrate on just painting and not get sucked into doing a lot of shows and use the gallery that I am a part of for my focus…or, should say re-focus. I have had seperate stdios in the country, upstairs in a downtown office building and, then at the end of my living room. I recently moved to a down-sized condo and there was no room for my workspace except the garage. So, I am nestled in the garage with my workbench and paints. Now, I would never have had the room for my ego and my studio in a single garage before now…as an artist, I have been learning a lot of things besides how to paint better. What kind of art can I create despite what my ego says and what fellow artists might say, can I do it in a garage? Creation does not stop with location, only our minds and how we feed them does that! I am happily painting away and so far as I can tell…better than before. Thank you for the subject.

From: JoAnn Naylor — Sep 08, 2008

For some reason my name was not included.

From: Chris Bolmeier — Sep 08, 2008

Robert, Everyweek after I’ve read your letter I say to myself, wow that’s my favorite writing from Robert. And I also say to myself, wow, how does he have such a unique fashion with his words? Then I say to myself, I knew that already…..he just wrote it down.

From: Leigh Rust — Sep 08, 2008

Such an insight letter as always. Each year I strive to keep constantly productive along the lines of this letter. Last year I created more than 50 finished works and this year I’ve aimed to do 75. I’m already about that far through so now my goal will be 100. With gallery commitments, commissions, teaching, art show demonstrations and exhibitions the works tally up pretty quickly…

From: Ned M Stacey Sr — Sep 09, 2008

The goal of a 100 works has been in the back of my head for some time. When I started I was so proud of just a few, but the file cabinet in my head said “need more, paint more”. I could not fathom painting 100 paintings before even considering showing my work. But, you start filling the blank walls with paintings, and start stacking paintings in organized stacks by size. What you start to see is your techniques becoming better, and you start replacing paintings on the wall with newer better paintings, and this goes on and on as you strive for 100. Much more important to me though is finding “my” style. I am still far from 100, but I am getting a sense of what it is I want to put down on the canvas. To be unique and be myself.

From: Kelley MacDonald — Sep 09, 2008

I got this letter forwarded to me, because somehow I’ve been unable to get the letters to my email lately. And I’m very glad I got it because it touches on a very important topic – the 100 paintings. The Daily Painters work in this vein…. years ago I did the same thing, as advised by Kevin MacPherson’s book. I think it’s hugely important, and a great way to measure your own progress, and it sometimes gives you the opportunities to work on a series due to seasons, etc. I heartily agree on this advice for painters who are new or blocked!

HOWEVER…. the whole ‘factory’ thing gives me the willies. I am the first one on both sides of my family to escape factory work, and I have to say the productive, earnest, positive picture painted in the letter is about as far from my extended family’s experiences as can be. Uncomfortable in almost any weather (furnace-like in the summer, freezing in the winter), with daily dangers (lost fingers) and no breaks. No sick days, management that had no respect for workers, backbreaking repetitive work with compensation that barely gave the necessities for living….. I’m going to think of another symbol for what I do… and on the other topic – I think the sociability issue can be satisfied with periodic painting with other people – what we do is have loose get togethers in the evening about once a month, and every other week or so a plein air day or just painting in someone’s studio. Then we share a simple meal, some wine, and talk, talk, talk. Isolation AND company – both important!

From: Lorraine Kwan AOCAD ’67 — Sep 09, 2008

Couldn’t agree more, as usual, you are spot on!

From: Gene Martin — Sep 09, 2008

Yes, at least 100 paintings. A former teacher said 100 to 500 but size was not important. Paint everyday. I have a studio in an old school where it is very quiet most of the time. I rarely see anyone. I used to play music but eventually found it distracting. Being alone, being quiet, is inspirational. It leaves you to confront yourself and what you are creating. How can you hear the voice of your muse when surrounded by noise. Turn it off, tune it out.

From: Diane Whitehead — Sep 09, 2008

This is exactly how I started back into painting. I hated what I was doing, I then bought 100 canvas and told myself that if #100 did not look considerably better than #1 than I had to find some other way to make a living. #1-100 all sold, and then through the years (yes, it does take many years and you never get “there”) I just got better and better. I am currently in several galleries now, and am extremely satisfied with my progress. It also helped that at almost the same time that I started back painting I had to move out of my home town to a city where I knew not a soul. Without the social life that I left behind I was more able to focus on my work.

Thanks for confirming my theory of 100 paintings

From: Carol Ann Cain — Sep 09, 2008

Painting on the kitchen wall is my factory. It works well, because there are only two of us, and interruptions are usually welcomed. I have nails in varying heights to raise or lower the canvas. The location of the wall affords me the opportunity to step way back to see the painting from a distance. A usual size for me to paint is 5 feet by 4 feet, and while I dream of a large, open studio, perhaps contentment, and working with what I already have is creativity. By the way, I use a rolling tabouret that comes out of the closet and the wall is spattered with paint, if the President ever visits, I plan to give it a fresh coat of paint.

In addition, I have other artist’s works hanging everywhere. When people visit, they say my home looks like a museum, and I could not be prouder.

From: Erika Nelson — Sep 09, 2008

I think I fit both the reclusive and social artist because I like to mix things up. I’ve had neighbors ask if I’ve been on vacation because they hadn’t spotted me and I’ve also been labeled “outgoing” lol When I’m deeply engrossed in deadlines I disappear because I’m painting in my mind even when I’m away from the easel.

The painting I finished last night is a portrait of Senator John McCain, 5×5 oil on canvas. Previously I painted Senator Barak Obama in the same format, these are both for an art center fund raiser. The reception is very posh on auction night and the little devil in me wants have my own little election night. Well that’s another thing about me, I relish amusement. My factory stays active because I’m always aiming to keep the wheels oiled even if it means I don’t directly get paid but gambling on the aspiration that a patron or two might develop from my exposure at an art auction (fund raiser).

From: Paula Christen — Sep 09, 2008

Especially for women, the factory/studio space is essencial. When I painted in the house, the unfinished chores, laundry and unprepped meals spoke to me in loud, whiney, guilt ladened voices “Do me, do me”. They would sidetrack my creative flow.

A reclaimed mechanic shed (without phone) now serves as terrific space, silent except for cd music in the background.

From: Anonymous — Sep 09, 2008

Exactly what I need–the metaphorical factory; this solitude and acknowledging the muse feels like it will take me to at least 100, maybe one-fifth of which will be outstanding and four-fifths learning experiences. I do enjoy your brain and letters… thanks for sharing Robert.

From: Gail Harper — Sep 09, 2008

couldn’t agree more…..and as a veteran painter that 100 paintings idea appeals to me 100%

one of my adult students told me once that she painted more when she had 5 or six tubes and sat on her bedroom floor than when she acquired a big studio. heh heh

From: Sally — Sep 09, 2008

There are so many books out,videos etc on marketing that the product itself is overlooked! Putting the cart before the horse kind of mentality. Last year after a 15 minute demo in which I was aiming to capture the spirit of a tree and a place, A plein air student set up a card table, taped down four pieces of water color paper and tried to produce four paintings to be promptly framed and sold. She might well have just stuck a knife thru my chest.

From: Liz James — Sep 09, 2008

Build a factory. This is the first time I have ever heard an artist admit that is what it takes. I am 82 years old and have been supporting myself with art since I was 20. Times have not always been flush but I’m still here and just recently stopped churning out my product – watercolors. Many times I have had to force myself to go to “work” in the morning but a few minutes in whatever “studio” I happen to have at the time and the juices start flowing. There is no substitute for plain hard work and no joy like success.

From: Ann Chaikin — Sep 09, 2008

What a timely article. I just got a shared studio downtown where I can work alone, away the open studio environment where I’ve been painting for the last two years. Three of us are sharing the space but most often we will be there alone. I felt it was time to move to the next level of artistic independence. I love painting with others but am very excited about painting alone as well. You couldn’t have found a better time to encourage this change. Thank you.

From: — Sep 09, 2008

I would love to devote all my time to painting, when I am painting. I, also, love to play tennis, bridge, bicycle, various volunteer jobs. I love these things, too. I think there is no hope for me. I do get the most satisfaction from painting, selling, entering, and winning sometimes. I have a nice studio in my home, but something always seems to come up. I think painting away is a good thing. I’ll keep trying and thanks for your great letters.


From: Paris Pruden — Sep 09, 2008

I agree it is hard to be alone day after day but it is the only way to be productive. I have found that a good radio station where they talk as well as play music helps. I use a satalite jazz station. Also, Having a painting group is good one day a week.

From: Deloris — Sep 09, 2008

Greetings to you Robert.

How timely and how true. I’ve been planning and preparing my “factory” for the past year. Yes, I said, “year”.

I’ve spent thousands of dollars and years perfecting myself as a fine artist. I have a BFA and operate my home based studio while maintaining a marriage, a family and a ministry. Talking about distraction. It’s LIFE, and in order to build this “factory” takes an abundance of belief, self-discipline and sheer desire to do art.

You are so on the money. I just recently put my foot down and put my hands to the grind. It’s difficult but i love it. If I didn’t, there would be no way I would have persisted this long and still love it.

Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. LOL

From: Di — Sep 09, 2008

How coincidental, I did just that today–the first concerted effort to just do for a long time. The funny thing was, it was purely because of over dried acrylics from my pan being too dry – that encouraged me to rescue them by experimentation. Wow what an experience for the sake of creativity alone. Talk about “muses”. Talk about a factory. This letter was such a confirmation. Thanks. Di

From: Susan Warner — Sep 10, 2008

As always, your newsletter is profound and touches a nerve for all of us creative people. I worked fulltime until 2007 when the ‘best’ job I ever had was eliminated. It was creative, exciting and people oriented. But now for the first time in my adult life I have an opportunity to BE the Artist I have been part-time for forty years! But I don’t have the space I once had.

My working space is now smaller than ever before but I have produced more work. The corner of my Dining room has become my partial studio. I utilize the Table and easels befitting my current project. Several years ago we moved the furniture aside to accomodate two canvases, each 6′ x6′ which were in progress for months ( a Commission). All of this can be moved or cleaned up for company.

I have experimented with media I don’t normally work in to enhance the ones I prefer. It’s a learning experience every time. Some of the pieces are only “exercises”, some are “happy accidents” and a few meet the standards I have set for myself.

In my professional experiences I have met and spoken to many

young Artists, in school or just beginning a Career. Many of them reflect a culture of instant gratification. They want an answer to:

” What are the three steps” to selling their work. Unfortunately the concept of “factory” in all its subtle terms is totally lost on them. They are not willing to spend the time to learn the basics. Does a NeuroSurgeon skip the Anatomy class?

Again, you are right on the mark! I love your letters.

From: Val — Sep 11, 2008
From: Jennifer Elliott — Sep 11, 2008

Thank you Robert! I needed to hear this again. To be reminded of what you had told me a couple of years ago (“Go lock yourself in your room and paint, paint 100 paintings”). I love that you’ve pointed us back to the inescapable process of creative play and that it’s in loving this process of creating, that we find our lasting joy.

My Mother calls my generation the “Sesame Street Generation”, meaning we thrive on fast-moving images and distractions every few minutes or seconds. In my mid-twenties, I see it hasn’t served me well when it comes to getting “still” long enough to develop an efficient work-habit and routine with painting. The desire to have things happen instantly and perfectly every time, doesn’t coincide with the painter’s experience. With Graphic design and digital Illustration (what I mostly trained for in school), there are countless ways to re-do and un-do, cut, copy and paste a thousand times, change your mind half way and never see any evidence of the previous failures. Correct me if I am wrong, but are there less young people desiring to pursue fine art (painting in particular), with more turning to digital media? I’m curious to know how the art-world will be shaped by the current Red-Bull-infused mentality of my generation and future generations of artists to follow. Somehow I believe that quality, fine art will always be desirable and sought after. I hope.

From: Vicki Ross — Sep 11, 2008

FACTORY! I Love that description. I was honored before my peers a few weeks ago during an art show awards reception. Mr. Leslie B. DeMille complimented me on my ‘factory’ all over my house (he was our guest during his judging and workshop). He commented that it was obvious to anyone seeing my home how serious I am, and how many paintings I have completed in a short time. A hundred or so are framed and displayed gallery style down a long hallway, and studies, unfinished works are everywhere. I’ll look at my clutter with more fondness after his kind comments.

From: Elaine (California) — Sep 11, 2008

I met a painter at the Laguna Beach Sawdust Festival who has painted, numbered and listed his work since the 1990s and over 10,000 paintings are on his list. I saw his book. His paintings are in acrylic and mostly landscapes and most were appealing.

From: Susan Connelly — Sep 11, 2008

Careful what you wish for! I have my own studio in our new home, just steps across the patio and I am having a hard time “walking the walk”!! I painted almost everyday when I had a converted bedroom and did 100 plus paintings the first year that I committed to becoming a painter. I am now considering moving my “stuff” back into the house where I can see it all day long. So easy to see what problems need to be solved and to keep the work in your thoughts. My studio looks so serious and I am somewhat intimidated by it! Maybe painting in cramped quarters will get the rhythm going again!

From: Ruth Rodgers — Sep 12, 2008

Just a quick comment to applaud all of you for your dedication and very hard work. I am so impressed by the quality of the accompanying paintings — it’s clear to see that your commitment to your art has developed superior skills in all of you! I am currently aiming for a painting a week while finishing out my career in education — the day after I retire (about 5 years from now) will be the day I start my “painting a day” habit! Thanks for the affirmation and inspiration from all.

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Sep 12, 2008

My easel is in a full bay at one end of my living room, largely because of the light. Canvas and paper on wide shelves at one side, various other supports leaning against the wall, 3 inexpensive plastic toborets for materials and media. The area is small but organized. (Framing has its own space in an upstairs room.) I live in town for the first time in decades, and oddly, I find that the noise and distractions of town living do not bother me at all while working, though the bay is the closest part of my house to the street. This is my “workspace”. I don’t like the term factory, though I understand the concept you are getting at. When there, I am fully there, and when not there, I can easily enter without having to make a major transition. The idea of a separate studio would have been good while I was raising children or if I were living with others, but right now, this makes my life all of a piece, and my art part of it. By the way, I made more than 100 paintings (plus drawings, sketches, etc) the first year I decided to take myself seriously as an artist, and felt that I had just begun learning. Now I feel comfortable enough to really try spreading my wings. But yes, I needed that dedicated space to move in and out of to make the journey. (And the sketchbook in my bag — also part of my “workspace”.)

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Sep 12, 2008

P.S.: I love the “featured artist” selection for this clickback. Beautiful painting, and seeing the progression as it developed just adds to my appreciation. One of the reasons I enjoy these letters is seeing and learning from what other artists are doing.

From: Karen Baker Thumm — Sep 12, 2008

l thought the idea of thinking of ourselves as factory workers who must keep up production is a good one, I, too, find it a bit of a turn off. Perhaps “workshop” might do the job better for those of us who have negative associations with factories.

“Office” works better for me since my other part time job is clerical. I’m about to institute regular “art office” hours into my daily schedule which up to now has been totally unstructured. I’m aiming to finish one painting a week but to paint every day. I know that the lack of regular production and inventory has hurt my career and advancement as an artist and left me dead in the water. Instituting daily art office hours will fill my sails and get me out of the art doldrums.

One hundred paintings is a great goal to work toward, and I’m going to start counting with my next painting. Never mind all those I’ve done over the past 22 years.

From: Melissa Evangeline Keyes — Sep 12, 2008

Long ago I worked for a small company as a ‘colorist’. There were four of us in a smallish room. We painted watercolors on restrikes of etchings and lithographs of hunt scenes, city scenes, college views, famous Irish golf courses, and other subjects. Paint had to be on every bit of the pictures, we even painted black on black hats. I could color fourty five prints some days.

Fourty five paintings in one day. Even though it was paint-by-numbers. I cannot seem to do one painting a day now. Amazing.

From: John Ferrie — Sep 13, 2008

I am not convinced that becoming a ‘factory” is the answer for all emerging artists. Like so many young people these days, they want to be “discovered”. I had one low skilled bright eyed youth in my studio one day telling me he was waiting to be discovered. All I thought was “discovered doing what?” I would say to anyone coming along that being productive is the key. Galleries want to see that there are acres of painted canvas and acres of canvas coming along. There is nothing worse to a gallery than an artist who has turned into a dried up well after a smash showing. Not everything is going to be a masterpiece. But being in constant production will lead to some gems…

From: Deanna Johnson — Sep 13, 2008

I like the encouragement I find in all your letters, especially ones dealing with self-discipline. And thank you for the BIG PRINT.

From: Rick Rotante — Sep 15, 2008

Becoming an artist

Many become artists because they believe it’s an easy life. Sit around, paint beautiful pictures, have a cool studio. Be recognized as an artist. Mix with the beautiful people. Give exhibits to large appreciative collectors all clambering for your next masterpiece. The money from your sales paving the way to travel, a great home in the country, wealth & fame. Equally as many would-be artists don’t have any idea what it takes to achieve these goals. Many more never will. Having the ability to create any work of art may seam easy to the casual onlooker. The notion that “you were born with the ability” has been told to me more times than I care to mention. Along with long and arduous study comes the eventual realization that no one is looking for you or your artwork if you don’t present it at some point to the world. There are stages of reality that an artist has to go through before he/she truly becomes an artist. The first stage I call –

THE ENAMORED STAGE. This is when being an artist is filled with myths and misnomers such as stated above. Ah! An artist’s life for me, etc. Next is –


The Dogged Stage is when we think we’re going to get serious and start painting. We paint our friends, we paint many stilllifes, self-portraits, anything we view whether its paint worthy or not. We basically work with a frenzy only matched by our ignorance of the process of painting. We hope everyone in our family who sees the results will love them as much as we do regardless of their lack of quality and invention. From there we move into what I call –

THE AWAKENING stage. This is when we realize that everything we have accomplished so far is crap and we need to take a lesson or two before we proceed and waste more paint, canvas, time and effort. In this awakening stage are the seeds of the next stage.

THE HOLY COW THIS IS HARDER THAN I THOUGHT stage. Now this is a crucial juncture for the budding artist. For here is where they give serious thought to this dream of being a real artist. Our goal will have to include some sort of employment while we take time out to learn how to paint. After successfully finding a teacher we move into the next stage.


Here we wallow for a period of time thinking that now that we have a good teacher, after taking lessons, we only have to put a year or so into this thing and we’ll have it nailed. This is also part and parcel with saying ” by next year I’ll have enough good work (classroom work) to start exhibiting”. Or ” I give it three years, if I’ve not made it by then etc, etc”. Now the length of this stage varies with each individual young artist.

By the time the REALIZATION stage hits, if we are still painting and haven’t become used car salesmen or clothing manufacturers, or entrepreneurs, we are now ready to take a serious look and this whole artist/ painter thing head on. It’s here that the real work begins. Now we have to be serious or call it quits. The innate talent we were born with is no longer sustaining us. We need to harness this raw talent and focus on establishing a career. We have to use the training we received. All the empirical knowledge we’ve managed added with what we’ve been taught coupled with the god given ability has to come together to enter the final stage.

The GET DOWN TO WORK stage. The people in this stage are the people you see in shows again and again. These are the ones who paint every day. These are the ones teaching, working in the movie, TV industry. These are the people selling their work regularly. They may not be rich but they are producing work worthy of showing and buying.

Serious thought has to be given to the process of becoming an artist and goals have to be set and met if we hope to achieve this end. Talent alone will not sustain you. Knowledge of how the game is played is also essential. When you know the rules, you can navigate your career thru the labyrinth and find the other side. You learn how to do more than paint. Then and only then are you becoming an artist.

From: ConnaLu Drinkwater — Sep 15, 2008

Painting alone often stretches my brain and skills. Painting in a vacuum, without thought of what I learn from studying my painter-heroes and/or seeking critique from trusted peers, turns me into a still-born painter; banal, formulaic paintings spew forth from the end of my brush, one much like all the others. Growth dies. I paint to survive, not monetarily, but to preserve me, my sanity (such as it is), my very self. When I stop progressing, I become paralyzed and spiral down from there. If I build my factory for the purpose of financial gain, pecuniary worth, or seeking recognition and respect from others, that becomes my focus and I am doomed to spend my time in the pursuit of churning out images to match Aunt Bertha’s sofa, to satisfy an interior designer’s idea of pastel serenity, or images in the style of a mass-production artist that everyone loves only because the market is so glutted with the artist’s posters of “radiance.” Whereas if I focus on the learning process naturally occurring as I come to my factory every day to make paint and paint about my world, I continue to evolve into a better version of myself. The “aha” moments happen and I spiral up from there. Yes, I need to paint often and alone, but not in the vacuum of my limited knowledge and experience. Every day, I need to attend the University of Personal Progress located in my studio, then consult with my old friends — those who stretched the limits of art and gave birth to new ways of perceiving their world, and my contemporaries who are also working to overcome the societal indoctrination of production superseding learning. I begin to understand that a brushstroke, a word, or an act should all be a conscious deliberate decision, not automatic, repetitive or thoughtless.

From: Colleen Obrien — Sep 15, 2008

When people want my advice I tell them, “The first 100,000 paintings are the hardest.” And I should know, I am 65 this year and opened my own gallery in downtown Calgary. It is in Art Central, a building full of artists’ studios and galleries and other inspiring boutiques, coffee shop etc. All my work is around me and I am sublimely happy. Last month was my first month in business and I paid the rent with art sales!

From: — Sep 21, 2008

It’s true. If you don’t want to paint 100 paintings to see the result if there even is one, then you aren’t an artist. You may paint or create something, but your not an artist. There is no cookie for a reward.

Don’t get me wrong here, I want the prize. I’m hungry. I work bloody hard, continuously for this art life I live. I want to be selling 3 pieces a day and making 10,000 a month, but the dream is just that; a dream, and the reality is also just that; the reality. If an artist wants to be successful in the most genuine sense of the word just keep painting. Sure it’s nice when someone hands you $1000 and says “I’ll take that one” and leaves with a piece, but an artist must paint more and just paint!!!! Sell your work, make some money, but ultimately through thick and thin….ARE YOU AN ARTIST????? Then paint! And after 100 pieces….there’s 100 more and so on.

From: Darla Tagrin — Sep 26, 2008

As the mother of a nonverbal, disabled child, I’m isolated most of the time anyway. I get most of my inspiration from looking at art and talking with interesting people, but it takes time in the studio to translate inspiration into paint. So I think an artist (at least one like me) needs both time with other people in order to stay sane, and time alone in the studio to actually do art.

From: Julie Trail — Oct 04, 2008

Here in the Sierra Foothills we call it “Brush Mileage!”

From: Ron Elstad — Oct 16, 2008

I believe that word factory shouldn’t be used in the same sentence when describing the production of fine art, for only that which is hand crafted should be truly considered fine art. On the other hand, anything made in a factory has a cranked out aspect to it, which means to me the production of widgets which are made quick, fast, expedient and economically down and dirty. The use of this word only advocates the production of art in the same manner, without any concern for quality what so ever.






Grasshopper Point

the progression on an oil painting
by Julie Gilbert Pollard, Phoenix, AZ, USA


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Mark Hope Wasaga Beach who wrote, “Working alone is vital. I’ve found even having a companion can be a distraction. If the factory is to survive and thrive there needs to be focus.”

And also Mark Larson who wrote, “At a gallery seminar I attended recently, the speaker said, ‘Most artists don’t work hard enough,’ and ‘Inventory Equals Success.’ It’s impossible to make a living as an artist with ten paintings. 100 paintings is a start.”

And also Vittorio who wrote, “As in the carbonated drink of coloured water that brings millions to corporations, the idea of packaging garbage is what fools a gullible market. If the incapability to discern parallels what is presently happening in art, it is difficult to blame those who believe that following a market mentality will produce works of art.”

And also Vianna Szabo who wrote, “The grunt work of creating a lot of bad work, learning from it and continuing forward in your artistic pursuits is the real job of the artist. In the long run, tenacity wins over talent.”

And also Dwight Williams who wrote, “A hundred paintings may not be enough. Over the last forty years I have told more than one studio or workshop student to first paint a thousand paintings.”

And also Paul Kane who wrote, “One of the hardest things is to be your own boss, especially if you are an artist. If you are an artist, no one cares but you if you actually do your job or not.”

And also Moncy Barbour who wrote, “It’s all about Natural Selection, survival of the fittest. Thank you Charles Darwin.”

And also Vkapusta who wrote, “My problem with your thesis is that a factory produces a product that is identical, with dictated standards. The workspace needs a name that reflects the unique nature of an artist’s processes. Playpen?”

And also Sandy Davison who wrote, “I would love to become one of your mentees and would appreciate finding out how to go about it. Is there a formal bit of information, submission packet to make the process sensible? Please let me know.”

(RG note) Thanks, Sandy. And thanks to the others who asked for personal mentorship. I’m honoured and grateful for your trust. But I’m sorry, I’m unable to directly coach a volume of artists no matter how much money or kind they put in the mail. (We return it) My current method is to give unsolicited (free) suggestions to artists of promise who appear in our art listings pages.




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