Cottage industry


Dear Artist,

Yesterday morning, Denise called at my studio. Denise is a “vest-pocket” dealer — she works from her home and her cell-phone. Along with her goofy Doberman “Sabre” Denise always has a few paintings in her Ford Windstar. She wanted to take a look at what I was currently up to and “borrow” a couple to show a “special collector.” She and Sabre did their rummaging, helped themselves to two 12 x 16s, and were gone with the wind.

Before the advent of the Industrial Revolution, home-based workers produced all manner of goods. Entrepreneurs visited spinners and weavers and took items away to be sold. Later, these familial relationships gave way to the efficiency of the factory — with the consequent social disruption — long hours of tedium, overcrowded slums, unhealthy and unsafe working conditions.

A lot of what we artists do is a flashback to the earlier cottage days. There are some advantages. Cottage work gets us off the streets and out of the towers and factories. We may choose to live a more rural and quiet life where work can be done at our own speed. We can build ourselves a sacrosanct space where there’s freedom to grow. We have the joy of producing personal and relatively expensive goods that are either picked up or shipped. While we are not in the front line of commerce, there’s the satisfaction of a connection with those whose talent is to share with others. A cottage creator may indulge his or her joy, put the human condition into perspective, and nurture a muse that has the potential to be of high value to mankind.

This morning Denise phoned to say that she had “struck out — the wife loved them but the husband didn’t like the colours. The wife was practically in tears and said she wanted them for Christmas but that was months away and she knew they would be gone.” Putting on my guru-hat I said, “People don’t always give the right reasons when they say no.” Denise, wondering if it might be the money, phoned the people back and told them they could have the paintings and not pay until Christmas. Bingo. Home run. Another beauty of cottage industry — flexibility.

Best regards,


PS: “I don’t mind parting with the corn, but not with the field in which it was raised.” (John Constable)

Esoterica: Major changes are again overtaking society. Everywhere there’s the desire to become more highly realized, to be more independent, to be freer of traffic and tension. More than anything there’s the desire to give from the true self, to be real, not to be used or used up. Cottage industry provides some of this. As Henry David Thoreau noted a hundred and fifty years ago, “Men have become the tools of their tools.”


Staying in the real world
by Elizabeth Azzolina, Cherry Hill, NJ, USA

There is a positive to being in charge of your own art business affairs. However, the degree to which we remove ourselves from the world at large should be carefully balanced. It is true that our art is a language that can be well developed in an ideal, peaceful and comfortable environment. But, our art yearns to speak to the public at large. As artists we are educators and communicators. We need to keep our finger on the pulse of society. In doing so, we can respond with our art to people’s issues of the mind and heart.


Works some of the time
by Charlene Thomas

I recently had a studio show. One visitor loved one of my paintings. She was unsure of what her husband would say about her choice. I told her to take it home and try it out for a few days. She did… but her husband didn’t like her choice. So it is now back in my home and hanging in my dining room… and I love it!


Flexible payment plan
by Sharon Pitts, NJ, USA


“Berry Branch”
watercolor, 30 x 40 inches
by Sharon Pitts

I was asked to donate a painting to a good cause. When the woman came to pick up the piece she became fascinated with another painting in my studio. It was clear that she wanted to own it but was hesitant about the money. I offered her the option of taking it home with her and paying it off $100 a month. She was thrilled. I have found that these arrangements work for both parties and I have never been disappointed.



How to find a Denise
by Elaine Heath, Erin, ON, Canada


“Cool blues and Jazz #1”
watercolor, 22 x 30 inches
by Elaine Heath

How do you hire an art agent such as Denise? No one seems to know how to find these people. There are a few of us looking. We have found a number of Art Consultants that turned out to be Interior Designers looking for wholesale art for their clients. We are about 30 artists. We have painters, sculptors, glass blowers, jewelry maker, etc. Many of us have the same question.

(RG note) Professionals who have many brick-and-mortar dealers are often overwhelmed with vest pocket dealers who want to take their work around. Calls to other pros in your area might be useful. Vest pocket dealers tend not to be in the yellow pages. Another way is to encourage one of your group to become your dealer. Creative people sometimes find their true calling in sharing the magic.


Vest-pocket dealer
by Myriam Lipson, Atlanta, GA, USA

In my cottage industry I represent over 32 national and international artists, and I started just by reading one of the earlier Twice-Weekly letters. I still have my first artist, Julie Rodriguez Jones, a subscriber who believed in me right from the start. I work from my home, with my cell phone and my website. I set up little events, host events with art, have changing art in restaurants and banks and sell the art for the artists. I don’t charge a 50% commission like most galleries do, but 20%. I do what I say and I say what I do. Coming from The Netherlands in 2001, I started this small business and every morning when I wake up, I smile because I love what I do. It gives me great pleasure to get the art out, to have exhibits with the artists, catch up and do all kind of artsy things. Art is a lifestyle.


Took sticks across the country
by Barb Rees, Powell River, BC, Canada

My husband took early retirement and still needed something to fill his days (besides my lists). He got involved with a company shipping driftwood to England by the container load. That sparked his creativity to bring his own driftwood home off the lake and make artwork out of it. Thus he created his business: “R-STIX-R-4-U” We decided last year to take our cottage crafts across the country and prove that you really can pay for a trip by selling them. We did it! In 113 days we sold at markets all the way across enough to pay our way. More than that it gave us our freedom to travel, meet people and follow our dreams. Now we are both pursuing painting and drawing and have plans for selling this summer too. Cottage crafts are the oldest industry around.


Valuing the successful
by Peggy B. Perazzo, Woodland, CA, USA

When I read today’s email relating to the cottage industries of the past and the Industrial Revolution, it reminded me of a question that’s has been on my mind about the “value” society places on people who create paintings, sculptures, books, music, etc. before they sell their art or become recognized. My problem is that it seems that until someone sells, publishes, etc. something, they are seen by many in today’s world as “wasting their time” and that they should spend their time being productive with the goal of making money – with money as the indicator of success. Once an artist is acknowledged and starts selling his or her works, then their time is considered well spent working on their “art” and is seen as having value.

(RG note) Paid or unpaid, no art making is a waste of time.


Number one winner
by Goran Stipic, Wels, Austria

Now I am immediately surprised by being a ‘free book winner.’ Wow! Thanks! I like reading your random art topics. The way it’s done is interesting. I just wonder how people can verbalize relatively difficult issues by the simplest means and further spread them around the world. Every time I receive a ‘twice weekly letter’ I think of having to deal with certain similarities in my actual work. Please keep up this source of practical inspiration!

(RG note) Goran was the first winner to reply — must be something to do with the time zone as the letter goes out in the middle of the night PDST. There was almost a 100 percent response to this gift. The winners were in the list of 24 randomly selected names in the previous clickback. Several non-winning artists wrote to say that we had spelled their name incorrectly — but when we checked they were way different! Nice try. You may not be aware that we send — at any time — a free copy of The Painter’s Keys book to current subscribers who send in the names and email addresses of six (or more) friends who would like to have the letters sent to them. As all subs are permission-based we appreciate if you contact them and ask them first. It’s important that people know about the system–and that the new subscribers are the type who may get value from the letters. If you wish to get a free book in this way please send your list of names and email addresses to and don’t forget to include your regular mailing address.


Hair conditioner for brushes?
by Mary Jane Gandee, Orlando, FL, USA

Wondering what advice you can share about keeping paintbrushes in good working order? Is it okay to use a “human” hair conditioner to soften or recondition the hair in brushes? My brush cleaning process is to remove oil paint with turps, then carefully wash with mild soap, rinse with tap water, reshape the tips, and air dry. Fairly quickly in their life, my brushes start to lose their youthful spring. I’m sure the quality of tap water contributes (similar to the effects on my own hair). Occasionally, I’ve used my own hair conditioner to try to restore the hair in the brushes. This seems to work, but I’m wondering if it’s an okay solution… or if there’s a better way.

(RG note) I’m always amazed when artists write with solutions that I’ve never thought of. The sagging hair syndrome is something that I’ve lived with — I replace tired brushes often. Shooting from the hip, I’d say that if conditioner perks up a brush, go for it. Others may have something to say. They may recommend certain brands.


Varied interests, varied styles
by Annabelle Meacham, Senatobia, MS, USA


original painting by
Annabelle Meacham

Your letter about the New York art fair was especially interesting because I had just heard on National Public Radio how strong the sales were. I agree with your daughter that we should paint our interests, but I have learned a lot about what colors people are actually willing to live with in their homes (not the bright primary colors beginning artists seem to love so much), and acceptable subject matter (not something that will make you, or guests to your home, uncomfortable) from going to successful shows. Because I, like most people, have varied interests, my art is varied.


Links pages information
by Margaret Stone, Panama City Beach, FL, USA

A question regarding our listings in the Painter’s Keys links pages. I was reading about the premium links that included a photo of work. In the sample listing, under “description” it said, “Brief description written by you with your keywords which will produce increased search engine exposure.” Is that search engine exposure only appropriate to the paid listings? Or do the free listings also get the same search engine exposure for keywords?

(RG note) The free listings get the same large exposure to search engines — particularly if the copy is written correctly. Andrew can help you with this. As well as meta tags, Andrew has “secret” systems that make your website on our links pages come up high on search engines — often higher than the sites themselves — but that’s okay because we take them straight to you. The premium links — which contain the illustrations — are of value in attracting browsers and have a click-through rate of about four times as many visitors as the free links. The premium links are $100 per year and can be looked into here. For a free link listing send appropriate information to


Boat painting etiquette
by Catherine Taylor, Portland, OR, USA

I see from your web site that you have some experience painting on a boat. How do you handle storage and disposal of oil painting solvents on the boat? My spouse is getting fussy about safety now that we will be boat based.

(RG note) On board, I paint in acrylic. However, you will find that most marinas will have a barrel specifically for the disposal of engine oil, etc. I’ve put the oily rags, lidded jars of used turpentine and old palettes into those.


Random pump-primer
by Sonja Donnelly, Lake Oswego, OR, USA


acrylic painting by
Sonja Donnelly

After reading Norah Bolton’s letter on writing every morning — I had an instructor that suggested we spend some time each morning, writing. Not being a person of many words, at first, I sat with my pen thinking, what shall I write? Then I got this crazy Idea. I wrote a handful of random words on individual slips of paper. Words like Red, Cow, Love, Eyes, Tomato, whatever came to mind. I put them in a cup. Each morning I drew a word and without stopping to think about it, started writing. I wrote as fast as my subconscious would deliver the words to my mind. I did not pause or think about what I was putting down, or if it even made any sense. When I had completed two sheets, then and only then did I read what I had written. I was often amazed at what my subconscious had delivered. Occasionally I carry this over to my painting, and those paintings often have much more life and movement than other work that I spent too much time laboring.





Spacoa Napoli

oil painting on panel by
Andrea Patrisi, Italy


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, 2004.

That includes Kory Twaddle who asked this question, “A now-famous artist had a wife who died of malnutrition. His work took a while to catch on — too late for his starving family. Who was it?”

And also, Mary Jean Mailloux who asked, “What do you think of selling work through other venues, i.e. restaurants, libraries, beauty salons etc?” (RG note) Many artists, including myself, prefer the endorsement of a professional dealer. Libraries are not bad, restaurants less so, beauty salons are the least desirable unless you are getting a free shampoo.



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