Off the beaten track


Dear Artist,

Recently, Marylin Davies of Terrace, BC, Canada, wrote, “There are many delights for those of us pursuing our art in small towns and remote places. One of our problems is exposure to larger audiences. What are our options in these environments?”

Thanks, Marylin. The last decade has seen changes for artists in remote areas. The Internet has now situated every one of us right downtown in the Global Village. As long as there’s Internet access, we can rub shoulders with any SoHo star. Time and again we learn of quality work from out-of-the-way artists who would never be noticed except for the Web.

Private sales are happening on the Internet. It’s my observation that confidence is increasing, and more and more collectors are open to acting on virtual images. The Net is already the medium of choice when brick-and-mortar galleries go prospecting. They see the work first and then find out where it’s from. Artists owe it to themselves to have even minimal exposure. Self-managed art sites and The Painter’s Keys Free and Premium links are examples. It seems that art excitement doesn’t have much to do with the slickness of a site. It has more to do with the art. Great art is discovered every day on modest sites. Unknown great artists, like flowers blooming in a desert, wilt and die unnoticed and unappreciated.

The remote life and the community of small towns are coming to be seen as the more desirable–more vital to contemplation, concentration, creative delight and the regenerating touch of Nature. At the same time there may be a lack of stimulation. Staring out into the eternal boonies can eventually stop your clock. Remotely situated artists need to find their own balance between stimulation and contemplation, between concerted, self-motivated effort and the danger of stagnation. It doesn’t necessarily require the close proximity of other artists. It’s okay to be the only frog in the puddle. Creators, wherever they are, need inner fire.

Keeping track may be part of the countryman’s game. I once found an old journal in a deserted Yukon cabin. Pretty well every day Axel Isbister had written something like, “Today I had two eggs, chopped wood, watched my beaver, worked on the roof, had beans.” The Axel of today, only slightly speeded up, might add, “Went on the Net, got stimulated, painted three oils, took digitals, put them up.”

Best regards,


PS: “He who lives in solitude may make his own laws.” (Publilius Syrus) “An ivory tower is a fine place as long as the door is open.” (Darby Bannard) “There is no companion that is as companionable as solitude.” (Henry David Thoreau)

Esoterica: A condition of value to remote artists is the “Distant Treasure Syndrome” (DTS). Like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the motivated collector goes through a lot of fright and danger to get to the desired treasure. Off-the-beaten-track artists can develop and build connectivity on this human characteristic. Psychologically speaking, people are more likely to take risks and try to score when they have travelled a long way.


Working the potential
by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA


“July Painting #2”
pastel painting
by Paul deMarrais

I live in the artistic boonies in northeast Tennessee. The region is beautiful and inspiring and I am within driving distance to a number of more promising cities. The Web is a tremendous tool for an artist. It’s a 24/7 salesman who never tires and never needs fast food. My website and web designer, Donnie Fischer, have been wonderful in helping me in my career. I can confidently send people to our site to get a better idea of who I am and what I do. Too many artist sites are boring, hard to navigate, busy and unfocussed, personal in a bad way. A great website is a great investment. A bad one is akin to stepping on a rusty nail. My feeling is that artists need to somehow separate themselves from the vast herd of our own artistic crowd. Creating great paintings is a good start but not enough. We need to use all of our talents and skills. If you can write, do that. If you can teach, do that. If you can give a good presentation, do that. Don’t compete with others but try to be the best you can be. Use the skills you have and always seek to improve. Everyone on the Web sells you some ‘can’t miss’ recipe for success. The truth is there isn’t one, not in art or any other field. The Internet is only a great tool. You have to figure out how to use it to mine its potential. The potential is incredible.

There are 3 comments for Working the potential by Paul deMarrais

From: Linda Saccoccio — May 22, 2009

Thank you Paul for this clear and direct posting! It has so much specific info, details, options and wisdom to support the journey of a thriving artist! I really appreciate your integrity, generosity and enthusiasm.

From: Liz Reday — May 22, 2009


I just love your work and appreciate your sensible comments! Every time that you do a clickback you hit the nail on the head and show another new wonderful artwork. We’re lucky to have the benefit of your experience. It’s a pleasure.

From: Marylin Davies — May 22, 2009

Thank you to everyone who took the time to e-mail me personally or answer the post here. I appreciate your comments and your comraderie. It is great to be able to have a place to communicate with others who face problems as well.

Enjoy your Memorial Day Weekend.


Photographing paintings
by Dorit Pittman, Poplarville, MS, USA

A couple of years ago I moved from New Orleans to rural Mississippi. I love everything about living here and have even sought out other artists like me. I see the biggest obstacle with promoting my art through the Internet is photography. Simply taking work out-of-doors does not do it for me. I find it extremely difficult to get a photo representative of my work. I cannot afford a professional photographer. I’ve read a couple of books on photographing my art but still have same problem. Any advice?

(RG note) Thanks, Dorit. Find a (preferably mid-tone) wall on the side of your home that is always in the shade. Put in some nails at different heights so that you can quickly hang or stand paintings so the middle of the painting is at about eye-camera level when you stand in front of it. Don’t take pictures in the early morning or late afternoon or the colour will be distorted. Use a digital camera with about a 50 mm lens or equivalent — not too wide angle or telephoto. Don’t let the flash pop up — preferably, use a tripod. Leave a bit of space around the painting. Crop and straighten on the computer.

There are 3 comments for Photographing paintings by Dorit Pittman

From: Patrick — May 22, 2009

As you shoot the picture, tack a small scrap of white paper and black paper to the wall. Capture them in the bit of space around the painting that you will later crop out. Now that you have defined spots of black and white in your digital image, point to them in Photoshop as you a) adjust color and b) remove the color cast. Use both white and black because the result can vary depending on which you point to when removing the color cast.

From: Rene’ Huntsville, AL — May 22, 2009

Patrick, thank you for sharing this valuable tip!

From: Lorraine Khachatourians — May 22, 2009

thanks from me too Patrick, I will try this next time


What do I paint?
by Mieke Salna, Harrietville, Australia


“Red robin on boundary”
original painting
by Mieke Salna

I have been painting all my life but lately I have a problem in finding what to paint. It seems silly, but at school I was always given a subject or received a briefing on what was required. After school my artwork mostly consisted of commission portrait works, which paid for my travelling as that is my second love. I had always done them from photos. About 4 years ago I moved to Australia with my husband. Getting used to a different country and customs, searching for work, depression kicked in. Last year we moved to a beautiful country town. I feel so totally inspired. I have met some fantastic artists here. With a folder under my arm I went and had a chat with a few to see what they think of my work. I have heard all my life, “That is good stuff, you should do something with it.” One of them picked a few things up in my work and got me onto a tutor. I have been taking a few lessons and so started to enjoy it again. One of the lessons was portrait of a life model, not from a photo and this was so much fun. A few of your letters have helped me to get started again as well. This leaves one problem, WHAT DO I PAINT?

There is no school or client telling me what to draw or paint. I built a fantastic easel, got a room transformed into a designated art-room. I have all the equipment, but no idea what to paint. When I come up with an idea, my mind paints it in my head, but I never get it on canvas. When I see other artists work, I think, I can do that, but as he/she did, why can’t I come up with that idea? How do I work out what I like to paint? Is there anyone who can help me get to the bottom of this?

There are 2 comments for What do I paint? by Mieke Salna

From: Darla — May 22, 2009

One way to get started is to do something you’re already doing — look at things other people have done and decide what, exactly, it is that you like about them, and then paint it. It may be subject, approach, technique, color, etc. Usually even if you are inspired by someone else, whay you do will be completely different.

From: Susan Avishai, Toronto — May 22, 2009

Get yourself a mirror and paint your own portrait, over and over. It’s a great chance to experiment, you’ll discover things about yourself, and you don’t have to pay the model!


Networking on an island
by Jean McLaren, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada

I live on Gabriola Island in British Columbia. It takes two ferries to get here from Vancouver. There are many artists here and each year for the past 5 or 6 we have had a Thanksgiving Tour. Last year 80 artists participated, including potters, weavers, jewelers, stained glass artists and others. Because of economic concerns and higher entry fees, numbers of artists are down for 2009.

I belong to a painting group who meet regularly twice a week at the seniors centre although all of us are not seniors. We have 3 shows a year, one on Easter Saturday, our Summer Show, July 18, 19, and we will have a show in December. We dropped the Tour this year.

We have two newspapers on the island, plus several email lists that go out regularly. The Arts Council is very good at advertising any solo show that occurs and regularly through the summer has an outside tent at the Village where two people at a time display and sell their paintings on the Saturday of each weekend. Plus our local gallery, “Artworks” regularly has shows of local artists. We are tremendously fortunate to be able to show our work to a large audience.


Small town life
by Casey Craig, Wimberley, TX, USA


“Seeing Reds 2”
mixed media painting
by Casey Craig

I live in the small artistic community of Wimberley, Texas. I have lived in several large cities while growing up and I really don’t wish to live anywhere but here. The hills, rivers, horses, cows and roadrunners that I see daily are very inspiring. It is a wonderful place to raise my kids and I much prefer the quiet pace and friendly people of a small town. I have worked successfully as an illustrator from here and, now that I’ve segued into fine art, I don’t see my remote home as a hindrance to my career. The City of Austin recently selected three of my paintings for permanent installation into one of their new libraries, and they made their selections from my website. I agree with you that a website is integral to any artist who wants to seek a larger audience and it immediate puts their work out on a global level. Exhibitions and galleries in larger cities may also help Marylin if she wants a larger audience for her work. I know the larger cities have more art venues and it is more convenient for artists to benefit if they live there. However, I am willing to sacrifice a little convenience for small-town life.


False hopes?
by Delmar Pettigrew


“A dress of many colors”
oil painting, 20 x 16 inches
by Delmar Pettigrew

Come on Robert, stop giving people out there false hope that a presence on the Web will get you any business. My wife and I are both artists, have been on the Web with our own websites for maybe 12 years, and are still waiting for someone to actually order anything from our websites, even though we regularly upgrade images on our sites. What we do get are those phony mid-eastern magnates that want to send us a check, made out for more than the amount of the purchase, asking us to “please send us a check for the over-payment.”

Why not give them the real truth, that is you must get out there and do the shows! Nothing else will keep them alive in this tough business. Galleries yes, but we find you can’t live off the galleries’ sales either. When you do the shows, festivals, whatever you want to call them, you will establish a mailing list, which will be invaluable for mailing offerings when there are no shows for you. Unfortunately, we probably spend more time selling our art than actually creating it. Tell me a better way, one that really works, and I’m all ears!

(RG note) Thanks, Delmar. Putting your trusted dealers front and center on the home page will help to motivate them. People who google your name to get current prices or to look at what you’re doing now will see right away that you’re represented. When they can click through to the dealer’s current stock, everybody’s happy. My own site is an example. The number of visitors coming to artist’s-name sites tends to be quite low, but many are qualified collectors. When my dealers get one or two inquiries a week they are happy indeed.

There are 2 comments for False hopes? by Delmar Pettigrew

From: Mary Bullock — May 22, 2009

Delmar: I understand what you are saying about a website – but you must do things to drive people to your website in order for the website to really payoff. This can be done in so many ways – commenting on blogs, putting your work on places like dailyoriginal, or etsy or ebay, etc. There are many, many ways to drive traffic to find you. Put an imbeded counter on your website that will let you know who is visiting your site, where they live, what pages they are looking at and how they found your site. All of this information really helps in forming a marketing plan. Hope this helps!

From: Marsha Savage — May 24, 2009

Delmar, please do believe that work comes to you through having a web site! Just like Mary has told you, you need to get your name out there in more ways than just the site itself. Belong to groups, put a link to your site on your association sites. Do a blog, and comment on blogs that you like.

I recently received a wonderful commission for a hospital because they found me on the web! It has made my year already. Four large oil paintings (two of which are triptychs which is essentially eight large oils). Believe me it happens.


Lots of opportunities
by oliver, TX, USA


photograph by oliver

The Web can be a wonder — still one must be careful where to focus online — many of the online places you just wind up talking with other artists — stimulating perhaps, inspirational perhaps, motivating perhaps, informational perhaps (hey this letter is all of those and I find it worthwhile for those things) — but perhaps not so good for sales. Then there are the high-fee places for exposure — ask some of them about their stats/ visitors. Sale-through and silence are not really impressive — again maybe not a wise investment in time energy and money. Galleries come and go, websites come and go, festivals and fairs come and go, calls for entry are always there. Learn when and how to use them. There are resources a-plenty to give you contact lists, announcements, etc. for all of these.


Take your stuff to town
by Liz Reday, South Pasadena, CA, USA


oil painting, 36 x 48 inches
by Liz Reday

This weekend I took part in an outdoor show in Beverly Hills, CA. I wanted to show my recent work to get feedback from the general public and other artists, and this seemed like a good idea. The show encompasses four blocks full of shady old growth trees across from Beverly Hills City Hall and is attended by thousands of people. Celebrity-watching is a delight, and I saw many exhibiting artists whose work I hadn’t seen for three years. It was great to see how much their work had evolved and become stronger, plus it was a pleasure to re-connect. This was helpful for several reasons: Artists exchange so much! I met with new collectors interested in my work. I met with organizers of Los Angeles city sponsored events who want to use my work for publicity. I connected with many folks involved in the arts and city government and arranged for studio visits. I was able to stand back and view my work as others see it, articulate what I’m doing, and focus on new creative directions.

It was interesting seeing which paintings were singled out for second looks and comments. It was great to get feedback from other artists and share the camaraderie of a slow season and the excitement of new work. It produced new energy to connect with galleries and non-profit venues for my work. Despite the fact that it was a lot of work, I felt it was a valuable experience.


Need for human connectivity
by Linda Saccoccio, Santa Barbara, CA, USA


oil painting, 22 x 24 inches
by Linda Saccoccio

I wonder if you are making this look too sweet and easy. I do agree that there is great health and sanity in living in a place that has the complement of nature, and that our inner world can provide us with great inspiration and creative courage. Yet to say one can really do what artists do in the heart of urban culture by merely having a website is an over-simplification a bit misleading. Yes the world is getting smaller because we are able to connect via the Internet, but to gain exposure and increase sales seems to me to take more effort than just posting your work on a website. I guess it depends on what you are looking for. I still think meeting people is part of the process, and it takes much energy to even promote one’s work via the Internet with so many sites out there. It takes effort to keep those who look at your work thinking about it and being able to get their contact info, etc. I have found a passive website may get some good attention, but mostly it brings scammers and people wanting you to apply for a show and pay money to do that. Like anything, you have to build a connection and a reputation to have any consistent success. That takes dedication, effort, vision, and a strong, flexible backbone, not to mention a deep, critical relationship with one’s own creative process and its evolution.


Knock on local doors
by Jerry Spangler, Deltaville, Virginia


“Lost and forgotten”
oil painting, 9 x 12 inches
by Jerry Spangler

I’m an artist living in a small town. I do lots of art shows, Farmers Markets and commission work. I also do work shops and plein-air painting with groups of artist. In a small town like mine I get good support from the local news paper. When it’s slow I’ll go out and paint an old farm house or a river house, tug boat or a fishing boat, then I knock on a door and 4 out of 5 times I’ll sell it. If it doesn’t sell I’ll use it in my next show or put it in a gallery. A website is a must for an artist.




Three Legged Lake

oil painting
by Stephen Snider, Toronto, ON, Canada


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 Peter Zozula of Agu, Azores who wrote, “It’s so remote here that there is no email and I don’t want it anyway, and no decent regular mail either, and I have to get a friend to email for me, and still people come by boat out here to see the strange artist on the island.”

And also Jock Tindall of Islay, Scotland who wrote, “What did they do before the Internet?”



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