Some concerns of a working artist


Dear Artist,

While catching up with an artist friend recently, we rambled through a few mechanical subjects: galleries, crating and shipping, contracts, assistants, exhibitions and fairs, pricing, sales, community, stretchers, transportation and studio visits — each a detail of the job, and when gathered together, the components of a dream. As always happens in these moments, it confirmed again my belief that knowledge empowers, and artists do well to share their stops and starts with one another. There is, perhaps, really no such thing as too much encouragement between kindred strivers. Perhaps, more than encouragement, witnessing this striving in another is the most generous thing — more valuable, possibly, than a mouthful of painting tips.

The Birth of Thought Limited Edition Photographic Prints by Sam Kaczur

The Birth of Thought
Limited Edition Photographic Prints
by Sam Kaczur

If you’re looking for gallery representation, make a shortlist in your area and study each gallery’s program and artists. Artist-dealer relationships have the potential to be life-changing partnerships. The challenge is in finding the right fellow traveller — someone with whom you can grow in a shared vision of work and connection. Fine-tuning this match can take a lifetime and, like a garden, needs tending. Through all your stages, try to make professional choices in the service of your work.

How to select materials and move your art from place to place depends on the type of work you do — and the experiences of others can be invaluable. When I moved from New York to California, I asked almost every new arty friend for a recommendation — for canvas, paint, crating, trucking, installing and shipping. In a flash, a team of local business owners congealed into a vital, professional community.

The Petrification of Dreams Limited Edition Photographic Prints by Sam Kaczur

The Petrification of Dreams
Limited Edition Photographic Prints
by Sam Kaczur

For those wondering about an assistant — for art stuff or administrative stuff — you might also ask around. When my Dad was looking for a special helper, he went to the local high school and asked the art teacher to name his best student, then offered her a summer job. Sam, now an artist in her own right, spent many years as part of our family. During her time in my Dad’s studio, she did everything from gessoing canvases, making short films and editing photos –, to programming these letters for you. She brought a fresh energy to the studio, solved every technical problem and even nudged us all in the direction of social media.

Not all artists are jonesing to exhibit. For those who are, or who at least see it as an important part of their creative or career development, there are ever-increasing ways to show, many of which give you a great measure of control and that you can make happen on your own. Exhibiting in a curated space like a commercial gallery or museum needs a champion in the form of a willing partner. Inspiring this dream person to stick their neck out for you is best done by first buckling down and producing the highest quality work from the most thoughtfully developed ideas you can muster. Create, in art, the highest expression of who you are. It only requires your everything. Once you have a special someone’s attention, it’s time to let them give their everything, too.

The Whispers of Old Souls Limited Edition Photographic Prints by Sam Kaczur

The Whispers of Old Souls
Limited Edition Photographic Prints
by Sam Kaczur



PS: “The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.” (Emile Zola)

“I am not young enough to know everything.” (Oscar Wilde)

Esoterica: Most important, know that you’re in the midst of a lifelong process. It may be early days. Among all these details, keep your eyes, hands and heart on your paintings. My friend and I agree that we will each safeguard the integrity of our work with the best materials we can afford. We’ll keep aspiring to fantasy environments and audiences, while being open to new collaborations. We’ll share knowledge, but remain true to our personal systems. The art sea is, for the most part, navigated as an epic, solo paddle. It is enriched by acknowledging the paddles of others. “Some people go to priests; others to poetry; I to my friends.” (Virginia Woolf)

Giving Life Limited Edition Photographic Prints by Sam Kaczur

Giving Life
Limited Edition Photographic Prints
by Sam Kaczur

Have you considered a Premium Artist Listing?  With each letter, an artist is featured at the bottom of this page. The Premium Artist Listings are a means of connecting artist subscribers through their work. Proceeds from each listing contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys. 

“Be both the gardener and the rose.” (Author unknown)






  1. My husband was a Watercolor Artist and passed away in 2007. He was very prolific and was always learning. In the last months of his life he had a one man show at the Lycian Center in Warwick, NY with approximately 53 paintings. He had shown his work in Glen Rock Library in NJ. After he died I continued to show his works in about 15Banks & Libraries and they were enjoyed by many. He has a website where you can learn more about him. My question is what do I do with all these paintings? People love them, but are not willing to spend the money to purchase them. My children & grandchildren have selected the ones they want and I want them to be enjoyed. But he has not shown in any galleries and that’s usually the first question I’m asked. Some of his works are not signed as he usually did that when framing. Can you give me any advice. Thank you very much.

    • Denise Vanderwolf on

      Dear Jane, Condolences in the loss of your husband. He has left you many gifts of himself with his paintings. I’m not sure if you are hoping or need to gain some income from the sale. I have learned that it is difficult to sell art that I had purchased even though it was an accomplished artist. This may not be a solution for you, but I thought I would share that in this case, I have donated art to places that need beautiful pictures to look at, such as hospitals, doctors offices, non-profit organizations and hopefully uplift their spirit or bring them some good memories. Some of these offices are very dreary and the art has been thoroughly enjoyed. Sometimes, you can also find places that are able to issue you a tax donation receipt for income tax purposes. Another thought is to reduce the price of the paintings as not everyone is able to purchase good art and would be delighted. Hope this helps.

  2. Ah, yes,
    Half way through my life I started art making – as a way to go to my core and establish a balance in my life. In a year, I graduated to higher quality paints.
    Choices/promises I made:
    – Give myself permission. Let whatever was going to come out come out with no judgment.
    – No commission – too stressfuls; no portraits – not enough skill or time; no galleries – heard some bad stories
    – Research and create a business plan.
    I worked through hard choice making and did the business plan.
    I broke the commission promise – and did a large work (nerve racking) for a friend… that ended up sponsoring my debut exhibition in their airplane hangar.
    I broke the gallery promise – On an owner’s request, I dropped off several works at a new tourist shop nearby. None of the overpriced pieces sold and I found out that customers, when they asked about the beautiful triptych – used as a centrepiece on the wall behind the register – was “not for sale”. I cleared out all pieces the next day.
    Trust your gut. Converse with others. Learn lessons.

  3. It seems to me that the components of this dream are only available to those “artists” with a healthy source of financial support already in place. To be able to create “the highest expression of who you are” requires dedication and discipline independent of other obligations….get someone else to whitewash your fences, cook your food, raise your children and clean your messes so you can attend those high society soirees and convince the gentry of your worth.

  4. Thank-you for all the beautiful and highly useful information. So happy to have rediscovered Robert and Sara Genn…thought it ended when he passes away..but someone is honoring his legacy and I’M GLAD. Patricia Pope

  5. Dear Sara, each aspect you covered in this letter is SO pertinent to ‘getting it right’!
    I’d like to highlight one more aspect though, I had to move many times from country to country, each time the exercise of figuring out the lay of the (artistic) landscape took a while but it broadened my horizon and over time added depth to my narrative, as life lessons tend to, but for me each move also meant establishing myself anew. Do you have any thoughts about how is an artist to overcome the hurdle of being ‘new’ each time?
    I find its quite a challenge to get a viewing or a click on my submission – or so it seems.
    How do I effectively say, ‘I’m new here but here’s my body of work, since I’ve been here and where I’ve been before please have a look’. ?
    Fond regards

    • Hello Atiya! Your work is absolutely beautiful! Mystery, storytelling, composition and colour- it has it all. Wow.

      As to your search for artistic community, I would encourage you to apply for membership in a regional or national or world-wide association. During covid I found myself searching for the same. I found it with the Ontario Society of Artists (provincial), Blue Mountain Foundation for the Arts (regional), National/international with a paid membership to (an artist mentorship group) and the Tiny Art Collective (which I founded with others from my community who were also members of the BMFA).

      All have brought artistic community, artistic growth and new friends in my own new community since I moved two years ago. During Covid restrictions in particular, LevellingUp has been a source of wonderful friendships and support from other artists, in addition to artistic growth as it is all online/zoom. Now that restrictions are easing, my regional associations are opening up opportunities for in person events and the Tiny Art Collective is creating our own local events. I will continue with LevellingUp, however, as the friends I have made there have become my cheerleaders and compatriots in my art career, as well as a huge source of artistic information and learning!

      Good luck and may you find some new art friends! Any association would be lucky to have you.

      • Thank you so much Barbara for your encouragement and very kind words!
        Also, I appreciate the guidance and useful tips
        I looked at your work too – it’s so vibrant and expressive! More power you . Stay inspired.
        Fond regards

  6. Great letter. I suppose it’s all good and well to share and take support from fellow artists. It can be a double edged sword tho. Living in a small community where the choices for promoting who you are as an artist can lead to a limited focus on competing more than encouraging. Yes, it’s good to share and learn from each other, but so discouraging when you find yourself stifled by limitations thrust on you because you aren’t measuring up to everyone else in your small circle of artist friends. Breaking away and doing my own thing in my own time was hard and kind of frightening to adapt to. I learned I never did fit in really, I should have not waited until I was close to 60 to ‘go to my room” and just do it. If we believe we must be true to who we really are as individual artists, I wonder why we steer towards groups who make us feel like we don’t really fit in? Human nature is a big component in how we embark on all decisions we make. Social creatures who want to belong, only to witness the reflex of needing to outdo each other. It happens in life, it happens in art. Ah, well, everyone has a story. I guess if you’re still enjoying making art after 40 years of bashing away at it, it’s all good. ” Be both the gardener and the rose “, love that.

  7. What a wonderful article! Love the quotes especially the one that seemed most mentioned, “Create, in art, the highest expression of who you are. It only requires your everything”. I feel like all obstacles were put my way in regard to art, my self expression. it’s been a constant climb, with no rest to the mountain top. The friction needed to create the pearl I guess. Still climbing, embers of creativity still glowing. Since caring for my mother and her home , her being dependent on my care after her stroke there was so little time to paint. It’s very painful to have such a passion to paint and to be restrained by circumstance. But where there is will there is a way. I fight for those few hours of painting time , squeeze it in and exhibit when I can. Lately feeling really like I’m giving it all I’ve got and something greater than me is laying out the itinerary and it’s for me to just put in the efforts. Recently I got into three juried shows that I didn’t expect to get into at all and entered all at the very last minute thanks to my dying computer. Two were at the Salmagundi Club. To my surprise I won the second highest prize in one of them, the other, cityscape show is still up. The third show in Georgia just had it’s first physical opening as well. So little time. So much to paint.

  8. I love this letter. I started painting in Jackson Square, New Orleans in 1971, working with 200 other artists. I learned quickly that it takes a village to help one overcome fears and arrogance and limitations, etc I so appreciate the thoughts and help presented in these letters.

Leave A Reply

Featured Workshop

Mexico Art Retreat for Women January 23-30, 2022
January 23, 2022 to January 30, 2022

 DETAILJoin Ellie Harold for “Intuitive Painting: Permission to Paint Expressively,” designed especially for mature women artists of all skill levels who wish to explore this medium for soulful exploration. The retreat provides attractive accommodations (your own room!) along with lightly structured activities for centering, relaxation and low stress art-making. You’ll have plenty of free time to muse, paint, write and reflect while enjoying the colors, textures and flavors of San Miguel. This Retreat has the potential to transform not only your art but your life! You’ll return home with a specific art “care plan” to assure support for further creating. Details at

  Gulf Islands Afternoon 48 x 36 inch oil on canvas by Terrill Welch

Featured Artist

I am a landscape painter exposing the mystery in an ordinary day.


Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

Subscribe and receive the Twice-Weekly letter on art. You’ll be joining a worldwide community of artists.
Subscription is free.