Lessons from a Turkish market


Dear Artist,

In Istanbul the great marketplace is jammed. Arm in arm the shoppers come, jostled, impeded and pressed forward by the throng. Noisy and competitive, it’s a fluid masterpiece of diversity and the side-by-side offering of similar products and services. An observer might notice a few things:


The spice market means colour, texture, unique odours and tactile selection.

Beans and lentils piled to dangerous heights get more attention than beans and lentils in half-empty bins.

Precious items like saffron and caviar become more precious when put into fine and delicate packaging.

Kebabs, chestnuts and olives get more attention when they are actively moved around.

Turkish delights get more interest in shops where there is a greater variety to choose from.

Moving a big bag of Turkish coffee to the front of a shop shows something about the shopkeeper’s attitude.

Passersby learn to respect the restoration of shoes when they watch cobblers at work.

The distinctive and pleasantly memorable odour of bread is advertising enough for this product.

Shopkeepers who appear to be friendly and seem to have a lot of friends appear to be more prosperous.

People become hungry when they see the lamb being energetically sliced on the spit.

Melons, pomegranates, cabbages and all manner of eggs are snapped up because they are fresh.

There is a movement toward the Anatolian tomatoes because the word has gone around that they are now in season.

Workers and shopkeepers who appear to be busy tend to be truly busier than those who are relaxed at their work.

People flock to certain produce because other people are flocking to it.

Some customers show off to their friends by buying extreme numbers of peppers and pimentos.

Some customers try to show good will and personal well being by paying the highest of asking prices.

Ottoman carpets are at their most appealing when you get your hands and feet on them.

Bonitos and mullets are most acceptable when they are still actively flopping.

Both the fishermen and the fish mongers are persistent and put in long hours.

The most desirable stuff is often tucked away at the back of the shop.


The lamb catches attention by being actively and enthusiastically sliced.

Best regards,


PS: “Chance is always powerful. Let your hook always be cast. In the pool where you least expect it, there will be fish.” (Ovid)

Esoterica: Human nature crosses continents, nationalities and races. Art, while different from mullets, has nevertheless some commonalities with the catching and distribution of fish. People bump along past they know not what, searching for familiarity, quality, novelty, beauty, genial surprise, friendship, trust, and what they can tell themselves is good value.


Jewels of wisdom
by Gayle Weisfield


“Cape Horn”
watercolour painting
by Gayle Weisfield

I always enjoy all your letters, although this one hit me right between the eyes! I realized I have been pulling farther and farther back into the rocks. In preparation for the possibility of an impending storm, I am creating an unfriendly shop for my customer! I shall start applying each of these creative and marketing jewels of wisdom to myself and my painting. Thank you for the boost, just before I lost myself in a rocky hole.




More lessons from Istanbul
by Helen Opie, Granville Ferry, NS, Canada


“Meteghan River Houses”
acrylic painting
by Helen Opie

Your report on Istanbul brings back memories of my 2 months there in 1953, learning enough Turkish to get around, to haggle, and to appreciate these fine humans. What I learnt when there, besides how we young, young women were regarded with amazement for driving a car, for swimming, for simply being out and about Westerners, was about staring or looking at people with interest. Turks are not told it is impolite to look at strangers — or probably anyone. When I realized this aspect of their culture, I was liberated to really enjoy looking at my fellow passengers on the buses, on ferry boats, in the markets, and at the enclosed swimming place on the Bosporus — a clear-watered port then; you could see the propellers of the huge ships far down under the clear green-yellow water. I also took with me the understanding that if I looked with a friendly face, I was not being rude, and have found this to be true at home, too. Since I love looking at this world around me, wherever I am, my life is richer for this lesson. I paint because I love to loook — and share what I see. No other agenda.


Looking busy
by Hazel Robinson, CA, USA

For many years my husband and I sold our pottery at craft shows. We noticed that the craftsman who was always busy rearranging, dusting, or packing or unpacking items was most likely to have customers. The craftsman whose work did NOT sell well was the craftsman who was sitting in his booth reading or eating.

So now, as a member of a co-op art gallery, I try to be busy, or at least look busy. I rearrange pottery, dust frames, and try never to be caught sitting behind the desk relaxing. It often helps if I have a painting in progress as a “prop” to be busy working on.

For one thing, people don’t mind talking to someone who is already up and moving so that they aren’t disturbing the person in charge. Playing games on a computer doesn’t count — you’re sitting behind the desk and the potential customer will not want to disturb you.


Another sales tactic
by Marty Gibson, Scottsdale, AZ, USA


Shadow puppets

You forgot one sales tactic. I was drawn to a shop in the market with a great many shadow puppets. Although we could not communicate with each other, the proprietor wanted to give me a show. He sat me down and began with a kazoo-type musical intro, followed by a rather furious argument between the two traditional antagonists — Karagöz and Hacivat. As the story evolved, one character repeatedly shouted amidst the Turkish story line, “American lady, woo, woo, woo!!” Needless to say, I bought the guys and they hang in my studio spurring me on when things are tough going.




Attention to the everyday
by Kerim Kahyagil, Istanbul, Turkey


watercolour painting
by Kerim Kahyagil

Being exposed to this picture everyday, I take it for granted. You have put it into words so nicely… It brought the scene to my attention. Every sentence has become a painting subject.







Marketplace ploys
by Carol Barber, Gainesville, FL, USA


“Pine tree”
original painting
by Carol Barber

Okay, I instantly see I need to start framing my canvases again and let people discover the really best paintings last. They will feel they have discovered the treasure. Oh how many times have I done that in an antique shop. I have fallen for these market place ploys without realizing it. And be working on something at festivals to draw a crowd, yes I see.

Thanks for the insight.




Brisk sales in a crowd
by Sandy Sandy


Sandy at her gallery showing

Doing art festivals the past few weeks, I can relate completely to this letter. When people crowd into our booth, more enthusiasm and sales are always generated. The sales are usually brisk in spurts – always while others are buying. Perhaps it’s safety in numbers, peer group approval or fear of loss. Sometimes I think it would be worth while to pay people to be our booth shoppers! On the other note, when no one is looking at our paintings, we seem to become invisible to the crowds although I always try to stay enthusiastic and upbeat.

There are 2 comments for Brisk sales in a crowd by Sandy Sandy

From: Barbara — Oct 22, 2008

I also see this in action in my day job as a tasting room manager at a local winery. On slow days, we move all the staff cars to the customer parking and, within minutes, we have some action, followed by other cars pulling in. It’s some strange magnetic force!!

From: Liz Reday — Oct 22, 2008

Doing a booth show is a terrific learning experience! I find it important to get into lively discussions with anybody near my area — talking about anything at all in order to engage folks, and the conversation can be about your own art, art in general, the weather, how many kids they have, etc. Others see that your booth is busy and to them it looks like you’re closing a sale or at least chatting to a prospective buyer. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. The other way to warm up the crowds and get the selling started is to give away a small inexpensive painting to a friend, or maybe to their child, if you can afford it. It seems to get the karma flowing, unblocks the chi and encourages more sales — like salting the tip jar! Works for me.


Engaging customers
by BJ Wright, Tunnel Hill, GA, USA

Having been an exhibitor last weekend at a local, but nationally visited, art fair, all I can say is that you hit a bull’s eye with your Turkish market letter. I saw many variations in exhibiting/selling styles. Competing artists had vastly differing display methods. Some were almost like walking into an art gallery. Others were like walking into a carnival side-show. One particular artist sat fidgeting in front of her display, glancing up and down the walkways and almost pouncing upon any prospective customer. After the event, she admitted that she hadn’t sold a single item the entire weekend. For me, it appears that engaging customers and helping them understand my artwork — making that spark connect — is both what sells and what makes the creative energies flow. I’m back at the easel, creating paintings to replace the ones that sold.


Direct sales
by Jean McLaren, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada

Our group of 10 participated in the Annual Thanksgiving Tour of art studios this past weekend on Gabriola Island, BC. I personally love to do shows where I can be there and talk to the people who drop in. However, we live on a small island with about 4500 residents and 80 people were showing their work. It would have been impossible to get to every studio even in 3 days, but 264 came through. I was disappointed that I did not sell as much as last year, but considering the fear of the economy and the days before our federal election, it was ok. Some people on the tour sold lots, others nothing. I think selling yourself and connecting with people works. Being friendly and explaining techniques when people ask about them makes a connection. People remember you and often call you later. I much prefer direct sales to having my work in a sterile gallery.


Expanding arts organization
by Lyn Cherry, Maryville, TN, USA


“Tenton view”
watercolour painting
by Lyn Cherry

The local arts organization that I belong to, Fine Arts Blount (FAB), will be having a grand opening of their new location on the main drag of our town, Broadway on Halloween night. It will take place during the Last Friday Art Walk, a recurring, monthly event that our organization founded in January. It was so successful, a new umbrella organization for it was founded by one of our artist members.

Just one year ago to the week, FAB opened our first bricks-and-mortar ArtSpace in the basement of a historical building one block away from Broadway and have outgrown that space already! We now have access to the top two floors of a building with main street level access for the Gallery portion. So, more space to exhibit our members work; room in which to have two or more classes/workshops occurring at the same time, and areas for artists and artisans to have studio or sales space on the second floor. We will need a better marketing plan, and your letter has just inspired me to start working on it!


A rare Mentor
by Pamela Plotkin, Newport Beach, CA, USA

About six years ago an older man walked into my shop, an eclectic store with gifts, books and lots of art work. We became friendly over the years and discovered we had a few things in common. For one, I love movies and he made them for seventy years. And, we both love art.

For years I have written stories and then filed them away. When he heard about my stories he offered to read them. That was a big moment. Can you imagine? Well, he loved them and offered to illustrate them.

Wow! And when I say, “Wow!” I mean it. I was going to be working with a wonderful man, a legend and someone who believed in my words. After a few months my new partner became sick and after recovering told me that he could not fulfill his promise to illustrate my stories. However, he insisted I could do it. I had painted for years, but had put my serious brushes away long ago in a trunk and only did craft painting. He told me that not only was I going to illustrate my own stories, I would learn how to do it on the computer. He wanted me to be able to paint with a brush and a stylus. He wanted me to expand my mind, my talent, my life. I was terrified. But he was in his mid-eighties and how could I say, “I can’t?” Everyday he rises to learn, share and create.

And so I began my journey. I learned to draw on the computer. I pulled out my serious brushes and painted on canvas. But I forced myself to learn to draw on the computer. Over and over and day-in and day-out I practiced, cried, pulled my hair and slowly learned.

Initially, he said, “you have an interesting style.” I said, “Really?” Thinking to myself, Wow, am I that good? Then he said, “Yes, you don’t use any shadows, not a problem if that is what you are going for.” I ran home and began again.

My friend, my mentor, never tires of his enthusiasm for my accomplishments. He motivates, cajoles, sends me notes of encouragement and pearls of wisdom come often and whenever needed. He makes me a better artist… and a better person.

Two years later I am illustrating my stories. I have found an agent who likes my stories and art work. And I am hopeful that my books will be published.

My mentor? Gene Allen. Past President of the Motion Picture Academy (two years) and the only “below the line” President of the Academy. Academy Award winner for Art Direction for My Fair Lady. And many of other titles and awards too numerous to mention. Painter, sketch artist, mentor, teacher and friend.

He is now 90 years old. He paints nearly everyday.


Behind the Seens
by ConnieTom , Willard, MT, USA


“Autumn’s Hidden Sanctuary”
oil on canvas,30 x 24 inches
by ConnieTom

No… the word “Seens” is not misspelled. It’s supposed to relay the fact that sometimes other factors are in play far beyond just what we see at first. A long time ago, I prayed that my art could somehow be used to bring honor and glory to God. Then in my mind, I dismissed this as not probable, thinking — art is something frivolous. It’s not something you really have to have. But this desire still remained in my heart.

This is a true story that happened many years ago in my art career, but has had a lasting effect upon my life and art. I was exhibiting with the Silver Dollar City Traveling Art Guild at a mall in Oklahoma City at the time. I had my booth set up in the center aisle of the mall. On about the third day of the four day show, a lady and her husband, I’m guessing in their late fifties to early sixties, came up to my booth and started complimenting me over and over again about an eagle in flight painting that I had on display. It was a little humorous in a way, because the lady was the only one who did the talking and the “raving on” about the painting, all the while saying that they would like to get this painting for her husband. But her husband hadn’t said a word. I was thinking inwardly that “she” was the one who wanted the painting, not him. They would walk off and then come back again several times. Finally, she asked me how much I was asking for the painting. I told her. She said they “just could not afford to pay that much for the painting. They seemed like such a sweet couple, that I lowered my price to almost half the price and they bought the painting. They asked if I would mark the painting sold and they could leave it there with me while they did some other shopping. Of course, I said yes. I was glad they got the painting.

They weren’t gone long, only about five minutes. They had only gone around the corner to a Christian Book Store and came back with a walnut plaque with a gold plate on it. Etched on the plate was the verse from the Bible in the book of Isaiah 40:31 that says, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall rise up with wings as an eagle. They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint…” They were so eager to show me the plaque, saying, “Look! This is what this painting reminds us of. We are going to hang this plaque beside this painting.” I thought again of this desire that I had had, and thought “Well… Maybe it’s not so improbable after all.” I was delighted. Again the lady reiterated that they were buying this painting for her husband. He still had not said a word to me. I thought to myself, “You are buying this for yourself because your husband hasn’t said a word.” But I didn’t care which one the painting was for. I was glad they liked the painting. So they paid for the painting and walked off. They did seem very close to each other I had noticed.

So the show got over, I packed up and came back home. About four days later, I received a phone call from the lady who had bought the eagle painting. She said, “You know Connie, I just wanted to tell you how much we appreciate our eagle painting. We’ve called our kids in, we’ve called our neighbors in, we’ve called our friends in to see the painting. You see? I have leukemia and the doctors have told me that I have less than two years to live. It’s been very hard on my husband and me, financially, mentally and emotionally, knowing we’re going to be separated. So I bought this painting for my husband, to give him strength, for when I’m gone.

I felt just like the blood was draining right out of me. I didn’t know what to say exactly. “I’m sorry,” is all I could muster at the moment, “I’m so glad you like the painting.” I decided right then, never again to under estimate the power of art in another’s life or say that even a painting could not be used for a glory of God. I also accepted my desire then, as my destiny.

There are 3 comments for Behind the Seens by ConnieTom

From: Marsha Savage — Oct 21, 2008

Wow — Connie! You were open to the opportunity that came your way. You did not hesitate. We artists must always be open to opportunities that come disquised.

From: Suzanne — Oct 24, 2008

Thanks very much for telling this story. I feel both very moved and encouraged by it. I am only a hobby painter who dreams of becoming a professional artist. As a Christian I often feel held back by the belief that painting is rather a self-indulgent activity – how does it serve God and other people? To paraphrase the sentiments of William Morris it is beautiful but not really very useful. Yet combined with this wonderful verse from Scripture (one of my favourites) your painting really spoke to this couple; really connected with them. Art may not help people in a practical way but your experience shows that it can really strengthen people spiritually and deepen their relationship with God. You were really able to use your gift to glorify God and help/serve this couple. You have helped motivate me too!! Thank-you!!

From: Catherine Robertson — Oct 24, 2008

Also, Connie,

God must love painting ! Look at the way He paints His world, our world! Think of sunrises, sunsets, the seas, hills covered with meadow flowers, creatures like deer, hummingbirds, flowers of every kind and all with glorious colours, etc. I’m certain He’ll be glorified by your using of the talent which He bestowed upon you and, as I look at your painting above, will feel glad that you paint.



Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Lessons from a Turkish market



From: Janet Sellers — Oct 16, 2008

Now, all that talk about food and I feel hungry!

From: Consuelo — Oct 17, 2008

A lesson for artists (learned from the Turkish Market) – Treat your product like it is gold than go market the hell out of it!

From: Mariela — Oct 17, 2008

An invaluable lesson! Give always a little bit more than what you receive…

From: Laurel Alanna McBrine — Oct 17, 2008

Thanks for painting that picture with words. I enjoyed looking at it in my mind.

From: Rick Rotante — Oct 17, 2008

Ego aside – Artists are a wonderful lot don’t you think? This is why we are considered a threat to some. It takes imagination and an eye to see what is different and an ability to express it that puts us apart from the regular world. We possess an ability to dissect life and reassemble it in such a way as to show others alternative views of the world. In a sense we are the philosophers of the eye and soul. Shamans of the illusive visual world.

With this in mind, I wonder that our place isn’t respected more within society as a whole.

From: Kate Seymour — Oct 17, 2008

Ahhh… you paint a wonderful portrait of being alive and open to your senses. I try to do that each and every day. Smell…breathe..taste..touch.. and look! I find when I do that the quality of my life goes up and up!

From: Ariane Goodwin — Oct 17, 2008

You brought back my years living near the Blue Mosque, watching the sunset over Europe and the moon rise over Asia, simultaneously, where the Bosforus sea runs into the Sea of Marmara.

Istanbul, a city so magical, and mysterious, and filled with intrigue that years later it still dominates my dreams.

What a rush of tastes, smells, sounds, and sights you brought back!

From: Anne Copeland — Oct 17, 2008

Reading this wonderful account of a Turkish market reminds me of an art faire I attended in Laguna Beach, CA some months ago. Some of the artists weren’t even present at all, and I can understand that folks have other things to tend to in their lives, but if I had art for sale, I would have either been there, or I would have had a friend or relative sit with the art and be there to answer questions.

Then there were artists who were there, but who might as well not have been there for all they seemed to care about the folks viewing their art.

But there were also those magical folks too – the ones who, like the good folks selling their foods and other products at the Turkish market, are there to get you excited about it, and boy, are they ever good! There are a couple of folks whose booths I can NEVER get by because they have a liveliness about what they are doing, and they make it so interesting that you would have to be one of the Living Dead not to be “caught” in the web they weave!

To me, watching how people take care of the things they have for sale, whether something like the Turkish Market (we have a farmer’s market here, so I can truly relate) or art at an art fair, I think the way something is handled, and the personality of the artist or other person showing it is as much an art as the art itself.

From: Wendy Brandt — Oct 17, 2008

The author of these letters has the most sensitive and beguiling way of giving people an understanding of our world. And maybe, it’s as Rick suggested above, the nature of the artist-types to have this observational, comparative and metaphoric mind. With this sort of mind comes the need for gentleness, and this author can write in a way that the open-minded reader can grasp valuable insights without sacrificing those personal attitudes and methods that are so important to individualistic artists.

From: Arlene Torbica — Oct 18, 2008

Seems that when I first got this letter, I learned nuts and bolts knowledge that I could put to use. When I think of all the mediums that could be discussed, and other master artists brought in, the possibilities are enormous. Instead, we now have a travel log. There are sites up the wazoo for travel. Hey we get it, but get your travel rocks off on your family and friends and put some meat back into the letter.

From: Fred Finlay — Oct 19, 2008

I have been receiving “The Letters” for six years. While Robert has often written during his travels–he travels a lot–I have never had a letter that does not include some sound creative information that is of value to a sensitive and aware creative person.

From: Susan Warner — Oct 19, 2008

The lyrical description of the Turkish Market comes to life if you close your eyes. I certainly can imagine the color and activity depicted in a painting.

I have found local Summer Markets, while not as exotic by far, to be bursting with color and excitement as well. They have been a fun subject for me. My medium of choice is Acrylic and Collage, also combining pieces of photos that I have taken.

From: Marie Turner — Oct 19, 2008

You go to the most wonderful places. However, I wish you could add photographs of your recent travels to your website more often. Your description of the Turkish market sounded like so many other markets I have seen in Mexico and Italy. Due to our economy and since our US$ is not worth much anymore, I certainly will not be able to travel like I used to. But reading about your adventures makes me feel I am there too.

From: Anon — Oct 20, 2008

Life is not always about “nuts” and “bolts”!

From: Joyce Goden — Oct 20, 2008
From: Joyce Goden — Oct 20, 2008
From: Norman Ridenour — Oct 20, 2008

OK, you just moved Instanbul several notches higher on the travel list. Some things form my experience.

a. I have done hundreds of crafts fairs and when I have a press of people in front of the stand more want to press in and the grabbing starts, especially when two people want the same item.

b. Czech shop keepers should take note of the friendly attitude comment. They act as if they are doing a favor to take your money and forget information about product of in a gallery about the object or its maker. I mentioned this once to a class of students and the universal reaction, “Why should they be nice or pleasant to you? They do not know you.” My wife and I do well at markets because we talk, explain and can tell where each piece of wood came from, how much it was snowing or raining the day we cut it, how big the tree was and so on. It is a shock here.

Norman in Prague

From: Ron Wilson — Oct 20, 2008

Here’s a dumb question and I think I know the answer before I even ask you – do successful artists (like you, Bob) sell just about everything they produce or do they have orphans too?

From: Judy Mackey — Oct 21, 2008

I will print out this list to look at everyday. The lessons are well worth applying to the business of art.

Thank you.

From: Cinnamon Chaisson — Oct 21, 2008

I always thought the term “whirling dervishes” was something that parents said to describe their children’s wildness … interesting article (as always) :)





The Three Bears – Cariboo

watercolour painting, 13 x 19 inches
Jerry Huff, BC, Canada


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