You want to be a professional artist—are you sure?

Every artist, if he or she is completely honest, has two parallel thoughts going at once: the first says, “I am the greatest genius in the history of painting,” and the second says, “I totally and completely suck.”

Skylarking, by Carol L. Douglas, 24X36, available.

If I can get my social media specialist to manage the admin, I’m going to do an online workshop on going professional. That means how to sell work, how to present yourself, how to use social media to advertise, and where and when to show. But before you sign up, I want you to consider carefully whether or not you really want to go that route.

My friend Nancy is a retired art teacher and an excellent painter. A few years ago, she asked me how she can sell paintings. Honestly, I can’t believe that the sheer grind of selling will make her happy, when she has so many other things occupying her time: a husband, grandkids, friends, travel. Selling is a tremendous amount of work. And it doesn’t validate the quality of her work—that stands on its own.

Midsummer, by Carol L. Douglas, 24X36, available.

I spend at least half my time on marketing. It’s what the experts say you can expect. In addition, I pay someone to do some of my online marketing for me. I’m still always behind. For example, my website is in dire need of updating. The successful painter is first and foremost an entrepreneur, not a painter. You work long hours, have your finger in everything, and nothing is ever finished.

I’ve been painting since I was a child, and I can honestly say that nothing else is closer to my ‘true’ work. However, I spent years avoiding becoming a professional because I didn’t believe I could make a living doing it. I’m happy to have proved myself wrong. But it’s been difficult. I had no models for entrepreneurism. I’ve had to figure it out by trial and error.

Ottawa House, by Carol L. Douglas, 14X18, available

I’m not sorry I made the transition. Honestly, I don’t have many other marketable skills. However, there’s one thing that’s changed for me. I no longer paint for the pure joy of it, but as part of an effort to create and develop a business.

Does that make me insincere? I don’t think so. Every painting is a communication between the artist and his audience. Sometimes, the way the audience says, “I love it” is by getting out its collective checkbook. Nobody questions that when a musician cuts a best-selling album, but for some reason painters can beat themselves up about selling out.

Jack Pine, by Carol L. Douglas, 8X10, available. 

There are moments in every job that are tremendously rewarding. I didn’t begrudge my doctor his fee because he fist-bumped me when he finally figured out that I had cancer. I love hard work myself. My favorite job after painting was waitressing. Should I not have been paid because I had a good time doing it? That would be nuts. But there is that perception about the arts in general, that we’re having too good a time to justify a paycheck.

The marketplace can be very cruel. Every artist, if he or she is completely honest, has two parallel thoughts going at once: the first says, “I am the greatest genius in the history of painting,” and the second says, “I totally and completely suck.”

To succeed, you need to silence those voices. Instead, just tell yourself, “I have a product, and I’ll test whether there’s a market for it.” As personal as painting is, you’ll suffer if you let the marketplace be a referendum on your inner self.

The Power of Ten

A strong work ethic is a good thing, but sometimes it gets in the way of our real work.

Soft September Morning, by Carol L. Douglas.

Everyone has bad weeks, including me, although I’m usually so annoyingly chipper that it’s hard to tell. This week was a challenge to my sang froid; nothing major (thank God) but a concatenation of little things.

I started the week feeling bloated and out of sorts from too much holiday. My studio is a mess. Then there are the usual stresses of the Christmas season. Like many of us, I suspect, I went back to work on Monday morning in a deflated mood.

On Monday night, I managed to drop my still life—a pie plate filled with water and warm wax—directly into my laptop’s keyboard. I turned it over and shook out the water. My students are smarter than me; they told me to stop our Zoom class and dry out my laptop. My long-suffering technical support department (my husband) disassembled and dried it for me. Other than the sound and mouse, it appears to be working. However, since both of these things are critical, I’ve got a new laptop in my near future.

Add five or six more tealights, then dump in your keyboard. It turned out to be a lousy idea in so many ways.

Of course, I wasted hours of our time. And that made me grumpy. It’s backed up, but shopping for a replacement and recreating a work environment is no simple matter. In the past, this might have thrown me for days.

The Power of Ten is a simple game I play with myself to overcome a bad mood, inertia or paralysis. If I’m facing a mountain of laundry, I tell myself I’ll fold ten items. If my dining room table is covered with papers, I tell myself to file ten of them.

Mess? What mess?

This is not a way to fool myself into doing more; I do stop at ten. It’s a method of staring down what gets in the way of my real work. Like everyone else, I’m the product (in part) of my childhood programming. A strong work ethic is a good thing, but sometimes it gets in our way. Mine tells me I have to finish my chores before I can paint. Doing just a little work gives me permission to ignore the bigger mess.

Taken into the studio, that means I pick up and put away ten things. My suitcase on the floor that still has stuff from my Tallahassee workshop? That counts as six items, once I’ve put them back where they belong. The pile of frames that Colin Pagegave me? That will be eight of today’s items.

Over a week, of course, I’ve managed to put away fifty items. Imperceptibly, order is being restored. More importantly, I’ve not stopped and spent a day cleaning my studio; instead, I’ve painted.

My ten brush strokes took the form of branches on this canvas, which I keep around just for fun.

My problem Tuesday was not just disorder, but worry and distraction about my laptop. That can completely derail me. So, I applied a variation of the Power of Ten to my palette. First, I laid out fresh paints; that always helps. Then I told myself I could make just ten brushstrokes. Voila! I’d eased the transition to real work.

Ten brushstrokes is a great limit when you’re having trouble concentrating. It’s also helpful when you’re confused about how to finish a painting. It makes you stop and think intentionally about each mark you make. That stops you from noodling, which has been the death of many fine paintings. Limit yourself, and see how quickly your mind zeroes in on the real issues.

Confidence is key for women artists

Do you allow yourself to believe you’re good at what you do? If not, why not?

Campbell’s Field, by Carol L. Douglas. At the time I painted this, I thought I was a pretty poor painter. 

I rudely eavesdropped on a conversation about negotiating salary. The speaker, thirty-something, was describing input from friends and family. “Dad said, ‘ask for the highest figure in their range,’ and Steve said, ‘ask for $5000 more.’” The negotiator—a woman—asked for $1500 more. She low-balled herself. At her age, I would have done worse. I’d have meekly accepted whatever was put on the table.

The gender pay gap is more complicated than simple sexism. It starts with college graduates’ first jobs. Part of this is based on the college tracks women prefer (non-STEM) but part of it is simple confidence. The responsibility for that rests with us, as women. No manager has ever insisted that a candidate take more than what was first offered.

Bridle path, by Carol L. Douglas. Same vintage.

The confidence gap is even more of a challenge in the art world, where success is based on selling oneself. Frankly, women are lousy at it. I’ve written hereherehereherehere, and hereabout gender disparity in the art world, and it hasn’t gotten any better. The gap between men’s and women’s pay in the arts is worse than it is in the economy as a whole. That’s a clue that the gender gap is about far more than just majoring in STEM subjects.

My daughter and her husband have turned job stereotypes on their head. She’s a computer programmer; he’s a social worker. “When she knows she’s excellent at something, she’s very confident about it,” he says. That is new. As a recent college graduate, she was unsure. She allowed herself to be hired at the bottom of the pay range. She’s wised up and is working to narrow that.

Upper and Middle Falls, Letchworth, by Carol L. Douglas.

I often tell people I only know how to do two things well, and one of them is not cooking. I can paint, and I can write and teach about painting. In those narrow tracks, I’m competent. More importantly, I know it.

But I wasn’t always that way. Paintings I did twenty years ago are no less accomplished than my paintings today (albeit in a different style). Why did I feel then that I was a poseur and today I feel capable? What has changed?

In part, I was influenced by what others said about me. There are supportive communities and others that subtly undercut our self-esteem. Think back through recent interactions with your peers. Did they encourage you to take risks, or float good ideas for improvements? Or do they subtly discourage you? If the latter, perhaps you need new friends. (Family is not so easy to change, unfortunately.)

Lower Falls, Letchworth, by Carol L. Douglas

Sometimes the person who smack-talks you is not your so-called friend, it’s you, yourself. Your inner monologue has a critical impact on your confidence. Try to listen to your own commentary and analyze it dispassionately. If you find yourself constantly running yourself down, stop and redirect those thoughts.

Start by intentionally choosing a posture of thankfulness. I know of no more powerful tool to reframe our attitudes. In giving thanks, we focus on what’s right and good, rather than on what’s broken.

Women, in particular, are trained to be modest about their achievements. But there’s a fine line between humility and self-effacing meekness. Confident people take credit for their own achievements—to themselves as well as to others. As a teacher, I’ve noticed that people who were successful and confident in their careers bring that expectation of success into painting.

If you don’t have that, don’t despair. Instead, challenge yourself in some area that’s far outside your experience. Doing something risky and difficult is a great way to start to understand your own strength. The time I’ve spent alone in the wilderness has been a powerful spur to my own self-confidence. We send boys to camp to get filthy and learn to start fires without matches; we don’t send our daughters. We should.

Women are trained to be helpers and—as I mentioned before—that can be a trap. But it’s also a strength we can build on. I have found mentoring to be a great spur to my self-confidence, if for no other reason than that the people I’ve mentored admire me.

But there’s something to be said for plain old age. I think in some ways I’ve simply outlasted my insecurities. They’re exhausting, and at this age I have better things to do with my time.

Stop thinking like a wage slave

You have to be an entrepreneur if you want to succeed in the arts.

Tricky Mary in a Pea-Soup Fog, by Carol L. Douglas, available.

My parents were the children of immigrants and were raised in great poverty. My mom went on to be one of the first class of nurse-practitioners graduated by University of Buffalo. My father was a child psychologist. Mom worked at the local hospital for her whole career; my father moved around a little, but always within the state system. They aspired to stability. In mid-century America, a job meant a trade-off of loyalty for a good salary and pension. It wasn’t a bad system, as long as it worked. It created a stable community, albeit one where economic mobility was not particularly coveted.

I don’t remember any entrepreneurs among my parents’ friends. The adults around me worked in jobs or professions. Even highly skilled machinists—much in demand—didn’t hang out their own shingles. They went to work in factories, where they were paid very well.

Parrsboro at Dawn, by Carol L. Douglas, available.

In fact, my father was a talented photographer and painter. He had his own studio before he married, but he didn’t know how to build a business. He had no role model for self-employment, so he wisely went back to school and got what he and his peers called a ‘real job.’

That economic system is broken now. Even wage slaves must be entrepreneurial. Young people think of the corporate ladder more as a jungle gym, where they swing from place to place rather than climb vertically.

Blueberry Barrens, by Carol L. Douglas, available.

My goddaughter is also the child of immigrants, but her history is different. Her family escaped the Communist revolution when her father was a young child. They moved to Vietnam and took up the family trade of cooking. After the fall of Saigon, they were again refugees, ultimately washing up in America. They’ve run a small restaurant for decades.

My goddaughter Sandy has a master’s degree and is working on a second one. But when COVID-19 knocked her out of her job, she didn’t go on unemployment. Instead, she’s been cleaning houses. She knows how to use a crisis, so she’s charging the earth in exchange for the risk. In fact, she’s never been shy about telling others how much she’s worth.

After one of her graduations, we went to Chinatown. Her mother and aunt stood listening as she haggled over the price of luggage. Finally, they nodded and the deal was done. She’d just been handed a diploma from one of America’s most prestigious art schools, but—more importantly—she’d demonstrated that she could negotiate a business deal.

Downdraft snow, by Carol L. Douglas, available.

That’s a real skill, and it’s something we don’t come by naturally—it’s learned, as much as calculus or drawing are.

I talked with a talented friend last week. She’s stuck in a low-paying job although she has good writing, video and design chops. When I suggested that she market her own videos, she quickly demurred. Without knowing how to be entrepreneurial, she’ll never escape the soul-sucking, 9-to-5 job.

That’s the bottom line for an art career in modern America. Your success or failure depends, not primarily on your painting skills, or your ‘talent’, but on your ability to sell yourself. If you don’t have that, don’t just give up—learn. Be more like Sandy.

How much is that painting worth?

For some artists, the hardest thing in painting isn’t drawing or color-mixing but how to price their work.

The Dooryard, 11×14, oil on birch panel, is available through Parrsboro Creative’s PIPAF in Isolation, here. Don’t panic; the prices are in Canadian dollars.

A student has someone interested in one of his paintings. “How do I know how much to charge?” he asked. That’s a difficult question in normal times and an impossible one right now.

A British study says that the arts are being hit twice as hard as the overall economy. Meanwhile, other sectors of the economy are booming. The stock market rebounded quickly. Housing remains a seller’s market, with demand outstripping supply.

Nobody knows how this will affect painting sales, least of all me.

A proper price is the meeting point between how much you can produce of the product and how much demand there is for it. If you can’t keep your paintings stocked, you’re charging too little. If your studio is full of unsold work, you’re either charging too much or not putting enough effort into marketing.

Summer Home, 11×14, oil on birch panel, is available through Parrsboro Creative’s PIPAF in Isolation, here

Art sales are regional. If you live in a community with an aging population and a prestigious art school, you’re going to have low demand and high supply. If you live in a booming new city, you will have more demand and prices will be higher.

A painting’s value depends on the artist’s prominence. Most artists are terrible judges of their own work, seesawing between believing they’re geniuses and thinking they’re hopeless. Such subjective judgments hinder their ability to price their work.

You can simplify the problem by setting aside your emotions and basing your selling price on your selling history. How do you do that if you’ve never sold anything before? Survey other artists with the same level of experience and set your first prices in line with theirs. Visit galleries, plein air events and art fairs. If you see a person whose work seems similar to yours, find his resume online and check his experience. Know enough to be able to rank events. Painting in Plein Air Easton is not the same as painting your local Paint the Town.

Charitable auctions are a good way to leverage your talent to help others. They provide a sales history to new artists. (But they aren’t tax deductible contributions.)

Six Bucks a Pound, 12×16, oil on panel, is available through Parrsboro Creative’s PIPAF in Isolation, here

Let’s say you gave an 8×10 watercolor to your local historical society, which turned around and sold it for $100. Great! You have a sales history (albeit a limited and imperfect one) from which to calculate prices. Just figure out the value per square inch and calculate from there.

Square inch is the height times the width. That means your 8×10 painting is 80 square inches. Dividing the $100 selling price by 80 gives you a value of $1.25/square inch.

To use this to calculate other sizes, you would end up with:

6×8 is 48 square inches. 48 x $1.25 = $60
9×12: $135
11×14: $240
12×16: $315

In practice, my price/sq. inch gets lower the larger I go. This reflects my working and marketing costs, some of which are fixed. If you started with my example, above, a 3×4” painting would more reasonably sell for $3 a square inch or $36, and a 48×48” painting for $.75 a square inch, or $1700.

Fogged in, 8×10, oil on birch panel, is available through Parrsboro Creative’s PIPAF in Isolation, but it’s not on the website. Contact them directly if you’re interested.

Charity sales are known for seriously underpricing work, but it’s better to start low and work your way higher. Periodically review your prices, and make sure you have a copy with you at all times.

Once you have a price guide, it should be absolute. Adjust it fractionally for family members (or just give them the painting), but use the same prices everywhere you sell.

Once you’ve created a price list, keep it handy and updated.

Continuously update your prices based on your average sale prices for the prior year or two. The goal of every artist ought to be to sell at steadily rising prices. When you find yourself “painting on a treadmill” to have enough work for your next show, it’s definitely time to charge more.

And don’t explain your prices. Does anyone ever tell Christian Louboutin that $1695 is a ridiculous price for a pair of mesh ankle boots? No; they either understand Louboutin’s market or they don’t buy designer shoes.

Parrsboro Creative’s PIPAF in Isolation is online! Vote for your favorites here.

The more you give, the more you get

Try giving it away for free. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Jonathan Submarining, by Carol L. Douglas. I painted this plein air with my pal Poppy Balser.

On Wednesday, I published a quick-and-dirty guide to teaching painting online. It was in response to a question by my friend Mira Fink; I expected she would read it and nobody else would be interested. Instead, it’s gotten responses from teachers from all over the country*. “I have been making my outline for my first online class this fall. This makes it seem so possible,” wrote Cat Pope from Mobile, Alabama.

Last month I askedwhether I was intrepid enough to move to online teaching. I think many painting teachers have been asking themselves the same thing. The current crisis may weed out many veteran teachers. At first, that seem like good news to younger artists.

Fish Beach, by Carol L. Douglas. I painted this with my pals Mary Sheehan Winn and Bobbi Heath.

But the discipline of painting is just beginning to recover from the bad teaching of the later 20th century, when technique became subservient to theory. There’s a vast repository of technical knowledge in those grey heads, and they’re part of a renaissance in American painting. This is no time to winnow the ranks.

At any rate, Mary Byromtalked me through my crisis. She did it without wanting compensation, as she so often does. So, when I wrote that blog post, I was, to use a tired old trope, just “paying it forward.”

Mary and I talked briefly about the current crisis. We got on the subject of generosity, where we’re in absolute agreement: it’s more important now than ever. “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days,” wrote King Solomon. “Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.” You don’t have to be religious to see the wisdom there.

More work than they bargained for, by Carol L. Douglas. I painted this alone; I don’t always travel in a pack.

On Tuesday, I told my students that they could actually learn everything they need to know about painting from reading this blog. There’s no need to take my workshop or my classes, although I’m really grateful when people do.

I earn about $200 a year in advertising sales from this blog. That’s pathetic for a blog with this one’s readership. Google is always telling me how I can improve monetization, but I can’t be bothered. I barely have time to paint as it is.

Why give it away for free? I can think of lots of reasons. First, while teachers deserve their wages, knowledge is an entity in its own right and nobody owns it—despite Pearson Education Publishing. Free content is a form of indirect marketing, of course. But most importantly, what you give away freely, you get back multiplied. That’s true everywhere in life. Try it; you might be pleasantly surprised.

*I did get one negative response: “How is this not an advertisement?” wrote one arts administrator before yanking the post. I should have clarified that I was just enumerating the features that matter to painting teachers. I have no stake in Zoom, of course, and I don’t do paid product placements.

Are you open for business?

We’re in control of where we’re going and what we’re doing. To ignore that is self-inflicted slavery.
Float, by Carol L. Douglas. Oil on canvas. Available.
For the last several weeks, I’ve had my gallery-studio open every weekday from noon to five. That might not seem like a challenge, but old habits die hard. Noon comes, and I realize I’ve missed the opportunity to walk to the post office, or run to Home Depot, or any of the other errands I used to do when the spirit moved me. If I want to paint en plein air, I must finish before noon. Since daylight is short right now and the air is cold early in the day, that’s difficult.
Being open requires that I keep things looking beautiful. No more carrying in a stack of paintings and dumping it on the nearest flat surface. Everything goes in its place when I finish for the evening. It’s nice to walk into a beautiful space each morning, but it’s a lot of work to maintain. I have a new admiration for Sue Baines, who’s been running the Kelpie Gallery as a workspace-gallery all year.
Blueberry barrens #1, by Carol L. Douglas. Oil on canvas. Available.
Of course, once I put out my Open sign and turn on the lights, I go on with my workday as usual. My gallery-studio is attached to our house. It’s a lot different for someone who has to travel to open, or worse, pay someone to run their gallery. In the latter case it’s just not feasible to be open during the off-season.
Other than the locals, nobody is around in mid-coast Maine right now. A few people will be back for Christmas week, and after that it will be absolutely dead until Spring. So as of today, I’m done with this experiment. I have some painting and trim work to do, which will involve making a big mess. It has to be finished before my next classes start on January 7.
Blueberry barrens #2, by Carol L. Douglas. Watercolor on Yupo. Available.
In some ways, being open has been a spiritual metaphor for me. I know the chances of anyone stopping by the week before Christmas are slim, but if I’m not open, then the chances are nil.
Likewise, if you’re not open to the possibility of good things happening in life, you can’t receive them. Most of the best things that have happened in my life haven’t been by design, but by happy accident. Conversely, my worst mistakes have been repudiating things I didn’t expect because they weren’t what I thought I wanted at the moment.
My friend Barb recently asked me if I’d read The Chronicles of Narnia. Of course; I read them to my kids. She drew my attention to The Last Battle. In the end, the Dwarfs perceive themselves to be locked in a dirty stable, when, in fact, they are dwelling in Paradise. Without faith, even Aslan can’t help them.
Glade, by Carol L. Douglas. Watercolor on Yupo, courtesy private collection.
Sadly, I talk to people every day who think like that. There are people who have been given freedom but see it only as loss. There are those who hate their surroundings or loathe their jobs but can’t move on. Their imprisonment is largely in their minds. There is change available to almost all of us, even if it’s only in the form of insisting that your chair in the nursing home be by the window so you can watch the birds.
I realize there are seasons of crisis, when major change is impossible. All of us have been or will be there at some point in life, sadly. But during the vast majority of our time on earth, we’re in control of where we’re going and what we’re doing. To ignore that is self-inflicted slavery. The greatest gift we give ourselves is a window for opportunity. In other words, we must be open for business.

Monday Morning Art School: Should I apply to that show?

Entering shows willy-nilly can be expensive and unproductive. How can you tell what will pay off?
Midnight sail from Camden Harbor, 24X30, oil on canvas; see Hidden Holiday Sale for price.

“When should I enter calls-for-entry?” a reader asks. “There is a plethora suddenly in Colorado. I have pieces headed to a library for their show this winter (no entry fee, but I have to mail or deliver the paintings 200 miles away). Others are going to a museum ($35 entry fee; they keep 25% commission) and possibly a gallery ($35 for three paintings, $50 for 6; they keep 50% commission).

“When is it worth it for the exposure, and some lines on my resume? How can one tell whether artwork actually sells at these shows? When do you stop entering them? Is it all just a vanity thing for amateurs? If one is, like me, wildly experimenting in all directions, does one pick a particular ‘body of work’ to enter, or send a smattering of everything?”
This is a different business model from the one where gallerists assumed all the risk in exchange for 50% of the sales. The art market is changing rapidly, and I no longer think all pay-to-play galleries are inherently bad; in fact, I’m gingerly putting a foot forward in one for next summer.
Farm song, 14X18, oil on linen; see Hidden Holiday Sale for price.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the models you describe, although I do think 50% on top of $50 is a bit steep. They’re not necessarily just for amateurs, although some are banking on people desperate to get their foot in the door. Many reputable shows charge an entry fee. 
As an artist, you must figure out what return you’ll get for your investment. That’s easiest with local opportunities—just go and investigate the gallery space on your own. Is it a good-looking storefront in a good area, staffed by knowledgeable, competent gallerists?
Not all of us live near a thriving art market. Farther away, the research gets more difficult. If you have a buddy in that area, ask him or her for an opinion. Read the organization’s website carefully, and check the show terms with an eagle eye. If you can’t get there in person, use Google Maps to inspect the street where the gallery’s located. Is it a place you’d go to buy art?
Early spring at North End Shipyard, 14X18, oil on archival cotton panel; see Hidden Holiday Sale for price.
Many of these shows are offered under the imprimatur of established organizations. How long have they been doing the event? Do they have a proven track-record of shows? Google the show itself, something along the lines of “Charming Gallery Annual Landscape Show Artists” and see if you know anyone who’s participated. Contact them and ask about results.
However, you can stand this whole process on its head. This is how I did it: I looked at the resumes of artists I admired and had work sympathetic to mine. (It’s easier today, since everyone has websites.) I noted what shows they’d done and who represented them. Then I researched those shows and galleries.
Early spring run-off, 8X10, oil on archival cotton panel; see Hidden Holiday Sale for price.
That didn’t mean that I expected to get into their current galleries. I’d scroll to the bottom and see where they entered the art market. This required a lot of research across many artists, because galleries and shows come and go. But it taught me a lot.
As for what to send if you’re still ‘wildly experimenting,’ just send in the work you like the best. Acceptance and rejection is in itself feedback.
My Hidden Holiday Sale for readers of this blog is on its fourth day—check here to see all the additions over the weekend! On Friday, the sale goes public with advertising, so your chance for first dibs is limited.

The compensation question

Artists get asked for free work constantly. Only do it if you want to support the organization, because there’s no business advantage for you.
Glade, by Carol L. Douglas, watercolor on Yupo.

Where are you in this story?

When I first started working as a photographer, I was doing so many jobs for free. Nobody would pay me, but they’d offer dinner. Or drinks. Or publicity. Or experience. Or connections. Or insight. Even though I felt like my work was worth more, I never thought I was in a position to negotiate. I’d become so small when discussing compensation. I’d shrink. I needed everyone to like me. I assumed that if people liked me, they’d respect me. They’d treat me with dignity. They’d value my work. And they’d eventually pay me for it. But instead—they kept asking me back without pay. I think it’s so hard for creators to get out of that cycle, but my mom gave me the best line to use: ‘I’m sorry, but I can’t afford to do that for free.’ I still do free gigs, but only on my terms. Only if they provide value beyond a person’s gratitude. I’m never aggressive or mean. But I’m clear. I’m not sure what I’m worth to them. But I know what I’m worth to myself. And I want it put in writing. I’m still nice about it. I’m still polite. But I’m more dominant. Well, maybe not dominant. Actually, I will say dominant. You can still be dominant and nice.” (Humans of New York)
Every creator has found themselves running through this arc. Photographers and musicians get asked to perform for free, and painters get asked to donate work for fundraisers. It’s a great way to help the world, but it delivers absolutely no business advantage to you.
Glen Cove, by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvas
If I like the organization, I’ll still send a painting, but I’ve also noticed that unless the organization is arts-based, my work often sells for a fraction of its real value. The non-art audience thinks they’re buying the equivalent of décor, and bids accordingly.
For several years, I sent a customized piece to a fisheries-conservation group I really like. My donations consistently sold for about a tenth of their open-market value. Finally, I realized I could help more efficiently by just sending a check.
The Dugs, Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard
That’s especially true because of an anomaly in our tax code. My cash donation is completely deductible; my painting donation is not. If I were to donate a painting by another artist, I could take a deduction (with certain limitations), but not for my own work. So, never donate work thinking you’re getting a tax deduction, because you’re not.
At the beginning of our careers, we usually don’t know how much our work is worth. The donation-auction can help create some kind of selling history. But setting your prices based on charity auction prices will keep them artificially low. You’re better off to set them using a repeatable formula.
Adirondack Spring, Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard. This is going to be auctioned to support the Gerhardt Neighborhood Outreach Center in Rochester, NY, on October 17.
Having said all that, I have a piece going up for auction to support the Gerhardt Neighborhood Outreach Center in Rochester, NY on October 17. This group provides a medical clinic, help with new babies, holiday baskets and backpacks for kids, transitional housing for women, counseling, vocational training, and a food pantry in one of the city’s bleaker neighborhoods. I’m happy to send them a painting, because I care about their work. If you want to know more about this event, contact Annie Canon here or at 585-288-0030.

How long did that take you?

Looking is at the heart of painting, and you can only trim that back so much.
Spring along the Sheepscot River, Carol L. Douglas

Every painter has been asked “how long did that take you?” There are many witty responses to the effect of “three hours and thirty years.” The heavy lifting for this particular work may have been done in the weeks, months or years before you ever lifted a brush on this project. But this is not unique; it is true as well for the machinist, doctor, and other trained professionals who charge by billable hours.

What is immediate and also uncounted is driving-around time. This is a very big part of our preparation.
Yesterday I met Bobbi Heath at Round Pound. This harbor is about 45 minutes south of me and one of my favorites. It’s a tight, small space, with several working docks, rocks and spruces and a nearby general store for lunch. But what it lacked yesterday were lobster boats. The fleet was out.
Spring cleaning, Carol L. Douglas
Bobbi had noticed a boat renovation happening at Wiscasset, about 25 minutes away. This was a replica of the Revolutionary warship Providence built for the bicentennial in 1776. It is a sloop-of-war, the smallest armed boat in the Revolutionary navy. It’s gaff-rigged except that the topsail has been replaced by one square sail. “They only used this rigging for about ten, fifteen years,” a woman working on the restoration told us.
Providence was the boat on which John Paul Jones received his captaincy. His first tour on this boat resulted in the capture of 13 prizes. But the deck of has been peeled back like a giant sardine can, and her gun carriages sit on the landing waiting to be reinstalled. We sadly concluded there was no painting to be had. Where to next?
Spring thaw on the Pecos River, Carol L. Douglas
Novelist Van Reid and his wife once told me about a little hamlet on the Sheepscot River where he’d spent his early childhood. There was once a mill and a depot for shipping hay. Today there are no businesses, post-office, or even a sign post. Its main attractions are tidal flats, and the church and half-dozen grand 19th century houses strung like beads down a side road. This road is called The Kings Highway. That’s a common-enough road name in the former British colonies, but it usually refers to a major thoroughfare. This track runs nowhere.
The Sheepscot makes a great lazy oxbow here, drifting off into several cul-de-sacs. Before we started to paint, we needed to reconnoiter, which meant haring down dead-end roads to see where the view was the best. Of course, we finished exactly where we started, which is often the way.
Spring, Carol L. Douglas
But all that time spent reconnoitering meant that in a day that started at 8, I had exactly two hours to paint before I had another obligation.
That’s so often how plein air painting goes. It helps when you’ve painted many years in the same spot or event; you spend less time looking around. But since looking is at the heart of painting, you can only trim it back so much.