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Cottage industry
April 27th, 2004

Dear Artist,

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

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

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

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

Best regards,


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

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

Artists' Responses to Cottage industry by Robert Genn
Be sure to check our Archives for related material.


Response to 'Cottage industry' by Elizabeth Azzolina :: Staying in the real world

by Elizabeth Azzolina, Cherry Hill, NJ, USA

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

, Other letters by Elizabeth, Related material on Staying in the real world
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Response to 'Cottage industry' by Charlene Thomas :: Works some of the time

by Charlene Thomas

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

, Other letters by Charlene, Related material on Works some of the time
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Response to 'Cottage industry' by Sharon Pitts :: Flexible payment plan

by Sharon Pitts, NJ, USA

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I was asked to donate a painting to a good cause. When the woman came to pick
Berry BranchWatercolor, 30 x 40 inches
Berry Branch
Watercolor, 30 x 40 inches
 click image to enlarge
up the piece she became fascinated with another painting in my studio. It was clear that she wanted to own it but was hesitant about the money. I offered her the option of taking it home with her and paying it off $100 a month. She was thrilled. I have found that these arrangements work for both parties and I have never been disappointed.

, Other letters by Sharon, Related material on Flexible payment plan , Sharon Pitts Website,
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Response to 'Cottage industry' by Elaine Heath :: How to find a Denise

by Elaine Heath, Erin, ON, Canada

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How do you hire an art agent such as Denise? No one seems to know how to find
Cool blues and Jazz #1Watercolor, 22 x 30 inches
Cool blues and Jazz #1
Watercolor, 22 x 30 inches
these people. There are a few of us looking. We have found a number of Art Consultants that turned out to be Interior Designers looking for wholesale art for their clients. We are about 30 artists. We have painters, sculptors, glass blowers, jewelry maker, etc. Many of us have the same question.

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

, Related material on How to find a Denise, Elaine Heath Website,
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Response to 'Cottage industry' by Myriam Lipson :: Vest-pocket dealer

by Myriam Lipson, Atlanta, GA, USA

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

, Other letters by Myriam, Myriam Lipson Website,
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Response to 'Cottage industry' by Barb Rees :: Took sticks across the country

by Barb Rees, Powell River, BC, Canada

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

, Other letters by Barb
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Response to 'Cottage industry' by Peggy B. Perazzo :: Valuing the successful

by Peggy B. Perazzo, Woodland, CA, USA

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

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

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Response to 'Cottage industry' by Goran Stipic :: Number one winner

by Goran Stipic, Wels, Austria

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

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

, Related material on Number one winner
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Response to 'Cottage industry' by Mary Jane Gandee :: Hair conditioner for brushes?

by Mary Jane Gandee, Orlando, FL, USA

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

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

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Response to 'Cottage industry' by Annabelle Meacham :: Varied interests, varied styles

by Annabelle Meacham, Senatobia, MS, USA

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

, Related material on Varied interests, varied styles, Annabelle Meacham Website,
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Response to 'Cottage industry' by Margaret Stone :: Links pages information

by Margaret Stone, Panama City Beach, FL, USA

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

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

, Margaret Stone Website,
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Response to 'Cottage industry' by Catherine Taylor :: Boat painting etiquette

by Catherine Taylor, Portland, OR, USA

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

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

, Related material on Boat painting etiquette
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Response to 'Cottage industry' by Sonja Donnelly :: Random pump-primer

by Sonja Donnelly, Lake Oswego, OR, USA

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

, Sonja Donnelly Website,
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World of Art

 Featured Artist: Andrea Patrisi - Italy
'Spacoa Napoli by Andrea Patrisi, Italy
Spacoa Napoli
Oil painting on panel by artist Andrea Patrisi, Italy
Email, Website Listing

(RG note) You might consider including your own art related website (or your dealers' sites) to our links page. Over four thousand interested visitors access this site daily--and it's growing! If you link with us you will notice an increase right away. Find out how to take advantage of this free service at

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Clickback afterthoughts - The Painter's KeysAFTERTHOUGHTS

Please feel free to comment on anyone's remarks. If you add your email address right after your name at the end of your letter, we will include it. If you wish to write incognito we will honor that too. All unused letters are carefully archived for possible future use. We generally include ten or so letters in each "clickback" so you can expect about the same amount of reading. Readers really appreciate it when you tell us approximately where you are located. It would also be great if you could include where we might find some of your work on the net. We edit most letters for clarity and brevity. We are able to translate letters from most languages. Please address your letters to

You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2004. That includes Kory Twaddle who asked this question: "A now-famous artist had a wife who died of malnutrition. His work took a while to catch on -- too late for his starving family. Who was it?" And also, Mary Jean Mailloux who asked, "What do you think of selling work through other venues, i.e. restaurants, libraries, beauty salons etc?" (RG note) Many artists, including myself, prefer the endorsement of a professional dealer. Libraries are not bad, restaurants less so, beauty salons are the least desirable unless you are getting a free shampoo.

If you would like to see selected correspondence relating to the last letter "A visit with Turner" and others, please go to

If you think a friend or fellow artist may find value in this material please feel free to forward it. This does not mean that they will automatically be subscribed to the Twice-Weekly Letter. They have to do it voluntarily and can find out about it by going to

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Sharon Fox
'Grazing<br>pastel/acrylic' by Sharon Fox

Sharon Fox - Artist's Web SiteSharon Fox - Artist's Web Site

About Sharon Fox...  Art is an undeniable necessity, an intrinsic element that defines my life. From my first Crayola - I was hooked. My early work was illustrative in nature which helped to develop my solidunderstanding of drawing and composition. Today my focus is on the moreorganic, natural designs of nature. Preferring to paint with professional soft pastel, I enjoy the immediacy ofthe medium and its saturation of colour. My work is painted on both canvaspanels and sanded paper, with or without a watercolour or acrylic underpainting.

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Last modified: April 28th 2004 :: Copyright 2004 Robert Genn, All Rights Reserved