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Sunday, December 29, 2019

Painting in Series

Secret Shadows
8x12 Oil

Many of us painters like to work in a series.  What's a series?  It's a set of paintings that share something in common.  Usually, subject or theme is the common thread, although it could be just about anything.  We paint in series partly to keep our interest up or our painting arm limber, or to work toward a show.  Sometimes, it's to really learn about our subject.

We can paint a series without meaning to.  If you have enough inventory, you can probably pull a series of out it.  (This is, in fact, how some artists put together a one-man show.)  I did this recently with paintings I've done of our local lake.  Although my neighborhood is rich with subject matter, somehow I always end up at the lake.  I take my students there; I paint by myself there.  It's such a pleasant spot, with red willows marching down to the water's edge, coots and ducks poking around the islands of pickerel weed, and sometimes an osprey or eagle soaring overhead, that I can't resist.

I've pulled out my lake paintings and put them on a single web page to see how they hang together.  (You can see the full Ramah Lake Series and purchase them here.)  I've included a few in this post so you can see the variety of views.  Will I paint more there?  Definitely.  Will I make this an actual show?  Probably not yet.  I have many, many more paintings I want to make of the lake first.

Ramah Lake Study II
6x8 Oil

Secret Cliffs
6x8 Oil

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Some Upcoming 2020 Plein Air Painting Workshops

New Mexico...Maine...Arizona...What's Your Pleasure?

Now that we have moved into the calm between Christmas and New Year's Eve, we can take a little time to make plans for 2020. If you're thinking about taking a plein air painting workshop, I invite you to join me in one of the following. The groups are usually small, and I offer plenty of personal attention—as well as plenty of stunning scenery!  By the way, if you know a painter who'd like to take one of my workshops, I will happily create a gift certificate for you.

All-level, all-media workshops

Oak Creek in Sedona, Arizona

Arizona, Sedona. April 7-10, 2020. Plein air painting workshop. All-level, all media.
Only two hours from the Phoenix airport, Sedona is famous not just for its "new age" atmosphere but also for its history as a location for many Hollywood Westerns and its breathtaking vistas. You'll enjoy red rock canyons and cliffs, juniper-studded valleys, graceful white sycamores and gnarled cottonwoods, all bordering the quiet waters of Oak Creek. Plus, because the workshop runs from 9-1, you'll have afternoons free to explore the area on your own or with friends and family—or, if you wish, to paint more. (You can get my little book on painting in Sedona here.) 
Each day starts with a critique of the previous day's work and a lecture on outdoor painting fundamentals. Next, we move to the field where I will show you my method for capturing the landscape quickly but without sacrificing mood or magic, after which you will paint as I go from easel to easel offering help. 
$300 tuition. Workshop runs 9-1, Tuesday-Friday. For full details:

Quoddy Head in Lubec, Maine

Maine, Lubec. July 28-31 and August 4-7, 2020. Plein air painting workshop. All-level, all media.
Only 90 miles from Bar Harbor, Maine, Lubec (Maine) and Campobello Island (New Brunswick) are quiet, beautiful locations for the plein air painter. Think romantic lighthouses, cobblestone beaches, cliff overlooks, broad meadows, working harbours—and lobster! Lubec is a historic working waterfront with many opportunities for the painter. Adjacent Campobello Island is home to both the Roosevelt-Campobello International Park and the Herring Cove Provincial Park. Both locations provide lodging and dining to make sure your workshop week is an enjoyable one. Plus, because the workshop runs from 8-12, you'll have afternoons free to explore the area on your own or with friends and family—or, if you wish, to paint more.
Each day starts with a critique of the previous day's work and a lecture on outdoor painting fundamentals. Next, we move to the field where I will show you my method for capturing the landscape quickly but without sacrificing mood or magic, after which you will paint as I go from easel to easel offering help. 
$300 tuition. Workshop runs 8-12, Tuesday-Friday. For full details:

Painting retreat

Campobello Island, New Brunswick

Maine, Lubec. August 9-14, 2020. Painting retreat. Experienced painters.
I invite you to join us for a very special plein air painting retreat for experienced painters this summer. Unlike my usual workshops in Lubec, this retreat will be five luxurious days long, giving us plenty of outdoor painting time and the opportunity to make new friends. Our base camp will be the beautifully-restored West Quoddy Station, a historic US Coast Guard campus right on the water. (Read above for a paragraph on the beauty of the area.) 
Unlike my workshops, there will be no formal instruction. However, for this immersion experience, I'll give morning critiques, serve as location guide, offer to do demonstrations and, should you wish to go off on your own, give suggestions for painting spots. This is my third year running this retreat, and everyone says it is fantastic and not to be missed. 
$300 tuition. Retreat runs from Sunday afternoon through Friday afternoon. Download the brochure here

Private Painting Intensive

Ramah Lake, New Mexico

Ramah, New Mexico. April and May, 2020. One-on-one custom program. Experienced painters.
If you're looking to take your painting to the next level, I invite you to join me at my studio in the beautiful high desert of New Mexico. Two hours from the Albuquerque airport in Ramah, the studio is surrounded by many painting possibilities: cottonwood-lined lakes, candy-striped cliffs, sage brush valleys and more. Just a short drive away are El Morro and El Malpais National Monuments, the Ice Caves, the Chain of Crater volcanoes (dormant, thankfully), and ancient black lava flows.
For this private study program, I'll consult with you to create a customized program. Although it varies by the participant, the program typically includes a mix of outdoor and studio work. We'll work side-by-side throughout the week, mostly in the mornings, and then for the afternoons, I'll give assignments to further your progress. By the way, we don't need to just work on painting technique; if you need career-building or mentoring, I will gladly help with that, too. 
I've been running this program for three years now, and participants report that the week has been very valuable to them.

$1400 gets you tuition, six nights' lodging and all meals. (If you would prefer to lodge elsewhere, I offer tuition only for $700 and can make suggestions for where to stay and eat.) Program runs from Sunday afternoon through Saturday morning. For full details and list of weeks available, visit
Customized Workshops for Your Group

If you're part of a painting group or art association and get a few members interested, I'd be happy to schedule a customized workshop just for you, either at one of my locations or at yours.  The workshop could be all plein air, all studio, or a mixture of both; or all oil or all pastel.  

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

When Can I Retire?

Retirement may lead to a new flowering.

Seriously?  You love what you do and you are already asking about retirement?

I'm at the age now where people often think about retiring.  I can't imagine retiring, though.  But I am thinking of scaling back, painting more for myself than for sales, marketing less, teaching fewer workshops.  I'm freeing up energy for special, more personal painting projects.  And for spending time with family.

I call it "re-focusing" rather than retiring.

I couldn't do this, of course, unless I'd built up some savings and secured a monthly cash flow.  A small part of this has to do with royalties and ongoing sales of books, videos and online courses.  But mostly, we've been careful over the years with spending and investing.  I'm also lucky to have a partner who is good with finances.  Plus, I will still be painting, selling, teaching and writing.  Just a little less of each.

If you reach a point in your painting career where you're seriously thinking of retiring, you'll want to have your finances in order with enough incoming cash for the foreseeable future plus a plan for health care.  You can find all kinds of good advice online regarding actuarial tables, how much money you need to stash away at what interest rate, and so on, so I won't go into that here.  Just make sure you're set—and prepared for the unexpected.

But more importantly, will you really give up painting?

Sunday, December 22, 2019

More Art Business: Advertising - Is it Worth It?

"If you build it, he will come."  That might work in the fictional world of the movie Field of Dreams, but not in the real world.  You may be a disciplined painter, but if you stay hunkered down in your studio, stacking up masterpieces like cordwood, it's unlikely you'll be buying groceries this month.  Somehow, you either need to be discovered—or get the word out yourself.

Discovery is unlikely.  Few galleries these days go looking for new artists since, by now, they already have a stable of painters who sell consistently.  And unless you hang out your own shingle, no one's going to come to your studio to see what you've been up to.   A safer bet is getting the word out yourself.  Why not advertise?

I'll talk more about that in a minute, but first, let me warn you.  What follows includes a certain amount of whining.  But not to fear—I'll also give you advice on what, for me, works best.

There are several ways to advertise:  word-of-mouth, social media, online advertising and traditional print advertising.  Word-of-mouth is slow.  You're depending on your last buyer telling another potential buyer about your work.  The word gets out, but it's a trickle.  You may wait years for the word to get to the right person.  Strangely, for workshops, I find this actually works rather well; the person who enjoyed a workshop often goes back to tell her painting group, and suddenly I have a flurry of registrations for the next one, or they invite me to teach the group privately.  But it's unlikely that a collector of art has any kind of "buying club" that will come to me.  (Yet wouldn't that be nice?)

What about social media?  My blog, plus posts on Instagram and Facebook—the three venues I prefer—bring me buyers and students, but it's difficult to say how many.  When I ask people how they heard about me, most often they will mutter, "I dunno, I think on the Internet, or maybe it was a magazine...?"  It's rare when they remember specifics.  And although targeted ads placed through social media let you reach a particular audience with more accuracy than you ever could with print ads, I find the reporting inadequate.  Though I can get some information on how many people "engage," it's difficult to get an accurate number for "conversion"—that is, of how many people actually buy something based on a certain ad campaign.

Over time, I've placed a few ads in Facebook and Instagram, but they seem largely ineffective.  Although I can see that my  numbers look good for "page likes," "people reached" and "engagements," I have to ask, Where's the beef?  I've gotten few sales or workshop registrations.  (Or maybe I've gotten more than I think.  Remember what I said about memory and advertising.)

Well, what about online advertising?  There are many sites where you can put your art up for sale and list workshops.  I did this for awhile, but I was at the mercy of each site's advertising methods.  I got zero conversions from this.  My own web sites are far more effective.  I've had web sites for art and teaching for 20 years, and my search engine rankings are high.  (Yes, I have several web sites, for different purposes.  For my main web site, I use Yoast for my search engine optimization [SEO] package.)  Besides my blog and newsletter, my own web sites have been more effective than any of the online advertising sites in getting inquiries.

By the way, here's my take on online ads.  I think many people just don't see the ads.  (One report I read says that organic reach for social media is at an all-time low, mostly because sites like Facebook try to monetize everything.)  I don't know if you're like me, but I have fine-tuned my consciousness so that I'm blind to online advertising.  If it looks like an ad, I ignore it.  If it's a video with an ad at the start, I wait for the "Skip Ad" button with my mouse poised, ready to click.  If it's an ad that obscures an article I'm trying to read, I simply don't go there anymore.

Finally, what about old-fashioned print advertising, specifically magazines?  As a reader, I like some magazine ads.  I enjoy looking at one if it's well-designed with an attractive image.  Also, it won't make a pest of itself, bouncing around and begging me to click it, but if I like what it says, I will probably visit the web site.  For a potential buyer or student, the magazine may also stay around for a long time, giving the ad a longer life.  Magazines also get passed down; I give mine to my students.

But there are downsides for the advertiser:  circulation for most magazines is fast diminishing, and ads, especially for national magazines, are expensive.  A full-page ad for a national magazine can cost thousands; a smaller, and less effective, 1/8th page ad, hundreds.  And that is just for one ad, one time.  Print ads are most effective if you run them over several issues and, well, you can do the math.  I've spent a lot of money over the years on print ads.  The only ones that worked were very targeted (e.g. workshop listings in media-specific magazines) and ran in every issue.

Many print magazines, seeing the writing on the wall, now offer a digital version as well as an online presence.  If you find advertising in the print issue too expensive, you can buy banner ads, pop-up ads, pop-over ads or whatever the latest evolution is in ads, for a lot less.  But again, how effective are these?  Maybe not so much, since I, like many, am blind to them.

So what works for me?  In order of effectiveness:

  • Newsletter.  This, of course, means I have a good mailing list of qualified potential buyers and repeat buyers.  The newsletter includes not only news and events, but also lists upcoming workshops and retreats or special projects that might interest readers.
  • Word of Mouth.  This works best with my workshop business.  Not so well for art sales.
  • Blog.  I try to keep up interest by providing not just the occasional painting or workshop offering but useful information on technique, products and materials, or business.  Some people receive the blog via email or a newsreader; the actual blog site also includes a certain amount of self-advertising for workshops, books and videos, and paintings.
  • Web sites.  I keep these updated with new paintings and workshops, and I also try to keep my SEO practices in tune. 
  • Crosslinks.  I make sure newsletters, blogs and web sites all have links to each other to make it easy for traffic to go from one to the other.
  • Print advertising.  I'm taking a break from this, but it has worked for me in the past.
  • Online advertising and social media advertising.  I still believe that, some day, I will get some good out of this, so I allow myself a small budget to play with.  I try varying the targeting parameters to see if I get different results.  And maybe I am getting some actual conversions out of this, but just don't know it.  (Memory and advertising, remember?)

As I said when I first started this series on the business of art, "Your mileage may vary."  You may find something else that works for you.  If so, I'd love to hear it!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Entering Shows: Is it Worth It?

Tools from the Age of Slides

For any professional artist, building one's resumé is an important task.  The healthier the resumé, the better one's chance of  landing a premier gallery, having a solo exhibition or getting into a museum collection—and the healthier one's cash flow.  A substantial resumé validates the artist.  It assures the collector that the artist has not only a proven track record but will most likely continue to do well and be a good investment.

Getting into shows and winning awards go a long way to building a resumé.  But in my opinion, both are becoming harder and harder.

Think back to the Age of Slides.  To enter a show, one had to know not just how to take a decent photo but also how to remove a slide from its mount, crop out the background with Mylar tape and an X-ACTO knife, and then re-mount the slide.  This tiny, precious piece of plastic—film that cost money to purchase and develop—then needed to be mailed in a sturdy envelope along with a check.  Many times, you'd send an image of only one or two paintings because of the labor and expense.

Right away, this process weeded out many artists, especially amateurs, who weren't so committed.

Today, with a few clicks of the mouse, you can crop your image and upload it quite easily.  Anybody can do it.  And you can submit a dozen images almost as easily as one.  How much money you are willing to spend on entry fees is the only factor.  Some shows, especially the online ones established to fund something other than awards—money-making machines for the sponsoring organizations—don't care how many images you submit.  The more, the better.  Some artists have a shotgun approach, and rather than submitting their finest work, submit as many images as possible, hoping that one will make it.  (As a judge of entries, I've seen this over and over.)

In some ways, today's shows have become more like state lotteries than juried exhibitions.  I, for one, don't buy lottery tickets.

Although I can't find a study to support my guess, I believe there are many more people painting in America today than there were back in the Age of Slides.  More importantly, there are many more excellent painters.  The competition has become fierce.

So, is entering shows really worth the cost?  Perhaps.  But before you enter, look at the numbers.  If you're considering applying to an online show, especially one advertising to a national or international pool of artists, your chances will be slim to none.  On the other hand, if the show is going to be in a bricks-and-mortar exhibition space, your chances are much better.  Why?  Artists thinking of entering understand that, if they are accepted, they will have to ship the painting and, most likely, have the painting shipped back.  Because of this potential added expense and trouble, some will decline to enter. 

If you want an even better shot at getting into a show, consider applying to a regional one or to one sponsored by an organization of which you're a member.  These usually are advertised to a small pool of artists.  Although winning a regional award might not be as impressive as winning a national one, over time you'll build a longer list of awards—and thus a healthier resumé.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Michael's December Newsletter

"Arroyo" 24x30 Oil/Canvas - Available
I'm working on some larger paintings this winter. This is one of them.

As we roll downhill to a variety of end-of-year celebrations, I like to put on the brakes for a moment to consider where I've been and where I'm headed. It's been a busy year, what with workshops, painting and writing projects. (You can read about my year in A Plein Air Painter's Blog.) And as much as I tell folks I'm cutting back, especially on the workshops, I just keep scheduling more. But of course, I love what I do and wouldn't have it any other way.

Meanwhile, each day I try to notice the little things that make me pause and remember to breathe. A flock of bluebirds visits the bird bath as the sun melts the ice that formed overnight. Our family of feral cats arrives on the deck at sunrise to enjoy breakfast while we have ours by the window. Farther from the house—a fact of which I'm sure the cats and birds are glad—and up on the mesa, coyotes leave their scat, chock-full of juniper berries. Below the mesa, on the lake, darting among the islands of pickerel weed, coots croak and squawk. Elsewhere, a multitude of tracks in the snow tell stories, with both happy endings and sad endings, that played out while I've been busy elsewhere.

One thing I promise myself for the New Year is this. Despite all the busy-ness, I will stop now and then to read those stories in the snow.

Painting Retreats

What's a painting retreat? It's a gathering of like-minded artists who want to spend some serious time painting and enjoying the camaraderie of others. For most of these, we all stay in the same lodging and share meals. As the organizer, I offer critiques of work painted; invite participants to treat whatever I paint as a demonstration; and serve as location guide and on-site consultant. Trina and I have been doing these for several years now, and we love it.

For these retreats, you'll want to have experience in painting outdoors and also be an early riser, as we like to start with critiques right after an early breakfast. Also, please know these retreats are meant to be enjoyable, but if you like to party, these aren't for you! Let me know if you'd like to join us on any of these trips.

Isle of Skye, Scotland. June 13-20, 2020. Although this retreat is currently filled, I will be happy to put you on the wait list.

Lubec, Maine. August 9-14, 2020. Stay at the beautifully-renovated US Coast Guard campus on West Quoddy Head, very close to the lighthouse, and paint bold cliffs, cobble beaches, tamarack bogs, historic fishing villages and boats. And yes, there is lobster! Download the detail sheet here.

Taos, New Mexico. October 3-10, 2020. Besides a wealth of stunning scenery including the Rio Grande Gorge and Taos Mountain, the town has a long history with painters. As part of the retreat, we'll also arrange to tour the Nicolai Fechin House, the Mabel Dodge Luhan house, and other historic artist studios. $1000 includes lodging and breakfasts.

Scotland Funding

The Scotland retreat will be my third trip to that beautiful place. Last time, I was able to partly fund the trip by preselling a series of small paintings of Scotland. I'd like to do the same for this trip. As with last time, I will keep a color sketch journal during the trip, and upon my return to the US, I'll paint a series of 6x8 oil paintings based on the journal and photographs. (The journal paintings will not be for sale.) These will be beautifully framed in a black molding with a red undertone and a gold inner fillet. My goal is to have these completed in time to ship by Thanksgiving 2020, so if you're thinking of Christmas gifts, you'll get them in time. Price is only $250, which includes frame and shipping to the US. I am taking orders for these now, and it will be "first come, first served" when I announce the completion of the series. Let me know if you are interested! (And thank you to those who have already signed up! I deeply appreciate your support.)

You can see the sketches from the 2019 journal here: and the finished 6x8 paintings here: .


Ramah, New Mexico. Private Plein Air Painting Intensive Program, Spring 2020. If you are an experienced painter and want to reach the next level in your craft, consider this program. I'll customize it just for you. $1400, which includes lodging and meals. (A tuition-only version for $700 is also available.) Several weeks to choose from. For full details, visit

Sedona, Arizona. All-Level Plein Air Painting Workshop, April 7-10, 2020. April is beautiful in Sedona, and we should catch some spring greens against the red rocks and along Oak Creek. Limited lodging is available at the studio for only $75/night—inexpensive for Sedona! For full details, visit

Lubec, Maine. All-Level Plein Air Painting Workshops, July & August 2020. If you want to paint rocky shores, bold cliffs, lighthouses, fishing boats and historic buildings, and to enjoy some great seafood, you'll love Lubec. I have several weeks of all-level workshops scheduled. For full details, visit


2020 Plein Air Convention. Denver, Colorado. I'm very excited to be one of the artists invited to be on the faculty of this extravaganza. You can register right now for the event at I hope to see some of my followers there!


Pumphouse Studio Gallery. I invite you to visit my studio and gallery in New Mexico. Open by appointment, the gallery has all of my Southwest paintings—Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks, Santa Fe, Taos and Sedona, as well as work from closer to home. You will also find my studio interesting, as I always have some project going. If visiting me isn't enough, you can also see the Zuñi pueblo, El Morro and El Malpais National Monuments, La Ventana Arch and more. You can schedule a time at your convenience with email (


This spring, look for my annual review of winners in the Landscape/Interiors category of the Pastel 100 in Pastel Journal, as well as my feature on artist Richard McDaniel and the Russian River in the April/May issue of PleinAir Magazine. Also, I am thinking about a new book, more details of which I will announce later.

That's all for now. Have a great fall, and hopefully our paths will cross soon!

Friday, December 13, 2019

About Business Cards

My current business card, front and back.

In the previous post, I wrote about social media.  Now it's time to talk about old-school media.  Business cards.

Once upon a time, you could just "bump" your smartphone against someone else's to give them your contact information.  Pretty neat, huh?  Unfortunately, Google killed Bump—the app for this—several years ago.  I couldn't find out if anything has replaced it.  It's possible there's a similar feature lying hidden in my Android phone, but if so, I can't find it.

And that's why I carry business cards.  That little piece of flimsy cardboard, with an eye-catching, colorful image, lists the two easiest ways to reach me:  My web site and my e-mail address.  It's got my phone number, too, but like most people, I rarely answer the phone these days. It's also got a few lines about what I do, as a memory jog for the recipient.

When I hand it to you, you don't have to deal with any technology.  Just stick it in your wallet or pocket.

In my studio desk, I have a drawer full of other people's business cards, held together in tidy packets with rubber bands.  Over time, a rubber band loses the property that makes it useful, or it breaks, and I have to replace it every few years.  When someone hands me a business card, I first stick it in my wallet, and then when I get home, I stuff it into one of these packets.

Recently, it occurred to me that I haven't looked at any of these cards since I put them away.  Ever.  Maybe I'm not the right person to hand a business card to.  But that doesn't mean I won't stop handing out mine.  It may remind the person I gave it to that I'm here.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Does Social Media Work?

In  my last post, I wrote about keeping a mailing list.  Now let's talk about social media.

Social media fills in those awkward moments when the conversation stops while you're waiting for your waiter to arrive with the pad thai.  You can scroll for the latest reviews of the restaurant's service.  But social media can also be a useful tool for reaching out to collectors and students, both potential and actualized—so long as you don't get sucked into the time sink.

I minimize my time on social media, preferring to automate my activity.  I've used both Hootsuite and Buffer, but I prefer Buffer.  It has a more seamless way of allowing one to grab an image from a web page and schedule a post about it.  The free version of Buffer—which I use—allows me to schedule up to ten posts per social media account for up to three accounts.  In my case, this is Twitter, Instagram and my Facebook studio page.  When my buffer is "empty," I make a cup of Scottish breakfast tea, sit down at my computer, and spend maybe thirty minutes pulling images of paintings off my web site and scheduling posts about them.

The scheduling is very flexible.  I have my posts scheduled to occur about twice a week at different times of day.  Once my "buffer" is empty again, I get an email about it, and so I sit down with some tea and do more posting again.

Thirty minutes a week or so.  Not bad.  But then there's followup.  Once or twice a day, I go to Instagram and Facebook to see how many "likes" I've received and to answer any comments that might have been made.  Sometimes, I feel like a rat pushing a lever for pellets; I get just enough "likes" to keep me online, posting and checking.  Comments are usually "Nice work" or something to that effect.  I don't answer these, but if someone makes a more elaborate remark or asks me a question, I do answer.

Does any of this work?  Some artists have great success with social media.

In my next post, I'll write about business cards and other physical marketing materials.

By the way,  I highly recommend you read the book, Digital Minimalism.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Keeping a Mailing List

MailChimp offers good reporting tools for my mailing list

In my last post, I wrote about my art database.  Now, let's talk about mailing lists.

As I have said elsewhere, my mailing list is my most prized possession.  I have found that sending out regular newsletters and announcements is, for me, far more effective than social media.  My mailing list consists mostly of qualified contacts—collectors, students and others who are interested in new paintings, workshops or painting retreats.   Many of them are repeat buyers and repeat students.

I previously used Microsoft Word, Access and Outlook for my newsletters.  I kept my contacts in Access, created my document in Word and then used the mail merge tool to pull contacts from Access, insert them in Word and send the letters via Outlook.  Cumbersome?  You bet.

Then I discovered MailChimp.  It does everything Word, Access and Outlook used do, only seamlessly.  But best of all, it maintains my mailing list.  That is, it cleans the list as it encounters hard and soft bounces.  (A "hard" bounce means that the email or mail server no longer exists; "soft" means that the person's mailbox is filled or that there is some temporary glitch.)  Hard bounces are cleaned immediately; soft bounces are cleaned only after a certain number of attempts.  Finally, it reports who opened what—and who didn't—and offers a variety of useful statistics.  There's a lot more MailChimp can do, but I find mailing, list maintenance and reporting to be sufficient for me.

There's a free version, which is limited to 2000 contacts.  For most of us, that's all we need.  For those who have a larger fan base, $9.99/month will let you have up to 50,000 contacts.  If you're super-popular or have purchased a mailing list, you can pay $299/month to maintain 200,000 or more names.

In my next post, I'll write about social media.  Yes, again!  I know I've written about it before, but things have changed.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

My Painting Database

A screenshot from my art database (Open Office Base)

In my last post, I spoke generally about making a living as an artist.  Now I want to delve into details.

A professional painter—or even a hobbyist, who wants to keep track of things—needs a computerized system to record paintings and sales.  Sure, you can keep a paper ledger for all of that, but a digital version makes it much easier at year-end to prepare taxes and reports and to create mailings.   Although there are several systems you can purchase, I've been using a simple database and a simple spreadsheet for many years.

Although I once used Microsoft Office's Access and Excel, these days I find it more economical to use OpenOffice, which is free.  (I'm glad I've moved away from Microsoft Office, but I stand on false moral high ground; rather like a meat-eater who has turned vegetarian with the mistaken idea that it is better for the environment.  Microsoft Windows is still my operating system.)  Of the different OpenOffice modules, I use only two for record-keeping, Base and Calc.

I use Base to:
  • Record information about paintings (inventory number, title, size, medium, creation date, exhibits, special notes, etc.)
  • Sales information (purchaser and contact information, sale date, price, where sold, etc.)
  • Export new buyers to a mailing list
I use Calc to:
  • Record sales and other business income (for me, this includes writing and teaching)
  • Record expenses
  • Create year-end reports on income and expenses
  • Compare the data of successive years (e.g. how did this year's income-to-expense ratio compare with last year's, and did art sales do better than teaching?)
  • Collate information for tax reporting

None of this is rocket science, as they say, but there is a learning curve.  Mine was short because I used databases and spreadsheets a lot back when I worked in IT.  If you're comfortable in building a system like this, you might try it.  But if you'd prefer, get a store-bought solution.

What about images? Although you can link an image to a record in Base, the database quickly become unwieldy.   (MS Access isn't much better.)  Anyway, it's rare when I actually need to view an image when I look up a record; I'm usually more interested in the information noted there.  Instead, I use Google's Picasa to keep a database of my images.

Google, alas, has retired Picasa.  You can't get it now.  I still have it on my computer and plan to continue using it, since new-and-improved Google Photos doesn't have anywhere near the capability of Picasa.  There are, of course, other programs out there, such as Adobe Photoshop Elements, that will do a decent job.  The day my computer crashes, rolls and burns, I'll probably move to Elements.

I keep images of my paintings in folders, with the filename of each image containing the title and inventory number.  With Picasa, I can easily find the image I want, using the inventory number or title from Base.  All in all, the three of these together—Base, Calc and Picasa—meet all my needs for record-keeping.

Picasa screenshot

Speaking of computer crashes, how many of you have had a crash and lost everything?  Having been in the IT, where data is your lifeblood, I'm more paranoid than most about keeping backups.  I have three drives besides my main computer.  One I have attached to my computer at all times, and it backs up new data on demand with Beyond Compare.  Once every couple of weeks, I add a second drive and back up everything to that, using Windows Backup.  Once every month, I back up my computer to a third drive, using AEOMI.  One drive stays in my office and also travels with me between my winter and summer studios; the other stays in a separate building, in case there is a fire in the studio or house.  I also keep three or four versions of backups on each drive. I am fairly confident that, from one of these drives, I can pull a recent backup if necessary.   I sleep well at night.

Below are a few screenshots of Calc.  In my next post, I'll write about mailing lists.

Income summary sheet

Expense summary sheet

Income-to-expense ratio graph

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Making a Living at Art

What's a tripod got to do with making a living? Read on!

Several years ago, a student asked if I'd teach a workshop on the business of painting.  I declined.  At the time, I felt that I'm no expert.  I still feel this way.  On the other hand, I've been running my art business successfully for 20 years now.  I thought it might be time to write a few posts on how I do things.  But as they say, "Your mileage may vary."  What works for me may not work for you.

In this post, let's talk about making a living from painting.  It's hard.  It's very hard.  Despite all the helpful coaching seminars, videos and newsletters, you'll not be successful unless you have the drive and the creativity.  Drive consists of primal need and persistence.  You were hungry then, are hungry now, and will always be hungry.  The thought foremost in your mind, from sunrise to sundown, is to remedy that.   And that's where creativity helps.  Yes, you'll study the usual methods for hunting and trapping game and farming, but survival depends on your being able to invent a solution when a plague or blight comes along that's not addressed in the manual.

Did I mention talent or skill?  No.  Looking at many of the paintings that sell today, I'm not sure if these are relevant.  Did I mention a deep-set yearning to paint?  No.  Some desire helps, but it's not that important.  When I was a bartender, my goal in life certainly wasn't to make the perfect banana daiquiri, yet despite that, I got tips and a paycheck.

I am a hard worker.  I answer e-mail at 4 in the morning.  I draft a magazine article while the coffee is percolating.  I add a few remedial touches to whatever's on the easel before breakfast.  The rest of the day is more of the same, with longer sessions at the easel or computer, plus frequent breaks that include tea with Trina and walks with Raku.

But I don't just paint for a living.  I also write and teach.  Although my painting sales each year are respectable, they wouldn't feed me all year.  Also, I don't think it is smart to depend on just painting sales.  The Dow goes up, the Dow goes down, recession hits.  I like to have two other means of making a living.  Neither writing nor teaching by themselves would allow me to buy my pricey organic vegetables.  But together, these three things make the legs of a very stable tripod.  They make a living.

In my next business post, I'll share how I keep track of my paintings.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Photograph Your Paintings with a Polarizing Filter

Here's an oil painting that presents significant problems
when shooting photos of it in full sun.  It was painted with a knife,
which gives it a shiny gloss, and a gloss varnish was applied, making it even
glossier.  I've tilted this painting so it has maximum glare.

Same painting, same angle.  But I've used
a polarizing filter to cut glare dramatically.

Are you having a hard time eliminating glare and "sparkles" when photographing your oil paintings?  Professional photographers use a polarizing filter to cut down the glare.  Amateurs like me, on the other hand, will tilt and angle and swear until we get a decent shot.

I like to shoot my paintings in full sun.  The color is richer and the focus, tighter.  But when the painting was made with a knife or has had gloss varnish applied, glare is guaranteed. The little irregularities in surface texture pick up the sun and bounce it back like sun diamonds on water.  Some of this can be removed by Photoshop or GIMP, but not all of it, and the process can give an odd, pock-marked look to the image.

Tilting the painting or angling the camera helps.  But this introduces distortion in the image; suddenly, the painting is no longer square.  Again, you can use your favorite photo editor to fix this, though some parts of the image may end up without sharp focus.  It's still not an ideal solution.

For many decades, polarizing filters have been available for the traditional 35mm SLR (and now, the DSLR.)  I had such a filter, but I stopped using a DSLR some time ago.  These days, I use my handy point-and-shoot, a Canon SX610 HS for all my photography.  The auto-focus is better than my DSLR's ever was.  Although the Canon won't shoot RAW or TIFF images, I find it completely adequate for what I do.  I even use it to shoot images for my magazine articles.

But I couldn't find a  polarizing filter for it—until now.  The Magfilter Circular Polarizing Filter fits and works perfectly.  (Mine is 42mm; it's important to get the right size.)  A little metal ring with an adhesive backing fits on top of the lens barrel, and the magnetized filter snaps to this.  You remove the filter when not in use; the little metal ring with the adhesive stays on and doesn't impair the movement of the lens barrel.

The trick, of course, with any polarizing filter is that you must rotate it to get the optimal effect.  (It has to do with the fact that sunlight is polarized, and the angle of polarization changes with the movement of the sun.)  I shoot a few photos at different rotation angles until I find the one that cuts down the most glare, and then I keep it on that setting for my photo session.  If you don't rotate it to find the right angle, you'll think the thing doesn't work, so make sure you do this step.

The filter was $29.95 and comes with an extra adhesive ring, just in case.  There's no manual included to tell you how to install or use it, so you'll want to refer to the website.  And make sure you rotate the ring to get the right angle!

I got mine at Amazon:

Some tips on using a polarizing filter.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Painter as Salesman

Sometimes, it feels like this.

Whenever I have to slap on my salesman's hat, I cringe.  I hate having to sell.  I'm just not a natural-born salesperson.  Although there are books and YouTube videos to advise me on how to fight my inclination to shrink into a dark corner, it's still hard for me.  I'm lucky if I remember to restock my wallet with business cards, and luckier still if I remember to give you one.

Being a professional painter offers so many rewards.  I love my time spent outdoors or in my studio, poking away with a brush while the day's soundtrack plays.  I love the ordering and organizing of supplies and, yes, even doing the paperwork.  I love people coming to my studio so I can talk to them about the painter's life.

I love having sold a painting—but I do not love "selling" one.

This has nothing to do with parting with a piece.  Sure, I like to have a good one around for awhile so I can admire it and congratulate myself, but ultimately, it must go.  I depend on my art sales (and my workshops and writing) for income.  No, my "selling" a painting has to do with knowing that I am "selling" and not just having a friendly chat with a collector who's asked to visit.

Can I change?  If I'd tried working on this years ago, maybe.  But even back when I was younger and learning the ropes, it was hard for me.  I'll never forget what my mentor, Ann Templeton, said once.  While I was writing her 30-year retrospective book and staying with her, she invited me to dinner with some of her collector friends.  I'd been up since 4 a.m., poring over slides and transparencies of her work, writing captions.  It was late.  I was beat.  I declined.  Chastising me, she said, "Michael, if you're going to do this"—meaning, be a professional painter—"you're going to have to do this."

Ann was a natural.  She moved with cat-like ease in the social circle of collectors, and everyone who met her became her friend.  I'm not that way, and not every painter is.  Can painters like me be successful?  Yes—but perhaps we will have to do more than just paint.

(And please don't forget my Holiday Studio Sale! And that I'm giving 25% off on all the other Southwest paintings over $200!)

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Working with a Clear Vision

Besides being a painter, I'm a writer.  Writing comes easiest to me when I have a clear vision of where the writing will go.  Though the analogy is an old and tired one, it's fitting; a successful trip requires a good map and a definite destination.  When I write a magazine article, such as a feature interview or a technical column, I know my destination and how I'll get there.  The articles follow an established format.

On the other hand, I have the hardest time with fiction.  Whereas writing non-fiction is like a drive down the road to a place I've been many times before, writing fiction is more like a backpacking adventure into the wilderness.  Although I always have a trail map, I'm often sidetracked.  Sometimes a secondary trail looks more interesting.  Sometimes I get confused when the trail forks.  Sometimes I wonder if the hill to my right might give a good view.  Sometimes—well, you get the picture.  The plot outline I so meticulously crafted gets tossed into the trash, or at least heavily revised, when a character does something unexpected.

But perhaps not surprisingly, taking a turn that's not on the route, or letting the character do something outside the outline, can lead to a richer end.

Need I say it's the same with painting?  Having a clear vision of where you are going will take you to a satisfactory outcome soonest.  But sometimes, not having that clear vision, despite the detours, obstacles and time lost, will take you to a place that is far better.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Painting New Mexico's High Desert

Find the Painter!
At La Ventana Natural Arch

Jack strapped on his backpack, eager to paint.  This 76-year-old rheumatologist, though he continues to practice medicine full-time, has a passion for painting, and he freed up a week to join me for last week's Private Painting Intensive.  On this day, under crystal blue skies, we made our way from the parking lot and down a single-track gravel road to a view of my favorite lake and its unique, candy-striped cliffs.  We stopped at the first scenic spot we came across and set down our packs.  Red willow and poplar edged the water, gently riffled by a breeze.  Coots croaked and squawked among the islands of pickerel weed.  A couple of mallards sounded the alarm, erupting into the air.  But otherwise, we were alone in that beautiful spot.

Later in the week, we visited other special places.  We painted the white cliffs of Inscription Rock; the butterscotch-colored outcrops near La Ventana Natural Arch; and on a private ranch nestled against the foot of the Zuni Mountains with a broad view of grassland and ponderosa-studded mesas.  Painting doesn't get any better.

Each week of the Private Painting Intensive has a different focus, depending on the student.  After a consultation, I create a plan tailored to the student's needs.  ("Needs" combines what the student thinks he needs with what I think he needs. These "needs" may be different or overlap.)  My job this week was to help Jack, who has a terrific color sense, get a better handle on values and to show him how to gather good field references so he could continue work later in his studio.  One day, we started off with a quick, grey-scale sketch (using Gamblin's Portland Greys) to help us understand what was happening with values, followed by a full-color sketch.  Another day, we did what I call "center of interest" painting, where we avoid the common practice of working the canvas all over but focus instead on the subject, placing color note against color note, striving to get the relationships correct right from the start.  In this post, I've shared some photos as well as images of my paintings from the week.

If you're an experienced painter and would like help in reaching the next level, I still have weeks available next spring.  In this customized program, you'll be working side-by-side with me and getting lots of attention.  I'll also be sharing my world, which sits among the piñons and ponderosa pines of New Mexico's high desert.  The program takes two forms—a tuition-only version ($700) and a version in which you lodge and eat with us ($1400.)  If you'd like more information, please visit

And please don't forget my April 7-10, 2020, plein air painting workshop in Sedona, Arizona.  This is for any painter who has some experience in the studio but who is a beginner at painting outdoors, and also for experienced outdoor painters who'd like to fine-tune their skills.  Details are at

The grey study (top) and color study (bottom)
12x9 Oil

Charlie's Ranch - 6x12 Oil - Available

Near Los Gigantes - 9x12 Oil - Available

Raven Cliffs - 12x9 Oil - Available

Southern Cliffs - 9x12 Oil - Available

Friday, November 15, 2019

2019 Holiday Studio Sale

My Annual Holiday Studio Sale - Get Your Paintings Here!

Every fall, I like to offer some of my smaller paintings at a special holiday price. It’s an opportunity for you to acquire some nice pieces as gifts for yourself or for friends. Many of them feature National Parks and Monuments such as Grand Canyon, Zion and Canyon de Chelly, as well as scenes of Taos and Santa Fe, plus a few in my own backyard here in the Zuni Mountains of New Mexico.

The majority of these paintings sell for $700 framed. But for this sale only, you can get them unframed for $200, which includes shipping to the lower 48 states in the US. PayPal, credit card or check accepted. Paintings will ship via USPS Priority Mail.  You can see the paintings and purchase them here.

PLUS! This year I am offering a 25% discount on any of the Southwest paintings on my site. (Holiday studio sale items excepted and price must be over $200.) If you see something you would like to purchase, please contact me directly to get the discount . For the holiday studio sale paintings, you can purchase these directly by adding them to your shopping cart.

So, think of that favorite someone–even if it’s yourself!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Some Sedona Demonstrations

Location shot for "Creekside"

In my last post, I wrote about my recent Sedona plein air painting workshop.  I want to share with you now some of my demonstrations from the week.  Because I had students working in both oil and pastel, I did the same.  So, here are a few:

"Creekside" 9x12 Pastel
Available here
A quiet look at the Verde River south of Sedona in the fall.

"Mountain Study (Thunder Mountain)" 9x12 Oil
Available Here
Thunder Mountain dominates the Sedona landscape.

"My Sycamore" 9x12 Oil
Available Here
I've painted these beautiful Arizona sycamores so
much that I feel they are mine.

"Blue Shed" 9x12 Oil
Available Here

I am offering this all-level workshop again April 7-10, 2020. That's not too long from now, and I'm already accepting registrations. The price is only $300 for four half-days—we work from 9 until 1, but you are welcome to paint longer, and I'll gladly suggest locations for the afternoon—which is a perfect schedule if you wish to bring family or friends. The studio does have inexpensive but limited lodging. (You can find out more about the studio and lodging at .)

If you'd like to join us, I urge you to sign up right away. You can find out more details and register here:

For experienced outdoor painters who would like to improve their craft or get career help, I do offer a Private, One-on-One Painting Intensive. For this, I customize a program and you get to work side-by-side with me at my New Mexico studio. I have more details plus my full schedule here:

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Sedona Workshop Wrap-up

Fall color doesn't get better than this!
Red Rock Crossing / Crescent Moon Ranch

I've seen some good fall color in Sedona, but for our plein air painting workshop last week, the color was the best I've seen in years.  Gold, crimson red and lemony yellows, all at peak saturation.  Combine that with the deep blue sky, and you have a situation that verges on being Van Gogh-ish.  Vincent once wrote, "There is no blue without yellow and orange," and the color we saw this week illustrated that statement perfectly.

I had eight students from Arizona, Kansas, California, Indiana and even Austria.  We met each morning in the studio, where some of us also lodged, for lectures and critiques.  After that, we went out to one of several beautiful locations, where I demonstrated how to handle Sedona's spectacular scenery, followed by everyone painting.  One night, we gathered at a new Thai restaurant in town to celebrate our new-found friendship.

We also had some spectacular storms one day.
One of my pastel demos, just begun.
I'll show some of the finished demos in a later blog post.

I am offering this all-level workshop again April 7-10, 2020.  That's not too long from now, and I'm already accepting registrations.  The price is only $300 for four half-days—we work from 9 until 1, but you are welcome to paint longer, and I'll gladly suggest locations for the afternoon—which is a perfect schedule if you wish to bring family or friends.  By the way, the studio does have inexpensive but limited lodging.  (You can find out more about the studio and lodging at .)

If you'd like to join us, I urge you to sign up right away.  You can find out more details and register here:

By the way, if you are an experienced outdoor painter and would like to improve your craft or get help with your career, I do offer a Private Painting Intensive.  For this, I customize a program for you, and you get to work side-by-side with me at my New Mexico studio.  I have more details plus my full schedule here:

Morning lectures

Morning critiques

Raku was an added extra and provided entertainment

Painting by Oak Creek

Painting by the Verde River
Our happy group