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Dead Ends, New Beginnings

by Luann Udell on 11/11/2010 9:25:39 AM

This post is by  Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews.  Luann also writes a column ("Craft Matters") for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft.  She's a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry).  Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.  She's blogged since 2002 about the business side--and the spiritual inside--of art.  She says, "I share my experiences so you won't have to make ALL the same mistakes I did...." You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.



Like many collage and mixed media artists, I’ve had a tough time figuring out the best ways to present my work.  Today, a decade of dead ends culminated in an exciting new presentation—and I can hardly sit still for the excitement.


I started a long description of how it all came to be, and lucky you—I deleted it!  Not only because the tale is long and convoluted.  It’s because the point isn’t how it all came together.  It’s that it ever came together in the first place.


I’ve always had great feedback on my art itself.  But everyone had a different opinion of how it should be presented. 


When I developed an unusual and cohesive hanging treatment, some people worried the fiber would get dusty.  When I framed them under glass, some people complained they could no longer touch the fiber.  The framing costs sky-rocketed, even when I tried to size my work to standards (which I hated anyway.)  Even small pieces had too much “frame cost” to wholesale easily. 


I’ve worked my way through various frames, shadow boxes, custom frames, etc.  The framing gallery actually showed me how to put my own together (they are an extremely generous and artist-friendly gallery!)  But whatever I tried, it was either expensive, massively time-consuming, or wouldn’t hold up under the humidity that comes with outdoor shows in New England. 


Soon, like many artists, I had an attic full of frames in all shapes and sizes, lots of mat board, foam core and hanging widgets.  Last year I began the process of moving boxes of stuff on.  But I held on to a couple boxes of one style.


So after 10 years of struggling with the right presentation…  After struggling to come up with creating a cohesive display of my work in a problematic exhibit space last spring….  After being hounded by a fellow artisan to create a more museum-like presentation…  And after realizing I’d volunteered to do an exhibit in a friend’s store until three days before it had to be mounted (at the same time as my Open Studio—sheesh!)….


I came up with a great new way to present these small pieces.


I had everything—EVERYTHING—I needed on hand. 


I had enough of everything to put together a cohesive display.


And I had all the knowledge and skill I needed to put it all together quickly.


I was amazed that all the mistakes, all the set-backs, all the failures and dead-ends, all the frustration and the time I invested, and all the things I had to learn about framing that seemed like a money and time sink…


It all came together to create an affordable, efficient and lovely presentation for a new series of miniature pieces.


All those dead ends and unwieldy inventory were really training and preparation for this current project.


Of course, I wish I’d known over the last ten years that a solution would finally present itself. 


On the other hand, I think it’s because I had to keep struggling; because I had to keep trying new solutions; because so much knowledge and skill had to go into the mix, I think THAT is why the solution finally became clear.


And isn’t it always the way….


Yes, sometimes things are simple and straightforward.


But sometimes it takes a long road, a lot of dead ends, trial-and-error, a “what if…?” frame of mind (sorry, another bad pun), a lot of perseverance and the pressure of a deadline, to find ourselves in a successful new beginning.


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Related Posts:

Making the Most of Your Open Studio

Art Display Systems for Art Festivals

Evaluating Opportunities Part 2

Creative and Professional Juices

Topics: FineArtViews | inspiration 

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I would like to see photos of your solution!

I would like to see photos of your solution also, your article read like a mystery!..I can relate to some of what you say. I am currently on the hunt for the perfect hanging solution to my mini paintings, as i dont really like the standard "plein air" frames for panels. I want something more contemporary but not too expensive, but not too cheap looking, so far, I just have a collection of frames kicking around my basement.

Carol McIntyre
Oh, Luann, your journey reminds me of one I traversed several years ago. I had begun working in pencil and desperate to find the "just right" paper for me to work on. There are a zillion drawing papers and tried many of them over several months, but none of them felt right.

Then I found my paper in my framing supplies -- 100 percent rag mat board. Like you, it had been there all the time I had been searching. All I could do but laugh.

Helen Horn Musser
Hi Luann, Your post are always fresh and entertaining along with great content. As you, I have also seen trial, error, and dead ends which led me to greater creativity. Here's to your success!

Michael Cardosa

Thanks for the interesting post. You never know when you're going to have one of those "Ah-Hah!" moments in life.

Thanks again,


Lee McVey
Luann, This is the part of your article that had the most meaning for me:
"But sometimes it takes a long road, a lot of dead ends, trial-and-error, a “what if”¦?” frame of mind (sorry, another bad pun), a lot of perseverance and the pressure of a deadline, to find ourselves in a successful new beginning."

Perseverence and trial and errors but never giving up, always working towards our goal is a big thing for artists to learn. And sometimes things don't turn out the way we want them to, but later on, we might find that it led to a good outcome that wouldn't have presented itself without that experience.

Stede Barber
Luann, this is a great sharing...and yes, please do share photos so we can see the solution!!!

I keep finding that when I am searching for something, I already have everything I the learning is to relax and see things with freshness. The soolution then seems to appear, often in its own timing.

Pictures please!

Tom Weinkle
Great post. Yes, when we look back, we often feel we were banging our head against the wall. And the path seems convoluted. Your essay demonstrates it's all about attitude. In the end, i feel like what may seem like a negative is just a matter of attitude. A dead-end is often just a place for us to stop and look around.


Sue Martin
Thanks for the reassurance and inspiration....that all the stuff I've saved will someday be useful....that all (or some) of my "failures" will prove fruitful at some point! I love the work presented on your website, Luann!

Bonnie MacKenzie
Thank you so much for this article. You've described, in a nutshell, the life of an artist!! This IS the process, whether it be framing, materials, technique or expressive challenges, the journey you described toward your solution can be applied to every aspect of the creative process.

Looking back on my 35 years as an artist, I can see all the mistakes, baby steps, and the frustrations that led me to how I create today. It wasn't always fun and many days (many many days!) "throwing in the towel" seemed like a really good idea when the solution wasn't immediately apparent.

But a deep breath, and trusting the answer would present itself when the time was right, is how I managed to stay motivated and moving forward.

Thanks for sharing this. It reminds me that one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is patience!

Teresa Tromp
I don't know if your website shows the new display your post describes, but your work is beautiful!

May I take the time to thank all veterans reading this post for their service, as it is Veteran's Day.

Luann Udell
What great follow-up comments! You all always add so much to the conversation. I like what Tom said, about the bad times are a place to stop and look around. And attitude is all--I firmly believe that.

As for pics of the solution, I'm doing my best. But I've never had to shoot a piece under glass and it is HARD!!! I couldn't avoid hot spots and reflections. Maybe I'll take the glass out for a few shots....?

Take the glass out for a few shots?

If you get it drunk enough, it will cooperate. :)

Sharon Weaver
Today was a great day of discovery for me too. I have a project for the holidays where I need to do some mini paintings and I just didn't want to do the same old thing. So last night I had an idea and this morning completed the first of what I think will be a new series for me. I am so excited. Coming to this has been a struggle for me for the last few months and now I feel like I have come out of the fog. WOW!

Joanne Benson
Great Post Luann,
Thanks for sharing that story. Most of us can relate to the trials and tribulations of being an artist. I am still trying to find the perfect storage solution for my unframed pastels. The watercolors are easy but pastel is messy and dusty and smears. I want to be able to store them but have them available to look at as well without having to unwrap them......If anyone has an suggestions I would love to hear them. (Even though it is off topic - sort of)

Judy Mudd
Terrific! And yet another reason we should push ourselves and put ourselves in these little squeezes every now and then. It motivates us! It forces us to think in a new direction, coming up with new ideas and ways of doing things. Great post--you had me all the way to the end.

I don't know if it will help, but a polarizing lens may cut down on the glare and hot spots some. Photographing work--what a headache!
So glad you resolved what sounds to have been long standing problem for you. And yes, it does sound soooo familiar, if not in the specifics then in the general drift!
Joanne, I, too, have charcoals and pastels that are difficult to store. The only even halfway practical solution I came up with, short of framing, is to spray fix those that are on light colored paper (the pastels on darker paper spot too easily from the fixative) and then cover them with a protective sheet of wax paper taped secure to the edges with drafting tape, which pulls off more easily than other types of tapes. The wax paper seems to be less prone to static pull of the pigment particles (although there will be particle lifting if the piece gets manhandled some), and I then store them flat in a shelving unit my husband made for me.

Carol McIntyre
Sharon, CONGRATULATIONS! It is so marvelous when light bulbs go off! Feel free to go outside and yip for joy!

Tom Weinkle

I've had good luck with storing pastels similar to the way kim does. I buy glassine in large rolls online, wrap about a third of the way over the back and then trim the other three sides to the edge of the paper. i tape with ph neutral in a few spots to hold the glassine down. When you show it, it allows the flap to come away from the painting without having to totally remove it.

Seems to work pretty well. There are some new fixatives out for pastels that seem to work pretty well without changing colors. I like spectrafix. When I work on the sanded papers, I don't generally fix at all.

Good luck.

Lee McVey

Be careful storing charcoal drawings in wax paper unless you are sure they will not be subjected to heat. One of my students used wax paper and was transporting her pastels in her car. The heat of the sun melted the wax paper onto her pastels.

You might also try the plastic used in clear bags for giclees etc. They don't pull off too much pastel and have the advantage of being able to readily see what the painting/drawing is. I'm still using glassine though.

Good suggestions! I tended to have had more problems with water damage to artwork in the past, but now that I'm in a very arid climate that is much less of a concern. My storage unit is in a cool, dry place and out of the sun, but I'm happy to hear how others deal with charcoal and pastel work. I'm not sure what glassine is, but I have heard of it. I'll check into it. My method doesn't allow clear visibility of the artwork without removing the wax paper, so any kind of improvement over what I'm doing is much appreciated.

Joanne Benson
Tom, Kim and Lee, Thanks for the info about storing pastels. I have tried the wax paper method on a few. I wish glasine was clear. I do have some. I wish they would make portfolios designed for pastel storage. I'm not sure how you would do that but I can't imagine it would be all that difficult. I actually have left some of them attached to the backer boards and slid them into a drying rack for storage. However, the capacity isn't all that great.....

Lee McVey
I don't have a sophisticated way of storing my pastels. I store them in a glassine "envelope," glassine cut longer than the paper to wrap around both sides and fold up to keep the paper in place. This uses more glassine than Tom's way, but I don't have to fiddle with getting tape off to open it up. (Using half of a clear bag taped on would allow easy viewing. I've seen this done and it doesn't appear to pick up too much pastel. I may try this method soon for paintings that are finished and ready to store, but not for work in progress or transporting to and from the field.)

I stack finished paintings on a shelf. Out in the field for plein air painting, I transport my paper and the field-finished paintings in a foamcore folder I made and reinforced with clear shipping tape. It now looks a bit worn, but I've used the same folder for about 10 years.

Jo Allebach
Finding the solution to things such as transporting and storage requires just as much creativity as my chosen media. I was going to my first pleine aire workshop (out of town) so i needed a way to get them around and home. This was oil so they would not be dry right away. It was too late to order a commercially made box for this purpose. My friend and I racked our brains and searched for something. Finally at the office supply store I got a file sorter that normally would sit on a desk and a big plastic box billed as a "really useful box". The lid clamped on and fit the sorter perfect. At the workshop I felt so good because everyone was impressed with the ingenuity of it.
Thanks for your inspiring article and all the great comments.

Lee McVey
Jo, That does sound like a good idea! What size did it work for? 6 x 8? 8 x 10?

Sue Martin
Thank you, Jo, for sharing your creative solution!

Jo Allebach
It works for 8 x 10

Joanne Benson
Hi Lee,
Thanks for the suggestions. I am wondering why just use half a clear bag. If the clear bag part is on the pastel side then having it on the back side shouldn't matter...should it?...would more static be caused by having it on both sides??? I may try a test painting in a clear bag to see what happens....

I guess I'll have to figure out how to make a portfolio book with glasine sheets in between and a method to hold the pastels in it. I'm thinking sets of corners to hold the pastel in place......hmmmmm... I'll have to go to work on this......Thanks for getting me thinking some more about this.....(thinking out of the bag..LOL)

The drying rack is good for storing and I suppose I could store several pastels on each shelf if I put some glasine between.....but you can't see them easily and unless you took the time to label the ends of the papers somehow you have no idea of what is on each shelf....grrrr....

Where are the art suppliers on this one!!!!! They should be developing pastel storage!

Jo, Thanks for getting me thinking creatively. I paint in oils also. Can you share what size box and and file sorter you are using and also how did you hold the panels in place once in the box? I would think they would shift back and forth. Thanks for sharing!

Lee McVey

The reason for only 1/2 a clear bag over the pastel is just a cost saving thing. You can protect 2 pastels with one bag. I don't like to fiddle with tape on and off so I might try the whole bag. Or try the 1/2 bag and see how often I need to take the tape off.

I'm doing a pastel demo presentation for Pastel Society of New Mexico next week. I'll probably use the clear bag taped method to show unframed plein air studies.

If you make a portfolio for pastels, let us know how it turned out.

Richard Christian Nelson
Luann- Great post! It's amazing how we are the sum of our experiences, and sometimes we have just what we need at just the right time...

Spencer Meagher
The only mistake is the one you don't learn from.

You built us up to all this and then didn't show or tell what the solution was! How frustrating, like telling someone you have something so exciting to share and then walk off, or you have a secret and then just before you share it, you leave! Where are pictures? Where is the explanation of the solution?


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