If you live in Florida you know about Brazilian Peeper Trees - A TRASH TREE - which by law cannot be bought, sold, transported or planted in the state. Florida spends thousands of dollars a year to eradicate them from state land. It was introduced in the 1800's by the USDA as an ornamental because it can be a beautiful tree – but a monumental blunder that became a huge problem.

I KNOW BECAUSE I OWN ONE. It was on the vacant lot next to the home I bought. That entire lot was a jungle I'm still clearing bit by bit. When I finally hacked my way into the pepper tree, I found that “jungle” describing the overlapping, intertwined branches was the understatement of the century. 

A single branch can grow in a dozen different directions, some of them up because my tree was about forty feet tall, and a branch can grow ten feet in a year.

Bit by bit, after three years of lopping, chain sawing and shaping, it is the most beautiful tree for blocks around. I sit on my favorite bench in its cool, almost quarter acre of shade on the hottest of Florida days – and watch it grow. I've learned that keeping a Brazilian Pepper Tree in bounds isn't a “job” - it's a “profession.”

Despite that, I wouldn't trade my handsome but unruly friend for the most beautiful and expensive palm. Here are some of the lessons I've learned from my Pepper Tree. These are lesson every artist (or businessman) should learn:

  2. THERE ARE ALWAYS ACTIVITIES YOU WOULD RATHER BE DOING. ( like more time in front of the easel) 
The Brazilian Pepper has lovely, glossy green leaves and in winter it produces clusters of bright red berries, which is why one of it's other names is Christmas Berry. 

In the spring, here in Venice, we have an invasion of another kind. With no warning, in early spring for just a day or two at the most, we're invaded by flocks of Robins. The Robins are attracted to the red berries. In a short a time, as they gorge themselves; they can strip the tree in no time at all.

The problem – for the Robins – is that something in the berries makes them drunk from over-imbibing and we have scores of inebriated Robins staggering around on the lawn, until they fly away, probably nursing horrific hangovers and telling themselves, “I'll never do that again!” So here are a few more lessons from my tree:

  1. BEAUTY IS ONLY SKIN DEEP. IT'S WHAT'S UNDERNEATH THAT CAN MAKE IT GOOD OR BAD – (like over-painting oil with acrylic or skipping the dull task of preparing the canvas properly)
  2. BALANCE AND MODERATION ARE IMPORTANT (just ask a hammered robin!).
    Here's an example closer to home and not quite as funny as a Robin too hungover to be the “early bird and catch the worm”: If you, Robin-like, are entranced with the “berries” the way many of us are addicted to ice cream or pizza - whatever, - and become so caught-up in our latest masterpiece that we skip healthy living and tell a significant other, “just run to MaDonald's and get me a double Big Mac – and tell 'em to Supersize it 'cause I'm doing a Supersize painting,” Just look down. Can you see your toes? Do you wish they made brushes with longer handles? 
    Even worse, tell your significant other “to get lost” till you finish the “important” work you are doing and that small problem will grow until you wish for an overgrown Brazilian Pepper instead.
  3. PATIENCE IS ESSENTIAL. It took me three seasons of work before my Brazilian Pepper took the shape I envisioned. How about your art objectives?

Embarking, on another career, writing, just like you I'm constantly surprised at the investment in time, and sometimes dollars, it takes to pursue.

Looking back, it's too bad I didn't have a Brazilian Pepper tree to teach me some valuable lessons.


I spent 20+ years on-the-road as an art rep selling my own art and that of many other artists and fine art publishers. In some years I sold $20,000 - $30,000 worth of images I created using a “kind-of” airbrush look allowing me to utilize hand-cut stencils to produce duplicate images in a variety of color ways. I signed these with a nom-de-brush: “Claude” short for Claude Le Chat, the artist of record. Claude was my pet Chat, who liked to add a paw print or two if not watched carefully. I referred to these as "limited" (I could only stand doing a limited number before tiring of the image) and I numbered them serially using roman numerals. There was no set number in the edition, which remained “open” until I ran out of patience or ready buyers.

I did not hide my name because I was ashamed of the work. If the designer didn’t like the art he or she might feel hesitant about saying, “That really stinks!” for fear of hurting my feelings and limiting my chance to find out what would suit better so I could sell another artist’s work that was more appropriate. I ALWAYS tried to provide the best art for the job, no matter whose work it was. If I was looking out for my pocketbook and not my customer’s best interest, I wasn’t doing my job as a rep.

Just be sure your buyers make out the check in your name or the name of your business entity, whether corporation, LLC, partnership or sole proprietor - usually the name on your bank account. I don't recommend taking cash and trying to hide the income - that's bad business and dishonest, too.

My art rep company was a corporation and the expense of doing business, from travel and insurance, car expenses, use of part of my home as a studio, etc. were all tax deductible. The same is true for an individual using a Schedule C to report expenses. Every artist should have a knowledgeable accountant to turn to. His fees are also tax deductible.


Today in my hometown paper, “The Venice Gondolier Sun” there is an item and picture captioned “Groceries and Art.” Beneath the photo it reads: “If you are shopping in the Sweetbay Supermarket . . . 1-4 p.m. Thursday, you may come face to face with an artist. Michael Handley is taking his watercolor class to the store that day, and each member of the class will choose a subject to paint.” The caption goes on to give information about Handley’s next six-week series of classes.

What a grand, original idea! For most of his class I’ll bet it’s a step outside their comfort zone – “all those strangers looking over my shoulder as I try to paint the avocados!” What an opportunity for the teacher to tell people about his painting classes! What an opportunity for each student to get some public exposure for his or her talent.
Sometimes I think the term “comfort zone” should be changed to “comfort cage” because it keeps so many confined to small ideas, small risks and small accomplishments. Stepping outside into uncharted territory is often hard for artists, but once the initial trepidation is put aside there are many ways to expand marketing possibilities and make more sales.

People love to watch artists draw or paint and I’ll bet there will be many shoppers gathered ‘round looking at the art as it is created.

I recall vividly many years ago while I was still teaching art in the Baltimore Public Schools when a fellow teacher and skilled caricature sketch artist, Irv Finifter, and I were hired to do caricatures of guests at a very swank party for the city’s elite, moneyed friends of the couple who contacted Irv and hired us. It was an evening garden party with tents to house the orchestra and dancers and another for a sumptuous array of food and still another for the open bar.

Irv and I, dressed in smocks and berets, sporting Salvador Dali moustaches, set up on the fringe of the garden and in short order were busy doing caricatures. The fascinated crowd around us grew and grew until the hostess approached and asked us to stop because the expensive musical group they had hired was playing to an empty dance floor and food on the buffet table was going begging.

Near here there is a fishing pier with a popular restaurant. Come on most any nice day and you’ll find a craftsman at one of the public picnic tables bending gold wire into earrings, pendants, bracelets and necklaces incorporating local shark’s teeth and beads. Spread before him is an array of his work and there are always onlookers watching - and buying!

Visual artists and craftsmen – why not become “performing artists” as you hone your artistic skills? Creep outside the cage and look for interesting venues where you can paint and sketch. Is there a local zoo, a beach, a farmers’ market, a city park; public garden or local landmark people flock to?

Artists – find a spot, ask permission if there is someone to ask, and set to work. Have plenty of business cards, brochures and perhaps a few other pieces of art you’ve done, or a scrapbook of photos of your work. Then be ready with a smile and a pad to take down information from people you chat with: Name, address, email, etc. Ask if you can send an email about your up-coming shows, digital images of your work or a link to your website.

Do it until you begin to feel comfortable in “the public eye.” Then go back, padlock the “comfort cage” and throw away the key so you can never creep back inside.

There are many more suggestions on how to sell your art based on my 20+ years as an art rep and artist on All podcasts are free and if, after you’ve listened, click the email link and send me a question about your work and a link to your website. I may even add it to my “recommended link” list where folks from around the world will be able to visit your website.


Most artists are aware, to some extent, the materials they use to create art can be toxic and become a hazard to good health. As an art rep I sold prints by one artist who had to switch from painting in oils to Acrylic because he became so sensitive to the materials he used.
Many believe Flemish artist Jan van Eyck invented oil paint, but, in fact, in 2008 scientists discovered oil-based paints used in caves in Afghanistan. The paintings are believed to date to more than 750 years before his birth. 

More and more substances have been added to whatever medium has been used to carry the colors they produced to broaden the spectrum of hues artists use to achieve the effects they want.

Many hazardous pigments are still in oil based paints readily available in art stores. If you paint in oils it may well be worth your time to look at the following list of one hundred and twenty eight oil paint colors to see what they contain and their relative toxicity as put together by the city of Tuscon along with a comprehensive guide to materials for artists,craftsmen and teachers on this link:

In addition to the special hazards the art community faces, I've been thinking about all our bodies have been exposed to over the years and what effects these unseen and largely unknown factors we weren't even aware of may be having. Not to mention the effects of what we do to ourselves may have on other species. We're approaching “high season” here along the Gulf and I wonder if our non-human inhabitants are beginning to worry?

My wife and her sister grew up in the 100 plus year old house in Baltimore across from a grain elevator in an industrial area. It's been known for years that the dust generated in grain elevators can kill, slowly, if not suddenly by a spark induced explosion. They lived within feet of one.

Prior to 1940, almost all houses were painted with lead based paint. Even today, millions of kids in poorer, old neighborhoods still do, and science has recognized what even tiny amounts can do to a child's brain because kids “taste” everything. Many in our generation lived surrounded by it, and despite their mother regularly wallpapering over it, who knows what they all, including other family members who have already died of cancer, took in. The house was heated with Kerosene. What might that have put into the air? 

The house I grew up in house and was built in the late twenties and early thirties, at least originally, been painted with lead.

During my childhood we heated our house with coal – what excitement for us kids when the coal truck came and dumped 6 tons of coal through the basement window into the coal bin! And we burned it, as did most of our neighbors, in a cast iron furnaces coated with asbestos. We always had a bag of asbestos on hand to patch spots on the furnace and my brother and I found that when we mixed it with water we could mold all kinds of things from it – with our bare hands, of course.

My wife and I lived, our son was a baby in an apartment in a lovely old mansion on Madison Avenue, (now replaced by the headquarters for the Maryland Historical Society) probably painted with lead – across from the Greyhound Bus station and the the diesel spewing buses that came and went night and day.
For years, we sprayed everything with DDT, before it's side effects became widely known. It had a positive effect, too, almost wiping out Malaria where it was used because it killed off the mosquito population – and is still being used for that in some countries.

After the family moved Florida, when mosquito season came, the county trucks made regular trips up and down our streets at night, misting with God knows what. We thought: “How good – no bites! They no longer do that, I'm pretty sure for a reason we'll never be told.

I use a Microwave daily. Every Microwave in a public place now has a warning sign – DON'T USE THIS IF YOU HAVE A PACEMAKER.

There's a big controversy on what effect cell phone use has on the brain and more and more evidence that it isn't benign. Seems like on TV we are seeing multiple example of teens and twenties – cell phone users for years – going bats and doing horrible mass killings for no explainable reason. Is there a connection?

The Bible tells us that in the age of the Patriarchs, people lived for hundreds of years. For centuries before Noah, there wasn't even rain. The scarcely populated, near pristine, earth was watered by springs and a nightly mist. Now we know acid rain can kill entire forests and destroy the fish in a lake.

But we humans, had already discovered the sweet, healthful juice from grapes could be fermented into wine, and further distilled to create a stronger stuff with a greater kick – one that is destroying thousands of lives every year.

And later we discovered tobacco – just a pleasant, stress reducing “smoke” that has become the number one contributor death and disease, medical experts have shown. Fortunately, say the proponents of Mary Jane, that weed isn't harmful; just a delightful “high” and some welcome relief from the troubles of the world.  It's "recreational use" has been legalized by some states in the last eletion.

Before modern cookery, the Bible warned against eating Pig Flesh, and the broth in which it was “cooked,” natural carriers of Trichinosis. Today every meat we buy has a warning: MUST REACH AN INTERNAL TEMPERATURE OF 160%. How hot did it get when prepared in a clay pot over a bundle of burning twigs?

The real wonder of it all, is that our divine Creator built into our systems the ability to naturally cure 80% of all the ills that beset us. One thing I'm pretty sure of – we'll find a way, whether by brush or booze, tech or “what-the-heck” to reduce that percentage.


One of God’s greatest gifts to mankind, His creation, was the gift of creativity – the ability to create beautiful objects. Throughout the old and new Testaments there are many passages attesting to the Lord’s regard for beautiful man-made items and to the skilled artisans He called to use the special gift he bestowed.

In EXODUS, the second book of the Old Testament (24:1 through 39:8), there are fourteen references to skilled craftsman. God even called specific artists by name, Bezalel and Oholiab, and confirms that He gave them their artistic ability.

In 1 KINGS 7:14 Huram is identified as an artist “highly skilled and experienced in all kinds of bronze work” who came to King Solomon and “did all the work assigned to him.” He is described further in 2 Chronicles 2:13-14 as “Huram-Abi, a man of great skill, whose mother was from Dan and whose father was from Tyre. He is trained to work in gold and silver, bronze and iron, stone and wood, and with purple and blue and crimson yarn and fine linen. He is experienced in all kinds of engraving and can execute any design given to him.”

When Nebuchadnezzar conquered Israel he carried into exile in Babylon “all the craftsmen and artisans.” (2 Kings 24:13-14).

Not all artists referred to in the Bible created art that honored their Creator. In Acts 19:23-25, “A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: ‘Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty."

There are many other references to artists and craftsmen of all kinds throughout the Bible and it is clear that of all the marvelous gifts given by God, artistic talent holds a special place.

As an artist, how do you share your special gift of creativity – for what purpose and with whom?

1. Did you give your own art as a gift?
2. Why - To save cash?
3. Because the recipient would appreciate it more than a "bought" gift?
4. Did you give it to a relative?
5. Did you give it to a friend?
6. Did you give it to help a worthy cause or charity?
7. Did you receive art as a gift?


Does anything else you do come close to the satisfaction and happiness of creating something new? How long will you do it? Here's what I think


I often try to contemplate what our heavenly home will be like. Down here I’m awed at God’s marvelous, beautiful and complex creation. Sometimes I’m nearly overcome at the magnificent colors of a sunset or a view out across our beautiful Gulf. What must those colors and scenes be like in heaven, magnified by unimaginable degrees of beauty?

I’m often staggered by the splendor of the music I hear in our church, the artistry of those who play and the voices of those who sing. What will heavenly music sound like?

Surrounded by the love of my family and friends here, their warmth enfolds me in a way I can’t put into words. What will I feel there, when those I cherish, who have gone on before, surround me with the unconditional love that characterizes Christ?

How will food, one of the pleasures of this life, taste at the banquet table there, laid before the Saints?  Every pleasure we have known here will be magnified and multiplied there. When I step across that threshold, I’ll know. It will be the greatest adventure of my life!

But, I do not expect to view heaven as if I am a wide-eyed tourist awed at the shining streets of gold, choosing which perfect fruit to pluck from the twelve varieties hanging in profusion from the trees lining the crystal sea. Though I hope to be immersed in those waters and feel what must be true effervescence, even that will not be how I will experience the real delights of our divine eternity. It will not be an “outside –in” sensation – rather, the opposite.

I think, perhaps, God has pulled aside a small corner of the curtain of our coming existence for us here on earth. If we view those meaningful moments with the greatest impact on our joy in living, I believe the excitement of creation will rank at the very top.

Whether it was placing the finishing touch on a painting we knew to be the very best we could accomplish, or as a teacher speaking words that opened a new understanding in a young person’s mind, or helped a struggler bridge the gap between religiosity and a true relationship with Christ, we reached no higher peak and felt no greater satisfaction.

There, as we become an integral part of God’s ever expanding universe, one so huge it boggles the minds of our best earthly scientists who have not even numbered the galaxies already in existence, we will be fully engaged in God’s creative process.

We will not just witness the birth of galaxies, we will be participants - not just tools in His hands, but a conduit of God’s creative power in the way He has used our hands and hearts to create beauty here and to help shape his kingdom.

The variety of tasks we undertake will be infinite and rewarding beyond anything we have known or imagined. Perhaps we will slip our hands inside the hands of a skilled surgeon, as he brings miraculous healing to a loved one not yet with us.

I think we will experience community with our friends and family in ways far deeper than any human interaction we have ever had, combining and multiplying the application of God’s power with them to tasks ideal for us, and part of His celestial plan.

We may work in concert with great heroes of the faith and experience with them the “eureka moment” when one more of God’s priorities has been met and we know – and feel – beyond doubt, nothing can equal our joy and satisfaction at having been a part.

We will work at levels of magnitude greater than imagination and at others so incredibly tiny and complex below any cellular or biological rank we here have even imagined existed.

In heaven, there will never be a “same old – same old” – never a “been there, done that.” Our existence will be ever opening to new vistas of creation and we will be fully, continuously, engaged, eager for the next mountaintop!
Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

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