Thaw Malin of West Tisbury has been moving his ideas around in paint for more tha 40 years; he’s been moving his work over the Internet for six. He can often be seen sitting behind his easel, brush in hand, painting along the roads of the Vineyard.
Mr. Malin sold his work primarily in galleries for most of his career, and now has work hanging at the Copperworks Gallery in Menemsha, but like many painters, the job of selling what he produces has often been a bigger chore than mixing the paint on his palette.
The uncertain and inconsistent cash flow from gallery sales makes life problematic for many artists, including Mr. Malin. He has found some relief by turning to the Internet to sell his work
In 2005, he moved to Texas to care for his aging parents. The distance from the Vineyard galleries carrying his work at the time became another hurdle to financial success.
Then he read a February, 2006 New York Times article about a British painter, Julian Merrow-Smith, who moved with his wife to Provence in the South of France leaving most of his customers in London. Merrow-Smith’s solution was to start selling small paintings, about four by six inches, that he could paint in a day, on the Internet for $100 per painting. Mr. Malin’s response to the article was, “Hey, I can do this.”
After about six months of research and work putting together a website and a method for selling his paintings, Mr. Malin decided to put small, usually six by eight inch landscape paintings on the Internet for auction rather than at a set price. His starting price was $100.
He found a web designer, who patched together different computer programs to allow him to put photographs of his paintings onto eBay and to maintain an email list.
There were problems kick-starting the project, however. Mr. Malin eventually dove in to fine tune the process. That is when he discovered that he had hired a dyslexic programmer who had misread Mr. Malin’s “zeros ” as the letter “o.” “It took me about two months to figure that one out. Everything worked but about five things that all had the letter “o” instead of “zeros.”
The site went online in July of 2006 about the same time Mr. Malin returned to the Vineyard. “I have not looked back since,” he said.
He estimates that he has painted about 1,500 paintings since the start of his Internet business. About half have sold. If a painting that has been put up online does not sell it reverts to a “gallery price” and will often end up in a gallery. His small, plein air paintings usually take him about two hours to paint in the field. There is more touch-up time in his studio and more time to scan the paintings, put them up online and create and manage his email. Some have sold for as much as $450. He has occasionally listed larger paintings with larger minimums. One sold online for $6,000.
Mr. Malin is a New Jersey native who studied art at Beloit College in Wisconsin, where he was a friend of classmate John Peterson of the film “The Real Dirt on Farmer John” fame. Mr. Malin received a masters degree in art from The University of Georgia in 1974. His parents brought him to the Vineyard as a child and he has spent most summers of his life here.
He said he paints almost every day. “The hardest part of what I do is deciding on what to paint next,” he said. Knocking on doors of people he doesn’t know to ask permission to paint from their property can be difficult. “Particularly when I decide that the view is not what I expected and I don’t paint it,” he said.
He tries not to paint the same view more than once. He keeps a visual notebook and said that the light can be so different at different times of the day and at different times of the year at one place that he sometimes makes an exception. He admitted that he has painted the Island lighthouses more than once. “During hard times the lighthouse paintings always sell,” he said with grin.
Thaw Malin Art is available at thawmalinart.com.