Art Business Success Story: Donna Dewberry

15 May 2007

A career as an artist can be one of the most creative, personally fulfilling professions available, but sometimes making art is less about self-expression and more about paying the bills. For Donna Dewberry—an acrylic decorative painter from Clermont, Florida, who has sold more than 500,000 books since 1998, is seen regularly on the Home Shopping Network, and is contracted with PBS until 2007 for her program One Stroke Painting With Donna Dewberry—art has become an art business, emphasis on business.

by Daniel Grant

A career as an artist can be one of the most creative, personally fulfilling professions available, but sometimes making art is less about self-expression and more about paying the bills. For Donna Dewberry—an acrylic decorative painter from Clermont, Florida, who has sold more than 500,000 books since 1998, is seen regularly on the Home Shopping Network, and is contracted with PBS until 2007 for her program One Stroke Painting With Donna Dewberry—art has become an enterprise. Although she works primarily in the craft field, the steps she has taken to brand and market her unique style of painting can apply to other artists wanting to make a living from their artwork.

Dewberry's road to success began through trial-and-error experimentation while raising a family and trying to make her house look more ornate. "I really wanted to learn how to paint," she recalls, "so I tried reading some art-instruction books, but they were difficult to understand. So I looked at the step-by-step instructions in the book and tried to copy the artists. I loaded the brush with a bunch of colors because I thought that's what the artists were doing." Dewberry's first ventures in painting involved using the handle side of the brush to paint dots on craft images but eventually she turned the brush around and developed a technique of painting that forgoes traditional art skills and can be mastered quickly.

Several examples of Donna Dewberry’s signature One Stroke floral technique painted on a plane, card, candle, and craft box. These objects have led her to a thriving art business, marketing art and selling art.
Several examples of Donna
Dewberry’s signature One Stroke
floral technique painted on a
plane, card, candle, and craft
box. These objects have led her to a thriving art business, marketing art and selling art.

Her mistaken understanding of how artists paint turned into a full-blown system of painting that she patented in 1995. Dewberry's One Stroke technique involves applying two different paints, usually white and a color, on different sides of the same brush, working them briefly on the palette to get a blended middle color and then applying the brush to a surface in a wiggly fashion. Favoring a limited palette, rounded edges, and using simplified floral forms, Dewberry rotates her brush on an axis (usually one side of the brush); the wiggling adds a scalloped edge to the flowers, which are the primary subject of her designs. The dark, in-between, and light colors on the same brush provide the illusion of highlights and shading without having to build up paint layers. The technique shortcuts the need to learn drawing, design, shading, composition, and color coordination and results in a "Donna Dewberry" painting in a limited amount of time. "People are usually blown away that they can paint something they never thought they were capable of doing in just one hour," she says.

As Dewberry perfected her style, she brought her ornamental floral designs painted on tins, wooden containers, and mailboxes to department store buyers. Many of them expressed considerable interest but wanted to purchase the boxes by the caseload, not just one or two. Within a year, the artist was producing 8,000 painted containers per month, working assembly-line style alongside two friends who she taught how to paint—"one of them did rosebuds, I did leaves, the third one did final touches"—while her husband and children took care of packaging, shipping, and accounts receivable. Soon people were seeing her designs and commissioning her to do floral borders in bedrooms and hallways. She finished one or two houses a day, earning $1,000 per job, while still making time to paint her signature boxes. Over a period of five years, she painted nearly 1,200 homes.

By 1995, Dewberry decided to move away from producing her decorative images on objects and started her One Stroke company to teach others her technique. The business produces books and DVDs of her painting method, has licensed her name for art-supply products, and has also developed a system for making quilts that have been digitally printed onto fabric (called One Stitch). In 2005, approximately 300,000 One Stroke kits—which include instructional material, brushes, and paints—were sold through the Home Shopping Network alone. The same or similar products are sold through major arts-and-crafts stores—such as Michaels, AC Moore, and Crafts & Stuff—at Wal-Mart and on QVC; and through the One Stroke website (www.onestroke.com). The One Stroke company also trains and certifies instructors to teach the Donna Dewberry painting technique in workshops held throughout the country.

Dewberry notes that some of the people who have bought her books and DVDs have gone further in art, moving beyond the One Stroke method to other subjects and more complicated styles of painting. No longer painting thousands of boxes a month and hundreds of bedrooms a year, Dewberry now finds time to explore her personal artistic ambitions, "dabbling in landscapes" on canvas, which she brings with her to conventions or television appearances, occasionally putting them up for sale at charity auctions.

 


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