The Class Connection: Gary Lord

Gary Lord, Prismatic Painting Studio, is a working finisher, muralist, teacher, author and occasional TV guest yet he somehow remains very down to earth about it all. In the business for 35 years, he still takes classes from other finishers. He invents finishes and plays with materials with the enthusiasm of a newbie. Gary has adjusted to the economy by developing simpler, more profitable painting techniques. Talent, grace and enthusiasm what a combo!

Who taught you?

Wow, this list goes back a long time. I went to college for a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a major in sculpting and a minor in painting. I started my decorative painting business in 1975 and for years just made up things to paint on my own. My really first introduction into painted finishes was a book called Paint Magic by Jocasta Innes which came out in 1981. That book changed my life and gave me a direction for my fledgling art business.

From this book I learned about another book that had a big influence on me called The Art of the Painted Finish for Furniture and Decoration by Isabel ONeil. From this book I learned about two decorative painting schools which were run by former students of Isabel Ina Marx and JoAnne Day. My first actual decorative painting class was a two-week marble and precious stones workshop held in Manhattan by JoAnne Day. A few years later I took a class at her school in San Francisco on woodgraining. I also took a marble and woodgrain class in the early 80s in Columbus Ohio from a traveling school called Rocky Mountain Painting. In this class was also a student by the name of Mike MacNeil whom I also later took a marble and woodgrain class from when he was co teaching with Bill Holgate. Around this time I also took my first Faux Effects class taught by Raymond Sandor. It was this class that allowed me to move away from the oil based paints I had been using for years. At this point the list for teachers that have taught me becomes much longer and it includes but is not limited to the following names: Melanie Royals, Donna Phelps, Barb Skivington, Sheri Zeman, Jacek Prowinski, Kathy Carroll, Margaret OReilly, Andre Ritin, Deb Drager, William Cochran, Cynthia Davis, Jeannine Dostal, Alison Woolley, David Rarick, Joe Greco, David Schmidt, Rodney Ray, Susan Bickford just to name a few.

As you can see I love to take classes my own-self. I also have over 100 art and instructional books. I have dozens of videos on these topics by many teachers I have not taken a personal class from but enjoyed learning from them. Last but certainly not least is the fact that I learn from many of the students I teach.

Who inspires you?

Anyone that has joy,passion and commitment for their vocation. Someone that has good morals and values and shares those with people they come into contact with. I am inspired by people that seek to go outside the box and are able to find a way to be successful at it. My daughter has a quote on her wall that says To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.

What do you get out of teaching?

I am a big believer in learning and the sharing of knowledge. By doing this myself I often times get as much out of a class as the students do. Also by teaching it helps myself stay focused on the creative side, use new products, improve techniques, and always seek the unknown.

What is your favorite project or technique?

Well, that answer seems to be the newest thing I am interested in. Times change, interests change, products change, so as a result so does my art. The changed economy forced my craft to to develop techniques that look beautiful but are able to be executed in a minimal amount of steps with not an exorbitant amount of product cost.

Also, as my body ages I am not so interested in doing multi layered finishes that require tons of burnishing etc, so I look to create finishes that are easier on my body than some of the things I did in the past. I am seeking to do work in my studio such as cabinet finishes, countertops, canvas work etc, so I do not have to work on scaffold 24 feet up in the air, or balance myself on an unstable walk board above to two story stairwell. Even though I am only 29 years of age in my mind I do realize my body does not always feel that way:(

How has your business changed in the last 5 years?

Work harder to earn less pretty much sums up the last 5 years. I have to market and advertise more now than I did in the roaring early 2000s. I work very hard to nurture all of my professional contacts and keep in contact as frequently as I can with them. I have had to cut a lot of expenses and benefits that in the past were affordable to do but no longer are. I have gone back more to my style of business when I first started out and watched every penny closer and I use, re-use products and tools until nothing is left.

Please describe your classes including the practical applications to what you are teaching.

My classes now try to focus on working harder and smarter, using less labor and product to earn a higher margin. I teach with a lot of the new Faux Effects products that do give you beautiful looks quickly with a minimal amount of labor and product. Some of these products are the new Luna line, the RS Series, Rock-Kote, Stone Decor, Sharkskin etc. I am also using the multi-colored foils for a faster application of foils.

Did the process of writing a book change you as a artist and teacher?

I have written 5 books about decorative and mural painting. My writing experience started when I was a contributing home decor editor for Decorative Artist Workbook. For seven years I wrote over forty articles which focused on step-by-step techniques for a specific paint treatment. I was also involved with The National Society for Decorative Painters and they had me write how to articles for their bi-monthly magazine for two years. At the same time time, I started doing work on national television programs about decorative painting.

All of these avenues of exposure led me to the largest national publisher on how-to books in the country. In 1998 they published my first book, Great Paint Finishes for a Gorgeous Home. In the small niche market of decorative painting this book became what they called a best seller, which meant it sold more than 25,000 copies but less than 50,000 (which very few did). In 2001 I wrote Marvelous Murals You Can Paint which again sold well over the 25,000 mark but under the 50,000 once again. The third book Its Faux Easy was released in 2004 and sold very close to the 50,000 mark. The next book was back to mural painting and this time I came up with the idea of having 22 artists collaborate on the book reflecting the work and business wisdom of the top mural talent in America. Mural Painting Secrets for Success was released in 2008. The collective talents in this book inspired me to write Simply Creative Faux Finishes using 23 different artists plus myself for a total of 30 techniques. This book includes a DVD that showcases 20 additional artists in its gallery plus 5 additional techniques by 4 different artists. The last two books have done okay in sales but the entire decorative painting how-to book industry has been hit hard in the last 5 years, so much so that my publishing house has closed down that part of their business model for now.

So what did I learn from all of this? Writing a book takes a lot of time. I was given 1 year to write each book. Then the publisher would have it for a year and I would periodically have to review what they were doing. On the average a book would take between 250 and 350 total hours of my time to actual write and edit it with the publisher, and the first book is even longer because of the learning curve. This does not count the hours where I would be organizing my thoughts while driving or in bed not being able to sleep. I had to find this time in between my already busy schedule.

My first books I had to pay for the photography in the entire book by myself with no help from the publisher, which could cost as much as $10,000, as years went on that changed. I was told from the beginning that I would never make any money by selling only one book, but the only way you could make any money was to have multiple successful books. The publishing house gives you a very small percent of the book sales they make and unfortunately is is based on the price they sell it for not the full retail price. Because they sell it to wholesalers for at least 60% off or book club for more than 50 to 75% off your margins are even smaller. The one good thing is that they will allow you to purchase books at the authors price which is not even as good as the distributors price, but at least you can try and resell these for a better profit.

I also learned the pros and cons of trying to do a self published book, which I have never done, or using a publisher. For me I liked the aspect of going with a publisher because I did not have an existing distributor network that could sell my book to book sellers, distributers, on line retailers, e-books, etc. The time and skills required to do all of that effectively I do not posses. So going in I decided I was fine with a smaller piece of the publishing pie but having far greater national and international sales because of the distribution chain of this large publishing house. What that did for me was to enhance my already national reputation even more so which in turn sold more books, which sold more classes, which sold more product, which drove people to my on line education site like As in all business aspects it is seldom one idea or product will make you successful but instead it is many small components that lead to a much larger result.

That said for those of you that feel the burning desire to write a book I suggest you do some research before you start. Is there even a market for your idea? If so will you self publish, and if yes what do you anticipate the return on you time and invest will be? Do you try and pitch your idea to a publishing house? If so are they even currently publishing the type of concept for a book that you want to do? What are their terms for you as the author and how established and reliable are they to actual meet those terms? It is easy to write a book if you want to pay for the entire thing yourself and not worry if you get any return on your time and investments, but to make it financially worth while for yourself is a much more complex endeavor.

Anything else you think is important or interesting about your business or the industry please talk about.

Some of my greatest personal experiences in this line of work comes from my international teaching workshops abroad. You get to really know the people on the trip, share your love and passion for what we do, learn new ideas, study old masters work and be inspired by all the history and beauty around you. This year in September I am doing a trip to Greece and Santorini.