My name is Gary, and China has been a big part of my life for several years. I spend as much time as I can traveling to very remote and unusual areas of China - places where they have never even seen a foreigner in many cases. When I get the chance, I backpack to villages that have no real roads. It is here that I sometimes find new items for my collection of amazing art that I sell online.
I decided to sell Chinese art online because it seems that most people in the world know little about the artistic treasures that are available in China, and even less about the long history of Chinese art whose techniques date back thousands of years.
Also, because I can speak Chinese I can often find artists in out-of-the-way places and get a far better price that you would ever find anywhere else.
One day I bumped into Sandy. She's a well-traveled and friendly Chinese girl who had worked in a few art galleries in China. We became fast friends and I often called on her for her expertise on Chinese art.
At the same time, it was impossible for me to spend so much time running all over China collecting art, posting it, communicating with customers, and shipping paintings. So, Sandy and I became business partners. We take turns with one of us seeking art and traveling while the other holds the fort in Beijing.
The real winner is you, our customer, because you can learn interesting information about Chinese culture, while paying just a small fraction of what you might pay in your own country for this beautiful hand-painted art. The artists also win since many of them have doubled their income since being discovered by us.
Just think of us (Sandy & Gary) as your own personal art buyers in China!
Since the beginning of this venture, we have managed to travel over 40,000 miles back and forth across China seeking art to post on the internet for you.
Sandy meets with famous Chinese bamboo artist,
Shao Dan in his studio near Xi'an in the
Shaanxi Province of China. (2002)
I was living in China and teaching English at a private school in Beijing. This was during what I call my "break from America". I think everyone should take a break from their home country and live abroad for a while, discover a different culture, and see the world through different eyes.
I always felt safer and more secure in China anyway, and being after September 11th, decided to extend my stay. As a hobby, I started listing Chinese artwork on eBay to see if it would sell. After Sandy joined me, it wasn't long before we were selling 50 pieces of Asian art each week.
Soon, I started branching out and finding artists in more remote places - at the time it was mostly because others in Beijing were starting to copy everything that I was doing on eBay with little regard for my copyrights.
I'd intended for this to be a temporary hobby business, but the scary part was, we now had several artists depending on us for their main income.
I taught Sandy how to take good photos of the artwork, and left for the USA in 2003. I figured that I'd try to limp along running the business while working for a grading and demolition company in the states.
Three months later, I was back, partially for the business, and a lot for Ling Hua, the girlfriend that I had left behind in China. On the trip after that, I married Ling Hua in China. During the next 16 months, I made 8 round trips between the USA and China while waiting for the U.S. Government to give my wife a visa and running this little artwork business.
Things were going pretty well as we shipped many pieces of artwork to customers all around the world from our studio in Beijing.
But then, for my American customers, we started having problems. U.S. Homeland Security took over U.S. Customs and started to randomly delay packages for security (apparently they are unaware that all mail attacks U.S. history were domestic and were all cases of Americans doing bad things to other Americans).
We made the decision in 2005 to move our inventory and many of the business operations (photo studio and shipping) to the USA. It was a big leap of faith, since the rent on our gallery in San Diego is more than 8 times what we were paying in China. The whole process of moving took almost a year.
So far, it has worked out nicely, and we have even met many of our customers in San Diego.
But we didn't want to alienate our customers in Great Britain, Australia, Europe, Canada and New Zealand, so we changed our shipping fees to a flat rate for everyone in the world. Of course, we always absorb some of the cost (lose money) on shipping every time, after we ship the artwork to our gallery in the USA, and then ship it on to our customers (wherever they may be).
In short, we're getting by, though making a bit less money than before. But then, I know I will never get rich running this business. My goal is really to live in the middle class, and make sure that as many artists as possible can also join the middle class in China.
Our new photo studio in San Diego where I
can often be found busy taking pictures of
our Asian artwork for our online art gallery.
Ling Hua pulls artwork out for packing in Beijing (2005).
This was just before our move to the USA.
FYI: We now seal all wall scrolls in tissue paper &
bubble wrap, keeping them in perfect condition for you.
We've taken planes, trains, automobiles,
boats, taxis, rented motorcycles, and yes, even camels
to find artwork in remote areas of China.
My wife, Ling Hua also gets in on the adventures of
seeking out, and meeting with various artists.
Here she is with Cheng Zheng-Long in Chengdu, China
during one of our adventures in 2006.
Sandy, at her little office in Beijing (2003).
At our workshop in Beijing, we diligently mount artwork.
Here, a painting is bonded to more sheets of xuan paper
(rice paper) as the process of mounting begins
(this artwork has already been in a flat steam press
before this bonding process begins)
Note that the irons to not actually touch the art which
is protected by a clear heat-resistant plastic sheet.
I discovered while living in China that there were great variables in the quality of artwork, and especially in the mounting of artwork (building wall scrolls and adding silk borders to paintings).
Sandy and I spent a lot of time for more than a year testing different artwork mounters in and around Beijing. We probably did samples with more than 50 mounters. The quality ranged from "Absolutely Horrible" to "Tourist Trash" to "Almost Passable".
So the best of the lot was still not quite good enough. We took the best guy, and spent some time talking about quality with him. Even giving him some concepts of "Total Quality Management" that I had learned while at business college.
I am not sure if the talks helped, or it was the fact that I kept sending back many wall scrolls, when they did not pass my inspection. I think he got tired re-mounting the rejects, and decided to do them right from the start.
Over time we've helped our mounter set up a bigger shop. His wife quit her job and started mounting artwork, and three apprentices have joined our mounting workshop in Beijing.
The quality of the mounting has been discovered, as with no advertising at all, our little artwork mounting workshop now does work for some of the top artists in China when they prepare for exhibitions. I am talking about famous artists whose work is so expensive that I can't even afford to buy it for my own walls.
I still personally inspect more than 90% of the artwork that flows through our shop, and reject about 5% of the wall scrolls for minor flaws in the artwork or mounting. I'm often referred to as being "too picky", but then, in seven years of business, only two customers have ever asked to return anything because of a quality issue.
What this means to you is that you are not buying junky tourist trash from our gallery. You are buying hand-painted, hand-mounted, personally-inspected artwork from talented (yet not-too-famous) artists in China.
We can mount fairly large artwork to wall scrolls.
This Guan Gong Warrior Wall Scroll is really big...
in fact, too big to send via air mail.
I end up flying back and forth to and from the USA to
hand carry such large artwork out of China.