OCEAN CITY - You might not find any hidden Picassos among the beachscapes and sunsets at the 7th Street Art Gallery, but the Boardwalk art store gives people a wide variety of pictures to hang on their walls.
The shop and its twin, the Cape May Art Gallery on the Washington Street Mall, sell original oil paintings for home or office decor.
Tourists and residents alike browse canvases featuring purple lilies or ocean waves crashing on beaches that look straight out of Cape May.
"Everything we carry and buy is hand-painted from start to finish in oil," said manager Christopher "C.P." Bay, of Ocean City.
The Ocean City gallery opened in 1979. The Cape May store followed in 1981.
The stores buy artwork from brokers representing more than 300 artists around the country. Each piece is unique, although some of the artists will work on themes such as covered bridges or lighthouses, Bay said.
Artists in the United States make a median salary of $43,470 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
About 56,900 artists were employed in the field in 2010, with worse-than-average growth of 5 percent expected during the next decade. Most are self-employed or work part time while holding another job, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook.
In Ocean City and Cape May, customers can choose their frames to match their selected paintings' styles or colors, which is included in the sales price. Paintings start as low as $39 and range as high as $350.
"Our aim is to sell it for a price you couldn't frame it for," he said.
Both stores ship paintings anywhere in the world. Some customers buy them as gifts or mementos of their vacation to the shore, he said.
Bay, who is also an artist, said most of the artwork is completed with a technique perfected by the late TV host Bob Ross, who painted "happy, little trees" for his "Joy of Painting" series on PBS.
"It's called the wet-on-wet technique. You can put wet oil on top of wet oil," Bay said. "Not all the artists we contract use it, but a lot do."
This gives each painting a layered look that adds depth to the scene, he said.
Bay sells his work through the Internet site Etsy, but said managing art stores has given him a better appreciation for what the public wants.
"I definitely get a lot of influence from the store. I get to see all sorts of techniques for myself," he said. "It keeps my education going. You learn about different color schemes and composition - what sells and what doesn't - and what sells faster."
Lately, the store is seeing more demand for abstract pieces.
"What's really popular now are (Vincent) van Gogh re-creations. That's still limited to what we can get our hands on," he said. "Abstracts are getting smaller, too. We used to see a lot of couch-scale paintings."
But the store has an eclectic variety that appeals to a wide audience, he said.
"We have a large clientele, so there's going to be those random buys for that one customer - a painting of a zebra or even a re-creation of dogs playing poker," he said.
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