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The Painter’s Keys Letters Archive

The archive is a rich resource of art information and advice for artists and creative people looking for meaningful content. You can access every one of the Robert Genn Twice-Weekly letters since the year 2000 and Sara Genn letters since 2014, including shared responses from the worldwide creative art community. This is a timeless collection of material formed by the brotherhood and sisterhood of artists, where all flags fly.

Browse by year:

2005 Robert Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

  • The real thing
      December 30th, 2005
  • ...At the end of the year I like to stand on a small hill and look both behind and in front. Somewhere here I'll refocus, gear down, and rev up once more. This time I'm doing it online. Plans and resolutions. Last year, when I asked for artists' resolutions, someone wrote... Read On

  • Book reviews
      December 27th, 2005
  • ...Friends give books because they need to help you with their thinking. Fortunately, or unfortunately, most of my friends are pleasantly agreeable... Read On

  • Wanted for Christmas
      December 23rd, 2005
  • ...I'm thinking that artists are among those who don't really want to receive too many gifts for the Holiday Season. It may have something to do with the overabundance of joy in our daily lives--or the consequent guilt that arises, but we artists, by and large, are not into... Read On

  • Right and left weighting
      December 20th, 2005
  • ...Getting control of and understanding right-left weighting is a valuable compositional ploy. Compositions-in-progress are puzzles that need to be worked out. To hit the reset button, you've got to consciously put that... Read On

  • Creativity and love
      December 16th, 2005
  • ...The good news is that it's not either/or. Many of the successful creators that I know tend rather to keep their creativity bottled up. This way it doesn't get on other's nerves, and it may also be good for the muse... Read On

  • Art direct
      December 13th, 2005
  • ...'Art direct' may not appeal to all. I've chosen the art dealer and art gallery route because of the privacy they give--and the higher prices one tends to achieve in the long haul. I'm a believer that the website ought to be there to empower an artist's dealers... Read On

  • Curious morning syndrome
      December 9th, 2005
  • ...Mornings can have special significance for these folks. They don't need to stay in bed awaiting the amusements to arrive--they're already there. They simply need to step into the amusement area. For many artists,... Read On

  • Creativity and mental illness
      December 6th, 2005
  • ...Dr. Nettle believes that this provides an answer to some long-asked questions. Some of the genes that predispose to schizophrenia might be carried by artists--and in many cases will play a part in directing their creativity... Read On

  • International theft
      December 2nd, 2005
  • ...I made a few phone calls and none of the artists I contacted were aware their work was on this website. So far no one has had any recollection of royalty cheques arriving from China. To find out if you are among the favoured artists see the... Read On

  • The art factory
      November 29th, 2005
  • ...Media such as glass, sculpture, bronze-work and printmaking almost demand the use of assistants. In sculpture, the time-consuming tedium of sanding and finishing are best left to others... Read On

  • Ignorance
      November 25th, 2005
  • ...Cruising the print and looking at it in different lights and over the afternoon, I was hard pressed to find points to hand out. It ended up with 30. While it had a sort of confident flair and a look of audacity, it was mostly... Read On

  • Art scam
      November 22nd, 2005
  • ...This 'cheque overpayment scam' is a nasty species of Internet fraud that is common and growing. Several hundred thousand dollars have been bilked from artists so far this year. Since many never admit to their gullibility, the figure is probably much higher... Read On

  • Create or consume?
      November 18th, 2005
  • ...Ever see kids madly colouring? Gradually the kids get converted to religious consumerism. Path of least resistance. Canned entertainment equals the junk life... Read On

  • Releasing the eagle
      November 15th, 2005
  • In all of us there is an eagle. Our eagle is beautiful, strong and noble, eager to be free of some humiliating cage. In freedom we can forage on our own and take part in the competition that is life... Read On

  • Resolve
      November 11th, 2005
  • In so many conversations with creative masters I've found myself hearing a lot of stuff about the details. In these details--no matter how much trouble they take or how much one is to be paid for them--there comes the resolve to excel and to do the job better... Read On

  • A Moveable Feast
      November 8th, 2005
  • Ernest Hemingway spent the years between 1921 and 1926 in Paris. Living in cramped quarters and newly married to Hadley Richardson, they warmed themselves by a small brazier and kept things simple. This was his time of self-directed apprenticeship in the art of writing fiction... Read On

  • Contemporary art fair
      November 4th, 2005
  • ...striped dealer lounges, her feet up, her antennae barely out; her assistant does something on his laptop. She points to a Jennifer Garrido and he gets a stool and straightens it. Middle-aged coiffures in basic maroon, their glass-hangers merging in their bosoms, embrace in front... Read On

  • Bashing them out
      November 1st, 2005
  • ...A feeling of entitlement pervades. People are attracted to making art, and while they may have the idea that a period of apprenticeship may be necessary in order to develop quality, they also have the inclination to hold their noses and jump in... Read On

  • Taking the pressure off
      October 28th, 2005
  • ...noticed that if I ask a group to discuss their own hobbies and interests--including their own work--only a small percentage will relish the idea. They may do it, but they're uncomfortable. This reaction may be because a lot of people feel they are inadequate and perhaps... Read On

  • What’s in a name?
      October 25th, 2005
  • ...But more than anything there's the value of a unique identity. While we are all part of a great human family--with only a few degrees of separation--we owe it to ourselves to sign our names uniquely. A name is an entity on which a career hangs. Never underestimate the value of... Read On

  • Playing with light
      October 21st, 2005
  • ...While Nature Herself has the privilege of playing with light, painters must, in humility, play with pigment. The transference is tricky and many painters don't play around enough to get the hang of it. Here again, the relationship between photography and painting is useful... Read On

  • Thoughts on ’Growth’
      October 18th, 2005
  • ...Having been to quite a few of these sorts of shows in many countries, I've the distinct feeling that quality is growing. There are several reasons for this. There is currently a worldwide respect for art that tries harder. Another is the availability of better workshops and a... Read On

  • Catching the eye
      October 14th, 2005
  • ...For most of us, photography, in all of its marvelous manifestations, is one of a number of tools in the kit. An extreme purgation is to take your photo apparatus and shove it into a vault for a year. Forget you ever did it. I know it's tough... Read On

  • The three D's
      October 11th, 2005
  • ...Life is a school. In this school we are given tests. If we pass a test we are given yet another test. If we fail a test we will have to wait for another time to take the same test again. Our studios are also schools. They are constantly presenting us with tests. When we fail the... Read On

  • Catharsis
      October 7th, 2005
  • ...After painting steadily for six months while doing a minimum of socializing, I gathered my accumulated works and destroyed them. Oh, maybe I kept a few of the better ones. I had made up my mind that this six months was going to be strictly about learning and experimentation. There... Read On

  • Comparing notes
      October 4th, 2005
  • ...Art need not be precious. Art's a doing thing that sometimes gets commercialized--even in Ghana. Investment in, speculation on, and the private coveting of art are not prerequisite in all places. One might conclude that the introduction of commerce adds an odd spin to the act of... Read On

  • The distraction technique
      September 30th, 2005
  • ...Barely conscious of my painting process, I nevertheless caught onto some things that were happening. The emergent painting went slower and more deliberately than normal... Read On

  • World-class
      September 27th, 2005
  • ...In my opinion the main purpose of an artist's website ought to be to empower those who believe in you. These are your friends and partners--without them you are just another artist trying to sell your work on the Net.... Read On

  • Signing your work
      September 23rd, 2005
  • ...To add more prejudice, I believe in clear or relatively clear front signing with your full or 'art' name. I believe that people ought to have the choice of knowing you by both your first as well as your last name. Consistency is important... Read On

  • Drawing lessons
      September 20th, 2005
  • ...While painting can often be brought back and upgraded by a strong shot of desire, it's been my experience that drawing, not practiced, soon becomes rusty. Ordinary drawing is okay and useful, but above all it's an opportunity for 'line style'... Read On

  • Northern painter
      September 13th, 2005
  • ...Many, though not all, of Fred Machetanz's oil paintings use an ancient technique that was further developed by his friend and mentor Maxfield Parrish. The idea was to start with a well sanded, shiny and brilliant white primer, generally on the smooth side of untempered Masonite... Read On

  • Packing for a trip
      September 9th, 2005
  • ...I like to decide on a uniform size during such events--the idea is to make a sort of set--in this case a dozen 11 x 14 inch canvases. Regarding the pochade box, it need only carry what's necessary--basic and site specific colours, (I threw in some turquoise for the glaciers)... Read On

  • Delicious cropping
      September 6th, 2005
  • ...The idea is to take close-up photos of some of the more interesting areas of your work--cropping them off into smaller compositions... Read On

  • Robert Henri
      September 2nd, 2005
  • ...Robert Henri (1865-1929) was an American painter who taught at the Art Student's League in New York. Early on he was a pupil of... Read On

  • Another easel
      August 30th, 2005
  • ...Another advantage of multiple easels is the subtle wizardry of multi-tasking. Who said you couldn't have more than one on the go at the same time? We all know the value of the casual glance and the power of the subconscious critic within... Read On

  • A gift of art
      August 26th, 2005
  • ...The secret, I found, is to take your generosity into your own hands, control it, and make it life enhancing for as many others as is practical. Heartfelt gifts can take many forms... Read On

  • Too wonderful to see
      August 23rd, 2005
  • ...pathways, beaches and forest floors are loaded with patterns and natural designs not always appreciated until isolated in blow-up... Read On

  • New angles on creativity
      August 19th, 2005
  • These days, high-powered creativity coaches are offering themselves to the world of business. Companies improve their bottom lines with the latest techniques in creative thinking. Much of what they're saying has been known to artists for some time... Read On

  • Art gurus
      August 16th, 2005
  • At the heart of workshops are authoritative, working professionals--the 'art gurus' who have a sideline of sharing their moxie... Read On

  • Negative space
      August 5th, 2005
  • Negative space strengthens compositions by solidifying form and building design. It also helps work to look 'painterly.' In order to make magic with negative forms you need to 'set up' your positive forms... Read On

  • Spots of time
      August 2nd, 2005
  • The English poet William Wordsworth (works) had a concept that he called 'Spots of Time.' These are small, memorable events that occur mainly outdoors and in touch with nature... Read On

  • In the mountains
      July 29th, 2005
  • I'm laptopping you from an alpine-flowered slope above Two Jack Lake, near Banff, Alberta. Earlier today, at a First Nations' powwow, Stoney elder David Daniels said: Read On

  • Exporting the scenery
      July 26th, 2005
  • I'm laptopping you from the dome car on the Rocky Mountaineer. It's a summertime rail service that runs between Vancouver, B.C. and Banff, Alberta. Every time Rami, our well-informed steward, points out something of interest--a mountain, a mountain goat, or a particularly good view,... Read On

  • Copy, right?
      July 22nd, 2005
  • Like a lot of artists who have been around for a while, there are people out there doing fairly commendable copies of my work. Some copy 'in the manner of'--the general themes and ideas.... Read On

  • Last Child in the Woods
      July 19th, 2005
  • Two months ago I was hanging out in Gorky Park in Moscow. Signs warned not to walk on the grass. Kiosks offered all manner of food and souvenirs, a Ferris wheel plied the sky, and beyond the manicured trees, buildings, like those around Central Park in New York... Read On

  • Trees
      July 15th, 2005
  • I find it valuable, in solitude, to anthropomorphize natural objects, including trees. This means to attribute human characteristics to them. Trees of different species, for example, droop in sadness, empathize with one another, pray to the sky, take joy in the wind. Read On

  • Living in
      July 12th, 2005
  • Starting a painting is very much like entering an empty room. There may be fresh primer--but no furnishings. You walk in with the anticipation of designing the space to your liking. In larger paintings where you might enter for a few days, this... Read On

  • Eagle eye
      July 8th, 2005
  • Such is also the predatory life of an artist. One watches for the height of the action, the telling event, the nuanced moment, and the potential kill. People-watching, scene-finding or just looking for nature's designs, something tips you off. Often little understood from a distance,... Read On

  • Pricing for joy
      July 5th, 2005
  • After a few sales at the bargain-basement level, you can then look to price management in a more professional manner. In my view, prices should rise sensibly and regularly. Ten percent and once a year is the reliable norm. With gallery representation there has to be a reasonable base... Read On

  • Creative efficiency
      July 1st, 2005
  • Creative efficiency powers creative acts. I've noticed that artists who develop their own unique efficiencies--time-motion improvements, paint-order expediencies, labour-saving devices--tend to do fresher and more interesting work. Boring art, I notice, is often performed by bored... Read On

  • Highly sensitive persons
      June 28th, 2005
  • So what's the problem? The trouble is that we often live and work with a sense that we are flawed. And what we do or create tends also to be seen by us as flawed... Read On

  • Why they buy
      June 24th, 2005
  • For some of us it's a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Why do people buy art? How do they choose? What motivates them? If I had fifty cents for every time someone has asked this over the past few years, I could purchase that new Bentley... Read On

  • Major Woolly
      June 21st, 2005
  • Unwanted woolly is caused by either a bored eye or an uninformed eye. The bored eye haunts the mature artist. This artist has blind areas where he or she doesn't care to go anymore. This arises from laziness or rote thinking where creativity is lulled to temporary rest... Read On

  • The almost-dark test
      June 17th, 2005
  • As I looked back into my studio, I realized that paintings ought to work in the almost-dark as well as in the full light of galleries or on home walls... Read On

  • Auguste Rodin
      June 14th, 2005
  • Artists of all stripes can learn something from Auguste Rodin. As in the work of Michelangelo, to whom he was indebted, Rodin's sculptural material is often cut away only to the degree that it's creatively needed. This unfinished and rough aspect is a virtue... Read On

  • Turning pro
      June 10th, 2005
  • The professionals I know have a special understanding and an intimate relationship with time. It's respect--not just for working time, but private time and the knowledge of their own spans of creative power and efficiency. Very often pros will work regular hours... Read On

  • Mess-makers anonymous
      June 7th, 2005
  • For the record, I've noticed something curious in a few studios. Messy environments actually generate neat art. Organization that doesn't go into the room goes into the art. David Deutsch mentions the joy he gets from organizing his computer files... Read On

  • Making photos work
      June 3rd, 2005
  • Now spend some time hunting down and making decisions about the innocent weaknesses in the photo that can lead to 'photoism' in paintings. These may include lineups, convergence, homeomorphism, dead shadows, poor composition, detail overkill, amorphous and formless elements and... Read On

  • Gallery joy
      May 31st, 2005
  • Galleries and markets prefer consistency, particularly at first. An artist's natural tendency toward irregularity may be developed later, when earned... Read On

  • Grants
      May 27th, 2005
  • There may be an argument that grants may be like the Kiss of the Spider Woman--deadly. While I have never endorsed or recommended anyone get kissed this way, over the years I've been aware of many who have applied and received... Read On

  • Make it great
      May 24th, 2005
  • The best way to get noticed is to do great work. The way to do great work is to go to your workspace and consciously exploit full value from your potential. Feel the depths and the joys. Grab the challenges. It may take a while. The minute you think you are getting somewhere,... Read On

  • Finding form
      May 20th, 2005
  • Among the more valuable skills is the ability to render forms. To get them right painters of other times laboured over spheres, cones and blocks. While it's not always expected in today's art, form-finding is well worth revisiting... Read On

  • Success story
      May 17th, 2005
  • On Thursday we attended the 90th birthday of George Lengvari. It was a high-end affair in a posh club. Old friends took the mike, toasted him and told tales of his remarkable life and success... Read On

  • Immortality
      May 13th, 2005
  • Right from the very beginning Pavel Tretyakov let everyone know that he was collecting not for himself but for the state. The inheritor of moderately successful importing, textile and banking businesses, Pavel, at age 24, started out by buying himself a dozen Dutch Masters. Not the... Read On

  • Underground vision
      May 10th, 2005
  • It's the world's largest and cheapest art gallery. Every day more than 8 million people take a ride on The Moscow 'Metro' Underground. In rush hours the trains arrive every 50 seconds. For a dollar or less you can go all day. On speedy escalators you plunge down deeply into the... Read On

  • From Russia with love
      May 6th, 2005
  • In St. Petersburg you don't want to order your vodka with orange juice. It's considered a 'waste' and servers will frown at your lack of couth. You take the classic shooter straight. Cruising Russian art of recent times also reveals other ways of doing things... Read On

  • One room
      May 3rd, 2005
  • There's a one-room education to be had in St. Petersburg. It's the room in the Russian Museum dedicated to the large (4 meter by 9 meter) oil on canvas... Read On

  • The art of war
      April 29th, 2005
  • The Crimean War was handsomely painted. The museum has giant panoramas of encampments and battlefields, decorated generals in full swagger, horse and infantry charges in full roar with surprised hussars grimacing... Read On

  • Some mania
      April 26th, 2005
  • Along with the wide range of available manias like pyromania (setting fire to property), trichotillomania (twisting your hair until it falls out), dromomania (the intermittent compulsion to travel and get away), and erotomania (looking for love in all the wrong places), I'll add... Read On

  • The law of recent memory
      April 22nd, 2005
  • An artist's reference holds to a similar principle. Recent material, however ordinary, is more exploitable than old. And recent material stays 'hot'... Read On

  • Creative homeomorphism
      April 19th, 2005
  • Not everyone knows what I'm talking about when I drag the word 'homeomorphic' out in mixed company. Specifically to do with equality of shapes in differing chemicals, it's not in the art books... Read On

  • On the road
      April 15th, 2005
  • Travelers along Florida highways in the 1950s and '60s might remember odd characters standing along the road selling paintings. In those days African-American artists, particularly in the South... Read On

  • General anxiety
      April 12th, 2005
  • Some artists report periods of general anxiety that come and go during their careers. The condition may include heart palpitations, sleeplessness, panic attacks, depression and feelings of inadequacy. While some of these... Read On

  • Publicity for artists
      April 8th, 2005
  • Not all artists want or need publicity. For those who do, the best plan is to prepare your itinerary before you speak to a reporter. It's your 'story' and you need to take control of it... Read On

  • Pictorial information
      April 5th, 2005
  • Work can be made masterful with a heightened sense of observation and a willingness to convey. It's a matter of picking up on what may seem to be small bits of information. Many painters look but do not see. Others see but choose not to include--and that's okay too. For this exercise... Read On

  • The know-nothing zones
      April 1st, 2005
  • I've noticed that in beginners and less confident artists the brush tends to drift with the mental drift--that is it re-sweeps areas or repeats previous moves. An unconscious activity, it can go on for some time. In beginners the tool-action generally slows down and may wander to... Read On

  • Unfinished business
      March 29th, 2005
  • Also this weekend I started and finished a 24 x 30 'Silent Village'. It's a subject I've returned to over and over--a decaying Haida village, its laughing children long departed, its gray... Read On

  • Watching the ants
      March 25th, 2005
  • It helps if you try to see some contemporary arts as a form of entertainment--and the retro-painting world as a form of craft. It's of course proper to take the contemporary art world seriously... Read On

  • The Jokkmokk effect
      March 22nd, 2005
  • It's called The Jokkmokk Effect when one group or another moves away to the big city, travels abroad and "makes something of themselves." Jokkmokk girls have rocked the world by becoming scientists, financiers and artists. Read On

  • Nothing is something
      March 18th, 2005
  • New York abstractionist Mark Rothko (1903-1970) took his own life a year before the paintings in this Chapel were hung and dedicated. Rothko had worked on the project over several years and spent... Read On

  • Multi-stylist
      March 15th, 2005
  • Jean Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875) was born in Paris. Early on he was a gentleman painter around Switzerland and Italy. One of the first plein air... Read On

  • A conversation about goals
      March 11th, 2005
  • Our path leads along a searing beach, around and behind an estuary. We move through a dry forest and over into cattle-lands broadly strewn with giant Baobob and Guanacaste trees. Herons, egrets and ibis give way to rare trogons and... Read On

  • The jam-test syndrome
      March 8th, 2005
  • Artists who jury shows, give crits, or rationalize the marking of their students' work may have noticed the problem. In one competition we jurors were asked to write a short evaluation... Read On

  • Variety
      March 4th, 2005
  • I'm laptopping you from a beachside rental near Playa Potrero in Costa Rica. It's early morning and the Grackles are whistling from atop the palms above... Read On

  • Hourglass
      March 1st, 2005
  • I issued 11 x 14 canvases to everyone and gave them a few minutes to prime, squeeze, and get ready. Then it was go and I upped my old hourglass--no matter that it only runs for 37 minutes. Not surprisingly... Read On

  • First kiss
      February 25th, 2005
  • Suspecting the value of wonder, I wondered if I could put myself fairly permanently in a state of wonder. Can I do this? How will it turn out? What miracle is this? This point of view, I thought, might be insurance for ongoing creation. With a little twist of an already twisted... Read On

  • Anders Zorn
      February 22nd, 2005
  • Anders Zorn (1860-1920) was a Swedish painter, etcher and sculptor. Out from the Stockholm Academy in 1881, he traveled widely--London, Paris, the Balkans, Spain, Italy, USA. He made himself... Read On

  • The art unit
      February 18th, 2005
  • Painters paint, writers write, and sculptors make a lot of chips. No matter what our disciplines, these are the facts of successful creativity. Today I'd like to go a little deeper into the... Read On

  • Seasons
      February 15th, 2005
  • A friend used to paint until two in the afternoon--then go door-to-door selling his work. He loved the direct connection. He made a pile of friends and ... Read On

  • The aging artist
      February 11th, 2005
  • Older artists don't necessarily lose their chops. New studies seem to show that the aging process actually improves certain abilities... Read On

  • Sage advice
      February 8th, 2005
  • It's great to be optimistic. There's also something to be said for a reasonable amount of pessimism. An optimist is one who writes checks before her funds come in. In 1782 Ben Franklin quoted ... Read On

  • Voluntary mutism
      February 4th, 2005
  • You may be aware of a condition called 'Selective Mutism.' This is where children are afraid or unable to speak out. Shy and silent at school, they are often normal at home or with others they know and trust. It's a rare condition related to social anxiety that sometimes carries... Read On

  • Something jumps out
      January 28th, 2005
  • Here are a few ideas that you might find valuable: Keep the file area open, approachable and accessible at all times. It's easy to get mentally blocked when the vicinity gets messy... Read On

  • In the cards
      January 25th, 2005
  • They can be dealt randomly or in order, by the day or by the hour. Each card presents a concept with an invitation to put the concept to work. Silence, Mystery, Surrender, Intend, Discover, Confidence, Commit, Wildness, Intensity, Astonish, Experience, Desire, etc., headline the cards... The material on each card gives directions to carry out the concepts. Read On

  • The Good Books
      January 21st, 2005
  • It always strikes me that there are quite a few artists who worry about becoming wonky or even being poisoned by some book "knowhow." While this is understandable, I've always felt that some of our best friends can be the good books... Read On

  • Efficient strokes
      January 18th, 2005
  • A stroke is somewhere between a tip, a full-brush blob and an extended line, or all of the above. Some strokes can go from one side of a work to the other, while others are minor, sinuous, or mere wisps of non-entity. Read On

  • The User-Upper system
      January 14th, 2005
  • Renoir couldn't stand to see leftover paint on his palette. Apart from being frugal, he loved the irregularity of what was left. He kept a pile of small canvases on hand. Last thing at night he used up his last paint and turned some of them into "little gems." Read On

  • Mental practice
      January 11th, 2005
  • ...the mental practice that goes on between finding the ball and striking the ball is the most crucial. It's looking at and thinking about your next moves on a work-in-progress that means the most and can get you into the most trouble... Read On

  • Creative email
      January 7th, 2005
  • As almost everyone knows, I'm a believer in brick-and-mortar galleries. But as the Internet evolves it will be fun to see if connoisseurs will start putting a little more faith into clicks. Not so long ago, during the dot-com boom, millions were spent on online efforts to distribute fine art. Read On

  • Low Priority
      January 4th, 2005
  • I've never thought that art was low priority. In the hours between grabbing the granola and setting the burglar alarm it's the very highest. My original idea with the letters and website was that we might volunteer our ideas, systems, motivators, things and other folks worth knowing. Read On

TWL Letters

Be witness to Robert Genn's abiding faith in the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Artists and you will be informed, inspired, and motivated. On first publication of this book November 27, 2009, Robert wrote: "It's my sincere wish that you get real and lasting value from it. It's your book, really, and I'd like to thank everyone in our Painter's Keys Community for the inspiration that makes these Twice-Weekly Letters happen."

Temporarily out of stock

"Thank-you for your friendship." (Robert Genn)

The Robert Genn Twice-Weekly Letters, 960 pages--ten years of over a thousand unabridged letters including an 82 page index. Six by nine inches and more than two inches thick, this beautiful book is hardbound Red Cayenne with a separate dust-jacket, a red ribbon, and shipped in a custom protective book-box.

Last modified: Feb 26, 2017