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Open Spaces

I’m thrilled to announce that my newest body of work is now available.

"Open Spaces", a collection of mixed media paintings by Cathy Durso

“Open Spaces” is a collection of mixed media paintings on paper inspired by time spent outdoors. I have always loved spending time outside. From a young age, I was camping and hiking through the mountains of New England and upstate New York. My love of being in the forest, surrounded by mountains, has carried through and intensified since then.

Moving Through Forest 2“Moving Through Forest 2”

There’s nothing like the feeling of reaching the top of a peak, knowing that my own two legs carried me there. But it’s not just about reaching the top. It’s being in the forest, on the mountain. Breathing in the scent of pine; trampling over roots and rocks and dead leaves that have been trampled by many before me and will be trampled by many after me. It’s the history of the trail. It’s the silence of the forest. The color of the light; how it shifts throughout the day. The feeling of being surrounded by the elements of nature. Moving through it, powered by nothing but my own body, being one with it. In the forest I feel pure happiness. I feel at peace. I can breathe deeply.

Sunburst (detail)“Sunburst” (detail)

Since moving from Boston to Minneapolis last year, my experience of the outdoors has changed. If the forests and mountains of New England gave me peace, the vast plains of grass and farmland in the Midwest give me a slight sense of unease. It’s a landscape that is so foreign to me. In a vast prairie, even a single tree will bring me comfort. The lakes, however, are my saviors. They give me peace and ease to counter the discomfort of the prairie. Aside from allowing me to experience a landscape that is completely new to me, time spent in the Midwest has also made me realize just how much the landscape of the Northeast is home for me, just how much I connect with it.

Lakeside 1“Lakeside 1”

“Open Spaces” is my exploration of landscape and the elements of nature. Using acrylic, gouache, soft pastel, graphite, and oil pastel, I create compositions on paper that range from very obvious landscapes to complete abstraction. In addition to inspiration from my current surroundings in the Midwest, I bring in memories of past camping trips from different places throughout the U.S., as well as my longing for the landscapes of the Northeast, my home.

Four small works framedFour small works, framed

These works are all currently available for sale here.

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I have something personal to share.

Four weeks ago my husband was diagnosed with Leukemia. This came totally out of the blue; he was feeling fine but noticed some strange spots and bruises on his legs. The type of Leukemia he has (APL) is treatable and the outlook is good, but it will be a long haul. He is in the hospital now, nearing the end of his first round of chemotherapy. After this first round, he’ll be home for a few weeks, then back in the hospital for another month.

We’re both working hard to live the dream – make a living doing work we enjoy, with freedom over our time and the ability to travel, relax, explore, and enjoy life. It’s not easy, we’re not quite there yet, and this diagnosis adds a big hurdle to the mix. In fact, one of my first thoughts was, “Okay Cathy, the dream is over, time to stop working toward something that’s impossible and get a Real Job.” But I don’t think I can let the dream go. Deep down I still believe it’s possible. 

Since the beginning of this year I’ve been drawing and painting nearly every day. I now have a huge number of small works that I have not yet offered for sale, and now is the time. I’m only offering the ones I’m most proud of, the ones I love the most, and I’m offering them at a special discount that you won’t be able to get at any other time. Please, won’t you take a look? Also, I’d love it if you could share this post to spread the word.

Abstract artwork by Cathy Durso


Thank you to everyone who took part in my Small Works Sale! I’m very grateful to those who helped out, and I hope you are pleased with the artwork you received. The sale is now over, but if you’d like to be notified the next time there is a sale on artwork, sign up for the email list:

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Big Changes Are Coming

abstract watercolor painting by Cathy Durso

In 2016 my business will be shifting from bookbinding and box-making to original art and prints. In February my business will be 5 years old. During the past 5 years, I’ve worked hard to make it successful, but lately I’ve realized that it’s just not going to work out.

The hardest thing for me has been pricing. Each year, and often more than once a year, I raise my prices. I realize that my prices are high, but I’m still finding that they’re not high enough to account for the amount of time and effort that goes into making books and boxes. It’s a very time-consuming craft.

I can’t sell my work through retail stores, because at a 50% consignment or wholesale rate, my prices aren’t high enough for me to make any money to sustain my business. So that leaves me selling my work by myself, through Etsy and my website. And it is really hard to drive traffic to your own sites. Right now, I’m basically relying on Etsy and Google search traffic, which is a sitting-and-waiting game.

I considered going into teaching bookbinding, and put out some kits and online tutorials this past year. But I’ve realized that my heart’s not in teaching. I want to be doing. There are a lot of really talented bookbinders out there, people who do leather tooling and work with gold foil and make their own endbands and all kinds of other high-craft processes. I consider myself first and foremost to be an artist, not a bookbinder. That’s why my business name is my actual name. So one phase of my art business is ending, and another is beginning.

What to expect

For the rest of this year I will continue to have my bookbinding and box-making work in my Etsy shop and website. I will continue to do commissions and client work. At this point I have one holiday retail show lined up where I will sell journals, notebooks, and bookbinding craft kits. I’m waiting to hear back from a couple more retail shows. I’m planning to sell out of my inventory by the end of the year (so if you’ve got your eye on something, now’s the time to snag it).

If you follow me on social media, you can expect to see more of my new watercolor work. I’ll also be posting that new work here on my blog.

In the new year, I’ll switch everything – including online product listings – over to my new work. You will be able to find me at all the same locations online (I’m not changing my Etsy shop or website URL). If you’re on my email list, you’ll be the first to find out when the new work is live in my shop!

Whether you’ve been with me since the very beginning or are a new fan of my work, thank you for your support! I hope you’ll stay with me through this transition.

And just so you know, none of this means I will stop making books and boxes! I still love making them, but will incorporate it into my art practice, rather than selling blank books and empty boxes.


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I Love Handmade Books

Over a year ago I was approached by writer Charlotte Rivers, who was gathering data for a book she was working on about handmade books. She wanted to feature my embroidered book covers and I gladly agreed. I sent her photos and information about myself and my business and kind of forgot about the book, though occasionally it would pop into my consciousness and I would think, “hmm, I wonder when that book is coming out…”

I Love Handmade Books

My wonderances came to an end when I received my copy of the book early in September! I was happy to see how nice the book was, the size, shape, design, and quality. Flipping through it, I saw bookmakers whose work was familiar to me, and also those whose work I didn’t know yet. It was exciting to see my work side by side with other binders whose work I have admired.

I Love Handmade Books

“I Love Handmade Books: Timeless Techniques and Fresh Ideas for Beautiful Handmade Books,” written by Charlotte Rivers and published by Jacqui Small LLP, is available to purchase on Amazon.

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On Quitting My Day Job

Blank BookFor the past 2 and a half years I’ve been fortunate to have a great part-time job that has given me a stable income and the time to grow my bookbinding business and my art organization business. I’ve decided it’s now time to make the leap, and about a week ago I gave one month’s notice at my day job. As of November 25, I will officially be fully self-employed! I have so many ideas for new bookbinding products and projects that I haven’t had the time to make reality, so I can’t wait to finally have some time to spend on growing my business. Instead of always reacting – responding to customer emails, renewing listings in my Etsy shop before they expire, working on custom orders – it will be nice to have time to work on building a sustainable future for my business.

Making the Decision

Why now? How did I decide this was the right time? In the name of transparency, here’s how it went down:

  1. I actually thought I was going to quit about a year ago. I really wanted to, but I think something just didn’t feel right, both about going off on my own at that time and leaving my job before I had finished some major projects. So I stayed.
  2. I’ve been saving money for 5 years. As much as possible. The plan has always been to reach a point where I could quit my day job and focus on my own work. I’m pretty frugal so this has not been difficult, it just took time.
  3. It was a Thursday that I looked at my bank account and realized, “Hey! I’m all set here! I guess it’s time to quit.” (I tend to be matter-of-fact like that)
  4. That night, I discussed the matter with my fiance. With his encouragement, I decided it actually, for real was time to quit.
  5. The next day I gave my notice.

It’s true that hard work pays off. Patience also pays off. I remember feeling so depressed after the first six months or so that I tried to sell my books on Etsy and only had a handful of sales (and also realized I was way underpricing my work, and would have made more money flipping burgers. But that’s a story for another time). What if I had given up after those first measly months? It’s been a slow and steady growth since I started trying to sell my handbound journals two and a half years ago. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds.

Of Note: If anyone reading this is looking to quit their day job and start their own creative business, the number one resource I would recommend is BlogcastFM. I’ve gained so much knowledge and inspiration through this podcast.