by Shasta Darlington
Rio de Janeiro - Brazilian painter Luiz Antonio Lopes, who struggled for 20 years to sell his fanciful portraits to tight-fisted tourists in Rio de Janeiro, never expected to be swept up by the Internet revolution.
But that is exactly what happened when Lopes, 52, was enlisted by Novica.com - a Los Angeles-based Web site that takes the handmade works of artisans from around the world to consumers at bargain prices.
"I didn't trust them when they invited me to post my work on their site. It was such a novelty for a guy who sold paintings in art fairs," Lopes told Reuters this week. "But Novica has saved me from wondering how to get by from one fair to the next."
Lopes is just one of more than 1,000 artists and artisans from seven countries who are selling everything from handmade Ghanean drums to Mexican masks decorated with colorful glass beads through the Internet upstart in the hopes of boosting their income.
Lopes, for example, sells his paintings for between $300 and $400, at least $100 more than he would make in Rio de Janeiro's trendy Ipanema beach district.
"I've already sold 50 paintings through Novica and you can imagine I'm getting a lot more familiar with computers," he said.
And Novica.com is betting it can not only promote the works of struggling artisans around the world, but make a profit, too.
"People love the authentic experience of getting their art straight from the artist," said Roberto Milk, president of Novica.com and one of its five founders.
Milk said Novica's business has grown exponentially since its creators, including Milk's wife, brother and mother-in-law, started Novica.com in a basement in Los Angeles in 1998.
Milk, whose mother is Peruvian and his Brazilian wife have found that their links in Latin America helped them get off the ground.
Since then, investments from the likes of Island Records founder Chris Blackwell and Michael Burns, a former director at Prudential Securities Group Inc. and founder of the Hollywood Stock Exchange, have helped keep them afloat.
Novica.com says it is the only major site that directly represents the artisans without any mid-level buyers or stockpiling in U.S. warehouses, allowing them to set their own prices and ship directly to consumers.
It also allows Novica.com to offer very competitive prices, ensuring a loyal consumer base.
"Our policy is that artists must make more than they would selling locally and the end consumer must pay a lot less than they would at a store," said Milk.
Consumers, mostly in the United States, can save as much as 400 percent, he added.