WHAT IS THE STORY ONLY YOU CAN TELL? Starting With a “Little” Story Is Okay.

A little story can pack a big punch–or pave the way for an even bigger story.

I’ve told my story many times about how I got serious about my art.

It’s a powerful story, and it’s true. But I’ve left out the years I spent beforehand making making toys for children and grown-ups, and the story I told about that.

When my kids were very young, I took a workshop from Deborah Kruger. The focus was about creating support systems for making your art.

We were asked to share our work with the group.

I remember waiting for my turn, embarrassed because everyone was a singer, or a dancer, or a writer, or a painter. And I was sitting there with a lap full of tiny dolls, knitted sheep and doll quilts.

And I was panicking because I (thought I) didn’t have a story.

I was proud of my work, though. And when it was my turn, I simply said what was in my heart.

I said I loved making tiny things, things you could cup in your hand. Things that a child would love, but would also bring joy to an adult.

I even said a thing that makes me cringe now, when others say it: “I want to make people happy.”*

Everyone ooh’ed and ah’ed, because even then, my attention to detail, my color and fabric, my technical skills, were pleasing to others.

And until I wrote that bit just now, I didn’t see the connection between that first story and my big story that came later.

Handmade dolls by Luann Udell

There stories are connected because when I was a child, these were precious things I would have cherished.

And when I was a child, I was fierce in my knowledge that I was an artist.

I can see now that my love of the things that would make a child happy, was part of a deeper yearning. A yearning to be in that place again in my life, when I knew what it was I was here to do.

I knew it without questioning it. I just did it. I drew horses. I painted. I collecting stuff (rocks, shells, leaves, ribbon, pretty papers). I made stuff with whatever I could get my hands on. (There is a particularly embarrassing story about that I will NOT share….) (NO!!!) :^D

I could happily spend hours looking for pebbles and shells on a beach. I loved watching animals. I couldn’t wait to grow up so I could ride horses and have lots of cats, and yes, even keep pet mice. I loved things that were “too tiny”–doll house furniture, miniatures, charm bracelets.

Now I can look back and see the seeds that have grown into my art. But I couldn’t see it then.

As I grew up, things got more complicated.

I believed too many myths about artists.

I didn’t know how to pursue something I was passionate about. Because academic stuff came so easily to me, I didn’t have good work habits.

I didn’t understand the stages of competency. So I always quit when I got to Stage 2, and things got hard.

I see now that making little dolls, buttons and small quilts was a safe way of “backing up into” my art.

And that was okay.

That “first story” worked, because it got me making stuff on a regular basis.

It got me thinking about me, and what I wanted to do, instead of what other people wanted me to do.

It got me to a place where I was thinking less about “doing what I was good at” and more about “doing what I liked.”

Eventually I got to the place where I got turned around completely. (Warning: This video is about 16 minutes long. But folks who have watched it say they like it, so maybe you’ll find it worth your time.)

So today I’ve shared with you where a little story can take you. Tomorrow I’ll share an example of a “little” story that hides a big story.

P.S. As I wrote this, I realized the teensy tiny doll was actually inspired by a Waldorf school teacher who made and sold these at a craft fair. I was so enchanted with them, I called and asked her if I could make them without stepping on her toes.

She gave me the green light because she was tired of making them and didn’t want to make anymore.

*And the asterisk thingie? Because I wonder what I would have said if someone had held my feet to the fire and said, “WHY…do you want to make other people happy??”

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7 Comments

Filed under art, artist statement, business, craft, inspiration, marketing, self promotion, telling your story, What is the story only you can tell?

7 responses to “WHAT IS THE STORY ONLY YOU CAN TELL? Starting With a “Little” Story Is Okay.

  1. RK

    Okay, this is downright eerie… I also have had that craving (wrong word, I know, but the only one I can think of right now) for the tiny and miniature. I collect chess sets, and I have one set so small that only Tinkerbell could actually play on it, and even she might need tweezers… One of my distinct memories is of being a kid, maybe ten or so, and carefully scooping melted wax out of the middle of a candle with a toothpick, cooling it a bit, and molding it in my fingers into a TINY candle with a wick of sewing thread. Why?? I have NO idea…but at the time I had to do it. Typical of ADHD kids, I was totally hyperfocused on making that half-inch tall microcandle. Weird, I know.

    At least I’m not alone in this fascination with (literal) minutiae.

    • LOL, we must have been separated at birth! I took some melted candle wax and made….a tiny ash tray for my Barbie doll.
      Times were different then….!! :^D

  2. Oh, no fair! You can’t say that and then not spill! :-).

  3. I’m just learning or piecing together my own story. I’ve never thought I do NOT have a story, but I’ve been trying for the last few years to figure out what my story IS.

    Fascinating journey. Thanks for sharing yours!

  4. Great article Luann – I think that sometimes it takes time to find your story – time and courage to look beyond the cliche. As a mom, I’ve been telling other people’s stories for a long time. I’m working on my own.

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