Monthly Archives: September 2010

THE VERY BAD SADDLE

I just found out I can republish my own article that I write for Fine Art Views–yay! Here’s today’s article:

The Very Bad Saddle
by Luann Udell on 9/30/2010

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

If your art career is giving you a hard time, maybe it’s trying to tell you something.

My art life and my “normal” life spill over into each other a lot. Things that occur in my “normal life” often provide surprising insights into my artist life. In fact, it happened just this week.

I’ve been taking riding lessons (horse, not motorcycle!) for awhile now, my reward to myself for getting through an excruciating period in my life.

I’m at the point where, like making art, I simply need to do it more in order to get better. So this month I upped my commitment. I’ve been riding more than the standard weekly lesson, sometimes two or three or even four times a week.

But instead of getting easier, things got harder.

I’ve been riding this new horse on the trails. To put it mildly, he didn’t agree with anything I propose during our rides together. He was getting so antsy, willful and unruly, I began to fear for my safety on him.

I complained to my instructor, who finally took him out herself. And she couldn’t find anything wrong with him.

“So,” I asked gingerly, “Does this mean I really suck at riding?”
“No”, she replied. “You have a really crappy saddle.”

I couldn’t believe it. I’d bought the saddle just a few months ago online, under guidance from someone I believed to be an expert on such things. We’d spent a delightful afternoon shopping for saddles on Ebay, drinking wine and talking about the trail rides we’d take. She helped me find a great deal on what she said was a great saddle.

But apparently, it doesn’t fit the horse at all. It was pinching the horse in all the wrong places. He was doing his best to let me know it. But I couldn’t read his message.

My expert friend was mistaken. Or hey, maybe it was the wine. But my saddle is a cheap, poorly designed saddle from a country famous for cheap, poorly designed saddles.

In a way, I was relieved. Better to blame my woes on a bad saddle that didn’t cost me much in the first place. (And at least that might also mean my riding doesn’t totally suck.) But it got me thinking….

What “bad saddle” am I using when it comes to getting my art out into the world?

Right now, we are in a transitional period on how art and fine craft are marketed and sold. The old ways—getting into great galleries, getting juried into great shows, advertising, finding a patron or agent–are not sure-fire strategies for success anymore.

Yet it’s not clear what we should be doing. And when we don’t know what we should do, we often cling to the old ways. At least they’re familiar.

“My friend says I should do this show. It’s the best in the country! It’s expensive, and shows overall aren’t doing well. But maybe this one will work for me!”

“I’m going to keep applying to juried exhibits. I’ve never sold my work from one before. But maybe this time it will be different!”

“I’ve been doing this prestigious show for years. It used to be my best show! But they seem to be letting a lot of people who aren’t up to snuff, and sales are way, way down. But maybe this year will be different…”

“Nothing’s working for me right now. My work must be bad!”

“Nothing’s working for me right now. It couldn’t possibly be my work! It’s always sold well before…”

I knew an artist whose goal was to exhibit in juried gallery shows in every 50 states in the U.S. Now, there are good reasons to do a juried gallery show. But when I asked her why on earth she thought that would be a selling point for her work, she realized it was a goal she’d outgrown.

I know a prestigious fine crafts show that now juries in people whose work is just not up to snuff. Their spaces are filled, but the quality of the show suffers. That’s a professional credential I can do without.

After rescuing my work from three failed galleries in the past few years, I’m not as eager as I used to be to get into that “perfect gallery”.

Sometimes we just have to take a good, hard look, and listen deep to our heart to see what the next step is. And move on from what isn’t working anymore.

Maybe our work needs a fresh eye. Maybe it’s time to give up that prestigious show. Maybe it’s time to explore selling online. Maybe we need to rethink what potential customers really want to know about us and our work (as opposed to what academics and art schools say we should tell them.)

I thought about some of the events and venues I’ve committed to over the next six months. Some will be worthwhile to keep. Others aren’t paying their way, are not furthering my greatest vision for my art, and take up too much time to boot. I want to clear out some clutter in my life, both literal and figurative. I want to look carefully at all the goals I’ve assumed would move me forward, that are actually holding me back.

I can let go of some of these things I used to think would mean I’d “made it”, and articulate ways my art could “work” more powerfully for me. Get rid of the strategies, venues and goals that don’t work for me anymore, and find a better “fit”. Maybe instead of just getting my work into a great gallery, it could actually serve a great cause.

I’ve learned my lesson—don’t let a bad saddle keep you from having a good ride on a great horse.

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OPEN TO THE GIFTS IN FRONT OF US

It’s been a very difficult last few days. I won’t even dwell on what happened, that’s not important. What IS important is the lesson I’ve learned.

When weird things happen, my brain (and your brain) leap forward to figure out WHY. Why did she say that? Why did they do that?? What else should I have done? What did I bring to that situation?

In the end, some things cannot be “figured out”. People will overlook your good intentions, life will not be fair, hard times will come no matter how much we try to protect ourselves.

But if we let our brain continue to spin and fret and fuss, the real tragedy will overtake us…

We will be focusing on the bad stuff, trying like heck to figure it all out.

And we will not be facing the right direction for the next blessing that awaits us. The next “namaste” moment. The next recognition of the of the miraculous in our lives.

So I’ve had my little hissy fit, I’ve cried and felt sorry for myself.

And now I’m ready to see the blessing already in my life, and be grateful for them.

I’m ready to turn in a new direction. And see, with an open heart, where the next blessing is coming from.

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TAGLINES

This is a blog post from my nearly-defunct 1000 Markets store:

I’m often asked about my tag line: “Ancient Stories Retold in Modern Artifacts” What does it mean??

When I first started making my little artifacts, I was inspired by a prehistoric cave in France called the Lascaux cave.

As I made my own little horses, bears, fish, I imagined all kinds of stories about why those ancient people created such work of beauty and power.

Eventually I realized that their stories had become MY story. That all people create stories, no matter how separated they are by time, space, cultural differences.

We all yearn to be connected, to be part of a tribe. Yet we also yearn to discover who we are as individuals. Throughout our lives, we strive to be the person we dream of being–an artist, a singer, a lover, a mother, a hero, whatever we bring to the world that would make it a better place.

This yearning calls to me. And in time, I realized each little animal I made had its own little story to tell me.

And now I share these stories with you. I hope my little artifacts give you the hope, the inspiration, the joy you need to be the person YOU dream of being, every day.

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1000 MARKETS going, going, gone!

In a few days, I’ll be transitioning my shop at Amazon’s 1000 Markets to another online site. Something called “Bonanza” is taking the Market over, and 1000 Markets will be gone.

I’m not wild about this, as Bonanza looks like a Johnny-come-lately version of Etsy squashed together with Ebay.

For my customers and collectors, the transition should be seamless.

Unfortunately, things like the blog posts I wrote there will not transfer.

I hate losing anything I’ve written……

So I’m going to repost those articles here on my “regular” blog. If you’ve already read them, I apologize for repeating myself.

If you haven’t read them, enjoy!

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IDENTITY AND AUTHENTICITY

What happens when one person’s right to privacy trespasses on another person’s right to their own identity and authenticity?

Today I received one of the most upsetting phone calls of my life.

A local woman, whose husband has been in the news lately, called to tearfully ask me why I would ever write such terrible things about her on a public forum.

I was totally bewildered. I asked for more details and found the disturbing situation:

Someone had posted insulting, derogatory and hurtful personal comments about this woman and her family. Then they’d linked their pseudonym (“sad”) to a blog article I wrote in May 2010.

To the casual observer, it might be construed that I had also written those awful comments.

Let me state here and now:

I did not write the comments written by “sad” on that website. (Actually, searching for those comments was the first time I’ve even visited that site.)

I do not know who did.

I hope to find out someday, and I will do my best to do that.

But….how do I prove I didn’t do such a sleazy thing?

I’m in the process now of talking to my lawyer and our local newspaper. Turns out not much can be done, legally. But there is a story here, maybe several, and I can only hope The Keene Sentinel will take on this complex story of privacy, identity and authenticity.

We worry so much about our privacy in the digital age. We feel strongly that we should be able to be anonymous sometimes–to protect our jobs, perhaps, or to offer an opinion or insight while distancing ourselves from our professional ethics or…whatever. I’m not well-versed on this. There are circumstances that allow anonymity, and often for very good reasons.

But what hits me hard today is, this is actually a matter of identity and authenticity.

The anonymous poster wanted to express his crude opinions in a way to protect his own reputation and profession. But in doing so, he maligned mine.

Anyone who knows my writing (and I’ve been blogging since 2002) knows how I operate. I write with as much truth, honesty and integrity as possible. I would never have written the awful things that “sad” (pun intended) person wrote. I would never have hidden behind a pseudonym. I would never have implied someone else said them.

This person’s “right” (not sure, but they felt they had that right) to be anonymous trespassed on my right to my identity and my authenticity–a reputation I’ve built and maintained all my life.

It’s frightening to think this person could take that away in a few minutes of venomous spurting.

It’s upsetting this woman would (understandably) conclude that I could write such things.

Frankly, it pisses me off I have to spend so much time this morning scrambling to defend my reputation.

And since we’re having dinner tonight with our family lawyer, I anticipate a lively discussion on one person’s right to privacy vs. another person’s right to their personal and professional identity and authenticity.

Stay tuned–“lively” is an understatement!

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WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Today’s essay is a rewrite of a column I originally wrote for the September 2004 issue of CraftsBusiness magazine. I’m writing an update for my column in The Crafts Report magazine next month, and wanted to provide the back story. Enjoy!

I can still remember the day I came up with my perfect business name. My tiny business was in its infancy, with great dreams of what was to come. A mail order business? Perhaps a small retail craft gallery?

I wanted a catchy little name that could encompass any possibility. We had a little family joke about any extra cash that came our way. Many people might blow it on an expensive dinner out or concert tickets, but I would joke that I put all my extra money into “durable goods”. So when the time came to register my business name with the State of New Hampshire, I was ready to go.

Our state is small enough to make the trip to the appropriate government offices in person. Determined to snag this name before anyone else thought of it, I waited hours in line to file, then waited for a decision.

I was turned down.

I waited more hours for the person who had made that decision to return from lunch, to find out why.

“It’s not very distinctive,” she declared. “‘Durable Goods’….It doesn’t say what you do. Don’t you think you should have something descriptive, like ‘Luann’s Art Studio’, or ‘Luann’s Craft Shop’? How can you be successful with a name that isn’t about what you DO??”

I thought for a moment, looked her straight in the eye and said, “The Gap?”

Needless to say, she reversed her decision. I was soon out the door with my brand new business name.

Time went on. As my work became more art-like, and I felt more like an artist, I wondered if my wonderful business name was still working for me as it should. I asked other artists, craftspeople and craft retailers for their opinion.

It looked like my attempt to look like a “real business” instead of a one person operation was actually working against me. Customers, even wholesale customers, found it hard to connect my business name with ME, Luann Udell. A “studio” name felt more like a big operation to retail customers, rather than a single artist at work.

It was time for a change.

Thinking of all the extra work involved to change my biz name convinced me I did not need to hurry, though. Until I got my wake-up call from the universe.

One morning I found a very odd message on my answering machine. A frantic woman had called, claiming I had run fraudulent charges through my business on her stolen credit card.

I felt my stomach sink to my feet. With shaky hands, I called the number she’d left. I tried to keep my voice steady and pleasant as I asked for her extension.

She took my call and told me her tale of woe.

Her credit card had been stolen, and thousands of dollars’ worth of charges made. She’d spent days with her credit card company trying to sort the mess out. Over and over, she repeated the name “Durable Goods” as the business these charges had been made to.

I was sympathetic but bewildered. It was a slow time of year for me and I hadn’t taken any credit card orders recently. Her name wasn’t on any of my customer lists. I checked and rechecked, assuring her I would do whatever it took to fix this for her. But I simply couldn’t find a single record of any purchase in her name.

I asked her how she knew I had accepted her credit card number. She said she’d talked extensively to her customer service rep, and he’d repeated the name “Durable Goods” several times. On her own, she’d Googled that, found my website, and contacted me.

A glimmer of understanding dawned. I asked her to repeat exactly what the credit card company rep had said to her. “He said, ‘A charge at Brown’s BackCountry Sports, sporting goods. Black’s Apparel, women’s clothing; and Audio Heaven, durable goods'”, she replied.

Aha!

I explained to her that “sporting goods”, “women’s clothing” and “durable goods” were not the NAMES of the businesses, but the DESCRIPTIONS of the businesses. “Durable Goods” was simply the kind of store her card had been used at.

We called and confirmed it with her credit card company rep. She apologized profusely and hung up. I collapsed back into my chair, highly relieved to be cleared of credit card fraud.

But then I thought of the massive number of fraud and identity theft……

I thought of all the frantic and upset victims trying to sort out all the information passed on to them by their respective credit card companies….

I thought about the tens of thousands of stores selling HDTV’s, computers, stereo equipment, washing machines, computers, all excellent targets for hot cards.

I thought about all the stores with the business description “durable goods”….

Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead! Within two weeks I had renamed my business to…..Luann Udell.

A last incident made me realize I’d made a smart decision. That same day, I received a phone call on my business line. I chirped, “Durable Goods!”

“What?? Gerbil Goods??” a quavering elderly voice stammered.

I laughed and repeated my name. She’d misdialed, so I helped her sort out the right number and sent her on her way.

My father-in-law said I really should have taken that name. He claimed that Gerbil Goods in Keene, New Hampster was just too good to pass up.

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LATEST ARTICLE AT THE CRAFTS REPORT

Well, actually there’s my regular column, Craft Matters: How to Build a Craftsperson

and the shout-out from my friend Nancy LaFevre for Bunster in her article The Joys of Having Your Pet at Work”.

Yes, that’s BUNSTER in the picture!

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