Monthly Archives: January 2011

RESPECT YOUR COLLECTORS Part 3: Don’t Knock Yourself Off!

Don’t knock yourself off…
Setting the bar too low may bang the wrong heads.

This article was originally published on the on the Five Art Views blog January 6, 2011.)

The series continues: Exploring the dark side of expanding our income streams from our art…

I knew someone who made cast bronze items, museum quality stuff. His prices reflected that. He was quite the businessman, too. I always appreciated his insights and comments.

When the economy started to falter, he decided on a new course of action.

Artists find knock-offs of their original work for sale at discount big box stores. Why let the knock-off companies profit from our hard work? And why bother struggling to sell the four- and five-figure pieces when you could make a killing selling a jillion pieces for $20?

He wouldn’t wait to be knocked off; he’d simply beat the copycats to the punch.

His plan: a) find a quality casting company in China to mass produce his products; b) create a jillion knock-offs of his own product; c) sell them to those same big box stores, taking a profit of a dollar or two on each piece; d) get out. Oh, and e) retire a multi-millionaire.

It was a big and brash idea. But it sounded like it could work. What could possibly go wrong?

Another friend in the industry told me exactly what could go wrong. The idea was not new–he’d worked with artisans who’d gone that route. He said they’d had the same idea–get in, making a bundle, get out. But like most ‘get rich quick’ plans, it’s just not that easy.

He told me of low-quality finished work that doesn’t match the enticingly well-made manufacturer’s samples; of orders lagging behind schedule, or shipments held up in customs, creating missed deadlines–all resulting in the big-box stores cancelling their orders. Overseas manufacturers demanding more money halfway through the production, knowing they have you over a barrel.

Worse, some artists had their own knock-offs, knocked off by the overseas manufacturer before their ‘original’ knock-offs even hit the market.

The horror stories were endless. Even the people who had some success, still lost. “It’s gambling with your business, and like gambling, it’s addictive. ‘Just one more order, and I’m out’. Except some big box stores will suck you in with a big first order. You think it really could be that easy. You try again. Then, when you’re fully committed to a second order, they’ll negotiate a lower price, knowing you have everything to lose if the order falls through. It’s a losing battle, trying to undercut those markets, both here and overseas”, my friend said. “Anything—and everything—can go wrong. Then you’re left with no money, no orders, and a boatload of crappy product.”

And that’s not the worst of it.

Wait…what’s worse than losing your shirt?
Losing your credibility. Losing your reputation.

And losing the respect of your collectors.

I can attest to the “respect of your collectors” part. Because, as a collector, that’s happened to me.

There was a mixed media artist whose work I LOVED. I can’t afford her more spectacular pieces, but I spent a couple hundred dollars for a small piece. I was proud to own even a small piece of her work. And I wanted to support her art.

I watched her reputation grow. Her work was published. Then she published a book on her techniques; she taught workshops, produced videos. She began to sell her components online.

A few months ago, I walked into a big-box craft store. My jaw dropped when I found a line of cheap, mass-produced versions of her unique components on display. My first thought was that she’d been knocked off.

Then I checked the packaging. Her name was featured prominently. She’d knocked herself off. She’d developed an entire line for the low-end market.

And now everyone can make something that looks just like hers.

Worse, I found the same components used in my piece. Even worse, the items were marked down for clearance.

I respect this person’s right to decide her own course of business. She may have financial needs I can’t imagine. Perhaps she’s discontinuing this style of work, and simply wants to wring out the last drops of income she can from it. Ultimately, she has the right to do anything she wants. Part of me wishes her every success—she’s worked hard and she deserves it.

But here’s how it felt to the ‘collector’ me: I felt cheated.

If a minor collector like me feels that way, I can’t imagine how her major collectors feel, those who invested thousands of dollars in her original work.

Me? I’ve turned down opportunities and suggestions to “eliminate my production time” and “create a less detailed, less expensive product”, allowing me to sell to a larger market. When money gets tight, those suggestions are tempting.

But in the end, I always say no. I’ve thought carefully about where that would take me. I just don’t want to go there.

I don’t care if only a few hundred or a couple thousand people in the world ever own an original ‘Luann Udell’. As a friend said years ago, “Just because there’s a demand for your work, doesn’t mean you have to paper the world with your art.” (I’m not sure you can ‘paper’ the world with fiber art, but I got what she meant.) Even if there is rising demand for your work, you don’t have to respond by mass-producing it. Even if people say they ‘can’t afford it’, I don’t have to respond by creating cheaper versions of it.

If it were only about the money, then perhaps the path would be easier, straighter, and more clear. And money is important, no doubt about that. But for me, it never has been ‘just about the money’.

And so perhaps the decisions are harder, the path to success is longer, and there are more turns to negotiate. But that’s the path I’ve chosen to walk in my life.



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CLIMBING OVER ROAD BLOCKS

One person’s ‘roadblock’ is another person’s mountain pass.

(This article was originally published January 18, 2003. In the eight years since then, many of the “insurmountable problems” mentioned here are now a snap with the Internet–online catalogs, online printing services, less expensive options for websites, etc. But there’s still good information in here, and a lot of good thoughts about overcoming obstacles.)

Marketing and selling one-of-a-kind artwork can be problematic.

If you’re dealing with local stores, you could bring an assortment to each store. Store owners simply make their selections. No problem!

But store visits mean time away from your studio. There’s a limit to how many stores you can drive to in a day–stores don’t like it when you saturate the area with your work. What if you live in New Hampshire, and a store in California would be a terrific venue for your work? And what do you do about about re-orders??

Catalogs? It can be hard even with production work. Some stores don’t mind if an item varies from one to the next. But some do. And catalogs are expensive. They work best for featuring production work. They’re most cost-effective when ordered in large quantities. Not for one-of-a-kind work, nor work that changes constantly.

Advertising? That gets expensive, too. I obviously can’t run an ad for $500 to sell one individual item that retails for $250. If a store likes the object in the ad, then that’s the one they want.

Wholesale trade shows can be a way to present your one-of-a-kind items to many stores. But these shows are expensive to do–booth fees often start at $1,400 and up, plus hidden costs like travel, hotel and electricity. Not a good choice for many artists just starting out.

Well…why not go right to the source? Call stores directly. Ask them if they sell one-of-a-kind work. If so, how do they buy it from the artisan? Do they go to shows? Which ones? Do they browse an artist’s website? You can get good information this way. But this is time-consuming. And introverts hate it. (I do!)

The best way is to ask other artists how they handle this.

Online discussion forums are great places to find out what works for others. You’ll find a wide range of artists from all over the country who can share their process or make suggestions. There’s just one caveat.

What works for one person and their product, may not work for you and yours.

Even worse….If no one in the group has figured it out, it can be an exercise in frustration and commiseration. Instead of a brain-storming session, it turns into a …… Well, everyone starts agreeing just how impossible the whole scenario is. And that’s bad. Because….

You don’t want to give yourself an excuse to just give up.

Declaring a situation impossible to deal with lets us off the hook. It’s not our fault, we tell ourselves. We are not responsible for our lack of success–it’s obviously impossible to succeed!

I used to get overwhelmed by roadblocks, too. I thought there had to be a “right way” to do this. And I just had to figure out what that “right way” was.

If I couldn’t figure it out–I’m off the hook! If others succeed where I can’t, then it’s because they’re lucky–right? And I’m just not lucky.

Nope. No more. I can’t let myself off that easily. In my heart, I know it can take years to be an ‘overnight success’.

And no one succeeds by giving up.

Mistakes and dead ends don’t prove you’re wrong. They’re merely evidence there’s still more to be learned.

There is no single “right way”. There’s simply the way that will work for YOU.

I’ve learned that the first thing I need is an attitude adjustment. Trial-and-error sucks. So let’s call it… “running an experiment”. That’s much more appealing! Cold-calling stores for information is hard. I’ll call it “market research”. That sounds quite professional.

Second, I watch for other people doing one-of-a-kind work. If they’ve been doing it awhile, they’ve found something that works for them. So
maybe it would work for me.

I came across an artist, a graphic artist who makes one-of-a-kind books. For years she struggled with marketing her work, until she finally came up with a solution. She tweaked her business model to accommodate both retail and wholesale venues.

She makes limited edition books to wholesale. She only sells her one-of-a-kind journals at retail shows.

This is my favorite way to find solutions. Because if someone else has figured out how to do it, so can I. If she can grow her business by tweaking her business model just a bit–from all one-of-a-kind work to some one-of-a-kind and a lot of limited editions, so can I.

If she can follow her passion and find a way to support herself doing it, so can I.

Luck is wonderful. But as someone once said, “Luck is opportunity plus preparedness.”

Do your research, keep your eyes open for opportunity, and you will fly over those roadblocks.

Update: In the eight years since I first wrote this article, everything has changed. Now we can offer wholesale customers password-protected online catalogs. We can take our own digital images and upload them quickly and easily to our website, or our online store. We can find stores and galleries more easily, and contact them by email (if the phone is too stressful.)

It’s a miracle! :^)

Also, for jewelry or other small, easily shipped items, a “pick box” works beautifully for some stores. A store can secure their order with a credit card number. You ship an assortment of items to them. They select the items they want, and ship the box back to you. You bill them for the items they’ve taken. Works great with one-of-a-kind items!

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BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR–You Might Get It!

When it seems like nothing you wish for comes true, ask yourself, “Am I dreaming big enough to last a lifetime?”

(This post was originally published December 11, 2002.)

“Be careful what you wish for….” This has to be my least-favorite proverb in the world. It’s like those folktales about fools wasting silly wishes (“The Sausage“) and bargains with the devil (“The Monkey’s Paw.”) People get their wishes granted, but live to regret it.

Making wishes is dangerous business, these stories seem to warn us. You can wish for the most wonderful thing in the world and the powers that be will twist it against you. Fairies’ gold turned to dry leaves in the morning light.

It takes the very joy out of wishing, doesn’t it? And what a depressing view of the universe! “The universe likes nothing better than to give with one hand and take away with the other.” Yow!

Taken another way, though, this proverb is actually excellent advice. Instead of a dour caution, see it as an challenge to dig deep into your heart, to what you really want.

When we regret a wish we’ve been granted, it’s often because we unconsciously limited the dream before it left our heart. We down-sized it to increase our chances of getting something. We don’t allow ourselves to dream big. We’re afraid to ask for too much.

Because we don’t really believe our wishes can come true.

You can see this limiting process at work when people take their first tentative steps in their work. I did it. You’ve probably done it, too. You ask for so little. Then when you get it, it’s just not enough. Or it’s just all wrong.

Years ago, I reclaimed my artistic self. (I know, I know, it sounds like I picked up my dry cleaning….)

I didn’t ask for much. I attended a seminar for women artists. I told a roomful of strangers my dream was to make wonderful little toys—tiny dolls, knitted sheep—that you could hold in your hand and marvel at. I wanted to make things that made people happy.

It’s a nice thought. But in reality, I couldn’t imagine affecting people in a more profound way than to appeal to their sense of playfulness.

I didn’t think I had anything deeper or more substantial in me.

So I wished for a way to sell lots of my little toys. Of course, each one took a minimum of two hours to make. And I wanted to make sure they would sell, so I kept the price really low.

After doing some very small local craft shows, I got my heart’s desire. A local store requested four dozen sheep, and of course, they wanted them yesterday.

I spent the next two weeks doing nothing but knitting sheep.

At first it was fun. Each sheep was so cute! But after five in a row, the joy faltered. It was… Hmmmm… Let’s just say that knitting little sheep—lots of little sheep—gets boring fast.

After twelve, I never wanted to see another skein of cream-colored yarn again. At #24, all I could think of was, “Twenty-four down, twenty-four to go.” By #42, I was sick unto death of little knitted sheep.

And I still had to sew them up, and tie little tiny bells on each one.

I managed to squeak out all 48. And swore I’d never make another.

I kept one or two of my stash, because they are so darned cute. And also as a reminder of a lesson learned.

Because in addition to all that knitting, I messed up on figuring my wholesale price. I’d simply cut my retail price in half. So I got $5 per sheep. Ouch. I probably made less than $2 an hour, after my cost for materials.

I didn’t see this granted wish as a disappointment. Okay, I’ll be honest. At first I did.

But then I saw it as a blessing. Thank heavens I hadn’t gotten more orders!

So here’s what I learned from this experience:

I learned production work was not for me. I learned how to establish a decent wholesale price. And at least I had $240 in my pocket, enough money to finance my next endeavors. (Hint: I did NOT buy yarn to make more sheep.)

As time went by, this process occurred over and over.

More ideas and more opportunities crossed my path. Each time I’d think, “Maybe this is the thing that will take off!” They always did—just enough to buy more supplies and make my hobby pay for itself—but not in the way I’d hoped. I followed them til they either petered out or til they grew into something that took me too far away from my heart’s desire. Then I’d let go, and move on.

Along the way I learned a lot about making and selling things. I learned how to sell wholesale to retail stores. I learned about signage and display. I learned how to price my work, how to create a distinctive and original product, how to locate wholesale sources for supplies. I took my profits and reinvested them in my business.

I learned the pros and cons of building a strictly local audience. I learned the potential–and the limits–of advertising. I learned how to promote myself and my work.

I taught classes when I could, but soon learned a little teaching goes a long way for me. I’d rather make more and teach a little. (But I also found I could teach through this blog.)

Finally, I learned what I really wanted, what was truly in my heart.

If you had asked me way back then what I wanted, I would have said, “I want to make something that makes people happy.” I wasn’t digging very deep into what makes me tick.

It turns out there was a story there, a story about how my dreams were echoed in the prehistoric artwork from a cave in France. I thought about why this story was important to me, and how I was going to share that story with the world.

I found a focus and a drive I’d never experienced before. Everything I’d learned about business was now centered on getting my story and my art out into the world.

When I ran into what seemed like insurmountable difficulties, I solved them through perseverance, research and experimentation.

And I loved the entire process. Even the parts that drove me crazy. I was learning so much about myself, my art and my business.

Everything began to fall into place. Opportunities lay everywhere, more than I could take on. Doors opened, people appeared in my life, solutions beckoned.

I still experience failure, but it doesn’t stop me now. It’s a call to evaluate what I really want and whether I’m still on task to achieve it.

I see the presence of something in my life that treasures my creativity, that supports me achieving my dream.

If my true wish had been to sell lots of knitted sheep, there are business models to support that. I could have hired knitters, located a sales rep, done gift shows. But my real wish was to make something totally of myself, so fulfilling and intriguing that I would not tire of the production process; and to make something with such value and power, people would pay a lot to own one.

I had a wish big enough to last me a lifetime. That was the right wish to be granted!

Most small business experts say it can take five years to get a new business off the ground. Even the IRS recognizes that. There’s a lot of learning and failing, growth and change in five years of business….

So look at what you’re doing now. Think about your biggest, deepest wish.

Will you outgrow your current dream? Will you still love it five years from now? If my first wish had been granted five years earlier, I would have outgrown it within six months.

Are you digging deep? Get past the “nice” things to say (“I want to make people happy”) and find your true story. There’s power there.

When it seems like nothing you wish for comes true, ask yourself, “Am I dreaming big enough to last a lifetime?”

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DEALING WITH FAILURE

Buffer failure? Embrace it! Sometimes the manure life deals you is fertilizer for your garden to come.

(This post was originally published on Thursday, December 05, 2002.)

A reader saw my story on Meryl Streep (we have so much in common!) She commented she has overcome her inner critic from time to time, has some success—and then encounters failure. In one case, it resulted in a large financial loss. It stopped her dead in her tracks. How, she asks, do you buffer failure? Is it a sign that we’re heading down the wrong path?

Buffer failure? Embrace it!

No, I’m not crazy. I hate failure as much as the next person. It doesn’t feel good, it doesn’t look good, and it usually doesn’t smell very good, either.

But I’ve learned to call it something else. It is now a “life learning experience.” Or “an experiment.” A “calculated risk.” Or “an opportunity/possibility that has been tried, and simply did not pan out.” Whatever you call it, you met it, you got through it, and now you have a precious gift.

You can decide what you learned from it. And what you learn from it is entirely up to you.

We hear all those stories about Edison trying and discarding 423 different materials before he found one that could successfully be used as a filament in his electric light bulbs. Supposedly, he would say, “I didn’t fail—I found 423 things that didn’t work!” In reality, I doubt he was that chipper at trial #218. I’m sure he had some choice words.

But the important thing to remember is, it wasn’t failure. It was a process. He didn’t take each failure as a “sign” he should not continue. He took it as a challenge, an opportunity to explore new possibilities.

There’s a book I read awhile back, title escapes me. A collection of stories as told by assorted famous people, on their failures. Yep. Every single one of them had failed somewhere, along their road to success. You don’t take on risk without encountering failure at some point. Not one person achieved their dream by accepting failure as an end to their dream. Every single one of them walked around it, climbed over it, punched through it, ignored it, learned from it or changed it into a victory.

Look, these people aren’t really smarter, more beautiful, more creative, more talented, more anything than you or me. They’re simply people. Real people.

They’re just incredibly persistent.

Their common denominator was once they knew what their heart’s desire was, they kept after it. Just like me and Meryl, talkin’ down that buzzy whiny voice and doin’ the work. (Yep, me ‘n Meryl…)

It’s not easy. And it doesn’t come naturally, at least not to me. I’ve had to work at not giving up. And I’ve had to work at growing a new attitude about “failure.”

I don’t put it in terms at “what did I do wrong?” I think “What did I do well? And how could I do better? What did I learn? And do I have to do that same thing again to learn that particular lesson? Or is it okay to move on to try something else?”

My first few small town craft shows were “failures.” It would have been so easy to get discouraged. Fortunately, I was committed to making what I loved, not making what would sell at a church bazaar. I realized my work was not the bargain gift item one expects to find at such a show. Although, oddly, after every show, someone would call me and buy one of my very expensive pieces. So I learned some people found my work worth the price I asked for. And I learned I had to find a better venue for my work.

I’m still recovering from a more recent, bigger “failure.” I tried a new summer wholesale show, traditionally more of a gift market. I not only did the show, I redid my booth—new floors, new walls, new lighting. I even took a larger booth space. I did the work—did a pre-show mailing; bought an ad in the show guide; updated my catalog’ sent out my newsletter to customers and hot prospects; created new products. I set up my booth, put on my professional artist clothes, and went to work.

And I bombed.

I wrote enough new orders to cover some of my expenses, but not the major improvements I’d made. And because the economy still sagged, many of those new accounts called later to reduce their show orders.

Did I fail? It sure felt like it at the time!

A fellow exhibitor at the show asked me how I did. I started to list all the pluses from the show. He cut me short and said, “Why don’t you just be honest and admit it sucked?!” I didn’t know what to say. Was I being a Pollyanna?

But another friend said, “Do you only measure your success in monetary terms?” Wow. I had to think about that.

Yes, I want to be financially successful with my art. I consistently act and plan accordingly. But I also evaluate my progress by other standards. Money is an important measure, but not the only one.

I took a reasonable risk—to introduce my work to a new audience and to try a new booth design/layout.

What did I do well? The pre-show preparations were excellent. The new booth was great. The improvements were pricey but they’re a long-term investment in my business.

Everyone loved the work, so I know it’s viable. Most of my press kits were taken from the media room—always a good sign! I picked up a dozen new accounts.

I made valuable connections, including an editor at a highly respected trade magazine who was fascinated by my work. The new director of an arts foundation, referred to me by a mutual friend, found me, lined me up for a show and has proven to be a source of valuable experience and information about my targeted market. My booth neighbor was curating her first show at the museum where she works, and invited me to exhibit in their first high-end craft show.

I helped out a friend at the show with lighting problems, and he thanked me with a gift of his lovely art glass. My daughter, assisting me for the first time, bought a faux-leopard skin cowboy hat from another exhibitor—oh my!), met the charming teenage sons of another exhibitor, and was in seventh heaven. We had a great time.

What could I have done better? I realized I could improve my sales technique, especially on selling more expensive items.

What was under my control, and what was not?

Sad to say, the economy is not under my control.

Should I have skipped the show?

Well, I’m not sure. I’m glad for the connections I made. In hindsight, perhaps I could have waited on the booth improvements. But doing the show forced me to make those improvements, and though it would have been nice to recoup their expense with that show, I know I eventually will.

What did I learn?

I learned that I could tank at a show and survive.

I didn’t accept it as a sign my dream was unattainable. I kept the good stuff, I examined the bad stuff, then tossed it. I dug in and got back to work.

In August, I did another show. I took more custom orders than I usually accepted. I got better at closing big-ticket sales.

It was my best retail show ever.

Buffer failure? No. You don’t get anywhere with that approach.

Sometimes the manure life deals you is fertilizer for your garden to come.

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RESPECT YOUR COLLECTORS Part 2

This article was originally published for Fine Art Views.
I forgot to republish this on MY blog!! My bad.

Respect Your Collectors Part 2
by Luann Udell on 12/23/2010 9:56:04 AM

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”

Don’t leave your early collectors behind.

Sometimes artists, in their haste to “get big”, blow off the very people who helped them get there in the first place.

In my first article in this series, I explained how I was introduced to the joys of collecting original works of art. Today I’ll show how—and why–you must honor those early supporters of your work.

In educating me how to find ‘real art’, my friend pointed out a rich source of original art in my own backyard—the prestigious Ann Arbor art fairs. These fairs are a series of 3-4 fine art and craft shows (depending on how you count them) that take place concurrently on the campus and in the town streets.

Taking my friend’s advice, I visited the shows that year with new intention—not to just be amazed and entertained by the beautiful work, but with an eye to actually owning some of it.

I was no longer an ordinary browser or casual shopper. I was an art collector! I had money in my pocket, an open heart and a passion to learn. It was a heady feeling.

There was one artist whose work I fell in love with. I spent quite a bit of time in her booth talking to her, and admiring her work. We talked about the inspiration for her charming motifs, the materials she used to create the enchanting details I loved, her lovely, delicate use of color.

She had work in a range of sizes, but she’d already sold all the pieces in my price range. “I’m just so excited, this has been a GREAT show for me!” she exclaimed. “I’m definitely coming back next year, and I’ll have lots more smaller pieces, too—they’re selling like hot cakes!”

I was pleased that someone so likeable, whose work I really liked, was having so much success. In my budding connoisseur-like mind, it confirmed my instinct to support her art. She didn’t take layaway, and this was before most artists took credit cards. But she assured me there would be ample opportunity to own one of her pieces the following year.

For that entire year, I set aside money, enough to acquire one of her smaller pieces. I kept her postcard on my bulletin board where I could look at it every day. I circled the dates for the next art fair show on my calendar.

When the happy day came, I sought her out. I had my hard-earned money in my hot little hands, all ready to buy something. I was determined to leave her booth with something this time.

To my dismay, things had changed.

Her work was bigger, for one thing. It was bigger. Much much bigger. And consequently, much more expensive, too. Not a single piece was less than several thousand dollars.

It was different. The small, intimate, intricately detailed work was gone. Strong, bold, monochromatic abstract work had replaced it.

Something else was changed, too. Her attitude.

The gushing, friendly, warm, enthusiastic emerging artist I’d met the year before was gone.

Apparently she’d been ‘discovered’. She’d had a great year, sales-wise. She’d juried into several prestigious exhibitions. She now had a following.

She was, indeed, a successful artist—one whose success had evidently gone to her head. Because she was also haughty, disdainful, and dismissive, to the point of rudeness.

She didn’t remember me. I didn’t expect her to—I knew she’d talked to hundreds, if not thousands of people in the past year. But she wasn’t apologetic (as in,“I’m sorry I don’t remember you, I meet so many people–but please refresh my memory…”) Her attitude was, “Why should I remember you?! You didn’t buy anything!”

She was scornful about her former work. “Yeah, I’m way past that stage now. I marked it down and got rid of it. I’m into this work now.” Her tone almost seemed to say, “Get over it!” She didn’t care to explain it, either. You either got it—and bought it—or she didn’t have time for you.

I inquired about smaller works. She practically sniffed. She said she couldn’t be bothered with making small pieces anymore. It was much more lucrative to make bigger pieces, and charge more.

Someone else entered the booth, someone who could obviously be taken more seriously as a prospective buyer. She turned her whole attention to them. I left her booth, crestfallen.

I kept my postcard of that artist for many years. I kept track of her progress as best I could (pre-internet days.) I’m not sure why. Maybe I was hoping for a glimpse of that sweet, more accessible, more grateful young woman I’d admired so much before. Artists change, their art changes—I got that. Maybe I was just hoping her next sea-change would be for the better.

In time, though, the memories of that last day I saw her, overshadowed the first. I tossed the card. I’ve all but forgotten her name.

At the time, I was bewildered. Now that I’m an artist, too, I can sympathize…a little.

I’m not always crazy about my older work. But I respect the fact that I loved it when I was making it, and that people that bought it, liked it, too.

I know there is more money to be made with the wall-sized fiber work. I know that I couldn’t afford my work! But I know there is worth in my smaller work, too.

I know I can’t support myself just on sales of $25 necklaces. But sometimes, when things were really tight, it was those same inexpensive items that kept the cash flow going.

I know many of those people purchased work back then for less than my wholesale prices now. Still, it was their hard-earned money, and they chose to spend it on my work.

As far as my collectors go, I appreciate what they ALL did. They all loved the work. They all believed in me. They all wanted to support my efforts. They bought something because they loved it, and they wanted it, and they felt it was worth it.

I may forget their names, but I am astonished and delighted that they have not forgotten mine. When they share a story about their piece, or even bring some of those ‘ancient works’ back in for repair or a redesign, I make a point of thanking them for collecting me from the beginning.

They are the people who helped me get where I am today. And I will never forget them for that.

Perhaps we all have days we dream of being so financially successful, so famous and respected, that we don’t have to worry about the tedious little things in life anymore.

But people who love our work, people who support us in so many ways—by purchasing it, by recommending it to their friends, by telling us what it means to them—these people are not the “tedious little things in life. They are part of the “big thing”. They are what got us to this wonderful place, a place where we can make the work we love and share it with the world.

Remember that, and you will always respect your collectors, large and small.

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Filed under art, business, collectors, craft, craft shows, customer care, Fine Art Views, marketing, Respect Your Collectors, selling, shows

WE ARE ALL MADE OF STARS

Do you realize how amazing you are?

Why are we so willing to believe the worst about ourselves?

I had a conversation with a friend recently. She tends to believe she presents herself worse than she does. She accentuates her perceived weaknesses and berates herself for being “stuck”.

When I commented on her strengths and her perceived weaknesses (more on that), she smiled. “Yeah”, she said, “A friend once told me what my real problem is. My friend said, ‘Your problem is, you don’t realize how amazing you are.”

I agree with her friend.

I told her about a presentation I made last year, to an auditorium full of people. I’d goofed pretty badly–thought I was doing a presentation on one topic, only to realize the night before I was committed to a different one.

I was still more than adequately prepared. I’ve taught this workshop before, and have plenty of material on hand. But throughout the presentation, I kept apologizing. “I’m handing out a resource list–I’m so sorry, it would have been longer….” “Blah blah blah, sorry!, blah blah.”

When I read the evaluations later, everyone raved about me.

Except for one astute soul who commented, “The presentation was excellent, good information. Just one negative. She apologized too much. I found it distracting.”

Oy.

It’s time to quit apologizing for ourselves.

It’s so easy to see this in other people. So hard to see it in ourselves: Not trusting our instincts. Focusing on our weaknesses and flaws. Taking our strengths for granted.

Taking ourselves for granted.

So in the interest of full disclosure, here’s the back story behind my blog:

I merrily make my art/write my column/prepare a seminar. Things are humming along. Life is good!

Then I hit roadblocks. An envious peer. A missed deadline. A new injury (usually acquired doing something absolutely stupid.) A rejection from a show. Oh, and a very low checking account balance.

Some people thrive in adversity. Yay for them! (And we all can do that sometimes.) But often we are struck in vulnerable places. The roadblock looks similar to a struggle in our past. And there are some people in this world, in a kind of pain themselves, who know exactly where to aim their blows.

If I’m in my powerful place, I shrug these off as annoying but manageable, tiny little bumps in my path. I will not be deterred from my journey.

But if I’m in a fragile period, I get knocked off-center. “Why do I bother making this work? Nobody likes it!” “How can I make her like me and stop being so mean?” “I’m so disorganized!”

Soon I feel like there’s no place for me in the world. No gifts I can offer. No way I can contribute. I’m just a whirling bundle of fret and anxiety and unkindness and ineptitude. (I thought I was making that last word up, but spell check says no, I’m good to go. Until I spelled “spellcheck” wrong….)

I eventually sit down to write. I dump it all out onto paper. I whine, I cry, I resent, I blame.

And then something wonderful happens.

I realize how amazing I am.

Not in the swelled-head, I’m-okay-you’re-not, aren’t-I-grand kinda way.

Just…amazing…in the ordinary way. A person, here in this world, in this time, trying to love and be loved. Trying to be kind. Trying to shine. Trying to do the work I was put here to do. Trying to do the best I can. (Another friend, years ago, said to me, “I like to believe people are doing the best they can.” It brought tears to my eyes.) (Although it’s hard to remember that when someone cuts me off in traffic.)

For a few wonderful, incredible minutes, maybe a few hours, maybe even an entire day, I see how powerful I am, how brightly I shine. Just enough for me to get back in the saddle and try again. (OH! A riding metaphor!)

At some point, this struggle, this journey, turns into a blog article, or a keynote speech, or a new wall hanging. If it’s funny, it goes to my column at The Crafts Report.

I write about the struggle. I write about how I end up in the hard place, and how I find my way back from there.

And how I still end up there again.

And find my way back home, to my own heart–again.

I write about how our weaknesses are not something to be cried over, but something to be celebrated. Because our weaknesses are the true source of our strength, if we let this awareness happen.

If we are the victim of cruelty, we can still choose to be kind.

If we are gripped by sadness, we can simply embrace that, for now. Or we can choose to act as if we are happy. Or we can help someone else who is sad.

If we grieve, it is because we loved. Or because we wanted to love, or to be loved.

These things are not imperfections. Or rather, they are imperfections. They are what make us beautiful, just as as stress, flaw, disease and even death make something beautiful in wood.

If we don’t think we are amazing, it is simply because we are afraid of what that might mean. We think we don’t know what that looks like. We don’t know what might change or what we might lose, or that we are setting ourselves up for even bigger failure. We are afraid we will have to work harder, and we are afraid we won’t be able to.

We are afraid we are not enough.

And yet, in each of us, is the potential to simply be ourselves. To be present. To respect our gifts, and USE them.

What inspires me, what makes me cry, is that this very place that’s so hard for us–”I am not enough”–comes from a very powerful, very beautiful place–”I want to be somebody</em, somebody worthy of love, respect, kindness, joy, achievement. I want to be seen and cherished. I want to do good work. I want to be remembered after I'm gone."

Don't you think it's amazing that we all want these things?

Isn't it astonishing that this desire drives everything we do, every choice we make, whether we act on this consciously ("I'm going to hold the door open for that person behind me.") to unconsciously ("Huh! That person cut in front of me! He acted as if I were totally not worth his kindness!" or choice words to that effect….)? (I am praying you did not get lost in the punctuation of that last sentence.)

And that's why, when people say I'M amazing, or do such beautiful work, or write something good, I do a little foot shuffle and blush, and say, "Aw, tweren't nuthin'…"

Because I DON'T have this all figured out, or rather, it doesn't STAY worked out. I'll have to do the same thing tomorrow, and next month, and probably for the rest of my life–fall down, cry, take hope and get back up.

I know I just have to do this. And I don't have to do it perfectly, either.

Because when I look at my work, at my art, at the artifacts, the fiber work, the little bears and otters, the grumpy fish, the horses….oh, the horses!

When I remember my story I tell about myself and this work, what it's done for me spiritually, and what others say it does for them….

When I remember how far I've come from that lonely, sad place, where I was so sure there was no place in this world, I actually tried to leave it….

When I look at the wonderful guy who is my life partner, and our children, our friends and family, even the stranger on the street who chooses to be kind… When I realize all the opportunities there are in life to BE that partner, that child, that friend, that stranger…

I realize we truly are all made of stars.

I am. And so are you.

p.s. Thank you, Moby, for the title of this post.

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Filed under art, craft, creativity, fear of failing, inspiration, life, mental attitude, world peace, writing

GRIEF WRITING WORKSHOP

Another announcement. Boy, I’m full of ‘em today….

I’ll be leading a writing workshop during the month of February at Home Health Care and Community Services here in Keene NH. This is part of their bereavement support program. We’ll be meeting Wednesday nights from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., Feb. 2 through Feb. 23.

We’ll explore ways to explore our thoughts, feelings and memories through writing and poetry. The structure is flexible, and no prior writing experience is necessary.

This workshop is appropriate for anyone who is struggling with grief–loss of a loved one; divorce; loss of a pet or companion; a life-changing event.

You can see more about this workshop, and others, at the HCS website: HCS Grief Support Groups, Winter 2011. Or call them at 1-800-541-4145.

As always, if you know someone in the area who would like to participate, please pass this on to them.

I’ve found writing to be a powerful way to uncover deep insight and understanding during difficult times in my life. I’m looking forward to sharing this healing process with others.

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Filed under announcement, hospice, writing

UNLOCKING YOUR STORY: The Artist’s Meaningful Message

Help me stamp out boring, pretentious artist statements!
Let’s connect your audience to the real story behind your art!

On Thursday, February 17, 2011 I’ll be teaching a workshop on creating a powerful artist statement:

“Unlocking Your Story: The Artist’s Meaningful Message”

This is a hands-on workshop. We’ll look at a few samples of powerful artist statements, and get right down to work. We’ll do some fun exercises to get the pens rolling. Then small group work to help you get the feedback you need to uncover your own unique and powerful story. I’ll demonstrate a technique for digging even deeper, using the power of being a witness to the heart’s work. Sounds very mysterious, but I guarantee you will leave with the tools you need to connect your art more deeply with your audience, whether that’s music, writing, craft or fine art.

The workshop will run from 6-8:30 p.m. at the Sharon Arts Exhibition Gallery, on Depot Square in Peterborough, NH. You can read more about the class at the Sharon Arts Center’s website here. (My workshop is on page 6.) Or call them SOON at 603-924-7256 to register.

The class is $40 for SAC members, $55 for non-members. Bring samples of artist statements you like, your current artist statement, and materials for taking notes. Actually, all you REALLY need to bring is the note-taking stuff–paper/notebook, and a pen you like to write with. Oh, and a sense of humor and a temporary suspension of belief. Cookies, too, if you got ‘em.

Please–sign up NOW! Some financial assistance may be available if you need it. Even if you can’t make it, please help me spread the word, okay? One of my life goals is to rid the world of boring and pompous artist statements. Let’s find the audience who will love your artwork, and your story.

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Filed under announcement, art, artist statement, writing

WHEN IS A WYSIWYG NOT A WYSIWYG?

When is “What you see is what you get” not what you think? When it’s something else.

(Originally published December 4, 2002)

Last week I got a call from someone on committee. They were in a bind. They needed someone to help with a project–could I volunteer for half an hour? I checked my calendar, saw an open spot and said yes.

I went in today for my assignment. I was greeted by the person in charge and put to work. Half an hour later, the task was done, and I asked the person in charge, “Is that it?”

She said, “Yes. Now, wasn’t that easy? That wasn’t such a big deal, was it?” with a kindly smile.

Being a grown-up, I managed to bite my tongue before the words “I think the words you’re looking for here are ‘thank you’!” popped out. I simply smiled and left.

At my next stop, I related my story to the woman behind the counter, bemoaning how ungrateful some people can be..

“Oh, that’s nothing,” she said.

Last year her fiance was at a local organization here in Keene, NH. He saw their Christmas tree project in the lobby, covered with dozens of tags. (This is their special Christmas project. Each tag has a child’s name, a child who was in one of their community outreach programs, with the child’s age and one wish for a gift.)

It was a week before Christmas, and no one had taken any of the tags.

Her fiance found the woman in charge of the program. He told her he wanted every tag on that tree. He was determined that no child’s wish went unfulfilled.

Together, they went shopping. He bought every single child not only their designated gift, but lots of extra presents as well.

He spent over $2,500.

They returned to the facility and stored all the presents to be distributed the next day. He told her he preferred to remain anonymous. And he had to hurry, because he still didn’t have a Christmas tree himself.

The woman said, “You said you don’t even have a tree for Christmas yet? Why don’t you take that tree home with you? It’s the least we can do to thank you!”

So the took the tree. As he walked out the door with it, the facility director walked in and saw him.

This week (one year later), the man saw this year’s tag-covered tree in the lobby. Again, he approached the front desk, where the facility director was standing. “I’d like to help out again with your Christmas program again this year,” he said.

The director looked at him. He only remembered seeing this guy walk out of the facility a year ago with the tree. He sneered, “I don’t think we’ll need your kind of help this year.”

What you see is not always what you get…..

I told the woman to have her fiance write a letter to the guy, cc’ing the board of directors, the woman in charge of the Christmas program, and the local United Way, which supports and funds this facility. Oh, and the local newspaper, too.

He should explain that last year, he had donated his time and $2,500 of his personal money to make sure no child in their care was left out at Christmas. This year, he had repeated his offer, and had been told his help was not needed this year. And he should say how delighted he was that the facility had been so successful in their efforts that they needed no other help from their membership or the community to ensure every child had a wonderful Christmas.

He won’t do it, of course. But what a lesson for all of us!

Sometimes what you see is NOT what you get.

Sometimes…there’s whole nother story being told.

Update: The generous gentleman preferred to suffer in silence, and vowed never to participate again. But eventually, he realized only the children were hurt by his decision. He continues to make Christmas wonderful for these kids.

P.S. This is a perfect example of BIBS, the Baby In the Back Seat phenomenon. Here’s where I read this concept by conflict resolution expert Anna Maravelas and here’s a recent retelling.) Please read them if you have a moment, it will change your life!

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Filed under art, craft, criticism, silent evidence, world peace

WHAT MERYL STREEP AND I HAVE IN COMMON

Originally published on December 2, 2002

What Meryl Streep and I Have In Common

(Hint: It’s not blond hair.)

I was going to write about a discussion with a friend about his dirty house. But when I picked up the Sunday magazine that comes with our local paper, I came across some amazing statements by Meryl Streep that caused me to bump the dump story.

In the talk with my friend, he told me how immobilized with anxiety and self-doubt he felt each day. I’m a natural born people fixer-upper (much to the annoyance of my friends), so I jumped right in with suggestions that have worked for me.

He kept saying, “You don’t understand, you don’t understand” until finally, in frustration, I told him my deepest, darkest secret….

I wake up every morning with a sense of dread about how hopelessly inadequate I am to achieve my goals, and I go to bed every night ever mindful of….how does the Lord’s Prayer go? “We have done those things which we ought not to have done, and left undone the things we ought to have done.” Well, that sums up the beginning and end of my day quite well.

My friend was astounded. He said, “But you’re always so upbeat and you’re always busy with your artwork and always doing stuff….” He paused and said, “And I know you’re telling the truth, because you know the old saying, ‘You can’t bullshit a bullshitter?’ I’m in the pits, and I can tell you’ve been there, too. So how did you turn it around?”

It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, spiritually. I simply stopped listening to the little voices that told me how how futile it all was.

Note that I said I didn’t stop hearing the voices. I said I stopped listening to them.

It came about through a long, slow process. It wasn’t any one thing.

It was a series of books, a smattering of important people, teachers, who showed up in my life at just the right time. It was the birth of my oldest child. It was a workshop I took. It was trying to spiritually accommodate the violent murder of an elderly neighbor 20 years ago. It was a physical injury that tied up my body for almost a year. It was a brush with cancer (a very light brush, but frightening at the time.)

We often dream that when we figure everything out, when we realize our perfect vision for ourselves, everything else will fall into place, too. When we get the right job, when we meet the right life partner, when we get our dream home, when we find the perfect little black dress, (when we reach the perfect size for that little black dress!) the perfect lipstick, whatever, that we will finally silence those little voices that always tell us what is wrong.

Please note I’m not talking about the little voice telling you about real danger. I’m talking about that little voice that tells you you will never be good enough, fortunate enough, strong enough, talented enough, blah blah blah. The inner critic. When we still hear that little voice, we may panic. Dang! It’s still there! Where did I go wrong??

One of my most precious insights, almost miraculous in my eyes, is that it is possible to act in a powerful way even if your little voice says you have no power. You hear that familiar little rant in the morning–”You didn’t fill that order, you didn’t win that award, you didn’t get into that show and you never will!”

Then I get up and do it anyway.

Everything I have accomplished in the last five years–and it’s a lot!–I’ve done in spite of that little voice. I don’t pretend to say that I have deeper resources than other people, and I would never even pretend to say that all mental health can be achieved by just saying no to those voices. I am saying it is an act of will to act in spite of my voices, and I feel blessed to have found that out. I now realize there is no place I can get to where I will not hear them. But now I don’t let them stop me from getting where I want to go. They can whine all they want, I’m going there anyway.

So what do Meryl Streep and I have in common? In an interview with Ken Burns that appeared in USA WEEKEND today, KB asks Meryl if she will always act. And she answers

“Oh, I always think I’m going to give up. You get the cold feet. You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this? I don’t have to do this.’ It is something I confront at the beginning of everything. I have to start out with nothing each time.”

KB: And reinvent the wheel.

MS: “And reinvent the wheel. It’s very hard. It’s very, very hard….”

There you have it. The article notes that Streep has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards, tying Katherine Hepburn’s record. She’s actually won two Oscars. Her work ethic is legendary.

And every time she takes on a new challenge, she hears the same little voices I do!

I wonder what she says to her little voices…..?

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Filed under art, courage, craft, fear of failing, mental attitude, perseverence

HOLDING ON TO “FACTS” THAT WILL HOLD YOU BACK

I had a great idea last night. I’ve been referring people to my old blog at Radio Userland. But it’s hard to maneuver around that site, and impossible to search it.

So I’ve decided to repost all those articles, one at a time, on Fridays, and maybe some weekend days as well.

They will all be marked as reposts, so if you’ve already read them I won’t trick you into reading them again.

Here we go!

Holding Onto “Facts” That Hold You Back

(This was my very first blog post, from November 29, 2002!)

Years ago, when I was getting my master’s degree in education, I met a young woman in one of my math methods course. We paired up for several projects. I found her bright and funny and easy to work with.

One day we were doing some measurements for a hands-on project, and she stumbled on an easy mental calculation, multiplying something by 9. I said something jokingly about her multiplication tables needing work. “Oh, I never learned my 9′s facts,” she explained. “I was absent that day.”

I thought she was joking. But she wasn’t. She said she really WAS absent that day.

Surely someone as smart as she was, and as someone who was taking master’s level math methods coursework, knew that elementary school does not denote one day out of the entire fourth-grade curriculum to teach the nines multiplication table. But she wasn’t kidding. She told me an elaborate story about being sick the day the nines table was taught, and so more than 15 years later, she was still unable to multiply by nine.

I think of that young woman often.

Coincidentally, in that same math teaching course, we were learning how to teach kids their math facts–addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. There are many easy facts. Let’s take the multiplication tables. Everyone knows what the ones facts are–1×1=1, 2×1=2, etc. Next come the twos, and it turns out they’re pretty easy, too. Most kids learn them quickly. Next are the fives and the tens. They’re easily mastered, too. Also the “doubles”–3×3=9, 4×4=16, and so on. Now if you were to map out a chart of all the multiplication facts, and mark off all the “easy” ones, including their reversals (2×3 and 3×2, for example) you’d find almost half of the facts accounted for. And what are the strategies for learning those remaining facts?

The answer, it turns out, is not so much fun. You just have to memorize them. Of course, there are some good tricks, like the nines tables. (6×9, one less than 6 is 5, 5+? = 9? 4. So 6×9=54. Cute, huh?) But the straight skinny is, ya gotta memorize them. The math facts are one of the few academic skills that are ultimately only learned by memorization, and best reinforced by drill and practice. (Acquisition of vocabulary, especially in learning foreign languages, also benefits greatly by this approach, BTW.)

So here we have two statements, or stories, about facts. One is measurable, observable, concrete. To learn the math facts, you gotta work at them. You gotta memorize them. You gotta be able to knock out the answers within a second or two of hearing the numbers. But once you learn them, you never really forget them. You might get rusty, or you might get stuck on one or two. But the foundation, the habit, is still there.

The other story is harder to quantify. Everyone will believe it, few will really examine it. It goes like this: “I have a special story about why I can’t do something. It’s an odd story, but it makes me feel better about not being able to do that thing. So I hold onto it fiercely.” Even when a calm, adult eye would see that it doesn’t even make sense anymore.

What do you gain by holding onto a story like that?
Well…you don’t have to try anymore. You can have a clear conscience about why you can’t do that thing. Others might think you’re silly, but it’s possible no one would ever say that to your face. In fact, probably other people, who have their own “I can’t” story, nod their head in sympathetic agreement, relieved that someone else has such a story, too. You may even get sympathy, or admiration. “Wow, that’s quite a story! How awful for you! No wonder you can’t do that!” It also is a way to make sure you don’t have to do the real work of learning those new facts, those new ways of doing something. It’s too hard, it’s too time-consuming, it’s too late, it’s not possible, and so on.

But what do you lose with a story like that?
A lot. A lot of missed chances, missed opportunities, a whole world of missed possibilities.

I’m telling this story because I used to tell myself a story like that, too. It was all about how I couldn’t do the things I really wanted to do–make art. It was about how I couldn’t be what I really wanted to be–an artist. It was about how I would never be able to sell my work, or find anyone who would want to buy it. Surprisingly, once I realized my “stories” I told about myself were just that–stories–I found I could change the story to one I like better. A huge paradigm shift occurred, and I began to see that all the things that “couldn’t happen”, could.

I now hear that old story from people who ask me how I accomplished so much in the last five years. When I tell them, they first tell me how lucky I am. (I am, but not for the reasons they think!) I soon hear their story. They think it’s specific to them, a special story, an unusual story. When I point out that I had the same story, they are quick to correct me that their story is different. When I point out the inconsistencies of what they’re telling me, they tell me I don’t understand their story fully. When I suggest ways they could tell another story, they are horrified. They’ve put so much energy into holding onto this old story. There’s just too much at stake. It’s always a really, really good story why they simply cannot do the very thing they just told me is their true heart’s desire.

So my first question for you today is: What is *your* story? What is the story you tell about yourself that is holding you back from doing the things you really want to do?

Tomorrow I’ll tell the story about my friend and his messy house. Now there’s a story!

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Filed under art, craft, mental attitude, telling your story

TURN ON YOUR (CREATIVE) LIGHTS!

Know the habits that keep Y-O-U creating.

I have habits that really fire me up to make art.

I have a lot of habits that drain me and distract me from making art.

None of these habits are intrinsically good or bad. They are just habits that produce different results. The trick is to identify the outcome you want, and see if the habits you’re holding onto support that desired outcome.

For those of you in the back row ready with some snide remark about which habits I’m obviously still hanging on to that don’t have good outcomes (like having candy bars for lunch yesterday)… Look. I get it. It’s not about living a perfect life. It’s about getting back on the horse after he’s spilled you a few times. (Hey! A riding metaphor!)

I have several outlets for my creativity: Writing, making jewelry, fiber work, stamp carving. Today I finally realized that these different outlets need different switches to flip ‘on’.

Here’s one concrete example for writing:

In the morning, I usually make that first cup of coffee and head into my studio to “check my email”. (Raise your hand if you do that, too.) (Ohhhh….so many hands!)

Soon I’m doing a heckuva lot more than slogging through my in box. (Yeah, you know.) Soon I’m surfin’ and networkin’ and tweetin’ and other good stuff.

Now, all this isn’t necessarily a “bad” habit. After all, I like seeing what my friends are up to. I like to explore new venues for my artwork. I like reading funny blogs like Hyperbole and a Half, and watching funny videos on Today’s Big Thing. And we all need down time. In fact, sometimes you just need to waste time.

The problem is, an hour goes by. Every. Single. Morning. That’s a lot of downtime, before I even do anything to deserve it.

It’s not just the lost time, though. I’s worse. It actually drains me of creativity.

If I spend too much time abmiring other people’s art, I start to feel insecure about mine. (“Why bother?? So-and-so’s work is light-years ahead of mine!”) If I read too many other blogs, I start to feel inadequate about mine. (“What’s the use?? He has 10,000 followers, I have a few hundred. And he said it better!”) If I offer too much advice in a forum, I feel like I’ve done my writing for the day.

Either way, the down time ends, and it feels like I did something productive. But I didn’t.

So something harmless, fun, maybe even helpful to others, is good under the right circumstances, and not good in others.

But something happens if I simply stay in the dining room with my coffee, pick up a pen (has to be a Uniball Vison pen, too–no ball points for me!) and start writing my morning pages (a la Julie Cameron’s THE ARTIST’S WAY.)

It’s odd. I always starts out kinda bitchy. From there it goes to whining. Then I run out of steam around the middle of page 2. That’s when I simply blather. “I hate this I have nothing to say who would even WANT to listen to anything I have to say, this is too hard, my new idea for a wall hanging sucks blah blah blah….” And yes, there are many days where I simply write, “Blah blah blah.” In an artistic way, of course.

But somewhere in the midst of the wailing and whining, something marvelous happens.

A new idea pops up. A new insight creeps out. Suddenly, I get something I didn’t get before.

I know what I have to do. I know exactly what my next step is.

Many of my blog ideas come from those awful, whining, boring morning pages. It’s a light switch for my writing, and a pretty powerful and reliable one, too.

Some days I simply forget to do them. Some days I don’t have time to do them. Sometimes I go for months without doing them, thinking I don’t need them anymore.

But I always come back. Because they work.

Now, on the other hand, writing those morning pages is really good for generating an idea for a blog, or an article. But not always so good for my other artwork. Again, because I feel like I’ve ‘already made something.” In fact, I had that insight this morning as I wrote. I actually need to think of another switch to flip for my other stuff.

But now that I’m thinking about what works, and what doesn’t, I don’t think I’ll have to spend too much time figuring that out.

So what is YOUR process? What little habit do YOU have, that helps you flip on the switch to YOUR art?

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Filed under art, craft, creativity, inspiration, writing

TRAINING CATS TO DRINK WATER

To achieve new heights, we have to acquire new habits and tell ourselves a different story.

Stay with me, there’s a point to this drinking water thing.

We’ve always had cats. If you have cats, you know what happens.

Cats train you to do some really funny things. They get us to act in ludicrous ways, irrational ways. And we end up believing in the idiocy, too. We even believe it’s natural. “Cats are like that–they’re finicky!” we say.

It starts out very innocently. Maybe the cat starts playing with water coming out of the kitchen tap. Soon, every time you turn on the tap, the cat is there to play some more, and maybe take a few sips.

After a while, you begin to notice that the water level in his official water dish, stays the same. “Oh, no!”, you think. “The cat isn’t getting enough water!” So you turn on the tap. He jumps up and gratefully starts drinking.

Before you can say, Holy Catfish! you have a cat who will only drink out of the faucet.

Eventually, you even have to adjust the flow of water to just the right speed–not too fast, or he’ll be frightened. Not to slow, or he’ll walk away in impatience.

It will seem very normal to you, too. You will simply accept the process as what you have to do to get him to drink.

Until you see someone else doing this in their house, with their cat. And then you see how ridiculous the situation is.

For us, it was when we visited a friend with a cat. He had half a dozen caps from cans of shaving cream arranged around his bathroom floor, each cap filled with water. He told us (in total seriousness) he had to do this so his cat would drink water.

I burst out laughing. Because, you know, I know, and Pete knows….

No cat dies of thirst because his water is in the wrong-sized container.

No cat starves to death because his food is not the right brand.

Your teenager isn’t going to starve because you don’t make his sandwich the right way, with the right bread.

“Finicky” goes out the window when you’re hungry enough, when you’re thirsty enough.

“Finicky” goes out the window when you want something badly enough.

I was thinking about this today. Oh, all right, I admit, because I now have a cat who will only drink water who has trained me to think she will only drink out of the bathtub faucet.

As I watched her drink this morning, it suddenly occurred to me…

I wondered what have I trained myself to do….
What story have I told myself….What story do I ‘know’…
That’s getting in the way of getting what I really want in my life?

I’ve been fearful of “not doing it right” with an upcoming workshop I’m teaching–to the extent that I wanted to cancel it. I want to do it badly. But I think I can’t do it unless I do it perfectly.

I have a project dear to my heart, something I’ve been dreaming about for six years. I have a million reasons ‘why it won’t work’. Today I wrote in my journal all the excuses I’ve made up for why I shouldn’t do it: ‘I know’ there’s no way to exhibit it. ‘I know’ there’s no one who would buy it. ‘I know’ I shouldn’t start it til I have the whole concept figured out perfectly.

Well, duh, who cares??!!

I want to do it.

And the only thing holding me back is the story I’ve been telling myself, and all the ridiculous reasons I’ve made up about why it won’t work.

So giggle a little at the thought of Tomcat Toes drinking daintily out of a lovely assortment of plastic cups. Smile at the thought of chubby Chai shlurping heartily from the bathtub faucet. Let’s tease my sister not wanting her son to go to California years ago because he would never make himself a sandwich and so he would go hungry….

But the next time you have a project, an idea, a glimmering of something that makes your heart beat a little faster….

Listen hard for the imaginary can’t/shouldn’t/no-way thinking that could have you drinking out of a shaving cream cap within a few weeks.

Won’t that look silly?

Now go to your studio. Write that song. Start that video. Get out your brushes.

Me? I’m gonna go dust off my sewing machine.

And yes, I will share my big project when it firms up a little more. Just keep those cups of water outta my sight for awhile, okay?

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Filed under action steps, art, business, courage, craft, creativity, fear of failing, inspiration, life with pets, mental attitude

HELPING OTHERS WHO GRIEVE

I’m pulling together materials to help me run a writing workshop for bereavement support. I’ve been browsing local bookstores and surfing the net for resources.

I found a wonderful little book, 101 WAYS YOU CAN HELP: How to Offer Comfort and Support to Those Who Are Grieving by Liz Aleshire.

A quick flip through the book revealed succinct, concrete ways to help someone who’s experienced the loss of a loved one.

I like how the book is organized, by whether the person who needs your support is a family member, a friend, a co-worker, etc.

I like that the suggestions work. That same day, I called a friend who’d just lost someone. Normally, I’d invite the person over for a meal. Liz’s book suggested taking a meal to them. Sure enough, the “dinner here” and “dinner out” invitations were refused. But the “How about we come to your house with dinner?” invitation was received with surprise and gratitude.

I like that some of the suggestions are counter-intuitive. For example, she says sometimes you gotta be a little pushy. This echoes something I learned in my bereavement training. For example, we are urged to call people even if they don’t answer the phone. The grieving person may not feel like talking. But they appreciate knowing that you’ve called, even in only to leave a message. So call them regularly, even if it feels like you’re talking into space. You’re not.

But what I like best about the book is the back story.

Liz Aleshire lost her 16-year-old son to bone cancer. So she knows grief personally. For thirteen years, she carried the devastation of his loss.

And Liz died before her book was finished–literally of a broken heart. Health issues complicated a series of heart attacks that finally ended her life.

If that weren’t poignant enough, Liz’s book was finished after her death–by her friends. The members of her small writing group came together to care and support Liz through her trials. And they helped her finish the book. Careful to retain Liz’s distinctive “voice”, they wrote and edited from Liz’s outline and drafts, bringing the book to publication.

All of this is astonishing. But the final kicker is…

I know one of the authors
.

Paula Chaffee Scardamalia and I met when she interviewed me for an article in the May 2000 issue of The Crafts Report magazine. We were both taking our craft as far as we could, doing the show circuit, acquiring galleries to carry our work, etc. Everything was bright and shiny, all opportunities full with the promise of success.

I really enjoyed talking with her; she’s a fellow fiber artist, warm, insightful and a great writer. We emailed back and forth for awhile, but then we lost touch.

And then big things happened in the world, things that changed us deeply. Our ideas about “success” made a paradigm shift. Many of us now look in other places beyond fame and fortune for what the work of our hands can accomplish, in the world and in our hearts.

To see her name in this book was a wonderful example of synchronicity. I’ve learned that, just as I’ve added writing and hospice to my life, she does less weaving (mostly custom orders now) and more writing and life coaching.

She’s pleased that I find Liz’s book so appealing. It’s a reminder that the good we do lives after us. She hopes the book will find its way into the hands of more people.

Because grief eventually touches us all. Where there is love, or the hope of love, or the failure of love, there is grief. Only in indifference are we spared. And indifference is a high price to pay, to be spared the pain of grief.

And I marvel, once again, at how the threads of our lives touch, entwine, pass on…and touch again.

So here’s my shout-out for Liz’s book. I’m going to order extra copies for our hospice library. It’s already helped me out. I hope you’ll find it helpful, too.

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Filed under art, craft, death, hospice, lessons from hospice, life