LEARNING TO SEE: An Art-Making Class with Kristina Wentzell

I painted my very first picture this week. (I mean, I tried to paint a unicorn flying around a mountain in high school but it sucked big time.)

My friend and co-Keene Art Tour founder Kristina Wentell teaches painting classes–the kind where she walks you through the steps and you go home with a painting that same day. It was fun, I enjoyed it very much, and I like my painting enough that I took it in to Creative Encounters to be framed. I’ll post the finished piece when I get it back.

In the meantime, read about my experiences here on Kristina’s blog.

I realize I’ve never taken a painting class before because they’re always a long, drawn-out affair–you learning to paint. Kristina shows you how to paint a replica of her painting. No, it doesn’t make you an artist. But you get a sense of what it looks like, and what it feels like, to create a painting. And that’s what just might pull you in to pursue it more.

Plus you go home with your own little “masterpiece” that night. Near-instant gratification!

I can has a painting!

I can has a painting!

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COMPLETING THE CIRCLE: You With Your Art, Your Art With Your Customer

I love it when it's so crowded in my booth, you can't even see me!

I love it when it’s so crowded in my booth, you can’t even see me!

Yesterday I wrote this column for Fine Art Views. It’s about the excuses we make when it comes to selling our art. (It’s part of a series I’ve written about why you should do open studios.

One of the comments caught my attention big time. To paraphrase, the reader said, “Making art is so very different from selling it.”

It may seem that way. Many artists believe it.

But actually, no. It really isn’t different.

Art-making is a circle: You make the art, you get your art into the world in all kinds of ways and manner…to connect your to an audience.

Selling is simply one way of connecting your work to an audience. It’s part of the creative process.

As artists, we think of the “making” as the creative part–often our favorite part! We’ve learned to see what others may not see. By capturing a moment, a trick of the light, a feeling, we urge others to look more closely. By sharing an image that sparks a memory, an idea, an insight, we connect that spark to others.

Yes, we may make art for what it does for us. Perhaps we feel more human, or more whole, or simply happier.

But art is bigger than us. Art is bigger when it connects to others.

When I create work inspired by ancient cave paintings, there is a deepening in myself I can actually feel. But what really breaks my heart wide open is when others see what I see, feel what I feel. For a brief moment, the “I” inside me connects to the “I” inside you.

Art is meant to be shared. (Only when we fear being ridiculed, or punished, or ignored, do we hide it. Because that could be painful for us in so many ways!) We make it, but for the real work to happen, it has to get out into the world. (Did I say “work”?? I really mean “miracle”! Bear with me….)

When our world was much smaller, it was pretty easy for others to see what we made. We knew who the artist/shaman was in our little community. We knew who made the most beautiful weavings, or carvings, whether functional or pure adornment.

The difference now is, the world is a lot bigger, our communities more diverse. We just have to work a little harder.

And so we do exhibitions and shows. We have websites. We send out postcards, and catalogs, and mailings. We create publicity with press releases and events like art receptions, open studios and installations.

And we try to sell our work. (Not all art is sold, of course, nor does all art have to be sold. But when it is–oh my!)

Some of us hate this entire connection process, especially the selling part. Others find it just as creative as the actual making. I do! I love how much people enjoy my postcards. I like welcoming people into my studio. I enjoy reading people’s reactions to a post I’ve made or an image I’ve shared on Facebook.

Where most of us get stuck is getting people to actually buy the stuff.

But if you look at selling as a creative process, too, it becomes a logical outcome of our entire creativity circle. Hopefully, recognizing it will make it more enjoyable–or at least less frustrating!

“Selling? Creative?!”, I can almost hear you say. “What the….?!!!” Bear with me again!

First there is the creative process of story-telling: What we choose to tell people about our work. Some focus on the “how” and the “what”–How did we come to do this work, and how did we get here? (We focus on our resume and credentials.) What did we see, and how do we did we try to capture that? (We focus on our technique and skills.)

For me, the “why” creates more power: Why do I get inspiration from this cave? Why does making this work bring me joy? Why do I use the techniques and materials I use?

But that may not be enough. So here’s where the next creative process comes into play….

We create ways for our audience to make their own connections.

They are the ones who will assign new meaning to what we’ve made. They will fit it into their lives, their homes.

This is where we let our audience tell their story.

Now it’s time for us to ask them questions. Now we ask them the “why”.

Ask your buyer: What attracted you to my work? Why does it bring joy to you? What do you see? What does it remind you of? What does it say to you? And why do you desire to have it for yourself? What place in your home would you hang it, and why? If it’s a gift, why did you select this piece for that person? Who is this person to you, that you are giving them such an amazing gift?

And when they come back to you next year for more, they will have even more to tell you. What else they’ve noticed. How it’s influenced, or even changed them. What other people have said about it. How much the friend enjoyed it.

These are the foundation blocks of the selling process. We establish a way for our audience to connect emotionally, spiritually, to us, and to our work.

When I first started getting my work out into the world, it took me awhile to get this concept. I thought it was all about me, the artist. And so I talked as much as people let me. I sold quite a bit of my work, so I figured it was what worked.

But one day I realized something was missing.

I was focused totally on my experience. I was not giving attention to my customer’s experience.

When I stopped talking and started actively listening, I was astonished by what I heard.

People saw things I hadn’t seen. They told stories I hadn’t thought of. Their connection to what I’d made was just as powerful as the connection I had through making it.

People always ask me what the markings mean on my artifacts. I had my thoughts. But I was astonished what other people saw–sometimes with profound possibilities. Some folks saw musical notation–and now we know how important sound was to ancient people. Some saw a map. A child saw constellations.

The Lascaux Bull now thought to depict the world's first star map (Taurus, of course!)

The Lascaux Bull now thought to depict the world’s first star map (Taurus, of course!)

None of these had ever occurred to me. Yet now I can’t see those markings without a ginormous sense of wonder. A miracle has occurred….

My world was changed and enriched by their connection.

Now when I sell a piece of my work, whether it’s a $50 pair of earrings or a $2,000 framed piece, there is a satisfaction way beyond the actual money transaction. (Although when someone exchanges with me their hard-earned money for my work, that is high praise indeed!)

The satisfaction comes from my feeling the circle is complete.

So why did I mention miracles earlier?

Because miracles are a shift in perspective, from fear to love.

Here is the final miracle:

We can lose the fear of selling. And instead, we can embrace the deep, powerful connection with the world, it represents.

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MY MONKEY DISCLAIMER (and my new bumper sticker)

Some readers have been asking what the heck is going on with the monkey thing. (You can read the previous two posts here

I just wanted to clarify that the most recent event is not the bigger event. It was just a tiny piece of straw on the camel’s back.

Every year, it seems I “take on” a friend in need. I pour all my extra energy into helping them take “that next step”. I totally get that sometimes it’s a way to distract myself from my own stuff. But sometimes it’s just about being there for someone who needs you.

When it works, they step forward. And I step back. They’re grateful, but they don’t need my support more anymore. I know I did the right thing, and we both move on.

Sometimes it ends badly. I get that, too. That’s the whole a reason, a season, a lifetime story when it comes to friendships.

The biggest one, the one that really blew my powder keg, was almost a year ago. It hit very close to home. So close, I don’t want to publish the details on the internet. I apologized for getting upset (but not for saying my truth). I am very proud that, despite my anger, I left certain words unsaid (which I can’t say for the other people involved.) ‘Nuff said.

The circus/monkey mantra thing simply saved me from going any deeper into the latest, more recent circus/monkey things.

I don’t blame the people involved. I will never stop “being there” for people when I feel the call.

And I don’t blame myself. I’m usually pretty good at getting out before things go south.

But sometimes I overstay my welcome. And that’s why I ordered a new bumper sticker yesterday. It says, “Not my circus. Not my monkeys.”

You can get yours at Zazzle.com!

You can get yours at Zazzle.com!

Right next to the one that says, “Brake for moose, it could save your life.”

I love it when we drive to Pennsylvania, because it puzzles people.

I love it when we drive to Pennsylvania, because it puzzles people.

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MORE ABOUT THAT: Circuses, Monkeys, Big Effin’ Fence

This is my circus. Please note: No monkeys. (I gave them all to Barb G.) Any monkeys involved are YOUR monkeys. Thank you.

This is my circus. Please note: No monkeys. (I gave them all to Barb G.) Any monkeys involved are YOUR monkeys. Thank you.

So my post the other day on the frustration of not being accepted for who you are, and not being respected for what you know, was actually more like hurt feelings and anger.

I got that as soon as I wrote it. (That’s why I write, after all. To figure all this stuff out.)

But it felt wonderful to be able to say, “It hurts! And you were only allowed to hurt me because I trusted you! Because I thought I had something useful to share, information that could help YOU!!”

The next day came this new mantra:

Not my circus. Not my monkeys.

That’s when I realized everything that was hurting me and stressing me, were things I’d picked up. Things I wanted to fix. Things I thought I could help with. (Hell’s bells, where did my hospice training go??!!)

I had the experience, I had the knowledge, I had the training, I’d even made it through the aftermath. Surely someone might benefit from that! (After all, part of my mission is that I some share things I’ve learned the hard way, so that you don’t always have to….)

And I ended up in someone else’s circus, with someone else’s monkeys.

So what do you do when you want to be open and you want to be vulnerable, so something new can come in? But you’re also sick and tired of said heart being emotionally and spiritually trampled?

Here comes the next step in my mailbox today: “Open, gentle heart. Big fucking fence.”

Danielle LaPorte is much braver and fierce than I am. I’m in awe of her.

I see where she’s going with this, and I want to go there, too. I’m going to keep that practice, of doing the work and growing. I’ll be brave, and I’ll do the work.

But the big fence is okay, too. You don’t get in until you show me you can act respectfully of what is being given. And if you do make a mess, and don’t clean up after yourself?

well, that’s my own damn fault for believing you were who you say your are.

I wasn’t wrong for giving you the benefit of the doubt. But I will be slower about letting you in the next time, and quicker to boot you out if you fustlecate. (I just made that up.)

Just in time. Because right now things are hard. But they don’t have to be.

Deep breath.

Let it go.

And get back out there, back into the game.
Into the big wide open adventure of my life.

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Filed under life lessons, not my circus and not my monkeys

YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT!

Just so you know I'm not perfect:  I am not proud that I will not admit I really can't cut my own bangs....  And yes, I know that's a double--no wait, a TRIPLE-negative.

Just so you know I’m not perfect: I am not proud that I will not admit I really can’t cut my own bangs…. And yes, I know that’s a double–no wait, a TRIPLE-negative.


Often when I look back at a particular difficult time in my life, I realize there was something deep going on. There was a major life lesson involved. Something I was struggling to understand.

I could read about it. I could see it. I could hear what other people said about it.

But I hadn’t quite gotten to the point where I knew it in my own heart. I didn’t have that “aha!” moment, that little insight, the recognition of, “So that’s what this is about!”

And of course, the recognition of what’s going on isn’t enough. You can’t stop there. Nope, you have to practice it, over and over, until you finally, really, really get it.

Here is one example: Years ago, I had a boyfriend who worked at a “campy” store in town. His coworkers were tight, and socialized often. I would tag along. They were a good group to hang with.

There was one woman, a little older than the rest of us “20-somethings”, who was respected and liked by all of us. There was only one little problem… She was often brusque with me, and rarely talked to me.

I asked my then-boyfriend about it, and he was mystified. I noticed she didn’t treat anyone else this way. I resolved to be even friendlier and nicer to her.

One evening after work, she showed her medical illustration portfolio to us. Her drawings were astonishing, and I told her so. “Yeah, thanks,” she replied shortly. “No, really, they’re very good!” I said. She turned away. I sat there, baffled at being rebuffed yet again.

And then it hit me, out of the blue, like a ton of bricks.

She didn’t like me.

I know you’re probably also thinking, “Well, doh, Luann! What was your first clue, darlin’?!”

But I had been clueless. Because I’d always been pleasant and obliging. Because I couldn’t think of a single reason why she should dislike me.

But though I didn’t know the why, I certainly recognized the what. Everything that had puzzled me became crystal clear and obvious. Like tapping that last little puzzle piece into place.

After that, I left her alone. I quit trying to “win her over”, because I realized that was salt in the wound to her. I still liked and respected her, but I accepted the fact that she didn’t like or respect me. Years later, I found out some of the “why”, and it had very little to do with me. That’s another story, and another life lesson.

But back to this life lesson.

Here is what happens when you listen (to someone who does know what they’re talking about: A few years ago, I found myself in a rattled state about my artwork and my art biz. I had a session with life coach Quinn McConald, of QuinnCreative.

I listed all the things I was stuck on. Then I said, “Oh, and for some reason I feel compelled to sign up for hospice volunteer training, and I have no idea what that’s about!” Quinn bookmarked that and returned to it later.

She asked if I were a perfectionist, and I said yes. Who doesn’t want to always do their best??

“The trouble with being a perfectionist,” she said, “is that you are full of ‘knowing’. And when you are full of knowing, nothing new can come in.”

Let me repeat that amazing, seemingly-simple little sentence….

When you are full of ‘knowing’, nothing new can come in.

That simple thought allowed me to be wide open to the hospice training. I understood I was entering this realm with complete ignorance. No expectations, no assumptions. Just humility, and a willing heart. A heart willing to be open, to be WRONG, to be taught, to be filled.

That little moment of understanding, of recognition, of clarity, is a blessing. There is a clarity. The story you’ve made up about “all that” is wrong. And now you have an opportunity to get better, to do better, to learn something new.

This transformation does not happen when you’re busy trying to be the smartest person in the room.

This is my current life theme.

I am accepting that I don’t always know. That there are things I think I know, that I really don’t know.

And I’m willing to learn.

I’m learning that some people who have been very dear to me, are themselves full of knowing. More painfully, I am seeing that they are not letting anything new come in. Especially not from me.

Because when you try to talk with people who are “full of knowing”, their argument is something this:

Who do you think you are?!

That stops the discussion, doesn’t it? If people don’t believe you have anything to say that would contribute to their understanding, it all ends there. If they believe they know more than you do, without bothering to ask, or listen, to what you do know, it all stops.

What do we say to that?

We say, “Who do I have to be?

There are people with no experience with sociopathic behavior, no knowledge of how they work. People with little experience with or knowledge of sexual abuse and sexual predators. They’ve never been trained to work with people with illness, with dementia, with alcoholism, and they don’t understand it. They don’t see the signs when it sits across the table from them.

I was one of those people. I still am, about so many, many things.

Now I know better. I know the areas where I still need guidance. I know I still have a lot to learn.

But I also now know what “blaming the victim” looks like. I now know what “killing the messenger” looks like. I now know what happens when you leave a group. I now know how to genuinely apologize. And I now know what a real apology is, and what isn’t.

And unfortunately, this means I also know what happens when you try to enlighten people who inherently don’t believe you have anything useful to say.

It hurts when I engage with people who are so convinced they know better, they will actually stop believing I am who I show myself to be. For example, I do not knowingly cause physical or emotional pain, even with people I find difficult. I may feel like being mean, but I rarely do or say mean things, not deliberately. (Okay, stuff slips out now and then, okay?!)

I do not argue with people lightly. In fact, I tend to back down, so I don’t lose my temper and say something that cannot be unsaid. When I do speak up, it’s when I realize there is a chance I can change the dynamic. Otherwise, I may seethe, but I rarely act. So when I’m accused of “being mean”, I am aghast.

I am not a lazy dog owner, I am not a cruel dog owner, and I’m not a “clueless” dog owner. But two Facebook “friends” called me that today. (Really, people?!) They totally dismissed my own experience with the discussion topic, and similar evidence given by others. Would they say those things to me, to my face? I doubt it. It’s easy to be dismissive on Facebook. It’s like giving someone the finger while driving. But if you wouldn’t sat it to me directly, don’t say it to me Facebook.

I’ve been called “over-sensitive”. I’ve been told that, as a redhead, I have a short temper. (What’s the excuse now that my hair is red by the miracle of modern chemistry? Oh…right. Genetically I have a redhead’s temper.) I’ve been told I don’t know what I’m talking about.

So…

Who do I have to be? And if you don’t respect what I do know, what I do have expertise in, what I have learned, then I can’t talk to you. Because you can’t–or won’t–hear me anyway.

This is what it’s about, my current life lesson. This is where I am right now. And this is why I’m here.

Yes, we all have blind spots. We may never completely “know” ourselves.

But I’m guessing that you, like me, have often seen a shadow, a reflection, the secondary evidence that there is something you’ve made assumptions about, the suspicion that maybe, just maybe, you are w*r*o*n*g. You get a moment of doubt, a sliver of insight that maybe there’s another side, another angle, to what you “know” to be true. And that maybe somebody else has more information, more experience, more insight than you do right now. One of the smartest thing I ever did was to admit how little I really knew about alcoholism. I thought I knew, then realized I knew nothing. So I asked a few trusted friends who did know, for advice. I listened, deeply, and well. Thank you forever, Karen. Thank you forever, Mary Ellen.

Here’s another tip-off: When you realize you don’t know quite as much as you think you do, do you bluster? Do you get defensive? Do you attack the other person before they can have their say? Do you call them “over-sensitive” and blame them for the difficulty between you? Do you dismiss them as “not as experienced as you”, when in reality, you do not know of what you speak? Do you find yourself always blaming others for your woes?

Does your conscience squeak just a little?

Do you ever wonder if maybe a little more knowledge, a little more insight, a little more understanding, might get you to where your heart really wants to go?

I want to learn from people that really do know more than me. I’m willing to ask the dumb question. Humility is hard, hard, hard. Especially when you are bright, knowledgeable, skilled. You have to allow yourself to be vulnerable in order to grow. It takes practice. And the practice never stops.

And the people who are willing to do the same with me? I respect them 100%. This is part of “doing the work”. Being willing to ask. Being willing to listen. Being willing to learn.

Being open to what you don’t know.

Not trying to always be the smartest person in the room.

Those who don’t know what they’re talking about? And don’t know what I’m talking about here? They have their work to do. If it hurts me to be around them right now, well, that’s where I am. I have my own work to do. I can’t pick up theirs.

And all I can do is to write, to share, to give, to those people who are in the same place I am. People who are open to what I have to say. People who are also willing to look into the dark place in themselves that are filled with excuses.

People who think that maybe, just maybe, once in awhile….
I may know what I’m talking about.

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Filed under advice on getting advice, life lessons, not my circus and not my monkeys, perfectionism

WHAT’S YOUR EXCUSE? Lessons From the Open Studio

Only in my studio can you see the largest collection of beaver-chewed-sticks in NH...maybe the world!!

Only in my studio can you see the largest collection of beaver-chewed-sticks in NH…maybe the world!! (This is just a small sample….)


I’ve heard every excuse in the book on why you don’t want to have an open studio. I’ve used a few of them myself!

But most of them aren’t very good excuses.

So here’s the first in a series of responses to your favorite excuse. Check out my response to “I don’t have a local audience!”, at my bi-weekly column at Fine Art Views.

And if you’re open to it, there will be plenty more to come! Enjoy.

Related posts:
“Be An Art Hero”
Open the Door to Your Studio & Your Heart for The Crafts Report.

More beautiful sticks in my studio. Aren't they amazing?!

More beautiful sticks in my studio. Aren’t they amazing?!

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Filed under Lessons from the Open Studio, No more excuses!

THE NUMBERS GAME

Seth Godin wrote a wonderfully succinct article today on why you need to look past the numbers when you evaluate your success.

A few days ago, the hosts of a Itty Biz explained why you shouldn’t worry about people unsubscribing from your blog. (Short story: Your message is never going to appeal to everybody, but it will always appeal to somebody.

Years ago, I did the nation’s largest wholesale craft show. When the economy tanked, so did my sales. (Actually, things tanked for everybody. Not just me. Not just other craftspeople. I need to remember it’s not always about me…..bigtime.)

At one particular show, I was counting up the things that had gone well: I picked up a prestigious gallery a customer introduced me to. A well-respected craft publishing company tapped me to do freelance work for them. And so on. A veteran exhibitor sneered, “Yeah, but how much MONEY did you make? That’s what counts! Quit putting a fluffy happy face on it.” Deflated, I confessed to the show manager that I must be a flop. She said, “Is money the only measure of your success?”

Hmmmmm….. Good question.

Money is important. Sales are important. Customers are important.

Paying your mortgage, putting food on the table, being able to care for those who depend on your are important. Not being in debt is important.

But they aren’t important because “I have more than you” or because “You’re not as famous as I am” or “He’s more important because his bank balance is bigger.”

We all have a place in the world.

The best work of our heart has a place in the world.

Sometimes, the smallest gesture of human kindness can change the world.

True courage is pursuing your dreams, doing the work, getting the work of your creative spirit, out into the world.

True faith is believing it is worthwhile, even if you cannot see where the ripples go or how far they travel.

Numbers are good. But only when you understand they are only an imperfect measure of something much, much deeper, bigger, more mysterious and profound:

The impact of our words, our actions, our art, on the world.

The framed work continues to grow in popularity.  (And I love making them!)

The framed work continues to grow in popularity. (And I love making them!)

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