Tag Archives: business

THE VERY BAD SADDLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But instead of getting easier, things got harder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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IDENTITY AND AUTHENTICITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me state here and now:

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

I do not know who did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned–“lively” is an understatement!

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WHAT’S IN A NAME?

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

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

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

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

I was turned down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was time for a change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aha!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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HOW TO TRADE WITH WITH OTHER ARTISTS

One of the nicest perks about being a craftsperson is trading stuff with other artists.

At its best, you get wonderful, beautiful works of art you might never afford on your own. I have some lovely pieces from top-notch artists, items that are totally out of my price range. And my own work now graces the homes of those very same artists.

It’s also a great way to “pay” the people who help me out by working in my booth at shows. Sometimes they fall in love with the work of another craftsman. Trading my work for that often works better for me than paying my assistant outright.

At its worst, however, there is embarrassment, frustration and hurt feelings. What can go wrong? Let me count the ways….

It’s not your style.
Someone asks you if you’d like to trade, you say yes, and then realize their work is not to your taste. You get to their booth and realize there is nothing there you want. (You can get around this by using their stuff as gifts for other people, but it’s just not as much fun as an “emotionally balanced” swap.)

It’s not to your standards. It’s just not as well-made or executed as you thought.

It’s not comparable in price. By that I mean you may not want to trade one of your $600 wall hangings for fifty $10 mugs, no matter how lovely they are. Or vice versa.

It may be unrealistic in price. Or the work might be hugely overpriced, something that sometimes happens with new craftspeople. They see something in the marketplace priced at $1,000 and think, “Oh, I can sell mine for that, too!” Maybe yes. Maybe…not.

Someone very new to the industry once offered their product in trade, naming a price equal to one of my $600 wall hangings. They really wanted a fiber piece, and insisted it was a fair trade.

In a nice way, I demurred but they persisted. They just wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Finally, I said, “Look, your work is nice but I’ve exhibited and sold my work for over a decade. I’ve won awards. I’ve been published. This is the going price for this piece. I know I can sell it for this much money. It’s proven itself in the marketplace.

You’re just starting out, you’ve never exhibited or sold your work, you just made this and put a price on it. It’s not a medium I like or collect. So it may very well be worth that much–but not to me.

Fortunately, he got it, and we’ve stayed friends. Whew!

Bottom line–You just don’t want their stuff.

But even when you DO want their stuff, things can still go terribly wrong. Perhaps because….

The person is whacko. (Sorry, no other way to put it.) One of my most excruciating trades was a woman who approached me at a wholesale show, asking to trade some jewelry for her beautiful fabric purses. I knew her work and loved it. I went to her booth, selected a purse (checking again to make sure that was okay with her) and invited her back to choose her goodies. She chose several pieces and left.

What’s embarrassing about that?, you may well ask. Well, a few hours later, she stomped into my booth with my jewelry and tersely demanded the bags back, saying she’d “changed her mind”. I never found out what that was about, but it felt awful.

Whatever the circumstances, when things are out of balance, it gets difficult. There you are, standing there stammering like an idiot, trying to figure out how to get out of the swap. And everyone feels bad.

Here’s a simply way to set the stage so everyone can feel good about a trade:

Say NO first.

If I am asked to trade, I always start off by thanking the person for wanting to trade, what an honor, etc. Then I say no.

It may look like this:

I’m so honored you want to trade–I’m delighted you like my work! And I really, really wish I could. Unfortunately, I’m extremely strapped for cash this season. So I can’t do any trading at this show. I’m so sorry!

I always offer a discount to fellow exhibitors and show employees, always, so I let them know that, too

Then when I get a chance, I come over to look at their stuff.

If my answer is still “no”–If it’s not my taste, or if I can’t use it for gifts, whatever, I just make cooing noises (“So pretty! Maybe next year….”) and leave.

If it’s something I want I say “yes.” “You know, I really shouldn’t because I’m so broke–but I just LOVE your stuff, so if you still want to trade, I’d be willing to trade with YOU!”

See how much better that sounds?

Saying “NO”, then “YES” works better than saying “YES”, then “NO”.

If I initiate the trade, I don’t ask outright, forcing them to say “yes” or “no” on the spot. I’ll say, “If you’d be interested in trading, let me know.” And then I leave so they don’t have to respond.

In fact, it’s even better if they’re busy with a customer, or not even in their booth. I’ll discreetly leave a business card or postcard at their booth. The card has an image of my work and my booth number, and “Do you trade?” I don’t follow up. If the person wants to trade, they can respond. If not, I’ll never know if it was because they didn’t want to or they didn’t have time, or they couldn’t afford to.

The “left card” approach works for me because it gives the person an idea of what I do. They have time to think about it. And they can come by and browse without pressure.

I like these approaches because….

Nobody’s feelings are hurt if I (or they) don’t want to trade. Everyone involved gets a graceful “out” if they need it.

When I say no and then “change my mind”, it’s an even greater compliment to the person I’m trading with. (“I won’t trade with just anyone, but I’d love to trade with YOU!”)

Even if I don’t want to trade this time, I’ve left the door open for future trades. (Because you never know….!!)

The biggest benefit of all?

It’s true.

I can’t afford to trade with everyone and anyone. I do always need cash.

It’s also easy to modify–I can say, “I can’t afford trade a $600 wall hanging this year, but I could do a trade in the $100 range….” Or do a partial trade, $100-$200 in trade and the balance in cash. Whatever.

And if any trade-willing fellow exhibitors are reading this, OY!!!! My secret is out!!!

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HOW TO BE MORE PRODUCTIVE Part 2

Part Deux in how to raise the art of procrastination to a fever pitch, my column in yesterday’s Fine Art Views newsletter.

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THE FIFTH STAGE OF COMPETENCE

Are you ready to start all over again?

I’m really hooked on the Four Stages of Competence and I’ve written about them a lot.

Years ago, I received this remarkable little set of learning stages as a handout in a martial arts class:

Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence

It’s so easy! The joyous stage of the beginner, when you simply jump in and start a new endeavour. You feel full of promise and potential–“Hey! I have a real a knack for this!” You may have some natural talent, or you just may not realize how bad you really are. Beginner’s luck falls into this category, too.

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence

It gets hard. It begins to dawn on you how hard this stuff really is, and how much there is to learn. You become painfully aware of how inadequate your performance really is. ***Most people quit at this stage of learning. “I can’t do this!” or “I’m no good at this!”***

Stage 3 Conscious Competence

You keep working at it. You have acquired skill, but you have to think about it, and practice it, until you get to that most amazing place…

Stage 4 Unconscious Competence

You master your craft. Your techniques have become automatic. Your body simply knows what to do, and works in sync with your mind to achieve even greater heights. You know now that learning this skill is a life-long pursuit, and your studies have really just begun.

This handout changed my life. I still pursue my art and the martial arts, knowing that only perseverance, practice and passion will get me to that glorious final stage–and beyond.

It was a big “aha!” moment when I learned most people quit at the second stage–me included. Knowing that, I now try to stick with something I really want to learn.

And when we watch someone who’s mastered their craft, we say they “make it look easy”–whether it’s a practiced potter raising the clay; an artist talking passionately about their work; or a black belt throwing a spinning back kick to the head. They make it look effortless.

Because, at that stage of their mastery, it is. They don’t have to think about it–they just do it.

What we don’t see is the 10,000 hours of practice (a theory proposed by psychologist Eric Andersson, who studied “expertise”) and the dedication they gave to perfect that skill.

So where did I come up with the Fifth Stage of Competence?

Recently I’ve had a chance to watch some extremely talented people, people who are experts at what they do, try to learn something new.

They brought skills that would translate well to their new venture: Analytical minds, perseverance, physical skill and fitness. In many ways, they were able to master the new venture more quickly, with less time and effort than it had taken me.

But they still struggled. Because there were still key elements that were foreign to them, things they had to learn simply by putting in the time. Things they had to master by simply doing them, over and over and over again.

What struck me was how quickly they got stuck–and quit.

Now, I know we can’t all spend 10,000 on any old thing that crosses our path.

And I know we have to have some attraction to the thing, something that helps us get through those oh-so-difficult stages of incompetency (especially that nasty second stage.)

Even so, the Fifth Stage is…..

Being able–being willing–to be a beginner again.

Being very good at starting over.

P.S. Now imagine my embarrassment when my daughter tried to teach me swing dancing last month, and two minutes into it I protested, “I’m just no good at this!”

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WE CAN ALWAYS USE ANOTHER HERO

We all need a hero.

And we can all BE a hero.

Although I love that Tina Turner song from the movie Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, I have to disagree…

We do need another hero. Lots of ‘em.

I’m often asked how I got started making my art, and I’ll share it here.

I was the typical “class artist” throughout grade school, drawing at every opportunity. (Mostly horses, come to think of it.) Then drawing for other kids (“Draw a dog for me!” “Can you draw a mouse?”) Then cartoons for the school newspaper (and writing a funny column, come to think of it).

I couldn’t wait to go to college, so I could learn to be an artist. (Our school’s art programs constantly fell victim to budget cuts, so I had very little access to making “real” art.) That didn’t happen, for a lot of reasons, none of them very good in hindsight.

And so I left my art as a young person. Mostly because I believed so many MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS.

I backed away from it later because when I stayed home with my children, it was so very very hard to make time for anything beyond trying to be a good wife and a good mother. (Raise your hand if you’ve ever introduced yourself as “(your child’s name here)’s mom”. I still introduce myself to some people as “Doug’s mom” and “Robin’s mom”.)

There was barely time to knit a hat or finish a project before I had to clear the table for lunch, or dinner, let alone take on any serious or involved ventures.

I actually got to the point where I decided to simply focus on good wife/good mom, and wait til there was more time/money/opportunity to do differently.

I thought it was the right thing to do. There was some relief in “letting go” of that dream.

But something in me was sad, too. I pushed it down and tried to forget about it.

Shortly after that, as I watched my darlin’ three-year-old daughter at play, I found myself daydreaming about her…

What would her life be like? It seemed to spread before us like a tiny brook, growing into a mighty river.

What kind of person would she be? I hoped she’d be the same person she was now: Quiet but deep-thinking; shy but fierce in her beliefs; talented in so many ways; loving yet independent; quirky, different, her own person, comfortable in her own skin.

What kind of work would she do? There were so many possibilities.

Who would she love? Would she marry, too? I hoped she’d find someone who would respect her strengths and encourage her dreams. I hoped she’d find a loving partner who would let her shine, who would let her simply be herself.

And then an epiphany whacked me right over the head. Three big questions tumbled into my brain. In big glowing capital letters.

1) Did my mother want that for me when I was young?
(I still don’t know the answer to that one. I was the oldest of seven, there may not have been time to spend daydreaming!)

2) How could I want that for my daughter, and not want that for myself?

3) How will my daughter know what that looks like–to be all she can be–if I didn’t model that for her?

I knew I had to be a hero for my daughter. And for me.

I knew I had to be authentic for my daughter. And for me.

That was the day I knew I had to be an artist. Or die.

That was the day I knew it didn’t even matter if I would be a good artist. I just had to do it.

It’s a perfect inspirational story for parents. These are powerful questions for breaking through the barriers we erect between ourselves and our dreams. It’s amazing to see the look of shocked enlightenment on the face of something who “gets it”:

“What am I teaching my kid??”

Are you actually teaching them to NOT live their dream? (Because you’re not?)

Are you showing them they shouldn’t try if they think they might fail? (Beause you’re afraid to?)

Are you telling them that someone else’s needs always outweigh their own? (Because that’s what you always do?)

Ow. Ow. OW!!

If you don’t have kids of your own, maybe this would be helpful:

“Someone–somewhere–is looking to you to be a hero.”

Maybe someone we care about deeply. Maybe not.

Sometimes it’s easier to be brave for someone else we care about, braver than we would normally choose for ourselves. Hopefully, as we grow older/wiser/more evolved, we choose to follow our power because that’s the right thing to do. (See the Martha Graham quote here.

But til then, altruism can be a force for good that’s also good for us.

Be someone’s hero. Be your own hero.

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