Tag Archives: mental attitude

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.

3 Comments

Filed under art, business, craft, mental attitude, selling to stores, shows

WAITING FOR THE COOL: That Copying Thing Again

CONCRETE ADVICE FOR HOW TO SUPPORT ARTISTS….

Sometimes–no wait, always–it’s a good idea to cool down before you speak your mind.

A few weeks ago, not one, but TWO small drama played out in my studio.

At the very same time I was dealing with someone using my identity to post disparaging and rude remarks about another person…

…It felt like someone else was publicly scolding me on a professional polymer website for me getting upset about people copying my work.

Their article was written in response to MY article, What is the Story Only You Can Tell?

If this is confusing, the chain of events were 1) I write the “What is the Story Only You Can Tell” article; 2) I get an emotional phone call from the victim of the identity theft issue; 3) I wrote an article about the experience; 4) Kerrie read my WITSOYCT article and publishes her response on the IPCA website; 5) I found the article and wrote my response to Kerrie’s article; 6) and now I’m publishing this article. Got it? Whew!

My first emotional response was the lizard brain talkin’. Anger. Resentment. Fear. Even humiliation. And my first article draft in response showed that clearly. With brutal sarcasm and my debate team finesse, I quickly tore apart every argument offered in the article that defended copying.

Fortunately, I WAS embroiled in that identity-borrowing thing. It kept me from immediately publishing my response to Kerrie’s article. The identity thing was a very prickly situation, involving a group of rowdy local activists a sane person just wants to avoid at all costs. In the end, as upset as I was, I resigned myself to damage control–and moved on.

But I was delayed in writing that original response to Kerrie. And I’m soooooo glad.

I realized the identity issue all started because a person had written in anger, fear, resentment, and perhaps a haze of alcohol. (Not Kerrie! The anonymous poster identity-blurring person.)

They may not have even deliberately chosen to “look like me”–as Katherine Tyrrell (whose Making a Mark blog is an astonishing artist resource) posted in my blog comments, it looked like a clumsy effort to use one of my blog articles to bolster their argument, and that came off as appearing like “me”.

So I sat on my hands for a day or two. The anger dissipated. Cooler heads (not Bobohead Lizardbrain) prevailed.

Instead of the wrathful diatribe I’d prepared, I wrote a nicer article in response to Kerrie’s article. I hope it’s nicer. I meant it to be. You can read the discussion in full here. And you can be the judge.

I wanted to write a better response, because I realized, after much deep thinking about where my anger, fear and pain came from, the real issue is our current culture’s LACK OF SUPPORT for artists.

DIY (Do-It-Yourself) and “I can do that!” prevail. “That’s so cool, I want to make that, too!” The internet makes it soooooo easy to do that, too.

I’ve actually had visitors to my booth pressure me to tell them exactly how I make my horses, because they want to make them, too. Their attitude is I actually owe it to others to share.

Aside from the fact that I choose other ways to share, this attitude is the extreme end of this condition:

This a very natural, very HUMAN response to the new, the beautiful, the powerful. We want it for ourselves. We want to touch it, do it, have it. We want it to be a part of us, in any way we can. We all feel this. And throughout time, all humans have. It’s part of being human.

After all, didn’t I respond to the cave of Lascaux with my own desire to make work that would resonate in the hearts of others long after I am gone?

It’s what we do, and where we go with that natural, human response that’s important.

My request is simple:

Rather than give in to the notion the artist owes us something…(beyond what they’ve already done by bringing their work into the world…)

Instead of “using up” the artists whose work inspires this in us….

Instead of only seeing these artists as a source of great ideas for our own amusement and use….

Instead of just viewing the work of these artists as a sort of “cosmic clip art”….

Why don’t we REWARD them for their efforts?

Why not give back to them, for the joy they’ve given us?

Why don’t we figure out some way to support them, whether that be financial, emotional or spiritual support?

We should consider supporting them….If only so they’ll keep making the beautiful work that inspires us. (It’s okay to be a little self-serving in our altruism.)

So in the end, I’m glad I waited to respond. (And, after reading my eventual response, maybe I could have even waited a few more days. I still sound exasperated. (But hopefully, not as angry.)

I truly appreciate the support and the good wishes of all involved.

Copying is a spectrum of behaviors and decisions–some useful, some unavoidable, and some outright hurtful. I know everyone’s intentions were good, and I hope this all brings about the desired result–a CONSTRUCTIVE dialog about copying, and one that helps people make thoughtful decisions.

So, taking my own words of advice, and being open to the gifts in front of us, I thank Kerrie for her honesty, for putting into words what many of us think when we justify our actions.

I thank her for loving my work.

And I thank her, and the International Polymer Clay Association for giving me the chance to publicly respond.

I am grateful I had the chance to work through this issue, and get to the other side. The place where I should be….

…In a place where I can leave this behind, and go make my art…

…And tell the story only I can tell.

15 Comments

Filed under art, choices, copycats, craft, creativity, mental attitude, mindfulness, What is the story only you can tell?

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #13: One Big Break is All You Need

Myth: If only I could get into X Gallery/get Famous Person Y to see my work/get a website, I would be successful!

Reality: No one person, event or venue will make or break your vision.

When I first started showing and selling my art, I read these very wise words somewhere:

Every day you will find an opportunity to move your art/biz forward. Every day you will overlook an opportunity to move your art/biz forward.

I quote them now because a reader posted this comment on my blog recently, and with her permission, I reprint it here:

Hello, again! I get what you’re saying, Luann, I really do. But right now I’m really in a down space.

Filled with excitement, I opened up a space in Etsy back in September thinking that *there* I would find people who would see value in handspun hand-dyed yarn. They do, apparently–there are lots of other spinners on Etsy–but evidently they don’t see any value in mine.

Lots of looks, a few hearts, no sales.

One part of me is bugging me to get busy and make more yarn, but the other part of me is saying, “Why make MORE beautiful yarn that no one will want to buy? What’s the point of doing that, when no one wants what I’ve already made?”

I’m sorry for dumping on you my own pity-party, but I need someone who is an artist and “gets it” to vent to. ..

Maybe the Lord is trying to tell me to give up and become a boring housewife who grades papers and washes dishes and remembers when she used to make beautiful stuff. I don’t know.

Dear Reader, I give you permission to wallow for awhile. Things do get hard, and we all get discouraged. (See Myth #14 about this.) (Not yet, I haven’t written it yet!!)

But I can assure you wholeheartedly that the Lord is not telling you to stay small and regret your lost dreams. :-)

Sometimes we take that leap and many things fall into place. Sometimes we take that leap–and things stay hard.

In fact, that is the major purpose of my blog: To chronicle my journey pursuing my art, with honestly and self-examination. And hopefully, a huge helping of inspiration.

Because, as my husband pointed out to me a short while ago, we always hear about the instant overnight successes. (What I call the Cinderella stories.) And we also hear about the not-so-overnight success stories, where the hero struggles and perseveres, and finally gets a lucky break.

The point is, we already know how those stories end. We know the goal was achieved, because the tales are always told afterwards–not while the ball is actually in play.

My blog is all about the ball being in play. And sharing that process with you.

So here are some possible scenarios regarding this handspun yarn biz, but don’t take the “you” thing personally. These are just some things to think about:

1. When we stand at the beginning of our stories, we cannot see the end.

Sometimes, we can’t even see what our ultimate goal will be. Longtime readers may remember my sad little story about wishing my handknit toy sheep idea taking off.

And when they finally did, how I discovered how much I hated knitting toy sheep.

If your handspun biz where to be an instant hit, you could be locked into a business that takes too much time away from your other pursuits right now. Or you might find spinning is fun for a few hours a day, but not so much fun doing it all day. Maybe you’ll realize you like writing about the process, or teaching the process, more than making yarn to sell. (Although that piece of it will give you the insights you need to do the other stuff–writing, teaching, demonstrating, etc.) Maybe you’ll end up developing a therapy program with your skills. Who knows what the possibilities are?

So maybe right now you think your dream is to sell handspun yarn. But maybe even bigger things are in store for you.

2. We cannot tell what strategy will work, and which ones will peter out.

Etsy looks like a “sure thing” from the outside, but having an Etsy shop does not guarantee success.

We dream of getting into “that great gallery”, sure we will be successful if they would only represent our work. We dream of finding “the perfect show” where we will find all the buying customers we need. We know if only we had a great website, we would be flooded with orders.

In reality, there is no “perfect venue” or “perfect strategy”. There is simply another opportunity to try.

Maybe e-commerce will work for you. Or maybe your yarns would sell better “in person”–at small local shows, or certain events. (We have a big “Wool Tour” here in New Hampshire on Columbus Day weekend. People come from hundreds of miles to tour small farms, see llamas and sheep and angora goats and bunnies, and buy fleece, roving and finished yarns.) Maybe people need to touch your yarn to fully appreciate it first, and then you turn those customers into online customers with reorders.

Maybe a “new product release” about your yarns to a knitting or spinning magazine would bring interested buyers to your Etsy store.

3. We may be trying to sell to the wrong people.

Etsy is the biggest and best-known venue for handcraft. But it’s also a huge venue for vintage goods and craft supplies. And it’s a big shopping venue for other artists. So you may be inadvertently trying to sell to people who can make it themselves.

At a friend’s suggestion, I used Etsy as a way to sell to my current customers. I didn’t actually think I could join an already established, close-knit online community (no pun intended) and create a strong presence there.

Even so, I didn’t have a single sale on Etsy. I’m exploring other ways to sell online, and will use Etsy to offload my old supplies.

4. It just may take more time than you think.

Another reader posted a reply to the original comment, and it’s a good one. (In fact, I just realized I’ve repeated a lot of what Kerin said!! oops…)

And see item #1 above, where things taking time can be a good thing.

5. And sometimes it’s just hard.

It’s true–it’s just hard sometimes. There are days when we just feel like the universe is saying “no”.

But what does your heart say?

Because if you give up, there is only one thing that can happen: Nothing!

If you persevere, anything can happen. Including failure, but failure is not necessarily a bad thing. (Go back to the knitted sheep thing.)

#5: What is “success”, anyway? What does it mean to Y*O*U?

Right now you haven’t had any sales. Is that your only measure of success?

Have you learned how to spin and dye beautiful yarn? You’ve successfully developed a product.

Have you learned how to photograph it? Have you successfully uploaded images to a website? You’ve successfully done something millions of people have no idea how to do. (Since I lost my photographer, I’ve had to work on developing a whole nother skill set, and that learning curve is steep!)

Have you learned how to talk about it, write about it? You’ve learned how to pitch your product.

And have you learned how to create a unique product? Which leads us to….

#6. Are you telling your real story?

Sometimes, especially when we first start out making stuff and getting it out into the world, we focus on the surface of the process. When you hear artists say, “I just love color!” or “I just love knitting!”, we are listening to someone who has either a) not bothered to dig deeper; b) doesn’t know how to dig deeper; or c) or is afraid to dig deeper.

What is it about hand-spinning and dyeing that excites you? What does it mean to you? Don’t say, “Oh, it’s fun” or “Oh, it’s relaxing.”

Tell us why.

Here’s a perfect little example that Bruce Baker tells in his seminars.

A potter makes tiny little pots with lids, very charming. But so what?

She explains that her life is so hectic, so harried, that when she takes time to make these tiny wonders, she envisions she is creating a little moment of serenity, of quiet. “And then she draws up the tops, and makes a little lid, and there is a little moment of time preserved….”

Doesn’t that make you want to own one of her little pots? And when you are harried and frazzled, you can lift the tiny lid….and there is your own little moment of quiet and peace.

She told us the “why”. And when you purchase her product, you can have a little of the “why”, too.

7. If it brings you joy, you should not–cannot–stop doing it.

It’s hard when it feels like the world does not want our beautiful work. But remember when I said, “I have to do it anyway, or I’ll die?” That’s what got me through.

Yeah, I know I wouldn’t drop dead if I never made another little horse. But I know something inside me would wither away. And the world, whether it knew about the loss or not, would simply be a sadder place for it.

I want to believe in my heart that somehow, in ways I may not see or could even possibly imagine, that the world is a better place for me making my work. For me being in the world. I have to believe that. Because to believe otherwise is to give in to self-doubt, and eventually, despair.

And whatever we believe in, whatever our religion or creed or ethics, if we are creative people, then we have to believe that creativity makes the world a better place. That anything we make–a lovely skein of yarn, a useful pot, an inspiration movie, a beautiful song, a warm and loving home for those we care about–the world is a better place for that.

Or what are we here for?

So keep making your yarn, because it makes you happy. Don’t give up, but be open to where it leads you (because it may not take you where you think you’re going!) Take the opportunities you find. Let go of the ones you miss, and move on. Think about the deep “why?”, and don’t be afraid to share it.

And know that whatever happens, it’s all good.

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Filed under art, business, choices, craft, creativity, depression, inspiration, life, living with intention, mental attitude, myths about artists, selling, selling online, telling your story, world peace

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #12: The Muse Never Falters

MYTH: Creativity never sleeps. If you hit a wall, then you aren’t a real artist.

Truth: The Muse will come and go, but give her half a chance and she will always return.

Today’s myth was inspired by a blog post from Danielle LaPorte, whose website White Hot Truth…because self realization rocks is becoming one of my favorite reads.

“Life balance” is an insidious myth. Picasso, Oprah, Steve Jobs, Einstein, Maria Callas – they weren’t aiming for balance, they were aiming to rock their genius, and they’ve all had periods of burn out.

This was a little spooky. Okay, a LOT spooky. Because I got the old synchronicity thing going again.

Because a few days ago, for the first time in like two years (or more???), I sat down and began working on a new series of fiber work.

Danielle’s post today was actually the third or fourth synchronistic thingie. The second was her post from a few days ago, about kissing up to your muse.

I woke up in the middle of the night a few days ago with a great idea for next month’s column for The Crafts Report. At first I rolled over to go back to sleep. I’d just sent in my column and had a few weeks before the next one was do. I was sure I’d remember the great idea.

But something in me said, “No. Get up NOW. Just go write it.”

I went with it. And wrote almost the entire article in one sitting.

The spooky thing about that? It was the night before her post on don’t-dis-the-Muse. (Cue Twilight Zone music…)

The synchronicity thingie piece before that happened at dinner out with friends last week. Turned out one of our dinner companions is the daughter of another good friend who’s a painter. Her dad has a new series of artwork on exhibit, after a hiatus of many years from painting.

I mentioned I’d tried to buy one of his paintings a few years ago and he wouldn’t sell me one. She said yeah, he had a “thing” about not selling any until he had a body of work produced, even though he hadn’t even started his new phase when I’d tried to buy one. “He’s funny that way,” she mused. (Pun intended.)

Funny? Hmmm….. He wouldn’t sell his old paintings…. He’d stopped painting…. Now he had a new body of work.

It hit me like a ton of bricks.

I hadn’t made any new fiber work because it had stopped selling a few years ago. I don’t care what the newspapers say, artists and craftspeople know the recession started a lot further back than last year. Oh, I sold a few, but it was tortuous.

When people stopped buying, it wasn’t exciting to make more. And as they sold (slowly), I unconsciously held on to the ones I had left.

So that, if the muse never came back, I’d have something on hand to prove I really had been an artist.

I know it’s it’s desirable to grow and change as an artist. But change for change’s sake was not desirable (for me.) I was stuck.

Awhile ago, I realized that even if my fiber work remained what it was, and I never had a new idea, well, having that one really great theme in my life would be “good enough”. That cracked the door open again.

The remark that made me realize I was hoarding my old work opened that door a little wider.

Getting up in the middle of the night to write blew it open. Danielle’s post was like putting a door stop in it, to keep it open.

And then I sat down at my sewing machine and thought, “What if I just do some simple little pieces….? Just for me.”

Her post today was the final nail in the coffin. Er, door. Should doors be nailed open?? Okay, forget that metaphor, it stinks.

So being willing to be a “not very good artist” again (making the same old work) and realizing what I was holding on to (“I was once a pretty good artist!”) was enough to get me in front of my sewing machine once again. (Which is when I also sewed through my finger, but I’m not going to let that stop me, either, though I worry that my machine has now tasted blood.)

Danielle’s observation–that the muse may come and go, but if we care enough, we will just hang in there–was powerful. Letting go when the inspiration wanes, knowing we will come back, somehow, some way, even though we have no idea what that will look like, that feels like jumping off the edge of the world.

But now I know, as long as I persevere, it will indeed come back.

Because it has to. Or I’ll die.

It may be the same stuff. If so, then I will keep making it. I will rejoice and be grateful I had at least one really good thing to offer the world.

It may start the same and change. That’s okay, too. It will be what it will be.

What’s important is–it’s back.

I don’t care what it looks like anymore. I don’t care what other people think about it anymore.

I just have to do it.

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Filed under action steps, art, body of work, cancer, choices, craft, creativity, fear of failing, gratitude, inspiration, life, mental attitude, myths about artists, writing

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS: A Segue

oooh, I’ve always wanted to use the word “segue” in an essay!

In my last “Myths About Artists” post, a reader said there are some people who , feeling entitled, simply want to simply “be” an artist, with all the fame and glory and controversy they think automatically comes with it.

Several themes came to me after reading his thoughtful comments.

First, as a parent, a former teacher, and even a former child (yes, and please, no comments about not having enough fingers, toes or other digits to compute how many years ago that would be), this sounded very familiar.

We all have a desire for our work to gain some attention and respect in the world. And if you’re like me, you probably wish we didn’t have to constantly work so darn hard to get there.

This is a very human trait, after all. Yes, some people work very hard at becoming excellent at their craft, whatever it is. But many of us start out dreaming of an effortless success.

When I dreamed of horses, and of riding horses, I pictured myself riding fearlessly a beautiful horse, galloping wildly across a boundless plain under an open sky.

I did NOT dream of the long and often painful process of learning how to acquire my “seat”–how to sit comfortably for hours on a horse, how to balance instead of bounce (ow, ow, ow), how to control a horse (because atop a wildly running horse can actually be a frightening place to be.)

I did NOT envision the hours of hard work involved in caring for a horse, including grooming, mucking stalls and tacking up. And of course, boarding fees, vet bills and farrier costs never entered my pleasant daydreams, either.

No, it’s all too human to see the glory, not the grit, in our dreams.

But the person who believes they deserve an easy success? This is not the person I have in mind when I write these essays.

In my mind’s eye, I always speak to the person I used to be–the person who never believed that dreams can come true.

I was lost because I was too afraid to pursue my passion, and suffering because of it. I made the lives of my loved ones miserable, because I could be difficult to be with. (Er…still am, actually.)

In the words of my favorite bumper sticker, “Those who abandon their dreams, will discourage yours.”

Eventually, the pain of NOT being an artist surpassed the fear of failure. And that’s when I took my first steps to becoming not just an artist in name only–but an artist with gumption.

When I had the courage to take those first few tentative steps–and to keep on taking them–then I was truly on the path to becoming a more whole person.

That’s what it felt like, anyway. As my pursuit of art became more habit than daydream, my ability to love more freely, to judge less harshly, to be more fearless, to be more thankful, also grew.

Am I perfect? Heck no. I am still racked often–even daily!–by self-doubt, envy, fear, jealousy and sour grapes.

But I just keep on plugging away. Because I believe trying–making a true effort to attain our goals and dreams–matters.

A good friend sometimes says I make too much of this “thing about the horses”. She makes the case that if my current art changed, if I took up another art form, even if my ability to make any art were to disappear, I would still be me. I am not my art.

I get that, I do. But I am still pathetically grateful I had the chance to make this work, and took it, even so.

And every word I write is with this intention–to encourage even just one more person on this planet to do the same.

I encourage you to take the same journey, in your very own individual, inimitable way (of course!)

To paraphrase another friend’s words, I truly believe our acts of creation, by putting positive energy out there, by becoming a more whole human being….

By believing we can all achieve something good by making something that is useful, or beautiful, or both…

…is ultimately an act of peace, and makes the world a slightly better place for all.

Okay, I know I just quoted a hobbit here, but that’s what I believe.

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Filed under action steps, art, artist statement, body of work, business, craft, creativity, fear of failing, gratitude, horses, inspiration, living with intention, mental attitude, myths about artists, perseverence

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #11: Real Artists Paint!

MYTH: Real artists paint, or draw. And they draw stuff right out of their head! They don’t even have to look at the subject.

REALITY: Art is bigger than any box you try to put it in.

If I had to choose a myth that’s done the most damage–that’s created the narrowest limitations on what we see as art, and who we call an artist–it would be this one.

We can get very picky about what is art and what is craft. I remember a friend of mine who worked in clay. “I’m considered a craftsperson for making this”, she said, showing me an object she’d made. “But if I used this same object to make a mold, and had it cast in bronze, it would be considered fine art.”

Media and technique have always been strong predictors for saying what is art and what is not.

High praise is reserved for people who draw, or paint. I think it’s because a beautiful drawing or painting has something of the “magic trick” about it. A flat rendering of something that’s recognizable as a real-life object just seems….magical.

I’ve discovered recently that there’s even prejudice among painters and pencil artists about working from a photograph of the subject, as if that were a form of “cheating”.

Oddly, among who don’t draw at all, the highest praise is reserved for those who “don’t even have to look” at the thing they’re drawing.

And yet, drawing and painting are skills that almost anyone, with a practice, can acquire.

Look at the vast number of senior citizens who finally take up a long-treasured desire to paint. In past times, young ladies of certain social standing weren’t even considered “refined” unless they had acquired some artistic skill with a pencil, or needle, or musical instrument.

Drawing can be a valuable skill, of course. But it’s not the only artistic skill, nor even the most important one.

But that’s what we’ve been trained to believe.

Years ago, when I went looking for studio space outside my home, I met with the owners of a large local building being renovated for offices and studios.

They asked me what I did, and I said I was a fiber artist. I’d already won a national award for my unusual work with textiles and prehistoric themes. I was feeling pretty good about my work.

The conversation meandered and later, the same guy mentioned a local watercolor artist in town, someone with very modest talent.

“Now Bert, he’s a real artist”, he said. “He’s a painter.”

I tried not to wince.

I honestly don’t think the guy meant to be insulting, he was just expressing his admiration for someone he was in awe of. He heard “fiber artist” and thought “quilts” and he thinks that’s just squares of fabric sewn together.

But someone who can paint Mt. Monadnock….now that takes skill!

When I was a kid, I loved to draw. I was actually pretty mediocre at it, though, because I never developed that skill. And I rarely drew what I saw, only what I could imagine–running horses (of course!), puppies, cartoon mice, intricate doodles.

But that was enough to get me labeled “artist”.

When I returned to art as a middle-aged adult, it was with different media, one that many people do not recognize as “real art”.

Ironically, the first people who did recognize my body of work as “art” were….other artists. People who did shows and craft fairs, who saw a lot of art and craft, and saw something very different and very powerful in mine.

And the biggest irony of all?

Drawing is a skill set. And anyone can learn to draw.

Drawing is about seeing–really seeing–and being able to reproduce what is seen on a two-dimensional surface, without falling prey to any of the “tricks” and preconceptions our brain insists upon. Understanding perspective, observing how shadows truly fall and how they affect color… All of these are about truly seeing what is in front of us with precision and clarity.

The mind falls into almost a meditative state as we begin to process what we see in a different way. Not a “red apple”, but an apple with flecks and shadows and shine. Not a “puppy” but a living, solid form with musculature and bone, and fur that rises and falls, and those eyes….

I like to do things fast, so sitting still and simply observing was crazy-making for me. I can do it. But I don’t enjoy the process.

Not even all forms of drawing are considered “fine”. Cartoons, doodling, graffiti…. Most people would scoff at the idea that these kinds of drawing are “art.”

We are not born “knowing” how to draw, anymore than we are born “knowing” how to play the piano, or how to drive a car.

What we are born with is fearlessness and joy.

Almost every child I taught in preschool considered themselves an artist. And they were! They drew fiercely with pencils and splashed paint and molded little glops of clay with abandon. They were always very proud of their little creations.

“Look what I made!”

Slowly, that gets knocked out of us.

Some of us are better at making a dog that really looked like a dog, and they are “talented”. Some of us really love that state of mind that drawing demands, and we are “real artists”. Some make things that combined crazy colors and looked like nothing at all, or they become obsessed with one color, or one kind of object, and they are labeled weird, or goofy. (Now, of course, they are labeled “visionary”.)

We can’t even agree on what is “art”. (American version of the British TV show “Creature Comforts” so the lips don’t line up too well….)

My personal breakthrough to becoming the artist I’d always dreamed of being came with this statement:

“I have to make art, or I’ll die. I don’t even care if I’m a good artist or not. I just have to do it.”

I’d given up putting any qualifications on what I felt compelled to do. I just had to do it.

My life changed from that moment on.

There are people who would not consider the work of artist Andy Goldsworthy, any kind of art. Throughout history, there are huge periods of time when he would not be considered an artist at all. Yet a viewing of the movie Rivers and Tides erases any doubt in my mind. How about yours?

Good art. Real art. Great art. Appallingly bad art. Tasteful art. Fart art. (Did you catch that at the end of the video?)

Who can say? Who can judge? I have my opinion, of course, but nobody pays me for it.

We can’t even judge our own. When we do, the creativity stops. We’ve put a dam across the flow, forced the river between artificial embankments.

Art will not put up with this. We cannot control, nor barely see, where it goes once it leaves our hands.

Don’t compare yours to someone else’s. They have their journey. You have yours.

Leave the labels and boxes for others to worry about. There will always be somebody eager to apply those labels and boxes, but that is not our task.

Our task is to simply get it out into the world. Share it. Express it. Show it. Perform it. Play it.

Focus on making what brings you joy. Pay attention to what makes your heart sing.

Find what is in you that nobody else but can bring into the world.

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TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS#10: You Have to Go to Art School to Be a Real Artist

MYTH: You need an MFA to be a real artist!
REALITY: The real proof is in the work.

I couldn’t get into the art school at the university of my choice (The University of Michigan.) So maybe my attitude about art school is pure sour grapes.

On the other hand, the reasons I chose U of M seem pretty silly in 40 years in hindsight. My best friend, my first boy friend and my first crush all went there, and they said it was the best school in the world.

So I wanted to go there, too. I gave up going to other schools with art programs that had accepted me, just to be with the boy who dumped me four months later.

I hope I’m a little more sophisticated about my choices now. (But I’m probably not.)

I’ve come to believe it’s a good thing I didn’t go to art school there (or anywhere.) I may have been an artist sooner.

But I would not be the artist I am today.

Getting a degree from an art school has its advantages.

Credentials, for one. A degree says you completed a course of study. It says somebody deemed you good enough to complete it successfully.

Art school gives you other precious gifts: Time, tools and resources to actually make art. You have many opportunities to experiment with different media and different techniques. Many students develop important relationships with teachers who become mentors, and with other talented students.

Art school also allows you to immerse yourself in a community that supports art. If you come from a family or environment that’s baffled (or even threatened) by your artistic attempts, this immersion can be powerful stuff. You may feel like you’ve finally found “your people”.

And of course, there is the confidence and validation you gain from holding a degree that proclaims you an artist.

But there is a downside to art school.

You spend a huge amount of time making work that fits someone else’s agenda and criteria, not your own.

You may find it hard to develop your own style. You are surrounded by the vision of other teachers and other students, and it can be hard to figure out what your particular vision is.

Or conversely, it’s all too easy to be influenced by the vision of others.

Or your vision doesn’t get the “strokes” from the group you desire, so you unconsciously begin to modify it so it does.

Or you don’t modify your style, and suffer the consequences We’ve all heard the appalling stories of vicious group “critiques” and the lasting emotional damage they can cause. We’ve all heard of the nasty teacher who never missed an opportunity to denigrate someone’s work.

You may fall for the tendency to make high-falutin’, theoretical, worldly/academic “statements” with your art. Read almost any art statement, preferably one you barely understand, and you’ll know what I mean. The actual approach to your art may be taught as a purely intellectual or academic exercise. There is value to understanding and practicing art this way, of course. But I personally feel something is lost when art is made only to provoke, or satirize, or insult, with no real emotional connection, personal experience, or “heart” in the effort. IMHO, of course.

And the biggest drawback–you may not ever actually encounter any working artists.

I once spent a day giving five high-school art classes a presentation of the business of art. I opened the first class with this question: “How many of you believe it is impossible to make a living by selling your art?”

The teacher raised her hand.

Some people who teach art do so because they don’t believe they can be successful selling it. (Though many teach so they can have the freedom to create the art they want, without worrying about having selling it.)

You can often tell which teachers are working artists and which ones aren’t. The working ones are making their art, at some level–entering exhibitions with new work, selling, taking commissions, whatever. The ones who gave up are telling you why it’s impossible to sell your work. These are the ones who make terrible role models.

Almost as bad are the teachers who convince their students that the art world is out there just waiting for them to graduate. Instant success is within their grasp. Famous galleries in New York City are eager for their work, and the party starts as soon as you walk out the door. Then, when it doesn’t happen in six months, or a year, or three, the new grad begins to think she doesn’t have what it takes–and gives up.

Some art schools now incorporate business skills for artists in their curriculum. Yay!

Either way, the art school experience can make the issue black-and-white. There are “artists” and there are “non-artists”. There are “rich/famous/successful” artists, and there are “failed artists”. No gray. No spectrum. No range.

Know that there are many “levels” of keeping art in our lives.

There are as many ways of making that work as there are artists.

Some will make good money with their pursuits. Others will cobble together different ventures and venues that makes them happy. Some will go into fine art. Some will go into design, or graphic arts. Some may teach. Some may do the show circuit. Some may find gallery representation. Others may find ways of using the internet to market directly to customers.

Some may find other work that is rewarding and makes them happy, and keep their art practice solely for their own enjoyment. And some will run up against life’s hard walls all too soon, and have to carve out tiny chunks of time to keep their vision alive.

Maybe we can’t all be rich and famous. But there are many ways to create a life that includes art as a daily practice. And there many ways of sharing our vision with others.

So go to art school, if that is your dream. Squeeze every drop of experience and knowledge you can from it. Revel in your freedom to immerse yourself in an art community. Learn to protect yourself against the nay-sayers.

But if you didn’t go to art school, know that you simply found your life’s work by another path. It may have wound around in the woods for awhile, it may have taken you longer to get here….

But you simply had a different experience. That’s all.

And those unique experiences are what made you the artist you are today.

UPDATE: See what Canadian painter Robert Genn says about artist credentials in his well-known Painters Keys newsletter.

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TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #4: Artists Are Not Business People

Myth: Artists are not business people.
Reality: Successful artists have good business skills, or they marry*/partner with/hire people who do.

(This marriage tip courtesy of Wendy Rosen of The Rosen Group in Baltimore MD.)

A common myth about artists is that they are not good at the business end of making and selling art. The reality is, the better you are at the business skills necessary to promote and market your art, the better chance you have at being a successful artist.

I have a theory about artists and their lack of business skills. I think we tend to not like skills like math (balancing checkbooks, statistics, recording expenses). When it came to math, I liked story problems–if Bill and Jane decide to buy a house, and their options for borrowing money are a loan with an interest rate of 9.8% and no points, or a loan with an interest rate of 7.2% and 3 points, which is better? Because I liked to think, “Well, how much money does Bill make, and what if Jane has gone back to school to get a teaching certificate? And what if Bill gets a better job offer–is there a chance they might have to move in two years, and sell their house in a buyer’s market? Do they also like expensive cars, or do they shop at Salvation Army? Do they fight about how much to tip the waitress at a posh restaurant? Are these two even compatible enough to make a marriage work??” (You see the story potential here?)

Artists think they won’t need to take typing classes because they’re not going to be a secretary when they grow up. (We could not foresee the Internet and the importance of keyboard skills in 1968.) Talking about net profit and gross profit seemed, well, gross.

So we decided we would be artists. Famous artists. Successful artists! So successful that galleries would take care of all that bookkeeping stuff and marketing stuff for us. We would simply show up at the opening receptions in our cool black clothing, sip white wine and schmooze with our collectors.

That worked well enough for a fortunate few, for a few good decades. And then times changed. We grew up and realized we needed to pay mortgages, have health insurance, put kids through college. The artists who stuck it out had to learn how to sell, how to market, how to maintain positive cash flow.

And many of us found that these weren’t such awful skills to learn, and acquire, after all.

The same way artists are made, not born, business skills can be LEARNED and the incentive is huge. The more you understand the consequences of your business decisions, the better your decisions get.

Days of galleries “handling” all your business matters are gone, and as the Bernie Madoffs of the world should have taught us, good riddance. We’ve learned the hard way that galleries can go out of business (taking your art with them). We’ve learned that locking totally into wholesale strategies can also lock down your artistic aspirations, when galleries only want the work that sells. Even if we did embrace the business side of our art, strategies that worked beautifully in the 80′s and 90′s don’t work so well in the post 9/11 economy.

It’s always good to to know your bottom line. We need to know how to sell work, if only to understand why people buy it in the first place, and what they need to know in order to buy it. (More about that in Myth #5)

Marketing, promotion, sales, research and product development, teaching, writing–these are all business of art/craft skills that are good tools for a successful artist to keep in her toolbox.

Why was Picasso famous? Most people assume it’s because he was such a great artist. Well, yes, he was. But there were other artists of his time who were better at drawing. Other artists who were more skilled with color. Other artists who were better at all kinds of artistic things.

But Picasso was a master business person. Because he was a master at self-promotion and publicity, he was able to translate his name into the name everyone comes up with when asked to name an artist.

I read a story years ago about Picasso owing his tailor a large sum of money. He wrote the man a check. Then suggested the tailor not cash it because someday his (Picasso’s) signature would be worth more than the check was written for.

Not all of us will end up that famous (or with that much chutzpah. But learning appropriate business skills to get your art out into the world goes a long way to ensuring your efforts will come to fruition.

In fact, I’ve found I enjoy many of the business aspects of my art biz more than I thought. Because they are a labor of love. I choose, knowing the consequences, good and bad, of each informed decision. Gambling on formerly “sure thing” avenues is no longer part of my marketing strategy. I constantly forced to think hard about who my target audience is, and why they buy my art.

And I think I’m a better artist for it.

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TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS: A Story Behind the Myths

Let me share a story, one of the stories that got me thinking about these “artist myths”–myths like “Artists are born, not made” and “Only the best artists succeed.”

A few years after I finally started my own art journey, I was invited to do a series of artist presentations in a nearby school system. I was to visit three elementary schools in one day, sharing my artwork with students and telling them about the Ice Age cave art that inspired me.

I met the woman who set up the presentations, Nancy Brown, and she drove me from school to school. She was very pleasant, and we chatted animatedly between “sets” about family and life.

At the first school, I introduced myself at the main office but was met with blank stares. They’d never heard of me. But when I explained, the office person exclaimed, “Oh, you’re going to talk about CAVE ART. We were expecting an artist named ‘Kay Vart’!” She pointed to the chalk board behind her, and sure enough, “Thursday 10:00–Guest Artist Kay Vart” was carefully written there.

At the second school, we arrived a little early. “Oh, goody!” exclaimed Nancy, “We can play in the gym!”

Baffled, I followed her into the school cafeteria/gymnasium to a piano in the far corner. “This room has the most amazing acoustics!” Nancy said happily. She plopped herself on the piano stool, broke into a few chords on the keys, and began to sing.

To this day, I cannot describe that moment adequately.

Her voice was…..incredible. Astonishing. Powerful. Rich. Her voice filled the room with a moving variation on a Shawn Colvin piece.

I kid you not–a thrill ran down my spine.

I stood, entranced, as this perfectly ordinary little woman revealed a talent as big as the ocean. I will never forget it. It moved me to tears.

When she finished, I broke into applause. I told her she had an amazing voice.

“Actually, my voice is quite ordinary,” she said frankly. “I don’t have a natural ‘voice’. But I am passionate about singing, and I have studied and trained my voice to the nth degree.”

I was dumbfounded. Not being knowledgeable about things music, I had assumed only people born with a naturally beautiful voice could sing like that.

I had no concept of training an ordinary voice to be beautiful.

It was an epiphany.

I had seen–I had heard–the power that comes, not from natural talent, not from luck, but from dedication and determination. The power that comes from passion and training, and indomitable spirit.

And love.

I’ve lost track of Nancy. She moved in and out of professional music over the years and eventually left the area.

But I have never forgotten that beautiful moment, when time was suspended for a few precious moments. An empty school gymnasium, a grand old piano and passionate woman with a bold and beautiful voice.

An extraordinarily beautiful….a beautifully ordinary….voice.

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TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #1: Artists Are Born, Not Made

(Reprinted from 2003)

I’ve been invited to do an artist presentation to various schools in my area, including a whole day at a high school in Vermont. I’ll be speaking with six art classes, not only talking about my art but also sharing my process of how I finally became a full-time artist.

I want to share with these students the beliefs that interfered with me taking my own art seriously. Some of these beliefs I held onto tightly well into middle age. A few are still with me even today, but I slowly chip away at them daily.

Let’s look at some of these myths closely. Today’s myth is one of my favorites!

Myth #1: Artists are born, not made.

Fact: A passion for art has to be there, but all other skills are acquired. No one is born knowing how to play the piano.

The first step to becoming an artist is to want to be an artist. Sounds too simple, doesn’t it? After all, artists are born, not made….right? You either have talent or you don’t.

Wrong! No one is born knowing how to draw, or how to paint, or how to sculpt or throw a pot, anymore than anyone is born knowing how to play the piano or drive a car. These are all skills. They can be taught, they can be learned. Some people may find the process of acquiring those skills to be exhilarating, others may find the process boring. The people who find the process exhilarating may pick up the skill quickly and easily. Or they may not.

I happen to be a slow learner at some artistic processes. For example, I don’t like to draw. When I put my mind to it, I can draw passably well. But I don’t like sitting quietly and observing something, then using a tool to recreate that image on a two-dimensional surface, such as a piece of paper. So I was called an artist in elementary school because I could draw reasonably well, but secretly thought I was an imposter because I didn’t like drawing. And never progressed very far with it.

Later in life, I discovered I did like modeling clay into pleasing forms. And that I enjoyed a collage-like approach to most of the artwork I made. If you look at my artwork, you’ll almost always see a combination of media, and some sort of shaping and manipulation of form going on. But you’ll hardly ever see a 2-D work. (I do carve my own rubber stamps and make 2-D art from them. But it’s the process of carving the stamp, and then embellishing the surface that fascinates me.)

DO WHAT YOU LOVE, LOVE WHAT YOU DO

So we can fall into two traps by believing the myth that “artists are born, not made”.

One, we can be very good at something we don’t really enjoy, and believe that is our calling. Part of the reason for that is sometimes we learn how to do the things we don’t like, really, really well, so we can get them done and out of the way. But if you don’t enjoy doing something, no matter how good you get at doing it, it will always drain energy from you. So be careful about putting the focus of your energy into doing things you don’t enjoy, if you don’t have to.

And two, we can love doing something we aren’t very skilled at….yet! And that’s actually okay. Being willing to pursue something just because we love it can be very rewarding, if only because we’ll spend more time doing it–and hopefully, get better at it someday. Doing something we love feeds us. It gives us more energy.

So what are we born with? If not an innate ability to draw, then perhaps an attentive eye. We notice that there’s more than one shade of green in that leafy tree, or that the light just before sunset makes everything glow more richly. Perhaps we enjoy observing something closely and like the process of drawing.

Or maybe an attentive ear. Maybe we can remember tunes easily, and enjoy riffing off them every chance we get. Music affects almost all of us, but some people feel it is more than just enjoyable–it is necessary to have it, compose it, play it.

Maybe it’s our hands that have to be busy. Maybe picking up unusual rocks and pieces of driftwood and shells is as much fun for us as shoe-shopping is for our sister. We always have to be touching, hefting an object, enjoying its odd texture or beautiful grain. Maybe having the right mix of color and texture in our living room furniture is more important to us than the brand name.

All of these tendencies and yearnings may be the signs of a budding artist. But unless you follow them, nurture them and feed them, they won’t bloom. (Oh, no…a gardening metaphor!!)

So if you’ve always wanted to be an artist, but felt you didn’t have what it takes, you know better now.

Go sign up for that drawing class, or ceramics class. Learn how to carve a rubber stamp, or how to paint with watercolor. Jump in, and simply enjoy the process of learning a new skill.

Keep at it, and eventually you may find one that gladdens your heart enough to do it every day.

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TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS (That Will Keep You From Becoming a SUCCESSFUL Artist): Introduction

Our beliefs, right or wrong, shape our own reality. Change the belief, change the reality.

Years ago, I created a handout for a presentation. I called it, “TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS (That Will Keep You From Becoming a Successful Artist)”.

I started to publish them in my first blog in 2003. An observant reader contacted me last month, noting that I’d only published a few of the myths. Where are the rest?? she asked.

Well, she’s right–my bad. I never finished publishing the series. So today I’d like to reintroduce my series. Rather than have you skip back and forth, I’m republishing the first few here.

Have fun breaking some myths!

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CUSTOMER CARE: Feel the Love

Never forget the love you have for what you do. Remember the blessing of being able to make what you make.

Here’s something to consider the next time you feel a sharp retort rising to your lips when someone in your booth asks a “stupid question”. (Which, in case you don’t already know, isn’t so stupid after all.

The times I find it hardest to deal with problem customers, is when I am not in a good space myself.

There will be times in your life when things get hard. When nothing seems to go right. When you body simply can’t do what you ask of it, not the simplest task. When worries about money seem to overwhelm everything else. When your spirit is exhausted.

There will be people in your life who make things difficult. People who are impossible to please. People who are threatened by what you do. People who are envious of what you have.

There will be stages in your life when you question everything about your work. Is it good enough? Is it still my best work? Does the world even want it? Do I still believe in it?

And just like the times when a difficult child needs your love all the more, this is the time to remember the love you have for your art.

Here’s how that happens for me:

I’ve been head-high in frenzied preparations for my upcoming League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Fair. On one hand, it’s my tenth year at the Fair, and I pretty much know what to do. On the other hand, every year there’s something major I forget/mess up/leave to the last minute. Every year there’s a big scramble to deal with it, with frantic phone calls, late nights and the inevitable last-minute make-do. (Which almost always seems to work out better than my original intention.)

This year is no exception. But I have some secret weapons.

The first is modern medicine. After waiting years for the brain buzz of menopause to wear off, I realized it wasn’t going away and it wasn’t even getting better. I realized I’ve always had it–it was just getting worse with age. I sought professional help. I’m now seeing an excellent therapist who specializes in working with creative people. And I’m on a very low dosage of anti-anxiety medication. (Don’t worry, not the addictive stuff!)

For the first time in years, I am sometimes sleeping through the night. I don’t wake up in a panic with my heart racing. Get this–my blood pressure (which used to be low normal but has inched upwards for five years) dropped almost 25 points–in a month! My doc isn’t sure why, but she says we’ll take it. (She thinks it may be the relief from constant worrying.)

I feel more at peace with myself. All the issues I knew intellectually how to manage, but couldn’t emotionally let go of, are softening. I know enlightenment can’t be found in a pill bottle, but it sure makes it easier to actually listen to my heart.

The second secret weapon is my work. The Fair is a concrete “deadline” which helps generate creative energy. Simply immersing myself in making new artifacts always centers me. Okay, partly I bury myself in making bears and otters and horses because it’s much more fun than figuring out how to make new covers for my jewelry case pedestals. Procrastination is a powerful tool in my life for getting something else done.

The third secret weapon is the Fair itself. Despite all the hard work getting ready for, and just being at the Fair (3 days of set-up, 9 days of show), there is a lot of good energy at the Fair.

My daughter, to date, has always found time to come and work with me again, even if only for that first, very busy opening weekend. She’s worked in my booth at both retail and wholesale shows for over eight years now. She’s not only very good at it, she’s simply a joy to be with.

There are old friends to catch up with, new exhibitors to meet, wonderful work to see (and buy!), music, wine and the incredible beauty of Mount Sunapee itself.

And my customers are a big secret weapon, too.

Opening day at the Fair is tough. It takes me awhile to get my “sea legs”. (Would that be “Fair legs”??) To get into the rhythm of being “on stage” instead of “in my studio”.

But when I catch the rhythm, I can dance all day. All week!

People who have bought from me for years, come to see what’s new. People who bought something for the first time last year, come back to tell me how much they love it. People bring their friends to introduce them the artist. (Moi. Maybe in my normal hours I look like a dumpy middle-aged woman, but at a show I am an artiste.) People who lost an earring or broke a necklace rush in to see if I can make their favorite piece wonderful and wearable again. People who I encouraged to pursue their own creative destiny stop by to share their own lovely work.

Even years when the Fair is slow, the energy from seeing my old collectors and meeting new ones, is a spiritual high.

In the midst of all this wonderful, powerful energy, I would be a small person to let an off comment or odd interaction here and there, to bring me down.

But I would be human, too. Because that’s what we do–we hang on to the one hurtful comment or ignorant act.

Remember–as artists, we can choose:

We can wallow in indignation and anger.

Or we can remember that the work we do is blessed work. Not only for us, but for the world.

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CUSTOMER CARE: Repair the Goods, Repair the Relationship

What you do for customer care AFTER the sale is important, too!

A question came up in an online forum the other day. People shared their business policy for repairs.

Nobody likes to hear their work didn’t hold up. My heart always sinks when I get a request from a store or customer to repair a piece. I feel slightly guilty. I take pride in my work and always stress the fact that my work is well-made. In fact, my original studio name was Durable Goods. A broken piece feels like I’ve misled the customer.

It doesn’t help that sometimes the customer is already upset and defensive. “It just broke!” is what I usually hear. Who wants to hear that about our product?? Not me.

It helps to take a deep breath and listen with your heart.

I’ve come to realize a few things about the repair process. First, even expensive, commercially-made jewelry isn’t necessarily impervious to harm. A fine gold chain breaks when a jumping dog snags it, diamonds fall out of their settings and rings drop down the garbage disposal. My jewelry is as well-made as I can make it, but things do wear out, get lost, break down. I don’t need to get defensive if one of my pieces gets broken.

I’ve also come to realize that customers often start out on the offensive because they expect to be given a hard time.

Isn’t that awful?? They love my work, they paid their hard-earned money for it, they wore it every day, it broke, they want to get it fixed so they can wear it some more.

And they think I’m going to be snotty about it. Because that’s what they’ve come to expect from other small businesses and vendors when they have issues with a purchase.

The solution is to immediately reassure them that they will be taken care of. And to offer exquisite customer care.

My first response is, “I’m so sorry that happened! Tell me what’s wrong. Let me make it right for you so you can wear it again.”

As soon as they realize I will listen, and sympathize, and then resolve the issue, they calm down. They are relieved and grateful they will be taken care of.

As they describe or show the damage (depending on whether they’ve called or come to my booth at a show), I assess what has to be done. I offer options–repair, replace, restring, etc.

After I’ve assured them the piece can be repaired, then it’s time to gently find out how the damage occurred.

This will give valuable information about whether the damage is their “fault” or mine. This is not to assess blame. It’s to determine whether I need to make changes in my process, or if this is a “teachable moment” for the customer.

Here’s how I think about it:

If I had TONS of repairs, then it might be MY problem.

A lot of repairs indicates I have to review my product and perhaps make adjustments. Maybe I need to look at my construction techniques and ask myself why I was getting so many returns. Is the stringing material durable enough? Was the glue old? (Even epoxies have a shelf life.) When I was just starting out selling jewelry, I thought I could save money by using cheap spring clasps for my necklaces. The clasps didn’t hold up. That, unfortunately, resulted in a lot of returns for repairs. That was a valuable lesson. I now only work with high-quality components.

If I DON’T have a lot of repairs, then providing free (or at least cheerful) repairs is the best customer service I can give.

Either the customer loved the item enough to wear it often and is disappointed she can’t anymore or she paid a lot for item and didn’t get the usage out of it she expected.

Either way, she has paid me a very high compliment–loving my work, and investing in my work.

Either way, a repair will make her very, very happy, and willing to buy from me again.

A refusal will upset her and you can bet she will let everybody know about it.

So what do I mean by a “teachable moment”?

If I’ve put the customer at ease by reassuring her I will take care of her, and it turns out the damage is not my fault, then there’s an opportunity to educate, to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

A customer indignantly said the artifact on her necklace “just broke.” I immediately told her I was sorry. I asked her to send it to me immediately, and I would either repair or replace it. I apologized for the inconvenience, and she grew calmer. We talked more. She told me she desperately hoped I could fix it, because she loved the artifact (a horse.) Under gentle questioning, she admitted that when she was nervous, she liked to “flex” a flat artifact pendant I’d made. That “flexing” eventually caused the artifact to break.

Her initial defensive attitude was because she thought I would not help her if she admitted she’d broken it, and she was distraught because she loved it so much.

I made her a new, thicker pendant, jokingly telling her “no more flexing!” Because she loved the original artifact so much, I glued it back together, put a backing layer of polymer on it to strengthen it, and made it into a pin.

When I’m feeling defensive, this is important to keep in mind: An item that breaks with overuse means the item was being worn, and worn a lot. One woman told me she never took off the silk cord necklace she’d bought from me. She even wore it swimming, and showered in it.

It took some doing to convince her that silk cord won’t hold up under that kind of usage. But that was just proof of how much she loved it. And I still restrung her necklace. Free.

Last, when you have wholesale customers and get a customer repair request, remember you are actually dealing with two customers–their customer, and the store owner/buyer/manager. When you show your willingness to stand behind your work, you make it easier for the store to do their work–selling your stuff.

Just my humble opinion, and experience. And of course, there are exceptions.

We’ve all had the occasional customer who simply can’t be satisfied. It happens rarely in face-to-face encounters. It’s more common with online sales if you don’t already have a relationship with the customer. When you feel you’ve gone above and beyond, and the customer is still not happy, it may be worth your while to simply take the item back and refund their money.

And if your materials are very expensive, then of course you may have to charge a reasonable fee for repairs regardless of why they are needed.

But even if you must charge for repairs, these are still ways you can make your customer feel treasured. Listening and taking care of your customers after the sale–offering support and non-judgmental service–is excellent customer service indeed.

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Filed under art, business, craft, customer care, jewelry, listening, mental attitude, selling

New Journey: The Ninth Step

Class is over, and now the real learning begins.

I really need to start renaming how I number the posts in this series, or someday I’ll be up to “The Hundred-and-Fifteenth Step”….

Yesterday was my last hospice volunteer training class. I’ve been gently, quietly freaking out. The time for talking the talk is over. Now it’s time to walk the walk. And I’m not sure I can.

I thought I was the only one that felt this way. But of course, a little talking among my classmates quickly overturned that little paranoid delusion. We all felt anxious about actually doing what we’d signed on to do.

This week, we had current volunteers as guest speakers. They were relatively new, having completed their training only a year or two ago. And they had this to say:

The first time is scary. You want to do a good job, and it feels like there is so much to remember! But it changes into what it needs to be….

You’ll get your cues about what is needed. The patient will let you know if they need interaction, or quiet, to be touched or left alone.

The things you thought would be easy, might be hard. What you thought might be hard, will be easy.

Try not to anticipate what will be needed. Don’t be a “fixer”. Let go of that need to jump in and take over. Hold that part of yourself down.

And open yourself up.

Center yourself. Get quiet. Be peaceful. Observe. And be present.

We also had a hospice nurse talk with us. His final words of advice: You are all ready for something different in your life, or you wouldn’t be here. Don’t consider yourself a gift to others. Don’t worry about that part. Just consider the gift you are being given…. (to be with someone at the end of life.)

And now I can I see where my anxiety is coming from.

I’ve been working too hard on giving.

That sounds silly, I know. Here me out.

Lately, it feels like my gifts aren’t needed or wanted. Neither my art, nor my self, nor my intentions feel honored lately. My artwork sales are falling, the galleries say no, the memorial service I felt I was not welcome at, my artist friend who did not enjoy the article I wrote about him–one of my best, btw!–my son who does not want my mothering right now. All feel like failures, failures in what I do, what I don’t do, who I am.

And when I ask for help, I worry I’m asking for too much. It feels like I’m constantly asking for too much.

Now I see that in my search for the perfect exchange, that perfect moment when what is given is exactly what is needed, when what is needed is exactly what I have to offer, I have actually been selfish.

I’ve been trying to control the outcome. I have been driven by the need for gratitude.

And I cannot control the other side of that transaction. I have to let go of that. I can only control my actions, my intentions, my offering.

If my presence is not wanted, then at least I showed up. If my article caused anger, then at least I wrote out of love and respect. Doug may not accept it right now in this angry teenage phase, but my unwavering love for him is the greatest gift of all. I choose to give it freely, and he is free to not want it right now. Or rather, he is free to choose not to show he wants it right now.

And so here is where my real journey will begin. Next week, I go back to interview for my first volunteer assignment. It may be days, or weeks, or months before I am placed. I’m scared. But I’m going to do it.

I will show up, and see what’s there.

And I will be grateful.

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Filed under art, business, courage, fear of failing, gratitude, hospice, inspiration, lessons from hospice, life, life with teenagers

NEW JOURNEY: The Eighth Step

Sometimes the hardest thing to do, is to do nothing.

Many of you have sent some gentle nudges my way. “You haven’t said much lately–what’s up?” “Is everything okay?” “Are you still dealing with crap?”

Short answer: Yes, I’m still dealing with crap. Mine.

I’m nearing the end of my hospice training. One more class, and that’s it. It’s been informative, exhilarating, intriguing.

And I still have no idea where to go from here.

I didn’t really expect to have a huge spiritual/emotional/professional/personal breakthrough, the answer to all my questions, at this point. But yes, I confess I had a sneaking little hope I might….

So I’ve been down. And embarrassed about it. Too embarrassed to even post about it.

Two things happened in the last day or so. I spent an evening with a dear friend, who simply listened. And I ran across another great article by Christine Kane on Why Your Ego Loves Airline Delays.

I wailed to my friend that I thought I’d have something figured out by now. Maybe not a new career plan, but at least a moment of clarity. Why can’t I get a head of steam going here?? Why can’t I get some traction on any of my projects?? What’s wrong with me, anyway?!?

Carol, bless her heart, reminded me that I still look like a success: My big retail show coming up with lovely new work, my magazine column for The Crafts Report, my new shop on Amazon’s 1000 Markets my blog. (BTW, she loves all the comments you readers leave, too!)

She also said I was an inspiration to her, professionally and personally. She says she sees me constantly, unrelentingly, trying to figure this stuff out. And she thinks I’m being too hard on myself.

“You’re already forming new plans and strategies,” she pointed out. “You took the setbacks and obstacles created by a few of your peers at your professional craft organization and overcame them. You have beautiful new work, and a beautiful new story behind it. You’re looking for ways to generate more reliable income for your family and your biz. You’re determined to follow through on your volunteer commitment to hospice, even though it’s terrifying you. You’re learning to set boundaries with groups and individuals in your personal and professional life, even when it’s tough. You’re doing the hard work. And you’re sharing that openly and honestly with your audience. Where…is the failure in that??!”

With a friend like Carol, I could move mountains–at least the little ones in my heart.

The Christine Kane article reminds me that what’s grousing here is my ego. The part of me that wants to figure this stuff out right now, the part that’s impatient with how slow and painful the process can be. It’s the part that wants to control and manage my life.

My ego has to accept the the parts of life I can’t control and manage… It–I–must learn to give in sometimes, so that love, and peace, and courage–yes, and faith–can come inside, and stay.

So today I’ve worked hard on my application for a little job at our local college. It looks like it’s within my skill set, and would leave me time to still make art, and write. I’m trying to face my next big retail show with peace in my heart (and nice new work) instead of anger and resentment towards those few who would like to see me fail. I’m taking it one day at a time, one thing at a time, and I’m trying not to fuss and worry.

And trying to eliminate a few of the “I” sentences that seem to predominate my life lately.

My mantra for this week: Slow down. Be patient. Listen. Forgive others. Forgive myself. Believe. Love. Breathe.

Breathe

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Filed under art, craft, inspiration, lessons from hospice, mental attitude

25 RANDOM THINGS: Action Steps for Your Artist Statement #3

Continuing with my mini-series about how to use Facebook’s “25 Random Things About Me” to write promotional materials.

The next question is from an artist who wrote:

“Hi Luann,
I was intrigued by your letter today in the FAS newsletter. I just joined Facebook to find out more about the “list” of 25 things about yourself. After you compiled the list, how did you write it into an artist statement? I really feel clueless how to start. You are a very good writer!”

(This was the question I was going to answer first because of the compliment. Always feel free to put those in, btw….!!)

Okay, so first, you can’t just use the 25 Random Things as your artist statement. That would be a loooong statement!

The list is a) a warm-up exercise for learning to write easily about yourself. And b) a source for snippets about yourself that get to the heart of what you do.

Just like musicians might play scales to warm up for performing, this list is a warm-up for more ‘serious’ writing.

It’s also a way to ‘warm up’ to putting more passion into your artist statement.

I picked “artist statement” as an end goal for this warm-up exercise. In reality, artists need all kinds of self promotional materials: artist bio, cv (curriculum vitae, sort of a ‘life resume’ with your art as a focus), artist statement, press releases, etc.

Some of your list items are going to jazz up your statement. Because unless you think people go crazy with excitement reading lists of your exhibits and educational background, you must learn to talk about your art with the same passion you use to make it.

You don’t have to go over the top–no drama major needed. But think about ways to talk about your art that shows why it really, really matters to you–and that it isn’t just “something you do” to fill in your spare time. Even if it is only that, you can talk about that in a way that is more engaging than, “Well, I was bored, so I made this stuff.”

Don’t be afraid to tell people what you care about.

Think of the 25 Random Things as a way to collect these things you care about the most. Some of them will provide you with a jumping-off place.

In my last post on this topic, we left off with the suggestion that a good artist statement should make you want to look at the artist’s work again. Some of you did that experiment with the artists I suggested, and graciously acknowledged that it worked. Yay!

The key to the 25 Random Things is, somewhere in a good list, there is something you’ve listed that might make people “look again”.

If your art is light-hearted, your approach to your 25 Random Things list, and your artist statement might be light-hearted, too. Remember–light-hearted art is not necessarily lightweight art. Laughter is powerful medicine. Humor can be a powerful weapon. Whimsy can still be serious stuff.

You might also choose different approaches (more serious, more whimsical) for different applications. For example, the “About Me” section of my blog has a more light-hearted approach. That’s because I want to entertain as well as inspire. Yes, I’m serious about my writing, but I’m willing to laugh at myself, too. (I just don’t want you to be laughing at me too hard, okay?)

The introduction to my art calls for a more serious, inspirational tone. It’s not that I don’t want you to have fun with my work. But it’s not what you’d call “whimsical”. It’s a different manifestation of what I bring to the world.

My actual “artist statement”, is no longer on my website. I realize I should make room for it again.Here’s the short version of it:

I dream of the cave of Lascaux…

Its beautiful paintings of running horses,
born by the flickering light of torches….
Never meant to see the light of day,
yet brought to light in our lifetime.
Survived ten thousand years,
yet nearly destroyed by the breath of ten thousand visitors…
Too delicate to survive the climate of our modern world,
The cave was closed, and finally, sealed.

Lost.
Found.
And lost again.

The horses now run
in the darkness of their cave
forever.

We do not understand the mystery of these paintings.
We know not what they meant to the people who created them.
Their message was not meant for us.

But their beauty and power create profound echoes
in our modern hearts.

What ancient, yearning dreams of hope and beauty
brought forth these haunting images?

Ten thousand years from now,
Who will know the makings of our hands?
And who will know the mysteries of our hearts?

If you go back to my 25 Random Things About My Biz, you will see the seeds of where that statement comes from.

I know there are other “rules” I’m breaking with this statement. I haven’t changed significantly in ten years.

But every time I think of changing it, someone who reads it for the first time tells me how powerful it it is.

And so I keep it.

Just as it’s hard to present you with a template for a statement, it’s hard to give you a step-by-step model for turning your list into a statement. I’m thinking about how to do that, and present it in more manageable form for you. It’s easier to do face-to-face, using a technique I’ll explain next time.

But for now, write up a few lists. Play around with them. Write some in a humorous vein, make others more serious. Put a star next to the entries that create a lump in your throat, or bring tears to your eyes.

Because…I’ll say it again, because it is so important:

Whatever makes you cry, that’s where your heart is.

And where your heart is, that is your truth.

Don’t be afraid to tell people what you really care about.

If it is honest, if it is heartfelt, it will be…POWERFUL. You’ll know. And your audience will know.

And when you speak the truth, it is so powerful, people will hear it and know it for the truth.

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PLAYING IT SAFE: Don’t!!

Martial arts teaches me that playing it safe means no playing at all.

When I decided to quit practicing Tae Kwon Do, it felt like the right decision. The safe decision.

I was keeping myself safe from more debilitating injuries, right? After all, I’d been in physical therapy to strengthen my knee for six weeks already, when I stumbled in class and twisted my knee again.

So I quit. For two months. I was terrified of being injured again. I thought I was making a good decision.

It was a physical therapist during my second round of pt who finally set my head straight. “Luann,” he scolded me. “Professional athletes in peak condition still get hurt. It’s just something that happened.”

He assured me that being active was the best strategy to staying ‘safe’. He pointed out that he gets just as many clients in for therapy who are total couch potatoes, who fall on their way to the kitchen for another bag of chips and injure themselves.

If doing something you love motivates you to work out every day, then do it.

In his mind, “playing it safe” meant continuing to do the strengthening exercises he’d given me, faithfully.

Somehow, I ‘got that’, and decided to return to class.

In fact, I decided to also return to kickboxing as a way to train better for tae kwon do.

I heard a lot of protests from friends and acquaintances. “Are you crazy?! You’ll get hurt again!” they exclaimed. “Don’t you think you should take it easy?” Some suggested swimming–it was much safer.

Play it safe.

But here’s the thing: If you live your life fully, you can’t play it safe.

I like swimming okay, but I don’t love it. I don’t love it enough to show up to do it three to five days a week.

I do love martial arts–tae kwon do, kickboxing, tai chi. And I doshow up to do them, at least five days a week.

I know now that a daily practice may occasionally result in injury. But it will also strengthen me, stretch me, and improve my balance. All things that will serve my body, and my spirit well as I approve my sixties, my seventies, my eighties and beyond.

I’ve been playing it safe in my art, too.

Not just in getting it out into the world, but in doing the work I love. I’ve been holding back, making less expensive work, worried about whether it will sell.

Telling myself to give up on certain dreams and desires. Too unlikely. Can’t see it. It will never happen.

Figuring if what worked the last ten years wasn’t working anymore, then nothing would work.

So give up. Keep my head down. Play it safe.

You know how well that’s worked (NOT!) because I’ve been writing about the pain.

Art needs a different kind of daily exercise.

Normally, that’s simply doing the work. Making art generates wanting to make more art.

But I’ve been ‘injured’ doing my art. So I tried a little “emotional physical therapy” suggested by Martha Beck in her latest book, Steering by Starlight.

I can’t picture my perfect life right now. Too big, too scary, too unlikely. So I’ve been practicing how I’ll feel when I’m living my perfect life.

I imagine feeling joy instead of fear. I imagine feeling anticipation instead of dread. I imagine the world wanting exactly what I’m making, instead of me trying to imagine what I could make that the world wants.

And it’s working.

I see a wall hanging that my brain tells me could never be purchased. It simply wouldn’t fit in anyone’s house I can imagine.

But I imagine feeling my heart leap with joy. And suddenly I saw that piece laid out on a worktable in sections, waiting for me to work on it.

I have an idea for a book I can’t imagine would be published. I can’t imagine how I would find a publisher. I can’t imagine an editor who would be so on board with what I want to write, that she would call me every few days to read what I have and exclaim in delight and encouragement, with excellent suggestions on how to make it even better.

But I imagine what that would feel like, to have an editor like that, working on a book like that. And I feel anticipation instead of dread.

I know I’ll never be young again, ‘thin enough’, good enough to do justice to my martial arts practice. It’s too hard to lose weight, too hard to practice daily.

But I imagine what it would feel like to be light on my feet, to be strong enough to throw a kick perfectly, easily–and my spirit soars.

I’ve been doing this a handful of days. And I cannot express to you how much lighter and happier I feel.

I’m starting to really feel like good things are ahead.

Pulling out of my ‘normal’ routine for the last few years helped clear the decks. Cleaning the studio helped, too (though I’m sorry to tell you, my friends, that you can’t tell I cleaned at all in here anymore.) Following my heart on hospice has cleared a space in my schedule this spring. My dear husband allowing me the space to simply get through this and see what happens, has helped enormously.

For the first time, I am not afraid to simply wait and see what’s next. (While moving ahead all the same.)

And to prove that playing it safe does not necessarily keep you safe….

I did badly twist my knee again yesterday.

But it wasn’t in kickboxing, it wasn’t in tae kwon do. It wasn’t climbing a wall. It wasn’t while I was snowshoeing, yoga-cizing or riding.

I slipped on the ice while chasing a chicken out of my garage.

And when it happened, I laughed at the absurdity of it all.

p.s. I’m okay. Sore–but okay.

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Filed under art, choices, courage, craft, inspiration, life, martial arts, mental attitude, risks, taking chances

FAKING IT

CHANGE is not just for “other people”–you can do it, too.

There was an incredible program on BBC years ago called “Faking It’. Actually, it looks like it’s still around.

A person from one walk of life would be dropped into another, for a month. A male ballet dancer trained to be a professional wrestler. An upper class class college student became a bouncer at a bar in a rough section of London. An exotic dancer learned how to ride horses hunt class. A shy Indian woman became a newscaster.

For four weeks, they were immersed in a new culture, with new expectations, often the antithesis of what they knew. The student, who was gay, found himself training with coaches who hated homosexuals. I still remember the scene where one trainer’s girlfriend boxed with him–and beat the pants off him. The dancer, terrified of injuries that could derail his career, was tossed and pitched across the ring in complicated take-downs.

The show was intensely watchable. You felt for the newest candidate, totally submersed in a new culture, terrified and overwhelmed. Tempers flew as coaches demanded top performances, and many tears were shed.

But amid the tears and frustration and fear, something marvelous happened.

They all transformed themselves. Each and every one.

And came out better for it.

The shy woman, who’d never even raised her hand in school, learned how to face a camera and report the news with confidence. The gay student not only found new courage, he also transformed the people around him. They marveled at his hard work and endearing personality, became his supporters, and learned to accept his homosexuality. The exotic dancer found her athleticism and excellent balance served her well as a rider. The classical ballet dancer learned inner strength he never knew he had. .

They all learned what they were really capable of. They all developed a healthy sense of self-confidence.

The final test at the end of each show was, could they “pass” as their new personae in front of three judges. And they all won, or nearly so.

Later, the crew revisited these “students of life”, to see how permanent the experience had been.

All had changed their lives.

The dancer performed his ballet with new spirit and enthusiasm. The exotic dancer returned to her world, but with new goals. Now her money was going to put her through college, and she made time to ride regularly. She dreams of owning her own horse some day.

They were either better at what they did, or they were doing something else, something they’d never dreamed of if they hadn’t learned to believe in themselves.

I constantly hear from people asking for advice or insight about their own art careers. At some point, the person always says, “I just can’t…..(fill in the blank)”

“I just can’t sell my own work. I’m no good at it.”

“I just can’t write my own artist statement. Do you have a template I could use?”

“I just can’t do shows/make cold calls to stores/figure out what my market is….”

Yes, you can.

When someone says, “I don’t know how to do that!” or “I’m no good at that!”, I always say, “Well, we’re not born knowing how to play the piano.”

It takes practice.

It takes perseverance.

It takes courage.

And sometimes, we have to fake it til we make it.

If a young gay man can learn to walk through a homophobic culture with pride and real peace in his heart, if a young stripper can find a way to keep horses in her life forever while she earns money to go to college (the first to do so in her family), if a shy woman can learn to stand up and speak with the power of her true self, if a chubby woman whose only “sport” is walking can learn to climb a rock wall and practice Tae Kwon Do, and take up her art at age 40 with two young children…

Then you can learn how to sell your work. You can learn how to market it. You can learn how to write about it. You can learn how to find the watch spring in your soul that makes you tick, that makes you create the wonderful work you make, that makes you sing the way you do, that makes you, well…you.

Yes, you can.

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Filed under art, business, courage, inspiration, life, mental attitude, selling

NEW JOURNEY: The Fourth Step

When that “jack-of-all-trades, master at none” becomes all too true, maybe it’s time to give “master of ONE” a try.

When I left Tae Kwon Do a few months ago, after yet another injury, the head instructor asked if I were leaving because my green belt test was coming up. Was I a person who quit when I was challenged too hard?

I was hugely indignant, but I admitted the thought had occurred to me.

Was I a quitter?

I’ve done a lot of thinking about what he said, coupled with reading an interesting article, “Mastery Plan” by Kelly Corrigan in the January 2009 issue of Oprah Magazine.

Corrigan reinvented herself in several disciplines–photography, journalist, author, playwright. She was the ultimate student, reveling in steep learning curves that produced spectacular results. Where learning a new discipline causes most students drop out at level one or two, she made it easily to level six or seven.

But never to levels eight, nine or ten.

She wonders if all the excitement of the reinventions, the ‘look at me, I’m good at this!’ moments, learning in leaps and bounds, avoiding the point where learning comes in tiny increments “… just might be a distraction from (her) greatest fear…”

Fear of failure.

She talks about the people who work more slowly, but create something of that lasts, something with true elegance, something of value. She wants that, too. But she’s not sure she can.

Sound familiar?

I wonder if part of my conflict with my art is fear, too–the fear I’ve already done my best work?

It feels too hard…

…Maybe it’s supposed to?

Thinking it might be time to move on to something else…

…So I can avoid the hard work that’s called for now?

It reminds me of being a parent. How hard it is, but exhilarating, especially when your kids are young. You’re exhausted, but you’re also rewarded every day with some new discovery, some new milestone they achieve.

Til they hit the teen years, and everything slows down. And gets really, really hard.

You learn to let go of expectations, and big successes. Your rewards are tinier–”She said thank you!” “He did the dishes the first time I asked!

But you also dig in–because as hard as it is to parent teens, as thankless as the job is, they actually need you more than ever.

You can’t stop being a parent just because it gets really, really hard. We may never know if we were a ‘great’ parent–but our best efforts will be ‘good enough’”. And it’s certainly worth our while to do our best.

Corrigan ends the decision to write a second book, determined to keep working at it til it truly reflects an indomitable spirit.

Which is, oddly, an attribute of black belt. Indomitable spirit.

Last night I talked with my Tae Kwon Do teachers about returning to practice.

It means much more work on my part. My teacher says he believes I’m capable of so much more than I believe I am. He says attitude is everything. I’m doubting myself, and the only person who can turn that around is….me.

Maybe he’s right.

I’m going to find out if I can turn this around. I want to find out.

Last night, I also decided to keep making my fiber art and jewelry. It feels right. For the first time in ages, I heard no negative voices in the wee hours of the night.

I’m not abandoning my new journey. Maybe the hospice will open up something else, and I look forward to exploring that. Something’s calling me there, and I want to find out what it is.

But just as I can study Tae Kwon Do and be a parent, I can explore this new venture and make my art. The art may change, it may not change. But maybe it will simply get even better.

Being a parent is teaching me, and Ms. Corrigan, how to be a more deeply creative person. How to create something of value that will really last, as an artist and a martial artist.

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Filed under art, choices, creativity, fear of failing, inspiration, life, life with teenagers, martial arts, mental attitude, perseverence

NEW JOURNEY: The Third Step

Change is always hard, but learning to recognize when it’s TIME to change, gets easier.

In my last two posts, I described two big fears in my life. The first was knowing a change was coming. The second is not knowing what it is.

The third is being afraid I’ll get stuck in the new change.

Now, if this isn’t anticipating trouble, what is? Right?

But I’ve seen many people leave the art and craft biz, trying to take their experiences to draft a new career for themselves. There are drawbacks to leaving that source of knowledge and passion.

Some did it beautifully, and have given much back to the community. Others had “steam” for awhile. But eventually, driven again by the need for fame or fortune, or fear of changing what works, their contributions become stale and rote. Like a burned-out teacher two years from retirement with two kids in college, they slog away, feeling they are simply in too deep to quit. They grind on for “just a few more years.” And making life miserable for others around them. (I don’t mean to pick on teachers, it’s just something I witnessed once that wasn’t pretty, and it stuck.)

I dreaded ending up in the same boat.

But once I recognized this for what it is–anticipated fear of failure–it was easier to put it back in the box.

First, I have no idea that’s where I’ll go next. Being afraid of something that might happen from a new career direction I might head in seems awfully silly.

Second, I realized it just won’t happen. If I’m paying such close attention to my changing desires now, I always will. That’s who I am. I will always be questioning, and rigorously testing my motivation.

Several readers mentioned this in their comments to my last few posts. It’s a journey, with more than one destination. More than a few travel plans will change. We never get to one single place and then plop there for the rest of our lives. “Got mine, get in line,” is no longer a justifiable or sustainable model for the self-aware. Change is always just around the corner.

Which reminds me of something a friend told me years ago. It was at a dark time in my life, just before I realized I was being called to be an artist. I was so fearful of everything in my life, and especially for my child. The world seemed to dark and full of evil. I said I couldn’t figure out how to protect her and keep her safe.

“You can’t!” exclaimed my friend. “That’s not our job. Our job is to teach them to be themselves, and to believe in themselves, so they can handle anything life throws at them. I want to teach my children to dance on the edge of the universe!’

Her words sent shivers down my spine. Here was a fearless mother who knew a good way to truly protect her children–teach them to adapt gracefully and beautifully to the inevitable challenges that come their way in a fully-lived life. She showed me how to drive that debilitating fear right out of my heart, and put love and faith and courage in its place.

So who do I want to be? An anxious whiny person, determined not to risk what I have in order to move forward?

Or do I want to dance on the edge of the universe?

ps. Years later, my friend had more difficult pregnancies, resulting in children with debilitating special needs. Emotionally exhausted, financially overwhelmed, the family made the decision to move across county to be closer to family and old friends for support. The night before she left, I took her some gifts, told her how much her friendship had meant to me.

“You led me out of a very dark place, and I will always be grateful”, I told her. I repeated her words back to her.

“I said that??” She couldn’t remember ever being that fearless and sure.

It was then I realized the real reason she’d told me those words was so I could repeat them back to her when she needed them most.

They had been held in trust for her.

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Filed under art, change, fear of failing, inspiration, life, mental attitude