Tag Archives: self-doubt

BE KIND, REWIND. (This Means You!)

Messy? Multiply this by a jillion!

I’m having one of those days.

I was going to goof off and enjoy this fiercely windy and sunny day.

But no. My good friend Bonnie Blandford posted a link to a great list of things to do to be the best artist you can be. Drat.

So I started clearing a surface so I could get busy with my next project. That lasted two minutes.

Got lost in sorting and reorganizing. Oops! I’m out of this widget. Order it now while I’m thinking about it.

An hour later. Surface still not cleared. Great art put on hold. Again.

I try again.

This time I found a metal box full of special orders and repairs from my really big show last August. Uh oh.

Now, there are a few things you need to know about how I do business, and how I treat my collectors.

When something breaks, I fix it.

When someone wants something different, I make it.

When something gets lost, I replace it. Free. Well. I’ll replace an earring, but I’m not going to replace, say, a lost wall hanging.

So I always have a stack of these ‘special projects’ after the show. This year, I had almost two dozen on my plate. Er…in my box.

It’s not my nature, really. After three days of set-up, nine days of selling and standing–in August, in the heat, which I H*A*T*E–the last thing I want to do is all the things that seem to point out my failure.

The repairs say, “You didn’t make it strong enough!” Fail.
The replacements say, “I shouldn’t have fallen out!” Fail.
The custom work says, “I don’t see anything I like!” Fail.

Now add: Two customers who cancelled their layaways right after the show. And the one special order I didn’t do, which angered one customer.

On top of that, add the six-months-from-hell I wrote about recently, and my upcoming knee surgery (which will make me put my life and art on hold, yet again, for months and months) and I get a little weepy.

I am very very good at feeling guilty and useless. I excel at feeling sorry for myself.

So I looked at that box and knew I had to deal with it.

To my surprise, I had actually completed…everything.

I don’t know why I’m so hard on myself. Probably that perfectionist thing that still raises its ugly head from time to time.

But it doesn’t serve me. It doesn’t serve my art. It takes away all the joy. It makes me forget why I do this.

Time to be kind and rewind.

I thought about the two dozen projects and repairs I DID complete, and all the happy responses I’d gotten back.

The repairs say, “I wore this until it fell apart. It’s my favorite necklace.” Success.
The replacements say, “I can’t believe you can make another one, and you’re not charging me!” Success.
The custom work says, “I love what you do, and I want one, I just need it in a different size/style/color.” Success.

I thought back to the angry customer. When I apologized, she calmed down. When I told her what had been going on, she sympathized. She said no worries, she’ll be back next year to look again.

And now that I think on it…last year, a customer commented in passing that she had lost everything she owned, in a major house fire. And I gave her a new piece–a big one–on the spot.

Am I a saint? Nope. Am I perfect? HA!

What I am is 100% human, through and through.

And I’m feeling better already.

N.B., if you have similar issues with repairs and special orders, one way to eliminate a lot of hassle is this: DO NOT TAKE ANY $$$ UPFRONT. I may take a check or write out a charge slip. But I don’t cash the check, or run the charge, til the order is ready to ship. That way, if something comes up and everything falls apart (like it did for me), your customer isn’t trying to get their money back–a far more complicated, and serious proposition.

And a little something extra that says “Thank you for your patience” goes a loooong way to smoothing over your (hopefully rare) goofs, too.

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Filed under art, business, creativity, mental attitude

WE CAN ALWAYS USE ANOTHER HERO

We all need a hero.

And we can all BE a hero.

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

We do need another hero. Lots of ‘em.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What am I teaching my kid??”

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

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

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

Ow. Ow. OW!!

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

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

Maybe someone we care about deeply. Maybe not.

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

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

Be someone’s hero. Be your own hero.

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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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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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Filed under art, craft, creativity, inspiration, mental attitude, myths about artists

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #2: You’re Not Good Enough

Myth #2: You not only have to be good, you have to be the best.

Fact: You just have to be “good enough.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Mostly because the single biggest block owned by many artists–visual, musical, performance–is they feel if they don’t “make it”, it’s because they aren’t “good enough.”

I love to quote my friend Lori W. Simons on this one. Lori is not only a talented artist, she is also a writer. I was curious if the 2-D art world sorts itself out so neatly. Do the best artists become the most successful artists? She hesitated and then said quietly, “Being good HELPS.”

What does that mean? It means that you can be successful at whatever you throw your heart into, and it isn’t directly related to how good you are. Or whether you’re “the best”. Or even whether you’re one of the top 10.

It’s about how badly you want it, and how hard you’re willing to work at it. How smart you are about maximizing your opportunities, and how savvy you are with managing the business side of your art.

No one ran harder or farther from their art than I did. But it just wouldn’t go away. I finally gave up. My turning point was when I realized that if I did not pay attention to this, I would be destroying a part of myself that was too important to my very life. I had hit bottom, too. My exact words to my husband were these:

“I have to be an artist, or I’m going to die. I don’t even care anymore if I’m a GOOD artist. I just have to do it.”

Period. Nuff said. I had to swallow my pride, give up making judgments about how good I would/could or wouldn’t/couldn’t be, and just do it.

And you know what? Once I gave up basing my entire act on caring what others thought, that’s when my art began to hit its stride. Once I was making art I cared about, deeply, and once it came straight from my heart, that’s when I began to achieve some success with it.

That, and a lot of hard work, too. Ya gotta wanna, but ya also just gotta DO it.

This doesn’t mean the road was easy after that. There were still a lot of twists and turns. There were adjustments, suggestions, modifications along the way. But the core vision was always there. I had a story to tell, and a story to get out into the world.

Which brings us to this corollary to our #2 myth about artists. “Only the best artists are successful artists.”

NOT.

Once more, with feeling. It helps if you’re good. You’ll get a little further a little faster. But just being good won’t ensure your success. And conversely, you can be highly successful even if you’re not the BEST.

Need proof? Look at Olympic-quality athletes. Sometimes they lose by 1/100 of a second, or 1/100 of a point. When we get into subjective judgment about who is “the best”, and that is determined by what the temperature was that day, or whether those new athletic shoes were rubbing the wrong way, or whether a competitor turned an inch too far back, we are talking about, “Who was the best, in the minds of those particular jurors, at that particular moment on that specific day.” Are we saying those other competitors were not sucessful, too? Nah… It may not have been their day, but they are still amazing athletes.

Now…would you rather run a 24-mile marathon, or get started on a new piece today?

Get in that studio! Don’t worry about how good you are. Just do it good.

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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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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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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

DON’T MISS IT!!

Focusing on what’s going wrong could make us miss the thing that’s going to be oh-so-right.

It’s been a very difficult last few weeks. In fact, yesterday was hellish. I won’t even dwell on what happened, that’s not important.

What IS important is the lesson I’ve learned.

When weird things happen, my brain (and your brain, perhaps?) leaps forward to figure out WHY.

Why did she say that? Why did they do that?? What else should I have done? What did I bring to that situation? Was it my fault? Their fault?? Your fault???

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

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

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

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

I don’t want to miss that.

So I’ve had my little hissy fit. I’ve cried and felt sorry for myself. Good friends listened and sympathized. And after a little while, they delivered a very gentle but very firm kick in the pants.

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

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

Thank you Ruth, Ted, Kerin and as always, Jon. Thank you for loving me when I’m feeling very unlovable. And thank you for assuring me that it’s entirely possible for 312 other people to be very weird, and of course it has nothing to do with moi.

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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

TURNING THE TABLES

You’ve probably realized by now how much I constantly second-guess myself as an artist.

Like countless others, I’ve struggled the last few years in a poor economy, with galleries and artists alike going under like rocks in a lake, trying to imagine a success that’s no longer defined by dollar signs. After all, making lots of money is considered a pretty good definition of success.

It’s hard to keep your good energy going when your work isn’t selling like it used to. It doesn’t matter that NOBODY’S work is selling–it still feels personal.

So what do you do?

Do you get bigger? Or smaller? Keep doing the big, expensive shows, even though they’re no longer a sure thing? Take a break from doing big, expensive shows, because they look like the ONLY thing?

Work your current customer list? Look for entirely new customers? Do you change the work? Or hold fast to it, working even harder to find the right audience?

I’ve looked for answers everywhere, in books, on the internet, seeking wisdom from friends and fellow artists, consultants and columnists.

I’ve tried to keep my spirits up, and my focus sharp. Sometimes with more success, sometimes less.

It’s funny–but what really got me fired up was encouraging someone who’s in the same boat. Actually, someone who wasn’t even in the same room with me.

I was at a party. I was asked what I do. I said I was an artist and writer.

I was asked what kind of writing I did. I said, “I write about why I make art. What inspires me. And I write about how making art has made me a better person. And how the things I’ve learned in life–from trying to be a good parent, trying to be a better martial artist, learning how to ride a horse and climb a wall, and do yoga–have made me a better artist.”

I was actually starting to feel better already.

Well, someone in the group has a daughter who yearns to be an artist, too. But she hates her job, and she can’t figure out how to support herself as an artist.

And the next thing you know, I was on fire with what I call my “Be the artist you were meant to be” speech.

I said, “Tell your daughter not to focus so hard on how to make a lot of money. Focus on doing what she loves. That has to come first.”

She asked about doing little local shows and fairs. I said, “They may or may not work well for her. But she could try them. She’ll learn a LOT about how to display and market her work. And she’ll learn a LOT about how to talk to people about her work.”

She lamented that where her daughter lives is an economically-depressed area (translation: “Nobody buys art”) and not really her customer base. “ALL artists say that,” I countered. “It may be true, but there’s this thing called the internet that can help a lot. She can research galleries in other places, find other shows and marketing opportunities, and even sell online.”

She said her daughter wasn’t good at the marketing/selling thing. I said again,” MOST artists feel this way. But that’s no excuse to sit on the bench and not get out there into the game. She can learn those skills, just like learning to play the piano or parallel-park.”

She brought up other obstacles, and I had an answer for them all. All of them.

Because I’ve heard them all before. Heck, I’ve told them all to myself before.

It boils down to this:

It gets tempting to give up. It’s too easy to say that being “successful” with your art is an all-or-nothing proposition. And then step back and say ‘all’ is too hard.

It doesn’t have to be ‘all’. It doesn’t have to be 100% successful. It doesn’t even have to be someone else’s definition of success. It doesn’t have to always be only about fame or fortune. Plenty of mediocre artists have both, and plenty of talented artists have neither.

It has to be about what is creative and worthwhile inside you. Something that, when it is fully expressed, makes the world a better place.

Maybe the world is more beautiful because of it. Maybe the world is more peaceful because of it. Maybe someone else is happier because of it, or more thoughtful, or more inspired.

And yes, it can also be because you are richer for it, whether in spirit or in your bank account. It’s okay to make money from your art.

Now, maybe I came across as just another artist who hasn’t figured anything out for sure.

But what I suddenly realized was, I had some pretty good advice for her. AND myself.

You HAVE to follow your heart, and believe the money will follow. Because we’re all learning a very hard lesson about where ‘follow the money’ will take you.

Don’t think so much. Just….DO.

Usually we’re very good at giving advice to others that we should be following ourselves. It’s much more fun to GIVE advice than to get it, after all.

But if I’m smart, I intend to be very, very good at following the advice I give to others.

Starting now.

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THE QUAGMIRE OF CUSTOM ORDERS

I’m struggling to finish my last custom order from my big big retail show in August.

On the surface, it wasn’t a difficult order. The customer, new to my work, fell in love with my aesthetic. She asked me to create a necklace featuring a treasured natural artifact.

We discussed colors, style and price range. I took all her contact info. I promised to have it done within a month, at the most six weeks.

It’s been a heckuva lot longer than that.

I’ve had a difficult fall–a death in the family, new injuries, not a few distractions. Enough to bump things like this custom order a little further down the priority list each week.

Fortunately, I must have sensed the potential for trouble, so I didn’t take my normal deposit for the work. At least I haven’t taken money for work I haven’t done (though I do have her precious artifact in my care.)

And fortunately, I’ve found my creative jones again. I’m slowly envisioning what this piece could look like, and I’m halfway through the design process. I’m hoping that free express shipping, and a healthy discount on the quoted price will help offset the customer’s frustration on my lateness.

But I’m struggling with the why. Why do custom orders so often throw me for a loop? Why do they seem so difficult?

I’ve written about possible pitfalls with custom orders (the Design Diva scenario, for example.)

I know the drill on how to make sure custom orders go smoothly: Decide if you’ll charge for the actual design process. Get as much input from the customer as possible (size, price, color, etc.) Get a deposit upfront (to ensure the customer is committed.) Get them to sign off on the design stages, even sending images, if possible, of the work in progress. And get everything in writing.

And I’ve enjoyed success with most of my custom orders. Customers seem to be thrilled with the finished products, and often come back for more.

But there are still sticking points. Today, in the wee hours of the morning, I woke up with a better understanding of what those are, and why I struggle with them.

When a customer falls in love with a piece I’ve already made–at a show, in my studio, in my new Etsy shop–that emotional connection is palpable. And immediate.

They see it, they react to it, they buy it–and they’re happy. Instantly.

There is that astonished moment of recognition–“This is the one!”–a moment that is the culmination of my creative process. I made something I think is beautiful, and someone else agrees. They trade their hard-earned money for my time, my energy, and my vision. The transaction is complete.

I love that moment.

With a custom order, we both get partway there. But then that final moment is postponed. It becomes nebulous.

I go back to my studio after the show. There’s usually a significant amount of downtime. I have to recuperate, physically and emotionally, from the stress of doing the show. There is inventory to be put away, booth paraphernalia to be stowed, paperwork to be completed, sales to be recorded and deposited.

The excitement of the show dissipates. The memory of the actual encounter fades. (I’m getting older, after all!)

I can’t read my own notes on the transaction, or I don’t understand what my sales assistant meant by her notes.

The desire to make that customer happy is still overwhelming. But
the energy has faded, the details have become hazy.

Doubt and second-guessing sets in.

She said blue. But which blue? Sky? Turquoise? Baby? Cobalt? Copen? Capri? (Yes, I have all of these blues in my stash.)

She said handmade ivory beads, but not too big. What does that mean??

She said she didn’t care, she trusted my judgment. But the seeds of self-doubt have been sown. I don’t trust my judgment anymore.

I’ve become paralyzed trying to anticipate the desires of a customer who’s no longer in front of me, and whose heart is not known to me. (Geez, I struggle making things for people I’ve known intimately for years….)

I’ve moved the center of my creative energy from pleasing myself, to pleasing someone else.

I care deeply about being successful, yet I begin to question every design decision.

It’s not the customer’s fault. It’s just the nature of the process, for me. I struggle with this particular dynamic.

I don’t mean to sound presumptuous, but I sometimes wonder if God felt this way when he created Eve. “Hmmmm, yes, I’ll make him a companion, sort of like what I did with him but a little different. Dum de dum de dum de dum da….. Wow, that’s pretty good! Very nice. VERY nice. Wait….what if he doesn’t like brunettes????”

One thing I know for sure: I have to figure this out.

If I move into making bigger fiber wall hangings, if I hope to work with interior decorators or do commissions for public works, I’m going to have to get over this hurdle. Because these will all be “custom orders” in a sense–site-specific, made-to-order, the whole shebang. And the bigger the work, the more money involved. And, I assume, the bigger the risk of not pleasing the customer.

I realize it is this fear, this huge issue of self-doubt, that is holding me back from that next big step in my professional art career.

So how do I get past this?

It may simply be a process of learning to trust myself, completely, with full heart and steady resolve.

After, my customers did.

And maybe once again, my life situation and my art are closely intertwined. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, just as I’m realizing my next step in my martial arts practice, a log jam in my creative process is slowing breaking up.

All I ask is, I wish it would hurry up.

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Filed under art, business, choices, creativity, mental attitude, public art proposal, risks

DO I MAKE YOU PROUD?

I guess it was on my mind because I’ve been talking the last few days about the movies of M. Night Shyamalan. (And by the way, I think I am the only person in the whole world who loves all his movies. Yes, even The Village.)

So maybe it was inevitable I woke up this morning thinking of that emotional, finely wrought scene with Cole and his mother in The Sixth Sense, where he tells his mother that he’s talked to Grandma (who’s dead.)

He says, “Grandma says to tell you, the answer to your question is, ‘Every day.’ What did you ask Grandma, mama?”

And his mother answers stumblingly, with a heart full of tears, “I asked her….’Do I make you proud?'”

I’ve been struggling for so long now with doubts and fears about my artwork. Profound forces beyond my control seem to push me this way and that, and conditions under my control hold me back. (Have I really told you how cluttered and stifling my studio is lately?)

Yesterday I drove five hours to spend a day with silver jewelry artist Kerin Rose, who gave me an impromptu class on Precious Metal Clay. I’m exploring ways to transform some of my designs into sterling silver, and Kerin has graciously offered to help me explore to do that. I’ve been hugely excited about the new audience I could find for this work.

We spent the entire day talking, playing, experimenting, kvetching, day-dreaming (will Sundance Catalog ever discover us???), brainstorming (thank you, Kerin, for suggesting I contact this gallery to see if they’d be interested in carrying my work.)

Kerin and her sister Mara are delightful, witty, warm and loving people. It was a wonderful, perfect artist day. I look forward to more! I am also the proud new owner of what they lovingly refer to as this honkin’ big ring (the flying heart one in the center.)

But on the way home, exhaustion and weariness, and more self-doubt crept in.

Is this really the right thing for me to do? Should I segue sideways into silver work, when there are already so many other artists with much more talent and passion for the stuff? More time, more creative energy, more equipment, more money, to make even more disparate work for what feels like an ever-shrinking audience?

Am I off on another wild goose chase for the “thing” that will bring me what I want?

And what the heck do I want right now, anyway?

I feel like I’ve let myself become so distracted with should’s, and could’s and maybe’s, I have no idea what is in my heart anymore. Maybe I’ve let the jewelry pull me too far away from the fiber work. Maybe the fiber work is done. Maybe the writing is pushing both out.

Maybe I’ve listened too hard to the loving people who, wanting to help, have offered many other paths I could take. I know I’ve listened too much to the jealous, destructive people who really don’t have my best interests at heart.

And maybe, as several people have told me lately, maybe I’m just over-thinking all of this. Second-guessing myself to the point of self-destruction, artistically.

I woke up thinking of that line:

“Do I make you proud?”

And I’ve been crying ever since. (Yes, for an hour now!)

I don’t know who I’m speaking to.

But I know I so desperately want the answer to be, “Every day.”

I know now the first thing I need to do, before I pick up any other tasks or commissions or orders, is clean my studio.

A visitor yesterday said, “How can you even work in here??” and I realized I can’t. My perfect, beautiful, cozy studio full of interesting, clever stuff has become a rabbit warren. (No offense, Bunster!)

It’s going to be painful. I need to let go of so many things that represent new ideas, new possibilities. Every item in my attic and studio represents “potential”. But it’s also just weighing me down.

I’m sure the silver line is still a good idea. I do love silver, and I still get excited about the many ways it could enrich and expand my designs. But I know there is something else that has to happen before I pick up even one new thing.

I don’t know whether this is fear speaking today, or whether it’s simply what a dear friend used to call a “come to Jesus” moment, when the final reckoning begins. But I know it’s time to clear the decks, if only to make room for the answer to my prayers.

And to end this essay today, I’m also wondering if perhaps the “sixth sense” in the movie is not the ability to see ghosts, but the ability to love.

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