EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #9: Stretch!

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #9: Stretch!

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

Strength needs stretch to reach maximum potential.

We all know it’s important to stretch. Everyone says so! But who has the time?? It’s hard enough squeezing in work-out time.

Turns out we must make the time. Because stretching is important to the balanced interplay between your bones, your tendons and your muscles.

When you have the right balance of tension between these three systems, they all move easily and freely. Each interacts with and supports the others.

Tight muscles tear when you put too much “reach” on them. Bones take too much impact when muscles and tendons aren’t working smoothly together. And too much stretch with not enough strength means joints can overextend or over-rotate.

Stretching can be part of the body’s process of laying down new muscle fiber. And stretching helps maintain the body’s range of motion as we age.

Best of all (in my mind), stretching connects you to your body. Done correctly, and gently, it simply feels good to stretch.

There’s a lot of debate over when and how much to stretch. Most experts seem to agree it’s best to warm-up gently, start working out slowly, then make it harder, saving the mega-stretches for after your work-out when your muscles are thoroughly warmed and relaxed.

However and whenever you do it, stretching strengthens the “rubber band” in you.

It’s the same with our artwork and art biz.

I think of stretching as the things that encourage us to be more flexible, more in balance with ourselves as artists. This includes the things that encourage us to lay down more “muscle fiber”–that force us to be better at what we do.

Here are some of those “artistic stretches” I’ve encountered:

1. Applying for bigger and better shows/events than I thought I was ready to do.

This forced me to speed up my production to increase my inventory. It forced me to figure out display, lighting, booth wall. I had to create support materials–postcards for pre-show mailings, catalogs, other promotional materials. It forced me to learn how to sell my work and to sell myself as an artist.

In short, it forced me to “grow up” and “get big”–fast!

2. Applying to juried exhibits.

This forced me to quit messing around photographing my own work and find a professional photographer. Yes, I still use my smartphone for social media, email newsletters, my shop. But for big-ticket events and advertising, there’s nothing like a high-quality, perfectly-posed and produced photo for best results.

3. Having my work copied.

At first this made me more proactive in protecting my designs, which is a losing battle. But it also got me out of my “safe area” and made me rethink how to combat copycats. I had settled into “sure thing” designs. This forced me to kick it up a notch.

I don’t take any shortcuts with my designs. I emphasize the work, the experimentation, and the research that goes into my artifacts. I share my stories more easily.

All of this helps establish me as an original maker, with a personal story, and a unique approach to telling it.

4. Taking a class outside my “safe zone”. It’s good to take a class that’s outside your normal field of expertise. For one thing, it can refresh and inform your art. For another, it puts you back in student/learning mode–always a good place for your brain to be!

Caveat: Some people get carried away with this kind of stretch, and remain perpetual students. Too many classes and workshops without doing the work is kind of like too much stretching before your workout–too much demand on your muscles before they’re actually at work.

That’s okay if this perpetual learning stage is enough for you–and for many people, it really is enough.

But if you yearn to be a “real artist”, you eventually have to do the work(out), too.

Also, using an instructor’s designs and patterns is a good way to get your artwork outside its usual box. But you must continue the “stretch”. You must find ways to make the technique “stretch” your artwork, and not simply recreate the instructor’s work. (They don’t need any help making their artwork, thank you very much.)

5. Thinking outside the box.

Trying different ways of making, marketing and selling your work than “everyone else” is doing. People who were early adapters of selling on the internet, home parties, alternate markets and niche markets refused to accept the status quo of how to sell art and craft. They saw what wasn’t working and tried something different.

Again, the work(out) after the stretch is just as important as the actual stretch. These early adaptors and innovators know these weren’t easy solutions or short-cuts to success. It took just as much work (if not more) to research these new ways of doing things, and to get them off the ground. But when it worked, it gave them increased flexibility than people who were still stuck with the old ways of doing things. This in turn brought them sustainability, and success.

Over the past few decades, there have been plenty of tough stretches for artists and craftspeople. After the 2008 recession, many artists and galleries gave up and left the industry altogether. Others hung on for dear life. A very, very few took up the mantra “Change or die”.

These hardy souls changed their outlook, their attitude, their product, their marketing, their strategies–everything. And they not only hung on, they thrived. They had to stretch, and the process restored balance in their business.

6. Dealing with negative and hostile people.

This is an odd one, but for me, it was a necessary stretch. I learned to stand up for my art in ways I’d never done for myself. When I met a person who was a roadblock to my success, I wouldn’t quit and go home. Instead of being reduced to a puddle of self-pity, I learned to flex my newly-discovered professional mettle. They forced me to find ways to go over, under, around and through them.

I learned to not internalize the judgments they passed or the nasty things they said. I learned to set them aside and focus on what really matters–making my art, and focusing on how I intend to bring it into the world.

Some became so toxic it forced me to stop hanging out so much at on-line forums (remember those??) and start a blog instead. Which forced me to write every day. Which eventually led to professional writing gigs, and a long history of articles and essays that I believe still have something of value to say.

Nice stretch!

 7. Keeping it fresh.

Art centers, organizations, guilds, and other supporters of the arts are facing a new challenge. As they become more sophisticated and pickier in their artist selection, many younger, newer artists aren’t considered “good enough” or “traditional enough” to get in. We tend to forget that when we first started out, we weren’t at our peak, either. But the “safety net” of a supportive, encouraging art org gave us the opportunities to make our work, improve it, find an audience, learn how to talk with them, and make our work even more appealing to our collectors.

And our audience, too, as I mentioned earlier, gets older. They run out of wall space, or downsize, or….gasp….die. (Remember my horse sculpture that was bought at a yard sale? I’m sure the original collector didn’t put it there!) We need to constantly reach out (aka, “stretch!”) to attract and grow a new audience for our work.

Take stock of where you feel hidebound and muscle-bound. Where could you use some increased flexibility and suppleness?

What forced you to stretch, and how did it help? Let us know!

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #8: Get the right support.

Luann Udell discusses the importance of support.
Luann Udell discusses the importance of support.

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #8: Get the right support.

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

Find ways to “hold it together” during the hard times and the slow times.

We all need the right support, literally and figuratively.

In martial arts, no guy goes out on the sparring floor without a cup. And those of us women who are, er, heavily endowed on top need a sports bra for those more vigorous sports–jogging, kickboxing, etc.

And here’s my $100 tip for those women today: I used to spend big bucks and much time searching for the perfect sports bra, even by mail order. They either didn’t work as promised or I felt like I was girding chest armor for battle. Yuck!

Then I discovered you can simply wear TWO regular sports bras, even the cheapie brands. Together they work just as well as the much more expensive kind.

But the other kind of support that’s vital is the support of your community.

On the first level, in your intimate community, someone who genuinely wants you to lose weight and get fit (and surprisingly, not everyone in your circle wishes that for you.)

On the second level, in your immediate community it’s more fun to work out with others who are just as dedicated as you are to showing up.

And on the highest level, your bigger community, it’s a lot easier when you have the facilities of a local gym or Y. Or when your town provides safe places for you to run (good sidewalks, well-lit recreation areas, bike paths and bike lanes on roads, public-access basketball courts and ball fields, etc.) Sometimes we’ve lived in areas where even WALKING was not a safe activity, and pedestrian-access was limited.

The communities you find, develop, and grow for your art is just as important!

I wish our country’s public schools in supported the arts as vigorously as they do sports. (And I wish they supported the kind of sports EVERYONE could do for the rest of their lives (swimming, jogging, biking, walking, tai chi, etc.) rather than focusing on team sports only the best athletes can try out for after a certain age.)

That’s true with artists, too.

If your intimate circle is not supportive of the work you do–if they can’t respect your work time, or don’t value what you do–you need to keep your hopes and dreams to yourself until you find people who do. Write in a journal, or a blog instead. Find a family member who is on your team and share with them. Or mentor another family member–maybe you are someone else’s inspiration and cheerleader!

Find ways to share your art with schools, community centers, and other town/city resources. Show people that art isn’t “something special and precious” that only works for a privileged few. Show them that our creative work is a lifelong activity, a way to have a voice in the world, and a healing balm for our spirit.

Find people in your community who share your dreams and visions for success. Some of them may not be in your medium, some of them may be further ahead or behind than you in their progress. Some of them may not even be in the arts. They could be other small business entrepreneurs, or people who have strong personal vision for other good causes. You’ll find many of the same business strategies and exercises for staying focused and staying on your core vision are still similar.

And finally, find ways to make your greater community at large more supportive of the arts.

Tell people about what you do–open studios, press releases to your local paper, demonstrations and presentations to professional groups and schools.

Show up when development proposals come to your city council, and advocate for the arts.

Join local art organizations, and support them. Some of them are a time drag, and some are sorry things. But all of them work to increase the visibility of the arts, and their efforts may be the only way many people ever experience the arts. They at least deserve your money and word-of-mouth support. And you can always join their team and encourage them to find ways to be more effective and focused.

At their best, ones like the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen here in NH work tirelessly to promote their membership and the arts and crafts.

Support. We all need to get it and we all need to give it.

It’s the, um, foundation garment for what we do.

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EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #7 Work (gently) through your setbacks.

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #7 Work (gently) through your setbacks.

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

Hiatus hurts, for awhile. 

Getting back in the saddle again hurts, for awhile.

But never going back to what you love, hurts forever.

 When we work out, despite our best efforts, we run the risk of injury. Injuries can range from annoying to debilitating. And they can derail your fitness program faster than you can say billy blue blazes.

Nothing is sadder than someone who’s grown dependent on their workouts for their good mood, their steady frame of mind and their focus. When my DH had a serious foot injury a few years into our relationship, I didn’t know who would lose their mind first–him or me.

And when I was first majorly injured in martial arts, it took me almost ten years to work up the courage–and physical ability–to return.

But the second time I injured myself two years ago, it took me only a few months to get back out there. And a year later, when I tore my hamstring, it took only weeks to get back on my feet again.

Not at the same level of intensity and skill, to be sure. At first all I could do was show up. I would do my physical therapy while everyone else practiced their spinning back kicks.

But I’ve learned to show up. And to always do what I can. Because I learned my lesson in that ten years of relative inactivity.

For one thing, studies show that injuries heal faster and better when we use our bodies. (Being mindful of moving in therapeutic ways, of course.) In fact, our bodies are so dependent on movement for our well-being, muscles will start to atrophy after only days of idleness. I’ve been told that the weakness we experience after a rough bout of flu actually has less to do with the illness, and more to do with our immobility as the disease runs its course.

For another, the less we move, the less we CAN move. “Use or lose it” is vital to our physical, mental–and artistic–health.

It’s the same with our art.

I will now tell you the saddest story in the world.

It’s the person who says, “I entered an art exhibit once, and didn’t get in. So I never tried again.”

Or “I got into an art exhibit once, but I didn’t sell anything. So I don’t even try to sell my work anymore.”

Or “I used to paint but I couldn’t sell my work. So I quit painting.”

Or “This show used to work for me but now it doesn’t. I don’t know what else to do.”

Or “I just love to (whatever) but I can never find the time to (whatever).”

As my mom used to say, people who say they love to read but they don’t have time, don’t really love to read. Because if you do, you know you can ALWAYS sneak in a book somewhere.

Experiencing failure with our art is daunting. But it’s simply part of the process of making art. Making art means learning how to make art, and learning how market our art. And learning how to sell our art. AND learning how to make better art.

The people who are successful making art and marketing their art and selling their art, aren’t people who have never failed.

They are simply people who didn’t quit just because they failed.

They keep at it, doing what they can and figuring things out as they go.

If their early work didn’t sell, or later work quit selling, they either changed their style, changed their marketing or changed their venues. If shows started to fail them, they tried something else.

Not all of us will be world-class artists, or hugely successful artists, or even very good artists. But if you love it, and it’s important to you, you must find a way to keep doing it.

 It’s as important to your creative nature as moving is to our physical bodies.

Whatever your art means to you–whether you intend to support yourself, or make a name for yourself, or whether it’s something you do part-time or something you do to amuse yourself–find a way to do it.

Even if, somedays, that means just showing up.

At my last open studio, one of my customers recommended an affordable place to ride a horse. I haven’t ridden in five years! But I went yesterday for a lesson. Nothing spectacular, and I was never a “spectacular” rider to begin with. (I am the eternal “adult beginner”.) But I scheduled a lesson with the instructor (who is delightful) at the ranch (which is beautiful, and takes great care of its horses.) I rode around the ring on a gentle little guy for an hour, and it was wonderful.

Today, I hurt all over. My back hurts, my hips hurt, my knees are killing me. I’m exhausted, too. I didn’t do much at all, but that’s what it feels like the first time you get back to something after a long hiatus.

And yet….I am soooooo happy!

This is what it feels like to be doing what you love. Especially after setting it aside for way too long.

It hurts.

But not nearly as much as not doing it.

Whatever has taken you away from your creative work, find a way back. For your sake. For our sake!

Flex your creative muscles. Start slow, but go steady, and work your way back to your happy place.

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #6 Measure your progress. And celebrate your milestones.

Don't miss Luann Udell's inspiring words on celebrating how far we've come.
Don’t miss Luann Udell’s inspiring words on celebrating how far we’ve come.

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #6 Measure your progress. And celebrate your milestones.

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

If we only look at how far we have to go, we forget to celebrate how far we’ve come.

This is one of the most important ways to encourage yourself to maintain an exercise program. And it’s one of the first things we neglect to do with our art and art business.

It’s such a simple concept yet so easily overlooked.

It’s a good short-term strategy to get you through your workout, of course. There’s a huge mental difference between the groan of “I’ve only done 20 pushups!” vs. “I’ve only got 20 more to go!”

But it’s even more critical for the long haul. “I can only do 25 pushups” is self-defeating. “I could only do four when I started this program, and now I can do 25!” is self-encouraging. Same number of pushups. Totally different mindset.

And guess which one will get you to the gym tomorrow?

It’s the same in your art, and your art biz. “I only have four galleries!” vs. “I had none when I moved here, and now I have four!!”

My first year in business, I had to save for three months to buy a piece of equipment that cost less than $200. That’s how much I sold one piece of jewelry for yesterday, in the first hour of my open studio.

I remember visiting the ACC-Baltimore show years ago, wondering if I would ever be able to get accepted to an amazing show like that. Then I applied, and was accepted. Now I wonder what all the fuss was about. It’s a very nice show, but was still just “business as usual”.

But is it really?

Looking at our accomplishments is important for several reasons. For one, it encourages us to stay the course. It helps us overcome feelings of discouragement, inadequacy, failure.

But most of all, it encourages us to turn around our whole way of looking at life.

You got rejected from that top-tier show? Well, you’re in good company. LOTS of great artists don’t get in every year. One well-known artisan shared that they apply to dozens of shows a year, hoping to get into a handful of them. Even the very best get rejected.

And look at you–an artist with great jury images and pretty cool work even applying to that show! Did you ever imagine you would ever CONSIDER applying to that show? And did you think you even  had a chance of getting in?

Look at you! You have the courage to follow your dream, make stuff with your own two hands, search out your venues, research your market, find a photographer, fill out those applications and get your work out there. Do you know how many people fail once–and never try again? Yes, you do. Because you yourself had to get over that mindset long ago to get where you are today.

Take a few minutes today and make a list. Start with everything you’ve already accomplished this year. Quite a list, isn’t it?

Now go back to last year. What did you accomplish LAST year? I’ll bet that’s quite a list, too.

Now look back five years. Ten years. Where did you start? How far have you come? Where are you now?

And look how much closer you are to where you want to be in the next five years! Ever so much closer than you were when you first started out.

When I first started out, I didn’t even know anyone who made stuff and sold it for a living. I didn’t have an idea. I didn’t have a photographer, a peer group, a network of friends in the biz. I didn’t have any idea how to sell my work, where to sell my work, or even who would buy it. I couldn’t see further than my own little town of Keene, NH for a market–though it didn’t take me long to figure out there was a big world out there!

I didn’t have a catalog, publicity, postcards, a body of work or any customers, let alone wholesale accounts.

I DID have a business plan. And every year or so, I pull it out and look at where I am in it.

It’s always an eye-opener. And it always needs updating.

No matter how big I dreamed, I always have to make the plan bigger. No matter how many goals I set for myself, I always have to add more.

Let’s make this beautiful day a “Pat Yourself on the Back” Day.

Let’s celebrate your progress, your efforts, and your future success.

Gosh, I’ve gotten myself so riled up, maybe I’ll make a list today, too.

Come back and share what surprised you on your list. What made you realize you are actually pretty good at what you do? Stick it above your work station. Let it remind you that one bad day/event/missed opportunity/year will not break you.

You got this!

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #5 Eyes on the Prize!

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

People who successfully stick with an exercise program for any length of time know this one:

Eyes on the prize.

Keep your mind everywhere except on how hard you’re sweating.

This is important in martial arts, and it’s something I struggle with in all my endeavors, even today.

It’s easy to get distracted while working out: “I suck at this!” “My kicks have no power!” “Everyone else is doing better than I am!!” “I can’t do anything right!!!” “I forgot to feed the cat!” “I’m so mad at so-and-do!”

Nothing saps your will and your workout quicker than second-guessing your performance, overlooking your intention and side-stepping your focus.

I constantly remind myself to focus on a) the moment and b) the end game. Oh, and remembering to c) try to have fun.

When I focus on the moment, I line up my stance. I make sure my guard is up. Whoops, forgot to pivot my feet! Get that down on the next shot. Breathe. Breathe!!

I lose myself in the process and forget about all the work piled up on my desk at home, at the orders I have to get out, the kitchen sink full of dishes I didn’t get to. I try to blank out what the guy on my right me is doing, and how many more push-ups than me the woman on my left is squeezing out.

My only competition is me. I’m just trying to do a little better than I did yesterday.

When I focus on the end game, I forget about working toward my black belt (or how I’m NOT working toward my black belt….) I focus on the fact that as long as I show up and keep trying, and simply try to do a little bit better each time, eventually I’ll be at least better than I am today. Maybe someday, even pretty good.

When I whine, “I’m not gonna qualify for a black belt until I’m 60!”, my heart answers, “You’ll be 60 anyway. Won’t it be cool if you are even CLOSE to getting a black belt?” And if I never get a black belt, well, at least I’ll be in pretty good shape. (Update: Now I’m 66! Never made it to black belt, though I was this far away. Too many injuries. So what? I did my best until I couldn’t anymore. And I still have a pretty good right jab! I regret nothing.)

And if I can’t enjoy the workout while I’m doing it (“OHMIGOD!!! THIS HURTS!!!”), at least I can feel virtuous AFTER the workout.

Same with my art. (You knew this was coming, right?)

Keep your eyes on the prize.

If I let myself flail, then when I’m doing bookwork, I feel guilty I’m not putting a fiber piece together. And when I’m sewing, I feel guilty I’m not getting that jewelry order together. And when I’m packing that jewelry order, I’m frantic because I’m not working on that writing assignment.

What do I accomplish?

A huge guilt complex and no joy.

That’s gotta go. I want to let go and be in the moment, enjoying just what I’m doing RIGHT NOW. Then let go and be in the NEXT moment.

The long-term goal? The right—the privilege–to say, “I’m an artist.” Maybe someday, “I’m a financially successful artist!” Or maybe even “I’m an internationally acclaimed artist!” (Update: Still not happening, but I’ve accepted that not all careers and choices make us wealthy. And that’s not a bad thing, either.)

Eventually, it simply becomes, “I love what I do. And I wouldn’t trade what I do for ANYTHING.”

If we learn to do what we can, if we can let go of the “shoulda, coulda, woulda’s”, if we can leave our studio at the end of each day with the satisfaction of work well done and know we’ve done the best we can, if we can lose ourselves in the moment of the pure joy of making something W*O*N*D*E*R*F*U*L, what more could we ask from our avocation?

And if in the ‘making’, we find ourselves, if we restore ourselves to our highest self, if we heal, and grow, how cool is that?!

And when we get our art our into the world, if our art makes the world a little more beautiful, a little more interesting, a little more delightful, a little brighter, that’s even cooler.

If  it speaks to someone else, if it inspires THEM to do the work of THEIR heart, if it lifts THEIR heart and heals THEM, the circle keeps on growing.

Art is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

And if we make some money doing that, yippee!! (Just did my banking this morning. Feeling better.)

Eyes on the prize.

P.S. My words are working for ME! Mondays are very full of “to-do’s”. So I wasn’t going to go to the gym today. But I put on my gym shoes anyway. And here I go!

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #4 Do (Something) Every Day

Luann Udell discusses how we must nourish our artistic nature regularly
Luann Udell discusses how we must nourish our artistic nature regularly

 

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

Do it every day.

The people I know who are in the best physical shape they can be, exercise daily. They do something every day.

And the artists I know who are the most creative and most productive do their art every day. They make something every day.

Let’s pursue the exercise metaphor:

Healthy people exercise every day. Or as nearly as they can.

They mix it up. They run alternate days, and bike in between.

They vary the intensity of the activities. High-intensity workouts with something less “pounding” in between. Yoga, for example, or Pilates (which is strenuous but not high impact.)

They vary the type of exercise. Gym workouts. Walking and Tai Chi. Swimming.

They make accommodations for the season. They run more in the more temperate seasons and swim (indoors in New Hampshire!) in the winter.

They accommodate for injuries. When I couldn’t do martial arts after knee surgery, I walked and swam. Now I walk and gym. Hopefully, back to Tai Chi soon!

People who exercise regularly get creative about how to get a daily workout in. Because they’ve learned something important about exercise:

Once you stop, it’s really, really hard to get started again.

I’ve had to come back after several major injuries. The first time, after a debilitating knee injury, it took almost ten years to get back in the saddle again with martial arts. Going to class and not being able to do the things I used to do easily was humiliating. My pride and my frustration got in the way.

I finally found a way to ease myself back into hard workouts by joining an independent women’s gym. After a year, I was able to try martial arts again.

When I injured myself again a few years ago, it only took me about four months to get back into a routine again. It was just as frustrating and humiliating. But I didn’t give up. I learned to find some way of maintaining my routine by alternate exercise, modifying my movements, and doing extra strength work.

What’s really insidious are the people who try to cajole you into “taking it easy.”

“Come on!” they wheedle. “It won’t hurt you to miss a day!”

Well, no. It doesn’t hurt to miss a day–at first.

But it’s so easy for one missed day to turn into two or three missed days. Soon you’re looking for excuses–“I’m really too busy to exercise today. I’ll work twice as hard tomorrow!”

Skipping exercise only makes coming back that much harder.

We do the same thing with our art, when we make a habit of skipping our studio time….with the same devastating results.

Life sometimes gets in the way of our best intentions. When we are devastated by loss, by illness and injuries, by financial setbacks, by a job loss or move, often the first thing we abandon is the very thing that gives us the energy, the power, to deal with it: Our art.

Our artistic nature is like a muscle. It needs to be exercised regularly, too.

Yes, sometimes we need to compensate for overwork/injury with rest and recuperation: We need to allow time for our “artistic well” to refill.

But too much time away from our studio means we have unplugged ourselves from our source of power.

When an artist tells me they are struggling, that life is clobbering them, that they feel sad about their art, the only advice I can’t stop myself from giving them is this:

Go make your art.

And like our physical workouts, when we hit a wall in life, sometimes we just need to mix it up a little. It’s good to try new things. It may help to take a class to develop our techniques or expand our vision.

Sometimes we need to vary the intensity–alternating lighter art (short fun projects) for serious art (the stuff we pour our soul into).

Sometimes we need to warm up first, doing quick, easy tasks to warm up the right side of our brain before settling into our long “flow” work periods. Sketching out new ideas. Restocking our materials: Paint. Tools. Frames. Meeting up for an artist support group!

Sometimes we are fortunate enough to have leisurely, long periods of time to work on our art. Other times, we’re lucky if we can grab fifteen minutes. But those fifteen minutes may be crucial to us keeping up that habit of daily work.

I’ve learned the hard way that this means actually touching the things that involve what you DO with your art. The days I spend putting together show applications, or doing press releases, or doing banking, or shipping orders, are related to my art business. But they are not my art. It’s too easy to think you are “doing your art” when you are actually “taking care of business”. After all, you have to make art in order to have a business selling and promoting it.

Learning to say “no” to the constant interruptions and distractions from doing my art may be the most valuable lesson I learn this year. On one hand, this year drained me of many things: Hope. Enthusiasm. Joy. I felt overwhelmed with exhaustion. I felt “too tired” to go to my studio.

On the other hand, once I forced myself to get back to my studio, all of those sad feelings lessened. Softened. It got easier and easier to go. And finally, my daily habit was restored.

And that restored me to my artistic self. It restored me to my creative self. It restored me to my best self, the person I choose to be in the world.*

Sometimes I would do one step in my process. Sometimes a sketch. Sometimes it simply meant washing an old wooden box.

Some days, all I could do was wash ONE BOX. 

But then that box was cleaned. It could be sanded. And then it could be waxed. And then….

Other days, it was just putting something IN a box. 

It could hold one of my artifacts. It could hang on a wall. It can go into my inventory.

It can be admired. And sold. And go to its new home, with someone who loves it.

But all the days I did “just one thing” added up, and helped me over the rough parts. 

Go to the studio and make something.

Make a decision about subject, or color. Pull some fabric pieces. Create a study for a larger piece. Make a bead you will use in a later project. Do one more step in that project you’re working on–polishing a piece, pulling the bead selection for that new necklace, a sketch for that next quilt.

Put your hands on your art. Pick up your tools and materials.

Enjoy the way they make you feel.

Do it today. 

  

*Er….not finished yet, though. I’m still a work in progress!

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #3: You have to do it even when you don’t feel like it.

Luann Udell discusses how getting to the studio--is half the battle.
Luann Udell discusses how getting to the studio–is half the battle.

 

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

Getting to the gym—or the studio—is half the battle. Have your winning arguments ready!

 

I rarely feel like exercising. Given a choice, I can always find a great excuse to skip it.

Not so fast, kiddo! Walking? Studio? Workout? PICK ONE! 

But I use those micro-steps (“I’ll just get into my gym shoes!”) and say I’ll get in the car at the appropriate time. I drive there, I walk in, sign in and get in line. I fight down a few moments of panic–“I can’t do this!”

And then everyone says hello, and the music pops in, and we’re off. For the next hour, I don’t have much time to think.

It’s a full hour of work—warming up, strength work, balance work, stretching, cooling down.

And at the end of the hour, I am always–ALWAYS–glad I came.

The same with my art. Especially the last year or so, as I take my work to the next level, it’s been hard to sit down to work. My head plays every mental game it can, and I’ve got a million excuses why I should work on something else.

So I do the micro-steps and say, “I’m just going to pick out the border pattern” or “I’m just going to mix some clay.”

Or I do it because I know if I can just get out of the house, that’s half the battle. Instead of, “I’ll just do the laundry first”, I promise myself I’ll do it when I get back.

Or I do it because I know once I’m in the studio, I’ll be fine. There will be plenty of little tasks, big projects (with little steps!), and maybe a customer or two will drop in.

Or I do it because….

I know it’s the work of my heart. And I have to do it. Because I LOVE IT. And I’ll be absolutely miserable if I don’t.

It’s like taking vitamins. Or, even more fun, a glass of wine!

I do it because it’s good for me, and I know that. I do it because I will be happier, not only being active, but getting something done. I do it because I can cross those little goals off my checklist, and that feels productive, too.

Before I know it, the time has flown by. Some pretty good work has been accomplished. And I’m feeling pretty good, too.

If you wait until you “feel like it”, you’ll never do it.

Just go to the studio. Don’t worry about how you’ll manage it tomorrow, or whether you have to do it the rest of your life. Just worry about today.

Just do it.

What is YOUR magic step for getting to the studio?

You don’t have one, you say? You’re already so disciplined you don’t have to think about it?

First, good on you!

But I’m guessing if you believe you don’t have one/need one, it’s because you’ve incorporated many small encouragements and good practices so often, your internal process doesn’t even register anymore.

It’s become a good habit, one you don’t even have to think about any longer.

And that’s the perfect place to be!

So share how you got there.

Maybe what worked for YOU, will work for someone else, today.

And maybe that’s just what someone else needs to hear, to get to their studio today.