ARTIST STATEMENTS: How to Explain the How With a Why

You can still share the how, but ground it with your ‘why’.

This week on Fine Art Views, I wrote about why it’s more important to share the ‘why’ of your artwork (why you make it) than the ‘how’ (how you make it.) Like a magician sharing how he does his tric, focusing only on the ‘how’ takes away a huge part of the magic of what you do.

Readers raised a few interesting points, noting that our customers do want to know how–so they can tell their friends, and be more invested in the artwork they’ve purchased from you.

I couldn’t agree more. As I said in the original article, I do provide a simple explanation that describes my process. Puff pastry, Samurai sword-making, scrimshaw.

But I believe that why you chose the ‘how’ is even more important to your audience.

One of my best signs in my booth is this one:

Welcome to my world!

I make artifacts from a lost culture, an imagined prehistory.

 My work is inspired by Ice Age cave paintings and other prehistoric art.  I want my artifacts to echo real ivory carvings of horses, deer, bear, fish and birds.

I use polymer clay, stacked in layers and stretched to make a block that has the grain and the feel of ivory. I make each animal one at a time, then bake, carve, and polish. The hands you see are miniature images of my own hands. A scrimshaw technique brings out the details of the markings.

I use polymer because I can make it look like real ivory, soapstone, coral, shell, and bone.

Unlike working with real ivory or bone, no animals are harmed.

Polymer is durable, yet lightweight and comfortable to wear.

I want my artifacts to look like they’ve been worn smooth by the touch of human hands. (Feel free to touch!)

I imagine the stories they carry. I retell those ancient stories, with these modern artifacts.

I use antique trade beads, semi-precious stones, and other collectible beads, to give my jewelry the look of a treasured piece, handed down through time, and many hands, and many hearts, connecting those ancient artists of the distant past, to you.

Do you see how the ‘why’ of my choice of techniques and materials, fits into my overall story about my art?

To get back to Bruce Baker’s comments that I mentioned in my Fine Art Views column, explain your choice of technique in terms of how it benefits your collector. “I use titanium glazes because they let me create colors that are richer and more vibrant. I use a higher firing temperature because it makes my pots more durable, so they’ll last a lifetime.”  (I have no idea if this is true, I’m not a potter myself, so I made it up.)

Another point was raised about being generous in sharing our techniques. I agree whole-heartedly.

But I’m not paying booth fees to give people a one-on-one class in how to do what I do.

As I said in my column, there are people who are only interested in your techniques. That’s fine, but they don’t get to use up my precious energy when I’m doing a show, or hosting an open studio. When people want more technical information on how to create faux ivory with polymer clay, I tell them it’s practically in the public domain, and recommend websites and how-to books to check out. Or I ask them to contact me after the show. 

There’s being generous, and there’s being generous. Only you can decide how much of your time , and energy, you want to spend teaching in the middle of selling your work, and whether or not you want to be compensated for that. I’ve found my own middle ground that reflects my integrity and priorities. You are always free to find yours, and it’s perfectly fine if it’s different than mine.


Filed under art, artist statement, questions you don't have to answer


Telling the “how” undoes all the magic you’ve created.

Today’s column for Fine Art Views, on why you should’t focus on the how. (Hint: It’s about disappointment.)


Pod beads detail

Yes, these take a lot of work, a lot of skill, and a lot of practice to get right.

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IF/THEN: Two Upcoming Fairs

One of my favorite algebra phrases from lo-these-many-years-ago is If-Then statements. If 2x=y, then x=y/2. (I think. I just said it was a long time ago, right?)

So if you will be in San Francisco this weekend, then you could see me and my work at the Holiday Fair at the San Francisco Center for the Book. It’s this Saturday, Nov. 21, from 10-5.  Admission is free, it’s located at 375 Rhode Island ST, and I’m told parking is not too shabby.

BANNER Holiday Fair 2015

Alas, you say, you will not be there. Okay…..\

If you are in Sonoma County the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday after Thanksgiving, then you could come and see me at The Renegade Holiday Art Fair at the Duck, at 2371 Gravenstein Hwy., Nov. 27, 28, and 29, from noon to 4.

the duck art show

If you’ve ever traveled south of Sebastopol on Rte. 116 (aka Gravenstein Highway), then yes, you’ve seen this giant yellow duck on the east side of the road.

Everybody liked my standing bears, so I made more!

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Fear Of Missing Out results in so very many, so very bad decisions.

Shrine Red Deer Clan 1

THIS….is what matters. Shrine Series: Clan of the Red Deer. The bottom antler is real. The boxes are restored antique boxes. Everything else is polymer clay.


Today’s little Venn diagram from Indexed (by Jessica Hagy) sums up this week’s brain buzz (mine) pretty well:

FOMO. Aka, Fear Of Missing Out.

Whenever I see an artist who’s more successful than I am, whenever I see a booth that’s busier than mine at a fair, when another artist is mobbed at a gallery I’m in, I freak out inside.

Whenever I see someone whose work is so amazing and powerful, I writhe with envy.

Whenever I see someone who seems to have nabbed every lovely opportunity/venue/award/kudos/publicity spot under the sun, I die inside a little.

Because I’m sure I’m missing out. 

I’m sure that person has it figured out. I’m sure they’re more savvy in their marketing, more practiced in their technique. I’m really sure they’re ‘on trend’, riding that glorious 15 foot wave with the perfect curl, hair blowing in the wind, dolphins cavorting in their wake squealing, “You GO, grrl!” (Or “Way to go, dude!”)

I mope in my studio, trying to figure out what will sell. Trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong. Trying to figure out how I’ll pay my business debts.

Will I ever write another book? Will I ever be a successful artist again? (Relatively speaking….) Will I ever be that cool, sophisticated artist who “explores the interstices of form and chaos, reveling in the capricious nature of conforming and rebellion. As momentary derivatives become clarified through emergent and academic practice, the viewer is left with a clue to the possibilities of our culture.” (Okay, I totally stole that last line from Arty Bollocks, the online artist statement generator.)

Jessica Hagy’s illustration brings a touch of clarity to the buzz. “What you’ve heard” vs. “What matters” is simply “PR trumping journalism”.

It’s the lizard brain reacting, instead of the work that is in your heart resonating.

It’s not who comes by. It’s who comes back.

It’s not about how many people will like my work. It’s about introducing my work to a new audience, even if that’s a handful of people.

It’s not how much money I make at any given show. It’s about being at least successful enough to keep moving forward. And being brave enough to try.

I love, love, love making whimisical jewelry from vintage buttons and old radio resistors. And I love making freshwater pearl jewelry. But only I can tell my story, the one that reveals how the Lascaux cave became a metaphor for my entire body of work.

And so I soothe my fevered brain today. Yes, it’s been awhile since I’ve set up for a show, especially ones that are limited in space. Yes, I worry about my prices with a new audience. Yes, I have no idea where half my booth stuff is, and whether my car is big enough to pack what I need.

But this isn’t about creating a smaller booth orthe best display, it’s not about  looking professional (arrrrrgh!!), it’s not about doing it perfectly.

It’s about getting my art out into the world again, in a new place, in unfamiliar territory…one small step at a time.

OH, almost forgot: I’ll be at the San Francisco Center for the Book’s Holiday Craft Fair this Saturday, Nov. 21, from 10-5. It’s on Rhode Island Street. That’s all I know.

OH, forgot again: Thank you, Jessica Hagy!!!!

Luann Udell resistor jewelry

I love using old resistors to make kicky jewelry, too.

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My vintage button earrings, with antique trade bead ‘flowers’.





Filed under art, fear of failing, Fear of missing out

LESSONS FROM THE GYM: The Dangers of Playing It Safe

This week’s column at Fine Art Views tells you why you need to get brave when it comes to making–and marketing–your art. Bruises not included, but expect them anyway.

And if I’ve skipped any other Fine Art Views articles here on my blog, you can always find them here.

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There’s no right–or wrong–process to create a body of work. Only what works for YOU.


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There are as many kinds of work habits as there are stars in the sky. What matters is what works for YOU.

Years ago, I was in a small artist support group. We met once a month, going over our previous month’s goals, checking our progress, and supporting each other’s choices.

One woman wanted to have a solo show by the end of the year. She was worried about her production process. Other potters worked steadily throughout the day, or the weekends, to create a good representative body of work. She asked for help to speed up her process.

When presented with a problem, most of us have a bad habit of giving advice.  And, being human, we started down this path, making suggestions, giving advice, all of which went nowhere.

The purpose of groups like this is to dig a little deeper, to discover where the real obstacles lie. So when it was my turn to ask questions, I let go of what I thought she should do.

“What do you think your process should be?” I asked.

Well…she’d been listening to other potters talk about their routines. Batch lots, production schedules, record-keeping, etc. Long days in the studio. Late nights and working weekends.

“What is your process now?” I asked.

She replied that, because her days were full, she would work on a pinch pot in the evening, as she and her husband watched their favorite TV shows in their den. She described how she would work in her chair, shaping and molding the beautiful curves she was known for.

“How many pots do you make doing that?”, I asked.

She could make one pot an evening.

“How good are those pots?” In other words, how many were good enough to sell and/or exhibit?

Every single one, she replied.

“How many pots do you need for an exhibit?” I asked.

She named a number.

So…in three month’s time, with her own process, she could produce enough pots for an exhibition or show.

Her relief was palpable.

Contrast this with another friend, in a different group, who said he wished he could produce enough paintings to sell galleries. He showed me half a dozen pieces he’d created during a one-day workshop a few months before. (They were beautiful!) He didn’t have a studio, and at first we tried to figure out a way for him to have one. But he gently resisted. He loved his day job, he didn’t want to give up his evenings, he wasn’t a self-starter.

Suddenly, a lightbulb went off in my head.

“How many paintings do you produce in a workshop?” I asked.

He was a swift painter. Always, at least half a dozen, maybe more. (He worked in small formats, already had the basic techniques down.)

“Do you like taking workshops?” I asked.

He loved them. In, paint, out and done.

I pointed out that he lived in a major metropolitan city, close to two other major cities. Was it likely that he could find a workshop every single week of the year? It was.

So….if he committed to even one day a month to a workshop, he could create enough work to present to a gallery in a matter of months?  Hmmmm….why….yes, he could!

At every stage of our artistic life, there a new stages of growth, new challenges, new goals. There is no single process–intermittent and fast, slow and steady– that will help us achieve them. Except to discern what works for us.

And then to do it.


Filed under body of work