YOUR ARTIST STATEMENT: It’s About Y*O*U!!

Warning: Snark zone ahead!!!!

I’m offering a service for artists and craftspeople…heck, for anyone who needs a ‘mission statement’. I’ll rewrite your current artist statement for a small fee $100.

I’m not putting the dollar amount in stone yet. That’s because I charged my first paying customer $25. And then spent five hours arguing back and forth in dozens of emails, until I finally called them and snarled for 15 minutes, (which I hardly ever, ever do) laying out all the reasons why mine might work better than theirs, that they could add whatever they wanted to it, just don’t tell me to do it, and if they didn’t like what I’d written, then throw it away and write their own.

So I made $4/hour AND had to listen to a lot of complaining and what I’d ‘left out’. So, setting boundaries. Lesson learned.

In my defense, I contacted a friend of mine who works in the same medium, and read them what I’d written. “Holy crap!!” they yelled, “If THEY don’t use it, I want it!!! That’s terrific!” (Thank you, thank you.)

I actually learned two things from this experience. I need to be charging more than $25 I need to make it clear I am not a work-for-hire. I am a consultant. I will rewrite or suggest a different way to present yourself as an artist. You are then free to use this information–or not.

I also learned I must be crystal-clear on what I’m offering. Or rather, what I’m not offering.

What I write will have very little to do with how long/how many years you’ve been doing….whatever it is you do.

I do not particularly care who you studied with, nor where you went to art school. (That’s for your bio/resume/cv, though why we brag about who we’ve paid to teach us something counts as a credential is beyond me.)

I’m not interested in the galleries you’re in, the awards you’ve won, or the shows you’ve been in. (See above.)

I don’t want to read your single-spaced two-page artist statement in a 10 point font. (Come on!)

I don’t especially care how you do what you do. (And this is where I ran into conflict with my first paying client. For them, it was all about process–the how. Yeah, I might want to know down the road, but honestly, I can probably Google it just as quickly.)

I want to know the WHY.

I want to know why you chose this medium.
I want to know why you use it the way you do.
I want to know why it gives you joy.

Why it resonates with you, why it ‘fits’ you, why it provides you your voice in the world.

I don’t want to hear that you ” just love color”. Or texture. Or anything else that literally everyone in the world likes.

I don’t want to hear that your prefered medium is “alive”. It sounds like you might segue to other living things as your medium of choice down the road. Like…people. After all, that wood is not “alive” after you cut it, slice it, carve it, paint it, is it? (Wood people–please take note.)

And if I hear, “Because I want to make people happy” one more time, I am kicking you to the curb. (Just kidding.) (NO I’M NOT.) People will be happy if you drive around in a car and throw money at them as they’re walking down the sidewalk. That is not an artist statement.

If you’ve read anything I’ve written for the past twenty years, if you’ve ever taken a class from me, if you’ve ever seen my artwork/visited my booth/talked to me in person, you will understand.

And even though I break some of my own rules in my own artist statement, I still believe it has power and it says enough.

How do I know?

Because after people read it, they do exactly what I want them to do.

They go back and look at my art, again. They look deeply and reverently. And then they turn to me and ask a question.

Former art marketing and display consultant Bruce Baker taught me the wisdom of this first question from our exhibition/booth/gallery/studio visitors. It is a sign from your visitor that it’s okay to talk to them about your work. The question may seem silly, or mundane. It may be profound and thoughtful. Whatever.

They have connected with your work, and they want to know more about it–and you.

You have said something in your writing that speaks to them, that resonates with them. And they look at your work again, seeing something deeper, something powerful, something they might otherwise have missed.

Believe me, please….. If your artist statement is all about your credentials, about your schooling, about your techniques, then you will have to start at the bottom to connect this person with you and your work.

Come on, folks. Thousands and thousands of artists have graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design. Tens of thousands have taken workshops with a well-known painter or ceramist. Tens of thousands have worked in the same medium you do. Hundreds of thousands of hours have been spent by people perfecting their craft. Millions of people wanted to be an artist when they were little. And billions of people (aka “everybody on planet Earth”) “just love color.”

But there is only one ‘you’ in the entire universe.

And yet, that is the one credential most people are afraid to talk about in their artist statement.

Oh, most people talk about themselves in some way, shape, or form. (See above.)

But in my humble experience, most of us are truly hesitant about sharing what really matters to us, in our art, in our lives, in our hearts.

What happened to that person’s artist statement? About a year later, a magazine ran an article about them.

And what I’d written for them was center stage. I think it was the best part!

P.S. And if you’re still not convinced, if you are a true fan of art-speak, fancy-schmancy words, and something vaguely art-acadamese-sounding, help yourself to this amazing website: ArtyBollocks, the best artist statement generator. Check it out! Or this “art-speak generator“.  I haven’t tried it yet, but it sure looks promising!

P.P.S Apologies, I’ve just finished my volunteer assignment for a local art event that entailed reading about 140 artist statements, and I am totally fried.

NEWSLETTERS 101 #4: Know Your Creation Story

 The moment you chose to live your life and make your art with intention is the heart of everything you do, write, say.

(4 minute read)    

Last week, I shared how introverts can shine in the world, thanks to email art marketing newsletters.

Today, I had a long article planned. But, lucky you! I realized it was about two different topics I had squished into one:

Your Most Important Story of All

Before we get to suggestions about this, let’s talk about the most important topic of all of this:

The Story of YOU.

Here’s the biggest obstacle when it comes to every aspect of marketing and selling our art:

Sooooo many people don’t know their own story!

Let’s back up a little. There are two powerful stories in every creative person.

The first is what I call the ‘creation story’.

The second is our artist statement, which I’ll tackle next week. Because it helps to know your creation story first.

What’s the difference?

Your creation story marks your first step, the moment you knew you were meant to be an artist. It’s that aha moment when we realized we had to be an artist. The moment where we completely embrace what we want, regardless of whether we even know how, or why. It’s the point in your life where your deepest intention occurred.

Dave Geada, FASO’s marketing guru, talks about this story in almost every webinar I’ve watched so far. He phrased it perfectly: After a near-death experience, he vowed to live his life with intent. With INTENTION. I’ve called it our “hero’s journey story” for years, and Dave calls it that, too. (Whew! I love it when the experts and I are on the same page!)

That’s what your first step was: Your intention to make your art. Here’s mine. It’s what made me take the leap, and it still resonates with me today.

Unlike your artist statement, it doesn’t have to be public (though there are ways to modify it so it can, so don’t rule that out.)

You DO have to know it. Because once you realize it, it will provide the foundation of everything you do, write, make, talk about, going forward with your artwork. It will ground you when you are lost. It will reassure you when you are discouraged. It will lift you up when life gets hard.

Knowing it will help you lift others, too. Because when we speak our truth, it not only resonates with others, it can inspire them to see theirs.

Years ago, I created a workshop designed to help people write their artist statement. It was powerful, and eye-opening. I got to hear how several dozen people got their start, and why. My favorite was the artist who started with, “I had a baby. I nearly died. Everything changed…” I exclaimed, “THAT’s your artist statement!” What I meant was, this was the foundation of her artist statement.

To frame this better: That may or may not be what she decides to use, publicly. But it was that point in time where “everything changed.” It would inspire her artist statement, however she chose to frame it. It was her creation story, it was powerful, and she knew it.

Another great creation story was one I’ve written about before, which illustrates that our creation story will evolve. It’s about long-time artist who lost their sight late in life—and everything changed. Did they stop making? Nope. But it’s different, now. Because everything changed. But it was compelling enough for me to go back to that ‘weird crappy’ piece of “art” hanging on the gallery wall, and find something beautiful in it. Courage. Perseverance. Letting go of what was, and embracing the new ‘what is’.

Your homework: What is your creation story? Write it out, if only for your private use.

If you enjoyed this article, and know someone else who might like it, too, feel free to pass it on. And if someone sent you this and you did like it, see more of my articles at FineArtViews.com, other art marketing topics at Fine Art Views art marketing newsletter, and my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

 

 

NEWSLETTERS 101 Tip #3: Introverts, This Is Your Moment!

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.

You get to ‘use your words’ in a way that’s socially-calming.

There’s a pandemic going on. It’s changed everything.

Some of the changes are harsh, some are strange, some will be permanent. And frankly, some work for me.

I’ve always described myself as half-introvert/half-extrovert. I’m comfortable talking with people, but after intense socializing, I have to go lie down in a dark room for a while.

But when I realized how comfortable I was with NO socializing, I looked up the signs of introversion. Aha! THAT’s why I hate making phone calls, and even answering the phone. I am an introvert! (With good camouflage skills) Good to know. No wonder I love to write!

A lot of artists tell me they’re not comfortable talking about their art. They don’t like artist receptions. They don’t know what to say to the jillions of questions people ask about us, our work, our medium, etc. They’ll say, “My art speaks for itself!” (It doesn’t, just so you know.)

There are work-arounds for this.

Years ago, Bruce Baker was a traveling workshop/presenter on marketing skills for artists, sharing tips and insights he’d gathered from other artists, and his own experience with selling at shows, running a gallery, and booth display. One stuck in my head. “If you get a lot of people asking the same question, and it’s getting boring answering it over and over, to the point where you feel a little grumpy about it, MAKE A SIGN.”

I never tire of answering questions, because it’s a way of meeting people where they are and connecting them to my work from their particular point-of-view.

But I did notice some people preferred to browse quietly, looking, listening to me talk to other people. They took their time to speak up. I made signs for THEM, and it’s worked really well over the years. So signs work well for introvert visitors AND introvert artists.

So consider this thought:

Your email art newsletter is like that ‘sign’ in your studio.

That’s a great way to ‘reframe’ your newsletter.

Last week’s suggestion was to write a newsletter as if you were talking to a good friend, simply catching them up on what’s new/different/exciting/ in your life.

This week, realize that “talking” by writing a newsletter is a lot easier for an introvert than talking in person.

For the next year, until it’s safe to go back in the water, we can skip those preview exhibits (unless they ‘ZOOM’). We won’t have any studio visitors for a while (or far fewer, at least.) (I actually thought I wouldn’t have to clean my studio for the rest of the year. But then I realized I need to create some video studio tours. Ack! Bring in the vacuum cleaner!!)

As you sigh in relief of how much less TALKING you’ll have to do, put that energy, extra time, and effort into writing a newsletter.

My gift to you this week is a short column. But your homework is to use this extra time to jot down ideas you can write about for your next email art newsletter.

Because next week, we’ll talk more about just that. I’d love to hear all the thoughts you come up with. I’ll have my own, but I want to hear yours, too! Remember, even ‘bad’ ideas can be edited/transformed into good ones, so don’t hesitate to share.

If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to pass it on to someone else. And if someone sent you this article, and you liked it, too, see more of my articles at FineArtViews.com, other art marketing topics at Fine Art Views art marketing newsletter, and my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

NEWSLETTERS 101 #2: It’s Okay to Talk about Yourself!

NEWSLETTERS 101 #2: It’s Okay to Talk about Yourself!

Sharing may seem like bragging. But it isn’t, and here’s why…

(6 minute read)

In last week’s post, I shared some of the basics of creating an email newsletter about our art. In the articles ahead, we’ll explore them, and address our fears/doubts/am-I-doing-it-wrong moments.

One person shared their own fear: What if I sound like a narcissist?

This one was easy: If you’re worried about sounding like a narcissist, then you aren’t a narcissist. Because a true narcissists doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong! They truly believe they are better than everyone else in the world, and don’t understand why that bothers other people.

But I get that this might be a big concern for many of us, especially those who were subtly (or blatantly) encouraged not to be “too much” in our culture: Don’t brag. Don’t show off. Be quiet. Keep out of the spotlight. Be humble. Be all this, to the point of making ourselves so small, we can barely breathe.

I also believe this is why so many of us find doing our own art marketing so hard. We’ve incorporated those ancient beliefs that tooting our own horn is just not ‘nice’. We wish someone else would do it for us.

And so many artists end up not doing it at all.

Here’s the thing: There’s a difference between bragging, and self-confidence. And self-confidence is healthier than self-denigration!

Like any other skill in life, practice helps. Start with a short little newsletter to your audience. Pick one thing that’s going on with you in your artist life this month/week/day.

Let’s start with that ‘talking to a good friend’ analogy I mentioned in last week’s article.

Imagine you have a meet-up with a person you really like, and they really like you, and you haven’t seen them for a while, what would you talk about?

HOW would you talk?

Would it be a monologue? Would it only be about the stuff you’re proud of? Would your intention be to make yourself bigger than/better than your friend? Because bragging is a way to make other people feel less-than.

Or would you share your successes and breakthroughs in manageable “bites”, with gratitude for your good fortune, with joy for what you’ve accomplished, knowing they will be genuinely happy for your success?

If you were working on a new project, and it didn’t work out the way you intended, would you only complain about everything that went wrong? Whine about all the people who made it worse? Blame your shortcomings on others?

Or would you make it into a funny story that makes you both giggle? Or share how you worked through the hard parts and found a way through, knowing your friend would be happy you did?

Do you strive to present the “perfect life”, like a social media ‘influencer’, carefully editing out anything that would mar your dream world? (If so, you’d better treat your friend to their meal.)

Or would you go back and forth, sharing the ups and downs, checking in with them about what they’re up to, how their getting through, and sharing what’s worked for you that MIGHT work for them, too?

I’ve read some newsletters that truly brag, the sender actively applauding themselves, congratulating themselves on how amazing they are, how talented, how rich, etc.

Bragging implies that rewards, success, wealth, and influence are a finite ‘pie’. And if their share of the pie is huge, that means there’s less for everyone else.

But what if we simply acknowledging our gifts: The skills we’ve worked hard to acquire. The time we’ve carved out for ourselves, to make this work.

What if we let people have a peek into our life: Share our creative process. How we get our ideas? How we know when a piece is ‘done’? What if we thank the people who have supported our work by purchasing it?

That’s not ‘bragging’. That’s owning our own life, honoring our unique journey. Achieving what we’ve practiced and prepared for. Sharing our dreams and goals.

We get to do that.

We can share how we get ‘set back’, and how we found the courage to move forward again. It will encourage someone else to find their courageous heart, too.

We can tell how we got stuck somewhere in our latest project, and how we found our way through. It will let others know there are always things that get in the way, and help them not be discouraged, too.

We can write about something funny and charming that happened, and it will make someone else smile, too.

Acknowledging our gifts and being genuinely grateful for them is not evil. Self-confidence is not evil. There are ways to let people know that EVERYONE has a gift. This one just happens to be yours.

The pie is infinite. And if our slice is huge, that means there’s plenty for everyone else, too.

I love this paragraph from an article I found while checking my own assumptions about bragging vs. self-confidence today:

“That’s one reason many of us don’t like to show off. We live in a highly competitive world, and we don’t want someone else to feel badly just because we’re feeling good. But sometimes that concern stops us from sharing good things that our friends, families and colleagues would actually like to know. And of course, in the workplace, there’s a fine line between showing off and genuinely outlining accomplishments that can help you move forward professionally.”

(F. Diane Barth, L.C.S.W.)

“Don’t let that concern stop you from sharing good things….” Yep, there’s my entire column today in 20 words or less.

Granted, a newsletter can feel like a one-sided conversation. But it really isn’t. It’s a way of sharing aspects of our life that people wouldn’t otherwise see. Letting others in on that is courageous. Powerful. And good.

So once more, with feeling: Imagine someone who wants the best for you. Someone who loves you for who you are, and what you do. Someone who has found joy in your work, and wants to see/hear/learn MORE about what we’re up to.

Write them a letter.

Then sit back and let the magic of authentic connection, grow.

Next week, I’ll share some ideas of what to write about. In the meantime, if you’ve already found your ‘happy place’ with your newsletters, share some of your insights. Other people will be so grateful! If you’ve received a newsletter from someone else, and it spoke to you, share a) what it was that made you feel connected, and b) how it could work for YOU.

And last, if you enjoyed this article, and know someone else who might like it, too, feel free to pass it on. And if someone sent you this and you did like it, see more of my articles at FineArtViews.com, other art marketing topics at Fine Art Views art marketing newsletter, and my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

Luann Udell, artist/writer

“Ancient stories retold in modern artifacts:
Jewelry, sculpture, fiber works inspired by ancient art.”

NEWLETTERS 101: #1 Tips and Tricks to Help You Connect

Oops! Forgot to publish this last Tuesday. So now you’ll get TWO articles on writing email newsletters this week! Because tomorrow is my NEXT Fine Art Views post…..

NEWLETTERS 101: #1 Tips and Tricks to Help You Connect

(6 minute read)

Someone wrote back to me today, telling me how much they enjoyed my email newsletter. They said it gave them hope that they could make theirs better. Yippee! I love it when I can encourage people to take one step forward. I know it will lead to many more.

I’m not the perfect newsletter writer. But I’m happy to share more insights on what might work for YOU.

What’s my secret sauce?

  1. Be authentic. I write like I’m talking to a good friend. (You can now skip this entire article if you’re out of time, because that’s the heart of my advice.)

 

  1. Be positive. So, not the friend where I cuss and swear about something frustrating that happened to me at the supermarket. I stick with positive news. No politics. No complaining.

 

  1. Don’t be boring. And not like the letters we had to write for elementary school English class. (As in, “Hello, how are you? I am fine! Today I had a sandwich for lunch. What did YOU have for lunch?”) I share something I’m excited about, something interesting I’m working on.

 

  1. Don’t be pompous. If making people feel smaller works for you, okay, I guess. But I prefer reading about the people who make me feel like I have a voice in the world, too. (Again with the ‘friend’ thing…)

 

  1. Act like you care. I write as if I’m talking with someone I care about. Someone who hasn’t heard from me in a few weeks, someone who really likes me, and who loves my work.

 

  1. Share your news. Then I tell them what’s up. What I’ve done, what I’ll be doing, and oh, you might be interested in this thing I made/wrote. And I ask them to let me know what they think. (More on this in the weeks to come.)

 

  1. Think about what YOU like to hear in emails. I think about what I like when I get other people’s emails. So in the next few weeks, take note of what newsletters YOU get. What do you like about them? Which ones do you stop and read right away? Why?? What’s in them that makes you happy? Inspired? Thoughtful?

 

  1. Don’t make it all about the money. I consider the things I DON’T like to see in other people’s emails. Repetition. Always about sales. Acting like a TV commercial. Creating false urgency. (Even a call to action does not always have to be about buying something.)

 

  1. Remember that when people sign up for our newsletter, it means they WANT to know more. They want to know what makes us tick. How (and why) we do what we do. How we found our way forward, and how they can, too.

 

Otoh, I think about the people who put me on their email list without checking with me first. DON’T DO THIS!

 

  1. Be casual. Perhaps this advice is not ‘professional’. Perhaps people who are famous artists do it differently. After all, they may have a prestigious clientele, people who would willingly pay $25,000-$100,000 or more for their artwork.

 

But that’s not me. So I do it differently.

 

  1. We’re visual artists. Include pictures! This would be so much harder if we were musicians….

 

  1. Remember, all customers are fans, but not all fans are customers. I’m writing to people who may not be able to afford my work. And people who have collected my work for decades. And everyone in between. In my newsletter, everyone is worthy.

 

  1. Let people know who you are. The people I’m writing for are people I saw regularly back in New Hampshire, and people who may have never met me. People who come to every open studio, and people who have never been to my studio. Some of them are on the East Coast, some are on the West Coast, and some are in the middle. So we can’t even talk about the weather! But what they all have in common is wanting to know more about us, about our work, about our journey.

 

  1. There’s too often, and not enough. Too long, and too short. Etc. (You get to choose.)* Because I don’t want to inundate people with my writing, I used to limit my email newsletter to ‘events’, just like I did with my snail mail mailing list. Here’s my booth number at that fair, here are the dates of my open studio, etc.

I subscribe to quite a few blogs and artist newsletters myself. Some write every day. Some write once a week, and some write once a year. Some are so long, I never stop to read them. Some are so interesting, I drop whatever I’m doing to read them.

When I unsubscribe from a newsletter, it’s because a) I’m no longer interested in what they’re sharing with me; b) I’m not buying what they’re selling; c) I never signed up for their newsletter in the first place.

My point here is, there is no single right-or-wrong way to write a newsletter. Except, too boring, too repetitive, and waaaaaay too long. (I’m lookin’ at MYELF here…)

You might be disciplined enough to send one every week, or every month. Or you might be like me, skipping a month or two, then sending three in a week.

If people like what you’re saying, they won’t care. If they don’t, they’ll find any excuse to unsubscribe. And like people that say mean things to us, it’s more about them than it is about us.

  1. Email newsletters are soooo much easier/quicker/cheaper than snail mail mailings to stay in touch with our followers. Back then, it was expensive to mail thousands of people, even just a postcard. So I never sent a newsletter for any other reason.

Now, all I have to do is type, and add some good pictures, and hit ‘send’. Yay! I just saved $600!!

Last, here’s something I’ve learned this year:

  1. Newsletters level the playing field between extroverts and introverts. More on this to come!

 

*Now my caveat: There are people who offer different advice about newsletters. They have more expertise than I do, and perhaps even statistics to back them up. Please, feel free to skip my advice if/when it conflicts with theirs.

But if this appeals to you, stay tuned for more columns ahead, where I’ll share some ideas about things we can write about, and why newsletters can be a powerful tool for introverts.

Share your own stories in the comments! What newsletter did you create that got the best response from your audience, and what do you think was the reason why? Where do you get stuck when creating a newsletter? What’s your greatest fear? (Hint: Getting our work out into the world is a hero’s journey. Newsletters are much less strenuous!)

If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to pass it on to someone else. And if someone sent you this article, and you liked it, too, see more of my articles at FineArtViews.com, other art marketing topics at Fine Art Views art marketing newsletter, and my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

WAYBACK SATURDAY….er, Sunday. FEAR AND ART

This post first appeared on my now-defunct Radio Userland platform on Friday, March 21, 2003. At first, I thought “What war??” Then I realized a lot was going on since 9/11. Sound familiar? Other odd coincidences: I just finished reading The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker again, before I even found this article. I did finally find a copy and Art and Fear, about the fears that keep us from creating, and I still highly recommend it.
And though we now know that art shows will be on hold for a while, there are plenty of other ways we can keep our art biz going, by moving to online shopping and virtual events. Our creative work matters more than ever!
Fear and Art

A poster on a discussion forum put into words what all of us have been feeling lately, but hate to admit out loud.  The artist had a show coming up soon–should they cancel it because of the impending war? Maybe no one would show up.  Many of us chimed in with a resounding “no!”, stressing the need to live life as normally as possible until forced to do otherwise.  The discussion eventually meandered into a discussion of other things.  But the original post got me thinking about fear and anxiety in general.

Three of my favorite books about getting control of your life have the word “fear” in them.  “Feel the Fear (and Do It Anyway)” by Susan Jeffers, is a pragmatic book about recognizing and acknowledging the anxiety/discomfort that comes from taking risks and making changes–but not letting that anxiety stop you.  “Fearless Creating”, by Eric Maisel, I’ve read in chunks and bits, with some good sections about overcoming the obstacles to creativity.  (There’s a highly recommended other book called “Art and Fear”, but I haven’t tracked down a copy yet, so I can’t refer to it.)

The last is not a “creativity” book.  It’s “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker.  In a nutshell, the book is about the knowing the difference between general, free-floating anxiety vs. the genuine fear that alerts us we are truly in danger.  When we are in real danger, we sense it, whether we acknowledge the signals or not.  We know that strange guy who offered to help us made us uneasy.  We know  there’s something about that new person we’re dating that just isn’t right.  We may tamp down that feeling because of social conditioning, but we did have it.

Anxiety is more encompassing and insidious.  It’s what keeps us from booking a flight after we read about a plane crash, or makes us wonder whether we should cancel that show when war seems imminent.  It’s what makes us worry about our kid walking to school by himself for the first time, or keeps us from dangling our feet over the edge of our inner tube while floating in the ocean.  (Jaws, anyone?)

Statistics show us that we are more likely to die from a bee sting than a shark attack, yet we don’t flee at the sight of a flower-filled meadow.  If you look at cold hard facts, we are much more likely to buy the farm every day when we belt ourselves into our cars and head out to the mall.  Car accidents kill more people each year than the total number of U.S. fatalities suffered during the entire Vietnam war.  Yet I know of no one who has stopped driving their car because of the risk of an accident.

My advice to the original poster was:

I hesitate to add my two cents’ worth on this issue, since I don’t do many shows.  But I think if you start making decisions based on fear and anxiety, you are heading down a slippery slope.  Yes, it’s natural to worry about current events.  Almost impossible *not* to.  But when you start making business decisions based on “what if?”… well, “What if…?” can kill every effort you make to grow your business.

One way to think of this is: What’s the worst that could happen?  If you bombed at this show, would it bring your business to a halt?

And if so, don’t you really take that chance at *every* show you do?  Your thinking is, “We might be at war, and maybe no one will come.”  What about, “It might rain and everyone would stay home.”  Or maybe “There might be a strong wind, and my tent might blow away!”  Or “The stock market might crash, and no one will be able to afford my work.”  All those events are possibilities, too.  You plan for them as best you can, evaluate the *real*, tangible risks–and then decide.

I’d say, unless the show promoters cancel the show, it would be good business to show up as you contracted to do.  If, after doing a few shows, you decide current events are impacting your bottom line severely, then that’s the time to sit down and re-evaluate how you’re going to restructure your business to accomodate that.

It takes a certain amount of determination to turn this free-floating anxiety around, unless you’re by nature an optimist.  And I’m not.  I’m a born pessimist.  And turning this attitude around is not a one-shot deal.  I have to revisit it again, and again, and again.  And sometimes I still need someone else to point it out to me.  And sometimes, by reassuring someone else, I find I’ve reassured myself.

Some tips:

Read a book, forum or article about dealing with fear.  It sometimes helps to realize you are not the only person who’s feeling this way!

Find people whose judgment you’ve come to trust, and check in with them.  Not someone you ought to trust, someone you’ve learned you can trust.  Someone who’s earned your trust.  For decisions about my kids and their growing need for personal responsibility and freedom, I have a very small collection of parents whose opinion I value.  I know they have similar values, I know they respect my values, and I’ve learned to trust how they come to their decisions.  They don’t belittle my concerns or beliefs, they just tell me how they got to their decision.

I’ve learned not to expect everything from one person, too.  I’ve learned that I have parent-decision type friends, business/art type friends, family-dynamic expert type friends, etc.  Find those solid people in every one of your life sectors.  And when one of them goes through their own difficult times, recognize when they are not able to help you with that area (temporarily or permantly.)  In other words, constantly evaluate your support structure.

Learn from yourself.  Keep track of the times you’ve successfully battled anxiety, and remind yourself of those times.  For myself, I find it immensely helpful to write about my anxieties.  I keep a daily handwritten journal.  I would die of embarrassment if anyone read of anything I’ve written there–I complain and swear a lot!  But I also find that making my anxiety concrete by describing exactly what I’m afraid of, is the first step to working through it.

Hand in hand with this approach is a tip given to me by a good friend who is a therapist.  He uses an approach called cognitive therapy, and gave this example of its use.  A patient says, “I’m terrified I’ll lose my job.”  Well…what would the logical consequences of this event be?  An illogical conclusion might be, “I’ll become a bag lady!”  That’s possible, but is it probable?  My friend would say, “What are the immediate consequences of losing your job?”  Patient: “I wouldn’t make any money.”  Friend: “So what would happen then?” P: “I would have to find another job that maybe wouldn’t pay as much money.”  F: “So what would happen then?” P: “I couldn’t afford to make my mortgage payments.”  F:”So what would happen then?”  P: “I’d have to sell my house.”  F: “So what would happen then?” P: “I’d have to find a cheaper place to live, like an apartment.”  F:  “And what would that mean?” P: “My kid would have a smaller bedroom.”  F: “So the end result of losing your job is that your kid would have to sleep in a little bedroom.”

This is a simple version, of course.  And we all know some people do have worse consequences.  But for most of us, yes, losing our job might been living in a place with tinier rooms.  Been there, done that.  Survived.

Recognize, as de Becker points out, that anxiety drains our batteries, leaving us vulnerable and unprepared for real danger when it crosses our path.  Recognize that anxiety is our engine racing without engaging the clutch–it doesn’t take us anywhere, it’s just noisy and uses up a lot of gas.

I’m so pleased with this car metaphor! Remember, anxiety is our lizard brain trying to protect us. Say “thank you, but I got this.” Not every thought is true. 

A Tale of Two Shadowboxes

More thoughts on “perfection”….

I created this shadowbox a year or so after we moved to California:

This is the original version. Shrine Series: Bear Clan

Then last year, I made some changes, adding another ‘base’, removing the lower bear and adding fish.

Yesterday, I decided it would be the work I bring to Corrick’s Stationery, Gallery, and Gifts on 4th Street in Santa Rosa CA for their upcoming preview exhibit for Sebastopol Center for the Arts‘ combined Virtual Open Studio events in October.

But it needed something. So I spent the day adding tiny bits of sanded and plished driftwood, and…an otter!

And this is the version after two updates, the last of which was YESTERDAY.  Now it’s called Shrine Series: Bear Clan   Shaman’s Song of the River

It’s not that the first version wasn’t good enough. Nor the second. I liked them both!

But sometimes, one of my pieces just keeps ‘growing.”

It’s also part of my story.

I started with a big quilt, then moved to baby quilts. Then quilts for my kids’ dolls and toy animals. Then they became wall pieces, then wall hangings, and now including framed fiber collages.

My aesthetic was always ‘time-worn’, influenced by Amish quilts (reusing/repurposing pieces of worn-out clothing for the quilt squares) and Japanest scroll paintings (which, when damaged by time, were carefully remounted on new silk backgrounds.) Then wabi sabi, the acceptance–and new beauty–to be found in the worn and broken. The knowledge that, in ancient times, every effort was made to repair, emake, reuse, repurpose whatever took a lot of effort to create.

So every time I remake/repair/add on something to an older piece, it’s actually part of my process and aesthetic.

It only stops when it goes to YOUR home.

Unless, of course, your rabbit nibbles the edges, or your dog breaks your necklace, or your cat knocks my sculpture off your piano. (All of these are true!)

And then I come to the rescue, again. Grateful that these re-do’s and repairs are inherent in all the work I do.

Happy to be able to restore your broken and damaged work, so they can continue to give you years of joy.

Also curious… Which one do YOU like better?

 

 

A TALE OF TWO STICKS: The “Perfect” One vs. “What Works”

A sad story with a happy ending.

A long-time admirer contacted me earlier this month, looking for the perfect wall hanging for their home. After many emails and sent images, they decided on a framed fragment:

One of three framed fiber “fragments” in a series.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But they had their heart set on a wall HANGING. Would I be willing to turn this into one?

Well, sure! The framed version would be harder to ship, I haven’t made hangings in awhile, and this would be a good opportunity to get back into the swing of things. A practice piece, if you will.

It took many, many more hours of work than I’d anticipated. Still, if I charged by the hour, all of my work  would have to sell for several thousand dollars. Which didn’t seem fair….

I added a backing to the fragment, created a hanger for the back, and searched my extensive stick collection for the perfect stick. It has to be the right length to work with, a shape that works with each fragment, etc.

Surprisingly (not!), I always find only one stick that meets my needs.

I found it! A beach-combing find from the Sonoma coast. I test all my sticks before I use them in a piece, to make sure they aren’t too brittle or fragile. This one passed the test–I thought.

The Perfect Stick.

 

 

 

 

 

It was already worn smooth by waves, it had beautiful branches, it sanded up easily. After waxing and buffing it to a soft gleam, I got to work drilling holes for the ties that would secure the fiber fragment to it, the beaded side “drapes”, and the cord to hang it all with.

For some reason, my new power drill didn’t work very well. Maybe my drill bits are dull? So I used my little hand drill (pin vise) to make the holes. Yep, more hours….

I put almost 8 hours on drilling the holes, stringing the color-coordinated glass beads for the drapes, attaching the fragment to the stick, and adding the beads that adorn the hanger. I’m pretty fussy about the beading. I use a lot of antique glass trade beads in my work, and many of them have really big holes. I have a stash of smaller beads I use to fill the holes so the beads set evenly.

After it was all put together, I picked it up to take a photo…..

And the stick broke.

It broke where I’d drilled a hole. Fortunately, it was a clean break. I was able to glue it back together (with construction adhesive!), restring that part, and wound some cord around it for support. Part of my aesthetic is creating the look of a well-worn, often mended piece of art. So it fit right in!

I clamped the repair and let it sit a full 24 hours, like the instructions said. Came back to the studio, gently tested the repair–good!

I picked it up to photo it. And it broke in my hand again.

This time, the wood shattered. So I was back to square one. (Okay, square three, but it sure felt like ‘one’.)

It took awhile, but I found another, completely different stick that I loved.

The new perfect stick!

It has a sad history. Bark beetles are highly-destructive, destroying millions of acres of forests.

 

 

 

 

And yet, the damaged wood is hauntingly beautiful.

In New Hampshire, I looked for beaver-chewed sticks. The chew-markes look like writing, strange writing to be sure. They became part of my story, echoing the mystery of the cave paintings of Lascaux in my art: A message that was not addressed to us, a message we cannot read.

The trails made by bark beetles echo that story.

I’ve collected a lot of their chewed sticks from the coast, too. The good part is, the beetles are long gone and probably long-dead, too.

I didn’t realize the stick looked like one of my carved pods until I took this picture. The pod just happened to be sitting on the counter. Fate? Kismet? Lucky chance???

I sanded the stick carefully, and wiped it clean. I painted it black to back-fill the little chewed channels, then wiped off the excess. Then waxed it with brown Brio wax, and buffed it, then drilled more holes.

 

Finally, it was done!

The finished piece. Finally!

Today I’ll find the right-sized box to pack it up and ship it to its happy new owner. It’s taken a lot longer than I thought, but I never regret a profound learning experience. Well. I regret them in the moment. But I’ll get over it.

My little journey from “the perfect stick” to one that many people would consider as a tragedy (destruction of national forests) and trash (a bug did this? WTF!!!) has me thinking again about my art process and my stories.

I obsess about getting everything exactly right, in an imperfect way. Asymmetrical yet balanced. Ordered color palettes.

One of my most powerful insights, in my life and in my art, is recognizing when something is ‘good enough’, and letting go of perfection. (As a wise woman once told me just before I began my hospice volunteer training, “When we are a perfectionist, we are ‘full of knowing’, and nothing new can come in.”) (Thank you Quinn!) (Another gift: I didn’t know she’d started a new blog until I linked to hers here.)

We all have visions of what that ‘perfect’ thing is. The perfect job. The perfect marriage. The perfect home.

Then there’s reality. There are the slog jobs, the times in a relationship when things can feel wonky, and homes? Renting here in Northern California, it’s whatever one will let you have pets….

Yet even in the worst of times and places, there is something of value.

Insights. ‘Aha!’ moments. Healing. Reconnection. Beauty. New ways to retell old stories. Seeing our loved ones for who they are, instead of the perfect person we sometimes expect them to be. Learning to see ourselves the same way….

Sometimes the ‘perfect’ needs to make way for something bigger and better, more human. Sometimes, we need to make way for something else.

And sometimes, it makes way for a tiny little beetle, with its own way of creating a powerful story.

 

 

WayBack Saturday! ARTISTIC LICENSE: Credentials, Degrees, Awards….and Passion

I had plenty of college, but that’s not where I learned how to be an artist.
This post was originally published on March 7, 2003. Still relevant, IMHO!

Artistic License

Recently, someone on a discussion forum I participate in posted a plea for help.  A show the artist had been accepted into was requesting the usual artist credentials: resume, artist bio, degrees, etc.  After “wiping the tears of laughter from her eyes”, the artist began to panic.  Her work is something she’s picked up late in life, she didn’t attend art school, she hasn’t exhibited before, and though her work is solid, she just doesn’t have the credentials.  What should she do?

Here was my advice:

It would be tempting to puff up the slim credentials you *do* have (remember the domestic engineers of the 1970’s?)  It’s wicked easy to get caught up in the credentialing thing, and to overlook what’s really important.  Our society seems to demand credentialing for everything.  But what are credentials *for*, anyway?

A resume, bio, list of exhibits and a stack of art degrees amount to paper affidavits, “proof” to the world that you have been educated in your art, you’ve paid your educational dues, and made the effort to get your work out there through exhibiting and shows.  There are some situations in life where this kind of proof is important and necessary.  We don’t want to have surgery by someone who “feels in touch with his inner surgeon” but hasn’t gone to med school.  Fortunately, being an artist does not require a license.  :^)

If you haven’t gone the “traditional” route of artist credentialing (sounds like a contradiction of terms to me), then you have to think of another way to present a cohesive, narrative story about the “who/what/when/where/why and how” of “you, the artist.”  Who you are, what you make, why do you make it, and how did you get to where you are now?  And the chance to add, where do you plan to go next?  And how serious are you about this whole thing, anyway??  That’s really all that the bio/degree/award/exhibit thing is trying to say, in a more “official” format.  In a way, starting from “nothing” gives you an open door to talk about this in a more down to earth and direct way.

An art degree shows you’ve taken classes to master your techniques.  So how did you learn yours?  Did you take workshops?  Read a book?  Stay up late after work and on weekends, painting/knitting/carving into the wee hours?  Teach yourself?  Swap sculpting lessons for babysitting?  Apprenticed yourself to a potter?  Talk about the passion you discovered in yourself for this art stuff, and what lengths you went to acquire the skills to do it.

An art degree shows you had a vision or goal to make art part of your life, then you studied it, and put in the time and effort to get a degree.  You can show that you, too, have a vision for your work, and that you have steadily pursued it.  What are your processes & techniques?  Did you experiment, develop them yourself?  Research antique processes and recreate them?  How did you come up with that particular approach or outlook?  Have certain artists, cultures, whatever, influenced your style?

Use the education you have.  I have college degrees (also not in art!) and I mention them in relation to how they’ve influenced my work–coursework for an education degree taught me the importance of storytelling, coursework in art history provided me the original inspiration for my Lascaux cave-themed imagery, etc.  But don’t just stick in stuff hoping to “fill up” the page.  Whatever you put in, make sure it relates in some way to your artistic self.

Exhibits show that you’ve made a serious attempt to get your work out in front of a variety of audiences, and that your work was good enough to be selected.  You can present enough “credentials” for most purposes by providing a brief summary of what you’ve done to get your art out there.  How can you show you’ve been making the same kind of effort?  Through shows?  Through steady sales? How has the audience for your work grown since you started this?

Awards show that someone thought your work was pretty darn good, or unusual.  Are there other ways for you to show that?  Anybody famous buy one of your pieces?  Or did your work appear in a magazine or on TV?  Did you get into a terrific, exclusive show the first time you applied, just because your work was so drop-dead terrific?

I like to keep in mind that ultimately, the person who purchases my work isn’t *really* buying it because of a list of shows or exhibits I’ve been in.  That list may help them feel more confident about their initial desire to buy, but that isn’t *why* they buy.  They buy it because it moves them emotionally, and because it says something special to them.  Something powerful is going on in my work, and they respond to that.  Everything else is just icing on the cake.

In fact, last month I revised my retail customer brochure.  I used to have a list of exhibits and books my work has appeared in, in an attempt to establish myself as a serious player.   I took it out, replacing it with a little blurb about why I make the art I make.   I’m learning that people only have to talk with me a few minutes to realize I’m a “serious player.”  Ultimately, it’s all about my work, not the hoops I’ve made it jump through.

Try to avoid the ordinary when putting this piece together.  Don’t go on about how much you love color–*all* visual artist love color!  Don’t make too big a fuss about how much you wanted to be an artist when you were little.  Someone once addressed this one–we *all* wanted to be artists when we were little.  Avoid cliches.

Think about the special stuff in your life.  Is your studio on a mountain top, or do you build it yourself out of hand-hewn lumber?  Are your materials unusual?  Do you go dumpster-diving to find your stuff, or hound recycling centers for their glass bottles?  What do you do that no one else does?  What is your inimitable style?  What is your personal story?

On the other hand, don’t get obtuse and try to bury your lack of credentialing paper with high-falutin’ phrases and five-dollar words.  As Bruce Baker, a consultant and speaker for craft and art world issues always says, “People have a built-in bullshit meter.  If you rock that meter, then they will never believe whatever else you have to say.  Make sure what you say is *true*.”   Stick to the essence of who you are and what your art is.  Make it interesting, and make it unique.  Stick to the truth.  Keep it simple and powerful.

 

 

 

MORE ADVICE ON GETTING ADVICE: Not Today, Maybe Tomorrow

Today, a story for you about a time when an opportunity didn't feel right - until it did.
Today, a story for you about a time when an opportunity didn’t feel right – until it did.

MORE ADVICE ON GETTING ADVICE: Not Today, Maybe Tomorrow

MORE ADVICE ON GETTING ADVICE: Not Today, Maybe Tomorrow

Sometimes, it takes a while to see where good advice fits in.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote this article for Fine Art Views about how to trust your gut on whether the advice we hear is helpful or not.

Today, a story for you about a time when an opportunity didn’t feel right – until it did.

A new friend asked for a favor, and offered a trade as payment. It just didn’t feel right at the time. I said no, and they were extremely gracious about it.

Six months later, I thought, “What exactly was that ‘payment in trade’ about??” I reached out to them, they explained, and I said, “Heck, yeah!” (A little more energy than ‘heck’, but no swears here today.)

I took them up on their offer. It was amazing! (Short story: Horse therapy. It’s a thing. It was powerful, insightful, and healing.) The timing was perfect for me, too.

Then I went to work on my side of the trade: Repairing/remaking a beloved necklace for them, using one of my horse artifacts they’d chosen.

But halfway through the project, I called them and said I couldn’t make it work. They had picked an older horse, a design I don’t make anymore. It was impossible to make that artifact ‘hang right’, because of how I’d designed it. “You can keep the horse, you love it, you picked it, and I can make it into a pin, if you like. But you have to pick another horse that will be better balanced.”

I heard them gasp over the phone. “Ruh-roh,” I thought. “Here comes the blow-back.” (Not who they are, just me knowing this was a disappointment for them.)

Nope.

They were astonished because I had just given THEM clarity on a huge decision they were struggling with.

I’d given them a metaphor that helped them see their situation as ‘unbalanced’, trying to make it work, but now able to see clearly what their major life decision should be.

If I’d accepted their offer six months earlier, neither of us would have experienced the huge insights that came with this simple exchange.

Waiting until it felt right brought incredible power and meaning to both of us, in our ‘trade’.

How does this relate to social media, getting advice, etc.?

I have no idea. Wait—I do!!

Just as there is no ‘one-size-fits-all-advice’ (except for things like integrity, kindness, compassion, etc.) in our life, the same is true in our art biz. In that article, I shared how to sort out what will never work for artists (acting like retailers), and what will never work for me (anything that puts sales ahead of personal integrity, or negates my aesthetic, etc.)

I also shared that ‘shoulders hunching up over my ears’ reaction when something sounds right, but feels wrong. (Step away!)

And yet, in responding to a comment, I realize sometimes it’s not the advice.

It’s the timing.

Some of us may be a little overwhelmed with all the social media marketing advice we’ve received since the shelter-in-place orders. I thought I was fine, until I realized how much I’m doing wrong. Or simply not doing right. Or not doing enough, or doing too much.

So, yes, to baby steps.

But also take minute to think about the ‘why’.

Why does it feel so hard to make those updates and changes right now? Probably the biggest reason is, this ‘new normal’ is pretty freaky.

Some of us may have even more time on our hands right now, but not much hope of getting better, marketing-wise/sales-wise. Some of us may have less time on hand. Our days may be filled with child care, trying to be supportive of friends and family, our spouse, getting food on the table, staying healthy, staying calm.

The last thing we need with all this stressing is beating ourselves up with all the things we’re doing ‘wrong’.

The other reason it’s hard, for me, is, I’ve had several hugely intense creative periods since all this started. I was going full steam ahead with new work, new designs, etc. until a health issue knocked me to the ground for almost a month.

That was not the time to work on my social media marketing.

Now, things are saner. I’m slowly building up my creative work again.

Then I found a way to a) clear out my studio a little, b) move on some of my older work, due to studios back east closing, and c) put some of those social media marketing ideas into play.

It worked! I was flooded with orders, some of which I’m still working on. I made money, old work went to new homes and people who love them, and my studio is a teensy bit neater. (Teensy bit)

Forcing myself to work on that aspect of my biz during that hard month would have crushed me. Now, it energizes me. I have two more sales events* in the works, and a couple special orders to boot.

So when you’re in a situation, like the AMP marketing webinars, take good notes. When something intrigues you, write it down (or however you best remember info.)

If you feel your shoulders rising, pay attention. But don’t lose your place, either.

Later, take a moment to think why? Why did this make me cringe? Why did it make me afraid? Why did it seem out of the question?

Maybe it’s totally off, but sometimes, time will provide other insights for us. For one example, a friend suggested I make huge artifacts, something I have no desire to do. But weeks later, I realized I could make bigger work with many of my small artifacts. “Bigger” was relative. (And I’m guessing their desire to help me make more profitable work was their motive, which is a good thing.)

I’ve traded with other artists over the years (don’t ask, no more room in our little rental home for more paintings!!) but it simply felt wrong with the horse person at that time. Until I was ready to hear more. Which turned out to be exactly when they were ready to hear more, too.

Are you working your way through a plethora of marketing advice? Share what intrigues you, what baffles you, and what you’ve come back to. Many of you have shared, in articles and in comments, what you found most insightful and useful. Share that, too!

If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to pass it on to someone else. And if someone sent you this article, and you liked it, too, see more of my articles at FineArtViews.com, other art marketing topics at Fine Art Views art marketing newsletter, and my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

*Not a ‘sale’ as in a mark-down, which is not respectful of our long-time collectors. Just selling old work at the price I originally asked for them. So, more of a ‘WayBack machine’** event.

**Remember Mr. Peabody and Sherman from that TV show, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle? ***

***Am I revealing TMI about my age???

WayBack Saturday! LET’S NOT DO WHAT WE OUGHT, BUT WHAT WE WANT

I love that my husband, an amateur musician, makes time to play his music every day. It restores his soul.

(This article was originally published on March 6, 2003, on my now-defunct Radio Userland blog. But it still holds wisdom for me today!)  (I realized a Wayback Wednesday, though alliterative, was not a good idea, as it follows the day after my Fine Art Views column is published. So…WayBack Saturday instead!)

Let’s NOT do what we ought, but what we want

A cry for help appeared on a list serve I subscribe to.  An artist who gave up painting for years is determined to take it up again.  Unfortunately, all her paints are so hardened in their tubes, they are almost unusuable.  Can anyone tell her how to salvage them??

I’m not sure how welcome my advice would be, but it’s clear to me the universe is sending a message here, loud and clear.

BUY NEW PAINTS.

What a huge obstacle she has already overcome!  The urge to paint again is wonderful, and I would wholeheartedly tell this artist to go for it.  But the artist is stuck again, already.  “I can’t paint until I fix my paint.”

Where have we heard that before?  Well, I used to hear it every day.  And sometimes, when I’m down or overwhelmed with the simple problems that ‘simply living’ entails, I still hear it:

“I should do the laundry first.”

“I really need to run a few errands first.”

“I’ve got to get this mailing out this week–I’ll work on some new jewelry ideas later.”

Sometimes it feels like my passion for my art is the last thing I take care of.

Maybe those paints are ruined for a reason.

Maybe the universe is sending a message here. 

You can paint again, it says, but maybe it’s time to start anew.  To start fresh, with new ideas, new inspiration, maybe an entirely new direction.

Maybe it’s time to play with colors again, to regain the same sense of wonder and excitement when you first began to paint.  And then to move ahead in a different way.  Forge a new path.

But to do this, you need to get rid of everything that held you back the last time.  

Maybe you don’t have to do penance by fixing those paints.  Maybe the message is, “Go out and buy wonderful new paint.  Buy some of your favorite old colors, but try something different, too.”

You have found your inspiration to paint again, and you’re determined to really set aside the time and energy it deserves.  And that means not wasting time and energy working to revive dead paint.

What a lesson for me today!  I’ve been sitting in the middle of an overwhelmingly messy studio, bemoaning the fact that I “should” clean up before I get back to work.

Then I get the note about dried up paint.

Maybe it’s really okay to just jump right into making something today, messy space notwithstanding.  Maybe it’s okay to do a little cleaning up after I have fun.  Hmmmmm….*

*New note: As I edited this post, it came to me…. Many people, including me, have been unconsciously trained/conditioned to take care of everything and everybody else before we take care of our own needs and desires.

And yet, we have all been given gifts, creative gifts, that are just that: Something special, something extra, something that can make the world a better place.

Our desire to make something beautiful, no matter what form it is, is a gift.

And whoever/whatever gave it to us, will be honored when we make room–and time–for it in our lives.

So put on your oxygen mask (or Covid-19 mask!) and make something beautiful today. Whether it’s your art, your music, your story-telling, your care, whatever your superpower is, put it in the world. Today.

Because the world will be better for it, because of you.

 

AMPING UP YOUR ART MARKETING: Baby Steps!

AMPING UP YOUR ART MARKETING: Baby Steps!

Backwards and baby steps can help us move forward in everything.

I now look HISTORICALLY old!

Last week, I raved about the powerful insights I’ve gained already from watching just two AMP webinars (Art Marketing Playbook), a series created by FASO’s marketing guru, Dave Geada of Big Purple Fish..

Great marketing insights often mean revamping, not just our approach, but also our website, our email newsletters, our social media accounts. And with great revamping can come great overwhelming-ness. (I just made that word up.) Big projects can be daunting, especially if they aren’t in our ‘primary’ skill-set. (I’m comfortable with social media, but changes in my approach were needed.)

I’m happy to find that I’m doing a lot of things right: Knowing my ‘creation story’, using the best social media platforms (Facebook biz page, Instagram account, a lively email newsletter, the “new artwork alert”, etc.)

I was sad to learn all the things I’m doing wrong. And devastated to learn how many things I’m doing wrong. A lot of work lies ahead….

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by big multi-step processes. And when I’m overwhelmed, my lizard brain instantly leaps in to protect me.

“You’re doing it wrong! It’s too hard! Just stop, crawl away, give up, hide in a hole somewhere!! Make it go awaaaaaaaay!!”

You probably already know that doesn’t work. And yet, being overwhelmed can mean we put off the repairs, edits, restructuring efforts so necessary for doing better.

So I sat with all this new knowledge, wondering how the heck to get it all in place in a timely fashion.

Today I had a brainstorm.

I remembered what’s worked for me in the past when dealing with uncertainty. Here’s the way I’m thinking about this that might help you, too.

The power of this strategy is to think about your desired end results, you goal. Then think what has to happen to achieve that goal…backwards.

Yes, you read that right! What has to happen before you have another great painting in your inventory? Finishing a painting. Painting. Time to paint. The right paint, for the surface. Figuring out the palette. The right surface. Composition. A subject. An idea.

So maybe we: Recognize we want to paint. List ideas for a subject. Find that subject to create. Maybe take a picture of it, or find the perfect plein air site. Check our supplies to make sure we have the right size canvas, and the right paints, and paint colors. Set aside time to paint. Etc., etc. until we finally have the triumph of a new work of art in hand.

Breaking down these steps is powerful. And breaking them down into tiny steps is even more powerful.

So, baby steps.

First tiny step: Update my profile portrait image. Further step back: Find/make a new portrait image.

“Making a new image” was hard. I’ve been struggling to make a new profile portrait for months. Since I haven’t had a haircut in months, it’s a lit-tul hard getting even a somewhat flattering selfie, and selfies tend to distort our faces too much. Older pics are pretty discouraging, too.

But then I remembered a set of portraits my partner and I had done a few years ago, to celebrate our wedding anniversary. They’re tintypes, black and white, and we love them!

So my first baby step was: Find those pictures. It took awhile to find them, but I did.

I couldn’t figure out how to incorporate them into my social media, though. Until, doh! I realized I could photograph the photographs. Baby step!

Once that was done, my next baby step was easier: Update one social media site.

I started with my Google accounts: Google (Gmail, etc.) On Dave’s suggestion, I also added a small pic of me in my email signature. Done!

Encouraged by this, I decided to update more sites. FASO. I added the tintype image to my “not artwork images” section, then swapped out my old profile portrait. Done! Hey, I’ll write a little newsletter about my new portrait. Done!

I was on a roll. I quickly updated my Facebook and Instagram accounts. Done! What about my WordPress blog? Done! With editing, cropping, updating, etc., it took few hours to get it all in place.

But I’m feeling much better about everything now.

The feeling of accomplishment is palpable. And knowing that’s one item I can scratch off the to-do list? Huge.

I know those other things on the list will also feel like too much. As I work my way through them, I’ll continue to share what I’ve learned.

But I’m grateful I remembered that going backwards can actually be a powerful way of moving forward, with everything in life.

Let me know if this helps YOU move forward today. And if you’ve found powerful ways to incorporate those new AMP strategies, share them here! Someone maybe be very grateful you did. (Me!)

If you know someone who would find this article helpful, pass it on to them! And if someone sent you this, and you liked it, you can find more of my Fine Art Views articles here, and more great marketing advice at FineArtViews.com, or subscribe to my blog at luannudell.wordpress.com too.

Remember: We’re all in this together!*

*And nobody gets out alive. But whatever makes it better, is a gift!

LEARNING TO SEE #15: Not All Advice Is Equal

My latest marketing insight? Long-time customers are REALLY interested in NEW work. I get a little hung up on the horses and bears, but foxes, dogs, and owls are getting lots of comments!

LEARNING TO SEE #15: Not All Advice Is Equal

And even bad advice can help us move forward!

(6 minute read)

Last week, I signed up for my very first Art Marketing Program (AMP) webinar, hosted by FASO’s marketing guy, Dave Geada.

These sessions are long, which makes it hard to fit into my work day. Unlike the rest of my family, I don’t do podcasts well. Listening to them, that is. When I’m creating, words interrupt my concentration, even words in songs.

But I made the time, and I’m glad I did!

If you haven’t worked with Dave, or tried any of those recorded videos, do try them. He’s focused, insightful, explains all the ‘why’s’ behind it all, and even how important the ‘WHY’ behind the art we make, is. (Hint: Because it’s the heart of everything we do.)

I’m already overloaded with those action steps, so much that I almost wrote my column about ‘little steps forward’ today. Next time! Because I also dropped in on my first conversation in the (art marketing discussion forum), and found what needs to be addressed first:

Not all advice is equal. And not all advice works for everyone.

There is fact-based data, there are expert opinions based on experience, and then there’s advice.

Fact-based data comes from someone actually measuring results for any given marketing strategy. This was former Fine Art Views columnist Lori Woodward’s superpower. She would dig in and test a strategy, then share her findings.

But not all fact-based date is equal, either. Let’s take search engine optimization (SEO.) We are hammered constantly to pay/hire someone to show us how we can improve our ranking in search engine results. One of Dave’s strongest points is that most SEO suggestions work for retailers: People who sell stuff. Their strategy is to get billions of ‘hits’, hoping a small fraction of those people will click and actually buy something.

But artists are makers. We don’t need a billion clicks. We need a passionate following, people who love our work, to buy from us over and over again. That may be a small percentage of our audience, which is also much smaller than say, Amazon. So the numbers aren’t as relevant, and SEO is less important. Whew! That’s about a jillion SEO marketing ‘come-on’ emails I can delete from my inbox today!

Next, the expert opinion. This is usually from someone who’s had success in whatever we’re involved in. When we needed a babysitter for our kids, who do we ask to find one? Other people with kids. There are ‘experts’ in every aspect of our lives, ranging from car mechanics, doctors, marketing gurus, and other artists.

But even expert advice may not work for everyone. First, goals may be different. Second, their experience may be different. Someone who is a famous oil painter may not actually have good insights into me selling my assemblages or jewelry. Or the way that person achieved fame and fortune may go against my principles, time available, and my budget.

And of course, it’s highly possible that person isn’t really as successful as they seem to be. (My favorite Anne Lamott quote: “Never compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.) Years ago, when I was doing fine craft wholesale shows, there were some folks who asserted that they made a great living with their work. Another craftsperson did some deep research and found some interesting results: Many of those people a) inherited wealth; b) had a spouse who was in highly-paid profession; c) or they had a second ‘career’ on the side, like flipping houses, for example. Famous writers sometimes reveal their income doesn’t all come from their books being published. Their income also relies on teaching workshops and speaking engagements. Many artists do the same!

And last, there’s just plain ol’ advice. The random things people will tell us that have nothing to do with our story, our preferred medium, work process, style, aesthetic.

Me? I get a lot of advice, especially when I don’t ask for it! Sometimes it’s so off-base, it’s gob-smacking. And yet sometimes, it’s intriguing, and pulls something new out of me, maybe even something completely different than what the advice-giver was thinking.

In the end, we get to pick what works for us.

In my humble experience, if it resonates with me, that’s my signal that I should at least try it. And if my shoulders try to cover my ears, that’s my signal that I should just set it aside. Not all advice is perfect for every single situation/person. Nobody is right all the time.

As I said, even “bad” advice may still provide a powerful insight. First, it’s good to recognize that most advice comes from others wanting to help us do better. Knowing others care is sweet!

Second, we can examine our reactions when it lands badly, asking ourselves, “What is it about that suggestion that makes me cringe?” Exploring why we react the way we do can give us insights into our own blind spots, weaknesses, insecurities.

Third, sometimes advice is a no-brainer. In this particular session, Dave walked through several artists’ websites, pointing out fairly simple ways we can improve our website visitors’ experience. My notebook is filled with notes—hope I can read them! (I was writing pretty fast. So much information!) Yeah, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed at all the things I could/should do to improve my site. My next step is figuring out my next step! I’ll be sharing my experience and insights with you along the way. (Which, of course, may work for you, or may not. I’m not even an expert!)

The biggest insight for me was why people are online, on social media, in the first place. (Answer: Boredom, loneliness, connection.) (Unless I messed up my notes….?) He also confirmed Clint Watson’s assertion that our email newsletters are our most powerful tool to grow our audience, and why. (Answer: Because people check their email even more often than they check out their social media.) He noted that we can focus on just Instagram, Facebook, and our email newsletter. (Whew! Goodbye, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Twitter!)

So be sure to check out Dave’s webinars. You can find the basic playbook/eBook under the “Art Marketing” tab on the FASO site. Consider joining FASO for your artist website, because in addition to all the aspects that work for ARTISTS, you will have complete access to these webinars (including recordings of past events.) You can spend as little as $12/month for a FASO website, which I’m guessing would be less than the cost of SEO advice from internet marketers who have no idea what works for artists in the first place.

And remember, begin with advice that works for YOU. Even if you hate it, explore why you hate it. And when you get overwhelmed, remember my advice: Baby steps! One at a time, at your own pace.

If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to pass it on to someone else. And if someone sent you this article, and you liked it, too, see more at FineArtViews.com, Dave’s articles at same, my articles there, Clint’s insights on email newsletters, other art marketing topics, and my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

Well, that should keep you busy for a few days! Until next week, take exquisite care of yourself during these trying times.

Starts Today! One-time Sale at My Etsy Shop!

MAKING A DECISION and HUNGRY ART

WAYBACK WEDNESDAY A Few Days Late…
I published this post on 10/26/04. Still true!
Making a Decision

I have to make a hard decision today. I have an opportunity to do a teaching gig that would pay fairly well, a week’s work. Something I would have jumped at a few years ago.Trouble is, I’m an atypical artist. I don’t want to teach other people how to do what I do. I never really wanted to in the first place. As time goes on, and my art is more important to me, I find I’m even less interested in teaching it. I want to do it.

Running a business based on making your art sucks up a lot of time. I spend lots more time on the business side than the making art side. So setting aside time to allow other people to make art while I watch is particularly painful sometimes.

Nevertheless, it is an opportunity. And I can’t make up my mind whether to do it or not.

A friend once said, “When you have a situation you just can’t make up your mind about, make a list of the pros and cons. Otherwise, it’s like doing long division in your head.” (I originally typed “long decision in your head.” Quite Freudian!) The trick then is not how many pro’s vs. con’s. It’s to pay attention to which ones make you cringe.

Here’s what my decision list looks like.

Pros:

1) It’s a thousand dollars.

2) It’s a week’s work. 3)

It’s teaching, and I’ve always liked teaching.

4) I could really use the money.

5) The guy who asked me is really nice and excited about my work. His enthusiasm is infectious.

6) It’s hard for me to say no.

Cons:

1) It’s much, much more than a week’s work. It’s actually 8 classes, 6 per day, for 5 days. That’s 30 different teaching sessions.

2) It also means a lot of preparation time. Probably several weeks’ of preparation time, for presentations, projects, etc.

3) It’s a long drive, too.

4) The last time I did something similar to this proposal, it turned into something awful. It was the most miserable day I’ve had in my entire professional career.

5) For a variety of professional reasons I won’t get into, I don’t want to teach how I make my own artwork. I’ve made a point of not teaching how to make it, and I don’t want to start now. Even in modified form.

6) If I’m going to teach, I want to either introductory skills (with jewelry, polymer clay, stamp-carving, etc.) or professional skills (writing an artist statement, etc.)

7) It’s a month before my major wholesale fine craft show, which takes a huge amount of time and energy to prepare for. Including the two to three weeks I’d sink into this teaching opportunity if I were to take it on.

8) Other than financial, it doesn’t fulfill a single other professional, business, personal or artistic goal I have.

9) As hard as it is to say “no”, I have to say “no” sometimes in order to make room for other things that are more important to me.

As I look over my reasons, I can see that some of the cons are fear-based, As in, “The last time I did this, it turned out badly.” And there is some good to be gained—some money to put back into my business, and the opportunity to hone my teaching skills.

I can also see, though, that what I could learn from taking this opportunity is something I’ve already learned. And don’t need to do this same thing again to learn the same lesson again.

The teaching skills I want to hone are as a presenter of professional skills. Teaching my methods will not help me with this teaching goal.

I was talking with the same friend about something completely different, and she said something that’s now stuck in my mind.

I’d said I was really excited about teaching the workshops on my schedule now—self-promotion for artists,  wholesaling, writing a powerful artist statement, etc. It could be something that might conflict with my artistic/professional goals. But it didn’t feel that way right now.

I found as I prepared for this seminar, my thoughts clarified. I began to gain more insights into my own processes. While researching press releases, I learned how to make mine even better. I’m actually working out my own roadblocks and obstacles by sharing what I’ve learned along the way with others. I’ve learned more as I prepare to teach.

She said, “I’ve found that I often teach what I want to know.”

Such a simple phrase, but very useful today.

I’m going to have to call that very nice gentleman and refuse his generous offer. I hope I can think of someone else who might be able to fill the slot, someone who would be grateful for such an opportunity, who finds it a better match for where they are in life. As nice as I’d like to be, I need to be kind to myself, the artist, first.

HUNGRY ART (follow-up to the above post.)

A few people e-mailed me after yesterday’s blog entry, to ask how the decision had gone. This is how:

I thanked the person for the opportunity, said no, and offered to pass on the name of another person if possible. And this morning I did just that. I thought of another artist who might work well, and contacted both parties with information about the other. I really hope this works for both of them.

Another e-mail from a former student commented that she was spending a lot of time buying art materials and playing with them, but wasn’t actually making much art. She sounded like she has the right attitude, though—“All in good time, all in good time,” she said.

It’s natural to hit fallow periods where the art doesn’t come easily. Julia Cameron, in her book “The Artist’s Way” calls these periods “filling the well.” They are necessary and can be very productive, healing times. Playing with new materials and new ideas often leads to exciting new developments in our art.

And some people don’t feel the need to go any further than this. Their art is truly a pastime, something pleasant and enjoyable.

If you begin to feel a nagging sensation, though, a “could” rather than a “should”, maybe it’s time to impose a little more structure.

I started to do something this morning, and realized some of our pets hadn’t been fed or given fresh water. I thought, “I’ll get to it after I eat breakfast.” And then stopped. No. They are dependent on me for their physical needs. I need to take care of THEM first. And I did.

Our art has the same dependency on us. The unique vision we have as a unique person, a unique artist, cannot come into the world except through us. It sits and waits, sometimes patiently, sometimes anxiously. If you ignore its need to exist too long, however, it will come crashing through. “FEED ME!!”

Don’t let your art get too hungry today.

FEEL THE FEAR (And Do It Anyway)*

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.

FEEL THE FEAR (And Do It Anyway)*

Share your work, your thoughts, yourself on social media, and own it!

(5 minute read)

There’s a hidden underbelly to using social media to promote our creative work. We don’t talk about it much, it’s quite prevalent, and it can’t really be fixed.

There will always be someone who’s happy to tell you what’s wrong with it: Your style, your subject, your technique, your skill level, your choice of color, theme, title, etc. And also what’s wrong with Y*O*U.

If this happens to you, here are some words of comfort and encouragement.

In 1948, Shirley Jackson’s most famous short story, often included in high school reading/literature classes, “The Lottery” was published in the New Yorker magazine. It generated a (quote) “deluge of complaints” to the editor, and a substantial number of cancelled subscriptions. (Just FYI, the new movie about Jackson is not based on her actual life, according to her son, and contains incredible untruths, as does the book it’s based on. The author says it’s fiction, though it can ‘read’ like a true bio. Although I also hear Elizabeth Moss’s performance is amazing!

One of my all-time favorite mystery writers, Sue Grafton, died before completing her famous “alphabet series” (A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, etc. and her last one was Y is for Yesterday. No Z.) She’s won almost every mystery award you can think of, multiple times.) Critics have called her one of the top mystery writers in every category, especially her series. I’ve read them all multiple times.

Out of curiosity, I checked some reviews and ratings on Amazon, while buying her last book. I was shocked to see how many 3-stars and below ratings her books got, usually between 17-19%. One longtime reader gave her 1-star and a terrible review, because she “wrote too much”. (Remember “Too many notes” in the movie Amadeus?)

One of my top three favorite advice-givers, Captain Awkward, is hugely popular, known for her wit, in-depth analysis of what’s going on, her insights, etc. She is an advocate for kinds of good causes and movements, all people, all genders, etc. She has thousands, tens of thousands, of followers, maybe more, including thousands of paying supporters on Patreon.

And yet, she has created a special folder for the deluge of hateful, angry, highly-critical comments she receives on a daily basis, which she doesn’t even read. (She also deletes their comments and blocks them forever after their first rant.)

And we wonder why people hesitate to post their thoughts, their writing, their artwork, their stories online….

I actually wrote a series a while back called “Haters Gonna Hate”, about how we can’t focus on who hates us/our work, we just have to get it out there. I received quite a bit of blowback about using the word “hate”. (Can you spell “irony”?) And another series, Mean People Suck, has truly stood the test of time.

We know that Shirley Jackson persisted and began a highly-popular and highly-respected author (faux movie dialog notwithstanding), as did Sue Grafton. Captain Awkward (aka “Jennifer Peepas”) does not let the haters slow her down for a minute.

Neither should YOU let these people slow YOU down.

I used to engage with nay-sayers, until my team/partner/wise people in my life encouraged me not to even try. I still struggled, hoping to convince those toxic people to simply skip over or delete my posts/emails/columns/articles.

Now,in the movements for justice and equality today, people deep in those movements advise the same: Don’t waste time or energy trying to change someone’s mind. Instead, find ways to support the people/communities/organizations who are already working to change the world for the good.

You could do the same. Delete, mute, block. Move on. And get back to your happy place so you can make your art, and get it out into the world.

It took courage to see the artist in yourself. It took courage to take up brush/pencil/clay/a camera/a microphone/dancing shoes and pursue the work you care about.

It will also take courage to put it out into the world.

I’m reminded of this today from another source: Ginger Davis Allman’s email newsletter The Muse. Allman works in polymer clay, but her wisdom and insights apply to almost any creative endeavor. In today’s article, she concludes, “Best is subjective. Because each of us is different, things resonate with us differently and hit us in different ways. So we each have our own idea of “best” or “favorite”. There IS no best.” Yes, in certain instances, the opinions of others are relevant. But in the end, “the only idea of “best” that matters is your own.”

I get it. I dread reading comments. I’ve gotten some doozies, and it can be daunting. But I’ve worked too hard to get where I am today, and I’ll be darned if I let someone who’s having a bad day/hair day/time/life take me down to their level.

Do your work. Do it for yourself. Take a deep breath and share it with the world, however you can. Be proud of where you are, and be excited about where you’re going.

I wrote some of my best articles when I had no audience. Because, I learned even before my favorite “Sally Forth” comic was published, that it’s not about having an audience….

It’s about having a voice.

You can be afraid. You can worry about being judged. You can worry about feeling ‘less than’. It’s human.

We all want our work to be loved, respected, collected, displayed with joy. Once it leaves our hands, it has its own journey. To be loved now, or in a hundred years (like Van Gogh), or in 10,000 years.

Or forgotten, like so many others lost to us in time. No matter. It’s not where it goes that counts.

It’s what it brought YOU, in the making.

Feel the fear (and do it anyway.)

 

*Thanks and a hat-tip to Susan Jeffers for her amazing book, where this title came from!

WAYBACK WEDNESDAY: ART vs. CRAFT: I’m Losing

I’ve decided to publish a blog post on Wednesdays, republishing posts from my now-defunct and hard-to-find blog at Radio Userland.

Hence, Wayback Wednesday!

Yes, it’s just by chance that this blog post first appeared on a Wednesday. 🙂

If you’d like to see the original post (and others!), click on the title below.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I’m feeling bipolar lately. My mood has been up and down, sometimes all at once. SAYING I need to rethink how to get my artwork out into the world sounds very brave and confident. In reality, I just want to hunker down and run away.Today, in between making horse sculptures for some stores, I followed a link to an interesting blog called “Redefining Craft” which you can see here: http://www.redefiningcraft.com/

I really don’t speak academese, so I skipped through some of his entries until I hit the one for February 8 entitled, “Art vs. Craft: Who’s Winning?” In this entry, Dennis Stevens posts two images, one of a Nike shoe on a stick, and one of a mask by glass artist William Morris.

Or rather, according to Mr. Stevens, “non-artist” William Morris. It turns out the Nike shoe is the image that provokes and enlightens, while Morris’s work is merely a hijack of another culture’s imagery for his own gain.

Wonder what Mr. Stevens would say about my Lascaux imagery?

Oh, well, at least it’s possible that Lascaux IS my cultural heritage. It’s possible some of my ancestors were French.

But I have to admit, I felt a certain dismay that as a craftsperson, I’m in danger of being left on the side of the high-culture highway for lack of having anything potent or portent or important to say.

Doesn’t help that I also recently watched the movie “Art School Confidential” which you can read about here: http://imdb.com/title/tt0364955/

It’s a movie about a young art student at college. He finds his beautiful work is totally ignored by his teachers, his peers and the art world while pretentious, self-aggrandizing crap is revered as “true art”. The kid eventually passes himself off as a serial killer so he can attain his ultimate goal of being a famous artist. (Because as soon as he’s arrested, his paintings sell like hotcakes.)

There’s one thought, and one thought only that moves my heart gently back to its rightful place.

I didn’t deliberately choose any of this (except for one thing.)

I didn’t deliberately manufacturer the message of my art.

Call me lazy, call me shallow, call me a clueless craftsperson or a non-artist. All I know is, ten years ago I felt like I was dying inside. And when I hit the lowest point in my life, I make one of the most important decisions of my life.

I decided to make the stuff that made me feel human again.

I tried a lot of different things and a lot of different techniques until I found the ones that felt…that resonated…the most with what was in my heart.

It just FELT right.

Of course I have great hopes for my artwork. And of course I want people to buy it. And of course I hope to be recognized for making beautiful things.

But I didn’t choose what I do to attain that. It chose me.

All the discussions about art vs. craft, about what makes great art, and who is a “real artist” make my head hurt. They always have.

In the end, I’m left at the end of the day with one question.

Did I make something I’m proud of?

And did I put enough of myself into it that it calls to other people?

And did I do at least one thing to get it out into the world for others to experience?

Okay, more than one question at the end of the day.

But these are the questions I CAN answer.

I’ll leave the more academic questions for wiser people than me to answer.

LEARNING TO SEE #13: Eyes on the Wrong Prize

Today, I am slowly transferring my ‘selling’ space from Etsy (since 2008!) to my FASO website at LuannUdell.com.

It will take a while, and I won’t completely give up my Etsy site. I may keep it for my less-expensive work, destash items, discontinued items, etc.

But the insight that a more unified-approach to selling my work online is long overdue.

Part of it comes from a newsletter this week from Clint Watson, owner/developer of the website hosting company Fine Art Studios Online, which also (ta-da!) hosts Fine Art Views, the online art marketing newsletter I’ve written for since 2011. In the article, Clint pleads for artists not to send him off-site when he wants to purchase their work.

So, insight from a long-time artist/gallery owner who now works to maximize artists’ sales and connection with their audience. I’ll take it!

But something else opened my eyes today, too. This is hard to share….

I’ve been distracted my entire career by false measures of my success in the world.

Like everybody else, I believe my work and story to be unique to ME. And being the center of my own universe, I think it’s the best in the world. Not bragging. Just human nature. (Okay, a lot of us swing from “I’m the best!” to “I suck!” We should form a club. It would be huge.)

Oh, I’ve got a humble side, too. I can see every error, every misstep along the way. Sometimes they’re so obvious in hindsight, I cringe. (See what I mean about the swing part?)

And yet I also know the power of my work, how strongly my customers connect to it, and how it has not only widened, but deepened my own life in so many ways. Even the work that now seems not-up-to-snuff had passionate collectors, people who even today beg me to replace/restore/replace a treasured piece they love.

And like everyone else, I want those awards, prizes, (and M*O*N*E*Y that comes with those prizes), the proof that I am who I say I am, that I’m as good as I like to think I am. I want the publicity that comes with those awards, too.

The latest is the Etsy Design Awards, which applications are being accepted for now.

Unfortunately, such honors have been few and far between, and none of them really affected my sales or popularity. And in hindsight, I can see why not.

My work is out of the box. I barely fit into even a ‘mixed-media’ category for shows, exhibits, etc. let alone more specialized ones.

Although my entire body of work is connected with a powerful story, stories aren’t often a factor in selection. (The Etsy one does, but just wait…) Even after 30 years of making, I still recognize the awe–and confusion–many first-time visitors experience when they see my work. “What is this made of?? Is it real ivory?” (The most frequent comment is, “It’s absolutely beautiful, and I have no idea what I’m looking at…”)

Here’s the origin story that led to today’s insights:

For decades, the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair was half my annual income. Besides that, it’s a prestigious and respected fine crafts organization, one I’m proud to me a member of.

And every year at the Fair, I dreamed of being selected for the Best Booth Award.

Almost every year, I’d come this close to winning. Well, okay, not THAT close. But I was often listed as a runner-up or also-ran.

I had a beautiful booth, and some of the judges would tell me later that they were appalled I hadn’t won. It helped, but I constantly wondered why I couldn’t nail it.

Until finally, years later, I realized I was shooting for the wrong star. Eyes on the wrong prize.

Holy cow! What do I care if my booth isn’t the prettiest?? That is NOT why I make the work I do.

Yes, I strive to display my work to its best. I work hard to have a professional booth at shows. I work hard at every professional aspect of my art biz, as a matter of fact, from process, to display, to marketing, to customer care.

And yet, somehow I landed on “best booth” as a measure of my worth?!

We all can fall victim to some imagined “measure of success” that actually has nothing to do with our own definition of “success”.

Years ago, I talked with a talented, well-known fiber artist. We talked about goals, and they shared theirs with me: “I want to have my work represented in at least one gallery in every one of the 50 states!”

My first question was, “Why???”

To me, the absurdity of this goal was obvious. Who needs 50 galleries, some chosen only for their being in Arkansas, or Alaska? Especially when what we SHOULD have as a goal. is having some number of excellent galleries that are a perfect fit for our work, and have staff that are ardent representatives for us.

When I gently pointed this out, it landed well, fortunately. Later, they confessed this goal had helped keep them motivated, to a point (which is great!) But they realized it had outlived its purpose: Getting them outside their ‘comfort zone’ and into exploring galleries outside of our region.

Second origin story: Decades ago, at a major wholesale show, someone mocked me for remaining cheerful about the new opportunities offered to me (publicity, galleries, a chance to write articles in the future) during the show, despite low sales. And here I thought I was being mature, looking for the good in the sad times. I thought, “Yeah, I guess it wasn’t such a good show…”

Until the show coordinator and now a valued friend, brought me back to my higher, chosen reality. They asked, “Is money the only measure of your success?” (Thank you, Alisha Vincent, forever!)

Since then, I steadily wobble from clarity to confusion, grounded to lost (and found again), just like….everybody else!

The Etsy Design Awards re-stirred this bubbling pot for me. They are looking for a great product, a great story, and great images.

Unfortunately, I’m realizing (finally!!) that neither my current phone nor my old camera are capable of high-res images.

And so even my current ‘best images’ get kinda blurry in full-scale view. (I didn’t realize this until I looked at my site as the judges would. Ouch!!)

Even great photography doesn’t capture the entire beauty of my work. Despite having had amazing photographers over the years, many people, including other artisans I respect, have told me that. There’s something that can only be felt, and touched, that a photo can’t capture, and unfortunately, that ineffable quality is the mainstay of my work.

Etsy shoppers aren’t even my target audience. My best customers are people who a) have seen my work in person; b) have come to respect who I strive to be in every aspect as a human and an artist. I use Etsy as a place for these folks to purchase my work, because people unfamiliar with my work usually consider my work to be too expensive. (Those who know it come to believe it’s worth every penny!)

In the interest of not overloading folks who subscribe both to my blog (on WordPress, that can no longer accommodate new subscribers), my website’s email newsletter, and the ‘new work’ email alert, I’m trying to combine more of these functions on my website. Unified field theory in action! (Moving/giving up WP will be much harder…)

Hence, my desire to slowly wean myself from Etsy.

Etsy’s been good to me, over the years. I love it, I love shopping there, and it’s been easy to upload and sell my work there, too.

But wanting a chance to ‘be Etsy’s ideal seller’ so tempting, when it’s sooooo out of reach, does not serve me.

So wish me luck! Let me know which YOU would prefer, too. If you can prove Clint right, that you’d prefer NOT to be directed off-site to purchase my work, let me know. I’ll do my best to replicate the Etsy experience: More images available for each item, better images, etc.

There’s a lot of work I need to get started on, and it will take time. How will the site (or PayPal?) handle shipping labels? (I can purchase First Class shipping labels on Etsy, but not the USPS site.) Will FASO calculate and collect sales tax? (Etsy does that automatically.) Many, many questions ahead!

But consolidating my website’s capacities, and my own sense of purpose in the world, is underway!

What was YOUR moment of clarity about YOUR art goals? Please tell me I’m not the only one who keeps forgetting what’s really important in our winding journey through life!

 

 

LEARNING TO SEE #12: BEST. FASO WEBSITE FEATURE. EVER!!!!

My current best-selling artifact necklace. Which I never would have realized, except for this amazing FASO feature!

This article first appeared on Fine Art Views, an online art marketing newsletter hosted by Fine Art Studios Online, a website dedicated to artists and creatives. If you have trouble commenting here, try commenting there! 

LEARNING TO SEE #12: BEST. FASO WEBSITE FEATURE. EVER!!!!

(6 minute read)

It’s been right under my nose, but I just found it a few weeks ago. And I’m kicking myself I didn’t ‘get it’ sooner, but I’m glad I finally have!

Backstory: I have faithfully market my work online. I have a separate, professional page on Facebook. I’ve blogged since 2002. I have an Instagram account (which I set up to repost on Facebook), and my blog posts repost on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumbler. I’m on LinkedIn, and I’m diligent about updating my artist profiles on the websites of the professional organizations I belong to. I’ve been on Etsy since 2008, with the philosophy that I am not marketing to Etsy buyers, I’m giving my own customers a place to see and buy new work.

But overall, my online sales have been pretty meager. Most of my sales, even gallery sales, don’t measure up to my open studio events and the top shows I used to do.

I’d come to believe that my sales soar only when people meet me, and my work, in person. I believe in my ability to create connection on whatever level someone feels comfortable with, when people actually visit my booth or studio.

And moving to California five years ago felt like starting over, in every way. Finding a new studio, finding those important, respected art events, finding new galleries for my work, was a little daunting.

But I found the events that have slowly rebuilt a new audience, and I’ve been accepted by some great galleries here in Sonoma County.

And then the pandemic hit. Everything that was anything is now kinda nothin’.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve always thought of my website as a billboard on the internet highway. Full of art images, a place where people can go to find out who I am and what I do, if they make the time. But sales? Nah.

Etsy makes it easy for me to print mailing labels and ship my work, so why do I need that on my website? I used my FASO site for my newsletter (which had a learning curve, but I think I’ve got it down now.) But that’s about it.

Then recently, I realized I hadn’t updated my “Works” page in quite a while. Things are slow, so I thought I’d spend some time taking care of that.

So I uploaded a few images….

And two items sold immediately.

Wha….?! (In a good way!)

Oddly, I’d seen a few emails as a result of this automatic, alert-your-customers email service. I’d respond to people with a thank you. But I didn’t get how it worked, how they’d found that image. I didn’t even think to inquire about it.

That whack-a-mole sound you hear is me, smacking my head bigtime.

Since then, I now regularly post new work on my FASO, and email alerts are sent to all my email newsletter subscribers. I get wonderful comments, and respond to each one.

And almost everything I’ve uploaded has sold. Sometimes before I can even get it uploaded to Instagram! (I create a new listing on my Etsy page, then upload it to my FASO “new works” section, with a link to my Etsy listing for more images and for purchase, then repost on IG with same, which reposts to Facebook…have I lost you? Trust me, I understand!)

Then I read the Fine Art Views article by Jeanne Rossier Smith about her huge increase in sales, using not just this ‘new work’ email alerts, but also an AMP (Art Marketing Playbook) seminar. AHA! Just found the source for these videos:  https://data.fineartstudioonline.com/boldbrush/video/free And the playbook! https://data.fineartstudioonline.com/offers/amp/?download=y

Re: more information on the automatic alert thingie, I suck at giving step-by-step instructions, except in person, when I’m teaching. In fact, I don’t even know if I signed up for this marketing feature, or if it’s simply part-and-parcel of a FASO website. I finally checked with my editor, and this is what she shared with me:

  1. “The AMP program is free to all FASO paying members (so everyone on a FASO plan, except those with a FREE plan- only used for the contest & ads). You can find all you need to know about AMP and our new marketing platform, right from you FASO control panel by clicking on the Marketing tab and then choosing one of the options. We have free videos on AMP & webinars.
  2. For our art alert featurethis is not extra at this time, most paying plans currently have this feature available during Covid-19. We just sent out a FASO member newsletter about this  https://data.fineartstudioonline.com/nl/?nid=167771

 

Other caveats: I also offer a peek on my website, and republish all the relevant information, but redirect people to my Etsy shop. My jewelry ranges from $75-$350. I know most paintings sell for much more!

I can also offer free shipping for my most of my items, and Etsy allows me to purchase postage and labels for below-market prices. So your results may vary.

But I’m also realize it’s time to educate myself about what advantages my FASO site might offer when it comes to sales and shipping.

I’ve also wondered if the corona virus is making people more aware of their mortality, and ours Maybe they’re afraid I’ll die from Covid-19, and there will be no more little horse necklaces for sale…?? (Morbid, but true?)

But in short, everything Jeanne Rossier Smith said rings true.

When it comes to social marketing, here are some ‘tried and true’ insights to get rid of:

Sales aren’t actually about how many ‘likes’ our posts get. It’s not about ‘branding’, and ‘driving people to our websites’. (Cattle herd terms.) Yes, doing good work helps, but we don’t have to be one of the top ten artists in the country.

We just have to make our work. We have to get it out there. We have to engage meaningfully with our admirers and collectors, with integrity and authenticity.

Maybe I’ll even get a little ‘pushier’. When I’m speaking in person with a potential buyer, I ask that same question Jeanne mentioned: What spoke to you about this piece? It’s time for me to ask that in an email, or even a phone call.

I have started mentioning to people that if they see the dog/fox/otter/bear/horse that speaks to them, they should jump on it, because they’ve been selling quickly. It’s actually true, so I don’t feel like I’m twisting arms (which I HATE.)

And I love that Jeanne had such success and shared that with us, too.

So take advantage of everything a FASO website has to offer. FASO knows what an artist needs, based on the owner’s own experience as an artist, a gallery owner, and a collector. (Thank you, Clint!) And it shows.

If you enjoyed this article, you can read more at Fine Art Views and my blog or email newsletter. If you know someone who enjoyed it, pass it on! And if someone sent this to you, and you enjoyed it, ditto!

 

 

 

 

LEARNING TO SEE #11: After the Sale

The ultimate in customer care creates powerful connection—and a great reputation!

(7 minute read)

When we left NH going-on-six-years-ago, I also left behind one of the biggest sources of my art biz income: The League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Craftsmen’s Fair.

It’s a highly-respected show, lasting 9 days in early August. I loved it and dreaded it. Love: Great attendance, returning collectors, meeting up with friends near and far, and solid sales. Dread: It took me three entire days to set up my booth, it could get super hot (yes, it gets hot and HUMID in New England!), and nine days is a looooong fair. Also, storms and high winds can trample attendance. (One tiny gift of the shut-down is that this Fair will be a virtual event this year, and I can participate again. I’m ‘tenured’!)

And the first day usually brought a small wave of items brought to me by collectors, to be repaired.

That can feel daunting!

Over the years, I’ve had to repair a small wall hanging (minor), replace a broken sculpture (major!), and restring/repair/replace broken/damaged/lost jewelry. (Painters are lucky! Do paintings routinely get damaged, and repaired??)

In addition to my embarrassment of having a piece of jewelry breaking in use, some customers (not all!) take on (from experience!) a build-up of indignation. “It just broke!” some would exclaim, even though we all know things don’t just sit there and break.

It’s instinctive to react with indignation. We know we put a lot of work into our…er, work… But let’s not make the situation worse.

Instead, consider WHY they are coming on strong. (This insight was transformative for me!)

It’s because they are afraid you will either a) blame them; b) denigrate them for the damage; c) charge them for repairs; or even d) refuse to deal with them, and tell them to buy another one. (I’ve heard stories of some artists doing all combos of these reactions. I’ve experienced some of this myself, as a collector/buyer. It’s pretty awful.)

So they will build up a head of steam to get through the anticipated push-back.

What does this have to do with marketing our art?

How we handle this will affect our reputation, and possibly our sales, in many ways.

First, if we sell online, there are almost always opportunities to leave reviews on our purchases. An unhappy customer will probably not leave a stellar review. Of course, not all bad reviews are justified, but setting that aside for now as a subject for another day….

Even more importantly, we hope a happy collector will spread the word about our work. But an unhappy customer will definitely spread the word even further. Not just online, but in person, to their friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers, and anyone else who will listen, for years to come. Especially if we react badly right off the bat.

Last, when this happens on opening day at the Fair (or any event), usually a lot of other people are listening. How you handle this speaks volumes to them, literally and figuratively.

Here’s how I got to my happy place with all these encounters:

I realized the main problem with my jewelry (which is what most of these situations involve) happened because people loved my work so much, they never took it off.

Some people wore them in hot tubs, where the chemicals involved actually eat the plastic that polymer clay is made of.

Some people wore them in the shower, which is not good for leather cord.

Some people wore them to bed, where the risk of tangling and ‘catching’ on something could break a chain.

Some people soothed themselves with the artifact pendants—holding, bending, (there’s a bit of flex in thin polymer pieces) until it broke.

Sometimes people’s dogs snagged a chain, or (even as I speak today) new puppy chewed on an artifact.

Sometimes a partner buys a gift that lands wrong for the recipient.

Sometimes a cat knocks over a sculpture that shatters.

But in every case—in every single case—these people loved and cherished these items. And they were, at heart, afraid they would never get them back.

Once I recognized their pain and uncertainty, once I learned to see the anxiety behind their initial presentation, I could call on sympathy, on patience, even on pride that my work was so valued.

Here’s how I manage these incidents:

First, reassuring collectors that you care, can work small miracles right at the start. So I always meet these set-backs with kindness and sympathy. “I’m so sorry! I will fix this for you.”

It takes repeating and staying calm and grounded. But eventually, even the angriest (most defensive, usually) customer will hear me, and relax.

I explain what I may have to do: Repair the item, or replace it, and still find a way to return the original to them, if possible/

Once they realize they were being met with consideration and empathy, even the most assertive collector will relax. They know I will take care of them.

Only when we get here, to this place of safety for them, do I gently question what happened. I frame it as gathering information for me, helping me make my work better.

Then I listen, without judgment, and they open up. (That’s how I learned about the flexing, the hot tub, the broken chain, etc.)

In the case of a thin horse artifact caressed to the breaking point, I realized I had to make my animal artifacts thicker and sturdier. So I thanked the collector for sharing what happened, and for giving me this new insight. (I repaired and remade the “thin” horse into a pin, and made a thicker but almost-identical new horse for their necklace.)

For doggie uh-ohs, I’ll ask if they need a sturdier chain, or a leather cord instead. For the broken sculpture (one of my earliest) pushed over by a cat (DARN YOU, KITTY), I realized I’d used a shorter firing time, which made it more brittle—good information to have! (I told them how to repair it, AND sent a replacement.) Boy, I was grateful to learn that lesson, before I made more!

For a lost earring, I usually replace it at no cost the first time. The second time with the same set, I charge half the original price. (Yup, I had a customer who lost an earring three times! Because…she loved them, and wore them every day.) I also sometimes offer to change out the ear wires for lever backs, which are more secure.

See the gift here?

By reframing their experience, their loss, their (unintentional) damaging habits, their fear of being ‘blamed’, their fear of not having something they love, by seeing it as just this—their dismay at the loss of my work, which they love—I’ve not only kept a loyal collector….

I’ve improved my work.

And I’ve strengthened my reputation as a maker who stands behind my work.

I demonstrate my integrity, not just in the face of the best circumstances, but in the worst—when it really counts.

In this world of multi-billionaires, of the growing class of 1%-ers, of incredibly wealthy companies and people who will do anything to stay wealthy and take care of their own, at the expense of everyone else, integrity can be a rare commodity.

And once lost, it can be really hard to get back.

We can learn to see. To see our collectors as people who have put their faith in our art, who treasure it, who love it, and hate to lose it, even to their own accidental actions.

And we can help them see us as artists whose value and character don’t stop at the purchasing point. They can see us as people whose work is not just ‘worth buying’, but ‘worth having’ in their lives, for as long as possible.

Next week, we’ll talk about return policies, and how they can protect us from those (hopefully very few!) customers who abuse that privilege, in a way that benefits both us and our customer. But for now, if you have a story about how you transformed a difficult customer service issue into a positive (and powerful) one, share in the comments. It helps to know we are not alone when this happens. And it helps to see the long-term benefits of honoring those who collect—and support—the work of our hearts.

If you enjoyed this article, you can read more at Fine Art Views and my blog or email newsletter. If you know someone who enjoyed it, pass it on! And if someone sent this to you, and you enjoyed it, ditto!