SONOMA COUNTY ART TRAILS!

This county-wide art event is just around the corner! Two weekends in October: Saturday and Sunday, October 13-14, and October 20-21.

Opening reception at Corrick’s in downtown Santa Rosa this Friday, October 5, 4-6pm, and YES, I will be there!

Of note: I’m #1! Yep, this year, I am the first artist in the catalog!

This means nothing, actually. It’s a good strategy to mix up the tour’s layout every year.

Still….I’m owning it!

And I promise you this: My studio will be messy, but INTERESTING.

Hope to see you there!

Sonoma County Art Trails runs for two weekends, Oct. 13-14 and Oct. 20-21, 2018.

166 artists, featuring paintings, sculpture, fiber work (clothing, collage, etc.), jewelry, ceramics, glass, wood, photography, and more!

Your chance to visit sacred creative spaces, where we make our beautiful work.

You can browse the Collector’s Guide  here . 

OR you can pick one up at my studio. I have tons!

And I’m #1 on the tour! (Did I say that already??)

LIFE, DEATH, FAME, FORTUNE, AND ART: What’s In It For YOU?

(This article was first published on September 1, 2018 on Fine Art Views)

It’s the little things that matter, and the story.

(10 minute read)

My Mom died earlier this year. Soon after, my pregnant daughter lost her first baby. And earlier this week, I took a redeye flight to Michigan to say goodbye to my Dad.

I got there just in time to say the things I needed to say. And although he was not “conscious” in our sense of the word, I know he heard me.

My hospice volunteer experience taught me so much. All of that was visible in my dad’s last few hours on this planet.

My dad was a long-standing, prominent figure in my little hometown. From a co-op dairy project started by my grandfather that eventually turned into one of only two family restaurants in town, (which also provided jobs to dozens, if not hundreds of teens and adults over the years), to his years of volunteering, (serving on school boards, supporting our church), socializing (visiting elderly former employees in their last years, meeting almost weekly with friends for bridge, for potluck dinners, for parties, hosting all his kids’ weddings in his backyard), he wove a winding path through our small farming community.

As life approaches the end, it gets smaller. Friends and family moved away, or died. The town got bigger, so more people were ‘strangers’. Eventually, his world was only as big as the assisted living staff, family members who remained nearby, the people he ate dinner with every night.

And of course, it all ends in a hospital bed, surrounded by those who loved him, holding his hand, whispering in his ear, saying a prayer.

His passing was peaceful, with little pain, and not much suffering, unlike those he leaves behind.

But this is how it goes. And this was as good as it gets.

Now for the next thread: Last month, a friend in New Hampshire told me of a friend of hers who found one of my horse sculptures at a yard sale.

Put a pin in that. (For those who don’t know what this means, it alerts you that I intend to circle back and connect all these little “bits” on this “bulletin board.)

I’ve just finished watching a Netflix comedy special “Nannette”, created by Hannah Gadsby, an Australia comedian who identifies as lesbian. Her comedy was searing, and hilarious, honest, and gut-wrenchingly powerful.

There were so many words of wisdom she shared as she told the hardest stories of her life, stories she had edited for pure laughs in her ten-years-plus career. This time, she said, she has to tell the whole truth. Because without it, we cannot truly understand her pain, the shame and humiliation she suffered because of something she did not choose, and how she rose and grew as a human being through her art.

She is, like me, also an art history major. And she spoke deeply and clearly about that, too.

Put a pin there.

I struggle writing for Fine Art Views. I mean, I LOVE writing for FAV! I love the people I’ve met through my columns, I love the respectful discourse, I love it when I see I’ve helped lift people’s hearts, if only for a day, by encouraging them to make their art.

I’ve been a professional artist for over 20 years now. I work hard at what I do. I’ve created a solid body of work. I’ve entered, and been accepted, into prestigious organizations, some of the top fine craft shows in the country, and sold work to some prominent people. I’ve educated myself about marketing, display, and customer service. I have a following on my blog, and a good-sized email list of customers.

But I’m not sure I can call myself a “successful artist”. At least not by the definition many people assign to that term.

In only a handful of years did I ever break the $20,000 income for the year. So, technically, I am at poverty level. (Fortunately, society values my husband’s work a heckuva lot more.)

So when a reader wrote recently asking for a favor, saying they knew I was busy because I am so successful, I felt a little embarrassed. Yes to the busy. Er…not so much for the “successful”.

And sometimes, although I know (and follow) most of the practices (that work for me) to advertise and market and sell my work, I can’t “prove” my credentials (no art degree! No museum shows!)

So who am I to advise you on marketing?

Simple. I am a fellow traveler. I share what I’ve learned. It’s up to you to decide if it works for you, or not. I simply have to write about it. It’s part of my story. 

Also, to be easier on myself, it’s possible I will become a tremendously famous artist after I’m dead. Like Van Gogh, and Emily Dickinson, whose poetry was never published in her lifetime.

I will never ever say that following my advice will guarantee you fabulous sales. I don’t have a $2,000 “product” (course, book, seminar, etc.) to sell you  that promises to make you famous, or rich, or even make enough money for the babysitter so you can do shows. ((except a few eBooks running around $5 each that will help you get toxic people out of your sacred creative space, and how to improve your display.)

Of course, that illusion of artistic success (“Van Gogh is a brand, and look how much his paintings sell for! Branding is the key!”) is just that: An illusion. More on that….

Let’s pick up some of those pins.

In her performance, Gadsby quotes people who rave about Van Gogh’s fame, framing it as a rags-to-riches story. “He was broke, and crazy, and starving, and now look at him!”

“But he’s dead,” she replies quietly.

“Yeah, but he’s very successful!” they argue back. They offer more “assumptions” on why his work was not successful in his lifetime, and why it is now.

She goes on. Van Gogh wasn’t “ahead of his time”. He was a Post-Impressionist painter at the height of Post-Impressionism. People didn’t “not buy” his work because his style was inaccessible.

He lived with severe mental health issues. He couldn’t “network” because he was extremely difficult to deal with. People crossed the street to avoid him. His “brand” was “crazy”.

His art did not spring from his illness. He sought help from psychiatrists, he was medicated, and some of his vibrant color choices were actually visual side effects from the medications he was on. He made his work despite his mental illness, because it meant so much to him.

Gadsby, with words that broke my heart, says, “We have Van Gogh’s sunflowers not because he suffered, but because he had a brother who loved him.”

And here’s where the Dad pin comes in.

My Dad was not a famous person. He was not extremely talented. He was not wealthy. He was not “artistic” (though he took up woodworking in his retirement.)

He was simply a good man, who provided for his family any way he could, because family was important to him. Someone who always did his best. All of us in the room knew he loved us, and showed it, the way he had been taught to show it.

And as he left this world, I know this for sure: He knew we loved him, too.

Now the back to the art marketing pin.

You can follow all the marketing advice in the world. You can brand yourself just like cowboys and steers. (That’s where the word comes from.) You can strive to get into those perfect galleries, those top shows, be featured in elegant magazines, and win Best-in-Show so often, the committee will eventually have to take you off the ballot every other year so that other, just as commendable artists will have a shot.

It will guarantee you nothing.

And even if it brings you wealth, and fame, in the end, we will still all end up in a hospital bed in our bedroom, working our way to our last breath. Hopefully, at peace, without pain, surrounded by love….

And with luck, no regrets.

No one came to tell my Dad what a great restaurant he ran. (It was very modest, not an haute cuisine thing. Just home-cooking, great ice cream, and pie.) No one came to tell him how his wealth and power inspired them. (He had neither.) No one ever rushed to grab his autograph, or have a selfie taken with him. There is no history book that will refer to him, ever.

People tell us he gave them their first job. People tell us he was generous with his time. People tell us he made them laugh.

As artists, we have a unique gift. We get to choose every step of the work we do. We do it our way. We make it our way. We get to choose how well we do it, we have some choice in where we show it, and who sees it (even more with the Internet), and if we’re lucky, we learn how to best connect with the people who will become our customers. We choose how to promote it, how to sell it, how to advertise it.

But none of these efforts can guarantee us success. Nothing and no one can ensure we will make a living, or even make very much money at all with it.

Hannah Gadsby suffered for years because of her trauma. She transformed that into a healing experience we can all benefit from. She shares what truly connects us: telling our stories; and what most assuredly will destroy us: anger, and hate.

Art is how we tell our stories. The medium does not matter. Stories can be told through oil paintings, pastels, clay, and stone. Polymer clay, voice, music, film, books, plays, food, and comedy. Relief work, healing, teaching, mending, any human effort that brings more light, and love, into the world counts as creativity to me.

Yet even this may not be enough to assure our place in the world, now, nor for all time.

We have no control over our stories, while we live nor when we’re gone. As I looked through the boxes of photographs my siblings had gathered together, I realized I, as the oldest, was the only one who knew some (but not most) of the people featured, the places, the events, depicted in them. People leave before us, and at the end, we may not leave that much behind. Eventually, no one will care. Life goes on.

All that matters, at the end, is that we do it. That we do the work of our heart. That we fit it in somewhere in our life, whether it’s full-time, part-time, down-time or me-time. It only matters that we do not leave this world with regrets.

All that matters is that we do our best. That we make friends, and cherish family. That we do what we think is right. That we give solace to those who suffer, that we feed those who are hungry, that we home those who are lost. That we forgive those who have hurt us (truly forgive, which means freeing ourselves from the pain they bring us), and heal ourselves, even though we can’t fix it or change them. (I’m still learning about true forgiveness. Not there yet! Getting closer….)

All that matters is that we do the work that heals us, so we can be in the world. It’s the only way we can truly tell our story.

As for the yard sale find, I was a tiny bit dismayed. So soon? My work is considered “worthless” so soon? No Van Gogh moment of discovery?? Wah!

And yet….

At a yard sale, someone found something that spoke to them. They bought it. It brings them joy. They treasure it. They tried to find the artist, and they did. I have a name now.

I myself have quite a collection of thrift shop finds, flea market treasures, and other “uncurated” works of art, craft, and otherwise. Some are signed, but because of the time they were created, there’s not much to learn about the artist. Others are anonymous, but no less treasured.

I love them all, They bring me joy.

That is what I choose to focus on today. What matters, at the end. Fame, fortune, cannot survive. We will not live forever. Even love may fade into obscurity.

But maybe a piece of our life will survive to raise another’s heart. In a song, in a book, a life we save, a bowl, a painting. A little horse sculpture.

Make your best work.

Put it out into the world. Make it visible. Make it accessible.

Do your best.

Then let it go.

THE FOUR QUESTIONS: #10 Make It Your Own!

Luann Udell shares tips & highlights on how to make these "meetings" your own.
Luann Udell shares tips & highlights on how to make these “meetings” your own.

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.

Take advantage of new options for your meet-ups.

 (5 minute read) 

We’ve covered all the how-to’s and the why’s in this series. Now let’s loop back and pick up the tips, suggestions, and fine-tuning to make these meetings your own.

It’s a support group.

I’ve outlined the basics for maintaining privacy and safety. If you have even more privacy concerns, or need them met, research the tenets of other such groups. (Hint: The internet!) If you know something with experience about such groups, review what we’ve covered in this series, and ask them for suggestions specific to your concerns.

You get to add stuff to the mix.

We talked about affirmations. You can take a few minutes helping each other create an “action affirmation” after each person speaks.

Writing instead of speaking??

I love adding writing exercises to the mix!

A few timed minutes of free writing is a great way to warm up the brain. You simply blurt—pouring onto the page your stream of consciousness. No editing, no focusing on grammar, etc. Just let your inner lizard brain go to town.

It’s fun to add a more directed writing exercise from time to time, too. This one crossed my path today: “What have you told yourself you couldn’t do, because of a childhood story? What benefits have you received because of it? How has it served you?”

Perhaps take this opportunity to do your page of affirmations for the day, too.

But there’s a powerful psychological element in speaking/signing your truth. There are responses to the process you can witness, in real time, that show the power of telling what is in your heart. The more you practice the speaking/telling, the better you get at it!

Don’t give that up unless it simply won’t work with this group.

If this group fills other needs, great. But keep trying to create another!

Can it be a book group?

Some commenters shared their good experiences with art-related books to discuss. It sounds great! And it may be all the support you need, or gently evolve that way.

But after reading the outline, and the intended outcome with The Four Questions, I hope you see the differences in what can be achieved.

Why not do both??

Document your journey.

Susan Delphine Delaney https://www.facebook.com/susandelphinedelaney, a highly-trained professional therapist and speaker, wrote, “Love this post. The only thing that I would add is “document the journey.” Write down the goal, then write down every step you take to get there. This will encourage you about your progress during down moments, provide accountability and lift you up as you see how much you have done to get to your goal.

Luann does this through her blog, but the rest of us can do it in a spiral notebook or a beautiful blank book. You decide.”

And Susan again!

“My friend, Pamela Wible MD, was the commencement speaker at a medical school in Chicago (Loyola). She encouraged the nascent doctors, in their lunch celebrations with their families, to stand and make a video of their dreams for their lives as physicians, a video that they could come back to in down times.

I could see this stupendous idea happening two ways in the artist support groups Luann is showing us:

1.  The video could be made with the speaker’s own phone while she spoke of her vision for her art by a third group member, not the questioner, not the scribe. The questioner would still question. The scribe would still scribe.

2.  Alternatively, the video could be made, the scribe could scribe and the speaker could create a script for what she came up with after watching the first video and reading the scribe’s notes. Maybe the “video member” would come ten minutes early and video that polished statement on the speakers own phone. Maybe the speaker would make that video at home. The polished video would be a joy for the artist to come back to, since it contained her distilled thoughts.”

Add accountability.

One commenter said, “I have been talking to a couple of friends about just what you have posted… starting a group that will be a support group, upholding each person in the group. In some ways we want it to also be an accountability group. We know sometimes it is just telling someone your plan will help you follow through with that plan… and that person can help with positive reinforcement… being a cheerleader and help in motivation, too.”

Can we socialize, too?

Of course! You can meet up at a friend’s house for a (potluck? Take-out??) dinner, or a private place in a favorite restaurant, and take up your business afterwards.

 How do we end?

Many groups create a simple ceremony at the end, to wrap up all that good energy, and leave everyone in a happy place.

You can agree on a group blessing or prayer.

Or gather for a group hug.

Hold hands in a circle, and take turns saying something lovely to the person on your left. (Or right.)

You can sing a little song.

Share your faves in the comment section!

HOW NOT TO SAY HELLO

 

There are polite greetings, there are annoying meaningless greetings, and then there’s true engagement. You choose!

Recently my husband and I visited a chic little town north of us. A friend had mentioned some gorgeous galleries that might be a good fit for my work, and both of us wanted a pleasant road trip.

Things started out well, but ended….well, rather badly on several issues.

First, as we crossed a street, I tripped and fell on a complicated section of curb. (Very high and uneven curb, above an equally-uneven sort of culvert-shaped road edge.) I took a serious fall, wrenching my knee, straining my back, and smashing my glasses, which also gave me quite a headache.

We found a delightful hardware store nearby, and the clerk gave me excellent customer service. She walked me over to the glue section and helped me select the right glue to repair my glasses. It didn’t work, but I have no complaints, because she “met me where I was” and did her best to help me move forward.

We continued on to a beautiful gallery. By this time, I was really starting to feel the effects of the fall. I tried to focus on the artwork, but I was suffering. My back was spasming, my shoulder and knees hurt, my head and nose hurt.

The gallery attendant was busy and didn’t look up when we entered. That’s actually a good thing, giving people a minute to “land” once they walk into your booth, studio, or gallery space.

But what happened next was a travesty of good customer service.

They said, “How are you today?”

I was struck speechless. My bad. I wanted to say, “Fine, thank you!” But the reality of that fall was kicking in, and I was momentarily confused. I didn’t want to say, “Not well.” But mostly, I didn’t want to engage in small talk.

So I hesitated. And things went downhill from there.

The person seemed to take offense. They repeated the question again, louder. This was annoying. Because of this, I admit, I was unsure how to respond, and didn’t. (I was thinking, “Really? I have to take care of YOU?!”)

And while I gathered my wits and words to defuse the situation, they grew angrier still.

They threw their hands up in the air dramatically and snapped, “Fine! I get it! You’re on vacation and you don’t want to be bothered!”

Okay, that pissed me off. What an assumption to make on their part! And how not to win over a customer, on their part!

I politely said, “I apologize, I took a terrible fall on the sidewalk a little bit ago, and I’m in a lot of pain. I’m pretty distracted right now.”

Of course, they were embarrassed, and instantly apologized. But the damage was done.

Anyone who gets offended because a visitor doesn’t want to respond to empty greetings and conversation is not going to represent me or my artwork.

Anybody who leaps to conclusions about why someone is quiet, or reluctant to engage (what if I didn’t speak English?? What if I were hard of hearing? What if I had cognitive issues?), and anyone who responds in anger within ten seconds of this interaction, is simply not someone I want to have a conversation with.

And many of us do this all the time. We pressure people to engage in meaningless conversations, thinking we are doing it right.

Consider your visitors’ journey to see you. If you are doing a show, they may have wandered into a dozen or more, maybe even 50 or 100 booths before they get to yours.

And every single booth holder has greeted them with phrases like these:

“How are you today?”

“Nice weather today, isn’t it?”

“Are you enjoying the show?”

Or we jump into asking for too much information right off the bat:

“How many years have you been coming to this show?”

“How did you hear about this event?”

“I work with stoneware fired to cone 10 with copper oxide glaze.” (I have no idea if that even makes sense, which should tell you something. I collect a lot of pottery, and I don’t know, or care, about the conage or the glazage…. I just know if I find it beautiful or not, and if I can afford it.)

By the time our studio/booth visitors get to us, they are tired of talking about the weather, they want to wear a sign that says, “I’m fine, thank you”, and what they really want to hear about your pottery is, is it lead-free, and will it go in the oven.

What’s a better way to engage a visitor?

Don’t pressure them.

After a they take a few seconds to look around, and decide if they want to stay, you do a brief introduction of yourself, the setting, the work, etc. (“Brief” is the operative word here!)

When someone enters my booth or studio, I give them that moment to settle in, a quick hello if anything.

Then when they “collect themselves”, I say, “I’m Luann, and this is all my work, jewelry, wall hangings, sculptures. I make all the artifacts you see here that look like bone or ivory. It’s okay to touch the pieces, it’s okay to pick things up, and if you have any questions, I’m right here.”

Their response?

“THANK YOU!!!”

Always. They have been acknowledged, they are not being forced into silly non-conversations, they have been given permission to relax and enjoy my space.

And so they dig in, and start looking.

Then I shut up and go back to work.

“Work” being relative term. I work on something simple I can pick up and set down at a second’s notice. I am “engaged”, but also “available”.

This is all I want to share today. There’s a lot more on how to proceed, when to talk, what to talk about, what not to talk about. There’s knowing that when people are ready to talk, they will ask a “stupid question” that may feel annoying to us, but is simply their way of saying, “It’s okay to talk to me now, and I want to know more about what you do!”

For example, if someone says, “How long does it take you to make that?” the worst answer you can give is, “It took me 30 years to make that!” (And saying it works because people laugh when you say it, is not understanding that people laugh when we embarrass them. Because you just made fun of their ignorance, and they KNOW that.)

So for today, think about a softer way to address visitors.

Something that doesn’t force a person in pain to put on a cheerful face. And doesn’t force them to apologize to YOU when you take offense, if they don’t.

Think of a simple greeting that doesn’t put them on the spot. An opening that doesn’t force them to respond, or engage. An introduction that allows them to explore your work, and to approach you confidently when they are ready to talk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #9: “What Support Do You Need?”

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.

Go ahead, ask for help. It’s what tribes are for! 

(6 min. read) 

Here we are at the last question, and it’s a good one, too!

You’ve shared your dreams for your art biz.

You’ve found your action steps, and hopefully a process for finding them over and over again.

You’ve uncovered the secret screaming spooks in your brain that have held you back in the past. (Don’t worry, they aren’t gone for good! But from now on, you have spook strategies for dealing with them.)

And now, you are going to learn to ASK for the help you need.

Because that’s what we’re here for. 

I find it surprisingly hard to ask for help. There are lots of reasons we don’t think we can ask. For me, it might feel like what I think I need seems trivial. Or it may seem like too much to ask. Whatever. It makes me hesitate to ask.

Let’s try to frame these thoughts:

Too trivial.

One participant had trouble carving out time to actually make their art. They asked if someone would be willing call one or two mornings a week, and remind them to go to the studio.

Now, this was before cell phones and smart phones. Now we could simply set a reminder for ourselves. And of course, we could always just put it on the fridge calendar!

But this was before all that. AND this person valued the personal touch, a chance to chat for a few moments, and get the art mojo working.

There was a person in the group who was happy to do that. They later reported it helped them get to their studio, too!

Tiny cues like this are called micro-actions. It’s something as simple as putting on your gym shoes in the morning. This tiny action helps put your brain in “go to the gym mode.”

For almost any goal or practice you want in your life, there are micro-actions that can help.

And it works.

In fact, it can work both ways, as evidenced by the obliging telephone caller.

Recently, I asked a good friend for insight on a family matter, and their response was very helpful. So I asked them if I could do anything in return.

They said yes. Would I be willing to reach out again? Like, maybe a few times a month? The local friend support they needed for a particular new course of action is not available in their world (yet!). And I’m just a phone call/email/text away!

Of course I said yes. And our conversations have grown richer and deeper as a result. Both of us are moving forward in our vision, and both of us are the better for it.

So never be afraid to ask for something that seems trivial. Because it rarely is!

Too much to ask.

Nobody wants to ask for something, and be told, “No”. We worry others will see us as “less than”. And we all worry about getting a “no”. We think it means, “No, that’s too much trouble.” Or “No, that’s too much to ask for.” Or, “No, geez, what a needy person you are!”

But it’s rare for everyone to say “no”.

If they do, if everyone always says no, then you may have asked the wrong people. Or you have asked too many times and not reciprocated. Or you are asking for something only a professional (therapist, coach, physician, etc.) can give you.

So check your assumptions. If these don’t apply, then heck, ask away! The worst that can happen? People can’t do what you ask, they can’t do what you ask right now. They may simply not have the skills, the time, or the ability. Then you’ll have to break it down, spread it out, start smaller, or ask someone else.

Here’s an example of my “big” ask:

When we lived in New Hampshire, I did an annual fine craft retail show that lasts 9 days. One year, I signed up for a sales/demo booth, a huge tent to myself at a reduced rate, in return for demonstrating my process.

In order to do this successfully, I knew I had to hire a sales team to assist me. But who would work for minimum wage or in-trade for my goods??

It turns out a lot of people would!

There were folks who jumped at the opportunity to get a little sales training. People who wanted my work, but couldn’t justify the expense. People who wanted something interesting to do, to hang out with me, to share their own love of my work with others. People who wanted to see what being in an art fair was like. Etc., etc., etc.

I held a pre-show training session, and had enough people commit that I could create a work schedule that fit everyone’s schedule.

It was hugely successful, and I made my highest income ever that year!

    

I’m really glad I asked for, and got help. Because this was a big deal!

I did the same sales/demo thing again the following year. Not all the same people could help. Some had moved to full-time work, some just didn’t care to do it again. No worries! Some people wanted to do more, and new people wanted to try it.

It all worked out!

We don’t know what will help.

Sometimes, we are so unused to asking, so afraid of hearing, “no”, we’ve never even thought of what that help would look like!

It’s okay to ask for help on what would help. (Yeah, I had to read that again, too!)

It’s surprising—and fun!—to realize other people have been there already. They may understand where you are, and what you’re struggling with.

And that means they may have good thoughts and suggestions. (Remember, you are in charge of how much you want to hear!)

Sometimes, the support group is enough.

Sometimes, just knowing you will be checking in with your support group in a month, or two weeks, or two months, is enough to create a little momentum with your action steps.

“Accountability” is a huge factor in our busy, hectic modern lives, especially if we are so used to putting our own needs and dreams on the back burner in order to help others.

Sometimes, the support group can’t help. And that’s okay, too!

I like to think of this support group aspect as the “pre-flight safety speech”:

Put your own oxygen mask on first. (Aka, “Know your own limits.”) 

For example, I didn’t volunteer to call that person to remind them to go to the gym. I had two small kids at home, a husband who was gone almost 12 hours a day, and we were relatively new to the area—no extended family members or reliable sitters to help out. I could barely carve out time for my art, and for this group.

It’s always—always—imperative to meet your needs and set your boundaries. Don’t volunteer for commitments for offers of help if you really can’t fulfill them. No one needs a “yes” that turns into a last-minute “no”.

Don’t feel bad, or guilty. Simply be honest on what you can offer, and what you can’t.

In this particular case, I thought, “We should just make t-shirts that say “GO TO THE STUDIO!” I said it out loud. And it turned out, someone already had! The artist purchased one, in time.

So here we are, at the last of the four questions.

But we’re not done yet!

Send your questions in! You’ve got the gist of the thing, now it’s time to fine-tune and adapt for what works for YOU.

And next week: The little extras that can enhance your get-togethers even more!

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #2 Why This Group?

Don't miss Luann Udell's continued discussion on the importance of an art group.
Don’t miss Luann Udell’s continued discussion on the importance of an art group.

 

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.

Socializing is good, it’s good to be social! But not all social, all the time.

(7 minute read) 

Last week, I introduced you to an artist support group blueprint I learned from Deborah Kruger decades ago, which I call The Four Questions.

A reader commented they’d recently created their own artist group. They’ve worked their way through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and will now move on to other art book projects and discussions.

Any opportunity to meet up with fellow artists and creatives is good. Especially if you respect/like/enjoy/adore them! And they make a good apple pie, too… Well, then! (Otherwise, I just hide out and save my energy.)

The Artist’s Way workbook is an excellent way to explore your hidden fears, your own obstacles, the “faux thinking” that keeps you from moving forward with your art, especially if you don’t have an artist support group. It’s fun. It’s all about YOU. You can do it on your own, too.

Over the years, I’ve seen a few major drawbacks, though, with TAW and with purely social groups:

*Doing the Artist’s Way work can be a great excuse not to do your OWN work. One artist used it for a year. They loved it! Yet they didn’t do one thing to move forward with their own art. The exercises became an excuse not to go to the studio.

*It’s based on writing. Me? I thrive on writing through many of my issues. For others, not so much.

*The Four Questions is based on saying your truth, finding what works for you, and the power of being listened to. Everyone takes turns, everyone gets a chance to speak.

But don’t let that take away from the social aspects of group activities! Socializing is a powerful force for good in the universe. There’s nothing like hearing someone else express their doubts and fears, and thinking, “Wow! I thought I was the only one who felt that way!”

In fact, the first part of a Four Questions meet-up is social. It’s called “checking in”.

You take turns catching up with what’s going on with all of you, in all the worlds you’re in. Art. Family. Day job/income work/whatever. Health. (Deborah’s original group would have dinner together first, and do their check-in while dining.)

There’s no set way to do this, except make sure everyone has a chance to share what’s going on, and what’s coming up. When I was home with my two wee ones in a new house in a new state, sometimes this would be the very first time anyone would ask me how things were going—and listened!—in days.

I also noticed when I was given this time to update everyone, it got the “buzz” out of my brain and on the table. (Er… figuratively, of course!) As I listened to myself, I could see where I had needless worries, and where I had trouble moving forward.

I’ve come to believe that a “check-in” process is a healthy addition to ANY artist group meeting, depending on the size of the group.

It will help to understand why someone seems a wee bit snarky or distracted.

It will help the speaker, and the rest of the group, clarify what they want to talk about during the “working” part of the meet-up.

And when things get hard in life, it will help fulfill another important facet of this group’s support system:

Your artist self will be held and remembered for you during difficult times, until you can return to it.

 

Betty Friedan, noted advocate for women’s rights, said it all: “You can have it all, just not all at the same time.” Whenever life steps in and deals us a major blow, it can be extremely difficult to find the time and space to make our art.

We may become ill, or injured. We may be called to be a care-giver for someone else who becomes ill or injured. We may have young children to care for: Our own children, our grandchildren, maybe even someone else’s children. We may be dealing with disaster: Divorce. Loss of job. Loss of home, or safety, or car.

A good network and support group holds the memory of who you are, until you are ready to take it up again. And if you should choose a different path back, they will honor that, too.

There’s another reason that other meet-ups, such as The Artist’s Way format, art discussion groups, art road trips, etc. have their place:

Over time, you will find who your true peeps are: Seeing who might be a good fit for your support group, and who would fit better into purely socializing.

Sometimes you find your peeps at a group show. ​

As I’ve always said, I’ve learned a lot of things the hard way. Friendships that worked fine…until I realized the other person always…ALWAYS…had to have their own way.

I realized there are people who need more support, perhaps even professional therapy, than untrained friends can offer.

There are people who are so out of touch with what they want, they will fight and push back every single step of the way. It’s normal to “push back” with some of the Four Questions. But for an ongoing support project, I like the people who eventually push through to their place of power and creative growth.

There are a few people who are charming and charismatic, but also manipulative and destructive. To place yourself in a position of vulnerability with them is not only unproductive, it can be dangerous.

There are people who are just not ready, nor willing, to move forward with their art. And you just can’t make them do it. Nor should you. It’s their choice, their journey, not ours. But that also means they may not be a good fit for your support group.

So your homework for next week, if you haven’t already done so:

Get out there and meet up with other artists!

Go to open studios, opening receptions for art shows, gallery talks. If there’s an art organization in your area, volunteer for events from time to time. It’s amazing what you can learn about people working on the kitchen crew for potluck dinners! I used to volunteer for fundraiser events for a hospice organization. Some people show their true colors when they think you’re just a nobody working on the sidelines.

Some people show you who they are—believe them! If someone treats you badly, pay attention to that. It might just be envy or insecurity, but that doesn’t excuse bad behavior. We ALL have a lizard brain. Grown-ups work on it. Btw, “ grown-up behavior” isn’t necessarily related to age. I know many wise younger people, and many idiot, know-it-all oldsters who simply don’t. Know it all, I mean.

On the other hand (OTOH), it pays to triangulate. Check in with others who know more about that person. If someone’s behavior is awkward or off-putting, find out if there’s a humane reason behind it. People with Asperger’s Syndrome, or reading disabilities, or who are just ‘nerdy’, can be “different”, but they can be just as sensitive, and even more insightful human beings, because of it. Me? Sometimes it takes me awhile to “play well with others”, especially if I feel I’m not in a group that’s good for me.

Gather together as prospective small groups. See who’s respectful, who’s helpful, whose words resonate. Note who’s whiny and full of self-pity. See who’s open to new ideas and new opportunities. See who wants to be more empowered by making better choices. THEIR choices.

This will be the family you CHOOSE. Make it a good one!

(N.B. If you are truly physically isolated, it’s possible to reach out to others you’ve come across online, on the internet. Group emails, a discussion forum, even conference telephone calls, can help you connect. And of course, TAW is amazing for a solo adventure, provided you USE the work to do YOUR work. Let me know what issues separate you from this process. Maybe together we can figure out a unique way to make this work for YOU.)

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #1 Create Your Artist Support Group

For some reason, I didn’t republish my initial articles for this series, which originally appeared on Fine Art Views. So I’ll be “catching you up” the next few days. Enjoy!

Luann Udell discusses the importance of having an "art group" and how it can help you grow creatively.
Luann Udell discusses the importance of having an “art group” and how it can help you grow creatively.

When your peeps have your back, it’s easier to move forward.

When I first stepped up to the plate with my art and my art biz, I was fearless. I was focused. Not even rejection set me back for more than a few minutes, just enough time to sidestep my lizard brain and get back to my higher self.

I educated myself at every opportunity. I sought out advice and insights from more experienced artists. I took notes and kept good records. Every day I sought to take one step forward.

Many folks were surprised to learn I had only been in business a couple years.

So when I found a notice about an upcoming artist support group workshop (on how to create your own support system), my first thought was, “I don’t need that!”

But something told me otherwise. Just a quiet little voice saying, “Maybe someday it will get harder…” (Spoiler alert: It can, and it does.)

So I took a chance and signed up for that a three-day workshop.

It changed my life

The workshop leader was Deborah Kruger, a fiber artist who already had a solid body of work behind her, including incredible installation art. A beautiful, intelligent vibrant, woman full of insight, and wisdom, good at listening. And really, really good at seeing where we get hung up in the details.

We were in awe of her. (Put a pin in that for a later article.)

Deborah’s work has evolved, as her own story changes.

We did many exercises in that class. I kept a notebook, of course, and filled it with observations, insights, and comments as we went along.

The heart of the class was learning and practicing how a good artist support group works. The main premise is:

The greatest gift you can give a woman is to listen to her…*

(NB. Times are changing, somewhat, so maybe we can now include “artists” or even “creatives” in this premise.)

And the corollary:

Because…We already know what to do.

We all know what is right for us.

We need to listen to that little voice inside. Not the loud, buzzy, snarky, critical lizard-brain-voice that tells us we aren’t good enough, or not smart enough, or not deserving enough.

We are here to find the quiet little voice that knows we are doing our best. The one that knows “we are already ‘enough’.”

We must not override it with too much logic, too much preparation, or too much self-doubt.

To discover this voice, we need people who will ask the right questions.

We need people who will ask, and then listen to what we say.

We need people who keep listening, and questioning, until we come up with our own answer, our own truth. 

It’s actually a scary place to be… because this process is unlike most conversations we ever have with other people. 

This premise (and corollary) is why today, I believe everyone has a place in the world. Everyone has a story. Everyone has a voice.

And everyone’s place, and story, and voice, is unique to them.

Every day, we are told we aren’t good enough, pretty enough, strong enough, lucky enough. Every day, we are told we’re “doing it wrong”. Every day, yet another social media site swears it will catapult us to fame and fortune. Every day, there’s someone who promises they have the secret to success (usually for a hefty price!) Every day, it feels like everyone else “gets it”, and that we never will. 

This is why you need people who will have your back in your support group.

    

Years after that life-changing workshop, Deborah again guided me to my truth: It’s not about the technique. It’s about the story. And I’m not done telling my story.

Did you do your homework last week?

Did you think of a handful of people who might be willing to do this with you? And who, in return, are willing to be recipients of the same process?

Do they accept you, flaws, faults, and foibles, as just another human on their own unique journey? They don’t have to be your best buddies. They don’t even have to be people who have known you a long time.  Heck, they don’t really even have to love your creative aesthetic. They just have to believe we are all capable of moving forward and achieving our dreams.

Do they treat other people with respect and patience?

Do they have an open heart, open to trying something new?

Do they want you to succeed, to achieve your definition of success?

Do they have their own goals and dreams? And do they understand you want the same for them? Because they will get their turn, too.

Reach out to them. Gather them together, meet up. Tell them why you chose them.

Don’t be afraid to jump in. You may have some mishaps.

Some of you may be at different points in your life. That’s okay. Beginners, experts, pros, all have something to offer.

The only requirement is to respect where people are, right now, and to respect where they say they want to go next.

The exercises you will participate aren’t about telling people they’re doing it wrong. It’s about helping them clarify where they want to go, and how they’re going to get there…on their own terms, at their own pace. 

It’s about shining a light on self-blaming, self-denigration, insecurity, and the (incorrect) notion that we don’t deserve to dream big.

And it’s also about holding someone’s feet to the fire when what they say they want isn’t reflected by what they’re doing. (Ow!)

In the weeks ahead, I’ll share powerful exercises we learned in that workshop. They can be hard at first, if you haven’t learned to push back against that lizard-brain. It can be heard to share your true heart with others, if you’ve never been deeply listened too.

Some of the exercises are so simple, you’ll smack your head and exclaim, “Why didn’t I think of that?!” Some will be fun.

And everyone’s experience will be different. You will learn from each other, too.

It’s not about being a saint.

It’s about having, and being, an ally.

Stay tuned for more columns on this! Next is how to put a little fun into the mix. After that, a simple exercise to have more confidence in yourself and your abilities to grow and change.