MY QUORA ANSWER TODAY: “What Made You Write That Post Today?”

Today’s answer to a question on Quora:

“What made you write that post today?”

Something happened that triggered me. Maybe in a good way, maybe in a bad way.

It might have been something I read. It might have been something someone said.

It might have been directed at me, or had nothing to do with me.

Or I may be feeling “something” today: Feeling down. Feeling ‘left out’. Feeling ‘less than’.

Or maybe I’m feeling uplifted, relieved, happy.

Maybe I experienced a lovely little miracle, a moment of synchronicity, something that made me pause and go, “WOW!! I needed to hear/see/experience that today!”

In almost every case, writing that post was a way for me to find clarity. Or humor. Or simply peace in my heart.

And whenever that happens, I’ve realized that, if that’s what I experienced today, writing that post was my way of working it through to my highest, best self, again.

And it my words got ME there, then maybe someone, somewhere in the world, would find the same reassurance, the same clarity, the same grounded-ness, for themselves.

Even when I’m feeling down, miffed, angry, sad, scared, left out, unseen, unnecessary, I still want to believe I have a place in the world. That my creative work matters, IF ONLY to help me be a better person in the world.

Sharing those thoughts, those steps, may help someone else feel the same way.

It’s not about the likes, the numbers, the followers, the sales.

It’s not about having an audience. It’s about have a voice in the world.

And encouraging others to have theirs, too.

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #20: Art Events Aren’t About Making Money TODAY

I am reprinting an article I wrote a few years ago (July 13, 2019), because it’s worth repeating. AND should be in this series. What a coincidence that I came across it on Pinterest. And an hour after I read all the bitter, disappointed comments collected for our recent open studio event, Art at the Source.

Creating our artwork takes time. Getting good at it takes time. So does an open studio! And giving up after one slow event–especially in these strange times, when EVERYONE is struggling….well, I’ll just keep my mouth shut. For now.

If money is your only measure of success, you may be missing out on the longer game…

I learned years ago that even a “bad” art event has its value. I had to learn that the hard way, by having a lot of poor sales at shows, exhibitions, fairs, open studios, even high-end fine craft shows across the country.

It started when I first did small local art fairs and craft shows. I never did well enough to go back, if my work wasn’t a good fit with other vendors.

But at each show I would a) have one good sale that paid all my expenses, b) made connections that grew, and c) always got a good tip, insight, experience, that convinced me not to give up.*

I began to realize it took time for folks to “get” my work. It wasn’t painting, it wasn’t pottery. It didn’t fit into any “box”. Almost every visitor did, and said, the same thing. They would stop, come in my space, and gaze at my work for several minutes. When they were ready to talk, they all said a version of the same thing:

“I’ve never seen anything like it, and it’s absolutely beautiful.”

So the work was good enough to pull people in, but different enough that they had to really think about it. I realized I was laying groundwork for something bigger, and better, down the road.

It kept me going, and eventually, I leaped into bigger, juried shows. Those people began to show up for other events: Open studios, art tours, art walks, etc. Gradually, my audience grew. I started doing wholesale fine craft shows, and was juried into a major fine craft show (retail) that same year. I did both shows for years and a couple of open studio events.  My audience grew every year, until I left for California in 2014.

I’m still relearning those same lessons over and over.

Last month, I joined another open studio tour, as the guest of another artist. Attendance was good, but sales were not.

It would have been easy to feel sorry for myself. Heck, I didn’t even get that many newsletter sign-ups.

But I realized I had accomplished my main goal: Introducing my work to a brand new audience. I had rich conversations with amazing people, who I know will come back. Only few dozen people signed up for my email newsletter during the event. But I gave out a ton of business cards and postcards, which paid off.

When I checked in after the event, I found a LOT of people had signed up online. (I think they wanted to see more, and liked what they found!) And I had the rare opportunity to get to know my host artist, and their other two guest artists, better. They are all remarkable people! (We drank a lot of Prosecco at the end of each day.)  (A LOT of Prosecco!)

 A few days ago, I was at the kick-off meeting for this year’s Sonoma County Art Trails open studio event, (Both tours are under the same umbrella organization, but focus on different areas in our large county.)

I was sitting at a table with the new manager of this particular 35-year-old tour. I mentioned that I had few sales at the other open studio tour the week before, not even covering my entry fees, but I was satisfied with it, all-in-all.

Then the new manager said the magic words that summarize this entire article into seven truth-filled words:

“Art events aren’t about making money TODAY.”

Perfect! “I’m gonna write about that!” I exclaimed as I scribbled her words down before I could forget them.

Maybe my very own experience of making something positive out of the ordinary made me realize this early on. How to share the essence of this with others in seven words? Thank you, Tenae Stewart!

Art events are about introducing our work to an audience, especially if it’s a new audience. It’s about inviting our visitors and attendees into our world. Open studios are especially powerful, because they see our work and our environment in full. (Well. It’s a little less messy, but I never get my studio perfectly clean anyway. Artistic mess, people!)

It’s like what a friend told me once, at my old studio space, when I complained about how few people actually came by my studio on an average day. They replied, “It’s not who comes by, it’s who comes BACK.”  And as I look back, I see that the most amazing people DID come by, often when I wasn’t there. But my studio’s sidewalk window let them see a sample of my work, and they did indeed come back.

Now I’m on a crusade, encouraging artists who, for many reasons, don’t like open studios. They may believe their studio is not interesting/too small/too messy/not “professional enough” to open to the public. They may have tried it once, then gave up because it wasn’t worth it.

It’s hard to gear up for an event we didn’t have much success with. But there are events we need to give a second, or even third chance for.

I share my own experiences, how very small open studios tours back in New Hampshire grew from one visitor my first year, to scads of visitors during the second year, who didn’t buy anything, to folks who came in droves the third year—and bought enough to rival my sales from major shows. (And I didn’t have to drive anywhere or set up a booth!)

I share how powerful it’s been to give people permission to “go deep” in my making space. I share how I give them the chance to look while making myself easily available for their questions: (“Hi, I’m Luann, and I make all the artifacts that look like carved bone and ivory. It’s okay to touch my work and pick things up. And if you have any questions, I’ll be right over here!”) Rather than saying, “No thanks, just looking”, people say, “Oh, THANK YOU!!!!” and dive in. When they’re ready to talk, they ask their question, and the conversation begins.

I recently encouraged another artist in my new building to open their studio during our first major event here. They made the usual disclaimers: Their studio is too small, it’s too messy, they don’t have a body of work yet, they’ve never sold a painting, etc. etc.)

I told them their small space might encourage some visitors to realize they don’t need a huge room to do their own creative work, just a spot they don’t have to clear for dinner. They will love looking at that work in progress. It will captivate them, with the photos, preliminary studies, the rough sketches, and the work-in-progress. They will love the subject. Best of all, this artist is comfortable talking to people. They are full of energy and enthusiasm without being overbearing, and visitors will love that.

And last, I said, “Bruce Baker once said, “To regular folks, artists are the people who ran away to join the circus!” Other people wonder and dream about doing their own creative work. To see someone actually doing that work is powerful medicine for all of us in our torn and tattered world.

Open studios aren’t for every artist. Some galleries restrict their artists from participating in them, perhaps for fear they will lose sales, or the work will be undersold. (If you are represented in stores or galleries, NEVER undercut your gallery prices.)

Some artists have privacy or safety issues. (Ask a friend to keep you company, and safe, or ask another artist to participate with you.)

Some see them as too much work. (Me? It’s like having company for dinner, it forces you to clean up a couple times a year!)

Bottom line, art events are essentially about connection: You with your potential audience, them with you, and with your work. Sales certainly help! But know that sales usually follow after laying the groundwork for a mutually-respectful and satisfying relationship.

Don’t worry about the sales you didn’t make today. You’re laying the groundwork for something bigger, tomorrow!

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #19: Why Should I Have an Open Studio Anyway??

 

I’ve made very few “people” figures in my art. But my handprints appear all over the place!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Happiness is the only thing that multiplies when you share it.”

I was thinking about my dad today.

Yeah, partly because it was Fathers Day. And mostly because of the grief I’m reading/hearing about how unsuccessful people were with our recent Art at the Source open studio event this month.

My dad was a diligent worker. He took over the family business (a dairy biz, processing milk into ice cream, cream, and…well, milk), incorporating a dariy bar, and eventuallly a family restaurant. (My first job was washing dishes there, when I was in…4th grade??) Then he sold the biz and became a state dairy inspector. (He sure liked cows.)

He also loved flowers. Our house was surrounded by rigid rows of organized, meticulously-spaced flowers. In the spring, he would give each of us kids a soup spoon, and we would dutifully plant daisies, marigolds, and petunias. He diligently watered all our houseplants daily, too.

But when he retired, he also took up woodworking. He spent days in his garage workshop, planing, mitering, sanding, staining. He made furniture for me and all my sibs over the years.

And if you expressed delight or sang his praises, he would also diligently point out every error he’d made in the making. (It helped me to NOT do this with my own work!)

What does this have to do with having an open studio?

I don’t believe he ever sold a single piece of his work.

He’d made his money WORKING all his life. His gardening and woodworking was for FUN–relaxation and enjoyment. He called it his hobby.

Hobby, vocation, and avocation. What’s the diff??

I used to have a distinction between avocation and hobby, but the older I get, I can’t remember. And it doesn’t matter so much to me, either.

Here’s what my dad taught me: Find a way to earn a living. You can be an artist when you retire.

What I taught my kids: Do what you love, and the money will follow. (Robin and Doug, I apologize from the bottom of my heart. Love, Mum)

What I wish I’d told my kids, and what I’m telling you today:

Do the work that supports your lifestyle. At best, it’s work you enjoy. Hopefully, you don’t hate it, or at least don’t dislike it too much. Hopefully, it’s something you’re good at, that you’re proud of, and it’s wonderful if it pays well, too.

But if it’s not the work of your heart, make room for THAT in your life, too. It will help you manage everything else.

My dad never sold a single piece of his woodwork. They were always gifts, or filling requests for furniture–coffee tables, sofa tables, display pedestals, coat racks, etc.–for friends and family.

In my art career, financially, I had some good years, some really good years, and some years that totally tanked. Most of those tank years were obviously the result of events totally out of my control: 9/11, war in the Mideast, inflation/recession, pandemic. We’re right back there, today, and there’s no escaping the consequences that affect our entire planet.

And yet, I was surprised at how much people complained (in an online forum) about their open studio event this year. Surprised at how many people are considering not joining next year. Astonished at how some people are considering actually walking away from their art-making. “What’s the use?!” (Why can’t I make that shoulder-shrug emoji??)

TBH, I was a little down that last day, too. Until I started to write about it. Writing helps me sort out the dust bunnies in my brain, and get to center of my  (he)art.

What helps YOU get centered again? I’d love to hear!

My take-away:

There is no figuring out exactly what will make us rich. I can’t even figure out how to cover the cost of my materials anymore.

Won’t stop me.

There is no single, sure path to fame and fortune.

I’m pretty sure I don’t even WANT to be famous anymore.

It takes time to build an audience, especially when our work is really out-of-the-box.

I tried through shows (wholesale and retail), art fairs, and open studios. I learned that it time and engagement for people to really see what I was doing, what my story was, and how labor-intensive my process was.

Open studios are the best at this! See my workspace, look at my tools and materials, let me show you what inspires me….

I stepped away from wholesale shows, and eventually made all my income from one major fine craft show in New Hampshire, and two open studio tours. They, too, started out slow. My visitors steadily grew, though there were still set-backs, dips, etc.

Then I moved to California, and had to start all over. Again.

How do I feel about that?

I’m actually okay.

Today, I can sell my work online, though it’s almost always to current customers and people who have followed my work for YEARS. (Again: Connection, achieved by outreach and availability.)

Today, I can easily share the backstory, my creation story, my inspiration, process, and animal stories. especially in my studio.

Today, I am reminded of my most recent open studio event, too. Yes, a little disappointed in the number of visitors, and that my sales were low.

And then I remember the blessings in my life:

I HAVE A STUDIO. I can do the work of my heart.

I have people who love my work. Maybe they can’t afford to buy it. Maybe they’ve downsized, and don’t have room for it.

But they can still come and look at it, and marvel, and engage with me.

I can encourage people to make room in their life for what brings them joy.

And I can write about it, hoping to do the same for YOU.

The good part in that forum thread: Some people griped, but when they realized so many other people were feeling the same way–in other words, it wasn’t just them–they got more clarity.

They, too, found the good stuff amidst the pile of disappointment. They got their mojo back. They will continue to make their art. Yay!

I think of my dad. I’m sure he would have been happy to make some money from his late-in-life hobby.

But that wasn’t WHY he did it.

He did it because it kept him busy (he hated doing nothing). He did it because he could make something for people he loved. He got better at it (because he was a bit of a perfectionist.) (DAISIES AND MARIGOLDS ALL IN A ROW.) It was flexible: He could work all day, or he could stop at any time and go for a drive with my mom.

It made him feel like he still had something to offer the world.

In my open studio, I listened to people telling me about their new life paths, their new interests and pastimes, their latest life disruption, their still-painful losses and sorrows.

My creative space became a safe place to share stories of hope, dreams, sadness, and joy. And healing.

My creative work carries stories of how every person has a place in the world. Including me. Including you.

I just realized my studio is my own unique version of a miniature Lascaux Cave.

The art of the Lascaux Cave was not about achieving fame or fortune.

The Ice Age was coming to an end, and so a people’s entire way of life was, too. They didn’t gather to start a war, or to assess blame. They gathered as a community, hoping to find a way through to the other side. And each handprint represents a single person present.

I can’t even imagine putting a price tag on that.

Today, try not to measure your sucess with only money.

Today, see your true value in the world, made with the work of your hands, and of your heart.

It’s not about having an audience. It’s about having a voice.

THE MARSHMALLOW CONUNDRUM

Who knew marshmallows could be so scary??

My favorite marketer blogger let me down today.

They discussed why some people are wealthy. It’s because they made a decision to purchase stock in a new company 20 years ago, instead of spending the money on eating out at a restaurant. As in, wisdom and foresight vs. random self-indulgence. Long-term value over short-term amusement.

They compared to to getting a grilled cheese sandwich today, or being able to get two grilled cheese sandwiches next week. As if the people who invested in Google in 2004 are smarter/better than the people who chose to go out to dinner instead. Twenty years later, the dinner is forgotten, but the shares are worth thousands of dollars.

I get the point (I think.) It takes time for money to grow, and not much time at all to spend it on worthless/useless/petty things instead. The people who are willing to wait, gain more.

Or is it?

It sounds like the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment in the 1970’s, when 32 children were given a marshmallow, but told they would get TWO marshmallows if they didn’t eat the first one. The study declared that the children who could wait, were more successful in life, their SAT scores were higher, etc. Repeated studies seemed to support the power of delayed gratification.

This is the simplified version, of course, but the one we’re most familiar with: People who have self-discipline do better in life.

Until newer studies found the major flaw in these results:

Children of “lower” social class, who were more vulnerable to food insecurity, whose families were struggling, were the ones who “couldn’t” wait for that second marshmallow.

Not because they aren’t as smart, not because they had no self-discipline, or because they were less patient.

It was because they had already learned to grab what was available when it was offered. Because that second “reward” might NEVER come.

I never truly believed in the original findings. Something just felt wrong. It felt more like an issue of trust in the people running the experiment than the ability to “go without”. In fact, these kids that “failed” were probably already “going without”. Without the same support, advantages, opportunities that wealthier families offer.

And about stock options vs. a dinner out….

Yeah, we might forget the dinner out, twenty years later. It might be a better choice to invest in our future.

And yet….

What if that dinner is the first date with a person who became our partner? Or the one where our partner asked us to marry them?

What if that dinner was a celebration? A birthday, a milestone reached, a graduation?

What if it was the last time we were able to spend time with a loved one or a dear friend?

What if it was the dinner where you had a huge fight, and realized that was NOT the person you wanted to be with for the rest of your life? A decision you would never regret?

The article probably has a valid point, and maybe it just landed wrong for me today. We’ve all made poor financial decisions we wish we could do over.

And yet…

Investing money has always been a gamble. Some people make good investment decisions, yes. But a lot of those decisions aren’t. We never really know which ones will pay off, and anyone who says otherwise is either very very lucky in theirs, or they’re full of bullshit.

Sorry, I don’t know where I’m going here. Except even gentle criticism about people not making smart decisions about the future drives me crazy. I still remember a coworker 40 years ago. She and her parter had the perfect investment/retirement plan in place with her husband.

But her husband died suddenly way, way before they got there. And she had to keep working long past her retirement years to support herself.

Her greatest regret? That they had put off all their travels and good times, so they would have a rich, perfect retirement.

And then they never had the chance to enjoy it, together.

My own favorite “predicting the future” story is the year where the price of oil skyrocketed (our heating fuel in New Hampshire), and we had to decide whether to prebuy at the current prices, or hope that they would fall before winter. My husband said, “If only I knew what the price of oil was going to be in six months!” And I said, “You and ten billion other people.”

Yes, it’s good to be frugal, and set aside money. Yes, it’s good to have hope in our hearts that things will work out, that everything will be okay, that we will always be safe, that we have everything under control. It’s good to wait, and get that second marshmallow as a reward.

But it’s bad to blame people who have less, who strugle more, who battle discrimination, ridicule, distrust, disgust, and who are never seen for anything more than their gender, skin color, nationality, religion choices.

Only when ALL people have money to invest, when ALL people don’t have to worry about where the next paycheck will come from, when ALL people can have an income, health care, respect, love, when ALL people can feel safe and cared for….

Then, and only then, will I take that investment advice seriously.

Er….pass me that marshmallow, please?

 

 

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #18: The Power of Connection and Community

First day of Art at the Source was so slow, I got this necklace made!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It really, really helps if money is not the only measure of your “success”.*

*Thank you forever, Alisha Vincent!

On the brink of the last weekend of our Sonoma County Art at the Source Open Studio Tour.

I posted on Facebook mentioning that my first weekend was rather slow, with a pic of a necklace I made during the lulls. Another participant shared their studio visitor numbers, which were higher than mine.

Here’s why that didn’t bother me at all:

First, numbers come and numbers go. The first two years I did an open studio in New Hampshire, no one came. (I was the only participant in my neck of the woods.) It was a little discouraging but my studio was clean, and I got a lot of new work done.

The third year, my studio was filled to the gills with visitors, and it never stopped until we left New Hampshire.

Second, an original founder and long-time AATS participant (30 years?) who’s well-known in these parts, and whose work is popular, said numbers come and go, rise and fall, over the years, and usually for no discernible reason. “I don’t worry about it,” she said. “It is what it is, and I’m comfortable with that.” Thank you, Sally Baker! (She’s a true grown-up.)

Third, though my numbers were low, those visitors were amazing, each and every one. One woman brought me a box of beautiful abalone shells!

My last point is one that just came to me today:

My visitors created their own in-house community, in my studio, during the tour!

Somehow, I ended up showing two visitors the lovely gift of abalone shells. They were so amazed, I ended up giving each of them one! It just felt like the right thing to do. They were delighted. I know they’ll be back someday.

One long-time fan came in, we had a nice chat, and she gave me an idea for one-on-one mentoring/tutoring with polymer clay. While she was still there, another long-time fan and her studio-mate came in. The three of them hit it off. I offered them comfy chairs, and they sat in a little circle and talked avidly for awhile. (It was still a slow day, people could get around them easily, and I was totally okay with that.) It was wonderful to see new friendships created, right there in front of me!

Another visitor talked about losing a sibling last year, and then the tears came. On impulse, I opened one of my storage drawers and gave them an older bear artifact.  Then I gave them a card with the bear’s story: “Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep.”

(No, I don’t just hand out free stuff to people randomly. There’s just something inside me that says, “They need this….”)

It took me a few days to see what was happening.

These people all had at least one thing in common: They like my work. Some LOVE my work.

They felt safe enough in my sacred creative space to open their hearts, to my stories, to my work, to me. And also to others in that space.

It was amazing.

I’m still unwrapping that, figuring out why it affected me so deeply. But in the end, I can just say I’m glad this all happened.

Oh, I also made a few sales, enough to restock new supplies for my next projects.  Some weird questions got asked, some people weren’t interested and left quickly. Tomorrow’s going to be really really hot, and I don’t have any thoughts about what that will look like.

But I’m not worried.

I’ve already had my share of beautiful little miracles. And I’m grateful for them all.

It’s not always about numbers.

It’s not always about the money. 

It’s about using our creativity to bring out the best in ourselves, and in others. We are truly blessed to be able to do this with the work of our heart.

 

 

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #17 Tears for Fears: What if someone steals my stuff??”

Yeah, I could worry constantly about theft. But I actively try NOT to.

Hah! I TOLD you a series is rarely ever “done”!

Just before our latest county open studio event (LINK), an artist reached out with a terrific question: What if someone were to steal their work?

In this case, it was a portfolio of very small “studies”, their way of experimenting before taking on a large project. These studies could easily be pilfered. Should they be worried?

Yes. No. Maybe?

Unless we make huge stone sculptures that have to be hauled away in a wheelbarrow (or similar), yes, we are all potential victims of theft. And you know who is the MOST vulnerable creative/maker for theft? Jewelers, especially those working in precious metals/gemstones. When they do major shows, they often take down their ENTIRE INVENTORY every night. And set it up all over again the next day. OMG!)

But making that the biggest issue with opening our open studio is a sure-fire way to unconsciously let every single visitor know you do not trust them. And that will destroy the very reason open studios are so powerful:

Our visitors want to know more about our work–and US.

Treating each person as a possible thief, destroys any potential connection. Which defeats the entire purpose of inviting them into our creative space.

How do I know? This happened to me, as a studio visitor.

In this case, the person was open to my previous suggestion, ideas for having samples, tools, etc. that are okay for visitors to touch or hold. People are extremely experienced about being told NOT to touch in so many environments. Providing a display, something they CAN touch, is powerful!

Hence this person’s idea of presenting a portfolio of small studies, which they would hate to lose.

Here were my thoughts. (Be sure to add yours in the comments!)

Fears of having our work stolen cements everybody to the ground, as in, a bad way. We all worry about such things. In my lifetime, I don’t recall a single thing being taken, but I have so much stuff, I probably wouldn’t notice if it were missing 🥴
If the worry about losing your portfolio is giving you nightmares, consider a way to display it so that it’s not a small thing somebody could pocket easily.
I’m not a painter, so I don’t know if you’re talking about individual sketches, first drafts, or illustrations in a notebook, etc. You can send me more details and we can figure out a way to keep your work safe.
Maybe only exhibit a few of the pictures you were experimenting with, or have all of them on display in a case, or hang on the wall.
But what’s more important than that is being comfortable with people in our sacred creative space.
I have not had any (okay, not MANY) issues with people being rude, aggressive, sneaky, etc. and I’ve learned over the years that being afraid of these things create anxiety.  And that anxiety can destroy our ability to connect with other people. Yes I have a story about that! 🥴😄
I visited someone’s studio who was obviously afraid of me stealing something. I loved their work, but their suspicious demeanor and them trailing me around their studio made me very uncomfortable. I finally left as soon as I could.
People meeting us in our studio, seeing our work in person, engaging with us, learning more about our process, our inspiration, our techniques, our story, is the single most powerful way for us to gain an audience.
I don’t want to dismiss your fears as being totally unnecessary, but the chances of someone stealing something major from you are pretty slim.
And your fear of having something stolen will create a barrier between you and the very people you want to connect with.
So for your sake, try to set your fears aside.
Consider some of the suggestions about securing your portfolio so no one can just simply walk off with it.
If you can, it’s always nice to have an assistant available, someone who can take care of processing sales, wrapping and packaging, someone who can keep an eye out and help allay your fears.

Yes, they wrote back to let me know they found this helpful. Yay! In fact, it’s not something that’s been an issue in their own art career. Just something that popped up and got stuck in their head. And they already had a helper lined up, and came up with a display plan that worked for them.

And of course, after talking to them, I began to worry about MY work being stolen! (Fears are an easily-transmissible disease with no vaccine….) (Okay, there IS a vaccine: Embrace it, tell it we know it’s doing its job–keeping us safe–and say “Thank you!” Then tell it to scram until it’s time for dinner….)

Next article: How to prevent visitors from throwing cake at our artwork. (JUST KIDDING!!! I have no idea how to stop people from doing that. Apparently, neither does the Louvre….)

How have YOU secured your valuables, and still provided a comfortable place for visitors to engage with you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

 

A QUORA ANSWER ON PROCRASTINATION: What I’ve Learned

Profile photo for Luann Udell

Luann Udell
It took me years to figure this out, but I had to laugh when I did.

Three moments of insight have helped me with this:

The first, and simplest, is being accountable to something/someone. I wrote most regularly when I wrote for a monthly column for magazine (10 years!), and later, a weekly article for an online art marketing newsletter.

The embarassment of being late ONCE (and not getting paid) resulted in not missing a single article going forward (11 years!) (Er…I wasn’t LATE once, I only got reprimanded for it once. Changed everything.)

 

Second, I came across a book written by someone who HAD figured it out: They found they became extremely motivated to take on OTHER PROJECTS when they were procrastinating about another one.

It was really funny, their list of what they accomplished while putting off yet another ‘unmotivated’ project. I immediately recreated their strategy for myself. You can read it here: Procrastination: Love It or Leave It Til Tomorrow

Sometimes, meeting the expectations of others, works better than meeting our own.

Sometimes the motivation we need is how to avoid doing something else.

Sometimes, we need to clearly understand the “all steps by going backwards”’ in order to take that first step forward.

Finding whatever works for YOU is what matters most. Good luck!

ANOTHER QUORA ANSWER on Creativity

Creativity is part of our heritage. Almost everyone has it. It’s just that our definition of creative work has grown more narrow.

When most people talk about “real art”, they’re usually caught up in the work of white European male artists from the last 150 years.

What if our definition of creative work were broader, richer, deeper?

I now define it as any work that we care deeply about, that we pursue with all our heart, because it makes us happy, lifts our spirit, encourages us to be a better person.

And when we share it with the world in any way, it makes someone else happy. And makes the world a better place.

I now see people who take up work that heals, teaches, repairs, restores, caretakes, feeds, nourishes, work that brings joy, laughter, care, forgiveness, and understanding to our world, to be creative people. Whether it’s our professional, vocation, or avocation, whether we earn a living from it or not, if we, and others, and the world are better for it, that’s creative work.

We humans, and our creative work, don’t fit into tidy little boxes. We have a whole universe to fill!

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #16: People Still Love Our Older Work

I’ve gotten good feedback on this section of my “How To” open studio series, about having respect for our older work here and here. I’m glad it’s landed in just the right place, at just the right time, for so many artists, too! (THANK YOU, everybody who let me know that.)

Here’s another story I’d completely forgotten about the value of our older work:

Years ago, when I lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I often visited the annual Ann Arbor Art Fair. It was among the very first fairs featuring artwork I ever attended. (I grew up in a very small town in mid-Michigan, in a rural community. I didn’t know anybody who actually ‘made art’.) Also, that city event also involved three different art organizations, but in the general public’s mind, it was just one big, wonderful opportunity to see hundreds of artists over a three-day period.

I think this was my first experience with the Fair, and I found a young woman whose work I fell in love with. I don’t remember much…it involved hearts, it was colorful and lovely, she was friendly and excited at how well her work was selling, etc. Unfortunately, it was out of my price range. But I told her how much I loved it, took her card, and told her I’d be back to buy a piece next year. (I THINK the piece I wanted was $150, a lot for me, and a lot back in the mid-70’s!)

I set aside a little money each month and counted the days til the next Fair.

At last the next year’s Fair began, and I found her booth as soon as I could.

But everything had changed. Everything.

Her work had changed completely. (Still 2D, but different subjects, color schemes, size, etc.) Her prices had tripled. Worse, even her demeanor was different.

The excited, happy person was gone. She was snooty, aloof, dismissive of her older work. When I asked if she still had work from last year, she went on a rant about how she was done with that, and she was having much more success with her new work. She was never going back to the “heart” stuff. She was also dismissive of my budget, which had taken me a year to accumulate. She now had “real” collectors who were willing to pay much more for her work.

In short, she made it very clear she had no interest in me as a potential customer.

I walked away almost in tears, and never visited her booth again.

But as I look back, I see I’ve learned a lot from that second encounter, as devastating as it felt at the time.

Can you see all the insights, too?

I know the “hearts” theme sounds trite, but it wasn’t. They were my favorite artwork in the entire fair. Sure, I might have ‘outgrown’ it eventually, as some works of art don’t speak to us forever. But I do still have many of my oldest pieces I’ve collected over the years, and still treasure them. Very few of them have been given away.

That person’s newer work might have been ‘better’, but not for me. It might have made more money for her, but not from me. She may have believed her attitude was more ‘professional’, but not in my opinion.

She made her older work, and loved it when she made it.

One year later, it was worth nothing to her.

And one year later, I meant nothing to her.

In my last two articles on this topic of our older work, I noted what my friend said: We loved it when we made it, it was our best effort at the time, and there were people who also loved it, and bought it, and treasured it.

Just because it’s older, we’re older, our work is better, doesn’t mean it no longer has value. It will still speak to someone, it will still be cherished, and we may have moved on, but it still has its place in the world.

In fact, I’ve made a practice of updating and refreshing older work, and repurposing the artifacts I made years ago. A horse pendant that wasn’t ‘balanced’ can go into a fiber piece. An artifact that didn’t make it as a centerpiece can now be placed inside one of my shrines, its imperfections giving it even more ‘authenticity’ to its air of antiquity.

And if you need/want another reminder about how our customers feel about our older work, check out this post from a year ago. (It’s the one about an artist that shifted gears so monumentally, his customers were left totally in the dark.) (His attitude was much, much kinder, though.)  USE YOUR TURN SIGNAL

Short story? Yes, we grow as creatives, we get better, we change and morph, and so does our creative work.

But each stage of our journey has its value, its admirers, and its place in the world.

Don’t dis yourself, your work, and especially not your customers!

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #15: What’s Old is New Again

From the beginning to today, my little horses have evolved in many ways. I love them all!

In my last post, I shared how simply rearranging our work can result in visitors/customers “seeing” a work they haven’t seen before.

There’s another side to “old work”, though, that I share with you today:

Your old work still has value.

Here’s the long story:

My artifacts have evolved over the years, changing for the better (I hope!) in every stage. I loved each “stage” for what it was.

But when I look back at those earlier pieces, I feel embarrassed. How could I have thought these were the best I could do?? Should I just get rid of them all? Discount them and move them on?

I hate discounting my own work, as it implies it does not have the same value it had originally. It could make buyers feel if they wait long enough, the price could come down.

Now, of course, I realize that as my prices have risen over the years, even when selling it for the same original price, it will look like a bargain.

Here’s how I found my own truth: From a friend who set me straight.

When I complained that I wasn’t wild about my old work, and felt a little guilty selling it as it felt “less than”, they asked,

“Did you love it when you made it?”

Yes.

“Did people love your old work when it was new?”

Yes.

“Then there will be people who will love it now, too.”

Bam! Mic drop. Clarity restored. (Thank you, Ruth Parent, my good friend!)

I now keep all my old bits to use in newer work. They are stored in a printer’s type tray chest, restored by my son years ago. Visitors are encouraged to open drawers and explore during my studio events.

And by holding on to all my older artifacts, I’ve discovered another insight along the way:

It’s my “relatively-old” work that annoys me, seeing in the moment, now, what I could have done better.

And my “really old” work that I love even more!

I love the fearless outlook on my art career I had then. I had a fabulous photographer, too, who always made my work look incredible. (Thank you and good wishes to you, Jeff Baird, in the Great Beyond. I will miss you and your talents forever.) I sometimes wish I could recapture that old aesthetic, but it’s hard. I am here in the now, right where I belong.

As artists, we fall into the myth that we get better and better at what we do in our making career. Well, we do get better…usually. (Maybe). But it doesn’t mean our work is worth more, will sell more/faster, will be seen as ‘better’. Skills matter, of course. But my own personal lifetime collections of other people’s work, I simply buy what I love, not what’s new, better, etc.

It’s about what speaks to ME.

There are buyers who will appreciate our growing skill level, and our newest work, of course.

Remember, though, there will be plenty of people who have our older work, and still treasure it. And people who will love our old stuff now, too.

So instead of beating yourself up over “old work”, instead of hiding it, put it out there! Especially if your new work is all out in galleries right now.

Tell the story about who you were then, and where you were in your life.

Someone may consider it the perfect piece, for themselves.

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #14: The Need for New. (NOT)

I’ve already made display changes, the result of a major project that took up a lotta space in my studio last year! And that’s a good thing.

 

Short story: Rearrange your work and your studio from time to time.

I told you I wasn’t done with this series!

In a Zoom meeting recently, another artist said they were freaking out a little about not having a lot of new work to exhibit for an upcoming open studio event.

I told them not to worry, and shared my favorite story about that:

I was (still am!) a juried and tenured member of a well-known, highly-respected art organization back in New Hampshire, the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. For years, I participated in their annual fair, a ten-day show at a ski resort.

Landscapes change all the time in this area, and I never knew which tent, large or small, near the entrance or far away, or what place on the mountain, I would be assigned to. We had the option to request our favorite spot, but different factors prevailed, so we never knew for sure where we’d end up.

So every year, I was in a different tent, with a different terrain, and different neighbors. The hard part was, I never knew if my booth would be on a slant (ski resort!), in the front or back of a tent, etc. That was the downside.

The upside was, I learned over time what worked best for me and my multi-media work. And hidden gift: I often had to improvise how to set up and arrange my art display. (With jewelry, wall hangings, shrines and sculpture, I had to use walls, pedestals, and display cases.)

Why was this a hidden gift? My display never looked the same way, year to year. So every time someone entered my booth, it was “new” to them.

The proof this works?

I juried into the League with my fiber collage/free-style quilting work in the spring of 1997, I think. I brought one of my handmade artifacts, a horse, with me so they could examine my “buttons” and embellishments more closely.

The jury process took about 10 minutes (woot!) as I waited outside the jury room, and when I was asked back inside, not only had I been accepted, they encouraged me to come back to the next jury session in the fall. Because they all agreed that I should make jewelry with that horse. (I did, and I got in with jewelry, too.) (Thank you, jury team!)

About ten years in, one of my repeat customers/visitors came into my booth and exclaimed, “Wow! You’re making fiber work now! Fabulous!”

Er….as I said, I’d been exhibiting my fiber work for almost a decade! But my jewelry had caught their eye at first, and when they came into my booth, year after year, that is what they paid attention to.

Until that year, for that customer, when something was different–and the fiber work caught their eye.

It could have been a more colorful piece. Or the way the lighting was set up. Or it was hanging above something else that caught their attention. Or…who knows??

The point is, we think we see “everything” when we walk into a space, a booth, a store, etc. But we don’t. We see what catches our eye, and may follow a “narrow” visual path from one item to the next.

In fact, when a customer tells me they’re ready to buy something, but can’t make up their mind which something to buy, I ask them what was the first thing they saw, or touched, in my booth. They point to a piece. I tell them they should consider that piece. They protest that it was a random piece they “just happpened to see”.

I tell them this: Every single person who was intrigued enough to come into my booth, was attracted by something different. 

No two people were drawn in by the same item. 

Which means something signaled to the brain, “Whoa, let’s take a closer look at that!”

Yes, I have a major piece of work at the back of my booth, and at my booth entrance. Standard booth/show set-up procedure. But even so, what pulled people in, and what kept them engaged, was something that appealed to them.

So if you’re worried that you don’t have enough new work in your studio, consider this simple solution: Rearrange your work. If you’ve arranged your work by medium, try to arrange them by color, or theme, or style. Shift groupings around. Bring out older work. (Many customers love our older work! I have a story about that, too.) (Of course.)

It can be harder in our studio/workspace, because it has to actually work as our workspace. But consider small changes that can be easily restored after the open studio event. (I’m thinking I need to do this myself, so thank you, Katie Kruzic for sharing your worries this week!)

You may be surprised who may be excited about a “new piece” you’ve had on display for years.

 

 

Kindness at the Supermarket

Quite an armfull! Me and Robin and Doug.

Here’s my first Quora answer! I keep forgetting it, until I get a new notice about an upvote. Still makes me cry when I read it.

Profile photo for Luann Udell

I was at the supermarket with my one-year-old son (Hanniford’s for you folks from Keene, NH) running “just one more errand”, when he had a meltdown. I knew what it was. He had patiently accompanied me through my morning, me trying to get all the things I needed done, until he was at his limit. He was hungry, and he was not at his best when he’s hungry. (Still isn’t at age 28!) He went into tantrum mode.

I was sitting on the floor, holding him tight, and an older woman walked by. I glanced up and gave her an apologetic smile. She glared at me and snarled, “If that were MY kid, I’d smack him!” and moved on.

I sat there almost crying myself, when along came a young woman who worked at the supermarket. I thought the other woman had complained, and thought the employee was there to ask me to leave.

Instead, she knelt down beside me and said, “How can I help?”

Now I was almost crying with gratitude. I told her he was tired and hungry, and if she could just bring me a carton of milk and a straw, he would be fine in a few minutes.

She did just that. When I told her I would pay for the milk, she just smiled and said, “On the house. Anything else I can do for you?”

I said no and thanked her, and she left.

When I am anywhere in public, and someone’s kid is having a meltdown, I now approach the parent and do the same thing. If the mom is just stressed out because the kid is being “too noisy” or “too rambunctious”, I give mom a smile and say something kind. “I remember those days! Hang in there.” Or, “Your child is so happy!” or anything that shows I am not insulted or perturbed by ordinary kid behavior. I can see them visibly relax and soften, and they often look at their child with exasperation, but also with love.

I will always remember that angry woman who judged me. I will never forget how she made me feel less-than. (I have no idea what her issues were. I just don’t EVER want to be like her.)

But I will also always remember that young woman who showed compassion for me and my son. Such a small act of kindness that still seems so big, after almost 30 years.

We have the power of our choices. And I will always try to choose kindness.

(Note: If I hadn’t been so addled, which was my normal state of mind in these early kiddo years, I would have gone back to the grocery store and asked for that young woman’s name. Then I would have told the manager that they had my loyalty as a shopper forever, because of her.)

ANOTHER QUORA QUESTION ANSWERED

Another slew of Quora requests in my inbox today. And as usual, most of them I can’t/won’t answer. Trust me, if I knew how to earn a living and how to get famous for blogging, I wouldn’t be answering Quora questions.

But the ones I can answer, I usually try.  Here’s today’s reply:

Profile photo for Luann Udell

Luann Udell , Blogger (2002-present)

If you are asking what you can make money blogging about, I can’t help you with that.

If you are asking because you want to have a voice, a presence online, then this is what I advise you to do:

You don’t have to have a particular niche in order to start a blog.

You don’t have to be an expert. You don’t have to find something popular. You don’t have to write about things you don’t care about.

A blog in our modern world means HAVING A VOICE.

You can focus on a topic, a pastime or hobby, a cause you care deeply about.

You can focus on your own skills and knowledge you excel at.

You can write about a topic you’re interested in, and want to know more about. You can write about the reasons why you’re interested, why you want to know more about it. You can share your journey as you research, learn, and grow.

I’m an artist and a writer. I often write about art marketing. But I’ve also written a freelance humor column about being an artist/craftsperson for a monthly craft magazine for almost a decade. (Until they told me I wasn’t funny anymore, but I found out later it’s because they realized it was cheaper to have their own staff write stuff instead of paying a freelancer.) I also write about why it’s important to do our creative work, no matter how much money we actually make at it, because it’s good for our soul.

I’m a parent (and now a grandparent!) and I’ve written about humorous events and life-learning moments to be found in parenting.

I have silly pets, and I write about their antics, set-backs, and the powerful life lessons I’ve learned from them.

I love a metaphor, and I’ve used a variety of them throughout my two decades of blogging: Lessons from the gym/physical therapy sessions, lessons I’ve learned from horse-riding, lessons from doing open studio events, insights from an airplane pilot, from martial arts, from my elderly rabbit in my art studio who died just after we moved to California. And lessons from the prep we went through to get ready for that huge life move.

This sounds like it’s all over the map, right?

But it’s all about what I’ve learned—and am still learning—from this incredible school called “life”.

See what I’m saying here?

You can specialize, or you can expand your view to include everything. You can focus on something incredibly important to you, or something you’d like to know more about.

It’s not about the audience, nor what the audience wants. There are billions of people on this planet, and whatever you choose to write about, there will be plenty of people who will be attracted to it.

The most important thing is to write authentically. To write with integrity.

Chasing an audience rarely works. ATTRACTING an audience takes time and effort, and in the end, can still feel elusive.

But know that just having a voice is a powerful place to be in the world, and in your heart.

 

If the link above gets broken, you’ll find this Quora post here:  https://www.quora.com/How-can-I-choose-a-niche-to-start-a-new-blog/answer/Luann-Udell?prompt_topic_bio=1

DO WHAT WORKS FOR Y*O*U!

One of the signs in my studio, in front of a maple syrup tapping can full of sticks. Um….I am still open to receiving sticks! (You can never have too many.) (Despite what my husband says….)

 

 

I’ve been answering questions about blogging on Quora for awhile now. So every day, I get about half a dozen ‘requests’ for information and advice on the topic.

Most of them are out of my league, and my comfort zone. I do not know how to make money from my blog. I tried it once, two people signed up, and it just felt icky. (Not everything we do can make money.)

Today, I responded to an old question from two years ago. (The link in my email took me to it instead of the orginal poster, for some reason.)

The person said they suffer from a lack of motivation about writing. And anything they want to write about, someone else has already said it, and said it better.

A well-known writer said they should just quit, if they couldn’t do it. (Argh!!!)

Here’s what I wrote instead:

Here’s the weird thing about writing:

Even some of the best writers struggle to make themselves write. They also struggle about what to write about.

Here’s an article I came across the other day that helped a friend: Brandon Sanderson’s Advice for Doing Hard Things

Here’s another that crossed my path from The New Yorker magazine about one of the best-known writers in America: John McPhee’s Slow Productivity

Yep. He writes 500 words a day. Not much more than a page. (But he wrote every day.)

And here’s one of my favorite blog posts about making room for ‘making’: THIS IS LOVE

Did you see the part where she couldn’t believe her process was “professional”? Until I pointed out that her practice/process was actually working for HER?

The trick is to find out what works for YOU. For me, it’s deadlines. I had regular gigs for almost two decades, and my best work always showed up the day before my deadline. Now that I don’t have any, I have to REMIND myself to write.

I love writing, it’s who I am, it’s how I sort stuff out and make my way through this crazy world.

And yet it’s still hard to “make time” to do it.

We think of successful authors as people who just sit and write all the time. Yeah, some do. But most don’t.

Even if it’s ‘who we are’, it’s just like every other important thing we have to make room for in our life: Exercise. Reading (instead of doomscrolling or watching movies.)

So figure out what works for YOU. A writing group with accountability? Scheduling a daily writing period?

As for coming up with something original, there are two ways to look at that: One, YOU are unique, and whatever you share will reflect that. Write about the topics, events, thoughts YOU care about. And two, there is nothing new under the sun. Of course other people have already “said” it. But “everything” also gets transformed when it passes from our mind/heart to paper (metaphorically paper). Do you really think no one wrote a romance story with a sad ending after Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet??

Don’t walk away from the work of your heart because you think you’re doing it wrong.

Celebrate what makes you YOU, no matter how you do it, no matter how you get it done, and no matter whether someone’s already said it. You will transform ‘trite’ into ‘passion’ with your own way with words, with your own experiences, with your own thoughts.

Now git busy and go write something.

Short answer: Do the work of YOUR heart because it will be your voice in the world.

It might be hard to get it done, and even harder to get it out in the world.

But it will worth it to YOU. And it will be worth it for others in ways we can’t even imagine.

You can see the original post here: https://www.quora.com/How-can-I-deal-with-lack-of-motivation-to-create-content-I-feel-like-anything-I-could-possibly-say-has-already-been-said-better-by-at-least-a-thousand-people/answer/Luann-Udell?prompt_topic_bio=1

 

FINDING HOPE IN THE ODDEST PLACES: The Magician’s Nephew Surprises

I revisit a beloved children’s books with new eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I often go back and reread books, sometimes many times. I always find something new, or something I completely overlooked the first time through.

One of my biggest overlooks was when I reread Sterling North’s beloved young adult novel, RASCAL, originally published in 1963. Although I’d read it several times, it was only as I was reading it aloud, word by word, in my kids’ classes as a guest reader, that I found the saddest part. North mentions that  he contracted polio later that year.

That last summer with Rascal was also his last year of perfect freedom.

Now I will always see that story through different eyes.

Lately, I’ve been rereading The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, published in 1955.  Again, I reread them several times since I discovered the books in high school. I’ve just finished the second book (in Narnia time), The Magician’s Nephew. And I found two more jaw-droppers.

This book shares the story of Narnia’s creation, and introduces Aslan, the god-like lion who’s at the heart of this series. I read page after page of the creation of stars, sky, mountains and valleys, rivers and lakes, and the emergence of animals. Aslan then selects two members of each species, male and female, and gives them the power of speech and (human) intelligence.

And then he selects several of them from several species to create his council.

All males. Only males.

I missed that in every single reading. Wow. Just….wow. (A victim of his times, perhaps. I hope.)

Fortunately, that’s not my little ray of hope today. Except the hope that if Lewis were alive today, he might choose to do (a little) better regarding a woman’s ability to be part of a wise council.

No, instead, there was this bit:

Digory, who hopes to find a cure for his dying mother, is sent to find an apple in a very special garden, and bring it back to Aslan. He’s accompanied by his friend Polly, and they will ride a horse, a fellow visitor from our world, who has been transformed into a winged horse by Aslan.

Aslan, looking to the west, gives them guidance with these directions:

“Do not fly too high”, said Aslan. “Do not try to go over the tops of the great ice-mountains. Look out for the valleys, the green places, and fly through them. There will always be a way through.”

Do you see it?

We can have a grand goal, a dream, a path we desperately wish to find through life.

But we don’t have to go to all the harsh places, the cruel places. We don’t have to always put ourselves in that position to follow our hearts.

Instead, we can honor our dreams in a way we can manage. We know that huge obstacles and setbacks are there, hard times and sad times. But there are also ways to navigate them, if we choose. On the way, there may be ways that can make our journey a little easier, if we look for them.

And there will always be a way through.

No matter where you are in your life, no matter what is holding you back, or what you think is too hard (and trust me, I KNOW), there is a way through.

It won’t be without challange. But if we look for the valleys, if we allow ourselves to rest when we need to, if we believe it’s worth flying…er…striving….for, we can find a way.

Sometimes, the way through itself is what the gift is. Getting to the other side is great reward. Yes, Digory gets the apple that eventually helps his mother heal.

But what he also gains is insight, understanding, the realization that we have the power of our choices, and the power of the choices that are right for us, and those we love. The right thing to do. The kind thing to do.

The loving thing to do.

Just for today, as the world seems even darker, as our times seem even harder to navigate…

Look for the valleys and the green places.

Look for the places that will restore you to your highest, best self.

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO Series is complete! (For now….)

WILL THE REAL LUANN UDELL PLEASE STAND UP?

I was going to reorganize some of my blog posts, adding ones that originally ran in Fine Art Views, combining suggestions for newsletters with topics for press releases. What a hot mess! So instead, I’m republishing this one today, from the WayBack machine: May 4, 2009. Because I need a laugh, and maybe you do, too!

So should you believe everything you read here? Getting to the real “me” can be tricky.

Someone wrote me recently, commenting on the phenomenon that many writers don’t actually resemble in real life the personae they’ve created in their writing (or in their online presence.) People who seem so saintly are actually kinda mean and petty. People who seem so forthright and opinionated in online forums are actually too shy to ever say what they really mean in real life.

How do you know anyone is who they say they are??

Coincidentally, another friend recently accused me changing a word or two when I quoted him in an article. I lied, he said.

So…Are all writers liars??

My first reaction was, Ruh-roh. They’re on to me.

I try to be calm and loving and accepting, always looking for the lesson, always looking for the other side of a situation.

But sometimes that all goes out the window when someone cuts me off in traffic, or when somebody gives me attitude. Or when I simply don’t get what I want.

I try to to be cheerful and upbeat, and a good friend.

But sometimes I just want to crawl in a hole and die. Sometimes even my best friends really piss me off. Or worse, are highly annoying.

Much as I pour my heart and soul into these articles, you can’t get around the fact that I write them.

I get to decide what parts I put in and what parts I leave out. I get to frame the problem, and I get to position the answer.

I get to be too hard on myself, and I get to fudge the happy ending.

So who IS the real Luann?

1. Is she the compassionate and wise, thoughtful and kind person some people think she is?

2. Or is she the verbally quick and bright-haired woman who always feels she has to be the smartest and funniest person in the room?

3. Is she the loving mother who will fight fiercely for her children’s right to simply be who they are? The supportive wife who is always there for her husband?

4. Or is she the screaming shrew who actually once yelled at one of them, “If I had a pointy stick, so help me God I’d use it right now!” Or the bickering partner who says, “You know I’m right, so why don’t you save us both some time and just throw in the towel on this argument now?”

5. Is she the writer who publicly shares a struggling, sometimes painful spiritual journey to understand her place in the world, with anyone out there who will listen?

6. Or is she the self-righteous indignant and angry crabby person who still has the self-awareness to laugh when the writer Ann Lamott writes,

“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

7. Is she a person with a core of hot truth who examines what role she plays in the sad places of her life, and willingly embrace the lessons she finds there?

8. Or is she the idiot who falls back into the same patterns that didn’t work before, and has to learn those same lessons over and over and over again?

9. Is she the nicest person you ever met?

10. Or is she so empty inside, she still believes that being nice is more important than being honest/whole/self-reliant/herself.

11. Is she brave and fearless in her approach to love, life and art?

12. Or is she hanging on desperately to what she already knows, because anything else is too terrifying to contemplate?

13. Is she an amazing artist whose work with texture, color, mixed media and narrative has resulted in a formidable body of work?

14. Or is she that woman who spent an hour in Home Depot’s paint section, agonizing over what color to paint her bathroom?

15. Is she someone who understands this is her journey in life, accepting it with a whole heart (only having to be dragged kicking and screaming to the next step occasionally), doing the best she can? That it’s not about what others think of us or what we do, we just need to do the right thing?

16. Or is she fearful that others might think she is putting on a pretty good but false persona, too?

Answer:
a. All the odd-numbered statements.
b. All the even-numbered statements
c. Some of the above.
d. All of the above.
e. None of the above.

If I’m learning anything in this strange journey called life, it’s that we’re all very different, and that has to be honored. And we all have a lot in common. A lot.

We all have our dark side, and our bright side. We all struggle to love and be loved, and by the “right” people, too. We all want to be recognized for the incredible things we do, and we all wish the bad things could go in a closet somewhere, forever.

We all have the “inner work” to do, and most of us will never finish it. In fact, some of us will never even acknowledge there is inner work to do. “Oh, that’s, someone else’s inner work!” they’ll exclaim. (I just corrected a typo here that read “sinner work” & realized, that works, too….)

And they’ll be right, too. (And wrong.)

You see where I’m going with this.

If you met me for the first time, and I were having a good day, you might think I’m delightful and funny. Or you might think I simply talk too much.

If you met me on a bad day, you might think I was thoughtful, a compassionate and ready listener. Or you might think I have a chip on my shoulder the size of a Buick, and I whine too much.

Some people love the fact that three years ago, for the first time in my life, I dyed my hair. A deep, rich, intense auburn color. They think it’s brave and cheeky and fun and artistic. Other people think it’s pathetic that a woman my age is so desperately hanging on to her youth. Who does she think she’s kidding??!

The real me? Your guess is as good as mine. I only know it seems important right now to accept all these things as true. Without judgment or censure. Without pride or smugness.

Because what I do, or what I think, or what I have, or what I choose, are all aspects of myself that could disappear in a heartbeat. What is left then?

And that’s what my journey is about.

Because I think what I’m going to find out is, who I really am–just me–in the end, is something much, much bigger–and much, much simpler–than all of these other things.

And that will be….enough.

Just remember. We’re all in this together, and nobody gets out alive.

p.s. My friend, who has mental illness, objected to my use of the word “crazy” to describe the way he’d “altered” his rented room. So perhaps I should have been more sensitive to his condition and used a less volatile adjective. (Update: Perhaps?? Oh hell no, I was totally at fault on this one. Once I know better, I try to do better.)

On the other hand, the other word he complained about was just way too picky. So I think–you guessed it!–we’re both right.

Update again: In my effort to create a “perfect” and grammatically correct article, I accidentally copy-and-pasted the article TWICE. Corrected. For now.

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #13: A Book Review of “Open Your Studio”

I’ve come across lots of wisdom in my decades of making and selling my creative work. I still try to look at the advice given by other people, because you never know where a great insight or tip can come from.

Last week, I ordered a highly-tooted book called OPEN YOUR STUDIO: Nine Steps to A Successful Art Event by Melinda Cootsona.  I was curious to explore what other artists thought was a terrific guide to staging our first open studio.

My opinion? 50/50  I give it a C+.

Here are the parts I thought were useful:

  1. Do NOT have a ‘sale’ section or a ‘bargain bin’.  It detracts from the perceived value of our current work, and there are better ways to move older work on. (I agree!)
  2. Be consistent in your pricing. (YES!!) She offers some good pricing strategies, too. (But ONLY for 2D work.)
  3. She offers good suggestions for pricing 2D work with or without frames, a common conundrum in the 2D artworld.
  4. Let there be a little ‘mess’ in your studio. People will find it interesting, like a peek behind the curtain. (I totally agree.)
  5. If you intend to demo during your open studio, have a sales assistant on hand. (Yes!) Otherwise, you can share your process with photos of your production process, or a slide show on a laptop.
  6. It’s good to raise our prices as the demand for our work grows. But have a private reception for your collectors to give them the option to buy your work BEFORE you actually raise your prices. (I love this idea!)
  7. If you are brand-new and need to start a mailing list, she has some good suggestions for that, too, including some I’d never thought of. (Of course, once your reputation and audience is grounded, we can be more selective, if we choose. (This wasn’t mentioned, but either ASK those people if you can sign them up, and/or always give them the option to unsubscribe. It’s really important no one can call you “spam”.)

What was not useful or just plain head-smacking:

  1. Most of the suggestions revolve around 2D artwork. She mentions ceramics and jewelry in passing, but no real insights about pricing, etc. There’s ONE picture of a box maker’s display, but it’s one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Something that looks like a newbie at their very first show. (Yes, I made a similar mistake at my first show, but now that I know better, I DO better, AND I tell OTHERS how to do better.)
  2. She actively negotiates her prices if a visitor askes for a discount. No. No. NO. First, the person who deserves a discount is a loyal customer, not a newbie who just walked in the door. (Doesn’t it annoy you when your favorite magazine/newspaper consistently offers great rates to a NEW subscriber? And not to people (YOU) who have subscribed for years? Rethink this, please!) Also, there are ways to sweeten the deal without compromising the stated value of our work.
  3. There is absolutely nothing about how to engage visitors, how to make them comfortable in our space, how to talk with them, etc.
  4. There’s nothing about the power of a good artist statement. A great artist statement has the power of engaging someone who isn’t even that interested in our work, if it makes them go back and look at our work a second time…
  5. We’re encouraged to post our event on social media, but no suggestions on how to make that engaging for our audience there. Same with press releases, etc.

After I read the book, I went back to read the reviews on Amazon. As expected, this is a great little book if you have never sold your work or held an open studio before. and IF you are a 2D artist.

But the insights about credit cards, promoting our event, the encouragement to actively discount our work, and the total lack of anything useful for selling work that isn’t 2D, was massively disappointing.

It’s definitely worth a read for the good stuff. I found a copy on Bookfinder.com at a great price. So check it out, then let me know what YOU think!

 

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #12: How to Get People OUT of Your Booth

Yes, you read that right. Usually we’re trying to get people into our booth or open studio, so we can sell them our work. But sometimes it’s just as important to get them out of there, too.

There are many kinds of visitors who will come to our open studios. the person who has no intention of buying anything, but is distracting you from other customers.

And okay, I’ll admit it–the title is provocative. You don’t necessarily need to, nor should you, boot every non-customer out of your studio! Not every transaction is about money, and not every comment is meant as a slam, not by a long shot. Revisit “the stupid question”, for example.

But no one needs “bad transactions”, either. There are indeed times when someone is being a jerk, a downer, a whiner or simply an energy-vampire. (I wrote this before the TV series, “What We Do In The Shadows”!) If they aren’t driving other customers out of your studio, they are practically driving you out of your studio.

You must contain and deal with that negative energy. Not only your sales, but your peace of mind may depend on it.

To save myself some time this morning, I’ll just point you to a wealth of information on this topic that I’ve written about for years: How to get people OUT of your booth

Short story: Not everyone is your customer.

That’s okay, of course. Most open studios and other events are as much about creating connections as they are about sales. Our open studio events are the most powerful, as we are on our home turf, in our sacred creative space. They get to see who we are, and hopefully learn what our artwork is all about.

And for the same reasons, this is why we can’t let people s*** in our space, either.

But there will be people who may go beyond all boundaries, from slightly-aggressive to downright boring as all get-out. The people who know, deep down, that we are a captive audience.

I get as annoyed as anyone when this happens. And yet, when I take a moment or two (or a thousand), I can get back to my happy place. Maybe they are lonely. Or lost (figuratively.) Or desperate for attention. Or need to one-up me because they are envious. Maybe they are wistful, wishing they could have a studio, a creative outlet, work that they put aside, a decision they regret but can’t fix.

These fears, feelings of superiority (or inadequacy), anger, sadness, can manifest in so many ways, from the Design Diva who will micromanage their custom order to within an inch of (your) life, to realizing your good “friend” isn’t really your friend at all.

Here’s one big tips to help you get through:

Use your words. In almost every situation, from visitors who demand a lot of your time at the expense of other visitors, to well-meaning friends who want to catch up, these three words can be a lifesaver: “After the show…” 

“Yes, after the show I’ll be able to offer classes, so add your email address to my sign-up form so I can let you know.”

“I’d love to grab coffee and catch up with you after the show, when I’m not so busy!”

“Yes, I’m happy to share the info of where to learn more about polymer clay, email me after the show.”

You are setting boundaries while still remaining available emotionally for people you care about (and those you don’t), people you want to be available for (or not), when you can be available.

Why does this work? Reasons here: Why Distraction Works

All of these suggestions and strategies echo words of wisdom my best-ever boss made oh, about 45 years ago:

“If you don’t want someone to get your goat, don’t leave your goat out.”

And yet also understand that we can all be annoying sometimes, and not everyone is trying to be annoying. (Er…I’m beginning to wonder if I’m more annoying than I realize…)

Last, a very dirty trick, but it can work:

If someone is being a total poo, and nothing I’ve tried has moved them on, I will encourage them to check out another artist’s studio. And it’s often an artist I don’t like. (Okay, I’ve done this maybe three times in my entire art career of 20 years. But I have to admit, it was very satisfying.) (I mean, I also send wonderful visitors to another artist who I DO like, too, if I think they’ll enjoy that artist’s work.) For all you difficult artists, be warned! (JUST KIDDING!) (Not.)

I know I’ve linked to a slew of articles here today. But trust me, I can guarantee you have–or will–meet at least one of these people at any art event you host or attend. Knowing how to deal with it is  powerful protective armor.

And the better you manage it, the better your studio experience will be for everyone involved.

If you’d like most of those articles in one place, you can buy my ebook on Amazon. (Maybe I should do a book on open studios?)

I would love it if you asked questions or shared your own tips and suggestions along the way!

If you found this helpful, let me know! And if you know someone else who might find it useful, pass the link to this article to them. The best gift you can give a writer is to help them grow their audience.

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #11: Demonstrating = Maker vs. Seller

The ‘mudding’ part of my scrimshaw technique that helps my artifacts look like real bone and ivory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When demonstrating your process, share what you want, not what you think you “have to”…

Short story: Demonstrating your process at an open studio can be a powerful incentive for visitors to come. But there’s a delicate balance between “maker” and “seller”, and that can create a disconnect with our audience. Backstory:

I’m a double-juried (in two media) craftsman member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, a well-established, well-respected organization that supports and markets the work of members in many ways: galleries, events, exhibitions, and its prestigious Annual Craftsmen’s Fair held in August every year. (I achieved tenure, so even though I now live a few thousand miles away, I still retain my membership.) I eventually volunteered to become a member of the Fair Committee, because I was so curious about what went on “behind the curtain” to produce these incredible 9-day long event.

One feature of our annual outdoor fair was demo booths. For a reduced rate, a juried craftsman got a super-sized booth (about 20’x30’, if I remember correctly) to not only display their wares, but to do demonstrations of their craft for the public. When I started, there were three such booths at each year’s fair.

And every year we had to beg people to sign up for them.

The reason was, sales at these booths were horrible. Even with the savings and prominent placement on the grounds, people knew they would struggle to make any money that year. It just wasn’t worth it to them.

I can’t remember why I decided it might be something to try, but boy, did I do my research. I checked in with past demonstrators, and asked if it were worthwhile. Almost everyone said, “Not that year, but my sales afterwards steadily climbed!” So, okay, consider it a loss-leader in the short-term, and investment in a bigger audience down the road. I could handle that.

But my superpower is gathering as much information as I can from every conceivable source. And so I also checked in with Bruce Baker, a jewelry-maker and gallery/gift shop owner who traveled across the country for years giving workshops on all things craft/art business related: Display, sales techniques, pricing, etc. (Bruce has retired this part of his biz and returned to jewelry-making full-time, but his CDs live on.) He lived relatively close, so I was able to attend many of his workshops, and even served with him on panel discussions and with traveling craft biz-building workshops for a year.

I called Bruce, and he graciously gave me the insights and advice I was looking for.

My first question was, why do sales tank at demos? He replied that demos tend to be “edu-tainment”: Free, educational and entertaining. And when it’s over, there goes the crowd, on to the next fun thing (music, raffles, food, etc.) So demo booths are unconsciously filed away under “fun to watch” and not “fun to shop”.

Add to that another unconscious element: When the “edu-tainer” artist sees people actively shopping, of course they stand up and move over to assist them. And the “magic” of demonstrating turns into, “Uh-oh, here comes the car salesman pitch!” and people scurry away. “There’s a disconnect,” he explained. “And once that ball is dropped, it’s hard to get back.” Hence, maybe crowds, but no sales.

He shared insights and gave suggestions. Like setting up my demo booth on the outer border of the big tent, so people didn’t have to “commit” to coming inside. “Don’t put it in the back of the booth, because then people have to make a conscious decision to enter a big, dark tent. Put it right there on the fairway!” I did, and it worked.

Second, he said I should NOT do sales. What??

“Not “no sales”. I mean you yourself should not do sales. Hire people to do that,” he said. “Keep that divide between the creative maker and the “car salesman”.” So I hired/bribed/cajoled a team of friends to help. (I lent them all CDs of Bruce’s selling techniques.)

But instead of telling them what I say about my work, I encouraged them to share what they love about my work. I felt it would come across as heart-felt and more authentic, and I was right about that, too!

And because they weren’t working from a ‘script’, and they apparently had no ‘game’ with my sales, their comments and enthusiasm were seen as an authentic validation of my work.

The proof of Bruce’s insights? At one point in the week, all my volunteers were at lunch at the same time. (Slow day.) Some people came in, I demo’ed, they watched. And when they started shopping, I walked over to them – and they nearly ran out of the booth! Lesson learned. (No, I’m not that scary in person. The actual dynamic had changed, just as Bruce had described.)

I made my highest sales ever that year, and the next (as I got to choose to demo again, if I wanted to, and I did.) In fact, from that year on, there was actual competition for those sales demo booths, and their number increased to five!

Because every other artisan saw what was happening, and wanted in on that, too.

But one of the biggest hurdles yet remained. And it took a friend’s insight to solve that problem:

How much do I share without destroying the mystery of my finished work?

This has been a “hurt place” for decades for me. My work has been copied for decades. (Although badly, I’m happy to say, though I’m ashamed to admit that.) Showing exactly what I do, and how I do it, felt too risky. The last thing I wanted to do was to unconsciously give others permission to copy. Most of my techniques are well-known and not original to me, though I always share the original artist as a source. What’s truly unique are the the ways I put them together, and the stories I tell through them.

Even more sobering: Think of how explaining a magic trick takes away the ‘magic’. Yeah, no.

Again, just the right person showed up.

I met Alisha Vincent when she was the show manager for the Buyers Market of American Craft (informally called “The Rosen Show” for the company’s owner, Wendy Rosen) and now known as the American Made Show.) She was/still is one of my super heroes in life, for her intelligence, her powers of observation, her wide range of experience in the world, her courage, and her sense of humor. She actually came to NH that year to work in my demo booth, and I am forever grateful she did, for countless reasons.

But especially for today, this one: When I expressed my fears, she was quick to find the solution. “Look at your neighbor,” she said, gesturing toward the guy who made beautiful Shaker boxes in the demo tent next to me. “He says his process has 29 steps.”

“He’s demonstrated nine of those steps.”

Oh. OH. OH!!!!!! Got it!

So when I say “show your process”, know that it means you get to choose how much you share.

Some people do share every single step. Hats off to them! They are secure in the knowledge that their skills have taken time and effort, and are not easily mastered. And that their own aesthetic and color choices are unique to them.

Me, not so much. I totally know this comes from my own insecurities and past experiences.

And so Alisha’s insight helped me pick interesting aspects to demo, but not a start-to-finish process. She helped me find my comfort level, so I could start there and go forward.

If you demonstrate, you get to decide what feels like “too much” vs. what feels like a challenge you can handle.

And as you get comfortable with it, take on the next challenge.

Remember, there are oodles of steps to help us move forward in our art biz.

The gift is, we get to choose what ones, how, how much, how often: A short how-to video playing on a laptop in your studio, or a live demo. (With a sales assistant!) A series of photos showing different stages in your production. Signs for all your tools, materials, equipment, on display, with their purpose and sources. (Again, how much you share is totally up to you.)

And if you offer classes, these little add-ons to your space will give them a powerful incentive to sign up.

As always, if you enjoyed this article, let me know! If you’d like to read more, you can subscribe to my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com. You can visit my older articles in the wayback machine at Radio Userland. (They are harder to search for, but they are also shorter!)

If you think someone else would like it, please forward it to them. And if someone sent you this, and you liked it, ditto!

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