HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #8: How Not to Write an Artist Statement

(Disclaimer: You may not agree with my take on this subject. No worries, do what works for you! But do consider this approach if you want your artist statement to stand out from the crowd.)

I’ve written a lot about artist statements. A LOT.

This is one of my favorites.

OK, like a parent asked to choose their favorite child, I love ’em all! They all have a nugget of truth. But this one combines my frustration with most artists’s statements, the lack of creativity, the banality, the focus on materials and process over our story, yadda yadda yadda.

I know this is a huge homework assignment. But at least one of these articles could get you to reconsider taking on the “traditional” artist statement.

And again, check out ArtyBollocks.com for starters. It will prove that “arty” “pretentious” “obscure” artist statements are ridiculous, I hope. Here’s another fun site if your creative work takes a different form: The New Age Bullshit Generator

And this artist’s response to generic artist statements is good, too. Thanks and a hat tip to Beth Secor!

You may be tempted to use a template to create an artist statement. It may feel safe, and easy. And if it gets you started, okay then. But as a friend told me years ago, “You cannot fill in the blanks with passion.” (Wherever you are in the world, thank you Nicci Walker!)

You may be tempted to use hoity-toity words and phrases, (aka “artspeak”) like other famous artists. But this article on the down side of IAE (International Art English) is terrific at uncovering the very (pretentious) aspects that could alienate our potential audience. (My hat’s off to you, too, Carol Ober!)

Avoid anything that reeks of complacency:

“I love color”.  Um….who doesn’t love color??

“I am drawn to light and color”. Um…even worse? How can anyone capture an image of anything without light? (More on this to follow….)

“I am inspired by nature…” Um. So is every single landscape painter ever. And probably 95% of the rest of the world.

“I explore form and composition…”  Just stop right there. Every painting has forms, shapes, lines in it.

I could go on, but it drives me nuts. These are just a few sentences that most artists believe makes them “unique”. But they’re just the opposite. They sound like every other artist on the planet. Case in point: I could say this about my art, and I’m willing to bet that my work looks nothing like yours.

When artists list the “famous artists” they’ve studied with, I want to pull my hair. All it means is, you had enough money to pay their fees. I get that really popular famous artists can be very selective about who gets into their classes. But I also know that a “famous artist” in one part of the world may be totally unknown in another part. When I moved to California in 2014, I knew only two artists in Sonoma County. Actually, in all of California. And neither of them are painters. (Okay, Jane Garabaldi and Marge Margulies, and only because we were all in the same gallery in New England.) (And yes, they are both stellar at their work!)

An artist statement is not the place to brag about your art degrees, your reputation, to explain your how-to process in-depth.

It’s about sharing something about you, and your work, that will make your visitors want to go back and look at your artwork again.

JoAnne Russo, a highly-acclaimed Vermont basketmaker, was the first person to share this insight with me. I was already doing that, but this made it clear why we cannot afford to muck up this important piece of paper. Because even if our work doesn’t blow them away, our artist statement can.

Here’s my best example: At an art exhibit years ago, I saw what I thought was an awful work of art. Crumpled foil, squished fabric. WTF?? I thought.

Then I read their artist statement, and I almost cried.

It was made by a woman who had been a talented painter for most of her life. Now, in her final years, she had lost her sight and could no longer paint.

But in her heart, she still wanted to “make”. She still wanted to share the things that fascinated her. She was still an artist, even though vast changes had to be made in how she created it.

So she worked with interesting bits of materials with great texture, arranging them in ways that literally and figuratively “felt right”, and urged people to touch them.

OMG. OMG. She wanted to still have her voice in the world. And even going blind was not going to stop her. 

Yes. I went back and looked at her work again.

Instead of seeing someone who had no idea how to make “real art”, I saw someone with so much courage, so strong in their heart, that even losing their superpower–a great painter–shewhat believed she still had something to share with the world.

My next example was an artist statement I wrote for a woodworker the year before we moved to California. Here’s my rant about that experience. 

The part I wrote that they didn’t value?

Like people, trees respond to what happens to hem. What they live through creates their character. Sunlight and soil, ice and wind…all these things leave their unique mark on the inside. I work wood’s diverse color, grain, and texture, patiently and meticulously, to real the “inside story”.  And like people, the story hidden beneath the bark is beautiful, unique, and forever astonishing.

In fact, just read that article if you’re short on time and don’t have the bandwidth right now to go deeper. (And to be fair, that person did include that part in their statement. I didn’t know until a few years later, when their work was featured in a magazine.

Yes, your process is important. But keep it simple.

Yes, your education helped you get to where you are today. I get it.

Yes, art degrees mean you were serious about your work from an early age. Good on you! But not all of us had that privilege or option.

The most powerful story we can tell about our work is why it matters. To US.

It could have been a life-long passion, or it could have been a treasure we buried out of perceived necessity. Until we realized how vital it was to our soul.

Be willing to go deep, to share who you really are, and how your art helped you discover what really matters to you.

Trust me. And trust yourself: If you’re doing it right, they will want to see more of your artwork, your studio, and you.

Questions? Comments? Bring ’em on! I’ll do my best to answer them.

(No snark, please. Feel free to gritch on your own platform, okay?)

 

 

 

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #7 Fresh Take On Refreshment Takers

In my previous article, I shared why I don’t serve food or drinks anymore at my open studio events. Now I’ll share a story about a visitor who seemed to only show up for the food.

This person is…well, a little different from most of my studio visitors. They always arrive early, are very quiet, and spend a lot of time looking at my work. When I engage them in conversation, they talk in a very loud voice. I would use the term “on the spectrum”, except a spectrum is a true range of all colors, attributes, etc. So technically, we’re all on the sprectrum somewhere. (Thanks to commedian Matt Ruby for this wonderful insight!)

They’ve attended every art event involving open studios I’ve been in, in several different locations, all walkable.

And almost everyone on all the open studio events I’ve been on, is very familiar with them. The general impression is, this person only shows up to take advantage of the free food and drinks.

And yet they always show up at my events, too, knowing there won’t be the “free lunch” thing. They sign up for my emails and give their snail mail address for catalogs, every single time, too.

Obviously, they don’t want to be left out.

Once, out of curiosity, I asked them what their creative work was.

I got the usual reply: “Oh, I’m not creative.”

That’s a conversation-opener for me. Because all humans have a creative gene, and there are many ways to be creative, if we lift those very narrow boundaries about who is-or-isn’t-a-real-artist.

We talked a little more. (It wasn’t busy, I had time to explore who this person really is.) They said they’d taken an art class, they’d made a painting, which they loved, and they wanted to be an artist, too. I told her I’d love to see their piece, and to bring it the next time they came to my open studio.

To my surprise, a few months later, they did!

They were a little nervous about showing it to me. If I had to make up a story about that, it would be that they know they are ‘different’, they know people aren’t eager to engage with them, and they might be worried I would go into full art critic mode. But I didn’t.

Of course it was amateur-ish, something I would have done in high school. (I loved to doodle and draw, (still do!) but realistic drawing and painting are not my thing.) But it wasn’t horrible, either. It was simply someone’s first attempt at making art, no better and no worse than my first attempt to paint, or yours.

I could also tell it was very dear to them.

I praised the aspects that drew my attention, and encouraged them to pursue this. I suggested they get an inexpensive frame for it. “You can hang it on a wall and see it every day,” I said. “And I hope it inspires you to keep making stuff. We all get better when we keep making, that’s how we all get better at it.” If art classes were inconvenient or too expensive, they could also start by getting some instructive books from the library. Or simply start sketching what they see every day: Trees. Flowers. Birds. People. Pets. Finding what catches their eye, and play with it.

They left with a very happy heart.

The next time they came up in conversation with my fellow open studio group, when it got to the part where “it’s all about the food”, I shared my experience. Yes, obviously they really enjoy the food!

But they are also yearning to do what those of us with studios do, with our own hunger: To make something we love. To make something so often, so regularly, that we get good at it. And when we’re ready, to find a way to share it with others.

That’s what they want, too. And that’s why they show up at all our open studios:

We are their art heroes.

It’s human to make assumptions about people. It’s normal to be uneasy about someone whose behaviors aren’t “normal”. It’s good to be cautious when engaging with someone whose problems/issues seem unusual, and to disengage with someone whose behavior is threatening. Trust your instincts.

And yet, a previous studio visitor’s ramped-up emotions taught me a valuable lesson in what it is to be human. How even a teensy bit of compassion, of being willing to go a little deeper, can create, at the very least, a tiny miracle (which is often just a “change in perception”, as a good friend once told me) can help us make the world a (slightly) better place for everyone.

I haven’t seen the hungry visitor since the pandemic shutdowns. I hope they are okay.

I hope they were encouraged by our conversation. I hope they continue to take a class or two (if they can afford it), or get those library how-to book loaners if they can’t.

I hope they know that regardless of their talent (or lack of it), their skills (same), it’s okay to pursue what they love, what they admire in other artists, and simply do it.

I hope they come back some day.

Because I hope with all my heart that they’re still trying, yearning, hoping to be a “real artist”…

Just like all their art heroes they visit.

Not all of our visitors are art collectors. Not all of our visitors can afford our work, even if they love it. And there are many different reasons our visitors are attracted to our studio in the first place. For many, like this person, there’s a yearning in them they don’t understand, that they don’t believe is worth pursuing, because they aren’t good enough.

Consciously or unconsciously, they come to us for hope.

For some reason, I thought of two articles I wrote years ago as I wrote this one. I have no idea why, except one of them is called Hungry Art (as this person was ‘hungry’ for seeing art, and hopefully making their own.) And the other one popped up as I searched for that one (thank you, Karen Cooper!) as someone I don’t even know found one of my articles helpful when they hit a slippery spot. That article is called Sipping From the Fire Hose. So there we have the cure for hunger, and the power of drinks.

And the powerful reminder that when we share our art, our words, our creativity with the world, it will meet someone who needs to hear it, right where they are, that day.

 

 

FEAR OF FLYING HIGH

(This article first appeared on my RadioUserland blog on October 12, 2004. I don’t even know how I found it today, but it fits in so well with a series I wrote in 2016! Sometimes you just have to let “chance” have its way, and hope it makes sense down the road. Enjoy!)(Oops, I tried to find a link for purchasing this book, but it’s now out-of-print and even bookfinder.com can’t find it!)
Fear of Flying High

I’m reading an excellent book, THE RULES OF RUTHLESSNESS; GETTING AHEAD IN BUSINESS WHEN BEING GOOD ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH. It’s a collection of essays, every one of which is hitting a nerve with me this week.One essay talked about the importance of choosing the right kind of friends—friends who inspire you, support you, encourage you in your successes, because in your success they see their own possibility for achievement.

The wrong friends will resent you as you realize your dreams, and they will say things that are intended to hurt you. They feel they cannot achieve what you have and will pull you back. They desire equality at all costs, so they will do and say things intended to break your stride.

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time because there have been some amazing people in my life who fell away as I became more successful achieving my professional goals. I recognized their jealousy and frustration finally, but was baffled. In my mind, they were all light years ahead of me in experience, talent, wisdom or resources. Yet as I began pulling forward, they began to hold back. Some actually went so far as to try to trip me!

What was the crucial difference that kept me moving ahead but let them derail themselves so easily?

I believe it was the fear of being humiliated if they failed.

I read another article by Martha Beck about the fear of humiliation. (Should have noted the article at the time, this might be the one I’m talking about, but she writes about this a lot.) It’s a powerful force in our human psyche, more powerful than most of us ever think about. Remember that dream about showing up at a public event and realizing you’ve forgotten to put on a shirt? That’s a big time humiliation dream.

Fear of humiliation is the major component in fear of failure. We don’t want to look like an idiot in front of other people, so we don’t take risks, we don’t take chances, we don’t push ourselves. We don’t mind screwing up in private, but boy, we sure don’t want an audience.

I know this is true, because I’ve had people say to my face they could never admit in public that they made a mistake, like I have occasionally in articles I’ve written or speeches I’ve given. They didn’t congratulate me on figuring out a major goof in how I publicized an event. They didn’t thank me for sharing the information so they could avoid the same goof. They said they were amazed I would admit to making a mistake, in public.

It occurred to me that maybe I have a high threshold for humiliation…?

Nah, that’s not it. I lie awake at night reliving my failures and inadequacies as often as anyone. Sometimes more! I’m just as afraid of being exposed as an idiot as anybody.

It seems, though, that it simply doesn’t stop me as often as most other people.

If I had to point to a reason, I’d say I have a teensy wee bit more awareness that the fear of humiliation is somewhat temporary, that we are destined to slog through it at some point in our lives anyway because we can’t avoid EVERY situation where we could be humiliated. Since we can’t avoid it all, we might as well at least choose the circumstances. And I’d rather choose circumstances that involve taking chances with living my dream—being an artist—than ordinary everyday run-of-the-mill humiliation.

Mix in an ability to laugh at yourself occasionally, and the ability to learn from mistakes (instead of running and hiding) and you have a powerful recipe for success. If you can write about it or talk about it in a way that makes OTHER people laugh, too, but also get them to realize that you didn’t die, you just goofed up, then you can teach people how they can do it, too.

Remember the shirtless scene in the movie ROMY AND MICHELLE’S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION? In a shirtless dream sequence (which is the major clue that it IS a dream), klutzy and wacky Michelle accepts an award for being the most blazing success in her class. She gives a lovely little speech and ends by brushing off the shirtless thing with a breezy, “Oh, and I forgot to put my shirt on this morning.” The crowed breaks into wild applause.

I wish I could be as breezy with my fear. I’m not.

But I have a little bit of courage when it comes to acting on my dreams despite my fears.

And so can you.

(P.S. And I just realized I misspelled “high” in high school” in the RU version! Owning up so you can see it didn’t ruin my art career, nor detract much from my purpose.) 🙂

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #6: Kids and Art and Food

This article originally appeared on my blog five years ago, but I’ve updated it with more examples of where my decisions came from.

I had an open studio last weekend (5 years ago), a community art event that’s very popular in our neighborhood.

I spent the week before clearing clutter, arranging and pricing new work,dusting (I decided to call it ‘patina’ instead), in preparation. True to form, I was also making new work up to the day before. I get my best ideas with the pressure of a deadline!

There are two things I did/didn’t do that may astound you.

I DON’T offer refreshments for visitors in my studio.

I DO provide small gifts for children, and encourage them (and other visitors) to touch my work.

You may be astounded. Most artists/craftspeople I talk to, do exactly the opposite. They hope to entice visitors with snacks, coffee, even wine.

The welcoming-kids part stops many artists in their tracks. In fact, when I wrote a series of columns and an ebook about keeping your workspace/selling space holyone artist actually asked me specifically how to keep kids out of their booth.

First, the food thing.

I quit offering food, drinks, and especially alcohol, in my open studio events because I don’t need to anymore.

It can be an ice-breaker, especially for bored husbands who usually show up with hands in pockets or schlepping their wife’s/partner’s purchases. But there are better ways to break the ice.

And food can be a distraction. In fact, it got to the point at events in my old studio location where the only real reason people came was to eat and drink.

An example that proves my case? My husband and I attended such an open studio event there after I left. In one large studio was a big exhibit of artwork. In the middle of the room was a table filled with wine and food (chips, dip, etc.), with some stools tucked under the table. My husband promptly pulled out a stool, sat down at the table, and proceeded to tuck in a huge amount of chips and dip. He completely misread the room on that one. (I pulled him away and explained it wasn’t like sitting at the bar of a restaurant witha  bowl of chips.) (In his defense, he was hungry!)

Also, there can be negative aspects to serving alcohol at a public event, especially if people are driving afterwards. I don’t know the liquor laws in Sonoma County. But artist Caren Catterall, who co-chaired with me on the mentoring committee at Art At The Source in 2021, mentioned that serving alcohol is not recommended, due to potential liability issues.  She’s good at this stuff, so I encourage you to follow her advice.

As for food in open studios, for years I prepared a feast of snacky thingies, coffee, tea, etc. for guests. But people rarely partook of any of it. So a few hours of food prep did result in lots of great left-overs for my family, but otherwise served no real purpose. Because….I found a better way to engage visitors.

Instead, I tell them it’s okay to touch my art work. It has the same appeal, permission to relax and explore, and it works. And no more visitors who are only into the wine, and nothing else. (JON!!)

So why do I welcome kids in my art space?

Because it is an act of generosity, compassion, good will, and education. And it’s the best gift I can offer visitors with kids,  especially those who are new to my work.

First, welcoming kids means you are also welcoming their parents, or grandparents. Few places accomodate kids. Find a way to do that, and you’ll earn the undying gratitude of their accompanying grown-ups.

Second, being open to kids lets the grown-ups actually shop. If not today, then when the kids are older.

Third, the peace of mind you create in your space expands to all your booth/studio visitors. When others hear you giving permission to engage, they relax, too.

Finally, the education bit.  Parents are often the younger crowd we wish we could attract, and their kids are also future collectors. By removing the pressure of “don’t touch!” and “hands off!”, and “no kids!”, we create a unique opportunity to talk deeply with all visitors about our work.

I cannot tell you how many creative people tell me that “people don’t appreciate fine art/fine craft” anymore. Or how  “schools don’t teach that appreciation to young people anymore.”

I’m baffled by this. When did “regular people” ever appreciate fine craft or art?? Especially our currently very narrow definition of it!

I know this from personal experience. I didn’t know any artists or craftspeople growing up. I never saw any books about it, nor art exhibitions, nor even art museums, until I went away to college.

When were we ever taught it in school? Art in elementary/middle school was drawing with pencils and crayons, and paper mache, and construction paper galore. Even in high school, the art room kiln broke when we fired our first clay creations. There was never any money in the budget for real paints and brushes, and the art teachers simply didn’t have the time/bandwidth/resources for anything beyond the bare minimum instruction. (One teacher was also the only coach for all women’s sports –volleyball, softball, and basketball–and was only hired my junior or senior year. With all the games, training, after-school stuff, when would they ever have time to dig deeper into art?) When the school budget was cut, art and music were the first things to go.  (Not sports, though.) I’m sure things today aren’t much better, as home ec (aka, “basic life skills”) and vocational trades programs go the way of the mastodon.

Second, We’re actually in a period of incredible exposure to handmade crafts, handwork, and fine art. People can easily find all kinds of creative work, in stores, in stores with galleries, online. Instagram feels made for creative work! It’s as easy to buy a handmade item or a work of art online as it is to buy a hammer or a box of hot chocolate mix.

So who will teach and inspire the art-makers of the future? Who will share the vision, and encourage the connection for the art collectors and art admirers of tomorrow?

Yup. Us.

When we engage people with our work, we share something powerful. Inspiration, artistic vision, professional goals, our process, our materials (and why we choose them) are ways to educate (gently), connect (authentically), and encourage our audience to buy and collect handmade. People are genuinely hungry for this.

I get that not all work is touchable, or safe for young ones to handle. I’m fortunate that my artifacts are sturdy. In fact, their touchability is a strong selling point, too.  But we’re creative people. We should be able to come up with ideas that could work.

I have several. I keep a box of shiny, pretty beads on hand. l ask young ones to pick one, and then offer to make a necklace for them, using inexpensive cording and slip knots.

I keep some samples of animal artifacts on hand, too. I’ll ask a youngster if they’d like to hold a bear or a horse (or a bird or a fish). They’re so unnerved, they’re usually speechless, but also intrigued! I let them hold the animal while their parents look around, and retrieve it when they leave. Parents are so grateful!

I freely hand out business cards with images of my work on them, or old show postcards. Again, a well-appreciated gift, and also a reminder of their visit to my space.

Touch is such a compelling instinct for all humans, not just young ones. So much so that I encourage you to try this: If your work is too delicate to touch) having a sample of your work on hand that is touchable, even for grown-ups: A sample of the handmade paper you work with for people to stroke, or a piece of the roving you turn into handspun yarn. For fine 2D art, perhaps a scrap of paper with a bright daub of paint on it, or the experimental work you made to figure out color mixes, cut up into pieces for them use as a book mark.

Let them look at some of your tools, or raw materials: Old paintbrushes. Samples of the wood you carve. A printing block. (Remember Rik Olson’s shadowbox display, with samples of his materials, tools, and a little work-in-progress? Brilliant!)

At the very least, try business cards featuring images of your work. Moo is an online printing company that offers small business cards. They cost more than other brands (watch for their sales!), but you can customize them to the point where you can order 100 cards with 100 different images of your work. So cool to say to a child, “Would you like a picture of a bunny, or a bird?”!

I love my Moo cards for many, many reasons!

It’s worth brainstorming about how other art and craft media could be presented in small samples or even inexpensive “gifts” to kids. I’d love to hear your current strategies, ideas, and suggestions in the comment section!

I’m posting a pic from my friend Melinda LaBarge. She made these lovelies for young visitors to her booth!  Send your pics, and I’ll add them!

Melinda Labarge makes these adorable felted acorns for her younger visitors. Lucky kids!!
Melinda Labarge, fiber artist, made these adorable felted acorns for her younger visitors. Lucky kids!!

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #5: The Boring But Necessary Legal Stuff

A mentoring committee cohort reminded me today that it’s good to get the more immediate prep stuff for open studios out there early. Good point, Caren! Check out Caren Catterall’s artwork, it’s amazing and she has good stories, too.

Valerie Adams and Caren both have experience with mentoring, both created action sheets, and I’m using some of their suggestions, insights, agendas to fill in the blanks. (Thank you both! I don’t need to reinvent the wheel…!)

First, legal stuff. Collecting sales tax (for state and city/town taxes), a business license (for the same reason), insurance.

I was spoiled in New Hampshire. No state income tax, and no sales tax. (I still apologize to people when I have to add sales tax to their purchase, and that bewilders them.)

There are two official/legal business documents I had to acquire, both through government agencies, and hence not always intuitive. But I got through it, and you will, too. Most important was a business license. I’m fortunate to live in an actual city, so this was relatively easy to find and navigate: A Santa Rosa business tax certificate. To find yours, just Google “business license” or “seller’s permit” etc. and your city and state. Your search engine will understand what you’re looking for and get you to the right place. Things are pricey in California, and yet a business license here is only $25, and gets renewed annually. There’s an add-on tax for your sales, but it’s not daunting, and it has a cap. And that $25 covers your taxes up to $25,000. (So for me, nothing to worry about. Dang. The plus side of not being a ‘financially successful artist’….)

The two open studio events I participate in requre a local permit to be prominently displayed. I mean, not in your display space, but somewhere people can easily see it. Just like your return policy and custom orders terms.

California also requires a business license from the California Board of Equalization. It’s a little more complicated but not fatal. The reason you need both is because both state and city collect sales taxes on purchases, so you need to report your sales to both. Again, if you forget where this link is, a simple Google search will get you where you need to go.

OR, just ask someone who’s in the same area, and/or in the same biz, or same kind of biz (self-employed, free-lancer, entrepeneur, etc.) for advice about how to get started.

What sales are taxed, and which ones aren’t, is still a puzzler for me, and anyone who has expertise on this, please share your suggestions in the comments. If they fit the bill and you are okay with this, I’ll edit this article to include your advice!

Basically, if my work is sold in a gallery or store, then the sales tax has already been collected. I only need to report that income as…well, taxable income.

In our studios, we need to add up every sale, of course. But one error I made early on was adding the TOTAL dollar amount paid. Later, I realized I was computing tax on the sales tax! In my area, I was adding a little less than 10% in sales tax, so a $200 purchase was actually rung up as $220. I was paying a tax of $22 on an item I’d added $20 tax to.

That $2 isn’t much. But if you’re selling artwork for $10,000, it’s a big difference!

I figured out that multiplying $220 x 91% got me close to the actual taxable amount of $200 again. But going forward, it’s a heckuva lot easier to keep a tally of the actual price of what was sold before adding tax. (Have I confused you? Join the club.)

Next, insurance. I discovered early on that our home insurance covered the studio in our hourse back in New Hampshire, and the same company’s rental insurance covers my studio outside my home. Check your policy, too. If it’s not covered, ask your mentor (for our two open studio tour events) or another artist in your area what they do.

Coincidentally, I found an email about this very issue from a craft business magazine (Handmade Business, formerly known as The Crafts Report) that I used to write for: Handmade Artisan Insurance  The rate seems a little high, but it’s been awhile since I’ve needed extra insurance. Also, these policies cover an entire year, including off-site events (art and craft fairs, for example.) If you don’t intend to open your studio year round (say, by appointment) or don’t do shows, etc., then you might find affordable policies where you only pay for one event. Not my field of expertise, though, and again, the internet is your friend for finding information.  Let me Google that for you 

As I shared in a previous article about signage, to protect yourself from unethical customers, we must also post our terms of service: What we accept in payment (checks, cash, credit cards) and how we will process thos payments (PayPal, Square, Venmo, etc.)  We need a sign prominently displayed on the conditions of our layaway plan, custom orders, and our return policy.

Last, whether or not our studio space is legally “wheelchair accessible” can get confusing. When my studio was at South A Street in downtown Santa Rosa, I simply asked the owner of the coffee shop next to me if my space was accessible. There were no steps, and the door was wide enough for a wheelchair. But he said no, because the floor rugs could jam a wheel, and there was a slight bump in the doorway. Yes, most people could get through (and did!) but technically, I couldn’t claim it as legally accessible. That’s about all I know about this subject, so share your experience and research on this if you can, okay? It’s safer for us to share this if a prospective visitor checks in with us, than to raise their expectations, and then disappoint them if there are barriers we didn’t recognize.

Also, be aware that there are a handful of people who make it a full-time business to seek out businesses that are not technically compliant, and sue the pants off them. My understanding is, unless we have store hours, we don’t have to meet this demand. (Don’t take my word for it, this will take time to research!) But it makes it even more important that we stick to actual legal requirements in describing our accessability.

Whew, I’m done with this part! Fine print, legalities, none of this is my forte, and just researching this stuff enough to share it with you today has drained my batteries. But I hope it’s enough to get you started, and in time to get it all nailed down before your event.

Remember, ask your friends, your fellow artists, other people in your building (the ones who are artists/creatives) for more details.

And also remember, as cumbersome and confusing as some of these requirements might feel, once you get it done, renewing all these legal documents is easy-peasey.

Last, again, if you have strong experience with these topics, and/or professional experience, feel free to share that here! I will bow to your bigger experience and be grateful.

And a P.S. after the “last”…if you find these articles helpful, please pass on a link to them to anyone that mind find them useful, too. And sign up for my newsletter to make sure you don’t miss a single one!

 

 

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #4B: Signs For Your Protection

In my last article, I shared how we can respond positively to “stupid questions” (which aren’t actually stupid, but conversation openers.) I also shared how signs can help with that.

Today’s post is brief. (Quit cheering, please!) 😀

There are signs that are important to protect us from being taken advantage of.

This involves whether or not you take credit cards (and which ones you don’t accept), checks, and/or cash.

Repairs? It’s usually a simple process for me, it reassures new customers they can trust me to do the right thing, and it restores their faith in humanity.

You need your seller’s permit/business license prominently placed, too, if your city requires one. This is new to me in California, as the state I’ved in and built my biz in for almost 30 years did not collect sales tax nor income tax. (I was spoiled!) I still apologize to customers for charging them sales tax. (They are baffled until I explain. And I have to stop apologizing for that.)

Most important: You need a sign that states clearly what your return policy is. Also your commission/special order policy, and the deposit, if required.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to learn this the hard way. A fellow artist shared a story with me years ago, about a customer who ordered a ton of his work in his studio. Literally, a sale that easily represented a month’s worth of show orders, a year of studio sales. They payed in full, and he shipped the items. He was ecstatic!

Then, a month later, they said they didn’t want them anymore, returned every single item, and demanded a refund.

Turns out they’d had a huge upscale event, and wanted his work to impress their guests. Once the party was over, they didn’t need the fancy artwork anymore.

And because his return policy wasn’t publicly visible, he had no legal grounds for refusing their returns.

He urged all of us to post our return policies, at shows and in our studios. Lesson learned!

Mine says I accept returned works within 10 days of purchase (or received, if it’s shipped), with credit toward their next purchase. It sits where everyone can see it, as soon as they enter my studio.

Special orders and commissions required a 25% non-refundable deposit, and includes one remake. I’ve only had one customer ever challenge that, almost 20 years ago and they kept hinted their partner was a lawyer as a veiled threat. I was actually glad to refund their money because a) I hadn’t even started it yet, a week later; b) I never wanted to deal with them again; c) the bs involved in a legal case was simply not worth it to me.

Most customers are simply people who love your work enough to buy it. But the very few who lack integrity can wreak havoc if we aren’t prepared.

Protect yourself from the users and abusers.

 

 

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #4a: How to Respond to the Stupid Question(s)

In my last article, The Stupid Question, I explained how actually treating this as a stupid question hurts our connection to our visitors. Today I share some suggestions to answer them better!

Some common questions for me:

“What are these made of?” My response is usually intuitively based. I’ll mention the polymer clay, but especially when I started out, when I simply said, “They’re polymer clay!”, most people would put the item back down. (It was not considered a legitimate “art material” back in the day. And back in the day, a lot of media were not considered “real art materials”, as this article shows: SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: Other People Are Listening!

First, it’s more powerful to share WHY you use your medium-of-choice. I’m not a painter, but the one time I tried, I realized I would never paint with acrylics. They set too fast, and I tend to rework and make adjustments every step of the way in my making process. I couldn’t keep up with the drying time of acrylics. You’ve also either deliberately or instinctively chosen a medium that works for you.

So instead, share that: What is it about your chosen medium that fits your process, your style, even your personality?

What are the benefits of your medium? Mine is that, unlike ivory and bone, no animals are harmed by my process. (That’s been a pretty powerful detail for my visitors and customers!)

And though most of the materials available to creatives today are often ranked in terms of “quality”, after you read the above article, I hope you’ll see that that isn’t really relative anymore.

“How long does it take you to make this?”  Aha! The one we all get! (DO NOT SAY, IT’S TAKEN ME 30 YEARS TO MAKE THAT!)  In my case, I ask if they are familiar with making puff pastry or Samauri sword making. Always gets a chuckle without insulting them, and almost everyone is familiar with one or the other. I compare those layering processes with my faux ivory process, which involves mixing the colors, conditioning the clay, creating  multiple layers, ending up with a block of layered faux ivory clay. And say, “And THEN I start shaping my artifacts.” This is almost always followed by a gasp of how complicated this process is. I follow up with how I fire them, how I use a scrimshaw technique to bring out the details, how I sand and buff them to a shine.

Not one person has ever noticed that I never say exactly how long that takes me. 

You can do something similar. Explain what catches your eye when you decide to paint a landscape, what you try to capture in a portrait, what your aesthetic is in your glass/pottery/wood work, etc. How you capture that in your work, what the steps are in your process, etc.

“Do you actually do any work in here??” I get asked that a lot! Including my most recent open studio event, when I was literally sitting at a table working to finish an item that had to be delivered to a gallery the next day.

I don’t know why people ask this. Is it because my “creative mess” is out there? Or because during open studios, I try to set out 90% of my work, so it looks like there’s nowhere for me to actually work? Is it because even on ordinary days, it kinda looks like a gallery, or store? (I hear that a lot, too.)

Here’s what I’ve forgotten: When we get asked a specific question a lot, one good way to explore it is to ask the person why they ask! That’s my goal for my next open studio. To laugh and say this:

“Yes, I do ALL my work in here! I get asked that question a lot. May I ask what made you ask?”

This is an excellent strategy to get an answer I’ve only been making assumptions about. And as you can see, our assumptions can dump both us and our visitors into a bad place. When I get more insight into this particular one, I’ll come back and add it to this.

“Where do you get your ideas?” This is your chance to talk about what inspires and intrigues you, what draws you to a certain subject, or certain body of work. For many of us, it’s closely related to our creation story. (Mine is!)

“Where do you get your materials from?” Mine are wide and varied, but even if you use a single medium, you can share a) why you use the brand you prefer; b) you can share your favorite art supply source (especially local ones, who will appreciate that!); c) if they’re eclectic and unusual, share how you got drawn into that medium, and (again) why. If it’s wood, for example, what are your favorites? Why? Is it the characteristics of a specific tree? The history of the tree? One woodworker asked me for assistance years ago for their artist statement. They were focused on the process. Way too focused. But as we dug deeper, they shared the resilience of wood, how even damaged trees (by fire, insects,  etc.) still have beauty. A metaphor for the human condition, I told him, sharing some suggestions, and encouraged them to use it in their artist statement. (It was published in a magazine years ago, and it still moves me to tears when I read it.)

Also, if a person is interested in your work and materials, this might also indicate they’d be interested in classes. And when you ask if they’d like to hear about the classes you offer, that’s the perfect time to find out where they’re from, and to get their email/snail mail address. (See how much easier it is to get this information once they’ve started to engage with you more deeply?)

Signs are wonderful! They anwer questions, engage introverts, and help us multistask with visitors.

Again, if the questions get tiresome, and/or you have too many people in your studio to explain over and over, signage is your best friend. Some people actually prefer reading more information about you and your work. But if you’re engaged deeply with someone, say, wrapping up their purchase, etc. you can always point a person with a question to your sign that answers it. They’ll appreciate it.

I have signs about my stick collection, my fabric collection, the boxes I use in my shrine series, my inspiration and ideas, my artist statement, the stories behind each of my animal artifacts, and more. They add a whole nother layer of exploration in my studio.

They can do the same for you.

If you’d like to dig deeper into questions and signs, here are some articles that might be of interest: Questions You Don’t Have to Answer (Lots of goodies in there!)

Feel free to share the questions you get, especially the ones you struggle with. There are so many ways to turn them around! And other people might have the exact strategy that works for you. The power of sharing….

 

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO: #4 The Stupid Question

The question I get asked a lot: “Are these made of ivory, or wood?” It’s a good one!

(I wrote this way back in 2007! It appeared on Fine Art Views, an online art marketing newsletter I wrote for, for over a decade. It’s still the most most powerful bit of advice I can give ANYONE who wants people to connect with their work. OH, and there were some terrific comments that completely validated my position on this, if you want to check them out.)

THE STUPID QUESTION

It’s smart to be nice.

What do I mean by that?

Well, if you’ve ever hung out with a group of craftspeople who do shows, or participated in an on-line forum discussion about shows, you’ll recognize an all-to-common topic:

The stupid things our visitors say.

It’s always a hot topic, and the posts will often outnumber any other thread in the forum. Except, of course, the one on the difference between art and craft. (A word to the wise: Don’t go there!)

It’s true, of course–people will say the oddest things in your booth, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. They may say baffling comments, sometimes verging on the insulting.

I always held back from sharing. Because I have a guilty secret.

First, because people rarely said things I thought were stupid or insulting–just lucky, I guess. Or maybe I it was the quality of shows I was doing. Remember, I quit doing those small retail shows early on.

Second, I myself was fairly new to the craft world. I didn’t know any professional craftspeople when I started out, nor any artists. I figured people weren’t saying anything out of the ordinary, or anything wouldn’t say under the same circumstances.

In fact, that’s my third point.

I’m one of those stupid customers.

There have been times when I’ve been in an artist’s booth and asked that same “stupid question”–only I knew I didn’t mean it to be stupid, or offensive. I knew I liked the work and honestly wanted to know more about it, or the artist.

I can tell I’ve asked “the stupid question” because I get the heaved sigh, the eyes rolling heavenward, or just as bad, the smart ass retort that makes me feel like an idiot.

My most embarrassing memory is standing awestruck in an artist’s booth at a fancy high-end retail show, just blown away by this artist’s work. I couldn’t tell what it was made of. I didn’t want to touch it–it looked special, and no touching, right? And there wasn’t a single sign or card in the entire booth explaining his process or technique. (I guess the art was doing that “speak for itself” thing….)

The artist was standing with their arms folded glaring at us. I said, “These are beautiful! Are they painted tin or wood?”

They glared at me in silence, and then THEY TURNED THEIR BACK ON ME!

I couldn’t believe it. I also couldn’t figure out what the heck I’d said that had made them so angry. Embarrassed and frustrated, I left the booth.

So when those long lists of “stupid comments” come up, I keep quiet. Because obviously, I was one of those “stupid people” they were all making fun of. And I didn’t like it, because something didn’t feel right.

Years later, I was vindicated

I learned this insight from Bruce Baker, who used to travel the country doing seminars on sales and selling for artists and craftspeople. He explained the whole dynamic of “letting people land” in your booth–they come in, take a look around, and settle in to shop. You give them a minute to catch their breath, greet them quickly, let them know you are available if they need you (“IF I can help you, just let me know.”

And then back off.

You leave them alone. They shop. You remain available but busy, not hovering, not following. Not deeply busy so they hesitate to approach you. Just….available. Doing something minimal, like dusting, making price tags, sorting your paintbrushes, etc.

Then comes that magic moment when they decide it’s okay for you to talk to them. They will give you a signal.

That’s your cue to start talking about the work.

Unfortunately, many, many creatives blow this opportunity wide open. They will take this cue and misinterpret it. They will respond with sarcasm, or anger, or indignation, or badly-placed humor.

Because that cue is often “the stupid question.”

Did you see it in my own example? I liked the work enough to stay in the artist’s booth. I looked at everything in there. I finally made up my mind to engage the artist.

I asked them a question. I wanted to meet them, to talk to them. I hoped they’d share some insights about their work with me. Maybe they’d even convince me I had to have one! Maybe there was a really cool one at just the right price that could go home with me….

Instead, they let me know he didn’t even want to look at me anymore, let alone talk to me. Because my question offended them!

Now maybe they’d heard that same question a thousand times already. Maybe they paints on some rare rain forest wood and was insulted I thought it was cheap tin. Maybe they paint on recycled tin roofs from their childhood farm and was insulted I thought it was cheap wood. Maybe it was some intricate intaglio process and they were insulted I thought it was paint.

I dunno. But now I’ll never know. And I don’t really care.

Because they missed their opportunity to answer my question (or NOT answer my question, as the case may be) in a way that would have started the sales process.

They could have have sent me off with a painted sculpture, a new balance on my Visa card, and added a new collector to their mailing list.

Instead, they dumped me in a puddle of their anger and my embarrassment. And I’ve never felt the slightest interest in their work since. (I don’t want that energy in my home, no matter how talented or famous the artist is.)

For all I know, I have been the subject of their own “stupid customer” stories.

But I have my revenge. I get to make fun of them today. Here.

Another common “stupid question”: “How long did it take you to make this?” Some artists get annoyed, thinking, “Oh, they just want to know how much I make an hour!” No, maybe it intrigues them, maybe it’s something they’ve thought about exploring themselves (classes, folks!) Even the “funny” reply, “It’s taken me 30 years to make that!” is still a joke at our visitor’s expense. Ha ha! Yeah, no.

So the next time that topic comes up, think twice before getting caught up in that “stupid customer” thing. It doesn’t serve you, and it doesn’t serve your art.

Think hard before asking for a “snappy comeback” for those “stupid questions.” You’re going to feel good for awhile. But your bank account is going to feel lighter.

Me? I have permission from Bruce to be nice.

And I’m gonna use it to the hilt!

Next article: How to respond to those “stupid questions”.

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #3: How NOT To Annoy Visitors

(This article includes elements of a post in my GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD series, “Leave Me Alone!”) (Actually, read “LEAVE ME ALONE” first, I’d forgotten this incident. But it fully explains all my frustrations about how we’re “supposed” to interact with visitors and potential customers.)

I know plenty of talented, experienced, act-like-adults artists who have strong opinions on how we should greet visitors to our studio, and how to talk with them.

Frankly, because of my own personal experience as a shopper/browser/highly-evolved hunter-gatherer, at stores, at fairs, at open studios, their suggestions make me want to scream. (But maybe not you, so go with what works for you, okay? The people who made them said it worked for them, so it may resonate with you as well.)

When I enter a store, especially one I’ve never been in before, the last question I want to hear 2 seconds after entering is, “May I help you?” Or, “Are you looking for something special today?”

I’m sure you hear this all the time, too. And what do you say in response? I’m betting it’s some version of, “No thanks, just looking.”

But even other questions can be annoying, or perplexing. One suggestion was, “Have you seen some good art today?”

Sounds okay, right?

Me? When someone has been interested in my work enough to come to MY studio, why on earth would I get them started talking about someone ELSE’S studio??

I asked the person about this and they said it worked for them. So if it appeals to you, go with it.

But here’s the thing. Now imagine that you’re at a show with hundreds of other exhibitors, or part of an open studio tour with the same. And every time you enter someone’s studio, they ask something similar. Even something as neutral as “How’s your day going?” gets frustrating after you’ve heard it twelve times in a day. (I hear silent screaming. Let me give you a minute. Okay!)

Other suggestions are similar, but all of them are, in one word, a distraction. Making idle chit-chat is not why they came to see us. (YES, we need to ask them where they’re from, or how they heard about us, and especially if they’d like to sign up for our newsletter/event notifications. But wait until you have a stronger connection with them first. Wait until they’ve explored a bit first. Why? Keep reading!)

When people enter a new space–a store, a show booth, a studio–they need a few seconds to land. They look in (at a booth) or around (in a store or studio) and figure out if it’s where they want to be. Give them those few seconds, before you pelt them with questions. (See examples below)

Bruce framed this approach as eliminating pressure. Visitors, customers, shoppers, don’t like pressure. Pressure can break every connection that is formed in those precious few seconds.

If we ask them that question about other people’s studios, about how their day is going, where they’re from, etc. please know that probably every other artist on the tour has asked them something similar.

If we ask them if they are looking for something in particular, or if they need help, or if they have any questions (they just got here!!), even why they chose to come to your studio, remember: These are either pointless questions, or coming too soon. They will say, “No thank you, just looking.”

If you were a store, they would look, and leave.

Instead, greet/welcome them. Introduce yourself and your work in one or two sententences. “Hi, I’m Luann, welcome! My work is inspired by prehistoric cave art. I make all my own artifacts that look like ivory, bone, shell, and stone.” Make a list of what you’d like to say, practice it so it feels second-nature, and keep it short.

I add, “It’s okay to touch things, pick them up, open drawers. Make yourself at home….”

Here comes the magical part. In his seminars, Bruce says there is one little word that turns everything around:

“….and if you have any questions, just let me know.”

If. IF. IF.

A powerful little word that turns that whole dynamic around.

It allows that maybe they won’t have questions, and that’s okay. It allows them to determine how they’re going to spend their time in our space. Signage can give them information that lets them go deeper into the “how” and the “why” behind our work. (More on signage coming up next!)

It removes the pressue.

They will say, “Thank you!” With enthusiasm. And they will dig in. (In a good way.)

Now, some visitors are out-going, and they pepper you with questions. Great!

Some visitors just want to look around first. Great! In fact, I use lots of signs in my studio, so people who aren’t ready, aren’t eager to talk with me, can still get answers to their questions. And if there’s someone asking me questions, everyone else will listen to my responses.

People are going to ask a lot of questions, and the simplest ones are about the “how”, the “where”, and the “what”. Be prepared! What is your process? What are your materials? Where do you get them? Where did you learn how to do this? and so on.

Over time, you’ll see a pattern of common questions. For me, it’s “What are these made of??” I don’t mind answering the same questions over and over, but some artists do. If that’s you, write up a succinct description of your process and inspiration, print them out, and frame them for visitors to read. (I use these frames, which are less than $4 each, but you can find them in smaller quantities, or split the pack with other artists if you don’t need 6 or 12.)

Even more powerful is sharing your creation story, the moment you chose to live your life and make your art with intention is the heart of everything you do, write, and say. Here’s an article about how to find your creation story, and here, and why they matter.

You assignment is to do some deep thinking about you and your artwork. Then come up with a couple sentences to introduce yourself and your work.

Be ready for all the questions you’ll get, and direct people to your signage if you’re out of steam or simply engaged with another visitor in the moment.

The next article is about what people will do when they are ready for you to talk to them. And the danger of misinterpreting their intentions, which can blow you both out of the water.  Stay tuned!

Questions? Comments? Happy to hear ’em! Remember, if you have a question, someone else probably does, too. So you’re not only helping me do better, you’re helping someone else!

 

 

 

 

NOT ALL HOMELESS PEOPLE

A little segue into a PSA today….(and updated to include links to some resource here in Sonoma County/California. Pretty sure ALL states have something similar!)

NOT ALL HOMELESS PEOPLE

There are homeless people all around us, and around the world.

We all have strong opinions about this population, mostly negative, sometimes justified, of course. And yet…

If only we could change our viewpoint. If only we could see this population having ONLY one thing in common: No place to live.

Because my premise is, “Not all homeless people…”

First, I believe our biggest anger against homeless people is our way of protecting ourselves. Blaming the victim(s) is a way of distancing ourself from what happened to them. “I would NEVER do xyz!” “That would NEVER happen to me!” We blame them for their situation,  because none of us want to believe it could happen to us. Or because, deep down, we know it COULD happen to us. Many women (including myself!) fear becoming a “bag lady”. If we lose our partner, or our job, or don’t have enough money saved, well, we could be one step away losing our home, too. And then we’ll be “one of those people.”

We are all one step away from a cancer diagnosis, one step away from losing a loved one, one step away from being scammed out of savings, of relapsing into addiction, a car accident, a tornado, hurricane, or wildfire, or any other major life tragedies. If it hasn’t happened yet, welp, yeah, maybe we’ve been careful, cautious, prudent.

But maybe we’ve just been lucky.

So first….Not All Homeless people.

Not all homeless people are drug addicts or alcoholics, although drugs and alcohol might well be how some of them mitigate the pain of sleeping on sidewalks, in the rain and cold. Not all homeless people live with mental illness, though for sure it’s harder to get help when your resources are so limited. Not all homeless people are thieves. Not all homeless people are violent. Not all homeless people are alike.

In fact, this population is widely diverse.

Out of curiosity, I checked out some statistics about homeless people. Turns out that, before Covid-19, homeless numbers had dropped by a third between 2015-2020. But Covid reversed all those gains due to illness/death, job losses, evictions, etc. Only 20% of homeless people are “chronically homeless”.  The other subgroups are significantly tied to race, gender, and income. Homeless people are disproportionately Black, brown, and LGBTQ.

Statistics also show that most health issues (mental health, addiction) cannot be addressed successfully without getting people off the streets and into homes, FIRST.

We may still disagree about who deserves our help. But here are some ideas through that barrier:

Are you an alcoholic, hopefully in recovery? Or do you have a friend or family member who struggles with this? Consider helping programs with support groups this population could benefit from.  (Lots of resources out there, dig a little and find one that resonates with you.)

Are you a veteran, or have a friend/family member in the military? Consider donating or volunteering with vet services to assist this population. (These people already get the most support, but there still big holes in the net.)

Are you a person of color, or do you have a friend/family member whose struggles are harder because of that? Consider contributing to organizations who offer support for this population.

Do you identify as LGBTQ? Or have family members/friends who do, who you care about? You may be very familiar with the difficulties they’ve faced in life. Consider working with organizations that offer outreach these people.

Do you have teens? We were all teens once! Did you struggle as a teen? Consider donating or volunteering your skills with SAY/Social Advocates for Youth, which offers services and some housing for young adults, especially those who aged out of foster care, or (as above) were kicked out of their homes for being gay, trans, etc.

Do you have small children? Were you, or do you know, a parent who is single/divorced who struggles with child care, etc.? Consider donating or volunteering for The Living Room which offers day services for homeless moms with kids.

Do you love dogs? The Samuel Jones Hall, the largest homeless shelter in Northern California, accepts clients with dogs. This is critical, because accepting services often means having to give up your beloved dog. You can donate dog food, grooming stuff, etc. to this shelter.

Do you have compassion for any homeless person who wants to do better, get better, have better? I just found an article in our local paper about two women, formerly homeless themselves, who took over three thrift shops that went out of business due to Covid-19 protocols. ((I won’t go into that story because there’s still a lot of dust settling… from the previous owners.) Intrepid Stores not only hire homeless people, they help them move forward in all kinds of ways.   The work they do is amazing. (We forget, for example, that most employers require a HOME ADDRESS when hiring new people. Guess who doesn’t even HAS a home? Yup. Homeless people.)

In fact, this is the biggest reason why homeless people resist shelter services:

They lose the power of their choices. (This is also why some senior citizens resist being placed in nursing homes. You are SAFE. But you cede control of your life, from what you eat to when you pee, for that safety.) Some shelters only serve men, some only serve women, which means partners have to separate, for example.

Even many homeless people who do enter a shelter may still have to vacate during the day. So shelters are a first step, but still a difficult one.

I believe that the harder we work to see the at-risk groups, to see the individuals in this population, the more compassion we can hold for people who did not choose to be homeless, the more we can focus on helping them move forward in life.

Because when we chose love and engagement instead of hatred and fear, we are all better for it. When we choose to see individuals, we can truly help make the world a better place.

If learning to see the actual groups, the real individuals, who need our help, and if our stepping up to the plate could rehome up to 80% of this group, that would be amazing progress, right?

Let’s try it. Use one of your skills, a little money, maybe just your time and compassion, to pick a group you can identify with. And help them take one little…GIANT…step forward.

If you thought this article was helpful, there’s even more in this post on my blog:

Hearing the Call

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #2: Arrange Your Artwork

Not only can I combine my different media for display, I can also use the Papa/Mama/Babies technique!

 

Continuing with the series of how to create the best experience for our open studio visitors. ***With an update for Art at the Source artists who are hosting/hosted outside their studio.***

Arranging our artwork can be complicated. Those folks who do one medium are the lucky ones! 2D people need walls/bins/an easel display or two. Jewelers use cases, 3D people need pedestals/shelves, etc. Me? I do all three, so my display can feel overwhelming. But I also have a special advantage.

Let’s start with 2D artwork. I’ve seen experienced 2D mixed-media artists arrange their paintings by medium: All the oils in one spot, all the acrylics in another, all the watercolors, etc.

The issue I have with this is, I doubt our visitors/customers/potential customers wake up in the morning and say, “I think I’ll buy a watercolor today!” Now, for sure they might say, “I think I’m ready to buy Sally Baker’s watercolors today.” (Because Sally’s watercolors are unique and stunning.) And yes, some well-experienced collectors may only collect oils, or acrylics, etc. But most of our visitors just want to see our work, especially if they’ve never seen it in person, or are already familiar with it and want to see our work, our workspace, and/or US.

The second reason this may not work well is from my personal experience. A new-to-the-biz gallery owner I knew opened a gorgeous gallery in a major city near me. They had excellent artists, and the work was displayed beautifully except for one thing: It was all arranged, not just by medium, but by each artist’s work.

That meant all the work of one potter was in one spot. All the work of one jeweler was in another spot, and so on. In a store like Corrick’s in downtown Santa Rosa, this can work, for two reasons: First, people can wander from artist to artist easily, and sometimes two people’s work are combined in a way that makes us appreciate both. Pottery on handmade tables, for example.

In this gallery, the space was more linear in set-up. As I entered the store, I realized I was not there for pottery, nor jewelry that day. It was easy to dash by the first pottery display, then dash by the jewelry, etc. In short, it was way too easy to dismiss and eliminate what I was NOT shopping for that day.

So even if you do have a client who is only interested in oils, they may unconsciously totally ignore the acrilics wall–and miss the work that might truly speak to them.

So from the very beginning, (and because I work in 2D, 3D, jewelry, fiber, polymer clay) I’ve mixed and matched my work. There will be a wall hanging hung above a tall stand holding one of my shaman necklaces, with smaller works–smaller necklaces, earrings, etc. arranged around them. Every arrangement is unique, and visitors will look at them longer because it’s harder to simply eliminate them easily.

***Update for Art at the Source artists. This tour allows artists without studios, or studios that aren’t easily open to the public, to join a host artist at that artist’s studio or place. So obviously, mixing it up may not work for anybody, let alone everybody!

But even here is an interesting opportunity for them. What if…

Every artist contributes one piece to a single display. Instead of a visitor thinking, “Nope, not interested in glass today!” or “I only want to visit X’s space”, there could be an integrated display that demonstrates how these cordinated examples of several artist’s work would look in a home. “Oh, look how wonderful that glass tray looks with that painting!” Or “I never thought of grouping my art collection like that!”

Years ago, I shared my studio space with a friend who did a beautiful portrait of my daughter wearing one of my big shaman necklaces. I think she made it after our open studio collaboration. But if I were in that same place now, I could display that portrait with a display of that necklace, together. I’m pretty sure everyone would see both of those works of art with more appreciation, not only of my friend’s skill, but of my own work as well.***

Another technique that works well, especially for works in one medium, is called “Papa, Mama, Babies”. This is where your biggest, priciest piece (the Papa) is the center of the display, one item. It will command attention from anywhere in the room! Around it (whether on a wall, a tabletop, a case) are several slightly smaller, slightly less expensive pieces (the Mamas). Last are a bigger assortment of very small, very affordable pieces–the Babies.

Your longtop or experienced collectors might go for the Papa, of course. Or it may take years to sell, if it’s out of most people’s price range. But it’s doing its job! It shows what you are capable of, your “go big” moment. The Mamas will attract people with a smaller budget, perhaps to fill in for a collection of your work they already have at home.

The Babies? They are for your potential new customers, or people on a budget, people who are new to buying art, and people who are avid collectors but have no more wall/tabletop space in their homes, either because they already have a lot of art, or they’ve downsized. (That’s me on both counts!) For some artists, this can also include a packaged set of cards with our artwork. (Package them in lots of 4, 5, or 6. Don’t let people get away with buying one card.) (In a nice way, of course!) Plus the more cards your visitors buy, the more likely they are to share them with friends. Who will also be introduced to your art.

Another approach is to prioritize you latest, newest body of work, especially if you are slowly or quickly moving away from the regular work, and exploring something new. An abrupt change in our work can disorient people who have followed us for years. (I have a story about that!) Introducing that change gradually can avoid the shock value of the new. (Not always necessary, of course, but the shock in my story link above could have been avoided.)

Another aspect of our work display…. the power of touch.

I’m fortunate in that my art media are durable and touchable. In fact, I encourage people to pick things up, open drawers, and try jewelry on in my studio.Touch is an important human feature. It’s our very nature to want to touch what is intriguing, beautiful, what speaks to us.

People love my fabric collection…
People love to touch and hold my artifacts. But there are ways to get around this if people can’t do this with YOUR medium, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately, many artist work in media that can’t be touched: Paintings, photography, etc.  Or they are too fragile (delicate glass work) or valuable (expensive jewelry), etc.

If this is you, consider proving a little display of what CAN be touched, or examined more closely. Again, one of my favorite displays at Corrick’s art gallery is a little tray showing the tools and materials artist Rik Olson uses for his woodcut prints. It’s educational, and interesting. I’ve never been to his studio, but I hope he has a similar (or even bigger) interactive display there! And back to Sally Baker, she has several wonderful, enticing displays of the lovely salt shakers, dishes, and vases she uses as subjects in her work.

One more idea for display, which I got from checking out other artists’ websites: The work is arranged by subject matter: florals, still lifes, animals, portraits, landscapes. (This makes much more sense to me than by medium.) I set up my collection of 2D work by subject: New England in fall; horses; nature and wildlife; etc., and sometimes by color.

All of these suggestions are not written in stone, and of course, as artists, you should always use what works for YOU. (My ONLY deadfast rule is, no artwork on, or even near the floor. Nobody was to bend over to see your work, it could easily be accidentally kicked by a visitor’s foot, or even trip them, and it sends an unconscious message that you don’t value it yourself.)

But we should also remember that most of our visitors are open-minded and perhaps even a little impulsive about what speaks to them. Oils vs. acrylic, art vs. craft, earth clay vs. polymer clay may (unnecessarily) create divides among artists. But it rarely divides our customers.

Last, let’s talk how much cleaning we should do in our studios.

Mine is always a hot mess. But people love it! I’ve learned to clear enough of my workspaces so it’s not a) dangerous; b) frightening; c) taking up too much space.

But people love seeing my tools, my materials, my fabric collection, my drawers of artifacts waiting for their special placement in a new piece.

In fact, the biggest reason, IMHO, that new people visit our studios is that they’ve seen something that intrigues them in our work, online, in the preview exhibit, or in a gallery. They want to find out more, about us, our work, our process, even our space. That can also mean showing them a bit of our process (a work in progress, perhaps), a bit of our creative mess (my tools, equipment, extra display items are visible on a higher shelf), our materials (perhaps your paints, brushes, study pieces, etc. would be fun for visitors to see.)

We don’t have to look like a gallery! We just have to make our space look authentic.

When I mentored new artists last year for Art at the Source, each one had concerns about their space. Fortunately, I was able to actually visit their studios at the time. The person who worried her space was too small? That tiny space would encourage and inspire people who didn’t think they had the space for their own studio, could rething their options.

To the person who needed to set up their display in their homes? I helped them remove the distractions (other people’s artwork, etc.), to make clear what was for sale and what wasn’t, and to reposition some furniture so people would avoid the deadends or crowded corners mentioned in my previous article, Make Your Studio Safe for Visitors.

The person who restaged her livelihood workspace for art display? I encouraged their to share a work-in-progress to share her process, and signage to encourage their visitors to “go deeper” because of their powerful story. (More on signage coming soon!)

Our job as artists isn’t just about selling our work. When we share not just our artwork, but our studio, we encourage other people to take up the work of their heart, too. We set a wonderful example that will keep making the world a better place for all of us.

Stay tuned for the next article in this series! How to Talk With Visitors.

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO: #1 Make Your Space Safe For Visitors

(This article is adapted from my series GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD, #3 Alice’s Tiny Doors.  Also #2 Let Me In! I was going to add more….Okay, there are TONS of stuff about layout in that series, check it out! All the information that can apply to open studios AND show booths.)

Before I forget, an excellent book by Paco Underhill, WHY WE BUY: The Science of Shopping is a game-changer. Underhill actually watched people shopping, caught moments when people stopped, turned around, put an item down, you name it. And then they figured out WHY those people didn’t/wouldn’t make that purchase. It’s an easy read, it’s a quick read, and it’s worth its weight in gold. Grab a copy asap!

Back to open studio stuff. When setting up or adapting your work space for visitors, make sure it is a) safe; b) accessible; and c) accommodating. And by ‘safe’ and ‘accessible’, consider not only the obvious dangers, but what triggers the unconscious human behaviors that are meant to keep us safe, but may disrupt our visitors’ looking/shopping.

  1. Keep your floor safe for visitors.
    1. If you have rugs, check that there are no curled-up edges or corners people might trip on.
    2. Don’t let electrical cords trip people. If some have to cross a visitor’s path, check out covers for those cords. They still have a trip factor, but they’re easier to see, won’t pull down whatever the cord is attached to if someone DOES trip (as a trippy cord might), and flatter covers will obviously work better than ones that are high highly-“domed” or angled.
    3. Unplug any power equipment you use that could be dangerous for visitors: saws, sanders, buffers, etc. Most people wouldn’t dream of deliberately turning them on, but I learned my lesson after an absent-minded visitor turned on my Foredam buffer out of curiosity. (No one was hurt, thank goodness!) If you have tools, chemicals, etc. that are sharp/dangerous, but you are okay with people seeing them, just put them out of reach, especially if children are present.
    4. Watch for slippery places: Spilled drinks, grease, etc. Be ready to clean them up quickly if they occur.
    5. See #3.2 below about what can escape our notice if we’re not paying attention, or if a visitor is deeply absorbed with looking at our work.
  2. Do a safety check. Remember that lights get hot (although with new LED lighting, this is less of a danger nowadays.) Make sure any halogen lighting you use will not make any contact with fabrics, flammables, nor customers.
  3. Don’t put your artwork, or anything not important to your display, on the floor except that rug, for many reasons:
    1. What you put on the floor looks like you don’t treasure it.
    2. People’s feet stick out from their bodies. That’s why our kitchens have toe-kicks. Anything below waist-level might not ‘register’ in our brains, which is why we often trip or hit a table with splayed-legs. (I’m CONSTANTLY hitting my knees walking around our bed, because the footboard is too low to “register” in my unconscious brain, even though I walk around that bed EVERY SINGLE DAY.) And if people are deeply engaged with our work, they may not notice something that sticks out.
    3. People hate, hate, HATE bending over to look at something. And many people are at that age when even if we CAN squat down, we have to think really hard about getting back up.
  4. Be aware of tight spaces and dead-ends in your studio layout. This is really trickly, but once you watch people avoiding certain areas of your studio, it gets easier to catch. People unconsciously avoid areas they may feel ‘trapped’ in. They may avoid a dark section, again unconsciously. (This is why an unlit studio with dramatic lighting for your artwork is not a good idea.) Apparently this is a wonderful way for a gallery to showcase a painting that a customer is very interested in, but for general display, bad lighting and dark places will not serve your visitors.
  5. Beware the Butt Brush! Narrow spaces and aisles can create what Underhill refers to as “The Butt Brush”. This happens when aisles are too narrow and someone brushes someone else from behind as they attempt to pass buy. The reaction of the brushed person is profound and extreme–they immediately stop shopping. It is an especially powerful reaction in women. So by all means, if you want women to stop looking at your work and walk away, make sure they are getting brushed and bumped from behind as people scootch by. (I’ve experienced this myself and it is deeply instinctual.)
  6. How to avoid the “bull in the china shop” scenario. Avoid any display or setup in your space that could be unstable, fragile, easily knocked over, etc. If people touch a pair of earrings and the display stand falls over, it will freak them out. If they lean on a jewelry case and it rocks, it will freak them out. If a branch holding Christmas ornaments is sticking out and snags their shirt as they walk by, it freaks them out. Especially if it causes damage.
  7. Guide people subtly with your display layout, and use visual cues to move them through your space. Arrange your work so that one display leads to the next. Signage, dashes of color in a neutral display, lighting, work angled in interesting ways–all of these are so much more conducive to shopping than narrow paths and rigid layouts. (More on display in the next article!)
  8. Make it clear what’s for sale, and what isn’t. (You can check out GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD #10: Mystery Product for more details.) Short story: This is harder to do in a studio, because it’s not like a booth or shop that’s dedicated to selling. It’s also our workspace, our creative space, our inspirational place. It holds our supplies, our tools, our work-in-progress, the bowls of fruit and china we stage to create a still life, etc. I make little signs out of pieces of matboard that say, “For Display Only” on any items that aren’t for sale. NFS for “Not For Sale” works, too. Not everything has to be priced, of course, but price tags do help letting visitors know what’s definitely for sale.

I’m gonna give you a break and stop here. We never get it all right the first time, but use every opportunity to take note of where trouble spots (and troubling spots) are as people move around your space.

Did I miss something? Send your questions, if you have one, someone else needs to know, too!

Stay tuned for my next article on setting up our art display! Arrange Your Art There are some pros and cons to the traditional thinking about this, you get to choose which one resonates with YOU.

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO: Introduction

When I stepped up to the plate with my art, I was an eager beaver student. I started with small local art fairs, but within a few years, I did the the wholesale fine craft show circuit (introducing my work to gallery owners, publications, etc.), then moved up to a large retail show (the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Fair, arguably the oldest art show in the nation), and then a few high-end shows.

I did years of shows before I did open studio events! But doing shows taught me a lot: How to display my work, how to price my work, how to greet customers, how to process sales, etc.

Within a few years of doing open studio tours, I dropped all my big shows (except for the Craftsmen’s Fair) and focused on those in-person studio visitors.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about this, too. This series will walk you through the basics, the fine points, what I’ve learned from other artists, what I’ve learned from seminars led by Bruce Baker, visitors, and loyal customers. (Yes, your customers can be fonts of wisdom, too!)

Now, most of us want to be “real artists”. What does that mean? Well, we need an art degree, a resume, a list of galleries that represent our work, a list of exhibitions we’ve participated in, a (e)mail list of customers, press releases and publications (books, magazines, newspapers, etc.) that have featured our work. Oh, and the awards we’ve won, and prices that reflect the popularity of our work. And a successful open studio event is one where we had a ton of sales.

Right?

WRONG.

Everything about those assumptions is wrong.

You do not need an art degree to be a “real artist”. (I don’t have one.) You don’t need a resume. (I had one, but I don’t maintain it anymore.) I still have some galleries back on the East Coast that carry my work, and I’m in several here in Sonoma County. (I hope to find more, but that’s not my main goal for now.) I’ve won awards, but I don’t care so much about winning anymore. I’ve been featured in newspapers, magazines, books, etc., but I don’t pursue that so much, either. The common advice I see everywhere about how to greet and engage customers has never worked for me. And the money? It’s ranged from pretty good to pretty dismal, as 9/ll, the recession of 2008, moving to the West Coast, etc. etc. have all taken their toll.

Ask me if I care. (You’re right! The answer is “nope”.)

The single most important thing a “real artist” can do is:

Make the work of their heart.

Tell their story.

Share their art with the world.

Money is great! But the truth is, not very many people make a living from their artwork/creative work. Yes, sometimes they’re not ‘doing it right’, but this is also a time in history where people in my age group (YES, BOOMERS!) are the biggest demographic in our country. (We probably outnumber our customers.)

And the research I did for a series of articles for Fine Art Views a few years ago, about why millennials don’t by our art, was truly educational for me. Tastes have changed, our collectors’ homes may be already filled with art (mine is!) younger folks may be just starting families, careers, etc. and not have the budget for our work, yadda yadda yadda ad nauseum.

So we may be competing for BUYERS.

But there is no limit on building our AUDIENCE.

And eventually, some folks in our audience will become buyers.

I tend to be wordy (ahem), but Tenae Stewart, who worked at Sebastopol Center for the Arts a few years ago, told me shared seven little words with me that summarized this entire series:

Art events aren’t about making money TODAY.

This has been my entire art career, in seven words. The reasons doing shows was hard is, my work is out of the box. (Some people even tell me to my face it’s not “real art”. Okay. But I don’t care.) It takes awhile for people to figure out what they’re looking at, why it calls to them.

Some people look, and walk away.

Others? They lean in.

And if don’t screw up my interactions with them, they will come back. They will bring a friend. They will sign up for my blog/newsletters. They will find something new and interesting every single time they come to my studio. Someday, they’ll buy a piece. And some people will keep on collecting our work, year after year.

And the biggest reason why open studios are such powerful audience-builders?

Because our studios, our sacred creative spaces, are where the magic happens.

As Bruce Baker said in a seminar years ago, “To regular people, artists are the ones who ran away to join the circus!”

We are outliers, out-of-the-box people. We took a risk to do what we do, not like taking a job where we know what we’re supposed to do, and getting a paycheck (and benefits) for it. We followed our dream, and made it real.

I believe we all have a creative force within us, but the magical myth of “real artists” still intrigues the rest of the world.

And for those people who didn’t find the encouragement to follow their heart, who don’t believe they’re ‘good enough’, who don’t think they have enough room to have a real maker space, who believe some people are simply born with talent and others (themselves!) aren’t….

Our studios can inspire them to take up their own creative journey.

If you want a head start before this series begins, check out my series on creating a successful booth environment in this series, GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD.  Booths are harder for us than an open studio, because we have to get the parts together, schlep it across town (or, as I did, across the country), set it up, wait for people to find us, realize we left a critical thing back home, break it all down and pack it up, and schlep home again.

Open studios? It’s like getting your house ready for a party! A lot of work, but not nearly as hard as big shows.

So take a peek at that series, check in to see the latest posts, and if you have questions, send ’em to me! I’ll either let you know the anwers are coming, or I’ll write some new ones.

Either way, don’t panic. You got this. I’ve got your back

Stay tuned for my next article in this series!

 

 

WHY YOU MUST SHARE YOUR ART WITH THE WORLD

Continuing with my last post, ART IS A MIRROR, which ended with:

“My next post coming up soon: Why art in a vacuum isn’t what art is for.”

First, no, not THAT kind of vacuum. Second, OMG even our Euphy is dirty!! 

 

I’m a long-time advocate for artists/creatives of all kinds to share their creative work with the world.

I’ve written about the fears that hold us back from doing that, from the fear of being copied to the worry that it isn’t “good enough” for public consumption.

Sharing our art is like tossing a pebble into a lake. We can’t tell where all the ripples go, but they are certainly going somewhere! (You may get tired of hearing it, I get it. But I will never stop saying it.)

I cannot count the number of times people have reached out to me, with comments, or privately, by email, that something I’ve shared (my writing, my posts on social media, my artwork) has given them the insight, the encouragement, the courage to keep doing the work of their heart.

And when I’m feeling down or less-than, someone crosses my path with just the right message: My words matter, to someone, somewhere, in the world.

If only one person benefits, that’s good enough for me.

But just in case you can’t imagine that YOU matter that much, here are some thoughts.

First, I’ve shared how sitting in my first introductory art history class in a large, dark auditorium (like a cave), surrounded by others who might be on the same path (in my community), seeing those huge and powerful images of the Lascaux Cave (so powerful!) made me feel, for a few precious moments, like I was actually in the Cave. It changed my life, though it took years to understand that, and even more to gain the courage to pursue that path.

I’ve encouraged you find your own creation story, and share the power of finding the WHY behind your work.

I don’t have the credentials, degrees, official recognition, etc. that would “prove” you should believe me. Just my own life experience.

If you don’t believe ME, here’s someone with credentials. An article by Carrie Dedon, Modern and Contemporary Art Curatorial Assistant at the Seattle Art Museum, from June 2016.

“Object of the Week: Untitled” is about the Seattle Art Museum’s 2016 exhibition called “Light and Space”, and much credit is given to artist Larry Bell for his powerful quote:

In my opinion all artwork is stored energy. The art releases its power whenever a viewer becomes a dreamer.

That’s the quote I found through author/artist Austin Kleon’s blog post today. It’s #36 if you don’t have time to read them all.

But IMHO, Dedon’s insight wraps up a whole universe of reasons why sharing our art is so important:

For many of the Light and Space artists, an artwork only reached its full potential when it was engaged in this relationship with a viewer—an object in an empty room without anyone to look at it is, in essence, not doing its job.

Art without an audience, even an audience of one, is not doing its job….

It kind of reminds me about Schrödinger’s cat, or that proverbial tree falling in the forest. It may/may not exist, may/may not make a sound, without eyes to see it or ears to hear it.

The same with art.

Art cannot fufill its true purpose in life if other people can’t experience it.

We all have a unique story, one that only we can tell.

We have a purpose, our creativity, that can take many forms and expressions. Not just making “art”, not just in all our current definitions of “art” (2d and 3d work, music, poetry, drama, stories, dance, song, etc.) but in anything and everything we pursue that a) makes us a better person, and when we share it with the world, makes the world a better place.

When we share it, it can lift the heart of others. It helps them understand our story. It encourages others to share their story, too.

Teaching. Healing. Nourishing. Caretaking. Gardening. Restoring/repairing/mending. Building. Hospice. Creating community, sanctuary, peace, connection, understanding, tolerance, love. And study/research that strives for the same.

If I had never found those powerful images of the Lascaux Cave early in my life, I would not be making the art I make today.

If the caves had not been discovered, what a loss that would have been! And even though our very breath and the heat from our bodies have nearly destroyed those images, they appeared at a time in history when they could be photographed, mapped, reproduced, studied. (We visited Lascaux II two weeks after 9/11, and my bucket list now includes a visit to Lascaux IV.)

And the more we learn about those Painters of the Caves ( a wonderful children’s book written by award-winning author Patricia Lauber) the more we learn about ourselves. The assumptions of the years after the Cave’s discovery that have now been proven wrong. The painters weren’t “cave men”, they were (mostly) women and men who were shamans. It wasn’t hunting magic (most cave art images do not reflect the actual animals each community hunted for food), they were communal ceremonies, with sound and movement.

Most importantly, Lauber’s most powerful sentence admits we may never understand the why, the how, the what about these ancient artists of the distant past. She notes the cave paintings are messages that were not addressed to us. It meant something powerful for those people, in their time. But we may never know for sure what that was.

And yet, we feel the power, the mystery, of those paintings thousands and thousands and thousands of years later. Every single person I ever met who actually saw those paintings in that short window of time they were available to us, confirmed that experience. They were in the presence of something deep, mysterious, and powerful, and they did not know why.

When they say see/feel something similar in my work, something that echoes what they experienced, I know I’m doing it right.

In the end, it’s not the sales, the fame, the recognition, the number of likes. All this can be great, I agree. But how will we be remembered when we are gone? And how will even that last?

We are meant to bring our creative work into the world. It changes us. It helps us grow bigger,  in our hearts, in our sense of purpose in the world, in our ability to tell our story, and to connect with the stories of others. It helps us inspire and encourage others to value their own creative work.

That’s why we must explore  ways to let others see/hear/taste/experience see it, whether through gallery representation, exhibitions, books and magazines, open studios, or through social media, and venues yet to be discovered.

When we empower empower ourselves, we will empower others, too.

I am so grateful for Dedon’s words. Art is not created in, nor can exist in a vacuum. It is created in our human hearts. And when others see the work of our heart, when we share it with the world, art and creativity continue to seed, to grow, to bloom and shine, in them.

I’m grateful for Austin Kleon, (“An artist who draws”), whose blog today listed his top 100 quotes about art for 2021, including #36 by Larry Bell, which led me to Dedon’s blog post.

I’m grateful to those shamans, who created work that was important, powerful, healing, for them. And because it survived, in real time, and now in so many media, images, and now highly-accurate recreations, it is still a source for inspiration, mystery and awe in our modern times.

You can follow in their footsteps by sharing your art, too. As I said in my last article, marketing our art involves sharing. But sharing can simply be that: Letting people see it, online, in our studios, in a gallery, in a book, and spreading the power of our creative hearts.

Red deer, aurochs, and horsec the hallmarks of the Lascaux Caves.

 

 

 

ART IS A MIRROR And Other Moments of Insight and Wisdom Today

I wanted to use an image of the movie itself, but was afraid I could get sued for copyright infringement. So here’s that old pic of me and a baby duck again instead.

I know, I know. I keep harping on the importance of sharing our art with the world.

I still hear from people ocassionally who don’t want to. They are private, their art is a private comfort, no need to make money from it, etc. (For the record, marketing involves sharing out work publicly, but sharing doesn’t have to be about marketing/selling.) Or they don’t think it’s good enough.

I get it. It can be a little scary to post images of our work online, enter a gallery show/exhibition, sell it, etc. Some folks are afraid it will be copied (select “copycats” in my categories section for more articles on this fear.) And if it really isn’t ‘good enough’, it might get trolled.

I’ve also written a lot of articles about the power of sharing our art. I was gonna put a link in here but realized almost every single article I’ve ever written is about this!

Now back to this article: On Christmas Eve, me, my partner and my son watched The Matrix Resurrections.

And I’m still thinking about it.

This time around, Trinity turns out to be the superpower, the true hero. It’s finally her turn to shine. Together, she and Neo are unstoppable.(Here’s another terrific article about the true hero of It’s A Wonderful Life by Monica Hesse in The Washington Post.)

But this article in Entertainment Weekly cover story on The Matrix Resurrections reveals a deeper story about the importance of our art.

Next, and foremost, was the personal story of the Wachowski siblings themselves:

Profound personal change has always been central to the Matrix universe. The Wachowskis came out as trans and underwent gender reassignment surgery in the years since Reloaded and Revolutions both hit theaters in 2003. This awakening may have been an unspoken part of The Matrix since the beginning; Reeves remembers an early draft of the original script that featured a character who entered the Matrix world as a different sex. “I think the studio wasn’t ready for that,” he says.

Lilly Wachowski has stepped back from film-making to focus on her own personal, healing l journey, for now. And Lana Wachowski from the very beginning considered the Matrix series as a metaphor for hers.

“Art is a mirror,” Wachowski writes. “Most will prefer to gaze at the surface but there will be people like me who enjoy what lies behind the looking glass. I made this movie for them.”

For two people who took an extreme challenge to become their true selves, I hope this message encourages all of us do the same: To recognize and honor who we are, to know the power of our choices, to share our gifts with the world, and make it a better place for all.

Our art truly is about the story only we can tell.

My next post coming up soon: Why art in a vacuum isn’t what art is for.

THE GIFT OF A YANKEE SWAP

As I reread my post from yesterday (Mixed Feelings and Better Choices) about Christmases past and present, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Yankee Swap part:

Back in Keene NH, we enjoyed a Yankee Swap in addition to our regular celebration. Each guest brought a wrapped gift. (It could be used/regifted/a white elephant kinda thing, but not half-eaten or broken. You could not believe the people who didn’t get that….) Everyone draws a number, the number one goes first, picks a gift, and opens it. Number two the same, except they can choose to swap gifts with Number one. It continues, until the very last person gets to swap with ANYONE. (Um…it did invoke some pissed-off guests, but almost everyone eventually enjoyed it as the wacko experience it was meant to be.)

I’d forgotten a powerful insight I had:

Every single “white elephant”, “I hate this thing, YOU take it!” “Why would anyone want this??” gift found a good home.

We’ve heard “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, but we could see that happening right in front of us. There was almost always at least one person who thought that “ugly/useless/silly” thing was wonderful. Not only that, but the worst “fights” involved a couple-to-a-bunch-of people who all wanted the same item! (The person who brought it to the swap was always amazed by that!)

I’ve written about Regretsy a few times over the last few years, here and now I can’t find the others. (I’ll update this once I do.) I love how even horrible, awful artwork April Winchell found on Etsy had a place in the world. Here’s a summary of the original blog before it disappeared, and here’s where you can buy an affordable copy of the book.

In fact, once a seller’s work was featured in her blog, their shop was flooded with buyers.

Even more astounding, Winchell could tell when someone was sincerely proud of their work, and when someone was “faking it” with horrible art, trying to be featured on her blog. She said there was something about the work that, no matter how awful, had authenticity she could sense.

How powerful is that?!

And my final point: Look how popular ugly Christmas sweaters have become over the years! (Google “ugly christmas sweater trend” and find some wonderful articles about its history.)

So when we feel bad about our creative work, when we think it’s not good enough and that’s why we can’t sell it, make a living from it, we can take the time to rethink those sad thoughts.

We need to keep it in our lives because we love making it. It helps us deal with everything else we need to do.

And somewhere in the world is someone who will love it just as much as we do.

Oh, they could live on the other side of the world, they may never see it, and who knows? Maybe we’ll be famous after we die. (If you have not yet watched the Netflix comedy special “Nanette” by Hannah Gadsby, please give it a whirl. She breaks the standard opinion that Vincent Van Gogh’s multi-million dollar art sales means anything. “He’s so famous! Look how much his work sells for!” Gadsby: “Yeah, but he’s dead.” And my favorite quote: “The reason Van Gogh is famous today is because he had a brother who loved him.” Theo Van Gogh is the reason any of Van Gogh’s work is around today, because he had a gallery (where only one of Vincent’s work sold).

In ancient times, cave art wasn’t hunting magic (a theory that prevailed in the 50’s and continued for decades.) They were communal ceremonies, often led by female shamans, to create unity, healing, connection.

And when we make our art, we create healing…for ourselves.

When we share it with the world, we create connection. Maybe not sales, but people will see it, some people will like it, and some people will be better for it.

When we participate in art events, open studios, etc., we create community.

When we realize all people have a creative streak, if we simply broaden the definition, we create unity.

Trust me, if a crazy flower pot at a Yankee swamp finds a loving hope, your creative work can, too. Make room in your heart, and your life, no matter how small a space you have, and know that your creative work has a life of its own in the world.

Someone loved this enough that they bought it, and it then it ended up at an antique store. Where it sat for ages until it finally sold.

 

 

MIXED FEELINGS AND BETTER CHOICES

Maybe more lights would help??

 

The holidays are always a minor struggle for me.

When I was a kid, all I wanted for Christmas (and my birthday) was a pony. My parents promised to get me one when I was 13, but when I turned 13 and didn’t get one, it was obvious they were hoping I’d forgotten about it. (DARN YOU, MOM AND DAD!) (They’re gone now, so I have to get over it.) (JOKING!! I’ll never get over it.) (Er…that was a joke, too, btw. I just hope Mom and Dad are laughing up in heaven.)

I put my biggest holiday efforts into play when we had kids of our own. Not big on the outdoor lights thing, but our Christmas tree was always a delight. (Except, of course, when our cat Gus decided it was her perfect play toy and climbing pole.) (Gus lived to be 18, so that’s a lotta years of broken ornaments and branches.) I wanted our Christmas to be a time of joy for our kids.

Back in Keene NH, we enjoyed a Yankee Swap in addition to our regular celebration. Each guest brought a wrapped gift. (It could be used/regifted/a white elephant kinda thing, but not half-eaten or broken. You could not believe the people who didn’t get that….) Everyone draws a number, the number one goes first, picks a gift, and opens it. Number two the same, except they can choose to swap gifts with Number one. It continues, until the very last person gets to swap with ANYONE. (Um…it did invoke some pissed-off guests, but almost everyone eventually enjoyed it as the wacko experience it was meant to be.)

Here in California, we’ve lived in much smaller houses, and far fewer friends. Also with three cats, all of whom sometimes appear to be Gus reincarnated when it comes to obnoxious/destructive behavior. Our expectations are reduced, too, simply because we feel we already have so much: A good marriage, grown kids finding their own way in the world, CALIFORNIA!!!, and in our latest neighborhood, good people for neighbors.

And since I achieved adulthood (not an easy path!), I learned that very few people know what I want and don’t want (not their fault, I am very unpredictable in my wants and needs.)  I simply buy what I fall in love with, and give it to my hubby to wrap for Christmas. This year? An electric-heated vest I can wear in my 52 degree studio. (OTOH, my sis Sue always sends me a tin of homemade Heath Bar-like Christmas candy, so yeah, she nailed it!)

And the more confusing, overwhelming, and sad the world gets, the smaller even these issues get. It doesn’t help that my partner suffers horribly from SAD (seasonal affective disorder), and that can’t be easily fixed. (No suggestions, please, he’s tried everything except actually moving to Arabia or Africa.)

But here’s the thing: Christmas isn’t about US being happy.

It’s about how we want to make OTHER people happy.

No matter what religion/non-religion we practice, it’s about embracing the dark time of the year, and turning it into light. And love. And hope.

I’ve been in a bit of a funk since I left my last writing gig. It’s hard to write when I’m not sure if anyone even cares enough to read what I’ve written.

And yet, I’m the person who encouraged my partner to restart his own blog, telling him it doesn’t matter how many likes or followers he has. It’s about having a voice in the world. (And amazingly, he finally took my advice, someone who used to read his blog back in the day found it, and got in contact with him, and now Jon has a wonderful new job doing work he loves, with a company that appreciates who he is, and working with a team of people who value his insights and work.

And just recently, someone let me know that my writing has been a tremendous force for good in their life. (I always get a little embarassed when someone tells me that, but it meant the world to me.)

And I can’t stop thinking about what they wrote. It was powerful. It helped.

Today, I realize once again, we have the power of our choices.

We can chase the money, and fame, believing that the more of both we have, the better our lives will be.

Or we can choose to pursue our passions in the world, to share our unique gifts with others, in hopes we can help them find the courage to pursue theirs.

We can mourn the family we were born to, that seem believe we don’t really belong there. Or we can celebrate the family we choose.

We can fear the backlash, the anger, the lies that seem to break down all social norms, that separate us from each other.

Or we can strive to find our own path, our own way of being of service for a good cause, our own way of helping others who are in a hard place.

We can submit to anger and resentment. Or we can celebrate every tiny miracle, every beautiful online post, every effort others are making to make the world a better, happier, more supportive place for all of us.

We get to choose.

I wish you all a wonderful holiday, no matter which one you’re celebrating (or not), no matter how long the dark lasts.

Because today, the light begins to grow again.

And so can our hearts, and spirit.

 

CREATION STORIES and A Blast (or Two) From the Past

I’ve been thinking about creation stories lately. At a recent artists talk at a local gallery who carries my work, I mentioned it in my presentation.

We’ve known about “hero stories” for years. They’re a common theme many books, plays, and movies, all kinds of media, actually. A guy undertakes a task, has to overcome all kinds of obstacles (slaying dragons, fighting other knights, rescuing a princess, etc.) and finally earns the keys to the kingdom. Happy ending for all concerned! (Well, at least for the hero….)

Most of us have found a similar path to find the work of our heart. For some folks, they knew early on what that was, and pursued it all the way.

For others (like me), we knew…but then we believed it was out of reach, that we didn’t have the talent/perseverence/personality/etc. to find our way through. We walked away, thinking we simply aren’t good enough.

But then there’s the ‘”creation story”. It’s that powerful moment in our life, often after we get through something really, really hard, something emotionally painful, or frightening, or even life-threatening.

And suddenly, we realize what really matters to us in life.

That’s the hidden “beauty” of terrible times. The clarity we get, a new sense of purpose, knowing what’s worth pursuing, and what is merely what other people think we should do.

I’m not saying “Everything happens for a reason!” or “God will provide, trust in Him”, or “Things will get better, just wait!” or any of that shit.

When we hit a rock-and-a-hard-place, a deep pit of despair, a near-death experience, that approach simply sucks. There’s no making light of the terrible thing we’re going through. Staying positive is powerful, but exhausting, and others telling us what THEY think WE should do can be patronizing. (Especially if they have no personal experience with what we’re dealing with.)

But afterwards, when we’ve had time to recover, hopefully to heal, or adapt, to take a calm breath and pick up our life again…. When we can pause, and look back, and contemplate what the impact on us was….

THAT’S when we can find that turning point in our life.

I’ve always focused on the WHY in my own work. I love encouraging others to dig deep and find what really matters to them. I’ve written about that a lot. A LOT. (Here’s a list of articles about the power of “Why?”)

But I forgot to connect what gets us to that powerful place.

In my case, it happened after I gave up on following my dreams. It was too hard, I didn’t have the time, the energy, the space, no hope of making a living from it. It was time to “get real” and “grow up” and let it all go. Maybe things would change down the road, but not right now.

My breakthrough moment was the realization that what I wanted for my kids, the thing that could make them resilient, and joyful, and fierce with passion, I could want for myself. And the best way to encourage them to do the same, was to show them what that looked like.

The courage, determination, and persistence I gained in that moment, has carried me for decades.

Oh, I still get just as frustrated, set back, and sad about my lack of “fame and fortune” for my work. But I always circle back and realize that was never the inspiration to make it from the get-go.

Creation stories are the moments when we realize how powerful that decision is. That moment when we realize we have a story, a story only WE can tell. A story that not only fuels our life, but, when shared, might inspire and give hope to someone else, too.

One year, I taught workshops for the traveling Arts Business Institute years ago. My favorite one was working with people to find the “why” in their work. My fastest, clearest example was when one young woman in the workshop started with, “I had a baby, I nearly died, and everything changed….” I stopped and said, “THAT is your creation story!”

Something happened. Something that changed everything. We nearly die/fall/give up hope/surrender. If we’re lucky, we get through it. And if we’re really lucky…

We realize we can choose something different.  We recognize that we have the power of our choices.

We can own our desire to make/teach/write/sing/heal/travel/nurture/repair/etc. and be a force for good in the world. Because it’s so good for US.

Suddenly, all the wrong turns, the mistakes, the missed opportunities, (for me, for example, traveling across the country in the recession of the 1980’s desperately looking for a teaching job for years, to no avail) is no longer a sad story.

Because I finally found the right story, the powerful story that belongs to me.

All those “failures” simply added to my experience, shining a light on what I was NOT “meant to be”, but merging the skills I acquired to achieve those old goals into powerful new assets on my new journey:

Making the work of my heart, using the materials and techniques that felt “right” for me, and telling my story. Letting go of being “good enough”, because I simply wanted to do it.

Another insight? Once we know our creation story, we won’t be as likely to fall for this story about why we simply can’t do that thing: about holding onto the “facts” that hold us back.

And one last story about our conception of “luck” that can slow us down on our creative journey: What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

A lot to ponder, especially with holidays, new variants, uncertainty, great changes in the world.

But that’s life, right? Finding our own way home.

P.S. FORGOT, here’s a link to the Story Center’s website (a non-profit), which now offers free and in-depth paid workshops for helping us find our powerful stories: The Story Center

THE ARTISTIC LIFE: From the WayBack Machine!

Looks great from the outside, right? ENTER WITH CAUTION!!!

I found an article I wrote for CraftsBusiness Magazine from July/August 2005! Here we go:

A reader responded to my blog on how I got started with my art biz. Like me, she, too, had to get serious when her husband was laid off. But she sometimes wonders if the resultant financial strain and arguments were worth the proverbial kick in the pants.

I think we ALL struggle with the ideas of what our artistic lives should be, and what our day-to-day life really looks like. We have a mental image of “the artist” working thoughtfully at his easel with an admiring throng of patrons looking on; the songwriter strumming a guitar dreamily as she jots down hauntingly beautiful bars of music; the novelist typing feverishly as prose pours forth from her overheated typewriter…er, keyboard.

Life ain’t like that, is it?

My environs are a mess. My house is a pigsty. (I’d blame it on the teenagers, but I’m a packrat and a rabid procrastinator, myself.) My sink is constantly full of dishes, there isn’t a spare square inch on my counters, and the kitchen floor crunches underneath. Magazines, books, and newspapers are precariously perched on every windowsill.

We are in a stage of “too many pets” and the mudroom is a cacophony of cooing pigeons and rampaging rabbits. Move on into my studio and we see stacks of unfiled paperwork and half-finished projects. Not a clear surface in sight. There’s a reason why artists say, “Studio hours by appointment only.” We have to fumigate first.

I remember a customer once saying, “I imagine you in your studio, all serene and thoughtful, with classical music playing in the background while you sew these beautiful pieces.”

I replied, “Actually, I like techno/industrial music, I throw fabric on the floor as soon as I cut a piece from it, and then I have a tug-of-war with the rabbit to get it back. One minute I’m arguing with my husband on whose turn it is to take my daughter to choir practice, and the next I’m begging my son to burn his smelly socks in the backyard before the neighbors suspect we’ve got a dead body on the premises and call the police. I haven’t cooked a meal in so long that last month I made soup, and both my children thanked me. For SOUP.”

The customer backed slowly out of my booth, and I realized that honesty is not always the best policy.

Sometimes it seems so ridiculous, and I dream of the nearby MacDowell Colonly artist retreats. Promising artists of all sorts are given a cabin of their own to work in solitude. There are no phones or computers. Meals are brought and left at the door. Even the cleaning staff is under orders NOT to engage the guests in conversation.

It sounds like a dream come true….

Or is it?

I heard a well-known musician (okay, it was Greg Brown) talk about when his children were very young, money was tight, and finding time to write songs was difficult. He ranted and raved about how much he could accomplish if only he could create in peace.

One day, he finally got the chance. He was gifted the use of an old cabin by a secluded lake. I can’t remember the exact circumstances, but his family was not present. It was what he’d always dreamed of: Beautiful views, solitude, and time.

The only problem was, he couldn’t write a damn thing. He was bored out of his mind. And he missed his family. It was the single most unproductive time in his entire career.

I think of this story a lot now.

Maybe there are some people out there who can work in peace, who are self-disciplined enough to sit down and write every day, rain or shine. There are people who only listen to lovely music as they work, and no one ever calls until the CD is finished. Maybe there are people whose friends and family take them seriously enough to never call until after dinner.

But that’s not MY life.

My home is messy. I’ve learned to refer to the dust as “patina”, and the windows as “lightly frosted”. Most of the furniture is second-hand, but rooms are also filled with beautiful things I’ve bought from and traded with other artists. My work graces the walls, and every time I wear my jewelry, I get compliments.

My husband does the work HE is passionate about. Though we sometimes wish we spent more weekends in Paris (actually, just one would be nice!) we also know the value of his choice.

My kids are now finding their own odd, very distinctive ways in life, and I know they have good blueprints to work from.

And I’ve come to believe that most of us need some amount of tension in our lives to work at our best. We need a wee bit of pressure, a little distraction.  A deadline, a promise, a commitment we can’t easily fill. Something that pushes us, and eventually forces us to do things we didn’t think we could do, to accomplish things we didn’t think we were capable of.

This is the real “artistic life”–messy, noisy, sometimes stinky.

But also loving, and breathless, and FUN.

Art isn’t always some cerebral escape from this circus, it’s PART of the circus. Whenever you add what you love to the mix, the batter is better. (That’s my cake metaphor.) And when something beautiful and exciting is created in the midst of all this, somehow it seems even sweeter.

It sounds good, anyway. That’s my life, and welcome to it!

And ducks! We had chickens, ducks, pigeons, and an Asian dove. Oh, and four cockatiels. Those were the days…

TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG: I Stand For My Evil Reading Habit

I’ve been a Connie Willis fan for years, and thought I’d read all her books. I was so wrong. She continues to write even when I’m not paying attention. (Blerpy face emoji here.) I just found her website and visited her blog, which made me giggle about 30 words in. And while searching for more books, I found about a dozen more in the last 10 years that I’d not even known about.

Her genre is science fiction, but honestly, they all read like a really great story-telling novel that has unusual elements added to get the conversation going.

When I traveled last week to the East Coast to visit my darlin’ daughter, her hubby, and their adorable wee new baby, I picked up a copy of her book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, to occupy my flight time. (You can use Bookfinder.com to find new or used copies.)

It’s about time travel, but in a way that focuses on love, relationships, and history. Not just “what happened” in history, but why things happened (or didn’t happen.) Tiny moments, mistakes, miscommunications, and big events like bad weather, war, bombing raids, invasions, etc. The history alone is so absorbing!

I thought I’d read it already, but I must have gone fast, or my ability to remember stuff accurately after 22 years is failing) because it was like I was reading it for the first time. First, because back in the day, I DID read stuff (e.g., ‘books’) fast. I wanted to find out how it ended, what happened, and see the mystery solved.

But that meant I skipped over important stuff that were actual clues to the ending. And so I started doing something soooooooo many people hate:

I either a) read spoilers, or b) read the ending as soon as I’ve read enough to know I’ll want to stay with the story.

I know, I know. I can hear the screams of rage from way over here.

But here’s why I do it:

I read the story more slowly. I pay attention to all the hints and clues about what is going to be very, very important at the end. I have a better understanding about what the author cares about, how they create a path to their ‘truth’, I’m more willing to ‘go deep’.

And I enjoy the book more.

In this case, I did both.

Remember when The Sixth Sense came out? How shattering the ending was, when we finally realize the main character is dead? (I’d put a “spoiler alert” in there, but I’m assuming that, over 20 years later, we all know how the movie turns out.)

Did you know that M. Night Shyamalan put so many clues and hints into the movie, he was afraid NO ONE would be surprised by the ending?

Did you, as I did, enjoy the movie even more when viewing it the second time, and finally seeing all the clues?

‘Nuff said. I don’t know if I’ve ever changed peoples’ opinions about spoilers, and don’t care. It’s simply how *I* roll.

What I love about all her books is, there is so much amazing information and insights in each one. In this book about time travel, history achieves a new depth of interest for me. All kinds of related stories are shared: How Germany tried to bribe Mexico into siding with it agains the United States in World War I. How small incidents have created major changes in history. Even the history of mystery-writing has a place in this novel, lending even more tangible clues to the ending. (I also found at least six actual phrases of “to say nothing of the dog”. Woot!)

And any book that is so good, I actually wish that 6-hour plane trip were longer, is a keeper. (Fortunately, I had a half-hour wait for the airporter bus, and a two-hour ride home. So I did finish it!)

So no world-changing thoughts today, except hoping you aren’t angry at me for my spoiler addiction. And that you are intrigued enough to read the book and deepen your understanding of world events for the past two or three thousand years. I was!

P.S. It also inspired me to order a lot more of her books. (Why are the newest ones so effin’ expensive????)

P.P.S. And I ordered a copy of the book Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing Of The Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome, published in 1889. (Time aligns with the time traveler’s travel.)

P.P.P.S And while getting the link to that book, I came across the movie Three Men In A Boat ! Guess what I want for Christmas?!

 

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