THE MIND OF A FERAL CAT: It’s Me

The hardest thing in life is to start over. The best thing in life is, we can.

It’s been just over a year since we moved to Santa Rosa, California. We are well into feet-on-the-ground stage of our life reboot.  Except, well….things seem to be getting harder instead of easier.

Fortunately, a little stray cat provides my life lesson for today.

Near the end of summer, Jon and I were sitting on our little front porch, waiting for ‘our’ hummingbird to appear. Every night, at the same time (relative to sunset, that is), he’d appear, and zip into our little tree lawn tree to settle for the night.

Suddenly, just as the hummer appeared, a black cat also zipped across our tree lawn, ran under the fence, and into our backyard.

I thought it was our rescue cat, Noddy. “How the heck did she get out?!” I sputtered. But when we went inside, there was Noddy. (aka, ‘Naughty’ or ‘Nutty’, depending on her behavior at any given moment.)

Soon it became apparent the nightly visitor was younger, and a lot skinnier, than Noddy. I finally tracked her down to the little garage in back, which we use as storage space for my booth stuff. I began to feed her in there, and within a week, she was approachable. So, not a true feral, but a well-socialized little cat–who desperately wanted to join the fold.

After weeks of trying to locate her owner (yes, I went through all the steps, offical and social), I finally got her inside. Turns out she is a lovable, loving, very affectionate cat. Can’t get enough hugging and petting. She is now fed, safe, and happy, except for one issue:

She’s terrified of the other cats, and especially the dogs.

It’s understandable. On the street, other cats are threats. And the dogs chased her every time they saw her in the backyard. Even inside, when the cats get in a dust-up, their spats and yowling trigger a massive reaction from the dogs. (I can just read their little dog brains: “Fight! FIGHT!! Let’s go get ’em, too!!”)

How does this relate to life reboots? Plenty.

I’ve convinced myself I need to partner with a few local galleries, and small fairs, to reboot my art biz. The most powerful connections are made in my studio. But in the meantime, I’d like to get my name out there. And frankly, I’d like to make a little money, to at least carry my own weight out here.

The stress of negotiating this new (or better, revisited) territory, is fierce right now. Struggling to figure out how to simply my old booth set-up, so I can do it in an hour instead of 2 days. How to manage my inventory so I can introduce my highest art, while selling the less-heavy (figuratively) items I make (vintage button, and vintage resistor jewelry.)

ButtonJewelry02

Actually, I LOVE making these! It’s pure D love of color, shapes, and history. Come to think of it, the concept of buttons is prehistoric, too.

I bombed at my first show, and now I’m freaking out about my next one, this holiday weekend. It didn’t help when a studio neighbor mentioned that a following will grow, but it will take 4-5 years.

Four. To five. Years??!!  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh……

I began to whine. But my neighbor, a cancer survivor, would have none of it.

“Life is all about starting over, Luann,” she said sternly. “And it’s always hard, and it’s never easy. And sometimes, you lose everything.  Everything...” Her voice drifted away. “But that’s what life is.” I could hear the unsaid words. Everything can disappear. Life. Love. Even second chances.

I’m used to pep talks lately. My straight-talking life buddies are three time zones away now, and I don’t get to hear their words of dead-on wisdom so much anymore. But I was embarrassed enough to realize I cannot equate fear-of-doing-it-wrong with the disruption and displacement of my fellow life travellers. And I’m sure a few billion people in the world–people who would gladly exchange their life of hazard, hardship, homelessness, nation-less-ness–would gladly trade places with me, and my meager problems, that are pitifully small, even for me.

Even worse, I cringed when I thought of all the whining I do, looking for sympathy and reassurances that I’m a good person, and a good artist. Hoping people will see how hard I’m trying, and take pity on me, and, oh gawd, like me. (OH, my skin crawls to think of it.)

That night, as I drifted off to sleep, my lizard brain kicked in again. I’m scared. I need kind words. I need promises that everything will work out. Nobody wants my work. I’m doing it wrong.

And then I thought of Bean, our newest kitty, and almost laughed out loud.

Bean’s emotional life careens between two extremes: Desperate for affection and affirmation (well, in a cat sense), and extreme fear. There’s not enough love in the world to conquer her fear. Only time, and patience, small steps to introduce her into our household, will do that.

Or her anxiety may be a permanent trait. She may never adjust to two bouncy big dogs who love to ‘play’ with cats. (God help any creature who runs from them.)

But she is still loved. She has a place in our lives. And she has a place in the world. Can’t I learn to accept that about myself, too?

So maybe my lizard brain needs a new name: Feral Kitty brain.

And maybe a bowl of kibble.

ARTIST STATEMENTS: How to Explain the How With a Why

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to my world!

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

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

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

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

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

Polymer is durable, yet lightweight and comfortable to wear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WRITING AN ARTIST STATEMENT: Consider the Magician

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

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

Enjoy!

Pod beads detail

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

IF/THEN: Two Upcoming Fairs

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

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

BANNER Holiday Fair 2015

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

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

the duck art show

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

Everybody liked my standing bears, so I made more!

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STAMP OUT FOMO!!!

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

Shrine Red Deer Clan 1

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

 

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

FOMO. Aka, Fear Of Missing Out.

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

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

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

Because I’m sure I’m missing out. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luann Udell resistor jewelry

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

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

 

 

 

LESSONS FROM THE GYM: The Dangers of Playing It Safe

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

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