SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: People Are Listening!

SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: People Are Listening!

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

 

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I have very good reasons for choosing polymer. Simply put, I could NOT do the work I do without it!

I recently wrote an article called SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: Consider the “Why”. In it, I shared how we can positively frame our choice of media, especially ones that are considered “less than.”. (I was going to say “justify” in that sentence, but it sounded like an apology. Let’s just stick with “frame”.)

There is a hierarchy in art media, just like there are hierarchies in any creative human activity. For example, even the worse presentation of ballet may be seen as more “sophisticated” than tap dancing, or break dancing.

In art, oil painting may be considered more “real art” than acrylics, which is “better” than watercolor, which is “better” than colored pencil, etc. Many even consider pottery and fiber art to be craft rather than “real art”. (It used to be, if you wanted to start a flame war on the internet, you would just ask what the difference is between “art” vs. “craft”. Actually, that argument’s probably still raging!)

My friend Nicole Caulfield is an extremely talented colored pencil artist. She chose this medium for a variety of reasons. To my eye, they are as beautiful and compelling as any oil painting I’ve ever seen. Yet her work commands far lower prices than even a mediocre oil painting. Does it weigh her down? Nope. This is the work she loves, and excels at. In my mind, she is an art hero! (I’ve linked to one of her website pages, but her portraits are jaw-droppingly beautiful, too!

Over time, new media (especially polymer clay) do gain respect and followers. And yet, there will always be those people who will find fault with them. In the article, I shared how I got to the heart of my “why”—why I chose to work with this material, and its advantages over others, to make my art.

Today I share another insight into why it’s important for us to find these reasons:

When we are challenged by these people who imply (or outright tell us!) our materials are “less than”, we need to be prepared with a great answer….

Because other people are listening!

I did an entire series of articles on awkward, obnoxious, aggressive/dismissive, simply ignorant, or even innocent questions or comments that may startle or stun us.

As artists and makers, whatever our choice of medium, we need to be prepared for an answer that modifies and redirects the conversation on our own terms.  We need to do it with patience, and dignity, and without anger, defensiveness, or apologies.

For one, we gain nothing by responding with anger or snark. We’ve simply lowered ourselves to our detractor’s level. We help create a hostile environment that works against us. (In fact, that’s why some obnoxious visitors do this, consciously or unconsciously. Why else would someone go out of their way to be rude, when all they have to do is walk away??)

But more importantly, when we address our detractors, other people around us. Whether it’s at an art opening, in our booth, in our studio, or even in our family and circle of friends, other people are paying attention to how we handle it.

If we learn to handle these difficult situations with respect, and reframe it to our advantage, we will really impress the people who are listening, who are/could be our real customers.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had someone say something awful to me, sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes because they are simply an awkward person, and sometimes, because my work has triggered something in them. (I’m guessing envy, and perhaps insecurity about their own creative efforts.)

I realized those questions and comments fall into several categories: My choice of media (not just polymer clay, but fiber, and jewelry.) My source of inspiration. My color palette.  How I talk about it.

I sat down and thought hard about how to respond in a positive way, without being defensive. This actually gives me the power to reframe the conversation in a way that serves me well.

And every time there has been an “audience”—other people browsing, for example—it’s obvious they’ve been listening to how I responded. Because they do one or more things:

They look even deeper at my work.

Often they come up to me afterwards and compliment me on my restraint. (Fortunately, no one can read my mind yet, where less pleasant responses are swarming.) (Yes, I have a lizard brain, too!)

They often buy something, too.

That “difficult person” gave me the opportunity to share my outlook on life, my art, and my medium, in wonderful, positive, life-affirming ways that resonate deeply with my audience.

Again, this took time. I was fortunate to find Bruce Baker’s seminars early on in my art career. For almost two decades, Bruce gave seminars and sold CDs offering great advice on marketing and display skills for artists and makers of all sorts. (He has now returned to his original work of jewelry-making.) [1]

I used his advice (and words!) when two women entered my booth at my very first major show. One looked at a large wall hanging, featuring my own handmade polymer faux bone artifacts. She said, “You’d have to live in a very different house to hang this. A VERY different house!” (It was obvious her “very different house” was not a desirable house…..)

I’d practiced Bruce’s suggested response to detractors, memorized it (so I wouldn’t be caught off-guard) and went into full reframing mode:

“Yes”, I replied cheerfully, “My work IS unusual, and unique. I’m inspired by the Lascaux Cave in France, which for decades was considered the birthplace of human art. I work with recycled fabrics to make each quilt, layered and stitched to look like it’s passed through many generations of family. I make my own faux prehistoric artifacts, one at a time, to embellish them.”

And the kicker line: “My work isn’t for everyone. But the people who do appreciate my work, love it passionately.”

Why is this so appealing?

I established my cred as an artist. I shared a bit of the process behind my work. I emphasized the time involved, and where the aesthetic comes from. I showed I’m not looking for mass appeal, but the story in my heart.

And I issued a small “challenge”: Maybe it’s not for you…or is it???

This is the power of discovering our “why”: Why we use this material. Why we make this work.

And why someone else’s negativity won’t stop us from moving forward with all our heart.

But the biggest gain was the people who came up to me after that person left, and congratulated me on my response!

They saw someone who hoped to get a rise out of me, sent on their way with courtesy, patience, and respect. They heard a response that answered some of their own questions, questions they may have hesitated to ask. (Because some artists can get pretty snarky about what they perceive as “stupid questions!)

It started a whole nother conversation about my work, where I could share how I came to be an artist, why I chose this cave, and why polymer is the perfect medium to tell my story.

So think about why you chose your particular medium. Think about why you choose to make what you make. Think about the questions that have stopped you in your tracks, making you wish you had a snappy response in return.

Then take out the “snappy” bits, and reframe it to your advantage.

Be careful about making a joke, because usually those jokes are at our customers’ expense! I myself have been the butt of such remarks, and even though they make me laugh, I’m also slightly ticked. (See that same “questions” series for ideas!)

And practice your response(s) until you don’t even have to think about it.

If you, too, have found a way to frame your response to detractors (it could be medium, subject matter, color palette, in a positive, respectful way that benefits you, share! Someone else is hoping you’ve found a beautiful way to not only deflect, but perhaps even engage, a difficult person.

Footnote: [1]  Bruce’s old website is long gone, but his excellent and informative CDs on selling and display for makers are still available! You can contact him by phone (802-989-1138) or email him at dunnbaker@aol.com  I assure you they are worth every penny!

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

Patience, grasshopper!

The latest installment in moving my very densely packed mixed media art studio is a bit confusing.

I was about halfway through packing up the studio, when I realized there were so many packed boxes, I couldn’t even navigate my space. So I had to move several dozen boxes home for safe-keeping.

Then I thought, with the extra space I’ll have, I should also pack up some of the supplies I’ve stored in our garage. That added a few more dozen boxes.

There was no place in my garage for those, too. (Why does packed stuff take up more room than when it’s just “out”???)

So we found a half dozen pallets, set them up on the porch, and tarped the stack just before the next round of drenching rainstorms hit last weekend.

It looked like we could do the actual truck rental/moving the first weekend of February. Unless it rained….fingers crossed!)

Then my darlin’ hubby reminded me he had a three-day conference to attend that same weekend. And the weather report? Three days of rain. Three days. Of rain.

On that Wednesday, January 30, late afternoon, my landlord asked me when I thought I’d be totally out of my space. I explained it might be an extra week. (I had previously offered to pay for the extra week, if it came to that, and he agreed.)

That’s when he said, “What would it take for you to be out of this space by tomorrow?”

Uh…..

He then offered the use of a truck, and the aid of two of his own employees, if I could move the next day.

Of course I said yes.

The next 36 hours were a hot mess. I entered that stage of packing where you just grab stuff, throw it in a box, and tape it shut. By the next morning, I wasn’t even taping boxes shut.

The truck was huge. Jon says it was bigger than my studio! It had a sign on it about “Junk Removal”, which, in other circumstances, would have hurt my feelings.

The two guys were wonderful, and thorough. The only thing that broke in the process was one light bulb. They even loaded my box of packing supplies, and a bag of garbage.

The actual long-dreaded move took less than three hours. (Yes, I tipped them generously.)

And so here I am, in my wonderful new space, filled with empty shelving racks, my desk, my sewing table, many many many boxes, and said bag of garbage.

    

        Old Studio                                                                          New Studio (in progress!)

(Don’t cheer yet, we still have to move all those tarped boxes on the back porch!)

I should be cheering, though. I should be thrilled. The worst part is over, right?

Not so fast, cupcake.

The configuration of my new space is totally different. While my husband was gone, there was only me to move heavy furniture and such.

My biggest roadblock?

I can’t figure out where to put my desk.

I pushed it here and there, up against this wall, back out to another wall, placing it perpendicular to a wall. Finally, yesterday afternoon, I gave up and left it sitting in the middle of the room.

How did I get this far, and get so blocked, so quickly?? I felt like an idiot.

Here’s how I finally got through it:

I pretended I was talking to a good friend.

If a good friend had just gone through a major, last-minute move, with almost no help, from a noisy (ongoing construction, jack-hammers, regular hammers, buzz saws, etc.) and tightly-packed little studio, to a slightly larger studio, in the middle of the rainiest California winter we’ve ever seen, would I call them an idiot?

If a good friend had gone through a year like mine (loss of both parents, my daughter’s loss of her first child-in-the-works, making five trips across country to be present for all three, and a sixth trip already this year), would I criticize their lack of energy and brain-capacity?

If a good friend had done their best to meet all commitments, gallery openings and receptions, special orders, etc. and now could barely find the time and energy to even unpack their supplies, would I chide them on their work ethic?

If said friend collapsed (in between the oh-so-many-stacks of boxes) in the middle of their studio because they couldn’t figure out where their desk should go, would I make fun of them?

I think not.

So why was I being so harsh on myself?

We all do this. We all believe that everyone else is “doing it right”, and we aren’t. We all believe that we should be doing better, even when circumstances won’t allow it. We are all kinder to our friends, even strangers, than we are with ourselves.

One compassionate friend and blog follower left a comment for me about their moves (office and house.) They made note that it took them 12 weeks, in both situations, to find the perfect place for everything. (Thank you, Susan!)

Twelve weeks.  I’ve unconsciously allotted myself three days.

I may not find the perfect spot for my desk for awhile.

Heck, even if I do find the perfect spot for it, I’m gonna have to move stuff around again anyway! I realized I need a big rug in the new space. (It’s echo-ish, and the floors will be slippery if they get wet.) So of course I put myself in a tizzy searching thrift shops for one, thinking I had to have it in place before I set up.

But then I found a super-cheap room-size rug on eBay for under $100. It also ships for free! It’s attractive enough, subdued enough not to distract from my artwork, and certainly not “precious” enough to worry about spills and stains, too.)

So today, I finally went to the gym, for the first time in weeks. It was good to be back!

I got home to find another offer, from a good friend, to help move more stuff. I always hate to ask for help, but they insisted. “I always enjoy our talks, so I’m doing it for myself, too!” they said. I’m taking them up on that! (Thank you, Laurie!)

And here I sit, sharing my slowly-untangling thoughts with you today.

I hope, if you are also facing something overwhelming in your life, that you have good friends to help you through.

And even if you don’t, I hope you are as kind to yourself as I’ve learned to be, today.

THE DOCTOR IS IN: A Prescription For Getting Unstuck

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

If you aren’t doing the work of your heart, it hurts. Fortunately, the “cure”* is pretty simple!

When I started my art career, I was on fire. I was full of that same fierce confidence I wanted first for my children, and then for myself. Obstacles weren’t barriers, they were challenges. Maybe I couldn’t go through them. But I could go over them or around them, or perhaps even simply set them aside til another time.

When I did shows, I told stories about my work, and explained my process and choice of medium. My choice was relatively new then, and people were a little wary of it. I turned that around by sharing the “what” (polymer clay) and the “how” (a time-consuming, but satisfying faux-ivory-and-scrimshaw technique, and most importantly, the “why” (the stories behind the Lascaux Cave, and my own journey of “coming to light”.)

As the years went by, I got into more prestigious shows, and did more open studio events. I had repeat customers, and loyal followers, people who loved my work passionately even if they couldn’t afford to collect it themselves.

And along the way, I noticed something deeper going on with some of them.

It would manifest itself in ways big and small, wistful and very occasionally (very rarely, fortunately!) toxic.

I eventually realized these were people who were envious of what I was doing. Not envious in a bad way. I mean, they wanted something in their life that was as meaningful, fulfilling, and lovely as what I was doing.

They would say they wanted to work in polymer clay. They wanted to make little horses, too. Or they wanted to be inspired by the Lascaux Cave.

It’s a little daunting when people tell you this, but looking back, I now appreciate their honesty. It encouraged me to look deeper, past the “initial” reaction, and into their tender, yearning hearts.

And rather than take it as a threat, I also learned to make this a teachable moment.

I would say, “I don’t teach classes on how to make my horses, or bears. I don’t own the copyright to the Lascaux Cave, and anyone can make a horse…..”

“But just doing what I do won’t make you happy.”

I tell them my body of work is the result of years of denial, and then a stepping up to the plate with the work of my heart. The materials and techniques I use are a unique combination that spoke to me for years. They started out very simple, and grew as my stories grew. And the stories I tell are my stories, not theirs.

And then I ask them, “What is the creative work of your heart?”

Some stammer. Some deny they have creative work. “What pastimes bring you joy? What did you love when you were a kid? What do you wish you had more time/energy/talent to do?”

This often gets a deeper response: “I always wanted to dance!” “I loved drawing as a kid!” “I always wanted to write poetry…” “I love to sing…”

If it doesn’t, I broaden my definition: “I believe that anything that is a force for good in the world, is creative work. I believe that anything that brings light into the darkness, is creative work.”

I list examples: Making art, yes. Performance art, yes. Written word, of course! But what about…..

Curating. Healing. Building. Growing. Nurturing. Teaching. Mending/restoration/repairing. Humor/laughter. Supporting. Nourishing/feeding. And so on.  (Add your own!)

These are all human skills that, done properly, and done well, make the world a better place.

Almost everyone I talk to is surprised to realize whatever it is that brings them joy, also brings joy to others, in some way.

It’s a validation that’s sorely missing in our modern culture. Even as there are thousands of ways to be a “maker” these days, there are makings we believe are “less than”.

We may believe others do it better. (Maybe. But not necessarily. And even if they are, so what?)

We might believe others make lots of money (or at least more than we do) doing it. (repeat the above.)

We might believe “success” is about fame and fortune. (Is that your only definition of “success”?)

My point (and I do have one!) is that whatever heals us, brings us joy, restores us to a place where we can keep doing the other things that pay the rent and put food on the table…if that’s the only benefit it brings us, that would still be enough.

Take it a tiny step further: Share it with the world. Because it will bring joy to someone else. (Isn’t the “good thing” about social media the fact that it’s so easy to share that funny cat video, that beautiful lily in bloom, the funny things our kids say, the picture of that sunset/trees turning in fall/odd blob on the sidewalk that looks like a gerbil?)

And if the yearning is being met, here’s the prescription:

Take a class!

Classes are powerful remedies for many reasons.

They force us to “make time” for our creative efforts. And they provide a dedicated space to do it.

They come with an instructor, who will help you learn the skills you need.

They come with all the materials and supplies you’ll need.

And when you goof up (and everybody—EVERYBODY does!) a class comes with a built-in mistake expert. Because believe me, the instructor has made, or encountered, almost everything that can possibly go wrong. I used to tell people, “If you make a mistake, I will show you how to fix it, correct it, erase it, modify it, incorporate it, or cover it up so no one will ever know! Or we’ll just throw it out and you can start over.”

And they also come with another superpower I learned recently:

A ready-made community. Your fellow students all showed up because they have similar interests and desires. This could be a source of future friendships and/or meet-ups to pursue your creative goals. (Er…that one know-it-all that annoyed everybody else? You can exclude them if you want.) (Or, hey, invite them anyway! Maybe the making will heal them, too!)

I suggest they take an introductory class in polymer clay. Or a quilting class, or a beginning jewelry-making class.  There are classes in writing, there are endless opportunities to sing (I used to sing in church choirs, even in churches I wasn’t a member of, because I simply wanted to sing.)

Yesterday, a delightful customer stopped by, and I asked them these same questions. And when they shared what spoke to their heart, I realized I’d seen an ad for a class with those same skills, in an area magazine, the day before. Can you say, “modern miracles”??

To artists who are already on their journey, but feel stalled, stymied, stale, I would suggest the same. Step outside your comfort zone, and explore something new. And if you find it speaks to you, enfold it into your current practice.

It could be a class, or it could be something else.

It could be a way to get calm–perhaps Tai Chi. It could be a step back to something simpler—like papier mache. It could be something challenging, like a class outside your skill set. It could be something crazy, like a trip to somewhere you’ve always dreamed of. It could be starting a journal, and noting where that takes you.  It could be an artist support group, where you gather with like-minded, sympathetic folks who encourage you to spread your wings a little wider.

Once I took a class on making “spirit cards”. Just simple collages, with images from magazines and such. Cut and pasted onto 5”x8” mat board. There was more to the class, but I enjoyed the simplicity and peace of making those cards. And so I elected to stay with it through most of the class. I still have them, and I see something different in them every time I take them out. I want to make more!

So to summarize:

Recognize—and respect–what’s already in you. (But if it’s not clear yet, also know you may have to experiment and play to find it.)

Start small. (My first “studio” was the dining room table, which we only used to pile stuff on until we put it away, and a china hutch dedicated to my art supplies.)

Get bigger! (In spirit, and skill.)

Or…

Go further afield! (There is joy in simply having a good time, and constantly experimenting. It’s okay to “play” forever! Amateur means “doing something simply for the love of it.” And there is “unique-ness” in combining multiple methods and media, like I did with polymer, fiber, and jewelry.)

In last week’s article, a reader commented, “The list of reasons why I can’t do it seems endless.” I want to invite them for coffee. I want to ask them, what is the work they dream of making? I want to help them find 30 minutes a week to spend on themselves. I want them to believe they can create a tiny space, in their home, in their life, even if they can only finish one item a month, or a year.

Because something and little steps are better than nothing.

And the power of little steps can bring great rewards, physically, personally, professional, emotionally, and spiritually.

If you’ve had a setback where making your art seemed impossible, tell us how you found your way back. Your answers matter, to someone else who’s on that same lake, in a different boat, today.

 

*Okay, I said “cure” but a cure fixes things. I like the word “healing” better, because some things can’t be fixed—the need for a second income, the lack of funds for renting a studio, health issues that compromise our resilience and abilities, etc.

But there are small steps we can take to help alleviate the pain and discomfort, and get us back to our happy, creative place.

**Years ago, an artist said they didn’t have time to make art, and weren’t sufficiently motivated to do it on their own.

As I looked at their body of exquisite work, I asked them when they made it. In weekend painting workshops, they replied. I asked them how many paintings they could make in said workshops? They replied, “I’m fast. I can crank out anywhere from six to a dozen!” How often were such workshops offered in their area? Oh, at least one a week, they cheerfully responded. (Big urban area, but even smaller towns have a plethora of offerings, if you look.)

“So,” I said, “You could take one workshop a month, for a year, and you would have a big enough body of work to pitch an exhibition to a gallery….?” Uh….oh. Yeah. Yes! They’d never thought of that.

What You and M. Night Shyamalan Have In Common

What You and M. Night Shyamalan Have In Common

(Hint: It’s what ALL artists have to ignore!)

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

(Hint: It’s what ALL artists have to ignore!)

I’m so overwhelmed with packing up my studio, I look for any excuse to take a break.

I came across an article, an interview of M. Night Shyamalan by Sopan Deb of the New York Times, about Shyamalan’s newest movie, “Glass”. I did not realize he was only 29 when he made the extraordinary (literally!) movie “The Sixth Sense”. The reveal—that the main character was dead—was as startling as Agatha Christie’s novel, “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” in 1926. (Spoiler alert!! The narrator turns out to be the actual murderer, a twist that redefined the genre, and created quite an uproar at the time.)

For years, Shyamalan created movies ahead of his time. “Unbreakable”, about the origin of a superhero, without spandex, was made years before the massive onslaught of comic book hero movies. (It’s actually gained in popularity since.) He was typecast as the movie guy with a “twist”. He’s been criticized as always having a twist, or ironically, the twist not being “twisty” enough.

“Glass” is considered his “comeback movie”, and many critics are roaring about it being “less than”, in their eyes.

Two things:

First, we went to see it last weekend. We both loved it!

The approach is very different than current action-superhero movies. Not a lot of CGI, which makes it feel more grounded, more realistic. The camera action draws us in, making it feel like we are in the same room as the protagonists. The tension is maintained throughout the movie.

The ending was deeply moving, and the twist? Well, I love spoilers, but since most people won’t, I won’t provide them here.  Suffice to say, we are left knowing the pain and suffering of all its characters, and the flip side of the “villains”.

Once again, Shyamalan has created a complex, and deeply human film.

Second, what deeply resonated with me in the article was when the interviewer asked him about how the movie is framed makes the film seem like a “comeback” for him, making it seem like his work has been “less than” in the years between. “Was that frustrating for you?”

Here is what Shyamalan says, a response worthy of all creatives:

“No, the journey isn’t really about what others are saying about you. It just can’t be. You’re taking all of your power away from you. That’s not where your energy should be….”

Artists and all kinds of creative people get criticism all the time. Some is constructive, but much of it isn’t.

It’s our human nature to listen. We are hard-wired to want to belong, to be part of a community. Criticism can feel like we don’t belong.

It takes courage and perseverance to recognize the flip side of this innate trait:

Our desire–our NEED–to be seen as an individual.

When we recognize that our work may sometimes (or often!) be seen as “not enough”, or not worth the price, or some other “less than”, and keep making it anyway, because that is how we see ourselves in the world, it’s powerful.

Yes, we can all improve our work. Yes, we can all do better. We are all a “work in progress.” Sometimes negative feedback and setbacks take their toll, and sometimes it only spurs us on to greater heights.

But in the end, the only person we have to answer to, is ourselves. Only you can determine what, if anything, needs to change in your art.

Lots of things (recessions, war, living in a small town or an isolated area, places where there are few people who like our work, or few who like it but can’t afford it), it feels like the world doesn’t want our work.  Thanks to social media marketing, we can overcome location, in time. Recessions ease and pass. The day I learned everyone’s sales had slumped awhile back, was a lit-tul embarrassing. (It’s not always about me–doh!)

But that feeling can be hard to ignore.

In my fierce beginnings with my art, I knew that if only one in a thousand people liked my work, that meant there was still an audience of over 7,500,000 in the world.

And if only one person in a million were willing to actually buy it, that’s 7,500 customers in the world! Years ago, it might have been almost impossible to find them, but it’s a lot easier today. (And of course, there are more than one customer in a million….)

Now, almost 25 years later, I, too, often succumb to self-doubt and despair. And yet….

I still remember that day I met my husband at the door, telling him I realized, “I have to be an artist, or I’ll die. I don’t even care if I’m not a GOOD artist.  I just have to do it.” That was the day I released every emotional shackle I’d placed on myself.

I still need to remember that. Every. Single. Day.

That same weekend we went to see “Glass”, it grossed over $47,000,000 and was the top movie at the box office. (And I’m glad we were a tiny part of that validation!)

The last thing (OK, there were three things….!) is Shymalan’s answer to whether he’d ever direct a “Star Wars” film.

His answer: He believes it’s best to stick with what works for him. “There are filmmakers who don’t fit easily into a system, and probably I’m one of those.”

He could make a Star Wars movie that would gross even more, and establish his “comeback” forever.

But he will stick with what he does best, and what he loves: Making original movies, making thrillers. And he will be happy.

The next time someone disses your medium, your choice of subjects, your plein air work vs. your studio work, how much (or how little) time you take to do your work, whatever… remember these three things:

Different can be good.

The work of your heart is the work only you can bring into the world.

Respect your process.

 Be all you can be. Rejoice that you can be an artist in the world today, with few restrictions, except for the ones you take on yourself.

As the beloved poet Mary Oliver said in her beautiful poem “The Summer Day”;

Tell me, what is it you plan to do 

With your one wild and precious life?

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Your Next Studio

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

It doesn’t get easier. The life lessons just keep coming, and that’s a good thing.

I hope!

Here we go again. I’m moving into a new studio later this month!

I got an offer on a new space last week. It’s the same space I was offered almost exactly a year ago, when events at my current studio nearly blew my sacred, happy space into smithereens.

Last year, it was so tempting. It’s a large old building in the middle of a field, a five-minute drive away. It’s one of two buildings next to each other, both full of artist studios, both managed by good people. The rent was affordable, it offered twice the space, and the co-managers really, really wanted me there. “We love your art!” they exclaimed. “We’ve always hoped you’d move out here!”

At the time, there was still hope for my old space. New management, new potential, in a once-shabby neighborhood that’s turning the corner, mostly due to a swanky new restaurant that opened a couple years ago.

Filled with hope that things would work out, I turned it down. I stayed in my still beautiful little space.

And here I am, a year later, one of only two artists left in the building, everyone else gone, one new biz moving in (eventually) and another biz space almost ready to rent out. The building is now managed by the owner. Major improvements are in the works. There’s already a beautiful new wood fence where jasmine used to bloom.

Trouble is, I already miss the jasmine.

The last 10 months have nearly driven me mad. The uncertainty, the noise (renovations and other noisy stuff), the lack of foot traffic because the coffee shop next door closed.  Mostly, though, the uncertainty. I’m pretty sure my rent was going to go up, too.

My wonderful little studio now feels like a cage.

I started looking for a new studio space, but everything was either too small, too expensive, too far away, or not easily accessible by the public. I kept hoping things would work out, but couldn’t keep the dread out of my heart.

Finally, I got the call last week that the exact same space in that big building was available again.

And this time, I leaped at it.

For one thing, I knew if I did have to move again later in 2019, these kind people may not reach out again. I was number one on their list of takers both times, and I’m not gonna blow that again!

Secondly, in addition to the advantages I mentioned at the beginning, there is a teaching space available in the building. My biggest hassle when I teach is gathering all the supplies and tools I need. I want to be prepared for every contingency, and in the end, I almost always leave something critical behind. Now this won’t be a problem, because my studio will be 30 seconds away!

Another artist already in the building assured me the building is well-managed, and safe to work in at night. Not the case at my former space, for the last year, anyway.

The additional space means I can move more framing supplies and display out of our cramped garage, which will free up much-needed home space.

But it’s still hard.

I will miss my “show window”, where people walking by could see my work any time, any day.

I will miss my view of public artist Bud Snow’s lovely mural just outside my door.

I’ll miss being able to run next door to grab a hot chocolate or coffee.

I will miss the “drop-in” factor, the people who just happened to come by, and became passionate supporters. In fact, people can’t just come into the new building—the entrance is locked. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just….different.

I will miss my husband being able to just walk down to my studio with the dogs, to take a quick walk around Julliard Park and look for minnows in the creek.

On the other hand, parking is free. (Street parking at my current studio is so tight, I paid to rent a space in a private lot.) There’s another open studio event I can now participate in annually, based on this new location. And did I mention classroom space?

The final realization is what nailed it for me.

Our art neighborhood is changing. It’s going a teensy bit upscale. Not big time—yet. But the writing is on the wall. A few buildings have changed hands, rents are going up, and that will be the kiss of death for many artists. Artists colonize “unsavory” spaces, because they are affordable. They also subtly change the neighborhoods for the better. Soon, the studios AREN’T so affordable anymore. And we move on.

So I believe I’m getting out while the going is good. Yes, I may regret it. But I’m guessing not.

As I look back, I’ve always believed my current studio is the best one I’ll ever have. One of my early mentors, textile artist Deborah Kruger, listened to me fretting about what would happen if I lost my second studio, almost 20 years ago. I said, “What if I have to move?! This is the best studio I’ve ever had!” And she replied, “Until your next studio.”

My next studio….

Some of us are fortunate to have home studios. I did, for almost 20 years. There were pluses and minuses. It’s hard to ignore the dishes when you have to walk through the kitchen to get to your studio!

I’ve had studios outside the home. I thought they were wonderful! Looking back, I can now see they were not easily accessible to the public. That’s a deal-breaker for me now. One was not private, just a space inside a larger room. That’s a no-no for me today.

And if my life lessons hold true, I will grow to love my new space. I will remember my old one fondly, but with no regrets. It worked until it didn’t work, and then I moved on.

My buzzy brain is still at work, though. So those of you who have had several studios, please chime in! How did you deal with such a major change? What worked out well, and what didn’t? What would you do differently about choosing studio space, if you knew what you know now?

Gotta go….several weeks of packing ahead. Wish me luck, and lots of wine!

 

LEARNING TO FLY Part 4b: Trust and Verify

January 12, 2019

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

LEARNING TO FLY Part 4b: Trust and Verify

Instruments can be faulty, so have a back-up and verification process!

In last week’s article Learning to Fly: Trust Your Instruments! we talked about how trusting our senses over our instruments can prove disastrous. Today, I’ll share why it’s important to make sure our instruments are accurate!

My pilot friend clarified his point about instruments vs. our senses: “Every instrument has a function. And every instrument has a back-up instrument.

There is an instrument that creates an “artificial horizon”, that accurately reflects where the real horizon, is so we don’t have to rely on our unreliable senses—for example if fog, smoke, clouds, or snow obscures our view. There are instruments that measure our climbing and our descent accurately, so we don’t misjudge the runway below. There are instruments that show the actual angle of our turns. And a compass for confirming our true direction. The famous “Bermuda Triangle” airplane disaster, Flight 9, when five Navy bombers were lost at sea, probably arose from a squadron leader not trusting his own compass over his eyes. (He literally misidentified which set of Keys they were flying over.)

So if your gut, your instincts, tell you not to trust your instruments (NOT your senses, which can easily be fooled), you should always check your back-up instruments. Some instruments even have a third set of back-ups!

And if the back-up instruments verify something is wrong, turn off the one that’s wonky.

Hence, trust and verify.

So how do we trust and verify in the art world? Let’s start with marketing and advertising.

Years ago, a quote that made the rounds of the art/fine craft world was, “I know only have of my advertising actually works. Trouble is, I don’t know WHICH half!!”

So true. Back in the day, where every single aspect of advertising and marketing costs big bucks, it was still really hard to assess WHO actually saw your message, and WHO actually responded positively to it.

So we just paid for ads where everyone else did, and hoped for the best. We bought mailing lists to target our intended audience, refined by zip code, income level, etc.) We spent money on postcards and postage, and kept our fingers crossed.

Today is different. We can do so much of our own marketing and advertising online, and pay far fewer fees for it, too. We can use “free” online tools (Google analytics, the stats on Etsy, the email analytics that come with FASO’s email newsletter app, etc.) Email analytics can even tell us who actually opened our emails.

But the best way to really know how our customers find us is to ask them.

It’s a hassle, and if not done carefully, our query can come across as annoying to our studio visitors. But at least it’s not as invasive as asking them their income level! And their response is golden.

At my last open studio event, participants were asked to check in with our visitors, and ask a series of questions. (I suggested that, especially in areas where multiple artists were, we not ALL ask them ALL the questions. That would be annoying!)

During a wrap-up meeting, the sponsoring organization’s marketing committee gave a report on all the marketing venues they’d used, and those used by individual artists.

Despite ads in local and regional newspapers, magazines, guides, radio spots, and signage, it turned out single biggest source was….the tour’s buyers guide! It’s essentially a catalog that featured images and information on each participating artist.

And the catalog didn’t rate highest by just  a few percentage points. It rocked

In fact, most of the participation fees collected go toward the catalog production. Ironically, there are many potential participants who choose NOT to do this event, precisely because they believe it’s too expensive. (Almost $500.) I like to point out to these folks that this is about the cost of a quarter-page ad in any other print medium, whether it runs for a day, a week, or a month (as in a monthly magazine.)

The tour catalog? They stick around for at least a year, until the next one comes out. When my hubby and I made a trip out here in 2012, before we even knew we would end up moving here, I picked up one of those catalogs. It blew me away.

I still have it, and newer editions. I still refer to them from time to time. I still hand out extras to studio visitors, too. (Although the tour information has a past-due date, most of the artist information sticks. In fact, I’m encouraging the organization indicate which artists are open year-round to the public, by chance or by appointment.)

So even though that event may seem expensive, a look at the numbers will verify that it more than pays for itself in the end. It brings hundreds of visitors or more, over two weekends. Divide that $475 by twelve months and you get a ridiculously affordable marketing strategy.

And, of course, if we’re smart about signing visitors up for our email newsletter, for our own events and workshops, we benefit for the years ahead, too.

What about galleries? That’s an easy one, too. It’s simple to identify a certain gallery as “the gallery” we’d like to get into. Hearing about another artist’s success there, or knowing the reputations of its artists, it’s easy to assume it will be a great gallery for us, too.

But do a little digging. Sometimes, only a few artists are doing well. The others are window-dressing. In a co-op gallery, some members are great at selling, but others, perhaps, not so much. Perhaps they focus on their “winner artists” over you, and your work goes into the dark corner in the back.

Or their not really doing as good a job at marketing your work as you would. I know one gallery that looks great. Every artist that visits wants in.

But the money they take on commissions goes right into the owner’s pocket. Not into marketing or advertising for the gallery itself, or doing the other things that would get your work into the public eye. Your work is just a cash cow to them. You wanna buy an ad, they say? Pay for it yourself!

Now, most galleries are more professional than that, and they do take on the work of marketing for all their artists. But understand that person who cares the most about selling your work is Y*O*U.  Don’t assume you can sign on with a gallery and kick back. Remember, it’s a partnership.

Sometimes, we stay with a prestigious gallery even when it doesn’t really work for us anymore. Or the sales aren’t really better than those at smaller, less well-known galleries. There are all kinds of reasons for that, too. Check your inventory and sales record. If you have twice the inventory or more at one place, but your work sells better at that more modest place, consider providing the smaller place with more inventory.

Of course, there is a prestige factor in being part of a prestigious gallery—if you can afford having inventory there that won’t necessarily be sold very quickly. I’m willing to do this, and maybe you are, too. I’d rather have my work on display at a nice gallery than sitting in my already overcrowded studio!

In fact, when I ask new visitors how they’ve heard of my work, often it’s because they saw it at a local gallery. So even if our sales numbers aren’t spectacular at that gallery, if it’s bringing new collectors to see you in person, that’s worth it.

Last, what do your instruments tell you about your work?

I have several lines of jewelry besides my artifact work. Some I love very much, but they aren’t nearly as popular. They are very different from my artifact series, but they are also unusual, and they are fun to make. But the cold hard truth is, they don’t sell well. Should I keep making them?

My numbers say no. My senses? There’s nothing wrong with them. What am I doing wrong? Why should I even bother making them??

My gut? They’re fun to make, and unique. But I have a very small space. So these items may compete visually with the rest of my work. Find the right venue, and maybe they will work better. Respect the items enough to raise my prices, and see what happens.

So I did, this season. They are now carried by a local gallery that carries a wide variety of items, not just fine art and fine craft. Plus, the folks who work there, love them. They featured them this holiday season, focusing on their gift-giving potential.

And guess what? The instrument—my consignment check—proved it!

Last, sometimes we use our biggest “instrument”—sales—to prove to ourselves whether we are successful or not. Yes, sales figures are an excellent instrument. But it’s not the only one.

Sometimes poor sales are not a reflection of the validity of our work, it’s something else. When my sales dip during said open studio event, I was sure I was “doing it wrong”. Guess what again? Everybody experienced a dip that year in attendance, which also correlated to sales. Oh, there were a few people who did great. But overall, everyone was sure it was “just them”, and it wasn’t. It could have been any number of random factors. Again, the wrap-up meeting revealed an unusual blip in one area that (art students required to visit participants’ studios as a class assignment) that bumped the numbers up for that location. Good to know!

Also, art is considered a luxury in today’s world. Why buy the work of an artist for $5,000 when you can get a lovely framed print at Target’s for under $100? Yes, there are collectors, and there are people who don’t care about original work. They are often not the same audience. But we can change that! We can offer a selection of smaller, affordable work for new collectors.

It’s our job, as artists, to “normalize” what art is, to make it accessible, and entice these folks on board.

How do I know this? Years ago, an experienced marketer in our small artist group show suggested we target a few dozen prominent people in town, and personally invite them to the opening. I invited our local newspaper editor, who I only knew as a fellow parent, waiting to pick up our kids after school. He came to our opening, and he was amazed! He said, “I never go to these, I thought they were only for collectors!” He didn’t realize that “ordinary people” can attend, meet the artists, and perhaps even purchase artwork.

But because most view art as a luxury, when the news gets rough, and things get hard, most people, collectors and casual visitors alike, hunker down. When the stock market falls, sales drop. If we invade Iraq, sales plummet.

Taking that personally makes us feel it’s us again, that we are not good enough. Checking in with other artists can help. It’s not a reflection on us. It’s a natural human instinct to “get safe”.

And yet….

Sometimes, after hard times, people actually shop more. They get tired of hunkering down, they get tired of being afraid. This is what happened months after the wildfires that hit my community last year. Everyone hunkered down.

But slowly, they realized that they needed art in their life to help create a “happy place”, even in their temporary/new home, and in their hearts.

Maybe they need a beautiful new painting to look at every day, or a lovely new glazed vase for flowers, or a little horse amulet to hold in their hand and caress.

And there we are, just waiting for them to realize that we have exactly what they need to feel better.

If we’ve taken the “false” readings of the attendance and sales “instruments” to decide we aren’t good artists, or that we’re not “successful artists”, then we’ve let those false instrument readings beat us down and toss us out. When actually, we–and the world-need our work more than ever.

So trust your instruments.

Know what you’re “measuring”.

But check and verify them—and your assumption–for the real truth, too.