TESTING THE WATERS: How to get past “too much” and “not enough” to “just right!”

Don't miss Luann Udell's discussion on finding a balance
Don’t miss Luann Udell’s discussion on finding a balance….

Testing the Waters

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.

How to get past “too much” and “not enough” to “just right!”

Over a decade ago, we bought our first hot tub. It made New England winters soooooo much easier to bear. We immediately invited friends over to share the joy.

We thought we were being so generous with our tub, and then we found we’d been a little too generous. After our first week of glorious steaming under the dark and starry winter skies, we discovered we’d given a dozen of our friends a whopping case of hot tub rash.

Unfortunately, we had less-than-spectacular support and service from the company we bought the hot tub from. It turned out the “natural” ingredients to control for acidity and such, simply didn’t work very well.

We eventually switched maintenance service and products to another company in town. We learned how to test our water samples, adding this chemical and that to maintain the right balance. With this procedure, we were finally able to keep our hot tub water clean, and healthy, and safe.

Normally, I’d be too ashamed to admit this. But today the metaphors are just too spot-on to pass up.

As I tested and tweaked the water, I got to thinking:

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could test our lives the same way?


When things get toxic, or simply just smell “off”, you could pull out a little test strip and add the balancing elements you need to get back on your path.

(OK, hot tub rash isn’t toxic, just highly annoying. It itches.)

Is the water too acidic? You find yourself being impatient and unkind? Your outlook on life has become a little too caustic? Time to add a buffering agent–maybe a little kindness and understanding. When was the last time you felt fully engaged with your art work? (Me: “umm…….er…..”) (To be fair, setting up a new studio space, organizing, culling, finally having clarity about what needs to go where, feels pretty creative right now!)

Not enough acidity? Are others are being caustic to you? Do others around you feel free to take “nibbles”?  Maybe it’s time to get tougher, set stronger boundaries, and ask for what we need from those around us to restore the balance. This book, The Nibble Theory, changed my life, and it could change yours, too.

Is the water cloudy?  Are the treatments still not working? Maybe it’s time to look at your filtering system. Does it need to be cleaned or changed to make sure it’s scouring those bad influences out before they get recirculated back into your life?

Check your take on life. What color glasses are you looking at life through? And how do you handle the dreck that spills over into your life? Do you hold on to the bad stuff and setbacks in life, ruminating over them at night, accepting them as your “truth”?

Or do you let go and flush it out? (Apologies, I did not mean to introduce a toilet metaphor…!) Check out This amazingly simple document for some insights and simple actions to start feeling better.

Evidence of toxic infiltration? Sometimes toxic elements accumulate, and before we know it, we’re knocked completely off our path. Time for a shock treatment! Sometimes you need extreme measures to get those negative influences and toxic relationships out of your life. (Please do not resort to violence. It always ends badly.) Last year, I simply had to hunker down and be exquisitely kind and gentle with myself. It was surprisingly hard! But I think this is why I am now embracing the studio set-up. Every day brings a little more clarity about what I need to do. And nobody gives me grief about it. It’s all me!

Is the balance still not right? Then you may have to empty the tub and start all over again. Maybe even try a whole new system to get the results you want. I’ve been meaning to get back to work in my new studio. But then I got carried away setting up my lighting. Which led me to search for more of my lighting stuff. Which led me to clearing a path in our garage so I could get to my old booth setup. Soon the entire afternoon was gone. I still haven’t made anything, and now I’m late with my article for FAV!!

But I got rid of some stuff, cleaned some stuff, repaired some stuff, found some stuff I needed, and have more insight into what I need to do next.

I’ve done that active listening thing for several friends in the last few weeks. My husband said, “So when is it YOUR turn?” I realize that process may indeed be a good water balance test strip. Er, life balance. A quick check in to see if I have the balance I need to make my art the best it can be.

In lieu of little paper water testing strips, what can we use to measure what we need?

 A little group of artistic friends can help. Make sure they “have your back”, know your heart, and treat you fairly. Checking in with people you love and respect, who love and respect Y*O*U, can do wonders to get our balance back.

I hope my columns help, and the wonderful conversations that have grown around them. I believe it helps to know we are not alone, no matter where we are on our life-and-art journey.

Some find balance in family, pets (big and small!), traveling, exercise, SHOPPING (oops! Did I say that out loud??), a class, a night out with friends, a great movie…almost anything can tilt that little testing strip toward the healthy medium we’re looking for. Whatever restores us to our best self, so we can get back to making our art. In fact, from what I’m hearing, most find that going to the studio and getting to work is the best strategy of all.

For me, it’s all of the above. But mostly, the “aha” moments come from writing. It helps me untangle the knotty problems and worried thoughts in my buzzy brain.

That’s another blessing with cleaning part of the garage today: I found all my old journals! And poetry I’d written years ago, much of which I’d forgotten about. I found beautiful letters from good friends and perfect strangers, people who had thanked me for the gift of a horse necklace, for reaching out, for having the courage to make a connection. It made me feel more “me”, if that makes sense.

Because, I just realized (see? This is why I write!) each journal, each note-card, letter, poem, every small item I had set aside for my kids (their poetry, stories, drawings, etc.) brought back to me just how lovely my life has been, and how much love, joy, and connection my artwork, and my writing, have created, for myself, and for others.

As I’ve said so many times, we tend to think of the times we “did it wrong”, the times we struggled with, the mean things people say, and the art project that didn’t quite work out.

But my life test strip was there to tell me it’s all okay. In fact, it’s all really good.

Time to see if it’s safe to go back in the water.

The hot tub is long gone. When we sold our house to move to California, the new owners did not want it. We were able to sell it for half of what it cost us. My husband and the husband/dad part of the new family were there when the guy came to pick it up. (They had just moved to NH from the Midwest, and had never had a hot tub.) As the guy loaded it onto his truck, Jon said, “Man, I don’t know how we would have gotten through those last few winters without that hot tub!” And the new owner, confused, said, “You used it in the winter?!” (Jon said he could almost see the wheels turning in his head, and the guy looked a little regretful.) Oh well.

Hmmmm….maybe we could use a little hot tub, ourselves? (California evenings are certainly cool enough, even in the summer!)

P.S. And if you DO give your friends a hot tub rash, be sure to say you’re sorry. And take them out to dinner.

Maybe even buy them a bottle of their favorite single-malt whiskey. Or two. Or three.