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 SEE #7: The Making is About More Than Just the Selling
Money is GREAT, but it’s also not EVERYTHING!
(7 minute read)
Years ago, when I had a fairly-reliable audience in New England, and galleries all over the country carrying my work, it wasn’t hard to be inspired to make stuff. I knew there would be a “place” for everything I made, and eventually a permanent home for it, too.
Then the recession hit. Then silver prices skyrocketed. (OH THANK YOU PEOPLE WHO TREAT METAL MARKETS LIKE A GAME.) The high price of sterling silver made my jewelry work more expensive. The recession caused many of my galleries to shutter, or to ‘play it safe’ with their inventory. In fact, I used to have a very liberal wholesale return/exchange policy, until many gallery owners used it to constantly replace slow-moving inventory with new work. And everyone wanted my cheapest least expensive work, which was truly disheartening.
As more and more old inventory was returned, as sales fell, it was harder and harder for me to go to my studio and make new work. Old work was all around me. “Why bother?” I thought. “Nobody wants it.”
Slowly, the economy recovered, although many of those national accounts did not. I focused on more local resources, and maintained some degree of success.
Then we moved to California, leaving my biggest audience and events behind. (The League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Craft Fair, and my open studio events, which took about three years to really take off.)
Growing an audience here in California felt like ‘starting over’, until I realized I wasn’t starting over from scratch. I knew I had more experience, more skills, and more insights than when I first started out.
And yet it does take time to introduce our work to a new audience, and it has.
Then we had the wildfire in 2018. And 2019. My open studios tanked, as events were curtailed and postponed. And then, just as our open studio tour committees were in talks about how to work around wildfire season, the coronavirus lifted its knobby little head. All events have been postponed indefinitely. All my galleries here in Sonoma County, and New Hampshire are closed. One went out of business and returned a sh… a lot of work.
My studio is now filled with inventory. And that old feeling of “Why do I even bother?” filled my days. (Then the kidney stone thing, but that’s resolved, thank goodness! 22 DAYS!! Sheesh…)
Soon I had more inventory in my studio than ever. And for a week, I struggled to make anything, because, “Why bother??”
Then a small miracle happened here.
The first was my husband offering me his old sound-cancelling headphones, so I could listen to music on my smartphone. I have a CD player, but playing it loud enough so I can hear it means it could impact my neighbors. Because I can hear THEIR music, and it distracts me. Plus I have to constantly hit the replay button. Ear buds hurt my ears, and don’t give me the best sound quality, either. And I can’t work efficiently to music with words. ) (I know, I’m weird!) And I hate hearing other people talking in their studios, the studios on the floor above me, and next to mine.
Second, I discovered a composer/musician, Poppy Ackroyd, whose music is a perfect fit for me. Her three-song sampler from her album, Feathers, was the perfect choice. It plays over and over, the tunes are hypnotic. Suddenly, my production was in overdrive.
Even when my health issues disrupted my new routine, it only took a week or so to find my happy place.
My sacred creative space is now my happy place. Being ‘in the zone’ brings peace, and clarity. I work for hours, barely conscious of time passing. It feels wonderful!
I do the work I do, make it the way I do, because it makes me happy. It brings peace in my mind, and in my heart. My space is MY space, not shared with anyone, unless I let them in for a visit or a conversation. (Not now, of course!)
My studio, and my art-making, is where I am restored to my highest, best self, every day.
When I first started my little biz, it was with the realization that NOT MAKING was killing me, emotionally, spiritually. Realizing I had to make work that lifted me first. It was the realization that if one person in a million loved my work, that was enough.
With that insight came incredible focus, a desire to be the best I could be, and the determination to learn everything I could about marketing and selling my work. Sales are good, yes. But mostly, I wanted my artwork out in the world, where anyone could see it.
With that determination came a powerful artist statement, one I still use after 25 years. The insight that the Lascaux Cave paintings weren’t created to ‘make money’ or ‘gain celebrity’ helped. One person scoffed at my story, saying, “Those paintings were about SURVIVAL, nothing more!” To which I replied, “So is a cathedral.”
That’s why getting to the “why” behind our work is so important. It’s a superpower!
Because if we focus on money, and sales, and fame, and prestige, all of which are desirable and “not evil” in their own right, it can be devastating when we don’t have them.
If we measure our success in terms of our sales, it can subtly erode the joy we get simply from “the making”.
And in times like these, where everybody is suffering, afraid, feeling alone and unconnected, having access to simply making our art and sharing it is a powerful force for good in our lives.
Here’s another gift in keeping with the making.
Sales in my Etsy shop have tripled. Custom orders appear out of nowhere.*
I’m still struggling, financially, but that’s not new. What is astonishing, is that, for now, there are people in the world more determined than ever to have my art in their homes, in their lives.
In ancient times, shamans were healers, teachers, and artists. They were charged with keeping their people whole in every way. Cave paintings were created with the entire community present: Men, women, children. And we know now that many of those shamans were women.
In these modern times, we can be shamans, too.
Making our work for the right reasons—to restore ourselves to our highest, best place—heals us. Then we share it with the world: It heals others. And by encouraging others to find their own creative work, we teach them the value of what they do.
Hard times come in all shapes and sizes, from personal health to worldwide pandemics. Hard times are always with us: Pain. Grief. Sorrow. Injustice. Anger. Resentment. Lost. Alone.
When, on top of that, we lose any measure of our financial success, it can feel like the final straw.
Yet all creative work helps us heal, from painting to singing, from RomCom movies to tap dancing, from a good book to computer games. All can help us relax, enjoy, distance, hunker down safely, make us laugh, help us connect (virtually for now), calm us down.
The world needs our art more than ever.
If you’ve found a great way to stay centered in your creative practice, share it in the comment section below. When you share with your comments, you may help someone else who needs to hear it. (Ironically, on Fine Art Views, it’s below the ad for “Sell Your Work Like a Pro!) (Although I will say that FASO is one of the most awesome web-hosting sites I’ve ever seen, with a lot of good people working hard every day to help us earn some bucks from our creative work.*) (And “Like a Pro” means “the best way possible, with integrity.)
As always, if you enjoyed this article, let me or my editor know! If you’d like to read more, you can either read more of my articles on Fine Art Views or subscribe to my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com. You can visit my older articles in the wayback machine at Radio Userland. (They are harder to search for, but they are also shorter!)
If you think someone else would like it, please forward it to them. And if someone sent you this, and you liked it, ditto!
*These sales came from a FASO feature I was unaware of. If I post new work in my Gallery section, my email subscribers get an automatic update! Check it out here!