NEWSLETTERS 101 #2: It’s Okay to Talk about Yourself!

NEWSLETTERS 101 #2: It’s Okay to Talk about Yourself!

Sharing may seem like bragging. But it isn’t, and here’s why…

(6 minute read)

In last week’s post, I shared some of the basics of creating an email newsletter about our art. In the articles ahead, we’ll explore them, and address our fears/doubts/am-I-doing-it-wrong moments.

One person shared their own fear: What if I sound like a narcissist?

This one was easy: If you’re worried about sounding like a narcissist, then you aren’t a narcissist. Because a true narcissists doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong! They truly believe they are better than everyone else in the world, and don’t understand why that bothers other people.

But I get that this might be a big concern for many of us, especially those who were subtly (or blatantly) encouraged not to be “too much” in our culture: Don’t brag. Don’t show off. Be quiet. Keep out of the spotlight. Be humble. Be all this, to the point of making ourselves so small, we can barely breathe.

I also believe this is why so many of us find doing our own art marketing so hard. We’ve incorporated those ancient beliefs that tooting our own horn is just not ‘nice’. We wish someone else would do it for us.

And so many artists end up not doing it at all.

Here’s the thing: There’s a difference between bragging, and self-confidence. And self-confidence is healthier than self-denigration!

Like any other skill in life, practice helps. Start with a short little newsletter to your audience. Pick one thing that’s going on with you in your artist life this month/week/day.

Let’s start with that ‘talking to a good friend’ analogy I mentioned in last week’s article.

Imagine you have a meet-up with a person you really like, and they really like you, and you haven’t seen them for a while, what would you talk about?

HOW would you talk?

Would it be a monologue? Would it only be about the stuff you’re proud of? Would your intention be to make yourself bigger than/better than your friend? Because bragging is a way to make other people feel less-than.

Or would you share your successes and breakthroughs in manageable “bites”, with gratitude for your good fortune, with joy for what you’ve accomplished, knowing they will be genuinely happy for your success?

If you were working on a new project, and it didn’t work out the way you intended, would you only complain about everything that went wrong? Whine about all the people who made it worse? Blame your shortcomings on others?

Or would you make it into a funny story that makes you both giggle? Or share how you worked through the hard parts and found a way through, knowing your friend would be happy you did?

Do you strive to present the “perfect life”, like a social media ‘influencer’, carefully editing out anything that would mar your dream world? (If so, you’d better treat your friend to their meal.)

Or would you go back and forth, sharing the ups and downs, checking in with them about what they’re up to, how their getting through, and sharing what’s worked for you that MIGHT work for them, too?

I’ve read some newsletters that truly brag, the sender actively applauding themselves, congratulating themselves on how amazing they are, how talented, how rich, etc.

Bragging implies that rewards, success, wealth, and influence are a finite ‘pie’. And if their share of the pie is huge, that means there’s less for everyone else.

But what if we simply acknowledging our gifts: The skills we’ve worked hard to acquire. The time we’ve carved out for ourselves, to make this work.

What if we let people have a peek into our life: Share our creative process. How we get our ideas? How we know when a piece is ‘done’? What if we thank the people who have supported our work by purchasing it?

That’s not ‘bragging’. That’s owning our own life, honoring our unique journey. Achieving what we’ve practiced and prepared for. Sharing our dreams and goals.

We get to do that.

We can share how we get ‘set back’, and how we found the courage to move forward again. It will encourage someone else to find their courageous heart, too.

We can tell how we got stuck somewhere in our latest project, and how we found our way through. It will let others know there are always things that get in the way, and help them not be discouraged, too.

We can write about something funny and charming that happened, and it will make someone else smile, too.

Acknowledging our gifts and being genuinely grateful for them is not evil. Self-confidence is not evil. There are ways to let people know that EVERYONE has a gift. This one just happens to be yours.

The pie is infinite. And if our slice is huge, that means there’s plenty for everyone else, too.

I love this paragraph from an article I found while checking my own assumptions about bragging vs. self-confidence today:

“That’s one reason many of us don’t like to show off. We live in a highly competitive world, and we don’t want someone else to feel badly just because we’re feeling good. But sometimes that concern stops us from sharing good things that our friends, families and colleagues would actually like to know. And of course, in the workplace, there’s a fine line between showing off and genuinely outlining accomplishments that can help you move forward professionally.”

(F. Diane Barth, L.C.S.W.)

“Don’t let that concern stop you from sharing good things….” Yep, there’s my entire column today in 20 words or less.

Granted, a newsletter can feel like a one-sided conversation. But it really isn’t. It’s a way of sharing aspects of our life that people wouldn’t otherwise see. Letting others in on that is courageous. Powerful. And good.

So once more, with feeling: Imagine someone who wants the best for you. Someone who loves you for who you are, and what you do. Someone who has found joy in your work, and wants to see/hear/learn MORE about what we’re up to.

Write them a letter.

Then sit back and let the magic of authentic connection, grow.

Next week, I’ll share some ideas of what to write about. In the meantime, if you’ve already found your ‘happy place’ with your newsletters, share some of your insights. Other people will be so grateful! If you’ve received a newsletter from someone else, and it spoke to you, share a) what it was that made you feel connected, and b) how it could work for YOU.

And last, if you enjoyed this article, and know someone else who might like it, too, feel free to pass it on. And if someone sent you this and you did like it, see more of my articles at FineArtViews.com, other art marketing topics at Fine Art Views art marketing newsletter, and my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

Luann Udell, artist/writer

“Ancient stories retold in modern artifacts:
Jewelry, sculpture, fiber works inspired by ancient art.”

NEWLETTERS 101: #1 Tips and Tricks to Help You Connect

Oops! Forgot to publish this last Tuesday. So now you’ll get TWO articles on writing email newsletters this week! Because tomorrow is my NEXT Fine Art Views post…..

NEWLETTERS 101: #1 Tips and Tricks to Help You Connect

(6 minute read)

Someone wrote back to me today, telling me how much they enjoyed my email newsletter. They said it gave them hope that they could make theirs better. Yippee! I love it when I can encourage people to take one step forward. I know it will lead to many more.

I’m not the perfect newsletter writer. But I’m happy to share more insights on what might work for YOU.

What’s my secret sauce?

  1. Be authentic. I write like I’m talking to a good friend. (You can now skip this entire article if you’re out of time, because that’s the heart of my advice.)

 

  1. Be positive. So, not the friend where I cuss and swear about something frustrating that happened to me at the supermarket. I stick with positive news. No politics. No complaining.

 

  1. Don’t be boring. And not like the letters we had to write for elementary school English class. (As in, “Hello, how are you? I am fine! Today I had a sandwich for lunch. What did YOU have for lunch?”) I share something I’m excited about, something interesting I’m working on.

 

  1. Don’t be pompous. If making people feel smaller works for you, okay, I guess. But I prefer reading about the people who make me feel like I have a voice in the world, too. (Again with the ‘friend’ thing…)

 

  1. Act like you care. I write as if I’m talking with someone I care about. Someone who hasn’t heard from me in a few weeks, someone who really likes me, and who loves my work.

 

  1. Share your news. Then I tell them what’s up. What I’ve done, what I’ll be doing, and oh, you might be interested in this thing I made/wrote. And I ask them to let me know what they think. (More on this in the weeks to come.)

 

  1. Think about what YOU like to hear in emails. I think about what I like when I get other people’s emails. So in the next few weeks, take note of what newsletters YOU get. What do you like about them? Which ones do you stop and read right away? Why?? What’s in them that makes you happy? Inspired? Thoughtful?

 

  1. Don’t make it all about the money. I consider the things I DON’T like to see in other people’s emails. Repetition. Always about sales. Acting like a TV commercial. Creating false urgency. (Even a call to action does not always have to be about buying something.)

 

  1. Remember that when people sign up for our newsletter, it means they WANT to know more. They want to know what makes us tick. How (and why) we do what we do. How we found our way forward, and how they can, too.

 

Otoh, I think about the people who put me on their email list without checking with me first. DON’T DO THIS!

 

  1. Be casual. Perhaps this advice is not ‘professional’. Perhaps people who are famous artists do it differently. After all, they may have a prestigious clientele, people who would willingly pay $25,000-$100,000 or more for their artwork.

 

But that’s not me. So I do it differently.

 

  1. We’re visual artists. Include pictures! This would be so much harder if we were musicians….

 

  1. Remember, all customers are fans, but not all fans are customers. I’m writing to people who may not be able to afford my work. And people who have collected my work for decades. And everyone in between. In my newsletter, everyone is worthy.

 

  1. Let people know who you are. The people I’m writing for are people I saw regularly back in New Hampshire, and people who may have never met me. People who come to every open studio, and people who have never been to my studio. Some of them are on the East Coast, some are on the West Coast, and some are in the middle. So we can’t even talk about the weather! But what they all have in common is wanting to know more about us, about our work, about our journey.

 

  1. There’s too often, and not enough. Too long, and too short. Etc. (You get to choose.)* Because I don’t want to inundate people with my writing, I used to limit my email newsletter to ‘events’, just like I did with my snail mail mailing list. Here’s my booth number at that fair, here are the dates of my open studio, etc.

I subscribe to quite a few blogs and artist newsletters myself. Some write every day. Some write once a week, and some write once a year. Some are so long, I never stop to read them. Some are so interesting, I drop whatever I’m doing to read them.

When I unsubscribe from a newsletter, it’s because a) I’m no longer interested in what they’re sharing with me; b) I’m not buying what they’re selling; c) I never signed up for their newsletter in the first place.

My point here is, there is no single right-or-wrong way to write a newsletter. Except, too boring, too repetitive, and waaaaaay too long. (I’m lookin’ at MYELF here…)

You might be disciplined enough to send one every week, or every month. Or you might be like me, skipping a month or two, then sending three in a week.

If people like what you’re saying, they won’t care. If they don’t, they’ll find any excuse to unsubscribe. And like people that say mean things to us, it’s more about them than it is about us.

  1. Email newsletters are soooo much easier/quicker/cheaper than snail mail mailings to stay in touch with our followers. Back then, it was expensive to mail thousands of people, even just a postcard. So I never sent a newsletter for any other reason.

Now, all I have to do is type, and add some good pictures, and hit ‘send’. Yay! I just saved $600!!

Last, here’s something I’ve learned this year:

  1. Newsletters level the playing field between extroverts and introverts. More on this to come!

 

*Now my caveat: There are people who offer different advice about newsletters. They have more expertise than I do, and perhaps even statistics to back them up. Please, feel free to skip my advice if/when it conflicts with theirs.

But if this appeals to you, stay tuned for more columns ahead, where I’ll share some ideas about things we can write about, and why newsletters can be a powerful tool for introverts.

Share your own stories in the comments! What newsletter did you create that got the best response from your audience, and what do you think was the reason why? Where do you get stuck when creating a newsletter? What’s your greatest fear? (Hint: Getting our work out into the world is a hero’s journey. Newsletters are much less strenuous!)

If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to pass it on to someone else. And if someone sent you this article, and you liked it, too, see more of my articles at FineArtViews.com, other art marketing topics at Fine Art Views art marketing newsletter, and my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

WAYBACK SATURDAY….er, Sunday. FEAR AND ART

This post first appeared on my now-defunct Radio Userland platform on Friday, March 21, 2003. At first, I thought “What war??” Then I realized a lot was going on since 9/11. Sound familiar? Other odd coincidences: I just finished reading The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker again, before I even found this article. I did finally find a copy and Art and Fear, about the fears that keep us from creating, and I still highly recommend it.
And though we now know that art shows will be on hold for a while, there are plenty of other ways we can keep our art biz going, by moving to online shopping and virtual events. Our creative work matters more than ever!
Fear and Art

A poster on a discussion forum put into words what all of us have been feeling lately, but hate to admit out loud.  The artist had a show coming up soon–should they cancel it because of the impending war? Maybe no one would show up.  Many of us chimed in with a resounding “no!”, stressing the need to live life as normally as possible until forced to do otherwise.  The discussion eventually meandered into a discussion of other things.  But the original post got me thinking about fear and anxiety in general.

Three of my favorite books about getting control of your life have the word “fear” in them.  “Feel the Fear (and Do It Anyway)” by Susan Jeffers, is a pragmatic book about recognizing and acknowledging the anxiety/discomfort that comes from taking risks and making changes–but not letting that anxiety stop you.  “Fearless Creating”, by Eric Maisel, I’ve read in chunks and bits, with some good sections about overcoming the obstacles to creativity.  (There’s a highly recommended other book called “Art and Fear”, but I haven’t tracked down a copy yet, so I can’t refer to it.)

The last is not a “creativity” book.  It’s “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker.  In a nutshell, the book is about the knowing the difference between general, free-floating anxiety vs. the genuine fear that alerts us we are truly in danger.  When we are in real danger, we sense it, whether we acknowledge the signals or not.  We know that strange guy who offered to help us made us uneasy.  We know  there’s something about that new person we’re dating that just isn’t right.  We may tamp down that feeling because of social conditioning, but we did have it.

Anxiety is more encompassing and insidious.  It’s what keeps us from booking a flight after we read about a plane crash, or makes us wonder whether we should cancel that show when war seems imminent.  It’s what makes us worry about our kid walking to school by himself for the first time, or keeps us from dangling our feet over the edge of our inner tube while floating in the ocean.  (Jaws, anyone?)

Statistics show us that we are more likely to die from a bee sting than a shark attack, yet we don’t flee at the sight of a flower-filled meadow.  If you look at cold hard facts, we are much more likely to buy the farm every day when we belt ourselves into our cars and head out to the mall.  Car accidents kill more people each year than the total number of U.S. fatalities suffered during the entire Vietnam war.  Yet I know of no one who has stopped driving their car because of the risk of an accident.

My advice to the original poster was:

I hesitate to add my two cents’ worth on this issue, since I don’t do many shows.  But I think if you start making decisions based on fear and anxiety, you are heading down a slippery slope.  Yes, it’s natural to worry about current events.  Almost impossible *not* to.  But when you start making business decisions based on “what if?”… well, “What if…?” can kill every effort you make to grow your business.

One way to think of this is: What’s the worst that could happen?  If you bombed at this show, would it bring your business to a halt?

And if so, don’t you really take that chance at *every* show you do?  Your thinking is, “We might be at war, and maybe no one will come.”  What about, “It might rain and everyone would stay home.”  Or maybe “There might be a strong wind, and my tent might blow away!”  Or “The stock market might crash, and no one will be able to afford my work.”  All those events are possibilities, too.  You plan for them as best you can, evaluate the *real*, tangible risks–and then decide.

I’d say, unless the show promoters cancel the show, it would be good business to show up as you contracted to do.  If, after doing a few shows, you decide current events are impacting your bottom line severely, then that’s the time to sit down and re-evaluate how you’re going to restructure your business to accomodate that.

It takes a certain amount of determination to turn this free-floating anxiety around, unless you’re by nature an optimist.  And I’m not.  I’m a born pessimist.  And turning this attitude around is not a one-shot deal.  I have to revisit it again, and again, and again.  And sometimes I still need someone else to point it out to me.  And sometimes, by reassuring someone else, I find I’ve reassured myself.

Some tips:

Read a book, forum or article about dealing with fear.  It sometimes helps to realize you are not the only person who’s feeling this way!

Find people whose judgment you’ve come to trust, and check in with them.  Not someone you ought to trust, someone you’ve learned you can trust.  Someone who’s earned your trust.  For decisions about my kids and their growing need for personal responsibility and freedom, I have a very small collection of parents whose opinion I value.  I know they have similar values, I know they respect my values, and I’ve learned to trust how they come to their decisions.  They don’t belittle my concerns or beliefs, they just tell me how they got to their decision.

I’ve learned not to expect everything from one person, too.  I’ve learned that I have parent-decision type friends, business/art type friends, family-dynamic expert type friends, etc.  Find those solid people in every one of your life sectors.  And when one of them goes through their own difficult times, recognize when they are not able to help you with that area (temporarily or permantly.)  In other words, constantly evaluate your support structure.

Learn from yourself.  Keep track of the times you’ve successfully battled anxiety, and remind yourself of those times.  For myself, I find it immensely helpful to write about my anxieties.  I keep a daily handwritten journal.  I would die of embarrassment if anyone read of anything I’ve written there–I complain and swear a lot!  But I also find that making my anxiety concrete by describing exactly what I’m afraid of, is the first step to working through it.

Hand in hand with this approach is a tip given to me by a good friend who is a therapist.  He uses an approach called cognitive therapy, and gave this example of its use.  A patient says, “I’m terrified I’ll lose my job.”  Well…what would the logical consequences of this event be?  An illogical conclusion might be, “I’ll become a bag lady!”  That’s possible, but is it probable?  My friend would say, “What are the immediate consequences of losing your job?”  Patient: “I wouldn’t make any money.”  Friend: “So what would happen then?” P: “I would have to find another job that maybe wouldn’t pay as much money.”  F: “So what would happen then?” P: “I couldn’t afford to make my mortgage payments.”  F:”So what would happen then?”  P: “I’d have to sell my house.”  F: “So what would happen then?” P: “I’d have to find a cheaper place to live, like an apartment.”  F:  “And what would that mean?” P: “My kid would have a smaller bedroom.”  F: “So the end result of losing your job is that your kid would have to sleep in a little bedroom.”

This is a simple version, of course.  And we all know some people do have worse consequences.  But for most of us, yes, losing our job might been living in a place with tinier rooms.  Been there, done that.  Survived.

Recognize, as de Becker points out, that anxiety drains our batteries, leaving us vulnerable and unprepared for real danger when it crosses our path.  Recognize that anxiety is our engine racing without engaging the clutch–it doesn’t take us anywhere, it’s just noisy and uses up a lot of gas.

I’m so pleased with this car metaphor! Remember, anxiety is our lizard brain trying to protect us. Say “thank you, but I got this.” Not every thought is true. 

A Tale of Two Shadowboxes

More thoughts on “perfection”….

I created this shadowbox a year or so after we moved to California:

This is the original version. Shrine Series: Bear Clan

Then last year, I made some changes, adding another ‘base’, removing the lower bear and adding fish.

Yesterday, I decided it would be the work I bring to Corrick’s Stationery, Gallery, and Gifts on 4th Street in Santa Rosa CA for their upcoming preview exhibit for Sebastopol Center for the Arts‘ combined Virtual Open Studio events in October.

But it needed something. So I spent the day adding tiny bits of sanded and plished driftwood, and…an otter!

And this is the version after two updates, the last of which was YESTERDAY.  Now it’s called Shrine Series: Bear Clan   Shaman’s Song of the River

It’s not that the first version wasn’t good enough. Nor the second. I liked them both!

But sometimes, one of my pieces just keeps ‘growing.”

It’s also part of my story.

I started with a big quilt, then moved to baby quilts. Then quilts for my kids’ dolls and toy animals. Then they became wall pieces, then wall hangings, and now including framed fiber collages.

My aesthetic was always ‘time-worn’, influenced by Amish quilts (reusing/repurposing pieces of worn-out clothing for the quilt squares) and Japanest scroll paintings (which, when damaged by time, were carefully remounted on new silk backgrounds.) Then wabi sabi, the acceptance–and new beauty–to be found in the worn and broken. The knowledge that, in ancient times, every effort was made to repair, emake, reuse, repurpose whatever took a lot of effort to create.

So every time I remake/repair/add on something to an older piece, it’s actually part of my process and aesthetic.

It only stops when it goes to YOUR home.

Unless, of course, your rabbit nibbles the edges, or your dog breaks your necklace, or your cat knocks my sculpture off your piano. (All of these are true!)

And then I come to the rescue, again. Grateful that these re-do’s and repairs are inherent in all the work I do.

Happy to be able to restore your broken and damaged work, so they can continue to give you years of joy.

Also curious… Which one do YOU like better?

 

 

A TALE OF TWO STICKS: The “Perfect” One vs. “What Works”

A sad story with a happy ending.

A long-time admirer contacted me earlier this month, looking for the perfect wall hanging for their home. After many emails and sent images, they decided on a framed fragment:

One of three framed fiber “fragments” in a series.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But they had their heart set on a wall HANGING. Would I be willing to turn this into one?

Well, sure! The framed version would be harder to ship, I haven’t made hangings in awhile, and this would be a good opportunity to get back into the swing of things. A practice piece, if you will.

It took many, many more hours of work than I’d anticipated. Still, if I charged by the hour, all of my work  would have to sell for several thousand dollars. Which didn’t seem fair….

I added a backing to the fragment, created a hanger for the back, and searched my extensive stick collection for the perfect stick. It has to be the right length to work with, a shape that works with each fragment, etc.

Surprisingly (not!), I always find only one stick that meets my needs.

I found it! A beach-combing find from the Sonoma coast. I test all my sticks before I use them in a piece, to make sure they aren’t too brittle or fragile. This one passed the test–I thought.

The Perfect Stick.

 

 

 

 

 

It was already worn smooth by waves, it had beautiful branches, it sanded up easily. After waxing and buffing it to a soft gleam, I got to work drilling holes for the ties that would secure the fiber fragment to it, the beaded side “drapes”, and the cord to hang it all with.

For some reason, my new power drill didn’t work very well. Maybe my drill bits are dull? So I used my little hand drill (pin vise) to make the holes. Yep, more hours….

I put almost 8 hours on drilling the holes, stringing the color-coordinated glass beads for the drapes, attaching the fragment to the stick, and adding the beads that adorn the hanger. I’m pretty fussy about the beading. I use a lot of antique glass trade beads in my work, and many of them have really big holes. I have a stash of smaller beads I use to fill the holes so the beads set evenly.

After it was all put together, I picked it up to take a photo…..

And the stick broke.

It broke where I’d drilled a hole. Fortunately, it was a clean break. I was able to glue it back together (with construction adhesive!), restring that part, and wound some cord around it for support. Part of my aesthetic is creating the look of a well-worn, often mended piece of art. So it fit right in!

I clamped the repair and let it sit a full 24 hours, like the instructions said. Came back to the studio, gently tested the repair–good!

I picked it up to photo it. And it broke in my hand again.

This time, the wood shattered. So I was back to square one. (Okay, square three, but it sure felt like ‘one’.)

It took awhile, but I found another, completely different stick that I loved.

The new perfect stick!

It has a sad history. Bark beetles are highly-destructive, destroying millions of acres of forests.

 

 

 

 

And yet, the damaged wood is hauntingly beautiful.

In New Hampshire, I looked for beaver-chewed sticks. The chew-markes look like writing, strange writing to be sure. They became part of my story, echoing the mystery of the cave paintings of Lascaux in my art: A message that was not addressed to us, a message we cannot read.

The trails made by bark beetles echo that story.

I’ve collected a lot of their chewed sticks from the coast, too. The good part is, the beetles are long gone and probably long-dead, too.

I didn’t realize the stick looked like one of my carved pods until I took this picture. The pod just happened to be sitting on the counter. Fate? Kismet? Lucky chance???

I sanded the stick carefully, and wiped it clean. I painted it black to back-fill the little chewed channels, then wiped off the excess. Then waxed it with brown Brio wax, and buffed it, then drilled more holes.

 

Finally, it was done!

The finished piece. Finally!

Today I’ll find the right-sized box to pack it up and ship it to its happy new owner. It’s taken a lot longer than I thought, but I never regret a profound learning experience. Well. I regret them in the moment. But I’ll get over it.

My little journey from “the perfect stick” to one that many people would consider as a tragedy (destruction of national forests) and trash (a bug did this? WTF!!!) has me thinking again about my art process and my stories.

I obsess about getting everything exactly right, in an imperfect way. Asymmetrical yet balanced. Ordered color palettes.

One of my most powerful insights, in my life and in my art, is recognizing when something is ‘good enough’, and letting go of perfection. (As a wise woman once told me just before I began my hospice volunteer training, “When we are a perfectionist, we are ‘full of knowing’, and nothing new can come in.”) (Thank you Quinn!) (Another gift: I didn’t know she’d started a new blog until I linked to hers here.)

We all have visions of what that ‘perfect’ thing is. The perfect job. The perfect marriage. The perfect home.

Then there’s reality. There are the slog jobs, the times in a relationship when things can feel wonky, and homes? Renting here in Northern California, it’s whatever one will let you have pets….

Yet even in the worst of times and places, there is something of value.

Insights. ‘Aha!’ moments. Healing. Reconnection. Beauty. New ways to retell old stories. Seeing our loved ones for who they are, instead of the perfect person we sometimes expect them to be. Learning to see ourselves the same way….

Sometimes the ‘perfect’ needs to make way for something bigger and better, more human. Sometimes, we need to make way for something else.

And sometimes, it makes way for a tiny little beetle, with its own way of creating a powerful story.

 

 

WayBack Saturday! ARTISTIC LICENSE: Credentials, Degrees, Awards….and Passion

I had plenty of college, but that’s not where I learned how to be an artist.
This post was originally published on March 7, 2003. Still relevant, IMHO!

Artistic License

Recently, someone on a discussion forum I participate in posted a plea for help.  A show the artist had been accepted into was requesting the usual artist credentials: resume, artist bio, degrees, etc.  After “wiping the tears of laughter from her eyes”, the artist began to panic.  Her work is something she’s picked up late in life, she didn’t attend art school, she hasn’t exhibited before, and though her work is solid, she just doesn’t have the credentials.  What should she do?

Here was my advice:

It would be tempting to puff up the slim credentials you *do* have (remember the domestic engineers of the 1970’s?)  It’s wicked easy to get caught up in the credentialing thing, and to overlook what’s really important.  Our society seems to demand credentialing for everything.  But what are credentials *for*, anyway?

A resume, bio, list of exhibits and a stack of art degrees amount to paper affidavits, “proof” to the world that you have been educated in your art, you’ve paid your educational dues, and made the effort to get your work out there through exhibiting and shows.  There are some situations in life where this kind of proof is important and necessary.  We don’t want to have surgery by someone who “feels in touch with his inner surgeon” but hasn’t gone to med school.  Fortunately, being an artist does not require a license.  :^)

If you haven’t gone the “traditional” route of artist credentialing (sounds like a contradiction of terms to me), then you have to think of another way to present a cohesive, narrative story about the “who/what/when/where/why and how” of “you, the artist.”  Who you are, what you make, why do you make it, and how did you get to where you are now?  And the chance to add, where do you plan to go next?  And how serious are you about this whole thing, anyway??  That’s really all that the bio/degree/award/exhibit thing is trying to say, in a more “official” format.  In a way, starting from “nothing” gives you an open door to talk about this in a more down to earth and direct way.

An art degree shows you’ve taken classes to master your techniques.  So how did you learn yours?  Did you take workshops?  Read a book?  Stay up late after work and on weekends, painting/knitting/carving into the wee hours?  Teach yourself?  Swap sculpting lessons for babysitting?  Apprenticed yourself to a potter?  Talk about the passion you discovered in yourself for this art stuff, and what lengths you went to acquire the skills to do it.

An art degree shows you had a vision or goal to make art part of your life, then you studied it, and put in the time and effort to get a degree.  You can show that you, too, have a vision for your work, and that you have steadily pursued it.  What are your processes & techniques?  Did you experiment, develop them yourself?  Research antique processes and recreate them?  How did you come up with that particular approach or outlook?  Have certain artists, cultures, whatever, influenced your style?

Use the education you have.  I have college degrees (also not in art!) and I mention them in relation to how they’ve influenced my work–coursework for an education degree taught me the importance of storytelling, coursework in art history provided me the original inspiration for my Lascaux cave-themed imagery, etc.  But don’t just stick in stuff hoping to “fill up” the page.  Whatever you put in, make sure it relates in some way to your artistic self.

Exhibits show that you’ve made a serious attempt to get your work out in front of a variety of audiences, and that your work was good enough to be selected.  You can present enough “credentials” for most purposes by providing a brief summary of what you’ve done to get your art out there.  How can you show you’ve been making the same kind of effort?  Through shows?  Through steady sales? How has the audience for your work grown since you started this?

Awards show that someone thought your work was pretty darn good, or unusual.  Are there other ways for you to show that?  Anybody famous buy one of your pieces?  Or did your work appear in a magazine or on TV?  Did you get into a terrific, exclusive show the first time you applied, just because your work was so drop-dead terrific?

I like to keep in mind that ultimately, the person who purchases my work isn’t *really* buying it because of a list of shows or exhibits I’ve been in.  That list may help them feel more confident about their initial desire to buy, but that isn’t *why* they buy.  They buy it because it moves them emotionally, and because it says something special to them.  Something powerful is going on in my work, and they respond to that.  Everything else is just icing on the cake.

In fact, last month I revised my retail customer brochure.  I used to have a list of exhibits and books my work has appeared in, in an attempt to establish myself as a serious player.   I took it out, replacing it with a little blurb about why I make the art I make.   I’m learning that people only have to talk with me a few minutes to realize I’m a “serious player.”  Ultimately, it’s all about my work, not the hoops I’ve made it jump through.

Try to avoid the ordinary when putting this piece together.  Don’t go on about how much you love color–*all* visual artist love color!  Don’t make too big a fuss about how much you wanted to be an artist when you were little.  Someone once addressed this one–we *all* wanted to be artists when we were little.  Avoid cliches.

Think about the special stuff in your life.  Is your studio on a mountain top, or do you build it yourself out of hand-hewn lumber?  Are your materials unusual?  Do you go dumpster-diving to find your stuff, or hound recycling centers for their glass bottles?  What do you do that no one else does?  What is your inimitable style?  What is your personal story?

On the other hand, don’t get obtuse and try to bury your lack of credentialing paper with high-falutin’ phrases and five-dollar words.  As Bruce Baker, a consultant and speaker for craft and art world issues always says, “People have a built-in bullshit meter.  If you rock that meter, then they will never believe whatever else you have to say.  Make sure what you say is *true*.”   Stick to the essence of who you are and what your art is.  Make it interesting, and make it unique.  Stick to the truth.  Keep it simple and powerful.

 

 

 

MORE ADVICE ON GETTING ADVICE: Not Today, Maybe Tomorrow

Today, a story for you about a time when an opportunity didn't feel right - until it did.
Today, a story for you about a time when an opportunity didn’t feel right – until it did.

MORE ADVICE ON GETTING ADVICE: Not Today, Maybe Tomorrow

MORE ADVICE ON GETTING ADVICE: Not Today, Maybe Tomorrow

Sometimes, it takes a while to see where good advice fits in.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote this article for Fine Art Views about how to trust your gut on whether the advice we hear is helpful or not.

Today, a story for you about a time when an opportunity didn’t feel right – until it did.

A new friend asked for a favor, and offered a trade as payment. It just didn’t feel right at the time. I said no, and they were extremely gracious about it.

Six months later, I thought, “What exactly was that ‘payment in trade’ about??” I reached out to them, they explained, and I said, “Heck, yeah!” (A little more energy than ‘heck’, but no swears here today.)

I took them up on their offer. It was amazing! (Short story: Horse therapy. It’s a thing. It was powerful, insightful, and healing.) The timing was perfect for me, too.

Then I went to work on my side of the trade: Repairing/remaking a beloved necklace for them, using one of my horse artifacts they’d chosen.

But halfway through the project, I called them and said I couldn’t make it work. They had picked an older horse, a design I don’t make anymore. It was impossible to make that artifact ‘hang right’, because of how I’d designed it. “You can keep the horse, you love it, you picked it, and I can make it into a pin, if you like. But you have to pick another horse that will be better balanced.”

I heard them gasp over the phone. “Ruh-roh,” I thought. “Here comes the blow-back.” (Not who they are, just me knowing this was a disappointment for them.)

Nope.

They were astonished because I had just given THEM clarity on a huge decision they were struggling with.

I’d given them a metaphor that helped them see their situation as ‘unbalanced’, trying to make it work, but now able to see clearly what their major life decision should be.

If I’d accepted their offer six months earlier, neither of us would have experienced the huge insights that came with this simple exchange.

Waiting until it felt right brought incredible power and meaning to both of us, in our ‘trade’.

How does this relate to social media, getting advice, etc.?

I have no idea. Wait—I do!!

Just as there is no ‘one-size-fits-all-advice’ (except for things like integrity, kindness, compassion, etc.) in our life, the same is true in our art biz. In that article, I shared how to sort out what will never work for artists (acting like retailers), and what will never work for me (anything that puts sales ahead of personal integrity, or negates my aesthetic, etc.)

I also shared that ‘shoulders hunching up over my ears’ reaction when something sounds right, but feels wrong. (Step away!)

And yet, in responding to a comment, I realize sometimes it’s not the advice.

It’s the timing.

Some of us may be a little overwhelmed with all the social media marketing advice we’ve received since the shelter-in-place orders. I thought I was fine, until I realized how much I’m doing wrong. Or simply not doing right. Or not doing enough, or doing too much.

So, yes, to baby steps.

But also take minute to think about the ‘why’.

Why does it feel so hard to make those updates and changes right now? Probably the biggest reason is, this ‘new normal’ is pretty freaky.

Some of us may have even more time on our hands right now, but not much hope of getting better, marketing-wise/sales-wise. Some of us may have less time on hand. Our days may be filled with child care, trying to be supportive of friends and family, our spouse, getting food on the table, staying healthy, staying calm.

The last thing we need with all this stressing is beating ourselves up with all the things we’re doing ‘wrong’.

The other reason it’s hard, for me, is, I’ve had several hugely intense creative periods since all this started. I was going full steam ahead with new work, new designs, etc. until a health issue knocked me to the ground for almost a month.

That was not the time to work on my social media marketing.

Now, things are saner. I’m slowly building up my creative work again.

Then I found a way to a) clear out my studio a little, b) move on some of my older work, due to studios back east closing, and c) put some of those social media marketing ideas into play.

It worked! I was flooded with orders, some of which I’m still working on. I made money, old work went to new homes and people who love them, and my studio is a teensy bit neater. (Teensy bit)

Forcing myself to work on that aspect of my biz during that hard month would have crushed me. Now, it energizes me. I have two more sales events* in the works, and a couple special orders to boot.

So when you’re in a situation, like the AMP marketing webinars, take good notes. When something intrigues you, write it down (or however you best remember info.)

If you feel your shoulders rising, pay attention. But don’t lose your place, either.

Later, take a moment to think why? Why did this make me cringe? Why did it make me afraid? Why did it seem out of the question?

Maybe it’s totally off, but sometimes, time will provide other insights for us. For one example, a friend suggested I make huge artifacts, something I have no desire to do. But weeks later, I realized I could make bigger work with many of my small artifacts. “Bigger” was relative. (And I’m guessing their desire to help me make more profitable work was their motive, which is a good thing.)

I’ve traded with other artists over the years (don’t ask, no more room in our little rental home for more paintings!!) but it simply felt wrong with the horse person at that time. Until I was ready to hear more. Which turned out to be exactly when they were ready to hear more, too.

Are you working your way through a plethora of marketing advice? Share what intrigues you, what baffles you, and what you’ve come back to. Many of you have shared, in articles and in comments, what you found most insightful and useful. Share that, too!

If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to pass it on to someone else. And if someone sent you this article, and you liked it, too, see more of my articles at FineArtViews.com, other art marketing topics at Fine Art Views art marketing newsletter, and my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

*Not a ‘sale’ as in a mark-down, which is not respectful of our long-time collectors. Just selling old work at the price I originally asked for them. So, more of a ‘WayBack machine’** event.

**Remember Mr. Peabody and Sherman from that TV show, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle? ***

***Am I revealing TMI about my age???

WayBack Saturday! LET’S NOT DO WHAT WE OUGHT, BUT WHAT WE WANT

I love that my husband, an amateur musician, makes time to play his music every day. It restores his soul.

(This article was originally published on March 6, 2003, on my now-defunct Radio Userland blog. But it still holds wisdom for me today!)  (I realized a Wayback Wednesday, though alliterative, was not a good idea, as it follows the day after my Fine Art Views column is published. So…WayBack Saturday instead!)

Let’s NOT do what we ought, but what we want

A cry for help appeared on a list serve I subscribe to.  An artist who gave up painting for years is determined to take it up again.  Unfortunately, all her paints are so hardened in their tubes, they are almost unusuable.  Can anyone tell her how to salvage them??

I’m not sure how welcome my advice would be, but it’s clear to me the universe is sending a message here, loud and clear.

BUY NEW PAINTS.

What a huge obstacle she has already overcome!  The urge to paint again is wonderful, and I would wholeheartedly tell this artist to go for it.  But the artist is stuck again, already.  “I can’t paint until I fix my paint.”

Where have we heard that before?  Well, I used to hear it every day.  And sometimes, when I’m down or overwhelmed with the simple problems that ‘simply living’ entails, I still hear it:

“I should do the laundry first.”

“I really need to run a few errands first.”

“I’ve got to get this mailing out this week–I’ll work on some new jewelry ideas later.”

Sometimes it feels like my passion for my art is the last thing I take care of.

Maybe those paints are ruined for a reason.

Maybe the universe is sending a message here. 

You can paint again, it says, but maybe it’s time to start anew.  To start fresh, with new ideas, new inspiration, maybe an entirely new direction.

Maybe it’s time to play with colors again, to regain the same sense of wonder and excitement when you first began to paint.  And then to move ahead in a different way.  Forge a new path.

But to do this, you need to get rid of everything that held you back the last time.  

Maybe you don’t have to do penance by fixing those paints.  Maybe the message is, “Go out and buy wonderful new paint.  Buy some of your favorite old colors, but try something different, too.”

You have found your inspiration to paint again, and you’re determined to really set aside the time and energy it deserves.  And that means not wasting time and energy working to revive dead paint.

What a lesson for me today!  I’ve been sitting in the middle of an overwhelmingly messy studio, bemoaning the fact that I “should” clean up before I get back to work.

Then I get the note about dried up paint.

Maybe it’s really okay to just jump right into making something today, messy space notwithstanding.  Maybe it’s okay to do a little cleaning up after I have fun.  Hmmmmm….*

*New note: As I edited this post, it came to me…. Many people, including me, have been unconsciously trained/conditioned to take care of everything and everybody else before we take care of our own needs and desires.

And yet, we have all been given gifts, creative gifts, that are just that: Something special, something extra, something that can make the world a better place.

Our desire to make something beautiful, no matter what form it is, is a gift.

And whoever/whatever gave it to us, will be honored when we make room–and time–for it in our lives.

So put on your oxygen mask (or Covid-19 mask!) and make something beautiful today. Whether it’s your art, your music, your story-telling, your care, whatever your superpower is, put it in the world. Today.

Because the world will be better for it, because of you.

 

AMPING UP YOUR ART MARKETING: Baby Steps!

AMPING UP YOUR ART MARKETING: Baby Steps!

Backwards and baby steps can help us move forward in everything.

I now look HISTORICALLY old!

Last week, I raved about the powerful insights I’ve gained already from watching just two AMP webinars (Art Marketing Playbook), a series created by FASO’s marketing guru, Dave Geada of Big Purple Fish..

Great marketing insights often mean revamping, not just our approach, but also our website, our email newsletters, our social media accounts. And with great revamping can come great overwhelming-ness. (I just made that word up.) Big projects can be daunting, especially if they aren’t in our ‘primary’ skill-set. (I’m comfortable with social media, but changes in my approach were needed.)

I’m happy to find that I’m doing a lot of things right: Knowing my ‘creation story’, using the best social media platforms (Facebook biz page, Instagram account, a lively email newsletter, the “new artwork alert”, etc.)

I was sad to learn all the things I’m doing wrong. And devastated to learn how many things I’m doing wrong. A lot of work lies ahead….

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by big multi-step processes. And when I’m overwhelmed, my lizard brain instantly leaps in to protect me.

“You’re doing it wrong! It’s too hard! Just stop, crawl away, give up, hide in a hole somewhere!! Make it go awaaaaaaaay!!”

You probably already know that doesn’t work. And yet, being overwhelmed can mean we put off the repairs, edits, restructuring efforts so necessary for doing better.

So I sat with all this new knowledge, wondering how the heck to get it all in place in a timely fashion.

Today I had a brainstorm.

I remembered what’s worked for me in the past when dealing with uncertainty. Here’s the way I’m thinking about this that might help you, too.

The power of this strategy is to think about your desired end results, you goal. Then think what has to happen to achieve that goal…backwards.

Yes, you read that right! What has to happen before you have another great painting in your inventory? Finishing a painting. Painting. Time to paint. The right paint, for the surface. Figuring out the palette. The right surface. Composition. A subject. An idea.

So maybe we: Recognize we want to paint. List ideas for a subject. Find that subject to create. Maybe take a picture of it, or find the perfect plein air site. Check our supplies to make sure we have the right size canvas, and the right paints, and paint colors. Set aside time to paint. Etc., etc. until we finally have the triumph of a new work of art in hand.

Breaking down these steps is powerful. And breaking them down into tiny steps is even more powerful.

So, baby steps.

First tiny step: Update my profile portrait image. Further step back: Find/make a new portrait image.

“Making a new image” was hard. I’ve been struggling to make a new profile portrait for months. Since I haven’t had a haircut in months, it’s a lit-tul hard getting even a somewhat flattering selfie, and selfies tend to distort our faces too much. Older pics are pretty discouraging, too.

But then I remembered a set of portraits my partner and I had done a few years ago, to celebrate our wedding anniversary. They’re tintypes, black and white, and we love them!

So my first baby step was: Find those pictures. It took awhile to find them, but I did.

I couldn’t figure out how to incorporate them into my social media, though. Until, doh! I realized I could photograph the photographs. Baby step!

Once that was done, my next baby step was easier: Update one social media site.

I started with my Google accounts: Google (Gmail, etc.) On Dave’s suggestion, I also added a small pic of me in my email signature. Done!

Encouraged by this, I decided to update more sites. FASO. I added the tintype image to my “not artwork images” section, then swapped out my old profile portrait. Done! Hey, I’ll write a little newsletter about my new portrait. Done!

I was on a roll. I quickly updated my Facebook and Instagram accounts. Done! What about my WordPress blog? Done! With editing, cropping, updating, etc., it took few hours to get it all in place.

But I’m feeling much better about everything now.

The feeling of accomplishment is palpable. And knowing that’s one item I can scratch off the to-do list? Huge.

I know those other things on the list will also feel like too much. As I work my way through them, I’ll continue to share what I’ve learned.

But I’m grateful I remembered that going backwards can actually be a powerful way of moving forward, with everything in life.

Let me know if this helps YOU move forward today. And if you’ve found powerful ways to incorporate those new AMP strategies, share them here! Someone maybe be very grateful you did. (Me!)

If you know someone who would find this article helpful, pass it on to them! And if someone sent you this, and you liked it, you can find more of my Fine Art Views articles here, and more great marketing advice at FineArtViews.com, or subscribe to my blog at luannudell.wordpress.com too.

Remember: We’re all in this together!*

*And nobody gets out alive. But whatever makes it better, is a gift!