THE ARTISTIC LIFE: From the WayBack Machine!

Looks great from the outside, right? ENTER WITH CAUTION!!!

I found an article I wrote for CraftsBusiness Magazine from July/August 2005! Here we go:

A reader responded to my blog on how I got started with my art biz. Like me, she, too, had to get serious when her husband was laid off. But she sometimes wonders if the resultant financial strain and arguments were worth the proverbial kick in the pants.

I think we ALL struggle with the ideas of what our artistic lives should be, and what our day-to-day life really looks like. We have a mental image of “the artist” working thoughtfully at his easel with an admiring throng of patrons looking on; the songwriter strumming a guitar dreamily as she jots down hauntingly beautiful bars of music; the novelist typing feverishly as prose pours forth from her overheated typewriter…er, keyboard.

Life ain’t like that, is it?

My environs are a mess. My house is a pigsty. (I’d blame it on the teenagers, but I’m a packrat and a rabid procrastinator, myself.) My sink is constantly full of dishes, there isn’t a spare square inch on my counters, and the kitchen floor crunches underneath. Magazines, books, and newspapers are precariously perched on every windowsill.

We are in a stage of “too many pets” and the mudroom is a cacophony of cooing pigeons and rampaging rabbits. Move on into my studio and we see stacks of unfiled paperwork and half-finished projects. Not a clear surface in sight. There’s a reason why artists say, “Studio hours by appointment only.” We have to fumigate first.

I remember a customer once saying, “I imagine you in your studio, all serene and thoughtful, with classical music playing in the background while you sew these beautiful pieces.”

I replied, “Actually, I like techno/industrial music, I throw fabric on the floor as soon as I cut a piece from it, and then I have a tug-of-war with the rabbit to get it back. One minute I’m arguing with my husband on whose turn it is to take my daughter to choir practice, and the next I’m begging my son to burn his smelly socks in the backyard before the neighbors suspect we’ve got a dead body on the premises and call the police. I haven’t cooked a meal in so long that last month I made soup, and both my children thanked me. For SOUP.”

The customer backed slowly out of my booth, and I realized that honesty is not always the best policy.

Sometimes it seems so ridiculous, and I dream of the nearby MacDowell Colonly artist retreats. Promising artists of all sorts are given a cabin of their own to work in solitude. There are no phones or computers. Meals are brought and left at the door. Even the cleaning staff is under orders NOT to engage the guests in conversation.

It sounds like a dream come true….

Or is it?

I heard a well-known musician (okay, it was Greg Brown) talk about when his children were very young, money was tight, and finding time to write songs was difficult. He ranted and raved about how much he could accomplish if only he could create in peace.

One day, he finally got the chance. He was gifted the use of an old cabin by a secluded lake. I can’t remember the exact circumstances, but his family was not present. It was what he’d always dreamed of: Beautiful views, solitude, and time.

The only problem was, he couldn’t write a damn thing. He was bored out of his mind. And he missed his family. It was the single most unproductive time in his entire career.

I think of this story a lot now.

Maybe there are some people out there who can work in peace, who are self-disciplined enough to sit down and write every day, rain or shine. There are people who only listen to lovely music as they work, and no one ever calls until the CD is finished. Maybe there are people whose friends and family take them seriously enough to never call until after dinner.

But that’s not MY life.

My home is messy. I’ve learned to refer to the dust as “patina”, and the windows as “lightly frosted”. Most of the furniture is second-hand, but rooms are also filled with beautiful things I’ve bought from and traded with other artists. My work graces the walls, and every time I wear my jewelry, I get compliments.

My husband does the work HE is passionate about. Though we sometimes wish we spent more weekends in Paris (actually, just one would be nice!) we also know the value of his choice.

My kids are now finding their own odd, very distinctive ways in life, and I know they have good blueprints to work from.

And I’ve come to believe that most of us need some amount of tension in our lives to work at our best. We need a wee bit of pressure, a little distraction.  A deadline, a promise, a commitment we can’t easily fill. Something that pushes us, and eventually forces us to do things we didn’t think we could do, to accomplish things we didn’t think we were capable of.

This is the real “artistic life”–messy, noisy, sometimes stinky.

But also loving, and breathless, and FUN.

Art isn’t always some cerebral escape from this circus, it’s PART of the circus. Whenever you add what you love to the mix, the batter is better. (That’s my cake metaphor.) And when something beautiful and exciting is created in the midst of all this, somehow it seems even sweeter.

It sounds good, anyway. That’s my life, and welcome to it!

And ducks! We had chickens, ducks, pigeons, and an Asian dove. Oh, and four cockatiels. Those were the days…

TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG: I Stand For My Evil Reading Habit

I’ve been a Connie Willis fan for years, and thought I’d read all her books. I was so wrong. She continues to write even when I’m not paying attention. (Blerpy face emoji here.) I just found her website and visited her blog, which made me giggle about 30 words in. And while searching for more books, I found about a dozen more in the last 10 years that I’d not even known about.

Her genre is science fiction, but honestly, they all read like a really great story-telling novel that has unusual elements added to get the conversation going.

When I traveled last week to the East Coast to visit my darlin’ daughter, her hubby, and their adorable wee new baby, I picked up a copy of her book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, to occupy my flight time. (You can use to find new or used copies.)

It’s about time travel, but in a way that focuses on love, relationships, and history. Not just “what happened” in history, but why things happened (or didn’t happen.) Tiny moments, mistakes, miscommunications, and big events like bad weather, war, bombing raids, invasions, etc. The history alone is so absorbing!

I thought I’d read it already, but I must have gone fast, or my ability to remember stuff accurately after 22 years is failing) because it was like I was reading it for the first time. First, because back in the day, I DID read stuff (e.g., ‘books’) fast. I wanted to find out how it ended, what happened, and see the mystery solved.

But that meant I skipped over important stuff that were actual clues to the ending. And so I started doing something soooooooo many people hate:

I either a) read spoilers, or b) read the ending as soon as I’ve read enough to know I’ll want to stay with the story.

I know, I know. I can hear the screams of rage from way over here.

But here’s why I do it:

I read the story more slowly. I pay attention to all the hints and clues about what is going to be very, very important at the end. I have a better understanding about what the author cares about, how they create a path to their ‘truth’, I’m more willing to ‘go deep’.

And I enjoy the book more.

In this case, I did both.

Remember when The Sixth Sense came out? How shattering the ending was, when we finally realize the main character is dead? (I’d put a “spoiler alert” in there, but I’m assuming that, over 20 years later, we all know how the movie turns out.)

Did you know that M. Night Shyamalan put so many clues and hints into the movie, he was afraid NO ONE would be surprised by the ending?

Did you, as I did, enjoy the movie even more when viewing it the second time, and finally seeing all the clues?

‘Nuff said. I don’t know if I’ve ever changed peoples’ opinions about spoilers, and don’t care. It’s simply how *I* roll.

What I love about all her books is, there is so much amazing information and insights in each one. In this book about time travel, history achieves a new depth of interest for me. All kinds of related stories are shared: How Germany tried to bribe Mexico into siding with it agains the United States in World War I. How small incidents have created major changes in history. Even the history of mystery-writing has a place in this novel, lending even more tangible clues to the ending. (I also found at least six actual phrases of “to say nothing of the dog”. Woot!)

And any book that is so good, I actually wish that 6-hour plane trip were longer, is a keeper. (Fortunately, I had a half-hour wait for the airporter bus, and a two-hour ride home. So I did finish it!)

So no world-changing thoughts today, except hoping you aren’t angry at me for my spoiler addiction. And that you are intrigued enough to read the book and deepen your understanding of world events for the past two or three thousand years. I was!

P.S. It also inspired me to order a lot more of her books. (Why are the newest ones so effin’ expensive????)

P.P.S. And I ordered a copy of the book Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing Of The Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome, published in 1889. (Time aligns with the time traveler’s travel.)

P.P.P.S And while getting the link to that book, I came across the movie Three Men In A Boat ! Guess what I want for Christmas?!



This is just about the ‘neatest’ my desk gets. Ever. (Can you tell I just push things out of the way or stack stuff up, so I have six square inches to work in?)



First, a shout-out to other artists for sharing their experiences and insights, which have led me through many dark places in my artistic life.

I mean, not the unasked for opinions and advice-giving. Nor the people who “know better” on how I should make/what I should make. Trust me, I got this. I know what works for me and what doesn’t, what a ‘good’ challenge is and what isn’t, etc.

One terrific game-changer was insights for open studios and art events, on how to respond to the questions we get asked, over and over and over again.

Some of my personal favorites are gathered in my columns Questions You Don’t Have to Answer.

Bruce Baker, a jewelry artist and gallery owner, was also a great workshop/educator back in the day. I listened to his highly-informative tapes (then CDs) on my way to fine craft shows. (Looks like his podcasts might still be available at this CraftCast website.)

One of my favorite topics consisted of how to respond in a courteous, professional, and kind, compassionate way when booth or studio visitors ask those common questions.

Too often, we make assumption about people’s intentions. We can respond with frustration, exasperation, even anger and resentment. Or just as bad, making their question into a joke that turns back on them. (“How long does it take you to make that?” “It took me 40 years to make that!” Ugh.)

I’ve been the recipient of such rudeness, when I asked an artist a question about their work: Were these items wood or metal? (Not allowed to touch, no information about the work, terrible artist statement, etc.) How was I to know they got asked that question all the time? They gave me a disgusted look, crossed their arms, and turned their back to me.

I left without buying the artwork I’d had my eye on. Did not want that energy in my home.

Bruce expanded on the example.  “How long…?” His take? We assume people want to know how much money we’re are making an hour. Maybe. (Many customers don’t realize we have to base our retail price on what the item’s wholesale price will be.) But one day, when someone asked him that question, he responded with, “People ask me that all the time. Why do you ask?” And the person responded with, “I’ve always wanted to pursue a craft myself, and now I have the time to do so. So I was just curious what that part of your life is like?”  IOW, “what is it like to be an artist, to make this work? Can I do this? Will I ever be this good at it??”

That’s not a put-down. It’s a conversation-opener! I’ve had a lot of people collect my work because they love it, they like/respect me, and my work reminds them of me encouraging them to do the work of their heart. (They may also be delighted to sign up for my introductory classes I hope to offer next year!)

And of course, when something is as time-consuming as my work is, when I share that process, they almost always go into jaw-dropping mode. They have even more respect for what I put into it to achieve the results I want.

Another way to respond to common question is to make a sign. Bruce mentioned this in his CDs, and it work! I have lots of signs in my studio, ranging from “Where do you get your fabrics?” to “Why do you have so many sticks??” Some people read them, some people don’t. But depending how busy I am, how crowded my studio is (pre- and hopefully post Covid!), and how much brain capacity I have available, I can go into story-telling mode or direct them to the appropriate sign.

So here’s where you can help me today. Because I constantly get this particular question in my studio, in every single studio I’ve ever had:

“Do you actually do any WORK in here??”

If you see clamps on something, yes, I’m making something in here!

Of course, I respond politely and cheerfully, and acknowledge, “Yeah, I get asked that a lot!” and point out my work surfaces, etc.  I do have a lot of finished work on display. My work has always sold slowly (but steadily, so yeah, it can look like a “store”.) (I prefer “gallery”, of course!)

But during my last open studio, I actually dialed down on visitors. First because Covid rates were sky-rocketing again. Partly because I’m traveling to see my brand-new grandson soon, and Covid is a “gift” I don’t want to give to him. And also because I was invited to be in not one, but two gallery shows. Work was to be delivered a few days after the open studio event was over. I had to hunker down and finish some of the new shrine series I’ve been working, to meet those deadlines.

So the first day I had visitors, I was at one of my workstations, actively finishing two shrines: Painting, mounting tiny sculptures, labeling, etc.

And one person turned to me and said, “Do you actually do any WORK in here??”

My face, when I get asked this question.

I am a human bean. My first instinct was to scream, “What the h*** do you think I’m doing right now?!”

Instead, my usual response. Laugh, say yes, I do all my work in here. Here are my tools, here’s my equipment, here’s a work-in-progress, etc.

Next time, I gonna take Bruce’s advice, and ask them why they ask.


Til then, I’m curious: Do people ask you this, too?

If so, do you have a friendly, welcoming response?

(NOT what you would read in the Facebook group, “S*** Overheard at Art Festivalss”, which may feel satisfying, but can also shut down a conversation with a visitor who could be a real customer someday. Even if someone really means to be an a**h***, remember: Other people are listening, and we do not want to make them afraid to ask what might be a “stupid” question.)

Send me your commments, I’d love to hear them! One request: No snark, no sarcasm, no making fun of the person who asks.

And I will also take my own advice, and make a sign.

And now for the ‘ifs’…..

If you know someone who might enjoy this, pass it on!

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You’re Invited! Art Stories That Will Inspire You….

Another Artists’ Reception at Corrick’s This Friday Evening!

I'll be working on new shrines now!

I’ll be working on new shrines now!

This Friday, story-telling artists Teri SloatCaren Catterall , and I will present the powerful stories at the heart of our artwork at Corrick’s Stationary, Art Gallery, and Gifts in downtown Santa Rosa, CA from 5-7. If you missed the first presentation in October, this is your chance! I have so many stories, I probably won’t be repeating myself, so even if you did attend, it will still be ‘fresh’!

Second, my studio is once again open by appointment! Contact info below in my email signature. Texting is best, email is second-best. Phone calls are the worst, because I get West Coat and East Coast spam. Ugh!

Or contact me through Studio Doorz, a website for visitors anywhere in the world to find my studio. You can choose for me to call YOU. Yay!

I hope to reopen my Etsy shop this week, too. Wish me luck!

Last, our annual Art Garage Sale at 33Arts and Studio Santa Rosa at 3840 Finley Ave was a huge success! I still have some rubber stamps for sale ($2 each), and I’ve posted several batches on Facebook, too. Er…anyone need a file cabinet? Or a vintage autopsy drawer? (No, there’s nothing weird in it, but the labels are a little weird.)

Rubber stamps!

Rubber stamps!

Mine is this size, with legs, but a wee bit shop-worn.

Mine looks just like this one! Only cheaper, and no shipping charges.

And now for the ifs….

If you know someone who might enjoy this, pass it on!

If someone sent you this newsletter and you found it helpful, sign up for more at my website (at the top of the home page):

P.S. If you want to unsubscribe, click the link at the bottom of this email. PLEASE don’t report me as spam!! Thank you!!

Luann portrait

Pandemic hairdo!

(Add six more inches.)

Luann Udell, artist/writer

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

Visit: Studio: 33Arts 3840 Finley AVE (Bdg 33) Santa Rosa

Luann on Facebook Luann on Instagram

By appointment on

Professional advice: My past columns at Fine Art Views

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