HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #19: Why Should I Have an Open Studio Anyway??

 

I’ve made very few “people” figures in my art. But my handprints appear all over the place!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Happiness is the only thing that multiplies when you share it.”

I was thinking about my dad today.

Yeah, partly because it was Fathers Day. And mostly because of the grief I’m reading/hearing about how unsuccessful people were with our recent Art at the Source open studio event this month.

My dad was a diligent worker. He took over the family business (a dairy biz, processing milk into ice cream, cream, and…well, milk), incorporating a dariy bar, and eventuallly a family restaurant. (My first job was washing dishes there, when I was in…4th grade??) Then he sold the biz and became a state dairy inspector. (He sure liked cows.)

He also loved flowers. Our house was surrounded by rigid rows of organized, meticulously-spaced flowers. In the spring, he would give each of us kids a soup spoon, and we would dutifully plant daisies, marigolds, and petunias. He diligently watered all our houseplants daily, too.

But when he retired, he also took up woodworking. He spent days in his garage workshop, planing, mitering, sanding, staining. He made furniture for me and all my sibs over the years.

And if you expressed delight or sang his praises, he would also diligently point out every error he’d made in the making. (It helped me to NOT do this with my own work!)

What does this have to do with having an open studio?

I don’t believe he ever sold a single piece of his work.

He’d made his money WORKING all his life. His gardening and woodworking was for FUN–relaxation and enjoyment. He called it his hobby.

Hobby, vocation, and avocation. What’s the diff??

I used to have a distinction between avocation and hobby, but the older I get, I can’t remember. And it doesn’t matter so much to me, either.

Here’s what my dad taught me: Find a way to earn a living. You can be an artist when you retire.

What I taught my kids: Do what you love, and the money will follow. (Robin and Doug, I apologize from the bottom of my heart. Love, Mum)

What I wish I’d told my kids, and what I’m telling you today:

Do the work that supports your lifestyle. At best, it’s work you enjoy. Hopefully, you don’t hate it, or at least don’t dislike it too much. Hopefully, it’s something you’re good at, that you’re proud of, and it’s wonderful if it pays well, too.

But if it’s not the work of your heart, make room for THAT in your life, too. It will help you manage everything else.

My dad never sold a single piece of his woodwork. They were always gifts, or filling requests for furniture–coffee tables, sofa tables, display pedestals, coat racks, etc.–for friends and family.

In my art career, financially, I had some good years, some really good years, and some years that totally tanked. Most of those tank years were obviously the result of events totally out of my control: 9/11, war in the Mideast, inflation/recession, pandemic. We’re right back there, today, and there’s no escaping the consequences that affect our entire planet.

And yet, I was surprised at how much people complained (in an online forum) about their open studio event this year. Surprised at how many people are considering not joining next year. Astonished at how some people are considering actually walking away from their art-making. “What’s the use?!” (Why can’t I make that shoulder-shrug emoji??)

TBH, I was a little down that last day, too. Until I started to write about it. Writing helps me sort out the dust bunnies in my brain, and get to center of my  (he)art.

What helps YOU get centered again? I’d love to hear!

My take-away:

There is no figuring out exactly what will make us rich. I can’t even figure out how to cover the cost of my materials anymore.

Won’t stop me.

There is no single, sure path to fame and fortune.

I’m pretty sure I don’t even WANT to be famous anymore.

It takes time to build an audience, especially when our work is really out-of-the-box.

I tried through shows (wholesale and retail), art fairs, and open studios. I learned that it time and engagement for people to really see what I was doing, what my story was, and how labor-intensive my process was.

Open studios are the best at this! See my workspace, look at my tools and materials, let me show you what inspires me….

I stepped away from wholesale shows, and eventually made all my income from one major fine craft show in New Hampshire, and two open studio tours. They, too, started out slow. My visitors steadily grew, though there were still set-backs, dips, etc.

Then I moved to California, and had to start all over. Again.

How do I feel about that?

I’m actually okay.

Today, I can sell my work online, though it’s almost always to current customers and people who have followed my work for YEARS. (Again: Connection, achieved by outreach and availability.)

Today, I can easily share the backstory, my creation story, my inspiration, process, and animal stories. especially in my studio.

Today, I am reminded of my most recent open studio event, too. Yes, a little disappointed in the number of visitors, and that my sales were low.

And then I remember the blessings in my life:

I HAVE A STUDIO. I can do the work of my heart.

I have people who love my work. Maybe they can’t afford to buy it. Maybe they’ve downsized, and don’t have room for it.

But they can still come and look at it, and marvel, and engage with me.

I can encourage people to make room in their life for what brings them joy.

And I can write about it, hoping to do the same for YOU.

The good part in that forum thread: Some people griped, but when they realized so many other people were feeling the same way–in other words, it wasn’t just them–they got more clarity.

They, too, found the good stuff amidst the pile of disappointment. They got their mojo back. They will continue to make their art. Yay!

I think of my dad. I’m sure he would have been happy to make some money from his late-in-life hobby.

But that wasn’t WHY he did it.

He did it because it kept him busy (he hated doing nothing). He did it because he could make something for people he loved. He got better at it (because he was a bit of a perfectionist.) (DAISIES AND MARIGOLDS ALL IN A ROW.) It was flexible: He could work all day, or he could stop at any time and go for a drive with my mom.

It made him feel like he still had something to offer the world.

In my open studio, I listened to people telling me about their new life paths, their new interests and pastimes, their latest life disruption, their still-painful losses and sorrows.

My creative space became a safe place to share stories of hope, dreams, sadness, and joy. And healing.

My creative work carries stories of how every person has a place in the world. Including me. Including you.

I just realized my studio is my own unique version of a miniature Lascaux Cave.

The art of the Lascaux Cave was not about achieving fame or fortune.

The Ice Age was coming to an end, and so a people’s entire way of life was, too. They didn’t gather to start a war, or to assess blame. They gathered as a community, hoping to find a way through to the other side. And each handprint represents a single person present.

I can’t even imagine putting a price tag on that.

Today, try not to measure your sucess with only money.

Today, see your true value in the world, made with the work of your hands, and of your heart.

It’s not about having an audience. It’s about having a voice.

Author: Luann Udell

I find it just as important to write about my art as to make it. I am fascinated by stories. You can tell when people are speaking their truth--their eyes light up, their voices become strong, their entire body posture becomes powerful and upright. I love it when people get to this place in their work, their relationships, their art. As I work from this powerful place in MY heart, I share this process with others--so they have a strong place to stand, too. Because the world needs our beautiful art. All of it we can make, as fast as we can! Whether it's a bowl, a painting, a song, a garden, a story, if it makes our world a better place, we need to do everything in our power to get it out there.

5 thoughts on “HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #19: Why Should I Have an Open Studio Anyway??”

  1. Oh Luann! So true! I love creating things. I love making art. I do NOT care for marketing and sales at all. I don’t like to do booths or put together shows. I just don’t enjoy that part, and I have done it.

    I make because I love to create, and in this world NOT selling your work is almost anti-something, like I being some sort of weirdo or alien. Some people think you aren’t an artist if you don’t sell your stuff. The “high compliment” is, “OH, those are so nice, YOU SHOULD SELL THEM!” And that is supposed to be high praise indeed. (Now I usually tell them, ” What about if I make them and YOU can sell them, ok?” They usually back off very quickly.)

    In the 80s I became a photographer, turning a hobby into a profession. After a while it sort of ruined the fun of taking photos. I HAD to make them whether I was inspired or not…and if a wedding didn’t come out I had a PROBLEM. Doing events like that was very stressful. I used film…there’s no re-doing a wedding because the big shot didn’t come out right, so you had to sweat it out until that batch of photos came back from the lab….in the SNAIL MAIL. Then I HAD to put them in albums, and stock inventory, and make sure I got the right number of enlargements made, put them in folios, keep track of finances, and market myself etc. It became 85% business and only 15%, if that, creating actual photos, and it gradually became almost 0% enjoyment. I barely took ANY photos for myself in the years after that career.

    A “hobby” that became a business lost it’s charm. It took me a long time to regain my desire to create again, even though I was fairly successful as a photographer. I had to leave it for personal reasons, and I was pretty burnt out too.

    So, I like to make stuff. When I leave this earth my stuff will likely be tossed. Maybe someone will enjoy some of it. It no longer matters to me. I like making stuff. End of sentence.

    I have a few pieces of jewelry I have made in my massage office to sell. My clients are repeats, and once in a while someone wants a pair of earrings or something, but not too often anymore. Today I took a necklace off my display and put it on. I decided to enjoy it myself.

    It’s paddling against the tide to not sell your art. In fact if you don’t sell it then some say it isn’t art, it is a “craft”. Whatever. I enjoy making.

    Sincerely enjoyed sharing this with you today, for what it’s worth, and reading your article. I love that you have your own Lascaux Cave! That is such a cool thought. I think your place must be very healing and I wish I had known to visit you when you were in NH. Thanks for sharing. Much love, Carla in Maine

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  2. Again, Luann, you touch so many places in my heart and path!
    The major blessing of having joy kindlers in life; finding the value of going through the tough patches without getting derailed; the legacies from parents; that workable combo of realism (earning the living you want to live plus keeping the joy well flowing…your voice, vision, authenticity, draw us all together in such meaningful ways! As my Canadian relatives would say, “Good on ya, Gal!”

    Gratefully,
    Nicole

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    1. Oh my gosh, Nicole, thank you for this! I know you’ve had a hard row to hoe these last few years, and I’m glad you appreciate the value of making your beautiful art. And hey, so THAT’S where New England’s “Good on you!” comes from! (We share kess than 60 miles of border, but apparently that’s enough to get the good stuff to cross the border…) 😀

      Like

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