About 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.

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #5 Eyes on the Prize!

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.

People who successfully stick with an exercise program for any length of time know this one:

Eyes on the prize.

Keep your mind everywhere except on how hard you’re sweating.

This is important in martial arts, and it’s something I struggle with in all my endeavors, even today.

It’s easy to get distracted while working out: “I suck at this!” “My kicks have no power!” “Everyone else is doing better than I am!!” “I can’t do anything right!!!” “I forgot to feed the cat!” “I’m so mad at so-and-do!”

Nothing saps your will and your workout quicker than second-guessing your performance, overlooking your intention and side-stepping your focus.

I constantly remind myself to focus on a) the moment and b) the end game. Oh, and remembering to c) try to have fun.

When I focus on the moment, I line up my stance. I make sure my guard is up. Whoops, forgot to pivot my feet! Get that down on the next shot. Breathe. Breathe!!

I lose myself in the process and forget about all the work piled up on my desk at home, at the orders I have to get out, the kitchen sink full of dishes I didn’t get to. I try to blank out what the guy on my right me is doing, and how many more push-ups than me the woman on my left is squeezing out.

My only competition is me. I’m just trying to do a little better than I did yesterday.

When I focus on the end game, I forget about working toward my black belt (or how I’m NOT working toward my black belt….) I focus on the fact that as long as I show up and keep trying, and simply try to do a little bit better each time, eventually I’ll be at least better than I am today. Maybe someday, even pretty good.

When I whine, “I’m not gonna qualify for a black belt until I’m 60!”, my heart answers, “You’ll be 60 anyway. Won’t it be cool if you are even CLOSE to getting a black belt?” And if I never get a black belt, well, at least I’ll be in pretty good shape. (Update: Now I’m 66! Never made it to black belt, though I was this far away. Too many injuries. So what? I did my best until I couldn’t anymore. And I still have a pretty good right jab! I regret nothing.)

And if I can’t enjoy the workout while I’m doing it (“OHMIGOD!!! THIS HURTS!!!”), at least I can feel virtuous AFTER the workout.

Same with my art. (You knew this was coming, right?)

Keep your eyes on the prize.

If I let myself flail, then when I’m doing bookwork, I feel guilty I’m not putting a fiber piece together. And when I’m sewing, I feel guilty I’m not getting that jewelry order together. And when I’m packing that jewelry order, I’m frantic because I’m not working on that writing assignment.

What do I accomplish?

A huge guilt complex and no joy.

That’s gotta go. I want to let go and be in the moment, enjoying just what I’m doing RIGHT NOW. Then let go and be in the NEXT moment.

The long-term goal? The right—the privilege–to say, “I’m an artist.” Maybe someday, “I’m a financially successful artist!” Or maybe even “I’m an internationally acclaimed artist!” (Update: Still not happening, but I’ve accepted that not all careers and choices make us wealthy. And that’s not a bad thing, either.)

Eventually, it simply becomes, “I love what I do. And I wouldn’t trade what I do for ANYTHING.”

If we learn to do what we can, if we can let go of the “shoulda, coulda, woulda’s”, if we can leave our studio at the end of each day with the satisfaction of work well done and know we’ve done the best we can, if we can lose ourselves in the moment of the pure joy of making something W*O*N*D*E*R*F*U*L, what more could we ask from our avocation?

And if in the ‘making’, we find ourselves, if we restore ourselves to our highest self, if we heal, and grow, how cool is that?!

And when we get our art our into the world, if our art makes the world a little more beautiful, a little more interesting, a little more delightful, a little brighter, that’s even cooler.

If  it speaks to someone else, if it inspires THEM to do the work of THEIR heart, if it lifts THEIR heart and heals THEM, the circle keeps on growing.

Art is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

And if we make some money doing that, yippee!! (Just did my banking this morning. Feeling better.)

Eyes on the prize.

P.S. My words are working for ME! Mondays are very full of “to-do’s”. So I wasn’t going to go to the gym today. But I put on my gym shoes anyway. And here I go!

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #4 Do (Something) Every Day

Luann Udell discusses how we must nourish our artistic nature regularly
Luann Udell discusses how we must nourish our artistic nature regularly


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.

Do it every day.

The people I know who are in the best physical shape they can be, exercise daily. They do something every day.

And the artists I know who are the most creative and most productive do their art every day. They make something every day.

Let’s pursue the exercise metaphor:

Healthy people exercise every day. Or as nearly as they can.

They mix it up. They run alternate days, and bike in between.

They vary the intensity of the activities. High-intensity workouts with something less “pounding” in between. Yoga, for example, or Pilates (which is strenuous but not high impact.)

They vary the type of exercise. Gym workouts. Walking and Tai Chi. Swimming.

They make accommodations for the season. They run more in the more temperate seasons and swim (indoors in New Hampshire!) in the winter.

They accommodate for injuries. When I couldn’t do martial arts after knee surgery, I walked and swam. Now I walk and gym. Hopefully, back to Tai Chi soon!

People who exercise regularly get creative about how to get a daily workout in. Because they’ve learned something important about exercise:

Once you stop, it’s really, really hard to get started again.

I’ve had to come back after several major injuries. The first time, after a debilitating knee injury, it took almost ten years to get back in the saddle again with martial arts. Going to class and not being able to do the things I used to do easily was humiliating. My pride and my frustration got in the way.

I finally found a way to ease myself back into hard workouts by joining an independent women’s gym. After a year, I was able to try martial arts again.

When I injured myself again a few years ago, it only took me about four months to get back into a routine again. It was just as frustrating and humiliating. But I didn’t give up. I learned to find some way of maintaining my routine by alternate exercise, modifying my movements, and doing extra strength work.

What’s really insidious are the people who try to cajole you into “taking it easy.”

“Come on!” they wheedle. “It won’t hurt you to miss a day!”

Well, no. It doesn’t hurt to miss a day–at first.

But it’s so easy for one missed day to turn into two or three missed days. Soon you’re looking for excuses–“I’m really too busy to exercise today. I’ll work twice as hard tomorrow!”

Skipping exercise only makes coming back that much harder.

We do the same thing with our art, when we make a habit of skipping our studio time….with the same devastating results.

Life sometimes gets in the way of our best intentions. When we are devastated by loss, by illness and injuries, by financial setbacks, by a job loss or move, often the first thing we abandon is the very thing that gives us the energy, the power, to deal with it: Our art.

Our artistic nature is like a muscle. It needs to be exercised regularly, too.

Yes, sometimes we need to compensate for overwork/injury with rest and recuperation: We need to allow time for our “artistic well” to refill.

But too much time away from our studio means we have unplugged ourselves from our source of power.

When an artist tells me they are struggling, that life is clobbering them, that they feel sad about their art, the only advice I can’t stop myself from giving them is this:

Go make your art.

And like our physical workouts, when we hit a wall in life, sometimes we just need to mix it up a little. It’s good to try new things. It may help to take a class to develop our techniques or expand our vision.

Sometimes we need to vary the intensity–alternating lighter art (short fun projects) for serious art (the stuff we pour our soul into).

Sometimes we need to warm up first, doing quick, easy tasks to warm up the right side of our brain before settling into our long “flow” work periods. Sketching out new ideas. Restocking our materials: Paint. Tools. Frames. Meeting up for an artist support group!

Sometimes we are fortunate enough to have leisurely, long periods of time to work on our art. Other times, we’re lucky if we can grab fifteen minutes. But those fifteen minutes may be crucial to us keeping up that habit of daily work.

I’ve learned the hard way that this means actually touching the things that involve what you DO with your art. The days I spend putting together show applications, or doing press releases, or doing banking, or shipping orders, are related to my art business. But they are not my art. It’s too easy to think you are “doing your art” when you are actually “taking care of business”. After all, you have to make art in order to have a business selling and promoting it.

Learning to say “no” to the constant interruptions and distractions from doing my art may be the most valuable lesson I learn this year. On one hand, this year drained me of many things: Hope. Enthusiasm. Joy. I felt overwhelmed with exhaustion. I felt “too tired” to go to my studio.

On the other hand, once I forced myself to get back to my studio, all of those sad feelings lessened. Softened. It got easier and easier to go. And finally, my daily habit was restored.

And that restored me to my artistic self. It restored me to my creative self. It restored me to my best self, the person I choose to be in the world.*

Sometimes I would do one step in my process. Sometimes a sketch. Sometimes it simply meant washing an old wooden box.

Some days, all I could do was wash ONE BOX. 

But then that box was cleaned. It could be sanded. And then it could be waxed. And then….

Other days, it was just putting something IN a box. 

It could hold one of my artifacts. It could hang on a wall. It can go into my inventory.

It can be admired. And sold. And go to its new home, with someone who loves it.

But all the days I did “just one thing” added up, and helped me over the rough parts. 

Go to the studio and make something.

Make a decision about subject, or color. Pull some fabric pieces. Create a study for a larger piece. Make a bead you will use in a later project. Do one more step in that project you’re working on–polishing a piece, pulling the bead selection for that new necklace, a sketch for that next quilt.

Put your hands on your art. Pick up your tools and materials.

Enjoy the way they make you feel.

Do it today. 


*Er….not finished yet, though. I’m still a work in progress!

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #3: You have to do it even when you don’t feel like it.

Luann Udell discusses how getting to the studio--is half the battle.
Luann Udell discusses how getting to the studio–is half the battle.


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.

Getting to the gym—or the studio—is half the battle. Have your winning arguments ready!


I rarely feel like exercising. Given a choice, I can always find a great excuse to skip it.

Not so fast, kiddo! Walking? Studio? Workout? PICK ONE! 

But I use those micro-steps (“I’ll just get into my gym shoes!”) and say I’ll get in the car at the appropriate time. I drive there, I walk in, sign in and get in line. I fight down a few moments of panic–“I can’t do this!”

And then everyone says hello, and the music pops in, and we’re off. For the next hour, I don’t have much time to think.

It’s a full hour of work—warming up, strength work, balance work, stretching, cooling down.

And at the end of the hour, I am always–ALWAYS–glad I came.

The same with my art. Especially the last year or so, as I take my work to the next level, it’s been hard to sit down to work. My head plays every mental game it can, and I’ve got a million excuses why I should work on something else.

So I do the micro-steps and say, “I’m just going to pick out the border pattern” or “I’m just going to mix some clay.”

Or I do it because I know if I can just get out of the house, that’s half the battle. Instead of, “I’ll just do the laundry first”, I promise myself I’ll do it when I get back.

Or I do it because I know once I’m in the studio, I’ll be fine. There will be plenty of little tasks, big projects (with little steps!), and maybe a customer or two will drop in.

Or I do it because….

I know it’s the work of my heart. And I have to do it. Because I LOVE IT. And I’ll be absolutely miserable if I don’t.

It’s like taking vitamins. Or, even more fun, a glass of wine!

I do it because it’s good for me, and I know that. I do it because I will be happier, not only being active, but getting something done. I do it because I can cross those little goals off my checklist, and that feels productive, too.

Before I know it, the time has flown by. Some pretty good work has been accomplished. And I’m feeling pretty good, too.

If you wait until you “feel like it”, you’ll never do it.

Just go to the studio. Don’t worry about how you’ll manage it tomorrow, or whether you have to do it the rest of your life. Just worry about today.

Just do it.

What is YOUR magic step for getting to the studio?

You don’t have one, you say? You’re already so disciplined you don’t have to think about it?

First, good on you!

But I’m guessing if you believe you don’t have one/need one, it’s because you’ve incorporated many small encouragements and good practices so often, your internal process doesn’t even register anymore.

It’s become a good habit, one you don’t even have to think about any longer.

And that’s the perfect place to be!

So share how you got there.

Maybe what worked for YOU, will work for someone else, today.

And maybe that’s just what someone else needs to hear, to get to their studio today.


Luann Udell discusses the benefits of doing art from the heart
Luann Udell discusses the benefits of doing art from the heart,

by Luann Udell

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.

When we do the work of our heart, it’s easier to get to the studio!

Second in a new series of exercise tips you can apply to your art biz. I’m not working from an article this time. This all comes from personal experience:

Find what you love to do, and do it.

When it comes to exercise, you either have to do what you enjoy or find the joy in what you do. And believe me, it’s a heckuva lot easier to start with the former.

It was the secret behind my commitment to martial arts—Tae Kwon Do and kickboxing—which I took up in middle-age.

Disclosure: I still love love love martial arts. But due to many injuries resulting from same, I cannot practice it anymore. So. Gym, and maybe more tai chi instead!

But it was perfect when I could practice! It’s intensely physical, with a good mix-up of strength work, coordination, and aerobic components.

Kickboxing especially felt “light”. There’s a bit of mental workout, but not nearly as much as other martial art disciplines. Eventually, though, I found I missed the katas–those longer, choreographed movements that look like fast tai chi. And eventually I went back to Tae Kwon Do.

There were things I was good enough at to be proud of, and plenty of things for me to work on.

Martial arts taught me a lot about myself, too. I learned my biggest enemy was ME. Yup, I’m my own worst enemy. I had to learn to focus on my own performance and improving it a little bit at a time, rather than compare my performance to anyone else’s.

It was hard, as an older woman, to get comfortable with punching, kicking and striking, even yelling. The mindset was extremely foreign to me. I could feel brain cells and ingrained social conditioning fighting me every inch of the way–“Don’t hit!” “Don’t raise your voice!” “Be nice!” I remember raising my hand to hit in a martial arts class years ago and being almost physically, psychologically unable to do so.

I got over it.

The whole thing was challenging but rewarding. I was exhausted when class ended–but also exhilarated.

And the fact that I enjoyed it so much is more important than all of the other reasons I just gave.

Because the enjoyment is where I found the discipline and the courage to keep going. I rarely missed a class, even when I “didn’t feel like it”. And even though I wasn’t that good at it. (That is, I’m not a ‘natural’. It didn’t come easily to me.)

But I’m glad I started with something I love. Especially when even today, I can say with pride, I studied martial arts for more than 12 years, I attended almost every single class, without fail, except for major injuries, major illness or being out of town. (And as I said, eventually the major injuries took over completely.)

I still have hope for the next work-out routine that brings such passion and commitment.

Do the same with your artwork.

The thrill of doing what you love will carry you over many hard times, and boring times, and frustrating times.

In fact, whenever I do a mentor session with client, that’s the first question out of my mouth–especially when someone shows up with a hodge-podge of projects, all different in media, theme and colors:

Start with, “What do you love doing?”

“Where does your heart lie?”

“Which of these is calling to you?”

Don’t focus with “what sells” Don’t even start with, “What’s easy?” This is the hardest, but don’t even start with, “What will make me the most money?” That’s important, but that will come later. It can wait.

Because that powerful connection will help you through all the hard stuff later.

Success in making and selling art, like a productive exercise program, begins with finding what you love so much, you can’t imagine NOT doing it.

Yes, once it’s made and out in the world, there’s the question of marketing and selling, growing an audience, connecting your story with your work, and encouraging others to connect, too. It may not be as much “fun” or as rewarding, or as easy to fall into. (Though I’m amazed how much I love that part of the process, too!)

But loving what you do means when you talk about your work, your authentic connection to it will show through. When you talk about it, you will be speaking your truth.

And that is the most powerful place an artist can be: Telling your story. Speaking your truth.

Consequently, if you are not crazy about where you art is right now, that can make it harder to get to the studio. It’s okay. We all go through periods of enthusiasm and not-so-much enthusiasm. We get enormous energy from a great new project, and then may fall into a period of stasis, recovering from all that activity. We hit walls, roadblocks, and setbacks. That’s life. We get sick, we need a vacation, life whaps us, and we need to recover.

But if you really can’t muster any enthusiasm for long, long periods, consider a change. Maybe your focus has shifted, and your joy has been slowly leaking away.

Take a class in a new technique. Create a (kind and gracious, but firm) critique session with fellow artists, to see if there are gaps in your style or process. Are you ready for a bigger change? Explore a new subject matter, or perhaps even a new medium. Heavens—maybe even another form of creative work! (It happens!)

Constantly explore, and focus, on what brings you joy, and go from there. It’s your measuring stick and compass needle in life.

I still love carving stamps, and when I need a break, I pick up my carving stamps and hit the rubber! (Literally)

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #1: Put on Your Gym Shoes!

Luann Udell shares tips on how tiny actions can lead to big accomplishments
Luann Udell shares tips on how tiny actions can lead to big accomplishments


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.

Micro-steps are TINY actions that can help us overcome BIG mental obstacles.

This is an exercise tip I picked up years ago, back when I was exercising regularly. (Oops—did I just admit that’s not a ‘thing’ anymore??) It has inspired a series of articles, designed to encourage you to get to your studio.

Can you think of a jillion excuses not to be in your studio today? Besides the fact that it’s SATURDAY and maybe you should get out and look at the hills, or the sky, flowers, some birds, and maybe an ocean or two…

Do you find yourself unable to block out that three hours you know you need to put into your next project?

Does it seem like there’s always something else you need to take care of before you settle down to work?

Have you tried micro steps lately?

I read this in one of my books awhile back, and will give it full credit as soon as I can figure out which one.

The problem involved a woman who needed to start exercising regularly, but wasn’t.

She knew intellectually she should. She just couldn’t seem to find the time to do it. She and her trainer would create wonderful plans and programs and schedules. But when push came to shove, there was always a great excuse not to do it.

Exasperated, the trainer suggested they back up and start over. “Maybe this is too top-loaded for you”, she said. “Let’s try to break this down into more manageable steps. This week, don’t even think about exercising.”

“Just put on your work-out clothes.”

That’s it. The client was not to do anything more. Just put on her sweats.

The next week, the advisor asked how it had gone.

“Great!” said the client. “I worked out three times last week!”

Turns out that little itty bitty step was manageable. Extremely manageable. Something so innocuous, the woman couldn’t even come up with a good excuse for not doing it.

So she put on her sweats.

But then, she found herself thinking, “I’m all ready to go–why not work out?” So she did.

Making time for exercise was just too daunting. Getting READY to exercise was not. And that little step was all she needed to get herself in the right mindset.

Try this the next time you feel studio-phobia.

Forget all the “I should’s”…. “I should get that new catalog put together.” “I should get those next orders ready to ship my gallery.” “I should design new work for my next show.”

Instead, just decide you’ll take a few minutes to look over your new images. Or you’ll just grab the boxes you need for that gallery shipment. Or get your pencil and sketchbook out and ready to go. THAT’S IT.

For years, I would set aside time to make up a dozen or more “ivory” animals at a time. Then I hit a rough patch recently. I did not have time or energy to spend hours in the studio.

But what DID work was committing to making ONE animal: A horse. A bear. I could handle making one, or sanding and mudding one I’d made and fired the day before.

This is what happened one day when I committed to making one little horse!

Instead of falling into despair and feelings of “not enough”, even this small action kept me feeling like I was productive. The plus side? Even “one-a-day” adds up pretty quickly! Soon my inventory of “parts” I could use for sculptures, jewelry, or installations was back up. When I was ready to actually get back to work, I really was ready!

You may find those tiny little tasks are all you need to find yourself in the work zone once more. Try it the next time you are feeling overwhelmed, under-inspired, or simply too worn out to take on a major project.

Start with tiny steps, and soon you’ll be well on your way!


This county-wide art event is just around the corner! Two weekends in October: Saturday and Sunday, October 13-14, and October 20-21.

Opening reception at Corrick’s in downtown Santa Rosa this Friday, October 5, 4-6pm, and YES, I will be there!

Of note: I’m #1! Yep, this year, I am the first artist in the catalog!

This means nothing, actually. It’s a good strategy to mix up the tour’s layout every year.

Still….I’m owning it!

And I promise you this: My studio will be messy, but INTERESTING.

Hope to see you there!

Sonoma County Art Trails runs for two weekends, Oct. 13-14 and Oct. 20-21, 2018.

166 artists, featuring paintings, sculpture, fiber work (clothing, collage, etc.), jewelry, ceramics, glass, wood, photography, and more!

Your chance to visit sacred creative spaces, where we make our beautiful work.

You can browse the Collector’s Guide  here . 

OR you can pick one up at my studio. I have tons!

And I’m #1 on the tour! (Did I say that already??)


(This article was first published on September 1, 2018 on Fine Art Views)

It’s the little things that matter, and the story.

(10 minute read)

My Mom died earlier this year. Soon after, my pregnant daughter lost her first baby. And earlier this week, I took a redeye flight to Michigan to say goodbye to my Dad.

I got there just in time to say the things I needed to say. And although he was not “conscious” in our sense of the word, I know he heard me.

My hospice volunteer experience taught me so much. All of that was visible in my dad’s last few hours on this planet.

My dad was a long-standing, prominent figure in my little hometown. From a co-op dairy project started by my grandfather that eventually turned into one of only two family restaurants in town, (which also provided jobs to dozens, if not hundreds of teens and adults over the years), to his years of volunteering, (serving on school boards, supporting our church), socializing (visiting elderly former employees in their last years, meeting almost weekly with friends for bridge, for potluck dinners, for parties, hosting all his kids’ weddings in his backyard), he wove a winding path through our small farming community.

As life approaches the end, it gets smaller. Friends and family moved away, or died. The town got bigger, so more people were ‘strangers’. Eventually, his world was only as big as the assisted living staff, family members who remained nearby, the people he ate dinner with every night.

And of course, it all ends in a hospital bed, surrounded by those who loved him, holding his hand, whispering in his ear, saying a prayer.

His passing was peaceful, with little pain, and not much suffering, unlike those he leaves behind.

But this is how it goes. And this was as good as it gets.

Now for the next thread: Last month, a friend in New Hampshire told me of a friend of hers who found one of my horse sculptures at a yard sale.

Put a pin in that. (For those who don’t know what this means, it alerts you that I intend to circle back and connect all these little “bits” on this “bulletin board.)

I’ve just finished watching a Netflix comedy special “Nannette”, created by Hannah Gadsby, an Australia comedian who identifies as lesbian. Her comedy was searing, and hilarious, honest, and gut-wrenchingly powerful.

There were so many words of wisdom she shared as she told the hardest stories of her life, stories she had edited for pure laughs in her ten-years-plus career. This time, she said, she has to tell the whole truth. Because without it, we cannot truly understand her pain, the shame and humiliation she suffered because of something she did not choose, and how she rose and grew as a human being through her art.

She is, like me, also an art history major. And she spoke deeply and clearly about that, too.

Put a pin there.

I struggle writing for Fine Art Views. I mean, I LOVE writing for FAV! I love the people I’ve met through my columns, I love the respectful discourse, I love it when I see I’ve helped lift people’s hearts, if only for a day, by encouraging them to make their art.

I’ve been a professional artist for over 20 years now. I work hard at what I do. I’ve created a solid body of work. I’ve entered, and been accepted, into prestigious organizations, some of the top fine craft shows in the country, and sold work to some prominent people. I’ve educated myself about marketing, display, and customer service. I have a following on my blog, and a good-sized email list of customers.

But I’m not sure I can call myself a “successful artist”. At least not by the definition many people assign to that term.

In only a handful of years did I ever break the $20,000 income for the year. So, technically, I am at poverty level. (Fortunately, society values my husband’s work a heckuva lot more.)

So when a reader wrote recently asking for a favor, saying they knew I was busy because I am so successful, I felt a little embarrassed. Yes to the busy. Er…not so much for the “successful”.

And sometimes, although I know (and follow) most of the practices (that work for me) to advertise and market and sell my work, I can’t “prove” my credentials (no art degree! No museum shows!)

So who am I to advise you on marketing?

Simple. I am a fellow traveler. I share what I’ve learned. It’s up to you to decide if it works for you, or not. I simply have to write about it. It’s part of my story. 

Also, to be easier on myself, it’s possible I will become a tremendously famous artist after I’m dead. Like Van Gogh, and Emily Dickinson, whose poetry was never published in her lifetime.

I will never ever say that following my advice will guarantee you fabulous sales. I don’t have a $2,000 “product” (course, book, seminar, etc.) to sell you  that promises to make you famous, or rich, or even make enough money for the babysitter so you can do shows. ((except a few eBooks running around $5 each that will help you get toxic people out of your sacred creative space, and how to improve your display.)

Of course, that illusion of artistic success (“Van Gogh is a brand, and look how much his paintings sell for! Branding is the key!”) is just that: An illusion. More on that….

Let’s pick up some of those pins.

In her performance, Gadsby quotes people who rave about Van Gogh’s fame, framing it as a rags-to-riches story. “He was broke, and crazy, and starving, and now look at him!”

“But he’s dead,” she replies quietly.

“Yeah, but he’s very successful!” they argue back. They offer more “assumptions” on why his work was not successful in his lifetime, and why it is now.

She goes on. Van Gogh wasn’t “ahead of his time”. He was a Post-Impressionist painter at the height of Post-Impressionism. People didn’t “not buy” his work because his style was inaccessible.

He lived with severe mental health issues. He couldn’t “network” because he was extremely difficult to deal with. People crossed the street to avoid him. His “brand” was “crazy”.

His art did not spring from his illness. He sought help from psychiatrists, he was medicated, and some of his vibrant color choices were actually visual side effects from the medications he was on. He made his work despite his mental illness, because it meant so much to him.

Gadsby, with words that broke my heart, says, “We have Van Gogh’s sunflowers not because he suffered, but because he had a brother who loved him.”

And here’s where the Dad pin comes in.

My Dad was not a famous person. He was not extremely talented. He was not wealthy. He was not “artistic” (though he took up woodworking in his retirement.)

He was simply a good man, who provided for his family any way he could, because family was important to him. Someone who always did his best. All of us in the room knew he loved us, and showed it, the way he had been taught to show it.

And as he left this world, I know this for sure: He knew we loved him, too.

Now the back to the art marketing pin.

You can follow all the marketing advice in the world. You can brand yourself just like cowboys and steers. (That’s where the word comes from.) You can strive to get into those perfect galleries, those top shows, be featured in elegant magazines, and win Best-in-Show so often, the committee will eventually have to take you off the ballot every other year so that other, just as commendable artists will have a shot.

It will guarantee you nothing.

And even if it brings you wealth, and fame, in the end, we will still all end up in a hospital bed in our bedroom, working our way to our last breath. Hopefully, at peace, without pain, surrounded by love….

And with luck, no regrets.

No one came to tell my Dad what a great restaurant he ran. (It was very modest, not an haute cuisine thing. Just home-cooking, great ice cream, and pie.) No one came to tell him how his wealth and power inspired them. (He had neither.) No one ever rushed to grab his autograph, or have a selfie taken with him. There is no history book that will refer to him, ever.

People tell us he gave them their first job. People tell us he was generous with his time. People tell us he made them laugh.

As artists, we have a unique gift. We get to choose every step of the work we do. We do it our way. We make it our way. We get to choose how well we do it, we have some choice in where we show it, and who sees it (even more with the Internet), and if we’re lucky, we learn how to best connect with the people who will become our customers. We choose how to promote it, how to sell it, how to advertise it.

But none of these efforts can guarantee us success. Nothing and no one can ensure we will make a living, or even make very much money at all with it.

Hannah Gadsby suffered for years because of her trauma. She transformed that into a healing experience we can all benefit from. She shares what truly connects us: telling our stories; and what most assuredly will destroy us: anger, and hate.

Art is how we tell our stories. The medium does not matter. Stories can be told through oil paintings, pastels, clay, and stone. Polymer clay, voice, music, film, books, plays, food, and comedy. Relief work, healing, teaching, mending, any human effort that brings more light, and love, into the world counts as creativity to me.

Yet even this may not be enough to assure our place in the world, now, nor for all time.

We have no control over our stories, while we live nor when we’re gone. As I looked through the boxes of photographs my siblings had gathered together, I realized I, as the oldest, was the only one who knew some (but not most) of the people featured, the places, the events, depicted in them. People leave before us, and at the end, we may not leave that much behind. Eventually, no one will care. Life goes on.

All that matters, at the end, is that we do it. That we do the work of our heart. That we fit it in somewhere in our life, whether it’s full-time, part-time, down-time or me-time. It only matters that we do not leave this world with regrets.

All that matters is that we do our best. That we make friends, and cherish family. That we do what we think is right. That we give solace to those who suffer, that we feed those who are hungry, that we home those who are lost. That we forgive those who have hurt us (truly forgive, which means freeing ourselves from the pain they bring us), and heal ourselves, even though we can’t fix it or change them. (I’m still learning about true forgiveness. Not there yet! Getting closer….)

All that matters is that we do the work that heals us, so we can be in the world. It’s the only way we can truly tell our story.

As for the yard sale find, I was a tiny bit dismayed. So soon? My work is considered “worthless” so soon? No Van Gogh moment of discovery?? Wah!

And yet….

At a yard sale, someone found something that spoke to them. They bought it. It brings them joy. They treasure it. They tried to find the artist, and they did. I have a name now.

I myself have quite a collection of thrift shop finds, flea market treasures, and other “uncurated” works of art, craft, and otherwise. Some are signed, but because of the time they were created, there’s not much to learn about the artist. Others are anonymous, but no less treasured.

I love them all, They bring me joy.

That is what I choose to focus on today. What matters, at the end. Fame, fortune, cannot survive. We will not live forever. Even love may fade into obscurity.

But maybe a piece of our life will survive to raise another’s heart. In a song, in a book, a life we save, a bowl, a painting. A little horse sculpture.

Make your best work.

Put it out into the world. Make it visible. Make it accessible.

Do your best.

Then let it go.