HOW TO BE A HERO

Yet another creative person who works at Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Ronnie Smart, who designed this signage for me when I couldn’t be in my studio for all the Art Trails hours!

And so many ways to be a creative!

Although I’m not able to be fully open both weekends of our county-wide open studio tour this month, I was able to fulfill my volunteer commitments at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, the organization that hosts it.

Volunteering is so rewarding! We can help fill in the gaps for non-profit organizations. We get to assist the very people who help us get our art out into the world. And my favorite? We get to peek behind the curtain, just like Wizard-of-Oz Dorothy did. (Er…in a good way.)

I got to meet a member of the staff I hadn’t even met before, due to the pandemic precautions.  One of them triggered a powerful memory for me.

When we lived in New Hampshire, I became a juried member of one of the oldest fine craft organizations in the country (some contend the oldest), the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. Among other events, they hosted a highly-popular nine-day fair called the LNHC Annual Craftsmen’s Fair. I served on the Fair’s steering committee for awhile, and that deepened my relationships with the League’s staff.

And one conversation simply blew my mind. Here’s that memory:

I was talking to the woman who was in charge of accounting and finances. (I don’t remember her name, but I’ll share it if I find out!(Found her! Joan Hubbard!!! And thank you to Melinda LaBarge for her detective work!) She was always patient and kind in all our interactions, and at some point, we talked about her work history.

Her income came up, and somehow, it was clear she could have chosen to do the same work at our non-profit craft org,  at a much higher salary from a corporation or for-profit company. I was curious, and asked her why she’d chosen that.

She said, “I’m not creative, but I’m in awe of people who are! So I consider my work here a way of supporting the artists and arts I love.”

Take a minute to let that sink in.

In a culture where money is the measure of our “success”, often the only measure, and where someone who is good with managing money can make a lot of money doing that…. this person gave up fortune because of her ideals. For her love of creativity. Her respect for creative people.

I thanked her, of course, and shared that story with others whenever the opportunity came up.

But I wish I could have that conversation again, today. I would take the conversation a little deeper, and perhaps have honored her life decision even more by lifting her heart.

I know now that almost every human being is creative, in their own unique way. Creativity, innovation, the desire to be part of a tribe, and to be seen as a unique individual, are all powerful human traits. If you’ve followed my blog or my email newsletter, or my past articles on Fine Art Views, you know this is a common theme for me!

My heart has opened wide to respect many, many ways people are creative:

Whatever you love to do, (whether it’s hard or challenging or easy and relaxing, earns you a living or not), if it lifts your heart, and helps you make better decisions and be a better person…

And you share it with others, with the world (whether is selling, donating for a good cause, lending, or simply sharing it on social media, etc.)…

And it lifts the hearts of others (because they love it, or makes their life better, easier, richer, or helps them physically/mentally/emotionally/spiritually)…

And makes the world a better place…

That…is creative work. 

So “art” isn’t the only form of creativity. It can be any form of making. It can be healing, teaching, creating community, mending, restoration, repair, building, care-taking, gardening, feeding, etc.

I now know this is all creative work. Even badly-done, with good intentions and a loving heart, has its place in the world. (Here’s my blog post on Regretsy and the power of awful art.)

Today, I would tell this woman this:

“The work you do for us is creative. It makes you happy that you can support our work, and it helps us soooooo much. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you do!”

But I would also go deeper. I would ask her what her creative work is. If she protested she wasn’t creative, I would dig a little deeper: What is the hobby/pastime/activity that lifts her heart? I would gently walk her through my new “rules” of creativity.

And I hope it would give her more support, more confidence, in her own superpowers.

Unfortunately, she died far too early, even before we left New Hampshire. I’ve shared her story with her daughter, and she loved it.

But I deeply regret I could not share my deeper insights at that time.

And the person I briefly met at SebArts fills the same role as this wonderful woman at the LNHC. I hope to talk with her again, soon.

In her honor, I ask you one small favor today.

If you are a “traditional creative”, you know, a “real artist”, take a step back.

Let’s not fight anymore about whether pastels are “just chalk” ( that’s what cave art is made with), or argue about whether pottery is art or craft.

Let’s look deeper at all the organizations, the small businesses, the companies, the people, who support the work of our heart, in so many ways. By sponsoring it, displaying it, promoting it, buying it, or simply letting us know how much they enjoy it.

Let’s be grateful for all the reasons we can even do our work, and all the ways we can get it out into the world.

Let’s work hard to be a force for good in the world, and honor the work so many do, so we can do our work.

ANCIENT STORIES FOR MODERN TIMES

 

Yep, it’s my birthday! And remember: Terrible things and wonderful things, always fall on SOMEONE’S birthday.

9/11 hit us hard. I received a phone call on the morning of my 49th birthday, from my father-in-law (who has since passed on.) I thought it was a “happy birthday” call, but it was a “you might want to turn on your tv and see what’s happening call.”

We spent the rest of the day in despair, without hope that things could be better. Trying to explain to our children what was happening, and why. (Didn’t do well with that.)

We went for a walk in downtown Keene. We could tell who had heard the news, and who had not. Happy, normal people had not heard. Quiet, sad people had.

Today, we are a few days’ past the conclusion of the first major response to that day, for better or worse. We can look back and point fingers. But I remember not knowing what where the right choices even were. So I can’t judge too harshly.

Here is the story I wrote on that very day. It still brings me to tears. Because it is my truth, my deepest truth. I hope it encourages you to follow the power of your choices, too.

AN ANCIENT STORY FOR MODERN TIMES

I WILL BE OPEN BY APPOINTMENT ONLY FOR ART TRAILS THIS YEAR

My studio at 33Arts, with a sampling of my new little shrines.

 

You KNOW how much I love having visitors to my studio! It’s the single more powerful way for people to connect with my artwork, my creative space, my stories, and me.

So it is with heavy heart that I announce I will NOT be open for the annual Art Trails Sonoma County open studio tour this year.

I am always open by appointment, of course, and will be for the tour.

But due to health concerns, and the size of my indoor space, I can’t be open to the general public those two weekends.

I fell in my studio two weeks before I had knee replacement surgery at the end of June. I was already scheduled for physical therapy for my knee, but had to wait almost two months to be scheduled for the fall. (I sort of displaced my sacroiliac joint, and suffererd constant, dull, never-ending pain for months. NOT FUN.)

Thank heavens for physical therapy. I’m healing, and feeling better.

But I still can’t even be in my studio for more than 3-4 hours at a time, I can’t stand for long periods of time, and frankly, I’m freaked out at the Delta variant with Covid-19. (I’m vaccinated, but it’s still scary.)

Keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll all find our way through this repeat of 2020 (DANG!!!) And when we do, I will host my open-to-everyone studio events again.

On the other hand, I’ve been asked to participate in a two-artist show at Corrick’s on Fourth Street in Santa Rosa, for the month of Octoboer, with local artist Teri Sloat. And now I’ll have time to create some new work for it! I was on a roll making mini-shrines for the past 18 months, hit a wall, and I’m now on a roll again. (Yay!)

Thank you for your patience and understanding. If you DO commit to an appointment, you can visit my listing on StudioDoorz and request an in-person visit.  Or find my contact info at the Art Trails website. (I’m studio #64.)  Or if you already have my contact info, email or text me for same. (Don’t call! I am swamped with robo-calls!)

A big shout-out to Sebastopol Center for the Arts marketing director Ronnie Sharpe for creating this sign for me! THANK YOU RONNIE, you rock!!!!

 

BIG MAGIC AND ME: What Elizabeth Gilbert and I Have in Common

In my last blog post, Maybe Languishing Isn’t So Bad? I shared how downtime/slow times may actually be a gift for me right now. I got many wonderful comments which will inspire some new posts. Yippee!

I was gonna get right on them. But then something happened that took priority.

Of course, I can’t find it now (!!!!) but someone mentioned Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic. (I highly recommend using Bookfinder.com to find the book at the price and in the condition you’re willing to pay for.)

Then an email newsletter featuring an interview with the author appeared in my inbox, with some quotes from the book. (If you prefer podcasts over a read, here’s an NPR radio interview with the author instead, to get a sense of what the book’s about.) Signs from the universe! I ordered a copy, and boy, am I glad I did.

First, Gilbert and I are on the same page about creativity. Her definition is wide and deep (like mine), she encourages us to make room for it somewhere in our life, whether we can earn a living at it (like I do), and whether or not we’re good at it (my creation story!) My copy of BIG MAGIC already has dozens of bookmarks with lots of exclamation points. I’m only four chapters in, and I have pages of notes.

Second, she has some unusual thoughts about where/why/how ideas find us, and her story about that is amazing. (For a short version, try this review: Ann Pratchett and Elizabeth Gilbert’s unknown collaboration. But trust me, the detailed version is jaw-dropping when it comes to its synchronicity!)

Third, we also agree that when it comes to the most important thing about our creative work, whatever it is, however it manifests itself: It’s not about having an audience, it’s atbout having a voice.

The weirdest insight? This one:

To put the story in perspective, consider this fact: The earliest evidence of recognizable human art is 40,000 years old. The earliest evidence of human agriculture, by contrast, is only 10,000 years old. Which means that somewhere in our collective evolutionary story, we decided it was way more important to make attractive, superfluous items than it was to learn how to regularly feed ourselves.

–Elizabeth Gilbert

And if we consider the fact that the world’s oldest-known human-made artifact (a shell drilled so it could be worn as a bead) is estimated at 100,000 years old, well, we have a lot of history/prehistory riding on human creativity.

And that ancient cave art, and even that shell bead, what do they signify?

A deeply-rooted desire to be part of a tribe, a community. AND to be seen as an individual in that community.

I’ll keep this one short today (NO CHEERING FROM THE BLEACHERS) because I want to address many of the other insights I got from the comments.

Yes, it’s a little bit woo-woo, and usually, I’m not into that. But I also have to admit, the synchronicity of my creative life, the little miracles that cross my path, have allowed me to at least say, “There’s a lot we just don’t know about our creative selves, and I’m okay with whatever encourages me to stay with it.” Because that’s what Gilbert does: Shares her insights, experiences, and observations that encourage us all to keep making the work that heals us.

Short story:

All humans are creatives, if we simply expand our definition and expectations of ‘creativity’.

Don’t measure it. Don’t question it. Don’t demean it. Don’t judge it.

Embrace it. Respect it. Honor it. Make room for it. Feed it.

Now git to your sacred creative space today, whether it’s a studio, a closet, a garden, a hospital, an office, or your computer.

And do/make/create/heal/edit/curate/fix/restore/grow/nourish/teach something.

Coming soon: The more practical insights into all the questions y’all asked last week!

I hope this helps you find your balance again today. If you’ve already found that place, share it in the comments. Someone else may find your experience enlightening!

If you found this helpful, and know someone else who might find it useful, share it!

And if someone shared this with you, and you found it useful, you can either follow my blog (upper right corner), or sign up for my email newsletter (at the top of my website home page) for more random (but free!) advice.

MAYBE LANGUISHING ISN’T SO BAD?

 

 

The Elk Horn Gate
I don’t know why I picked this image, I just like it, so there.

Let me tell you about my frustrations with social media marketing.

It’s a sad story. On one hand, I applaud the internet, blogs, social media sites. I think of the people throughout history, okay, even before history, people of different cultures, races, times, gender, who had the chance of a snowball in hell of having their work read, seen, shared. I’m pretty sure Emily Dickinson would have given almost anything to have her work published. Vincent Van Gogh finally had his day in the sun, but he died before he actually saw it. (This Doctor Who snip always brings tears to my eyes.)

And for awhile, it was great to be able to share my work and my words so easily. The day I started my first blog at Radio Userland, I felt a surge of freedom I’d never felt before. I didn’t need an editor, a publisher, an agent, nada. All I needed was the courage to tell my stories, share my thoughts, give insights based on my own experience selling/marketing/making and hopefully offer validation and hope to others who felt less-than-successful with their own creative work.

I love Pinterest, because I can create an online scrapbook of images that inspire me, intrigue me, give me ideas for my own projects. ) I love Instagram too. It’s a great venue for artists, I’m told, and I have a pretty big audience there, too. I can share all kinds of images of my work, inspiration, process, etc.

Then Radio Userland died. I moved to WordPress, but I did some great writing on Radio Userland. For awhile, I couldn’t even access my own articles there, until my hubby used his tech skills to create new urls for my blog there. Now I can find them, and republish them occasionally on my WordPress blog.

Then Facebook got bigger, and then it was/is immense. It also became all about the money. Facebook bought Instagram, and now it’s headed the same way.

I read a transcript of a Zoom video by Dave Geada, marketing guru at FineArtStudiosOnline (FASO.com) where I have my own website, and where I wrote a regular column for 12 years for Fine Art Views until a couple months ago. I still love the support structure of FASO for artists, and I’m glad to hold on to my website there.

Dave is as heart-centered as I am when it comes to marketing, I love almost everything he has to share on how to up our marketing skills, and many of the Zoom meetings are free to all. He loves Instagram, too, and has created many videos on how to use it effectively. I’ve gotten great tips and insights about social media markting (especially Instagram) from his Zooms, and many are free to ALL artists. Check out their Art Marketing Playbook here: AMP

But I’m beginning to feel lost in a huge dust storm that is suffocating.

Dave points out that Facebook regularly introduces new algorithms that block who can see our posts, forcing us to consider buying ads so we can grow our audience.  Suddenly, a thousand followers shrinks down to a handful in my Facebook business page. 

Instagram hashtags are a hot mess for a creative like me. I’ve tried hundreds of them over the years, tags that sound extremely descriptive of my style, my subject matter, my materials, etc. And yet, when I take the time to test them out, not very many put me in the company of other work that’s anything like mine.

In other words, it’s a blessing to be making work that’s unique, easily recognizable as mine, etc. But it’s frustrating to realize the tags I use regularly either throw me into a bottomless pit with hundreds of thousands of other people’s images, most nothing like mine, and ensuring I’ll be in someone’s feed about ten thousand posts down. (So, almost zippo visibility.) I’m lost in the shuffle. Or worse…More finely-tuned tags find me in a pond that’s way too small (although the images will hang around longer.) One example: I use #blackhorse for my faux soapstone horses. But I’m the only little handheld black horse sculpture in a sea of images of REAL black horses.

In the end, I can’t think of any way someone could even imagine my work, and look for it, unless they already know it, or they know my name. (Don’t send me suggestions unless you’ve researched them yourselves, okay?) (I mean, thank you for thinking of me, but it’s just not that simple.)

And the biggest surprise of all? I just found out that two superstars in the polymer clay world have quite modest followers on Instagram.

Ford and Forlano have been megastars for decades, two of the first polymer clay makers to hit it big with their work. It’s fabulous, beautifully made, expensive, and carried by the finest galleries in the country. Their Instagram following? 1,500 people. About the same as mine, a relatively-nobody/not nearly as famous nor successful.

Cynthia Tinapple is a polymer clay artist/teacher who has curated polymer clay work for decades with her Polymer Clay Daily newsletter, and her weekly subscription-based Studio Mojo newsletter. (WOW! I just tried to see when PCD first started. It looks like the first post was published on September 11, 2005. MY BIRTHDAY!!) She knows all the top makers in the pc world, she scours the internet for makers old and new, innovators, and whoever is making something intriguing, different, powerful, featuring around 250 makers every year. Her following? Well under a thousand. (To be fair, it looks like she’s just getting started on Instagram. But if every person she’s featured in her newsletters followed her, she’d easily be classified as an “influencer”!) (Six days of incredible posts for closing in on 16 years….) (OH, even more, because Studio Mojo usually has at least half a dozen little features on artists and resources.)

Next, my frustration with most hosting sites for artists, including FASO: Almost all of them focus on 2-D art: Painting, drawing, etc. I took a survey on mine, to get a “roadmap” for my marketing plan, and the first question was, is my work abstract or representational. (Um….jewelry?? And is anyone looking for my work going to use either of those terms to describe it? I don’t think so.)

Last, photographing my work is really, really tricky. Oh, photoing jewelry is okay, and the shrines come out well, if a professional photographer is doing the picture-taking. But decades ago, another polymer clay artist said, “Your photographer is one of the best, and yet they still can’t really capture the look and feel of how wonderful your little artifacts are in person.” That was true then, and it’s still true today. In fact, I believe the biggest factor in building my audience is when people come to my studio, and can actually pick up a little bear, or a horse, and hold it in their hand. It’s magic.

To sum up: I have a powerful creation story. I’m pretty good at telling stories. I’m good at the work I do. Good enough, anyway. I’m good at interacting with studio visitors, and engaging them with my work. I take a lot of pictures, I get professional ones when I need them (and can afford them!), I’ve gotten better at editing them, etc. I’ve done some major fine craft shows in my art career, my work’s been published in dozens of magazines and newspapers over the years, I grew a loving and loyal audience at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Craft Fair, and I have some wonderful followers and collectors here in California, too.

But if I’m struggling on how to get my art to cross the path of people online,struggling to find more people who might also become fans, and maybe even collectors some day, then how is everybody else doing?

I know Cynthia occasionally feels ‘less-than’ as she comes across astounding new, young polymer clay artists. She wonders if she’s doing a good enough job, if what she posts is interesting and relevant. (YES, YOU DO AND YOU ARE, CYNTHIA!)

And in writing this, I just remembered my very first blog post at Radio Userland on December 1, 2002: What Meryl Streep and I Have In Common

Okay, this just blew my mind: I started with how, reading that Meryl Streep struggles to own her own skill and body of work, made me realize this is “normal” for creatives. We all have that little voice that says we’re not good enough, we aren’t as great as others think we are, that we are doing it wrong.

So let’s just kick that little voice outta the park today. Or at least let it out into the backyard so it can take a pee.

I believe, so far, that my art has brought many, many people a bit of joy and wonder into their lives. I love that, and I’m grateful.

I also believe that, from how people respond to my articles and blog posts, that hundreds, maybe thousands of people gain hope from something else I offer the world:

  • You matter.
  • Your creative work matters.
  • It matters because it helps you be the best person you can be. It lifts your heart.
  • And when you share it with the world, it will lift someone else’s heart, too.

I’m not the wisest, kindest, smartest, most talented cookie in the box, not by a long shot. But I know how much my creative work means to me, and I know it will call to me until I die. (Or dissolve, or lose my marbles. Whatever. It could happen.)

But I know this:

It’s not about the money.

It’s not about the likes.

It’s not about the number of followers, the number of comments, the awards, the sales, the money.

In fact, the more I learn about “influencers”, the more I don’t want to be one. And let’s face it, some dynamics rule the game. Actors are going to get more publicity/fame/likes than the people who actually help put movies together, right? We just see the actors more easily. There are plenty of people behind the curtain, people who do incredibly powerful, good work in the world, and it’s rare we ever even hear about them.

It’s not about how to game the system, because the system is too big, and makes too much money for the people/corporations who created them.

It’s simply about using the systems to share your work with others, as often as you can.

It’s about doing the work that matters to YOU.

It’s about supporting the people, the causes, the programs that help others, that heal others, that heal our planet.

It’s about doing what you can to be the best person you can be. Even if, like me, you suck at it sometimes.

So use social media to help share your work with others. If you find strategies (and hashtags!) that work for you, good on you! If you don’t, you are not alone. But you can still have a voice in the world. Your audience may be huge, or it may be small. But they love you and your work.

Sales are wonderful, but there are a thousand reasons why people don’t buy our art, probably because there are more artists/creatives in the world right now than in all the rest of human history. If you’re work isn’t selling, don’t take it as a measure of your worth. You just haven’t found your peeps yet, and they haven’t found YOU yet.

Don’t count the likes. Just hang on to that feeling when you realize something you’re working on is finished, and it turned out well, and how happy that makes you.

Works for me!

Now go make something.

(Ahem. If it’s cupcakes, I’d be honored to taste-test them for you.)

 

 

LANGUISHING: Finding Our Way in the Dark

Fortunately, my little critter artifacts usually get along very well together.

 

(6 minute read)

It’s not just you. We’re all feeling little (or a lot) out of it these days. I came across the new diagnosis for this a few days ago, as I wrote about my own lost-at-sea feelings here.

This New York Times article explains this “middle child” of emotional health, between depression and joy, as “languishing”. (I was relieved to read this is a ‘thing’, and I hope it helps you, too.)

The problem is, it always does feel like it’s just us. Social media can help us stay connected even during pandemics and shut-downs. But it can also portray “everyone else” as having their sh** together, when we don’t.

I’ve shared my own experience getting through this in my last few blog posts. And I admit, after writing about them, I did feel better. For awhile.

Tiny steps forward in the studio, ala Garfield’s 10 days of 10% effort, which equals 100%.

One day, or ten days…It’s ALL good!

I committed to making one….ONE….new artifact a day. And shared it on Instagram/Facebook.

Realizing deadlines can inspire action, but reading about deadlines doesn’t.

Realizing some problems have very simple answers.

Realizing small acts of kindness and appreciation, which led to others engaging this way, helped, too.

Yet every day, I still go to bed exhausted, and wake up just as if I haven’t slept at all. My dreams are about trying to solve insurmountable problems, striving to achieve one step forward, without success.

What’s up with that?? How do I get back to my happy place? And who even cares if I do???

Welp, turns out there are even more ways to feel better than I thought!

First, while reading similar articles on emotional health, I realized one of my standard practices is considered the easiest, and the best: A gratitude list. Sometimes I’m just not feelin’ it. But when I make myself take ten minutes to list ten things I’m grateful for, no matter how hard it seems, it doesn’t take long to recognize the things that are actually going well for me: Having a loving, supporting partner. Having a studio to go to. Having a home. Access to physical therapy for pain and discomfort. I could go on….

Simply recognizing what’s good in our life doesn’t “fix” the bad. But it can shine a little light at our feet so we can take one tiny step forward, in the dark. (Now I can’t find this quote by Ann Lamott from her book, BIRD BY BIRD, but here are some others that are just as great!)

Second, my second favorite advice columnist (after Captain Awkward), Carolyn Hax , responded to a letter writer who said they can’t tell if their relationship with their partner is still based on love, or if it’s become merely “transactional”. We tend to think it’s one or the other right? Either things are great, or things are “meh”. Hax said that hitting such points can happen. But in the end, we can simply decide to choose love.

Choose love.

Yes, our ancient lizard brain tends to see the world in black-or-white, good-or-bad, happy-or-sad, etc. Human nature. Hax reminds me that we always have the power of our choices. We can be overwhelmed by everything that’s wrong with the world, and we can choose to be a force for good in it. We can seethe with anger and resentment, and we can choose not to act on it. We can have compassion for someone, and we can still set good boundaries.

For some reason, in spite of my exhaustion, my sad, hopeless thoughts, my “meh” outlook, I realized I can choose love. (I feel a little better already.)

Last, the Tokyo Olympic Games. My husband is an avid fan. Me, not so much. But I’ve learned a lot this year from this world event. So many firsts, so much empowerment, so many surprises. And so much controversy.

Simone Biles drew sympathy, compassion, and support for her own recognition of the “twisties” (aka, “the yips”), those moments when our brains disconnect, muscle memory fails, and our greatest efforts can turn into embarassing flops, or even horrifying injuries. (LINK? I was going to link to a horrible injury in a competition a few years ago, but it was TOO horrible. We don’t need that right now!) It took courage for her to take that stand of standing down when she knew it wouldn’t serve her, nor her team.

She also faced a vicious backlash of scorn and insults, being called lazy, cowardly, etc.

In an incredible article in the Washington Post recently, Kate Courtney, world champion mountain biker, shares her own experience with bombing at the Olympics this year. The self-doubt and ensuing criticism was devastating, it was humiliating, and it crushed her. She says,

At the Olympics, in particular, uncertainty and loss become visible and visceral. The challenge is clear, the emotions raw, and the outcome broadcast for the world to see. It takes courage for athletes to offer up true, heartfelt participation, knowing that very few will leave triumphant. And when the battle is over, those fallen competitors do not need to be kicked–they need to be carried. They need to be allowed to rest for just a moment and mend their broken hearts, so they can continue to bravely share their gifts with the world…. (Emphasis is mine.)

Her last paragraph speaks volumes to me today:

This is not the story I hoped to be writing about my Olympic Games. Like many others, I was searching for a sign that we could return to everything just as it was before the pandemic. But as I navigate my challenges around this experience, I am reminded that there are seasons of struggle and seasons of triumph–and that you don’t always get to choose when you jump from one to the next. Sometimes, you need help to keep going until the leaves change color. Exhaustion is not evidence of a lack of courage, but of its abundance. To deny the struggle is to deny the very thing that allows us to triumph in the end.

As I read more articles about successful artists in our area, the major sales others have made from our open studio tours, even scrolling through Instagram and Pinterest and seeing the jaw-droppingly beautiful work of others that my own work will never achieve…

I realize my own struggles are simply mine. They aren’t created by others, they can’t be solved by others. I can only sit with them, sit with uncertainty, until Clarity makes her presence known. (Words of wisdom from a wise woman friend, Sheri Gaynor.)

We all matter, in big ways and small, in great acts of courage and in tiny acts of kindness.

We all have the power of our choices, to hide our gifts or share them with the world, to choose love over resentment, resilience over despair, to embrace our broken selves because it shows us how truly human we all are. Perfection doesn’t make us a better human, but compassion–for ourselves, and for others–does.

To all the people who reached out to me over the last few weeks, who sent me their own acts of kindness, purchased my work, gave me words of love and encouragement, thank you from the bottom of my heart!

If you have your own work-arounds for getting back to your happy place., please share in the comments! What works for you might be just what works for someone else.

And if someone shared this with you, and you found it useful, you can either follow my blog (upper right corner), or sign up for my email newsletter (at the top of my website home page) for more random (but free!) advice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

COOLING DOWN: Deadlines, Procrastination, and Inspiration

 

A gift for a friend. And the first NEW fiber work I’ve done in what seems like forever!

As I wrote recently, the pandemic, losing a long-time writing gig, recent surgery, a fall in my studio have all contributed to the doldrums in my creative life.

On one hand, my healing progress after knee replacement surgery has been spectacular, especially considering I did almost NO physical exercise during the year-long shutdown. (It hurt to do anything, what can I say?)

On the other hand, I have to make up reasons to go to my studio now. Fortunately, I found some work-arounds, shared them in that same post (making small gifts for non-profit staff, friends in need, etc.), and learned that other people found my experience helpful, too. It actually helped ME to learn that other folks were struggling, and I was not alone in my funk.

But it still takes mental effort to get outta bed and get there. Thanks to that Garfield cartoon, I adjusted my goals down to spending even just a couple hours at the studio. Anything above and beyond was gravy.

And today, I finally read an article by Rachel Syme called “What Deadlines Do To Lifelines” in the July 5 issue of The New Yorker magazine. I’d overlooked it, but checked it out when a letter to the editor mentioned that deadlines increase productivity. (Which is why I was missing my 12-year writing gig for FineArtViews.com. No more deadlines!)

And yet….

Halfway through the article, Syme wrote:

Everywhere you look, people are either hitting deadlines or avoiding them by reading about how other people hit deadlines.”

I closed my tab.

Here’s why:

Years ago, in one of the very first artist support groups I created back in New Hampshire, one creative struggled to do the work they loved. Some of our group exercises helped them get clarity about the corrosive, toxic voice in their head that told them they weren’t good enough. Yippee! They could move on and get busy, right?

Um. Nope. Instead, they began doing all the exercises in an otherwise very useful book for creatives, The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron. Every meet-up, they shared their latest exercise proudly. Month after month after month.

By the time the group disbanded (people moving away, etc.) that person had not accomplished one thing with their creative talents.

It was a huge insight for me at the time, and one I constantly plug: Creative exercises are fun, they can be insightful and enlightening. Cameron’s book helped me stay grounded with my own creative work. Even today, in a gig economy when we feel pressured to monetize every bit of our creative effort, she is a godsend.

But they cannot replace the real work of our heart, our voice in the world.

And here I was, on a Saturday morning, with actually projects awaiting me in my studio, reading about how useful deadlines can be. Irony with a capital “I”.  (And not just because it’s the first word in that sentence.)

If you are struggling with reaching your goals today, consider this:

What works for you is whatever works for YOU.

Trying new habits and practices can help. But if they suck up all your creative juices, then they are not actually helping.

Deadlines work really really well for me. But they have their time and place in life, and are not always the best thing to get me motivated.*

And reading about the problem only goes so far. Sometimes, tiny steps, 10%, and a small reward for doing the right thing can carry us home, too.

***Bonus: If you love to read, and are not familiar with Bookfinder.com, this is your new, best tool to find that book you want, at the best price possible!

If you found this helpful, and know someone else who might find it useful, share it!

If you have your own work-arounds for procrastination, please share in the comments! What works for you might be just what works for someone else.

And if someone shared this with you, and you found it useful, you can either follow my blog (upper right corner), or sign up for my email newsletter (at the top of my website home page) for more random (but free!) advice.

RISING UP

Yep, that’s the short chair!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Every Problem Needs a Perfect Solution!

After I learned of a friend’s painful loss of a loved one recently, I decided to offer them a gift, a small wallhanging. I checked in on their preferences, gathered my materials, and got to work.

It’s been awhile since I’ve done any sewing/quilting in my studio, from at least before the pandemic shut-downs began. So it was frustrating to realize that the office chair I use at my sewing station is way too low to work efficiently.

Maybe I could swap out the chair for another taller one? Great idea, right? I carefully measured the heights of several swivel chairs, the ones in my studio, and a couple at home. Found one that would work, hauled it to the studio, and brought my former sewing station chair back home. It’s now my computer work-chair.

But when I sat in it today to work at my computer, I realized it was too short for that, too! Argh….

I tried to figure out how to raise the seat. The one I’d just taken to the studio is adjustable, but this one isn’t. (Why not??!) So maybe I just have to move this chair on, and find another one at a thrift shop (where I found all the others.)

Then I realized I have a sofa pillow that isn’t really comfy for sofa-sitting. It’s big, it’s thick, it’s made of rough, scratchy rug material. But it would be perfect for a chair! So I brought it in and tried it out.

It worked!

Ironically, a fellow artist/friend had just emailed me with some questions and concerns (which is why I needed to type an in-depth reply to them.)

But replying to that email is where this thought came from:

Sometimes the solution to a problem is sooooo much simpler than we think….

And sometimes the best solution is right in front of us.

I don’t have to make my chair higher (especially if I can’t!) I didn’t have to swap out chairs. (It was kinda tricky hauling them in and out of the studio, go down steps, load them into the car, etc., especially with my recently-replaced new knee.)

All I had to do was find the right pillow.

My friend was struggling with the need to update their website. Another was overwhelmed with mastering a new (to them) social media site.  A lovely neighbor was sharing how down and out they felt, and they couldn’t understand why.

After publishing that first blog post in a few months, sharing how hard it’s been for to get back into my life after surgery, so many people shared how they’re feeling the same way, with their own hardships and the (seemingly eternal) pandemic.  It’s obvious now that we are all affected by the chaos, the uncertainty, the dark side of the world we live in.

Here’s my advice (which you didn’t ask for, I know, but at least it’s free!):

Sometimes it’s just enough to know you’re not alone. (“We’re all on the same lake, in a different boat.”)

Sometimes a problem has a very simple solution. (But it might take awhile to realize that, and a little experimentation to get that insight!)

Sometimes, we don’t have to master something, especially right away. We just have to take a few steps forward with it.

Sometimes, especially if we already have an audience, it’s not necessary to totally master a social media platform, or to strive to grow our audience. (It can simply be a way to stay in touch with the people who appreaciate who we are, and what we do.)

We don’t have to be perfect. We just have to care about doing (a little) better.

Because, as I said in this little story video years ago, “We don’t have to be good enough. We are enough!”

And how ironic is it that I just noticed the grammatical error in its title! Proof again that the heart of it is more important than the details.

Not all problems have solutions, of course, let alone “easy” solutions. But it helps to truly understand the ones we need to work on, the ones that need our immediate attention, and the ones that can wait a little while.

I hope this helps you find your balance again today. If you’ve already found that place, share it in the comments. Someone else may find your experience enlightening!

If you found this helpful, and know someone else who might find it useful, share it!

And if someone shared this with you, and you found it useful, you can either follow my blog (upper right corner), or sign up for my email newsletter (at the top of my website home page) for more random (but free!) advice.

I’m Still Here!

 A single act of kindess,

Like a stone thrown in a pond,

Sends rings of ripples outward

That travel far beyond;

And joining other ripples

Flow outward to the sea;

A single act of kindness

Affects eternity.

–author unknown

 

I never thought that life AFTER the worst of the pandemic would be just as weird as DURING it. But here I am, having a rough summer and a crisis of faith.

Earlier this year, I walked away from my longest paid writing gig, 12 years of writing for FineArtViews.com. It wasn’t my highest paying gig by a long shot. But the weekly deadlines encouraged me to get regular in my writing habits, and my goal was my highest purpose:

  • To encourage creative people to keep making the work that brings them joy/solace/restoration rather than focusing on fame and money.
  • To not let others judge them on their medium, their process, their skill, etc. To embrace what helps them deal with everything else in life, whether they earn a living by it or not.
  • To persevere no matter how much, nor how little recognition they receive from it.

Because like a pebble in a pond, when we share our work with the world,  someone else’s heart might be lifted, too, though we may never have the privilege of knowing that. I also know that the most powerful connections created through my artwork, come from in-person contact (shows, studio visits, etc.)

When that goal was superceded by the financial goals of the company, I knew it was time to go. Yes, I believe in social media and social media marketing, for many reasons. It allows ANY creative person to share their work with the world, whether that leads to fame, fortune, or simply recognition for the work they do. As my favorite comic strip put it so powerfully, making the work of our heart isn’t about having an audience. It’s about having a voice.

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

 

But I cannot let someone else stifle my voice, either. (In their defense, that’s a normal practice in almost every biz, and they still support my website.)

Walking away from that gig felt like I’d lost both my audience and my voice.

And of course, knee replacement surgery in late June, complicated by a debilitating fall in my studio just before my surgery, has resulted in chronic pain and discomfort for months.

It didn’t help that I’d finished my year-long shrine-making series just before. Or rather, I reached a place where the next step was rather daunting, and I still haven’t figured out how to move forward. It had gotten me through the entire pandemic, but now I’m stuck again.

So I’ve been mopey, tired, constantly uncomfortable physically, whiney, and lazy for months now.

But now I can see a little light at the end of my tunnel.

What started the light was making “thank you” pearl earrings. It’s been a thing with me for years. I LOVE real pearls, and I LOVE making pearl earrings. But they hardly ever sell. So I usually give them as thank you gifts to people who are doing good work in the world, or as a thank you for something someone has done for me. I’ve donated three dozen pairs to volunteers who work at a local art center’s gallery shop, folks who work at a wonderful coffee shop back in New Hampshire (because we still mail-order coffee from them, and one person always sends a lovely, uplifting handwritten note in our package), etc.

A few months ago, I went on a pearl earring-making rampage. And it’s not gonna end anytime soon.

First, I checked in with a homeless shelter a few hundred yards down the street from my art studio. Their shelter, the largest in Northern California, is the first step towards getting a homeless person into permanent shelter and supportive services.  I asked what kind of donations suited the needs of their clients. (Now that I think about it, THAT inquiry began when I offered some food and medical supplies left over after we lost our dog Tuck a couple years ago, and offered it to a vet. They said they couldn’t take them, but that there are plenty of homeless folks with dogs who could use them. And this shelter actually lets their clients keep their dogs, an issue that’s often a deal-breaker for homeless people.)

Turns out their greatest need is individual personal hygiene items: Small packets of shampoo and conditioner, toothbrushes and toothpaste. This was harder to accomplish than I’d thought, as individually packets are being banned in some states due to massive use of non-reuseable plastics. They suggested a work-around for the former, which worked. But I was stumped by the dental care thing.

So I reached out to our family dentist, asking where they purchase their toothbrushes/toothpaste sets we get at our appointments, and could I piggy-back an order (paid) on their next order.

Their response? They donated…DONATED…a bundle of them.

So I made earrings for the dentist and their staff.

After delivering the items to the shelter, I realized I could also make thank-you for the shelter staff. A few days later, I delivered a few dozen earrings for the staff and volunteers there.

I shared this with a fellow artist. (I’d made several pairs for them, because they’d done something very kind for another artist.) They said, “OH, I have a friend who’s a dentist, I’ll see if he can donate that stuff, too!” (I just realized I should let her know I can make earrings for that office, too!)

We also rescued not one, but two oppossums this spring, and delivered them to a county wildlife rescue shelter. (One survived it, one didn’t.) It was so wonderful to find an organization dedicated to this, and it turns out they are overwhelmed with injured/abandoned baby critters this year.

So I also delivered several dozen pearl earrings to them, enough for the entire staff, interns, and their volunteers. (We also donated $$$ because that’s just as important as pearl earrings!)

Then the fall, then surgery, and now, major ennui.  I’ve been in physical therapy for my knee for almost a month, but I still have to wait several weeks for physical therapy for my fall. I’ve been achy-breaky, down in my mood, not-so-hopeful, and totally uninspired.

And yet….

I realize I really, really like recognizing our unsung heroes in life.

Recently, I learned a friend back in NH was going through a terrible loss of a loved one, and it broke my heart. On an impulse, I reached out and offered to make them something, a small fiber piece, and they reacted with great enthusiasm.

So I’ve been in the my studio several days this week, almost 3 hours a day. (That’s a record-breaker since my surgery!)

As I worked on it, I realized they were one of the folks who showed up during a very hard time in my life. Yes, I’d gifted them something back then. But it still felt great to be able to alleviate their pain in a tiny, tiny way.

As I worked, I realized I’ve also been in a position to help another good friend back there, who was also there for me during that time.

Ironically, this particular person also had great words of wisdom for me during that time.

There were people I’d gone above and beyond for, in our almost 30 years in NH. But there were a few who were NOT there for me during that difficult period, even as I had been there for them. I complained about that to this friend. And they told this powerful thought:

When we help others during their hard times, the universe sees it.

When we need help, it may come from those we helped. But it may not.

The universe, however, will provide that help, through other people, and other means.

I’ve learned over the years that hard times are….well, HARD. And when we’re in them, it’s not easy to see the good things, the gifts.

It’s only when I look back that I can see the people who did show up, the passing acquaintance, or even complete strangers  who crossed my path with a story that helped me take one step forward. The people whose wisdom helped me stay grounded, if only for a day, or even just an hour.

They are the people who helped me make a tiny shift in perspective, what I now know is an effin’ miracle.

And today, I had to share that with you.

Being grateful for the people who help us move forward. Other people being grateful for us helping THEM move forward. Others joining in. It’s a beautiful cycle that restores me to my better self.

Rambling, I know. It’s how I roll. I could shorten this, but as I wrote, more and more insights popped up.  Plus I write to get MYSELF to a better place, and this is how I do it. For example, I can’t wait to get to my studio today, because I’m am THIS CLOSE to finishing my friend’s project.

If this helps YOU today, well, that’s a gift, too! If not, no worries, I’ll be back soon with useful info, good strategies, and thoughts for hosting a successful open studio event.

But I feel a little bit better today, and I am grateful. And Garfield supports my theory that it doesn’t matter how long it takes to get our 100% out there.

UPDATE: I just found out this condition of “blah” is called languishing! And here’s a good article about it in the New York Times.

One day, or ten days…It’s ALL good

OPEN STUDIO, OPEN HEART

 

 

I miss my old studio in NH, but not the winters!

OPEN STUDIO, OPEN HEART: Open Studios Help Me Be a Better Person in the World.

People visit our studios for many different reasons, and all of it is good!

(This article originally ran in Crafts Business magazine, Feb/Mar 2005. Still holds true today, with a few minor edits!)

You know what we hope for when we open our studio to the public, especially in December. We hope everyone in town decides our work will make the perfect Christmas/holiday present. We hope hordes of shoppers will descend upon us, buying up everything in sight.

It doesn’t quite work that way, though. In fact, this was my fourth open studio of the year, and true to form, there was no form. No rhyme nor reason, either. Like life itself, it was the usual mix of the predictable and unpredictable.

There was the unexpected spat with my teenage daughter. She used to beg me to let her help with these events. Now she wants to hang out with her boyfriend this weekend, instead. Her boyfriend! Heck, I gave her life! (Just kidding.) (NOT.) I won the battle this year, but I foresee humiliating defeat in the years ahead. Time to look for a new show assistant? (n.b., this turned out not to be true, and my daughter joined me for shows until she left for college, and beyond.)

Then, moments before we opened, I got a phone call. An eager customer asking for last-minute directions? Yay! Yes, she was asking for directions, but no, she was not an eager customer. She had a box of sewing goods she thought I might be interested in buying. (This is just one of my pet peeves as an artist: People trying to sell me something during an event where I’m trying to sell something, especially an event like the major shows I did that cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars to participate in. I can attract a Mary Kay consultant from 500 miles away just by setting up my booth.)

I felt a sharp retort bubbling up, but held it back. I offered them an appointment for the day after the open studio.

Saturday morning was brisk. One shopper spent quite a bit of time browsing. First they wanted to buy a rubberstamp I’d carved. (Nope, not for sale.) Then they wanted my handmade buttons. (Nope, not for sale.) “One of those people!” I thought to myself. But again, I told myself, “Be nice, be nice.” I’m glad I held my tongue, because eventually they bought several items that made up half my sales for the weekend!

There was the art teacher who wanted me to tell them exactly how I make my artifacts, so they could use it as a school art project. (I get that all the time, too.) My response is to either give them online resources for working with polymer clay, or point them to my book shelf and the comfy chair corner, and to let them sign up for notices when I offer classes on polymer work.

There was the couple who traveled for hours to visit my studio. There was the person who happened to be walking by, saw my sign, and came in. The person who showed up to ask if I could replace their lost earrings they’d purchased a few years ago. (Yes, I will replace the first lost earring free, but not the second!) There was the person who decided they couldn’t live without purchasing another necklace from me. (I LOVE IT WHEN THIS HAPPENS!)

There was the person who couldn’t find anything of interest at all in my entire studio, except my private collection of turquoise nuggets. One person came by only to visit my guinea pig, who was part of my promotion to encourage families to visit. (They made me promise to come and visit their guinea pig someday.)Our new neighbors dropped by. The boy spent the entire time rubberstamping a card calling for a victory against a rival hockey team, while the mom and daughter oooh-ed and ahhhh-ed over every single piece of my jewelry. Something for everyone!

Finally, as the last hour of the last day of the event drew to a close, there was one woman who had stayed forever, looking at everything but buying nothing. She finally asked hesitantly if I would look at her artwork.

I was totally exhausted. Again, I could feel that sharp retort rising to the surface…

But I resisted.

The look on her face. I know that look. I remember it well. It’s on the face of the kid on the outside of the candy store window, looking in at all the wonderful sweets they can’t afford and can never have. I used to have it, too, when the idea of being a “real artist” seemed like an impossible dream. I remembered, too, all the kind and wonderful people who helped me along the way, offering encouragement, insights, and support. They were the ones who told me, “You come on in here! Step up!”

I did look at her artwork. It had promise. I told her that, what I liked, what could be better, made a few suggestions for better presentation, and told her to keep making her art. I was so tired, I don’t even remember most of what I told her. But I remember she was happy when she left, so I must have been kind.

The woman with the box of sewing goods? She showed up right on time the next day. It was a wonderful collection of vintage sewing goods, just the sort of thing I’m always on the look-out for, and the price was right, too. I bought it all, and we both were very happy.

Open studios are a miniature version of our own life. When we make what we love, we are restored to our highest, best self. When we share it with others, in any way (not just sales!), it brings joy to others. Encouraging everyone to make room to do the work they love is good for everyone.

And we always have the power of choices. We can choose to react with frustration, resentment, anger, fear, disappointment….

Or we can choose to believe we can be a force for good in the world. To believe we all have a right to be here. To believe we can all benefit in making the work that matters to us. To offer the same encouragement and recognition we needed so badly when we first started our own art journey

WONDERFUL NEW PEOPLE RESOURCE IN SONOMA COUNTY!

All this, for $40! (No, not the printer, it’s just holding the icing machine.)

 

I’m having major surgery in a few weeks, and while trying to snag a few post-op resources, I came across an incredible community resource.

This ain’t my first rodeo with surgeries (it will be my sixth knee surgery.) (No, not all on the same knee!) I was hoping to save some money by finding crutches, a walker, and a knee-icing machine ahead of time. (I knew we kept some of this stuff from my last surgery, but we can’t find it. So it’s not just me, my husband can’t remember, either!)

I tried NextDoor to ask if anyone had crutches I could borrow or buy, and got a couple offers. I took one up, but complications occurred. Meanwhile, someone recommended a resource here in Santa Rosa called Medical Equipment Recycling Program. And it is jaw-droppingly good!

It’s a pop-up operation at 3000 Dutton Avenue in Santa Rosa. (It’s confusing to get there, and Google Maps doesn’t have it figured out yet. It’s the driveway further north of the Amy’s Kitchen complex (the food people). In fact, you’ll have better luck using “American Storage” as your destination. It’s in their parking lot!

Most thrift shops will not accept medical equipment. They take up too much space. So most equipment eventually goes to the landfill.

This agency accepts donations, sanitizes the equipment, then they GIVE IT AWAY to anyone who needs it. For free. (Donations accepted, of course. I gave them a total of $40 for a walker, crutches, and an ice-cooling machine, and they were thrilled!) Your equipment donations give them inventory, and your $$$ donations allow them to rent the storage containers they use at American Storage.

They are only open 11am to 2pm on Wednesdays. But the transaction is quick, the volunteers are friendly and helpful, and I’ll be donating my equipment back to them as soon as I can.

If you live in Sonoma County, please help spread the word! And if you don’t have such a resource in your own community, Google “medical equipment recycling program” to find other organizations and rescources, and information on how to get a program started in your community!

Save money, reduce trash, save the environment. And be a force for good in the world!

USE YOUR TURN SIGNAL! Another Life Metaphor for Drivers and Artists

My “New England Autumn” art wall.

USE YOUR TURN SIGNAL!

Keep your audience and collectors in touch with your art/life changes!

 On my kitchen wall, the wall that shows up in my Zoom meetings, is a bright red maple leaf. Not a real leaf. It’s hand-carved and painted, in wood. It joins a collection of fall landscape paintings, and like them, holds many memories of living in the Northeast/New England.  (A friend in New Hampshire told me that only three countries in the world host these amazing, colorful trees: The United States, Canada, and Japan.)

There’s a story behind this leaf. (Of course!)

It took place many, many years ago, at a huge 9-day show in New Hampshire, The League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair.

I was still pretty new to the show. Across the aisle from me was a longtime craftsman, who worked in glass. In between the previous year’s show and this one, he switched medium. He now made marvelous nature objects, carved from wood, and painted.

I loved his work, he loved mine, and we had several lovely chats during the show. He had a huge audience, having participated in the show for a long time, and always did well with sales.

Not this year!

His collectors and followers came to his booth. They were stunned to find a completely new body of work. And most of them left fairly quickly, without purchasing anything.

He was stunned to the point of having a panic attack near the end of the first day. (We were told at first he’d had a heart attack, which can mimic the same symptoms, but fortunately a panic attack is non-lethal!) A friend came to cover his booth, (he’s the one who filled me in on the backstory) and a few days later, the artist returned.

He was devastated, of course, and we had a lovely talk.

I told him his new work was beautiful, and in time, he would either regain his audience, or grow a new one. It wasn’t the quality of his work that was failing him. It was catching his long-time audience off-guard. He needed to give them time to adjust.

I know this phenomenon all too well! My work has never fit into anyone else’s “box”, and new work takes time to sell. (Okay, ALL my work takes time. That can get discouraging in hard times, but it has never stopped me.)

He was grateful for my encouragement and insight. The next day, he brought me my maple leaf! And sure enough, even by the end of the fair, his sales were inching up. (Many were new people who were unfamiliar with his former body of work.)

How does this relate to a turn signal while driving? (You know I’ll find a way!)

One of my biggest pet peeves while driving is, when people don’t signal a turn, or a lane change, until they’re actually acting on it. Which isn’t helpful or useful for those of us passing, or approaching an intersection.

Turn signals are for letting others know our intentions. We need to activate that turn signal to let others know we’re going to get into their lane, or slow down to turn soon. (Yes, some people leave them on, which is also confusing. But it’s better to slow down when we don’t have to, rather than maintain our speed, not knowing what they plan to do.)

If this artist had prepared his audience, alerted them of his intentions…

If he had send out a postcard, or an email newsletter, letting them know he was switching gears/directions/media…

They would not have been so surprised when he showed up with a totally new body of work.

Instead, he caught them off-guard, unsure what to say, being disappointed the work they’d grown to love was no longer available.

In fact, he could have even staged a sell-off of his other work from his studio. (This was before the days of online shopping and artist websites!) It would have given his faithful collectors a last chance to purchase his work, and generated some excitement and interest in his new work.

Of course, in these days of social media and our intense use of email newsletters, more people can be aware of our own life lane-changes. We can use these powerful tools to keep our audience informed: New work. New media. New techniques. New studio location.

That little red wood leaf is a powerful reminder for me:

Stay in touch!

PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #6: A New Social Media Opportunity!

Our in-person studio visits are a powerful way to connect with our audience and potential collectors. And now there’s a new platform to make that even easier!

 An artist has solved a huge dilemma around our quirky art studio hours…

 (4 minute read)

 In last week’s column about recognizing our “team”, I shared how we can connect and benefit from our contacts who have skills we lack—and need!

This week, I’m delighted to share a new website that resolves one of my greatest problems as a professional artist: It provides our audience and people who don’t know us yet with the means to visit our studio.

A long-time reader reached out to me a couple weeks ago. Bill Snider is an artist who’s created StudioDoorz, a website featuring a listing of participating artists’ studios across the country, and around the world.  His project was featured in the 12/03/2020 issue of Boulder, CO’s newspaper, Daily Camera.

It’s pretty small right now, with just under a couple hundred participants right now. But it’s a major accomplishment, with the potential for huge growth.

Because one of my biggest pet peeves with Yelp, Google Business listings, Google Maps, and most of the open studio events I’ve been in, is that their listings don’t accommodate “open by appointment” for our business hours.

That may not seem like a big deal, but it is. (When I was in a more public studio, I used, “Open by chance or by appointment”, but in my current situation, I have to know you’re coming in order to even let you into the building.)

And yet artist studios deserve this option.

We’re a small business, with just as much of a presence as a burger joint or a swanky restaurant.

But very few of us keep “regular business hours”.

I’ve asked orgs that publish catalogs for their open studio events to add something, a brief comment or a symbol, that lets people know if an artist can offer an appointment for a studio visit. (Maybe next year? I hope!)

Bill and I are on the same page with this. When people visit our studio, it can be the most powerful way for new visitors to experience, and connect with, our art.

They not only get to see so much of our artwork, they get to meet us. They get to see who we are. We get to have deep conversations about the why and the how of our work. They get to see our sacred creative space.

My work rarely sells at a one-off event. It’s different, it’s not cheap, and it can take people awhile to understand what they’re looking at. Literally! At my very first small art show in Keene NH, visitors who were intrigued would stare deeply at my work. After a bit, I would ask, “What do you think?” They always answered, “It’s beautiful, I’ve never seen anything like it, and I don’t know what I’m looking at.”

From the very beginning, that taught me something important:

Yes, there are plenty of people who couldn’t care less about my work. But there are also plenty of people who do, and even some who love it enough to buy it.

But it takes time. And as a friend told me last year, “Art events aren’t about making money TODAY.”

Galleries help, of course, and social media marketing is an increasingly good way to get our work out into the world.

But a studio visit is the icing on the cakeIt creates the most personal, intimate way to engage a potential collector (or passionate admirer) with our work.

Bill has created a website that works like Yelp/Google for artists. Visitors who are traveling, tourists, etc. can use the site to find artists in a specific area or city, or even country.

They can read the artists’ statement/bio/resume. They can view the work.

And they can contact the artist through the website to make a studio appointment, either ahead of time or in the moment.

Now, this isn’t like using Facebook, where anyone and everyone can see our posts. It’s not like an open studio event, which can attract dozens, or even hundreds of visitors, but only take place once or twice a year. It’s not like “First Friday” or whatever, when all galleries and studios in a city are open, (which can quickly wear down the novelty of such events.)

Instead, if someone is traveling to “wine country” in Sonoma County, and they are also interested in art, they can search for that area on StudioDoorz, explore the artists that are compelling to them, and arrange for a studio visit.

I’m so excited about this new website, I joined in a heartbeat. The cost is a mere $5/month, or $50 for a year’s subscription.

It’s not a website host, like FASO. It’s not for buying artwork, though we can upload around two dozen images of our studio and our work.

It’s simply a way for someone to explore the area, find the artists there, reach our website, if they want to learn more, and to discover us in a way that would otherwise be almost impossible to do.

Remember that delightful quote from the animated movie Hercules, when Hades (the villain) visits the three Fates (who can see the future)? “Indoor plumbing. It’s gonna be BIG!!”

StudioDoorz.com. It’s gonna be BIG!

Your shares and comments are always appreciated, and often give me great ideas for future articles! If you know someone who would find this article useful, send it on. If someone sent this to you, and you liked it, either subscribe to my blog or my email newsletter at my website, LuannUdell.com!

 

Problem-Solving for Creatives #5: Call in the Experts!

PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #5: Call in the Experts!

Making jewelry with my artifacts is a LOT easier than mounting them in a shrine!
Making jewelry with my artifacts is a LOT easier than mounting them in a shrine!

 

We don’t have to know everything. We just have to know who knows what we need.

(5 minute read)

This series is dedicated to opening our perception of what a “team” is, and how our team support us in our art journey. We’ve covered the skills that got us here, the beliefs that keep us going, and the people who value us, and our art. Even the ones who are toxic have value, when I realized the only person who can stop me from making my art is ME.

Today, let’s talk about the experts.

First, of course, there are the artists and teachers (and people who are both!) who shared their art-maiking skills and education with us.

Then there are the people who help us get the word out about our art. In FASO’s (Fine Art Studios Online) unique AMP (Art Marketing Playbook), we not only get to hear Dave Geada share his insights and expertise about online marketing (websites, Instagram, etc.), we get to hear from experts he’s brought in for their take on things, too. (You can enjoy a 30-day free trial of this program by signing up here. Trust me, it’s worth your time. I’d say it’s well-worth the money, but…it’s free!) For the record, I don’t share just because it’s a feature of FASO where my own website is hosted. I’m sharing it because, even though I’ve used social media for years, I learn something new every single time. (Ask me about my pages and pages of notes I’ve taken on every AMP zoom meeting I’ve attended!)

There are other experts available, online, too. Other views on art marketing, instructional videos for art-making, etc. It seems like I search the internet almost every day looking for the expertise of others to help me move forward with my work.

But what has helped me move forward in leaps and bounds have been friends and acquaintances who have unusual skills I need.

I’ve written before about my New Hampshire friend Gary Spykman, whose creative work is hard to put in a box. (Literally! Woodworker/furniture-maker only begins to cover it.) Gary helped me move forward on some big projects, and what he taught me is reflected in my latest shrine project.

And now here I am in Northern California, far from old friends and fellow New England artists, still working on that big project, still getting stuck regularly on my journey.

This next step is hot. Literally. I need to make my own museum mounts for displaying some of the artifacts in the stacked boxes I’ve put together. I took an online class about this, just before we moved to California. But it involved welding/brazing with much bigger torches than my mini-torches, and I never felt safe trying this on my own. I found a maker space here in Sonoma County with classes, but the pandemic shut that down. I tried to purchase mounts that might have worked, but they are expensive. I’ve tried other methods of display the artifacts, with not much luck.

But I think I’ve found my expert!

And in a beautiful twist of fate, it came from me sharing MY expertise with THEM!

Our local art organization that hosts two open studio events a year is on a strict budget this year. We’re actually using older road signs from previous events, borrowing some from people who aren’t participating this year, and cleaning/restoring damaged signs.

One of the people in charge of the sign committee shared the difficulties of removing decals (arrows, studio numbers, etc.) during our steering committee meeting (Zoom!). Aha! I can help with that! I volunteered to bring my bottle of Undo and some other glue debonders to restore these signs. We met up in his outdoor workshop, fully masked and distanced, and tried them out. They worked! This reminded him of other, similar, chemicals he has on hand that removed every trace of Sharpies, too.

It wasn’t until later that I realized, this is a guy who’s been into welding and metalwork since forever. And he might be the perfect guy to help me figure out this mount-making issue.

And in another twist of fate, once I had some hope for learning how to make my own mounts, I gained more insights into other aspects and issues, like how to drill a hole inside a tiny box where a drill (even a small hand drill) won’t fit. I won’t bore you with the details on that, except that JB Weld glue will be involved. So even though that wouldn’t work for connecting the boxes, because of how I put them together, it has huge potential for artifact display. (No, I’m not gonna glue the artifacts!) So here’s another shout-out to Chris Fox, customer service rep at JB Weld.

Just like the glass artist I mentioned in last week’s article, whose partner can build a shipping crate for them, these experts are often right under our nose, in plain sight.

So what holds us back from asking for help?

For me, I’m afraid they’ll say no.

Yup, a grown woman afraid to ask for help. Yikes!

But for some reason, because I’d already done them a favor, it felt okay to ask for a favor in return. And he said yes!

I’m calling Rick Butler, metal sculptor, as soon as I finish this article.

Turns out that many, many people are happy to help others in their creative work. We may fear giving away our “trade secrets” (though very few of us are actually using processes that only belong to us.) We may fear of giving too much away, or having our work being copied in the process. (That copy fear again!)

And yet, if we open our eyes and look around, we may find the exact expert we need to move forward with the project dear to our hearts. Or at least gain a step forward on our journey.

Your shares and comments are encouraged! You can post in the comments (at Fine Art Views or at my blog) if someone has helped YOU move forward in your skills and projects. And also if YOU have helped others in theirs! What goes ‘round, comes ‘round. When it comes to creativity, that is so true.

And if this article helped you, you can read more of my articles, and the expertise of others, at Fine Art Views. Search for “Luann Udell” in the “Topics” drop-down menu, or your favorite FAV writer!

 

PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #4: Your Team Is Bigger Than You Think!

I don’t create in a vacuum, and neither do YOU.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Team Is Bigger Than You Think!

We have a lot of people who support our art, if you know where to look!

 (4 minute read)

 In my Fine Art Views column last week, I shared how our experience, expertise, and perseverance with our art, helped us get to where we are today.

A commenter must have read my mind! They wrote:

“While this article was very interesting, it kind of perpetuates the whole artist as lone individual toiling away. In addition to all the mindset attributes you mentioned, the reality is none of (us) work alone. We do have a team and it is helpful to remember it. It may be those who encourage and support us literally and figuratively. It is certainly other creatives who are willing to share ideas, techniques, and resources. It is all those who help us, whether it is FASO support, the suppliers and shippers we use, or those who share their experiences. We all have a team. No one creates alone.”

 To which I replied, “Amen, sister, and stay tuned!” (Thank you, Nancy Allmand!)

My intention was to share my next column, “Call in the Experts!”, including all these ‘team members’ Nancy mentioned. But I realized there’s a step in-between, including many NON-experts:

We do not create art in a vacuum. Many, many people have helped us along the way.

Some are obvious, and some may be ‘hidden’ until we look back at our own ‘creation story’ and see those crucial influencers.

Obvious: That art class we took, and its inspiring instructor. The art degree we attained, with many, many more classes and instructors. That online workshop we took that expanded our horizons. FASO web-hosting for artists, and their AMP/Art Marketing Program, available even to non-subscribers. The books, magazines, newspapers, websites, etc. that featured us and our work, and helped us grow our audience. And of course, as Nancy mentioned, our customers, who support us by actually buying our work. The gallery owners/managers who took on our work and market it to their audience. Even the calls-for-entry/exhibition proposals that give us opportunities to share our work with a new audience.

A little less obvious: That person who always saw the artist in us, and who gently encouraged us, even as we constantly heard family members exhorting us to “get a real job”.. Our audience, who many not have the money nor the room to collect our work, but who truly appreciate it—and constantly let us know! The people who taught us how to make, market, and sell our art. The people who share our work, our words, and help us grow our audience. The art supplies store that struggles to still serve artists during the shut-down orders, and the on-line retailers that fill in where they can’t.

The hidden: The people whose hearts have been lifted by our work, our painting/jewelry/music/teaching/creative work, who we may never hear from. (But when we do, what a gift!) Our partners, who may graciously lift the burden of making tons of money from our work (or at least allow us the time and space to get there!) The challenging instructor who doesn’t pull their punches, who tells us exactly what we’re doing wrong, and shows us how to fix it.

In her comment, Nancy even mentioned the companies who ship our work. So true! In one of those oddly-synchronistic moments, I met a new artist in our complex last week. She was packing a huge wood crate in our shared parking lot, and I asked her about it. She said, “Yeah, it’s a huge order of glasswork. But I didn’t make the crate, my partner did!” What a great team member her partner is! And whatever shipper will deliver it, yes, that’s part of her team, too.

The more deeply-hidden: The people who told us we weren’t good enough, who pissed us off enough for us to finally see them for what they are: Unappreciative, simply unkind, or who were envious of what we have. I’ve had many incidents of people, some with good intentions, some not so much, who caused me pain in my art career. But when I look back, I can even see their gift, in a positive way.

They made me realize that the only person who can prevent us from making the work of our heart, is US.

 Next week, inspired by my latest shrine-building project, I really will talk about the experts to call! But until then, I’m grateful to Nancy, because we are on the same page when it comes to recognizing our team.

And your homework, should you choose to accept it, is to take a few minutes to consider your own team. Think back to what, and who, kept you on this heart-based path to making, and sharing, your art with the world. Behind every tiny decision was a person who made that happen, even if some can take us years to truly see. For extra credit, share some that I’ve missed, in the comments!

Your shares and comments are always appreciated, and you can check out my blog on my website for more articles on creating.

 
Luann Udell, artist/writer
“Ancient stories retold in modern artifacts”
Jewelry, sculpture, fiber art, assemblage
Studio: 33Arts 3840 Finley AVE (Bdg 33) Santa Rosa
Mail address: 621 Brown ST Santa Rosa CA 95404

 

 

PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #3: Who’s On Your Team?

20201208_131746.jpg

My next step? More artifacts!

This article was published on Fine Art Views.

PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #3: Who’s On Your Team?

Don’t sell yourself short when facing new challenges!

 (5 minute read)

In last week’s Fine Art Views column, What’s the Hard Part?, I shared how trying to figure out a new project in advance has its disadvantages.  I talked about how simply starting with my best guesses helped me move forward steadily, one little step at a time.

I got inspiration from a blog post by Seth Godin, who posed this issue as a team project. But many creatives, especially artists of all kinds, don’t have a “team”. Yep, it can get lonely over here!

But even as I was thinking that, I realize we all DO have a team. It’s just not what we normally think of as a “team”.

We have skills. Creative work is just that: Creative. Making something that wasn’t in the world before we made it. It doesn’t come out of nowhere, of course. But it does come from US. Wherever we got our skills, whether or not we went to art school, or took workshops, or are self-taught, we didn’t show up in the world with those skills. We acquired them. Yes, we may be quick learners (or not), we may have innate talent (or not), but know this: Nobody is born knowing how to play the piano. We had to put ourselves out there and practice, practice, practice to get where we are today.

 We have an attitude. We found something that called to us, whether it’s painting on a canvas, writing a story, playing an instrument, etc. We may have been told we weren’t good enough, or that we couldn’t make a living at it, or a ton of other discouraging words. But we wanted it. And so we took up our creative work, pursued it with all our heart, and got those above-mentioned skills.

We make time for it. We can have tons of talent and oodles of practice. But if we don’t make time in our lives to actually do the work, well, it simply won’t be in the world. In fact, time is something that can give us our best excuse for NOT doing something that matters to us. (See “challenges” below.) In order for us to have a ‘body of work’, we had to make room for actually making it in our lives.

We chose our medium(s). This may seem like a no-brainer, but it isn’t. Some people choose their art medium because of the automatic respect they believe they’ll get from it (like oil paints over acrylic, for example.) That’s okay. But in fact, most of us choose our medium because of how it meshes with our own personal habits, quirks, and preferences. Each medium has its costs, drawbacks, and benefits, each forces us to interact differently with it. I quickly grew frustrated in my one acrylic painting class, because the paint dried too fast. I couldn’t play around with it, blend it, etc. I can’t even imagine working with watercolor! Knowing our work preferences and process helps us see our works-in-progress more clearly.

We know our materials. We know what substrates (canvas, paper, wood panels, for example) will work best with which media, and how to prepare them. We know which glue to use with what (and if we don’t, we know how to find out!) We’ve learned what color blending techniques to use, how to construct an effective color palette, what kind of clay to use in our potter, what glazes to use, how long to fire polymer clay, what our preferred method of book-binding is, etc. etc. etc.

We know our process. In my own box art path, I’ve learned that epoxy and silicon construction glues can be very useful in putting several boxes together. But they have their drawbacks, too. I used them until they didn’t work for me (e.g. in some cases, the glue bond is stronger than the old wood I’m attaching it too. Ask me how I know.) Then I had to try something else.

We have experience with solving problems. So many of us (ME!!) forget this. We’ve gotten used to success with what we’ve learned. We forget how hard it was when we started out. We forget how long it took us to master our craft. And yet (see note about playing the piano above) we got to where we are today because we persevered. Because…

We have experience with ‘challenge’. I see them on social media every day! Painting of the day. 100 Days projects. They’ve been popular work-inspirations for years, but are even more popular now. Joining them takes commitment, and a little courage, too. And it helps that we make time for them, because we’ve gotten good at that, too. (See “time” above.) And I’m amazed at the already-talented people who then share how much they learned through these challenges. They were forced out of their comfort zone, and into new territory.

We have goals and dreams. We all had dreams as children. Some of us wanted to be a fireman, some of us wanted to play sports, or music, some of us wanted to be an artist. Not all of us followed our hearts, of course, and our goals and dreams can change along the way. But even people who “fall into” their calling, have to persevere to make it happen. In my article about graduates of The Juilliard School, we can see that we only lose our dreams when we walk away from them. And most people do that because they believe they aren’t good enough, or it’s not worth all of our effort. Those who persist, have to get over that hurdle, too. Because…

We know how to believe in ourselves, and we know the power of that. Oh, sure, I know I am not “the best” polymer clay artist in the world. Every day, I see people with ten times the talent I have. That can slow me down. But it will never stop me. I have a vision in my head, I have big dreams in my heart, I have projects that are begging to be in the world. Because they are my voice in the world.

And once I got back to my place of power, finding the key that helped me to just try, I made progress. Slowly, but surely, I used what knowledge I had until I found a better solution. And I kept that up until I got something satisfying, something that I knew was going to work. (Let me show you my enormous bracket-and-screws collection….!!)

So the next time you feel like you’ve hit a wall, like you’ve got a creative problem you just can’t figure out, think about what’s worked for you along the way.

 Social media marketing is a biggie and will be as long as our “new normal” is in place. Some of the most talented creatives I know are in a frantic limbo with Facebook, Instagram, newsletters, etc. They are overwhelmed, feel under-prepared, and are freaking out.

My advice for you today: You didn’t get to where you are today by chance, by accident, or through lack of skills.

You got to where you are by not giving up, by moving forward, one small step at a time.

 And because your ‘team’ has been with you, every step of the way.

Next week, I’ll share another powerful member of your team. Stay tuned! Until then, know that your comments are always welcome, often insightful, and sometimes inspirational, too! Shares, the same. Questions, I’ll do my best! You can find more of my articles at Fine Art Views, and/or visit/subscribe to them at my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #2: What’s the Hard Part?

Fortunately, having enough artifacts will NOT be a problem!
Fortunately, having enough artifacts will NOT be a problem!

What’s the Hard Part?

(5 minute read)

I had a problem this week. I didn’t know what to write about for my next column.

Last week, I wrote about how I got through the roadblocks that held me back from a project I dreamed of years ago. When I wrote it, I was at the end of a major first part: Building the wood box shrines that will showcase my handmade artifacts.

Here’s what I wasn’t prepared for: I didn’t know how to solve the next step. And I felt like a loser once again. Overwhelmed, no energy, self-doubt up the wazoo.

In fact, I felt even more pressure on myself! After all, I’d just joyously announced I had plenty of shrines constructed, and now I was ready for the next step. Except now I could see there would be even more trial-and-error aspects ahead. It felt like I’d climbed one mountain, only to see that I was only on the first peak. I still hadn’t actually reached the top. (I looked this up, and yes, a mountain can have several peaks, points that are individually higher than the surrounding/adjacent areas. But only one is the actual summit, the highest peak. Huh.)

So I hit my first peak and was a little dismayed to realize there were more ahead.

Today’s blog post by Seth Godin clarified my dilemma neatly:

“What’s the hard part?”

The title alone helped me move forward. Because getting through the first ‘hard part’ taught me something important:

Trying to solve things in our heads is doing it the hard way.

 What we really need first is a foundation to build on.

My husband is a writer/journalist/programmer. Quite a mix, I know! He taught himself coding back in the 1980’s, and though he says he’s not “the best”, he’s mastered it enough to achieve his current career goals.

He’s been working on a project for a year now, and last week, he had a major breakthrough, too, like I had six months ago with my own project.

Today, I asked him what brought about the breakthrough.

He didn’t understand at first, so I asked, “Did you have an inspiration, like a dream (like Elias Howe, sewing machine guy) or while thinking about something else (like Archimedes taking a bath)?

He said, “I had to build the foundation first. Everything I want to do, depends on creating that first.”

Aha! Like a building. The foundation not only holds everything up, but it determines the size, shape, and function of the structure. A skyscraper office building requires a totally different foundation than a house.

He finished the foundation. And then he realized he was ready to start making the functions that depend on that foundation. (He also hit a wall, just like I did with my shrines!) (Yes, we’re both recovering nicely, and moving forward again.)

A foundation means we have a vision of where we want to go, and we have concrete (sorry!) ideas of how to get there, even if we don’t have everything else figured out yet.

Even those famous inventers had a deep understanding of what the problem was, before they could experiment with solutions. They had to know what was missing before they could fill in the blank spaces.

Archimedes’ “Eureka” moment didn’t come out of nowhere. He understood the problem was identifying pure gold from gold-and-silver. His bathtub gave him an insight. In fact, a list of dream-inspired insights show us that all of the inventors/writers/creatives were already working on the problem/mystery they wanted to solve. I love how Wikipedia even has a section on “activation synthesis hypothesis” in the dream-inspired insights article. It acknowledges that our conscious brain plays a huge part in these insights, even when we’re asleep. Even if the dream seems metaphorical, our conscious mind will actively seek and identify that “metaphor”.

In my case, a shrine series started with how to find enough boxes, how to pair up those boxes efficiently, how to distress, paint, and antique those boxes. And the hardest part, how to connect them together in an efficient, strong, aesthetically-pleasing way.

And once I’d made “enough” shrines to get started on actually putting artifacts in them, I stalled a bit. But now I have air beneath my wings again.

What’s the hard part?

The biggest one is setting aside our fears and our self-doubt. Whether our projects involve coming up with a new series, a new process, a new technique, a new approach to our art, even exploring social media marketing, trying to do it in our heads may only take us so far.

At some point, we have to simply try.

And if it matters to us, we have to keep trying.

 Hold in your heart my favorite quote by Thomas Edison:

“I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

Fortunately, getting adept at using social media marketing is not nearly as difficult! It can sound daunting, and it can take time to get there. There are plenty of great resources available to us, including FASO’s own AMP (Art Marketing Playbook) series of recorded Zoom workshops hosted by FASO’s Chief Marketing Officer, Dave Geada. (I did not realize you can try this program free for a month. Nothing stopping you now, right?)

But in order to get results, you simply have to try. When it comes to social media marketing, you have to actually take pics of your creative work (so much easier now!), upload those images, get comfortable talking/sharing/connecting online, and then get better.

Our first foundation is creating those accounts, and getting started. We have to stop worrying about how hard it seems, set aside our worries of being copied, what to share and say, worrying about how to get 10,000 followers, etc.

We have to get over counting the “likes” and focus on simply getting our art out into the world.

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

 Seth’s blog talks about “the team”, which through me for a moment. Until I figured that out, too! Stay tuned for next week’s article in this series: What is our team, and what is our team effort?

Your comments are always welcome, often insightful, and sometimes inspirational, too! Shares, the same. You can find more of my articles at Fine Art Views, and/or visit/subscribe to them at my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #1: The Things That Hold Us Back

PROBLEM-SOLVING: The Things That Hold Us Back, Including Our Own Self-Doubt

When we get really good at making our art, it's easy to forget how hard it was to get there in the first place!
When we get really good at making our art, it’s easy to forget how hard it was to get there in the first place!

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.

PROBLEM-SOLVING: The Things That Hold Us Back, Including Our Own Self-Doubt

How Thomas Edison, Scarlett O’Hara, and Cake helped me through some hard places.

Years ago, the band Cake came out with an adorable video about their newest song, “Short Skirt/Long Jacket”.

In the video, people on the street are offered a chance to listen to a new song by an unnamed band (Cake) and asked for their opinions.

I love this tune! Every time I hear it, I want to get up and dance. It’s swingy, it’s lush, it’s pure-d fun.

In the video, about a third of the folks hate it, and tell us why. Another third like it, commenting on the parts that work, and don’t work, for them.

And the ones that absolutely love it? They don’t even talk.

They just dance.

They move to the music, oblivious to everyone else around them.

Why bring this up today?

Because I’m in the middle of a dream project I’ve carried in my heart for years.

It’s a new series of box shrines, made with antique, vintage, and distressed new wood boxes, painted, antiqued, screwed together in stacks, and mounted on wood bases. I will fill them with my own handmade artifacts. You can see them here on my Instagram account.

I’ve made them before, big ones. I had access to a friend’s woodworking studio, their tools, and their expertise.

This time, it’s just me.

Many, many things have held me back. Relying on antique and vintage boxes meant it was hard to have exactly the right stock for every configuration. I decided against using construction glue and epoxy this time around, because I found out the hard way that old wood can be more fragile than those glues. I still wasn’t sure how to mount the artifacts in the perfect way.

In short: I believed I couldn’t just start until I had everything figured out.

Which meant I didn’t start for more than seven years.

The pandemic changed everything. I had nowhere to go, no open studio events, no galleries open to selling work.

And also no excuses.

So I changed my attitude and my strategy.

I would start with what I had. If I could only put together a couple shrines, well, okay then.

And I decided I would just keep making and moving forward until I hit the next roadblock. And then I’d figure it out.

Guess what?? It’s working!

Every purchase that was a mistake? That was information on what would work better the next time.

I found sources for new wood boxes that I could distress and texture to look old, to fill in the gaps in my collection. A friend sent me a bunch of small handmade parts drawers.  I bought brackets and braces, experiment until I found the right ones.

Like Thomas Edison, I found hundreds of things that didn’t work.

And then I found exactly what did work.

One of my biggest hang-ups was finding shallower/flatter boxes to use as bases/foundations. They gave the shrines a more ‘finished’ look, but finding ones the right size and price was tricky. Until I finally found these affordable wood painting panels in a variety of sizes and shapes, that worked perfectly.

I agonized about how to make my own museum mounts for positioning and displaying the artifacts. But instead of waiting to find “the perfect one”, I bought one type. Instead of lamenting my inability to weld or braze, I thought of different ways I can make them myself. (And just as I’m writing this, I’m realizing I did a huge favor recently for another artist who is a life-long welder. Hmmmm……I think I know a favor I can ask of them!)

I worried about how many and what kind artifacts I need to make. But I’ve put that off for now because warmer summer months will be better for working with polymer clay. (My studio’s average winter temperature is 48 degrees.)

And the last barrier getting in my way? I wake up at 3:00 a.m., realizing my studio is now filled with soooo many shrines, there’s no room to even adequately display them all. And I’m worried no one will buy them.

My solution to that? I use what I call my “Scarlett O’Hara” approach: “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

I tell my lizard brain to go back to sleep. It’s not about the selling right now, it’s about the making.

I’m sharing my progress on social media. That helps me not only record my progress, I also get to see the response. Which has been favorable!

Most people seem fascinated. They can’t wait to see where I go with them. Some have been inspired to explore their own versions. Many people are interested in a class, which, now that I have sources for affordable new boxes, could be possible.

And today, I came across an old journal from 2015, with those insights about Cake’s new song, which in turn inspired this article.

There are people who will love these shrines. There will be people who won’t.

And some won’t have any words.

They’ll just dance.

·        Just for today, don’t worry about who will and won’t like your work.

·        Just for today, don’t worry about whether it will sell.

·        Just for today, start that project you’ve always dreamed of. Experiment. Trial-and-error. Tiny steps forward.

·        Just for today, share your progress and process with your audience on social media.

Just for today, make the music that is your art, that makes you want to dance.

Ironically, today I also found this quote on Cake’s website:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

—Martin Luther King Jr.

Your comments are always welcome, often insightful, and sometimes inspirational, too! Shares, the same. You can find more of my articles at Fine Art Views, and/or visit/subscribe to them at my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

MADE YOU LOOK: Why Our Fear of Being Copied Works Against Us On Every Level

If I'm famous 100 years from now, maybe my handprint will be my own forensic evidence of authenticity!
If I’m famous 100 years from now, maybe my handprint will be my own forensic evidence of authenticity!

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.

If this fear is keeping you from sharing your work on social media, it’s doing far more harm than the copying itself.

 (6 minute read)

For the last few weeks, I’ve hinted that it could be worth your while to watch Netflix’s documentary, “Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art”. Short story: An artist from a culture that views “copying” differently than we do, creates fakes that sell for millions. (They may not even have realized how their work was being used to create a scam.)

What captured my attention was this description: “Made you Look is an American crime documentary about the largest art fraud in American history set in the super rich, super obsessed, and super fast art world of New York (City).” Obsessed. Rich. Fast. Put a pin there.

I’m amazed at the timing! This came out right after an artist I’m mentoring asked me about using watermarks for their new website. (They were worried their work might be copied.)

It’s estimated that 50% of the major art in on the market today, sold to private collections and museums around the world, are fakes.

What does this have to do with the fear of our own work being copied?

First, is your work worth millions? No? Then nobody is going to get super-rich copying your work. Here’s a good story about that, one I originally heard while on a tour of the FBI building in Washington, D.C. as a kid. The guy made beautiful nickels. That cost him about 3.5 cents to make. Guess how much money he made off them? Yep, not much. (Though today, those same forged coins are worth a lot, because of the story.)

Second, do people buy your work mostly for its investment value? No? Then nobody is going to get rich selling copies of your work to super-wealthy people, who do.

This documentary had a lot of interesting takes, especially how easily people can be fooled when we unconsciously want to be fooled. A woman with no knowledge of fine art shows up to a fine art gallery, in a car with a trunkful of Rothko paintings? And as they are sold, she “finds” even more? Come on!

In earlier articles I’ve read about art forgeries, many art experts can feel at some deep level that the artwork didn’t exactly ‘resonate’. But this time, plenty of experts chimed in that these truly were authentic. (That’s how good the copies were.) It wasn’t until a company was contacted that did deep forensic work that revealed them as fake. (The company above that charged $19,000 for such an assessment.) So these works ‘felt’ authentic. Now that’s a great copy!

Another irony: Not a single living artist benefitted from these forgeries. Only the forgers, galleries, auction houses, and appraisers made money. 

But here’s what really struck me as I watched this documentary:

Collectors love, love, loved their Rothkos, Warhols, and Pollocks. They were delirious with joy at getting a chance to own one, because, they claim, they absolutely loved the artist’s work.

Until they found out they were fake.

 Then all that love disappeared in the wink of an eye. 

This speaks volumes to me.

In other words, these collectors loved the idea of owning an original Rothko, Pollack, etc. And they appreciated the value of their purchase. They weren’t “blowing money on” décor. They were investing in a purchase that would only increase in value over time.

Do they really love art? Maybe.

Or do they love being able to show off just how much money they have? (In defense of these collectors, there are indeed very sweet reasons why we value originals over copies.)

I’m an art collector, too! Albeit on a very different level.

  • I’ve purchased original artwork from artists I love, and whose work I love.
  • I’ve purchased prints from artists who don’t have the original any longer (sold!).
  • I’ve purchased prints from artists whose work I can’t afford.
  • I’ve purchased original artwork I fell in love with, at antique stores and thrift shops. Sometimes I can trace down the artist, but usually I can’t. (Illegible signature, no online history, etc.)
  • I purchased a wood santos figures at antique stores. After finding duplicates, I realized they were mass-produced copies. I still loved them, but when we moved, I sold off the ones I didn’t love that much. (Ha! My own bias for ‘originals’ shows! And my unconscious desire to believe these were originals.)
  • I’ve purchased really weird objects that people have made, at flea markets, yard sales, and thrift shops.
  • I’ve purchased reproduced artwork at T.J. Maxx and Home Goods. (In fairness, the reproduction rights were sold by the original artist, so they did gain from the sales.)

And I love them all.

The artwork I have moved on? Usually it involves an artist whose work I loved, but did not love the artist. I mean, they treated me rudely, or with disdain, or in other toxic ways. I eventually sold it, or gave it away, because every time I looked at it, it reminded me of that artist. Ugh!

Why do your collectors buy your work?

And what is the reason you hope they buy your work?

Here is what I hope:

I hope they find it beautiful.

I hope they find it lifts their hearts when they see it/wear it.

I hope they remember the wonderful conversations we had, before, during, and after their purchase.

I hope they feel encouraged to share their own creative work with the world.

We all want to be seen. We all want to believe we have a place in the world. We all have a creative place in our souls. We all want to be remembered when we’re gone.

People who copy actually want the same thing, though they are certainly going about it the wrong way. Most can’t adequately copy the skills we’ve acquired along the way.

And the other things they can’t copy well?

Our story. Who we are. Our face-to-face encounters with our audience in real life, through our galleries, and through our social media presence online. Those who have followed us for years, and leap to buy when they see “their” piece, the work we made that speaks to them.

Two lessons learned here:

  • Our art does not speak for itself. We speak for it.
  • Not sharing our art (out of fear of being copied) only harms us.
  • Okay, three lessons: Most of us are probably not in the same league as Rothko, Pollock, Van Gogh, and other “big market” art. (I’ll add “yet” there, just in case.) And we are also still alive. So we can share our work on social media with more confidence.

In closing, I found this spot-on quote in a Scram-lets puzzle, of all places:

“If it’s important to you, you will find a way.

If not, you’ll find an excuse.”

Don’t let fear get in your way!

Our work may be copied, one way or another. Trademarks and copyrights won’t stop them. Once we discover the copycats, there are ways to discourage them that don’t involve a lawsuit over a copyright violation, as some commenters shared. Most will stop on their own, when they realize they aren’t going to make a lot of money doing it, or when they move on to copy someone else’s work.

But the fear itself can be soul-crushing. Fear is a way for our lizard brain to keep us safe. But fear does not serve us, here.

Of course, in these times, social media is hands-down the best way to share our art.

But even when we get back to a somewhat-old normal, remember this:

Do you want to have your voice in the world? Share your work.

Your comments are always welcome, often insightful, and sometimes inspirational, too! Shares, the same. You can find more of my articles at Fine Art Views, and/or visit/subscribe to them through my blog.

NEWSLETTERS (AND BLOGS!) 101 #29 Part Deux: Share Your Work (and Let Go of the Fear of Being Copied)

I'd rather spend my time making my art, and let go of controlling copy-cats.
I’d rather spend my time making my art, and let go of controlling copy-cats.

Better question: What is the highest, best use of your time and money?

 (4 minute read)

 Nothing will totally protect your artwork from being copied, not even unlimited time nor deep pockets of money.

In last week’s article about our fear of being copied, I shared how the most commonly used practices to protect our online art images (watermarks, disabling ‘right click’ on our website, etc.) do very little to actually protect us, and end up simply annoying our true collectors and potential buyers.

In the original article that sparked this discussion, I shared how someone may have found my art tagline attractive, and adapted it for their own use. (Again…MAYBE.) After sharing my emotional journey from dismay to acceptance, and moving forward, a reader suggested I ‘trademark’ my slogan.

First, thank you for thinking of me! I know this came from a place of wanting to help fix this problem.

I have no intention of doing that, for many reasons. But I did become curious about what would be involved.

 I looked up what a trademark protects, what resources it gives us, and how much it costs. (Disclosure: Lori Woodward would have dived deeply into this, which is why I miss her highly-informative posts on topics like this. I did a cannonball in the shallow end of the pool instead, so feel free to go further with your own exploration, if you need to.)

Trademarks are indeed a way to protect our ‘slogan’. (Copyright protections do not apply to slogans and short phrases.)

However, they don’t automatically stop people from using our own words. They simply give us the means to increase our power if we decide to pursue our trademark rights.

That means, filing a lawsuit. Which costs time, and money. A lot of money.

·        First, it costs from $225-$400 simply to file a trademark.

·        It only lasts 10 years.

·        There are extra fees for extensions, amendments, and maintenance.

·        And it can take 6 months to a year to be approved.

·        It’s highly recommended to hire a lawyer to do the filing, to make sure everything is done correctly.

·        And lawyer fees typically run $125-$300/hour, and usually get to $500-$2000 per action.

That’s a lot of money to protect six words.

Second, trademark action is only supported if the copied usage creates confusion. Hence, we have Delta Airlines and Delta faucets, because very few people would be confused by the two companies. (I was going to say something funny here, but I decided not to.) (Actually, I couldn’t think of anything funny, but if you can, be sure to share it in the comments!)

I don’t think I’ll be filing a trademark application anytime soon.

So back to my original point: This person’s bio echoed my tagline. But their work did not. In fact, their body of work doesn’t even echo their tagline. (What I could find of it, anyway.)

And I don’t think anyone looking at their work, and my work, would ever confuse the two.

Furthermore, I never would have even seen the wordy resemblance, if a friend/artist back in New Hampshire hadn’t pointed it out to me.

So for a minimum of $725 up to $2,400 for protection, for ten years’ protection, is it worth it?

And again, that protection only makes my legal action more solid. I would still have to file a lawsuit, pay lawyer fees, take a lot of time off work, and a pile of energy I don’t have right now, to make that legal action stick. (Yes, sometimes a cease-and-desist letter will have the same effect, but that costs lawyer fees, too.)

Even if I won my case, and won damages, whoops, here comes another copy-cat! Let’s do it all over again! Oy.

We artists are not multi-million dollar franchises with corporate lawyers to manage this for us. Most of us are sole proprietors (or “soul” proprietors) squeaking through, hope to earn a nice income from our work. Or at least enough to break even every year. A very few may be lucky to have a spouse handling the business end of our art making, but I’m guessing even fewer have copyright/trademark lawyers for partners.

So I repeat:

How do you want to make the best use of your time and energy?

Dealing with those people who consciously or unconsciously tread on our toes? Defending our art like an angry, indignant meerkat, sending cease-and-desist letters, scouring the web for instances of people copying our work, our words, spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on “protection” we probably can’t afford, that won’t work anyway?

Or could we choose to count our blessings? Give thanks for our ability to create the work that makes us whole, that brings us joy?

Could we choose to be grateful for the ease of sharing it with the world freely (literally!), daily, in ways that lift the hearts of others?

Could we rejoice in the fact that we can choose every single day what we make, where we make it, how we make it, and know that, if we’re doing it right, our audience will instantly know, “That’s a Luann Udell!”?

I know what I will choose, every single day.

What will YOU choose, today?

Next week, another article on true forgeries, and what made me smack my head in disbelief. (If you haven’t already watched “Made You Look” on Netflix, you still have time!)

Your comments are always welcome, often insightful, and sometimes inspirational, too! Shares, the same. You can find more of my articles at Fine Art Views, and/or visit/subscribe to them through my blog.