NEWSLETTERS 101 #10: Share Your Process
AMPING UP YOUR ART MARKETING: Baby Steps!
Backwards and baby steps can help us move forward in everything.
Last week, I raved about the powerful insights I’ve gained already from watching just two AMP webinars (Art Marketing Playbook), a series created by FASO’s marketing guru, Dave Geada of Big Purple Fish..
Great marketing insights often mean revamping, not just our approach, but also our website, our email newsletters, our social media accounts. And with great revamping can come great overwhelming-ness. (I just made that word up.) Big projects can be daunting, especially if they aren’t in our ‘primary’ skill-set. (I’m comfortable with social media, but changes in my approach were needed.)
I’m happy to find that I’m doing a lot of things right: Knowing my ‘creation story’, using the best social media platforms (Facebook biz page, Instagram account, a lively email newsletter, the “new artwork alert”, etc.)
I was sad to learn all the things I’m doing wrong. And devastated to learn how many things I’m doing wrong. A lot of work lies ahead….
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by big multi-step processes. And when I’m overwhelmed, my lizard brain instantly leaps in to protect me.
“You’re doing it wrong! It’s too hard! Just stop, crawl away, give up, hide in a hole somewhere!! Make it go awaaaaaaaay!!”
You probably already know that doesn’t work. And yet, being overwhelmed can mean we put off the repairs, edits, restructuring efforts so necessary for doing better.
So I sat with all this new knowledge, wondering how the heck to get it all in place in a timely fashion.
Today I had a brainstorm.
I remembered what’s worked for me in the past when dealing with uncertainty. Here’s the way I’m thinking about this that might help you, too.
The power of this strategy is to think about your desired end results, you goal. Then think what has to happen to achieve that goal…backwards.
Yes, you read that right! What has to happen before you have another great painting in your inventory? Finishing a painting. Painting. Time to paint. The right paint, for the surface. Figuring out the palette. The right surface. Composition. A subject. An idea.
So maybe we: Recognize we want to paint. List ideas for a subject. Find that subject to create. Maybe take a picture of it, or find the perfect plein air site. Check our supplies to make sure we have the right size canvas, and the right paints, and paint colors. Set aside time to paint. Etc., etc. until we finally have the triumph of a new work of art in hand.
Breaking down these steps is powerful. And breaking them down into tiny steps is even more powerful.
So, baby steps.
First tiny step: Update my profile portrait image. Further step back: Find/make a new portrait image.
“Making a new image” was hard. I’ve been struggling to make a new profile portrait for months. Since I haven’t had a haircut in months, it’s a lit-tul hard getting even a somewhat flattering selfie, and selfies tend to distort our faces too much. Older pics are pretty discouraging, too.
But then I remembered a set of portraits my partner and I had done a few years ago, to celebrate our wedding anniversary. They’re tintypes, black and white, and we love them!
So my first baby step was: Find those pictures. It took awhile to find them, but I did.
I couldn’t figure out how to incorporate them into my social media, though. Until, doh! I realized I could photograph the photographs. Baby step!
Once that was done, my next baby step was easier: Update one social media site.
I started with my Google accounts: Google (Gmail, etc.) On Dave’s suggestion, I also added a small pic of me in my email signature. Done!
Encouraged by this, I decided to update more sites. FASO. I added the tintype image to my “not artwork images” section, then swapped out my old profile portrait. Done! Hey, I’ll write a little newsletter about my new portrait. Done!
I was on a roll. I quickly updated my Facebook and Instagram accounts. Done! What about my WordPress blog? Done! With editing, cropping, updating, etc., it took few hours to get it all in place.
But I’m feeling much better about everything now.
The feeling of accomplishment is palpable. And knowing that’s one item I can scratch off the to-do list? Huge.
I know those other things on the list will also feel like too much. As I work my way through them, I’ll continue to share what I’ve learned.
But I’m grateful I remembered that going backwards can actually be a powerful way of moving forward, with everything in life.
Let me know if this helps YOU move forward today. And if you’ve found powerful ways to incorporate those new AMP strategies, share them here! Someone maybe be very grateful you did. (Me!)
If you know someone who would find this article helpful, pass it on to them! And if someone sent you this, and you liked it, you can find more of my Fine Art Views articles here, and more great marketing advice at FineArtViews.com, or subscribe to my blog at luannudell.wordpress.com too.
Remember: We’re all in this together!*
*And nobody gets out alive. But whatever makes it better, is a gift!
|Friday, October 01, 2004||
|This post originally appeared on my Radio Userland blog. I love to reread them, they seem just as ‘fresh’ and useful as the day I wrote them!
(5 minute read)
This happened to me almost a decade ago. I was a hospice volunteer for five years, before we left NH and moved to CA.If I mentioned this to people, people who had no experience with this work, they would act like I was an amazing person. “I can’t imagine doing that!” they’d exclaim. I would feel guilty, because I got a lot out of my volunteering. I learned so much about the end of life. Every single client I worked with was a different experience, some sweet and tender, others challenging. (Fortunately, I had an AMAZING supervisor who listened to all my questions and kept me grounded.)I told my very-wise daughter this. (She became a hospice volunteer in her teens, and went on to become a social worker specializing in elder care.) I said I felt guilty when people praised me, as I enjoyed my work so much and learned so much.She said, “So you should volunteer to do something you hate?”Simple answer, putting all your own points into personal perspective.We don’t have to suffer in order to do the right thing.And if the “reward” is simply growing as a human, and being aware of that, it’s definitely not a “wrong thing”. If more of the world valued that “reward” over money and self-righteousness, I’m guessing the world would be a better place for all of us.
As always, if you enjoyed this article, let me or my editor know! If you’d like to read more, you can either read more of my articles on Fine Art Views or subscribe to my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com. You can visit my older articles in the wayback machine at Radio Userland. (They are harder to search for, but they are also shorter!)
If you think someone else would like it, please forward it to them. And if someone sent you this, and you liked it, ditto!
Social media can help boost our confidence and marketing skills.
(8 minute read)
A few weeks ago, in my Fine Art Views column, I mentioned in passing the power of hiring a “sales agent” when we give presentations and/or demonstrations. A commenter on my blog (where I republish my Fine Art Views articles) leaped at this. Although they have actually worked as a salesperson for a company, they found themselves unable to use the same skills with their own art biz. They asked for advice in ‘hiring’ such an assistant to represent them
I promised them I would talk about this, so this one’s for you, Wendy!
Again, selling and marketing our own work can feel like bragging. This repels many artists from talking with customers. A lot of people are introverts, which compounds the problem. (I’m half-and-half, according to the now-disproven Briggs-Meyers assessment, and in this shut-down, I’ve reverted to full-time introvert!)
There are three important ideas to help us get out of this self-made prison:
When others sing your praises, it can be seen as validation by your potential new customers.
Sharing your process isn’t bragging, and neither is telling your story.
Social media is the perfect antidote for introverted/shy people.
I hired friends to “sell” for me when I took on a ‘demo booth’ at my biggest show in New Hampshire, the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. That was because a consultant explained why the transition of ‘demonstrator/teacher’ to ‘salesperson’ was such a deal-breaker, as we segue from “maker” to “seller”.
Most of my friends were not experienced with selling. At first, they asked me what I wanted them to tell my customers and potential new clients. But aside from lending them my Bruce Baker’s CD on selling, I asked them to simply share what they loved about my work. And because they weren’t working from a ‘script’, and they apparently had no ‘game’ with my sales, their comments were seen as an authentic validation of my work.
That’s why a sales assistant at shows and open studios can be so helpful and empowering. Not because they will have better sales skills, but because they are seen as a sort of validation for us, and our work: We really are who we say we are.
But that’s not actionable nor practical for all sales/open studio/art reception events. So let’s look at the second point.
Most of us are comfortable sharing our process: What media we use, how we use it, what’s special about the way we use it. We can share what we’re trying to capture in our work, and what our work shows.
If we simply add the ‘why’ to all this, that is part of telling our story.
As artists, we aren’t usually trained or taught this part. And yet it is at the heart of everything we do, and why we do it that way.
Some people work quickly. So acrylics may work best for them, since the paint sets so fast. Some people work more slowly, or work their colors more. Oils suit them. Some want to shape with their hands, not a tool. Clay speaks to them. One colored pencil artist chose their medium because it allowed them to work at their kitchen table while their kids napped. It allowed them to pick up right where they left off the day before. Me? I struggled with carving my little artifacts, until I realized my hands wanted to shape, not ‘take away’. (I suck at trimming my bangs, too, because I don’t know when to stop!)
“I love color” is not a ‘why’, because everyone loves color. But why we choose a warm palette, or why we use bold or subtle color, is. If we truly understand the ‘why’ behind our subject matter, that is a powerful story! “I paint winter scenes. I like to find the subtle beauty in this sometimes-dreary season. Because winter holds the often-ignored beginnings of the hope we expect to find when spring follows.”) (For more on how to find your story, check out these blog posts.)
Most of my conversations with visitors, potential customers, and long-time customers are inspired by these very stories. I have signage throughout my studio and booth-space at shows. They cover all the questions I get, from why I work with polymer clay, how I got started with my art, what the common thread is through my entire body of work, and why the Lascaux Cave inspired me from the very beginning. I have signs about the boxes I use in my assemblage work, where I find my unusual fabrics, and why my fiber work is so layered, uneven, and detailed. (It reflects values I found in ancient Japanese scroll paintings, and Amish quilters.) I have a sign about where I get my beaver-chewed sticks, and why I love to use them with my wall hangings.
A few visitors jump right in with questions. But oddly, most people truly browse quietly at first. There’s a lot to look at in my displays! Signs answer most of their questions, and allow them to ‘go deeper’ even before I talk to them. In fact, when they ask me a question, it’s an unconscious signal on their part that they are ready for me to talk to them!
And when I do respond to a visitor’s questions, everyone else in my space stops to listen. Because that same phenomenon is taking place: Listening to me answer someone else’s question feels more authentic! (Weird, but true.)
Last, what everyone is overlooking is how much easier it is to introduce, share, and market our work on social media.
First, we take a picture of our work and upload it to our website. That’s great, for people who already know us and our work. And if you have a FASO site, your audience will receive an automatic announcement that you’ve added now work to your site.
But the point of social media is to help us grow our market by connecting with even more people. And because social media is a solo activity (kinda like working in our studio!), we don’t have to engage in person with people.
We get to be alone with ourselves. Not worrying about what to say. Not worrying about how to handle a comment that puts us on the spot. Not feeling like we have to fill that awkward silence. Not actually “talking” at all!
So here we go!
First, we simply take a pretty good pic of our work. (Some people even post work-in-process images, which almost always catches people’s interest.)
Our next step is to upload our image to social media. I take it everywhere: Instagram can be set to repost to Facebook, Facebook can be set to repost on Twitter, etc. But you can choose to start slowly if that helps you get started. Instagram is perfect for visual artists, because it’s all about images. (Short videos can be used, too.) Conversations don’t usually go on and on, either. People either like it or they pass it by.
But don’t let it just sit there! Share something about the piece: What the subject is about, what’s different or intriguing to YOU about it, where you made it, where it’s going (a show? Your website? Your Etsy shop? A custom piece?) You can share what media you used, and why you choose it for that particular piece. You can share the title and dimensions, too. If I’ve also added it to my shop, I add a link to it there.
Remember: For mostly-introverted/shy/retiring/not into sales-talk folks, we are not actually ‘talking’ to anyone, not in person, anyway. And I’m guessing most people would be more interested in seeing your work than in what you had for lunch at that local restaurant!
You are just ‘talking to the void’ at this point. You are not bragging. You are not being pushy. You are simply sharing.
Although, yes, we are actually also promoting our work, we are not acting like those online “influencers” who are always selling themselves (and the products they are comped for promoting.) What we do on social media is more authentic. People see that. We’re not ‘twisting their arm’ to buy it. In fact, saying they can’t have it because it’s a custom work can actually boost the appeal!
If someone asks a question we can’t (or don’t want) to answer (yet), we don’t have to respond to a comment in the moment. We can hold off until we know what we want to say. (You can read more about this strategy in my blog series, “Questions You Don’t Have to Answer”.)
And if we run into that totally obnoxious human being who feels compelled to explain why they DON’T like it (who asked you??), or if they try to piggyback on your post to divert readers to their own site, you can simply delete their comment. (Another superpower of social media!)
In short, marketing on social media means you are not dealing with people in person, which is where most of our reserve/shyness/awkwardness hamstrings us. You are alone, at your desk/phone, simply sharing something that has brought you joy, with others, so they can have some of that joy, too. (Okay, if that includes a pic of the entrée you had for dinner at that fancy restaurant, I won’t complain.)
This is why social media is the best way for shy people to get up and do what needs to be done. (Apologies to Garrison Keillor of the radio show, ‘Prairie Home Companion.’)
And trust me, like everything in life, things get better with practice. Once you start sharing your work, it gets easier. Your fans will be there, cheering you on. You can ask them to pass it on to someone else who might love it, too. The praise will give you a lift, and also more confidence.
And soon that big ol’ rock is just rolling down the hill all by itself.
Try it. Keep at it. Get better at it. Do it more often. Share it. Sound familiar? It’s the exact same advice we took to become artists.
If this article helps you with your social media marketing, let me know! If you have your own success story/strategy, share that in the comments.
As always, if you enjoyed this article, let me or my editor know! If you’d like to read more, you can either read more of my articles on Fine Art Views or subscribe to my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com. You can visit my older articles in the wayback machine at Radio Userland. (They are harder to search for, but they are also shorter!)
If you think someone else would like it, please forward it to them. And if someone sent you this, and you liked it, ditto!
SHOW YOUR WORK #3: Share Your “Affiliates”
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.
(7 minute read)
Sometimes I have tons of ideas for articles. Sometimes, not so much.
I keep a supply of ideas, rough drafts, etc. so when I’m not inspired, I’ll have something to talk about. Today is one of those days.
So here from the “drafts” section is a one-liner that leapt out at me. Awhile back, I found a quote from “A Serpent’s Tooth”, a book by Craig Johnson (whose series inspired the “Longmire” TV show.)
Sometimes we spend our lives thinking we’re doing something, when in reality all we’re doing is waiting.
Underneath this, I’d typed “What are you waiting for?”
I have no idea why that quote hooked me. I’ve come back to it from time to time, and thought, “Why did I write that down?” Then on to other things.
But today, it stopped me in my tracks. It resonated differently this time.
What are we waiting for???
I’ve been trying to assist a loved one in their goal to “really get started” with their life: “I want a real career, but I’m such a loser, I’ll never figure it out!” “I fail at everything, and I’m behind in life!” “I don’t know what I want, and I never will!” “You don’t understand!!!”
When someone we care about is caught in these never-ending loops, there’s very little we can do. Except listen, try not to give advice (especially when nothing we say is considered valuable in the first place), and to simply be present. It’s not easy. It’s hard. Heavy. And harsh.
But today, when I came across that quote, I realize I’m the one in the never-ending loop.
What am I waiting for?? I ask myself….
I am amazed at the clarity that surfaces.
I am surrounded by the detritus from my fourth studio move in five years. Some stuff has been sold off, some has been donated, and some is simply destined for the scrap heap.
But as a mixed media artist (and a highly-evolved hunter-gatherer!), I have learned to see the beauty in everything. A pebble, a bird feather, a weathered stick, a button, all have potential in my eyes.
So, too, those really ugly pearls I bought on impulse that I cannot bring myself to use. The bags of milk paint I was sure would be perfect for painting old wood boxes. The damaged frames piled up in my studio, dinged and danged from too many venues, too much packing and unpacking, not enough bubble wrap. “Maybe I can fix them and sand them and repaint them,” I think to myself.
but then I caught myself:
Is that the highest, best use of my time? Probably not.
When I had to clear all that stuff out to make room for said family member’s arrival, I realized it was time to get brutal. Er….but not too brutal.
That’s where the idea to host an artists garage sale came from, a few weeks ago. The first time I organized one, it sucked up so much time and energy, I didn’t have time to organize my own stuff and get it priced and ready to sell. On the other hand, it was hugely successful! People begged me to do it again next year. Unfortunately, I moved to California instead.
This time will be different. A lot of people in our two buildings are already onboard, as well as the building managers. I can set up a table inside my own studio. I can use my Square to take payments. I will have people helping with posters, publicity, and table-wrangling.
OK…..What else am I waiting for?
I struggled with a few great galleries that’s accepted me as a guest artist. But 2018 through the first half of 2019 was filled with many deaths in the family, many trips for last visits, funerals, support. I could barely take care of myself, let alone my art biz. I dropped the ball on restocking, attending receptions, staying in touch. And I realized my sales in New Hampshire galleries had dropped off to practically nothing. (Some had dropped my work, some had only older work, etc.)
Out of the blue, one gallery asked me to restock. When I did, they followed up with, “Um…these new designs you sent….do you have more??!” Yes, I did, and sent them on.
That inspired me. So a month ago, I reached out to all my League of NH Craftsmen galleries, hoping one or two would pick me up again.
To my surprise and delight, six of them wanted me back in! This past month has been spent creating new work and new designs, creating a cohesive collection for each one, tagging, labeling, creating an inventory sheet. Now working on packing and shipping.
That inspired me to reach out to a local gallery, where my inventory had really languished under my neglect. The last time I visited, I found they’d increased the number of jewelry artists, and my display was woefully inadequate. I swallowed my pride, and asked them if they still wanted my work.
They did! Turns out all the members loved my work (okay, most of them do.) The larger works were great attention-getters, but slow sellers. I took them back. Tomorrow, I’ll be setting up a new display with new work (and higher prices!)
What else am I waiting for?
I’ve been feeling cut off from my friendship network. Was I waiting for people to reach out to me? Yes, I was. And this week, one new local friend did reach out, a small artist support group I started took an important “next step up” (which was powerful), and another friend started a neighborhood women’s gathering. I was going to go. “I’m too busy! I don’t have time! I hate gatherings with people I don’t know!”
But I went, and had a wonderful time. I think everybody did. Afterwards, we all responded to the group text information with words like, “This was exactly what I didn’t know I needed today!”
Sometimes, when we are feeling overwhelmed by life and its myriad complications, in trying to create balance with making our artwork and marketing it, it’s easy to get caught up in “fixing it”. If only I had…..! If only I knew someone….! If only I knew how to…! If only I knew what I really wanted!!!!
We end up waiting. For what?
Do we wait til we’re sure we’ll succeed, before beginning that big new work?
Do we wait til we’re sure we’re “good enough” before we explore gallery representation? (I find the people who are really good who hesitate the longest!)
Are we waiting for a “sign from the universe” before we take on a new challenge? Do we wait until we find the perfect solution to our problem? Have a straight 8-10 hours to start that new work? Do we believe we have to clean our entire studio before we can get back to work after a hiatus, rather than just clear off that one surface we need to start it?
I remember a friend’s wise words one morning a few years ago, when I texted to say I was totally confused about what to do about the stuff on “plate”. She replied, “I sit with uncertainty everyday until Clarity makes her presence known.” If that sends a shiver down your spine like it did mine, you might like to read more about Sheri Gaynor’s life work here.
Today, I sat. I poked around, hoping for a little clarifty.
And there it was, in my own notes, just waiting to be found.
Sometimes we wait for clarity. Sometimes we go looking for clarity. Sometimes it’s right where we left it, just under our noses.
Have you experienced this? Been unable to “fix” an issue that seemed to complicated, too random, with no solution… And then seen clarity what was needed, and what you had to do? How did that work out for you?
Please share! I’d love to hear your story, and I’m sure others will, too.
As always, if you like this article, please share with someone you think would enjoy it.
And if someone shared this with you, and you’d like to read more, you can subscribe to the Fine Art Views newsletter (with many other authors contributing!), or sign up at my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.
LESSONS FROM THE GYM: Be Kind, Unwind.
I want to thank the folks who responded to my invitation to be a patron of my writing earlier this week! Your thank you gifts will commence as soon as I clear off a surface.
BUT….I am switching to a simple PayPal request instead.
Because a family member set up his blog on Patreon, I thought that would be a good choice. BUT…..
I’m already overwhelmed with emails from Patreon, urging me to do this and that, telling me how to “drive more patrons” to signing up, etc. It’s possible you’ve even been on the brunt end of this.
I hate this business model.
It’s one thing to ask readers to consider a small donation to support my writing.
It’s another to involve them in a constant barrage of marketing ploys.
With PayPal, you can pay from your PayPal account, your back account, or even your own credit card. (My PayPal email is MyName at gmail dot com)
You can consider a one-time gift, or a monthly donation.
You can make it for $1, or $5, or heck, if you are a billionaire,
$10,000 $100. (I would worry about what you expect for $10,000.) I’ll try to keep my promise to send you a thank you card, if you send me a message with your snail mail addy. BUT….maybe for a thank you, you can also ask me a question and I’ll write an article about it!
Also, you can still keep reading all my columns right here, at Muddlin’ Through.
So thank you for your patience as I muddle through, too.
I’ve been considering this for a long time. And now, it feels like the time is right. (I actually typed “write”, which is a little Freudian slip there….)
I am asking you for a huge favor today….
Consider becoming a patron of my writing with a small donation. Monthly, annually, or a one-time contribution.
YES, my blog is free! Always has been. I’ve been blogging for 15 years now. I’ve never made a nickel from it.
In those fifteen years, I wrote for two art business magazines that paid fairly well. One was sold, and shut down. The other? Well, let’s just say they said I wasn’t very funny anymore, and simply quit sending me assignments. (Oh, the pain!) (Okay, it hurt a little, but may I’m NOT funny anymore.)
I have one writing gig left that pays less than going to the movies for each article. (Yes, in the spirit of valuing my own work, I’m going to be asking for a raise.)
But it’s not going to be what I used to make. Those gigs are almost gone now. I’m back to new zines telling me I should write for free (with images and how-to’s) in return for the great “exposure” I’ll get. (I’m at the point in my life where I associate “exposure” with “sunburn” and “rosacea”….)
I’ve been advised from time to time to create a “pay-to-play” platform. You don’t get to read unless you pay me.
I hate that. I might make some $$, but far fewer people would get to read my stories.
YES, you can keep reading for free! BUT…
Consider sponsoring my writing for about, oh, 17 cents a day.
Sign up for a $4.95/month subscription at
https://www.patreon.com/LuannUdell by setting up a PayPal “send money” transaction.*
It will encourage me, not only to KEEP writing, but to write MORE.
As the founder of Patreon points out, artists throughout history have been supported by patrons. It’s how amazing work got out into the world.
If even a few of my wonderful followers chipped in, it would be wonderful.
So please consider supporting the writing.
I myself started making micro-donations (An Australian bat rescue org! Cynthia Tinapple’s Studio Mojo!) It feels good to know I’m helping in a very small, but tangible way, to bring more light into the world….
And…..THANK YOU!!!! Thank you for even considering this. I am grateful for whatever support you can give.
And no worries if you can’t afford it. I won’t hate you. :^)
P.S. For those who DO sign up, you will receive a thank-you card, featuring one of my hand-carved stamp images. (You could frame it!) (Image will vary.)
* After being deluged with email from Patreon, I’ve decided to simply ask you to use PayPal. You can send money from your PP account, your bank, or your own credit card. You’ll still get a card!
No one is ever 100% productive. No one is ever 100% efficient. No one has 100% of their time to spend on their art. And anyone who says they are either has a rich partner, or a support team who takes care of everything else, or is
lying through their teeth speaking metaphorically.
Even if we are amazingly focused and disciplined about making our art, life happens. The kids get sick, the dog gets sick, we get sick. People (and dogs) die. The power goes out. (Yes, even here in “sunny California”, where we’ve had 15″ of rain, including a whopper storm that just left, and yes, some people did lose power.) Heck, sometimes we just run out of paint/clay/paperclips.
Today on Fine Art Views, a writer shared how they maximize their creative time in the studio. They maximize their time spent on other tasks, su as that 30 minute wait at the doctor’s office, and that 4-hour airplane trip.
And so, here are a few of mine.
The most basic tool I’ve found for time management is some sort of daily planner. I used to use those expensive fancy ones, until I kept losing them and having to fall back on my old standby: The lowly composition book.
This actually works better for me, because the task list for some days are very brief (nothin’ much on the page after your
colonoscopy exam health procedures. And other days, there is so much to do, so much information to record, so many things to keep track of, I need more than one page. With a composition book, I can use as many or as few pages as I need, and I can tape or staple important notes, business cards, or sales flyers in there, too.
But even more important than a place to write and plan is this helpful little question to ask myself before starting anything:
What needs to happen before that?
I learned this concept years ago, and wrote about it here. It really helps to sort out your “next step”.
And the reason this can maximize your time in the studio is, so many times we get to the studio to “work”–and realize we’ve left that one critical thing we need at home. Or we’ve forgotten to get that critical little task completed, or forgot to order that crucial supply.
There I am, at the studio, as planned, and I can’t finish the one thing I’d established as the priority of the day.
Here’s a perfect example: I’m back on track with my fiber collage work. I’ve got half a dozen works in progress. I have a couple pieces ready to frame. I have great new ideas for the next projects.
I arrived at my studio, ready to get to work. But when I went to frame one fragment, I realized I was missing a backing board. And everything ground to a halt.
Easily fixed. When I got back home, I put together what I need for the next couple projects. I realized I was out of other sizes and colors of mats. I researched sources, and found a great local mat source. I placed an order, and can pick it up today.
And realized that all this happened because I hadn’t followed my own rule:
Write down ALL the steps that have to happen before a task can be considered completed.
Who has time to do that?? you may well ask.
Well….that 30 minutes in the waiting room? That’s a good time.
That four-hour flight? That’s a great time to layout your goals for the next month. Or even the rest of the year. (Er…just in case that was one of your New Year’s resolutions that never actually made it into reality.) (Not me, of course.) (WHY ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT AND SNIGGERING???)
And here’s the last tip that really works for me, when I remember to do it:
When you stop for the day, leave your work at a place where you can easily pick it up again the next time.
It’s so much easier to get right down to work if you can easily see what your next step is.
Or, if you’ve completely finished your current project, set up for your next one before you leave. This is also a good way to know if you have everything you need to get started. If you don’t, well, you know what to do once you get home. (Or, if your friendly art supply store is still open, pick it up on your way home!)
These tips work really well for me, when I remember to do them! Which reminds me….
Where’s my notebook?? I need to write this down….
Today I was talking with someone about traveling across the U.S. 35 years ago. “No credit cards, we had traveler’s checks.” (Remember those? Before they were a scam??) “No cell phones in case our car broke down.” (When I backed up our car into a deep hole in a campground, we had to hike out seven miles to get a tow truck.Fortunately, someone gave us a lift, and we got to ride back with the tow truck.) “No smart phones or Kayak.com to look for hotels for the night.” (Let alone hotels that allow dogs, like on our move out here two years ago.) I said I was anxious every time we traveled, because I was afraid we wouldn’t find a place to sleep at night, our car would break down, and we never knew where the next gas station was.
Ahhhhh, the privilege the internet, cell phones, and credit cards….. especially a card that gives us reward miles.
Yesterday, I finished binge-watching the Gilmore Girls reboot. My daughter and I checked in, and agreed Rory was not as mature as we’d expect by now. She (Rory) was having trouble finding a steady journalism job, as she flubs up and thrashes around in her adult life.
Ahhhhhh, the privilege of wealthy grandparents and an even-wealthier secret boyfriend who lives in London (who’s engaged to marry someone else.)
I’ve been thinking of my kids, who never tire of pointing at their childhood in Keene NH, which was (and I quote) a “white liberal bubble of privilege”. Which, to be fair, it was.
I could get resentful and say, “Were we supposed to deliberately be poor?? Aren’t you glad we lived in a place where you could play AirSoft in the woods and not be shot on sight by a police officer? Aren’t you glad we were able to help you with college, and housing, until you could make your own way in the world?”
But there’s no getting around it. Privilege doesn’t necessarily mean wealth, or an easy life. It does, however, mean there are some things we didn’t have to worry about, and some dangers, aggressions, situations, hostilities, we didn’t have to face.
The thing with privilege is, you’re either born with it, or you’re not. You’re either born in a first-world country, or you’re not. You’re either born a person who’s not considered “of color”, or not. You’re either born with your “assigned” gender, or not. You either have the wiring for mental health, or you don’t. You are either born being able to take or leave alcohol, or not.
I can’t change how I was born. No one can.
But we can change what we do with our privilege.
In Rory’s case, I think back to a time where, if you were a writer, there was only one way to make a name for yourself writing. You wrote a book, which hopefully became somewhat successful. Or you got a job working as a journalist, or wrote for a magazine. Otherwise, you could write to your heart’s content, but not very many people would ever get to read what you write. When I think of how this has changed, with the internet, with self-publishing on Amazon and other sites, heck, with blogging, the mind boggles. I did write a book (a craft book which did not become a best seller, but hey, my dentist owns a copy, and she absolutely loves it.) I did write for a magazine, until they decided I wasn’t really relevant anymore. (ouch) I finally did write an article for our local newspaper. It was published two weeks before we moved to California.
But now I can write whenever I like. I may whine about deadlines, and how little money I make from writing now (my one paying gig pays me $30 a column). But the bottom line is, I can write and share my thoughts with the world. Saying I won’t write unless I’m paid to, just seems…..ungrateful. For the simple reason that I do have an audience, and sometimes they even let me know how much they enjoy my work.
I can’t change the fact that I grew up in a different world than millions of other people. I won’t apologize that I gave that same safe haven for my kids. But I can show my gratitude, that in certain ways, my life was/is easier than some people who have different experiences because of their gender, skin color, religion, nationality. I can be aware I have this privilege, and do engage with causes and actions that hopefully will make the world a better place for all of us.
And so, too, with my art. Here I am this afternoon, racking my brain on how to make more money from my art during the holidays. Until I catch myself….
Like every other artist I’ve ever met, I worry that “not making a lot of money” with my art means “I’m not a successful artist.” I’ve learned that money is not the only measure of my success (a big hat-tip to Alisha Vincent, who challenged me on that almost 15 years ago.) I’m fortunate to know from the start that the only thing keeping me from making, and sharing, my art with the world, is me.
Every day I wake up, I get to choose. I get to choose what I make, how much I make, how I make it. I get to decide how to share it with the world–by selling, teaching, donating, exhibiting, posting online. I have the time and a studio space, I have the materials and the knowledge I need, and I have the support and encouragement of my husband, my kids, my friends, and yes, even a few happy, loyal customers.
Making art is a gift. And a privilege.
Sometimes my buzzy brain goes a little crazy. Then I fret about money, about success, about fame, about exposure/sales/taxes/PayPal fees/my website/time/ideas/inspiration until I finally sit up and yell, “Stop!!!!!”
Because I am so grateful I have enough time, enough money, enough success, enough exposure, enough of a following, enough of everything. Heck, I’m delighted I have a website, a blog, PayPal, a Square, even! (If I think really, really hard, I’m sure I can get to the point where I’m grateful I have enough of an income to even pay taxes on.) (Still thinking.)
So just for a few minutes today, think long and deep about your privilege. Blessings aren’t a good thing unless you share them. Privilege is meant to be a springboard to raise others up, too. When you start to feel sad about your art, take a deep breath and exhale slowly.
Rejoice you have this time in your life to bring the world of your heart out into the world.
And then go do it.
If you have time (and I know the holidays are ramping up!) tell me something you’re doing this month to brighten the world. I’d love to hear it!
In these crazy times, many of us are asking ourselves, “What can we do??”The answer: “Give of yourself, to others.” One person CAN make a difference.
I ran into a friend today. Our chat ran to some odd places (in a good way!) We talked about what various social issues, issues that need rethinking, reconsideration: Young people and higher education; homelessness; insight into race and racism; disadvantaged youth.
Quite a heavy load to contemplate on a beautiful sunny morning in Santa Rosa!
“I don’t know what to do,” my friend said. “I don’t know how to help.”
I shared some of my experiences as a volunteer. in hospice, and grief support; as a volunteer reader in my kids’ elementary classes; a visiting artist in a program for high school students who were struggling with emotional- and mental-health issues.
Soon he remembered something he’d done awhile back, offering support for a computer technology he has lots of skill in. He shared a few things I often felt as a volunteer, things I know other volunteers have felt.
So, in no particular order, thoughts for how you can help the world be a better place for others.
Share a skill. Almost all of us have expertise in something. Find a group to share that with: Youngsters, students (high school, college), newbies in your field, seniors. It may be drawing, computer technology, writing, jewelry-making.
Share an interest. Do you like reading? Share a story with someone. Do you play an instrument? Start a small music group. Do you collect rocks? Share that passion. You don’t have to be an expert, you just have to be willing to encourage others’ interests.
Share your time. An hour or two a week, or even a month, spent in the company of an engaged adult, can mean the world to shut-ins, students, event organizers, museums, outreach groups.
Share your uniqueness. Young people don’t need you to be awesomely expert or talented. It’s enough to show them what that looks like, to be someone employed in work they care about, who have hobbies and interests they enjoy. It may open a door, or a whole new world to them.
Here are things to be aware of:
It’s okay to volunteer for something you really like. For some reason, volunteering/sharing an interest or skill, can seem not worthy–because you’re having too much fun. It’s like we feel we have to give in a way that hurts. That doesn’t make sense, does it? Or as my wonderful, smartsy daughter always says, “Would you rather volunteer to do something you hate?!” Er….nope. But it’s weird to realize how guilty we feel if we enjoy our outreach. Lose the guilt. You’re doing it right.
It’s okay to share something small. So you volunteer to sit and listen to a second-grader read a book. You think, “I’m really not working very hard here….” Well, you just freed up the classroom teacher to work with another kid. You lightened someone’s load. It’s enough.
It’s enough to simply be present. One of the hardest concept to wrap my head around in my hospice volunteer training was, we can’t fix things for our clients. But what we can be is…well, to be present. Many clients found it comforting to simply have another human being with them. Sometimes we talked, sometimes laughed. Sometimes we simply sit with them, and hold their hand. (And some didn’t want their hand held, but they still felt our presence, and were comforted.) And it wasn’t about being there when they died. In fact, the greatest gift for some was to give them the privacy they craved when their time came. It’s weird, but they let you know.
Give some money. You don’t need to donate millions of dollars, or thousands of dollars, or even a $100. Instead, give a homeless person a buck or two (or five), with no judgment about what they need to console themselves from their life on the street. Yesterday I read an article about helping the homeless. The volunteer said, “Try laying your head on the sidewalk. See how vulnerable you feel. Then have some compassion.” It’s hard to fix your life when you have nothing. If someone needs a beer, or a cigarette to numb the pain, I no longer feel competent to judge that.
Give a little something. If helping someone personally still feels awkward, donate a few bucks to your favorite charitable foundations.
If you can’t spare the money, or time, give something else. Shop at thrift stores that serve social causes: the homeless, the elderly, kids, hospice, people without healthcare.
Or donate your old books, clothing, equipment.
Pick up a few extra cans of soup when you shop for groceries, and donate them at the door. One meal is a lot, to that one person.
Some of our greatest social challenges in the years ahead will take big steps, huge effort, giant leaps in understanding, compassion, campaigning, commitment.
It will also take rethinking how we we view the problems.
In the meantime, small steps will get us somewhere, eventually, especially if millions of us make those steps.
Last, but not least, put yourself in the mindset of simply being kind.
You’ll see the difference not only in what you do, but what you feel. Others will feel it, too.
You’ll be glad you did.
Two pieces of advice you
should might want to practice regularly. (I’m trying to cut back on telling people what to do….)
A few weeks ago, I was talking with an artist who had just started blogging. Or rather, blogging regularly and with intent. (As opposed to, “Open Studio Today!” stuff.)
She was complaining that she still hadn’t acquired much of an audience. I’m afraid I laughed out loud.
I hastened to assure her I was laughing AT her. I was just thinking of the early days of my own blog.
It was very much like the day I set out my very first bird feeder.
My husband and I had our very first apartment with a backyard–what a luxury! We’re low-level bird nuts, so I decided I would immediately set up a feeding station for the neighborhood birds.
I found a spot where we could sit on the back porch and watch the activity. I bought a bag of generic bird seed from, oh, I can’t remember, KMart? High quality stuff, I’m sure. (NOT.)
I didn’t have a bird feeder, so I took the lid from an extra garbage can and set it on the lawn. I filled it with the bird seed, put out a bowl of water, and took my seat on the porch.
Half an hour later, I wandered into the living room where Jon was reading. “It’s not working,” I said glumly.
“What isn’t working?” he asked cautiously. (Because when your girlfriend says something like this, the ensuing conversation could go anywhere.
“The bird feeder!” I said. “I’ve been watching for thirty minutes, and not a single bird has tried it out!”
After making a funny noise that sounded suspiciously like a smothered guffaw, he patiently explained to me that birds don’t just smell food and come running. They discover feeding stations, slowly and cautiously, building a routine that takes them through a circuit of opportunity. “It could take weeks, even months for them to realize you’ve provided them a new source,” he explained.
Weeks? Months?? Wow. This bird feeding thing was more complicated than I thought.
Eventually a few crows and house sparrows found our lode. Then the raccoons found it, too, and that was the end of our bird feeding ventures. (Until Jon took it up again a few years ago, with much more forethought and dedication.)
My point, I explained to my friend, is this: Be patient.
A website, or a blog, is just a billboard on the information highway. Actually, it’s more like a sign on a back road in a rural area. For awhile, the only people who will really see it are the people who happen to live there. Or people who drive by when they’re looking for something else.
Eventually, your customers and collectors will realize it’s useful for them to check in regularly. And as you find your voice, other people willing–even hungry–to listen to what you’re saying will drop in, too.
Write what is in your heart, write about the things you really care about. The people who also care about those things will find you.
Some will stay, some will move on. But your numbers will grow.
In short, these things take time. That means being patience. Sometimes, perspective helps grow patience.
I told her that, almost ten years later, my total “regular” readership is probably somewhere around a thousand. But my first few years, I was lucky if a hundred people even knew I had a blog. (Okay, I confess. I think seven people have read my very first blog post. (You can read my very first blog article from November 29, 2002 here: Holding Onto “Facts” That Hold You Back
Now for the perspective.
Re: the numbers…..I try not to check my stats. It’s like constantly asking people what they think of your work. It’s tempting, but ultimately not healthy for your creative spirit. I write because I have to write. I have something to say, that I have to put out there.
My art, the same. I have to make it. I can’t stop and worry about who else will like it, I have to simply do the work. You know, the Martha Graham thing….
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.
As spoken to Agnes De Mille
The two pieces of excellent advice?
1. Read that Martha Graham quote at least once a day.
2. The next time you’re tempted to read your blog stats, if you absolutely can’t resist, then try this: In the “At A Glance” bar graph, switch from the “daily” total to the “monthly” total.
Oh, gosh, the numbers are so much more satisfying!
Years ago, I was driving along a New Hampshire highway, and spotted a turtle by the side of the road.
My heart went out to it. So many times, you see crushed turtles on the road. They simply can’t move quickly enough to escape the rushing traffic.
Now, on the other side of the highway was a lake.
Clearly, the turtle was confused, and needed help. So I pulled over, picked up the turtle, and took it to the lake side of the road.
I was so proud of my good deed. I patted myself on the back for taking the time to help a little turtle.
Imagine how embarrassed I was to learn, years later, that I had done exactly the wrong thing.
Turtles don’t get lost.
Female turtles have powerful drives to do exactly what this one was doing. They travel long distances to a safe, dry place away from their watery home, to lay their eggs. When they’re done, they return to the water.
I had simply prolonged this poor turtle’s journey. And forced it to cross the dangerous highway again.
I read an article about our nation’s tendency to offer international aid, with good intentions. But we often neglect to let each country determine what aid it really needs. The author used the same example of giving misguided ‘help to the turtle. “Ask the turtle,” she admonished. “The turtle knows exactly what it needs.”
I love this story, though I still feel bad for my own turtle.
I had a phone consultation with Lyedie Lydecker a few days ago. With a messy studio, new projects looming, new work I want to do, small orders I need to fill, upcoming knee surgery and the resulting loss of income (I can’t do my big League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair this year), I’ve been overwhelmed with how to best use my remaining non-invalid time. I’d ask Lyedie to help me sort it all out.
She listened, which is a blessing in itself. So many people listen, but then try to fix. (I do that!) I was listened to with exquisite care.
But the best insight was how to approach my studio.
It’s such a mess, and the thought of cleaning it now is overwhelming.
Now, about our studios…. Lyedie firmly believes that our studio isn’t just a physical space to work. It’s a partner in our creative process.
She said, “Ask your studio–your beloved partner in your creative process–what it needs.
As I look over the notes I took of our conversation, I flashback to an article I wrote almost eight years ago. As I reread it, I’m astounded by what I wrote that day.
Because it echoes Lyedie’s words so clearly, it’s eerie.
I firmly believe that we already know what we need to know. Sometimes it takes someone else to tease it out of us. And sometimes we just need someone to tell us.
So how do I ask my studio what it needs? Hmmmmmm……
Someone once told me how to do just that. The universe will give us everything we ask for, she said, if we would ask the right way.
You look down and close your eyes, droopy. Then expand and stand tall. Raise your face to the sky, turn your hands out, and ask. Out loud. Ask for what you want with your whole heart. (I did it a few times, and it worked so profoundly, I was scared to ask any more. Mistake!)
Now what does that remind me of??
I realize today I’ve seen this posture before.
You can see it in the figure above, one of a group of four female figures I saw in the King Tut exhibition in Toronto many, many years ago. They are guardian figures (of Tut’s sarcophagus?), believed to be modeled after his mother. They protect the remains of her beloved son, with serenity, with peace, with gentleness and love.
So that’s what I did this morning. I entered the studio today as a supplicant, as a loving partner, eager to restore my beautiful relationship with my beloved space.
I asked my studio what it needed from me.
Because I was willing to see, to listen, to feel, to love, I heard what my studio needs.
And it was not what I thought it was. It doesn’t want much. There are no demands, no resentment, no punishment or resentment. Just a few gentle requests. All things I can manage, and all things that will return tenfold in joy.
Today, I asked the turtle.
City of Keene
Keene, NH 03431
To Whomever Makes Parking Meter Purchase Decisions:
I am not enjoying the new parking meter system in downtown Keene. And if we can judge by the unusually high number of empty parking spaces in that area lately, I have a lot of company.
I’ve had to wait in line at the kiosks, even when I simply need 6 minutes to run an errand.
No matter where I park, I have to detour to go to the kiosk. In fact, this system completely eliminates the concept of a “great parking spot.” It’s no longer in front of your destination store, because you still have to go out of your way to get to the kiosk. When the weather is lovely and my arthritis isn’t acting up, and now that I no longer have small children in tow, a detour to a kiosk is no big deal. But when snowbanks are piled high, when it’s raining or freezing out,when sidewalks are icy, when I’m in a hurry, when I’m carrying a child or two, when I’m recovering from yet another knee surgery, that extra trip is just a pain, literally and figuratively.
The kiosks don’t accept debit cards or credit cards. So we’re still stuck fumbling for change. However, it looks like it will be lucrative for the city, because when the kiosks misfire and refuse to accept change, you have to put a dollar in no matter how little time you need. And when it refuses to make change, well, we lose again.
But who really loses? Downtown merchants. This morning I went to Prime Roast for coffee. The row of spaces in front of their store was completely empty, except for one car. I haven’t seen the street that empty, on a weekday morning, in 20 years.
If you make it a hassle for customers to patronize downtown businesses, they will go somewhere else to shop.
I’d rather have the old meters back. Simple and quick. Or better yet, a meter (NO KIOSK, please, God) that accepts change, dollars and debit/credit cards. Or a parking pass card, like EZ pass. Pay a monthly or annual fee, get a car sticker or a swipe card, and never worry again about how many quarters I have.
Please—just make it less annoying to shop downtown, okay?
Lord, I hope “redux” means “revisited”…. Just checked Wiki–yes!!
It all started when we cleaned out our daughter’s old room. She came home to help. I had visions of the two of us cutting a swatch through the piles o’ stuff, filling bag after bag of stuff to be tossed, given, moved or….or….what else do you do with a 1942 manual on identifying enemy planes?
Instead, we spent a leisurely afternoon of Robin browsing through old journals, school notebooks and yearbooks. We tried on the hats we bought on family trips to Boston. (We once defused a family spat by stopping in a little shop on Newbury Street called TOPPERS. We all bought hats. Now it’s a family tradition.) Finally, after hours of delicate sorting, Robin announced she’d salvaged everything she wanted. I was free to take care of the rest. (My professional writer voice is calm and dignified. My mother voice is about to scream.)
From there, I’ve managed to keep up with my goal of removing one bag o’ stuff a day from her room, the attic and my studio. It feels like truly sisyphean task. I comfort myself by doing the math. If I keep it up, in a year I will have removed 365 bags. Not too shabby, hey?
This has all happened before. It will all happen again. (Who says you can’t learn something important from Battlestar Galactica reruns?
Sometimes it helps to know how you did it before. Other times, knowing what’s in store can add to the overwhelming nature of the task. (The first words out of my mouth when I tore my ACL the send time were, “Oh, NO, NO, NO, NOT AGAIN!!!” I knew I was in for another surgery, I knew I was in for at least six months of recovery, I knew it would be at least a year before I felt back to normal.
I couldn’t face it. But….
I did it anyway.
So today as I dig in once again, I share with you three thoughts and resources that are helping:
1) “Leave it for someone else.” Too many of my clutter–er, collecting–impulses are fueled by the thought that I’ve discovered something wonderful, and I need to save it from oblivion in the thrift shop.
But now I ask if I truly love it or have a use for it. If not, I know it will be found and cherished by someone else. So….I leave it for someone else.
2) “Would I buy this again today?” I can’t believe how much this helps me decide what will stay and what should go.
3) This website, Clutter Buster, by Brooks Palmer.
I can’t remember where the first two questions came from, but will credit them when I track the source down.
In the meantime, I need to go fill another bag.
What strategies help YOU clean out?
Happy spring cleaning!