LEARNING TO SEE #6: Finding Our (Silent) Voice

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”

I'm actually grateful that three amazing people crossed my path and opened my eyes to new possibilities.
I’m actually grateful that three amazing people crossed my path and opened my eyes to new possibilities.

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.

SHOW YOUR WORK #3: Share Your “Affiliates”!

Whose work do YOU love, and whose work goes well with YOURS? Share!

More in this series on “baby steps” (and a few giant steps) to get your work out into the world and grow your audience online.

I’ve had some delightful conversations in the last few months with one of Fine Art View’s newest contributors, Thea Fiore-Bloom. Our life outlooks are similar, and we both love each other’s writing. And recently, Thea added me to her own artist resource page.

I was not only honored, but also impressed with this page. I’ve already bookmarked several of the sources she listed, and I urged her to write about this. Because it is an awesome idea, and one I’d never considered doing on my own website.

Then Clint Watson posted his article about how email is still the most powerful way to reach more people, advice in how to expand your current email newsletter list, etc. I thought about asking my subscribers to share with their friends, and their friends’ friends. Another idea I’ve already incorporated into my blog posts, but not in my newsletters. Hmmmm.

Then the two ideas came together into one insight, one that could work well right now.

What if we looked for opportunities to cross-promote? (Like I just did with Thea and Clint, for example.)

As I was thinking about that, a reader posted a comment on my last article, which I republished on my blog. Their website name leaped out at me: EquusArtisan! Why? Because not only do we share a love of horses, we both use horse imagery in our art.

Suddenly, Thea + Clint + Lisa = Novel idea for cross-promoting in the time of the coronavirus storm!

I’m treading carefully here, because these are everyone else’s insights and articles. But the notion of using our work and websites/newsletters/social media to help promote and support like-minded people, who not only have similar interests, philosophies, and wisdom, but who also have similar audiences hit me like a ton of bricks.

And though the simple solution is to reach out to people like this, to see if they’d be interested in cross-promoting from time to time, other ideas piled on.

Example 1) I volunteered a year ago for a local horse trainer whose major work has grown into rescue work: Rehabbing/retraining/healing horses whose owners have to give them up, for all kinds of reasons, and finding new homes for them. But this person isn’t a writer by nature. So when I came across an organization that was taking nominations for their annual “horse heroes” award, I volunteered to write one for her. (After all, usually when someone else sings our praises, it can “land stronger” than we are promoting ourselves.) I could create a resource page on my site and share her biz with my audience. And maybe I should ask her if she’d be interested in adding my horse jewelry/sculptures to her own email newsletters, and donating a portion of any sales I make from that.

Example 2) Another rescue group I admire and support, the American Wild Horse Campaign, came to mind. I contribute in a small way, buying a couple calendars from them every year. But what if I came up with a way for them to “point” to my website, and I found a way to “point” to them not only by adding them to a resource page, but supported them by donating a portion of any sales I get from referrals from a mention in one of their newsletters? After all, I already have to pay such portions to galleries and even my online shop. Supporting people and organization who do “hero’s work” in the world would be just as good.

Example 3) What if I reached out to EquusArtisan and we both referred our audiences to each other’s websites in our email newsletters?

People who love horses, people who paint horses, people who rescue horses, and people who make horse jewelry. Surely our audiences overlap a little?

My first thought was to add such referrals and such to my own resource. But it feels awkward asking them to do the same for me.

On the other hand, mentioning each other in an email newsletter seems lower risk, lower “load”, and simpler. Each “partnership” could be limited to one newsletter (on both sides, theirs and mine) and the resource page can be a one-sided thing on my part.

Obviously, there’s a little more thinking and experimenting before this becomes something I can recommend to you.

But for a “what if” opportunity, especially in this time of knowing our galleries aren’t opening anytime soon, art fairs are out of the question, and open studios are not happening, this feels fairly positive and manageable. It certainly doesn’t cost anything upfront, either.

I’m actually grateful that three amazing people crossed my path and opened my eyes to new possibilities.

What cross-connections and affiliates come to YOUR mind? What conservation groups would benefit from your landscapes, wildlife work, seascapes, and still lifes? What artists do you love and find inspirational, who loves and is inspired by yours?

When we lift each other, not only do we both benefit, but so does the entire world. Because our being a force for good in the world is what EVERYBODY needs, right now.

If this article inspired you today, please pass it on to someone else who might like it, too. And if someone sent this to you today, and you liked it, you can see more advice on art marketing at Fine Art Views, more of my articles on FAV, and read/subscribe to my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

And if you’d like to see this in action, you can sign up for my email newsletter, too! (Er, don’t be surprised if it takes a while, I’m affected by the shut-downs and shelter-ins, too!) 😀

WAITING

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.

 

 

 

THE GIFT OF RISK: Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone Has Its Own Rewards

Rewards, Insight, Setbacks, and …K…K….courage, all this can be yours!
painted medallions
Painting on glass for an out-of-my-comfort-zone book project ultimately led to this new body of work.

As I typed the title to this column, I realized I almost had an acronym! But I couldn’t think of a “k” word except “kindness”. Maybe spell “courage” with a k??? Aw, what the heck, let’s put both in there!

Last week, I shared my story about “luck”, and how we can make ourselves ‘luckier’.  I told how setting aside my expectations of being paid for everything I do opened doors I never even knew were there.

I shared the rewards of that risk, which expand even into today:

  • I had my work published and made visible before the internet made that easy.
  • I created fun projects that not only were well-paid, but upped my own skill set: Using vintage buttons to make distinctive jewelry. Painting on glass, which (I only realized after writing that article) paved the way for a new series of work. I’m painting cave art images on my handmade faux ivory medallions.
  • I wrote and illustrated the first mass-market craft book on carving soft vinyl stamps.
  • I met amazing people, who were a powerful, wonderful presence in my life for years. And I continue to do so! (It turns out our dentist here in California pulled out her stamp carving book to make her annual handmade holiday cards, saw my name on the cover, and realized I was her patient!) (Yes, I autographed her copy.)
  • I’ve bought old copies of my book (which is now out of print) to sell to students who take my stamp-carving classes.

Another big reward from taking a risk deserves its own list: Insight.

  • We cannot control everything in life. Not even close! But “nothing ventured, nothing gained” is a powerful insight. Here’s my favorite joke about that, but be forewarned, there’s a naughty word in there!
  • If you look back to my previous article, where two Mary’s had vastly different lives, then you will understand the power of ‘framing’, what we pay attention to and what we choose to let go of.
  • I found out what works and what doesn’t work, when it comes to choosing shows. I have respect for the wisdom of “never do a first-year show”….!
  • Not all rewards in life are about money.
  • It takes courage to pursue your dream, patience for it to build into something profitable, and a sense of self-worth to keep it somewhere in your life, even if it doesn’t work as your paying job.
  • There will always be people who will be uplifted by our work—professionally, emotionally, spiritually.

Now for the downside: Setbacks!

  • Not everyone is your friend. There will always be people who are deeply threatened by us, and our work. It’s taking less time for me to suss them out, thank goodness! (Thank you, The Nibble Theory!)
  • Not all shows are as well-managed as others. After all, show organizers/promoters make money on a show even if vendor sales are awful. (Of course, they can’t continue to be successful if their vendors aren’t. Still, there are always people like me who are willing to try….)
  • Hard financial times (9/11, war in the Middle East, the dot.com crash, the stock market crash of 2008, etc.) are especially hard on art and fine craft markets. Art is considered a luxury, not a need. (Debatable, of course) It can feel very personal, like ‘we are doing it wrong’. Many, many people in the industry—artists, craftspeople, show runners, galleries, etc.—suffered mightily in those years, and many never recovered. Many folks took wild chances, shifted strategies, tried desperately to hang on, where sometimes just hunkering down and waiting out the storm made more sense.

The danger of setbacks is, it’s all too easy to give them a major role in our decision-making. Once burned, twice shy, etc. Yes, it’s simply good sense not to keep sticking your hand in the fire.

Otoh (on the other hand), not all failures are useless. As good ol’ Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

So here’s that word again: Courage! (I almost went off on a bunch of metaphors based on Tennyson’s poetry, but I spared you. You’re welcome!)

Courage was a relatively new concept for me, as a child. Oh, I had exercised it a few times as a young adult, but always in pursuit of a dream. Going back to school, getting a teaching degree, even traveling across the country looking for work in the 1980’s recession.

But when I took up my art in my forties, I exercised courage in a sustained manner for years, viewing each setback as a valuable lesson learned, and always, always continuing to move forward. Even moving across the country in our 60’s was a monumental act of courage. Sometimes I’m still surprised we did it, though I don’t regret it for a minute. (Well. A few minutes….)

It takes courage for me to write these articles. I get paid a nominal sum, far less than when I wrote for magazines even 15 years ago. But though it doesn’t bring in a big income, it fills my need to share what I’ve learned, and expands my audience weekly. (Thank you, faithful readers!!!)

In fact, all my writing comes from sticking with it, even when it felt like nobody cared. Because…

It mattered to me.

It’s a risk. When I put my work/words out there, I want them to serve someone else as it served me. I hope it reaches someone who needs to hear that story, today. I’m delighted when people say it did. I love it when people pass it on to someone else, who may also need to hear it.

And yet, there are setbacks, too. There is always someone who thinks we’re “doing it wrong”, and they never overlook a chance to let us know that.  There are people who are offended by my titles, fercryin’outloud.  There are those who believe there is nothing worth doing for free, and those who believe my writing is toxic.

Still, I persist.

And now, here comes kindness….

My art, and my writing, have taught me to practice kindness even…or especially… to the naysayers, the contradicters, the folks who seem to be looking for a fight.

It felt impossible at first. It’s obvious my work is not for them, and that’s okay. The kind thing to do, of course, is for them to simply stop reading, or to delete it, or move on to the next studio on the tour.

But I’m learning. Like the people who call pastels “just chalk”, or the people who claim fiber is not an art medium, etc. they are where they choose to be. Yep, maybe even doing the best they can.

By responding with as much kindness as I can muster, I can let go. I am restored to the person I want to be in the world. My risk—putting my work out there to be criticized or ridiculed, is offset by the knowledge someone else is grateful I did take that risk.

And that makes it all worthwhile.

In the end, the choice is ours. We can play it safe. We can avoid risks, ditch change, never step outside our comfort zone.

It’s up to you. I can’t even pretend to think I know better than you. As I always say, if this doesn’t work for you, don’t do it!

I can only share what’s lifted my heart, write what’s helped me move forward, what restores me to my better self.

What risk have you taken that’s moved you forward? What did you learn when it didn’t work out? Remember, both are valuable, and both are worth sharing!

LESSONS FROM THE GYM: Be Kind, Unwind.

Luann Udell discusses how to seek out what brings you joy, and peace in your heart.
Luann Udell discusses how to seek out what brings you joy, and peace in your heart.

LESSONS FROM THE GYM: Be Kind, Unwind.

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.

Where is your happy place? Go there today!

I promise I will stop whining about my very hard year, but not yet. For now, it still holds many life lessons for me.

Life lessons are hard, though, especially when we love them so much, we learn them over and over and over again.

Maybe too many lessons this year? Loss. Grief. Forgiveness. Being vulnerable. Looking for the light. Leaving “the group”. Setting boundaries. Sometimes I think Brene Brown is writing just for me.

Mostly, though, I know we all struggle with who we are in the world, and who we WANT to be. Being human can be hard work. Being a good human is exhausting.

Except when it isn’t. And that’s what I want to share with you today, this holiday season.

Monday I spoke with a physical therapy person at the gym where I get (doh!) physical therapy. (I use their independent gym program. Most of the patrons are even older than I am. So at least I’m not looking at healthy, fit, beautiful youngsters working out at five times the level and six times the speed I am.)

I complained about the chronic aches and pains I’m struggling with. It never stops, and it never gets better. With everything else on my plate, it feels like injury heaped on insult. (Yes, I know I have that backwards, but it works here.)

They asked me about my activity level. I replied it’s minimal, because a) everything hurts, and b)….well, everything hurts!

They reminded me yet again that hunkering down makes everything worse. “Our bodies are made to move,” they said. “When was the last time you went for a walk?”

Er…..can’t remember???

All of us have some discomfort, or ache, or even pain. We all want a very simple solution: All of us want a pill to make it better.

A temporary fix, in most cases. And we all know the dangers of self-medicating. It helps for awhile. And then it doesn’t. Then the self-medicating creates its own problems.

So….no pill?!  Dang.

“Go for a walk,” they said. “If you can’t walk for 30 minutes, walk for 10 minutes three times a day. It’s not how long, or how hard, or how fast you do it. It all counts. Try it.”

Honestly, I wanted to cry. I want my simple, easy solution! It hurts to move! EVERYTHING hurts—my body, my feelings, my conscience, my spirit. I want to be distracted from my problems! I want to watch endless TV in comfort!! I want my Christmas cookies!!!

“Everybody hurts somewhere”, they said, with compassion. (The compassion part almost made me cry.) “Just try it.”

Fortunately, the next day was a beautiful, sunny day, a rare break from the winter’s rain. It was Christmas Day, but with no family here, a tight budget, a tiny tree that took 10 minutes to set up, there wasn’t much to do at home.

Remembering those words of wisdom, my husband and I went for a walk. Not a big walk. Just a walk through our neighborhood, but a new route. It’s a tradition we had back in Keene NH, where we would walk downtown every morning for coffee before we both started our day.

We’ve skipped that for years now. No coffee shop. Jon starts his day early, to catch up with co-workers on the East Coast.

We’ve missed it. So we walked.

It was great! We talked. The dogs explored new bushes to pee on. We imagined ourselves living in the pretty little houses with wonderful gardens. That garage could be a new studio! That house has a lemon tree! Wow, smell those roses!!!

We agreed it needs to be part of our day again.

I went to my normally-best happy place, my studio, to work. Unfortunately, it’s not my happy place lately. My future there is in upheaval, and everything there reminded me of that.

And yet….

I thought if I had more tiny wind-swept beach pebbles, I could use them to add a delightful accent to an assemblage I’m working on for an upcoming solo exhibition.

I remembered there are tiny, wind-polished beach pebbles on a beach at Point Reyes.

I’m a pebble puppy, and I’m proud!

I realized we had enough daylight left to drive out there.

I had a mission! And a clear destination. Fortunately, my hubby agreed, and off we went.

The drive to Point Reyes is exquisitely beautiful. Rolling grazing land with old valley oaks, amazing vistas, all bright green with the recent rains, and big blue sky. One of our joys as a couple is taking drives to amazing places.

There are many things that are difficult in California: The cost of living, the cost of housing, the woes that high-tech industries bring to big cities, wildfires, earthquakes, mudslides, I could go on.

But almost everywhere you go, there is jaw-dropping beauty. The mountains, the redwood forests, the deserts, the Pacific Ocean….

The ocean will take every ounce of your sorrow and sadness, your fears and self-doubt, and it will sweep them away.

The ocean here along the Central Coast and in Northern California is powerful, and dangerous. It’s not the gentle wash of the mid-Atlantic, nor the calm surface of a lake. You have to watch your back. Rip tides, king tides, sneaker waves, sudden storms, all await the careless or the unwary.

And yet watching waves roll in is strangely calming. It is unrelenting, never stops. It doesn’t wait for me, nor you. It is its own “thing”, with its own rules and purpose. It is totally unpredictable, yet always powerful…and astoundingly beautiful.

Kinda like life, huh?

We walked. Soon I found those special rocky patches in the sand, where small polished pebbles can be found. Jade, serpentine, jasper, carnelian, quartz, in shades of olive, sage, pine green, red, orange, amber, white, black, and brown. I happily hunted-and-gathered for over an hour, collecting about a cup of tiny stones.

I felt my heart slowly edge back into place, and my soul, just as slowly, open up a little.

The drive back was just as beautiful. Soaring vultures, diving hawks, sentinel herons, crows and starlings gathering in the dusk, a flock of bluebirds. Bluebirds! And gorgeous glowing pink cumulus clouds holding the last rays of the sunset….

We humans are hard-wired to be hunter-gatherers. Whether we emulate that in picking up pretty pebbles, collecting tools and brushes, teacups, Chilean cabernets, the sale rack at Nordstrom’s or the local flea market, it’s in us somewhere.

We are also hard-wired to pay attention to the horizon. Our ancestors watched for signs of danger. That evolved into being constantly aware of our surroundings. Our love of beautiful views and beautiful places, whether they are mountains and mesas or small gardens and sweet cottages, spring from this. We are soothed by sights, scenes, and vistas. (Landscape artists, are you listening?)

We are hard-wired to watch the sky. Is a storm coming? Is the day waning? Weather meant life-or-death to our ancestors. Still does, though more of an inconvenience for most of us, most of the time. Yet a beautiful sky is still a mood-lifter.

We are also hard-wired for water. A small babbling brook, a roaring waterfall, a koi pond (or aquarium!), a lake, even a bird bath, is a universal source of interest, comfort, amusement. But the ocean tops them all.

Me? I also have a superpower. I sort. I will enjoy some time picking through these pebbles today, sorting by color and size. (They need to fit into a tiny bottle!) I find sorting very soothing. Er….after I’m done screaming when I’ve knocked a box of beads onto the floor…

Got any little old crusty bottles you don’t want? (My version of “you gonna eat that?”)

As I work today in my studio, I will remember the wild storm surf, the wind, the big sky, deer and cattle, birds and clouds. And a handful of carefully gathered and curated pebbles. Oh, and all those times I spent collecting lovely little old glass bottles in New Hampshire antique stores….

If you are struggling this holiday season, if you are sad, or lonely, or fearful, if you are stressed, or grieving, take exquisite care of yourself.

If even your sacred creative space is (temporarily, I hope!) compromised, take heart. You will get through this.

It will never stop aching. But the sharp pain will (hopefully) soften. Time, love, friendship, solace, music, nature, will help you heal.

Seek out what brings you joy, and peace in your heart.

Find the beauty of the world. Let it heal you.

Then, when you are rested and restored to yourself, take up your tools again: Your pencils, your brushes, your pile of clay. Sit again at your loom, your easel, your worktable. Put on your favorite music, or sit with silence.

Share what healed you today. Capture it and share it, so someone else can be healed, too.

It’s what we artists do.

And we are really, really good at it, too. Thank heaven!

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #7: What Is Your Next Step?

Trite, but true: Every journey begins with a single step.

(7 minute read) 

Okay, you big dreamers, procrastinators (moi!), those who are stuck (oops…me, too!), and people who need it all figured out before they do anything, listen up! Question #2 can be even more important that Question #1!

Question #1, What is your greatest vision for (insert-your-heart’s-desire-here), is a great exercise for going big. Especially for those artists -who have been noticeably absent in art history, art galleries, and art museums, who don’t see evidence they, too, can be successful artists: Women, minorities, other cultures and ethnicities, etc. (Well. Women do show up a lot in art, but usually as subjects, and thus without clothes.)

But for us to “get big”, it’s not enough to just have a dream.

We have to do the work to make it happen. Or at least possible.

That means figuring out a path, no matter how vague, or improbable, to head in the general direction of our goals.

This can still be hard to wrap our heads around. “How the heck do I know what I should do next??”

Consider the following strategies, and hopefully, one will resonate with you.

1)    Eliminate the all-or-nothing approach.

There’s nothing more daunting than an ultimatum. 

The person who dreamed of accepting an award for a movie? They had stopped their film-making. They couldn’t figure out a way to support themselves with it, so they took a well-paying full-time job for a national service corporation.

But they were so exhausted by their day/desk job, they didn’t have the time or energy to create films. Since they simply couldn’t quit their job, obviously they had to give up their dream. Right?

The problem with this approach is, life rarely gives us the perfect opportunity, and all the breaks we think we need to move forward.

Sure, we all hear about people who took the big leap and landed it. They left their job, struggled for a couple years, and now they’re making six-figure incomes doing what they love.

The problem with this thinking is, in our hearts we recognize how rare this is. The older we get, the more responsibilities we take on: Family, aging parents, mortgages, preparing for retirement, health issues, etc. The reasons why we shouldn’t move forward can feel overwhelming.

A small solution to this problem is to carve out a place in your life (if you haven’t already done so) to acquire the skills, the experience, and the joy that comes from making your creative work.

This wonderful little article on how to move forward when we don’t even know what we want shows the importance of making room for doing what you love. It restores us to ourselves, so we can dream bigger.

The film-maker realized making a small, intimate, low-tech, very personal film around a major issue in their life could fit the bill. No expectations of greatness, fame, money, etc. Just something they’d dreamed of doing for awhile. And the scale made it highly doable.

2)    Start small: One action step in the next 24 hours.

What is one thing you can do TODAY to move you forward? 

One small step gets you off your…er…chair…and into active mode. I cannot emphasize how important, how empowering, even a tiny action can be.

First, you have to get out of bed. Not kidding!

I’ve been in a funk the last few months. Family issues, health issues, money issues. It’s consoling to let my art-making slack off (“I don’t feel like it!”) and feel sorry for myself.

I thought the issue was unsolvable. If a huge part of my work’s attraction is seeing it in person, even touching/holding it, (just ask my editor!) then how do I use the internet to market it?? If only a tiny number of my potential local audience ever even sees my work, let alone comes to my studio to experience it, how will I ever grow an audience large enough to support it?

After journaling about this, I realized that representation by a very few, but “good-fit” art galleries and museum stores could help me achieve this.

And instead of slogging through the hundreds or even thousands of potential galleries I could research, I could simply ask my community—those familiar with my work, and me—if they knew of such places.

I reached out on my blog, and Facebook, with my criteria: Would my work fit with the gallery’s aesthetic (and therefore, their audience?) Are the venues close enough that collectors could visit my studio here in Northern California? Is the gallery’s clientele willing to pay my prices? (I know with the right demographic, my prices are actually extremely reasonable for what I do.) Are the galleries close enough I can actually approach them in person with samples? Etc., etc.

Yes, a few people responded with well-intentioned but wild guesses. But a savvy few are responding appropriately.

Now I can use the internet, to research these galleries! Then decide which ones to visit in person.

The beauty of this small step is, even if none of these galleries work out, I’ve found that if the gallery owners/managers like the work (even though it doesn’t work for their customers), many are willing to suggest more appropriate venues—which will save me hours of research and legwork.

If your goal is so big, or so far beyond your imagining you can’t even begin to imagine how to get there, then Strategy 3 might prove helpful: 

3)    Work backwards from your goal.

You can’t win the lottery unless…..

One of my favorite all-time jokes is a minister whose church is in need. Every single day, he prays earnestly, “Oh Lord, please help me win the lottery!” This goes on for months. Until one day, the clouds roll, the lightning flickers, the thunder rolls, and a great voice speaks: “Do me a favor. BUY A DAMN LOTTERY TICKET!!!!”

Years ago, I attended a conference called Craft in the Digital Age. One of the speakers shared a linguistically unique way another culture expresses intention can have wonderful insights our own:

The first panelist was Lynn Martin Graton, Traditional Arts Coordinator for the NH State Council on the Arts… She spoke about living in Japan for some years, and her difficulty learning a language so different than the more familiar Romance languages.  She spoke about having to learn totally new concepts dictating how ideas were expressed, different expectations of the culture.  One example was how the English statement “I need to finish warping this loom today” would be expressed as “If the loom is not warped today, then nothing else can happen” in Japanese.  Part of learning such an unfamiliar language is to actively embrace the different cultural traits that spawned it….

For an expanded take on how this can work, read A Review of the Re-Do of the To-Do List.

Again, the way we tend to frame this feels like an ultimatum: “I have to do this!” Reframing it (“For the cloth to be woven, the loom must be warped”) makes it possible to happen.

To put this into practice, think what your ideal outcome is. Perhaps it’s “win an award at a prestigious art show.”

What would have to happen before you win? “Create an astonishing new work of art.”

What has to happen before that? “Start working on a new body of work, then pick the best one in that series.”

Before that? “I need more canvases!”

Or maybe your steps go (in reverse order), “Be accepted into that show”, after “Apply for the show”, and beginning with “Get the prospectus for the show”.

Why do such simple little “first steps” help so much?

In a series of goal-achieving blog articles I wrote awhile back, I talked about “micro-steps”: Why does something as simple as putting on your work-out shoes increases your chances of actually going to the gym?

People: It’s science! Studies showed that even that tiny step of putting on our sneakers can increase the likelihood we’ll follow through with our intentions.

It’s back to that old saw: How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

For the person who is asking the questions, when you and the speaker get to this question, your job is to keep asking, “What has to happen before this step?” (“For the cloth to be woven, the loom must be warped.”)

And for the person who thinks they had to clean their entire studio to get weaving again, remind them: You only have to clear off the loom.

I don’t have to clean my studio (today.) I just have to clear a little space.

Stay tuned for next week’s next question! It’s a doozy! Bring your hankies!

Thank you, patronage, and PayPal

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.

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You’ll still get a card for signing up for a monthly donation. When…ahem….clear surface. (It might be a bunny, or a horse, though.)