Scrambling for Clarity

But sometimes, all we need is to trust our best instincts, to sense our highest purpose on earth, instead of focusing on our greatest fears...
But sometimes, all we need is to trust our best instincts, to sense our highest purpose on earth, instead of focusing on our greatest fears…

In Our Heart, We Already Know What to Do

(8 minute read)

I have a confession to make today.

I love word puzzles. Not all of them. (Some are too hard for my aging brain.) But crossword puzzles and word scrambles are my faves.

Crossword puzzles have life lessons all on their own. I used to be unable to do a New York Times crossword puzzle at all–too hard! Lots of “tricks” and double-entendre clues involved. But I’ve gotten better over the years, as I learn that the clue “double-decker?” could mean “two-stories” or “pinochle”…

The beauty of a crossword puzzle is, when I am worried, anxious, or trying to get to sleep, my lizard brain is soothed by having “something to solve” that doesn’t really matter. (As in, I don’t lose money, self-esteem, or anything else if I can’t solve it.)

Word scrambles…Now that was another story. How do you solve an anagram?

By the way, if you Google “anagram”, Google will ask you if you mean “nag a ram”….. So now we know that Google does have a sense of humor.

Word scrambles also appear in our newspaper, like Jumble and Scram-lets. They used to be quite difficult for me to solve. I relied heavily on working them out by “logic”, trial-and-error (randomly trying out various combinations until I found one that worked).

Until I read an article a few years ago about how reading actually rewires our brains. You can read more about this phenomena, called typoglycemia, here. (I remember a similar technique in the classified ads in older magazines: “If u cn rd ths u cn b a scrtry & gt a gd jb w hi pa!”) (Please don’t ask me how old!)

I tried typoglycemia to solve anagram puzzles, and it works!

Instead of patiently doing the trial-and-error thing, now I start by quickly looking at the scrambled word, “see” the word almost instantly, and move on to the next as quickly as I can, before I’ve even finished entering the answer. It’s amazing how innate this word recognition thing is!

There are still some words this technique doesn’t work for, for me. Oddly, one of the first was “studio”. I thought originally it was because of words we tend to use less, which is true. But “studio”????

The second odd thing is, once I see “studio” in the anagram, it’s easier to recognize it in the scrambled version going forward. It’s like solving it once, made it easier for me to solve the next time.

Our brains are marvelous organs, both incredibly powerful, and frustratingly baffling. (Remember my post last week, about realizing all the things I’ve lost?)

What does this have to do with our art-making, art marketing, and art career?

Sometimes we make ourselves work way too hard to solve a problem or issue, when simpler solutions might be right in front of us.

Sometimes I struggle with all the social media necessary these days to find and connect with our audience. Then I found shortcuts: I can elect to have my blog articles automatically reposted on Facebook and Twitter. Images posted on Instagram can be automatically reposted on Facebook, too. Thus, I use my social media time more effectively, and more efficiently, which is incentive to post more regularly.

When I first started blogging, I wrote for several years before I had an audience. Part of it was that it was so new, who would go looking for what I had to say? (My first blog-hosting site was Radio Userland, which doesn’t even exist anymore, except as an archive.) Fortunately, my husband retagged these old posts, and I republish them from time to time. And WordPress has more tools and options, which can make it easier to use.

The very article I linked to above was when I learned that there is no single “right” way of making our art and getting it out into the world. I was anxious about coaching other people. It felt like telling them what to do, and much of my own experience was vastly different than the other workshop leaders I worked with.

And yet, when I simply focused on a few simple things, it worked. If you love quilting, and you are very good at it, and yet, you mistakenly believe people won’t value what you do, so you “have to” compete with mass-produced quilts, or ones made in India, for example, and therefore you work faster, with imperfect results, do you WANT to be successful selling them? I told that quilter to do the work that made them proud, and then find their audience.

To a young kid who was actually already enjoying some success with their jewelry designs, I gave them resources on improving their techniques and color choices. But, I told them, “Your biggest asset is that you are nine years old, cute as a bug, and sweet as candy. Work with your mom to keep you safe, in social media”, I told them and their mom. “But people will be enchanted by your determination and delighted you’re embracing your creative spirit at such a young age, and they will want to encourage you to keep it up, by buying your work.”

I finally realized I’d shied away from teaching because I know I don’t have all the answers, especially all the RIGHT answers. But I’ve discovered I am very good at helping people find their next step, and that is what most people need in life. An example of me “overthinking” how much knowledge I needed to teach.

Another example of quickly “seeing” is when we have a major life/art goal, and can’t figure out how to get there. Try this simple approach to get grounded, and to get started:

Name your vision. Is it representation in that wonderful gallery? Is it to build your audience for your work? Is it to sell your work for a fair price? Is it to have your work published in a book, or to get into that top show, or make x amount of money a year?

Start there.

Then walk yourself through the steps by thinking backwards from that goal.

What has to happen before that, for it to take place?

Got it? Now, ask yourself again: What has to happen before that?

Got it? Keep going…..

You wanna right a best-selling novel? Yep, it’s hard, though not impossible.

First, it has to be published.

Before that, it has to be taken on by a publisher.

Before that, it has to be edited to near-perfection.

Before it can be edited, it has to be in the hands of a publisher.

In order for you to approach a publisher, you may need an agent.

To find an agent, you need to have written that story.

Before you write it, you have to make the time to write it, enough that they can see its potential.

So what can you do in the next 24-48 hours to get it written?

You need to set aside a small amount of time, right now (or as soon as possible) to write. And you have to hold that goal in your heart daily, weekly, monthly…..

And to write your story, you need to know what you want to say in the world.

You don’t have to figure it all out ahead of time. You just have to have a starting point that gets you through that first step, and then the next step. And then the next after that.

And then keep at it, as much as you can. Because it matters to you.

That’s why I love Clint Watson’s advice about the importance of having a website, and keeping in touch with your audience. It’s not about figuring out how to be a total social media expert, or even figuring out dozens of ways to get your work out there. All you need is an online presence (and a website combines all the best aspects of online presence.) And a way to let your audience know what you’re up to, by reaching out to them from time to time, so they won’t miss your next show, your next open studio, the new gallery that now represents you, and you latest body of work, available for sale at XYZ.

And this is why I love the Keith Bond’s article on defeating the specter of procrastination. Because the more we defer our “next step” action, the harder it is to move forward.

Just like unscrambling words to find the right anagram, our brains-and our hearts-know what we need to do. But we tend to overthink our efforts. If we’re feeling lost or discouraged, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by our attempts to “figure it all out”, so our path is straight.

Unfortunately, “straight paths” are pretty rare in every creative endeavor. We’ve all read about the people who have achieved overnight success. But that’s the rare exception, not the everyday reality.

Instead, we can quickly recognize a great opportunity, and go for it. We can realize we need to have a cohesive body of work, whether that’s in subject matter, techniques, or overall aesthetic. It should look like our work, and easily identifiable as such.

We may calm ourselves down by recognizing how making our art restores our heart and soul, which is ultimately more enriching than how much money we made this year. Not sayin’ sales aren’t important, just that sometimes that means we have to give up other things involved, things we might miss even more.

Our lives, and our art, can be just as scrambled as a Jumble puzzle.

But sometimes, all we need is to trust our best instincts, to sense our highest purpose on earth, instead of focusing on our greatest fears, or our single measure of fame and money with our work.

It can help to see the hidden word, the true word, in our holy “mess” we call our beautiful, creative life.

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to share it with someone else who might like it, too. And if someone forwarded you this post, and you liked it, you can sign up for more at my blog.

ONE IN A MILLION

We can get lost in the crowd, OR honor our own voice in the world. You choose!
We can get lost in the crowd, OR honor our own voice in the world. You choose!

One In A Million

We can get lost in the crowd, OR honor our own voice in the world. You choose!

(6 minute read)

A week ago, I read the latest newsletter from Robert Genn, who created the powerful series of articles called “The Painter’s Keys”.

Genn died in 2014, and he is sadly missed. His articles range from “how to paint” to “how to be”, and all are well-written and illustrated. Fortunately, his artist daughter Sara has continued the tradition, and carries it well.

This article was originally published in 2011, but still has relevance today. Perhaps even more so! You can see the article here: https://painterskeys.com/plight-undiscovered-artist/

He opens with this sentence:  “Last night I met with five of the 17 million artists who currently need to sell more of their art.

His take focused on the need to “get better” at our work, rather than “feeling good” about our work.  Obviously, although this little group were working very, very hard to sell their work, his advice suggests he considered the work slightly “less than.”

Remember, this is a guy who, when he realized he would not live out the year, sorted through all his paintings, pulled the ones he thought were “less than”…..and burned them. He did not want a shred of evidence of any low quality left behind.

Part of me understands this.

Part of me balks.

I have older works, older artifacts, etc. that make me squirm a little when I see them. I mentioned this to a dear friend in Keene many years ago. I said maybe I should destroy them.

She said, “Did you love making them?” I said yes.

She said, “Did people love them, and buy them?” Again, I said yes.

She said, “Then there will be people today who will love them, too.”

Bonk. Head slap.

In fact, this very insight came into full force during the two weekends of my open studios. People went through my artifacts drawers (a printer’s type tray chest) where all my older pieces and overstock pieces are stored. (If I have the perfect piece of real turquoise in hand for a necklace, I’ll use it. If not, I’ll make it. And while I make it, I make extras so I’ll have them on hand.)

I have just started selling a few of the older ones, the ones I don’t care for that much, and the ones I’ll never actually use. (Oddly, the ones I don’t like aren’t my first pieces, but my “middle period. Go figure!)

So there may actually be buyers for every stage of our creative work: Our earliest efforts, the period where we expand our skillset, and now, when we are making our best work ever.

And yet, why is it so hard to sell today? (Genn wrote his original article during the recession, when many galleries actually closed, sales were so poor.)

I think it’s in his very first sentence.

17 million artists in the world today.

Now I spent some time trying to verify this (although, I dunno, maybe he just threw it in there for effect. It worked!) And of course, “artist” usually only refers to 2D painting. It may or may not include people who work in other 2D media, or people who work in 3D media. It may include stone sculpture but not clay work. It may not include people who do fine craft, or even not-so-fine craft. It may not include singers, actors, dancers, writers, poets, etc., etc. For sure it doesn’t include my broader definition of creative work.

Although one of my favorite responses I found simply stated, “That would be the number of people in the world. Because everybody has some creativity in them.” YES!

So between the estimate of 2.1 million artists I found for the U.S. (a city the size of Chicago or Houston) and everybody on the planet, perhaps 17 million is a pretty good guess.

So every day, we are trying to make our work visible, accessible, and sales-worthy in competition with enough other people to populate a city smaller than Beijing (22 million) and slightly greater than Istanbul (15 million).

Wait for it…..

DO NOT LOSE HOPE.

I know our first reaction might be, “Why bother?!! I’m just gonna throw away my brush/pencil/clay/etc. and become a doctor/lawyer/CEO/pilot (or whatever your other, more lucrative dream career might be).”

And if you’re in art for the money, maybe that’s a good idea.

But that’s not why we took up art, is it?

I’ve heard every possible “creation” story” of how we came to making art. Many of us felt that urge to make something, even before we were old enough to know what it was called. (When I was four, I was given a pad of typewriter paper and a pencil. I drew something on every single sheet, including a spider wearing a little shoe with shoelaces on each foot, and affixed them to the walls of my bedroom with scotch tape onto my newly-painted walls.) (My parents were not happy.)

Some had no idea they had this in them until they were much older. Some walked away, thinking they weren’t good enough, only to return to it when they realized how fulfilling it is to make something wonderful. (Ahem. That would also be me.)

Some of us constantly judge ourselves, our process, and our work. Remember the commenter on one article who was mocked by family for working in “chalk”?

And yet they persisted, because pastels speak to them in a way that cannot be ignored.

We may feel less-than, we may feel we’re “doing it wrong”, we may feel we aren’t “good enough”, and maybe that’s true. Lord knows, there’s always someone who feels free to tell us that, even when we haven’t asked.

But the power of embracing where we are right now, the power of telling our story with the work of our heart, the power of starting where we are and stay focused on doing better, is heady stuff.

Genn went on to conclude his thoughts from that meeting:

Everyone left with more questions than they brought. Maybe you can answer some of them. Which is better — feeling good or getting good? What is good? Has everything already been done? Does it matter? What courses should monetarily artists take? How much of the current art-poverty is due to the current recession — or does the current poverty have something to do with sliced cows?

That last remark refers to some of those folks thinking if you’re selling skills are good enough, you can still sell poopy work.

Here’s my take-way:

Do it because you love it.

It’s not selling yet, because your audience hasn’t found you. YET.

Keep getting better. But don’t let the judgment of others keep you from the work of your heart. (There’s constructive criticism, and there’s vicious criticism. You get to choose which to listen to.)

 We may be just another “one” in a million.

But there is nobody else on earth who can tell our story. There is no one else in the world who can speak with our voice.

 We are, each of us, truly “one in a million.” Or maybe even several billion.

Do the work of your heart. Get better. Keep trying. Persevere.

Do it because you love it. And because it’s good for you!

If you enjoyed reading this, you can sign up for more articles by a variety of artists at Fine Art Views or subscribe to my blog for more of my articles.

If you know someone who would like this, send it on to them with my blessing!

And if someone sent you this, and you liked it, ditto the “If you enjoyed reading this…” links.

THE THING ABOUT OPEN STUDIOS: Art Events Aren’t About Making Money TODAY

Luann Udell shared how art events are about laying the groundwork for potential collectors
Luann Udell shared how art events are about laying the groundwork for potential collectors

If money is your only measure of success, you may be missing out on the longer game…

I learned years ago that even a “bad” art event has its value. I had to learn that the hard way, by having a lot of poor sales at shows, exhibitions, fairs, open studios, even high-end fine craft shows across the country.

It started when I first did small local art fairs and craft shows. I never did well enough to go back, if my work wasn’t a good fit with other vendors.

But at each show I would a) have one good sale that paid all my expenses, b) made connections that grew, and c) always got a good tip, insight, experience, that convinced me not to give up.*

I began to realize it took time for folks to “get” my work. It wasn’t painting, it wasn’t pottery. It didn’t fit into any “box”. Almost every visitor did, and said, the same thing. They would stop, come in my space, and gaze at my work for several minutes. When they were ready to talk, they all said a version of the same thing:

“I’ve never seen anything like it, and it’s absolutely beautiful.”

So the work was good enough to pull people in, but different enough that they had to really think about it. I realized I was laying groundwork for something bigger, and better, down the road.

It kept me going, and eventually, I leaped into bigger, juried shows. Those people began to show up for other events: Open studios, art tours, art walks, etc. Gradually, my audience grew. I started doing wholesale fine craft shows, and was juried into a major fine craft show (retail) that same year. I did both shows for years and a couple of open studio events.  My audience grew every year, until I left for California in 2014.

I’m still relearning those same lessons over and over.

Last month, I joined another open studio tour, as the guest of another artist. Attendance was good, but sales were not.

It would have been easy to feel sorry for myself. Heck, I didn’t even get that many newsletter sign-ups.

But I realized I had accomplished my main goal: Introducing my work to a brand new audience. I had rich conversations with amazing people, who I know will come back. Only few dozen people signed up for my email newsletter during the event. But I gave out a ton of business cards and postcards, which paid off.

When I checked in after the event, I found a LOT of people had signed up online. (I think they wanted to see more, and liked what they found!) And I had the rare opportunity to get to know my host artist, and their other two guest artists, better. They are all remarkable people! (We drank a lot of Prosecco at the end of each day.)  (A LOT of Prosecco!)

 A few days ago, I was at the kick-off meeting for this year’s Sonoma County Art Trails open studio event, (Both tours are under the same umbrella organization, but focus on different areas in our large county.)

I was sitting at a table with the new manager of this particular 35-year-old tour. I mentioned that I had few sales at the other open studio tour the week before, not even covering my entry fees, but I was satisfied with it, all-in-all.

Then the new manager said the magic words that summarize this entire article into seven truth-filled words:

“Art events aren’t about making money TODAY.”

Perfect! “I’m gonna write about that!” I exclaimed as I scribbled her words down before I could forget them.

Maybe my very own experience of making something positive out of the ordinary made me realize this early on. How to share the essence of this with others in seven words? Thank you, Tenae Stewart!

Art events are about introducing our work to an audience, especially if it’s a new audience. It’s about inviting our visitors and attendees into our world. Open studios are especially powerful, because they see our work and our environment in full. (Well. It’s a little less messy, but I never get my studio perfectly clean anyway. Artistic mess, people!)

It’s like what a friend told me once, at my old studio space, when I complained about how few people actually came by my studio on an average day. They replied, “It’s not who comes by, it’s who comes BACK.”  And as I look back, I see that the most amazing people DID come by, often when I wasn’t there. But my studio’s sidewalk window let them see a sample of my work, and they did indeed come back.

Now I’m on a crusade, encouraging artists who, for many reasons, don’t like open studios. They may believe their studio is not interesting/too small/too messy/not “professional enough” to open to the public. They may have tried it once, then gave up because it wasn’t worth it.

It’s hard to gear up for an event we didn’t have much success with. But there are events we need to give a second, or even third chance for.

I share my own experiences, how very small open studios tours back in New Hampshire grew from one visitor my first year, to scads of visitors during the second year, who didn’t buy anything, to folks who came in droves the third year—and bought enough to rival my sales from major shows. (And I didn’t have to drive anywhere or set up a booth!)

I share how powerful it’s been to give people permission “go deep” in my making space. I share how I give them the chance to look while making myself easily available for their questions: (“Hi, I’m Luann, and I make all the artifacts that look like carved bone and ivory. It’s okay to touch my work and pick things up. And if you have any questions, I’ll be right over here!”) Rather than saying, “No thanks, just looking”, people say, “Oh, THANK YOU!!!!” and dive in. When they’re ready to talk, they ask their question, and the conversation begins.

I recently encouraged another artist in my new building to open their studio during our first major event here. They made the usual disclaimers: Their studio is too small, it’s too messy, they don’t have a body of work yet, they’ve never sold a painting, etc. etc.)

I told them their small space might encourage some visitors to realize they don’t need a huge room to do their own creative work, just a spot they don’t have to clear for dinner. They will love looking at that work in progress. It will captivate them, with the photos, preliminary studies, the rough sketches, and the work-in-progress. They will love the subject. Best of all, this artist is comfortable talking to people. They are full of energy and enthusiasm without being overbearing, and visitors will love that.

And last, I said, “Bruce Baker once said, “To regular folks, artists are the people who ran away to join the circus!” Other people wonder and dream about doing their own creative work. To see someone actually doing that work is powerful medicine for all of us in our torn and tattered world.

Open studios aren’t for every artist. Some galleries restrict their artists from participating in them, perhaps for fear they will lose sales, or the work will be undersold. (If you are represented in stores or galleries, NEVER undercut your gallery prices.)

Some artists have privacy or safety issues. (Ask a friend to keep you company, and safe, or ask another artist to participate with you.)

Some see them as too much work. (Me? It’s like having company for dinner, it forces you to clean up a couple times a year!)

Bottom line, art events are essentially about connection: You with your potential audience, them with you, and with your work. Sales certainly help! But know that sales usually follow after laying the groundwork for a mutually-respectful and satisfying relationship.

Don’t worry about the sales you didn’t make today. You’re laying the groundwork for something bigger, tomorrow!

 

p.s. If you know someone who would like this article, pass it on!

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IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY Except When It’s Not

If money is the ONLY measure of your success, don’t read any further, please!

In my latest article for Fine Art Views, I shared how taking a risk (what seemed to me a very small risk), brought me many benefits (tangible and intangible) for years.

My intention was to share how even small steps outside our comfort zone can have big results. I wanted to share that what most people see is “luck” ignores what underlies “luck”: Preparation, persistence, and recognizing opportunity. If you don’t recognize the opportunity when it appears, you won’t reap the potential rewards.

What started out as a very small thing (submitting an image of my work for the gallery section of a craft book) resulted in an opportunity to write and publish a book.

Most people applauded that concept. But to my surprise, some people focused only on the money.

Exactly how much work did I do for “free”, and how much did I get paid? (In today’s dollars, it would seem modest, but not ridiculously so.)

Am I telling people to work for free for the “exposure”?? (NO.) I did not “donate” to the gallery sections of the book I was in, like charity auctions so many artists are asked to do. I just submitted a photograph for each.

Exactly what did I gain from that decsion? It’s alllll in the article.

Paid projects. Paid to write a book. Foundation for teaching classes. New product lines down the road, even fifteen years later. A reputation for unique work, and for being a reliable writer.

After my work appeared in several books, people started calling me “famous”. (I’m not, of course, but many, many more people were made aware of my work. And many more people recognized my name.)

During open studios, I always have the two dozen or so books I’m in available to new visitors. It always impresses them. (“Hey, working with half a dozen editors across two dozen books? She must be doing something right!”)

I got paid for each project I created. And as I said in the article, they all turned into new lines of work for me. They also became the basis of classes I offer (and I charge for the classes I offer.) So the project books, and my books, offer validation of my skills.

I received a good advance on the book, enough to make it worth my while.

Did I get rich? No. (Although my advance from that book was more than 10x than I’ve made selling my ebooks.)
Did my reputation benefit? Yes, both as an artist and a writer.
Did I get more opportunities to write for pay? Yes.
Did I enjoy it? Very much!
Did other opportunities follow? Yes! My resume was awesome!

Again, if it’s all about the money, and money is THE ONLY CRITERION for whether this risk was “successful” or not….

I have no idea.

My income has gone up and down over the years, as I constantly sorted out what was working and what wasn’t. So any additional income that was still within my skills and interests range was very welcome. One year, making products for a mail order catalog account kept me afloat during a recession.

If I would do it again? In a heartbeat! I listed the benefits in the article. I believe the most important one is how these “risks” broadened my horizons, and widened my world.

Should everybody do this? Of course not! The stamp carver who produced the little booklet on stamp carving would have loved the money. They just didn’t want to commit to a year-long schedule, the amount of writing, etc. They’d written their booklet, and they were done. She gave me her blessing. (Thank you, Julie Hagan Bloch!) My schedule was more flexible, and I love to write!

Do I work for free all the time? Nope. A couple years ago someone reached out to me to write an article for their online publication. They refused to pay me, though they sort of promised I would get paid when their site went viral. (Uh huh…) They used the usual “but you’ll get such great exposure!” But they also kept increasing their demands on what was expected, so I knew it wouldn’t end well. (I started the article but soon walked away. There are warning signs for projects that won’t work to our advantage.)

Do I get paid for everything I do? Nope. There are times where I do stuff for free. I have my own criteria for assessing that. But I never do it when someone demands I do it for the “exposure”, when I sense those warning signs, or when there is absolutely nothing in for me at all, AND I don’t want to do it, period. Give a presentation or talk to art students? Sure! Donate to a charity auction? Only if I get my wholesale price from the sale. And so on.

We all have our unique boundaries, our individual take on where we draw the line between work-for-hire, work-for-free, and the gray areas in-between.

If we insist on being paid for everything, every time, and that is our ONLY criterion for success, we may overlook opportunities that will work in our favor. That is YOUR choice.

But it’s not mine.

This has been one of the most controversial posts I’ve ever written, which surprises me. I have been asked to defend the premise of this story over and over. I have had my integrity, my life experience, and my veracity challenged. (Usually people complained vigorously about how long my articles are.) (So I’m gonna wrap this up!)

Now….Did you know I don’t get paid to blog? :^D

Yes, I do get paid to write for Fine Art Views weekly. (I have permission to replublish those articles here.) But it’s not nearly what I used to get for ONE article when I wrote for magazines.

So, if I ONLY did things I love when I’m paid for them, you wouldn’t be reading this today. :^)

IF my writing has meant something to you…

If you ever felt like what I wrote has inspired you, enlightened you, educated you, shored you up when you felt the world does not want the work of your heart…

If you love the fact that I’ve openly shared for almost 16 years, what I’ve learned by being an artist, writer, martial artist, dog owner, wall climber, hospice volunteer, teacher, mother, etc….and shared it with you, not only because I have to write…

Because I hope someone, anyone, will find joy, learn, heal, be brave, be heard….at no cost to you….

How would you feel if I’d never started a blog?

Er…You can send me a check in any amount anytime. It will most be appreciated!

STAY IN TOUCH: Newsletter Tips for Artists

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

Keep it real, keep it human, and be yourself.

In my last column, It’s the Little Things That Count a reader asked what we should write about in our email newsletters.

Short story: Our email newsletter is how our audience gets to know us.

And long story (which follows): There is no single “right way” to do that.

I have seen beautiful, heartwarming, informative newsletters that I eagerly read as soon as they show up in my inbox.  I have seen pompous, bragging newsletters that make me stop reading after the second paragraph.

I have seen brief notices of an event, and I have seen long, meandering missives that wander here and there and everywhere.

All of the writers have an audience, so just because I like them or don’t like them doesn’t mean they are necessarily “doing it wrong”.

I do see (and you are all going to laugh knowing this comes from ME) that keeping it short and to-the-point makes it more likely people will actually read it!

Here’s the thing to remember: If someone signs up for your newsletter, they already believe you have something of value to share with them.  So really, all you have to do is be the best “you” you can be.

Of course, usually I create a newsletter to inform my audience of an event, whether it’s a show, a meet-the-artist event, or an open studio, or even a sale.

But many artists share tips on how they actually make their work. Or they share WIPs (works in progress), providing a little behind-the-scenes peek into their creative process. Or they share a little life lesson or funny story. (I tend to share this kind of stuff on other social media, but that’s me.)

In short, every single newsletter is a reflection of who that person is. Their newsletter tells us what they want us to know about them, and their work, what they’re up to, where they’re heading.

So think about who you are: Confident? Humble? Cheerful? Grounded? Funny? Very serious? Quiet? Talkative? A sharer/teacher? An eternal student of life?

Show that in your writing!

Be authentic. Write about what matters to you.

Write simply, and get to the point.  Some of the newsletters I get go on and on, as if I’m listening to a stream of consciousness in the author’s head. Not fun on a busy day…

Be funny (if that’s your style.) If not, be serious.

It’s also okay to experiment with different styles and approaches until you find the one you’re the most comfortable with.

Now, for the concrete: I’ve written many blog posts over the years, about what I’ve learned about writing effective press releases to magazines, newspapers, etc. and I consider an email newsletter a personal, mini-press release.

So when you’re setting one up, think about the 5 (or 6) W’s: Who, what, when, where, why, and how (okay that’s not a W, but you get it) if you are including something educational.

  • The “who” is you, of course.
  • The “what” is what you want your audience to know: An event? A class? An honor/award/prestigious show you’ve been accepted into? A new gallery? A new body of work? A sale?
  • The “when” is obvious. Nobody will show up to your event if you don’t let people know what date and time it is.

What is not obvious (and what I struggle with) is, email newsletter experts say you need to let your audience know multiple times about the “when”. That is, if you have an open studio event, you need to not only let people know in multiple arenas (email, Facebook, etc.) but multiple times. Give people plenty of time to plan ahead. But then remind them over and over that it’s coming up.

The “where” is obvious, too. But you’d be surprised how many emailers assume their audience KNOW where the where is. I finally replied to one gallery newsletter last week, asking them what CITY AND STATE they are in. (In fact, I just realized I did not do that in my most recent newsletter. OOPS)

  • The “why” is trickier. But untangle it a bit, and it becomes obvious. For events, the “why” is, “Because I’m hoping you show up and buy something!” For notices of awards and honors, it’s “Because now you can see other people/organizations think my work is pretty cool, too!” For a new body of work, it’s “Because you love my previous work, you might REALLY love my latest body of work!”

The “why” could also include your call-to-action. That is, what do you want people to do with this information? Do you want them to come by? Share/tell their friends, so they can help you grow your audience? Order something online? Be happy for you? How about just to say “thank you”? That works, too!

  • The “how” can be an interesting tip, suggestion, insight into what you do. Some people want to know as much as possible about our process. Others want to take a class, and this can encourage them to do that. Sometimes, they just appreciate the fact that you care enough to share!

The only caveat (beyond the ones I’ve already mentioned) is to tread carefully about the hard parts of your life you’re dealing with. It’s okay to share a setback, or to explain why you’ve been out of touch, or why you had to take time off from your art this year. I would advise you not to overdo it. Here in Santa Rosa, the fires last year devastated a lot of lives, immediately and peripherally. It will take most people years to process their loss, and heal.

But to make every single newsletter/conversation/announcement about that is overwhelming to our audience. After all, we are all struggling with something. We are all broken, someplace in our heart. We are all healing from something.

Asking for a little sympathy and understanding is human nature, and support from others can be a healing factor. But asking someone to listen over and over and over to our sad story is exhausting.

It also doesn’t serve us, in the long run. I’ve had a rotten year myself. I would say “nobody died”, but actually quite a few people died, and quite a few involved let me down horribly. It was hard, and trust me, I’m happy to tell everyone about it.

In the end, though, where the most powerful healing came from was, getting back to my studio and making the work of my heart. It helped restore me to my better self, the person I chose to be.

And that message, a message of healing, and restoration, and solace, and hope, a message of what our art does for us and for other people, is the message we really want our audience to hear.  

As artists, we want our art to inspire, to bring joy, to lift hearts. We want to bring messages of hope, and love, to others. We want to provoke thought about difficult issues, and to share our own personal view of the world and our experiences.

This is our job, as artists. And the people who are attracted to our work, who want to see more, learn more, hear more, are just waiting to get more of that from us.

I hope this encourages you to reach out to your audience, and let them know what’s going on in your world! Clint Watson, founder of FASO, has written great articles about the more practical points of producing an effective email newsletter, and I encourage you to go back and read them.

But I assure you, if you approach this with as much integrity and openness as you approach your art, you really can’t go wrong.