LIFE, DEATH, FAME, FORTUNE, AND ART: What’s In It For YOU?

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

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

(10 minute read)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Put a pin there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So who am I to advise you on marketing?

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

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

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

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

Let’s pick up some of those pins.

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

“But he’s dead,” she replies quietly.

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

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

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

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

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

And here’s where the Dad pin comes in.

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

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

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

Now the back to the art marketing pin.

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

It will guarantee you nothing.

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

And with luck, no regrets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet….

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

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

I love them all, They bring me joy.

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

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

Make your best work.

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

Do your best.

Then let it go.

Exploring Galleries & Museum Stores in Bay Area!

Reaching out to folks familiar with my work, who are also familiar with the Bay area: San Francisco, East Bay.

I’m exploring a very few galleries to approach with my work.

Do you have any recommendations? Gallery/location/reason(s) why it might work, website link if you have it, or I can look that up!

Some samples in photo album, just for reference, OR check out my Etsy shop for examples:

https://www.etsy.com/shop/LuannUdell

I don’t automatically fit in “fine art”, “contemporary fine craft”, and price often doesn’t mesh with places dealing with lower-priced work. Some museum shops might work. Some galleries/museum stores won’t want work that isn’t made by actual indigegnous/First Nation people. Some might, I just don’t want to “compete” with their work & interfere with their income.
THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

THIN SECRET FOR SUCCESS No. 11: Thin People Favor Bulky Foods

You can see the original article here at Fine Art Views.

Make your efforts work twice as hard for your art biz!

(4 minute read)

 I’m having an odd day. Consequently, I’m not fully up to speed. And I’m trying to figure out how tip #11 would apply to success:

 “Thin” people favor bulky foods.

“Thin” people tend to load up on foods that are high in water content–fruits, veggies, soup, cooked whole grains. People who eat soup or salad before meals eat fewer total calories for that meal–up to 12% fewer calories!

 Drinking water with your meals doesn’t have the same effect. The water has to be in the food. No one knows why….yet!

 I only have one thought for making this a tip for success:

I try to make most of my business efforts count for more. I try to “add in” cushion (bulk??) where I can. I try to make my efforts work for me twice.

 I “bulk up” on my production process. When I started a new series of neutral fiber and jewelry work last year, I worked in a series, experimenting with different combinations and designs. It took the pressure off “doing it perfectly the first time.” And I ended up with dozens of variations that worked well as singles or modules for larger combinations. I can’t wait to do that again!

 

I saved a ton of time and effort by working in a series for this new work.

If I have to make up jewelry for an order, I make extras to add to my inventory. When I make artifacts or beads for a project, I always make more than I need. The extras get stored for the next project.

I also “bulk up” with these artifacts. They’re stored in an antique typesetter’s cabinet, in my studio. Not only are they organized and at hand, they provide endless fascination for studio visitors!

This storage system for my artifacts is also a “cabinet of wonders” for my studio visitors to enjoy!

I “bulk up” my photography. When I have a photo session with my photographer (for jury images, advertising, and publicity, etc.), I get as many different works photographed as I can. All the photographers I’ve used throughout the years say the same thing: Once they’re set up for the session, it goes very quickly. So the more work to photo, the better they like it! It reduces the cost per image immensely. This way, whenever I need an image fast, I usually have what I need on hand. (Usually!)

 

I “bulk up” the time I set aside for projects, show applications, and other time-critical stuff. If I have a deadline for submitting images, samples for a catalog, an article to write, I write an earlier due-date on my calendar, “padding” the deadline with a few days to spare. At the very least, I count back a week and add “Send images by TODAY!” on my calendar. I rarely have to “overnight” anything.

I “bulk up” by “doubling up” on my publicity. If I get press coverage in one venue, I use it for extra publicity. For example, whenever a magazine, newspaper, or web venue features my work, I send press releases about that to local and regional magazines. I did the same when I was interviewed for “New Hampshire Chronicle” on WMUR-TV Channel 9 a couple years ago. And once an article has run, I post it on my website. Sometimes I even frame a copy for my studio or show booth.

When it comes to writing and blogging, I double up, too. When I have an “aha!” moment, when I realize a big life lesson has revealed itself, I make note of that. (Yes, in that same cheap comp book I mentioned last week!) As I journal about it, I gain insight and clarity. And then I share it in an article, blog, or Facebook post, so others can benefit, too.

I can’t always bulk up everything I do, but it’s always on my mind.

The added bonus (besides less stress on my end) is this: When I do need a break—I miss a column deadline, I’m late with a response to a comment, etc., people are more likely to cut me one. (That was true until menopause hit, though. Now they just say, “Oh, she’s getting old, poor dear!”)

 How do YOU “bulk up”? What are the ways you make your efforts do double-duty? Feel free to share your best tips!

THIN SECRETS FOR BEING SUCCESSFUL: A Series of Small Strategies to Help You Get Big(ger)(ish)

My latest article on Fine Art Views, a daily email newsletter on growing your art career.

(Spoiler alert: The choices are small, but many. And you have to keep at it!)

Years ago, I sat on a panel of artists and crafts industry professionals, speaking on various issues and answering questions from the audience.

Near the end, an artist badgered me unmercifully, repeatedly asking me to reveal my marketing “secrets” for the entire audience to hear.

I felt extremely uncomfortable, even resentful, about the demands for several reasons.

First, I wasn’t even sure what was being asked. A list of all my marketing efforts for the past 18 months to promote my artwork? For the last 8 years? The efforts before or after 9/11, the dot com crash and the recession? Did they want to hear all my mistakes, too? Or just my successes? Did they want to hear what I learned? Or what I’m learning now?

How much time do you have?!

I was also frustrated because I had no context for the person asking the questions. I had no idea what their work is like, where they are now in their business plan (or if they even HAVE a business plan) and what they are willing to do to succeed. I had no idea what their personal, financial and professional goals are for their art/business. I had no idea who their market is and what they’ve done to target it or even identify it. How do I know what will be of use to someone else unless I understand where they’ve been, where they are now, and where they want to go?

Finally, I was confused by the assumption that I’ve figured it all out and can neatly box it up and simply give it to someone else. I’m still learning, changing, growing as an artist. I have no idea if I’m even thinking the right way about MY marketing plan. How on earth do I put all this in context for THEM?

But I also felt vaguely guilty. After all, wasn’t the panel discussion a culmination of an entire weekend doing just that?–helping others take their next step by sharing my own experiences and learning? Hadn’t I already mentored a number of people here, and at previous conferences, offering insights and advice freely? Don’t I do that daily with my blog, in my magazine articles, and in other professional development classes I teach?

So why was I feeling intense resistance to this artist’s demands?

I’m been thinking about why these scenarios seemed so vastly different, why I would respond wholeheartedly in one instance and clam up in another.

The next day, as I ate breakfast, I read an article about long-term weight loss in the April 2006 issue of REAL SIMPLE magazine. The article was called “Secrets of Thin People” by Lorie Parch. And I had my “aha” moment.

The demanding person was asking me for my “secret diet” for losing weight.

And I don’t HAVE a secret diet for losing weight.

What I DO have is results from deciding from time to time that I needed to change the daily choices I make in my diet, my activities and my attitude–to achieve a different outcome in my life.

What I feel comfortable sharing is how I got from a person who constantly made unhealthy choices, to a person who (periodically) will make consistent, healthier choices–which, as a consequence, RESULTS in me being thinner. (Er….now and then.)

I still don’t actually diet nor are all my choices perfect even now. But I’ve been successful in MODIFYING many of my choices slightly over a long period of time. And when I make those modifications, the side effects are, I lose weight, I get more fit, I lower my blood sugar and cholesterol to within healthy limits, and I walk/talk/carry myself, and care for myself, differently.

(The ONLY physical “shortcut” I’ve taken through the years is, brilliant red hair. Better living through chemicals and all that.)

I’ll share some of the professional, artistic and emotional changes I made years ago that got me where I am today professionally (with apologies to Ms. Parch for using her article for the structure.)

But for today, rest assured there are no “secrets”, no insider information that is being systematically withheld from you.

I know it feels like that sometimes…. It feels like other people KNOW what to do and when to do it.

But that’s not the case.

Success in the arts, like any other success in life, means staying the course. Staying with one course of action until it has a chance to provide results.

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One thing that helps you achieve success is getting better at what you do. â

But also recognizing when to switch because it isn’t working for YOU.It means making daily choices, often small choices, that eventually… EVENTUALLY lead to big results.

Because, just like losing weight is an END RESULT of making many different, healthier life choices, being successful is an END RESULT of making many different, “healthier” artistic, professional and personal choices.

 

 

HATERS GONNA HATE: Your Turn to Ask the Questions!

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.

 

To make a sale, you need a dialogue, not a monologue.

To date, this series has focused on how to respond to the (usually) innocent but sometimes awkward or even tricky questions people ask us when they are intrigued by our artwork.

I still have questions I want to cover. But I also sense that many of you are “getting it”. You now realize that these moments are not an inconvenience, but an opportunity for you. A chance to have a conversation about your work, and you….and your potential customer!

Yes, them! They know who WE are. Time to find out who THEY are. 

So we’ll set aside for now about how to answer the questions about your prices, your process, your website, your galleries.

You’ve gently shifted the questions about your materials into your reasons WHY you choose those materials (in ways that benefit your customers).

You’ve used the questions about your process to share WHY you work the way you do (and how that benefits them). You’ve answered the questions about your subject matter with the reasons WHY you feel drawn to this work, these subjects, these landscapes—and how that lifts YOU, and why it might lift them, too.

You’ve used their questions to direct their attention to another work they may not have noticed, or another piece that tells a similar story.

If they’ve asked for a discount or made an offer that’s not acceptable to you, you’ve used the “No, but if…” response to challenge them gently to commit.

You’ve answered the questions about where you get your ideas, with the story of how you came to be the artist you are today, and where you want to go with that in the future—and how that’s made you a better person in the world, and how that helps OTHERS be better people in the world.

Now there’s a lull in the conversation, but the person is not looking around for a way out, moving away to look at another piece, or saying, “Thank you, I’ll be back!”

There’s more to say, and it’s up to YOU to start this particular conversation.

By asking THEM questions!

Let’s focus on some simple guidelines for the questions YOU will ask.

Every question you ask will be a gentle, light way of finding out what this visitor finds fascinating about your work.

“So I’m curious—what brought you into my booth?” or “So what is the piece in my studio that first got your attention?”  “What spoke to you about it?”

From their answer, you can expand into what’s special about that particular work, what it is that supports and justifies their attraction to it: “I’m glad you like that one, it’s one of my favorites because…..” or “You’re right, it’s an unusual piece for me because….”

You’ve explained what you’ve learned about that “first enticing piece”—that it’s not the same for every visitor, that every person has been attracted to different works, for different reasons. There’s an unspoken, non-verbal, unconscious connection between your visitor and that particular piece. And it matters, on a deep level. Let’s find out!

Use open-ended questions. Keep away from questions that can be answered “yes” or “no”. 

Instead of saying, “Is this the kind of work you usually collect?”, ask “What kind of work do you usually collect?”

“Are you attracted to a piece for yourself, or are you shopping for a gift?”

Instead of, “Is the price too high?” ask, “What price range are you working with today?” If it’s higher, or lower, show them a similar piece, accordingly. If the price is right, keep moving! 

And when it’s obvious they really, really, REALLY love that one piece, and yet they’re still hesitating….

If you’ve done your homework, anticipated their questions, replied in good faith, in an authentic way that’s kept the conversation going…

If you’ve asked YOUR questions…if you’ve determined what it is in your work that’s calling to them…

If, in spite of the connection you’ve made, and the trust you’ve established…

They are still hesitating…..take a moment.

NOW You can quietly, gently, ask:

“What’s holding you back?” 

Listen carefully to what they say.

These will be what are known in sales as “objections”. It may be one thing, or several. They may be major concerns, or simple. They may be insurmountable, or easily fixed.

It’s good for us artists to anticipate what these concerns are. Some we may have heard before, and many of us will assume it’s the price. Often, it’s not about the price, though, and “assuming” they can’t afford it can be off-putting for the client. This is why I prefer to simply ask, rather than assume, or guess.

I’ve been astonished by some of the responses I’ve received.

And most—if not all of them–are easily addressed.

Next week, I’ll share some of the objections I’ve received, and how I’ve handled them.

Take some time to make a note on the “objections” you’ve heard (“I love this one, but I hate the frame!” “It’s a little more than I usually spend.” If you don’t see your customers’ usual objections in the list, let me know.

I also know some of you have come up with some wonderful solutions, yourself, to meet these obstacles. Be sure to share them!

Be prepared to respond in a way that moves the conversation forward. (Hint: “Sorry, can’t help you, gotta go” is not a way to do that.)

And remember, even if we can’t find a way around the issue NOW….and they leave without purchasing the work…..

They’ve asked. You’ve engaged. You’ve asked, and they’ve responded.

They know who you are, and they’re intrigued to the point of allllllmost buying something.

Give them your card. Now is the time to refer them to your website. Get their address (email, snail mail), and stay in touch.

Because someday, they really, really will BE BACK!

 

HATERS GONNA HATE: You’re Not My Friend

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.

Rude, perfect strangers are one thing. What do you do when a FRIEND is rude??

So far in this series, we’ve focused on perfect strangers who sometimes say the oddest things about our work. Before I continue, let me say it again (and again, and again) that most of the time, people don’t realize they’ve said something that triggers us. They simply want to connect, even if it’s a very broad “me, too!” These are the people we need to give the benefit of the doubt, and respond with our “higher power”.

But sometimes the remarks verge on being downright rude, or tasteless. There’s the customer who makes constant sardonic remarks about your work. It’s “supposed” to be entertaining patter, all in fun–but it sure doesn’t feel that way.

And sometimes, it’s not a perfect stranger.

Sometimes it’s a friend who gets a little mean. Or another artist. Or even a family member. How do we handle them?

I’ve heard this referred to as “talking smack”–an exchange of put-downs and insults between friends. It’s all in good fun, right? Otherwise hurtful remarks are disguised as ‘jokes’: “Oh, I’m just kidding!”

I say there is a time and a place for such practice–maybe in a bar over a few beers discussing your favorite respective baseball teams. (“How about them Red Sox?!”)

But never in our place of business. Never in our studio, at a show, in our booth. Never where we are trying to earn a living. NEVER in front of our customers.

I had a “friend” who did this at a show. (Spoiler alert: This was my first real insight that this person was not really my friend.) As they looked at each piece, they had a crass, or even crude remark to offer. They had done this before, and I’d always laughed it off. “Going along” to “get along”. (Another spoiler alert: Does. Not. Work.)

This was a prestigious, juried show I’d spent well over a few thousand dollars to be in. I was on my game, and on my feet, 8 hours a day, for a week.

That day, I simply wasn’t in the mood to tolerate this anymore.

I called him out on their behavior on the spot. I was gentle, respectful, but firm.

I said, “You know, I love to goof around and say silly things. But not about my art. And not when I’m at a show. I’m as serious about what I do here as you are about (insert their profession here.) I hope you understand.” (Big smile.)

I said it quietly, without any rancor. I did not shuffle my feet or hem nor haw. I did not apologize.

I meant every word, and they knew it.

It worked. They were embarrassed. They mumbled a vague apology, made some token effort to look at my work “seriously”, and left soon after.

Years later, we realized we’d overlooked a lot of crap from this person, because of their charm and wit. It took a long time to see what was really going on. Better late than never!

In this case, they were envious of the authenticity, and the integrity, of the work I was making. The “jokes” were a way to diminish me in a socially acceptable way. “Hey, I’m just kidding! You’re pretty sensitive, aren’t you?”

I used to apologize for being sensitive. Not anymore. YES, I’m sensitive! I’m a friggin’ artist! My heart is open to the world around me, highly-tuned to nuance in design, color, story. It’s who I am, and I am never going to apologize for that again.

And neither should you.

The person in our life who acts this way, whether a friend, or a family member, is acting this way because something in us is affecting them. Intimidating them. Scaring them. We have something they don’t have, or haven’t had the courage to reach for.

We are committed. We are courageous. And our work is precious to us.

We constantly tune our technique because we are committed to doing our best work. We put it out into the world—posting it on social media, enter it into juried shows, approach galleries to represent us, etc.—because we have found the courage to do what needs to be done. We practice how to talk to people about our work because this is the work of our heart. Like a child or a puppy, it needs our love, our best intentions, our best efforts, to thrive in the world.

As life coach Danielle LaPorte puts it so succinctly, “Open, gentle heart. Big effin’ fence.

Last, when we get to the point where we have to say this to someone we love and/or care about…

When we have to set our boundaries, gently but firmly…

If they ever do this to us again….

There is the final blessing, the biggest gift of all, this beautiful, powerful insight from poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou: 

If it happens again….they have shown you exactly who they are.

Believe them.

We may choose to still love them, to keep them in our circle. We just now know for sure who they are, what they do, even if we never understand why. That is their journey, not ours.

We just know to consider the source, to protect ourselves, and deflect the negative.

And we need, above all, to keep on making our art.

HATERS GONNA HATE: How Long Did It Take You To Make That?

(My column appears at the Fine Art Views art-marketing newsletter.

Hint: This is a question you DON’T have to answer!

 We continue our series on how to respond to difficult questions and comments from our visitors and potential collectors.

 Today’s queasy question (ah! Alliteration!) is, “How long did it take you to make that?”

Let me tell you what NOT to say: “Two hours!”

True story. In a video created for a new open studio tour, the videographer asked this question of an artist who was finishing a large painting in their studio. A VERY large painting, in the neighborhood of 10×8 FEET. As they finished up with freely broad paint strokes, they glibly said, “Oh, about two hours.”

The work was priced at over $5,000. You do the math.

And frankly, most of us hate this question because of just that—we assume the asker wants to find out how much we make an hour. Or even worse, whether the work is worth the hefty price we’re asking for it.

Another true story: Many, many, many artists, when asked this simple question, respond with something along the lines of, “It took me 30 years to learn how to do this!”

So between excruciating naivete’, and exquisite irony, how do we respond?

First, let’s take a step away from our first assumption—that someone wants to know how much we make an hour, and whether the piece is worth that.

Bruce Baker turned the question back onto the asker. With lightness and sincerity, he said, “So many people ask me that question! Why do you want to know?”

And here was the heartbreaking response he got: “All my life I’ve dreamed of being an artist. I’ve always wanted to make something creative like this, and I just wondered how much time it takes….”

So what we might have interpreted as a challenging question (“Is your work really worth what I’d have to pay for it??”) turns out to be the wistful yearning of someone who deeply admires what we’re doing, and wishes they had the skill, the commitment, the chops, to BE LIKE YOU.

If we respond with sarcasm, frustration, anger, pointed humor, we may actually crush the dreams of someone who is so inspired by our work, they’ve actually reached out to connect with us.

And in return, we smacked them down in our defensiveness.

You can also now see the smack of the remark, “It’s taken me 30 years to make this!”

Of course, that may not be the real reason behind EVERYONE’S inquiry. But it’s a good place to start on how to respond!

Here’s what’s worked for me:

First, I say, “That’s a really good question!”

(No matter how many times WE’VE heard it, it IS a good question. It’s new to the person asking it. And this small courtesy sets a lovely path for us to proceed down, with them eagerly joining us on our way.)

In my case, I explain the many, many, many steps it takes for me to actually make the layered block of polymer that is the foundation of the faux ivory technique—over 30 steps in all.

I start with asking, “I always ask people if they are familiar with puff pastry or samurai sword making, and usually everybody says “yes!” to one or the other.” A tiny joke that usually offends no one, and appeals to most.)

The actual process is similar—a simple one that creates hundreds of very fine layers–but time-consuming. (Simple—but not EASY.)

At the end, I say, “And THEN I start to make my animal….” There is almost always a little gasp of amazement here… (From them, not me.)

Then I explain the shaping, the marking, the texturing, (all with special little tools) the baking, the sanding, the sanding, the sanding, the scrimshaw technique, the polishing.

Then there is the story behind the marks, the handprint made with stamp I created of my own handprint, and how it “didn’t look right” so I actually use a needle to prick the clay and fill in the handprint until it looks smudged, like a real handprint….all the dozens, hundreds of tiny details that add up to the artifact looking exactly right to me.

  

Yep, even my handprints have gotten better over the years. I don’t know why, but people gasp when I tell them that each tiny dot is a needle prick I made to get it to look just right. (My special talent: Needle pricking.)

Most people are fascinated by this story, right down to the beads I use to make an artifact into a piece of jewelry (gemstones, antique trade beads, my own handmade beads); the meaning of the markings; how my customers have added to the stories behind my work; encouraging people to touch and pick up the pieces, to feel them for themselves.

Notice I never actually say how long it takes me to make them?

Because that isn’t really what people are asking.

Yes, they are asking for validation for my prices, which aren’t cheap. But in the end, what they learn from my “answer” is…

I have a vision.

I have a story.

I have a process that is time-consuming, and has evolved over time.

I have integrity, and skill, and an exquisite eye for detail.

My work does have value, though it may only be in the eye of the beholder. But that is for THEM to ultimately decide, isn’t it?

The woman who said it took her two hours to paint that canvas mural? I would have said something along the lines of, how she came to create this kind of work. How she decided her subject matter. What her aesthetic was based on. (I actually loved her work, which may seem ‘simplistic’, but is actually playful, exuberant, and intriguing.) The challenges of creating very large work, including the huge canvas, the support structure for it, how she enlarges a design (I know from experience that “going bigger” is more than just “making it bigger”….) The actual painting might only be two hours. But the planning, the design, the execution, the finished presentation, might consume many hours, even days.

After all, she doesn’t make four in one day, does she?

So between two hours, and 30 years, how would YOU frame what it takes to create the work you do?

What are ways YOU can present the time involved in making YOUR work?

What are the things you pay exquisite attention to, that add value to what you do?

What is the story only YOU can tell, to connect your audience to the work you make?

Okay, dish! Share YOUR favorite responses to this question! Or suggest one, now that you have a different lens to view it through.

Remember: Courtesy. Kindness. Furthering your values and vision. No jibes or jokes.

Just the beauty of your authentic, steadfast, creative heart.

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