HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #20: Art Events Aren’t About Making Money TODAY

I am reprinting an article I wrote a few years ago (July 13, 2019), because it’s worth repeating. AND should be in this series. What a coincidence that I came across it on Pinterest. And an hour after I read all the bitter, disappointed comments collected for our recent open studio event, Art at the Source.

Creating our artwork takes time. Getting good at it takes time. So does an open studio! And giving up after one slow event–especially in these strange times, when EVERYONE is struggling….well, I’ll just keep my mouth shut. For now.

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 to “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!

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #17 Tears for Fears: What if someone steals my stuff??”

Yeah, I could worry constantly about theft. But I actively try NOT to.

Hah! I TOLD you a series is rarely ever “done”!

Just before our latest county open studio event (LINK), an artist reached out with a terrific question: What if someone were to steal their work?

In this case, it was a portfolio of very small “studies”, their way of experimenting before taking on a large project. These studies could easily be pilfered. Should they be worried?

Yes. No. Maybe?

Unless we make huge stone sculptures that have to be hauled away in a wheelbarrow (or similar), yes, we are all potential victims of theft. And you know who is the MOST vulnerable creative/maker for theft? Jewelers, especially those working in precious metals/gemstones. When they do major shows, they often take down their ENTIRE INVENTORY every night. And set it up all over again the next day. OMG!)

But making that the biggest issue with opening our open studio is a sure-fire way to unconsciously let every single visitor know you do not trust them. And that will destroy the very reason open studios are so powerful:

Our visitors want to know more about our work–and US.

Treating each person as a possible thief, destroys any potential connection. Which defeats the entire purpose of inviting them into our creative space.

How do I know? This happened to me, as a studio visitor.

In this case, the person was open to my previous suggestion, ideas for having samples, tools, etc. that are okay for visitors to touch or hold. People are extremely experienced about being told NOT to touch in so many environments. Providing a display, something they CAN touch, is powerful!

Hence this person’s idea of presenting a portfolio of small studies, which they would hate to lose.

Here were my thoughts. (Be sure to add yours in the comments!)

Fears of having our work stolen cements everybody to the ground, as in, a bad way. We all worry about such things. In my lifetime, I don’t recall a single thing being taken, but I have so much stuff, I probably wouldn’t notice if it were missing 🥴
If the worry about losing your portfolio is giving you nightmares, consider a way to display it so that it’s not a small thing somebody could pocket easily.
I’m not a painter, so I don’t know if you’re talking about individual sketches, first drafts, or illustrations in a notebook, etc. You can send me more details and we can figure out a way to keep your work safe.
Maybe only exhibit a few of the pictures you were experimenting with, or have all of them on display in a case, or hang on the wall.
But what’s more important than that is being comfortable with people in our sacred creative space.
I have not had any (okay, not MANY) issues with people being rude, aggressive, sneaky, etc. and I’ve learned over the years that being afraid of these things create anxiety.  And that anxiety can destroy our ability to connect with other people. Yes I have a story about that! 🥴😄
I visited someone’s studio who was obviously afraid of me stealing something. I loved their work, but their suspicious demeanor and them trailing me around their studio made me very uncomfortable. I finally left as soon as I could.
People meeting us in our studio, seeing our work in person, engaging with us, learning more about our process, our inspiration, our techniques, our story, is the single most powerful way for us to gain an audience.
I don’t want to dismiss your fears as being totally unnecessary, but the chances of someone stealing something major from you are pretty slim.
And your fear of having something stolen will create a barrier between you and the very people you want to connect with.
So for your sake, try to set your fears aside.
Consider some of the suggestions about securing your portfolio so no one can just simply walk off with it.
If you can, it’s always nice to have an assistant available, someone who can take care of processing sales, wrapping and packaging, someone who can keep an eye out and help allay your fears.

Yes, they wrote back to let me know they found this helpful. Yay! In fact, it’s not something that’s been an issue in their own art career. Just something that popped up and got stuck in their head. And they already had a helper lined up, and came up with a display plan that worked for them.

And of course, after talking to them, I began to worry about MY work being stolen! (Fears are an easily-transmissible disease with no vaccine….) (Okay, there IS a vaccine: Embrace it, tell it we know it’s doing its job–keeping us safe–and say “Thank you!” Then tell it to scram until it’s time for dinner….)

Next article: How to prevent visitors from throwing cake at our artwork. (JUST KIDDING!!! I have no idea how to stop people from doing that. Apparently, neither does the Louvre….)

How have YOU secured your valuables, and still provided a comfortable place for visitors to engage with you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #5: The Boring But Necessary Legal Stuff

A mentoring committee cohort reminded me today that it’s good to get the more immediate prep stuff for open studios out there early. Good point, Caren! Check out Caren Catterall’s artwork, it’s amazing and she has good stories, too.

Valerie Adams and Caren both have experience with mentoring, both created action sheets, and I’m using some of their suggestions, insights, agendas to fill in the blanks. (Thank you both! I don’t need to reinvent the wheel…!)

First, legal stuff. Collecting sales tax (for state and city/town taxes), a business license (for the same reason), insurance.

I was spoiled in New Hampshire. No state income tax, and no sales tax. (I still apologize to people when I have to add sales tax to their purchase, and that bewilders them.)

There are two official/legal business documents I had to acquire, both through government agencies, and hence not always intuitive. But I got through it, and you will, too. Most important was a business license. I’m fortunate to live in an actual city, so this was relatively easy to find and navigate: A Santa Rosa business tax certificate. To find yours, just Google “business license” or “seller’s permit” etc. and your city and state. Your search engine will understand what you’re looking for and get you to the right place. Things are pricey in California, and yet a business license here is only $25, and gets renewed annually. There’s an add-on tax for your sales, but it’s not daunting, and it has a cap. And that $25 covers your taxes up to $25,000. (So for me, nothing to worry about. Dang. The plus side of not being a ‘financially successful artist’….)

The two open studio events I participate in requre a local permit to be prominently displayed. I mean, not in your display space, but somewhere people can easily see it. Just like your return policy and custom orders terms.

California also requires a business license from the California Board of Equalization. It’s a little more complicated but not fatal. The reason you need both is because both state and city collect sales taxes on purchases, so you need to report your sales to both. Again, if you forget where this link is, a simple Google search will get you where you need to go.

OR, just ask someone who’s in the same area, and/or in the same biz, or same kind of biz (self-employed, free-lancer, entrepeneur, etc.) for advice about how to get started.

What sales are taxed, and which ones aren’t, is still a puzzler for me, and anyone who has expertise on this, please share your suggestions in the comments. If they fit the bill and you are okay with this, I’ll edit this article to include your advice!

Basically, if my work is sold in a gallery or store, then the sales tax has already been collected. I only need to report that income as…well, taxable income.

In our studios, we need to add up every sale, of course. But one error I made early on was adding the TOTAL dollar amount paid. Later, I realized I was computing tax on the sales tax! In my area, I was adding a little less than 10% in sales tax, so a $200 purchase was actually rung up as $220. I was paying a tax of $22 on an item I’d added $20 tax to.

That $2 isn’t much. But if you’re selling artwork for $10,000, it’s a big difference!

I figured out that multiplying $220 x 91% got me close to the actual taxable amount of $200 again. But going forward, it’s a heckuva lot easier to keep a tally of the actual price of what was sold before adding tax. (Have I confused you? Join the club.)

Next, insurance. I discovered early on that our home insurance covered the studio in our hourse back in New Hampshire, and the same company’s rental insurance covers my studio outside my home. Check your policy, too. If it’s not covered, ask your mentor (for our two open studio tour events) or another artist in your area what they do.

Coincidentally, I found an email about this very issue from a craft business magazine (Handmade Business, formerly known as The Crafts Report) that I used to write for: Handmade Artisan Insurance  The rate seems a little high, but it’s been awhile since I’ve needed extra insurance. Also, these policies cover an entire year, including off-site events (art and craft fairs, for example.) If you don’t intend to open your studio year round (say, by appointment) or don’t do shows, etc., then you might find affordable policies where you only pay for one event. Not my field of expertise, though, and again, the internet is your friend for finding information.  Let me Google that for you 

As I shared in a previous article about signage, to protect yourself from unethical customers, we must also post our terms of service: What we accept in payment (checks, cash, credit cards) and how we will process thos payments (PayPal, Square, Venmo, etc.)  We need a sign prominently displayed on the conditions of our layaway plan, custom orders, and our return policy.

Last, whether or not our studio space is legally “wheelchair accessible” can get confusing. When my studio was at South A Street in downtown Santa Rosa, I simply asked the owner of the coffee shop next to me if my space was accessible. There were no steps, and the door was wide enough for a wheelchair. But he said no, because the floor rugs could jam a wheel, and there was a slight bump in the doorway. Yes, most people could get through (and did!) but technically, I couldn’t claim it as legally accessible. That’s about all I know about this subject, so share your experience and research on this if you can, okay? It’s safer for us to share this if a prospective visitor checks in with us, than to raise their expectations, and then disappoint them if there are barriers we didn’t recognize.

Also, be aware that there are a handful of people who make it a full-time business to seek out businesses that are not technically compliant, and sue the pants off them. My understanding is, unless we have store hours, we don’t have to meet this demand. (Don’t take my word for it, this will take time to research!) But it makes it even more important that we stick to actual legal requirements in describing our accessability.

Whew, I’m done with this part! Fine print, legalities, none of this is my forte, and just researching this stuff enough to share it with you today has drained my batteries. But I hope it’s enough to get you started, and in time to get it all nailed down before your event.

Remember, ask your friends, your fellow artists, other people in your building (the ones who are artists/creatives) for more details.

And also remember, as cumbersome and confusing as some of these requirements might feel, once you get it done, renewing all these legal documents is easy-peasey.

Last, again, if you have strong experience with these topics, and/or professional experience, feel free to share that here! I will bow to your bigger experience and be grateful.

And a P.S. after the “last”…if you find these articles helpful, please pass on a link to them to anyone that mind find them useful, too. And sign up for my newsletter to make sure you don’t miss a single one!

 

 

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #4a: How to Respond to the Stupid Question(s)

In my last article, The Stupid Question, I explained how actually treating this as a stupid question hurts our connection to our visitors. Today I share some suggestions to answer them better!

Some common questions for me:

“What are these made of?” My response is usually intuitively based. I’ll mention the polymer clay, but especially when I started out, when I simply said, “They’re polymer clay!”, most people would put the item back down. (It was not considered a legitimate “art material” back in the day. And back in the day, a lot of media were not considered “real art materials”, as this article shows: SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: Other People Are Listening!

First, it’s more powerful to share WHY you use your medium-of-choice. I’m not a painter, but the one time I tried, I realized I would never paint with acrylics. They set too fast, and I tend to rework and make adjustments every step of the way in my making process. I couldn’t keep up with the drying time of acrylics. You’ve also either deliberately or instinctively chosen a medium that works for you.

So instead, share that: What is it about your chosen medium that fits your process, your style, even your personality?

What are the benefits of your medium? Mine is that, unlike ivory and bone, no animals are harmed by my process. (That’s been a pretty powerful detail for my visitors and customers!)

And though most of the materials available to creatives today are often ranked in terms of “quality”, after you read the above article, I hope you’ll see that that isn’t really relative anymore.

“How long does it take you to make this?”  Aha! The one we all get! (DO NOT SAY, IT’S TAKEN ME 30 YEARS TO MAKE THAT!)  In my case, I ask if they are familiar with making puff pastry or Samauri sword making. Always gets a chuckle without insulting them, and almost everyone is familiar with one or the other. I compare those layering processes with my faux ivory process, which involves mixing the colors, conditioning the clay, creating  multiple layers, ending up with a block of layered faux ivory clay. And say, “And THEN I start shaping my artifacts.” This is almost always followed by a gasp of how complicated this process is. I follow up with how I fire them, how I use a scrimshaw technique to bring out the details, how I sand and buff them to a shine.

Not one person has ever noticed that I never say exactly how long that takes me. 

You can do something similar. Explain what catches your eye when you decide to paint a landscape, what you try to capture in a portrait, what your aesthetic is in your glass/pottery/wood work, etc. How you capture that in your work, what the steps are in your process, etc.

“Do you actually do any work in here??” I get asked that a lot! Including my most recent open studio event, when I was literally sitting at a table working to finish an item that had to be delivered to a gallery the next day.

I don’t know why people ask this. Is it because my “creative mess” is out there? Or because during open studios, I try to set out 90% of my work, so it looks like there’s nowhere for me to actually work? Is it because even on ordinary days, it kinda looks like a gallery, or store? (I hear that a lot, too.)

Here’s what I’ve forgotten: When we get asked a specific question a lot, one good way to explore it is to ask the person why they ask! That’s my goal for my next open studio. To laugh and say this:

“Yes, I do ALL my work in here! I get asked that question a lot. May I ask what made you ask?”

This is an excellent strategy to get an answer I’ve only been making assumptions about. And as you can see, our assumptions can dump both us and our visitors into a bad place. When I get more insight into this particular one, I’ll come back and add it to this.

“Where do you get your ideas?” This is your chance to talk about what inspires and intrigues you, what draws you to a certain subject, or certain body of work. For many of us, it’s closely related to our creation story. (Mine is!)

“Where do you get your materials from?” Mine are wide and varied, but even if you use a single medium, you can share a) why you use the brand you prefer; b) you can share your favorite art supply source (especially local ones, who will appreciate that!); c) if they’re eclectic and unusual, share how you got drawn into that medium, and (again) why. If it’s wood, for example, what are your favorites? Why? Is it the characteristics of a specific tree? The history of the tree? One woodworker asked me for assistance years ago for their artist statement. They were focused on the process. Way too focused. But as we dug deeper, they shared the resilience of wood, how even damaged trees (by fire, insects,  etc.) still have beauty. A metaphor for the human condition, I told him, sharing some suggestions, and encouraged them to use it in their artist statement. (It was published in a magazine years ago, and it still moves me to tears when I read it.)

Also, if a person is interested in your work and materials, this might also indicate they’d be interested in classes. And when you ask if they’d like to hear about the classes you offer, that’s the perfect time to find out where they’re from, and to get their email/snail mail address. (See how much easier it is to get this information once they’ve started to engage with you more deeply?)

Signs are wonderful! They anwer questions, engage introverts, and help us multistask with visitors.

Again, if the questions get tiresome, and/or you have too many people in your studio to explain over and over, signage is your best friend. Some people actually prefer reading more information about you and your work. But if you’re engaged deeply with someone, say, wrapping up their purchase, etc. you can always point a person with a question to your sign that answers it. They’ll appreciate it.

I have signs about my stick collection, my fabric collection, the boxes I use in my shrine series, my inspiration and ideas, my artist statement, the stories behind each of my animal artifacts, and more. They add a whole nother layer of exploration in my studio.

They can do the same for you.

If you’d like to dig deeper into questions and signs, here are some articles that might be of interest: Questions You Don’t Have to Answer (Lots of goodies in there!)

Feel free to share the questions you get, especially the ones you struggle with. There are so many ways to turn them around! And other people might have the exact strategy that works for you. The power of sharing….

 

 

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO: Introduction

When I stepped up to the plate with my art, I was an eager beaver student. I started with small local art fairs, but within a few years, I did the the wholesale fine craft show circuit (introducing my work to gallery owners, publications, etc.), then moved up to a large retail show (the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Fair, arguably the oldest art show in the nation), and then a few high-end shows.

I did years of shows before I did open studio events! But doing shows taught me a lot: How to display my work, how to price my work, how to greet customers, how to process sales, etc.

Within a few years of doing open studio tours, I dropped all my big shows (except for the Craftsmen’s Fair) and focused on those in-person studio visitors.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about this, too. This series will walk you through the basics, the fine points, what I’ve learned from other artists, what I’ve learned from seminars led by Bruce Baker, visitors, and loyal customers. (Yes, your customers can be fonts of wisdom, too!)

Now, most of us want to be “real artists”. What does that mean? Well, we need an art degree, a resume, a list of galleries that represent our work, a list of exhibitions we’ve participated in, a (e)mail list of customers, press releases and publications (books, magazines, newspapers, etc.) that have featured our work. Oh, and the awards we’ve won, and prices that reflect the popularity of our work. And a successful open studio event is one where we had a ton of sales.

Right?

WRONG.

Everything about those assumptions is wrong.

You do not need an art degree to be a “real artist”. (I don’t have one.) You don’t need a resume. (I had one, but I don’t maintain it anymore.) I still have some galleries back on the East Coast that carry my work, and I’m in several here in Sonoma County. (I hope to find more, but that’s not my main goal for now.) I’ve won awards, but I don’t care so much about winning anymore. I’ve been featured in newspapers, magazines, books, etc., but I don’t pursue that so much, either. The common advice I see everywhere about how to greet and engage customers has never worked for me. And the money? It’s ranged from pretty good to pretty dismal, as 9/ll, the recession of 2008, moving to the West Coast, etc. etc. have all taken their toll.

Ask me if I care. (You’re right! The answer is “nope”.)

The single most important thing a “real artist” can do is:

Make the work of their heart.

Tell their story.

Share their art with the world.

Money is great! But the truth is, not very many people make a living from their artwork/creative work. Yes, sometimes they’re not ‘doing it right’, but this is also a time in history where people in my age group (YES, BOOMERS!) are the biggest demographic in our country. (We probably outnumber our customers.)

And the research I did for a series of articles for Fine Art Views a few years ago, about why millennials don’t by our art, was truly educational for me. Tastes have changed, our collectors’ homes may be already filled with art (mine is!) younger folks may be just starting families, careers, etc. and not have the budget for our work, yadda yadda yadda ad nauseum.

So we may be competing for BUYERS.

But there is no limit on building our AUDIENCE.

And eventually, some folks in our audience will become buyers.

I tend to be wordy (ahem), but Tenae Stewart, who worked at Sebastopol Center for the Arts a few years ago, told me shared seven little words with me that summarized this entire series:

Art events aren’t about making money TODAY.

This has been my entire art career, in seven words. The reasons doing shows was hard is, my work is out of the box. (Some people even tell me to my face it’s not “real art”. Okay. But I don’t care.) It takes awhile for people to figure out what they’re looking at, why it calls to them.

Some people look, and walk away.

Others? They lean in.

And if don’t screw up my interactions with them, they will come back. They will bring a friend. They will sign up for my blog/newsletters. They will find something new and interesting every single time they come to my studio. Someday, they’ll buy a piece. And some people will keep on collecting our work, year after year.

And the biggest reason why open studios are such powerful audience-builders?

Because our studios, our sacred creative spaces, are where the magic happens.

As Bruce Baker said in a seminar years ago, “To regular people, artists are the ones who ran away to join the circus!”

We are outliers, out-of-the-box people. We took a risk to do what we do, not like taking a job where we know what we’re supposed to do, and getting a paycheck (and benefits) for it. We followed our dream, and made it real.

I believe we all have a creative force within us, but the magical myth of “real artists” still intrigues the rest of the world.

And for those people who didn’t find the encouragement to follow their heart, who don’t believe they’re ‘good enough’, who don’t think they have enough room to have a real maker space, who believe some people are simply born with talent and others (themselves!) aren’t….

Our studios can inspire them to take up their own creative journey.

If you want a head start before this series begins, check out my series on creating a successful booth environment in this series, GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD.  Booths are harder for us than an open studio, because we have to get the parts together, schlep it across town (or, as I did, across the country), set it up, wait for people to find us, realize we left a critical thing back home, break it all down and pack it up, and schlep home again.

Open studios? It’s like getting your house ready for a party! A lot of work, but not nearly as hard as big shows.

So take a peek at that series, check in to see the latest posts, and if you have questions, send ’em to me! I’ll either let you know the anwers are coming, or I’ll write some new ones.

Either way, don’t panic. You got this. I’ve got your back

Stay tuned for my next article in this series!

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 (4 minute read)

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet artist studios deserve this option.

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the very beginning, that taught me something important:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

StudioDoorz.com. It’s gonna be BIG!

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

 

HOW MUCH IS OUR ART WORTH?

My latest necklace series, featuring gems, semi-precious stones, and real pearls.

A reader left a comment on a recent blog post, and raised a good point about whether our art is affordable, (including mine), and offered their conjecture on why it might not be realistically priced.

I started to reply, but four paragraphs in, I realized it was another post!

Re: Your question about whether the price of our art reflects the artist’s personal desire to be of worth at the expense of getting their work out into the world, and into the hands of a admiring owner.

Welp, yes, both of your points are valid.

ANYTHING we buy reflects the time, the materials, and the quality of the object, whether it’s a BMW, or a pair of pearl earrings from Tiffany’s, or a head of organic lettuce.

ANYTHING we make will appeal to many who can’t afford it.

And yes, sometimes a maker’s price may seem based on nothing but their own thoughts, though my experience is that’s more true of “brand” name products. (See luxury items above.) (Okay, organic lettuce isn’t really a luxury brand. But some folks are willing to pay more for it, and some aren’t.)

As for your thoughts about artists over- valuing their own self-worth, some creatives get to the point where they have to raise their prices. Which is a good thing!

Say we price a painting at $2,000, which is pretty reasonable. If it’s framed, that’s included in the price.

If we sell it through a gallery, the gallery will take up to 50% of that income. (In NYC, just before 9/11, some elite galleries took 60% commissions, with less than half going to the person who made the item.) And we pay income tax on that sale, too.

If I sell online, it takes time to take good-enough images, time to edit and upload them, time to create a listing, and time to prepare the item for shipping. An unbelieveable amount of time. I can’t tell you how much time it took to calculate shipping for various-sized packages to potential customers half a dozen countries around the world. (Thank heavens for Etsy’s new automated shipping calculator!!)

We may rent studio space (I have to, in California, and studio rent is not cheap). If we participate in art tours, I have to cover the fees for that, and I need a business license, and often liability insurance.

If we do shows, we pay those fees, and expenses for traveling to shows. I did that for years. Some of those major shows cost upwards of $2,000 or more to enter. And that doesn’t include the time to get there and back, our hotel stay, our on-the-road meals, in my case, the cost of shipping my inventory and booth since I never had the right vehicle to transport them.) In 2008, I spent over $15,000 on three major shows across the country, and sold about $2000 worth of work. That’s when I stopped doing those shows.

We do our own marketing (photography, ads, design work for postcards, business cards, ads, etc,) or pay someone to do it. We often pay for workshops to get better at our work, and/or better at our marketing.

Now let’s say we have good sales, and eventually the demand exceeds the supply. We can only produce a finite amount of work in a year (unless we hire help, which is a whole nother can of worms.) That means we can increase our income gradually over time, doing the same amount of work and time, only by gradually raising our prices.

It’s not our own sense of self worth. It’s our audience’s sense of our worth.

I’ve been told my prices are too high since I started my art biz almost 30 years ago. I charged $18 for a one-of-a-kind handmade horse artifact pin. And some people complained it was too expensive. As I raised my prices over the years, the comments continued. And yet my sales stayed relatively the same.  Which tells me I have an audience, a small one, who will see its worth, and there will always be people who won’t pay my prices. I have to be okay with that.

Here’s the thing: I believe we simply can’t afford everything we like, and when we find something we like, we either recognize how unique it is–if we don’t buy that one piece, there will never be another exactly like it–and jump. (Which is why I offer layaway.)

Or we unconsciously look for reasons why we shouldn’t get it, such as price. This helps assuage our conscious about saying no. (I’ve done it myself.) There have been things I’ve jumped on, though I didn’t need another one, and the price was high. There have been lower-priced things that weren’t quite enough….and walked away.

I’ve had people with little income who find ways to collect my work, through trades, layaway, or buying a smaller piece.

I’ve had people who live in grand homes and drive pricey cars who say they can’t afford my work. (A lot of my work is still well below $100.) Of course, maybe that’s why they’re so rich! 😀

These aren’t inexpensive. Sterling silver, my handmade horse (tiny!), real pearls and gems and semi-precious stones, and a great deal of time getting the design just right.

Frankly, my work isn’t that expensive relative to the “real art world”. Very few of my major pieces barely even compete with the lowest prices of local painters.

The day a good friend sold a $10,000 piece the first day of an open studio tour but complained sales were flat the rest of the weekend, I had to clutch my coffee mug. I was so envious! And yet, it only took a few seconds to get my heart in the right place to congratulate them. They have skills, they have a terrific reputation for great work, and I love their work. They have found their audience, an audience that truly values their work, and I’m still building mine here in California. That’s all.

Knowing our worth is not a bad thing. And though some artists will over-charge for their work, it’s still up to each of us to determine if it’s worth it for ourselves. 

Now, as for getting our work out into the world:

I do that every day.

My art is hosted at my website, my Etsy shop, on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linked in, and sometimes Tumblr. Also in galleries in New Hampshire and here in California. I have open studios, and guests are always welcome in my studio. My work is often purchased and given as gifts, which I love, because someone sees something in my work they know someone they care about will truly appreciate.

And every single time I’ve felt desperate for sales, every single time I’ve broken my own rules and offered “a deal”, it’s felt awful. Like I’m selling myself short. And almost every time, the purchaser admits they could actually afford it, they just thought they’d try to dicker to see what happened. And I fell for it.

And every single time I’ve stuck to my guns, politely and with integrity, I’ve been rewarded with a sale, maybe down the road a ways, maybe with another buyer, but still worth it.

And yes, I’ve already had my work found at estate sales and yard sales for a very low price. At first that was a little daunting. But again, every time that happens, the person has loved it so much, they’ve tracked me down to find out more about me, written to tell me how much they love it, and sometimes even purchased another piece.

Some people do literally give away their work, to support causes they believe in, or to simply bring joy to others. I’ve given away work, though never to people who dicker or complain about the price, but to those who I know have been through hell and back, who need the gift of my work to help heal.

I give back in the ways I’ve mentioned, and also through my writing. Through this blog, and I’m a columnist for Fine Art Views. I share what I’ve learned as an artist with others for free. Here’s an interesting fact: When I first started writing a column for a fine craft magazine and other platforms, I made $350-$500 an article. Today I get $45 an article, if anything, and a free website (valued at $35/month. You do the math.

But I still write, because I have to. I have to get my art-and-life lessons out, to get clarity in my head and love in my heart. Also because every single time I publish, I get at least one person who said it was just what they needed to hear that day. So my writing is my (free or almost-free) labor of love.

The last way I get my art out into the world is also powerful.

When I have visitors, especially younger people and millennials (whose buying habits inspired this series of articles), I don’t twist arms to make sales. I let them explore my space, examine my work, hold my work, and read my signs about my inspiration, my insights, my hopes and dreams.

Most can’t afford my work. But for them, the conversation turns into something else.

I ask them about their own creative work. They share what makes them happy, and I encourage them to make room in their life for it, whether they can earn a living with it or not.

It can be painting, cooking, gardening, teaching, construction, singing, any activity that, when shared with the world, makes other people happy, and makes the world a better place. (I tell them my advice is worth every penny they paid for it.)

So it’s okay with me if someone can’t afford my work (in a nice way, I mean.) I get it. It’s okay if they believe my work is overpriced, too. It just may not be worth it to them. It’s okay if they believe I’ve inflated my prices because I have no idea of its real (less-expensive) value. (Well….kind of okay….!)

In the end, I do what I can, I do what I have to, and I do what I love. That’s the best we can do, and that has to be okay.

I “just” make “plastic” horses. It’s more than that, isn’t it?

 

 

 

 

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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LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Give It Time, and Take the Time!

Luann Udell discusses how to enjoy the steps along the way in our "journey"
Luann Udell discusses how to enjoy the steps along the way in our “journey”

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Give It Time, and Take the Time!

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.

Most things in life work themselves out.

There is a saying I learned in my hospice training awhile back: Hospice is full of recovering fixers.

The premise is, death is something that can’t be “fixed” or cured. But conditions, including the state of mind for our clients, and hopefully, for family members, too, can be healed.

I would forget this, from time to time. But my amazing supervisor was always there to walk me through the swamp of good intentions back to solid ground.

I recently read about a scientific study on happiness. To paraphrase, it said most of us hold a major goal (or two, or many) in our life, and believe we will be totally happy when we attain it.

But it turns out our happiness is increased in a big way by embracing the steps we take to get there.

If we stop to consider our journey, then the “arrival” feels even richer, and deeper.

That stopped me in my tracks.

I realized that from January 2018 to January 2019, my life has been a hot mess. Despair, sadness, loneliness, anger, frustration, and uncertainty, all had SO MUCH FUN WITH ME for thirteen long, harsh months. (I used to discount this stuff by saying, “Hey, nobody died!” until that was no longer true at all.)

In addition to all the drama, my studio on South A Street went from “I have lost my desire to create” to “Geez, this is hard” to “Dang, they sure are noisy, glad it’s ending soon!” to “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME??” to jackhammers, sawing, smog in my studio (yep, you read that right), and demolition, to “Now what?!” to “This is really really hard!!” to “Hallelujah, I can’t believe what just happened!!” (In a good way.)

In between were tiny moments of “I am slowly but surely dealing with this move”. Of course, I started out packing with great care, but by the last day, I was just throwing stuff into boxes. Every box from this stage is a huge “Surprise!!!” moment….

Two examples of how things usually “just work out” in the end:

I’ve already written how, in his desire to have me out of there, my landlord offered a truck and two of his employees to get me moved. This saved us the expense of renting a truck ourselves, doing all the heavy lifting ourselves, and cut almost a week off the end of my move.

I had worried for weeks on how this was ever going to possibly work out. I couldn’t imagine how it could happen. I could not even visualize what I wanted, let alone expect any help.

And in two minutes, the entire problem was solved. (Well. The next 24 hours were full of chaos and mayhem, but again, it was just 24 hours!)

The second thing is more subtle.

All my furniture was now in my studio, and I had a vision of how to lay things out. All I needed was three bookcases: One very tall and skinny, one that was tall and very sturdy, and a third that was narrow-ish (under 29” wide), with two bottom shelves that were at least 15” tall. Hopefully, something that would fit in with the rest of my storage/display furniture. And it definitely had to be affordable. I also realized a table we already had that I thought would work for that third workstation was not suitable at all. Dang.

I also needed a wheeled office chair, but I didn’t think that would be hard. (Ha!)

Now, it gets complicated from here, so if you don’t have the patience, skip to the end…..

I couldn’t find any of the five pieces I needed, not even a wheeled office chair. (Was there a run on them in January??)

I searched every thrift shop and antique store around. I looked online: Facebook Marketplace, NextDoor, Craigslist. Nada.

In one thrift store known for its huge furniture collection, I found two candidates for the book shelf. But they were literally the only two items that were not for sale. One was being used for displaying shoes, the other (though it had a price tag) was being used by the staff. What are the chances?!

Fortunately, I doubled-back a day later, to my favorite thrift shop again, and found two perfect candidates for the first two bookcases. Yippee!!

But that third one was just too crazy, and much harder to find.

I finally researched “used office furniture” online, and came up with some stores that might work. But most of them were closed until Monday.

On a hunch, and in desperation, I went back to the thrift store that had the first “perfect” candidates that weren’t for sale. Maybe there was something I overlooked?

There was. Off in the book section was a medium-height cupboard with one shelf. It looked a little like my printer’s type tray drawers, but no drawers. It looked wide, but I thought what the heck? I could use it for something else. And the price? $10. (Yes, you read that right, too!) While I was there, I found a desk that might work for my last workstation. It was $15. What luck! I would come back and pick it up later.

I had to wait for the store to open on Monday. I was there ten minutes after they opened. I brought the cupboard back to the studio and it was EXACTLY THE RIGHT WIDTH. (I am now feeling “heard” by the universe.)

But the desk….. I realized it had no “overhang” to clamp on my two wonderful work-lamps. Was that a deal-breaker??

Sure enough, while dropping off a donation at another thrift store, I found a) an office chair for $5 (sensing a theme here??) and the perfect table, in the perfect color, with the perfect overhang, and extremely sturdy. It was big. It might mean rearranging my space yet again. So I reluctantly left it.

And realized that night that YES IT WAS THE PERFECT TABLE. The first choice was not only two small, using tabletop lamps would take up even more room.

So I called the store the next morning, before they were even officially open, thinking I could leave a message to please please please hold the table for me until I could get there after another engagement.

Someone answered the phone! (What are the chances??) And they said, “We usually won’t do that, but we will!”

After my meeting, we picked it up and took it out to the new studio. It fit! I simply put it in sideways to the wall, rather than up against it. It broke up the space nicely, with plenty of room to spare. (I “donated” the first table at the first store back to them. They serve a wonderful cause, and I was only out $15, after all.)

So here I am today, almost done with the set-up. (Yes, I’ll try to get some pics.)


I even found the perfect place for the dolls and puppets so critical for making my art. (Not really, but I love ’em.) 

Everything fell into place. Everything I needed, I found. Everything I found, was hugely affordable. Everything worked out even better than I had hoped.

Today I realized how wonderful I’m feeling again.

It was a year where I, I felt so drained of energy, I did not even go to my studio for weeks at a time. Even working on my art could not restore me to my happy place. That was hard.

And here I am today, realizing that this week in February is the most amazing week I’ve had in a loooooong time. (YES, successful shopping helps!)

I am restored to my better self. My studio is lookin’ good! Yesterday I set up some of my artwork for the first time in ages. I have an extra work station. I can’t believe how cohesive all the bits and pieces look, too.  I can still hardly believe I found the five perfect components to complete my studio layout, within three days.                            

                                                                    

 It’s starting to come together!                                                      I’ve actually got artwork  up!                                                                                                               And bottles. Old crusty                                                                                                                            bottles…                                             

Yesterday, my new art community had a meeting about a major event we’re having in a couple months. It sounds full of promise, and I got to watch how folks participated and interacted. It sure looks like a roomful of grown-ups!

Today the sun is out, and cherry trees are blooming. Today I realized I don’t need any more infrastructure/ or furniture. Today I realized with a bit of luck, I can be back to work by the end of the week.

As I write this, I marvel at all the things that simply fell into place, beginning with that second offer of studio space from Julian and Anna those first few days in 2019. I see the “change in perspective” that constitutes a miracle, a change that lets me breathe, and relax (figuratively speaking!). I can finally let go of the anger, angst, resentment, and fear. I am ready to embrace my new situation and my new community.

I am focused on enjoying every minute of unpacking and setting up, even those boxes full of haphazard stuff I threw together in panic. It feels good to realize not everything has to be “forced” into working. Sometimes it all just falls into place, despite our worst fears and doubts.

Today feels full of promise, and hope.

And today, I hope for you, when times are harsh and dark, to find your own beautiful moments of light and grace. Somewhere, someone wishes you well, someone or someplace has exactly what you need, and something will remind you of how beautiful life can be. Embrace it!

There is never really an end to “the journey”. But I am back to enjoying the steps along the way.

Do you have stories of things that worked out better than you could have ever hoped or dreamed? Or a goal you set that you savored all along the way? Please share! We all need to be reminded of the possibilities. Someone may simply need to hear your story today!

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

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.

Patience, grasshopper!

The latest installment in moving my very densely packed mixed media art studio is a bit confusing.

I was about halfway through packing up the studio, when I realized there were so many packed boxes, I couldn’t even navigate my space. So I had to move several dozen boxes home for safe-keeping.

Then I thought, with the extra space I’ll have, I should also pack up some of the supplies I’ve stored in our garage. That added a few more dozen boxes.

There was no place in my garage for those, too. (Why does packed stuff take up more room than when it’s just “out”???)

So we found a half dozen pallets, set them up on the porch, and tarped the stack just before the next round of drenching rainstorms hit last weekend.

It looked like we could do the actual truck rental/moving the first weekend of February. Unless it rained….fingers crossed!)

Then my darlin’ hubby reminded me he had a three-day conference to attend that same weekend. And the weather report? Three days of rain. Three days. Of rain.

On that Wednesday, January 30, late afternoon, my landlord asked me when I thought I’d be totally out of my space. I explained it might be an extra week. (I had previously offered to pay for the extra week, if it came to that, and he agreed.)

That’s when he said, “What would it take for you to be out of this space by tomorrow?”

Uh…..

He then offered the use of a truck, and the aid of two of his own employees, if I could move the next day.

Of course I said yes.

The next 36 hours were a hot mess. I entered that stage of packing where you just grab stuff, throw it in a box, and tape it shut. By the next morning, I wasn’t even taping boxes shut.

The truck was huge. Jon says it was bigger than my studio! It had a sign on it about “Junk Removal”, which, in other circumstances, would have hurt my feelings.

The two guys were wonderful, and thorough. The only thing that broke in the process was one light bulb. They even loaded my box of packing supplies, and a bag of garbage.

The actual long-dreaded move took less than three hours. (Yes, I tipped them generously.)

And so here I am, in my wonderful new space, filled with empty shelving racks, my desk, my sewing table, many many many boxes, and said bag of garbage.

    

        Old Studio                                                                          New Studio (in progress!)

(Don’t cheer yet, we still have to move all those tarped boxes on the back porch!)

I should be cheering, though. I should be thrilled. The worst part is over, right?

Not so fast, cupcake.

The configuration of my new space is totally different. While my husband was gone, there was only me to move heavy furniture and such.

My biggest roadblock?

I can’t figure out where to put my desk.

I pushed it here and there, up against this wall, back out to another wall, placing it perpendicular to a wall. Finally, yesterday afternoon, I gave up and left it sitting in the middle of the room.

How did I get this far, and get so blocked, so quickly?? I felt like an idiot.

Here’s how I finally got through it:

I pretended I was talking to a good friend.

If a good friend had just gone through a major, last-minute move, with almost no help, from a noisy (ongoing construction, jack-hammers, regular hammers, buzz saws, etc.) and tightly-packed little studio, to a slightly larger studio, in the middle of the rainiest California winter we’ve ever seen, would I call them an idiot?

If a good friend had gone through a year like mine (loss of both parents, my daughter’s loss of her first child-in-the-works, making five trips across country to be present for all three, and a sixth trip already this year), would I criticize their lack of energy and brain-capacity?

If a good friend had done their best to meet all commitments, gallery openings and receptions, special orders, etc. and now could barely find the time and energy to even unpack their supplies, would I chide them on their work ethic?

If said friend collapsed (in between the oh-so-many-stacks of boxes) in the middle of their studio because they couldn’t figure out where their desk should go, would I make fun of them?

I think not.

So why was I being so harsh on myself?

We all do this. We all believe that everyone else is “doing it right”, and we aren’t. We all believe that we should be doing better, even when circumstances won’t allow it. We are all kinder to our friends, even strangers, than we are with ourselves.

One compassionate friend and blog follower left a comment for me about their moves (office and house.) They made note that it took them 12 weeks, in both situations, to find the perfect place for everything. (Thank you, Susan!)

Twelve weeks.  I’ve unconsciously allotted myself three days.

I may not find the perfect spot for my desk for awhile.

Heck, even if I do find the perfect spot for it, I’m gonna have to move stuff around again anyway! I realized I need a big rug in the new space. (It’s echo-ish, and the floors will be slippery if they get wet.) So of course I put myself in a tizzy searching thrift shops for one, thinking I had to have it in place before I set up.

But then I found a super-cheap room-size rug on eBay for under $100. It also ships for free! It’s attractive enough, subdued enough not to distract from my artwork, and certainly not “precious” enough to worry about spills and stains, too.)

So today, I finally went to the gym, for the first time in weeks. It was good to be back!

I got home to find another offer, from a good friend, to help move more stuff. I always hate to ask for help, but they insisted. “I always enjoy our talks, so I’m doing it for myself, too!” they said. I’m taking them up on that! (Thank you, Laurie!)

And here I sit, sharing my slowly-untangling thoughts with you today.

I hope, if you are also facing something overwhelming in your life, that you have good friends to help you through.

And even if you don’t, I hope you are as kind to yourself as I’ve learned to be, today.

YOUR NEXT STUDIO

I wrote this article for Fine Art Views, an online art marketing newsletter for Fine Art Studios Online, a host for artist websites where my own site now lives. I reprint it here, with their generous permission. Enjoy!

YOUR NEXT STUDIO

 The curse and blessings of many moves is, each studio is a life lesson.

A friend here in Santa Rosa has moved her tiny jewelry studio almost five times in the year I’ve known her. Last night, we moved her “best studio” into a delightfully bigger space, with a large display area. Armed with hand carts and three mighty men (husbands and friends), we moved all her stuff in two hours. (A little over the estimated “fifteen minutes”, but we all knew better anyway.)

I’ve had many studios in my time.

In our tiny Baltimore apartment, I filled a small hallway with my knitting yarn. In our Boston apartment, our bedroom was filled with shelves of….not clothing, not bedding, but quilting fabric. Our “dining room” had what bemused visitors called “a wall o’ yarn”, dozens hundreds of skeins of yarn hanging from several dozens of those expandable wall coat/mug racks.

Fortunately, because of my tendency to arrange everything by color, my Dear Hubby found the shelves “cool-looking” and visitors found the yarn display “artistic”. (I still have a tendency to sort everything—paints, beads, thread, buttons, artifacts, beach stones, shells, nails, mat board (er….am I revealing too much here??) by color color color, shape, and size. In hindsight, maybe I could have become an installation artist….??)

It was when we moved our small family to our first home in New Hampshire that I stepped up to the plate as an artist. I had the insight, inspired by my kids, that inside me was an artist screaming to be let out. It was the first time I realized I needed, not just dedicated storage space, but a dedicated workspace. Fortunately, my DH, again, also stepped up to the plate. We worked to figure out how to get me a studio.

My first “real” studio workspace was in our attic. It worked beautifully, for a few years. But then we needed the space for the kids when they couldn’t share a bunk bed anymore. Then a rented room downtown, in a building due for development and renovation. Then another rented suite in another such building, a former dentist’s office.

Each space got bigger and bigger, and the better each situation got, the more I worried about losing it. How could anyone ever improve on a dentist’s office?! I had four tiny rooms and windows overlooking Main Street! It even had a darkroom.

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My wall-o’-fabric is always with me!

This fear, the idea that I would never have anything “better”, and the knowledge that someday, the building would be developed and sold, gripped me. My mentor visited me and listened to my fears. And as I rattled on about “this studio” being my “best studio”, she corrected me with the words, “Your NEXT studio.”

It wasn’t til several more years passed that I got it. Her point, I mean.

I did indeed “lose” that space, less than two years later. Which led to no studio for a year, as we bought a house with an entire two-story barn for my studio.  The best studio in the world.

When we moved to California, I had the same fears: In an area rife with sky-high home prices and rents, where on earth would I find my next studio?

But I did find one. Several, in fact.

Our home has a basement, rare in California, and I set up a studio there. But the ceiling is way too low for visitors (and I have the forehead bruises to prove it), and the layout doesn’t allow for them to “free range”, something I love to offer visitors.

I found a studio with public access, and moved in.  Too small. Less than a year later, I moved into the space next door, with twice the space and a display window. Perfect! But it’s too isolated, and has other issues. Now what?

Once again, another opportunity is in the works. I’ll be moving again. Again!

There is a blessing in having a studio space that “stays put”. The time spent packing, moving, unpacking, is spent on actually making art. It’s easier to set up a routine that works, and stick to it. Everything is in its best possible place, and stays there. And you don’t have to put tiny new address stickers on your business cards and postcards. People know where you are.

But there are blessings to “many moves”, too. Mine were big/small/big/big/really big/small and now in multiple locations. (Which one has the frames and mats? Which one has the modeling supplies? Where the heck are all my seam rippers???)

Some “perfect studios” were inaccessible to visitors. My “perfect” dental office/studio? Inside a building locked at night, and up a massive flight of stairs. Not exactly open-studio friendly. The roof leaked, and destroyed a small roomful of paper supplies. And the FBI agents were quite upset with me during President Clinton’s speech on the town square. (I’d inadvertently avoided the security lines, and opened a window to watch his speech, throwing their security team into a panic.) (They DID think my work was cool, though….)

My friend feels overwhelmed right now. During this busy holiday season, she now has to set up yet another space before she can get back to work. But I noticed how incredibly organized she was, as we moved her stuff. She has a “system” in place, one she’s perfected over the last half-dozen moves. She has firm ideas on what will go where. She will be settled in, in no time.

As I contemplate my own “perfect studio”, I find myself thinking once more about my NEXT studio. There are beautiful things here I will leave behind, but new, future aspects that are already speaking to me. I will miss much of the community I found here, but also relieved about not having to “go along” to “get along” so much. (I hope!)

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One thing I can guarantee: In every studio, my workspace is ALWAYS cluttered.

I’m on a waiting list, which could last a few years—or a few months. Either way, I can deal.

The beauty, the real blessing of many studio moves, is nothing is ever going to hold you back for very long. You learn what to keep, and what you can let go of. You learn to enjoy the gift of each one, of what you gained, and what you can give up. What you need, and what you can go without.

Every studio is a life lesson. And me? I, a dedicated, eternal student of life, can only wonder what I’ll learn next, with open heart and many, many moving boxes.

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