NEWSLETTERS 101: #5 What Is the Story Only YOU Can Tell?

Yep, I'm a little obsessed with my horses. Because they represent the start--and heart--of everything I am today.
Yep, I’m a little obsessed with my horses. Because they represent the start–and heart–of everything I am today.

NEWSLETTERS 101: #5 What Is the Story Only YOU Can Tell?

Apologies, I just realized I forgot to republish this article here on my blog! This is part of my series “NEWSLETTERS 101” and this one is a biggie!

We may not be ‘used to’ digging so deep. But the gold you find there is worth it!

(5 minute read)

Last week’s article about knowing our creation story sounded simple. But I’m guessing from some of the questions I received privately that most of us don’t find it that easy.

When I work in person with someone, it’s easier. There are questions I can ask, hints in people’s responses I can follow, and body language that tell me I’m getting close. And when people get to their truth, it’s powerful to hear, and see. Their stance gets ‘brave’: They stand/sit taller, their voice deepens, their words are simple, straightforward, and powerful. And often, there are tears. From both of us!

Unfortunately, before people get there, it can be very hard. For me, and for them.

Some people get annoyed. Or angry. Or they shut down, or push back: “I dunno. I dunno. I DON’T KNOW!!! Why do you keep asking me that??!!” (“That” is usually the word “why”, and I’ve written about it for years on my blog and on Fine Art Views (along with other authors.)

I’ve written about five drafts of this article in the last few weeks, and get overwhelmed with everything I want to say. So instead, for those of you who truly want to find your story, today I am assigning you homework. THREE homework assignments, actually:

Check out this article on what makes each one of us special: 10 Things That Make A Person Unique And Different

Read carefully, and think of how you would respond to each of the aspects given.

Next, invest $5 on a copy of Kaleel Jamison’s book, The Nibble Theory and The Kernel of Power. The link actually goes to the best bookfinding tool on the internet called (surprise!) Bookfinder.com.

This book will take you less than an hour to read, but it can be a life-changer. It was for me. The first section is understanding why some people always try to take us down by ‘nibbling’ away at us until we are not a threat to them anymore.

The second section, finding our Kernel of Power, can help you dig deeper into what makes you YOU. Take your time in reading this part, and think carefully about the questions. (Also note that Jamison says how our tears come with our truth.)

Third, this homework assignment is more creative. Remember that meme that went around on Facebook, 25 Random Things About Me, where we were asked to create a list of ‘things’ most people would not otherwise know about us? (Yes, I did it, and it led to another blog post. Of course!) (And also ‘of course’, I did an entire series of articles on how 25 Random Things can help us write a stronger artist statement.)

Last, there is an unspoken element in all these assignments:

The power of our choices.

Mine came when I realized I didn’t have to be “good enough”. I simply had to make the work of my heart. It was the beginning of everything with my art.

Many people say there was no ‘turning point’ or creation story with their art. They never ‘chose’ their art career. They always knew they were creative, and simply followed that path.

If that’s the case for you, then those three exercises may give you clarity. Because ‘just following a path’ still entails many, many tiny choices along the way.

I’ve written about this process—finding our central truth, our creation story–many times. I wish I could do it in person with each of you who are still searching. I also realize, I’m a writer. I constantly write my way to my truth. (To all of you who have signed up for my newsletter or subscribe to my blog, that’s why you get emails every week instead of once a month! Can’t apologize anymore, it’s part of who I am!)

I shut myself in my studio that day I wrote my artist statement. I was frustrated many times, but would not let myself leave until it was done. And I knew when it was done.

I know there’s still nuance in it. Most people call it a poem, and I agree. I elaborate on it once people, visitors, collectors, let me know they want to talk about it with me.

But it still resonates, and it still speaks my truth: I am here, now. I am only here for a short time on this planet. I want to have my voice in this world. Writing and making little plastic horses is part of that voice.

Yep, I’m a little obsessed with my horses. Because they represent the start–and heart–of everything I am today.

I found that looking for humanity’s roots in ancient times gave me hope that we can all do better at being a good, compassionate, generous, creative human being. Including me. Again: The power of our choices.

There are many other ways I am unique. Like loving melted ice cream. Like not liking watermelon. Like taking up martial arts and my art in my ‘40’s, dyeing my hair for the first time in my ‘50’s and sitting with the dying in my ‘60’s.

All of these are choices.

You’ve made choices all along the way, too.

Think about them. Do the homework. Let me know if you have questions. I’ll do my best to answer them.

On one hand, no, none of this will be on the test. (There is no test.)

On the other hand, you already have all the right answers. They’ve been there all along.

Let them out. Let them breathe. Let them shine. Just like YOU.

If you enjoyed this article and know someone who might enjoy it, please feel free to forward this to them.

If you received this from someone, and liked it, you can subscribe to more artists’ views at the Fine Art Views blog.

And if you’d like to read more of my stuff, you can subscribe to my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

TAKE ME TO THE RIVER: Slow Down When Things Get Hard

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.

"...it’s okay to simply lay back in our little boat, and drift."
“…it’s okay to simply lay back in our little boat, and drift.”

Sometimes, it’s about NOT doing….

 (6 minute read) 

 In last week’s post, I shared my thoughts on how “waiting”, though it can feel like “doing”, can end up with us “doing nothing.” Many readers shared their own stories about moving forward. Others shared theirs about the realization they were indeed, just “waiting”. They were inspired to be more proactive with their art, and their art marketing.

But the first commenter broke my heart, with their story of dealing with loss, and grief for the last few years. Having gone through that myself the last two years, I know what it feels like to feel like our heart has no room, no desire for art-making.

It’s true our present culture can put a timer on grieving. People may expect us to “get over it” within six months. (There are ways to protect ourselves from that.) Others do “go long” with their grieving, and struggle to find a way forward. (There are ways to deal with that, too.)

What I wanted to tell that person is, it’s okay to be stuck.*

Yes, it’s important to work consistently and with intention to a) make our creative work, and b) get it out into the world.

But sometimes we just can’t. And that’s okay.

The first time I ever heard this concept—the idea that sometimes life just gets too hard to “soldier on”, that it’s okay to step back and breathe—was in Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. She described our creative efforts as paddling that boat swiftly down the river. But there may be times when we just can’t paddle.

And then, she writes, it’s okay to simply lay back in our little boat, and drift.

The current will still carry us downstream. Just not as fast.

“slow down when things get hard…”

Life has a way of getting in the way of our goals and dreams, our hopes and aspirations. It may be a good thing: Our first child, perhaps, (or the fourth!!!), or a new home. Maybe our spouse got a great job opportunity….on the other side of the country, far from friends, family, and supporters of our work.

More often, it’s that dreaded phone call in the middle of the night, the one none of us wants to get, ever. Or the call that a loved one is definitely nearing the end of their journey, perhaps expected, but just as difficult.

Maybe it happens to us. I know several potters who had to leave their beloved medium, and find another way to express themselves that doesn’t involve repetitive stress injuries. We may experience illness or debilitation. Or, even harder, we may take on the caretaking for a loved one, for years, in what feels like a grinding, thankless, sleepless exercise that will never end. Until it does, and then it feels even worse, focusing only on what we did wrong, and what we could have done better.

For those of you here, in these hard places, I’m here to tell you: It’s okay.

It’s okay to step back if life is overwhelming. It’s okay to put down the oars, to lay back in your little boat, and let the current carry you for awhile.

It’s okay to walk away from a creative career that doesn’t feed your soul anymore….until you hear the call of this one, or another one, again.

It’s okay to put down our creative work, when it becomes just another burden we’ve been asked to carry….until we’re ready to take it up again.

This is when it’s okay to wait.

This happened to me, in 2018 and well into 2019. Things just got hard. Yeah, it could have been worse, but that’s not much comfort when the suffering and sadness never seems to end.

The trick is knowing when it’s time to pick up your paddle again.

And who you can ask for help, to get you moving again.

 One tip is to still go to your creative-making space from time to time. Check in: Is there a little sketch you can do? A small surface you can clear? No? That’s okay.

But still check in from time to time. At some point, you’ll see something that you want to finish. Or start. Some little task that will help you remember what it felt like to simply want to make something new. (Remember the generous commenter who shared how they carved out a tiny bit of time during their days of full-time care of their parent? Brilliant!)

Another, bigger trick is to find your creative supporters, friends or family who know who you are—an artist!—and who hold that memory for you, until you’re ready to pick up the pencil/brush/clay tool/needle again. (I hope some of the stories people shared will help!)

The artist support group workshop I took from Deborah Kruger lo-these-many-years-ago, stressed this, too. You can, and should, keep going to the meet-ups, even if you haven’t made anything in months, or years. Their job isn’t to nag you, or tell you you’re doing it wrong. Their job is to listen, to be a witness to what you’re going through. And down the road, to gently remind you it’s time to get back in the saddle.

There’s a reason for the saddle simile. If/when we fall from a horse, we’re told we need to get back on, and ride. Otherwise, the fear and anxiety can grow until we tell ourselves we don’t even want to ride anymore.

Getting back in the saddle can remind us why we ride in the first place: For the joy of being outside, in tune with a complex animal that enjoys the work as much as we do, for the simple pleasure of riding, in sync with our companion, along a wide river, under the trees, on a crisp autumn morning.

And so it is with our art.

When we’re ready, it will be there, waiting for us. All the reasons we’ve said, “I can’t….” will be waved gently away. “It’s time” our work will whisper to us, gently, and urgently. “Come on back! The road is waiting! The river is still flowing!”

Wherever you are on your path, or on the river, know that sometimes the way gets hard. Remember, even when it feels like we are getting nowhere, we are still moving forward quietly, gently. Life goes on as we work through our grief, process our new situation, and find ways around our setbacks.

Because our creative work is just to big, too beautiful to set aside. It is powerful stuff, as we will remember when we take it up again. It will always be waiting for us.

Ironically, these setbacks that are real, the ones we survive, will help us understand better the ones we manufacture for ourselves: “I’m not good enough.” “I don’t know how to do that.” “Nobody wants my work.” It’s easier to see these for the silly (though crippling) stories they are. Shoo!

Going through the real hard stuff, helps us move forward through the imaginary stuff we put on ourselves. We know better, and when we know better, we can choose to do better.

Are you waiting, now? What helps you keep hope in your heart? Are you ready to get back to your art? What will your first step be? If you’re comfortable, share this part of your journey. Someone else may need to hear it today!

If you liked this article, share it with someone who needs it.

If someone sent you this article, and you found it helpful, let them know!

And if you want to read more like this, sign up for the Fine Art Views newsletter, or subscribe to my blog, where I republish them after they run on FAV.

* That person said they were already starting up their creative work again, exploring new media, new venues, etc. Patricia, you are doing it right!

WHAT I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME ABOUT ARTISTS: Make Room for Art in Your Life!

WHAT I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME ABOUT ARTISTS: Make Room for Art in Your Life!

 

Bear has a story for when life gets hard.

Life is not “all or nothing”, you can make as much—or as little—room for art as you like!

More in the series about sharing my hard-earned knowledge with young art students. This one was hard.

I told them how I’d wanted to be an artist since I was three years old. Making stuff mattered deeply to me.

But my opportunities for learning and practicing were scarce. Materials were scarce, art teachers were scarce, art classes, even books about art were just not available. I got to the point where I dreamed of going to art school, college. I put away all my dreams until then.

And then it didn’t quite work out the way I thought it would.

I’ve shared this before, so to make it short:

I struggled. My teachers were either unengaged (they probably knew how few of us would go “all the way.”) Some of them were harsh. I didn’t enjoy drawing from life: eggs on a sheet of white paper, etc. My grades weren’t great, either. I wasn’t accepted into that school’s art program (I lacked a portfolio), and so I fell back to art history as a major.

I felt like I was simply not a good artist, and I let it go.

But that left me in a hard place for decades. Until (again, I’ll keep this short, I’ve shared it so many times before) I realized I was aching for art in my life again. And my total surrender to it—saying I didn’t care if I were a GOOD artist or not, I just had to do it—was a turning point for me.

For years, I felt like I’d wasted all that time, until I realized it created a unique path for me. And my revelation on how important it was to simply have in my life gave me power I’d never had before.

Over the years, I’ve met a lot of people who went further down their artistic path, and then fell away. Their work didn’t sell, or the gallery they tried to manage overwhelmed them. They didn’t think they were good enough. Or they didn’t have the time anymore, what with having “a real job” now. They believed if their creative work wasn’t painting, or sketching, then it wasn’t “real art”.

I’m happy to say that, meeting people where they are, telling my story, and simply encourage them to take small steps to put it back in their life, has actually worked! Not for everyone. Not all the time. Not right away. But there are people who have come to the same realization I did: When we are doing the work of our heart, whether it’s full-time, part-time, a little bit of time, whether they earn a living, make some money, or only a little money, or….none….that they simply feel better when it’s part of their life again.

And that’s what I told those teens.

Our lives are rarely a “sound plan” that we can maintain our whole life. We may change our priorities, or they may be changed for us. We may pick up a different kind of creative work, one that’s not officially “real art”, but fulfilling to us nonetheless. We may have to take a class to carve out that time, or get up an hour or two earlier in the morning. We may be so overwhelmed with those soul-stomping events in life that we have to step back temporarily.

But just like “putting on your gym shoes” in my series “EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS” I wrote here awhile back, sometimes those little efforts pay off. We say, “I’ll just carry a sketch book with me when I go to lunch today.” Or we write a page of our novel while we’re traveling on business. (One page.) Or we collect paint samples from the hardware store, or we take up embroidery, or pinch pots instead of throwing on the wheel (because we can do it in the living room while we watch TV here.)

We watch our kids fingerpaint, and suddenly, we want to squish paint around, too! Or we find an image online and the color palette fascinates us. “What if…..?” we think to ourselves and suddenly, we are inspired again.

Time and fortune will come and go, opportunities will expand and fade, life will be full and rich, and suddenly barren and sorrowful. We can only count on so much, and not nearly as much as we think.

But we can always….ALWAYS….choose to keep our creative work in our life.

The all-or-nothing approach never worked for me. It doesn’t really work for most people, actually. We forget that we have the power of our choices. We get to choose, every step of our way, how, when, where we fit our art in our lives.*

Because the “why” is always the most important part.

Why? Because it restores me to myself.

Why? Because it heals me.

Why? Because, even under crushing events, there is a tiny window of faith, of hope, a small opportunity to make room for art.

Why? Because when we share it with others, with the world, there is always someone who needed to see it, hear it, read it, that day.

And when we share our art, and it helps/encourages/inspires someone else, well, that’s pretty close to being a hero, in my book.

“I am an artist. What’s YOUR superpower?”

* My bear artifacts appeared during a difficult time in my life, and you can read the bear’s story here.

A HANDY GUIDE TO NIBBLERS: The Fifteen-Minute Read that Can Change Your Life.

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.

If my curve is large, why bend it to a smaller circle?

Henry David Thoreau

The Nibble Theory and the Kernel of Power will rock your world.

Years ago, I came across a remarkable book that changed my life for the better.

For the life of me, I can’t remember how I found out about it. But I give thanks every single day of my life that I did.

You’ve heard me mention it, and maybe some of you have already found your own copy. If not, head over to this amazing search tool and find an affordable copy. (Although even a brand new copy won’t set you back much, either.)

THE NIBBLE THEORY by Kaleel Jamison really is a 15-minute read. It even has pictures/cartoons, which beautifully illustrate the concepts she presents.

But although the concepts are simple, they are not easy, as Jamison herself says in the first page.

When I first started out with my artwork, combining different media wrapped around a powerful personal story, I was fearless. I had a late start in my art life, and I wasn’t going to let anything or anybody stand in my way. I slipped and slided over every bump in the road, moving forward with passion and joy. (Side note: How come it’s glide/glided and not slide/slided??)

Just like any other exciting new venture in life, the honeymoon period eventually comes to an end. That’s where the real work comes in.

And it’s also when the Nibblers showed up.

I’ve talked on end about Nibblers, the people who deem us “too much”: Too much free time, too much courage, too much to say, too much talent. They “nibble us down” by making us feel like “not enough”: Not enough skill, not enough credibility (“Pastels are just chalk!), not enough of anything.

My biggest insight came from a couple who were part of our inner social circle back in New Hampshire, wonderful, intelligent, supportive, loving folks. I told Ruth about the book, and a few years later, shared with her my frustration about the Attack of the Nibblers. (There was quite a swarm of them that year!)

She told her husband, a lawyer, that he should be gentle that night when we came over for dinner. “Luann’s had a lot of ‘nibbles’ lately”, she said.

That’s when Ted replied with the words that created another sea change in my life”:

“You tell Luann that lawyers do this to each other all the time!” he told her. “It’s called professional jealousy. It means she’s doing good work.” You can read more about professional jealousy in this series, Mean People Suck on my blog, or searching for “professional jealousy” for similar articles there.

This insight helped me get over the nay-sayers, the back-biters, the foot-trippers, the people who say I smell funny (WE ALL SMELL FUNNY), the folks with back-handed “compliments” that are actually swats, etc.

The major premise of the first half of The Nibble Theory is that we all start out as small people with a lot of personal growth ahead of us. That ‘personal growth’ is symbolized by a small circle. As we go through life, we have many opportunities to grow personally, emotionally, spiritually.  Sometimes we overlook these opportunities, but we will all encounter them on our journey. And we can’t judge someone else’s journey, because….well, because it’s their journey, not ours..

But along the way, we’re going to run into not only small circles who will be jealous of our journey, we may run into bigger circles who may be threatened by ours. They will “nibble us down to size” so we aren’t as scary or enviable.

This book helps us understand our own power is about our own personal growth. And it helps us “frame” the attacks of others who feel threatened, who feel “less than”, so we don’t take on their toxicity personally.

I’ve read this book many, many times over the years. From time to time (like now!) I even buy up additional copies, and give them away to friends and family who may benefit from reading the book.

But here’s an interesting twist in my own story:

I completely did not spend much time on the second half, devoted to “the kernel of power”.

And this is exactly what I need to be working on right now.

Oddly, in our little WAG group (Women Artists’ Group, my first artist support group here in California), we had a little exercise in January: We all picked a word to be “our word” for 2019.

And I picked “power”.

I had no idea why. I don’t want to be a superhero, I don’t want to boss people around (though my dear hubby might beg to differ), and I don’t want to be “in charge”. I was actually offered a chance to serve on a local art event group’s steering committee, and turned it down. (I prefer “ad hoc” participation, I told them.)

And yet, for some reason, the word “power” resonated.

Eventually, I found an article about a different kind of “power”, the kind that comes from being grounded (sounds vaguely electrical??) and getting clear about the path we are on, bringing our energy and efforts to focus on doing the best work we can, and using it as a force for good in the world.

And now I’m reading and rereading that last section of the THE NIBBLE THEORY more carefully.

The beauty of it is, it includes an exercise which strongly echoes my series where I talk about the structure of a powerful artist support group, THE FOUR QUESTIONS.

 Aha! The right kind of power! Now I know my mission for the rest of 2019.

Jamison knew first-hand the importance of finding our power. She was a first-generation Lebanese woman, born in the ‘30’s in West Virginia. She founded her own consulting company, and became a pioneer on issues of gender, race, affirmative action, and differences. She died way too soon, but her work lives on. And it has even more relevance for our contentious, fractured world today.

What the heck does this have to do with art?!

You already know that.

As artists, we, too, live in a time where, even with all the opportunities and ways to get our art out in the world, it can still be hard. Hard to discover what is unique about our work, and our story. Hard to figure out how to make our work stand out from the crowd. Hard to value our work and ourselves at a time where Nibblers seem to outnumber mosquitoes in the world.

And yet, every single one of us got here today from different times, different places, different circumstances, different education, different support systems, and with different media, different processes, different goals, different audiences, and different expectations. Her goal was not to be famous, or to make a lot of money. She simply wanted to make the world a better place, and put her special skills to work to achieve that.

What do we all have in common?

We all want to make the work that means something to us, something that is a product of our story. Our story is who we are in the world, and who we want to be.

And we want people to see us. Not just our work, but us. Who we are, what we do, how we do it, and why we do it.  (We want people to buy it, too, of course. And they will, if it resonates with them enough, and they can afford it.) (And if they have room for it!)

I believe we also all want people to value our work, to appreciate it.

We want our work to be “in the world”, and to mean something to others.

And like the Netflix special, “Nanette”, we can focus on Van Gogh’s work selling for $21 million dollars.

Or we can focus on the fact that Van Gogh’s work exists today because he had a brother who loved him.

As an eternal student of life, I strive to keep learning, to keep growing as a human being, to do the work of my heart, and to help others do the same. I want to have few regrets when I leave this world.

OH, and I also want to have the most beads, rocks, shells, and pets.

What is your inner truth? What does your work say, that you want the world to know? Not sure? Go buy the darn book!

P.S. As I republished this article on my blog, I realized the best example of what I espouse here. Kaleel Jamison died way too soon, but her work, her foundation, and powerful book are still with us today. Her words still bring solace, healing, and empowerment to people who need it to do their good work, and bring it into the world. She did it right!

TESTING THE WATERS: How to get past “too much” and “not enough” to “just right!”

Don't miss Luann Udell's discussion on finding a balance
Don’t miss Luann Udell’s discussion on finding a balance….

Testing the Waters

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.

How to get past “too much” and “not enough” to “just right!”

Over a decade ago, we bought our first hot tub. It made New England winters soooooo much easier to bear. We immediately invited friends over to share the joy.

We thought we were being so generous with our tub, and then we found we’d been a little too generous. After our first week of glorious steaming under the dark and starry winter skies, we discovered we’d given a dozen of our friends a whopping case of hot tub rash.

Unfortunately, we had less-than-spectacular support and service from the company we bought the hot tub from. It turned out the “natural” ingredients to control for acidity and such, simply didn’t work very well.

We eventually switched maintenance service and products to another company in town. We learned how to test our water samples, adding this chemical and that to maintain the right balance. With this procedure, we were finally able to keep our hot tub water clean, and healthy, and safe.

Normally, I’d be too ashamed to admit this. But today the metaphors are just too spot-on to pass up.

As I tested and tweaked the water, I got to thinking:

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could test our lives the same way?


When things get toxic, or simply just smell “off”, you could pull out a little test strip and add the balancing elements you need to get back on your path.

(OK, hot tub rash isn’t toxic, just highly annoying. It itches.)

Is the water too acidic? You find yourself being impatient and unkind? Your outlook on life has become a little too caustic? Time to add a buffering agent–maybe a little kindness and understanding. When was the last time you felt fully engaged with your art work? (Me: “umm…….er…..”) (To be fair, setting up a new studio space, organizing, culling, finally having clarity about what needs to go where, feels pretty creative right now!)

Not enough acidity? Are others are being caustic to you? Do others around you feel free to take “nibbles”?  Maybe it’s time to get tougher, set stronger boundaries, and ask for what we need from those around us to restore the balance. This book, The Nibble Theory, changed my life, and it could change yours, too.

Is the water cloudy?  Are the treatments still not working? Maybe it’s time to look at your filtering system. Does it need to be cleaned or changed to make sure it’s scouring those bad influences out before they get recirculated back into your life?

Check your take on life. What color glasses are you looking at life through? And how do you handle the dreck that spills over into your life? Do you hold on to the bad stuff and setbacks in life, ruminating over them at night, accepting them as your “truth”?

Or do you let go and flush it out? (Apologies, I did not mean to introduce a toilet metaphor…!) Check out This amazingly simple document for some insights and simple actions to start feeling better.

Evidence of toxic infiltration? Sometimes toxic elements accumulate, and before we know it, we’re knocked completely off our path. Time for a shock treatment! Sometimes you need extreme measures to get those negative influences and toxic relationships out of your life. (Please do not resort to violence. It always ends badly.) Last year, I simply had to hunker down and be exquisitely kind and gentle with myself. It was surprisingly hard! But I think this is why I am now embracing the studio set-up. Every day brings a little more clarity about what I need to do. And nobody gives me grief about it. It’s all me!

Is the balance still not right? Then you may have to empty the tub and start all over again. Maybe even try a whole new system to get the results you want. I’ve been meaning to get back to work in my new studio. But then I got carried away setting up my lighting. Which led me to search for more of my lighting stuff. Which led me to clearing a path in our garage so I could get to my old booth setup. Soon the entire afternoon was gone. I still haven’t made anything, and now I’m late with my article for FAV!!

But I got rid of some stuff, cleaned some stuff, repaired some stuff, found some stuff I needed, and have more insight into what I need to do next.

I’ve done that active listening thing for several friends in the last few weeks. My husband said, “So when is it YOUR turn?” I realize that process may indeed be a good water balance test strip. Er, life balance. A quick check in to see if I have the balance I need to make my art the best it can be.

In lieu of little paper water testing strips, what can we use to measure what we need?

 A little group of artistic friends can help. Make sure they “have your back”, know your heart, and treat you fairly. Checking in with people you love and respect, who love and respect Y*O*U, can do wonders to get our balance back.

I hope my columns help, and the wonderful conversations that have grown around them. I believe it helps to know we are not alone, no matter where we are on our life-and-art journey.

Some find balance in family, pets (big and small!), traveling, exercise, SHOPPING (oops! Did I say that out loud??), a class, a night out with friends, a great movie…almost anything can tilt that little testing strip toward the healthy medium we’re looking for. Whatever restores us to our best self, so we can get back to making our art. In fact, from what I’m hearing, most find that going to the studio and getting to work is the best strategy of all.

For me, it’s all of the above. But mostly, the “aha” moments come from writing. It helps me untangle the knotty problems and worried thoughts in my buzzy brain.

That’s another blessing with cleaning part of the garage today: I found all my old journals! And poetry I’d written years ago, much of which I’d forgotten about. I found beautiful letters from good friends and perfect strangers, people who had thanked me for the gift of a horse necklace, for reaching out, for having the courage to make a connection. It made me feel more “me”, if that makes sense.

Because, I just realized (see? This is why I write!) each journal, each note-card, letter, poem, every small item I had set aside for my kids (their poetry, stories, drawings, etc.) brought back to me just how lovely my life has been, and how much love, joy, and connection my artwork, and my writing, have created, for myself, and for others.

As I’ve said so many times, we tend to think of the times we “did it wrong”, the times we struggled with, the mean things people say, and the art project that didn’t quite work out.

But my life test strip was there to tell me it’s all okay. In fact, it’s all really good.

Time to see if it’s safe to go back in the water.

The hot tub is long gone. When we sold our house to move to California, the new owners did not want it. We were able to sell it for half of what it cost us. My husband and the husband/dad part of the new family were there when the guy came to pick it up. (They had just moved to NH from the Midwest, and had never had a hot tub.) As the guy loaded it onto his truck, Jon said, “Man, I don’t know how we would have gotten through those last few winters without that hot tub!” And the new owner, confused, said, “You used it in the winter?!” (Jon said he could almost see the wheels turning in his head, and the guy looked a little regretful.) Oh well.

Hmmmm….maybe we could use a little hot tub, ourselves? (California evenings are certainly cool enough, even in the summer!)

P.S. And if you DO give your friends a hot tub rash, be sure to say you’re sorry. And take them out to dinner.

Maybe even buy them a bottle of their favorite single-malt whiskey. Or two. Or three.

THE POWER WORD

Last week, I came across life coach Christine Kane’s call to action: Pick your Word-of-the-Year (Word of the Year.) (This is a free download, with no call to sign up with your email.)

It’s a cool concept. Our modern culture focuses on action steps, especially during this time of year. Soon we will be making resolutions, setting goals, etc.

Christine believes simply choosing a word that resonates with us manifests our intention. Intention, she believes, comes from the heart. And it’s even more powerful when it unfolds in a more natural, organic way than saying, “I’m gonna do this, and this, and that, and then THAT will happen!” Which starts with selecting a word that resonates, even it it’s not what you think it is.

The idea did resonate with me. But I didn’t even know where to start.

This year has been a clusterfuck, personally, economically, physically, professionally, financially, in addition to the stuff that we see on the national and international stage. Everything right down to how I feel when I get up in the morning and go to bed at night is filled with anxiety, self-doubt, frustration, resentment, and confusion.

So I downloaded the free workbook, and looked over her list of words, dozens and dozens of them. Nope. Nope. Nooooope. Hope? Maybe… Joy? Well, yeah….but no. Expansion? Maybe. Power? Power!

Now why did I pick power?!

I don’t want to be the boss of anything or anyone. Yes, I love to offer advice, but don’t want to be responsible for other people’s actions and life decisions. I don’t want to be “big” or “important” or “in charge” of anything except my own life.

So where did power come from?

I thought back over this past year. Loss. Death. Discord. Grief. Fear. Physical pain.

I thought of where I got to, working through this stuff. I have explored, and almost mastered, true forgiveness. (Okay, in bits and pieces.) Letting go of the need to belong. (Doing okay, still needs work. Still hurts to be told you don’t belong…) Accepting that we may choose to be connected, but that we are also actually alone. (SCARY STUFF.)

Where does power come in?

Following the instructions, I wrote down the words that came to mind:

Brave. Integrity. Stand tall. Move forward. Work hard. 

Okay. That felt more actionable. But I still wondered.

Then some incidental acts of cruelty stopped me in my tracks again. OK… I’m reading more of Brene Brown’s newest book, Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution, which is (I think) about elements of The Hero’s Journey. I think I’m in the “rumble stage”: That is, I think I know what I want. But everything seems to be conspiring against me. The stage in the Hero’s Journey where we realize it’s gonna be a heckuva lot harder than we thought. Perhaps even impossible.

With the mean remarks, I thought power might be “empowering myself to set boundaries.” Very important for creative people. We thrive and create by being open to the universe, allowing our pain to show, making our art to heal it, and then sharing it with the world.

When people respond negatively, that hurts. But we have to keep making! Hence, boundary-setting becomes imperative, a way to protect ourselves without shutting ourselves down, and shutting the world out.

So imagine my surprise when the very next chapter I read in Rising was about…..power.

Brown suggests that power has a negative connotation, because “…we automatically conflate power and power over…”

But, she continues, “The type of power I’m talking about is more in line with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s definition of it: The ability to achieve our purpose and to effect change.

Powerless leads to fear and desperation. We are at our worst when we feel powerless.

She says moving out of powerlessness and despair requires hopeWe can soften the experience of failure by asking ourselves, “Were we all in, and were we true to ourselves?” If so, then we can focus on the true lessons of regret: “We regret most our failures of courage, whether it’s the courage to be kinder, to show up to, say how we feel, to set boundaries, to be good to ourselves.”

I do not regret chosing “power” as my Word of the Year.

It’s already started me on a journey of introspection, a journey of hope, a journey of achieving my purpose….

And as fellow narrative artist/writer Teri Sloat shared after we talked in our fledgling artist support group about this, “Do you know who you meet at the end of the “Hero’s Journey?”*

Yourself.

Yup. I think I have the right word.

Wish me luck! (And courage, and perseverance, and most of all, patience.)

*Teri added a clarification, a lovely one, and I quote:  I think my comment about the hero’s journey is a bit off, if people are thinking the the actual Joseph Campbell structure of the hero’s journey.  What i should have said is that before the ‘resurrection’ we have to deal with the shadow side of what makes our strengths. Once we accept them we can accept them in others.  You have made me think as I read your work that it is only when we acknowledge these shadows in ourselves do we accept them in others and neutralize their danger to us.”

Beautifully said, Teri, and thank you again!

 

 

THE FOUR QUESTIONS: #10 Make It Your Own!

Luann Udell shares tips & highlights on how to make these "meetings" your own.
Luann Udell shares tips & highlights on how to make these “meetings” your own.

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.

Take advantage of new options for your meet-ups.

 (5 minute read) 

We’ve covered all the how-to’s and the why’s in this series. Now let’s loop back and pick up the tips, suggestions, and fine-tuning to make these meetings your own.

It’s a support group.

I’ve outlined the basics for maintaining privacy and safety. If you have even more privacy concerns, or need them met, research the tenets of other such groups. (Hint: The internet!) If you know something with experience about such groups, review what we’ve covered in this series, and ask them for suggestions specific to your concerns.

You get to add stuff to the mix.

We talked about affirmations. You can take a few minutes helping each other create an “action affirmation” after each person speaks.

Writing instead of speaking??

I love adding writing exercises to the mix!

A few timed minutes of free writing is a great way to warm up the brain. You simply blurt—pouring onto the page your stream of consciousness. No editing, no focusing on grammar, etc. Just let your inner lizard brain go to town.

It’s fun to add a more directed writing exercise from time to time, too. This one crossed my path today: “What have you told yourself you couldn’t do, because of a childhood story? What benefits have you received because of it? How has it served you?”

Perhaps take this opportunity to do your page of affirmations for the day, too.

But there’s a powerful psychological element in speaking/signing your truth. There are responses to the process you can witness, in real time, that show the power of telling what is in your heart. The more you practice the speaking/telling, the better you get at it!

Don’t give that up unless it simply won’t work with this group.

If this group fills other needs, great. But keep trying to create another!

Can it be a book group?

Some commenters shared their good experiences with art-related books to discuss. It sounds great! And it may be all the support you need, or gently evolve that way.

But after reading the outline, and the intended outcome with The Four Questions, I hope you see the differences in what can be achieved.

Why not do both??

Document your journey.

Susan Delphine Delaney https://www.facebook.com/susandelphinedelaney, a highly-trained professional therapist and speaker, wrote, “Love this post. The only thing that I would add is “document the journey.” Write down the goal, then write down every step you take to get there. This will encourage you about your progress during down moments, provide accountability and lift you up as you see how much you have done to get to your goal.

Luann does this through her blog, but the rest of us can do it in a spiral notebook or a beautiful blank book. You decide.”

And Susan again!

“My friend, Pamela Wible MD, was the commencement speaker at a medical school in Chicago (Loyola). She encouraged the nascent doctors, in their lunch celebrations with their families, to stand and make a video of their dreams for their lives as physicians, a video that they could come back to in down times.

I could see this stupendous idea happening two ways in the artist support groups Luann is showing us:

1.  The video could be made with the speaker’s own phone while she spoke of her vision for her art by a third group member, not the questioner, not the scribe. The questioner would still question. The scribe would still scribe.

2.  Alternatively, the video could be made, the scribe could scribe and the speaker could create a script for what she came up with after watching the first video and reading the scribe’s notes. Maybe the “video member” would come ten minutes early and video that polished statement on the speakers own phone. Maybe the speaker would make that video at home. The polished video would be a joy for the artist to come back to, since it contained her distilled thoughts.”

Add accountability.

One commenter said, “I have been talking to a couple of friends about just what you have posted… starting a group that will be a support group, upholding each person in the group. In some ways we want it to also be an accountability group. We know sometimes it is just telling someone your plan will help you follow through with that plan… and that person can help with positive reinforcement… being a cheerleader and help in motivation, too.”

Can we socialize, too?

Of course! You can meet up at a friend’s house for a (potluck? Take-out??) dinner, or a private place in a favorite restaurant, and take up your business afterwards.

 How do we end?

Many groups create a simple ceremony at the end, to wrap up all that good energy, and leave everyone in a happy place.

You can agree on a group blessing or prayer.

Or gather for a group hug.

Hold hands in a circle, and take turns saying something lovely to the person on your left. (Or right.)

You can sing a little song.

Share your faves in the comment section!

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #9: “What Support Do You Need?”

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.

Go ahead, ask for help. It’s what tribes are for! 

(6 min. read) 

Here we are at the last question, and it’s a good one, too!

You’ve shared your dreams for your art biz.

You’ve found your action steps, and hopefully a process for finding them over and over again.

You’ve uncovered the secret screaming spooks in your brain that have held you back in the past. (Don’t worry, they aren’t gone for good! But from now on, you have spook strategies for dealing with them.)

And now, you are going to learn to ASK for the help you need.

Because that’s what we’re here for. 

I find it surprisingly hard to ask for help. There are lots of reasons we don’t think we can ask. For me, it might feel like what I think I need seems trivial. Or it may seem like too much to ask. Whatever. It makes me hesitate to ask.

Let’s try to frame these thoughts:

Too trivial.

One participant had trouble carving out time to actually make their art. They asked if someone would be willing call one or two mornings a week, and remind them to go to the studio.

Now, this was before cell phones and smart phones. Now we could simply set a reminder for ourselves. And of course, we could always just put it on the fridge calendar!

But this was before all that. AND this person valued the personal touch, a chance to chat for a few moments, and get the art mojo working.

There was a person in the group who was happy to do that. They later reported it helped them get to their studio, too!

Tiny cues like this are called micro-actions. It’s something as simple as putting on your gym shoes in the morning. This tiny action helps put your brain in “go to the gym mode.”

For almost any goal or practice you want in your life, there are micro-actions that can help.

And it works.

In fact, it can work both ways, as evidenced by the obliging telephone caller.

Recently, I asked a good friend for insight on a family matter, and their response was very helpful. So I asked them if I could do anything in return.

They said yes. Would I be willing to reach out again? Like, maybe a few times a month? The local friend support they needed for a particular new course of action is not available in their world (yet!). And I’m just a phone call/email/text away!

Of course I said yes. And our conversations have grown richer and deeper as a result. Both of us are moving forward in our vision, and both of us are the better for it.

So never be afraid to ask for something that seems trivial. Because it rarely is!

Too much to ask.

Nobody wants to ask for something, and be told, “No”. We worry others will see us as “less than”. And we all worry about getting a “no”. We think it means, “No, that’s too much trouble.” Or “No, that’s too much to ask for.” Or, “No, geez, what a needy person you are!”

But it’s rare for everyone to say “no”.

If they do, if everyone always says no, then you may have asked the wrong people. Or you have asked too many times and not reciprocated. Or you are asking for something only a professional (therapist, coach, physician, etc.) can give you.

So check your assumptions. If these don’t apply, then heck, ask away! The worst that can happen? People can’t do what you ask, they can’t do what you ask right now. They may simply not have the skills, the time, or the ability. Then you’ll have to break it down, spread it out, start smaller, or ask someone else.

Here’s an example of my “big” ask:

When we lived in New Hampshire, I did an annual fine craft retail show that lasts 9 days. One year, I signed up for a sales/demo booth, a huge tent to myself at a reduced rate, in return for demonstrating my process.

In order to do this successfully, I knew I had to hire a sales team to assist me. But who would work for minimum wage or in-trade for my goods??

It turns out a lot of people would!

There were folks who jumped at the opportunity to get a little sales training. People who wanted my work, but couldn’t justify the expense. People who wanted something interesting to do, to hang out with me, to share their own love of my work with others. People who wanted to see what being in an art fair was like. Etc., etc., etc.

I held a pre-show training session, and had enough people commit that I could create a work schedule that fit everyone’s schedule.

It was hugely successful, and I made my highest income ever that year!

    

I’m really glad I asked for, and got help. Because this was a big deal!

I did the same sales/demo thing again the following year. Not all the same people could help. Some had moved to full-time work, some just didn’t care to do it again. No worries! Some people wanted to do more, and new people wanted to try it.

It all worked out!

We don’t know what will help.

Sometimes, we are so unused to asking, so afraid of hearing, “no”, we’ve never even thought of what that help would look like!

It’s okay to ask for help on what would help. (Yeah, I had to read that again, too!)

It’s surprising—and fun!—to realize other people have been there already. They may understand where you are, and what you’re struggling with.

And that means they may have good thoughts and suggestions. (Remember, you are in charge of how much you want to hear!)

Sometimes, the support group is enough.

Sometimes, just knowing you will be checking in with your support group in a month, or two weeks, or two months, is enough to create a little momentum with your action steps.

“Accountability” is a huge factor in our busy, hectic modern lives, especially if we are so used to putting our own needs and dreams on the back burner in order to help others.

Sometimes, the support group can’t help. And that’s okay, too!

I like to think of this support group aspect as the “pre-flight safety speech”:

Put your own oxygen mask on first. (Aka, “Know your own limits.”) 

For example, I didn’t volunteer to call that person to remind them to go to the gym. I had two small kids at home, a husband who was gone almost 12 hours a day, and we were relatively new to the area—no extended family members or reliable sitters to help out. I could barely carve out time for my art, and for this group.

It’s always—always—imperative to meet your needs and set your boundaries. Don’t volunteer for commitments for offers of help if you really can’t fulfill them. No one needs a “yes” that turns into a last-minute “no”.

Don’t feel bad, or guilty. Simply be honest on what you can offer, and what you can’t.

In this particular case, I thought, “We should just make t-shirts that say “GO TO THE STUDIO!” I said it out loud. And it turned out, someone already had! The artist purchased one, in time.

So here we are, at the last of the four questions.

But we’re not done yet!

Send your questions in! You’ve got the gist of the thing, now it’s time to fine-tune and adapt for what works for YOU.

And next week: The little extras that can enhance your get-togethers even more!

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #2 Why This Group?

Don't miss Luann Udell's continued discussion on the importance of an art group.
Don’t miss Luann Udell’s continued discussion on the importance of an art group.

 

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.

Socializing is good, it’s good to be social! But not all social, all the time.

(7 minute read) 

Last week, I introduced you to an artist support group blueprint I learned from Deborah Kruger decades ago, which I call The Four Questions.

A reader commented they’d recently created their own artist group. They’ve worked their way through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and will now move on to other art book projects and discussions.

Any opportunity to meet up with fellow artists and creatives is good. Especially if you respect/like/enjoy/adore them! And they make a good apple pie, too… Well, then! (Otherwise, I just hide out and save my energy.)

The Artist’s Way workbook is an excellent way to explore your hidden fears, your own obstacles, the “faux thinking” that keeps you from moving forward with your art, especially if you don’t have an artist support group. It’s fun. It’s all about YOU. You can do it on your own, too.

Over the years, I’ve seen a few major drawbacks, though, with TAW and with purely social groups:

*Doing the Artist’s Way work can be a great excuse not to do your OWN work. One artist used it for a year. They loved it! Yet they didn’t do one thing to move forward with their own art. The exercises became an excuse not to go to the studio.

*It’s based on writing. Me? I thrive on writing through many of my issues. For others, not so much.

*The Four Questions is based on saying your truth, finding what works for you, and the power of being listened to. Everyone takes turns, everyone gets a chance to speak.

But don’t let that take away from the social aspects of group activities! Socializing is a powerful force for good in the universe. There’s nothing like hearing someone else express their doubts and fears, and thinking, “Wow! I thought I was the only one who felt that way!”

In fact, the first part of a Four Questions meet-up is social. It’s called “checking in”.

You take turns catching up with what’s going on with all of you, in all the worlds you’re in. Art. Family. Day job/income work/whatever. Health. (Deborah’s original group would have dinner together first, and do their check-in while dining.)

There’s no set way to do this, except make sure everyone has a chance to share what’s going on, and what’s coming up. When I was home with my two wee ones in a new house in a new state, sometimes this would be the very first time anyone would ask me how things were going—and listened!—in days.

I also noticed when I was given this time to update everyone, it got the “buzz” out of my brain and on the table. (Er… figuratively, of course!) As I listened to myself, I could see where I had needless worries, and where I had trouble moving forward.

I’ve come to believe that a “check-in” process is a healthy addition to ANY artist group meeting, depending on the size of the group.

It will help to understand why someone seems a wee bit snarky or distracted.

It will help the speaker, and the rest of the group, clarify what they want to talk about during the “working” part of the meet-up.

And when things get hard in life, it will help fulfill another important facet of this group’s support system:

Your artist self will be held and remembered for you during difficult times, until you can return to it.

 

Betty Friedan, noted advocate for women’s rights, said it all: “You can have it all, just not all at the same time.” Whenever life steps in and deals us a major blow, it can be extremely difficult to find the time and space to make our art.

We may become ill, or injured. We may be called to be a care-giver for someone else who becomes ill or injured. We may have young children to care for: Our own children, our grandchildren, maybe even someone else’s children. We may be dealing with disaster: Divorce. Loss of job. Loss of home, or safety, or car.

A good network and support group holds the memory of who you are, until you are ready to take it up again. And if you should choose a different path back, they will honor that, too.

There’s another reason that other meet-ups, such as The Artist’s Way format, art discussion groups, art road trips, etc. have their place:

Over time, you will find who your true peeps are: Seeing who might be a good fit for your support group, and who would fit better into purely socializing.

Sometimes you find your peeps at a group show. ​

As I’ve always said, I’ve learned a lot of things the hard way. Friendships that worked fine…until I realized the other person always…ALWAYS…had to have their own way.

I realized there are people who need more support, perhaps even professional therapy, than untrained friends can offer.

There are people who are so out of touch with what they want, they will fight and push back every single step of the way. It’s normal to “push back” with some of the Four Questions. But for an ongoing support project, I like the people who eventually push through to their place of power and creative growth.

There are a few people who are charming and charismatic, but also manipulative and destructive. To place yourself in a position of vulnerability with them is not only unproductive, it can be dangerous.

There are people who are just not ready, nor willing, to move forward with their art. And you just can’t make them do it. Nor should you. It’s their choice, their journey, not ours. But that also means they may not be a good fit for your support group.

So your homework for next week, if you haven’t already done so:

Get out there and meet up with other artists!

Go to open studios, opening receptions for art shows, gallery talks. If there’s an art organization in your area, volunteer for events from time to time. It’s amazing what you can learn about people working on the kitchen crew for potluck dinners! I used to volunteer for fundraiser events for a hospice organization. Some people show their true colors when they think you’re just a nobody working on the sidelines.

Some people show you who they are—believe them! If someone treats you badly, pay attention to that. It might just be envy or insecurity, but that doesn’t excuse bad behavior. We ALL have a lizard brain. Grown-ups work on it. Btw, “ grown-up behavior” isn’t necessarily related to age. I know many wise younger people, and many idiot, know-it-all oldsters who simply don’t. Know it all, I mean.

On the other hand (OTOH), it pays to triangulate. Check in with others who know more about that person. If someone’s behavior is awkward or off-putting, find out if there’s a humane reason behind it. People with Asperger’s Syndrome, or reading disabilities, or who are just ‘nerdy’, can be “different”, but they can be just as sensitive, and even more insightful human beings, because of it. Me? Sometimes it takes me awhile to “play well with others”, especially if I feel I’m not in a group that’s good for me.

Gather together as prospective small groups. See who’s respectful, who’s helpful, whose words resonate. Note who’s whiny and full of self-pity. See who’s open to new ideas and new opportunities. See who wants to be more empowered by making better choices. THEIR choices.

This will be the family you CHOOSE. Make it a good one!

(N.B. If you are truly physically isolated, it’s possible to reach out to others you’ve come across online, on the internet. Group emails, a discussion forum, even conference telephone calls, can help you connect. And of course, TAW is amazing for a solo adventure, provided you USE the work to do YOUR work. Let me know what issues separate you from this process. Maybe together we can figure out a unique way to make this work for YOU.)

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #1 Create Your Artist Support Group

For some reason, I didn’t republish my initial articles for this series, which originally appeared on Fine Art Views. So I’ll be “catching you up” the next few days. Enjoy!

Luann Udell discusses the importance of having an "art group" and how it can help you grow creatively.
Luann Udell discusses the importance of having an “art group” and how it can help you grow creatively.

When your peeps have your back, it’s easier to move forward.

When I first stepped up to the plate with my art and my art biz, I was fearless. I was focused. Not even rejection set me back for more than a few minutes, just enough time to sidestep my lizard brain and get back to my higher self.

I educated myself at every opportunity. I sought out advice and insights from more experienced artists. I took notes and kept good records. Every day I sought to take one step forward.

Many folks were surprised to learn I had only been in business a couple years.

So when I found a notice about an upcoming artist support group workshop (on how to create your own support system), my first thought was, “I don’t need that!”

But something told me otherwise. Just a quiet little voice saying, “Maybe someday it will get harder…” (Spoiler alert: It can, and it does.)

So I took a chance and signed up for that a three-day workshop.

It changed my life

The workshop leader was Deborah Kruger, a fiber artist who already had a solid body of work behind her, including incredible installation art. A beautiful, intelligent vibrant, woman full of insight, and wisdom, good at listening. And really, really good at seeing where we get hung up in the details.

We were in awe of her. (Put a pin in that for a later article.)

Deborah’s work has evolved, as her own story changes.

We did many exercises in that class. I kept a notebook, of course, and filled it with observations, insights, and comments as we went along.

The heart of the class was learning and practicing how a good artist support group works. The main premise is:

The greatest gift you can give a woman is to listen to her…*

(NB. Times are changing, somewhat, so maybe we can now include “artists” or even “creatives” in this premise.)

And the corollary:

Because…We already know what to do.

We all know what is right for us.

We need to listen to that little voice inside. Not the loud, buzzy, snarky, critical lizard-brain-voice that tells us we aren’t good enough, or not smart enough, or not deserving enough.

We are here to find the quiet little voice that knows we are doing our best. The one that knows “we are already ‘enough’.”

We must not override it with too much logic, too much preparation, or too much self-doubt.

To discover this voice, we need people who will ask the right questions.

We need people who will ask, and then listen to what we say.

We need people who keep listening, and questioning, until we come up with our own answer, our own truth. 

It’s actually a scary place to be… because this process is unlike most conversations we ever have with other people. 

This premise (and corollary) is why today, I believe everyone has a place in the world. Everyone has a story. Everyone has a voice.

And everyone’s place, and story, and voice, is unique to them.

Every day, we are told we aren’t good enough, pretty enough, strong enough, lucky enough. Every day, we are told we’re “doing it wrong”. Every day, yet another social media site swears it will catapult us to fame and fortune. Every day, there’s someone who promises they have the secret to success (usually for a hefty price!) Every day, it feels like everyone else “gets it”, and that we never will. 

This is why you need people who will have your back in your support group.

    

Years after that life-changing workshop, Deborah again guided me to my truth: It’s not about the technique. It’s about the story. And I’m not done telling my story.

Did you do your homework last week?

Did you think of a handful of people who might be willing to do this with you? And who, in return, are willing to be recipients of the same process?

Do they accept you, flaws, faults, and foibles, as just another human on their own unique journey? They don’t have to be your best buddies. They don’t even have to be people who have known you a long time.  Heck, they don’t really even have to love your creative aesthetic. They just have to believe we are all capable of moving forward and achieving our dreams.

Do they treat other people with respect and patience?

Do they have an open heart, open to trying something new?

Do they want you to succeed, to achieve your definition of success?

Do they have their own goals and dreams? And do they understand you want the same for them? Because they will get their turn, too.

Reach out to them. Gather them together, meet up. Tell them why you chose them.

Don’t be afraid to jump in. You may have some mishaps.

Some of you may be at different points in your life. That’s okay. Beginners, experts, pros, all have something to offer.

The only requirement is to respect where people are, right now, and to respect where they say they want to go next.

The exercises you will participate aren’t about telling people they’re doing it wrong. It’s about helping them clarify where they want to go, and how they’re going to get there…on their own terms, at their own pace. 

It’s about shining a light on self-blaming, self-denigration, insecurity, and the (incorrect) notion that we don’t deserve to dream big.

And it’s also about holding someone’s feet to the fire when what they say they want isn’t reflected by what they’re doing. (Ow!)

In the weeks ahead, I’ll share powerful exercises we learned in that workshop. They can be hard at first, if you haven’t learned to push back against that lizard-brain. It can be heard to share your true heart with others, if you’ve never been deeply listened too.

Some of the exercises are so simple, you’ll smack your head and exclaim, “Why didn’t I think of that?!” Some will be fun.

And everyone’s experience will be different. You will learn from each other, too.

It’s not about being a saint.

It’s about having, and being, an ally.

Stay tuned for more columns on this! Next is how to put a little fun into the mix. After that, a simple exercise to have more confidence in yourself and your abilities to grow and change.

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

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

(7 minute read) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1)    Eliminate the all-or-nothing approach.

There’s nothing more daunting than an ultimatum. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3)    Work backwards from your goal.

You can’t win the lottery unless…..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before that? “I need more canvases!”

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

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

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

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

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

One bite at a time.

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

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

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

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

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #6: The First Question: “What is your greatest vision for your art?”

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.

Start with the biggest dream you can imagine!

(6 minute read)

We’ve explored the potential need for an artist support group in your life. We’ve covered the purpose, the roles, the ground rules, and the privacy thing.

And now the rubber hits the road!

The speaker and the asker (because I’m tired of typing “questioner”) are present and ready, the scribe has pen poised and notebook ready, the audience is ready to listen. Here we go!

What is your greatest vision for your art?

I’m not going to kid you. This is a big question. Bigger than most of us can even manage our first time here. No worries! Start where you are, and we’ll go from there.

Pull out all the “dream big” platitudes you’ve ever heard to get going: What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? What brings you joy? What is the measure of your success? What do you want to accomplish with your art? What is your greatest goal in life, with your art? What could your legacy be?

Sometimes these dreams are just in us, waiting for a chance to be called forth. When people are in this stage, not much encouragement is needed! It comes pouring out.

One person dreamed they were accepting an Academy Award for their groundbreaking documentary. One person envisioned creating ceremonial garments for spiritual ceremonies. One simply wanted an art space of their own. (More on this….)

Me? My first vision was to make small dolls and animals, tiny enough to fit in the palm of your hand, for children, but also for grownups, from recycled materials. (My first artifacts were about a year away.) Something that would bring joy, and happiness. (Still true!) Something that gave comfort and encouraged resilience. (True, too.) Maybe something I could share and teach. (Found a different way to do that, too!)

I thought about how this made ME happy, and how much I wanted to keep doing it. I didn’t want to sit in a garrett (I love how “garret” is a miserable space that inherently suggests its use by an artist!) alone and unknown. I wanted my work to be out in the world, making others as happy as it did me.

It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.” (From The Lorax.)

So, it was easy for me to talk about that, and how big that could become.

Other people? Maybe not so much.

Some people are swollen with self-doubt. They are filled with restrictions and conditions, with self-judgment and denial. And who they are may surprise you!

So, the spirit of answering this question, when it feels difficult, is to “act as if…”

Act “as if” you are already an artist. Make up a story about it! Add all the ingredients that would make your heart sing. Dream big. Pretend. Fake it ‘til you make it.

They’re making a movie about a famous, successful artist, and it’s a movie about YOU. Tell us about it!

After all, we aren’t asking you to “fake” being a brain surgeon, and then expecting you to go out and perform a surgery—which is where “fake it ‘til etc.” might prove dangerous to others. (And where it gets its bad rep re: inspiration.)

So gentle encouragement can help these folks through the question.

Strategies:

Give them time.

If they stop talking, refrain from jumping in right away. Simply wait. We are so NOT used to saying our truth, we are trained to see what others say.

So… sit with the silence.

If after a couple of minutes or so, there’s still no more story, then tell them we will sit with that for the rest of the 10 minutes. It’s their time! DON’T cut it short—leave it open.

It’s surprising how that’s often enough to encourage them to add more.

Give them a chance to get out of their own way.

From my artist friend/shrink/reader Susan Delphine Delaney, a professional in counseling/therapy. (She says she’s also been called “The Praying Shrink!)

“If you think the speaker is stuck, please assume that “the thing that lights up the world”, however you think of that, is PRESENT. Truth is, the speaker and the “light” are the two that need to commune. So, ask a question: “You seem to be stuck at x. What ideas do you have to get unstuck?” Then shut up and let the speaker and the light shine together. They will figure it out as you wrap them in your smile and your love.”

Susan also shares this with us: “When I lived at the Pecos Benedictine Monastery for six weeks, studying Spiritual Direction, the monks told us every day that when two people (or more) are problem-solving, the Holy Spirit is there. I used to light a votive when problem solving with my then-teen-aged daughter to remind me that the Spirit was there, helping us. A group could light a votive to help remember that a benevolent Force in the Universe is present to help.”

A benevolent Force is present…. I like that!

Frame it.

“What would that look like?” “Describe an especially satisfying day in this vision.”

Eating an Elephant/One-bite-at-a-time approach.

Do they seem overwhelmed? Encourage them to take smaller bites: “Okay… What does your studio space look like in this vision?” “What body of work are you working on in this vision?” 

Are they still stuck?

A very few people can be incredibly resistant. And a very, very few, in my experience, actually seem to relish the role of “You can’t make me dream big/be an artist/admit there’s hope!!” “You’re not the boss of me!”

“How do I know what I want? I have no idea! What does my studio look like?? I dunno, I should I know?! I don’t believe I can sell my work/exhibit/connect with others/have a vision! I just want to make my stuff and be left alone!”

I am a flawed person. I don’t have the time or patience for this.

I am NOT a trained professional therapist. I’m just a friend who’s been there, lost in the proverbial woods. Someone who learned a process that can work in powerful ways to help us move forward. Someone willing to share this, so others can, too.

I can’t help people whose only mechanism for engaging others is to constantly appeal for sympathy.

We all struggle with something. We all have wounds, burdens, losses, and hardships.

In spite of that, we also have the power of our choices. And if you’re reading this, I’m gonna assume you already identify, or want to identify as an artist. A creative force for good in the universe.

Don’t waste it!!

When someone gets into this mind frame, my first instinct is to think, “Man, I really messed this up!”

But my second thought is, “I can’t waste MY power!”

After all, they CHOSE this opportunity. They SAID they wanted more clarity, more direction. They AGREED to try this process, because they SAID they wanted their art biz to grow.

And here they are, wrapped up in being difficult and obstinate, wearing it with fierce pride. OY!!

They can still heal. But I can’t help them. They need that highly-trained professional. This is not the right place for them—yet.

And so, they don’t get invited back. 

Because the corollary to this question, the whole premise of this support group is this:

Protect your creative vision, your dreams.

Protect your creative space.

USE this particular sacred, creative, protected space to grow, as an artist. 

Don’t get pulled into “helping” people, especially those with the potential to be a “black hole”. We’re learning how to help ourselves. Stick with the people who “get that”.

Next week: The Second Question!

GROWING

How do you know when it’s time to move forward? When nothing else is possible.

If you follow my blog, you know I’m writing about a series of steps to create your own artist support group. It’s harder than I thought it would be, though I’ve done it many times. Even though I took the training not once, but twice.

I am obsessed with doing it right, hoping this “I’m not in the room to show you” approach will translate and transfer. I can’t stop thinking there’s someone out there who really needs to hear this today.

Today I finally realized that person is me.

I’ve been trapped in a whirlwind of my own emotions, my self-doubt, my inability to figure out what “the universe” is telling me. On top of the difficulties of melding with (relatively) new surroundings, trying to rebuild an audience for my art (and writing!), dealing with difficult family matters (I almost said family “members”, but have to remember they might describe me the same way!), I have been in a tsunami of allergy-related health issues. I am achey and ill-at-ease, exhausted, and I sleep round the clock. A friend said, “When allergies hit us, it feels like the universe is attacking our body.” True dat.

I’ve been reaching out to people who have had my back in the past. People who know me well. People who have seen me at my worst, and still love me. Unfortunately, when I look at how far back our conversations go, I can see that some started before we even left New Hampshire!

And slowly, slowly, I’ve realized, the universe isn’t trying to tell me something.

My heart is.

I’ve always struggled with “shaman”, just as I used to struggle with “artist”. The three aspects of a shaman are intriguing and feel right. Whether I am one or not, to go “in that general direction” just felt like the right path.

Artist. Teacher. Healer.

What about my training for those facets of who I am?

I claimed my story, and my art grew from there.

Teaching? It was one of my very first “aha!” moments, when I thought/realized I wanted to be a teacher. (Turns out I DO, and I AM, but not in our traditional idea of teaching. I share what I’ve learned in my writing, in workshops, and often in conversations with people who happen to cross my path. In a classroom, 8-4 every weekday?? For 8 months??? Not so much.)

Healing? My hospice training blew my heart up, in a good way. From sitting with clients, sitting with them, not “fixing” but simply being present. Then learning to sit with clients with Alzheimer’s, not “fixing” but simply being in THEIR moment, not mine. Then I moving on to creating and leading grief writing workshops: Helping people heal from deep and/or complicated grief and loss. (ALL under the guidance and supervision of trained professionals!) I learned, and I learned, and I learned.

But though people have urged me, I’ve always edged away from actual “coaching” coaching. It would seem like a natural “next step”, but it feels…wrong.

When I work with the wrong person, at the wrong time for them (and me!), before they are ready, before they are able, and when they are in my life for the wrong reasons, it ricochets badly.

And sometimes, I just get caught up in “I know better than you!” (I call it “triangulation”–“Let’s check in on these questionable people we both know, are they just goofy, or dangerous?” But some people call it, “Please mind your own business, I didn’t ask you!” OW!!)

I feel these efforts are always sketchy anyway–I don’t feel like a healer, though I believe my art heals me, and my art can sometimes heal others.

Lately, my “coaching” efforts have been a lot more than “less than”. They feel awful.

What it feels like: The minute I assume I know what I’m doing, it blows up in my face. And because I’m vulnerable in that role, it’s devastating.

It felt like the universe was saying, “Get over yourself!”

But today I realized there’s a gap in my training.

I need more training in healing/coaching.

I still reject the notion of this aspect of my life. It still feels wrong, it still feels uncomfortable.

I need more information on how to stay grounded. How to assess the situation. How to realize when to fold, the sooner the better! (I do have good instincts for self-protection, but sometimes they kick in too late.) How to tell when someone really is “ready”.

And to acknowledge that often, when it works at its best, there is reciprocity. Not money-wise. But every time it works beautifully, there is an exchange of energy. We both walk away better for the interaction.

Hard for me to describe. I’ll think about that.

So I share this with you today. It’s why I’ve been quieter than usual. Why I’ve made myself “smaller” instead of “bigger”.

I’m at another turning point in my life. I don’t know what it looks like, and I pretty sure I’m leaving art and writing behind. (How would I survive?!)

So today I start another trail of learning. My “next step”: Today I’m contacting someone I trust with my heart, to get a thought on how to move forward on this.

Today is another “life lesson”, just waiting to be learned.

 

 

 

 

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #5: The Rules

Don't miss Luann Udell's next topic "Rules" in her series, "The Four Questions".
Don’t miss Luann Udell’s next topic “Rules” in her series, “The Four Questions”.

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #5: The Rules

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.

Safety, and privacy, first!

 (5 minute read)

The biggest rule for your artist support group is, what happens in group, stays in group. So….

 Rule #1Safety and privacy.

They are “one rule” because they so closely relate to each other.

What people share in your group, especially during these sessions, it’s personal. Sometimes painful. It may feel embarrassing to share what holds you back, what we’re afraid of, sharing our failures or set-backs.

Hard enough to share, without worrying about it being shared with others.

It should remain private.

This means you must ask permission from that person to ask a question. You need permission to comment. You even need permission to talk with them about what they’ve shared, while you’re together. (“May I get more information on that situation you brought up earlier?”) And even when you’re not in the group! (“So, what you shared last week—may I talk with you about that?”)

And it means you should not be discussing it lightly with anyone else in your group, and definitely not with anyone outside your group.

Most of the time, people won’t mind giving you permission, especially if you’ve shown that you’re a good listener who consistently asks good questions and offers sound feedback.

But don’t assume. Ask.

Safety and privacy also mean, closed meetings. The only time our first group had a guest was, we hired Deborah to do a mini-observation of one of our sessions, to ensure we were doing it right. Her small but important course corrections were invaluable! But we all had to agree to that beforehand.

Rule #2: Smile!

Body language and eye contact are important for creating an atmosphere of comradery. When my adult son was very, very young, I noticed he often had a frowny face. I actually said out loud, “Why does Doug always have a frowny face when he’s thinking about something?” I happened to be near a mirror, and looked over.

Gulp. I had that same frowny look on my face! 

He was imitating how I looked when I was thinking. 

When we’re listening, deeply, many of us have the habit of the frowning, thoughtful face. Some of us have “resting bitch face.” (Look it up!) (Okay, never mind. Some people’s relaxed faces just look….grumpy. It’s just a thing.)

But when the speaker/person in the hot seat is talking, when they look around the group, the last thing they want to see is frowning faces. Especially if we’ve been raised to be highly attentive to signs we’re “doing it wrong”. A frowning face, a bored face, a face looking out the window, are all subtle signs that others are not interested in what we’re saying. Not exactly conducive to doing this work!

In fact, Deborah Kruger urged the speaker and the questioner to stand at the front of the group, facing each other. Holding hands. And the questioner’s goal was to keep their face open and welcoming, smiling. Not a big fake grin. Just a smile as if you were welcoming someone into your home.

 Which, if your home is a safe place, a haven, is actually a good metaphor for your group! All should feel “at home”, and welcome.

For the questioner, it also helps to nod in agreement as someone describes their perfect studio, their ideal customer, their markers of success, their professional goals, etc. Yes. Yes! Yes!!

I still treasure these beautifully formed little pit-fired pots from a member of my very first artist support group! Thank you, Bobbye! 

Rule #3Don’t rush to comfort.

This doesn’t mean no empathy or sympathy.

It simply means, when things get hard, when someone gets overwhelmed, when they cry, don’t rush to soothe them. Don’t try to stop them.

Just let the tears come. Let them cry.

I learned this in hospice, too. When people cry, WE get uncomfortable. We feel we need to do something. We rush to get them to stop crying.

But that simply puts pressure on THEM to make US feel better. We are asking THEM to take care of US.

So sit with the discomfort. Don’t rush to action.

Be a witness.

And from last week:

Rule #4: Listen

The premise of peer support groups is to empower each member to solve their own issues. We achieve that by learning to believe in ourselves, and by learning to listen to –and trust–our own heart.

Just….listen. Listen carefully, respectfully. Don’t interrupt. Don’t jump in. Don’t offer opinion, unless asked for one, or given permission to offer one. (See Rule #1)

Above all:

Don’t tell the speaker their reality.

Don’t tell them what you think they should do.

Don’t tell them what YOU would do.

Don’t tell them what someone else did.

Do look for places where the speaker gets stuck. Make a mental note of that. An assumption they’re making that could be tweaked.

You may be given an opportunity to ask your own question about it. You may be asked to share a thought or experience.

But don’t assume you will. Sit with that, okay?

Remember: Hopefully, this group will grow, and repeat this process. There is plenty of time to sort out the inconsistencies between what people say they want, and what they do. (Part of the human condition, actually, and it won’t be fixed in ten minutes!)

Rule #5: Focus, and be present! 

You chose this. You chose to try this, you chose to show up.

Embody that decision.

Heaving bored sighs, acting distracted, staring out the window, checking your phone, etc., etc., all indicate you’d rather be anywhere but here. This isn’t fair to the others in your group.

Cross-talk refers to carrying on a conversation on the side. So easy to slip into! So distracting to the rest of the group! Take notes of what’s on your mind, and share it later.

Beyond being unkind and disrespectful, you are missing a chance to learn something.

Take the opportunity to learn from someone else’s experience, their assumptions, and their mistakes–and discover their insights and solutions!

If you are truly bored to distraction, then this group is not for you.

Do yourself, and your fellow group members a favor. Let them know they should find someone else who will be more engaged.

Did I miss anything? If you’ve been in any kind of peer support group, you’ll recognize the playlist.

Feel free to suggest additional thoughts I may have overlooked!

Click here to see the original post on Fine Art Views.

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #4: The Roles

Continuing the series about how to create an artist support group, my column today for Fine Art Views:  The Four Questions #4: The Roles

The greatest gift you can give a woman is to LISTEN to her!

(7 minute read)

You’ve picked some peeps, you’ve set a time and date for your first meeting. You introduce yourselves. You’ve checked in: What’s been going on, what’s working with your art biz, what’s not. Everybody has brought a notebook that is for them and them only. (More on that in The Scribe section below.) Oooh! Pens!

Let’s talk about the roles each of you will take on during this process.

THE SPEAKER: We used to jokingly call this “the hot seat.” It’s the person who will be “interviewed”, the person who will answer the questions given.

It can feel uncomfortable, if you’re not used to being listened to, if you’re not used to talking uninterrupted until you’ve said all you want to say.

For some people who are quieter, or shy, or not sure of the company, it may never get “easy”. But in time, you may eagerly look forward to this role!

It’s a chance to really let your heart speak, a chance to think things through for YOURSELF. Without anyone offering well-meant but badly-placed advice, or anyone telling you your own reality.

Just speak your truth until you are finished. (Although sometimes it’s necessary to put a time limit on this, say 10-12 minutes. But you’ll be surprised how long that is to talk without interruption!)

It’s not necessary to do your homework first. But for these first few sessions, it can help to have some idea of what you want to “envision”. Once we hit the actual Questions in the weeks ahead, you’ll see what I mean.

In later sessions, you can take advantage of what you’ve already covered, and what you already know, and start from there.

For now, just give yourself permission to “go big” with your answer, even if it feels too big. It may be hard to even imagine right now that you have a choice about what’s in your (artistic) life. Maybe it’s not physically possible to achieve, them, but it’s important to know what they are. And it’s important to know it’s okay to want them!

And what’s really wonderful! You can not only learn to “think big”, you can get used to it!

THE LISTENER(S): Anyone who isn’t asking the questions, responding to the questions, or taking notes, you have one job…

Listen.

Just….listen. Listen carefully, respectfully. Don’t interrupt. Don’t jump in. Don’t offer opinion, unless asked for one, or given permission to offer one. (This is really important! More on the rules next week….

Don’t tell the speaker their reality. Don’t tell them what you think they should do. Don’t tell them what YOU would do. Don’t tell them what someone else did.

Do look for places where the speaker gets stuck. Make a mental note of that.

You may be given an opportunity to ask your own question about it. You may be asked to share a thought or experience.

But don’t assume you will. Sit with that, okay? Remember: Hopefully, this group will grow, and repeat this process. There is plenty of time to sort out the inconsistencies between what people say they want, and what they do. (Part of the human condition, actually, and it won’t be fixed in ten minutes!)

THE SCRIBE: Your job is to record as much as possible: The actual questions asked, and the response from the speaker. If the questioner asks for elaboration or clarity, make note of that, too.

Simply capture as much as you can, as fast as you can, as accurately as you can.

Most important, try not to put your “riff” on anything. No comments, no judgments, no opinions.

You will write in the Speaker’s notebook. This notebook is for their eyes only.

They may not have time to take in what you’ve recorded. Maybe at the next meeting, when you all check in again, questions may arise and be discussed.

The Speaker may become overwhelmed with what bubbles up for them. They may become angry during the questions that pushes them (a little.) They may cry when they realize the lizard brain voice that’s hounded them all these years, can be ignored, set aside, or gently tolerated. They may become overwhelmed with joy at what they learn about themselves, and how well they are supported. 

This means it may be extremely difficult for them to recall what they actually said. They may not remember their own truth, or the truths others will share with them. It can happen with all of us. And it’s more common than you’d think.

Your notes may be the only record they have about all that transpires. 

It’s important to get it right.

THE QUESTIONER: Start with the person who is the most familiar with how this works. Hint: This first time, it will be YOU, since you’ve gotten a head start with all these articles!

You will set the tone and establish the rules. You will maintain the rules. (The rules are pretty straightforward (next week’s article!) and I’m guessing you can already guess some of them now.

You can ask more questions, outside of the Four Questions, to help frame the question itself. Because we are often unfamiliar with the idea of talking, with no interruption, until we’re done, the responder may stop speaking very soon into the process. You may have to “break it down” into smaller “bites” for them. You may have to ask them for clarification: “Can you give me an example of what that looks like?” “Can you describe that for me?” “What else do you see?” etc.

When someone gets distracted by the unlikelihood of getting what they want (“I know there’s no way that could happen…”), you will get them back on track. “Just give your biggest vision for what you want. Don’t try to figure out HOW it’s going to happen, just imagine it for now.”

When someone gets negative or self-judgmental “I know I’ll never be good enough…”, gently lead them back. “In a perfect world, what would that look like?” “If you knew you could not fail, what would you strive for?”

And when it gets hard, you will hold their feet to the fire, until you know they are speaking their truth. (More on how you’ll know, later.)

Don’t worry about doing it perfectly! I’ve done it many times, and I always feel like I suck at it. And just when I think I’m doing it wrong (I get a lot of push-back, even anger), that’s when the breakthrough happens.

Sometimes, just knowing someone is listening, someone cares what we want, knowing others want us to have what we want, is all we need to keep moving forward.

Also, these aren’t permanent “roles”. In fact, in a perfect-sized group, you will all have a turn at them, at every meeting!

Everyone should have the opportunity to speak, at every meeting. (You can get a “bye” occasionally, for certain reasons. More later.)

Everyone should have the opportunity to question, and to scribe. Even if you feel you aren’t great at asking the questions, you can learn. Practice, right?

If the group feels you have skills as a questioner or scribe, and you’re up for it, it’s okay to do it more often. I LOVE taking notes for people, so if nobody else is keen on it, I volunteer.

But I also recognize that someone else may hear something differently than I do. That’s important!

Next week, we’ll go over the rules that ensure the safety and privacy of what is shared during these group sessions.

Until then, your home is to practice listening. At your next conversational opportunity, focus on really listening to what the other person is saying. I can be really bad at that. I’m all there with the, “Me, too!” and the “That happened to me once!” Sit on the impulse to “fix it”.

In fact, simply focus on sitting. And listening. Maybe asking for more information or clarity. Or simply nodding, and saying, “And then what happened?” and “How did you feel about that?” and “What are you going to do about that?”

You may be surprised at what you’ll hear. (I accidentally typed “heart” instead of “hear”! Hmmmm……!!

Your homework today:

Have you ever been listened to, deeply? 

What was it like?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #3: The Power of Affirmations

Today’s column from my lastest series on creating your own artist support group.

Enjoy! (Click here if you’d like to see this at the Fine Art Views website and read the comments: THE FOUR QUESTIONS #3: The Power of Affirmations )

You get to choose who you are in the world.

 (5 minute read)

Here are my experiences with affirmations, a complicated and simple concept.

An affirmation is a positive assertion. It is also a powerful tool for change.

Affirmations can be part of your support group agenda, done as a group exercise. But it’s just as powerful as an individual, daily exercise.

Affirmations became a powerful topic in that first workshop with Deborah Kruger. We were on our second day, and boy were we a needy group! As Deborah encouraged us to be the artist we’d always dreamed of being, we all pushed back with disclaimers. All that encouragement to recognize our strengths and talents? Hah! It was easy for her to say… She was talented, strong, and smart. We were little groveling wriggle-worms, looking for some proof we could have what we craved so badly. (As I’ve said, my fairly-recent commitment to my art empowered me. But I recognized the same feelings of self-doubt shared by my group-mates.

About the eleventh time someone voiced that pushback, Deborah put down her notes, and looked at us thoughtfully.

“I don’t usually do this in group training”, she said. “But I think I need to share a bit of my own personal journey with you today. I want you to really understand where I started, how far I’ve come, and how I got here.”

I will not share the personal experience she shared with us. It’s not my story to tell.

Suffice to say that we were shocked and appalled. And her story gave even more power to this insight, this tool for self-growth she shared with us:

Yup. Affirmations.

Every sentence of inferiority, self-doubt, insecurity, invisibility, had to be replaced with a sentence, of strength, courage, confidence, compassion, and ownership.

And it was going to take time, and repetition, and practice.

“I believe,” she said quietly, “That when we are told we are worthless, when we are told we are nothing, when we believe ourselves to be invisible, when we are told that a million times, we need to tell ourselves the opposite, a million-and-one times.” 

She said, “We have to offset the cruelty and ignorance, and fill ourselves with something new, something better, something kinder, and something empowering.”

Just as there is the 10,000 hours thing about the amount of time and effort that goes into becoming skilled at something, this is the “plus one” thing about overcoming “truths” that hold us back.

A beloved professor shared with me his favorite go-to affirmation: IALAC.

“I am lovable and capable.”

After Deborah’s powerful, personal story of self-healing and growth, I created my very first affirmation, based on how uncomfortable I still felt saying this simple statement:

I am an artist. 

And so I followed her advice.

I wrote this sentence hundreds of times. Thousands. Sometimes I filled three pages a day, writing it over and over again.

It worked.

I still remember the feeling of amazement that day when someone asked me what I did. With no hesitation, I replied, “I’m an artist.” Boom.

I’ve created many more affirmations over the years. “I have a story to tell.” “I have the power of my choices.” “I am worthy of love and respect.” “I am a successful artist.” “I am a writer.” “I have a place in the world. My art has a place in the world.”

When I took this workshop, I wasn’t even making Lascaux-inspired art! I made tiny dolls and hand-knitt sheep, handmade polymer buttons (!foreshadowing!), and small doll quilts. And yet I was ready to hear all the wisdom being shared with me.

I don’t write about how much money I could make, or how famous I could be. That isn’t the measure of my success as an artist anymore. (Don’t get me wrong, I love selling my work!) And if that’s your goal, use it!

For me, when I hear that someone’s heart has been lifted, or healed, or strengthened by something I’ve written, when someone tells me my work creates wonder and mystery for them, when I realize I may have helped someone through a hard place, or encouraged them to tell their story, that means success to me. 

Take a few moments today, and think about that whiny voice you hear whenever you are discouraged, or lost, or unhappy with your art.

Your homework for next week (or hey, share below!) is to think about the biggest doubt you have right now about your work, your creative work, your place in this world. (I can’t tell you how many people say they are too embarrassed to call themselves an artist! “Oh sweetie, do tell!” I exclaim.)

Take that thought, the one that snuck into your heart all those years ago, and look at it.

Then transform it into a simple statement of power, and truth. Something that means something important to you.

Think this is a silly premise? Read my blog post about how a graduate education student framed her historic problem with multiplication tables.

So let’s get to work! Grab a composition book from the dollar store, and your favorite pen or pencil, and write it down a thousand times. (Er…. you don’t have to do it in one sitting.)

Simple rules: An affirmation is grounded in the present. Not “Someday I’ll….” Instead, “I am….” An affirmation is the truth YOU need to carry in your heart. Not what someone else says is your truth. An affirmation is not about “trying” (to be better, kinder, smarter, etc.) An affirmation is learning to believe, realizing, you already are.

If you struggle with even this simple task, hold that thought. You are on your way to finding a supportive group of fellow life travelers who may have some helpful ideas!

——————————————

Editor’s Note: 

When you’re ready to take a fresh approach to marketing your art, a professional and secure website can be your most valuable tool. And FASO is the easiest way to build (even for non-techies) and maintain a gorgeous website, we also include amazing marketing tools that automate many common marketing tasks for you. To sign up for a free, no obligation 30 day trial, click here.

Related Posts