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.