In my last post, I shared how simply rearranging our work can result in visitors/customers “seeing” a work they haven’t seen before.
There’s another side to “old work”, though, that I share with you today:
Your old work still has value.
Here’s the long story:
My artifacts have evolved over the years, changing for the better (I hope!) in every stage. I loved each “stage” for what it was.
But when I look back at those earlier pieces, I feel embarrassed. How could I have thought these were the best I could do?? Should I just get rid of them all? Discount them and move them on?
I hate discounting my own work, as it implies it does not have the same value it had originally. It could make buyers feel if they wait long enough, the price could come down.
Now, of course, I realize that as my prices have risen over the years, even when selling it for the same original price, it will look like a bargain.
Here’s how I found my own truth: From a friend who set me straight.
When I complained that I wasn’t wild about my old work, and felt a little guilty selling it as it felt “less than”, they asked,
“Did you love it when you made it?”
“Did people love your old work when it was new?”
“Then there will be people who will love it now, too.”
Bam! Mic drop. Clarity restored. (Thank you, Ruth Parent, my good friend!)
I now keep all my old bits to use in newer work. They are stored in a printer’s type tray chest, restored by my son years ago. Visitors are encouraged to open drawers and explore during my studio events.
And by holding on to all my older artifacts, I’ve discovered another insight along the way:
It’s my “relatively-old” work that annoys me, seeing in the moment, now, what I could have done better.
And my “really old” work that I love even more!
I love the fearless outlook on my art career I had then. I had a fabulous photographer, too, who always made my work look incredible. (Thank you and good wishes to you, Jeff Baird, in the Great Beyond. I will miss you and your talents forever.) I sometimes wish I could recapture that old aesthetic, but it’s hard. I am here in the now, right where I belong.
As artists, we fall into the myth that we get better and better at what we do in our making career. Well, we do get better…usually. (Maybe). But it doesn’t mean our work is worth more, will sell more/faster, will be seen as ‘better’. Skills matter, of course. But my own personal lifetime collections of other people’s work, I simply buy what I love, not what’s new, better, etc.
It’s about what speaks to ME.
There are buyers who will appreciate our growing skill level, and our newest work, of course.
Remember, though, there will be plenty of people who have our older work, and still treasure it. And people who will love our old stuff now, too.
So instead of beating yourself up over “old work”, instead of hiding it, put it out there! Especially if your new work is all out in galleries right now.
Tell the story about who you were then, and where you were in your life.
Someone may consider it the perfect piece, for themselves.
Landscapes change all the time in this area, and I never knew which tent, large or small, near the entrance or far away, or what place on the mountain, I would be assigned to. We had the option to request our favorite spot, but different factors prevailed, so we never knew for sure where we’d end up.
So every year, I was in a different tent, with a different terrain, and different neighbors. The hard part was, I never knew if my booth would be on a slant (ski resort!), in the front or back of a tent, etc. That was the downside.
The upside was, I learned over time what worked best for me and my multi-media work. And hidden gift: I often had to improvise how to set up and arrange my art display. (With jewelry, wall hangings, shrines and sculpture, I had to use walls, pedestals, and display cases.)
Why was this a hidden gift? My display never looked the same way, year to year. So every time someone entered my booth, it was “new” to them.
The proof this works?
I juried into the League with my fiber collage/free-style quilting work in the spring of 1997, I think. I brought one of my handmade artifacts, a horse, with me so they could examine my “buttons” and embellishments more closely.
The jury process took about 10 minutes (woot!) as I waited outside the jury room, and when I was asked back inside, not only had I been accepted, they encouraged me to come back to the next jury session in the fall. Because they all agreed that I should make jewelry with that horse. (I did, and I got in with jewelry, too.) (Thank you, jury team!)
About ten years in, one of my repeat customers/visitors came into my booth and exclaimed, “Wow! You’re making fiber work now! Fabulous!”
Er….as I said, I’d been exhibiting my fiber work for almost a decade! But my jewelry had caught their eye at first, and when they came into my booth, year after year, that is what they paid attention to.
Until that year, for that customer, when something was different–and the fiber work caught their eye.
It could have been a more colorful piece. Or the way the lighting was set up. Or it was hanging above something else that caught their attention. Or…who knows??
The point is, we think we see “everything” when we walk into a space, a booth, a store, etc. But we don’t. We see what catches our eye, and may follow a “narrow” visual path from one item to the next.
In fact, when a customer tells me they’re ready to buy something, but can’t make up their mind which something to buy, I ask them what was the first thing they saw, or touched, in my booth. They point to a piece. I tell them they should consider that piece. They protest that it was a random piece they “just happpened to see”.
I tell them this: Every single person who was intrigued enough to come into my booth, was attracted by something different.
No two people were drawn in by the same item.
Which means something signaled to the brain, “Whoa, let’s take a closer look at that!”
Yes, I have a major piece of work at the back of my booth, and at my booth entrance. Standard booth/show set-up procedure. But even so, what pulled people in, and what kept them engaged, was something that appealed to them.
So if you’re worried that you don’t have enough new work in your studio, consider this simple solution: Rearrange your work. If you’ve arranged your work by medium, try to arrange them by color, or theme, or style. Shift groupings around. Bring out older work. (Many customers love our older work! I have a story about that, too.) (Of course.)
It can be harder in our studio/workspace, because it has to actually work as our workspace. But consider small changes that can be easily restored after the open studio event. (I’m thinking I need to do this myself, so thank you, Katie Kruzic for sharing your worries this week!)
You may be surprised who may be excited about a “new piece” you’ve had on display for years.
When I wrote “Art for Money, Money for Art”, I was solidly grounded in my story, my artwork. But the world sure wasn’t. Ever since I’d started my professional art career, it seemed like every day, the news was full of something dire. It began with 9/11 and marched through invading more and more Mid-Eastern countries. Galleries struggled, sales wavered, and then finally, the Recession of 2008 put a dagger in my hopes of becoming a “rich and successful” artist.
And yet, my principles remained strong. I knew I was making my work for all the right reasons, even as some people mocked me for being a “Pollyanna” about my slumping sales.
When the Recession hit a few years later, I did get a little desperate. For the first time, I submitted jewelry work to a mail-order catalog. I learned a lot, a few items were accepted and published, and I made enough sales to heal my drained bank account.
But I also learned that making something strictly for money, something that was a ‘sure seller’, something I had to make hundreds of, was not for me.
Okay, I’ll admit, if I had to actually pay my own rent and put food on the table, I would do it differently. As my wonderful partner has said, “I get paid pretty well to do the work I love. It’s not your fault the work you love doesn’t pay too well.” Thank you, sweetie!
It’s just that making something to please someone else, making the exact same thing in multiples, over and over, and the betting on a sample that might bring in some money but probably not, became pretty stressful. It drained me. I was relieved to return to my happy place in my art-making.
Segue to the pandemic, where sales dropped for everyone….
One day in my studio, as I was composing yet another beautiful necklace, it hit me. I love making jewelry with my artifacts. It’s my best-selling category, too.
But I realized my studio is already full of jewelry. I don’t really need to make more, except that making makes me happy. (I’m sure autocorrect is going crazy right now…)
And I realized there was a big project I’ve been holding in my heart for almost a decade or more. I could feel it calling to me: My shrine series, from 2013.
What held me back?
Some technical issues I couldn’t figure out.
A lack of materials.
Worrying about whether it would sell.
I decided to simply start with what I had, and see what happened.
What happened was a small miracle.
Yes, I hit those technical issues pretty quickly. And guess what? After some trial-and-error attempts, I eventually figured out a good way to manage them. They were so good, I actually went back and took some earlier pieces apart and redid them.
I started work in a series of colors, making multiple versions that were still unique.
I found sources for almost everything I needed: Tiny brackets, even tinier screws, new candidates for smaller boxes and drawers, and work-arounds for every issue that cropped up.
I now have almost completed fifty shrines in my studio. (“Completed” is a relative term. Next come artifacts, and then mounting them in the box shrines.) I have so many, I’m now panicking about an upcoming open studio in June. Because my shrines have commandeered every inch of space in my studio.
What kept me awake in the middle of the night?
Wondering if they would ever even sell.
I know this worry for what it is: My brain trying desperately to find a “solution” to an overabundance of shrines.
I am again restored me to my highest, best, artist self.
Genn discusses “intrinsic vs extrinsic drive”. Extrinsic drive are the external rewards we seek from whatever we do, based on “if/then”. “If I stick to my diet, I can lose weight.” “If I work overtime, I can get make more money.” “If I create a chart, I can get my kids to do their chores.” Extrinsic drive is good for establishing new habits, getting things done, attaining our goals, etc. I would add, ‘seeking fame and fortune’ to those extrinsic goals, which is also a common goal for artists.)
But it turns out that extrinsic drive can be toxic to creative work. “Artists, it seems, are inspired by everything but an extrinsic reward.”
“Intrinsic motivation is dependent upon three main factors; autonomy, or auteurship; mastery, or the pursuit of excellence in a given skill; and purpose, the soul-driven intention behind a quest or endeavour. Finding out one’s purpose is a lifelong exercise — and should be mutable and ever-evolving.”
My drive to make these shrines is a way to use this pandemic to work on something that has no endgame right now. I want to see them in the world. Every new one I put together is so satisfying!
I was delighted to see my “Pollyana” outlook reinforced by Daniel H. Pink, one of my favorite authors:
“Daniel Pink, an expert on human motivation, has made a case for imploring businesspeople to understand what artists innately already practice: in the near-carrotless world of fine art, where the journey is often the only reward, the ideas are inherently better. Without a known destination or straight path to victory, artists dwell in the periphery of problems and solutions, forced to look around and take time to contemplate options and routes to discovery. The secret to meaningful conceptual thinking is to circumvent the obvious and embrace the mysteries. This is how we surprise ourselves and push beyond the “first thought.” While the first thought may be the most expedient, it will not advance the artform. You must commit, over and over again, to putting yourself in the arena of better ideas, so that a process of discovery can take hold.”
Once again, I feel validated.
I started with a “first thought”. Then I quickly ran into every obstacle that’s held me back for years.
But this time, Instead of setting everything aside until I had a ‘perfect’ solution, I simply started.
As problems arose along the way, I figured a way through them, one at a time. I changed my mind about a lot of things, and learned a lot along the way. And as I got better, so did my strategies for solving problems.
I still wake up in the wee hours, wondering how I’m going to handle this or manage that. I still look at my studio and wonder, “Where will I even put all these??” “Will these ever sell??” “Should I start looking for a gallery to send an exhibition proposal to???” “Are these as wonderful as I think they are, or am I just kidding myself?????”
Go back to sleep, lizard brain. I got this! My newest mantra for my lizard brain is, “I’ll figure that out when I get there….” And so far, it works!
So for all the artists I’ve heard from over the years, especially this past year, who worry about sales, who struggle to keep making their work, who want to know how to recreate a successful time in their art career, who wonder if it’s even worth it if they can’t sell it, etc., here is my free advice:
Do what you have to do, to survive these troublesome times.
But never surrender the work of your heart, your art, your dream project.
Find a way to dive in, today, now! Make a little room in your day for it.
Set aside your self-doubt, your worry, your self-judgment for now. Do what brings you joy. (Says Luann, scrubbing turquoise paint off her hands and face for the tenth time this month.)
I’m feeling bipolar lately. My mood has been up and down, sometimes all at once. SAYING I need to rethink how to get my artwork out into the world sounds very brave and confident. In reality, I just want to hunker down and run away.Today, in between making horse sculptures for some stores, I followed a link to an interesting blog called “Redefining Craft” which you can see here: http://www.redefiningcraft.com/
I really don’t speak academese, so I skipped through some of his entries until I hit the one for February 8 entitled, “Art vs. Craft: Who’s Winning?” In this entry, Dennis Stevens posts two images, one of a Nike shoe on a stick, and one of a mask by glass artist William Morris.
Or rather, according to Mr. Stevens, “non-artist” William Morris. It turns out the Nike shoe is the image that provokes and enlightens, while Morris’s work is merely a hijack of another culture’s imagery for his own gain.
Wonder what Mr. Stevens would say about my Lascaux imagery?
Oh, well, at least it’s possible that Lascaux IS my cultural heritage. It’s possible some of my ancestors were French.
But I have to admit, I felt a certain dismay that as a craftsperson, I’m in danger of being left on the side of the high-culture highway for lack of having anything potent or portent or important to say.
It’s a movie about a young art student at college. He finds his beautiful work is totally ignored by his teachers, his peers and the art world while pretentious, self-aggrandizing crap is revered as “true art”. The kid eventually passes himself off as a serial killer so he can attain his ultimate goal of being a famous artist. (Because as soon as he’s arrested, his paintings sell like hotcakes.)
There’s one thought, and one thought only that moves my heart gently back to its rightful place.
I didn’t deliberately choose any of this (except for one thing.)
I didn’t deliberately manufacturer the message of my art.
Call me lazy, call me shallow, call me a clueless craftsperson or a non-artist. All I know is, ten years ago I felt like I was dying inside. And when I hit the lowest point in my life, I make one of the most important decisions of my life.
I decided to make the stuff that made me feel human again.
I tried a lot of different things and a lot of different techniques until I found the ones that felt…that resonated…the most with what was in my heart.
It just FELT right.
Of course I have great hopes for my artwork. And of course I want people to buy it. And of course I hope to be recognized for making beautiful things.
But I didn’t choose what I do to attain that. It chose me.
All the discussions about art vs. craft, about what makes great art, and who is a “real artist” make my head hurt. They always have.
In the end, I’m left at the end of the day with one question.
Did I make something I’m proud of?
And did I put enough of myself into it that it calls to other people?
And did I do at least one thing to get it out into the world for others to experience?
Okay, more than one question at the end of the day.
But these are the questions I CAN answer.
I’ll leave the more academic questions for wiser people than me to answer.
A peek into my production process and aesthetics, and why a messy desk works for me.
Three new necklaces!
Ah, winter. Full of holidays mere days apart, especially the big ones. Someone wrote recently, “When Christmas is done, it’s DONE!” They’re right. One minute I’m trying to find a tree that’s small enough to fit in our little rental home, the next I’m finishing off the last of the eggnog for a whole nother year.
Winter is not as cold here in Northern California, not nearly as cold as Michigan, or New Hampshire (40 degrees below zero sometimes) but I’ve also never had unheated studios before, either. My former studio at A Street was pretty cold, but small-ish, so easier to heat with a space heater.
My newest studio at 33Arts (3840 Finley Avenue in Santa Rosa) is bigger, harder to heat quickly, too. It can only accomodate one space heater, it’s on the main floor, and it faces north. I wore three wool sweaters today, and a wool hat, and my hands were still freezing! Not conducive to working with polymer clay.
But it’s spacious, the light is steady, I have plenty of worklights, it’s beautiful, and I can tolerate cold better than heat. And it’s pleasantly cool through spring, summer, and fall. So, no complaints
Now the peek into my design process.
I made three beautiful new horse necklaces this week. Two faux ivory horses, one strung with rose/blush pink/pale peach semi-precious stones and pearls, the other with sage/pale olive same. And a blue faux soapstone horse with pale blue and aqua. It was so hard to condition the clay (polymer clay does not like cold) but I figured out how to get it warm enough to work.
Many layers of beads, many choices…
I have beads I’ve collected for almost four decades, from local stores, online shops, bead and gem trade shows, bead traders who come to my home with their wares, thrift shops, and antique stores. Some of my beads are new, most are vintage, and a lot are antique-to-ancient. Most are imported from Europe: France, Venetian glass beads from Italy, Bohemia (now Czechoslovakia) all well-known producers of antique glass beads.)
I also use beads from Africa (trade beads, handmade pot metal beads in all shapes and sizes), India (semi-precious gemstones), Japan (who pioneered cultured pearls, now known as freshwater pearls, also glass beads), and China, a new leader in all, but especially freshwater pearls and semi-precious gemstones.
Oooh, almost forgot the beautiful “Roman” glass beads, actually made in Afghanistan from broken/misshapen perfume bottles and bracelets, rescued from the midden heaps of ancient glass factories along the Silk Road trade routes and reshaped into new beads.
I love them all! And I get very particular about which ones I use in each design. Size, shape, hue, texture (matte, polished, faceted), all matter.
This is why it takes me hours to string a beaded necklace. I never know where I’m headed, but I always get there….
And each of these higher-end pieces get a special finishing touch. A tiny pendant at the clasp, and my signature (literally!) horse charm in sterling or antique brass.
Its all in the details…
In this series, I wanted subtle variations in the colors. For this, I need good lighting, a wide choice of beads: Real pearls, semi-precious gemstones, glass, stone. All in a variety of sizes, shapes. I love matte texture, and facets, too.
And the justification for a messy studio?
Noted writer Austin Kleon shares and insight in how a messy studio contributes to our creative process, here.
I know other artists have cleaner spaces. Fewer options, perhaps because it helps them focus. Or they know their path, and they don’t need to wander away from it. They may know what works for them, and sometimes I wish I were wired that way, too.
In the end, this is how every space I occupy, this is how it looks. “Good bones” as one visitor put it. Everything is arranged and organized, yet attractive and intriguing. I usually try to clean up most of the “creative mess” for open studios, but most of the time? I just leave it there.
Because I like to work during such events. I want people to relax, dig in, really engage with my work. When they’re ready to talk, they’ll ask a question. And I’m there for them, ready with a book about the Lascaux Cave with great photographs. Ready to share my inspiration, my stories. Ready to encourage them to pursue their own creative work, the work of their heart.
Because I know when I make room for my art in my life, when I embrace my messy, making-self, my trial-and-error designing self, my love for certain color palettes, but also being open to new ones, my almost-obsessive need to keep collecting the materials and supplies that speak to me, to make the work that pleases me (and hopefully, YOU), I am in my highest, best place in the world.
So there you go. To make is human, and making takes time, space, and sometimes messy habits.
horse necklace trio
I think they turned out pretty well!
I use mostly sterling silver for my accent beads and findings, but antiqued copper looks soooooo beautiful with blush pink pearls and peach moonstone. The blue soapstone horse called for pale blue/pale aqua beads this time. I like it.
Here’s how they look in my studio. Pretty good fit!
And now you know why these pieces start at $350, too. A lot of work and time, and precious materials go into each one, including the artifacts and beads I make myself. And no two are alike.
What is YOUR creative process? Be sure to share it with me the next time you visit! And if you can’t wait til my next open studio, you can always email or text me to confirm a time to visit.
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.
Try our best, we are not in control of how we will be remembered.
There’s a brilliant cartoon called Non Sequitur by Wiley Miller that ran a few weeks ago. It starts with a caption, “The Get-Rich-Quick Correspondence Art School” and shows an artist standing before a huge empty canvas, paintbrush in hand, reading the first page of the instruction book:
Then there’s the most popular artist of the Victorian era, whose work, within a few decades after his death, was deemed saccharine and trite. He is so forgotten I can’t easily find him by Googling, I just remember that story from one of my art history books.
We have our own Thomas Kinkade, arguably the most commercially successful artist of our time, mass-producing paintings that look like a sickeningly-sweet Christmas card my grandmother might have sent out. Love him, hate him, he certainly knew how to manipulate the market, to the extent it’s estimated that 1 in 20 households in the U.S. own a print of his work. Will his work stand the test of time? We’ll see.
The irony is, we tend to concern ourselves with achieving fame and fortune, or at least a presence in the world. (Yes, I secretly dream of a time when people will clamor for my work!)
But we actually have very little control over that.
Oh, we participate in art events, we self-promote, we strive to work with the best galleries. We work for good publicity, we work our social media, we are delighted when the rich and famous buy our work. (Double publicity!)
Some of us use more extreme measures.
We could be famous for cutting off an ear (this was not done for publicity, of course, but this is how many ordinary people identify Van Gogh), or inserting a crucifix upside down in a bottle of urine. We could be famous for trademarking “Painter of Light”, (except that all painters, technically, are recording light.) It can be difficult to think of a more disturbing painting than Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, and yet, it has held its place in time. In my recent column about finding an audience, I shared how the attention actress/writer April Winchell’s now-archived website Regretsy actually brought attention—and sales—to truly awful handmade items sold on Etsy.
So maybe we’ll be famous after we’ve been dead awhile. Maybe, if we manipulate the media cleverly, we can be famous now.
If not, well, maybe our art, like the images in those prehistoric Ice Age caves, will survive for thousands of years, to be discovered by an entirely new race of humans (or…..aliens??) who will marvel at our work, find its full beauty, and wonder what the heck we were trying to say.
We’re not wrong to feel this way. We’re just humans.
We all want to believe we matter.
We all want to believe we have made a difference in this world.
We all want to believe the work of our heart matters.
That is the central core of my artist statement, realizing that we all want to leave our mark in the world.
That’s not wrong. That’s achingly beautiful. It’s extremely human.
Maybe we will, maybe we won’t.
In the end, though, all we can do is to do the best we can.
We have to work at our own pace, in our own manner, with our own style. We have to make a little room in our lives to do that work.
We must respect the work we do, and try not to be envious of the work of others, nor their reputation, income, or celebrity.
We have to discover the stories that mean everything to us, and share them, through our creative work, with the world.
In a perfect world, all creative work would foster tolerance, harmony, love, respect for our earth and all the people on it, and be a force for good in the world.
But there is also a darkness in every heart, just as there is a bit of light within the greatest evil.
That, too, is what it means to be human.
And so my hope for you, today, is that this helps you set aside your agonizing about fame and fortune. I hope it can change your definition of success, so you feel fulfilled with your efforts to make art.
I hope we can create our work today and let go of focusing only on where it lands in the world.
I hope we can all find a way, and a reason, to keep on ‘making’. I hope we can let go of envy of the success of others, and our own fears of failure, and simply rejoice that we have the luxury, and the privilege, to be able to do this work.
Our only real obligation is to make it. And then share it with the world, through sales (yes!), through connection, through relationships, and mostly through our love for what we do.
And have hope that this will be enough.
(As always, if you enjoyed this article, pass it on! Someone you know may need to hear it, today. You can sign up for more articles at my blog here.)
There’s no right–or wrong–process to create a body of work. Only what works for YOU.
There are as many kinds of work habits as there are stars in the sky. What matters is what works for YOU.
Years ago, I was in a small artist support group. We met once a month, going over our previous month’s goals, checking our progress, and supporting each other’s choices.
One woman wanted to have a solo show by the end of the year. She was worried about her production process. Other potters worked steadily throughout the day, or the weekends, to create a good representative body of work. She asked for help to speed up her process.
When presented with a problem, most of us have a bad habit of giving advice. And, being human, we started down this path, making suggestions, giving advice, all of which went nowhere.
The purpose of groups like this is to dig a little deeper, to discover where the real obstacles lie. So when it was my turn to ask questions, I let go of whatI thought she should do.
“What do you think your process should be?” I asked.
Well…she’d been listening to other potters talk about their routines. Batch lots, production schedules, record-keeping, etc. Long days in the studio. Late nights and working weekends.
“What is your process now?” I asked.
She replied that, because her days were full, she would work on a pinch pot in the evening, as she and her husband watched their favorite TV shows in their den. She described how she would work in her chair, shaping and molding the beautiful curves she was known for.
“How many pots do you make doing that?”, I asked.
She could make one pot an evening.
“How good are those pots?” In other words, how many were good enough to sell and/or exhibit?
Every single one, she replied.
“How many pots do you need for an exhibit?” I asked.
She named a number.
So…in three month’s time, with her own process, she could produce enough pots for an exhibition or show.
Her relief was palpable.
Contrast this with another friend, in a different group, who said he wished he could produce enough paintings to sell galleries. He showed me half a dozen pieces he’d created during a one-day workshop a few months before. (They were beautiful!) He didn’t have a studio, and at first we tried to figure out a way for him to have one. But he gently resisted. He loved his day job, he didn’t want to give up his evenings, he wasn’t a self-starter.
Suddenly, a lightbulb went off in my head.
“How many paintings do you produce in a workshop?” I asked.
He was a swift painter. Always, at least half a dozen, maybe more. (He worked in small formats, already had the basic techniques down.)
“Do you like taking workshops?” I asked.
He loved them. In, paint, out and done.
I pointed out that he lived in a major metropolitan city, close to two other major cities. Was it likely that he could find a workshop every single week of the year? It was.
So….if he committed to even one day a month to a workshop, he could create enough work to present to a gallery in a matter of months? Hmmmm….why….yes, he could!
At every stage of our artistic life, there a new stages of growth, new challenges, new goals. There is no single process–intermittent and fast, slow and steady– that will help us achieve them. Except to discern what works for us.
Thoughts for my new series are still roiling and boiling in my brain.
The ideas come from many places and times. Some as long ago as I can remember, and others as recently as today. Some was inspired by seeing how another assemblage artist organized his materials. “THIS should be your art!” I exclaimed. He was not amused.
But it got me thinking.
All of this is based on my favorite activity, which I refer to by its ancient designation, “hunter-gathering”.
I’ve always loved picking up pretty pebbles, twisted twigs, sea shells, bits of rusted metal. This actually translates in a beautiful (and sometimes devastating) way to shopping. I love poking through piles of stuff, looking for the perfect little something everyone else has overlooked.
Last month I found a huge box of shells at a local antique shop. It was marked way, way down. But still a little pricey at almost $60. I won’t say I had buyer’s remorse when I got home, but “What was I thinking?!” was flying around my head. (It’s not buyer’s remorse if you’re still secretly glad you bought it….)
So here’s where the shells have gone. Here:
Now the last pic is especially telling. Because when I go to the beach, I come home with this:
And they quickly get displayed like this:
Which got me doing this a few years ago:
So in my head are images of artifacts, collections, gatherings of objects, museum display, shrines and altars. Add to that a shaman’s gathering of healing herbs, objects of power, talismans of hope, magic stones and mysterious bones.
I don’t know exactly what it is. I have only vague ideas of what it looks like. Sometimes it frightens me. Sometimes I wish I could drop everything else to work on it. Sometimes it seems too much like play to take seriously.
It’s an honor to be featured in PCD, as Cynthia scopes out the best work in polymer clay around the world. Thank you, Cynthia!
There’s a nice balance between focusing your work and being inspired by others’ work. The last few years, I’ve been hunkered down, focusing on keeping my vision clear, and trying not to envy the incredible work being made by other artists. Lately, I realized I’ve hunkered down too much. Cynthia’s blog helps me see a bigger picture of the world. It’s time to explore and see what else is out there.
I also see it’s time to update my images on my website. My beloved photographer, Jeff Baird, died of lung cancer three years ago. I owe a big chunk of my success to his beautiful images of my work. It’s been hard to admit that he’s gone, and I’ve been reluctant to switch out the pics. But Jeff would be the first one to tell me it’s time to do that. Wherever you are, Jeff, know that you are deeply missed.
Trust me, your artistic self is just as powerful as a postage stamp. Maybe more.
Fresh off my first Open Studio tour of the year, and boy is my studio CLEAN! I love open studio events for many reasons, but more on that later this week. I have something else on my mind that has to come out today.
As you may know, my soapbox speech is about finding out what makes you, and your work, unique.
We hear all about how no two snowflakes are identical, and how our fingerprints and DNA are unique to us.
You’d think, with all this unique-ness pouring out of us, we could a unique way to talk about our work.
I’ve been in a lot of group shows this year, seen a lot of lovely work and talked to a lot of passionate artists. What strikes me is how everyone says the same things about their art.
We talk about our compositions. We talk about why we love pastel, or oil, or clay. We talk about light and shapes.
If I hear “I just love color!” one more time….. Well, it won’t be pretty.
So let me share an ‘aha!’ moment I had years ago.
I was doing a mail art project, and wanted old postage that would reflect the theme of my piece. I found an older couple who ran a stamp collecting business out of their home.
As I scrabbled through the trays and books of postage, we talked about stamp and the stamp collecting biz. They shared stories about stamp collectors. I asked her what kinds of stamps people collected.
The woman said, “You know, in fifty years of selling stamps and doing shows and talking to collectors, I’ve never seen two people collect exactly the same thing.”
Now think about that a minute.
There is no creativity per se in collecting stamps. Collectors don’t make the stamps, nor are they handmade by other people. Stamps are produced en masse, and have been in production for years.
But how they collect is so strongly individual and personal, each collection–each act of collecting–is as unique as….well, the human being who put it together.
Some collect by country, or region or language. Some collect by subject matter. Politics, places, people, animals, plants, themes, designs, plate designer…. There is simply no end to the possible combinations of appeal.
If we could get away from the mundane–what our materials are, the fact that we love certain colors or lines or compositions…..
If we could dig a little deeper and think about why we make the art we do….
If we could tell a richer, more personal story about our art…..
If we were willing to go the scary, deep place of who we are, and who we yearn to be in the world…
…People would see our work as the miracle in the world it truly is.
Sharing ‘unique’ processes, ‘unique’ inspiration, ‘unique’ love of color/shape/style, separates us from our audience.
Discovering what makes us tick as a human being, sharing what is truly in our hearts, connects us with our audience.
I just discovered an article on the International Polymer Clay Association’s website, written by Kerrie Venner, IPCA Vice President for Education and Outreach. Kerrie’s article is here.
The article talked about my artwork and a blog article I wrote about my work being copied. Kerrie refers to me as an example of an artist who has published directions for making my artwork who then gets “antsy” when people copy it. She states that she doesn’t understand what’s wrong with coveting my little totem animals, then making her own versions for her own use, and even to sell, since her customers probably aren’t familiar with my work anyway.
At first I was delighted to read Kerrie’s wonderful comments about my blog and my artwork. But that delight quickly turned to dismay.
Her article is an interesting take on a very complex and emotional issue.
2. Contrary to Kerrie’s assertions, I’ve actually only published directions featuring my faux ivory technique (a modification of the technique originally developed by Victoria Hughes.) I provided directions for very simple beads, buttons and bones. Photographs of my animal artifacts and jewelry were for illustration and inspiration only.
3. I have never published projects or taught how to make my artifacts and animal totems, for the very reasons Kerrie mentions in support of her viewpoint: It might imply permission for others to copy my work.
I could address each of Kerrie’s statements and questions separately, and will do so in a future blog article. But here’s the short story:
I’ve done the hard work creating this body of work. I spent years perfecting my craft. Inspired by imagery available to everyone, it is nonetheless a highly original and individual interpretation and presentation. As Kerrie points out, it has a powerful, personal narrative, describing my journey from a place of pain (at not practicing my art), to a place of healing (embracing my unique vision, and sharing with others how that happened.)
I’ve done the hard work to get my work out there. And I’ve spent a lot of money doing that. I’ve paid thousands of dollars to do the high-end shows to sell it. I go to great lengths to find galleries to carry it. I’ve spent thousands of hours marketing, writing, speaking, entering exhibits and juried shows, and submitting work for publication to support and grow my reputation. I’ve paid thousands of dollars to have my work professionally photographed, to construct a booth and create beautiful displays for it.
I’ve spent years developing a loyal following of customers, collectors and supporters. I am deeply moved by the role my art has played in their lives. I love the stories they share with me on how much my work has meant to them, how much it has inspired them, how it has healed them.
I’ve earned my stars and paid my dues. My work-and my prices–reflect that.
We artists may make our art for love or money, or both. But it’s hard to make art without some kind of support from our community, be it emotional, spiritual, or financial.
Kerrie says she admires and desires my artwork. I am truly grateful for that. There are many ways a true supporter can help me get my art out into the world:
1) Tell me how much it means to you, and respect the unique place in my heart it comes from. Tell your friends, too, and point them to my blog, my website or my store.
2) Spread the word about my work by writing great reviews and articles.
3) Buy it for yourself, or for a special gift.
4) If you really can’t afford my work (prices start at $42, and I have a great layaway plan), encourage potential collectors to buy it instead. Or ask friends and family to buy it for you. Christmas is coming!
5) Ask your favorite gallery or museum store to carry my work. Or suggest they include me in an invitational show. Or even a solo show
Actually, the list is endless: Invite me to speak to your local or regional art guild. Ask your public library to purchase the books that feature my work. Hire me for a private consult on your artist statement. Alert me to publishing opportunities. Etc., etc., etc.
Unfortunately, copying my work doesn’t support me.
Copying my work, then selling it as your original work, deprives me of potential customers who might buy my work. This does not support me.
Telling others I am wrong to care about my work being copied does not support me.
In fact, someone copying my artwork short-circuits everything I’m trying to achieve. That is where the pain and the resentment comes from. And that is what I have to get over, and get through, every time it happens.
In the end, although my work is copyrighted, it’s almost impossible for me to protect those rights. I don’t have the deep pockets of Disney, and I don’t have the time or emotional energy to spare. I have to save that energy and focus for my art.
Some amount of copying has its place in the learning process. That’s why a teacher provides a project for a class.
But a body of work based solely on some “variation” of someone else’s work is not the work of your own heart, your own unique vision.
Kerrie’s article was written without my knowledge and did not link to what I actually said. I cannot adequately convey how disheartening it is to see these views-justifying the right to copying my work simply because I have made it visible in the world–expressed by someone who is Vice President of the International Polymer Clay Association’s Education and Outreach Committee.
Kerrie is entitled to her viewpoint, and I appreciate the opportunity to present mine. As she and I both said, this is a complex issue, involving human nature, the creative process and ethics.
Whether or not Kerrie’s reflects the views of the IPCA organization, it was published on their site and incorrectly referred to me as an example of a disgruntled artist who sets herself up for being copied by offering her artwork as projects and classes. Since I’m not one of “those artists”–who are also entitled to their own opinions about others copying their work–and especially because I have consciously chosen not to…that allegation was neither true nor fair.
I’m thrilled Kerrie loves my work. I hope someday she decides my artwork is worthy of collecting for herself. I would be truly honored.
And…I would feel truly supported.
2 P.S.’s (What the heck is the plural of “P.S.”???)
It’s been brought to my attention that Kerrie didn’t mean she would actually copy my work–she was speaking aloud the thought process that many have expressed. So in a sense, she was speaking as “Everyman/Everywoman”. And she never intended these remarks to represent her, or the IPCA’s actual point-of-view.
Again, I’m glad she voiced these thoughts so we can talk about it.
How your “slowest” seller could actually be your best marketing.
There are two tenets in business that everyone accepts as true:
1. You should figure out what your most popular product is, and sell the heck out of it.
2. You should figure out what your least popular product is, and get rid of it.
In fact, I read it again just a few minutes ago.
Here’s a little story about why you should reconsider step 2.
I’ve been a long-time CVS fan. While waiting for prescriptions to be filled, I would wander the aisles shopping. (In fact, once our insurance company switched to Medco’s online pharmacy, our “miscellaneous” expenditures dropped enormously.)
CVS is losing me as a customer to Walgreen’s. Why?
So every month or so, Hanniford’s does not get my $200-$300 grocery bill.
So sometimes your slowest seller can be a draw to very passionate users/buyers. People who will look elsewhere if you drop it, like my favorite pear infused vinegar.
Sometimes an item sells slow because it’s really expensive, or very unusual. It can still be a huge draw to your other work. And it can make the rest of your work seem more affordable. I don’t sell too many $5,000 wall hangings. But when I do a) it’s the equivalent of selling a hundred $50 items, and b) it does a bang-up job of publicity.
Sometimes a “slow” product will come back around. I hadn’t sold much fish jewelry in years. Maybe their time was over? When I put my “business hat” on, I considered dropping it. When I put my “artist hat” on, I realized it still had a story to tell. And guess what? I’m now selling more fish.
Or perhaps it just hasn’t had time to catch on yet. I hardly sold any sculptures when I first started out. Just when I was about to lose hope, sales took off. Plus, turns out they fill a major niche as a gift for guys. I would have lost that marketing opportunity if I’d given up too soon.
Maybe your slow seller is something that sets off the rest of your products. Years ago, a friend had a yarn store. She didn’t carry any yellow yarn, because “it didn’t sell.” I showed her an article by a color designer for a local yarn mill. The designer said every line should have a yellow “because it fills out the color wheel, and makes other colors sing.” The store owner added yellow, and her sales rose.
Maybe your slowest seller is a dog* because of very good reasons. It’s out of fashion, you make a better one now, or you can’t even get the supplies to make it anymore.
But unless you’re sure it no longer serves any purpose, consider it a small price to pay for a few very special, very passionate customers.
Because any customer who is passionate about your art is sharing that passion with a lot of other people.
And that’s a good thing.
P.S. I apologize for calling any part of my/your art “a dog”. Just trying to give some good business advice here, as well as good artistic advice.
“Life balance” is an insidious myth. Picasso, Oprah, Steve Jobs, Einstein, Maria Callas – they weren’t aiming for balance, they were aiming to rock their genius, and they’ve all had periods of burn out.
This was a little spooky. Okay, a LOT spooky. Because I got the old synchronicity thing going again.
Because a few days ago, for the first time in like two years (or more???), I sat down and began working on a new series of fiber work.
Danielle’s post today was actually the third or fourth synchronistic thingie. The second was her post from a few days ago, about kissing up to your muse.
I woke up in the middle of the night a few days ago with a great idea for next month’s column for The Crafts Report. At first I rolled over to go back to sleep. I’d just sent in my column and had a few weeks before the next one was do. I was sure I’d remember the great idea.
But something in me said, “No. Get up NOW. Just go write it.”
I went with it. And wrote almost the entire article in one sitting.
The spooky thing about that? It was the night before her post on don’t-dis-the-Muse. (Cue Twilight Zone music…)
The synchronicity thingie piece before that happened at dinner out with friends last week. Turned out one of our dinner companions is the daughter of another good friend who’s a painter. Her dad has a new series of artwork on exhibit, after a hiatus of many years from painting.
I mentioned I’d tried to buy one of his paintings a few years ago and he wouldn’t sell me one. She said yeah, he had a “thing” about not selling any until he had a body of work produced, even though he hadn’t even started his new phase when I’d tried to buy one. “He’s funny that way,” she mused. (Pun intended.)
Funny? Hmmm….. He wouldn’t sell his old paintings…. He’d stopped painting…. Now he had a new body of work.
It hit me like a ton of bricks.
I hadn’t made any new fiber work because it had stopped selling a few years ago. I don’t care what the newspapers say, artists and craftspeople know the recession started a lot further back than last year. Oh, I sold a few, but it was tortuous.
When people stopped buying, it wasn’t exciting to make more. And as they sold (slowly), I unconsciously held on to the ones I had left.
So that, if the muse never came back, I’d have something on hand to prove I really had been an artist.
I know it’s it’s desirable to grow and change as an artist. But change for change’s sake was not desirable (for me.) I was stuck.
Awhile ago, I realized that even if my fiber work remained what it was, and I never had a new idea, well, having that one really great theme in my life would be “good enough”. That cracked the door open again.
The remark that made me realize I was hoarding my old work opened that door a little wider.
Getting up in the middle of the night to write blew it open. Danielle’s post was like putting a door stop in it, to keep it open.
And then I sat down at my sewing machine and thought, “What if I just do some simple little pieces….? Just for me.”
Her post today was the final nail in the coffin. Er, door. Should doors be nailed open?? Okay, forget that metaphor, it stinks.
So being willing to be a “not very good artist” again (making the same old work) and realizing what I was holding on to (“I was once a pretty good artist!”) was enough to get me in front of my sewing machine once again. (Which is when I also sewed through my finger, but I’m not going to let that stop me, either, though I worry that my machine has now tasted blood.)
Danielle’s observation–that the muse may come and go, but if we care enough, we will just hang in there–was powerful. Letting go when the inspiration wanes, knowing we will come back, somehow, some way, even though we have no idea what that will look like, that feels like jumping off the edge of the world.
But now I know, as long as I persevere, it will indeed come back.
Because it has to. Or I’ll die.
It may be the same stuff. If so, then I will keep making it. I will rejoice and be grateful I had at least one really good thing to offer the world.
It may start the same and change. That’s okay, too. It will be what it will be.
What’s important is–it’s back.
I don’t care what it looks like anymore. I don’t care what other people think about it anymore.
oooh, I’ve always wanted to use the word “segue” in an essay!
In my last “Myths About Artists” post, a reader said there are some people who , feeling entitled, simply want to simply “be” an artist, with all the fame and glory and controversy they think automatically comes with it.
Several themes came to me after reading his thoughtful comments.
First, as a parent, a former teacher, and even a former child (yes, and please, no comments about not having enough fingers, toes or other digits to compute how many years ago that would be), this sounded very familiar.
We all have a desire for our work to gain some attention and respect in the world. And if you’re like me, you probably wish we didn’t have to constantly work so darn hard to get there.
This is a very human trait, after all. Yes, some people work very hard at becoming excellent at their craft, whatever it is. But many of us start out dreaming of an effortless success.
When I dreamed of horses, and of riding horses, I pictured myself riding fearlessly a beautiful horse, galloping wildly across a boundless plain under an open sky.
I did NOT dream of the long and often painful process of learning how to acquire my “seat”–how to sit comfortably for hours on a horse, how to balance instead of bounce (ow, ow, ow), how to control a horse (because atop a wildly running horse can actually be a frightening place to be.)
I did NOT envision the hours of hard work involved in caring for a horse, including grooming, mucking stalls and tacking up. And of course, boarding fees, vet bills and farrier costs never entered my pleasant daydreams, either.
No, it’s all too human to see the glory, not the grit, in our dreams.
But the person who believes they deserve an easy success? This is not the person I have in mind when I write these essays.
In my mind’s eye, I always speak to the person I used to be–the person who never believed that dreams can come true.
I was lost because I was too afraid to pursue my passion, and suffering because of it. I made the lives of my loved ones miserable, because I could be difficult to be with. (Er…still am, actually.)
In the words of my favorite bumper sticker, “Those who abandon their dreams, will discourage yours.”
Eventually, the pain of NOT being an artist surpassed the fear of failure. And that’s when I took my first steps to becoming not just an artist in name only–but an artist with gumption.
When I had the courage to take those first few tentative steps–and to keep on taking them–then I was truly on the path to becoming a more whole person.
That’s what it felt like, anyway. As my pursuit of art became more habit than daydream, my ability to love more freely, to judge less harshly, to be more fearless, to be more thankful, also grew.
Am I perfect? Heck no. I am still racked often–even daily!–by self-doubt, envy, fear, jealousy and sour grapes.
But I just keep on plugging away. Because I believe trying–making a true effort to attain our goals and dreams–matters.
A good friend sometimes says I make too much of this “thing about the horses”. She makes the case that if my current art changed, if I took up another art form, even if my ability to make any art were to disappear, I would still be me. I am not my art.
I get that, I do. But I am still pathetically grateful I had the chance to make this work, and took it, even so.
And every word I write is with this intention–to encourage even just one more person on this planet to do the same.
I encourage you to take the same journey, in your very own individual, inimitable way (of course!)
To paraphrase another friend’s words, I truly believe our acts of creation, by putting positive energy out there, by becoming a more whole human being….
By believing we can all achieve something good by making something that is useful, or beautiful, or both…
…is ultimately an act of peace, and makes the world a slightly better place for all.
MYTH: Real artists never compromise. They never make art that has to matches a sofa.
REALITY: Just exchange “some” for “real”, and “sometimes” for “never”. Oh, heck, just stop making things black and white, and let some gray area in.
Art has fulfilled powerful roles throughout history. From our human need to know and touch our gods, to our cries for social justice, art has served many purposes. Cathedrals are attempts to do the first, Picasso’s Guernica strove for the second. Conceptual art explores ideas at the expense of materials or process.
So…Art is profound. Art says something. Art is provocative. Art demands reaction, engagement, comment.
But art is also….beautiful. Art is healing. Art is quiet, or simply enjoyable.
And we all know art that’s just weird, dumb or shallow.
Art is all of these things, because beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. One generation’s “good art” is the next generation’s sentimental tripe. And one generation’s “garbage” is another generation’s masterpiece.
“Guernica” is a powerful work of art. But it’s also perfectly acceptable not to want it in our living room. For one thing, it’s huge! (And there’s only one, so only one of us could have it.) (I know we could all have prints of Guernica, and its message is that important to some people. But I like to have real stuff that a real person has made–that’s important to me, too.)
Art in the widest sense can fill the smallest spaces. Not every song is a symphony. Not every dance move is a ballet. Not every scribble is a cave painting. Not every poem is The Iliad.
Art is big enough to find a place in everyone’s life. And the world is big enough for all our art.
It’s okay to paint a lovely landscape to grace someone’s home–even one that goes with the sofa pretty nicely. Although it’s also cool when someone chooses a sofa to go with the painting.
Years ago, a visitor to our home perused our record collection (which tells you how long ago this was) and sniffed, “You can tell a lot about people from their music collection.” To which another visitor replied coolly, “Yeah, you can tell what kind of music they like!” I love that! We don’t all like the same kinds of music. But there are very few people who don’t love music, some kind of music, period.
I started my art path by making tiny fabric dolls and knitted animals. They were sweet and adorable. They were not “powerful” by any means. They had nothing to “say”. Or so I thought. But in them were the the tiny seeds of my desire to make something that made people happy. As my desire to connect in a different way grew, so did my handiwork.
And I’m still not done growing yet.
Make the art that’s in YOU. Don’t worry if if’s not “serious” or “profound”. Try not to compare yourselves to others. It’s hard, we all do it. But don’t stay there.
Don’t be embarrassed that we aren’t a Mozart, or a Picasso. Those incredible folks are art’s aberrations, not the norm. There is plenty of room in the world for the rest of us. There is a need for a well-made pot, a truly comfortable chair, a lovely flower arrangement, a catchy song.
Just make it. Bring it into the world. You and your art may “grow”, or not. It doesn’t matter.
Because the art that is in you, is unique to you. And it yours–all yours–ONLY yours–to give.
What you make, may be just what the world needs, today.
MYTH: “There’s no money in art, you’ll starve!” Fact: There are ways to supplement your income or even support a family making art.
Here’s the third myth from my series called, “TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS (That Will Keep You From Being A SUCCESSFUL Artist”. “Artists Starve in Garrets.” (What IS a garret??) Corollary: “Real artists don’t care about money” and “You have to sell out in order to sell your art”.
Yes, real artists DO care about money. They have to eat and pay taxes and live somewhere just like us. They may even want to eat out or see a movie from time to time, or go on a vacation. Or have nice clothes. They may even (horrors!) want to send their kids to college, or go to France. And see the works of artists there who may or may not have starved in garrets.
There is nothing wrong with wanting compensation for your skill and hard work, whether your work is laying bricks, raising potatoes, putting together a corporate merger, or creating a beautiful pot or painting. We do many things out of love and skill, but we don’t tell our dentist, “I know how much you love your work, so you don’t expect to be PAID for removing that impacted molar, do you?”
There’s also nothing wrong with people wanting to pay you for your art. Just as we long to have a nice lawn, pretty flowers in our garden, matching towels in our bathrooms and a really really big flat screen TV, many of us long to have attractive and/or meaningful things in our homes.
Hence, many people who cannot make the art you make, will want to pay you so they can own some of yours.
It’s a thrill when someone else loves your work so much, they are willing to part with their own hard-earned money for it. It is the ultimate compliment. Don’t let anyone tell you different.
You can make a living with art. You can make a living selling the art you want to make—IF you take the time to find your audience. It helps to recognize that the business of art is just that–a business. You are creating a product just as if you were in the business of writing a white paper for a venture capital company, or raising corn, or making and selling food at a restaurant. We’ll look again at ways to look at art-making as a business, but for now, try to lose the idea that making art to sell is somehow WRONG.
And re: “selling out”…making modifications (temporary or otherwise) in order to make your art more marketable is good business sense. NOT selling out.
There is no right or wrong way to approach the business of selling your art. There are CONSEQUENCES that result from your choices, however. Be aware and prepared for those consequences.
For example, some people want to make something that sells easily and quickly. They study the market to see what’s hot or trendy and what’s selling. That gives them a good shot to get their business up and running fast.
There are consequences for choosing this business model. First, fads come and go seemingly overnight. They are bell-curved in nature—a very few people buy the idea at first, followed by a small but growing swell of followers. Then the boom hits and EVERYBODY wants one. Soon, though, the boom ebbs, and you are left with stock that’s out of date. By the time you get through a season, it’s time to completely redesign your work.
Also, do you think you’re the only person who noticed what was selling? Your competition is right at your heels, sometimes in the booth next to you. It’s hard to create a look that’s significantly different from hundreds of other artists working in the same fad.
Plus you are not really creating something that comes from your heart, from where YOU stand in the world. You are constantly looking out into the world and following someone else’s lead.
On the other hand, some people are determined to only create work that totally pleases them. They are the people who are determined to crochet granny square vests in neon acrylic yarn. Since this look is actually coming back, I’ll just go on to say this proves my next point: You CAN sell crocheted vests made of granny squares in synthetic neon-colored yarn if you can wait long enough to grow an audience for it.
The advantage is you will be working very close to your “greatest vision” for your art. It will be highly individual in nature and a unique expression of your vision. It will be difficult for anyone else to copy or follow in your footsteps.
The consequence here is it can take time, a long, long time, to develop a following for something. If you don’t care about getting cash flow going, or are extremely patient and unconcerned with the opinion of others, then you can afford to work this way.
But as in real life, you don’t have just two choices. Just like most decisions in life, you can construct something that lies somewhere in the middle.
Somewhere in the middle could look like this: You spend the time developing a highly personal body of work, work that has your distinctive and individual mark in it.
You invest the necessary time developing that style. At the same time, you find ways to connect it to a larger audience than your current audience of one (you.) You either offer less-involved versions that appeal to more people. Or you find ways to tweak it in small ways that don’t dilute the artwork’s vision itself, that makes it more marketable.
You still have the strength and power of a unique body of work, sacrificing more time and effort to develop your ultimate audience. But you also have something that’s somewhat marketable in the meantime, and bringing in cash flow so you can continue to grow.
Another approach could be to start smaller. You make something that IS trendy, or simple, or just fun to make. It’s not super-special, you just like doing it.
You sell some here, you sell some there, and over time, your audience grows. The fad goes away, but your work has evolved past that. As you go, you constantly tweak it here and there, adding touches that are unique to YOU.
Your interest pulls you to explore farther and farther. Your work becomes even more an extension of you. Your audience comes along gradually, growing larger and more appreciative.
One day, you realize your work has slowly evolved into something that is still recognizable but so distinctively YOU that anyone could look at it and say, “That’s a Joanna Smith!” On your journey, along the way, you made a million little choices by following your heart, resulting in a body of work only YOU could have made.
The point is you don’t have to choose between selling out and not selling at all. Life is rarely about black-and-white choices. It’s about finding the way BETWEEN you can live with. Sometimes through compromise and negotiation. Sometimes through small, unconscious changes. But always in balance.
P.S. A garret comes from an old French word, refers to the space inside/under the roof a building, and is simply a very classy way of saying “attic”….
Caveat: A friend who’s a lot of research about “successful” artists found that many don’t really make a living from their work. Some of the names would surprise you. Some are supported by spouses or trust funds. Some rely on academic careers for their bread-and-butter. On the other hand, I DO know people who support families while making work they love. Yet some people wouldn’t call them “artists”.
The moral of the story here: Don’t let anyone else define “success” for you! It will be different for each of us. And there is room in the world for all of our versions.
For a pithier (and funnier) version of this philosophy, see this post at the IttyBiz blog.
Sometimes you don’t know how you get there, but it’s still nice to know where you’ve been.
I read Canadian artist Robert Genn’s latest newsletter A Treasured Mapbook, this one on the joys and advantages keeping a journal while traveling and painting. Mr. Genn writes often and well about issues concerning art and artists. You can read my tongue-in-cheek response below his article.
What delighted me was another reader’s comment on the accompanying image of my small bear sculpture. She thought that the markings on my little bear looked sort of like a map, too. I was thrilled by her observation, and it got me thinking.
There are so many kinds of journeys we take, and so many ways of recording them. Ways that may help us, looking back, to see how far we’ve come from. Perhaps, in journeys where we feel we travel without a map, this backward look gives a hint of where we’re headed, even when we aren’t sure ourselves.
Perhaps my very body of work is such a map. And so is this blog.
Re: the markings on my artifacts, I’m often asked what they mean. I have to say, I really don’t know for sure. And even when I do, that changes over time.
Some echo the markings in actual cave paintings. Their meaning is not clearly understood, though many new theories abound. Even the myriad hand prints only confirms that many ages of people frequented these places, not why.
I work quickly, not thinking too much about where I mark, and how often, sometimes falling into compelling rhythms (“One-two-three-four-FIVE, one-two-three-four-FIVE…”) or compulsive counting (I try to always have odd numbers of marks, such as the incised lines in a horse’s mane.) For awhile I felt I had to etch tiny fern-like patterns on each one, a urge that eventually manifested into this pod series.
Each little animal or artifact seems to call out for a certain “look”, and I do my best to oblige without always understanding why.
Then I listen to the stories my collectors tell about what they see in the markings. One, a musician, sees an ancient scale of musical notes. Another, an astronomy, cherishes the thought that the seven dots in a bull’s face is indeed an ancient star map of the Pleiaides. The hand prints often speak to healers.
I am delighted and enchanted by such stories. It means the piece has left my hands, and has truly become an object of meaning to the new owner.
So the idea of the markings-as-map, as I chronicle this “word map” blog of my latest journey, appeals. Once again, just as I wonder what place my art has in the world, it calls me back. Encourages me to take “one more step” with this work, with this incredible journey called life..
My art still urges me to look around and see, to really see. And to reflect and record what I find.
It’s always been there for me. I’m the one who walked away. And now, perhaps, I find my way back again.
It’s okay to laugh. It’s okay to make other people laugh. And it’s okay to write an artist statement about art-that-makes-us-laugh, too.
Many people have left comments or emailed me with concerns about my artist statement series. They say they don’t make “heavy” or “serious” art. They make art that is funny, or cute, or whimsical, or charming, or clever. So they don’t need an artist statement, right?
I’ve always said, if what you’re doing is working for you, don’t change anything.
But I still encourage you to think about why you’ve chosen–or been called–to make that kind of work.
And I encourage you to think about what would happen if you shared that reason, that realization, that insight, with your audience.
Remember when I said your art doesn’t have to be serious, but understanding why you make it is still important?
Here are the reasons:
1) It makes you step up to the plate and take what you do seriously.
2) Joy and laughter and sweetness are passions, too, just as important as more “serious” passions.
3) Your reasons for making this art, whatever they are, are still personal and powerful. People will respond to those reasons.
When I first started making stuff, I, too, made “whimsical” and “sweet” things. I made things simply because I enjoyed it. It was fun!
Then I attended a workshop for blocked or emerging artists. We had to bring examples of our work and talk about it.
I was in a tizzy. I thought of everyone else present as “real artists” and I was not. I just made stuff. There was nothing “heavy” or “serious” about it. Even if you could call what I did “art”, couldn’t art just be for fun?
But something happened when I was forced to really look at my work, to really think about why I made it, and then to talk about that to an audience.
Here is a reconstructed version of what I said about my work:
I make tiny dolls, only 2″ tall, made from recycled sweaters. I make small knitted sheep, too. I crochet small “pouches” on cords, so you can carry a doll or sheep around your neck. I also make small wall quilts based on traditional patterns and made with natural fabrics recycled from used clothing, so they really look old.
I imagined my body of work as something that would intrigue and delight at the same time, little “toys” newly made with old materials, giving them a timeless quality.
I used to think of these pieces as children’s toys, but adults are just as fascinated with them. I think it’s important to have joy and delight in our lives, so I guess in a way, I love making “toys for adults”–tiny little marvels, beautifully made, that enchant and delight.
Almost everything I make would fit in your hand. That is very important to me. I guess it’s so you can have these little gifts with you all the time, and take them out and hold them anytime you need to be happy. Because I want them to make people happy, and joyful.
I laugh when I look back and see how tentative I was about my work, even as I felt so compelled to make it. “I guess…” “I think….”
But in that first “artist statement” (because that’s exactly what it was), I can see the shape of things to come. I can see some of you who are familiar with my work, already nodding and saying, “aha!”
Small artifacts…made to be touched and held in your hand…carried with you as jewelry, as talismans…recycled fabrics and artifacts giving an aura of antiquity to the work….intriguing…connection…
….and passion. Joy.
Within a year, I was making an entirely different body of work, with the same qualities, the same aesthetic, almost the same story–but with a powerful message.
I began to make fabric wall hangings made with recycled fabrics. I made artifacts to put on these quilts; artifacts of ancient horses galloping through endless grass lands, their hearts full of joy and freedom. Artifacts that carried a message for us, that spoke to us across the ages, that told us how to live with more joy and freedom in our hearts.
I learned not to be denigrate how I felt. I learned to respect the reasons why I make what I make. I learned to really love and celebrate the artist in me.
I stepped up to the plate.
Does your whimsical art have to evolve into something more serious? Absolutely not!
In a world full of hardship and horror, pain and destruction, sorrow and sadness, there a profound need for art that makes us rejoice, and dance, and celebrate, and love. There is a time for being silly, for laughter. There is room for all our art.
Joy. Laughter. Delight. Silly. These are all part of the human condition, too. And they are just as important in creating a rich, loving and wonderful life.
There is power in joy, and laughter.
I am only asking you to think about that power, and acknowledge that power, and ultimately, to respect that power in your art, and in your heart.
Coming soon: How to get to that all-important WHY.
I’m exploring a new social networking site, LinkedIn, this one for professionals. Professional what?, you ask. Well, there are a lot of professional artists, writers and bloggers there already. You can be, too!
So IF you are already LinkedIn, and IF you read my blog/know my art/read my article in The Crafts Report magazine, or if you’ve enjoyed my guest articles that were published in Clint Watson’sFine Art Views daily email newsletter….
And if you figure out how to use this new resource, let me know, because everyone is asking me!
If you are NOT already LinkedIn, consider it. I know, I know…. As my friend and fellow TCR writer Nancy Lefever always says, it can feel like we are Plurked, Twittered, Facebooked, emailed and blogged to death and distraction these days.
I agree. Yet I still participate.
It takes time to figure out a comfortable level to work these venues at, and I tend to avoid following anyone who states that they Twitter 152 times a day….
But it’s about visibility, it’s about connections, and it’s about exploring new ways to get our work out there.
Some of these venues will fail miserably, some will peter out quickly. The life span of these new ventures runs about 2-3 years. It’s impossible to try them all, and it’s hard to foresee which ones will amount to anything.
And yet, one of them may forge that one connection that gets your to your next step.
Is it worth it? I dunno. But I’m willing to try.
I actually find it interesting and challenging. A creative act. Just another aspect of my artistic self, connection. My art is all about connecting, so this feels like a natural extension. In a way, building an online presence is another “body of work”, similar to the one we build with our art: Who am I? Who am I to other people? What is my public image, and how much does it align with my private self, and the work I want to do? How does this online presence contribute to the knowledge of others, and to the greater good in the world?
My body of work–my artwork and my writing–tells you who I am as a person, and shows you the better person I strive to be.
Ultimately, this social networking stuff, it’s just another way to tell my story.
And on a lighter note, it can be fun to Twitter, my friends. If it sucks your time, confine it to your coffee break(s).
One bright note….LinkedIn might be a good one to join because it’s easy to search for the contacts you already have. I was surprised to create almost 150 contacts the first day, more than I have in several months of Facebook presence. And the connections are one I already treasure, I just hadn’t thought of them as my network. That person who I met on Freecycle? They work for our city government. That artist who commented on my blog? They work in academia, too.
Suddenly, my world seems bigger than I ever imagined.
Live and learn. And if you are truly a lifelong learner, as I strive to be, we’ll will be learning for many years to come.
p.s. A big shout-out and thank you to Gerri Newfry, who “recommended” my blog before I could even post this! Thank you, Gerri!
And geez, I went back to see how you can recommend me, and I can’t figure it out, either! If someone knows, please let me know, okay? I’m not sure if you have to be signed up on the site, but here are the instructions from LinkedIn:
To recommend a person from their profile:
1. Click ‘Recommend this person’ found in the upper right hand corner of the profile. You will also find a recommendation link in the Experience section under the position for which you want to recommend them.
2. Choose a category: service provider, business partner, student, or colleague.
3. Follow the instructions provided based on the category you selected.
Let’s talk a little about display today. What is the best way to display your work to its best advantage?
I always secretly envy 2-D people. They basically need a few walls to hang up paintings or prints. Their main worry is, “Is that frame straight?”
On the other hand, it’s hard for a 2-D artist to stand out in a sea of similar set-ups.
On the other other hand, it ends up being about the art. Period.
And when all is said and done, that’s the way it should be.
I’m not advocating bare booths–far from it! But if I had to pick the biggest mistake I see with highly-creative display, it’s when artists get confused about exactly what it is they’re selling.
If someone picks up a piece of your display and asks how much it is, that’s your cue: You are letting your display interfere with selling your art.
This is a delicate balance, because display fixtures are, indeed, a way to create a look and a mood in your booth. Bruce Baker talks a lot about making your display style fit your style of art.
CHEAP VS. EXPENSIVE DISCONNECT
If you make spare, elegant gold and diamond jewelry, these will not look good displayed in cheap, rickety cases or on pine display fixtures. I don’t think elegant silk clothes and shawls look good on that white grid paneling I often see at shows–the elegance just doesn’t go with that Toys-R-Us display mode.
But beyond the “disconnect” of displaying expensive work on cheap-looking fixtures, the other rules go out the door.
MATCH THEME WITH STYLE
If your work is whimsical, it can be good to have your whole booth and display fixtures reflect that. If your work is traditional, ditto.
OR MIX IT UP
There is also surprise and pleasure in contrast. Ironically, sometimes whimsical work does good in a plain and simple display. My richly textured and colorful jewelry looks really good displayed on sleek, contemporary-style black steel display stands. The black disappears, the colors pop–all you see is the work.
I’m not sure the opposite is true–when we have elaborate and “frilly” display with strong, contemporary work. Probably because the “frilly” is what gets attention, and the artwork loses.
Which brings us to the title point:
TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING
We can get carried away with carrying that theme of congruency too far.
I have a habit of creating beautiful vignettes in my studio and booth. I set up little rocks and stones and shells around my sea-themed jewelry. I look for colored papers and bean bags for my brighter jewelry. I look for creative odds and ends to hold earrings, necklaces, bracelets.
But you know you’re in trouble when your customer can’t tell exactly what it is you’re selling.
They pick up a pretty rock and say, “How much is this?” Or they carefully take the earrings off that cool note card holder and try to buy the holder. They see a coaster under a pin and say, “I’ve been looking for a set of those! I’ll take them all!”
Catalog companies have this happen all the time. Look at catalogs sometime, and examine the props. You’ll find that almost all of them are either for sale as product–or are obviously not for sale. That’s because the last thing that company needs is a jillion phone calls from customers who want to buy that widget on the mantelpiece that isn’t for sale.
I’m always looking for display props and fixtures wherever I go. I get all excited–“I could use this wood artist model hand to hold bracelets!” But if I get too many questions like, “Did you make this?“, out it goes.
It’s like the essay on the “beautiful booth” phenomenon. You want your booth interesting enough to grab people’s interest (if you have trouble doing it with your work because it’s small or detailed or subtle or whatever.) But once they’re in your booth, it has to be about the work.
Same with your display. It should complement–and compliment–your work enough. But the minute it begins to overshadow your work, cut it out.