HOW TO BE A HERO

Yet another creative person who works at Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Ronnie Smart, who designed this signage for me when I couldn’t be in my studio for all the Art Trails hours!

And so many ways to be a creative!

Although I’m not able to be fully open both weekends of our county-wide open studio tour this month, I was able to fulfill my volunteer commitments at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, the organization that hosts it.

Volunteering is so rewarding! We can help fill in the gaps for non-profit organizations. We get to assist the very people who help us get our art out into the world. And my favorite? We get to peek behind the curtain, just like Wizard-of-Oz Dorothy did. (Er…in a good way.)

I got to meet a member of the staff I hadn’t even met before, due to the pandemic precautions.  One of them triggered a powerful memory for me.

When we lived in New Hampshire, I became a juried member of one of the oldest fine craft organizations in the country (some contend the oldest), the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. Among other events, they hosted a highly-popular nine-day fair called the LNHC Annual Craftsmen’s Fair. I served on the Fair’s steering committee for awhile, and that deepened my relationships with the League’s staff.

And one conversation simply blew my mind. Here’s that memory:

I was talking to the woman who was in charge of accounting and finances. (I don’t remember her name, but I’ll share it if I find out!(Found her! Joan Hubbard!!! And thank you to Melinda LaBarge for her detective work!) She was always patient and kind in all our interactions, and at some point, we talked about her work history.

Her income came up, and somehow, it was clear she could have chosen to do the same work at our non-profit craft org,  at a much higher salary from a corporation or for-profit company. I was curious, and asked her why she’d chosen that.

She said, “I’m not creative, but I’m in awe of people who are! So I consider my work here a way of supporting the artists and arts I love.”

Take a minute to let that sink in.

In a culture where money is the measure of our “success”, often the only measure, and where someone who is good with managing money can make a lot of money doing that…. this person gave up fortune because of her ideals. For her love of creativity. Her respect for creative people.

I thanked her, of course, and shared that story with others whenever the opportunity came up.

But I wish I could have that conversation again, today. I would take the conversation a little deeper, and perhaps have honored her life decision even more by lifting her heart.

I know now that almost every human being is creative, in their own unique way. Creativity, innovation, the desire to be part of a tribe, and to be seen as a unique individual, are all powerful human traits. If you’ve followed my blog or my email newsletter, or my past articles on Fine Art Views, you know this is a common theme for me!

My heart has opened wide to respect many, many ways people are creative:

Whatever you love to do, (whether it’s hard or challenging or easy and relaxing, earns you a living or not), if it lifts your heart, and helps you make better decisions and be a better person…

And you share it with others, with the world (whether is selling, donating for a good cause, lending, or simply sharing it on social media, etc.)…

And it lifts the hearts of others (because they love it, or makes their life better, easier, richer, or helps them physically/mentally/emotionally/spiritually)…

And makes the world a better place…

That…is creative work. 

So “art” isn’t the only form of creativity. It can be any form of making. It can be healing, teaching, creating community, mending, restoration, repair, building, care-taking, gardening, feeding, etc.

I now know this is all creative work. Even badly-done, with good intentions and a loving heart, has its place in the world. (Here’s my blog post on Regretsy and the power of awful art.)

Today, I would tell this woman this:

“The work you do for us is creative. It makes you happy that you can support our work, and it helps us soooooo much. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you do!”

But I would also go deeper. I would ask her what her creative work is. If she protested she wasn’t creative, I would dig a little deeper: What is the hobby/pastime/activity that lifts her heart? I would gently walk her through my new “rules” of creativity.

And I hope it would give her more support, more confidence, in her own superpowers.

Unfortunately, she died far too early, even before we left New Hampshire. I’ve shared her story with her daughter, and she loved it.

But I deeply regret I could not share my deeper insights at that time.

And the person I briefly met at SebArts fills the same role as this wonderful woman at the LNHC. I hope to talk with her again, soon.

In her honor, I ask you one small favor today.

If you are a “traditional creative”, you know, a “real artist”, take a step back.

Let’s not fight anymore about whether pastels are “just chalk” ( that’s what cave art is made with), or argue about whether pottery is art or craft.

Let’s look deeper at all the organizations, the small businesses, the companies, the people, who support the work of our heart, in so many ways. By sponsoring it, displaying it, promoting it, buying it, or simply letting us know how much they enjoy it.

Let’s be grateful for all the reasons we can even do our work, and all the ways we can get it out into the world.

Let’s work hard to be a force for good in the world, and honor the work so many do, so we can do our work.

BIG MAGIC AND ME: What Elizabeth Gilbert and I Have in Common

In my last blog post, Maybe Languishing Isn’t So Bad? I shared how downtime/slow times may actually be a gift for me right now. I got many wonderful comments which will inspire some new posts. Yippee!

I was gonna get right on them. But then something happened that took priority.

Of course, I can’t find it now (!!!!) but someone mentioned Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic. (I highly recommend using Bookfinder.com to find the book at the price and in the condition you’re willing to pay for.)

Then an email newsletter featuring an interview with the author appeared in my inbox, with some quotes from the book. (If you prefer podcasts over a read, here’s an NPR radio interview with the author instead, to get a sense of what the book’s about.) Signs from the universe! I ordered a copy, and boy, am I glad I did.

First, Gilbert and I are on the same page about creativity. Her definition is wide and deep (like mine), she encourages us to make room for it somewhere in our life, whether we can earn a living at it (like I do), and whether or not we’re good at it (my creation story!) My copy of BIG MAGIC already has dozens of bookmarks with lots of exclamation points. I’m only four chapters in, and I have pages of notes.

Second, she has some unusual thoughts about where/why/how ideas find us, and her story about that is amazing. (For a short version, try this review: Ann Pratchett and Elizabeth Gilbert’s unknown collaboration. But trust me, the detailed version is jaw-dropping when it comes to its synchronicity!)

Third, we also agree that when it comes to the most important thing about our creative work, whatever it is, however it manifests itself: It’s not about having an audience, it’s atbout having a voice.

The weirdest insight? This one:

To put the story in perspective, consider this fact: The earliest evidence of recognizable human art is 40,000 years old. The earliest evidence of human agriculture, by contrast, is only 10,000 years old. Which means that somewhere in our collective evolutionary story, we decided it was way more important to make attractive, superfluous items than it was to learn how to regularly feed ourselves.

–Elizabeth Gilbert

And if we consider the fact that the world’s oldest-known human-made artifact (a shell drilled so it could be worn as a bead) is estimated at 100,000 years old, well, we have a lot of history/prehistory riding on human creativity.

And that ancient cave art, and even that shell bead, what do they signify?

A deeply-rooted desire to be part of a tribe, a community. AND to be seen as an individual in that community.

I’ll keep this one short today (NO CHEERING FROM THE BLEACHERS) because I want to address many of the other insights I got from the comments.

Yes, it’s a little bit woo-woo, and usually, I’m not into that. But I also have to admit, the synchronicity of my creative life, the little miracles that cross my path, have allowed me to at least say, “There’s a lot we just don’t know about our creative selves, and I’m okay with whatever encourages me to stay with it.” Because that’s what Gilbert does: Shares her insights, experiences, and observations that encourage us all to keep making the work that heals us.

Short story:

All humans are creatives, if we simply expand our definition and expectations of ‘creativity’.

Don’t measure it. Don’t question it. Don’t demean it. Don’t judge it.

Embrace it. Respect it. Honor it. Make room for it. Feed it.

Now git to your sacred creative space today, whether it’s a studio, a closet, a garden, a hospital, an office, or your computer.

And do/make/create/heal/edit/curate/fix/restore/grow/nourish/teach something.

Coming soon: The more practical insights into all the questions y’all asked last week!

I hope this helps you find your balance again today. If you’ve already found that place, share it in the comments. Someone else may find your experience enlightening!

If you found this helpful, and know someone else who might find it useful, share it!

And if someone shared this with you, and you found it useful, you can either follow my blog (upper right corner), or sign up for my email newsletter (at the top of my website home page) for more random (but free!) advice.

PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #3: Who’s On Your Team?

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My next step? More artifacts!

This article was published on Fine Art Views.

PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #3: Who’s On Your Team?

Don’t sell yourself short when facing new challenges!

 (5 minute read)

In last week’s Fine Art Views column, What’s the Hard Part?, I shared how trying to figure out a new project in advance has its disadvantages.  I talked about how simply starting with my best guesses helped me move forward steadily, one little step at a time.

I got inspiration from a blog post by Seth Godin, who posed this issue as a team project. But many creatives, especially artists of all kinds, don’t have a “team”. Yep, it can get lonely over here!

But even as I was thinking that, I realize we all DO have a team. It’s just not what we normally think of as a “team”.

We have skills. Creative work is just that: Creative. Making something that wasn’t in the world before we made it. It doesn’t come out of nowhere, of course. But it does come from US. Wherever we got our skills, whether or not we went to art school, or took workshops, or are self-taught, we didn’t show up in the world with those skills. We acquired them. Yes, we may be quick learners (or not), we may have innate talent (or not), but know this: Nobody is born knowing how to play the piano. We had to put ourselves out there and practice, practice, practice to get where we are today.

 We have an attitude. We found something that called to us, whether it’s painting on a canvas, writing a story, playing an instrument, etc. We may have been told we weren’t good enough, or that we couldn’t make a living at it, or a ton of other discouraging words. But we wanted it. And so we took up our creative work, pursued it with all our heart, and got those above-mentioned skills.

We make time for it. We can have tons of talent and oodles of practice. But if we don’t make time in our lives to actually do the work, well, it simply won’t be in the world. In fact, time is something that can give us our best excuse for NOT doing something that matters to us. (See “challenges” below.) In order for us to have a ‘body of work’, we had to make room for actually making it in our lives.

We chose our medium(s). This may seem like a no-brainer, but it isn’t. Some people choose their art medium because of the automatic respect they believe they’ll get from it (like oil paints over acrylic, for example.) That’s okay. But in fact, most of us choose our medium because of how it meshes with our own personal habits, quirks, and preferences. Each medium has its costs, drawbacks, and benefits, each forces us to interact differently with it. I quickly grew frustrated in my one acrylic painting class, because the paint dried too fast. I couldn’t play around with it, blend it, etc. I can’t even imagine working with watercolor! Knowing our work preferences and process helps us see our works-in-progress more clearly.

We know our materials. We know what substrates (canvas, paper, wood panels, for example) will work best with which media, and how to prepare them. We know which glue to use with what (and if we don’t, we know how to find out!) We’ve learned what color blending techniques to use, how to construct an effective color palette, what kind of clay to use in our potter, what glazes to use, how long to fire polymer clay, what our preferred method of book-binding is, etc. etc. etc.

We know our process. In my own box art path, I’ve learned that epoxy and silicon construction glues can be very useful in putting several boxes together. But they have their drawbacks, too. I used them until they didn’t work for me (e.g. in some cases, the glue bond is stronger than the old wood I’m attaching it too. Ask me how I know.) Then I had to try something else.

We have experience with solving problems. So many of us (ME!!) forget this. We’ve gotten used to success with what we’ve learned. We forget how hard it was when we started out. We forget how long it took us to master our craft. And yet (see note about playing the piano above) we got to where we are today because we persevered. Because…

We have experience with ‘challenge’. I see them on social media every day! Painting of the day. 100 Days projects. They’ve been popular work-inspirations for years, but are even more popular now. Joining them takes commitment, and a little courage, too. And it helps that we make time for them, because we’ve gotten good at that, too. (See “time” above.) And I’m amazed at the already-talented people who then share how much they learned through these challenges. They were forced out of their comfort zone, and into new territory.

We have goals and dreams. We all had dreams as children. Some of us wanted to be a fireman, some of us wanted to play sports, or music, some of us wanted to be an artist. Not all of us followed our hearts, of course, and our goals and dreams can change along the way. But even people who “fall into” their calling, have to persevere to make it happen. In my article about graduates of The Juilliard School, we can see that we only lose our dreams when we walk away from them. And most people do that because they believe they aren’t good enough, or it’s not worth all of our effort. Those who persist, have to get over that hurdle, too. Because…

We know how to believe in ourselves, and we know the power of that. Oh, sure, I know I am not “the best” polymer clay artist in the world. Every day, I see people with ten times the talent I have. That can slow me down. But it will never stop me. I have a vision in my head, I have big dreams in my heart, I have projects that are begging to be in the world. Because they are my voice in the world.

And once I got back to my place of power, finding the key that helped me to just try, I made progress. Slowly, but surely, I used what knowledge I had until I found a better solution. And I kept that up until I got something satisfying, something that I knew was going to work. (Let me show you my enormous bracket-and-screws collection….!!)

So the next time you feel like you’ve hit a wall, like you’ve got a creative problem you just can’t figure out, think about what’s worked for you along the way.

 Social media marketing is a biggie and will be as long as our “new normal” is in place. Some of the most talented creatives I know are in a frantic limbo with Facebook, Instagram, newsletters, etc. They are overwhelmed, feel under-prepared, and are freaking out.

My advice for you today: You didn’t get to where you are today by chance, by accident, or through lack of skills.

You got to where you are by not giving up, by moving forward, one small step at a time.

 And because your ‘team’ has been with you, every step of the way.

Next week, I’ll share another powerful member of your team. Stay tuned! Until then, know that your comments are always welcome, often insightful, and sometimes inspirational, too! Shares, the same. Questions, I’ll do my best! You can find more of my articles at Fine Art Views, and/or visit/subscribe to them at my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

DREAMERS AND MUSIC-MAKERS

My original shrines made a great display of my work! And now the dream continues….

Sometimes I surprise myself.

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.

Thanks and a hat tip to Natalia Gorwalski, who generously gave me these little tool/parts drawers, now painted and waxed and ready for stacking!

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.

So today’s article “Fresh Drive” by Sara Genn, landed at just the right time for me. (Sara continues the journey of her father, Robert Genn, with their blog, The Painter’s Keys. Any creative can benefit from their shared insights and wisdom.)

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.”

Aha!

“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.)

We are not wishful thinkers. We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

Know that our artwork can inspire others on so many levels, in ways we can’t even imagine.

Follow your creative heart and never let it go.

Your comments are always welcome, often insightful, and sometimes inspirational, too! Shares, the same. You can find more of my articles at Fine Art Views, and/or visit/subscribe to my blog.

Small shrines, big shrines, and everything in between….

WayBack Whenever: That Small Voice Inside

Oh, dear. My intentions to republish some of my old RadioUserland blog posts seem to have fallen by the wayside….

No matter. When I run across one that still speaks to/for me, I’ll reprint ’em here. (And most of them do!) (Also, thanks to Karyl Shields, who alerted me that the links don’t go to the right content any longer. Fixed! Darn you, Internet!)

Still following that “little idea” and I’m finally making some progress!
Monday, March 28, 2005

THAT SMALL VOICE INSIDE

Amy Peters, silver jeweler to the stars and Queen of self-promotion, posted a fascinating link on a forum today called “Marketing for Introverts.” I can’t find the article but her book can be found here: Self-Promotion for Introverts. Nancy Ancowitz’s insights provided very manageable steps we can take to promote ourselves and our work, and I highly recommend her article.

While poking around her site, I found an article she was interviewed for that also caught my attention. It’s called “To Find A Path, Just Follow That Little Hint” by Patricia Kitchen:

Why did this article appeal to me so much? Because a journey begins with having a place to go. And if you don’t know where to go, how do you take that first step?

Kitchen’s premise is, most people wait for a “bolt from the blue” to indicate where our true heart’s desire lies. But it usually doesn’t happen that way. Instead, she says, we have to pay attention to that tiny little hint of something that captures our interest. And follow it.

As adults, we often find we’ve lost or muffled the instinct to follow our hearts. We don’t have the time or energy to try new things, or pursue a glimmer of an interest. We lose faith in our abilities and strengths, we forget our gifts.

Last week I invited a friend to a free self-defense workshop at the martial arts studio where I study kick-boxing. I asked her on a whim, thinking it would be fun for both of us. “Oh no,” she said, “I wouldn’t be any good at that!”

I was baffled. Why would you have to be good at something to try it out? Heaven knows I have no “knack” for marial arts. And who would expect you to be good at self-defense without learning or practicing it??

But I understood the mindset. It’s that fear of NOT being good at something, the fear of embarrassing yourself in front of others, the fear of making a mistake. It’s the fear of being caught doing something foolish, or the fear looking stupid. It can be the fear of not getting your money’s worth or the fear of wasting time. It can be as awful as the fear of finding out you are NOT talented, or special, or capable of being better.

That’s why it’s so important to “follow that hint” of something interesting, new and fun. Why it’s so important to allow yourself the teensiest little opportunity to try something different. Why it’s so important to simply be open to something that piques your interest.

And why it’s so important to listen to that quiet voice within yourself that says “why not?”

Because who knows where that could lead you?

Kitchen ends by stressing that you must take active steps to pursue that hint. Otherwise, it stays a dream and never becomes your reality.

Tiny hints…small voice…and daily little steps. All adding up to a big dream come true.

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART? Their Definition of “Real Art” May Be Bigger Than Ours

When we can make our art as a vocation, that’s a good thing. Not everyone can, nor wants to.
When we can make our art as a vocation, that’s a good thing. Not everyone can, nor wants to.

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART? Their Definition of “Real Art” May Be Bigger Than Ours

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART? Their Definition of “Real Art” May Be Bigger Than Ours

Times have changed. We can, too. If we choose.

(5 minute read)

Welcome back to the series that explores why our work may or may not appeal to millennials!

Again, for a less stressful reading experience, I’ve broken up articles in this series into pieces. But we’re getting pretty close the end of the series, so bear with me!

Last week, I wrote about our definitions of “real art” and “real artists”.  Along the way, some folks have shared their thoughts, especially the belief that for many reasons, millennials just don’t get “art” in the first place. So why bother?

I’m leaning in, because I’m willing to test my assumptions from time to time. I hope this is a way for others to do the same.

So, back to the definition of “real art”.

6)  What if we looked further afield at other forms of “real art”?

The term “visual arts” covers a lot of fields besides paintings. Photography and movies (technically “moving pictures”. Much fine craft approaches the standards of visual art, going beyond “functional” and verging on pure aesthetics.) I was mesmerized by the Bayeux Tapestry in college, and yes, it was in an art history class, not history. It is history retold in fiber, long considered “women’s work”, considered a craft, and not “real art”.

And “visual arts” goes beyond 2D work. There are the performance arts, theater arts, music, writing, etc. Even sports could be considered an art, as combat and competition have been with us since the dawn of time. (The Olympics, for example, inspired many Greek sculptures and Roman recreations.) I have friends who are deeply drawn, and moved, by opera. (I love “bits and pieces” but don’t have what it takes to sit through an entire opera. On the other hand, I attended a lot of rock concerts in the ‘70’s. Who knows, these may be “classical art” a thousand years from now?)

Who among us has not been moved to tears by a poignant song, a beautiful voice? How many movies have broadened our horizons and expanded our point-of-view? I’m guessing, most of us. Music, song, moving/movie art, are all art media that can be found in Ice Age cave art. I consider all of these “real art”.

Lastly –

7)  Not everyone can support themselves making art.

When we can make our art as a vocation, that’s a good thing. Not everyone can, nor wants to.

Art teachers, historically, got there because making a living with art was hard. Teaching is a way many artists get money to do what they love. Are they “less real”?

There are a slew of people in the world who make good money making music. There a bajillion more who won’t, and never will. Same with acting, singing, dancing, etc. The world is full of people who will never be famous, or rich, for their pursuit of art.

And yet they persist.

Why?

BECAUSE THEY LOVE IT.

They may eventually make it their avocation, pursuing it even though they will make less money over a job they are good at, that pays well, but aren’t passionate about.

Below that (respect-wise) are the amateurs. They know they will never make any money for what they do. But they can’t live without it.

The worst definition of “amateur” (especially today) suggests the person doesn’t care enough to get good at it. Even today, that’s true.

Except that our modern times have broadened the definition, moved that negative tone to third place.

“Amateur” now means, “for the love of doing, not money.”

If our society valued pursuit for love, if we were paid for the time and effort we put into the work that means everything for us, the work that we’re really good at, then preschool teachers (teaching arts), stay-at-home moms (care-taking art), home health aides (same), social workers (healing), etc., and us artists would make just as much money as rock stars, famous actors, surgeons (which I consider “healing art”), etc.

Yes, we need standards in all those fields. Training and certification certainly helps. Sometimes accredited education is mandated.

But standards, training, certification, college degrees, don’t necessarily guarantee us, their clientele and customers, satisfaction.

I don’t care how many years a surgeon spent in school, nor even what school they went to. I want to know how good their skills are, yes. I want them to know what they’re doing, and that they are who they say they are.

But I also want to know if they’re only interested in being a rock star in the operating room, or if they understand my needs, my issues, and what will work best for me. (For example, one surgeon talked me into getting a partial knee replacement. Now, two years later, I’m looking at a third surgery, for a full replacement, because it didn’t work out that well. Standard knowledge now says partials only delay the inevitable for a few years.) My time, my quality of life, and our budget has been deeply dented. That surgeon is a good one. But their need to be a rock star overrode my desire for this to be my last knee surgery.

I don’t care how amazing a film director is. If they have shown themselves to be a toxic person, all I can see in their work now are the tell-tale signs and hints of their abuse and power over others.

Again, this matters to some people, not to others. There is no single definition that will make us all happy. Only the one that will make us happy.

But there are ones that can be inclusive, uplifting, expansive, as opposed to strict borders, narrow definitions, and “the only way” to be a creative person in the world.

And artists? More on that to come, next week!

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you liked it, you can sign up for more articles at Fine Art Views or more from me at my blog LuannUdell.wordpress.com. 

THE ECSTASY AND THE AGONY: Your Creative Cycle at Work

Not all parts of the creative process are fun…
Not all parts of the creative process are fun…

Not all parts of the creative process are fun…

 (5 minute read)

For the past week or so, my partner has been working feverishly on a new project.

He’s in high-tech, and the work he does is highly creative. Now, I can almost see some of you cringe. “He’s a nerd! NOT an artist!” I’ve heard that from people before. Sometimes I try to set them straight.

He is an extremely talented writer, who started off as an English major, tried his hand at fiction, but soon slid into non-fiction. He was awarded a prestigious Hopwood Award at the University of Michigan, a year or so after we met. His work was so good, it didn’t fit into any of their categories—so they created a new one, just for him. (He bought his first computer with the prize money.)

Yes, a computer. Because after he graduated, he worked in a department for the university. When the data management guy quit, Jon took over—and eventually taught himself coding. His superpower is using an open-source (“available for anyone to use or adapt”) information system, usually developed by others, and finding ways to create unique applications that meet the unique needs of each client he works with (“integration”). He has a skill for taking a product, and seeing the potential, usually outside of the original maker’s scope. He makes important work faster and easier for others.

If you don’t think developing new software to assist people in their creative work, that it isn’t creative in itself, please remember who the owner/developer of this blog is, and what he does, okay? (Hint: FASO? Clint Watson?)

He’s working on a new project. Typical of him, he dove into it headfirst, staying up late, getting up early, spending hours and hours in his workspace, on fire with this new idea and process he wants to bring into the world.

Then he finished it, exulting in all the issues, roadblocks, and problems he solved in the process.

Then, he crashed. He’s been in a deep depression ever since.

Okay, that’s the backstory. Where’s the creative lesson here?

This can be a normal part of the creative cycle process.

There are many different creative cycles.

 I took a workshop years ago with a creativity coach, Lyedie Geer. You can read more about her work at thelongingsproject.com. Here is the recommendation I wrote for her the next day:

“Last night I attended an amazing presentation by Integral Coach, Lyedie Geer. The focus was time management for creative people. I attended with much prejudice, assuming we were going to learn about day planners and Google calendar. I was prepared to be bored stiff and take away a nice idea or two. Well, Lyedie blew my socks off. Her presentation gave me a deeper understanding of my creative process, and how to use that understanding to focus even more on my creative and professional goals. Her information is the kind I would attend to many, many times, as I would ‘hear’ something different every time. The content is powerful, and Lyedie’s presentation style is earnest and heartfelt. Our entire audience of creative professionals (web designers, commercial photographers, graphic artists, etc.) stood up and applauded when she finished.”

 Welp, then we moved, and I can’t find my notes. But until I do, here is the U-theory graph that brought such amazement into my life.

There are other graphs and arcs and diagrams, of course, and many of them are good. But here’s the most important take-away:

You creative process cycle may be as unique as YOU.

The graph I learned was complex. The gist of it is, we start with the spark of a new idea, we go through experimental phases to explore it, figure out how to do it, how to perfect it.

And then, somewhere along the line we run into obstacles and setbacks. We get discouraged. We’re baffled, stymied, and frantic.

Many people walk away at this point. They believe they are too stupid to figure it out. They don’t see how it will make money, so why do it? They believe it’s just too hard, and so not possible. Or they postpone it until “the kids are grown” or “I retire”, when they believe they’ll finally have the time to devote to their creative work.

But perseverance pays off, we rise again, and we might just end up bringing something new into our work, our lives, and the lives of others.

And the cycle repeats.

In Jon’s case, he goes through this with determination and focus. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him stuck for long, because he keeps at it until he figures it out.

HIS funk arrives at the end, after he’s accomplished his goals.

He’s exhausted. It’s not clear it will be received well. It’s not certain it will catch.

That’s because it’s happened before: Major breakthroughs that get chucked (by others), don’t gather the approval of management. Don’t make it to the finish line. (Years ago, the entire company he worked for shut down forever, two days before he could launch his biggest project.) So maybe there’s that dread for him at the end of all his efforts.  (When it does make it through, people/clients love what he’s accomplished.)

Or maybe he’s depleted from lack of sleep, exhausted by a 100% effort. Kinda like how awful it is after you cross that marathon line, when your body lets you know how much pain it’s really in…..

But here’s the thing: This is his cycle. My heart aches for him, that he goes through so much emotional pain and physical exhaustion at the end. But this is how he creates.

I know, when another glimmer of a great idea appears, he will go after it with all his heart.

So when things get hard, when it feels like no one wants our work, when it feels like we aren’t “enough”, take some time to think…  Maybe you are at the hard part of your creative cycle.

Do what it takes to help you stay the course. Don’t accept “failure” as a measure of your success. It’s simply the hard part.

And the hard part can land anywhere. It doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing.

What is your creative cycle?

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you liked it, you can sign up for more at Fine Art Views or my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com .

THE AGE-OLD (war) STORY: Art vs. Craft

Luann Udell shares how society defines art vs craft have changed through the years.
Luann Udell shares how society defines art vs craft have changed through the years.

THE AGE-OLD (war) STORY: Art vs. Craft

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.

Times have changed. Have we?

(7 minute read)

If you want to start a flame war/troll fest on the internet, just ask the difference between art and craft. (PLEASE don’t do it here, though.) This is a collection of thoughts about why that line is so hard to define.

A reader recently sent me a story. On the urging of their collectors, they approached a local art organization in their area to see if it would be interested in displaying their work.

But the person who viewed their work said it was craft, not art. They implied the work would probably not be accepted for the more-prestigious art-and-sculpture section of the gallery.

Before we go into strategies about how to move forward with this, let me share my own experiences.

When I first took up my creative work, I thought for sure I knew the difference between art and craft. Pottery was obviously a craft, for example, while oil painting was true art.

Until a potter friend of mine, who made each pot they made by hand (not even a wheel), one at a time, fired in pit rather than a kiln, and each one was distinctive, shared this little insight with me:

If they make a beautiful clay piece, it’s craft.

If they take that same piece and have it cast in bronze, it’s art.

So that next step which is a commercial, industrial process outside the parameter of almost any artist, determines that category. (I am not saying it’s a simple process, or doesn’t involve creativity in its own right. I’m saying casting is beyond the purview of many folks such as silversmiths, or those who work with metal in any form. And for those who do, it’s a case where….um….size does matter. Casting a ring is vastly different from casting a large bronze sculpture.)

Another definition often depends on whether the product performs a function (say, bowls which hold food) or is strictly decorative (art!)

So what would you call a clay sculpture? Can’t be used to serve food, unless you can balance a dish on it. So can we really say that everything made with clay is craft?

A third definition is whether the work is one-of-a-kind, or done in a series. Prints are done in series, for example, while most 2-D work is a one-off. (A series might contain the same subject, or a related theme, but each one is different.)

I submitted prints made with my own hand-carved stamps to the print-making jury at a prestigious fine craft organization. I brought samples of different series I’d made.

But after I described my process, I was deferred. Because I used multiple stamps to create the piece. Three. Because I wasn’t carving “one plate”, and so capable of making multiples, it was determined my work was art, not craft. It was technically a “monoprint”, which is not “craft”. (A pretty nice rejection, but still.)

And yet many of the printmakers in this organization create multiple plates for multiple colors, one for each. One could argue that, if each color used in the series (which could be made in several print runs on different dates) were not exactly the same, would those not be monoprints, too? (I started to look up prints vs. monoprints, and monoprints vs. monotypes, but I got lost in the rabbit hole….) So the intent is craft, but the reality is, you can often tell the prints are dissimilar.

How about digital art? When digital art first appeared in the creative world, almost everyone (including me) did not consider it “real art”. It was made with the aid of a computer, which could, supposedly, be recreated easily by anyone else. Therefore, it was more like calling a coloring book “art”. Nope.

Until I talked with one of these early adaptor artists about their work. Turns out there was a huge amount of uncertainty, and serendipity, random factors involved but not controlled, even in this art medium. They would try for a certain effect, which could result in something unpredictably amazing, and difficult, if not impossible, to reproduce exactly.

And of course, computers are now used for many commercial, and artistic purposes. I’ve met a lot of graphic designers along the way, and despite the common knowledge and tools needed to do their work, each one has their own unique and distinctive style.

Sorta starting to look like art, doesn’t it?

Fiber arts is a whole nother ballgame, too. Yes, anyone can knit a sweater pattern, or make a quilt using templates. But then we come across this designer (following her own original sweater patterns) and find this.

Art? Fine craft?? If my artifacts are in jewelry, probably fine craft. In a fiber collage? Anybody’s guess! Small sculpture? Maybe art. Oh, wait. It’s not cast in bronze!

If we consider that these fiber media have been labeled “women’s art” for years, not measuring up to “real art”, what can we say about “urinal art”? The only component showing a contribution by the actual artist is the signature. And it’s in a museum. In fact, the first sentence of this article is, “Fountain is one of Duchamp’s most famous works and is widely seen as an icon of twentieth-century art…..” It’s an unmodified urinal with a fake name on it.

My point here is not to define these two categories, and I refuse to argue about what is art and what isn’t. I am simply pointing out that the lines are wavering, the boundaries are fuzzy, and it’s simplistic to define “art” strictly by the gender of the artist, the medium they choose, nor even the subject matter. (Mary Cassatt’s work was dismissed as “domestic art” for years, because she painted actual mothers and their children. Now if only she’d painted Mary-and-baby Jesus…..)

Back to my friend’s setback. I went to the organization’s website. Yep, they’ve acknowledged that they accept fiber art. Good for them! I checked out the work my friend submitted, and compared it to the gallery images shown. Their work was comparable/compatible to several paintings in their collection: Color palette, check. Subject matter, check. Quality of design and composition, check. There was a colorful hand-dyed, handmade dress featured. So, functional work. Art? Craft? It’s in the art section. (My friend’s is purely decorative, not functional.)

In this case, I believe the person working that day simply had their own ideas about what is art, and what is craft. The actual work is supposed to be submitted and judged by a jury. (In some galleries, yeah, that could be one juror, usually, the owner. But an art organization? Usually a committee.)

I suggested they fill out the submission forms, following the rules and guidelines exactly. Then wait to see what happens.

If they are accepted, yippee!

If not, they can inquire about the reasons for the rejection, respectfully, to find out how they can “improve” their work to meet the standards. (It’s important to keep your cool here! Being angry or difficult will just strengthen their resolve to keep you out.)

I applied to three different media jury processes with that fine craft organization. If work was rejected or deferred, it was part of the jurying process to advise the artist exactly what they had to do to meet the standards.*

If the reasons are, as above, vague, inappropriate, or seem personal, then it’s time to request a presentation to the board of directors. Not as a fist fight, but to politely, calmly share some of the thoughts in this article. Where…and why…are they drawing that line? (Especially when it’s obvious this artist’s work is just as good, and unique, as their own current gallery artists.)

In a professional manner, they can cite the org’s mission statement, and inquire (again, calmly and politely, out of real curiosity) how they decided this artist’s work does not meet those standards.

If that doesn’t work, at least it will be clear that their actions do not really support their mission statement. And I hope there are other galleries and venues where this person can apply to with their work.

I hope when their passionate collectors take their business to that other venue, it might encourage that org to reconsider.

Again, please, no definitions, no troll wars or flaming swords. As I said, we are all entitled to our own opinions.

Just consider the many, many ways creativity can manifest itself in our modern world. You are entitled to your own opinions, and I truly respect that.

My intention was to share how I’ve changed my own opinionabout this. To suggest how to influence the attitude that the lines between art and craft are written in stone, and will never change.

And consider how many times the creative, innovative, beautiful, powerful work, the work of the heart by others, has been relegated to a back seat on the bus, instead given the chance to stand in the sun, too.

If you know someone who needs to read this, someone whose beautiful work has been rejected for shaky reasons, send this on to them.

And if you’d like to read more articles like this, sign up at Fine Art Views, or subscribe to my blog at https://luannudell.wordpress.com/

*And when at some point, that part of the process ‘disappeared’, too many jurors took advantage of the situation to willy-nilly reject anyone’s work with no reason besides “just because.” They are in the process of correcting that, after they found out many very talented people had been rejected for vague, inappropriate, or even personal reasons. They may also be considering ways to broaden their own definitions of what is “good enough” work. Yay!

If you found this article helpful, feel free to send the link to someone else who might, too. (Thank you!!)

And if you received this from someone else, and liked it, you can sign up for more of my scribbling here.

Screaming Lola

“Don’t let someone else’s noisy agenda be your guiding star…”

Wise lessons from our kitties and dogs, courtesy of a lovely little article “Are you listening to the Lolas of the world?” from artist Ginger Davis Allman, in her newsletter today from The Blue Bottle Tree.

Ginger’s work, which you can see in her email newsletter, her website, and her Etsy shop, are, to me, kind of like the successor to the incredible legacy created by the late Victoria Hughes.

Ginger not only creates wonderful new manifestations of polymer clay, she constantly shares her experiments for new clay techniques, tools, and comparisons of clay brands. You can quickly see what clay will work for your purposes.

Or you can purchase her tutorials for step-by-step guides to imitate all kinds of glass beads–rustic, lampwork, even ancient ‘Roman Glass’ beads.

I’m a huge fan of her skills, her outlook, and her generosity in sharing her knowledge and expertise. If you like what you see, sign up for her email newsletter here.

WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS?!

So yesterday I wrote an article for Fine Art Views, an online marketing blog for artists. (They also host websites for artists and do a fine job, too!)

Someone commented on how creative I was to think of the title, Sipping From the Fire Hose.

I used the phrase as a metaphor for the power of the internet. So useful for so much, an astonishing resource not even imaginable a decade ago. We use it for shopping, research, information, selling, marketing, self-promotion and connection. I call it the “Galactic Encyclopedia”.

But everything has its dark side. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and overly-involved in things that take your farther and farther away from your own creative efforts. And when you start comparing your efforts to those of others, it can make you feel pretty darn squished.

I can’t take credit for the actual phrase, “sipping from the fire hose”. It’s been around awhile. A quick Google search turned up this definition from the Urban Dictionary:

to be overwhelmed (with information, work, etc.);
to do something intensely;
to be inundated

(Oddly, it also turned up a blog called Sipping from the firehose.)

What made me think of it was, I’d heard that phrase twice in six months. I heard it from two different friends, who are also friends with each other, but who rarely see each other anymore (one of them moved pretty far away.)

Both of them were describing their respective jobs, which they both love.
But there’s simply too much to do. No matter how hard they work, or how much they try to chip away at their respective massive workloads, there’s always more coming down the pipe.

My friend Carol had just been in my studio a few days earlier. That’s when I heard the phrase for the second time.

Because of the coincidences, I couldn’t get it out of my head. All day I kept thinking, “Sipping from the fire hose….sipping from the fire hose….” I could even see Barb making a gesture like she was trying to drink from…well, a fire hose.

I had to write a column in a hurry. (My poor editor, Carrie Turner at Fine Art Views. No matter how many times she gives me a heads-up, I still forget when my column is due. In my defense, she says the late ones are often my best.)

(Okay, I think she’s just being kind.)

I was enmeshed in editing my series of ebooks. I could not think of an original thing to say.

All I could think about was that stupid phrase…sipping from the fire hose…

Then….water.

Then….the good and the bad about water. How everything needs it to live. And yet too much is awful, too.

I thought, “What in my professional life is wonderful and awful?”

I was sitting there, tearing myself away from my project. Which I was doing on the internet. Which was totally, mind-blowingly amazing. Unheard of ten years, even five years ago. My husband had just told me that the technology for on-demand printing was expanding so quickly, that information I’d read that was more than six months old might already be out-of-date.

I was thinking about the power of the internet….

And how lost and confused and discouraged I’d been the day before while researching how to create a book cover….on the internet.

Sipping from the fire hose….

Water…..

The internet….!!!

Once I had my metaphor, the words just poured forth. (Another water metaphor!)

For me, the use of metaphors helps me wrap my head around a concept. I don’t know how other artists/writers/creative people do it. But that’s usually the starting place for my writing.

There you have it. That’s where my ideas come from. They come from:

My friends. Complaining about work.

A funny phrase: Six months apart in time, 150 miles apart in space, and connected heart-to-heart in friendship.

And Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, with the amazing concept of the Galactic Encyclopedia.

And watching Kenny Roberts, the Yodelin’ Cowboy (on WNEM-TV Channel 5 in Michigan about 55 years ago. One day he sang Cool Water. (Although maybe I’ve squished this with the westerns we also used to watch nonstop around the same time.)

Don't know which we loved more, Kenny or the cartoons.
Don’t know which we loved more, Kenny or the cartoons. Boy, that cowboy sure could yodel!

SCULPTURAL EARRINGS

20130731_074354 (1024x768)

A few years ago, I introduced a wonderful line of sculptural earrings at the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair.

They were BIG. Each set contained multiple examples of my handmade artifacts. Animals (birds, horses, otter, fish, bears), beach drift (pebbles, sea shells) and small “bones”.

Many were asymmetric, too. I loved balancing color and weight, while varying the elements.

People loved them. A few brave souls bought them.

One of my favorite stories was the professional violinist who fell in love with an especially long pair. They would interfere when she played her violin. We spent a good amount of time, trying to brainstorm a solution. Finally she exclaimed, “Oh, what the heck, I’ll wear them when I’m not playing the violin!” And she bought them.

Many musicians see musical notation in my marks.  They're more right than they know....
Many musicians see musical notation in my marks. They’re more right than they know….

Fellow artist Rosemary Conroy has a pair, too.

Rosemary's animal paintings are marvelous--check 'em out!  She picked animal earrings.
Rosemary’s animal paintings are marvelous–check ’em out! She picked animal earrings.

But many more languished on my worktable, especially since I couldn’t do the Fair last summer.

I love making them. People love looking at them. They’re expensive, for earrings. What to do???

P1000636

As always, a customer–and friend–inspired me.

Marcie had me custom-design several pairs of earrings. And here’s the astonishing thing: Marcie doesn’t have pierced ears. Yes, this amazing woman was going to get her ears pierced so she could war these fabulous earrings!

In the end, Marcie decided not to pierce her ears. Did she want to return the earrings, I asked. “Hell, no!” said Marcie (or words to that effect.) She invited me to her home to see what she’d done with them.

She’d set up a small shrine in a special place. Above it was a small wall hanging she purchased from me years ago. Below it, an upright box, filled with small, precious things that held meaning for her.

And hanging in the box were my earrings.

Today I realized that’s what these earrings are for.

I made this display for my museum mount-making class last year.  Foreshadowing!
I made this display for my museum mount-making class last year. Foreshadowing!

Many people tell me they love my jewelry so much, they never take it off. They tell me it’s their favorite piece. They love the stories, too.

But….There are jewelry pieces I make–pieces that really express my inner ancient woman–that you just don’t wear to to the beach, or to work. They are beautiful. They are powerful. But these pieces often don’t make it out of the jewelry box.

So what if the jewelry box…..became a shadow box? What if they’re sold as a unit?

What if the jewelry….is really a sculpture-in-miniature?

What if you could wear it on occasion….and look at it every single day?

What if it made you…and your home….look beautiful?

It’s a good feeling, standing back and taking a new look at these pieces. I feel that this year, they are finally coming into their own. That’s what happens with my artwork. Sometimes the pieces come into the world, and it takes time to realize what their most powerful place in life will be.

For the days you’re feeling your warrior woman self (or just rockin’ the big earring thing), you can wear them out in the world.

And for the days that call for a quieter, more introspective you, well, they can be on display in their own little shadow box.

Enjoy these sculptural earrings!

LuannPhotos2011 (39) (565x800)

Sculptures look GREAT with these dramatic earrings! Sculptures look GREAT with these dramatic earrings![/caption]

bracelets and earrings in shadow boxes.
bracelets and earrings in shadow boxes.

BOXES

Horse in box

I’m feverishly working on a new presentation for my work. It involves boxes.

A lot of boxes.

I scoured junk yards and antique stores for months, compiling a collection of likely candidates. At first it was hard because I didn’t know what I was looking for. (Let me introduce you to my collection of cigar boxes….)

I had no idea how I would restore them, either. I mean, I had a vision of them in my head–worn, beaten, discolored and encrusted by age and dirt.. But how to get that look? Leave them “raw”? (A greasy, dirty box looks wonderful, but real grease and dirt are stinky and messy.) Paint them? (I’d lose a lot of the writing and markings that make the boxes interesting.) What kind of paint? Latex? Milk? Chalk?

I finally hired a friend, a furniture-maker, to let me work in a section of his woodworking shop. I get to use his tools and supplies, while he guides me through the basics of surface treatments and finishes.

It’s been a nice relationship. And most of all, I’m getting a lot of work done. Nobody can “find” me here, and I work for hours uninterrupted.

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Soon I learn which boxes work, and which ones one won’t. Cigar box walls are too thin for my purposes, though maybe I’ll find another use for them. Some boxes were promising, but proved to take too much work to restore them. Others that looked grungy clean up surprisingly easily. Some have to be washed and scrubbed, then set out to dry. Others just need a little scrubbing with a brass brush and a couple blasts of compressed air. (Note to self: Compressed air would be AWESOME to clean house with!)

As we work on our respective projects, Gary and I have many discussions on design versus technique. Some boxes are extremely simple–not much fine woodworking technique involved. Sometimes just a few well-placed nails hold everything together. But their dimensions and proportions are beautiful, and the wood soaks up the glazes, paints and wax beautifully.

Some of my favorite small boxes are handmade sets, made for homemade storage chests. They are made from cut-down cheese boxes or slats from fruit crates, painted in gay colors that are now muted and worn. Odd specialty nails act as “pulls” on the fronts. They are simple, lovely and intriguing.

Other boxes look intricate and wonderful. But the quality of wood is poor. Or the box has been cut down badly. Or the finishing is bad, or the “faux aging” techniques are faulty (wear marks that are arbitrary, for example.) Or cheap backing materials are used instead of wood. Eventually, I learn which ones aren’t worth my time to refinish or restore.

A lot to think about from an artist’s point of view. Technique or design? Gary weighs in heavily on design, his forte. His techniques are solid, too, but he believes technique is nothing without exquisite design.

As a juried member of the League of NH Craftsmen and other fine craft venues, it’s tempting to go that route. Easy to judge and feel superior. Sometimes my lizard brain goes there.

But then I remember there’s a place in the world for all. I tell Gary about my dad, who took up woodworking after he retired. He claimed he couldn’t make anything unless someone drew a picture of it for him. He needed measurements and drawings to make his craft. Everything he made was well-made, from good wood. It won’t appear on the covers of any art magazines, though.

And yet, when I look around my home and see the pieces he made for me–a table for behind the sofa, lamp tables, a step stool, a coffee table (why do I always ask him to make tables for me??), I know they are as priceless to me as a Van Gogh.

Something made with love has its own inestimable value.

Unmatched shaman mask earrings, in faux ivory--polymer clay
Unmatched shaman mask earrings, in faux ivory–polymer clay

ODE TO JON (Who Will Never Be Mozart) (Thank Goodness!)

We are creative because that’s part of being human. I believe the greatest harm, the greatest loss, is when we deny the world–and ourselves–the beauty and power of our individual creativity.

I got a comment on a blog post I wrote awhile back. You can read the original article here: TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS (That Will Prevent You From Becoming a SUCCESSFUL Artist…”

The reader wrote a scathing argument against my assertion, noting the usual suspects (Mozart, et al.) “Artists ARE born! Talent IS innate!”, the writer stated.

I thought long and hard about my decision. I love to hear your thoughts, your insights, your experiences, and I especially love to hear that what I’ve said has resonated with you or helped your on your own artistic journey. And I don’t mind being corrected from time to time (unless I suspect your motives.)

But finally I deleted the comment.

Let me tell you why.

First, I don’t write this blog to argue with people.

This isn’t a forum. This isn’t a venue for debate.

These are my opinions, my thoughts. My blog is a vehicle to get those thoughts out of my head and share them with others.

This blog is part of my creative process.

I totally get that you may violently disagree with me. If that’s the case, go start your own blog. Seriously. I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Just not here in my living room.

Second, the reader totally missed the point of my article.

Of course talent is innate. Of course Mozart had tons of talent. Of course most of us aren’t Mozart, and no amount of practice will ever make it so. Heck, I can barely carry a tune anymore, let alone play an instrument.

My point was, that many, many people don’t recognize the talent they have.
They believe they’re not “good enough” to use their talent.
They believe that because they’re not good enough, there’s no use putting their work out into the world.

Look, creativity IS innate. Everybody is good at something. Even a sociopath is very, very good at lying.

Creativity is a human trait. It’s just that throughout the ages, the definition of creativity–the lines we draw around it, the forms we deem acceptable–have narrowed, and broadened, and narrowed again.

We don’t just use our hands, or our voices, to grub for food, or to yell when a predator appears on the horizon. And we don’t just use our hands to draw things. We use our hands to make things, build things, grow things, cook things (yummy chocolate things!). We fix things, heal living things, comfort living creatures. We sing, we write stories, and poetry (and blogs!) We work for peace, or freedom, or equality. We work for understanding, and acceptance, and recognition.

Even destruction can create a space for something new to appear. (I am not advocating destruction, I’m just sayin’ that Shiva’s dance does both.)

When we create, we are all that, and more.

I believe the greatest harm, the greatest loss, is when we deny the world–and ourselves–the beauty and power of our creativity.

We get way too judgy about creativity. (I made that word up. See how creative I am?)

We care waaay too much what the world will think of our efforts. We care way too much about what WE think of our efforts.

Quick story: My husband’s mother was a talented pianist as a young woman, with dreams of performing in public. But at some point, she realized she would never be a world-class pianist.

She never played the piano again.

Another quick story: My husband has been “noodling” on a guitar for as long as I’ve known him, thirty-five years. The last few years, he’s gotten more dedicated about it. He’s reaching out to play with others. He’s found new online methods of learning. He’s taking lessons. He’s considered performing in public venues, on a very modest scale. He reads books about music, about musicians, about the effect of music on the brain. He watches documentaries about music. Lord love him, he tries to drag me to every live music performance in the area.

Will he ever be famous for his guitar playing? Probably not.
Will he ever make money doing it? Nah.
Is he good? I think so, especially when he actually plays instead of practices. (I’m one of those people who winces at every sour note.)

So why does he do it?

Because he likes it. Actually…he loves.

And it makes him happy.

Innate talent?
Mozart?
True vocation?

Yes, maybe.
No.
I dunno.
Who cares?

When I look at him, deep in his practice, struggling to master a new tune or a new technique, I know he is also deep within himself. Truly himself. In the best way possible.

And that, my argumentative friend, is all that truly matters.

INSIDE AND OUT

Here’s my latest column on the delicate lines between copying and being copied, and inspiring and being inspired, written for Fine Art Views, a great resource for marketing your artwork. Enjoy!

Years ago, an artist friend said something that threw me for a loop.

I was just starting out as a full-time artist and craftsperson. I was open to everything. How-to books, craft magazines, patterns, you name it, I had to have it. I wanted constant inspiration and distraction, and I wanted it NOW.

She said she didn’t read many books or magazines about art or craft, and didn’t go to many exhibitions or shows. Her work was highly original and personal, she said. (It was, too.) She found that if she looked “outside” at what others were doing, it distracted her, and muddied her personal vision.

Her words made me rethink that practice. No, I didn’t turn the creative faucet off completely. But I learned to recognize the times where I needed to isolate myself from the rest of the pack, and simply focus on my own work.

Of course, it was a LOT easier to hunker down and stay focused in those days before the internet. That faucet of ideas and inspiration has turned into a fire hose.

Read more here…

The inspiration for my current exhibition necklace. 30,000 years old, no copyright issue!
My intention transformed as I worked. Lion is now a bear.

POLYMER ARTIFACTS APPEAR IN POLYMER CLAY DAILY!

Today I saw an update in my inbox from Cynthia Tinapple’s delightful blog, It was titled Polymer Artifacts so of course I had to take a peek.

Even more delightful, it turns out it’s about MY polymer artifacts!!

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.

Enjoy!

Shaman mask pins in faux soapstone–polymer clay
Unmatched shaman mask earrings, in faux ivory–polymer clay
Gaia artifact with faux soapstone bird–polymer clay
Ivory and green soapstone artifacts–polymer clay
I love mismatched earrings!
Ivory bear and pendant, soapstone pebble–polymer clay artifacts

PERSPECTIVE, and ADVICE FOR NEW BLOGGERS

Two pieces of advice you should might want to practice regularly. (I’m trying to cut back on telling people what to do….)

A few weeks ago, I was talking with an artist who had just started blogging. Or rather, blogging regularly and with intent. (As opposed to, “Open Studio Today!” stuff.)

She was complaining that she still hadn’t acquired much of an audience. I’m afraid I laughed out loud.

I hastened to assure her I was laughing AT her. I was just thinking of the early days of my own blog.

It was very much like the day I set out my very first bird feeder.

My husband and I had our very first apartment with a backyard–what a luxury! We’re low-level bird nuts, so I decided I would immediately set up a feeding station for the neighborhood birds.

I found a spot where we could sit on the back porch and watch the activity. I bought a bag of generic bird seed from, oh, I can’t remember, KMart? High quality stuff, I’m sure. (NOT.)

I didn’t have a bird feeder, so I took the lid from an extra garbage can and set it on the lawn. I filled it with the bird seed, put out a bowl of water, and took my seat on the porch.

Half an hour later, I wandered into the living room where Jon was reading. “It’s not working,” I said glumly.

“What isn’t working?” he asked cautiously. (Because when your girlfriend says something like this, the ensuing conversation could go ​anywhere​.

“The bird feeder!” I said. “I’ve been watching for thirty minutes, and not a single bird has tried it out!”

After making a funny noise that sounded suspiciously like a smothered guffaw, he patiently explained to me that birds don’t just smell food and come running. They discover feeding stations, slowly and cautiously, building a routine that takes them through a circuit of opportunity. “It could take weeks, even months for them to realize you’ve provided them a new source,” he explained.

Weeks? Months?? Wow. This bird feeding thing was more complicated than I thought.

Eventually a few crows and house sparrows found our lode. Then the raccoons found it, too, and that was the end of our bird feeding ventures. (Until Jon took it up again a few years ago, with much more forethought and dedication.)

My point, I explained to my friend, is this: Be patient.

A website, or a blog, is just a billboard on the information highway. Actually, it’s more like a sign on a back road in a rural area. For awhile, the only people who will really see it are the people who happen to live there. Or people who drive by when they’re looking for something else.

Eventually, your customers and collectors will realize it’s useful for them to check in regularly. And as you find your voice, other people willing–even hungry–to listen to what you’re saying will drop in, too.

Write what is in your heart, write about the things you really care about. The people who also care about those things will find you.

Some will stay, some will move on. But your numbers will grow.

In short, these things take time. That means being patience. Sometimes, perspective helps grow patience.

I told her that, almost ten years later, my total “regular” readership is probably somewhere around a thousand. But my first few years, I was lucky if a hundred people even knew I had a blog. (Okay, I confess. I think seven people have read my very first blog post. (You can read my very first blog article from November 29, 2002 here: ​Holding Onto “Facts” That Hold You Back​

Now for the perspective.

Re: the numbers…..I try not to check my stats. It’s like constantly asking people what they think of your work. It’s tempting, but ultimately not healthy for your creative spirit. I write because I have to write. I have something to say, that I have to put out there.

My art, the same. I have to make it. I can’t stop and worry about who else will like it, I have to simply do the work. You know, the Martha Graham thing….

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

As spoken to Agnes De Mille

The two pieces of excellent advice?

1. Read that Martha Graham quote at least once a day.

2. The next time you’re tempted to read your blog stats, if you absolutely can’t resist, then try this: In the “At A Glance” bar graph, switch from the “daily” total to the “monthly” total.

Oh, gosh, the numbers are so much more satisfying!

HEALING

What is Luann doing with all those little boxes???
I worked in my studio yesterday. It was a major event.

I made eight little pendants for my simple horse necklaces. Not a big deal, usually. Certainly not a big production day for me.

But it was significant. Because it’s the first work I’ve made since my knee replacement surgery last month.

My last post before I went under the knife showed the frayed mental state I was in. It wasn’t pretty! Even now, I lay awake at night, exhausted, my body aching for sleep, my mind racing at 90 mph. A litany of minor sins streams through my brain–all the things I need to do, all the things I have to redo, all the things that need fixing/making/writing/cleaning etc. After what seems like an eternity, I finally fall asleep.

But when I wake in the morning, all I feel is tired.

I’d be more worried, except my very good friend Jennie, a recent surgery patient, too (who was, incidentally, also the first visitor I “received” once I’d stabilized from the surgery) gave me a wonderful insight.

“It’s not so much the surgery, or the pain,” she mused. “The hardest part for me was when I did start feeling better. But I was so damn tired all the time. No energy!”

Oh gosh. I’d forgotten all about that part.

So once again, I have just the right words at just the right time.

I can walk without crutches. The pain is easing. I don’t have to wear those damn compression stockings anymore!

But my body is not healed yet. It will take more time, and I must be patient with myself. Exquisitely patient, no matter what the demands in my life try to tell me otherwise.

And Lydie’s advice was right. Yes, it might be easier to work in here if my space were cleaner, less cluttered, less dusty. Maybe I should have spent more time restocking stores with inventory, or even trying to get fitter before my surgery.

But when I come in the studio, and see the materials for my next big series of works, it makes me think of the exciting new ideas I want to bring into being. I see a studio full of everything I need to take that next creative step forward.

I must remember to ask, every day, when I enter this fabulous space, with patience, with gentleness, with respect and joy:

“What is it you need from me today, that this new work can be brought into the world?”

All it really wants, for now, it seems, is for me to be here, with love. And intention.

And so my studio, too, is patiently waiting for me to heal.

TIME MANAGEMENT FOR CREATIVE PEOPLE

Artifacts, potential wall hangings, jewelry or framed collages.

Last week I attended an amazing presentation by integral coach Lyedie Geer. Her website is here. The focus was time management for creative people.

Now, fifteen years ago, when I first started my artistic journey, I was on fire with professionalism. I was determined not to be that “spacey artist” with no concept of time or discipline.

I was very good at it, too. I entered juried shows early. I had a binder of my galleries, their complete contact info, my shipments to them, their terms, etc. Correspondence was carefully filed in each of their folders. My slides were labeled and up-to-date, and I had duplicates ready on a moment’s notice for any occasion. My Rolodex was full with fellow artists, show management, photographers (I had a photographer and a back-up photographer), suppliers. You name it, I had their name and phone number.

My editor at Lark Books called once, and in an hour, I’d produced every single source and resource we talked about. “Oh my GOD, you’re so organized!” she exclaimed.

Then something happened.

I can’t remember what set it off, but things…changed. I wasn’t frantic about recognition. I didn’t care about publicity or awards. I wasn’t willing to do ANYTHING to keep my income stream going.

I rode more. I wrote more. I dropped everything to be with my family or a friend in need, even when the “need” was a drink. I took in homeless puppies. I volunteered more. I took hospice training.

I paid more attention to other things: The change of seasons. Walks with my husband. Phone calls from my daughter. Driver’s Ed with my son.

The concept of time management began to annoy me. Oh, sure, I understood I could get so much more done if I actually MANAGED my time instead of letting it manage me.

But that just didn’t seem as urgent anymore. I still care deeply about my art and my art business. I just felt that more was being called for of me.

I wanted to explore that call. And everything is different.

So I attended the seminar with extreme prejudice. Borderline hostility, in fact. I assumed we were going to learn about day planners and Google calendar. I expected we would be urged to be more ‘professional’ in our dealings.

I was prepared to be bored stiff and MAYBE take away a nice idea or two. My only defense is I was also willing to be proved wrong, which is why I even went in the first place.

Well, Lyedie blew my socks off.

Her presentation gave me a deeper understanding of my creative process, and how to use that understanding to focus even more on my creative and professional goals.

Like Bruce Baker, her information is the kind I would attend to many, many times, as I would ‘hear’ something different every time. The content is powerful, and Lyedie’s presentation style is earnest and heartfelt.

Some people are monochronic, she said. Time is rigid and linear. There are rules, and expectations. This goes HERE, and that goes THERE.

Creative people are polychronic. Time is fluid, priorities are in constant flux.

To maximize our skills and impact, TIME is not the thing to be managed, but our AWARENESS.

It’s not so much about artists learning to be better businesspeople, or learning how to squish ourselves into a better business model. In fact, the monochronic world is the one that needs to adjust, and flex, and support the polychronic.

Because our creative self–WHAT WE ARE–is what’s of value to the world

And the world needs us now. Badly.

There was more, so much more. A lot of it is science-based, on what we now know about creative people, and how creative thinking works. It’s also full of hope, and wonder, and connection, and everything human. It will take time for me to process exactly what this means for me in the days–years!–ahead.

It’s simply powerful stuff.

Our entire audience of creative professionals (web designers, commercial photographers, graphic artists, etc.) applauded when she finished.

I highly recommend Lyedie to any organization that offers professional development for creative people–your local art organization, your professional guilds, art schools. Her insights can offer benefit to creative people at every level of development, from rank beginner to accomplished professional.

In fact, as I face another dramatic surgery in the weeks ahead (total knee replacement surgery, eeeeeeeeeeeeeek!) I plan to meet with Lyedie. I want a ‘life intention’ jump start.

As I recuperate, I want something pulling me away from the pain and frustration of recovery, to the rich new path I believe lies ahead. It may not LOOK much different, on the surface. But I’m hoping for a ‘unified field theory’ for myself, a way to examine, evaluate, and include all the paths and projects on my plate.

I don’t want to feel distracted and unfocused anymore. I don’t want to feel guilty about my messy studio. I don’t want to feel anxious about the new work that’s in my head, that I can’t quite get out into the world yet. I don’t want to feel like I love so many aspects of my creative self, yet feel that none of them the full attention they deserve.

I want to feel that, whatever I’m doing, whatever has my attention, and my awareness, is what I should be doing. I want to feel that there is a place for me in the world, and a need for what I have to offer.

I’ll keep you posted! And in the meantime, see if you can get your group to host a seminar with Lyedie. I promise you, you will not be disappointed.

BE KIND, REWIND. (This Means You!)

Messy? Multiply this by a jillion!

I’m having one of those days.

I was going to goof off and enjoy this fiercely windy and sunny day.

But no. My good friend Bonnie Blandford posted a link to a great list of things to do to be the best artist you can be. Drat.

So I started clearing a surface so I could get busy with my next project. That lasted two minutes.

Got lost in sorting and reorganizing. Oops! I’m out of this widget. Order it now while I’m thinking about it.

An hour later. Surface still not cleared. Great art put on hold. Again.

I try again.

This time I found a metal box full of special orders and repairs from my really big show last August. Uh oh.

Now, there are a few things you need to know about how I do business, and how I treat my collectors.

When something breaks, I fix it.

When someone wants something different, I make it.

When something gets lost, I replace it. Free. Well. I’ll replace an earring, but I’m not going to replace, say, a lost wall hanging.

So I always have a stack of these ‘special projects’ after the show. This year, I had almost two dozen on my plate. Er…in my box.

It’s not my nature, really. After three days of set-up, nine days of selling and standing–in August, in the heat, which I H*A*T*E–the last thing I want to do is all the things that seem to point out my failure.

The repairs say, “You didn’t make it strong enough!” Fail.
The replacements say, “I shouldn’t have fallen out!” Fail.
The custom work says, “I don’t see anything I like!” Fail.

Now add: Two customers who cancelled their layaways right after the show. And the one special order I didn’t do, which angered one customer.

On top of that, add the six-months-from-hell I wrote about recently, and my upcoming knee surgery (which will make me put my life and art on hold, yet again, for months and months) and I get a little weepy.

I am very very good at feeling guilty and useless. I excel at feeling sorry for myself.

So I looked at that box and knew I had to deal with it.

To my surprise, I had actually completed…everything.

I don’t know why I’m so hard on myself. Probably that perfectionist thing that still raises its ugly head from time to time.

But it doesn’t serve me. It doesn’t serve my art. It takes away all the joy. It makes me forget why I do this.

Time to be kind and rewind.

I thought about the two dozen projects and repairs I DID complete, and all the happy responses I’d gotten back.

The repairs say, “I wore this until it fell apart. It’s my favorite necklace.” Success.
The replacements say, “I can’t believe you can make another one, and you’re not charging me!” Success.
The custom work says, “I love what you do, and I want one, I just need it in a different size/style/color.” Success.

I thought back to the angry customer. When I apologized, she calmed down. When I told her what had been going on, she sympathized. She said no worries, she’ll be back next year to look again.

And now that I think on it…last year, a customer commented in passing that she had lost everything she owned, in a major house fire. And I gave her a new piece–a big one–on the spot.

Am I a saint? Nope. Am I perfect? HA!

What I am is 100% human, through and through.

And I’m feeling better already.

N.B., if you have similar issues with repairs and special orders, one way to eliminate a lot of hassle is this: DO NOT TAKE ANY $$$ UPFRONT. I may take a check or write out a charge slip. But I don’t cash the check, or run the charge, til the order is ready to ship. That way, if something comes up and everything falls apart (like it did for me), your customer isn’t trying to get their money back–a far more complicated, and serious proposition.

And a little something extra that says “Thank you for your patience” goes a loooong way to smoothing over your (hopefully rare) goofs, too.

MY ART IS WHO I AM: Another Lesson From Hospice

Every hospice experience teaches me something. And my latest hospice client has already taught me something big.

The first client visit can be tricky. Each situation is very different, and I never know what to expect. So I come prepared for almost anything.

My visiting bag usually holds several books. One is something for me to read if the client is sleeping or not conscious. Another is a book of poetry, or a prayer book, or perhaps a favorite story to read aloud. (One of my favorite memories is reading Dodie Smith’s bittersweet “I Capture the Castle” to an elderly gentleman, who was as enthralled by the story as I was.)

I also carry a good supply of crossword puzzles, a notebook or journal to write in, and sometimes, my latest knitting project.

On my first visit with this client, she spied my knitting needles and asked me about my project. I pulled it out and soon we were talking about knitting. Turns out she was an avid–and extremely talented–knitter. And though her yarn stash does not rival mine, it’s still impressive.

Sadly, she’s losing the ability to knit. “But we can still look!” I said cheerfully. So we spend our time looking at knitting magazines, exclaiming over the pretty pictures of sweaters, hats and scarves, commenting on the yarns and the patterns. Last week, she turned to me and said in a fierce whisper, “I just LOVE looking at knitting patterns!” “So do I!” I whispered back.

Today she spoke sadly (and metaphorically, which is common at this stage) about not being able to knit anymore, and about “an event” that’s coming, something that cannot be stopped, something that comes for everyone.

It’s hard to talk about, she said. And people sometimes pretend it’s not coming, but it is. “It is hard,” I tell her. “People don’t know what to say. So they say nothing.” She nods fiercely.

I ask her how she feels about it. She thinks for a moment.

There are things that have defined her, all her life, that are now slipping away softly but surely, into a growing gray mist. “I can’t remember what it is, but it’s all going away,” she says sadly.

My heart goes out to her. It reminded me of my very first day in hospice training.

One of the hospice chaplains ran the exercise. It sounds laughably simple.

But it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

She gave each of us ten little slips of paper. We were each told to write down ten things that were important to us.

They could be people (family, friends), they could be experiences (marriage, traveling, work), skills (arts, gardening, dancing, martial arts), character traits (intelligence, humor).

We spent quite a bit of time getting our lists just right.

Then the chaplain said, “I’m going to come around and take one of your slips. Decide which one you can give up.” It was hard, but it went quickly.

Then she said, “Now I’m going to take three things. Here I come!” Those three things were much harder to choose. We all breathed a sigh of relief when she was done.

Then she said, “Hold up your remaining slips. This time, I get to choose!” I guess I thought she would read each ‘hand’ and make a decision. Nope. She strode purposely around our circle, grabbing randomly at the slips in our hands.

It was really really hard.

What we lost was hard.

What was even harder, was knowing it was coming.

And not knowing what we would lose.

Some people tried to fight it. They held on tightly, refusing to let go. (But they had to, in the end..)

Some people–okay, all of us!–cried out in dismay when a precious slip was taken.

Many of us just cried. I did.

It wasn’t fair! Some people got to keep a few precious slips. Others lost all of them.

I cannot describe how it felt. Anger, fear, resentment, sorrow…. None of us were unscathed.

The power of those little slips of paper was palpable. Losing them was devastating.

“This is what it’s like,” said the chaplain softly. “This is what it’s like, at the end. Everything–everything–is lost.”

Such a simple exercise. Such a powerful lesson.

I looked at this amazing little woman, who was looking at me, wordlessly asking me….something.

I couldn’t remember the rest of that training day. I couldn’t remember what the chaplain said next.

I could only remember a little story this woman’s daughter had told me an hour earlier.

“Remember the sweater you made for your daughter?” I said. “How beautiful it was, and how beautiful it made her feel?”

She nodded.

“That is what will never go away. You did that. You made something beautiful. It made her feel beautiful. It made her feel loved. That is what will last.”

She nodded fiercely again.

I think I saw a little smile on her face.

My friend Kerin Rose once tried to tell me this, a few years ago when I was in a bad place. I felt apart from my art for awhile, and was frightened of who I would–or wouldn’t be–without it.

“You would still be you,” she insisted. I wasn’t sure….

But now I understand.

Yes, my art is who I am.

Not because of what I can or can’t do. Nor because of what I could do.

But because of what I’ve already done.

Because of what it’s already meant to me.

And because of what it’s already meant to others.

And that is what will last.

Dishclothes