THE AGE-OLD (war) STORY: Art vs. Craft
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“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 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.
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….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….
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.)
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.
Fellow artist Rosemary Conroy has a pair, too.
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???
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?”
“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.
It’s been awhile since I’ve written here. Thank you to all of you who wrote, because of the silence, to ask if anything was wrong.
There were some scary things going on this holiday season. It’s been impossible to share them, for many reasons. The main reason is, to do so would violate the privacy of someone I love more than my life. It’s not really my story; I was a bystander who got caught in the backlash of the tornado.
After the worst of the storm had passed, and things looked more like normal (and I am very, very grateful for normal), I wondered why I wasn’t bouncing back as quickly as I usually do. I felt violated, stripped of my reason-to-be, and off-balance about the role art plays in my life.
Two things have put me back on the path.
One is a children’s book I’ve been reading this week. It’s the finale to Susan Cooper’s marvelous series THE DARK IS RISING, about the battle between good and evil in the world. called “Silver on the Tree”. I found “Silver on the Tree” at a thrift shop last week, snatched it up and read it.
Near the end, the heroes venture through a beautiful kingdom, a land of makers and craftspeople, singers and story-tellers, in search of a magic sword to help them in their quest. The king of that land, the maker of the Crystal Sword, sits alone in his castle, immobilized these many long years and silent.
And right there, on page 161, is this amazing passage:
(The enemies of the Light,) they showed the maker of the sword his own uncertainty and fear. Fear of having done the wrong thing–fear that having done this one great thing, he would never again be able to accomplish anything of great worth. Fear of age, of insufficiency, of unmet promise. All such endless Fears, that are the doom of people given the gift of making, and lie always somewhere in their minds. And gradually he was put into despair…..Despair holds him prisoner, despair, the most terrible creation of all.”
I saw myself.
To be open to the world, to be open to your creativity, also means we are exceptionally vulnerable to the dark forces of the world.
When we are open to the chaos of possibility, we are also vulnerable to the chaos of evil.
Even as we delight in the small fierce flame of creation, in ourselves and in others, we are in danger of someone carelessly, deliberately, cruelly, snuffing it out for the sheer enjoyment of tormenting us.
It’s frightening to realize the world has such people in it. They’re surprisingly hard to see, too. In fact, they may be the most charming person you’ve ever met.
Your only clue may be how awful you feel about yourself after dealing with them. How inadequate you feel, how selfish you see yourself, how useless your talents are to the world.
And because you yourself have let in that despair, only you can see it, and only you can tell it to leave.
There’s no logic to it, except this:
You can accept there is evil in the world, and give in to it.
Or you can say there is also good in the world–and embrace it.
I have to choose the latter.
I have to believe in what I do, and in who I am.
The other thing that’s a miracle today, is a little piece of paper I found while cleaning piles and piles of my crap for a party we’re having tonight.
It’s typical of my little notes to myself: Written on a torn sheet of paper, some little thought–the title of a book, an idea, an insight–in an futile attempt to shed some of the mind-slurry that is my brain into something that might help me organize. Or at least remember!
In the middle of a list of books is a quote:
Writing is a meditation for you.”
I have no idea where it came from, or who said it. It sounds like something my friend Quinn MacDonald would say. Heck, maybe I said it! But surely I would have remembered….??
What matters is this: It’s true.
I need to write to process what happens to me. My lack of writing has delayed my healing.
I’ve been writing, privately, the last few days, after this long drought. And slowly, my heart is making sense of the last two months’ events. And some peace is restored in my soul.
So I find myself at the end of the year. It’s been a hard, hard winter already, and many more dark, cold nights ahead.
But now I know this for sure:
When winter comes, can spring be far behind?
And I am so very grateful for these two tiny, wonderful miracles in my life today–a torn piece of paper, and a well-worn old book.
And I’m grateful for my marriage, my children, my family, and friends, and dogs who sleep on your feet at night, and cats who try to sleep on your head.
My art’s bigger/better/purer than your art. So there!
Hierarchies come easily to many living creatures.
It can be a brutal process. For birds, hierarchy can mean life or death. That phrase ‘pecking order’? It’s real. I’ve lost chickens and cockatiels to the process. The bird on the lowest rung of the ladder may not get enough to eat. An even slightly injured chicken will be attacked, killed, even eaten by the rest of the flock.
We humans have hierarchies, too. Our fascination for English royalty, our obsession with celebrities, our own yearning for fame and fortune, all are social constructs based on hierarchy.
Artists and craftspeople are no exception.
People who make their own jewelry components sniff at ‘bead stringers’–people who use only purchased components in their designs. The people who do some wire work or only make their own beads, are sniffed at by silver- and goldsmiths.
Glass artists have been the top of the heap in the collecting world for several decades now. Before that, it was something else. Maybe clay. I dunno–I wasn’t in the biz then.
Fine artists look down on all crafts. Once I introduced myself to a small group as a fiber artist. “Hunh! That’s nice…” was the general response. Ten minutes later, a local oil painter’s name came up. “Now he’s a real artist!” someone in the group exclaimed.
But fine artists have their own internal order, too. Pastels are better than colored pencils, watercolors better than pastel work, acrylic paint is better than watercolor, and oils are better than acrylic.
And of course, across all media is the hierarchy of purity. Who makes money from their art, and who makes art purely for art’s sake? Who sullies their ethos for filthy lucre? Is teaching the purest form of sharing our art with the world?
It gets kinda confusing–and funny–after awhile.
If you are in a group of artists who sell their work, the mark of a ‘professional artist’ is your ability to make a living from your work. How much money you make is your achievement award. It’s proof that you are a serious, full-time artist.
Or people place you on the ladder by the prestige factor of the shows you do. Small local shows don’t count, of course. Why, they let just anybody in!
Being vetted by an organization helps, too. I’ve had people express polite interest in my work until I mention that I’m a doubly-juried member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. Suddenly, I’m treated with respect and deference.
But there’s nothing like the disdain amateurs–those who can’t-won’t-don’t sell their work–hold for an artist who actually, actively seeks sale–those artists who want to make their work and get paid for making it. The disdain the amateur holds for ‘professionals’ is huge.
They have history behind them. The word ‘amateur’ originally meant someone who pursued an activity purely for the love it of it. Now it ranks right up there with ‘dilettante’–someone who pursues an activity superficially. (ouch!) Amateurs, by definition, make their art without the requirement of making money from it. Art for Art’s sake. The purest state of making art.
The reality? Not for me to judge. It’s all good.
I’ve been everywhere on the spectrum in my career.
I began by making jewelry entirely from purchased components, and making traditional quilts. I did a very few small local shows, but mostly I gave my work away.
Then I dedicated myself to finding my own personal vision. It was a powerful step. I was grateful to even be making my art. The thought of being accepted into a show, or of someone even buying a piece, seemed too much to ask for.
As my skills and self-confidence grew, the next step was entering exhibitions across the country. Someone had told me they thought the phrase ‘nationally-exhibited artist’ sounded so wonderful, they made that their goal. I made it my goal, too. And I achieved it within a few years by methodically applying to as many opportunities as I could.
When ‘nationally-exhibited artist’ lost its luster, I turned to money as a measure of my success. It was important to me to make sales. The more money I made, the more successful I felt.
After years of making money, I wanted to be in the ‘good’ shows, the prestigious shows that look on a resume. With time and effort, I managed that, too.
And then I went back to square one.
I transitioned from focusing on these external goals, to thinking about the place in the world I occupy. I’m still selling–better than ever, in fact. But that transition came from a powerful place in my heart, and that is more important to me than ever.
Now, according to many people, I can be placed at every step in the art hierarchy. I’ve been ‘pure’, I’ve been ‘mercenary’, I’ve been ‘published/exhibited’, I’ve been hunkered down.
And yet, it’s the same work. And I am the same person.
Hierarchies evolved as a way for a species to survive. The weak, the sickly, were left to die, so that the flock/herd/group could survive.
We humans can–and do–choose differently.
We try to heal our sick. We care for the weak. We are present with the dying, to comfort them.
We’ve learned that even someone who is sick, or weak, or slow, or awkward, or fearful, or (gasp!) untalented, still has a place in the world.
And given that chance, and that place in the world, the gifts they offer can be profound and huge. At the vary least, they are happier for doing what they do.
So make your art.
Sell it, if that’s important to you. Don’t resent others if they sell theirs, and you can’t seem to sell yours.
Don’t excuse yourself by judging others. They are either on a different path, or (like me) simply in a different part of the cycle.
Recognize the hierarchy of who’s making ‘real art’ for what it is–a way to hide our jealousy of people who seem to have something we want for ourselves. A survival strategy we can choose to ignore.
Decide what you want, right here, right now.
And know that you can change your mind, any time. And do something different.
Trust me, your artistic self is just as powerful as a postage stamp. Maybe more.
Fresh off my first Open Studio tour of the year, and boy is my studio CLEAN! I love open studio events for many reasons, but more on that later this week. I have something else on my mind that has to come out today.
As you may know, my soapbox speech is about finding out what makes you, and your work, unique.
We hear all about how no two snowflakes are identical, and how our fingerprints and DNA are unique to us.
You’d think, with all this unique-ness pouring out of us, we could a unique way to talk about our work.
I’ve been in a lot of group shows this year, seen a lot of lovely work and talked to a lot of passionate artists. What strikes me is how everyone says the same things about their art.
We talk about our compositions. We talk about why we love pastel, or oil, or clay. We talk about light and shapes.
If I hear “I just love color!” one more time….. Well, it won’t be pretty.
So let me share an ‘aha!’ moment I had years ago.
I was doing a mail art project, and wanted old postage that would reflect the theme of my piece. I found an older couple who ran a stamp collecting business out of their home.
As I scrabbled through the trays and books of postage, we talked about stamp and the stamp collecting biz. They shared stories about stamp collectors. I asked her what kinds of stamps people collected.
The woman said, “You know, in fifty years of selling stamps and doing shows and talking to collectors, I’ve never seen two people collect exactly the same thing.”
Now think about that a minute.
There is no creativity per se in collecting stamps. Collectors don’t make the stamps, nor are they handmade by other people. Stamps are produced en masse, and have been in production for years.
But how they collect is so strongly individual and personal, each collection–each act of collecting–is as unique as….well, the human being who put it together.
Some collect by country, or region or language. Some collect by subject matter. Politics, places, people, animals, plants, themes, designs, plate designer…. There is simply no end to the possible combinations of appeal.
If we could get away from the mundane–what our materials are, the fact that we love certain colors or lines or compositions…..
If we could dig a little deeper and think about why we make the art we do….
If we could tell a richer, more personal story about our art…..
If we were willing to go the scary, deep place of who we are, and who we yearn to be in the world…
…People would see our work as the miracle in the world it truly is.
Sharing ‘unique’ processes, ‘unique’ inspiration, ‘unique’ love of color/shape/style, separates us from our audience.
Discovering what makes us tick as a human being, sharing what is truly in our hearts, connects us with our audience.
Be brave. Be YOU.
Being a part of someone’s life, because of the work we make, is a powerful thing.
Today is Day 4 at my big retail show, The League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair. It’s been exciting, exhausting, enervating, exhilarating, excellent and entertaining. Sort of New Hampshire’s own Big E.
Years ago, a mother and her young daughter came to my booth. The girl–around 9 or 10–fell in love with my horse jewelry, and begged her mom for a necklace.
“No way!” exclaimed her mom. “You always lose your jewelry. You lose everything!”
The girl pleaded her case, promising she would cherish the necklace. There was a little bargaining involved, I found a horse necklace that was a little less expensive, and both of them left with their Luann Udell horse.
Scene: My booth, one year later. A girl and her mother walk in the booth. The girl is wearing–my horse necklace!
We hug and laugh. Her mother tells me the story: “Every night, before she goes to bed, she takes off her necklace and places it in the gift box you gave her. And every morning, she puts it back on. It is the last thing she does before she sleeps, and the first thing she does after she wakens.”
I was so moved that she loved my work so much. I told this story to a friend. She said, “Do you realize, Luann, that YOUR jewelry is her first piece of ‘grown-up jewelry’? Your necklace took her to the next place in her life–you’ve been a part of her growing up.”
Now they come back every year. Sometimes the daughter buys a pair of earrings, sometimes her mother buys a necklace. Sometimes they pick something together, agreeing to share it between them.
It is beautiful to watch them.
They came this year. The girl is a young woman now. There is talk of college, maybe even a gap year program. As always, the love and warmth between them is obvious. She picks a pair of earrings, Mom picks a beautiful necklace–with a promise to share. They may be back for the girl to pick another ‘big’ piece for graduation. As they leave, I feel tears coming.
Yes, their purchases over the years have supported me as an artist. They are lovely people and I’m honored they love my work.
But even more, I am humbled at the idea that I am now a part of their family story. My work, from my hands, graces their lives. It encouraged a child to take her first steps to adulthood, and greater responsibilities. It’s been part of her life for almost a decade now, and will be with her on her first steps out into a bigger world.
I have been a witness to this. I’ve been invited to be a part of this. My art has been my ambassador, and I am astonished and grateful.
Today another young girl and her mother came to my booth for the first time. The girl begged her mother for a horse necklace. I shared this story with them. They laughed, the mother looking thoughtful. They looked and tried on a few pieces, then moved on to see the rest of the Fair.
I have a feeling they’ll be back.
As hard as it is to do this show, these moments, these precious moments, remind me of what the world asks of me. They remind me that my gift serves others, sometimes gentle, sometimes obscured, but always with purpose.
It is why I am here, today, at the Fair.
I’m reprinting this article I wrote on June 2, 2005, because it bears repeating. (And because it’s so hard to find on my old blog at RadioUserland…)
I’m doing a series of articles at Fine Art Views, an art marketing blog I write for. I realized this post is still timely when talking about marketing our art.
CHARIOTS OF FIRE and the World Batik Conference
In a few weeks I’ll be presenting a speech at the World Batik Conference at Boston College of Art.
I’m speaking on self-promotion for artists, specifically the art of press kits and press releases.
The time is limited, and the message must be succinct. I asked one of the organizers what she felt I had to say would be the most value to their audience.
She didn’t even have to think about it. She said, “In other countries, there is a huge cultural bias against putting your art forward, of appearing too proud of your work. It’s seen as bragging or being boastful. People have a difficult time thinking about promoting their art and themselves. Can you address that?”
I’ve been thinking of it ever since. It’s not just artists in some other countries who have that bias.
It can be very hard to convince most people—especially women, especially artists—that it is not only desirable, it is essential we put our art out into the world at every opportunity. That it is not a selfish act, but an act of generosity.
In fact it is the greatest gift–the ultimate gift–we can make to the world.
My favorite line from the movie “Chariots of Fire” is when the missionary/runner Eric Liddell explains to his sister why he will indeed compete in the 1924 Olympics, though it seems to conflict with their religious goals and plans:
I believe God made me for a purpose; but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure. To give it up would be to hold Him in contempt; to win is to honor Him.
When we are given a gift, we must remember that the pleasure the giver gets is anticipating and enjoying the pleasure the gift will give us.
To renounce the gift, to deny its potential, is to ultimately negate the spirit in which it was given. No good comes of that. Love, real love, is not served by that.
I truly believe it is the same with the gifts we are born with. Whoever/whatever you feel is the source of that gift—God (by any name or names), nature, DNA, random chance, the Force. It appeared in Y*O*U. It’s part of what makes you…you know…YOU.
And note that the gift may not simply be what we are good at, but what gives us joy. Don’t confuse talent with passion. They may both be involved in the gift. But what really drives our watch is not the precise movement of the second hand but the spring inside. (Or the battery. Or the electricity coming through the cord. Oh, never mind….)
Find what you are put here on earth to do. Find what gives you joy. Do it, and share it whenever possible with others. Tell it to the world. Show us. Don’t even pretend you know what ripples it will make, or how it will all play out—we can’t know that.
But know that whatever creative force in the universe you celebrate, will be pleased.