EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #12: Make Do With What You Have (Til You Know Your Real Next Step)

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.

Sometimes an austerity budget is a hidden blessing!

 In last week’s column, I talked how we can get distracted with shiny new toys in our art biz: The latest brush craze, the hottest craft tools, the newest technique, can give us a lot of joy and amusement, and offer inspiration and new ideas. BUT they can also pull us off-course and dilute our true story. I said, “Those special karate shoes won’t make you a better karate student if you don’t show up for class.”

Like all my advice, you should only cherry-pick the bits that work for YOU. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to advice. And as several people pointed out, it IS fun to try new ideas, new palettes, new tools, new techniques. Fun is a good thing.

Of course it is! And I encourage you to try this when it feels like time to take a little break from your usual routine, and change things up a bit.

My caveat was, sometimes the “little bit of fun” turns into a death-spiral of spending and distraction. Getting caught up in classes could mean less time to actually do your own work.

My own trap is getting pulled off-course in admiring the work of others, and not focusing on what’s unique about the work I do. I admire what they do, I want to do it, too. And then I realize that in order to “make it mine” I can’t just imitate what they do. I have to transform it for myself, to reflect MY vision and aesthetics–and story.

So for those who realized they are dealing with the caveat, as promised, here is a solution–temporary or permanent, YOU DECIDE–that I used a few years ago:

Put yourself on a (tools/techniques/class/materials) diet.

I went through a period after the recession where sales fell, galleries hunkered down (or closed forever), and it felt like no one wanted my work. (Yes, I made a world-wide economic event all about me. Go figure.) :^)

I was in business debt up to my eyeballs due to three consecutive high-end shows retail/wholesale shows with poor sales. I had no money for new supplies, no budget for more big shows, no resources to indulge in new distractions.

At first I had no idea how to move forward. But I came up with a year-long plan, and it worked!

I resolved to make it through the year with what I had on hand.

I took an informal inventory of the supplies and materials I had on hand. (I say “informal” because mixed media artists can never rarely completely inventory all the bits and pieces they use in their work.)

1.     What did I ABSOLUTELY NEED to keep making my work?

I let go of what I wish I had, what “everybody else” had, what I thought would be fun to have. Bare bones budget, baby.

2.     What did I ABSOLUTELY NEED to get me through the next year?

Instead of stocking up every chance I got, I realized I had enough supplies on hand to make it through at least a year.

One of my biggest pitfalls is buying in bulk. It’s a lot cheaper per piece, of course. But if I only need 100 widgets for $50, that’s doable with my restricted budget. 1,000 widgets for $400 is still $350 more that I don’t have.

3.     What did I have on hand that could be put to better use?

E.g., what can be repurposed, traded, or even sold (to make money to spend on something more useful?) Years before, I bought a slew of quality ear wires that were just too small for my purposes. I found I could reshape them into useful “dangles” and decorative bits for a new line.

In other words, NO NEW SUPPLIES could come into the building without paying for itself upfront.  NO NEW MATERIALS could be purchased until I’d exhausted the ones I already had. NO NEW CLASSES could be taken until I had a project in the works that decidedly NEEDED that technique/process to create. Even then, I’d stop: Do I HAVE to take a class? Can I learn what I need online? From a book? From a LIBRARY book?? From a friend???

I also swallowed my pride–just for a year–and focused on my best sellers and my lower-priced work, the work that was the easiest to make and get out there. Not as a permanent thing, but as a rescue strategy. It felt restrictive, and small. But it also felt necessary to help dig myself out of the hole I’d gotten myself into. Knowing it was a temporary “narrow focus” really helped.

I took on a very cool mail order catalog client. It was hard. It meant mass-producing certain jewelry items in a short amount of time. But it also meant a few big production week, and then a very big check (for me!) a few months later. (Again, even a year going into production mode for some of my pieces resulted in sacrificing something. Not quality, exactly, but….energy. I look back at those pieces from that period, and I can tell the difference.)

And when I did make a sale, I applied every single penny to my more-money-than-I-make-in-a-year credit card balance.

Within two years, I paid it off.

What helped:

  • Some commitments to big change mean a lifetime commitment. In this case, not. It helped knowing it was a period with a beginning and an end.
  • It also helped seeing results. I did not go deeper into debt. I could look at my card statements and see the balance going down a little bit every month.
  • Austerity became my friend. I got used to not buying everything I thought I “had” to have. (For a while. Back in it now! Gotta go back on that diet!)
  • It felt good not to add more pressure to an already-difficult situation. Examples: Not taking time for classes I didn’t really need, meant more time to focus on my own work.
  • Using up the materials I already had on hand meant I freed up a little storage space. And not buying materials I didn’t need right away meant not having to FIND more storage space.
  • The biggest advantage? I didn’t spend enormous amounts of money on a “new thing”, only to find out it wasn’t MY thing in the first place.

I cannot tell you how many times I see new artists (and experienced artists venturing into new places) invest heavily in everything they think they need to “do it right”.  They get caught up in “doing it right the FIRST TIME”.

That can be a very expensive mind-set.

The person who decides they want to be a potter who invests in brand new, high-end kiln, throwing wheel, (the best!) and tools and glazes, and remodels their garage or basement for a studio—who then realizes a) it’s too much time and work to actually make stuff every day, or b) they actually prefer a different medium, or c) they actually want to focus on making pinch pots instead. (No wheel necessary.)

The person who TOOK OUT A SECOND MORTGAGE ON THEIR HOME to buy a complete professional craft show booth for those really big trade shows, a van/trailer to haul the thing, display structures, lighting, etc., etc., only to find out they did not have the kind of products wanted by fine craft and gift stores, nor could they produce them in a timely manner, nor price them reasonably for wholesale/consignment.

These enthusiastic, well-meaning artisans thought they knew what they wanted, and jumped in over their head, emotionally and financially. Some people have no regrets about this, or can afford it easily. Most of us can’t.

Again, this is not to say, don’t be bold, don’t be brave, don’t commit.

It means, when you realize this is an issue, stop. Slow down. Rethink.

Last, think about the deeper reason why we overspend on stuff we really don’t need: Mental/spiritual turmoil. Fear of missing out (FOMO). The myth of scarcity. (“If I don’t buy these NOW, I’ll never find another source.”)

My life is in turmoil right now. As if this past year weren’t difficult enough, I might have to give up my current studio and find another. The last month has been a freaky one, and guess what I realized as I wrote this article?

I’ve been compensating by overstocking up on the components I want for my “new big idea.” They are items I am repurposing from vintage items, so hard to find (feeding my “myth of scarcity” fear). I probably need a couple dozen, yet I in the last month I’ve tracked down and bought enough to last my lifetime.

So distraction, envy, FOMO,

If you’re determined to invest in those high-tech karate/biking/sports shoes, knowing they will make a difference….

Make sure they’re the right size. The right fit. And don’t buy more than you really need.

If they really do help you have more fun, expand the horizons that need to be explored, help you perform better, and help you make the best work of your heart, then that is money well-spent!

The Blender: Part 1

In yesterday’s post, I shared what is–has been–a huge part of my life: The blender. A constant buzz and swirl of chatter in my head. Even as a child, I mulled and ruminated. (Odd. Both of those can also be food words.) Hashing and rehashing events, issues, questions, worries. I’ve always felt like a blender!

I know that’s part of the human condition. In our modern world, especially for most of us who have….enough (even when it doesn’t seem like it), our little buzzy brains are always busy. Evolved over millennia to watch for lions, tigers, and bears, now we imagine danger (and worse, humiliation) in every shadow and behind every corner. (Unless you are a sociopath or a narcissist, in which case you have a lot less buzz. But people don’t like you very much.)

Let’s add another string bean to the blender: I’ve had tinnitus my entire life. I thought everybody had a ringing chord in their brain. I thought I was hearing electricity, that the power lines connecting our houses were thrumming with it. I was six when I realized only I could hear it.

It’s never gone away, and probably never will.

So a week ago, I began my blender meditation.

Wednesday morning: I imagine a blender. I put in some water, some ice, oil. A few peas. (Peas, Quinn? Why??) A strawberry. Some food coloring. In my mind I turned it on, I watched, I waited. And then I turned it off, just as the alarm on my timer went off, too.

I wrote one word in my journal: Yuck. (It made me queasy.)

Thursday a.m.  I put something different in the blender: Rocks. Small pebbles, sand, silt. Leaf litter and debris. Water. Sediment layers!! (I love geology!) And some floaty plastic bead things. I’d been using one of those hot/cold gel pads on my cat bites (a story for another day), and they obviously intrigued me to the point where they got stuck in my head.

I took Quinn's 'add a few peas' suggestion literally.
I obviously took Quinn’s suggestion to ‘add a few peas’, literally.

I thought this was a great visualization, because I’ve done this before (without a blender), and marveled at how well the ingredients settle out. And each layer has a potential purpose. Gravel can pave a path. Small grit can be used in concrete. We can use one layer to make clay for pottery. We can drink the water. The debris? Compost!

I also realized it was the sound of the blender (that high-pitched grating whine) that made me feel queasy.

And I thought of my tinnitus, because sometimes it, too, sounds whiney.

But what if that whine had layers, too? Sometimes I can ‘hear’ it as a chord, a blend of many tones. Sometimes I imagine it as the noise of my own body (one theory about lifelong tinnitus)

What if I were actually hearing….the steady tone of the universe??

I raised my open hands to that achey place, and held them there. I felt comforted.

Then the alarm went off. I wrote all these thoughts down.

On Friday, I worried about my rock smoothie. What if the rocks broke the blender?! What a mess, right? So instead of rocks and dirt, I realized I could put shoulda/coulda/woulda into the blender. All the second guessing, all the remorse, all the replays of the bad moments of my life, the fears (“I could do that! But wait….what if….??”), the self-doubt, the self-recriminations….

As the whine grew louder in my head, there suddenly came a flash of insight:

I could add “I shall” and “I will” to the blender. And…I could add “maybe”.

As in, “Maybe I will, and maybe I won’t.” As in, “I don’t have to make a decision. In fact, I can decide not to decide.”

Again, I put my hands to that achey place, and felt comforted.

The blender wavered. And then the alarm went off. I wrote all these thoughts down.

On Saturday  I got all caught up in the details. Rocks? I could, too, pick them up with wet hands! (Part of Quinn’s metaphor about the uselessness of trying to corral those thoughts.) (Yet another aspect of the human brain. We love to rebut.)

I decided to go back to the peas and strawberries, etc.

Then I thought of Quinn’s comment: “I see you circling the ‘problem’ with your back to it.” I imagined what that would look like. I immediately thought of Mike Birbiglia’s comedy routine, “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend”, and his description of the amusement park ride, The Scrambler. (Later in his routine, he actually spins and wheels across the stage to demonstrate, but I can’t find that bit.)

I laughed out loud. And the timer went off.

On Sunday, it was about the noise again. The blender was whining. Jon was outside with our new weed-whacker. The refrigerator hummed. My tinnitus was ringing. Noise! The noise was unbearable.

And suddenly, I saw the noise as something different.

Energy.

Everything is doing what it’s supposed to do.

My body is alive–heart pumping, blood flowing, ears listening, brain processing the wonder of all this, even as I sit quietly in my chair. The fridge is keeping our food cool and safe. The weed-whacker is whacking weeds. The universe doing its universing thing.

My brain is doing what it’s supposed to do. Overdoing it, perhaps. But it’s not a bad brain. It’s just busy, acquiring information, assessing each bit for danger, for possibility and usefulness.

Simply observing it at work is a marvel. Our minds are a gift. My life is a gift.

I suddenly realized, my brain is simply trying, in its own way, to take care of me. It’s busy evaluating each possibility, examining the potential of each thought, even the ones I cannot control, the ones I have absolutely no power over.

And if I can keep out of the process, just for a moment, I realize it will all settle out on its own, into the layers that I can contemplate later at my leisure: Hmmmm, no, that one is not a danger I have to act on. That one is interesting, but not actionable right now. That one is a possibility, but I don’t have to decide right now.

My responsibility? To let that gift do what’s supposed to do. Let it expand. Let it sift. But don’t lose sight of what’s important.

I am meant to grow. To learn, to expand.

I am meant to to sift. To let go of what does not serve me: Fretting, mulling, worrying.

I am meant to forgive, myself and others, to take the lessons learned and move on.

I am meant to share what I am, what I make. I share what I make with my hands, sometimes by selling, but also by exchanging, by writing about it, by giving it away. In its own time, at its own pace.

I thought of the ache in my chest (I never think of my ‘heart’ as the source except metaphorically. It’s always at the top of my chest, for some reason.) I raised my open hands to that ache, to comfort it. I felt peace. Love. Relief.

And the timer went off.

On Monday, the blender started. And I thought of the video, We Came to Dance.

The words, “We learned there were rules to being human…” (shame, guilt, feel of humiliation if we don’t do it right.)  “We stopped listening to the humming in our veins…” (My tinnitus! One theory of tinnitus is that the sound is in every one of us, but most have learned to ‘screen it out’…) With the beating of my heart, and the chord of music I carry everywhere, even the odd musical note that is the blender of my brain, is music.

I thought about dancing. What would dancing to that music be like?

Suddenly, the noise of the blender receded, even before I turned the blender off.

In its place I heard the thrum of traffic, more noticeable because many trees lost their leaves and so don’t muffle the noise. But spring is here, and the leaves are coming back.

I heard the cherk of saucy jays, and the tiny pips of unknown birds (new to me) that I call ‘pipkins’ (until I learn their proper name.) I heard the voices of children playing in the neighborhood. (School holiday?) I heard the clock ticking, measuring time in its sometimes helpful, sometimes annoying way. I heard the timer’s alarm.

And I felt peace in my heart.

Today was Tuesday. And I only wrote down two phrases:

Tardigrade, aka ‘water bears’. (Google it, it’s weird.) (Should I be freaked out??)

And 4-7-8, the new “guaranteed-to-help-you-sleep’ breath count. Which I’ve tried, and feel like I’m suffocating. (Am I doing it wrong??)

I laugh. And get ready to start my day, with a little peace in my heart.

What’s the problem I’m circling with my back to it? I still have no idea.

But I know Quinn will be there to help me sort it out. I know Sheri will be back in a week. My kids are visiting later this month, and my daughter has assured me the too-tiny fold out sofa bed will be fine.

All I have to do is trust my process. And enjoy the day.

Did you find that helpful? Part of me worries that you won’t.

But mostly I did what I do:  Shared it with you, to help you on your journey, wherever the ripples take you.

And that’s all I have to do, today.

p.s. Oh, and clean the cat litter. And make the bed. And go work out. And go to the studio. And maybe go grocery shopping. And put the too-tiny sofa bed together. And clean the bathrooms, kitchen, back hallway, and basement. And everything else. And not worry about galleries, publicity, sales, exhibit opportunities, volunteering, staying in touch with friends and family, how to create the perfect visit for my kids, how to take care of loved ones, etc., etc., etc.

But somehow, it all looks a little more manageable.

 

 

 

 

The Blender: Intro

We love our new lives in California. But sometimes all the ‘new’ is overwhelming.

Even small things, like not recognizing the ‘ordinary’ birds out here, remind us daily of what we don’t know about California. (There are at least TWO kinds of jays here in Santa Rosa.) (And what are the ones that go, “pip”.  “Pip.”)

Then there’s been the big stuff: A knee surgery for me, within two months of moving here, for me, double hip replacement surgery for Jon less than six months ago. Rebuilding our careers, missing our kids, our friends, our resources…. Did I say missing our kids?

Starting over….I knew it would take time to rebuild an audience for my art, time to grow a new audience, here on the other coast. I know that takes patience. (Not my forte, btw, patience. Er….could you tell?)

But it’s the constant second-guessing that’s killing me. Not knowing what is an opportunity, and what’s a distraction. What’s the next step? What should hold on to, and what do I let go of. When to wait, and when to act. And my studio–is it a workspace? A store? A blessed space, a sanctuary? Yet another place to fill with stuff?? Finished goods overrunning the space, a constant reminder that it’s not selling??? All of the above???!!

It boggles the mind. MY mind, daily.

Last month, I had a healing, enlightening, expanding session with a new friend here, Sheri Gaynor of Creative Awakenings. It was healing with horses, something I’ve encountered (and will always treasure) just before I left New Hampshire, at HorseTenders Mustang Foundation. I highly recommend both Sheri and the HorseTenders programs.

Of course, the new vision frightened me. And of course, being me, I immediately when into ‘contraction state’ (Who, me?? I can’t do that!!) and right through to planning mode. (What does that look like? How does it work? How to I monetize it? Should I monetize it??)

“Call Sheri!” my fevered brain begged. So I did. Ack!! Sheri is on a sabbatical in Costa Rica, for her own much-needed retreat, respite, and restoration of heart and soul.

The song from Ghostbusters ran through my head…”Who ya gonna call??”

And then it occured to me who I could call: My friend and mentor Quinn McDonald of Quinn Creative. (I love her tagline: “Clarity starts here.”)

I had a coaching session with Quinn years ago, in the middle of another professional turmoil/quandry. (Okay, I have them every month day 20 minutes, if you must know.)

She asked if I were a perfectionist, and I said yes. Who doesn’t want to always do their best??

“The trouble with being a perfectionist,” she said, “is that you are full of ‘knowing’. And when you are full of knowing, nothing new can come in.”

Let me repeat that amazing, seemingly-simple little sentence….

When you are full of ‘knowing’, nothing new can come in.

That phrase lit up my life for the next six years. Still does. And so I turned to Quinn to walk me through my latest crisis of heart.

After listening to me whine describe what I was going through, Quinn created a metaphor for a brief, daily meditation, an image to capture what I was going through and what it felt like–and what to do about it.

It’s a blender.

“Imagine a blender. Throw some ice cubes, some water, a little oil, a couple of peas, maybe a strawberry. And some food coloring!” she said. “Then turn it on.”

My life has been a blender the past few years, she said. All of that stuff, the good, the awesomely good, the bad, the really bad, the scary bad, the good in the bad, everything, is whirling around, being chopped into tinier and tinier pieces. “And you’re trying to pick up those pieces as they fly by, with wet hands.”

Boy, did I get it.

“So life is not supposed to be a smoothie,” I mused. Right, said Quinn.

Hence the meditation. She described the steps, ending with “turn off the blender.” (whew!) Then, “Write down what comes up, after”, she said. “Even a word or two. Keep a written record for the next week or two. We’ll talk more about that later.”

Now, knowing me, you KNOW I wrote down more than a word or two.

And no, I actually don’t like smoothies. A milkshake, yes. No veggies, please, nor fruit.

And in tomorrow’s post, I’ll share what came up, and where I’m going with this.

Til then: Turn off the blender!

STAMP OUT FOMO!!!

Fear Of Missing Out results in so very many, so very bad decisions.

Shrine Red Deer Clan 1
THIS….is what matters. Shrine Series: Clan of the Red Deer. The bottom antler is real. The boxes are restored antique boxes. Everything else is polymer clay.

 

Today’s little Venn diagram from Indexed (by Jessica Hagy) sums up this week’s brain buzz (mine) pretty well:

FOMO. Aka, Fear Of Missing Out.

Whenever I see an artist who’s more successful than I am, whenever I see a booth that’s busier than mine at a fair, when another artist is mobbed at a gallery I’m in, I freak out inside.

Whenever I see someone whose work is so amazing and powerful, I writhe with envy.

Whenever I see someone who seems to have nabbed every lovely opportunity/venue/award/kudos/publicity spot under the sun, I die inside a little.

Because I’m sure I’m missing out. 

I’m sure that person has it figured out. I’m sure they’re more savvy in their marketing, more practiced in their technique. I’m really sure they’re ‘on trend’, riding that glorious 15 foot wave with the perfect curl, hair blowing in the wind, dolphins cavorting in their wake squealing, “You GO, grrl!” (Or “Way to go, dude!”)

I mope in my studio, trying to figure out what will sell. Trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong. Trying to figure out how I’ll pay my business debts.

Will I ever write another book? Will I ever be a successful artist again? (Relatively speaking….) Will I ever be that cool, sophisticated artist who “explores the interstices of form and chaos, reveling in the capricious nature of conforming and rebellion. As momentary derivatives become clarified through emergent and academic practice, the viewer is left with a clue to the possibilities of our culture.” (Okay, I totally stole that last line from Arty Bollocks, the online artist statement generator.)

Jessica Hagy’s illustration brings a touch of clarity to the buzz. “What you’ve heard” vs. “What matters” is simply “PR trumping journalism”.

It’s the lizard brain reacting, instead of the work that is in your heart resonating.

It’s not who comes by. It’s who comes back.

It’s not about how many people will like my work. It’s about introducing my work to a new audience, even if that’s a handful of people.

It’s not how much money I make at any given show. It’s about being at least successful enough to keep moving forward. And being brave enough to try.

I love, love, love making whimisical jewelry from vintage buttons and old radio resistors. And I love making freshwater pearl jewelry. But only I can tell my story, the one that reveals how the Lascaux cave became a metaphor for my entire body of work.

And so I soothe my fevered brain today. Yes, it’s been awhile since I’ve set up for a show, especially ones that are limited in space. Yes, I worry about my prices with a new audience. Yes, I have no idea where half my booth stuff is, and whether my car is big enough to pack what I need.

But this isn’t about creating a smaller booth orthe best display, it’s not about  looking professional (arrrrrgh!!), it’s not about doing it perfectly.

It’s about getting my art out into the world again, in a new place, in unfamiliar territory…one small step at a time.

OH, almost forgot: I’ll be at the San Francisco Center for the Book’s Holiday Craft Fair this Saturday, Nov. 21, from 10-5. It’s on Rhode Island Street. That’s all I know.

OH, forgot again: Thank you, Jessica Hagy!!!!

Luann Udell resistor jewelry
I love using old resistors to make kicky jewelry, too.
IMGA0777 (773x1024)
My vintage button earrings, with antique trade bead ‘flowers’.