STAY IN TOUCH: Newsletter Tips for Artists

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

Keep it real, keep it human, and be yourself.

In my last column, It’s the Little Things That Count a reader asked what we should write about in our email newsletters.

Short story: Our email newsletter is how our audience gets to know us.

And long story (which follows): There is no single “right way” to do that.

I have seen beautiful, heartwarming, informative newsletters that I eagerly read as soon as they show up in my inbox.  I have seen pompous, bragging newsletters that make me stop reading after the second paragraph.

I have seen brief notices of an event, and I have seen long, meandering missives that wander here and there and everywhere.

All of the writers have an audience, so just because I like them or don’t like them doesn’t mean they are necessarily “doing it wrong”.

I do see (and you are all going to laugh knowing this comes from ME) that keeping it short and to-the-point makes it more likely people will actually read it!

Here’s the thing to remember: If someone signs up for your newsletter, they already believe you have something of value to share with them.  So really, all you have to do is be the best “you” you can be.

Of course, usually I create a newsletter to inform my audience of an event, whether it’s a show, a meet-the-artist event, or an open studio, or even a sale.

But many artists share tips on how they actually make their work. Or they share WIPs (works in progress), providing a little behind-the-scenes peek into their creative process. Or they share a little life lesson or funny story. (I tend to share this kind of stuff on other social media, but that’s me.)

In short, every single newsletter is a reflection of who that person is. Their newsletter tells us what they want us to know about them, and their work, what they’re up to, where they’re heading.

So think about who you are: Confident? Humble? Cheerful? Grounded? Funny? Very serious? Quiet? Talkative? A sharer/teacher? An eternal student of life?

Show that in your writing!

Be authentic. Write about what matters to you.

Write simply, and get to the point.  Some of the newsletters I get go on and on, as if I’m listening to a stream of consciousness in the author’s head. Not fun on a busy day…

Be funny (if that’s your style.) If not, be serious.

It’s also okay to experiment with different styles and approaches until you find the one you’re the most comfortable with.

Now, for the concrete: I’ve written many blog posts over the years, about what I’ve learned about writing effective press releases to magazines, newspapers, etc. and I consider an email newsletter a personal, mini-press release.

So when you’re setting one up, think about the 5 (or 6) W’s: Who, what, when, where, why, and how (okay that’s not a W, but you get it) if you are including something educational.

  • The “who” is you, of course.
  • The “what” is what you want your audience to know: An event? A class? An honor/award/prestigious show you’ve been accepted into? A new gallery? A new body of work? A sale?
  • The “when” is obvious. Nobody will show up to your event if you don’t let people know what date and time it is.

What is not obvious (and what I struggle with) is, email newsletter experts say you need to let your audience know multiple times about the “when”. That is, if you have an open studio event, you need to not only let people know in multiple arenas (email, Facebook, etc.) but multiple times. Give people plenty of time to plan ahead. But then remind them over and over that it’s coming up.

The “where” is obvious, too. But you’d be surprised how many emailers assume their audience KNOW where the where is. I finally replied to one gallery newsletter last week, asking them what CITY AND STATE they are in. (In fact, I just realized I did not do that in my most recent newsletter. OOPS)

  • The “why” is trickier. But untangle it a bit, and it becomes obvious. For events, the “why” is, “Because I’m hoping you show up and buy something!” For notices of awards and honors, it’s “Because now you can see other people/organizations think my work is pretty cool, too!” For a new body of work, it’s “Because you love my previous work, you might REALLY love my latest body of work!”

The “why” could also include your call-to-action. That is, what do you want people to do with this information? Do you want them to come by? Share/tell their friends, so they can help you grow your audience? Order something online? Be happy for you? How about just to say “thank you”? That works, too!

  • The “how” can be an interesting tip, suggestion, insight into what you do. Some people want to know as much as possible about our process. Others want to take a class, and this can encourage them to do that. Sometimes, they just appreciate the fact that you care enough to share!

The only caveat (beyond the ones I’ve already mentioned) is to tread carefully about the hard parts of your life you’re dealing with. It’s okay to share a setback, or to explain why you’ve been out of touch, or why you had to take time off from your art this year. I would advise you not to overdo it. Here in Santa Rosa, the fires last year devastated a lot of lives, immediately and peripherally. It will take most people years to process their loss, and heal.

But to make every single newsletter/conversation/announcement about that is overwhelming to our audience. After all, we are all struggling with something. We are all broken, someplace in our heart. We are all healing from something.

Asking for a little sympathy and understanding is human nature, and support from others can be a healing factor. But asking someone to listen over and over and over to our sad story is exhausting.

It also doesn’t serve us, in the long run. I’ve had a rotten year myself. I would say “nobody died”, but actually quite a few people died, and quite a few involved let me down horribly. It was hard, and trust me, I’m happy to tell everyone about it.

In the end, though, where the most powerful healing came from was, getting back to my studio and making the work of my heart. It helped restore me to my better self, the person I chose to be.

And that message, a message of healing, and restoration, and solace, and hope, a message of what our art does for us and for other people, is the message we really want our audience to hear.  

As artists, we want our art to inspire, to bring joy, to lift hearts. We want to bring messages of hope, and love, to others. We want to provoke thought about difficult issues, and to share our own personal view of the world and our experiences.

This is our job, as artists. And the people who are attracted to our work, who want to see more, learn more, hear more, are just waiting to get more of that from us.

I hope this encourages you to reach out to your audience, and let them know what’s going on in your world! Clint Watson, founder of FASO, has written great articles about the more practical points of producing an effective email newsletter, and I encourage you to go back and read them.

But I assure you, if you approach this with as much integrity and openness as you approach your art, you really can’t go wrong.

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!

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #11: Wear the Right Shoes.

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.

Special “karate shoes” won’t make you a better karate student if you don’t show up for classes.

Some activities require more specialized equipment than others. It’s hard to rollerblade in bare feet, for example.

My husband spent years avoiding all of the latest high-tech biking stuff. He insisted on regular t-shirts over special moisture-wicking synthetic fiber bike shirts. He wore his regular sports shoes instead of special biking shoes.

We had friends a few years ago who used to laugh openly at his lack of high-tech gear. “I can’t believe your husband rides in a cotton T-SHIRT!” the wife giggled.

But here’s the thing: He never has any problem enjoying long bicycle rides just because he didn’t have the fancy clothing, shoes and gadgets. When the weather allows, he’s off on his bike every chance he gets.

He did finally realize that those “geeky bike shoes with the special clip-on cleats” (that attach to the bike pedals) really do provide a more efficient, more enjoyable experience for long-distance riding. (And he still doesn’t know the right name for them.)

They are only useful, though, on rides where you don’t have to stop much (since the shoes have to be manually disengaged from the pedal when you stop.) Those same shoes and pedals would make in-town riding miserable.

So the right equipment can make your workout not only better, but possible. More efficient. More fun. But different situations make for different “right equipment.”

The downside of focusing on the “perfect equipment” is, some people get so caught up in the high-tech accruements, they spend more time shopping and playing with the “toys” than they spend actually doing the activity. They need the “best bike” that costs thousands of dollars, the “latest biking shirt”, etc.

And if they can’t get them, well, that can be the excuse they need not to exercise in the first place. “I’ll wait til I find the perfect slippers to do T’ai Chi!” (Never found them. Time to go back to socks!)

Too much equipment can eat up your cash resources. At best, it can put the focus on how to get your next new “toy” rather than your next good workout. At worst interfere with the simple act of getting out there and exercising.

Special “karate shoes” won’t make you a better karate student if you don’t show up for classes.

My hubby, for all his lack of gizmos and high-tech sportswear, still logs in hundreds, if not thousands, of miles biked every year. While the friend who poked fun of him for being so low-tech? Hasn’t been on a bike in a loooong time……

If a new sport “toy” excites you enough to exercise more, then it’s a good thing. If it distracts you from the PURPOSE of your work-out–to exercise more, to make your work-out more productive, and help you enjoy your activity– it’s not a good thing.

The same with our art biz.

My own two craft media, the world of quilting/fiber arts and the world of polymer clay, are especially prone to this “new toy” phenomenon. New tools, techniques and gadgets are introduced almost weekly. Pick up a decent quilters supply catalog and you will find hundreds–no, THOUSANDS–of gadgets designed to aid you in sewing two pieces of fabric together. The polymer clay industry is just as product-dense.

I’ll take that back–these two media are not any more prone to this than any other medium. In fact, classes and supplies for painting probably lead the pack. Special brushes, engineered paints, exotic papers and canvases, intricate easels–the list is endless.

At one point, I decided to invest thousands of dollars in a giant sewing machine that would have allowed me to make really, really big fiber wall hangings. I saved money until I could purchase one, set it up in my studio….

And never used it. Not once.

It turns out the way it worked was exactly the reverse of my process, and cumbersome. The learning curve was steep, and not worth it to me. It turns out I lose my sense of composition when my work gets big. (Someone said years ago my aesthetic works best when small and intimate, and I totally agree. My first aesthetic was “something you can hold in your hand”, and that still describes the bulk of my work.)

I’m fortunate that the store owner simply bought the machine back two years later. (It helped I was a loyal customer who had always treated them with integrity and generosity, and it was repaid in kind when I needed it!) (It helped that it was in mint condition, too.) :^)

It turns out my professional-grade but limited-options sewing machine was exactly what I need, and nothing more. (It can’t zig-zag or serge-stitch, but it free-style quilts like a charm!)

New toys are fun. And classes in new techniques, materials, tools, and processes can expand our artistic vocabulary and strengthen our repertoire of skills and abilities.

They can also water down our focus, our ability to develop and refine a FEW skills to perfection. All the squirrel-hair brushes and archival quality paper and lightfast paints in the world will not transform a mediocre painter into an accomplished artist.

In our eagerness to get on board the “next new thing”, we join the ranks of dilettantes–by definition, those who pursue an art as a pastime, especially sporadically or superficially.

I say “dilettante” as opposed to the original definition of “amateur”–one who pursues an art for the pure love of it, rather than a profession. It used to mean “someone who loved what they did and did it even while not accepting money for it.” Getting paid was not the end result–enjoyment was. (“Amateur” now means/implies someone who cannot/has not mastered or marshalled their skill enough to pursue their art as a profession. I hate that!)

There’s nothing wrong with being a dilettante OR an amateur. Not everyone even wants to be a “professional” artist. Just having the work of your heart in your life, even at a small level, is enough for many, many people.

But….if constant “playing around” is getting in the way of something else you want….If you want to be considered as more than a hobbyist, you must rise above your tools and techniques–and become a master of the medium itself.

It’s all about “the right shoes” for the RIGHT next step.

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #10: Vary the Intensity.

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.

Know when to push through, and when to take a break!

Studies on exercise show that mixing up the intensity, even a little in a single workout, burns off more calories than a slow, steady pace. Perhaps because it catches our body metabolism off-guard a wee bit, causing it to “rev” a little higher, even when we slow back down again. It helps with training, too. Swimmers use this technique to increase endurance and strength.

I don’t ascribe to the “no pain, no gain” school of thought–too much pain for not much gain when I injure myself! But I’ll admit, I can tell the difference between a workout when I push myself a little bit more than usual, and one where I hang back, “saving” my strength in case I need it later.

It’s a human thing, and not necessarily a bad one. There are times to ease up, come up for air, and take a look around.

But here’s the thing: There’s no “later”.

Yeah, there is a slight chance I will need to lift a car off someone today, and I will need a lot of strength for that. But easing up and saving my strength doesn’t go into a penny jar someplace, where I can extract that strength back. (Have I labored this metaphor enough? Moving on….)

In the end, “saving our energy” is just an excuse to not put in that extra effort.

There is also no “later” when it comes to making your art.

There’s a tendency for artists to hang back sometimes, too, to “pace themselves.” Not stretching themselves to reach further, or pushing themselves to go farther.

We say we’re just too busy with other stuff. Or we say we’re just taking a break. Maybe we feel a little bored….

But for me, often, that’s not really it. So why do we procrastinate about getting to our studio?

Honestly, I think it’s this:

We’re afraid we’ll run out of ideas.

If you’re like me, then every time I make my “best piece”, I secretly worry it’s my LAST best piece. I can’t imagine coming up with an even better design. I worry I will run out of stories. I fret about whether a new animal will join my menagerie.

So we stick to the same ol’ same ol, never trying anything new, never taking risks or putting our work out there.

Here is the most important five words you will read in this article: Trust me.

You won’t run out of ideas.

Working on new ideas generates MORE ideas. Perfecting a technique gets your hands busy on cruise control, freeing the mind to wander further ahead–“And what if instead of doing THIS, I tried THIS…?” “What if I use THIS color here instead?”

Every single time I’ve been stuck–and oh Lordy, have I been stuck the past few years!–pushing myself to do the work has helped me break through.

So try mixing it up in your artistic workout today. Warm up with the stuff you know how to do.

Then push yourself a wee bit…and see where it takes you.

Let us know!

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #9: Stretch!

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #9: Stretch!

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.

Strength needs stretch to reach maximum potential.

We all know it’s important to stretch. Everyone says so! But who has the time?? It’s hard enough squeezing in work-out time.

Turns out we must make the time. Because stretching is important to the balanced interplay between your bones, your tendons and your muscles.

When you have the right balance of tension between these three systems, they all move easily and freely. Each interacts with and supports the others.

Tight muscles tear when you put too much “reach” on them. Bones take too much impact when muscles and tendons aren’t working smoothly together. And too much stretch with not enough strength means joints can overextend or over-rotate.

Stretching can be part of the body’s process of laying down new muscle fiber. And stretching helps maintain the body’s range of motion as we age.

Best of all (in my mind), stretching connects you to your body. Done correctly, and gently, it simply feels good to stretch.

There’s a lot of debate over when and how much to stretch. Most experts seem to agree it’s best to warm-up gently, start working out slowly, then make it harder, saving the mega-stretches for after your work-out when your muscles are thoroughly warmed and relaxed.

However and whenever you do it, stretching strengthens the “rubber band” in you.

It’s the same with our artwork and art biz.

I think of stretching as the things that encourage us to be more flexible, more in balance with ourselves as artists. This includes the things that encourage us to lay down more “muscle fiber”–that force us to be better at what we do.

Here are some of those “artistic stretches” I’ve encountered:

1. Applying for bigger and better shows/events than I thought I was ready to do.

This forced me to speed up my production to increase my inventory. It forced me to figure out display, lighting, booth wall. I had to create support materials–postcards for pre-show mailings, catalogs, other promotional materials. It forced me to learn how to sell my work and to sell myself as an artist.

In short, it forced me to “grow up” and “get big”–fast!

2. Applying to juried exhibits.

This forced me to quit messing around photographing my own work and find a professional photographer. Yes, I still use my smartphone for social media, email newsletters, my shop. But for big-ticket events and advertising, there’s nothing like a high-quality, perfectly-posed and produced photo for best results.

3. Having my work copied.

At first this made me more proactive in protecting my designs, which is a losing battle. But it also got me out of my “safe area” and made me rethink how to combat copycats. I had settled into “sure thing” designs. This forced me to kick it up a notch.

I don’t take any shortcuts with my designs. I emphasize the work, the experimentation, and the research that goes into my artifacts. I share my stories more easily.

All of this helps establish me as an original maker, with a personal story, and a unique approach to telling it.

4. Taking a class outside my “safe zone”. It’s good to take a class that’s outside your normal field of expertise. For one thing, it can refresh and inform your art. For another, it puts you back in student/learning mode–always a good place for your brain to be!

Caveat: Some people get carried away with this kind of stretch, and remain perpetual students. Too many classes and workshops without doing the work is kind of like too much stretching before your workout–too much demand on your muscles before they’re actually at work.

That’s okay if this perpetual learning stage is enough for you–and for many people, it really is enough.

But if you yearn to be a “real artist”, you eventually have to do the work(out), too.

Also, using an instructor’s designs and patterns is a good way to get your artwork outside its usual box. But you must continue the “stretch”. You must find ways to make the technique “stretch” your artwork, and not simply recreate the instructor’s work. (They don’t need any help making their artwork, thank you very much.)

5. Thinking outside the box.

Trying different ways of making, marketing and selling your work than “everyone else” is doing. People who were early adapters of selling on the internet, home parties, alternate markets and niche markets refused to accept the status quo of how to sell art and craft. They saw what wasn’t working and tried something different.

Again, the work(out) after the stretch is just as important as the actual stretch. These early adaptors and innovators know these weren’t easy solutions or short-cuts to success. It took just as much work (if not more) to research these new ways of doing things, and to get them off the ground. But when it worked, it gave them increased flexibility than people who were still stuck with the old ways of doing things. This in turn brought them sustainability, and success.

Over the past few decades, there have been plenty of tough stretches for artists and craftspeople. After the 2008 recession, many artists and galleries gave up and left the industry altogether. Others hung on for dear life. A very, very few took up the mantra “Change or die”.

These hardy souls changed their outlook, their attitude, their product, their marketing, their strategies–everything. And they not only hung on, they thrived. They had to stretch, and the process restored balance in their business.

6. Dealing with negative and hostile people.

This is an odd one, but for me, it was a necessary stretch. I learned to stand up for my art in ways I’d never done for myself. When I met a person who was a roadblock to my success, I wouldn’t quit and go home. Instead of being reduced to a puddle of self-pity, I learned to flex my newly-discovered professional mettle. They forced me to find ways to go over, under, around and through them.

I learned to not internalize the judgments they passed or the nasty things they said. I learned to set them aside and focus on what really matters–making my art, and focusing on how I intend to bring it into the world.

Some became so toxic it forced me to stop hanging out so much at on-line forums (remember those??) and start a blog instead. Which forced me to write every day. Which eventually led to professional writing gigs, and a long history of articles and essays that I believe still have something of value to say.

Nice stretch!

 7. Keeping it fresh.

Art centers, organizations, guilds, and other supporters of the arts are facing a new challenge. As they become more sophisticated and pickier in their artist selection, many younger, newer artists aren’t considered “good enough” or “traditional enough” to get in. We tend to forget that when we first started out, we weren’t at our peak, either. But the “safety net” of a supportive, encouraging art org gave us the opportunities to make our work, improve it, find an audience, learn how to talk with them, and make our work even more appealing to our collectors.

And our audience, too, as I mentioned earlier, gets older. They run out of wall space, or downsize, or….gasp….die. (Remember my horse sculpture that was bought at a yard sale? I’m sure the original collector didn’t put it there!) We need to constantly reach out (aka, “stretch!”) to attract and grow a new audience for our work.

Take stock of where you feel hidebound and muscle-bound. Where could you use some increased flexibility and suppleness?

What forced you to stretch, and how did it help? Let us know!

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #8: Get the right support.

Luann Udell discusses the importance of support.
Luann Udell discusses the importance of support.

EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS Tip #8: Get the right support.

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.

Find ways to “hold it together” during the hard times and the slow times.

We all need the right support, literally and figuratively.

In martial arts, no guy goes out on the sparring floor without a cup. And those of us women who are, er, heavily endowed on top need a sports bra for those more vigorous sports–jogging, kickboxing, etc.

And here’s my $100 tip for those women today: I used to spend big bucks and much time searching for the perfect sports bra, even by mail order. They either didn’t work as promised or I felt like I was girding chest armor for battle. Yuck!

Then I discovered you can simply wear TWO regular sports bras, even the cheapie brands. Together they work just as well as the much more expensive kind.

But the other kind of support that’s vital is the support of your community.

On the first level, in your intimate community, someone who genuinely wants you to lose weight and get fit (and surprisingly, not everyone in your circle wishes that for you.)

On the second level, in your immediate community it’s more fun to work out with others who are just as dedicated as you are to showing up.

And on the highest level, your bigger community, it’s a lot easier when you have the facilities of a local gym or Y. Or when your town provides safe places for you to run (good sidewalks, well-lit recreation areas, bike paths and bike lanes on roads, public-access basketball courts and ball fields, etc.) Sometimes we’ve lived in areas where even WALKING was not a safe activity, and pedestrian-access was limited.

The communities you find, develop, and grow for your art is just as important!

I wish our country’s public schools in supported the arts as vigorously as they do sports. (And I wish they supported the kind of sports EVERYONE could do for the rest of their lives (swimming, jogging, biking, walking, tai chi, etc.) rather than focusing on team sports only the best athletes can try out for after a certain age.)

That’s true with artists, too.

If your intimate circle is not supportive of the work you do–if they can’t respect your work time, or don’t value what you do–you need to keep your hopes and dreams to yourself until you find people who do. Write in a journal, or a blog instead. Find a family member who is on your team and share with them. Or mentor another family member–maybe you are someone else’s inspiration and cheerleader!

Find ways to share your art with schools, community centers, and other town/city resources. Show people that art isn’t “something special and precious” that only works for a privileged few. Show them that our creative work is a lifelong activity, a way to have a voice in the world, and a healing balm for our spirit.

Find people in your community who share your dreams and visions for success. Some of them may not be in your medium, some of them may be further ahead or behind than you in their progress. Some of them may not even be in the arts. They could be other small business entrepreneurs, or people who have strong personal vision for other good causes. You’ll find many of the same business strategies and exercises for staying focused and staying on your core vision are still similar.

And finally, find ways to make your greater community at large more supportive of the arts.

Tell people about what you do–open studios, press releases to your local paper, demonstrations and presentations to professional groups and schools.

Show up when development proposals come to your city council, and advocate for the arts.

Join local art organizations, and support them. Some of them are a time drag, and some are sorry things. But all of them work to increase the visibility of the arts, and their efforts may be the only way many people ever experience the arts. They at least deserve your money and word-of-mouth support. And you can always join their team and encourage them to find ways to be more effective and focused.

At their best, ones like the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen here in NH work tirelessly to promote their membership and the arts and crafts.

Support. We all need to get it and we all need to give it.

It’s the, um, foundation garment for what we do.

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