Bad/Mad/Sad Brain and “Aha!” Moments

Luann Udell shares how making the work we love, is a working meditation.
Luann Udell shares how making the work we love, is a working meditation.

Bad/Mad/Sad Brain and “Aha!” Moments

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.

Our brains are amazing! But we have to make sure we don’t overthink it….

After a full month of packing, one day of intense moving, and another month of unpacking, sorting, arranging, and making an empty room my newest creative space, my brain backfired Sunday.

I got to the studio nice and early. But my heart just wasn’t in it. I wandered around restlessly, moving a few things, put them back, and finally went home. I called my husband before I left, asking him if he wanted to blow off work and go for a drive. “YES!!!” he said. (He’s been working nonstop for months on a creative project, too.)

I thought that would take care of my ennui. Nope. Today is one of those days my editors, past and present, hate: I just couldn’t figure out what to write about.

And so here I am, typing furiously, to share the “aha!” moment I had today. (Technically, it’s still Monday on the West Coast….)

I got to my studio late. Yet again, I just wasn’t feeling it. I did sort a few things out, labeled some drawers, etc. (I organized my sticks. Yes, I have a picture.)

Yes, I sorted sticks today. DON’T JUDGE!!! 

But I just couldn’t get any energy to really set out my framed work, my jewelry, etc. (Most of the shrines are at a two-month long show at a gallery for another few weeks, which was a blessing during the packing and moving part!)

I couldn’t figure out why I was so unmotivated, after weeks of incredible energy and focus. And suddenly, it hit me.

I can’t figure out how to hang my work!

Bear with me here. I have quality picture hangers, I have just as much wall space as the old studio, and I’m pretty flexible about where they should go.

But the first time I hung one, I couldn’t hammer the nail-and-hanger into the wall!

At least that section of the wall is a sort of painted-over old paneling, the kind that has a lot of give, and probably isn’t real wood. I banged, and the wall bounced, and I got nowhere.

Okay, I thought, I brought in all those expensive stick-on hooks, the kind you can pull out the sticky strip later, and reuse. I was a little nervous about using them, because they have a tendency to not work well in cold or damp weather. But I gave it a long time to “set” and hung the first framed work. It look great!

It didn’t look so great an hour later, when it popped off the wall and shattered the frame. Dang!!! (That’s not what I actually said, but I’m trying to keep it clean here.)

The worst thing is, I couldn’t figure out what to do next.

Try another version of the same brand? Look to see if any of the walls are “normal” and “hammer-able”?  Check in with another artist there, to see if they had the same kind of walls? Check in with the building manager to see if he had any ideas??

Consciously, I thought I was “solving the problem”. But today, after two days of not coming up with a solution, I realized I felt “stuck”. And I couldn’t get myself to move forward.  It didn’t help that the next thing on my to-do list were taxes.

Oddly, that morning, at the gym, on my way out I said something to one of the employees. She was feeling a little off, she said. Me, too, I said. Maybe because it’s Monday?

But then I realized, Mondays don’t mean anything to me. They aren’t the day I “have to” go back to work I don’t care for. Monday is just another day where I decide what I need to work on. And it was sunny, after the “atmospheric river” that’s been hounding us for months. And it was actually almost warm. Why were we so down??

I shared with her a story I’d just read in a book I’m rereading, Unseen City by Nathanael Johnson. It’s a delightful book about how Johnson, wanting to share the wonders of nature with his three-year-old in Berkeley, CA, ended up learning—and learning to love—the species of animals and plants most people find offensive. He shares delightful stories about crows, pigeons, ants, snails, turkey vultures, and….

Gingko trees.

One day, as he walked along a street, he entered a mental state of high dudgeon. The world was an awful place. He felt angry, resentful. Then, a block later, he realized how good his life is, and felt normal again. He didn’t think anything of it until the next time he walked down that same street—and felt the same anger.

These bizarre mood swings continued for days, in the very same block, until he finally paid close attention to what was happening when they appeared.

He realized he was smelling a very foul odor, little whiffs. It actually triggered his inner feelings of disgust and anger, but unconsciously. When he looked for the culprit, he realized it was the fruit of a gingko tree, one of the oldest species still in existence today. The female gingko produces a fruit/nut that smells God-awful. (Words like dog poo, rot, and vomit are usually used. Oy!!)

A bad smell gave him hopelessness, despair, and anger.

So, two moments illustrating that what clouds our judgment, creates uneasiness and resentment, feelings of “less-than”, even anger, that had nothing to do with current circumstances.

Our brains are marvelous creations, capable of amazing feats. Our brains are also very ancient. Our brain is hard-wired to keep us safe from danger, like eating spoiled food or anything “disgusting”.  (For me, that’s broccoli!) As I mentioned in a comment in my last article, “keeping us safe” is also why we tend to ruminate over hurtful things people have said about us, or our work, while we forget all the wonderful things people have said. People who say hurtful things can be “dangerous”, and so their words “stick”.

And when we’re “stuck”, it keeps trying to work to find a solution, perhaps keeping us unsettled, unfocused, and vaguely uncomfortable.

When we are being “played” by our unconscious thoughts, we make up a story why we feel that way, just as Johnson thought life was unfair, unfulfilling, etc. before he realized he was being “triggered” by a bad smell. I made up a story about how I was too dumb to hang a picture right, that I felt stupid having to ask others how they managed. I was angry at my cat, my dog, and my husband, and I felt like I had nothing to say this week. (I do, bear with me.)

The solution? It’s another reason artists can usually deal well with adversity and obstacles, and persevere.

Making art, making the work we love, is a working meditation.

Doing work we find worthy, fulfilling, productive, actually brings us joy. It allows us to get into a deep, working mental space—literally, a working meditation–sometimes called “the Zone”. Time passes quickly.  We are immersed in our process. We are restored to our better selves.

So the more we “make”, the better we feel.

That’s when I realized that, though I would love my space to be “perfect” before I actually get back to work, it might be time to actually do some work.

So tomorrow, I think I’ll make something. Maybe finish that new bear I had to set aside two months ago. Maybe a new necklace. Heck, maybe I’ll take my sewing machine out for a spin!

I’ll try not to use my feelings-of-the-day to judge my life, or my art.

Fortunately, it’s not gingko fruit season. Yet!

Have you ever realized your downer mood was actually brought on by hidden thoughts or unrealistic goals? Or a gingko tree? (I don’t mean good goals, I mean like when I thought I could get my new space set up in three days!) What brought you back to your happy place? Lemme know!

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Give It Time, and Take the Time!

Luann Udell discusses how to enjoy the steps along the way in our "journey"
Luann Udell discusses how to enjoy the steps along the way in our “journey”

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Give It Time, and Take the Time!

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.

Most things in life work themselves out.

There is a saying I learned in my hospice training awhile back: Hospice is full of recovering fixers.

The premise is, death is something that can’t be “fixed” or cured. But conditions, including the state of mind for our clients, and hopefully, for family members, too, can be healed.

I would forget this, from time to time. But my amazing supervisor was always there to walk me through the swamp of good intentions back to solid ground.

I recently read about a scientific study on happiness. To paraphrase, it said most of us hold a major goal (or two, or many) in our life, and believe we will be totally happy when we attain it.

But it turns out our happiness is increased in a big way by embracing the steps we take to get there.

If we stop to consider our journey, then the “arrival” feels even richer, and deeper.

That stopped me in my tracks.

I realized that from January 2018 to January 2019, my life has been a hot mess. Despair, sadness, loneliness, anger, frustration, and uncertainty, all had SO MUCH FUN WITH ME for thirteen long, harsh months. (I used to discount this stuff by saying, “Hey, nobody died!” until that was no longer true at all.)

In addition to all the drama, my studio on South A Street went from “I have lost my desire to create” to “Geez, this is hard” to “Dang, they sure are noisy, glad it’s ending soon!” to “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME??” to jackhammers, sawing, smog in my studio (yep, you read that right), and demolition, to “Now what?!” to “This is really really hard!!” to “Hallelujah, I can’t believe what just happened!!” (In a good way.)

In between were tiny moments of “I am slowly but surely dealing with this move”. Of course, I started out packing with great care, but by the last day, I was just throwing stuff into boxes. Every box from this stage is a huge “Surprise!!!” moment….

Two examples of how things usually “just work out” in the end:

I’ve already written how, in his desire to have me out of there, my landlord offered a truck and two of his employees to get me moved. This saved us the expense of renting a truck ourselves, doing all the heavy lifting ourselves, and cut almost a week off the end of my move.

I had worried for weeks on how this was ever going to possibly work out. I couldn’t imagine how it could happen. I could not even visualize what I wanted, let alone expect any help.

And in two minutes, the entire problem was solved. (Well. The next 24 hours were full of chaos and mayhem, but again, it was just 24 hours!)

The second thing is more subtle.

All my furniture was now in my studio, and I had a vision of how to lay things out. All I needed was three bookcases: One very tall and skinny, one that was tall and very sturdy, and a third that was narrow-ish (under 29” wide), with two bottom shelves that were at least 15” tall. Hopefully, something that would fit in with the rest of my storage/display furniture. And it definitely had to be affordable. I also realized a table we already had that I thought would work for that third workstation was not suitable at all. Dang.

I also needed a wheeled office chair, but I didn’t think that would be hard. (Ha!)

Now, it gets complicated from here, so if you don’t have the patience, skip to the end…..

I couldn’t find any of the five pieces I needed, not even a wheeled office chair. (Was there a run on them in January??)

I searched every thrift shop and antique store around. I looked online: Facebook Marketplace, NextDoor, Craigslist. Nada.

In one thrift store known for its huge furniture collection, I found two candidates for the book shelf. But they were literally the only two items that were not for sale. One was being used for displaying shoes, the other (though it had a price tag) was being used by the staff. What are the chances?!

Fortunately, I doubled-back a day later, to my favorite thrift shop again, and found two perfect candidates for the first two bookcases. Yippee!!

But that third one was just too crazy, and much harder to find.

I finally researched “used office furniture” online, and came up with some stores that might work. But most of them were closed until Monday.

On a hunch, and in desperation, I went back to the thrift store that had the first “perfect” candidates that weren’t for sale. Maybe there was something I overlooked?

There was. Off in the book section was a medium-height cupboard with one shelf. It looked a little like my printer’s type tray drawers, but no drawers. It looked wide, but I thought what the heck? I could use it for something else. And the price? $10. (Yes, you read that right, too!) While I was there, I found a desk that might work for my last workstation. It was $15. What luck! I would come back and pick it up later.

I had to wait for the store to open on Monday. I was there ten minutes after they opened. I brought the cupboard back to the studio and it was EXACTLY THE RIGHT WIDTH. (I am now feeling “heard” by the universe.)

But the desk….. I realized it had no “overhang” to clamp on my two wonderful work-lamps. Was that a deal-breaker??

Sure enough, while dropping off a donation at another thrift store, I found a) an office chair for $5 (sensing a theme here??) and the perfect table, in the perfect color, with the perfect overhang, and extremely sturdy. It was big. It might mean rearranging my space yet again. So I reluctantly left it.

And realized that night that YES IT WAS THE PERFECT TABLE. The first choice was not only two small, using tabletop lamps would take up even more room.

So I called the store the next morning, before they were even officially open, thinking I could leave a message to please please please hold the table for me until I could get there after another engagement.

Someone answered the phone! (What are the chances??) And they said, “We usually won’t do that, but we will!”

After my meeting, we picked it up and took it out to the new studio. It fit! I simply put it in sideways to the wall, rather than up against it. It broke up the space nicely, with plenty of room to spare. (I “donated” the first table at the first store back to them. They serve a wonderful cause, and I was only out $15, after all.)

So here I am today, almost done with the set-up. (Yes, I’ll try to get some pics.)


I even found the perfect place for the dolls and puppets so critical for making my art. (Not really, but I love ’em.) 

Everything fell into place. Everything I needed, I found. Everything I found, was hugely affordable. Everything worked out even better than I had hoped.

Today I realized how wonderful I’m feeling again.

It was a year where I, I felt so drained of energy, I did not even go to my studio for weeks at a time. Even working on my art could not restore me to my happy place. That was hard.

And here I am today, realizing that this week in February is the most amazing week I’ve had in a loooooong time. (YES, successful shopping helps!)

I am restored to my better self. My studio is lookin’ good! Yesterday I set up some of my artwork for the first time in ages. I have an extra work station. I can’t believe how cohesive all the bits and pieces look, too.  I can still hardly believe I found the five perfect components to complete my studio layout, within three days.                            

                                                                    

 It’s starting to come together!                                                      I’ve actually got artwork  up!                                                                                                               And bottles. Old crusty                                                                                                                            bottles…                                             

Yesterday, my new art community had a meeting about a major event we’re having in a couple months. It sounds full of promise, and I got to watch how folks participated and interacted. It sure looks like a roomful of grown-ups!

Today the sun is out, and cherry trees are blooming. Today I realized I don’t need any more infrastructure/ or furniture. Today I realized with a bit of luck, I can be back to work by the end of the week.

As I write this, I marvel at all the things that simply fell into place, beginning with that second offer of studio space from Julian and Anna those first few days in 2019. I see the “change in perspective” that constitutes a miracle, a change that lets me breathe, and relax (figuratively speaking!). I can finally let go of the anger, angst, resentment, and fear. I am ready to embrace my new situation and my new community.

I am focused on enjoying every minute of unpacking and setting up, even those boxes full of haphazard stuff I threw together in panic. It feels good to realize not everything has to be “forced” into working. Sometimes it all just falls into place, despite our worst fears and doubts.

Today feels full of promise, and hope.

And today, I hope for you, when times are harsh and dark, to find your own beautiful moments of light and grace. Somewhere, someone wishes you well, someone or someplace has exactly what you need, and something will remind you of how beautiful life can be. Embrace it!

There is never really an end to “the journey”. But I am back to enjoying the steps along the way.

Do you have stories of things that worked out better than you could have ever hoped or dreamed? Or a goal you set that you savored all along the way? Please share! We all need to be reminded of the possibilities. Someone may simply need to hear your story today!

SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: People Are Listening!

SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: People Are Listening!

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.

 

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I have very good reasons for choosing polymer. Simply put, I could NOT do the work I do without it!

I recently wrote an article called SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: Consider the “Why”. In it, I shared how we can positively frame our choice of media, especially ones that are considered “less than.”. (I was going to say “justify” in that sentence, but it sounded like an apology. Let’s just stick with “frame”.)

There is a hierarchy in art media, just like there are hierarchies in any creative human activity. For example, even the worse presentation of ballet may be seen as more “sophisticated” than tap dancing, or break dancing.

In art, oil painting may be considered more “real art” than acrylics, which is “better” than watercolor, which is “better” than colored pencil, etc. Many even consider pottery and fiber art to be craft rather than “real art”. (It used to be, if you wanted to start a flame war on the internet, you would just ask what the difference is between “art” vs. “craft”. Actually, that argument’s probably still raging!)

My friend Nicole Caulfield is an extremely talented colored pencil artist. She chose this medium for a variety of reasons. To my eye, they are as beautiful and compelling as any oil painting I’ve ever seen. Yet her work commands far lower prices than even a mediocre oil painting. Does it weigh her down? Nope. This is the work she loves, and excels at. In my mind, she is an art hero! (I’ve linked to one of her website pages, but her portraits are jaw-droppingly beautiful, too!

Over time, new media (especially polymer clay) do gain respect and followers. And yet, there will always be those people who will find fault with them. In the article, I shared how I got to the heart of my “why”—why I chose to work with this material, and its advantages over others, to make my art.

Today I share another insight into why it’s important for us to find these reasons:

When we are challenged by these people who imply (or outright tell us!) our materials are “less than”, we need to be prepared with a great answer….

Because other people are listening!

I did an entire series of articles on awkward, obnoxious, aggressive/dismissive, simply ignorant, or even innocent questions or comments that may startle or stun us.

As artists and makers, whatever our choice of medium, we need to be prepared for an answer that modifies and redirects the conversation on our own terms.  We need to do it with patience, and dignity, and without anger, defensiveness, or apologies.

For one, we gain nothing by responding with anger or snark. We’ve simply lowered ourselves to our detractor’s level. We help create a hostile environment that works against us. (In fact, that’s why some obnoxious visitors do this, consciously or unconsciously. Why else would someone go out of their way to be rude, when all they have to do is walk away??)

But more importantly, when we address our detractors, other people around us. Whether it’s at an art opening, in our booth, in our studio, or even in our family and circle of friends, other people are paying attention to how we handle it.

If we learn to handle these difficult situations with respect, and reframe it to our advantage, we will really impress the people who are listening, who are/could be our real customers.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had someone say something awful to me, sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes because they are simply an awkward person, and sometimes, because my work has triggered something in them. (I’m guessing envy, and perhaps insecurity about their own creative efforts.)

I realized those questions and comments fall into several categories: My choice of media (not just polymer clay, but fiber, and jewelry.) My source of inspiration. My color palette.  How I talk about it.

I sat down and thought hard about how to respond in a positive way, without being defensive. This actually gives me the power to reframe the conversation in a way that serves me well.

And every time there has been an “audience”—other people browsing, for example—it’s obvious they’ve been listening to how I responded. Because they do one or more things:

They look even deeper at my work.

Often they come up to me afterwards and compliment me on my restraint. (Fortunately, no one can read my mind yet, where less pleasant responses are swarming.) (Yes, I have a lizard brain, too!)

They often buy something, too.

That “difficult person” gave me the opportunity to share my outlook on life, my art, and my medium, in wonderful, positive, life-affirming ways that resonate deeply with my audience.

Again, this took time. I was fortunate to find Bruce Baker’s seminars early on in my art career. For almost two decades, Bruce gave seminars and sold CDs offering great advice on marketing and display skills for artists and makers of all sorts. (He has now returned to his original work of jewelry-making.) [1]

I used his advice (and words!) when two women entered my booth at my very first major show. One looked at a large wall hanging, featuring my own handmade polymer faux bone artifacts. She said, “You’d have to live in a very different house to hang this. A VERY different house!” (It was obvious her “very different house” was not a desirable house…..)

I’d practiced Bruce’s suggested response to detractors, memorized it (so I wouldn’t be caught off-guard) and went into full reframing mode:

“Yes”, I replied cheerfully, “My work IS unusual, and unique. I’m inspired by the Lascaux Cave in France, which for decades was considered the birthplace of human art. I work with recycled fabrics to make each quilt, layered and stitched to look like it’s passed through many generations of family. I make my own faux prehistoric artifacts, one at a time, to embellish them.”

And the kicker line: “My work isn’t for everyone. But the people who do appreciate my work, love it passionately.”

Why is this so appealing?

I established my cred as an artist. I shared a bit of the process behind my work. I emphasized the time involved, and where the aesthetic comes from. I showed I’m not looking for mass appeal, but the story in my heart.

And I issued a small “challenge”: Maybe it’s not for you…or is it???

This is the power of discovering our “why”: Why we use this material. Why we make this work.

And why someone else’s negativity won’t stop us from moving forward with all our heart.

But the biggest gain was the people who came up to me after that person left, and congratulated me on my response!

They saw someone who hoped to get a rise out of me, sent on their way with courtesy, patience, and respect. They heard a response that answered some of their own questions, questions they may have hesitated to ask. (Because some artists can get pretty snarky about what they perceive as “stupid questions!)

It started a whole nother conversation about my work, where I could share how I came to be an artist, why I chose this cave, and why polymer is the perfect medium to tell my story.

So think about why you chose your particular medium. Think about why you choose to make what you make. Think about the questions that have stopped you in your tracks, making you wish you had a snappy response in return.

Then take out the “snappy” bits, and reframe it to your advantage.

Be careful about making a joke, because usually those jokes are at our customers’ expense! I myself have been the butt of such remarks, and even though they make me laugh, I’m also slightly ticked. (See that same “questions” series for ideas!)

And practice your response(s) until you don’t even have to think about it.

If you, too, have found a way to frame your response to detractors (it could be medium, subject matter, color palette, in a positive, respectful way that benefits you, share! Someone else is hoping you’ve found a beautiful way to not only deflect, but perhaps even engage, a difficult person.

Footnote: [1]  Bruce’s old website is long gone, but his excellent and informative CDs on selling and display for makers are still available! You can contact him by phone (802-989-1138) or email him at dunnbaker@aol.com  I assure you they are worth every penny!

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

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.

Patience, grasshopper!

The latest installment in moving my very densely packed mixed media art studio is a bit confusing.

I was about halfway through packing up the studio, when I realized there were so many packed boxes, I couldn’t even navigate my space. So I had to move several dozen boxes home for safe-keeping.

Then I thought, with the extra space I’ll have, I should also pack up some of the supplies I’ve stored in our garage. That added a few more dozen boxes.

There was no place in my garage for those, too. (Why does packed stuff take up more room than when it’s just “out”???)

So we found a half dozen pallets, set them up on the porch, and tarped the stack just before the next round of drenching rainstorms hit last weekend.

It looked like we could do the actual truck rental/moving the first weekend of February. Unless it rained….fingers crossed!)

Then my darlin’ hubby reminded me he had a three-day conference to attend that same weekend. And the weather report? Three days of rain. Three days. Of rain.

On that Wednesday, January 30, late afternoon, my landlord asked me when I thought I’d be totally out of my space. I explained it might be an extra week. (I had previously offered to pay for the extra week, if it came to that, and he agreed.)

That’s when he said, “What would it take for you to be out of this space by tomorrow?”

Uh…..

He then offered the use of a truck, and the aid of two of his own employees, if I could move the next day.

Of course I said yes.

The next 36 hours were a hot mess. I entered that stage of packing where you just grab stuff, throw it in a box, and tape it shut. By the next morning, I wasn’t even taping boxes shut.

The truck was huge. Jon says it was bigger than my studio! It had a sign on it about “Junk Removal”, which, in other circumstances, would have hurt my feelings.

The two guys were wonderful, and thorough. The only thing that broke in the process was one light bulb. They even loaded my box of packing supplies, and a bag of garbage.

The actual long-dreaded move took less than three hours. (Yes, I tipped them generously.)

And so here I am, in my wonderful new space, filled with empty shelving racks, my desk, my sewing table, many many many boxes, and said bag of garbage.

    

        Old Studio                                                                          New Studio (in progress!)

(Don’t cheer yet, we still have to move all those tarped boxes on the back porch!)

I should be cheering, though. I should be thrilled. The worst part is over, right?

Not so fast, cupcake.

The configuration of my new space is totally different. While my husband was gone, there was only me to move heavy furniture and such.

My biggest roadblock?

I can’t figure out where to put my desk.

I pushed it here and there, up against this wall, back out to another wall, placing it perpendicular to a wall. Finally, yesterday afternoon, I gave up and left it sitting in the middle of the room.

How did I get this far, and get so blocked, so quickly?? I felt like an idiot.

Here’s how I finally got through it:

I pretended I was talking to a good friend.

If a good friend had just gone through a major, last-minute move, with almost no help, from a noisy (ongoing construction, jack-hammers, regular hammers, buzz saws, etc.) and tightly-packed little studio, to a slightly larger studio, in the middle of the rainiest California winter we’ve ever seen, would I call them an idiot?

If a good friend had gone through a year like mine (loss of both parents, my daughter’s loss of her first child-in-the-works, making five trips across country to be present for all three, and a sixth trip already this year), would I criticize their lack of energy and brain-capacity?

If a good friend had done their best to meet all commitments, gallery openings and receptions, special orders, etc. and now could barely find the time and energy to even unpack their supplies, would I chide them on their work ethic?

If said friend collapsed (in between the oh-so-many-stacks of boxes) in the middle of their studio because they couldn’t figure out where their desk should go, would I make fun of them?

I think not.

So why was I being so harsh on myself?

We all do this. We all believe that everyone else is “doing it right”, and we aren’t. We all believe that we should be doing better, even when circumstances won’t allow it. We are all kinder to our friends, even strangers, than we are with ourselves.

One compassionate friend and blog follower left a comment for me about their moves (office and house.) They made note that it took them 12 weeks, in both situations, to find the perfect place for everything. (Thank you, Susan!)

Twelve weeks.  I’ve unconsciously allotted myself three days.

I may not find the perfect spot for my desk for awhile.

Heck, even if I do find the perfect spot for it, I’m gonna have to move stuff around again anyway! I realized I need a big rug in the new space. (It’s echo-ish, and the floors will be slippery if they get wet.) So of course I put myself in a tizzy searching thrift shops for one, thinking I had to have it in place before I set up.

But then I found a super-cheap room-size rug on eBay for under $100. It also ships for free! It’s attractive enough, subdued enough not to distract from my artwork, and certainly not “precious” enough to worry about spills and stains, too.)

So today, I finally went to the gym, for the first time in weeks. It was good to be back!

I got home to find another offer, from a good friend, to help move more stuff. I always hate to ask for help, but they insisted. “I always enjoy our talks, so I’m doing it for myself, too!” they said. I’m taking them up on that! (Thank you, Laurie!)

And here I sit, sharing my slowly-untangling thoughts with you today.

I hope, if you are also facing something overwhelming in your life, that you have good friends to help you through.

And even if you don’t, I hope you are as kind to yourself as I’ve learned to be, today.

What You and M. Night Shyamalan Have In Common

What You and M. Night Shyamalan Have In Common

(Hint: It’s what ALL artists have to ignore!)

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.

(Hint: It’s what ALL artists have to ignore!)

I’m so overwhelmed with packing up my studio, I look for any excuse to take a break.

I came across an article, an interview of M. Night Shyamalan by Sopan Deb of the New York Times, about Shyamalan’s newest movie, “Glass”. I did not realize he was only 29 when he made the extraordinary (literally!) movie “The Sixth Sense”. The reveal—that the main character was dead—was as startling as Agatha Christie’s novel, “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” in 1926. (Spoiler alert!! The narrator turns out to be the actual murderer, a twist that redefined the genre, and created quite an uproar at the time.)

For years, Shyamalan created movies ahead of his time. “Unbreakable”, about the origin of a superhero, without spandex, was made years before the massive onslaught of comic book hero movies. (It’s actually gained in popularity since.) He was typecast as the movie guy with a “twist”. He’s been criticized as always having a twist, or ironically, the twist not being “twisty” enough.

“Glass” is considered his “comeback movie”, and many critics are roaring about it being “less than”, in their eyes.

Two things:

First, we went to see it last weekend. We both loved it!

The approach is very different than current action-superhero movies. Not a lot of CGI, which makes it feel more grounded, more realistic. The camera action draws us in, making it feel like we are in the same room as the protagonists. The tension is maintained throughout the movie.

The ending was deeply moving, and the twist? Well, I love spoilers, but since most people won’t, I won’t provide them here.  Suffice to say, we are left knowing the pain and suffering of all its characters, and the flip side of the “villains”.

Once again, Shyamalan has created a complex, and deeply human film.

Second, what deeply resonated with me in the article was when the interviewer asked him about how the movie is framed makes the film seem like a “comeback” for him, making it seem like his work has been “less than” in the years between. “Was that frustrating for you?”

Here is what Shyamalan says, a response worthy of all creatives:

“No, the journey isn’t really about what others are saying about you. It just can’t be. You’re taking all of your power away from you. That’s not where your energy should be….”

Artists and all kinds of creative people get criticism all the time. Some is constructive, but much of it isn’t.

It’s our human nature to listen. We are hard-wired to want to belong, to be part of a community. Criticism can feel like we don’t belong.

It takes courage and perseverance to recognize the flip side of this innate trait:

Our desire–our NEED–to be seen as an individual.

When we recognize that our work may sometimes (or often!) be seen as “not enough”, or not worth the price, or some other “less than”, and keep making it anyway, because that is how we see ourselves in the world, it’s powerful.

Yes, we can all improve our work. Yes, we can all do better. We are all a “work in progress.” Sometimes negative feedback and setbacks take their toll, and sometimes it only spurs us on to greater heights.

But in the end, the only person we have to answer to, is ourselves. Only you can determine what, if anything, needs to change in your art.

Lots of things (recessions, war, living in a small town or an isolated area, places where there are few people who like our work, or few who like it but can’t afford it), it feels like the world doesn’t want our work.  Thanks to social media marketing, we can overcome location, in time. Recessions ease and pass. The day I learned everyone’s sales had slumped awhile back, was a lit-tul embarrassing. (It’s not always about me–doh!)

But that feeling can be hard to ignore.

In my fierce beginnings with my art, I knew that if only one in a thousand people liked my work, that meant there was still an audience of over 7,500,000 in the world.

And if only one person in a million were willing to actually buy it, that’s 7,500 customers in the world! Years ago, it might have been almost impossible to find them, but it’s a lot easier today. (And of course, there are more than one customer in a million….)

Now, almost 25 years later, I, too, often succumb to self-doubt and despair. And yet….

I still remember that day I met my husband at the door, telling him I realized, “I have to be an artist, or I’ll die. I don’t even care if I’m not a GOOD artist.  I just have to do it.” That was the day I released every emotional shackle I’d placed on myself.

I still need to remember that. Every. Single. Day.

That same weekend we went to see “Glass”, it grossed over $47,000,000 and was the top movie at the box office. (And I’m glad we were a tiny part of that validation!)

The last thing (OK, there were three things….!) is Shymalan’s answer to whether he’d ever direct a “Star Wars” film.

His answer: He believes it’s best to stick with what works for him. “There are filmmakers who don’t fit easily into a system, and probably I’m one of those.”

He could make a Star Wars movie that would gross even more, and establish his “comeback” forever.

But he will stick with what he does best, and what he loves: Making original movies, making thrillers. And he will be happy.

The next time someone disses your medium, your choice of subjects, your plein air work vs. your studio work, how much (or how little) time you take to do your work, whatever… remember these three things:

Different can be good.

The work of your heart is the work only you can bring into the world.

Respect your process.

 Be all you can be. Rejoice that you can be an artist in the world today, with few restrictions, except for the ones you take on yourself.

As the beloved poet Mary Oliver said in her beautiful poem “The Summer Day”;

Tell me, what is it you plan to do 

With your one wild and precious life?

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Your Next Studio

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.

It doesn’t get easier. The life lessons just keep coming, and that’s a good thing.

I hope!

Here we go again. I’m moving into a new studio later this month!

I got an offer on a new space last week. It’s the same space I was offered almost exactly a year ago, when events at my current studio nearly blew my sacred, happy space into smithereens.

Last year, it was so tempting. It’s a large old building in the middle of a field, a five-minute drive away. It’s one of two buildings next to each other, both full of artist studios, both managed by good people. The rent was affordable, it offered twice the space, and the co-managers really, really wanted me there. “We love your art!” they exclaimed. “We’ve always hoped you’d move out here!”

At the time, there was still hope for my old space. New management, new potential, in a once-shabby neighborhood that’s turning the corner, mostly due to a swanky new restaurant that opened a couple years ago.

Filled with hope that things would work out, I turned it down. I stayed in my still beautiful little space.

And here I am, a year later, one of only two artists left in the building, everyone else gone, one new biz moving in (eventually) and another biz space almost ready to rent out. The building is now managed by the owner. Major improvements are in the works. There’s already a beautiful new wood fence where jasmine used to bloom.

Trouble is, I already miss the jasmine.

The last 10 months have nearly driven me mad. The uncertainty, the noise (renovations and other noisy stuff), the lack of foot traffic because the coffee shop next door closed.  Mostly, though, the uncertainty. I’m pretty sure my rent was going to go up, too.

My wonderful little studio now feels like a cage.

I started looking for a new studio space, but everything was either too small, too expensive, too far away, or not easily accessible by the public. I kept hoping things would work out, but couldn’t keep the dread out of my heart.

Finally, I got the call last week that the exact same space in that big building was available again.

And this time, I leaped at it.

For one thing, I knew if I did have to move again later in 2019, these kind people may not reach out again. I was number one on their list of takers both times, and I’m not gonna blow that again!

Secondly, in addition to the advantages I mentioned at the beginning, there is a teaching space available in the building. My biggest hassle when I teach is gathering all the supplies and tools I need. I want to be prepared for every contingency, and in the end, I almost always leave something critical behind. Now this won’t be a problem, because my studio will be 30 seconds away!

Another artist already in the building assured me the building is well-managed, and safe to work in at night. Not the case at my former space, for the last year, anyway.

The additional space means I can move more framing supplies and display out of our cramped garage, which will free up much-needed home space.

But it’s still hard.

I will miss my “show window”, where people walking by could see my work any time, any day.

I will miss my view of public artist Bud Snow’s lovely mural just outside my door.

I’ll miss being able to run next door to grab a hot chocolate or coffee.

I will miss the “drop-in” factor, the people who just happened to come by, and became passionate supporters. In fact, people can’t just come into the new building—the entrance is locked. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just….different.

I will miss my husband being able to just walk down to my studio with the dogs, to take a quick walk around Julliard Park and look for minnows in the creek.

On the other hand, parking is free. (Street parking at my current studio is so tight, I paid to rent a space in a private lot.) There’s another open studio event I can now participate in annually, based on this new location. And did I mention classroom space?

The final realization is what nailed it for me.

Our art neighborhood is changing. It’s going a teensy bit upscale. Not big time—yet. But the writing is on the wall. A few buildings have changed hands, rents are going up, and that will be the kiss of death for many artists. Artists colonize “unsavory” spaces, because they are affordable. They also subtly change the neighborhoods for the better. Soon, the studios AREN’T so affordable anymore. And we move on.

So I believe I’m getting out while the going is good. Yes, I may regret it. But I’m guessing not.

As I look back, I’ve always believed my current studio is the best one I’ll ever have. One of my early mentors, textile artist Deborah Kruger, listened to me fretting about what would happen if I lost my second studio, almost 20 years ago. I said, “What if I have to move?! This is the best studio I’ve ever had!” And she replied, “Until your next studio.”

My next studio….

Some of us are fortunate to have home studios. I did, for almost 20 years. There were pluses and minuses. It’s hard to ignore the dishes when you have to walk through the kitchen to get to your studio!

I’ve had studios outside the home. I thought they were wonderful! Looking back, I can now see they were not easily accessible to the public. That’s a deal-breaker for me now. One was not private, just a space inside a larger room. That’s a no-no for me today.

And if my life lessons hold true, I will grow to love my new space. I will remember my old one fondly, but with no regrets. It worked until it didn’t work, and then I moved on.

My buzzy brain is still at work, though. So those of you who have had several studios, please chime in! How did you deal with such a major change? What worked out well, and what didn’t? What would you do differently about choosing studio space, if you knew what you know now?

Gotta go….several weeks of packing ahead. Wish me luck, and lots of wine!

 

LEARNING TO FLY Part 4b: Trust and Verify

January 12, 2019

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.

LEARNING TO FLY Part 4b: Trust and Verify

Instruments can be faulty, so have a back-up and verification process!

In last week’s article Learning to Fly: Trust Your Instruments! we talked about how trusting our senses over our instruments can prove disastrous. Today, I’ll share why it’s important to make sure our instruments are accurate!

My pilot friend clarified his point about instruments vs. our senses: “Every instrument has a function. And every instrument has a back-up instrument.

There is an instrument that creates an “artificial horizon”, that accurately reflects where the real horizon, is so we don’t have to rely on our unreliable senses—for example if fog, smoke, clouds, or snow obscures our view. There are instruments that measure our climbing and our descent accurately, so we don’t misjudge the runway below. There are instruments that show the actual angle of our turns. And a compass for confirming our true direction. The famous “Bermuda Triangle” airplane disaster, Flight 9, when five Navy bombers were lost at sea, probably arose from a squadron leader not trusting his own compass over his eyes. (He literally misidentified which set of Keys they were flying over.)

So if your gut, your instincts, tell you not to trust your instruments (NOT your senses, which can easily be fooled), you should always check your back-up instruments. Some instruments even have a third set of back-ups!

And if the back-up instruments verify something is wrong, turn off the one that’s wonky.

Hence, trust and verify.

So how do we trust and verify in the art world? Let’s start with marketing and advertising.

Years ago, a quote that made the rounds of the art/fine craft world was, “I know only have of my advertising actually works. Trouble is, I don’t know WHICH half!!”

So true. Back in the day, where every single aspect of advertising and marketing costs big bucks, it was still really hard to assess WHO actually saw your message, and WHO actually responded positively to it.

So we just paid for ads where everyone else did, and hoped for the best. We bought mailing lists to target our intended audience, refined by zip code, income level, etc.) We spent money on postcards and postage, and kept our fingers crossed.

Today is different. We can do so much of our own marketing and advertising online, and pay far fewer fees for it, too. We can use “free” online tools (Google analytics, the stats on Etsy, the email analytics that come with FASO’s email newsletter app, etc.) Email analytics can even tell us who actually opened our emails.

But the best way to really know how our customers find us is to ask them.

It’s a hassle, and if not done carefully, our query can come across as annoying to our studio visitors. But at least it’s not as invasive as asking them their income level! And their response is golden.

At my last open studio event, participants were asked to check in with our visitors, and ask a series of questions. (I suggested that, especially in areas where multiple artists were, we not ALL ask them ALL the questions. That would be annoying!)

During a wrap-up meeting, the sponsoring organization’s marketing committee gave a report on all the marketing venues they’d used, and those used by individual artists.

Despite ads in local and regional newspapers, magazines, guides, radio spots, and signage, it turned out single biggest source was….the tour’s buyers guide! It’s essentially a catalog that featured images and information on each participating artist.

And the catalog didn’t rate highest by just  a few percentage points. It rocked

In fact, most of the participation fees collected go toward the catalog production. Ironically, there are many potential participants who choose NOT to do this event, precisely because they believe it’s too expensive. (Almost $500.) I like to point out to these folks that this is about the cost of a quarter-page ad in any other print medium, whether it runs for a day, a week, or a month (as in a monthly magazine.)

The tour catalog? They stick around for at least a year, until the next one comes out. When my hubby and I made a trip out here in 2012, before we even knew we would end up moving here, I picked up one of those catalogs. It blew me away.

I still have it, and newer editions. I still refer to them from time to time. I still hand out extras to studio visitors, too. (Although the tour information has a past-due date, most of the artist information sticks. In fact, I’m encouraging the organization indicate which artists are open year-round to the public, by chance or by appointment.)

So even though that event may seem expensive, a look at the numbers will verify that it more than pays for itself in the end. It brings hundreds of visitors or more, over two weekends. Divide that $475 by twelve months and you get a ridiculously affordable marketing strategy.

And, of course, if we’re smart about signing visitors up for our email newsletter, for our own events and workshops, we benefit for the years ahead, too.

What about galleries? That’s an easy one, too. It’s simple to identify a certain gallery as “the gallery” we’d like to get into. Hearing about another artist’s success there, or knowing the reputations of its artists, it’s easy to assume it will be a great gallery for us, too.

But do a little digging. Sometimes, only a few artists are doing well. The others are window-dressing. In a co-op gallery, some members are great at selling, but others, perhaps, not so much. Perhaps they focus on their “winner artists” over you, and your work goes into the dark corner in the back.

Or their not really doing as good a job at marketing your work as you would. I know one gallery that looks great. Every artist that visits wants in.

But the money they take on commissions goes right into the owner’s pocket. Not into marketing or advertising for the gallery itself, or doing the other things that would get your work into the public eye. Your work is just a cash cow to them. You wanna buy an ad, they say? Pay for it yourself!

Now, most galleries are more professional than that, and they do take on the work of marketing for all their artists. But understand that person who cares the most about selling your work is Y*O*U.  Don’t assume you can sign on with a gallery and kick back. Remember, it’s a partnership.

Sometimes, we stay with a prestigious gallery even when it doesn’t really work for us anymore. Or the sales aren’t really better than those at smaller, less well-known galleries. There are all kinds of reasons for that, too. Check your inventory and sales record. If you have twice the inventory or more at one place, but your work sells better at that more modest place, consider providing the smaller place with more inventory.

Of course, there is a prestige factor in being part of a prestigious gallery—if you can afford having inventory there that won’t necessarily be sold very quickly. I’m willing to do this, and maybe you are, too. I’d rather have my work on display at a nice gallery than sitting in my already overcrowded studio!

In fact, when I ask new visitors how they’ve heard of my work, often it’s because they saw it at a local gallery. So even if our sales numbers aren’t spectacular at that gallery, if it’s bringing new collectors to see you in person, that’s worth it.

Last, what do your instruments tell you about your work?

I have several lines of jewelry besides my artifact work. Some I love very much, but they aren’t nearly as popular. They are very different from my artifact series, but they are also unusual, and they are fun to make. But the cold hard truth is, they don’t sell well. Should I keep making them?

My numbers say no. My senses? There’s nothing wrong with them. What am I doing wrong? Why should I even bother making them??

My gut? They’re fun to make, and unique. But I have a very small space. So these items may compete visually with the rest of my work. Find the right venue, and maybe they will work better. Respect the items enough to raise my prices, and see what happens.

So I did, this season. They are now carried by a local gallery that carries a wide variety of items, not just fine art and fine craft. Plus, the folks who work there, love them. They featured them this holiday season, focusing on their gift-giving potential.

And guess what? The instrument—my consignment check—proved it!

Last, sometimes we use our biggest “instrument”—sales—to prove to ourselves whether we are successful or not. Yes, sales figures are an excellent instrument. But it’s not the only one.

Sometimes poor sales are not a reflection of the validity of our work, it’s something else. When my sales dip during said open studio event, I was sure I was “doing it wrong”. Guess what again? Everybody experienced a dip that year in attendance, which also correlated to sales. Oh, there were a few people who did great. But overall, everyone was sure it was “just them”, and it wasn’t. It could have been any number of random factors. Again, the wrap-up meeting revealed an unusual blip in one area that (art students required to visit participants’ studios as a class assignment) that bumped the numbers up for that location. Good to know!

Also, art is considered a luxury in today’s world. Why buy the work of an artist for $5,000 when you can get a lovely framed print at Target’s for under $100? Yes, there are collectors, and there are people who don’t care about original work. They are often not the same audience. But we can change that! We can offer a selection of smaller, affordable work for new collectors.

It’s our job, as artists, to “normalize” what art is, to make it accessible, and entice these folks on board.

How do I know this? Years ago, an experienced marketer in our small artist group show suggested we target a few dozen prominent people in town, and personally invite them to the opening. I invited our local newspaper editor, who I only knew as a fellow parent, waiting to pick up our kids after school. He came to our opening, and he was amazed! He said, “I never go to these, I thought they were only for collectors!” He didn’t realize that “ordinary people” can attend, meet the artists, and perhaps even purchase artwork.

But because most view art as a luxury, when the news gets rough, and things get hard, most people, collectors and casual visitors alike, hunker down. When the stock market falls, sales drop. If we invade Iraq, sales plummet.

Taking that personally makes us feel it’s us again, that we are not good enough. Checking in with other artists can help. It’s not a reflection on us. It’s a natural human instinct to “get safe”.

And yet….

Sometimes, after hard times, people actually shop more. They get tired of hunkering down, they get tired of being afraid. This is what happened months after the wildfires that hit my community last year. Everyone hunkered down.

But slowly, they realized that they needed art in their life to help create a “happy place”, even in their temporary/new home, and in their hearts.

Maybe they need a beautiful new painting to look at every day, or a lovely new glazed vase for flowers, or a little horse amulet to hold in their hand and caress.

And there we are, just waiting for them to realize that we have exactly what they need to feel better.

If we’ve taken the “false” readings of the attendance and sales “instruments” to decide we aren’t good artists, or that we’re not “successful artists”, then we’ve let those false instrument readings beat us down and toss us out. When actually, we–and the world-need our work more than ever.

So trust your instruments.

Know what you’re “measuring”.

But check and verify them—and your assumption–for the real truth, too.