LESSONS FROM THE FIRE: “Safe” Is Relative

This weekend’s post for Fine Art Views, a free art marketing newsletter from Fine Art Studios Online

We are never truly safe. And that’s OK. 

It’s been exactly one week since Jon woke me, telling me we might have to evacuate from the now-infamous Santa Rosa Fire.

More manpower and resources, and less wind, have helped to contain the fires. Last night, we finally left our home, together, for a drive to the coast, taking the dogs but leaving the cats (they do not enjoy car rides) for the first time since that horrifying day.

It was restorative, in so many ways: Watching the waves peacefully roll in (unusual for the Pacific Ocean!) Poking around for pretty pebbles. (I find foraging extremely soothing. Hence the thrift shopping skills…) Stopping for a beer at a local pub in Bodega on the way home. (The Casino is an unpretentious, funky little bar and grill that serves some of the best food in the county. Check them out, here! ) To our astonishment, our dinners were free. A gift to our community, the waitperson said. We were only asked to consider donating money to the fire victims aid fund, which we did with gratitude.

Then, just before we got home, we saw it: More flames atop the ridge east of town.

Although this new fire is somewhat managed, with the aforesaid manpower and resources now available, it was a sobering thought: This isn’t over. And for thousands of people, who are now homeless, or out of work, for businesses destroyed, this won’t be over for a long time. That’s when it hit us….

We are never truly “safe”. 

Home again, we toyed with the idea of where we might relocate to that’s perfectly safe. Someplace without wildfires? That would eliminate the entire west coast. Someplace with no earthquakes? Hmmmm…. Someplace with no hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, floods, ice storms, blizzards??

We soon realized the futility of focusing on being “safe”.

There is actually a house in our neighborhood in Keene, NH that was a strange anomaly. It was totally made with concrete, slightly reminiscent of Brutalist architecture. A couple had built it and lived there, the story was, who were extremely paranoid about fire. So they build a house that was completely fire-proof, and felt completely safe.

They died in the Cocoanut Grove Fire in Boston, in 1942.

This sobering story is not meant to inflate your fears and misgivings. The thing is, we all walk on thin ice, every single day.  We just don’t know it! Every day, we may get that phone call, that evacuation notice, we may hear the shrill wail of dozens of sirens, or see the very flames that will drive us from our shelter.

But we can’t live like that.

In the middle of all this, I sent an email to someone at the wrong address. Three other people saw it, as they passed it on and on to the next person, before it got to the recipient. I was pretty embarrassed, and wished I’d been more careful….

Until I saw these words in one person’s signature line:

“If only this, then music. If only now, forever takes wing.” * 

In the middle of this conflagration, in the middle of our anxious days, this destruction, a stupid mistake on my part let something heartbreakingly beautiful cross my path.

For me, I hear, “This moment is enough. This experience will stay with me forever, if I chose to see its beauty, and if I hold it in my heart. All we ever have is “now”. Be here for it!”

(You, of course, may hear something different. That’s poetry.)

I’m not to saying, “Don’t worry so much” because that’s not helpful, or even possible. When I wrote last week about finding a tiny space of peace in the midst of chaos, I didn’t mean to imply I wouldn’t be devastated if we actually had lost our home, or my studio. (I keep telling people, I am not the Buddha.)

I just realized that worrying about it was useless, draining, unproductive. It’s just my buzzy lizard brain screaming, “DO SOMETHING! FIX THIS! FIGURE IT OUT!!!”

Our brains are hard-wired to solve problems. We instinctively try to find perfect, permanent solutions to whatever we face in life. Our brain spins and buzzes, trying to do the impossible.

When we recognize that, perhaps we can make different choices. My choice? I went to my studio, and found some peace.

Art and creativity, in all its forms, restores us to our higher selves. 

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I felt restored to my higher self in my studio.

 

If we are granted even a few moments of peace, a sparkle of joy, a ray of hope, it can inspire quiet grace. If we breathe deep, let go of the notion we can control every aspect of our lives, we can be open to those precious moments, those tiny gifts that help us go on.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his book, The Gulag Archipelago, shown a light on people who refused to give up their humanity under horrible conditions, thus giving us all a ray of hope. Solzhenitsyn chose survival. Did that make him less-than? No! Because his choice gave him the chance to share these acts with us. Through his creative work, his voice helped us hear those other voices, which otherwise would have been lost.

Moments of courage and kindnesses, great and small, are found in the ashes of concentration camps. Stories of crucial forgiveness (not excusing, but letting go) allowed for the restoration of Rwanda. In the middle of a firestorm, someone gave a ride to others fleeing the fire. Someone opened their home to those who had lost theirs. In the aftermath, a local pub fed its guests, and even the waiters put their tips into the donation bucket.

Tiny, magnificent acts of grace, and compassion, and courage.

I don’t know if I would have the courage to enter a burning building, or the compassion to give up my bit of food to another, or to let go of anger when someone else deliberately harms me.

But I am grateful for those who do, for those who give me the knowledge that our human history is full of moments like these.

They give me hope. They make me want to be better.

Making my art, and sharing my words, is a tiny way for me to restore me to myself. And in the process, maybe I can give hope and encouragement to others.

The message is loud and clear: Our creative work, the work of our heart, matters. Our art heals ourselves, gets us to our best place in the world. In our ART, we are safe.

And when we share that with the world, it can save and heal others, too.

If you can, go to your studio/kitchen/garden/shop/dance floor today. If not today, then soon. Be fearless with your art. Then share it with the world. Give a little courage, and hope, and solace, today. We need it, desperately.

*Thanks to Cynthi Stefenoni, she graciously gave permission for me to share her words, part of a poem she’s written. (Yes, I’ve been twisting her arm to publish the entire work!)

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More horses, please. And bears!

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FIRE SEASON

UPDATE: I originally wrote this on Monday, October 9. The most damage to Santa Rosa took place earlier that morning. Five days later, the situation is beginning to look better. More people, more resources, and better weather have resulted in 45% containment of the Tubbs Fire. There are new fires further east and south, and we’re not out of the wood yet. But things are looking brighter!

You can read this article at today’s today’s Fine Art Views, or read it here:

by Luann Udell on 10/14/2017 5:01:35 AM
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.

All you need is a good emergency to put everything in perspective.

My husband woke me this morning with words I hope you never need to hear:

“Luann, you have to get up. There’s a major wildfire in Santa Rosa, and we may have to evacuate.” 

I’m strangely calm, even as I write this. (Six hours later and it looks like the fire, though it’s already burned thousands of homes and buildings, and 30,000 acres, may bypass our neighborhood. Maybe.)

 

On the east coast, a sky like this means a bad storm. On the west coast, it means a wildfire.

 It’s not because I’m brave, or don’t think it could happen to me. We’ve had our share of terrifying phone calls. Some come in the dark of night. Some come in the bright noonday sun, and yet feel just as horrifying. The one where a hospital calls to tell you there was a car crash… The one from a loved one, telling you they can’t go on….and you are a thousand miles away.

 Why is it that this fire does not rock my soul to its core?

Because evacuation means you’ll have time to get away. You can’t outrun a hurricane, you have no notice with an earthquake. But with luck, we’ll have 30 minutes to get out, and a place to go when we do.  (Afternote: OTOH, once an earthquake or hurrican is over, it’s over. A wildfire just goes on and on and on….!!)

We’re the lucky ones. No knock at the door in the night, with a police officer informing us we have three minutes. Three minutes. Three minutes to pack up your life, and GO. I know of at least one fellow artist on the open studio tour who has lost their home, and their studio. But they are also safe.

No, we’re watching the fire’s progress online, receiving tweets and Facebook posts with emergency updates. We have time to act.

 That means the only thing we’ll lose is the house we live in, my studio, my art, our possessions.

It means we ourselves will be okay, and so will all the critters in our care.

I scrambled awake, and dragged out our cat carriers. Packed up medications, passwords, snagging our “carry case” with important vital documents. I try to keep the car full of gas, so no worries there. I pack a bag with a change of clothes, pet food, a jacket. My wedding ring and one or two pieces of my handmade jewelry.

My current favorite horse, and my wedding ring.​

We’re ready to go. Now all we can do is wait.

There is a simplicity that settles in times like these. There is no way you can take much of anything, no matter how big your car is. It’s impossible to assign “value” to anything in sight. Most people say they mourn lost photographs. Others take precious family heirlooms. Not me. I know it can all be replaced.

I know from selling almost ¾ of our possessions, and leaving our beautiful house in New Hampshire to come west, that most of it will be forgotten, frighteningly quick. Only the photos of what we had bring sadness, and so I try not to look at them anymore.

In the end, all we have is love. The love for those people we cherish. The animal companions who give us unconditional love, and yet depend on us for their well-being and safety. These are the only “possessions” that cannot be replaced.

And so my preparations for the single biggest income-producing art event are shuffled aside, my desire to clean the house, or even my studio, set on a shelf. Oh, I may go down to my studio to WORK today. I can’t think of anything more calming, and satisfying, than to make the work of my heart.

I can’t help thinking how lucky we are.

If we were to lose “everything” (and of course, by now you know there are various definitions for that word), we would have had three beautiful, amazing, wondrous years here in California.

Last night, we took an evening drive through the very neighborhoods that are now burned right to the ground. We were looking for deer, something we simply enjoy, and find restful and restorative.

As we drove by the multi-million dollar homes, beautifully landscaped, up and down the steep, heavily-wooded hills, gazing first to the next valley beyond on the left, and the city lights of Santa Rosa on the right, my husband said, “I love riding my bike up here! So beautiful, and such an interesting ride…” As I gazed at the extremely narrow, winding roads, the steep driveways, the lack of sidewalks, I thought to myself, “But not much fun in an emergency, I bet.” So sadly true.

I’m thinking as artists, we carry our possessions, our wealth, inside us. We carry the eye that sees what so many don’t—the unexpected beauty that’s often overlooked. We carry the skill to capture it, and share it with the world.

We carry the desire to come back to our practice, again and again, no matter how “successful” we are. We keep on making the work of our heart. We never put down the brush, the clay, the carving tool, the sewing needle. We never stop wanting to make stuff.

Today, I’m not worried about where my next sale will come from. I’m not worried about how many people read my article today.

I’m not even worried about what I might lose today: The work of decades, the collections of a lifetime.

 Today I am glad to be alive, to be with someone I love, who loves me. With a table full of cats asking gently, “Are you SURE it’s not dinnertime yet??” and dogs who faithfully challenge every passing bicycle and pedestrian, sure they are “helping” to keep us safe.

And tomorrow?

Whatever tomorrow brings, I will be there to enjoy the gifts that come with it. And then share it, with you. Because that’s my job.

Now you’ll have to excuse me. One of the cats (Noddy!) just discovered the bag of cat food I’ve packed up, and she’s sure it’s all for her.

LESSONS FROM MY PETS: Nick the Problem Dog

by Luann Udell on 9/23/2017 4:34:27 AM
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.

Nick has taught me to get better at asking for what I want…

Sometimes it’s hard to know what we really want.

Oh, we may think we know! But do we really? When we say, “I want to be a successful artist!” just what do we mean by that?

Successful like Thomas Kinkade successful? Yes, he is one of the best-known artists of our time. But his work was kitsch, (and he knew it) and he died of an overdose of alcohol and Valium. Successful like Vincent Van Gogh successful? He never actually sold a painting (okay, well, maybe one), but now his work is worth millions, millions of people know who he is, and his work is considered stellar. Unfortunately, he’s also been dead for over a hundred years, so he never knew what success felt like.

 How about the Piss Christ artist? Everyone knows his work, too.

“Okay, so not that kind of successful. I just want to sell more work!”

How much more work? Enough to buy a house? Put food on the table? Or enough to break even with your expenses?

What’s in-between??

When I try to say, or write, exactly what I want for my art, it gets tricky. Am I being too vague? Too specific? What would really give me joy?

I’ve noticed it’s not just me who feels this way. I’ve asked other people. They have difficulty asking for what they want, let alone  knowing  what they want. And like me, they ask for the moon (“I want to make a jillion dollars!” or not much (“I just want to pay for my expenses!”)

I’m now thinking that in order to KNOW what we want, we have to get better at ASKING for it. Because this is what happened with my dog, Nick.

 So, a little backstory here. Nick was one of our rescue pups, puppies from the Turks and Caicoes we fostered and placed in wonderful homes over five years in New Hampshire. (Long story for another time. Or maybe a new series…?? Hmmmm.) I would meet tourists returning from vacations to these beautiful islands, at the airport, where they had brought back a puppy or two, courtesy of the TCSPCA. The pups were in excellent health, with all their vaccinations, and allowed in the cabin in a carry-on bag. There are too many dogs in the Caribbean isles with no homes, while New England, thanks to successful spay-and-neuter programs, have a dearth of puppies.

Nick wasn’t one of our rescues. He was a ‘failed adoption’ from another volunteer in Boston who did the same work. The new owner said her older dog ‘had issues’ with the pup, and so the volunteer asked if I could help. I said I would, and picked him up.

Nick was 5 months when he came to us, and we quickly realized there were other issues with HIM. Of all our fosters, Nick had ALL of the difficult growing pains most puppies have: Not housebroken, a chewer, a barfy pup, nudgy (constantly poking for attention) and a submissive pee-er. We weren’t able to place him for several months. Then I had surgery, and was unable to look for another home for him.

Nick, 5 months, trying very, very hard to be good. Succeeding only intermittently.

By the time I’d recovered, he’d been with us five months, and was officially ‘our dog’.

 Nick is seven years old now, and is still a little problematic. A year ago, I realized my husband and I were part of the problem. We were both constantly annoyed at his bad habits, and Jon still does not consider him ‘our’ dog. We didn’t choose him. We were left holding the bag.

 That’s not a good attitude with any parenting/foster situation, kids or critters. How does a dog fare in such an atmosphere?? They certainly know our hearts—they’ve been with us since the dawn of time: https://luannudell.wordpress.com/tag/potcake/

 I finally realized Nick knew he was not loved fully, and I vowed to change that. I looked for the good things about him, and opened my heart to him. He’s much better now!

The biggest change came with the new house we moved into last spring. We live on one floor now. It’s extremely easy to let the dogs in and out to the backyard.

Soon I realized NICK lets me know when he has to go outside. That’s what the wet nose nudging was about!

So whenever Nick started to nudge me, I would ask, “Do you want to go outside?” His entire body, from ears to tale, goes full attention mode. “Yes! Yes! I do ever so want to go outside!!”

 Within a few weeks of this, this paying attention to his signals, I noticed something amazing: Nick would ‘ask’ to go outside when our other, older dog, Tuck, wanted to go outside! (Tuck never asks, he just suffers in silence until we remember to let him out.) Nick is asking on behalf of TUCK!

 Nick continues to get better at asking. In the last few months, he’s evolved from a) asking to go outside; to b) asking if TUCK can go outside; to c) asking if he can have dinner early (sitting by the dog food container with wistful eyes; d) asking if he can lick the bacon grease from the frying pan (sitting by the stove with wistful glances at the pan); and now e) asking for an ear scratch.

 

Nick asking for bacon grease.

In fact, now when Nick nudges me, I stand up and say, “What do you want?” And then he shows me. Every. Single. Time.

What’s the difference? Nick has discovered he can ask—and get an answer. A response. A gasp of amazement—“You’re asking for Tuck’s sake?! Cool!” A chuckle—“Nope, no bacon grease for you.” And an ear scratch.

Within a few months, Nick has gotten very, very good at asking for what he wants. And in doing so, he’s reminded me that I can do the same.

When we are encouraged at asking for what we want, we get better at it. And we get better at knowing what we really want. 

We get better at knowing if we get it, too. 

I’m going to think deeply for the next few days: “What is it that I want?”

I’m going to write about it, too. Because for me, writing lets unexpected insights pop up out of nowhere. Let’s see what comes of that.

How do YOU figure out what YOU want? Let me know your process.

And if you’re vaguely unhappy, or disappointed, or even just temporarily at loose ends about your personal, professional, emotional, and spiritual goals right now, pretend there’s someone or something out there that cares, no matter what your spiritual beliefs or practices.

 Go big. Get small. Be precise. It doesn’t matter.

Just practice, and see what happens. It worked for Nick!

Er…Would you like me to scratch your ears?

HATERS GONNA HATE: “It’s Just Chalk!”

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.

 You don’t have to defend your choice of materials.

In fact, make it a selling point!

A quick return to my series on how to answer the innocent questions, the odd questions, even the hurtful questions our visitors ask.

 During one of the discussions on a post in this series, a reader related that someone had dismissed her choice of medium with a disparaging remark”

“It’s just chalk!”  Ow!

 I remember the very first show I did, selling pens I’d covered with patterned polymer clay. I sold them for $5. Someone picked one up, sneered, “It’s just a cheesy pen covered with some kind of cheap plastic!”, tossed it back onto the table and walked away. (I remember thinking, “Was that absolutely necessary??”)

Sometimes a remark like this comes from another artist. One of the oddest things I’ve found among artists (of all kinds) is the hierarchy assigned to various media.

For example, oil paint is often considered a more “professional” medium than acrylic paints. It’s traditional, it’s harder to master, and it takes time to dry. Once cured, it’s extremely durable. It’s versatile, perfect for mixing and layering, because of that longer drying time. In the hands of a master, it creates spectacular results. Oil paints have been around for centuries, and became the “artistic medium of choice” in the 15th century.  Art made with oils usually commands the highest prices in the art world.

More modern acrylic paint, created in the 1940’s, has a slightly less lofty reputation. It dries quickly, doesn’t have such a prestigious history. The very name “acrylic” suggests ‘plastic’, synthetic. Fake.

On the other hand, acrylics are valued more than watercolors, which are valued more than drawings, colored pencil, pastels. And don’t even open the door to photography, that’s not even art. It’s a craft! So are woodblock/linocut/etchings/etc., because you can make hundreds of copies. They aren’t considered “real” art forms.

When I entered the art world, my mind reeled trying to sort out the innuendos and rationale for these hierarchies. My own choice of materials are so non-traditional, my medium is greeted with some suspicion. I don’t get much respect as an artist, until people actually see my work.  Even then, people used to pick up a piece and ask what it’s made of. “It’s polymer clay!” I’d beam, and they’d quickly put it down again.

What’s going on here???

Some of this bias is historical, based in tradition. Centuries ago, drawings were considered simply a draft for the “real” art—a painting. Colors were made with Newer art materials may contain more synthetic colors. Some media are easier to master. And some, I suspect, is turf-building: “You don’t use the medium I use, so my work is automatically better than yours!”

But there are plenty of counter-arguments, too. The first artifacts made by humans were shell beads. Yes. BEADS. Early cave art involved drawing, with charcoal or other pigments, i.e., CHALK. Yes, later on, these pigments were mixed with saliva, or oil. But their first application was probably to decorate and color bodies and hair, a practice that still continues in some cultures today.

So what do we say when someone denigrates our medium of choice?

My first response is this:

It’s not WHAT the material is, it’s what you DO with it. 

The logic of this is irrefutable. 

When precious metal clay, a metal powder in a clay base that can be modeled, formed, and fired with a micro torch, first appeared on the market, I saw this push-back immediately. Some traditional metal workers—sculptors, silversmiths, jewelers, etc.—protested that this was a ridiculous, amateur-targeting material, that cheapened their reputations. Gone were the traditional skills—soldering, casting, chasing, etc. It couldn’t possibly be considered a “real” metalworking medium….could it??

Google PMC artist “Celie Fago” and you tell me. (Spoiler alert: Whatever medium Celie works in, she creates incredibly beautiful work.)

Last week, I showed an artist friend portraits of my kids by a friend. He thought they were oils. Yeah. Colored pencil artist Nicole Caulfield hears that all the time.  (See my favorites at http://www.nicolecaulfieldfineart.com/zen-series !)

Nicole Caulfield’s colored pencil work is often mistaken for oils

And my favorite story about art vs. craft came from a potter friend. “If I make a sculpture in clay, it’s considered ‘craft’ ”, she said. “If I send that model to a foundry to be cast in bronze, it’s ‘art’.”

And we have all seen atrociously bad art done with oils, and amazingly beautiful work done in….er, on….an Etch-a-Sketch.

“The Etch-a-Sketch work is by artist George Vlosich.”

A hundred hours and one unbroken line. That’s not easy.

And me? Fiber arts is often considered a craft, or a woman’s medium. Polymer clay is considered a kid’s play material. I had a lot of explaining to do when I first started displaying, exhibiting, and selling my work.

My second, even more powerful response:

I CHOSE this material, and here are the reasons why….

I use polymer because my hands want to SHAPE things, not carve them.

I love using it to create jewelry because even larger works are lightweight, and comfortable to wear.

I can make artifacts that look truly ancient. I have a story to tell, about the roots of our own humanity, inspired by cave art going back a hundred thousand years and more. I want that power and mystery to be an integral part of my work.

Also very important to me–No animals are harmed in the process.

I use polymer clay by CHOICE. It does exactly what I need it to do.

I could not have made this work 50 years ago. Thank heavens for modern materials!

When I began to share WHY I use the materials I use, it became a selling point.

Your homework today, should you choose to accept it, is to take a few minutes to think about WHY you work in your chosen medium. Share your thoughts, and feel free to ask for help, if you need it.

Most of all, embrace your choices. Never excuse or apologize again for your choice of materials, nor your techniques. Something spoke to you the first time you used a brush, or a palette knife, a pencil, or a fistful of clay. It agreed with your inner self, your preferences, your tendencies, the way you want to work, the way you want to create.

 Their question—“What are these made out of?”—becomes a powerful point of connection with your potential audience.

Share this with your visitors, and watch your connections grow!

HATERS GONNA HATE: Your Turn to Ask the Questions!

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.

 

To make a sale, you need a dialogue, not a monologue.

To date, this series has focused on how to respond to the (usually) innocent but sometimes awkward or even tricky questions people ask us when they are intrigued by our artwork.

I still have questions I want to cover. But I also sense that many of you are “getting it”. You now realize that these moments are not an inconvenience, but an opportunity for you. A chance to have a conversation about your work, and you….and your potential customer!

Yes, them! They know who WE are. Time to find out who THEY are. 

So we’ll set aside for now about how to answer the questions about your prices, your process, your website, your galleries.

You’ve gently shifted the questions about your materials into your reasons WHY you choose those materials (in ways that benefit your customers).

You’ve used the questions about your process to share WHY you work the way you do (and how that benefits them). You’ve answered the questions about your subject matter with the reasons WHY you feel drawn to this work, these subjects, these landscapes—and how that lifts YOU, and why it might lift them, too.

You’ve used their questions to direct their attention to another work they may not have noticed, or another piece that tells a similar story.

If they’ve asked for a discount or made an offer that’s not acceptable to you, you’ve used the “No, but if…” response to challenge them gently to commit.

You’ve answered the questions about where you get your ideas, with the story of how you came to be the artist you are today, and where you want to go with that in the future—and how that’s made you a better person in the world, and how that helps OTHERS be better people in the world.

Now there’s a lull in the conversation, but the person is not looking around for a way out, moving away to look at another piece, or saying, “Thank you, I’ll be back!”

There’s more to say, and it’s up to YOU to start this particular conversation.

By asking THEM questions!

Let’s focus on some simple guidelines for the questions YOU will ask.

Every question you ask will be a gentle, light way of finding out what this visitor finds fascinating about your work.

“So I’m curious—what brought you into my booth?” or “So what is the piece in my studio that first got your attention?”  “What spoke to you about it?”

From their answer, you can expand into what’s special about that particular work, what it is that supports and justifies their attraction to it: “I’m glad you like that one, it’s one of my favorites because…..” or “You’re right, it’s an unusual piece for me because….”

You’ve explained what you’ve learned about that “first enticing piece”—that it’s not the same for every visitor, that every person has been attracted to different works, for different reasons. There’s an unspoken, non-verbal, unconscious connection between your visitor and that particular piece. And it matters, on a deep level. Let’s find out!

Use open-ended questions. Keep away from questions that can be answered “yes” or “no”. 

Instead of saying, “Is this the kind of work you usually collect?”, ask “What kind of work do you usually collect?”

“Are you attracted to a piece for yourself, or are you shopping for a gift?”

Instead of, “Is the price too high?” ask, “What price range are you working with today?” If it’s higher, or lower, show them a similar piece, accordingly. If the price is right, keep moving! 

And when it’s obvious they really, really, REALLY love that one piece, and yet they’re still hesitating….

If you’ve done your homework, anticipated their questions, replied in good faith, in an authentic way that’s kept the conversation going…

If you’ve asked YOUR questions…if you’ve determined what it is in your work that’s calling to them…

If, in spite of the connection you’ve made, and the trust you’ve established…

They are still hesitating…..take a moment.

NOW You can quietly, gently, ask:

“What’s holding you back?” 

Listen carefully to what they say.

These will be what are known in sales as “objections”. It may be one thing, or several. They may be major concerns, or simple. They may be insurmountable, or easily fixed.

It’s good for us artists to anticipate what these concerns are. Some we may have heard before, and many of us will assume it’s the price. Often, it’s not about the price, though, and “assuming” they can’t afford it can be off-putting for the client. This is why I prefer to simply ask, rather than assume, or guess.

I’ve been astonished by some of the responses I’ve received.

And most—if not all of them–are easily addressed.

Next week, I’ll share some of the objections I’ve received, and how I’ve handled them.

Take some time to make a note on the “objections” you’ve heard (“I love this one, but I hate the frame!” “It’s a little more than I usually spend.” If you don’t see your customers’ usual objections in the list, let me know.

I also know some of you have come up with some wonderful solutions, yourself, to meet these obstacles. Be sure to share them!

Be prepared to respond in a way that moves the conversation forward. (Hint: “Sorry, can’t help you, gotta go” is not a way to do that.)

And remember, even if we can’t find a way around the issue NOW….and they leave without purchasing the work…..

They’ve asked. You’ve engaged. You’ve asked, and they’ve responded.

They know who you are, and they’re intrigued to the point of allllllmost buying something.

Give them your card. Now is the time to refer them to your website. Get their address (email, snail mail), and stay in touch.

Because someday, they really, really will BE BACK!

 

HATERS GONNA HATE: You’re Not My Friend

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.

Rude, perfect strangers are one thing. What do you do when a FRIEND is rude??

So far in this series, we’ve focused on perfect strangers who sometimes say the oddest things about our work. Before I continue, let me say it again (and again, and again) that most of the time, people don’t realize they’ve said something that triggers us. They simply want to connect, even if it’s a very broad “me, too!” These are the people we need to give the benefit of the doubt, and respond with our “higher power”.

But sometimes the remarks verge on being downright rude, or tasteless. There’s the customer who makes constant sardonic remarks about your work. It’s “supposed” to be entertaining patter, all in fun–but it sure doesn’t feel that way.

And sometimes, it’s not a perfect stranger.

Sometimes it’s a friend who gets a little mean. Or another artist. Or even a family member. How do we handle them?

I’ve heard this referred to as “talking smack”–an exchange of put-downs and insults between friends. It’s all in good fun, right? Otherwise hurtful remarks are disguised as ‘jokes’: “Oh, I’m just kidding!”

I say there is a time and a place for such practice–maybe in a bar over a few beers discussing your favorite respective baseball teams. (“How about them Red Sox?!”)

But never in our place of business. Never in our studio, at a show, in our booth. Never where we are trying to earn a living. NEVER in front of our customers.

I had a “friend” who did this at a show. (Spoiler alert: This was my first real insight that this person was not really my friend.) As they looked at each piece, they had a crass, or even crude remark to offer. They had done this before, and I’d always laughed it off. “Going along” to “get along”. (Another spoiler alert: Does. Not. Work.)

This was a prestigious, juried show I’d spent well over a few thousand dollars to be in. I was on my game, and on my feet, 8 hours a day, for a week.

That day, I simply wasn’t in the mood to tolerate this anymore.

I called him out on their behavior on the spot. I was gentle, respectful, but firm.

I said, “You know, I love to goof around and say silly things. But not about my art. And not when I’m at a show. I’m as serious about what I do here as you are about (insert their profession here.) I hope you understand.” (Big smile.)

I said it quietly, without any rancor. I did not shuffle my feet or hem nor haw. I did not apologize.

I meant every word, and they knew it.

It worked. They were embarrassed. They mumbled a vague apology, made some token effort to look at my work “seriously”, and left soon after.

Years later, we realized we’d overlooked a lot of crap from this person, because of their charm and wit. It took a long time to see what was really going on. Better late than never!

In this case, they were envious of the authenticity, and the integrity, of the work I was making. The “jokes” were a way to diminish me in a socially acceptable way. “Hey, I’m just kidding! You’re pretty sensitive, aren’t you?”

I used to apologize for being sensitive. Not anymore. YES, I’m sensitive! I’m a friggin’ artist! My heart is open to the world around me, highly-tuned to nuance in design, color, story. It’s who I am, and I am never going to apologize for that again.

And neither should you.

The person in our life who acts this way, whether a friend, or a family member, is acting this way because something in us is affecting them. Intimidating them. Scaring them. We have something they don’t have, or haven’t had the courage to reach for.

We are committed. We are courageous. And our work is precious to us.

We constantly tune our technique because we are committed to doing our best work. We put it out into the world—posting it on social media, enter it into juried shows, approach galleries to represent us, etc.—because we have found the courage to do what needs to be done. We practice how to talk to people about our work because this is the work of our heart. Like a child or a puppy, it needs our love, our best intentions, our best efforts, to thrive in the world.

As life coach Danielle LaPorte puts it so succinctly, “Open, gentle heart. Big effin’ fence.

Last, when we get to the point where we have to say this to someone we love and/or care about…

When we have to set our boundaries, gently but firmly…

If they ever do this to us again….

There is the final blessing, the biggest gift of all, this beautiful, powerful insight from poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou: 

If it happens again….they have shown you exactly who they are.

Believe them.

We may choose to still love them, to keep them in our circle. We just now know for sure who they are, what they do, even if we never understand why. That is their journey, not ours.

We just know to consider the source, to protect ourselves, and deflect the negative.

And we need, above all, to keep on making our art.

HATERS GONNA HATE: How Long Did It Take You To Make That?

(My column appears at the Fine Art Views art-marketing newsletter.

Hint: This is a question you DON’T have to answer!

 We continue our series on how to respond to difficult questions and comments from our visitors and potential collectors.

 Today’s queasy question (ah! Alliteration!) is, “How long did it take you to make that?”

Let me tell you what NOT to say: “Two hours!”

True story. In a video created for a new open studio tour, the videographer asked this question of an artist who was finishing a large painting in their studio. A VERY large painting, in the neighborhood of 10×8 FEET. As they finished up with freely broad paint strokes, they glibly said, “Oh, about two hours.”

The work was priced at over $5,000. You do the math.

And frankly, most of us hate this question because of just that—we assume the asker wants to find out how much we make an hour. Or even worse, whether the work is worth the hefty price we’re asking for it.

Another true story: Many, many, many artists, when asked this simple question, respond with something along the lines of, “It took me 30 years to learn how to do this!”

So between excruciating naivete’, and exquisite irony, how do we respond?

First, let’s take a step away from our first assumption—that someone wants to know how much we make an hour, and whether the piece is worth that.

Bruce Baker turned the question back onto the asker. With lightness and sincerity, he said, “So many people ask me that question! Why do you want to know?”

And here was the heartbreaking response he got: “All my life I’ve dreamed of being an artist. I’ve always wanted to make something creative like this, and I just wondered how much time it takes….”

So what we might have interpreted as a challenging question (“Is your work really worth what I’d have to pay for it??”) turns out to be the wistful yearning of someone who deeply admires what we’re doing, and wishes they had the skill, the commitment, the chops, to BE LIKE YOU.

If we respond with sarcasm, frustration, anger, pointed humor, we may actually crush the dreams of someone who is so inspired by our work, they’ve actually reached out to connect with us.

And in return, we smacked them down in our defensiveness.

You can also now see the smack of the remark, “It’s taken me 30 years to make this!”

Of course, that may not be the real reason behind EVERYONE’S inquiry. But it’s a good place to start on how to respond!

Here’s what’s worked for me:

First, I say, “That’s a really good question!”

(No matter how many times WE’VE heard it, it IS a good question. It’s new to the person asking it. And this small courtesy sets a lovely path for us to proceed down, with them eagerly joining us on our way.)

In my case, I explain the many, many, many steps it takes for me to actually make the layered block of polymer that is the foundation of the faux ivory technique—over 30 steps in all.

I start with asking, “I always ask people if they are familiar with puff pastry or samurai sword making, and usually everybody says “yes!” to one or the other.” A tiny joke that usually offends no one, and appeals to most.)

The actual process is similar—a simple one that creates hundreds of very fine layers–but time-consuming. (Simple—but not EASY.)

At the end, I say, “And THEN I start to make my animal….” There is almost always a little gasp of amazement here… (From them, not me.)

Then I explain the shaping, the marking, the texturing, (all with special little tools) the baking, the sanding, the sanding, the sanding, the scrimshaw technique, the polishing.

Then there is the story behind the marks, the handprint made with stamp I created of my own handprint, and how it “didn’t look right” so I actually use a needle to prick the clay and fill in the handprint until it looks smudged, like a real handprint….all the dozens, hundreds of tiny details that add up to the artifact looking exactly right to me.

  

Yep, even my handprints have gotten better over the years. I don’t know why, but people gasp when I tell them that each tiny dot is a needle prick I made to get it to look just right. (My special talent: Needle pricking.)

Most people are fascinated by this story, right down to the beads I use to make an artifact into a piece of jewelry (gemstones, antique trade beads, my own handmade beads); the meaning of the markings; how my customers have added to the stories behind my work; encouraging people to touch and pick up the pieces, to feel them for themselves.

Notice I never actually say how long it takes me to make them?

Because that isn’t really what people are asking.

Yes, they are asking for validation for my prices, which aren’t cheap. But in the end, what they learn from my “answer” is…

I have a vision.

I have a story.

I have a process that is time-consuming, and has evolved over time.

I have integrity, and skill, and an exquisite eye for detail.

My work does have value, though it may only be in the eye of the beholder. But that is for THEM to ultimately decide, isn’t it?

The woman who said it took her two hours to paint that canvas mural? I would have said something along the lines of, how she came to create this kind of work. How she decided her subject matter. What her aesthetic was based on. (I actually loved her work, which may seem ‘simplistic’, but is actually playful, exuberant, and intriguing.) The challenges of creating very large work, including the huge canvas, the support structure for it, how she enlarges a design (I know from experience that “going bigger” is more than just “making it bigger”….) The actual painting might only be two hours. But the planning, the design, the execution, the finished presentation, might consume many hours, even days.

After all, she doesn’t make four in one day, does she?

So between two hours, and 30 years, how would YOU frame what it takes to create the work you do?

What are ways YOU can present the time involved in making YOUR work?

What are the things you pay exquisite attention to, that add value to what you do?

What is the story only YOU can tell, to connect your audience to the work you make?

Okay, dish! Share YOUR favorite responses to this question! Or suggest one, now that you have a different lens to view it through.

Remember: Courtesy. Kindness. Furthering your values and vision. No jibes or jokes.

Just the beauty of your authentic, steadfast, creative heart.

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