BIG MAGIC AND ME: What Elizabeth Gilbert and I Have in Common

In my last blog post, Maybe Languishing Isn’t So Bad? I shared how downtime/slow times may actually be a gift for me right now. I got many wonderful comments which will inspire some new posts. Yippee!

I was gonna get right on them. But then something happened that took priority.

Of course, I can’t find it now (!!!!) but someone mentioned Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic. (I highly recommend using Bookfinder.com to find the book at the price and in the condition you’re willing to pay for.)

Then an email newsletter featuring an interview with the author appeared in my inbox, with some quotes from the book. (If you prefer podcasts over a read, here’s an NPR radio interview with the author instead, to get a sense of what the book’s about.) Signs from the universe! I ordered a copy, and boy, am I glad I did.

First, Gilbert and I are on the same page about creativity. Her definition is wide and deep (like mine), she encourages us to make room for it somewhere in our life, whether we can earn a living at it (like I do), and whether or not we’re good at it (my creation story!) My copy of BIG MAGIC already has dozens of bookmarks with lots of exclamation points. I’m only four chapters in, and I have pages of notes.

Second, she has some unusual thoughts about where/why/how ideas find us, and her story about that is amazing. (For a short version, try this review: Ann Pratchett and Elizabeth Gilbert’s unknown collaboration. But trust me, the detailed version is jaw-dropping when it comes to its synchronicity!)

Third, we also agree that when it comes to the most important thing about our creative work, whatever it is, however it manifests itself: It’s not about having an audience, it’s atbout having a voice.

The weirdest insight? This one:

To put the story in perspective, consider this fact: The earliest evidence of recognizable human art is 40,000 years old. The earliest evidence of human agriculture, by contrast, is only 10,000 years old. Which means that somewhere in our collective evolutionary story, we decided it was way more important to make attractive, superfluous items than it was to learn how to regularly feed ourselves.

–Elizabeth Gilbert

And if we consider the fact that the world’s oldest-known human-made artifact (a shell drilled so it could be worn as a bead) is estimated at 100,000 years old, well, we have a lot of history/prehistory riding on human creativity.

And that ancient cave art, and even that shell bead, what do they signify?

A deeply-rooted desire to be part of a tribe, a community. AND to be seen as an individual in that community.

I’ll keep this one short today (NO CHEERING FROM THE BLEACHERS) because I want to address many of the other insights I got from the comments.

Yes, it’s a little bit woo-woo, and usually, I’m not into that. But I also have to admit, the synchronicity of my creative life, the little miracles that cross my path, have allowed me to at least say, “There’s a lot we just don’t know about our creative selves, and I’m okay with whatever encourages me to stay with it.” Because that’s what Gilbert does: Shares her insights, experiences, and observations that encourage us all to keep making the work that heals us.

Short story:

All humans are creatives, if we simply expand our definition and expectations of ‘creativity’.

Don’t measure it. Don’t question it. Don’t demean it. Don’t judge it.

Embrace it. Respect it. Honor it. Make room for it. Feed it.

Now git to your sacred creative space today, whether it’s a studio, a closet, a garden, a hospital, an office, or your computer.

And do/make/create/heal/edit/curate/fix/restore/grow/nourish/teach something.

Coming soon: The more practical insights into all the questions y’all asked last week!

I hope this helps you find your balance again today. If you’ve already found that place, share it in the comments. Someone else may find your experience enlightening!

If you found this helpful, and know someone else who might find it useful, share it!

And if someone shared this with you, and you found it useful, you can either follow my blog (upper right corner), or sign up for my email newsletter (at the top of my website home page) for more random (but free!) advice.

LANGUISHING: Finding Our Way in the Dark

Fortunately, my little critter artifacts usually get along very well together.

 

(6 minute read)

It’s not just you. We’re all feeling little (or a lot) out of it these days. I came across the new diagnosis for this a few days ago, as I wrote about my own lost-at-sea feelings here.

This New York Times article explains this “middle child” of emotional health, between depression and joy, as “languishing”. (I was relieved to read this is a ‘thing’, and I hope it helps you, too.)

The problem is, it always does feel like it’s just us. Social media can help us stay connected even during pandemics and shut-downs. But it can also portray “everyone else” as having their sh** together, when we don’t.

I’ve shared my own experience getting through this in my last few blog posts. And I admit, after writing about them, I did feel better. For awhile.

Tiny steps forward in the studio, ala Garfield’s 10 days of 10% effort, which equals 100%.

One day, or ten days…It’s ALL good!

I committed to making one….ONE….new artifact a day. And shared it on Instagram/Facebook.

Realizing deadlines can inspire action, but reading about deadlines doesn’t.

Realizing some problems have very simple answers.

Realizing small acts of kindness and appreciation, which led to others engaging this way, helped, too.

Yet every day, I still go to bed exhausted, and wake up just as if I haven’t slept at all. My dreams are about trying to solve insurmountable problems, striving to achieve one step forward, without success.

What’s up with that?? How do I get back to my happy place? And who even cares if I do???

Welp, turns out there are even more ways to feel better than I thought!

First, while reading similar articles on emotional health, I realized one of my standard practices is considered the easiest, and the best: A gratitude list. Sometimes I’m just not feelin’ it. But when I make myself take ten minutes to list ten things I’m grateful for, no matter how hard it seems, it doesn’t take long to recognize the things that are actually going well for me: Having a loving, supporting partner. Having a studio to go to. Having a home. Access to physical therapy for pain and discomfort. I could go on….

Simply recognizing what’s good in our life doesn’t “fix” the bad. But it can shine a little light at our feet so we can take one tiny step forward, in the dark. (Now I can’t find this quote by Ann Lamott from her book, BIRD BY BIRD, but here are some others that are just as great!)

Second, my second favorite advice columnist (after Captain Awkward), Carolyn Hax , responded to a letter writer who said they can’t tell if their relationship with their partner is still based on love, or if it’s become merely “transactional”. We tend to think it’s one or the other right? Either things are great, or things are “meh”. Hax said that hitting such points can happen. But in the end, we can simply decide to choose love.

Choose love.

Yes, our ancient lizard brain tends to see the world in black-or-white, good-or-bad, happy-or-sad, etc. Human nature. Hax reminds me that we always have the power of our choices. We can be overwhelmed by everything that’s wrong with the world, and we can choose to be a force for good in it. We can seethe with anger and resentment, and we can choose not to act on it. We can have compassion for someone, and we can still set good boundaries.

For some reason, in spite of my exhaustion, my sad, hopeless thoughts, my “meh” outlook, I realized I can choose love. (I feel a little better already.)

Last, the Tokyo Olympic Games. My husband is an avid fan. Me, not so much. But I’ve learned a lot this year from this world event. So many firsts, so much empowerment, so many surprises. And so much controversy.

Simone Biles drew sympathy, compassion, and support for her own recognition of the “twisties” (aka, “the yips”), those moments when our brains disconnect, muscle memory fails, and our greatest efforts can turn into embarassing flops, or even horrifying injuries. (LINK? I was going to link to a horrible injury in a competition a few years ago, but it was TOO horrible. We don’t need that right now!) It took courage for her to take that stand of standing down when she knew it wouldn’t serve her, nor her team.

She also faced a vicious backlash of scorn and insults, being called lazy, cowardly, etc.

In an incredible article in the Washington Post recently, Kate Courtney, world champion mountain biker, shares her own experience with bombing at the Olympics this year. The self-doubt and ensuing criticism was devastating, it was humiliating, and it crushed her. She says,

At the Olympics, in particular, uncertainty and loss become visible and visceral. The challenge is clear, the emotions raw, and the outcome broadcast for the world to see. It takes courage for athletes to offer up true, heartfelt participation, knowing that very few will leave triumphant. And when the battle is over, those fallen competitors do not need to be kicked–they need to be carried. They need to be allowed to rest for just a moment and mend their broken hearts, so they can continue to bravely share their gifts with the world…. (Emphasis is mine.)

Her last paragraph speaks volumes to me today:

This is not the story I hoped to be writing about my Olympic Games. Like many others, I was searching for a sign that we could return to everything just as it was before the pandemic. But as I navigate my challenges around this experience, I am reminded that there are seasons of struggle and seasons of triumph–and that you don’t always get to choose when you jump from one to the next. Sometimes, you need help to keep going until the leaves change color. Exhaustion is not evidence of a lack of courage, but of its abundance. To deny the struggle is to deny the very thing that allows us to triumph in the end.

As I read more articles about successful artists in our area, the major sales others have made from our open studio tours, even scrolling through Instagram and Pinterest and seeing the jaw-droppingly beautiful work of others that my own work will never achieve…

I realize my own struggles are simply mine. They aren’t created by others, they can’t be solved by others. I can only sit with them, sit with uncertainty, until Clarity makes her presence known. (Words of wisdom from a wise woman friend, Sheri Gaynor.)

We all matter, in big ways and small, in great acts of courage and in tiny acts of kindness.

We all have the power of our choices, to hide our gifts or share them with the world, to choose love over resentment, resilience over despair, to embrace our broken selves because it shows us how truly human we all are. Perfection doesn’t make us a better human, but compassion–for ourselves, and for others–does.

To all the people who reached out to me over the last few weeks, who sent me their own acts of kindness, purchased my work, gave me words of love and encouragement, thank you from the bottom of my heart!

If you have your own work-arounds for getting back to your happy place., please share in the comments! What works for you might be just what works for someone else.

And if someone shared this with you, and you found it useful, you can either follow my blog (upper right corner), or sign up for my email newsletter (at the top of my website home page) for more random (but free!) advice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

COOLING DOWN: Deadlines, Procrastination, and Inspiration

 

A gift for a friend. And the first NEW fiber work I’ve done in what seems like forever!

As I wrote recently, the pandemic, losing a long-time writing gig, recent surgery, a fall in my studio have all contributed to the doldrums in my creative life.

On one hand, my healing progress after knee replacement surgery has been spectacular, especially considering I did almost NO physical exercise during the year-long shutdown. (It hurt to do anything, what can I say?)

On the other hand, I have to make up reasons to go to my studio now. Fortunately, I found some work-arounds, shared them in that same post (making small gifts for non-profit staff, friends in need, etc.), and learned that other people found my experience helpful, too. It actually helped ME to learn that other folks were struggling, and I was not alone in my funk.

But it still takes mental effort to get outta bed and get there. Thanks to that Garfield cartoon, I adjusted my goals down to spending even just a couple hours at the studio. Anything above and beyond was gravy.

And today, I finally read an article by Rachel Syme called “What Deadlines Do To Lifelines” in the July 5 issue of The New Yorker magazine. I’d overlooked it, but checked it out when a letter to the editor mentioned that deadlines increase productivity. (Which is why I was missing my 12-year writing gig for FineArtViews.com. No more deadlines!)

And yet….

Halfway through the article, Syme wrote:

Everywhere you look, people are either hitting deadlines or avoiding them by reading about how other people hit deadlines.”

I closed my tab.

Here’s why:

Years ago, in one of the very first artist support groups I created back in New Hampshire, one creative struggled to do the work they loved. Some of our group exercises helped them get clarity about the corrosive, toxic voice in their head that told them they weren’t good enough. Yippee! They could move on and get busy, right?

Um. Nope. Instead, they began doing all the exercises in an otherwise very useful book for creatives, The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron. Every meet-up, they shared their latest exercise proudly. Month after month after month.

By the time the group disbanded (people moving away, etc.) that person had not accomplished one thing with their creative talents.

It was a huge insight for me at the time, and one I constantly plug: Creative exercises are fun, they can be insightful and enlightening. Cameron’s book helped me stay grounded with my own creative work. Even today, in a gig economy when we feel pressured to monetize every bit of our creative effort, she is a godsend.

But they cannot replace the real work of our heart, our voice in the world.

And here I was, on a Saturday morning, with actually projects awaiting me in my studio, reading about how useful deadlines can be. Irony with a capital “I”.  (And not just because it’s the first word in that sentence.)

If you are struggling with reaching your goals today, consider this:

What works for you is whatever works for YOU.

Trying new habits and practices can help. But if they suck up all your creative juices, then they are not actually helping.

Deadlines work really really well for me. But they have their time and place in life, and are not always the best thing to get me motivated.*

And reading about the problem only goes so far. Sometimes, tiny steps, 10%, and a small reward for doing the right thing can carry us home, too.

***Bonus: If you love to read, and are not familiar with Bookfinder.com, this is your new, best tool to find that book you want, at the best price possible!

If you found this helpful, and know someone else who might find it useful, share it!

If you have your own work-arounds for procrastination, please share in the comments! What works for you might be just what works for someone else.

And if someone shared this with you, and you found it useful, you can either follow my blog (upper right corner), or sign up for my email newsletter (at the top of my website home page) for more random (but free!) advice.

RISING UP

Yep, that’s the short chair!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Every Problem Needs a Perfect Solution!

After I learned of a friend’s painful loss of a loved one recently, I decided to offer them a gift, a small wallhanging. I checked in on their preferences, gathered my materials, and got to work.

It’s been awhile since I’ve done any sewing/quilting in my studio, from at least before the pandemic shut-downs began. So it was frustrating to realize that the office chair I use at my sewing station is way too low to work efficiently.

Maybe I could swap out the chair for another taller one? Great idea, right? I carefully measured the heights of several swivel chairs, the ones in my studio, and a couple at home. Found one that would work, hauled it to the studio, and brought my former sewing station chair back home. It’s now my computer work-chair.

But when I sat in it today to work at my computer, I realized it was too short for that, too! Argh….

I tried to figure out how to raise the seat. The one I’d just taken to the studio is adjustable, but this one isn’t. (Why not??!) So maybe I just have to move this chair on, and find another one at a thrift shop (where I found all the others.)

Then I realized I have a sofa pillow that isn’t really comfy for sofa-sitting. It’s big, it’s thick, it’s made of rough, scratchy rug material. But it would be perfect for a chair! So I brought it in and tried it out.

It worked!

Ironically, a fellow artist/friend had just emailed me with some questions and concerns (which is why I needed to type an in-depth reply to them.)

But replying to that email is where this thought came from:

Sometimes the solution to a problem is sooooo much simpler than we think….

And sometimes the best solution is right in front of us.

I don’t have to make my chair higher (especially if I can’t!) I didn’t have to swap out chairs. (It was kinda tricky hauling them in and out of the studio, go down steps, load them into the car, etc., especially with my recently-replaced new knee.)

All I had to do was find the right pillow.

My friend was struggling with the need to update their website. Another was overwhelmed with mastering a new (to them) social media site.  A lovely neighbor was sharing how down and out they felt, and they couldn’t understand why.

After publishing that first blog post in a few months, sharing how hard it’s been for to get back into my life after surgery, so many people shared how they’re feeling the same way, with their own hardships and the (seemingly eternal) pandemic.  It’s obvious now that we are all affected by the chaos, the uncertainty, the dark side of the world we live in.

Here’s my advice (which you didn’t ask for, I know, but at least it’s free!):

Sometimes it’s just enough to know you’re not alone. (“We’re all on the same lake, in a different boat.”)

Sometimes a problem has a very simple solution. (But it might take awhile to realize that, and a little experimentation to get that insight!)

Sometimes, we don’t have to master something, especially right away. We just have to take a few steps forward with it.

Sometimes, especially if we already have an audience, it’s not necessary to totally master a social media platform, or to strive to grow our audience. (It can simply be a way to stay in touch with the people who appreaciate who we are, and what we do.)

We don’t have to be perfect. We just have to care about doing (a little) better.

Because, as I said in this little story video years ago, “We don’t have to be good enough. We are enough!”

And how ironic is it that I just noticed the grammatical error in its title! Proof again that the heart of it is more important than the details.

Not all problems have solutions, of course, let alone “easy” solutions. But it helps to truly understand the ones we need to work on, the ones that need our immediate attention, and the ones that can wait a little while.

I hope this helps you find your balance again today. If you’ve already found that place, share it in the comments. Someone else may find your experience enlightening!

If you found this helpful, and know someone else who might find it useful, share it!

And if someone shared this with you, and you found it useful, you can either follow my blog (upper right corner), or sign up for my email newsletter (at the top of my website home page) for more random (but free!) advice.

Problem-Solving for Creatives #5: Call in the Experts!

PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #5: Call in the Experts!

Making jewelry with my artifacts is a LOT easier than mounting them in a shrine!
Making jewelry with my artifacts is a LOT easier than mounting them in a shrine!

 

We don’t have to know everything. We just have to know who knows what we need.

(5 minute read)

This series is dedicated to opening our perception of what a “team” is, and how our team support us in our art journey. We’ve covered the skills that got us here, the beliefs that keep us going, and the people who value us, and our art. Even the ones who are toxic have value, when I realized the only person who can stop me from making my art is ME.

Today, let’s talk about the experts.

First, of course, there are the artists and teachers (and people who are both!) who shared their art-maiking skills and education with us.

Then there are the people who help us get the word out about our art. In FASO’s (Fine Art Studios Online) unique AMP (Art Marketing Playbook), we not only get to hear Dave Geada share his insights and expertise about online marketing (websites, Instagram, etc.), we get to hear from experts he’s brought in for their take on things, too. (You can enjoy a 30-day free trial of this program by signing up here. Trust me, it’s worth your time. I’d say it’s well-worth the money, but…it’s free!) For the record, I don’t share just because it’s a feature of FASO where my own website is hosted. I’m sharing it because, even though I’ve used social media for years, I learn something new every single time. (Ask me about my pages and pages of notes I’ve taken on every AMP zoom meeting I’ve attended!)

There are other experts available, online, too. Other views on art marketing, instructional videos for art-making, etc. It seems like I search the internet almost every day looking for the expertise of others to help me move forward with my work.

But what has helped me move forward in leaps and bounds have been friends and acquaintances who have unusual skills I need.

I’ve written before about my New Hampshire friend Gary Spykman, whose creative work is hard to put in a box. (Literally! Woodworker/furniture-maker only begins to cover it.) Gary helped me move forward on some big projects, and what he taught me is reflected in my latest shrine project.

And now here I am in Northern California, far from old friends and fellow New England artists, still working on that big project, still getting stuck regularly on my journey.

This next step is hot. Literally. I need to make my own museum mounts for displaying some of the artifacts in the stacked boxes I’ve put together. I took an online class about this, just before we moved to California. But it involved welding/brazing with much bigger torches than my mini-torches, and I never felt safe trying this on my own. I found a maker space here in Sonoma County with classes, but the pandemic shut that down. I tried to purchase mounts that might have worked, but they are expensive. I’ve tried other methods of display the artifacts, with not much luck.

But I think I’ve found my expert!

And in a beautiful twist of fate, it came from me sharing MY expertise with THEM!

Our local art organization that hosts two open studio events a year is on a strict budget this year. We’re actually using older road signs from previous events, borrowing some from people who aren’t participating this year, and cleaning/restoring damaged signs.

One of the people in charge of the sign committee shared the difficulties of removing decals (arrows, studio numbers, etc.) during our steering committee meeting (Zoom!). Aha! I can help with that! I volunteered to bring my bottle of Undo and some other glue debonders to restore these signs. We met up in his outdoor workshop, fully masked and distanced, and tried them out. They worked! This reminded him of other, similar, chemicals he has on hand that removed every trace of Sharpies, too.

It wasn’t until later that I realized, this is a guy who’s been into welding and metalwork since forever. And he might be the perfect guy to help me figure out this mount-making issue.

And in another twist of fate, once I had some hope for learning how to make my own mounts, I gained more insights into other aspects and issues, like how to drill a hole inside a tiny box where a drill (even a small hand drill) won’t fit. I won’t bore you with the details on that, except that JB Weld glue will be involved. So even though that wouldn’t work for connecting the boxes, because of how I put them together, it has huge potential for artifact display. (No, I’m not gonna glue the artifacts!) So here’s another shout-out to Chris Fox, customer service rep at JB Weld.

Just like the glass artist I mentioned in last week’s article, whose partner can build a shipping crate for them, these experts are often right under our nose, in plain sight.

So what holds us back from asking for help?

For me, I’m afraid they’ll say no.

Yup, a grown woman afraid to ask for help. Yikes!

But for some reason, because I’d already done them a favor, it felt okay to ask for a favor in return. And he said yes!

I’m calling Rick Butler, metal sculptor, as soon as I finish this article.

Turns out that many, many people are happy to help others in their creative work. We may fear giving away our “trade secrets” (though very few of us are actually using processes that only belong to us.) We may fear of giving too much away, or having our work being copied in the process. (That copy fear again!)

And yet, if we open our eyes and look around, we may find the exact expert we need to move forward with the project dear to our hearts. Or at least gain a step forward on our journey.

Your shares and comments are encouraged! You can post in the comments (at Fine Art Views or at my blog) if someone has helped YOU move forward in your skills and projects. And also if YOU have helped others in theirs! What goes ‘round, comes ‘round. When it comes to creativity, that is so true.

And if this article helped you, you can read more of my articles, and the expertise of others, at Fine Art Views. Search for “Luann Udell” in the “Topics” drop-down menu, or your favorite FAV writer!

 

PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #3: Who’s On Your Team?

20201208_131746.jpg

My next step? More artifacts!

This article was published on Fine Art Views.

PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #3: Who’s On Your Team?

Don’t sell yourself short when facing new challenges!

 (5 minute read)

In last week’s Fine Art Views column, What’s the Hard Part?, I shared how trying to figure out a new project in advance has its disadvantages.  I talked about how simply starting with my best guesses helped me move forward steadily, one little step at a time.

I got inspiration from a blog post by Seth Godin, who posed this issue as a team project. But many creatives, especially artists of all kinds, don’t have a “team”. Yep, it can get lonely over here!

But even as I was thinking that, I realize we all DO have a team. It’s just not what we normally think of as a “team”.

We have skills. Creative work is just that: Creative. Making something that wasn’t in the world before we made it. It doesn’t come out of nowhere, of course. But it does come from US. Wherever we got our skills, whether or not we went to art school, or took workshops, or are self-taught, we didn’t show up in the world with those skills. We acquired them. Yes, we may be quick learners (or not), we may have innate talent (or not), but know this: Nobody is born knowing how to play the piano. We had to put ourselves out there and practice, practice, practice to get where we are today.

 We have an attitude. We found something that called to us, whether it’s painting on a canvas, writing a story, playing an instrument, etc. We may have been told we weren’t good enough, or that we couldn’t make a living at it, or a ton of other discouraging words. But we wanted it. And so we took up our creative work, pursued it with all our heart, and got those above-mentioned skills.

We make time for it. We can have tons of talent and oodles of practice. But if we don’t make time in our lives to actually do the work, well, it simply won’t be in the world. In fact, time is something that can give us our best excuse for NOT doing something that matters to us. (See “challenges” below.) In order for us to have a ‘body of work’, we had to make room for actually making it in our lives.

We chose our medium(s). This may seem like a no-brainer, but it isn’t. Some people choose their art medium because of the automatic respect they believe they’ll get from it (like oil paints over acrylic, for example.) That’s okay. But in fact, most of us choose our medium because of how it meshes with our own personal habits, quirks, and preferences. Each medium has its costs, drawbacks, and benefits, each forces us to interact differently with it. I quickly grew frustrated in my one acrylic painting class, because the paint dried too fast. I couldn’t play around with it, blend it, etc. I can’t even imagine working with watercolor! Knowing our work preferences and process helps us see our works-in-progress more clearly.

We know our materials. We know what substrates (canvas, paper, wood panels, for example) will work best with which media, and how to prepare them. We know which glue to use with what (and if we don’t, we know how to find out!) We’ve learned what color blending techniques to use, how to construct an effective color palette, what kind of clay to use in our potter, what glazes to use, how long to fire polymer clay, what our preferred method of book-binding is, etc. etc. etc.

We know our process. In my own box art path, I’ve learned that epoxy and silicon construction glues can be very useful in putting several boxes together. But they have their drawbacks, too. I used them until they didn’t work for me (e.g. in some cases, the glue bond is stronger than the old wood I’m attaching it too. Ask me how I know.) Then I had to try something else.

We have experience with solving problems. So many of us (ME!!) forget this. We’ve gotten used to success with what we’ve learned. We forget how hard it was when we started out. We forget how long it took us to master our craft. And yet (see note about playing the piano above) we got to where we are today because we persevered. Because…

We have experience with ‘challenge’. I see them on social media every day! Painting of the day. 100 Days projects. They’ve been popular work-inspirations for years, but are even more popular now. Joining them takes commitment, and a little courage, too. And it helps that we make time for them, because we’ve gotten good at that, too. (See “time” above.) And I’m amazed at the already-talented people who then share how much they learned through these challenges. They were forced out of their comfort zone, and into new territory.

We have goals and dreams. We all had dreams as children. Some of us wanted to be a fireman, some of us wanted to play sports, or music, some of us wanted to be an artist. Not all of us followed our hearts, of course, and our goals and dreams can change along the way. But even people who “fall into” their calling, have to persevere to make it happen. In my article about graduates of The Juilliard School, we can see that we only lose our dreams when we walk away from them. And most people do that because they believe they aren’t good enough, or it’s not worth all of our effort. Those who persist, have to get over that hurdle, too. Because…

We know how to believe in ourselves, and we know the power of that. Oh, sure, I know I am not “the best” polymer clay artist in the world. Every day, I see people with ten times the talent I have. That can slow me down. But it will never stop me. I have a vision in my head, I have big dreams in my heart, I have projects that are begging to be in the world. Because they are my voice in the world.

And once I got back to my place of power, finding the key that helped me to just try, I made progress. Slowly, but surely, I used what knowledge I had until I found a better solution. And I kept that up until I got something satisfying, something that I knew was going to work. (Let me show you my enormous bracket-and-screws collection….!!)

So the next time you feel like you’ve hit a wall, like you’ve got a creative problem you just can’t figure out, think about what’s worked for you along the way.

 Social media marketing is a biggie and will be as long as our “new normal” is in place. Some of the most talented creatives I know are in a frantic limbo with Facebook, Instagram, newsletters, etc. They are overwhelmed, feel under-prepared, and are freaking out.

My advice for you today: You didn’t get to where you are today by chance, by accident, or through lack of skills.

You got to where you are by not giving up, by moving forward, one small step at a time.

 And because your ‘team’ has been with you, every step of the way.

Next week, I’ll share another powerful member of your team. Stay tuned! Until then, know that your comments are always welcome, often insightful, and sometimes inspirational, too! Shares, the same. Questions, I’ll do my best! You can find more of my articles at Fine Art Views, and/or visit/subscribe to them at my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #1: The Things That Hold Us Back

PROBLEM-SOLVING: The Things That Hold Us Back, Including Our Own Self-Doubt

When we get really good at making our art, it's easy to forget how hard it was to get there in the first place!
When we get really good at making our art, it’s easy to forget how hard it was to get there in the first place!

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.

PROBLEM-SOLVING: The Things That Hold Us Back, Including Our Own Self-Doubt

How Thomas Edison, Scarlett O’Hara, and Cake helped me through some hard places.

Years ago, the band Cake came out with an adorable video about their newest song, “Short Skirt/Long Jacket”.

In the video, people on the street are offered a chance to listen to a new song by an unnamed band (Cake) and asked for their opinions.

I love this tune! Every time I hear it, I want to get up and dance. It’s swingy, it’s lush, it’s pure-d fun.

In the video, about a third of the folks hate it, and tell us why. Another third like it, commenting on the parts that work, and don’t work, for them.

And the ones that absolutely love it? They don’t even talk.

They just dance.

They move to the music, oblivious to everyone else around them.

Why bring this up today?

Because I’m in the middle of a dream project I’ve carried in my heart for years.

It’s a new series of box shrines, made with antique, vintage, and distressed new wood boxes, painted, antiqued, screwed together in stacks, and mounted on wood bases. I will fill them with my own handmade artifacts. You can see them here on my Instagram account.

I’ve made them before, big ones. I had access to a friend’s woodworking studio, their tools, and their expertise.

This time, it’s just me.

Many, many things have held me back. Relying on antique and vintage boxes meant it was hard to have exactly the right stock for every configuration. I decided against using construction glue and epoxy this time around, because I found out the hard way that old wood can be more fragile than those glues. I still wasn’t sure how to mount the artifacts in the perfect way.

In short: I believed I couldn’t just start until I had everything figured out.

Which meant I didn’t start for more than seven years.

The pandemic changed everything. I had nowhere to go, no open studio events, no galleries open to selling work.

And also no excuses.

So I changed my attitude and my strategy.

I would start with what I had. If I could only put together a couple shrines, well, okay then.

And I decided I would just keep making and moving forward until I hit the next roadblock. And then I’d figure it out.

Guess what?? It’s working!

Every purchase that was a mistake? That was information on what would work better the next time.

I found sources for new wood boxes that I could distress and texture to look old, to fill in the gaps in my collection. A friend sent me a bunch of small handmade parts drawers.  I bought brackets and braces, experiment until I found the right ones.

Like Thomas Edison, I found hundreds of things that didn’t work.

And then I found exactly what did work.

One of my biggest hang-ups was finding shallower/flatter boxes to use as bases/foundations. They gave the shrines a more ‘finished’ look, but finding ones the right size and price was tricky. Until I finally found these affordable wood painting panels in a variety of sizes and shapes, that worked perfectly.

I agonized about how to make my own museum mounts for positioning and displaying the artifacts. But instead of waiting to find “the perfect one”, I bought one type. Instead of lamenting my inability to weld or braze, I thought of different ways I can make them myself. (And just as I’m writing this, I’m realizing I did a huge favor recently for another artist who is a life-long welder. Hmmmm……I think I know a favor I can ask of them!)

I worried about how many and what kind artifacts I need to make. But I’ve put that off for now because warmer summer months will be better for working with polymer clay. (My studio’s average winter temperature is 48 degrees.)

And the last barrier getting in my way? I wake up at 3:00 a.m., realizing my studio is now filled with soooo many shrines, there’s no room to even adequately display them all. And I’m worried no one will buy them.

My solution to that? I use what I call my “Scarlett O’Hara” approach: “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

I tell my lizard brain to go back to sleep. It’s not about the selling right now, it’s about the making.

I’m sharing my progress on social media. That helps me not only record my progress, I also get to see the response. Which has been favorable!

Most people seem fascinated. They can’t wait to see where I go with them. Some have been inspired to explore their own versions. Many people are interested in a class, which, now that I have sources for affordable new boxes, could be possible.

And today, I came across an old journal from 2015, with those insights about Cake’s new song, which in turn inspired this article.

There are people who will love these shrines. There will be people who won’t.

And some won’t have any words.

They’ll just dance.

·        Just for today, don’t worry about who will and won’t like your work.

·        Just for today, don’t worry about whether it will sell.

·        Just for today, start that project you’ve always dreamed of. Experiment. Trial-and-error. Tiny steps forward.

·        Just for today, share your progress and process with your audience on social media.

Just for today, make the music that is your art, that makes you want to dance.

Ironically, today I also found this quote on Cake’s website:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

—Martin Luther King Jr.

Your comments are always welcome, often insightful, and sometimes inspirational, too! Shares, the same. You can find more of my articles at Fine Art Views, and/or visit/subscribe to them at my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

MADE YOU LOOK: Why Our Fear of Being Copied Works Against Us On Every Level

If I'm famous 100 years from now, maybe my handprint will be my own forensic evidence of authenticity!
If I’m famous 100 years from now, maybe my handprint will be my own forensic evidence of authenticity!

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.

If this fear is keeping you from sharing your work on social media, it’s doing far more harm than the copying itself.

 (6 minute read)

For the last few weeks, I’ve hinted that it could be worth your while to watch Netflix’s documentary, “Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art”. Short story: An artist from a culture that views “copying” differently than we do, creates fakes that sell for millions. (They may not even have realized how their work was being used to create a scam.)

What captured my attention was this description: “Made you Look is an American crime documentary about the largest art fraud in American history set in the super rich, super obsessed, and super fast art world of New York (City).” Obsessed. Rich. Fast. Put a pin there.

I’m amazed at the timing! This came out right after an artist I’m mentoring asked me about using watermarks for their new website. (They were worried their work might be copied.)

It’s estimated that 50% of the major art in on the market today, sold to private collections and museums around the world, are fakes.

What does this have to do with the fear of our own work being copied?

First, is your work worth millions? No? Then nobody is going to get super-rich copying your work. Here’s a good story about that, one I originally heard while on a tour of the FBI building in Washington, D.C. as a kid. The guy made beautiful nickels. That cost him about 3.5 cents to make. Guess how much money he made off them? Yep, not much. (Though today, those same forged coins are worth a lot, because of the story.)

Second, do people buy your work mostly for its investment value? No? Then nobody is going to get rich selling copies of your work to super-wealthy people, who do.

This documentary had a lot of interesting takes, especially how easily people can be fooled when we unconsciously want to be fooled. A woman with no knowledge of fine art shows up to a fine art gallery, in a car with a trunkful of Rothko paintings? And as they are sold, she “finds” even more? Come on!

In earlier articles I’ve read about art forgeries, many art experts can feel at some deep level that the artwork didn’t exactly ‘resonate’. But this time, plenty of experts chimed in that these truly were authentic. (That’s how good the copies were.) It wasn’t until a company was contacted that did deep forensic work that revealed them as fake. (The company above that charged $19,000 for such an assessment.) So these works ‘felt’ authentic. Now that’s a great copy!

Another irony: Not a single living artist benefitted from these forgeries. Only the forgers, galleries, auction houses, and appraisers made money. 

But here’s what really struck me as I watched this documentary:

Collectors love, love, loved their Rothkos, Warhols, and Pollocks. They were delirious with joy at getting a chance to own one, because, they claim, they absolutely loved the artist’s work.

Until they found out they were fake.

 Then all that love disappeared in the wink of an eye. 

This speaks volumes to me.

In other words, these collectors loved the idea of owning an original Rothko, Pollack, etc. And they appreciated the value of their purchase. They weren’t “blowing money on” décor. They were investing in a purchase that would only increase in value over time.

Do they really love art? Maybe.

Or do they love being able to show off just how much money they have? (In defense of these collectors, there are indeed very sweet reasons why we value originals over copies.)

I’m an art collector, too! Albeit on a very different level.

  • I’ve purchased original artwork from artists I love, and whose work I love.
  • I’ve purchased prints from artists who don’t have the original any longer (sold!).
  • I’ve purchased prints from artists whose work I can’t afford.
  • I’ve purchased original artwork I fell in love with, at antique stores and thrift shops. Sometimes I can trace down the artist, but usually I can’t. (Illegible signature, no online history, etc.)
  • I purchased a wood santos figures at antique stores. After finding duplicates, I realized they were mass-produced copies. I still loved them, but when we moved, I sold off the ones I didn’t love that much. (Ha! My own bias for ‘originals’ shows! And my unconscious desire to believe these were originals.)
  • I’ve purchased really weird objects that people have made, at flea markets, yard sales, and thrift shops.
  • I’ve purchased reproduced artwork at T.J. Maxx and Home Goods. (In fairness, the reproduction rights were sold by the original artist, so they did gain from the sales.)

And I love them all.

The artwork I have moved on? Usually it involves an artist whose work I loved, but did not love the artist. I mean, they treated me rudely, or with disdain, or in other toxic ways. I eventually sold it, or gave it away, because every time I looked at it, it reminded me of that artist. Ugh!

Why do your collectors buy your work?

And what is the reason you hope they buy your work?

Here is what I hope:

I hope they find it beautiful.

I hope they find it lifts their hearts when they see it/wear it.

I hope they remember the wonderful conversations we had, before, during, and after their purchase.

I hope they feel encouraged to share their own creative work with the world.

We all want to be seen. We all want to believe we have a place in the world. We all have a creative place in our souls. We all want to be remembered when we’re gone.

People who copy actually want the same thing, though they are certainly going about it the wrong way. Most can’t adequately copy the skills we’ve acquired along the way.

And the other things they can’t copy well?

Our story. Who we are. Our face-to-face encounters with our audience in real life, through our galleries, and through our social media presence online. Those who have followed us for years, and leap to buy when they see “their” piece, the work we made that speaks to them.

Two lessons learned here:

  • Our art does not speak for itself. We speak for it.
  • Not sharing our art (out of fear of being copied) only harms us.
  • Okay, three lessons: Most of us are probably not in the same league as Rothko, Pollock, Van Gogh, and other “big market” art. (I’ll add “yet” there, just in case.) And we are also still alive. So we can share our work on social media with more confidence.

In closing, I found this spot-on quote in a Scram-lets puzzle, of all places:

“If it’s important to you, you will find a way.

If not, you’ll find an excuse.”

Don’t let fear get in your way!

Our work may be copied, one way or another. Trademarks and copyrights won’t stop them. Once we discover the copycats, there are ways to discourage them that don’t involve a lawsuit over a copyright violation, as some commenters shared. Most will stop on their own, when they realize they aren’t going to make a lot of money doing it, or when they move on to copy someone else’s work.

But the fear itself can be soul-crushing. Fear is a way for our lizard brain to keep us safe. But fear does not serve us, here.

Of course, in these times, social media is hands-down the best way to share our art.

But even when we get back to a somewhat-old normal, remember this:

Do you want to have your voice in the world? Share your work.

Your comments are always welcome, often insightful, and sometimes inspirational, too! Shares, the same. You can find more of my articles at Fine Art Views, and/or visit/subscribe to them through my blog.

DREAMERS AND MUSIC-MAKERS

My original shrines made a great display of my work! And now the dream continues….

Sometimes I surprise myself.

When I wrote “Art for Money, Money for Art”, I was solidly grounded in my story, my artwork. But the world sure wasn’t. Ever since I’d started my professional art career, it seemed like every day, the news was full of something dire. It began with 9/11 and marched through invading more and more Mid-Eastern countries. Galleries struggled, sales wavered, and then finally, the Recession of 2008 put a dagger in my hopes of becoming a “rich and successful” artist.

And yet, my principles remained strong. I knew I was making my work for all the right reasons, even as some people mocked me for being a “Pollyanna” about my slumping sales.

When the Recession hit a few years later, I did get a little desperate. For the first time, I submitted jewelry work to a mail-order catalog. I learned a lot, a few items were accepted and published, and I made enough sales to heal my drained bank account.

But I also learned that making something strictly for money, something that was a ‘sure seller’, something I had to make hundreds of, was not for me.

Okay, I’ll admit, if I had to actually pay my own rent and put food on the table, I would do it differently. As my wonderful partner has said, “I get paid pretty well to do the work I love. It’s not your fault the work you love doesn’t pay too well.” Thank you, sweetie!

It’s just that making something to please someone else, making the exact same thing in multiples, over and over, and the betting on a sample that might bring in some money but probably not, became pretty stressful. It drained me. I was relieved to return to my happy place in my art-making.

Segue to the pandemic, where sales dropped for everyone….

One day in my studio, as I was composing yet another beautiful necklace, it hit me. I love making jewelry with my artifacts. It’s my best-selling category, too.

But I realized my studio is already full of jewelry. I don’t really need to make more, except that making makes me happy. (I’m sure autocorrect is going crazy right now…)

And I realized there was a big project I’ve been holding in my heart for almost a decade or more. I could feel it calling to me: My shrine series, from 2013.

What held me back?

  • Some technical issues I couldn’t figure out.
  • A lack of materials.
  • Worrying about whether it would sell.

I decided to simply start with what I had, and see what happened.

What happened was a small miracle.

  • Yes, I hit those technical issues pretty quickly. And guess what? After some trial-and-error attempts, I eventually figured out a good way to manage them. They were so good, I actually went back and took some earlier pieces apart and redid them.
  • I started work in a series of colors, making multiple versions that were still unique.
  • I found sources for almost everything I needed: Tiny brackets, even tinier screws, new candidates for smaller boxes and drawers, and work-arounds for every issue that cropped up.

I now have almost completed fifty shrines in my studio. (“Completed” is a relative term. Next come artifacts, and then mounting them in the box shrines.) I have so many, I’m now panicking about an upcoming open studio in June. Because my shrines have commandeered every inch of space in my studio.

Thanks and a hat tip to Natalia Gorwalski, who generously gave me these little tool/parts drawers, now painted and waxed and ready for stacking!

What kept me awake in the middle of the night?

Wondering if they would ever even sell.

I know this worry for what it is: My brain trying desperately to find a “solution” to an overabundance of shrines.

So today’s article “Fresh Drive” by Sara Genn, landed at just the right time for me. (Sara continues the journey of her father, Robert Genn, with their blog, The Painter’s Keys. Any creative can benefit from their shared insights and wisdom.)

I am again restored me to my highest, best, artist self.

Genn discusses “intrinsic vs extrinsic drive”. Extrinsic drive are the external rewards we seek from whatever we do, based on “if/then”. “If I stick to my diet, I can lose weight.” “If I work overtime, I can get make more money.” “If I create a chart, I can get my kids to do their chores.” Extrinsic drive is good for establishing new habits, getting things done, attaining our goals, etc. I would add, ‘seeking fame and fortune’ to those extrinsic goals, which is also a common goal for artists.)

But it turns out that extrinsic drive can be toxic to creative work. “Artists, it seems, are inspired by everything but an extrinsic reward.”

Aha!

“Intrinsic motivation is dependent upon three main factors; autonomy, or auteurship; mastery, or the pursuit of excellence in a given skill; and purpose, the soul-driven intention behind a quest or endeavour. Finding out one’s purpose is a lifelong exercise — and should be mutable and ever-evolving.”

My drive to make these shrines is a way to use this pandemic to work on something that has no endgame right now. I want to see them in the world. Every new one I put together is so satisfying!

I was delighted to see my “Pollyana” outlook reinforced by Daniel H. Pink, one of my favorite authors:

“Daniel Pink, an expert on human motivation, has made a case for imploring businesspeople to understand what artists innately already practice: in the near-carrotless world of fine art, where the journey is often the only reward, the ideas are inherently better. Without a known destination or straight path to victory, artists dwell in the periphery of problems and solutions, forced to look around and take time to contemplate options and routes to discovery. The secret to meaningful conceptual thinking is to circumvent the obvious and embrace the mysteries. This is how we surprise ourselves and push beyond the “first thought.” While the first thought may be the most expedient, it will not advance the artform. You must commit, over and over again, to putting yourself in the arena of better ideas, so that a process of discovery can take hold.”

Once again, I feel validated.

I started with a “first thought”. Then I quickly ran into every obstacle that’s held me back for years.

But this time, Instead of setting everything aside until I had a ‘perfect’ solution, I simply started.

As problems arose along the way, I figured a way through them, one at a time. I changed my mind about a lot of things, and learned a lot along the way. And as I got better, so did my strategies for solving problems.

I still wake up in the wee hours, wondering how I’m going to handle this or manage that. I still look at my studio and wonder, “Where will I even put all these??” “Will these ever sell??” “Should I start looking for a gallery to send an exhibition proposal to???” “Are these as wonderful as I think they are, or am I just kidding myself?????”

Go back to sleep, lizard brain. I got this! My newest mantra for my lizard brain is, “I’ll figure that out when I get there….” And so far, it works!

So for all the artists I’ve heard from over the years, especially this past year, who worry about sales, who struggle to keep making their work, who want to know how to recreate a successful time in their art career, who wonder if it’s even worth it if they can’t sell it, etc., here is my free advice:

Do what you have to do, to survive these troublesome times.

But never surrender the work of your heart, your art, your dream project.

 Find a way to dive in, today, now! Make a little room in your day for it.

Set aside your self-doubt, your worry, your self-judgment for now. Do what brings you joy. (Says Luann, scrubbing turquoise paint off her hands and face for the tenth time this month.)

We are not wishful thinkers. We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

Know that our artwork can inspire others on so many levels, in ways we can’t even imagine.

Follow your creative heart and never let it go.

Your comments are always welcome, often insightful, and sometimes inspirational, too! Shares, the same. You can find more of my articles at Fine Art Views, and/or visit/subscribe to my blog.

Small shrines, big shrines, and everything in between….

HOW TO FIGURE STUFF OUT And A Couple Little Miracles

Here’s an entwined set of stories that gave me a flash of insight today.

As anyone who’s visited my studios over the years knows, I have a lot of stuff. A LOT of stuff. I have supplies for every contingency, every project, every medium I work in: Fiber, jewelry, assemblages, print-making, etc.

I have hundreds of vintage and antique boxes I use for my shrine series, assemblages made with my own artifacts. An apprenticeship in a friend’s woodworking studio enabled me to clean, repair, restore them. Whenever I see good ones in the sizes I work with, I snag them. I have more than I’ll ever use in a lifetime.

So why do I still have so many?

Because I’m afraid to use up the ones I love the most.

I’m afraid I’ll use them up, and the work will be mediocre. (Yup, I have Imposter Syndrome!)

I’m afraid I’ll never find more.

And yet, I’m getting pickier about buying new….er…new OLD boxes. They’re a lot more expensive in California. An old cigar box can sell for $25-$50. (I thought $10 was too much in New Hampshire!)

So I found a stash of small wood boxes at a very reasonable price at one of my favorite antique stores this week. (It’s the ONLY non-grocery store I’ve shopped at since March.)

But I hesitated. They didn’t seem all that special, they were pretty small. So I passed. I was very proud of myself.

Then, two days later, I found the exact same box in my stash. It was nicer than I thought, and it really was a great deal. ($5!)

Turned out I’d pulled it out because it was the PERFECT size to pair up with another bunch of boxes, all the same size, I bought before we moved here, for a series I’ve been dreaming of for ages.

Finding another stash of the same boxes, in exactly the size I need…. Do you know how rare that is? I made a mad dash back to the antique store the next day.

And I couldn’t find them.

I searched the entire store. I carefully searched the two spots I was sure I’d seen them in. Nope.

I was so upset at myself! I started to stomp my way out of the store…. And then I thought, why not ask?

So I went up to the cashier’s desk, and asked if the dealer might have taken them home to switch up their display. It was a long shot, and I was embarrassed to even ask.

The cashier was new-ish, was trying to help. But another person who works there, who knows me said, “I know where they are!”

She led me back to a totally different booth, one I’d barely glanced in because it did not look at all like the one I was sure I’d seen them in.

And there they were!

I almost started crying, I was so happy. I snagged them all, and today I scrubbed them up in preparation for painting and waxing them.

As I worked, I looked at other boxes. I’ve been hoarding them for over six years now. Why was I stalling on that project??

Go back and read the part where I was talking about fear.

Every time I start to put together those shrines, I am flooded by self-doubt.

And it’s holding me back from making the work of my heart.

So I started writing in my blort book. These are the journals that should be burned when I die. They’re where I write when I’m angry, scared, frustrated, stumped. And they are also where I write my way back to my happier, kinder, more patient self, with others, and with myself.

The insight I got to today?

I am really good at remaking my work. In fact, it’s part of my process.

I realized I’ve already written about a few projects where I did just that: A little bear shrine that I reworked; the ‘perfect stick’ that wasn’t;

The blue horse necklace I made years ago.

a big shaman necklace I updated with a ‘better’ horse.

Updated shaman necklace with more balanced blue horse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

People loved them when I made them. People say they still love them now.

I’ve only sold a few of my shrines and big necklaces, and fiber pieces. They cost more than my entry-level jewelry, of course. But that’s also normal for the work I do. It can take years, even decades, and suddenly, it sells. I’ve gotten used to it. I thought.

But sometimes, when I look at all the work in my studio, I get overwhelmed with how much work is there. Especially after a period where galleries close (the recession in 2008, the Covid-19 recession), and a lot of work is returned. And, of course, if the galleries carried the work for awhile, then it’s older work, too.

So reworking stuff is a habit. I like to take an older piece and remake it along the same lines, but updated: Longer necklaces, and more pearls and gemstones for a new line I’ve created. Horse artifacts with more detail, more 3-dimensional. (Older animals were flat-ish, which was fine until they weren’t.)

That was my “Aha!” moment.

I can make that new series.

I will do my best work.

And if I still have them years from now, and I see what could be better, well, I’ll remake them! Just like I always have.

I’m gonna make this happen!

So today I celebrate two little miracles. One, realizing that working in media that allows me to rework old designs. As I know better, I can do better. And two, acting on that weird impulse, to ask an odd question about little boxes, in front of the one person who knew exactly what I was talking about.

Okay, THREE miracles! Knowing that blorting will get me to a better place, even when I’m stuck in the same place for six years.

How do YOU work your way through roadblocks and self-doubt? I’d love to hear what works for YOU!

 

AMPING UP YOUR ART MARKETING: Baby Steps!

AMPING UP YOUR ART MARKETING: Baby Steps!

Backwards and baby steps can help us move forward in everything.

I now look HISTORICALLY old!

Last week, I raved about the powerful insights I’ve gained already from watching just two AMP webinars (Art Marketing Playbook), a series created by FASO’s marketing guru, Dave Geada of Big Purple Fish..

Great marketing insights often mean revamping, not just our approach, but also our website, our email newsletters, our social media accounts. And with great revamping can come great overwhelming-ness. (I just made that word up.) Big projects can be daunting, especially if they aren’t in our ‘primary’ skill-set. (I’m comfortable with social media, but changes in my approach were needed.)

I’m happy to find that I’m doing a lot of things right: Knowing my ‘creation story’, using the best social media platforms (Facebook biz page, Instagram account, a lively email newsletter, the “new artwork alert”, etc.)

I was sad to learn all the things I’m doing wrong. And devastated to learn how many things I’m doing wrong. A lot of work lies ahead….

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by big multi-step processes. And when I’m overwhelmed, my lizard brain instantly leaps in to protect me.

“You’re doing it wrong! It’s too hard! Just stop, crawl away, give up, hide in a hole somewhere!! Make it go awaaaaaaaay!!”

You probably already know that doesn’t work. And yet, being overwhelmed can mean we put off the repairs, edits, restructuring efforts so necessary for doing better.

So I sat with all this new knowledge, wondering how the heck to get it all in place in a timely fashion.

Today I had a brainstorm.

I remembered what’s worked for me in the past when dealing with uncertainty. Here’s the way I’m thinking about this that might help you, too.

The power of this strategy is to think about your desired end results, you goal. Then think what has to happen to achieve that goal…backwards.

Yes, you read that right! What has to happen before you have another great painting in your inventory? Finishing a painting. Painting. Time to paint. The right paint, for the surface. Figuring out the palette. The right surface. Composition. A subject. An idea.

So maybe we: Recognize we want to paint. List ideas for a subject. Find that subject to create. Maybe take a picture of it, or find the perfect plein air site. Check our supplies to make sure we have the right size canvas, and the right paints, and paint colors. Set aside time to paint. Etc., etc. until we finally have the triumph of a new work of art in hand.

Breaking down these steps is powerful. And breaking them down into tiny steps is even more powerful.

So, baby steps.

First tiny step: Update my profile portrait image. Further step back: Find/make a new portrait image.

“Making a new image” was hard. I’ve been struggling to make a new profile portrait for months. Since I haven’t had a haircut in months, it’s a lit-tul hard getting even a somewhat flattering selfie, and selfies tend to distort our faces too much. Older pics are pretty discouraging, too.

But then I remembered a set of portraits my partner and I had done a few years ago, to celebrate our wedding anniversary. They’re tintypes, black and white, and we love them!

So my first baby step was: Find those pictures. It took awhile to find them, but I did.

I couldn’t figure out how to incorporate them into my social media, though. Until, doh! I realized I could photograph the photographs. Baby step!

Once that was done, my next baby step was easier: Update one social media site.

I started with my Google accounts: Google (Gmail, etc.) On Dave’s suggestion, I also added a small pic of me in my email signature. Done!

Encouraged by this, I decided to update more sites. FASO. I added the tintype image to my “not artwork images” section, then swapped out my old profile portrait. Done! Hey, I’ll write a little newsletter about my new portrait. Done!

I was on a roll. I quickly updated my Facebook and Instagram accounts. Done! What about my WordPress blog? Done! With editing, cropping, updating, etc., it took few hours to get it all in place.

But I’m feeling much better about everything now.

The feeling of accomplishment is palpable. And knowing that’s one item I can scratch off the to-do list? Huge.

I know those other things on the list will also feel like too much. As I work my way through them, I’ll continue to share what I’ve learned.

But I’m grateful I remembered that going backwards can actually be a powerful way of moving forward, with everything in life.

Let me know if this helps YOU move forward today. And if you’ve found powerful ways to incorporate those new AMP strategies, share them here! Someone maybe be very grateful you did. (Me!)

If you know someone who would find this article helpful, pass it on to them! And if someone sent you this, and you liked it, you can find more of my Fine Art Views articles here, and more great marketing advice at FineArtViews.com, or subscribe to my blog at luannudell.wordpress.com too.

Remember: We’re all in this together!*

*And nobody gets out alive. But whatever makes it better, is a gift!

MAKING A DECISION and HUNGRY ART

WAYBACK WEDNESDAY A Few Days Late…
I published this post on 10/26/04. Still true!
Making a Decision

I have to make a hard decision today. I have an opportunity to do a teaching gig that would pay fairly well, a week’s work. Something I would have jumped at a few years ago.Trouble is, I’m an atypical artist. I don’t want to teach other people how to do what I do. I never really wanted to in the first place. As time goes on, and my art is more important to me, I find I’m even less interested in teaching it. I want to do it.

Running a business based on making your art sucks up a lot of time. I spend lots more time on the business side than the making art side. So setting aside time to allow other people to make art while I watch is particularly painful sometimes.

Nevertheless, it is an opportunity. And I can’t make up my mind whether to do it or not.

A friend once said, “When you have a situation you just can’t make up your mind about, make a list of the pros and cons. Otherwise, it’s like doing long division in your head.” (I originally typed “long decision in your head.” Quite Freudian!) The trick then is not how many pro’s vs. con’s. It’s to pay attention to which ones make you cringe.

Here’s what my decision list looks like.

Pros:

1) It’s a thousand dollars.

2) It’s a week’s work. 3)

It’s teaching, and I’ve always liked teaching.

4) I could really use the money.

5) The guy who asked me is really nice and excited about my work. His enthusiasm is infectious.

6) It’s hard for me to say no.

Cons:

1) It’s much, much more than a week’s work. It’s actually 8 classes, 6 per day, for 5 days. That’s 30 different teaching sessions.

2) It also means a lot of preparation time. Probably several weeks’ of preparation time, for presentations, projects, etc.

3) It’s a long drive, too.

4) The last time I did something similar to this proposal, it turned into something awful. It was the most miserable day I’ve had in my entire professional career.

5) For a variety of professional reasons I won’t get into, I don’t want to teach how I make my own artwork. I’ve made a point of not teaching how to make it, and I don’t want to start now. Even in modified form.

6) If I’m going to teach, I want to either introductory skills (with jewelry, polymer clay, stamp-carving, etc.) or professional skills (writing an artist statement, etc.)

7) It’s a month before my major wholesale fine craft show, which takes a huge amount of time and energy to prepare for. Including the two to three weeks I’d sink into this teaching opportunity if I were to take it on.

8) Other than financial, it doesn’t fulfill a single other professional, business, personal or artistic goal I have.

9) As hard as it is to say “no”, I have to say “no” sometimes in order to make room for other things that are more important to me.

As I look over my reasons, I can see that some of the cons are fear-based, As in, “The last time I did this, it turned out badly.” And there is some good to be gained—some money to put back into my business, and the opportunity to hone my teaching skills.

I can also see, though, that what I could learn from taking this opportunity is something I’ve already learned. And don’t need to do this same thing again to learn the same lesson again.

The teaching skills I want to hone are as a presenter of professional skills. Teaching my methods will not help me with this teaching goal.

I was talking with the same friend about something completely different, and she said something that’s now stuck in my mind.

I’d said I was really excited about teaching the workshops on my schedule now—self-promotion for artists,  wholesaling, writing a powerful artist statement, etc. It could be something that might conflict with my artistic/professional goals. But it didn’t feel that way right now.

I found as I prepared for this seminar, my thoughts clarified. I began to gain more insights into my own processes. While researching press releases, I learned how to make mine even better. I’m actually working out my own roadblocks and obstacles by sharing what I’ve learned along the way with others. I’ve learned more as I prepare to teach.

She said, “I’ve found that I often teach what I want to know.”

Such a simple phrase, but very useful today.

I’m going to have to call that very nice gentleman and refuse his generous offer. I hope I can think of someone else who might be able to fill the slot, someone who would be grateful for such an opportunity, who finds it a better match for where they are in life. As nice as I’d like to be, I need to be kind to myself, the artist, first.

HUNGRY ART (follow-up to the above post.)

A few people e-mailed me after yesterday’s blog entry, to ask how the decision had gone. This is how:

I thanked the person for the opportunity, said no, and offered to pass on the name of another person if possible. And this morning I did just that. I thought of another artist who might work well, and contacted both parties with information about the other. I really hope this works for both of them.

Another e-mail from a former student commented that she was spending a lot of time buying art materials and playing with them, but wasn’t actually making much art. She sounded like she has the right attitude, though—“All in good time, all in good time,” she said.

It’s natural to hit fallow periods where the art doesn’t come easily. Julia Cameron, in her book “The Artist’s Way” calls these periods “filling the well.” They are necessary and can be very productive, healing times. Playing with new materials and new ideas often leads to exciting new developments in our art.

And some people don’t feel the need to go any further than this. Their art is truly a pastime, something pleasant and enjoyable.

If you begin to feel a nagging sensation, though, a “could” rather than a “should”, maybe it’s time to impose a little more structure.

I started to do something this morning, and realized some of our pets hadn’t been fed or given fresh water. I thought, “I’ll get to it after I eat breakfast.” And then stopped. No. They are dependent on me for their physical needs. I need to take care of THEM first. And I did.

Our art has the same dependency on us. The unique vision we have as a unique person, a unique artist, cannot come into the world except through us. It sits and waits, sometimes patiently, sometimes anxiously. If you ignore its need to exist too long, however, it will come crashing through. “FEED ME!!”

Don’t let your art get too hungry today.

LESSONS FROM THE GYM: The SAID Principle

Challenges can be just enough to keep us moving forward
Challenges can be just enough to keep us moving forward

Accommodation can be our friend, or our enemy…

(5 minute read)

More lessons about life, and art, overheard at the gym this week.

A client was amazed at how much better they felt after only a few days of physical therapy. The therapist working with him said something that caught my interest, describing a well-known principle in the field: The SAID Syndrome.

Posited by a Hungarian physicial, Dr. Hans Selye over a hundred years ago, SAID stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. That is, our body, given any form of stressors (biomechanical or neurological), will specifically adapt to that stress. (There are now more modern acronyms and phrasing similar in tone, but this is the one I overheard.)

That can be a good thing, a neutral thing, or a bad thing.

For example, if all we do we sit all day, month after month, year after year, our bodies will adapt to that. We may lose our ability or inclination to do any physical activity, or worse.

If we train by running laps, we may get fit and strong, but it won’t necessarily mean we prepared for lap swimming. The two activities use different muscles. We have to cross-train in both activities, in order to get better at both.

If we gently, slowly, challenge our body, all our muscles, and our mind, they will adapt to that, too.  We can challenge our body in different ways, too.

We can strive to go from simple motions to complex motions. From moving slow to moving faster. To go from using a low level of force to higher force. To walking/running a short distance to a longer distance.

We can get stronger, faster, more flexible, more resilient, more persistent.

How does this apply to making, marketing, and even selling our art?

If we get discouraged with our sales, we could slump into our sad place and believe no one wants our work. Or, if sales matter, we can experiment with shows and fairs until we find the ones where we find an audience. We can approach stores or galleries to represent us. We can use an online sales venue or sell from our website.

If our art isn’t quite up to snuff, we could keep our blinders on and do nothing about it. Or we can explore ways to get better: Use better tools, or experiment with a new media that might suit us better, or expand our skillset with classes/books/online tutorials.

If we feel like failures, if we believe our work of our heart doesn’t matter, we could walk away from the work we love. Or we can seek out a supportive community, realizing if it makes us happy, that can be “good enough”. We can ask for input about how we could do better, whether it’s our technique, our color palette, our subject matter, etc. (I overheard one local artist declaring if they never painted another vineyard, they would be totally okay with that.) (We live in wine country. Guess what most landscapes are?)

Short story: For our work to change, WE have to change. For our skills to get better, we have to do the work. For our attitude to change, we have to explore what our goals really are, what is important to us—and practice that mindset. To find our audience, we have to believe there IS one for us out there somewhere, and do whatever we can to get our work out into the world.

This effort doesn’t have to be a major shift, either. Some of us can do that, maybe. (We moved across the country to California five years ago, to reboot my partner’s career.) But usually, small incremental steps, moves, and changes will suffice. Otherwise, we could injure ourselves by trying to do too much, too soon, too fast.

One of my favorite challenges I’ve seen (which I haven’t tried yet, myself) is the 100-day daily challenge: Painters a single small work every day. Collage artists create an ATC (artist trading card) every day. Writers write a page a day. Then share it with our audience. I’ve seen these so many times, and it’s jaw-dropping how this simple exercise seems to not only improve the person’s skillset, but also set them on an entirely new journey, one they couldn’t see until they tried this.

My goals moving forward are pretty manageable so far. Keep a happy heart. Do the work. Get “bigger” in a way that’s manageable for me, and let myself be the judge of what “bigger” is. Trying the occasional new thing, whether it’s materials, subject matter, color palette, venues, etc.

Even my story, which still means so much to me, has evolved over the years. The heart of it is still there. But as I’ve faced spiritual and emotional challenges about my place in the world, my story has grown: A woman artist finding a place in the world, a place in prehistory and more modern history. Finding the medium that let me tell that story, then adding new media to the mix. (First fiber, then jewelry, then prints and sculpture, now assemblage.) Expanding my color palette from “only what we’d find in the Lascaux Cave paintings” to what those ancient artists would have used if they’d had the access. (Indigo/lapis blue! Aqua! Turquoise!) Expanding my skill set. (Refinishing antique boxes, creating museum-inspired mounts for display.) In the process, my definition of “creative work” has gotten bigger and stronger, too.

If everything is working for you, then the “challenges” can be just enough to keep us moving forward, or comfortable with staying in the same place. Maybe we can share our techniques and knowledge with others, so they can take our original journey and move onto their own. Maybe we can encourage other artists by making recommendations for a gallery that might be a good fit for them. Or we could assist them with finding their own powerful stories.

Or we simply share conversations overheard at the gym, sharing a little insight in our lives, for others who just might need to hear them, today.

How do YOU challenge yourself? Have you had a successful experience with challenges, like the “make a ‘whatsits’ every day for a 100 days”? Where are you stuck, and did this article get you thinking about an intriguing challenge, just for you? I would love to hear about it, and I bet others here would, too!

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you liked it, you can sign up for more articles at Fine Art Views or more from me at my blog LuannUdell.wordpress.com. 

THE ECSTASY AND THE AGONY: Your Creative Cycle at Work

Not all parts of the creative process are fun…
Not all parts of the creative process are fun…

Not all parts of the creative process are fun…

 (5 minute read)

For the past week or so, my partner has been working feverishly on a new project.

He’s in high-tech, and the work he does is highly creative. Now, I can almost see some of you cringe. “He’s a nerd! NOT an artist!” I’ve heard that from people before. Sometimes I try to set them straight.

He is an extremely talented writer, who started off as an English major, tried his hand at fiction, but soon slid into non-fiction. He was awarded a prestigious Hopwood Award at the University of Michigan, a year or so after we met. His work was so good, it didn’t fit into any of their categories—so they created a new one, just for him. (He bought his first computer with the prize money.)

Yes, a computer. Because after he graduated, he worked in a department for the university. When the data management guy quit, Jon took over—and eventually taught himself coding. His superpower is using an open-source (“available for anyone to use or adapt”) information system, usually developed by others, and finding ways to create unique applications that meet the unique needs of each client he works with (“integration”). He has a skill for taking a product, and seeing the potential, usually outside of the original maker’s scope. He makes important work faster and easier for others.

If you don’t think developing new software to assist people in their creative work, that it isn’t creative in itself, please remember who the owner/developer of this blog is, and what he does, okay? (Hint: FASO? Clint Watson?)

He’s working on a new project. Typical of him, he dove into it headfirst, staying up late, getting up early, spending hours and hours in his workspace, on fire with this new idea and process he wants to bring into the world.

Then he finished it, exulting in all the issues, roadblocks, and problems he solved in the process.

Then, he crashed. He’s been in a deep depression ever since.

Okay, that’s the backstory. Where’s the creative lesson here?

This can be a normal part of the creative cycle process.

There are many different creative cycles.

 I took a workshop years ago with a creativity coach, Lyedie Geer. You can read more about her work at thelongingsproject.com. Here is the recommendation I wrote for her the next day:

“Last night I attended an amazing presentation by Integral Coach, Lyedie Geer. The focus was time management for creative people. I attended with much prejudice, assuming we were going to learn about day planners and Google calendar. I was prepared to be bored stiff and take away a nice idea or two. Well, Lyedie blew my socks off. Her presentation gave me a deeper understanding of my creative process, and how to use that understanding to focus even more on my creative and professional goals. Her information is the kind I would attend to many, many times, as I would ‘hear’ something different every time. The content is powerful, and Lyedie’s presentation style is earnest and heartfelt. Our entire audience of creative professionals (web designers, commercial photographers, graphic artists, etc.) stood up and applauded when she finished.”

 Welp, then we moved, and I can’t find my notes. But until I do, here is the U-theory graph that brought such amazement into my life.

There are other graphs and arcs and diagrams, of course, and many of them are good. But here’s the most important take-away:

You creative process cycle may be as unique as YOU.

The graph I learned was complex. The gist of it is, we start with the spark of a new idea, we go through experimental phases to explore it, figure out how to do it, how to perfect it.

And then, somewhere along the line we run into obstacles and setbacks. We get discouraged. We’re baffled, stymied, and frantic.

Many people walk away at this point. They believe they are too stupid to figure it out. They don’t see how it will make money, so why do it? They believe it’s just too hard, and so not possible. Or they postpone it until “the kids are grown” or “I retire”, when they believe they’ll finally have the time to devote to their creative work.

But perseverance pays off, we rise again, and we might just end up bringing something new into our work, our lives, and the lives of others.

And the cycle repeats.

In Jon’s case, he goes through this with determination and focus. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him stuck for long, because he keeps at it until he figures it out.

HIS funk arrives at the end, after he’s accomplished his goals.

He’s exhausted. It’s not clear it will be received well. It’s not certain it will catch.

That’s because it’s happened before: Major breakthroughs that get chucked (by others), don’t gather the approval of management. Don’t make it to the finish line. (Years ago, the entire company he worked for shut down forever, two days before he could launch his biggest project.) So maybe there’s that dread for him at the end of all his efforts.  (When it does make it through, people/clients love what he’s accomplished.)

Or maybe he’s depleted from lack of sleep, exhausted by a 100% effort. Kinda like how awful it is after you cross that marathon line, when your body lets you know how much pain it’s really in…..

But here’s the thing: This is his cycle. My heart aches for him, that he goes through so much emotional pain and physical exhaustion at the end. But this is how he creates.

I know, when another glimmer of a great idea appears, he will go after it with all his heart.

So when things get hard, when it feels like no one wants our work, when it feels like we aren’t “enough”, take some time to think…  Maybe you are at the hard part of your creative cycle.

Do what it takes to help you stay the course. Don’t accept “failure” as a measure of your success. It’s simply the hard part.

And the hard part can land anywhere. It doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing.

What is your creative cycle?

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you liked it, you can sign up for more at Fine Art Views or my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com .

Scrambling for Clarity

But sometimes, all we need is to trust our best instincts, to sense our highest purpose on earth, instead of focusing on our greatest fears...
But sometimes, all we need is to trust our best instincts, to sense our highest purpose on earth, instead of focusing on our greatest fears…

In Our Heart, We Already Know What to Do

(8 minute read)

I have a confession to make today.

I love word puzzles. Not all of them. (Some are too hard for my aging brain.) But crossword puzzles and word scrambles are my faves.

Crossword puzzles have life lessons all on their own. I used to be unable to do a New York Times crossword puzzle at all–too hard! Lots of “tricks” and double-entendre clues involved. But I’ve gotten better over the years, as I learn that the clue “double-decker?” could mean “two-stories” or “pinochle”…

The beauty of a crossword puzzle is, when I am worried, anxious, or trying to get to sleep, my lizard brain is soothed by having “something to solve” that doesn’t really matter. (As in, I don’t lose money, self-esteem, or anything else if I can’t solve it.)

Word scrambles…Now that was another story. How do you solve an anagram?

By the way, if you Google “anagram”, Google will ask you if you mean “nag a ram”….. So now we know that Google does have a sense of humor.

Word scrambles also appear in our newspaper, like Jumble and Scram-lets. They used to be quite difficult for me to solve. I relied heavily on working them out by “logic”, trial-and-error (randomly trying out various combinations until I found one that worked).

Until I read an article a few years ago about how reading actually rewires our brains. You can read more about this phenomena, called typoglycemia, here. (I remember a similar technique in the classified ads in older magazines: “If u cn rd ths u cn b a scrtry & gt a gd jb w hi pa!”) (Please don’t ask me how old!)

I tried typoglycemia to solve anagram puzzles, and it works!

Instead of patiently doing the trial-and-error thing, now I start by quickly looking at the scrambled word, “see” the word almost instantly, and move on to the next as quickly as I can, before I’ve even finished entering the answer. It’s amazing how innate this word recognition thing is!

There are still some words this technique doesn’t work for, for me. Oddly, one of the first was “studio”. I thought originally it was because of words we tend to use less, which is true. But “studio”????

The second odd thing is, once I see “studio” in the anagram, it’s easier to recognize it in the scrambled version going forward. It’s like solving it once, made it easier for me to solve the next time.

Our brains are marvelous organs, both incredibly powerful, and frustratingly baffling. (Remember my post last week, about realizing all the things I’ve lost?)

What does this have to do with our art-making, art marketing, and art career?

Sometimes we make ourselves work way too hard to solve a problem or issue, when simpler solutions might be right in front of us.

Sometimes I struggle with all the social media necessary these days to find and connect with our audience. Then I found shortcuts: I can elect to have my blog articles automatically reposted on Facebook and Twitter. Images posted on Instagram can be automatically reposted on Facebook, too. Thus, I use my social media time more effectively, and more efficiently, which is incentive to post more regularly.

When I first started blogging, I wrote for several years before I had an audience. Part of it was that it was so new, who would go looking for what I had to say? (My first blog-hosting site was Radio Userland, which doesn’t even exist anymore, except as an archive.) Fortunately, my husband retagged these old posts, and I republish them from time to time. And WordPress has more tools and options, which can make it easier to use.

The very article I linked to above was when I learned that there is no single “right” way of making our art and getting it out into the world. I was anxious about coaching other people. It felt like telling them what to do, and much of my own experience was vastly different than the other workshop leaders I worked with.

And yet, when I simply focused on a few simple things, it worked. If you love quilting, and you are very good at it, and yet, you mistakenly believe people won’t value what you do, so you “have to” compete with mass-produced quilts, or ones made in India, for example, and therefore you work faster, with imperfect results, do you WANT to be successful selling them? I told that quilter to do the work that made them proud, and then find their audience.

To a young kid who was actually already enjoying some success with their jewelry designs, I gave them resources on improving their techniques and color choices. But, I told them, “Your biggest asset is that you are nine years old, cute as a bug, and sweet as candy. Work with your mom to keep you safe, in social media”, I told them and their mom. “But people will be enchanted by your determination and delighted you’re embracing your creative spirit at such a young age, and they will want to encourage you to keep it up, by buying your work.”

I finally realized I’d shied away from teaching because I know I don’t have all the answers, especially all the RIGHT answers. But I’ve discovered I am very good at helping people find their next step, and that is what most people need in life. An example of me “overthinking” how much knowledge I needed to teach.

Another example of quickly “seeing” is when we have a major life/art goal, and can’t figure out how to get there. Try this simple approach to get grounded, and to get started:

Name your vision. Is it representation in that wonderful gallery? Is it to build your audience for your work? Is it to sell your work for a fair price? Is it to have your work published in a book, or to get into that top show, or make x amount of money a year?

Start there.

Then walk yourself through the steps by thinking backwards from that goal.

What has to happen before that, for it to take place?

Got it? Now, ask yourself again: What has to happen before that?

Got it? Keep going…..

You wanna right a best-selling novel? Yep, it’s hard, though not impossible.

First, it has to be published.

Before that, it has to be taken on by a publisher.

Before that, it has to be edited to near-perfection.

Before it can be edited, it has to be in the hands of a publisher.

In order for you to approach a publisher, you may need an agent.

To find an agent, you need to have written that story.

Before you write it, you have to make the time to write it, enough that they can see its potential.

So what can you do in the next 24-48 hours to get it written?

You need to set aside a small amount of time, right now (or as soon as possible) to write. And you have to hold that goal in your heart daily, weekly, monthly…..

And to write your story, you need to know what you want to say in the world.

You don’t have to figure it all out ahead of time. You just have to have a starting point that gets you through that first step, and then the next step. And then the next after that.

And then keep at it, as much as you can. Because it matters to you.

That’s why I love Clint Watson’s advice about the importance of having a website, and keeping in touch with your audience. It’s not about figuring out how to be a total social media expert, or even figuring out dozens of ways to get your work out there. All you need is an online presence (and a website combines all the best aspects of online presence.) And a way to let your audience know what you’re up to, by reaching out to them from time to time, so they won’t miss your next show, your next open studio, the new gallery that now represents you, and you latest body of work, available for sale at XYZ.

And this is why I love the Keith Bond’s article on defeating the specter of procrastination. Because the more we defer our “next step” action, the harder it is to move forward.

Just like unscrambling words to find the right anagram, our brains-and our hearts-know what we need to do. But we tend to overthink our efforts. If we’re feeling lost or discouraged, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by our attempts to “figure it all out”, so our path is straight.

Unfortunately, “straight paths” are pretty rare in every creative endeavor. We’ve all read about the people who have achieved overnight success. But that’s the rare exception, not the everyday reality.

Instead, we can quickly recognize a great opportunity, and go for it. We can realize we need to have a cohesive body of work, whether that’s in subject matter, techniques, or overall aesthetic. It should look like our work, and easily identifiable as such.

We may calm ourselves down by recognizing how making our art restores our heart and soul, which is ultimately more enriching than how much money we made this year. Not sayin’ sales aren’t important, just that sometimes that means we have to give up other things involved, things we might miss even more.

Our lives, and our art, can be just as scrambled as a Jumble puzzle.

But sometimes, all we need is to trust our best instincts, to sense our highest purpose on earth, instead of focusing on our greatest fears, or our single measure of fame and money with our work.

It can help to see the hidden word, the true word, in our holy “mess” we call our beautiful, creative life.

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to share it with someone else who might like it, too. And if someone forwarded you this post, and you liked it, you can sign up for more at my blog.

WAITING

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.

(7 minute read)

Sometimes I have tons of ideas for articles. Sometimes, not so much.

I keep a supply of ideas, rough drafts, etc. so when I’m not inspired, I’ll have something to talk about. Today is one of those days.

So here from the “drafts” section is a one-liner that leapt out at me. Awhile back, I found a quote from “A Serpent’s Tooth”, a book by Craig Johnson (whose series inspired the “Longmire” TV show.)

Sometimes we spend our lives thinking we’re doing something, when in reality all we’re doing is waiting.

Underneath this, I’d typed “What are you waiting for?”

I have no idea why that quote hooked me. I’ve come back to it from time to time, and thought, “Why did I write that down?” Then on to other things.

But today, it stopped me in my tracks. It resonated differently this time.

What are we waiting for???

I’ve been trying to assist a loved one in their goal to “really get started” with their life: “I want a real career, but I’m such a loser, I’ll never figure it out!” “I fail at everything, and I’m behind in life!” “I don’t know what I want, and I never will!” “You don’t understand!!!”

When someone we care about is caught in these never-ending loops, there’s very little we can do. Except listen, try not to give advice (especially when nothing we say is considered valuable in the first place), and to simply be present. It’s not easy. It’s hard. Heavy. And harsh.

But today, when I came across that quote, I realize I’m the one in the never-ending loop.

What am I waiting for?? I ask myself….

I am amazed at the clarity that surfaces.

I am surrounded by the detritus from my fourth studio move in five years. Some stuff has been sold off, some has been donated, and some is simply destined for the scrap heap.

But as a mixed media artist (and a highly-evolved hunter-gatherer!), I have learned to see the beauty in everything. A pebble, a bird feather, a weathered stick, a button, all have potential in my eyes.

So, too, those really ugly pearls I bought on impulse that I cannot bring myself to use. The bags of milk paint I was sure would be perfect for painting old wood boxes. The damaged frames piled up in my studio, dinged and danged from too many venues, too much packing and unpacking, not enough bubble wrap.  “Maybe I can fix them and sand them and repaint them,” I think to myself.

but then I caught myself:

Is that the highest, best use of my time? Probably not.

When I had to clear all that stuff out to make room for said family member’s arrival, I realized it was time to get brutal. Er….but not too brutal.

That’s where the idea to host an artists garage sale came from, a few weeks ago. The first time I organized one, it sucked up so much time and energy, I didn’t have time to organize my own stuff and get it priced and ready to sell. On the other hand, it was hugely successful! People begged me to do it again next year. Unfortunately, I moved to California instead.

This time will be different. A lot of people in our two buildings are already onboard, as well as the building managers. I can set up a table inside my own studio. I can use my Square to take payments. I will have people helping with posters, publicity, and table-wrangling.

OK…..What else am I waiting for?

I struggled with a few great galleries that’s accepted me as a guest artist. But 2018 through the first half of 2019 was filled with many deaths in the family, many trips for last visits, funerals, support. I could barely take care of myself, let alone my art biz. I dropped the ball on restocking, attending receptions, staying in touch. And I realized my sales in New Hampshire galleries had dropped off to practically nothing. (Some had dropped my work, some had only older work, etc.)

Out of the blue, one gallery asked me to restock. When I did, they followed up with, “Um…these new designs you sent….do you have more??!” Yes, I did, and sent them on.

That inspired me. So a month ago, I reached out to all my League of NH Craftsmen galleries, hoping one or two would pick me up again.

To my surprise and delight, six of them wanted me back in! This past month has been spent creating new work and new designs, creating a cohesive collection for each one, tagging, labeling, creating an inventory sheet. Now working on packing and shipping.

That inspired me to reach out to a local gallery, where my inventory had really languished under my neglect. The last time I visited, I found they’d increased the number of jewelry artists, and my display was woefully inadequate. I swallowed my pride, and asked them if they still wanted my work.

They did! Turns out all the members loved my work (okay, most of them do.) The larger works were great attention-getters, but slow sellers. I took them back. Tomorrow, I’ll be setting up a new display with new work (and higher prices!)

What else am I waiting for?

I’ve been feeling cut off from my friendship network. Was I waiting for people to reach out to me? Yes, I was. And this week, one new local friend did reach out, a small artist support group I started took an important “next step up” (which was powerful), and another friend started a neighborhood women’s gathering. I was going to go. “I’m too busy! I don’t have time! I hate gatherings with people I don’t know!”

But I went, and had a wonderful time. I think everybody did. Afterwards, we all responded to the group text information with words like, “This was exactly what I didn’t know I needed today!”

Sometimes, when we are feeling overwhelmed by life and its myriad complications, in trying to create balance with making our artwork and marketing it, it’s easy to get caught up in “fixing it”. If only I had…..! If only I knew someone….! If only I knew how to…! If only I knew what I really wanted!!!!

We end up waiting. For what?

Do we wait til we’re sure we’ll succeed, before beginning that big new work?

Do we wait til we’re sure we’re “good enough” before we explore gallery representation? (I find the people who are really good who hesitate the longest!)

Are we waiting for a “sign from the universe” before we take on a new challenge? Do we wait until we find the perfect solution to our problem? Have a straight 8-10 hours to start that new work? Do we believe we have to clean our entire studio before we can get back to work after a hiatus, rather than just clear off that one surface we need to start it?

I remember a friend’s wise words one morning a few years ago, when I texted to say I was totally confused about what to do about the stuff on “plate”. She replied, “I sit with uncertainty everyday until Clarity makes her presence known.” If that sends a shiver down your spine like it did mine, you might like to read more about Sheri Gaynor’s life work here.

Today, I sat. I poked around, hoping for a little clarifty.

And there it was, in my own notes, just waiting to be found.

Sometimes we wait for clarity. Sometimes we go looking for clarity. Sometimes it’s right where we left it, just under our noses.

Have you experienced this? Been unable to “fix” an issue that seemed to complicated, too random, with no solution… And then seen clarity what was needed, and what you had to do? How did that work out for you?

Please share! I’d love to hear your story, and I’m sure others will, too.

As always, if you like this article, please share with someone you think would enjoy it.

And if someone shared this with you, and you’d like to read more, you can subscribe to the Fine Art Views newsletter (with many other authors contributing!), or sign up at my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

LIFE IS LIKE A CROSSWORD PUZZLE

One of my strongest memories growing up was seeing my parents work on the crossword puzzle in the newspaper.

My dad did the writing. He would go as far as he could. When he got stuck, he’d say to my mom, “What’s a six letter word for “high hat” that goes s-blank-blank-blank-t-y?” and she’d think a moment and say, “Snooty”.

I’d always wonder why they did something that seemed so boring. Now that we’ve been married over forty years, I know that even such simple things as this, these moments shared, are a blessing in a marriage.

I don’t remember when I took up crosswords, myself. But in time, I would do the daily crosswords in our local newspaper, too. The Detroit Free Press, The Baltimore Sun, The Boston Globe, The Keene Sentinel, and now, The Press Democrat.

But I steered clear of the New York Times crossword puzzle.

They were monsters.

I could read every single clue, and maybe…maybe…have an idea for one or two. I had no idea how the mind of the puzzle-maker worked. Literal meanings behind the clue? A play on words? Or just a word I’d never heard of before?? Add in the underlying theme just added to the misery, such as the theme, “You Are Here” meant adding “ur” to a common adage to twist the meaning.

One of our most brilliant friends regularly tackled the Sunday NYT puzzle, even harder than the daily ones. I knew I would never be in his league. (Pun intended. He also knew every single baseball trivia question known to man.)

So I decided I would never be clever enough to ever finish one.

Except, one day, while browsing a thrift shop, I found a daily calendar pad of, you guessed it, a year’s worth of NYT crossword puzzles. For a dollar!

I’m guessing because they were small, I thought I could try them. (They are the “dailies”, not the monster Sunday versions.) And hey, the answers were right there, in the back! I could cheat! (Put a pin here.)

Yes, in the strictest sense of the word, peeking = cheating…..

IF we assign solving a crossword puzzle the ultimate measure of our integrity and our ability.

Let’s walk “cheating” back to the fence, and start over.

I don’t know how to play the piano.

Nobody is born knowing how to play the piano. (PLEASE do not bring up Mozart.)

If I want to learn how to play the piano, do I sit down in front of it and try to blast my way through it? (Perhaps starting with a Mozart concerto….??)

No.

I’d tinker with it. Play. Maybe pretend I can play.

I’d seek out a teacher. They would start me with simple exercises, practices, teaching my fingers the right places to go.

They might play along with me, as I master one sequence of notes. (Is that “cheating”?)

I would eventually master a song, a simple one. I would continue to challenge myself. When I make a mistake, my teacher would show me the right way to do it, and encourage me to copy their motions. (Is that “cheating”?)

Now, if I make my life ambition to perform as a concert pianist, I obviously have to learn to perfect my skills on my own, challenging myself to do better, faster, with energy, until my hands almost move on their own, without conscious thought.

But what if I just want to ease my mind by the actual practice of playing? Badly, slowly, leaving a piece of music that doesn’t speak to me. Perhaps coming around again to pick it up, after learning a few more moves…. Playing just because playing is enjoyable?

And so I continued to do those (a little simpler) daily puzzles, getting used to that crossword “culture”. Checking my initial answers to see if I’m on the right track.

If I find that the theme is just majorly too confusing, I can set it aside for another time. Or forever.

I began to recognize the patterns, the lines of thinking. For example, a clue for “bed” could be a place to sleep, or plant flowers. An “intro” could be a speech, or a word prefix. (For example, “musical ending” could be “phonic”, (from stereophonic”.)

Sports stats? Sports figures? No way. I can now recognize a clue for “RBI”, and a “home authority” can now mean “umpire”, but that’s about it. Though my time in Boston helped me solve “Bobby Orr”. And repetition helped me memorize “Ott.” Otherwise, I either fill in around that entry as much as I can, until I can’t go any further. Or I just “cheat” and look up the entry I will never otherwise know (unless I become a sports fanatic, and that’s just not ever gonna happen, okay?)

Now for the most important reason I do crosswords:

I do them so I can help my buzzy brain relax.

This had led to even more insights on life and crosswords.

Sometimes, I just “cheat”, to keep moving. I’m not doing this as an “ethical exercise”. There are no “grades” at the end. Sometimes I do imagine showing up at the pearly gates, and being asked, “So about all the crossword puzzles where you looked up the answers…..”  Ruh roh.

OTOH, if that’s how I’ll be judged, not sure I belong in that place anyway.

So if a puzzle is just too hard or complicated, I can “cheat” or ditch it. That’s not a failure, in my mind. This is supposed to be fun and challenging, not frustrating and impossible to deal with. One of the greatest pleasures in my life right now is to recognize I don’t have to go to every fight I’m invited to. If a crossword puzzle is “putting up a fight”, I can just turn the page and try the next one. (I now buy books of ’em, to take on long trips, airplane flights, and waiting rooms.)

Other insights? Sometimes I get stuck, and cannot figure out any of the remaining clues. Of course, being human, my initial reaction is, “I’ll never be good at this!” I put it down when I’m stumped, and leave it for another day.

The insight is, sometimes I come back the next day, and all of a sudden, there’s clarity. Oooohhh, I see it now! And scribble in five or six more words. My brain needed a break, that’s all.

Another insight: Sometimes, “cheating” with one word helps dozens of others fall into place around it. That one clue was a roadblock I couldn’t get over. But going around it helped me go forward.

Sometimes, I “cheat” but only allow myself to enter the word if I guessed right and my “cheating” confirms my guess. If I guessed wrong, I can’t “forget it”, of course. But I won’t let myself enter it until I solve for more clues around it.

Is it cheating if we ask someone for help?

Is it cheating if we learn by absorbing someone else’s style? Learning to anticipate what they’re asking for, rather than what we think it should be? (Isn’t that called “learning from the experts?” Or “thinking outside the box?”)

Is it cheating if we’re simply stuck, and somewhere else is the answer? Is using the internet for sports clues any worse than the way we used to use encyclopedias to find facts?

Is it cheating if the entire overall process is what is helpful for me? (Giving me a break from buzzy brain by doing a somewhat meaningless task that is relaxing, letting me disengage in a good way.) And not necessarily relying on how “someone else does it”…?

To me, I would be cheating if I did all the above, and then lied about it to you. If I said, “Oh, yeah, I do those all the time. I’m really good at it!”

But I don’t. I do it for myself, I enjoy it, and it helps me relax, while feeling like I’m “doing something useful.” (Which is what our brain needs to relax, sometimes.)

Did I pack too much meaning into a word game? Maybe.

But sometimes, I know exactly what I need to get through a boring period, a stressful place, a stuck place in my life.*

Thank heavens for the New York Times crossword puzzle!**

*I try to keep track of how much help/”cheating” I did on a puzzle, to see if I’m getting better at it. I estimate how much I did without any help. At this point, I consider 75% a passing score!

**(Thanks and a hat tip to Wil Shortz!)

 

 

HAPPINESS CAN BE EASIER

I wnt to bed last night, dreamed, and woke up today with the usual buzzy brain thing going (aka “lizard brain”.) I don’t even remember what I dreamed about. I just know it was the usual–me trying to figure out something that would seem trivial, pointless, or absurd in my waking hours. (n.b. Almost EVERYTHING I worry about at 3 a.m. is rarely worth the expended energy by breakfast time.)

And even though I tried to not check my email “one more time” before I left for the studio, I’m glad I did. Because I found this article on how we tend to sabotage our own happiness.

We have a lot of stuff on our plate these days. Some are things we can’t avoid. Some are things we’ve wanted for years, but now that it’s in process, it brings its own set of worries. Worst of all, we left a strong network of good friends behind when we moved to California five years ago, and we are just barely starting to reboot that here. (See point #2. I’ve actually had that happen here several times, starting to share something that’s hard and having people shush me because I’m “not grateful enough” and “this is not something I want to hear, just be happy!” That. Sucks.)

None of these suggestions require a strict work-out schedule, or a major time commitment. None of them require we take up meditation, or exercise more. (See point #5.)

Just being aware of better ways to frame our situation, our mental habits, our life. Understanding what we can control, and what we can’t. And accepting that we CAN change the things we CAN control.

I’m feeling better aready. And I hope it helps you feel that way, too!

Thanks and a hat-tip to Nick Wignall!

OH, and if you know someone who’s struggling with the same issue (lizard brain!) pass this (or the above link) on to them.

THE GIFT OF RISK: Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone Has Its Own Rewards

Rewards, Insight, Setbacks, and …K…K….courage, all this can be yours!
painted medallions
Painting on glass for an out-of-my-comfort-zone book project ultimately led to this new body of work.

As I typed the title to this column, I realized I almost had an acronym! But I couldn’t think of a “k” word except “kindness”. Maybe spell “courage” with a k??? Aw, what the heck, let’s put both in there!

Last week, I shared my story about “luck”, and how we can make ourselves ‘luckier’.  I told how setting aside my expectations of being paid for everything I do opened doors I never even knew were there.

I shared the rewards of that risk, which expand even into today:

  • I had my work published and made visible before the internet made that easy.
  • I created fun projects that not only were well-paid, but upped my own skill set: Using vintage buttons to make distinctive jewelry. Painting on glass, which (I only realized after writing that article) paved the way for a new series of work. I’m painting cave art images on my handmade faux ivory medallions.
  • I wrote and illustrated the first mass-market craft book on carving soft vinyl stamps.
  • I met amazing people, who were a powerful, wonderful presence in my life for years. And I continue to do so! (It turns out our dentist here in California pulled out her stamp carving book to make her annual handmade holiday cards, saw my name on the cover, and realized I was her patient!) (Yes, I autographed her copy.)
  • I’ve bought old copies of my book (which is now out of print) to sell to students who take my stamp-carving classes.

Another big reward from taking a risk deserves its own list: Insight.

  • We cannot control everything in life. Not even close! But “nothing ventured, nothing gained” is a powerful insight. Here’s my favorite joke about that, but be forewarned, there’s a naughty word in there!
  • If you look back to my previous article, where two Mary’s had vastly different lives, then you will understand the power of ‘framing’, what we pay attention to and what we choose to let go of.
  • I found out what works and what doesn’t work, when it comes to choosing shows. I have respect for the wisdom of “never do a first-year show”….!
  • Not all rewards in life are about money.
  • It takes courage to pursue your dream, patience for it to build into something profitable, and a sense of self-worth to keep it somewhere in your life, even if it doesn’t work as your paying job.
  • There will always be people who will be uplifted by our work—professionally, emotionally, spiritually.

Now for the downside: Setbacks!

  • Not everyone is your friend. There will always be people who are deeply threatened by us, and our work. It’s taking less time for me to suss them out, thank goodness! (Thank you, The Nibble Theory!)
  • Not all shows are as well-managed as others. After all, show organizers/promoters make money on a show even if vendor sales are awful. (Of course, they can’t continue to be successful if their vendors aren’t. Still, there are always people like me who are willing to try….)
  • Hard financial times (9/11, war in the Middle East, the dot.com crash, the stock market crash of 2008, etc.) are especially hard on art and fine craft markets. Art is considered a luxury, not a need. (Debatable, of course) It can feel very personal, like ‘we are doing it wrong’. Many, many people in the industry—artists, craftspeople, show runners, galleries, etc.—suffered mightily in those years, and many never recovered. Many folks took wild chances, shifted strategies, tried desperately to hang on, where sometimes just hunkering down and waiting out the storm made more sense.

The danger of setbacks is, it’s all too easy to give them a major role in our decision-making. Once burned, twice shy, etc. Yes, it’s simply good sense not to keep sticking your hand in the fire.

Otoh (on the other hand), not all failures are useless. As good ol’ Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

So here’s that word again: Courage! (I almost went off on a bunch of metaphors based on Tennyson’s poetry, but I spared you. You’re welcome!)

Courage was a relatively new concept for me, as a child. Oh, I had exercised it a few times as a young adult, but always in pursuit of a dream. Going back to school, getting a teaching degree, even traveling across the country looking for work in the 1980’s recession.

But when I took up my art in my forties, I exercised courage in a sustained manner for years, viewing each setback as a valuable lesson learned, and always, always continuing to move forward. Even moving across the country in our 60’s was a monumental act of courage. Sometimes I’m still surprised we did it, though I don’t regret it for a minute. (Well. A few minutes….)

It takes courage for me to write these articles. I get paid a nominal sum, far less than when I wrote for magazines even 15 years ago. But though it doesn’t bring in a big income, it fills my need to share what I’ve learned, and expands my audience weekly. (Thank you, faithful readers!!!)

In fact, all my writing comes from sticking with it, even when it felt like nobody cared. Because…

It mattered to me.

It’s a risk. When I put my work/words out there, I want them to serve someone else as it served me. I hope it reaches someone who needs to hear that story, today. I’m delighted when people say it did. I love it when people pass it on to someone else, who may also need to hear it.

And yet, there are setbacks, too. There is always someone who thinks we’re “doing it wrong”, and they never overlook a chance to let us know that.  There are people who are offended by my titles, fercryin’outloud.  There are those who believe there is nothing worth doing for free, and those who believe my writing is toxic.

Still, I persist.

And now, here comes kindness….

My art, and my writing, have taught me to practice kindness even…or especially… to the naysayers, the contradicters, the folks who seem to be looking for a fight.

It felt impossible at first. It’s obvious my work is not for them, and that’s okay. The kind thing to do, of course, is for them to simply stop reading, or to delete it, or move on to the next studio on the tour.

But I’m learning. Like the people who call pastels “just chalk”, or the people who claim fiber is not an art medium, etc. they are where they choose to be. Yep, maybe even doing the best they can.

By responding with as much kindness as I can muster, I can let go. I am restored to the person I want to be in the world. My risk—putting my work out there to be criticized or ridiculed, is offset by the knowledge someone else is grateful I did take that risk.

And that makes it all worthwhile.

In the end, the choice is ours. We can play it safe. We can avoid risks, ditch change, never step outside our comfort zone.

It’s up to you. I can’t even pretend to think I know better than you. As I always say, if this doesn’t work for you, don’t do it!

I can only share what’s lifted my heart, write what’s helped me move forward, what restores me to my better self.

What risk have you taken that’s moved you forward? What did you learn when it didn’t work out? Remember, both are valuable, and both are worth sharing!

BE THE HERO IN YOUR OWN STORY: Framing Is Everything!

It takes time, but somewhere down the road, there’s a powerful story in our darkest hours.

 We attended a gathering this weekend. Good food, great people, and beautiful scenery. That’s where the idea for this week’s article comes from.

I was talking with a younger person there, who’s right smack in the middle of a difficult life stage. I listened to their woes, which, to be fair, they put a good spin on. In other words, they weren’t whining, but they were definitely struggling, in a situation all too familiar to me.

Without loading them with too much advice, I mostly told them they were doing it right. They had the right attitude, they were seeking the help they needed, and they knew they were fortunate in so many ways, they hated to complain about the exhausting situation they found themselves in.

I gave them two pieces of advice. Or rather, insights.

One, I told them that people who have been through the same thing, will understand. And those who haven’t, won’t. I said, “Seek out the first group, and just ignore the second.”

Two, I told her this, too, will pass. It’s hard, and it’s hard to make it easier. But in the end, they will be okay. And when they get through it, they will be able to see the gifts and blessings along the way.

I get that when we’re in the middle of a big muddle, it can feel like there’s no way out. No solution, no quick fix, no “magic mushrooms” to make it right. It can be hard to have hope.

And yet…

When I look back at some of the hardest times in my life, I can see something of value there.

I can see the goods things that came out of it. I can appreciate the people I met along the way, people who often had exactly what I needed to get through one day.

I can see the hard-won lessons that proved so valuable later in life. I can see the blessings, the gifts, the jaw-dropping miracles that not only helped me get through, but formed me into the person I am today.

“You can’t see it when you’re in the middle of it, and that’s okay,” I told them. “Because right now, it just sucks. So take exquisite care of yourself every chance you get.”

“But years from now, there will be something beautiful here, something that will encourage you, inspire you, help you find your way. This will change you, and some of those changes will be powerful. You will find yourself in a place you never even dreamed of, yet.”

“It will always be part of your story, and YOU will get to decide how to tell it.”

No one would ever choose to be in that hard place. It will simply find us, no matter who we are, no matter what we do. We are going to have very, very hard times in our lives.

And not everything has a happy ending.

But there will be gifts, if we chose to look for them.

The trick is in how we tell our story.

In a slump with our artwork? Uninspired? Tired of the same ol’ same ol’? Someday, we’ll look back and see the wall we hit—and how it led us to an exciting new body of work.

Didn’t get into art school? Maybe the wild and crazy path you DID take, is what makes your art so powerful today.

Didn’t get into that gallery? Or exhibition? Or that top-notch show? Rejection feels like failure. But failures have a way of making us dig deep for our art. We can crumple up and walk away, leaving our creative work behind. Or maybe we realize someone else’s “no” can be our next “maybe”. Maybe I’ll try another gallery in the next town over. Maybe I can simply apply for more exhibitions, hoping I’ll get into just one.

Or maybe I realize that no one can keep me from my studio, and it’s time for me to get back to work.

It can be hard to be Pollyanna in the middle of despair. And yet…

What if we actively thought of ourselves as the hero of our own story?

What if the challenges we face, force us to rise to meet them?

What if that difficult person in our workplace finally inspires us to find another job, a better one, too?

What if our loneliness when things get hard, creates compassion in our hearts for others in the same boat?

What if physical setbacks force us to choose another path, one that has its own rewards? (I’ve met TWO potters this month who had to find another form of creating when their bodies couldn’t take the “weight” any longer.)

What if lack of sales, fame, and stardom as an artist, actually encourages us to focus more on the “why” of our creative work? Helps us pay attention to the joy we get from making our art?

What if all we really need to get through this day, today, is a six-minute film to bring us nearly to tears, filled with awe of the beauty of this perfect day?

Last week, I read an old journal from our last two months in Keene, NH, just before we sold our house and 80% of our possessions to move across the country.

I’d made note of some difficult times, people, and situations. But I was surprised at how little of them I actually remembered! I would read, “I hate Doris!” and think, “Who the heck is Doris?!”

When we were in the middle of that move, all I could see was total chaos.

But as I look back, I see what a powerful experience it really was, on many fronts.

The things I loved so much, it felt impossible to leave them behind—only to find out they were in much worse shape than I’d realized, and couldn’t go anywhere except the dump. (My cheetah-patterned sofa!)

The person who gave me a hard time, and now I can’t even remember who it was, nor what it was about. (As I deal with difficult people here in CA, I’m reminded there are difficult people EVERYWHERE.)

The people who didn’t show up to help (“I’m not going to do one thing to help you leave, because I want you to stay!”) and the amazing gift of the people who DID show up, every day, for weeks.

The fear that I would lose my audience in NH (which DID fall off for awhile), and yet realizing how quickly I could start growing a new audience here.

The people who were upset by our choice to move, until I shared with them our own “hero’s journey” that led us to that decision. (Hallelujah, they came around!)

Now, sometimes we just need to gritch. I get it. I love to gritch, too. It feels good to get a good whine in (with a glass of wine, too!) And it can be cathartic to blow off steam with a good friend who’s willing to listen.

But in the end, I choose to see the miracles, the gifts large and small, the Angels In Odd Places I find in almost every step along the way.

So the next time you get slapped in the face with a big ol’ whipping cream pie of rejection, or lack of sales, or whatever, take note. My bears’ story: “Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep.”

Bear tells me, “Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep.”

I process things by writing, but you may have another process. Maybe painting your heart out, or creating a song, or poem, or prayer. Maybe do something kind for someone even worse off than you. Perhaps a chance to simply blort with a loving partner, or a really good friend who is truly there for you.

Whatever works for you, embrace it.

Be the hero of your own story.

Tell the story only you can tell.

Because your story might  just inspire someone else to be a hero.

Do you have an example of a setback that proved to be a power booster for you? Share it here! It may be just what someone else needs to hear today!

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