(This article was originally published on March 6, 2003, on my now-defunct Radio Userland blog. But it still holds wisdom for me today!) (I realized a Wayback Wednesday, though alliterative, was not a good idea, as it follows the day after my Fine Art Views column is published. So…WayBack Saturday instead!)
A cry for help appeared on a list serve I subscribe to. An artist who gave up painting for years is determined to take it up again. Unfortunately, all her paints are so hardened in their tubes, they are almost unusuable. Can anyone tell her how to salvage them??
I’m not sure how welcome my advice would be, but it’s clear to me the universe is sending a message here, loud and clear.
BUY NEW PAINTS.
What a huge obstacle she has already overcome! The urge to paint again is wonderful, and I would wholeheartedly tell this artist to go for it. But the artist is stuck again, already. “I can’t paint until I fix my paint.”
Where have we heard that before? Well, I used to hear it every day. And sometimes, when I’m down or overwhelmed with the simple problems that ‘simply living’ entails, I still hear it:
“I should do the laundry first.”
“I really need to run a few errands first.”
“I’ve got to get this mailing out this week–I’ll work on some new jewelry ideas later.”
Sometimes it feels like my passion for my art is the last thing I take care of.
Maybe those paints are ruined for a reason.
Maybe the universe is sending a message here.
You can paint again, it says, but maybe it’s time to start anew. To start fresh, with new ideas, new inspiration, maybe an entirely new direction.
Maybe it’s time to play with colors again, to regain the same sense of wonder and excitement when you first began to paint. And then to move ahead in a different way. Forge a new path.
But to do this, you need to get rid of everything that held you back the last time.
Maybe you don’t have to do penance by fixing those paints. Maybe the message is, “Go out and buy wonderful new paint. Buy some of your favorite old colors, but try something different, too.”
You have found your inspiration to paint again, and you’re determined to really set aside the time and energy it deserves. And that means not wasting time and energy working to revive dead paint.
What a lesson for me today! I’ve been sitting in the middle of an overwhelmingly messy studio, bemoaning the fact that I “should” clean up before I get back to work.
Then I get the note about dried up paint.
Maybe it’s really okay to just jump right into making something today, messy space notwithstanding. Maybe it’s okay to do a little cleaning up after I have fun. Hmmmmm….*
*New note: As I edited this post, it came to me…. Many people, including me, have been unconsciously trained/conditioned to take care of everything and everybody else before we take care of our own needs and desires.
And yet, we have all been given gifts, creative gifts, that are just that: Something special, something extra, something that can make the world a better place.
Our desire to make something beautiful, no matter what form it is, is a gift.
And whoever/whatever gave it to us, will be honored when we make room–and time–for it in our lives.
So put on your oxygen mask (or Covid-19 mask!) and make something beautiful today. Whether it’s your art, your music, your story-telling, your care, whatever your superpower is, put it in the world. Today.
Because the world will be better for it, because of you.
All we need is a good flashlight and the courage to trust ourselves.
(5 minute read)
Just so you know, I really don’t have everything in life all figured out.
Oh, I’m good at finding a way out of the woods, as long as the woods aren’t too dark. ) And the wolves aren’t after us.* (Actually, wolves don’t really hunt people.)
Years ago, I came across a quote by Anne Lamott, about being lost in the dark. She said she prayed, asking God to simply shine a light at her feet, so she could take ‘just one little step…”
She wasn’t asking for His advice. She wasn’t asking for directions. She wasn’t asking for a plan.
All she asked for was the ability to take one small step forward in the dark.
Of course, now I can’t find that quote, but here is a similar one:
“E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”
I won’t get into all the dark stuff surrounding all of us right now. I’m sure by the time this article is published, there will be even more, calling for our attention, and our action.
I do want to talk about the light.
We tend to think of ‘light’ as a quality that allows 2D artists to truly capture an image, especially landscapes, still lifes, and portraits. Light gives depth, color, texture to a painting.
But light is crucial is so many forms of creative work. Plays, cinema, musical performances, dance. In healing, x-rays and CT scans, a totally different form of ‘light’, are ways to reveal sources of pain in our bodies. I could go on with my usual strings of metaphors, but we can accept that light is most definitely a good thing. (For creatives who live with blindness or sight issues, they simple “see” the light in other ways, filling in with their imagination and inner vision. Deafness didn’t stop Beethoven from composing his powerful music.)
Sometimes all we need is that little flashlight at our feet.
Sometimes, of course, we need something bigger. A strategy called “The Lighthouse Method” encourages us to follow a distant signal, far ahead, with no knowledge of what we will find along the way. Sometimes, we can be more like E.L. Doctorow’s headlights metaphor, where we can drive 65mph and simply follow the road in front of us.
As creative people, we may often be alone in our thoughts, our vision, our work. We find many ways to make our work, often experimenting with different media, different palettes, different subject matter, different styles and techniques. We’re used to walking a path that can sometimes seem lonely.
And sometimes, it feels like nothing we do is very satisfying. This can be caused by big life changes (and lots of small ones), illness, death. Broken relationships, loss of income, galleries closing. We’ve added a lot to this list in 2020 already, and there’s probably more to come.
But even as I write this, I can almost feel that flashlight in my hand.
I know if I can get to my studio, I’ll feel better.
Maybe I’ll make some new artifacts. Maybe (oh, yes, please!) another order to fill, or an idea for a new series. Maybe it will be a clay day, or a fiber day, or maybe I’ll just end up on the floor picking up that bowl of seed beads I dropped. Maybe I’ll page through my inspiration file, noting a new ways of connecting this with that, or a new color combo. Maybe I’ll just clear my work surfaces. Maybe just one surface. Okay, maybe I’ll just clean a corner of my desk.
All I know is this:
I will come out of my studio much, much happier than when I went in.
I’m not saying my art is more important than anything else going on in our world today.
I’m saying I’m in a better place to do that work, if I do a bit of MY work first.
So if today is a hard day, take exquisite care of yourself.
It’s okay to be overwhelmed. It’s okay to be confused about who or what to believe. (Although I’d start with reputable news sources, not rumors.)
It’s okay to feel small in the world today. It’s okay to feel lost. It’s part of being human.
But remember we have been given a gift, a precious gift. The gift of yearning ‘to make’, ‘to create’, to bring something into the world that is the product of our unique upbringing, our unique path in life, our skillset, our winding path, our powerful artistic vision.
Know that there are many ways to help others with our creative work. Whether we inspire others with our work or words, or whether we donate a portion of our sales to a good cause, or whether we volunteer for those causes directly, whether we stay in or march, or help those who do, or simply wear a mask, etc. it’s all a way of healing the world.
If we’ve been in the dark ourselves, that teaches us to have compassion for those who are in it now, or who live in it all the time.
Find a way to use your creativity in service of the causes you believe in. Be a force for good in the world. Share your own way of doing this in the comments. I get great ideas from readers, and I’m sure other readers will, too.
Whether it’s headlights, a lighthouse, or a little flashlight, aimed at our feet, we have been here before. And we will be here again, in this dark place.
It is always darkest just before dawn, because that is why the dark is so important. In the dark is when we realize what we really care about. In the dark is where we sleep, and dream. It can be a place of fear and immobility.
But dawn will come again.
And we cannot recognize the light if we never know the dark. The dark teaches us to trust the angels of our better nature
It’s easier for us to really see that little beam of light, in the dark.
This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….” For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.
LEARNING TO SEE #7: The Making is About More Than Just the Selling
Money is GREAT, but it’s also not EVERYTHING!
(7 minute read)
Years ago, when I had a fairly-reliable audience in New England, and galleries all over the country carrying my work, it wasn’t hard to be inspired to make stuff. I knew there would be a “place” for everything I made, and eventually a permanent home for it, too.
Then the recession hit. Then silver prices skyrocketed. (OH THANK YOU PEOPLE WHO TREAT METAL MARKETS LIKE A GAME.) The high price of sterling silver made my jewelry work more expensive. The recession caused many of my galleries to shutter, or to ‘play it safe’ with their inventory. In fact, I used to have a very liberal wholesale return/exchange policy, until many gallery owners used it to constantly replace slow-moving inventory with new work. And everyone wanted my cheapest least expensive work, which was truly disheartening.
As more and more old inventory was returned, as sales fell, it was harder and harder for me to go to my studio and make new work. Old work was all around me. “Why bother?” I thought. “Nobody wants it.”
Slowly, the economy recovered, although many of those national accounts did not. I focused on more local resources, and maintained some degree of success.
Then we moved to California, leaving my biggest audience and events behind. (The League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Craft Fair, and my open studio events, which took about three years to really take off.)
Growing an audience here in California felt like ‘starting over’, until I realized I wasn’t starting over from scratch. I knew I had more experience, more skills, and more insights than when I first started out.
And yet it does take time to introduce our work to a new audience, and it has.
Then we had the wildfire in 2018. And 2019. My open studios tanked, as events were curtailed and postponed. And then, just as our open studio tour committees were in talks about how to work around wildfire season, the coronavirus lifted its knobby little head. All events have been postponed indefinitely. All my galleries here in Sonoma County, and New Hampshire are closed. One went out of business and returned a sh… a lot of work.
My studio is now filled with inventory. And that old feeling of “Why do I even bother?” filled my days. (Then the kidney stone thing, but that’s resolved, thank goodness! 22 DAYS!! Sheesh…)
Soon I had more inventory in my studio than ever. And for a week, I struggled to make anything, because, “Why bother??”
Then a small miracle happened here.
The first was my husband offering me his old sound-cancelling headphones, so I could listen to music on my smartphone. I have a CD player, but playing it loud enough so I can hear it means it could impact my neighbors. Because I can hear THEIR music, and it distracts me. Plus I have to constantly hit the replay button. Ear buds hurt my ears, and don’t give me the best sound quality, either. And I can’t work efficiently to music with words. ) (I know, I’m weird!) And I hate hearing other people talking in their studios, the studios on the floor above me, and next to mine.
Second, I discovered a composer/musician, Poppy Ackroyd, whose music is a perfect fit for me. Her three-song sampler from her album, Feathers, was the perfect choice. It plays over and over, the tunes are hypnotic. Suddenly, my production was in overdrive.
Even when my health issues disrupted my new routine, it only took a week or so to find my happy place.
My sacred creative space is now my happy place. Being ‘in the zone’ brings peace, and clarity. I work for hours, barely conscious of time passing. It feels wonderful!
I do the work I do, make it the way I do, because it makes me happy. It brings peace in my mind, and in my heart. My space is MY space, not shared with anyone, unless I let them in for a visit or a conversation. (Not now, of course!)
My studio, and my art-making, is where I am restored to my highest, best self, every day.
When I first started my little biz, it was with the realization that NOT MAKING was killing me, emotionally, spiritually. Realizing I had to make work that lifted me first. It was the realization that if one person in a million loved my work, that was enough.
With that insight came incredible focus, a desire to be the best I could be, and the determination to learn everything I could about marketing and selling my work. Sales are good, yes. But mostly, I wanted my artwork out in the world, where anyone could see it.
With that determination came a powerful artist statement, one I still use after 25 years. The insight that the Lascaux Cave paintings weren’t created to ‘make money’ or ‘gain celebrity’ helped. One person scoffed at my story, saying, “Those paintings were about SURVIVAL, nothing more!” To which I replied, “So is a cathedral.”
That’s why getting to the “why” behind our work is so important. It’s a superpower!
Because if we focus on money, and sales, and fame, and prestige, all of which are desirable and “not evil” in their own right, it can be devastating when we don’t have them.
If we measure our success in terms of our sales, it can subtly erode the joy we get simply from “the making”.
And in times like these, where everybody is suffering, afraid, feeling alone and unconnected, having access to simply making our art and sharing it is a powerful force for good in our lives.
Here’s another gift in keeping with the making.
Sales in my Etsy shop have tripled. Custom orders appear out of nowhere.*
I’m still struggling, financially, but that’s not new. What is astonishing, is that, for now, there are people in the world more determined than ever to have my art in their homes, in their lives.
In ancient times, shamans were healers, teachers, and artists. They were charged with keeping their people whole in every way. Cave paintings were created with the entire community present: Men, women, children. And we know now that many of those shamans were women.
In these modern times, we can be shamans, too.
Making our work for the right reasons—to restore ourselves to our highest, best place—heals us. Then we share it with the world: It heals others. And by encouraging others to find their own creative work, we teach them the value of what they do.
Hard times come in all shapes and sizes, from personal health to worldwide pandemics. Hard times are always with us: Pain. Grief. Sorrow. Injustice. Anger. Resentment. Lost. Alone.
When, on top of that, we lose any measure of our financial success, it can feel like the final straw.
Yet all creative work helps us heal, from painting to singing, from RomCom movies to tap dancing, from a good book to computer games. All can help us relax, enjoy, distance, hunker down safely, make us laugh, help us connect (virtually for now), calm us down.
The world needs our art more than ever.
If you’ve found a great way to stay centered in your creative practice, share it in the comment section below. When you share with your comments, you may help someone else who needs to hear it. (Ironically, on Fine Art Views, it’s below the ad for “Sell Your Work Like a Pro!) (Although I will say that FASO is one of the most awesome web-hosting sites I’ve ever seen, with a lot of good people working hard every day to help us earn some bucks from our creative work.*) (And “Like a Pro” means “the best way possible, with integrity.)
As always, if you enjoyed this article, let me or my editor know! If you’d like to read more, you can either read more of my articles on Fine Art Views or subscribe to my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com. You can visit my older articles in the wayback machine at Radio Userland. (They are harder to search for, but they are also shorter!)
If you think someone else would like it, please forward it to them. And if someone sent you this, and you liked it, ditto!
*These sales came from a FASO feature I was unaware of. If I post new work in my Gallery section, my email subscribers get an automatic update! Check it out here!
I’ve made more little critters than ever!I’m sharing a tiny gift I’ve found in this hot mess.
Bear with me, because it comes from a bunch of random issues, problems, frustrations, idle research on the internet, and resulted in my new-found work enhancer.
First: All my life, from the very first 45rpm record I bought (“Turn, Turn, Turn” by The Byrds), I love to play a favorite tune over and over and over. (I can hear some of you screaming already…)
Also, when I am writing, or even reading, I can’t listen to music with words. It just jangles the connections in my brain. Soon I’m singing along, not aware that I’ve also stopped reading/writing.
So I can’t listen to lyrics during those activities. Put a pin there.
More on music: I have a CD player in my studio. Old school, I know. I also have Pandora radio, and I tried to use that, especially because CDs only give 45 minutes to an hour of playtime. I got the internet radio because my husband has had one for years. How many years? Let’s just say it’s a century in “internet years.”
Because he’s used it so long, it now automatically plays even random music that suit his tastes. Mine, not so much. I tried searching for artists, songs, music genres, etc. But it never complied anything I could listen to for more than five minutes.
So I quit using it, and went back to my CD player. At least I can play discs of music I love and have collected over the years.
But there were problems there, too. First, as I said earlier, I’m one of those obnoxious people, the ones who fall in love with a song, and play it over and over and over and over and over until everyone around me wants to scream. (Have you stopped yet?) (I have my reasons why, but I won’t bore you with them today.) (Unless you ask, of course.) 🙂
So I have to constantly hit “replay”, which means I have to push a button every 4 minutes and 30 seconds. Or constantly skip over the songs that annoy me.
I worry about driving my neighbors crazy, especially in my “one-song-repeat-a-thousand-times” mode. (Put a pin here, too.)
Also, I’m in a huge building with dozens of other artists. We all have our individual workspaces, and fortunately, we don’t share air systems or even heating ducts. (No heat.) But I can hear their conversations from time to time, off-key whistled accompaniments to their own music, etc.
I ended up wearing ear plugs, which work great. But now I can’t hear my music, right?
If I play my music loud enough so I can’t hear them, it’s actually TOO loud (because the ear buds don’t fit.) And if I play my music loud enough so I can hear it no matter where I sit in their studio, well, then I’m bugging THEM.
And after the shut-down orders came, I was a little stressed even in my happy creative space. It was harder than usual to focus and dig into my projects.
Put a pin there.
Around the same time, I was complaining to my husband how all my ear buds suck, because a) I can’t get them inserted adequately to get the best sound unless I hold them in place, which is not conducive to doing my art work because I NEED MY HANDS TO WORK; and b) they hurt my ears.
So he gave me his old headset, an inexpensive refurbished model he’d bought for his work’s online conferences, but never used because it didn’t have a microphone.
I love them. The sound is great, they are comfortable, and I can plug into my phone, tuck my phone in a pocket, and move about the studio easily. (Before, I would forget I was “plugged in”, jump up from one work station to move to another, and nearly destroy my phone and everything on my desk in the process.) (Pin!)
A couple months ago, I found a delightful little video by Ainslie Henderson online. I can’t for the life of me remember how. I think someone posted it on Facebook?
I fell in love with it. He mentions how his little animated figures carry a bit of sadness, and when the little one pulls at the arm of a larger one who’s stilled already at 2:00 minutes into the video, I felt that.
I also fell in love with the music. When I looked up more of his film shorts, I saw how he has collaborated with various musicians over the years.
So I looked up Poppy Ackroyd, who did the music for that little video, and found more of her music. Her work sounds simple, but it’s also complex. How she makes it and puts it together is astonishing.
Then I realized I can “sample” Ackroyd’s album “Leaves”, which has three of my favorite songs on it: “Salt”, “Timeless”, and “Roads”.
They have NO WORDS.
They are hypnotic.
They repeat, in order, over and over and over.
No pushing buttons. No being tied to a three-foot leash. No noise to bother my neighbors. No noise to bother me.
And now I’m hooked.
I get to my studio, set up my phone for Acroyd’s playlist, put on my headphones, and get to work.
I work steadily for hours on end, happy, heart-lifted, and soothed.
All these elements and issues combined and resolved by a $14 headset, and….
A beautiful collaboration between visual artist and music artist.
I never would have found Henderson’s work without surfing on Facebook, which can be a huge time-waster and a hotspot for fake news, etc.
I never would have found Poppy Acroyd’s music without finding Ainslie Henderson’s video.
I never would have found Poppy’s music if they had not collaborated.
I never would have found such a powerful way for me to get deep into the ‘Zone’ without my husband’s suggestion of using a headset.
Today I’m going to send some money to Poppy Ackroyd. I figure I owe it to her.
And I am so grateful all these random little elements, missteps, personal quirks, etc., came together and gave me just what I need right now to reinforce my creative work time.
What have you found that helps you get into that deep creative space that’s so important for our work?
P.S. Another earworm you might enjoy: Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) and Emmy Lou Harris collaborating on “Speedway at Nazareth“. (Headphones or whatever gives you the best sound quality. Worth it!)
P.S.S. I was going to apologize for dragging you through tons of “little bits” that all came together to tell a story. Until I realized this is the heart of all my creative work. Little bits that get sewn/knit together, all carrying something intriguiging to me, with lots of tiny details, braided into a story that lifts my heart.
I hope it lifted yours today, to
Ah, winter. Full of holidays mere days apart, especially the big ones. Someone wrote recently, “When Christmas is done, it’s DONE!” They’re right. One minute I’m trying to find a tree that’s small enough to fit in our little rental home, the next I’m finishing off the last of the eggnog for a whole nother year.
Winter is not as cold here in Northern California, not nearly as cold as Michigan, or New Hampshire (40 degrees below zero sometimes) but I’ve also never had unheated studios before, either. My former studio at A Street was pretty cold, but small-ish, so easier to heat with a space heater.
My newest studio at 33Arts (3840 Finley Avenue in Santa Rosa) is bigger, harder to heat quickly, too. It can only accomodate one space heater, it’s on the main floor, and it faces north. I wore three wool sweaters today, and a wool hat, and my hands were still freezing! Not conducive to working with polymer clay.
But it’s spacious, the light is steady, I have plenty of worklights, it’s beautiful, and I can tolerate cold better than heat. And it’s pleasantly cool through spring, summer, and fall. So, no complaints
Now the peek into my design process.
I made three beautiful new horse necklaces this week. Two faux ivory horses, one strung with rose/blush pink/pale peach semi-precious stones and pearls, the other with sage/pale olive same. And a blue faux soapstone horse with pale blue and aqua. It was so hard to condition the clay (polymer clay does not like cold) but I figured out how to get it warm enough to work.
I have beads I’ve collected for almost four decades, from local stores, online shops, bead and gem trade shows, bead traders who come to my home with their wares, thrift shops, and antique stores. Some of my beads are new, most are vintage, and a lot are antique-to-ancient. Most are imported from Europe: France, Venetian glass beads from Italy, Bohemia (now Czechoslovakia) all well-known producers of antique glass beads.)
I also use beads from Africa (trade beads, handmade pot metal beads in all shapes and sizes), India (semi-precious gemstones), Japan (who pioneered cultured pearls, now known as freshwater pearls, also glass beads), and China, a new leader in all, but especially freshwater pearls and semi-precious gemstones.
Oooh, almost forgot the beautiful “Roman” glass beads, actually made in Afghanistan from broken/misshapen perfume bottles and bracelets, rescued from the midden heaps of ancient glass factories along the Silk Road trade routes and reshaped into new beads.
I love them all! And I get very particular about which ones I use in each design. Size, shape, hue, texture (matte, polished, faceted), all matter.
This is why it takes me hours to string a beaded necklace. I never know where I’m headed, but I always get there….
And each of these higher-end pieces get a special finishing touch. A tiny pendant at the clasp, and my signature (literally!) horse charm in sterling or antique brass.
FINDING HOPE IN THE HARD PLACES: My Blog Tagline Works Its Magic Again.*
Bad/Mad/Sad Brain and “Aha!” Moments
Take a tiny moment to say ‘thank you’, and count your blessings!
I’m an artist. And as an artist, my first responsibility is to make my art. It’s what restores me to my better self, makes me whole and centered. I make it for myself, first.
I know this first-hand, and many good friends remind me of this constantly. For example, the one who sent me a card with this quote:
People like you must create.
If you don’t create, Luann, you will become a menace to society.
(the note also says, “With apologies to Maria Semple, author of “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”. See last paragraph in Part 3.”) (Thanks and a hat tip to Amy Helen Johnson!) (Yes, I bought the book.)
Our second responsibility is to put it out in the world. We mostly interpret this as selling our art, and making a living with our art. Some fortunate, hardworking few can do this. But walking away from the work of our heart, simply because we can’t sell it, is hurtful. (See “first responsibility”, above.)
There are lots of ways to get our work out into the world. If you make art, you can make it, share it, give it away, sell it, exhibit it, teach it, collaborate with it, write about it, donate it, etc. etc. The same with writing. The internet makes this almost effortless.
Yes, selling is wonderful–unless you get caught up in the selling, to the exclusion of everything else. Vincent Van Gogh’s work was only sold to his brother. (Do you have 3 minutes? Watch this heartbreakingly powerful snippet of a video about this.) (I dare you not to tear up.) And ironically, the most commercially successful artist of our time seems to have lost everything of value in a life dedicated to fame and fortune.
Somerwhere in the middle is where I’d like to end up.
So I recently stepped up my game in regard to selling. This came after realizing I was struggling to sell a $24 pair of earrings to a casual visitor in my studio. Realizing that one gallery hadn’t sold one single piece of my work in a year. Reflecting that most of my out-of-state galleries were struggling to sell my work. A local gallery that reached out to represent me, finally said they love love love my work (another line that’s fun, but not my “heart” work) just wasn’t selling, and they needed to set me free.
I felt like a failure. (Hey! 2017 was a weird year!)
Then I realized, why should I focus on making $24 earrings??? Why should I base my definition of success on income alone? Why was I falling for the same emotional/spiritual/inaccurate measuring stick I constantly counsel and warn artists against????
So…I upped my game.
I cleared my studio of the fun-but-inexpensive work, focused on the work of my heart.
I realized that just because I’m now writing weekly for an art marketing newsletter doesn’t mean I’m off the hook with my blog.
I reevaluated, recentered, and refocused on my biggest vision for my art. And I cleaned house on my Etsy site, and focused on the work I have on hand, my best work, and moved forward.
I decided to make the work that makes me happy, and not the work I think I can sell.
Another gallery in the same town as the one that cut me loose, took on my work two weeks. And they’ve already made a sale.
The gallery in Santa Rosa has been selling steadily, and it just keeps getting better and better.
A gallery that hadn’t sold any of my work in a year, sold a MAJOR PIECE. And another big (for me) piece the same day.
And I’ve had five sales in my Etsy shop this month. (A lot for me!)
But that’s not all. Every single sale has resulted in a message from the buyer, telling me how much they love love love what I do, how it speaks to them, and how even more amazing it is in person.
Today I got home to a beautiful email from a delighted buyer. I always respond, with gratitude and joy.
But because I’m human, because I’m afraid to be too happy, afraid to be too hopeful, I tend to respond well outside. But inside, I hold back. Thinking, “Well, that’s great, but…..” “Don’t get a swelled head, because…..” “Don’t get your hopes up because…..”
But this time, I read that email. And something told me….
Be in this moment.
Embrace this moment. Stop and celebrate it.
This moment is the blessing, the extra gift, that comes for making my work and getting it out into the world.
Take note of this moment.
I remembered, decades ago, a wise woman I crossed paths with, who shared a powerful insight with me.
When we really want something, she said, there is a centering, empowering way to ask.
Stand up, head bowed, humbly. Think of what your heart desires. Breathe in, breathe out. Then stand tall. Expand.
Raise your head, open your arms, and hands. Look to the heavens above.
And simply ask, with all your heart, what it is you desire.
The very first time I did this, I was in an antique store. I’d been looking for years for a wonderful book that was long out of print. (This was years before I finally discovered Bookfinder.com, the absolute best tool for finding any book in the world.)
I thought, what the heck? I did the mantra.
And when I was done, I look up. I saw a bookcase in the booth across the room. I walked to it.
And I found the book.*
So today, before I could diminish my joy, before I could “be logical” about my delight in this sale, and this email note from my buyer, I decided to take a moment to celebrate.
I did my little ceremony.
But instead of asking for anything, I simply said….
In these days of “Be careful what you wish for”, in these days of “Yeah, but….”, in these days of, as Anne Lamott succinctly put it, “…compar(ing) our insides to other people’s outsides”, in these days of internet fame and viral prodigies, in these days of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), in these days of wondering, “Will I ever be a successful artist?”, without ever stopping to think of what “success” means to YOU….
Take a minute to give thanks.
To count your blessings.
To feel the full joy of having a voice in the world.
And the unexpected delight of having someone else hearing your song.
Now…go to your studio and make stuff.
*David and the Phoenix (Illustrated) by Edward Ormondroyd, if you want to know, and it’s been reprinted since then.
(OH, and you can see my Etsy shop here.)
Artists urge us to see the invisible, unnoticed beauty, and the important stuff of life.
I didn’t intend to write today.
I opened my journal, intending to try a new journaling technique I just read about. In flipping to the next blank page, I came across a note I’d written a few weeks ago. All it said was David Foster Wallace: This is Water
That’s it. Curious, and always open to an opportunity to procrastinate, I Googled it.
It’s about everything I’ve ever written about.
Of course, my lizard brain went, “Dang! Nothin’ left for me to write.” The angels of my better nature said, “Shut up and write. And then share it.”
Foster tells the story of two young fish passing by an old fish. The old fish says, “Mornin’, boys, how’s the water?” The younger fish continue on, til one turns to the other and says, “What the hell is water??”
Foster talks about a basic fact of life: We are the center of our own universe. After all, he notes, everything that happens everywhere is filtered through our eyes, our experience. He describes a typical experience: Grocery shopping after work. He outlines every single nuance of frustration and exasperation involved, from getting caught in traffic, shopping crowded aisles filled with slow people and whining kids, and ending up in the longest line at checkout. Who are these annoying, terrible people, and why are they ruining my day??!!
This isn’t bad, or evil, he reassures us. It’s natural. It’s ordinary. It’s human. It’s our default setting.
We have something unique in us. We get to consciously choose what has meaning, and what doesn’t.
We all worship something, something not necessarily god-like. This, too, can bite us back. If we worship money and things, we will never feel like we have enough. If we worship our bodies and sexual appeal, we will always feel ugly. If we worship power and control, we will always feel afraid. If we worship our intellect, we will always feel stupid.
Real freedom, he says, comes from conscious choice. It involves attention. Awareness. Self-discipline. Effort. Caring for, and sacrificing for others.
That awareness comes from seeing what is real and essential, hidden in plain sight.
“This is water.”
I instantly realized, this is what artists are for.
When I say to you, “Yes, making money from art is nice. But that’s not the whole reason we do it.”
When I say, “When we have a creative gift, it’s our responsibility to bring it forth.”
When I say, “We can’t judge the work we do. We just need to get it out there in the world.”
When I was told, “The world needs your art”, I felt ‘the call’.
When I say, “Art is more than just what it does for you. It’s what it does for others.”
All of this, and more….What I’m really saying is this:
Art and creative work helps us see water.
This is why we must make the work that is unique to us–not what’s trendy and fashionable.
This is why measuring ourselves with fame and wealth is a sure way to kill our creative spirit.
This is why trying to control our legacy creates a disconnect with our rich inner life.
Bringing our creative work into the world involves the same conscious decisions: Attention. Awareness. Self-discipline. Effort. Caring for others. Sacrificing for others. (I’m still wrapping my head around that last one, I can almost get it, but can’t articulate it. Another article??)
First art heals us. When we share it with the world, then it can heal others.
Sadly, Wallace suffered from severe depression, and committed suicide in 2008. Sometimes the angry, frightened voices in our head cannot be silenced. But he left us with beautiful words, and powerful ideas. He got them out into the world so that you and I can flourish.
He helped us see water.
You and me, we are only human. Embrace that!
Yesterday I wrote how I sabotaged my creative workday. I did dishes and laundry instead of making art.
Today, I did the same thing.
Doesn’t matter what I did. (Okay, I finished a book. It took a couple hours. But I had to do it. Why? Well, it was kinda creepy. Giving me bad dreams. But the writing is good, and I had to get to the ending.) (No, I’m not going to tell you.) (Okay, The Chalk Girl, by Carol O’Connell.)
Yes, as I was reading, I thought, “I should get to the studio.” But I chose to finish my novel instead, knowing I had other choices.
Why? Because I’m human.
This means there are days where I will have the power of my intention. And days where I will give in to temptation.
There are days where I will make time to make the work of my heart. And days where I will set it aside to do something else I love. Or like. Or fool myself into thinking I have to.
There are days where I will move heaven and earth to explore a new design, a new color palette. And there are days where I have to look up “palette” for spelling (because I always forget the which of the three options is right) and I come across a wonderful new color palette app–so cool!) and get distracted. (Color Pal–get it? Auto fill-in with Google led me right to it.)
You are human, too. Which means, if you read that last post, you may have realized how often we sabotage our creative efforts with more mundane tasks that can wait.
And, being human, you–me–all of us–will do it again. And again, and again, and again.
Here’s what I’ve learned from my decades-long observation and exploration into what makes me click as an artist, what holds me back, what holds me down, what gets in my way, what leads me astray.
It’s always me. Me making that decision, consciously or unconsciously, to leave the path.
And no matter how many times I observe it, write about it, clarify it for others, there’s also something else I’ve learned….
I’m going to do it again.
Here’s why I’m not beating myself up about it. And why you shouldn’t either:
This is what people do.
You are not a bad person because your will power is made of rubber, not steel.
Here’s an interesting fact: We’ve all read the benefits of meditation. We all know what we’re supposed to do. Sit quietly, empty our mind, and if we do it right, we will achiev a state of enlightenment.
And most of us know that finding that time, that quiet space, is something we just can’t seem to make room for. We know we start emptying the mind, and all sorts of stuff rushes in to fill the vacuum. “Did I remember to turn the oven off?” “How do my kids/cats/partner/employees know when I’m trying to sit quietly for five minutes?!” “I can’t remember my mantra….!!” We are left with yet another feeling that we’re doing it wrong. We’ll never be enlightened, unless yoga class goes on for another hour or to.
But do you know that enlightenment is not the goal?
Turns out the benefit doesn’t come from “doing it right”.
The benefit comes from trying.
Here is a two minute video of a beautiful explanation of why the trying matters.
I’m sharing this with you, today, so you don’t waste a single minute feeling bad about yourself today. I want you to know how normal, how human you really are.
People don’t exercise, lose weight, break addiction, stop drinking, meditate regularly, make their art, because they have superior will power.
They achieve that habit because they never stop trying.
My favorite quote from martial arts is, “A black belt is a white belt who didn’t quit.”
So do make room for your art today.
Do set aside time to note some ideas. Play with paint. Stitch a little. I’m experimenting with animals you can carry in your hand.
Practice your intention, daily. Observe what the
lizard brain monkey mind says.
Decide you only have to dedicate a wee bit of time for your art. (I allowed ten minutes to make these. Yep, I fooled my monkey mind, and actually finished these!)
And listen to the achingly beautiful, loving-kindness of Mary Oliver’s words today:
Go to your studio today. You won’t regret it.
And if you don’t get there today, why, try again tomorrow.
You do not have to be good.
|You do not have to walk on your knees|
|for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.|
|You only have to let the soft animal of your body|
|love what it loves.|
|Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.|
|Meanwhile the world goes on.|
|Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain|
|are moving across the landscapes,|
|over the prairies and the deep trees,|
|the mountains and the rivers.|
|Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,|
|are heading home again.|
|Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,|
|the world offers itself to your imagination,|
|calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –|
|over and over announcing your place|
|in the family of things.