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.

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 #3: Who’s On Your Team?

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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 #2: What’s the Hard Part?

Fortunately, having enough artifacts will NOT be a problem!
Fortunately, having enough artifacts will NOT be a problem!

What’s the Hard Part?

(5 minute read)

I had a problem this week. I didn’t know what to write about for my next column.

Last week, I wrote about how I got through the roadblocks that held me back from a project I dreamed of years ago. When I wrote it, I was at the end of a major first part: Building the wood box shrines that will showcase my handmade artifacts.

Here’s what I wasn’t prepared for: I didn’t know how to solve the next step. And I felt like a loser once again. Overwhelmed, no energy, self-doubt up the wazoo.

In fact, I felt even more pressure on myself! After all, I’d just joyously announced I had plenty of shrines constructed, and now I was ready for the next step. Except now I could see there would be even more trial-and-error aspects ahead. It felt like I’d climbed one mountain, only to see that I was only on the first peak. I still hadn’t actually reached the top. (I looked this up, and yes, a mountain can have several peaks, points that are individually higher than the surrounding/adjacent areas. But only one is the actual summit, the highest peak. Huh.)

So I hit my first peak and was a little dismayed to realize there were more ahead.

Today’s blog post by Seth Godin clarified my dilemma neatly:

“What’s the hard part?”

The title alone helped me move forward. Because getting through the first ‘hard part’ taught me something important:

Trying to solve things in our heads is doing it the hard way.

 What we really need first is a foundation to build on.

My husband is a writer/journalist/programmer. Quite a mix, I know! He taught himself coding back in the 1980’s, and though he says he’s not “the best”, he’s mastered it enough to achieve his current career goals.

He’s been working on a project for a year now, and last week, he had a major breakthrough, too, like I had six months ago with my own project.

Today, I asked him what brought about the breakthrough.

He didn’t understand at first, so I asked, “Did you have an inspiration, like a dream (like Elias Howe, sewing machine guy) or while thinking about something else (like Archimedes taking a bath)?

He said, “I had to build the foundation first. Everything I want to do, depends on creating that first.”

Aha! Like a building. The foundation not only holds everything up, but it determines the size, shape, and function of the structure. A skyscraper office building requires a totally different foundation than a house.

He finished the foundation. And then he realized he was ready to start making the functions that depend on that foundation. (He also hit a wall, just like I did with my shrines!) (Yes, we’re both recovering nicely, and moving forward again.)

A foundation means we have a vision of where we want to go, and we have concrete (sorry!) ideas of how to get there, even if we don’t have everything else figured out yet.

Even those famous inventers had a deep understanding of what the problem was, before they could experiment with solutions. They had to know what was missing before they could fill in the blank spaces.

Archimedes’ “Eureka” moment didn’t come out of nowhere. He understood the problem was identifying pure gold from gold-and-silver. His bathtub gave him an insight. In fact, a list of dream-inspired insights show us that all of the inventors/writers/creatives were already working on the problem/mystery they wanted to solve. I love how Wikipedia even has a section on “activation synthesis hypothesis” in the dream-inspired insights article. It acknowledges that our conscious brain plays a huge part in these insights, even when we’re asleep. Even if the dream seems metaphorical, our conscious mind will actively seek and identify that “metaphor”.

In my case, a shrine series started with how to find enough boxes, how to pair up those boxes efficiently, how to distress, paint, and antique those boxes. And the hardest part, how to connect them together in an efficient, strong, aesthetically-pleasing way.

And once I’d made “enough” shrines to get started on actually putting artifacts in them, I stalled a bit. But now I have air beneath my wings again.

What’s the hard part?

The biggest one is setting aside our fears and our self-doubt. Whether our projects involve coming up with a new series, a new process, a new technique, a new approach to our art, even exploring social media marketing, trying to do it in our heads may only take us so far.

At some point, we have to simply try.

And if it matters to us, we have to keep trying.

 Hold in your heart my favorite quote by Thomas Edison:

“I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

Fortunately, getting adept at using social media marketing is not nearly as difficult! It can sound daunting, and it can take time to get there. There are plenty of great resources available to us, including FASO’s own AMP (Art Marketing Playbook) series of recorded Zoom workshops hosted by FASO’s Chief Marketing Officer, Dave Geada. (I did not realize you can try this program free for a month. Nothing stopping you now, right?)

But in order to get results, you simply have to try. When it comes to social media marketing, you have to actually take pics of your creative work (so much easier now!), upload those images, get comfortable talking/sharing/connecting online, and then get better.

Our first foundation is creating those accounts, and getting started. We have to stop worrying about how hard it seems, set aside our worries of being copied, what to share and say, worrying about how to get 10,000 followers, etc.

We have to get over counting the “likes” and focus on simply getting our art out into the world.

It’s not about having an audience. It’s about having a voice.

 Seth’s blog talks about “the team”, which through me for a moment. Until I figured that out, too! Stay tuned for next week’s article in this series: What is our team, and what is our team effort?

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.

LEARNING TO SEE #7: The Making is About More Than Just the Selling

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.

Happy place.

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!

This is old hat for many of you, if you follow my blog. Or articles here on Fine Art Views.

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!

 

Musings and Muddling 2: What The Hell Is Water?

Thank you, Terry E. for the beautiful inspiration for my owl story

Musings and Muddling…Why Our Creative Work Matters

I’m in a swirl of new work and new ideas. And I’m also in a whirl of indecision, frustration, and unsolvable problems.

Every time I get stuck, I experience self-doubt. Feelings of not-doing-it-right. Afraid the world will finally see how how unworthy of the title “artist” I truly am.

I’ve been here before. And so have you. (We ALL have ‘creative work’ in us, according to my ever-inclusive definition: Any work that is a force for good, that makes the world a better place. That would be the “traditional” arts, including music, dance, drama, etc. But to me, it also means healing, teaching, restoring, repairing, repurposing, inventing, gardening, cooking, nurturing, etc.)

This morning I was searching my Pinterest page. I’m looking for a way to turn a flat object (okay, it’s my owl face artifacts) into a pendant. My usual methods won’t work, for a variety of reasons. The brooch/pendant converter doesn’t work, and using a glue-on bail would interfere with the look of the owl. Hence (my favorite part of “The House Bunny” movie is Anna Faris’s passionate use of this one word) my search on Pinterest, looking for ideas.

As I searched, I found one of my old blog posts from four years ago, How to Make Water.

And as I was finishing this up, a friend sent me this astonishing insight into the real nature of creativity, in a snippet of an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert. (Thank you, Gail M.!)

Basking in the astonishing wonder of synchronicity, aka “little daily miracles….)

So no solution yet, but this was exactly what I needed to read, and hear today.

Enjoy!

As always, if you enjoyed this article and know someone who might like it, too, please pass it on! And if you liked this newsletter and received it from someone else, you can sign up for more at my webiste, LuannUdell.com.

STAY HUNGRY: Sometimes Hunger Is a Good Thing

STAY HUNGRY: Sometimes Hunger Is a Good Thing

STAY HUNGRY: Sometimes Hunger Is a Good Thing

The surprising benefit of needing money

(7 minute read)

I have no idea how or where this thought came from today. Oh, wait, I do!

Several times today, in the space of a few hours, I’ve come across mentions of why it’s important to remember why we started our art, and why we make it. I’m guessing you and I may have shared the same thoughts, lo-those-many-years-ago. Maybe we dreamed of being a famous artist. (Or an infamous artist? Your choice!)

Maybe we jumped right in. Or maybe we put it off for years. What held us back? Maybe, like me, we didn’t think we were “good enough”.

I didn’t like to paint. Therefore, I must not be a “real” artist.

But at some point, maybe, like me, we knew it was in us, and had to come out.

So we start, with excitement and joy. “I’m doing it! Woot!”

We keep going, and hopefully, get better.

We have a sale, or two, or twenty. “I’m on my way!”

For some of us, this climb continues until we soar. Our gallery representation grows, we get some media coverage, we make the big bucks.

We become the famous artist we’ve dreamed of being. Our dream becomes the norm: “Business as usual.”

Or not.

There are a lot of artists today, probably more than in any other time in history. My generation (of which I am the trailing edge) has had time to not only pursue our art, we’ve had time to actually retire from our day jobs and do it full-time. Hence, a lot of competition. A lot of competition.

And lot of new artists entering the field every day, attracting a new audience of their own.

So as more artists make more work, to a slowly smaller audience, and sales slow, some artists contemplate quitting.

Their main reason? “Nobody likes my work.” “Nobody buys my work.” We seriously believe that more money will make us happier, and if we can’t get it, then why bother trying?

Fortunately, many artists, when given the chance to reflect, realize money/sales would be nice. But it isn’t the only reason we do what we do.

We do our work of our heart because it feels good. We like how we feel as we work our way through the process. We love having the freedom to do what we like the way we like, and using the subject matter we like.

With luck, perhaps we realize a bigger truth: Money isn’t everything. And too much money can ruin everything.

Decades ago, I served on a board for an art organization. We were running out of money at every turn, and our executive director was getting frantic. We had some money, a generous benefactor or two. But we couldn’t grow, we couldn’t take on all those new projects and endeavors that would really be the game-changer.

Heard this before? Then the following bit of information may break your brain.

Too much money can be even worse.

We hired a consultant who specialized in non-profit board training. She was amazing! Spot-on in her experience, suggestions, and insights. She shared that in her experience, the most damaging thing that could happen to a non-profit board was to have too much money. (I still remember the stunned silence that met this statement!)

“It literally takes “the hunger” away,” she explained. “The organization spends more, liberally, but not necessarily on the projects that really benefit the cause. It’s about spending, not growing or going deeper. And it can suck the life, the passion, out of the cause.”

What??

First, let me say right now, YES money is important. We need it for the basic necessities in life, we need it to have food, shelter, kids, pets, health insurance, a car or other transportation, education. Money is a necessity, not a luxury.

Money, needing money, and wanting money is not the problem.

The problem is when we really think about how much is “enough”. Because for almost everyone, there is no such thing as “too much money”, until there is.

Remember Po Bronson’s book, What Should I Do With My Life? Published in 2002, the message most of us “heard” was, “Follow your bliss and the money will follow.” Unfortunately, that’s not always true. But most of us missed the bigger story:

Too much money can kill our dreams.

It turns out that, just like that consultant said, too much money has its own issues.

Bronson described how many people put off following their dreams until “they have enough money” to pursue them, without having to worry about making money from them. But what really happens is, they lose that hunger to follow their dreams. It can even make their dreams seem meaningless, pointless. Why bother making your own art, when you can afford to buy anyone else’s? Why perform music like your favorite bands, when you can buy an entire collection of their instruments? Why race cars when you can collect race cars instead? Why paint the ocean when you can look at it every day from your $10 million dollar estate atop a cliff?  (Yes, I know people who think this way, and who do this.)

Martha Beck, life coach extraordinaire, once wrote about a client, a single woman, who worried about having no money, no security, afraid of becoming a street person late in life. Beck helped her set a goal of $1 million dollars in savings, so she would feel safe. Several years later, she met her goals. “You made it!” said Beck, congratulating her. “How do you feel now?” “Well,” sighed the woman, “If only I could save another million, I’d really feel safe.”

Do we really think that extra million will do it? Maybe for a day or two until our fear of “running out” raises its scary head again.

Let’s check in with one of the wealthiest people on the planet, Jeff Bezos, who has an estimated net worth of over $116 billion dollars. Well, there are a lot of billionaires out there today. How about a little video that shows just how much money that really is? (He purchased a home in Los Angeles home for $165 MILLION dollars, or less than 1/703 of his total wealth.) And this video was made after he’d already lost over $4 billion dollars due to market drops, and a $38 billion dollar divorce. So, money did not buy a happy marriage, either. And apparently, making more money is still one of his most important goals.

Here’s what happens when I get ahead in my own art biz income: I go on spending sprees, buying up supplies and materials for new projects, because I’m secretly afraid I will never have a “surplus” of money again.

Pretty sad, huh?

Finally, an insurance agent gave me clarity that still haunts me to this day. We were both on the board of another start-up non-profit. This gave me the opportunity to have some amazing talks with him, including this story.

He had the opportunity to take a dream vacation, a dream of a life time, with his partner. They could afford it, but it would be expensive. He agonized for a long time about whether this was a wise decision.

Then he had the insight that this was what insurance is all about. It’s a way to reassure us that, even if something terrible happens, we will be okay.

That’s when he realized, at the heart of every buyer of insurance, is the question: How much money will make you feel safe? Of all people, he realized, he should know the answer to this!

Anything can happen in life.

And no amount of money can ever keep us completely safe.

They went on their dream vacation, and he’s really happy they did.

As the poster in a good friend’s house said, at a pivotal point in my life, “All ships are safe in harbor. But that’s not what ships are for.

Money is good. Lots of money can be great. Too much money can be mind-numbing, and soul-shrinking.

Being a little hungry can be beautiful, and powerful, too.

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. If you think someone else would like it, please forward it to them. And if someone sent you this, and you liked it, ditto!

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 .

WHAT WE LOST: Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks

Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks
Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks

What We Lost

Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks

(8 minute read) 

I had a great idea for this week’s column. “Had”, not have. Because….where do I start??

Six months ago, I tried to clear my computer of old emails, because Google said I was “out of storage space.” My husband said it’s mostly photos that take up most of the space, so at first I only deleted emails with images already stored on my computer.

But the numbers didn’t go down much, so I began to delete more and more. At one point, my actions were moving so slowly, I thought I was doing it wrong, so I would hit “delete” several times before I’d see messages disappear. Which resulted in me accidentally deleting EVERY SINGLE EMAIL before 2018.

I didn’t think it would matter, until I realized a) that meant every single article I’ve sent to various magazines and online venues by email was also deleted; b) important conversations I wanted to refer back to were deleted; c) orders to companies for critical goods and services I only use every few years, were deleted.

Every week, there’s something I think of, and go, “Oh, I’ll search my email for that!” And then realize it’s gone, gone, gone.

Six weeks ago, I also got clarity on how to move forward with a project I’ve long carried in my heart. I needed to create my own “mounts” for displaying artifacts. I actually took an online class on mount-making for museum mounts just before we moved to California. I still have the book, I’m sure I saw it around that time, and went to look for it last week.

I can’t find it anywhere. I looked at home. Nope. I thought maybe I took it to the studio, but can’t find it there, either. I searched all my storage space at home. Nada. So I looked for it online, but it’s out of print. And Bookfinder.com, which usually comes to the rescue, only showed the folks that sell out-of-print books for thousands of dollars. I thought, “Oooh, I could search my emails for the rich conversations I had with my online teacher!” Then remembered….Oh, poo.

About that great idea for this column. I wrote it down, as is my habit, in my notebook, where I write down everything I need to remember: chores, appointments, commitments, insights, and yes, ideas for columns. I typically get 2-4 months of entries in each one, so that’s how much time is represented in each one.

Last Friday, I lost that notebook. I’ve searched high and low for it, even home, studio, storage. I’ve looked under furniture, car seats, inside backpacks packed for the fire evacuation, etc. I even called places I visited that day, asking if anyone has seen it or turned it in.

I feel like my brain is breaking!

And my biggest fear: This is a metaphor for the biggest fear for many of us, as we age, the loss of our memory. Scary stuff!

But is that the best metaphor?

Are we living computers, with memory that prevails for ages until injuries or conditions take them away? Is everything we “remember” even true? Are all our judgments and decisions that important over time?

Even as I wrote that, I looked once more on Bookfinder.com for the book, and found a copy that was affordable.

I visited a great hardware store that sold the brass rods I need to make those mounts, bringing samples and images of what I needed them for. A customer service rep assured me that making my own L hooks would be time-consuming, and there was an easier way to make those mounts with glue.

Yes, I miss the emails, still. But the articles aren’t actually “gone”, because they are somewhere in my documents file, even though it’s increasingly hard to find them. I will always regret some of the wonderful email conversations I’ve enjoyed over the years, but the healing, wisdom, and care I received from those are still with me.

And of course our most recent experience with our California wildfires helps put this all into perspective…..

The Kinkade fire was similar to the Tubbs fire in 2017 that destroyed 5% of the homes in Santa Rosa, except it wasn’t. Winds were less sustained, fire crews had more support, and they learned from the Tubbs fire. Almost 3,000 homes (over 5,000 buildings) burned in the Tubbs fire. Only 150 homes were lost in the Kinkade fire. There was more information available, because the lessons learned from 2017. Still not perfect, but a lot better. And most important? 22 people died in the Tubbs fire. The Kinkade fire? Zero.

This time, we had more time to think about what to take and what to leave behind, should we have to evacuate. I found it harder to leave my studio than our home!

These losses, real and imagined, concrete and anticipated, all sit in my heart today. Here are the gifts I’ve found there:

It’s hard for us to think about our unsold work, especially if it tends to outnumber our SOLD work. But at least it will go somewhere. It might sell after we pass, it may be gifted, it may be found in antique galleries and thrift shops, or heck, a yard sale! But that’s still better than having it all destroyed, for all time.

I’m frustrated at all the information I lost in that notebook. But I can find some of the more vital information (for taxes, etc.) I usually have a separate notebook for my more emotional/spiritual/blorting writing, and I still have all those! In fact, as I came across them while searching for my last journal, I’ve been pulling them out of storage and rereading them. My favorite so far is the year I recorded every funny thing my kids said. So many things I did not remember, until I read them again! So many setbacks and recoveries. So many problematic people for me to complain about, and so much insight gained on some, from good people.

The self-doubt I thought was new? Turns out I’ve had it since I took up my art! Yes, I was fearless in practice. But I still had to write my way to that place of power, over and over and over.

It was poignant to reread all my “biggest visions” and dreams I had for my art, that seem pretty small compared to the ones I’ve made in the last few months. Maybe I’ll surprise myself again, with even bigger ones!

It was empowering to read of the “dream galleries” I yearned to be accepted by, and so I get to contemplate the ones that worked out, and the ones that didn’t –and why.

We tend to think our lives, and our art career, as constantly moving forward, building and growing, or, if we’ve lost hope, stalled and pointless, when in reality there are peaks and valleys, profits and loss, insights and changes-of-heart, every step of the way.

Some of the things that felt like enormous roadblocks at the time, I usually referred to as “that incident”, or initials (if a person), and I can’t even remember who or what those were! They felt monumental at the time (and were!) And that stuff still happens, and will continue to happen. Hopefully, I will continue to move past them, and maybe even forget these, too.

And in the last year, several dear friends from my artistic path have popped up on my radar. No need to have those email conversations from decades ago! We now have new ones to savor and cherish.

That great idea I had for a column? It will either pop again, or it will be lost forever. No matter. Losing it inspired me to write this one instead.

I have a lot of unsold work in my studio. No matter! If it’s still around after I die, somebody will enjoy it, somehow. (I tell my kids how to manage my art and supplies when I’m gone: Give everybody a big bag to fill and charge them $250. They’ll make a mint!)

Even trying to jot down every idea, inspiration, question, isn’t proof against forgetting something, even something important.

Every day we will overlook an opportunity to get better, do better, find better, help better.

 And every day, we will find a new one.

As you make the work of your art, know that we can never be completely in control of our hopes, our thoughts, our intentions, our efforts.

We can only do our best. Because we are only human. Imperfect, inefficient, bad memories, displaced anger, trying to see our path in a firestorm of life events. 

It’s our greatest flaw, and our greatest super power.  Especially because we are artists, makers, creatives, constantly striving to use our work to have our say in the world, to tell our story, in ways that are good for the world. 

Embrace it! Go to the studio today, and make something that brings you joy.

And hold on to your dreams. Even one small step today will bring you closer to their fruition. You won’t know until you try.

If you enjoyed this today, please share it with someone you think would enjoy it, too!

If someone sent you this, and you’d like more of the same, subscribe to Fine Art Views for more insights from different artists.  And if you want to read more of my writing, subscribe to my blog at at LuannUdell.wordpress/com.

POST HOC FALLACY

My art. My words. My voice.
My art. My words. My voice.

Post Hoc Fallacy

There are a lot of reasons we tell ourselves why our work doesn’t sell.

But not all of them are true! 

 (9 minute read)

 Where do I get my ideas? All over the place!

Today, I read Clint Watson’s post about why we should always work to improve our creative skills. (True dat!) An artist who assumed their work was excellent was so obviously not, and so did not gain representation in Clint’s gallery.

I also read Car Talk in our daily newspaper. (Yes, I’m old. I still read newspapers!) It’s a radio show and weekly article that answers car questions. It was a great radio show with Tom and Ray Magliozzi, two amazingly wise, funny, and sarcastic brothers who own(ed) an auto repair shop in Cambridge, MA. (My husband actually saw them once on Charles Street in Boston one day, while I was inside a shop looking at antique jewelry.) They offer advice and entertainment while answering people’s questions about car problems. (Tom has passed, but Ray carries on the tradition.)

Today’s Car Talk article is “Post Hoc Fallacy”. It’s based on a Latin quote, Post hoc ergo propter hoc: “after this, therefore because of this”. That is, “Since event Y followed event X, event Y must have been caused by event X.”

This is sometimes true, but not necessarily true.  (From Wikipedia): A simple example is “the rooster crows immediately before sunrise; therefore the rooster causes the sun to rise.”

How did I get here from these two articles?

Because on one hand, what Clint said is true: The artist did not get into that gallery because their work was not very good.

On the other hand, there might be a hundred reasons why a gallery may not take our work on. Earlier this year, I covered just some of the hundreds of reasons a gallery may not want our work in “Let Me Count the Ways”.

This, for me, is the artist’s Post Hoc Fallacy:

We don’t think our work is good (or someone tells us that.)

Then, we don’t find our audience. No sales, no gallery representation, not getting juried into shows, etc.

That must prove that our work really isn’t any good.

And that may not be true at all.

Now, I whole-heartedly agree with Clint’s article: If our skills aren’t great, that will wreak havoc on our ability to show, market, and sell our work.  It can be a blessing, if we are able to listen, when someone gently points this out to us. Constructive criticism can be a powerful force for improving our work and improving our sales, no doubt about it.

It’s always hard, as an artist, to hear that truth. Some of us refuse to hear it. Clint did not tell the artist that, but as he described the artist, it’s pretty likely they would not have listened anyway, based on their behavior.

It’s also impossible for us to be perfect. Even extremely talented artists, the ones who are honest with themselves, and us, concede that while achieving perfection is a worthy goal, it may be impossible to get there, and stay there. All of us can do better. Hopefully we all try. We may have to accept we may never actually get there.

But there is power in the trying, and it’s admirable to never give up.

My on-the-other-hand-point is, it does not serve anyone if we believe we will never be good enough—and walk away. The Post Hoc Fallacy has wreaked its destruction on our soul….if we let it.

In fact, I also wrote about how sometimes even really really bad art can have its own power, in my June column on Regretsy. Being authentically “bad” can have a place in the world.

We’ve all seen vendors at art-and-craft shows, on websites, in shows, even in galleries, that are….well, “meh”. Not awful, but not that great, either. We’ve seen people win awards for work we don’t think is that much better than ours. We’ve seen people whose work is twice as expensive as ours, while ours languishes.

The worlds of making art, buying art, exhibiting art, selling art, and honors awarded for art are as wide and varied as the people who actually make art, and certainly as varied as the people who judge it.

I believe that making our work as good as we can, and then striving to do better, is indeed an excellent way of increasing our chances of being “successful”, however we choose to measure our success.

And yet, I’ve seen amazing artists being rejected from shows, from events, etc. Many talented artists whose work doesn’t sell.

In fact, artists have been long judged for their gender, their race, their nationality, their success/sales, their subject matter, their technique of choice, their name recognition, you name it, it’s been done. We’re getting better, I hope!

Many artists get discouraged, sure they are doing something wrong. And many artists believe they simply aren’t good enough, so why bother even trying?

I’ve been there. I’ve been at every stage of this in my art career.

I’ve been told my artistic aesthetic is immature, by the very same person who, a couple years later, demanded to represent my work. (I guess they forgot what they said the first time. It was the same body of work!)

I’ve been told my work is not “real art”.

I’ve been told I make the same “tired old work” with the same “tired old techniques”.

I’ve been rejected from shows, galleries, etc. since the very beginning. I’ve been told my prices are too high since I first started selling my artifacts, even when they were priced at $18 for a horse pin. I’ve gotten into galleries and then pulled out because my work “just wasn’t selling”. I’ve been told I need to focus because my work takes “too many media categories” (fiber, jewelry, sculpture, assemblage, etc.)

But here’s the thing: I don’t care.*

Even as people where making these judgments (and statements) about my work, there were even more people who said amazing things. Like, “I’ve never seen anything like this, and it’s beautiful.” Like, “I can recognize your work anywhere!” I have won a few awards, and I treasure them. I have been juried into some of the top fine craft shows in the country. I found my story about my work, and that made it a cohesive body of work.

In fact, I fully believe that when I finally said, “I have to do this work, or I’ll die. I don’t even care if I’m a good artist anymore, I just have to do it.”, THAT is where my power came from.

The short story? If you can do better, do better.

But if you can’t, or won’t, and yet you love what you make, then make it anyway.

Something that is innovative may be so different, we don’t even know what to think of it. It may be before it’s time. Success can depend on where we live, who we know, the opinions of others who have very narrow definitions surrounding creative work.

At the end of days, there will be no sure-fire, solid, indisputable list of who the “best” artists are, and no permanent place where we fall on that list.

And at the end of our days, we may have regrets. Regrets that we didn’t achieve the recognition we craved, the sales that would have proven we were doing it right. We may regret we didn’t try harder, or do better with our talents.

But I hope and pray you never regret that you didn’t try at all.

It’s true, we might be able to improve our success, and have more sales, if we work in the favored medium, or with the most respected subject matter, if our techniques are really, really good, if we find the right galleries.

But it all boils down to finding the right audience, doesn’t it? Even a gallery must focus on what they think they can sell. And if their audience is not the right one for your work, even if they give us a chance, in the end, we’re taking up precious wall space that they depend upon for their own success.

So even if we really aren’t good enough, it’s still our choice. Do we want to bring this work into the world? Or do we walk away?

We can believe that there truly is an audience for the work of our heart, and it’s on us to make it, get it out there, and find that audience.

We can believe that knowing the “why”, the story that got us to this place, is a powerful factor in our success.

We can acknowledge we can do better, and then make it better. Or accept that it may not be as good as everyone else’s but it makes us happy, and that can be enough. If we need more, we can look at other ways for our audience to find us.

At our own end-of-days, we will look back at our choices. What will we regret?

I have a vision. Even when I am discouraged, even when it feels the world doesn’t want or need my work, I know I want it. I need it. I want it to be in the world somehow. Because my art is one way for me to be in the world.

My art. My words. My voice.

I would mostly regret walking away, especially if it’s because a) I don’t believe I’m good enough, and b) I allowed success, here and now, to be the only measure of its value.

There will be regrets, for sure.

But not that one.

If you enjoyed this today, please share it with someone you think would enjoy it, too!

If someone sent you this, and you’d like more of the same, subscribe to Fine Art Views for more insights from different artists.  And if you want to read more of my writing, subscribe to my blog at at LuannUdell.wordpress/com.

* If I’m being totally honest, I do care! I wish people didn’t think that about me, or my work. But I also know I shouldn’t care, and that’s how I choose to act.

ABNORMAL: It Can Be a GOOD Thing!

I subscribe to Seth Godin’s blog. He may be an expert on marketing, but a lot of his posts also offer incredible insights into how to have a life well-lived.

Yesterday’s post was no exception. I was gonna skip  it, because the title was  odd. “Abnormal” did not sound like a good fit for my day.

And yet, it was exactly what I needed to read:

“Are you hesitant about this new idea because it’s a risky, problematic, defective idea…

or because it’s simply different than you’re used to?

If your current normal is exactly what you need, then different isn’t worth exploring. For the rest of us, it’s worth figuring out where our discomfort with the new idea is coming from.”

I’ve been writing for the online art marketing newsletter, Fine Art Views for many years now. At first, I focused more on marketing, salesmenship, display and lighting at fine craft shows, etc.

But more and more, as I struggled with my own role as an artist in this modern world, I shared deeper thoughts and musings: What it’s like to be a woman in the art world. (Kinda scary, sometimes!) What it’s like when you realize your sales aren’t great, and it’s really hard to figure out how to change that. (Do you quit? Or do you keep on? What’s the point??) What do you say when someone insults your work? (Snappy comeback at their expense? Or something so deep and embracing, it challenges them to look again?)

I write mostly what I’ve learned along the way, the powerful things others have taught me, and how to be a force for good in the universe.

I try to tread carefully on posts I know may trigger critical comments, and use humor often. Most of the comments complain my articles are too long.  (To be fair, they complain all the FAV articles are too long, but especially mine. I started finding the word count and adding “7 minute read”, so that people who don’t have seven minutes could pass.)

But nothing stops a truly negative person. I actually did a series called “Haters Gonna Hate”, about how we cannot possible please everyone with our work and how to move on to focus on the people who do…..

And almost every article drew a comment (or three) complaining about me using the word “hate”. Because….I kid you not….they hated it.

I am always happy to engage in a discussion, because that benefits everyone in the end.

But over the last few years, I’ve gotten some toxic comments that were so out-of-line, they took my breath away. And although every writer on the site gets slammed from time to time, I seemed to get more. (I seriously think it’s because for a few years, I was the sole female writer in a historically male-dominated art world.)

I’ve learned not to slam back. (Not my usual style anyway.) I’ve tried to explain why my reality may not be theirs, and that’s okay. (Though the commenter usually thinks THEIR reality is the “real one”.) I always wait until the pain and frustration softens, so I can respond with my highest, best self.

And now, my editor has agreed to move the weekday my articles are published, so they can monitor those toxic posts better. (I chose Saturdays, but because the editorial staff is not available on weekends, I had to sit with that poison for two more days before they could be deleted.)

So back to Seth’s blog post yesterday.

I think this is why I get such blowback from some of my columns.

I’m sharing something so different from the traditional definition of “artist”, the way an artist measures their success, and including those who don’t even consider themselves a “real artist”, it is

People accuse me of misreading the term “triggering”.

But I think that’s exactly what happens. What I’m writing about is a different thing from what they believe is “true.” So they find it problematic, defective, instulting….instead of just “different.”

I love it when people sit with the “different”, and reconsider their assumptions and definitions about “real art” and “real artists”.

It means I did it right.

I’m comfortable exploring the “different”. I don’t need to change because they aren’t.

I’ve always said, from the very beginning of my art career, “My art isn’t for everyone.” I can sit with that.

And I also know my writing is not for everyone, and I can sit with that, too.

No one is forced to buy my art, nor read my writing. (In fact, even now, if you hate reading this, you can…..delete it! (Takes a second, and poof, it’s gone!)

But here’s who I write for.

People who struggle constantly with, “Am I good enough?”

People who work hard on their art, their art skills, their marketing, their social media, and still can’t rely on good sales.

People who wonder what the point of making art is, if no one wants to buy it.

People who think they’re doing it wrong.

People who think everyone else is doing it right.

People who don’t see other artists like them in the world.

People whose social circle constantly diminish or demean their choice of subject, medium, color palette, style, etc.

And of course, people who want advice on selling, marketing, customer service, display, etc. etc. etc.

I always preface or end with the statement, “If what you’re doing works for you, don’t change it!!”

And yet, although, of course, I always think I’m right (I’m human!!!) I also recognize the power of emotional and social growth. The power of changing my mind. Seeing the life lessons and tiny gifts in the hard times. Crossing the path of people who DO know better than I, and who share their hard-earned insights with people like me.

And so, although sometimes my words hit the wrong places in the wrong people, I will keep on writing until I can’t.

A big thank you to those who like what I write (at least most of the time) and who share your own comments and insights. You are proof that we all have something that can lift someone’s heart and encourage them to pursue their own creative work. You also show that you are a true, open spirit in the world, embracing every step of the journey. You make my heart sing!

Because the world needs our art, no matter what form it takes. Creativity of any kind is a force for light in the universe. (My Star Wars mantra!)

In this vein, if you are reading this today and like it, pass it on to someone else who might enjoy it, too.

And if someone who has your back, forwarded this to you, and you like it, you can sign up for more at my blog here.

 

 

 

 

I HATE TURQUOISE

turquoise and sterling horse necklace
Turquoise! Turquoise, turquoise, turquoiseturquoiseturquoiseturquoise…..

Actually, I love turquoise. I love aqua, apatite, amazonite, every shade of bluey-greeny and greeny-blue, and everything in between. Especially green turquoise.

I love turquoise so much, I have to consciously STOP USING IT when I realize every single new piece has turquoise beads in it.

As I’m working today, I keep thinking about an artist who commented on my Fine Art Views post yesterday.

They asked for insight on how to keep their partner inspired to make art, when their partner’s work had been rejected by a gallery. They had not returned to their art-making since their rejection.

Okay, my lizard brain immediately thought, “One gallery?! You’re gonna let ONE GALLERY be the judge of your entire body of work?!”

My kinder brain understands completely. And I responded in kind. (No pun intended, but it slipped in there anyway.) Rejection is always hard, even when we know not everyone will love our work.

But here’s a story of how ridiculous that is, to let ONE GALLERY, one person, determine whether your work is “good enough”.

A few years into my jewelry-making, I approached several area stores to carry my work, and a few said yes.

Less than a year later, one gallery manager called me to pick up my work. “It just doesn’t sell!” they exclaimed. And as I looked at the display, surprise! I could see instantly why it wasn’t.

It was on a bottom shelf, about six inches above the floor. Nobody could even SEE it.

I’d already suspected my work wasn’t going to work with this venue. When I first brought my work in, they examined every piece. They would heave a sigh, and shake their head as they moved an item into the “no” pile. (Which was about half my work.) It was obvious they found much of my work “lacking”.

And obviously, to ensure their assessment of my work was “right”, they made sure it wasn’t even in the line of sight of any would-be collectors.

Fortunately, a good friend gave me clarity on this manager, and encouraged me to take my work elsewhere, which I did.

If I had let that person shut me down, I would not be here today, encouraging you to look past the nay-sayers (some of whom may actually be intimidated by our work!)

A few years later, I approached another store, not a fine craft gallery, but a store where I was sure my horse jewelry would well.

This manager LOVED my work, as did their sales associates, and happily picked out a nice selection. Until….

They came across one necklace with turquoise accent beads.

“Ugh! I HATE turquoise!!”, they exclaimed, and set it aside for me to take back home.

I was baffled. Surely this person, a well-respected businessperson in our community, understood that THEY might hate turquoise, but a lot of their customers would love it.

Nope. So I gathered up those “rejects” and saved them for another gallery at another time.

What’s my point here?

I’ll say it again, what an old craft friend, Tim Christensen, told me years ago:

“Gallery owners are just customers with stores!”

Does every customer love all our work? Nope.

Does every customer love all our designs, and color schemes? Nope.

Does every customer appreciate our pricing, the value of our work? Nope.

Customers come and go, visitors look and leave. Some people love my horses, some love my bears, and some people prefer my more abstract, non-figural work. And a very few love all of it, and a lot of people are totally baffled, and leave within a few minutes of entering my space, be it my studio, a show, or a gallery.

Not everyone will love our art.

And neither do the galleries we hope might carry our work.

This post lists all the reasons why a gallery might say no to your work.

Some are….contradictory…no? Some don’t make sense, and some make perfect sense.

Gallery owners are people, just like you and me. Some of them are secure in their own work, and embrace ours. Some are envious, and look for ways to take us down. Some love our work, but know their customers won’t. Some aren’t fond of our work, but they know it will sell. There are a million reasons why they say yes, and a million reasons why they say no.

My deepest hope for you today is to consider these stories when your work is deemed “not right” for whatever gallery you’re dealing with.

I hope you understand that one “no”, or two, or even a hundred, doesn’t necessarily mean the world does not want your art.

Yes, maybe you’re not quite ready for gallery representation. (Did you bring in a sample of everything you do, which can come across as a lack of focus, or a lack of a cohesive body of work?) Yes, maybe you need to improve your skills. (Did you apply to a major show after one year of painting classes?) Yes, maybe you didn’t do your research and you’ve approached a gallery that focuses on abstracts, with your realistic landscapes. Yes, maybe you are kinda difficult to deal with, full of smugness about your work. (Some galleries will still take you on, if they’re sure they can sell your work. But why make it harder for them to decide to take you on??)

But remember……

Maybe they just don’t like turquoise.

WHAT I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME ABOUT ARTISTS: Be Inspired, But Be Yourself

Luann Udell discusses how easy it can be to lose track of our own vision.
Luann Udell discusses how easy it can be to lose track of our own vision.

When we follow someone else’s vision, it’s easy to lose track of our own.

Continuing the series about advice for young artists (and us older ones, too!)

Years ago, before the internet was available to the general public, I met an artist who always did one-of-a-kind work, across a wide variety of media and processes. Each one was distinctive, and beautiful.

We were talking one day about “inspiration”, and I mentioned that sometimes, I paged through books and magazines, looking for new ideas.

They replied that, to the contrary, they drastically limit how much they looked at other people’s art. Since I usually found it enjoyable, and fun, I asked them why.

Their answer has stayed with me for decades.

They did not want to be distracted by someone else’s work. They did not want to “take on” another artist’s artistic “persona”: vision, process, aesthetics, etc. They wanted to focus on their own vision, aesthetic, and process. It was their way of keeping their work unique, faithful to their own style, and not diluting it by trying to imitate someone else’s work.

 I think about this a lot. Especially now, with a world of images available to us daily, wherever we go with our phones, on the internet, on social media, especially apps like Pinterest and Instagram.

It’s fun to search for unusual color palettes and combos. It’s educational to see the different ways people sculpt bears. It’s informative to see the newest trends in jewelry (unfortunately, minimalism is back—ACK!!), the latest gemstone shapes and colors, etc. It’s like browsing through those old JC Penney’s catalogs, seeing all the new designs, colors, styles available. (Er….did I just date myself here??)

I can learn a lot: How to make my own ear wires. Find what new tools I could work with. Exploring better ways to cram more stuff into my space use my studio space more efficiently.

But that artist’s words come back to haunt me when, eventually, I find the work of someone whose style/aesthetics/use of color are simply jaw-droppingly good. And how that sometimes made me feel “less-than”.

 Feeling “less-than” is not good for creative people.

Oh, it’s good to get a grip on our ego from time to time. Yes, there are people whose techniques are better, whose stories may be more powerful, whose skill set puts ours to shame. It can challenge us to mix it up, to improve our own skills, to step outside our comfort zone and experiment a little.

But comparing ourselves to others is usually unpleasant, and self-defeating: “I’ll never be as good as so-and-so!” “That person’s work is really on-trend, why can’t I ever get ‘on-trend’???” “That artist’s landscapes sell like crazy, maybe I should do landscapes, too….” “I’ll never be as famous as so-and-so, so why bother??”

Alas, another dangerous road also lies ahead, one where we consciously or unconsciously try to emulate that art hero, taking on their subject matter, their style, their techniques.

This rarely ends well.

In short, enjoy poking around. Borrow ideas (but don’t copy!) Use the inspiration to broaden your horizons (but value your own aesthetic.) Try something new, learn something new (but only use what makes YOUR work better.) Transform your views of their work into something you can truly call your own.

Look around, be inspired. But stay true to your inner vision, not someone else’s.

When it gets overwhelming, go back to your creative making space, and focus on what works for YOU.

Because you are the only YOU in the world. Honor that, respect it, and make the work that matters to YOU. Trust me, it will speak to someone else, too.

Tell the story only you can tell.

TIMES CHANGE. Do We Have To??

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.

 

Image 3072460

Sometimes, we don’t need stories.

Last week, I traveled to the East Coast to see my daughter and her husband and their new home in Washington, D.C. While I was there, I had an interesting conversation about art with her.

Robin actually worked with me for over a decade in my show booth, doing a 9-day local retail craft show, and a major wholesale fine craft show on the East Coast. She started as my booth assistant: Helping with set-up, processing sales (which allowed me to be “The Artist”), etc.

She was involved in the drama club in high school as a member of the stage crew, so she soon did my lighting set-up, too. She was quiet by nature, and a keen observer. She saw many of the clues that indicated a display or floor layout needed to be tweaked. And as she grew more confident, she became an excellent salesperson, too.

These show opportunities gave her exposure to “handmade”, too, and she came to value it highly. Over the years, she bought (or we traded for) glasswork, pottery, photography, jewelry, and she now has her own “handmade” pursuits.

She continues to shop for “handmade” even now. But she shops very differently than my generation does!

She mostly buys on Etsy.

And she does not care about the story.

When she told me this, I was shocked. Every time we drove for an hour up to the 9-day retail show, I would put in a cassette (and then the CD) of Bruce Baker’s tips on displaying and selling. Over the years, I almost memorized the content, and so did my kids.

At one marketing education event in which I sat on a panel with Bruce, I had to bring my 8-year-old son with me at the last minute. Doug sat patiently in the back row with snacks and a book. When Bruce did his presentation, he said, “When you introduce yourself to someone coming into your booth, you need to avoid pressuring them. There’s one little word that will turn the whole dynamic around. Anybody know that word?”

Of course, I knew the word. But no one else in the room did. The silence went on until I finally said, “Doug knows the word.”

All eyes turned to little Doug in the back row, and Bruce said, “Doug?”

And Doug confidently replied, “IF!”

As in, not “CAN I help you?”, which will almost always be responded to with, “No thanks, just looking” but “IF I can help you, just let me know…” which will almost always be responded to with, “Thank you!” and opens a conversation when the person is ready.

So after listening to all those presentations on story, and because my story is so personal, and powerful, how could Robin not care about the story???

It turns out she and her husband are self-described “geeks and nerds”, fully into the gaming world and its heroes. Though she still has all her artwork from “the old days”, their little home is now also filled with sweet and funny meme art: Godzilla posters, Star Trek “Next Generation” artwork, and little toys from their childhood.

“I just don’t care about the story, Mama!” she exclaimed. “If I like something, I just buy it!”

Ruh-roh…..

Now, on one hand, my daughter is probably not your customer. They don’t have the money to afford more than $100, and their taste does not tend to landscapes, bowls of fruit and wine, or rusty trucks.

But handmade is important to them. She prefers NOT to shop at Target’s, but has many “favorites” on Etsy, and visits them often. (She also purchases handmade watercolors on Etsy to create her own work.)

They collect work that reflects their interests, their lifestyle choices, and their pocketbook.

And they will continue to do that, presumably for the rest of their lives.

So in a time where there are more working artists in the world than ever, throughout history, in a time where many of us started out 20, 30, even 40 or 50 years ago and we are gradually losing our patrons to downsizing, changes in lifestyle and even, sadly, death, in a time where “Ire fortiter quo nemo ante iit” [1] is an important detail in a print, how do we grow a new audience?

I’m not suggesting you start painting Data and Geordi in their Holodeck Sherlock Holmes adventures. There are plenty of people who still love landscapes, partly because our brains are hardwired to appreciate a landscape. It’s welded into our DNA from the time of our need to scan horizons constantly, looking for danger, for the morning light, for foraging for food. We will always want images of people we love, and so portraits will always be a “thing”. Still lifes always catch our eye, depending on whether they depict the components that speak to us.

And I am not suggesting we all stop telling our story.

When we fear our work isn’t good enough anymore because sales are slow, remember that not only, have our collectors dwindled, more importantly times change. In fact, yesterday I saw a trendy new jewelry design that echoes the minimalist aesthetic in the marketplace when I first started making jewelry in the early 1990’s. (A time I do not wish to return to. Oh well.)

And I say loud and clear, do not lower your prices! Especially if you’ve already sold items in the same series at the higher price. It sends a terrible message to the people who literally and figuratively invested in us. And it makes our pricing strategy seem random and reactive.

And here is the deepest hope:

Once people learn to treasure “handmade” over “mass-produced”, they never leave it behind.

If anything, the “maker movement” has made handmade even more desirable. And the boundaries of what “real art” and “real craft” is, is being expanded exponentially. (Folks who get stuck in “real art is only oil painting” and such were never my potential customers in the first place. And collectors of the multi-million dollar Impressionist artwork sold for record prices at prestigious auctions were never my customer base. People who snort at “craft beer” and “artisanal food” may be right, but the customer base for those don’t care what WE think. I got over it. You can, too!)

My daughter still wants something of beauty that came from another person’s hands, and heart, especially when she started to make and sell her own work. As she browsed for an urn for the ashes of her stillborn child, she became frustrated with the same ol’ sale ol’ look of them. Nothing felt personal enough, or fit the emotion of the event. When I suggested that a good friend who works with wood might make something especially for her, she lit up. (She found a maker on Etsy who resonated with her.)

This box will be in their home forever, and every time they see it, it will bring a bit of solace amid the sorrow. They may not know, or care to know, the story of the maker. But it holds their own story of this time, and that’s what matters.

The potential of this younger audience is huge. Yes, trends have changed, and money will be an issue, for awhile. But when they have the money, they will up their game for the artwork and handcrafts that “speak” to them.

I’ve experienced this first-hand in my old A Street studio. One last-minute shopper bought a small framed bear artifact collage for his wife. He thought it was a guinea pig! Rather than be offended, I simply said it was a bear, just so they wouldn’t feel misled, and he said, “It looks enough like a guinea pig, she’ll love it!” And so I made a few hundred dollars in a five minute transaction.

I saw another artist’s work at a gallery, who paints still lifes of vintage children’s toys. Their work was excellent, but sales were slow. What would I suggest to them about marketing?

Approach the toy manufacturers who produced those toys, to see if their corporate offices are interested. Find stores that sell high-end baby and children’s products, to display and sell them. Children’s hospitals and wards might be onboard for artwork and/or murals. Tag images of the toys, manufacturers, etc. online with whatever would attract this age group, new parents, and young homeowners. Lower their budget threshold by offering reasonably priced repros, or offering smaller works, or larger original work without frames. (It’s not forever, just until your new audience grows enough to tolerate your higher priced work.) Seek out galleries that attract a younger audience, OR the new grandparent market. (Grandparents are my age, and they probably have more disposable income!) There are probably lots of other potential venues, and I hope you’ll share the strategies that have worked for you.

There are younger visitors who do feel the powerful story in my work, and they enjoy hearing mine. They are also grateful that in addition to my shrines, which can be priced in the thousands, I have smaller original works for less than $100. And they buy them.

I’m still processing this, just like you. I don’t have any sure-fire solutions to help rebuild an audience that has dwindled.

Right now, I make what I find meaningful and beautiful. I try to offer a range of work that can meet most budgets. I keep the quality in the work, refusing to “dumb it down” or use inferior materials to make it.

I have signage in my studio that tell stories, not just for those who would rather read it than listen to me tell it, but also so I don’t “force” my story on those who may not need it to make their purchasing decision. (Yes, there are ways to tell! Hint: It’s what they ask us about our work when they are ready to talk to us.)

I have found an audience, steadily, through my work and my writing. It still serves them, and new ones will emerge. I just have to keep making it, keep marketing it, make it accessible online for those who can’t meet me in person, and easy to buy for those who prefer not to engage. I’m fortunate my artifacts are safe for youngsters to touch and hold, too. Asking a child if they would like to hold a bear or a horse (and waiting while they seriously ponder their choices, which is a hoot!) doesn’t end in a sale. But it opens a doorway to experiencing art for the whole family, and has produced beautiful stories down the road. (This one is my favorite!)

So let’s open our hearts, and our minds, to these changes which time will bring.

There are many ways for our work to become a part of someone else’s story, someone else’s world, someone else’s journey.

Keep hope in your heart, and be open to new possibilities. And be patient with yourself, as we all navigate these new waters.

Art is part of us, no matter what it is, no matter where, or how, or when we find it. Online markets can be just as powerful as in-person encounters, if not more. (Many in this age group never even think about going to traditional art galleries. Yet.)

And I will hope ALL of our art, mine, and yours, will be “found”, someday, by the people who will love it and enjoy it for the rest of their lives.

Rethink on the Reboot

Sometimes a “major change” is simply many tiny changes in outlook.

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I have to admit, simply HOLDING something I’ve created is often enough to reconnect me.

For everyone who wrote me asking why I’m walking away from my art and writing, let me reassure you, I’m not!!!!!

am at what my dear hubby calls “an inflection point”. I’d never heard of that before, except as a math term. But one dictionary describes it as

  1. 1.
    MATHEMATICS
    a point of a curve at which a change in the direction of curvature occurs.
  2. 2.
    US
    (in business) a time of significant change in a situation; a turning point.

That’s what it feels like. A “change” is coming, but I don’t know what it is.

What I do know is, my story hasn’t changed.  I’m not done telling that story! And so my art itself, and my propensity for writing about my art (and what I’ve learned from making it), will not change.

I got lost in trying to pinpoint what was going to change. Stuck in trying to figure that out, because sitting with that has been hard.

Because when we choose not to move forward until we’re sure what that looks like, we lock ourselves into the present while fearing the future. (Perfectionism, thy name is “Luann”….!!)

I had fallen so low in my self-esteem in this flux state that I broke my own rule about giving away my work.

I don’t give my work away to people who expect it to be free, or those who demand I give it to them.

Such a simple rule, and I broke it. To the tune of agreeing to do free work worth thousands of dollars. And to be grateful to the person who said I should do it.

No worries, I walked it back! I’m only out $200, and I consider that a lesson I will never have to learn again. I hope!

I was in the middle of a health crisis (not life-threatening, but life-style threatening), a state of physical and emotional exhaustion, a state of living with uncertainty so long, I couldn’t see the gifts I already have: A home, a family, a loving partner, my health in general, the beauty of the California landscape and seascape, my studio, etc. I’ve been focusing on how close we are to losing many of these gifts, obsessed with security, and my struggle to control our future. (Ha!! Good luck with that, human!)

So I made a few more bad decisions.

But I also made some very, very good decisions.

Like reaching out to family, good friends, old friends, new friends, readers, supporters.

I reached out, and found people who listened, deeply.

I overcame my main worry, that I only reach out when I need help, others will  judge me on my own selfishness (“She only calls when she’s stuck!”)–and found they were genuinely happy to help. Not only that, I found everyone was going through similar stuff, themselves. And they welcomed my help/feedback/support! (“Reciprocity” is a word that’s been resonating with me lately, and I was delighted to engage in it.)

They walked me back from the next bad decisions I’d made. And although I’ve been in a deep funk about who I am, they’ve been holding the memory of who I am, when I’m at my best.

And even better, they shared how much they love and respect me even when I’m at my worst. 

Which gets me to where I am today: Tiny steps forward, and for the first time in months (many months!), holding a tiny bit of hope.

How I got there in a few hours yesterday is what I want to share with you today.

There’s an online class offered by Yale University, and anyone can take it if you can cough up $40. (And if you can’t, there are grants available!)

It’s called The Science of Well-Being, a class based on brain science and scientific evidence, developed and taught by Laurie Santos. It’s been in the news since the course wen’t online in March. It’s quickly become Yale’s most popular course.

The short story is, we don’t really know what we want. We don’t really know what will make us happy. And if we don’t understand what really will, or won’t, make us happy, then our pursuits in life won’t result in happiness.

The first video talked about “A ‘Good’ Job”. When you ask people what they want from a job, it’s often things like “a big salary” and “opportunities to advance”, and “prestige”, etc.

But it turns out those can be misleading goals that don’t necessarily make us happy in the long run. Yes, a livable income is important. But not at the expense of other goals that will actually improve how we feel about life. Like work that appeals to our strengths and values, work that challenges us in a good way, work that provides us opportunities to be “in the zone” or what is now called a “flow” state.

So how do we do that? How do we identify those unique strengths, our important values? How do we learn to nurture them those strengths and values? Because doing so will nurture us, will increase our sense of well-being and happiness.

This isn’t the old 90’s thing about “follow your bliss and the money will follow.” It’s more evidence-based, and doable. This class shows what works, and how to do it right.

After a few hours of work yesterday, I read something that gave me a glimmer of hope that I, too, can figure this out.

One evaluation survey showed that after taking the course, and implementing the (very simple) exercises, almost every student showed an average 30% increase in their sense of happiness.  That’s nice.

But what blew my socks off was this statistic:

On average, every single student also reported a 70% DECREASE in depression.

Think about that.

We all know there’s no such thing as “happy all the time”, or a life filled with constant joy. I think we all shy away from anything that promises that. After all, I’m following my passion in life, and I still struggle with insecurity, a sense of not-doing-it-right, not being able to even pay for my studio rent with my art, and not being able to pay for much of anything from my writing. (A friend was gob-smacked when I told her how little I am paid for my one paid writing gig. And that’s just “the new normal” for free-lance writers.)

So “being happier” was something I’m always a little suspicious of.

And I already know some of the more obvious, popluar goals, like “make more money”, won’t fix everything–especially if I sacrifice integrity and what makes my work powerful. I know fame and celebrity can be a shadow goal, and potentially a self-destructive pursuit.

But the promise I could be less unhappy? Significantly less unhappy?? Bring it on!

That tiny ray of hope, the realization that things really could be better, inside, with a shift in perspective, was enough to raise my spirits.

And the way that happens–aligning key character traits and values with my life mission–is already giving me a wee bit of clarity of what that “inflection point” might be.

As always, I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

And in the meantime, I hope you check out the course, especially if you are also struggling with what would really make you happy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE REALLY GREAT SHOW THAT WASN’T: Thoughts on Getting Over It and Moving On

My biggest local show to date was last weekend. I’m still recovering. Physically, emotionally, spiritually.

I set up my very professional-looking booth. Those of you who read my sad tale of woe about my pedestal base covers can see that, by staying organized and clean, the lack of covers was not an issue.

Quickest set-up ever, and it looked good!
Quickest set-up ever, and it looked good!
very professional-looking booth.

My display was also clean and simple.

Focus was on jewelry, and featured only my new Ancient Oceans series.
Focus was on jewelry, and featured only my new Ancient Oceans series.

I brought ONE wall hanging, just to give people context for my work. And at the last minute, used these felt pieces as accent pieces. These are from a collaboration I did years ago with another fiber artist. She did the felt, I did all the little artifacts.

These went BEAUTIFULLY with the white/neutral theme of the Ancient Oceans line!
These went BEAUTIFULLY with the white/neutral theme of the Ancient Oceans line!

I had a new cool outfit, on loan from my Santa Rosa buddy Patricia Reilly (also a jewelry artist, who is teaching me to sew my own linen duds!)

Being clueless about outdoor shows, I would have baked to a crisp, if a fellow exhibitor hadn’t noticed and asked one of the show support staff to grab an umbrella for me. (It went right in between my two cases, was exactly the right size and color, and looked great!)

So what went wrong?

Other competing events meant fewer people attending. Those who did attend, were not buying. (It was mostly about the food, the wine, and the music–dancing!!) And I was right behind the band stage. (GREAT music, but also very loud.)

As always, there were small moments of brightness, and gifts. A few people were captivated, and they were invited to my next open studio. The show was extremely inexpensive to do, so I didn’t lose much money. (Fee was $50 and a 20% commission on sales. I sold two inexpensive pairs of earrings, and made $84. You do the math.) Several friends showed up to brighten my day and model my jewelry.

Michele Bottaro, rockin' my Shaman Horse necklace!
Michele Bottaro, rockin’ my Shaman Horse necklace!

So what could I have done better?

Well, for one thing, in my eagerness to get my biz rebooted here in Northern California, I broke my first rule about shows:

Visit the show before doing the show.
Talk to the vendors. Ask about sales and audience-building. How long have they been doing the show? Does it work for them? What are their strongest price points?

Check out the products. Apparently painted baseball caps are a thing. Google it. It’s not awful per se, but I can’t compete with a $15 product.

Look at the crowd. Is there energy? (And not just from the music and food.) Are they actually buying? If so, what? Painted baseball caps??

Of course, I’ve visited shows that looked great, and by the following year (when I do it), something has changed. The economy, the layout, the venue. ANY of these changes can result in the phenomenon known as the first-year show. I’ve learned the hard way never to do a brand-new show.

Listen to your gut. There was a strange dynamic between the person who personally asked me to do the show (and followed up with me several times) and me. I try not to smack-talk people in my industry, so I’ll just say, that dynamic continued throughout the show. It’s hard enough to do shows without weird, slightly-hostile interchanges that go on and on and on. I honestly don’t know what I did to bring that out, but I also don’t care. I won’t be working with that person again, so it’s a non-issue.

The last thing will sound swell-headed, and I apologize in advance for that. But I’m getting the sense that, when you and your work reach a certain level of originality, quality, appeal, recognition, as mine has (sorry!! sorry!!), it’s to a gallery’s/promoter’s advantage to have you in that show–even if it’s not really a good fit for you. And I fall for it every time.

Sometimes I do want to support that person, give them a chance, go out on a limb for them. As I said, there is often an upside to doing a show that can’t be measured in sales and money. And of course, sometimes it’s anybody’s guess what show will be good for you, and what ones won’t.

But the older I get, the harder it is to do these shows, especially when, over and over and over again, it’s clear to me that the magic happens in my studio, and only rarely anywhere else. (The League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair was the only exception, and it took years to get traction there, too.)

And of course, most folks will tell you it’s necessary to keep doing that bad show show that doesn’t work for you for three- to -five years, to build a following. That hasn’t worked for me, and apparently it often doesn’t for others, either, as this excellent article at Fine Art Views by Carolyn Henderson explains so thoroughly. (SO glad it’s not just me!)

Where do I go from here?

Taking a deep breath in. And breathe out slowly…..

I can still experiment with gallery representation, though I’m more interested in wholesaling.
I’ll focus more on this season’s First Friday events, with summer and fall’s long, bright evenings, where local art galleries and artist studios are open to the public. Next one is this Friday!
I’m already putting more energy into my updated Etsy shop. So this week I’ll be putting up all that cool new jewelrythat didn’t sell, as promised.
And I’ll have faith in my process, and give myself time to grow.

It’s always worked before, and I believe it will again.

The metaphor here are those three white felt pieces. That collaboration took place the second year I did the League Fair, 16 years ago, and I’ve never displayed them since. So it felt a little retro (as in ‘going back over old ground’) but it felt right. As does my continuing realization that I may not be starting at the beginning, but I surely am starting over

And the funniest part?

I didn’t realize the guy who sold painted baseball caps was right behind my booth. As we broke down, he asked me how the show had gone. I told him, not well.

He said, “Well, don’t give up, I’ve been doing shows for seven years now. You gotta….” and a litany of the advice I’ve given others for lo-these-past-20-years poured out.

I smiled graciously (I hope) and thanked him.

And then went over to Patty and Jim’s house for beer and Mexican salad, with locally-grown avocadoes and locally-grown artichokes for appetizers.

Beer helps.

So do good friends, and a sweet, supportive partner. Thank you, Ana, Barb, Michele, Patty, Jim, Deb, and Jon. Did I miss anybody? Lemme know!

ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE

I’ve become one of ‘those people’–people who feel sad about their art. I hat them.

I was fussing and fuming in my head this morning, about how nobody wants my artwork anymore stupid stuff, when I realized I’d become one of “those people”.

The whiney, self-absorbed, time- and energy-consuming, nobody-can-help-me, hugely annoying artist, drowning in a sea of self-pity and ennui. The people who start off any conversation, professional or personal, by heaving a soul-weary sigh and declaring…

“I feel sad about my art.”

I’ve been in several artist support groups in my art career. I’ve learned to duck and run for cover when someone takes this stance more than once. Especially if, when you offer feedback or advice, they argue with everything you say.

I hate it because I’ve always believed this is a cheat, a cop-0ut. A way of letting yourself off the hook, to shirk responsibility for getting your art out into the world.

And now I’m one of them.  Let me take a moment to search for a cartoon on the internet to illustrate my point. Got it!

Over the years, as I learned to supress my urge to kick these people became a better listener, I realized there are really two kinds of whiners:

There are those who unconsciously use the mud they’re stuck in to excuse their own inaction. Sadly (but true), nothing will work, nothing will help, no advice or suggestions will get through, until they’re ready to change it up. They may need a new creative outlet, a new way of thinking, sometimes even a new partner/lifestyle/career. But that’s their journey to make, not ours.

Others truly are aching to get out of the mud. We just haven’t been taught or shown how to do that.

And most of us, their friends, their supporters, haven’t learned how to really help.

We haven’t learned how to listen–deeply, patiently, fully.

That’s what a great support group does. No advice. No cheering up.

Instead, we listen. And ask questions. And more questions. We poke at that person, gently, until we understand better what it is they’re really asking, and what they really need.

And usually, what they really need? They either need better information, a little moral support, and/or affirmation for their creative self.

Sometimes our sense of failure is based on misconceptions. Sometimes we’ve been knocked down by a particularly rough spot in our life. Sometimes, we’ve just never actually thought about what it is we really, really, really want, in our life or for our art.

And that’s okay. In a world awash in information, it can be hard to sort out the bits that are right for us. In a world that’s always full of uncertainty, even danger, and death, it can be hard to create a space for peace and wonder and hope. In a world that measures success by our income, our celebrity, our website hits, our Facebook likes, it can be hard to know what really makes us feel whole.

I’ve been whining a lot lately. And fortunately, along with the silly (though thoughtfully offered) advice, there have been some wise listeners. too. They pointed out some thing that could save me from working at McDonald’s help me earn some kind of income in 2016, and would still be a way of teaching/sharing/giving back to my community.

So to all the sad-about-my-art people out there, I apologize. My friend Nicci once said, “When you point your finger at someone, three more are pointing back at you.”

I hope, if you really do want to not be sad anymore, you find the peeps who will help you do that. I hope you find people who care, who listen, who shine a light in front of you, so you can simply see your next step.

Til then, another Jessica Hagy illustration, to give you a better way to look at the mud.