CRAFT EMERGENCY RELIEF For the Rest of Us Part 3: “I’m Outta Ideas!”

Tolderance for a trial-and-error approach made allllll the difference in my new, smaller, shrine series!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last story from an article originally published in The Crafts Report (now known as Handmade Business) in July 2010. Backstory now included!

(Phone rings)

(Operator): “Craft 911, what is the nature of your craft emergency?”

(Caller #3): “I’m out of ideas!”

(Operater): “Can you give me more details?”

(Caller #3): “I’m in my studio and I’m wandering around. I just don’t have any good ideas for what to make. Is this fatal??”

(Operator): “Happens to everyone, ma’am. Tell me, do you have any upcoming shows? A big order for a gallery?”

(Caller #3): “Um…not really. Things are kinda slow this week.”

(Operator): “Uusally this kind of situation responds very well to deadlines. Are you sure there isn’t some kind of deadline coming up on your calendar? Something you’ve overlooked? Go look, I’ll wait.”

(Caller #3): “Let me check… Wait a minute, yes! There’s a special order here I forgot about! Okay, now what?”

(Operator): “Ma’am, I sugget you simply settle in to fill that special order. I’m sure you’ll be flooded with lots of new ideas once you get those craft hands of yours moving again.”

(Caller #3): “Wow! That’s great advice–thanks!”

(Operator): “It’s our job, ma’am. And next time this happens, try taking two days off from checking your email, then call me in the morning.”

I think this is a great idea whose time has come, don’t you?

And now for the backstory….

This was me! Er…this IS me, all the time.

It usually hits during a difficult time in my life, when I’m distracted. When sales are slow, when I’m feeling invisible in the world. “What’s the use?” “Who cares about my work? Obviously, NO ONE!!!” And other thoughts of no purpose and no use.

I’ve found not one, but TWO terrific solutions. The first, obviously, is a deadline. The minute I realize I HAVE to get something, anything ready for a show, a photo shoot, an article, etc., that’s when I’m swamped for ideas for…something else!

I either hold that thought/idea/vision until the deadline is met, or I start on it instead. (Some deadlines are flexible, self-imposed, or not as important as I thought.) This is the power of procrastination! When we don’t want to do a certain thing, we suddenly find the inspiration to do another thing instead. (Yep, I’ve written a slew of articles on this!)

OR I realize I’m trying to figure out that “thing” in my head before I start it. I think if I do all the thinking stuff ahead of time, I won’t hit any roadblocks.

Wait for it…..

Hahahahahahahahaha wheeeeee!!!!!!  (Oddly, I found this article today about getting things done,  while searching for….something else!)

At the beginning of the pandemic shutdowns, I finally realized that a project that had been in my heart for years, could only be accomplished by using…..yup, trial-and-error!…to figure stuff out. With all that time on my hands, I realized I had plenty of time to do that.

And it worked! I created enough new work to call it a new series.

Of course, as the pandemic measures eased, I’m back in my my “old normal”, and the dozens of small shrines I made are now works-in-progress. And without the deadlines of articles to be written for pay, it’s a lit-tul harder to make room for writing/publishing.

But then I remember how this helped me. And wondered if it might help someone else.

And hence, this article, with the addition of backstories.

I hope this gave you a giggle, and the realization that anything that’s holding YOU back, could be overcome with a little finagling, a deadline, and knowing it worked for me.

Now go to your creative space and make some stuff!

CRAFT EMERGENCY RELIEF FOR THE REST OF US Part 1: Why Didn’t I Get Into That Show??

(This is one of my favorite articles I wrote for The Crafts Report, now known as Handmade Business, back in July 2010. (I split it into three parts, so stay tuned! And now I can add the backstory behind each ’emergency’, too.)

You probably all know about CERF, the Craft Emergency Relief Fund, an organization that aids craftspeople who have lost their studio or equipment to disaster.

It’s a great organization, and deserves our support. But I can’t help thinking we need a smaller, more immediate, more…intimate…emergency resource for artists and craftspeople. Maybe something that looks like this?

(Phone rings)

(Operator): “Craft 911, what is the nature of your creative emergency?”

(Caller #1): “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”

(Operator): “Please stater the nature of your emergency.” (More wailing in the background.) “HEY! Knock it off!!

(Caller #1): “Sorry, sorry….I’m just so upset!”

(Operator): “Ma’am, please calm down. Tell me what’s going on.”

(Caller #1): “I didn’t gent into that juried exhibit I applied to. My work is perfect, and they didn’t choose me! It hurrrrrts!

(Operator): “Okay, ma’am, calmdown. Are your really injured, physically? Or are just your feelings hurt?”

(Caller #1): “I guess….just my feelings? OH, and my pride.”

(Operator): “Well, fortunately, injuried feelings and pride are rarely fatal. You know that hundreds, maybe thousands of artists applied to that exhibit. And the curator has to put together a cohesive show out of those entries. Maybe it has nothing to do with the quality of your work. Maybe it just didn’t “fit in” with the rest of the entries that were submitted.”

(Caller #1): “Oh. Oh, yeah…. I guess I didn’t think of that. You’re right. It’s nothing to get all worked up over. Thanks!”

(Operator): “Happy to be of service, ma’am. Now go finish that new series of pots!”

Now for the backstory. 

I created a little artist support group decades ago in New Hampshire, and one of the women was an amazing, wise woman, Bobbye Sansing. (You can read a little more about her and her work here.)

This actually happened to her. She submitted her pottery to a highly-respected ceramics show, and was rejected. She was upset by that, as any of us would be.

But she decided to go see the show, to see if she could figure out why her work wasn’t accepted. And because she had the gumption, and the courage, to do this, I have another valuable life lesson in my backpack.

All the pottery on exhibit was white. 

Bobbye realized she wasn’t rejected for not being “good enough”. It was because the curator was a) obviously limited and limned by the venue’s space; b) had to put together a cohesive exhibit of the works submitted; and c) had gone with the white work because that’s what worked for them.

Her work didn’t fit in to that particular aesthetic. Her pottery work is pit-fired pinched pots, in dark shades of brown and black. (She added white to her repertoire after this, though!)

And yet, I’m always amazed at the number of people who don’t understand 100% that judging/evaluating/nominating is about who the judge is, and how that person feels about our work. Not necessarily how good our work is, how famous we are, etc.

Another example of how this works: An extremely talented artist griped to me a few years ago that a highly-respected open studio tour had rejected their application. They were offended, angry, obviously deeply hurt.

In this case, I knew a little backstory: Though there was a regular team that reviewed the artwork, there was also an “outside judge”–a curator, or a gallery owner, or an art critic, etc.–who was invited to the review process, every year.

And that the judge, (and even some members of the committee) were different every year.

“So one person’s opinion might have struck you out,” I said to them. “But there will be a different person every year. Why not just try again next year?”

They did.

And they got in, hands down.

Another story: I served on the steering committee of a major annual craft show in New Hampshire. The craft org had several awards at its annual fair, including one for best booth. Again, a different outside judge was added to the mix every year. One year, a lot of people got very low booth scores, and no one could figure out why. Until one exibitor overhead that judge exclaim loudly, “What’s with all the black booths?! I HATE BLACK BOOTHS!!” And they gave really low scores to all the people who had black panels, black displays, black carpeting, etc. in their booth set-up.

The moral of this story?

Do your best. Persevere. And don’t let the opinions of others keep you from making the work of your heart. 

I am forever grateful to Bobbye for her wisdom and insights, and her courge to set aside anger and disappointment in favor of learning more and doing more.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

Bobbye Sansing’s beautiful handformed, pit-fired pottery vessels.

WISE WORDS THAT ACTUALLY HELPED ME TODAY

My customer loved my big green bear necklace, but wants a smaller version. So, little green bear!

 

…And maybe they’ll help you, too!

I’ve basically recovered from six weeks of ongoing agony this summer/fall. (Two back-to-back kidney stones and diverticulitis, ugh!)

The last stone passed a day before I was scheduled for surgery. I recovered enough to participate in this year’s Sonoma County Art Trails open studio event. Yay!

And yet I’ve felt blah ever since. Just not back up to snuff yet. (Why is something “up to snuff” a good thing? Inquiring minds want to know…) (Actually, not really.) I feel useless, irrelevant, unproductive, and purposeless.  Tired, down, unseen, unheard, unenthusiastic. I could go on, but you get the general idea.

I have a custom order in the works for a long-time collector back East, but nothing seems to be sticking in my brain for how to proceed.

I finally had some ideas for beads that might work for that necklace. I made several versions, put them in my convection oven in my studio, and fired it up. About 30 minutes later, I added more, and reset the timer. (It doesn’t hurt polymer clay to have it “cook” longer.) I couldn’t wait to see how they turned out!

I took them out of the oven the next day. And they were literally a hot mess. They looked like scorched blobs o’nothin’ much.

I freaked out. I thought the new Kato clay product, Kato “Blackout” polymer clay* I used as a bead base, had somehow leaked through the lovely colors I’d layered on top. Had I ruined every single batch of colors I’d made with it??

I went home with a heavy heart.

This morning, I found a great quote in my news feed:

“Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today.” (Will Rogers)

Hmmmm…..that hit home.

I was ruminating about my miserable yesterday, and it was not helping. So I decided to get to the studio even earlier than usual, and get to work.

But the doldrums set in again. I puttered around, but couldn’t stop the ruminating. What’s the use? I don’t matter. Nothing I do matters. What do I have to offer the world? Nada….yada yada yada.

Then I got a notice a package I’d been waiting for had been delivered, so I took it as an excuse to leave, and high-tailed it back home.

The new (old) beads I’d ordered were lovely, and for some reason, they lifted my heart a little. So I decided to go back to the studio, if only to drop them off. And I’m so glad I did!

First, I made more beads without the “Blackout” clay, to see if that’s really what had made my previous batch look scorched. And when I put them in the oven, that’s when I realized….

On my second batch of beads the day before, I hadn’t turned up the baking time…

I’d turned up the temperature! (My oven is at least 20-plus years old, and some of the markings are wearing off.) They really were scorched! I literally burned those beads.

I reset the temperature, set the timer, and decided to call it a day, with a happier heart.

And on my way back home, I saw a minor accident along the road and was able to help everybody get back to their feet. (Literally!)

If I hadn’t come back to my studio, they would have been in a bad place.

So bead emergency solved.

Helping hands available to those who needed it.

And an insight that was perfect for me, today. (Yes, I’m feeling a little better!)

*Kato “Blackout” clay is a super-saturated black polymer clay to mix with leftover scraps. It’s so intense in color, I used half a bar to turn 5 pounds of scrap clay into well-conditioned, solid black clay! Read more about it here.

Kato Blackout clay

MY WONKY CREATIVE CYCLE

There’s no single right or wrong way to be creative. It’s what works for YOU!

I beat myself all the time when I hit a slump in my creative cycle.

I think, “What’s the use, nothing’s selling, everyone’s telling me I’m doing it wrong, I’m out of ideas, NOW WHAT??!!”

When I’m in this part of my cycle, it feels pretty hopeless, and I feel pretty useless.

Today I had an ‘aha!’ moment.

This. Is. NORMAL.

I’ve written before about my amazing experience in Lyedie Geer‘s Theory U workshop. (Theory U represents a business model, but Lyedie’s presentation focused on this also applies to our creative work.) (Also synchronistic: As I looked for a link to her blog, I found another great article that helped me today!)

In any creative cycle, there are periods of intense productivity. And also periods of intense confusion, frustration, trial-and-error, and self-doubt.

It’s only when we define ourselves by that second half of the equation that we lose hope. Lose faith in our process. Lose respect for ourselves, as an ordinary, often brilliant, sometimes lost in confusion as a human being.

During the Covid-19 shut-down, I went into a major productive period during the Covid-19 shut-down (my latest shrine series). I always want to figure out how to make something in my head. Does. Not. Work. Instead, I took a deep breath and went with trial-and-error. It DID work!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then some exhibition deadlines came up. More inspiration! And I made two more Shaman necklaces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then the deadlines were met, the creative surge ebbed, and I was in a major period of lull.

I went into a major period of sifting and sorting through my supplies: Sorting my artifacts by size, use, and color. Moving on items that I will never use, and won’t need for classes. Organizing seed beads (yup. I KNOW.) was the biggie. And I’d berate myself for wasting valuable time when I could be doing something more productive.

The rewards of this period? I got a lot of sorting done! And it was very soothing indeed.

The downfall? Long periods of sitting and repetitive motor activity resulted in tendonitis, loss of muscle tone, and not much else getting done.

Finally, last week, I told myself, “ENOUGH!” My goal: Make one thing today. One horse. Or an owl. Or a blue bear.

And I did.

But it didn’t swerve me into full artifact-production-mode. I still felt “meh”.

And then, yesterday I had a huge insight/inspiration:

I want to make more Shaman necklaces. The really big ones, with big beads, big critters, statement pieces.

They don’t sell quickly, that’s for sure. And my goal has always been to make at least one a year. To remind myself that the MAKING is what’s important, not the selling. To encourage myself to “go BIG”, no matter what the outcome is.

But I made a big blue horse yesterday. And as I made it, intending it to be a small sculpture, I thought, “This would make a great Shaman necklace!”

There it was. There was my answer, my next step forward.

Today, I’m actually excited to get to my studio again.

Today, I can see that the “fallow” period was not a fluke. It was not useless. It was not a drain of my resources.

It was a period of rest, and restoration. A time to let the next inspiration find ME, instead of demanding it show up RIGHT NOW.

I’m feeling better today.

And I hope I’ve made YOU feel a little better today, too.

What is your creative cycle? Similar? Vastly different?

Do you recognize it when you’re in it? I’d love to hear what other creatives experience!

 

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #20: Art Events Aren’t About Making Money TODAY

I am reprinting an article I wrote a few years ago (July 13, 2019), because it’s worth repeating. AND should be in this series. What a coincidence that I came across it on Pinterest. And an hour after I read all the bitter, disappointed comments collected for our recent open studio event, Art at the Source.

Creating our artwork takes time. Getting good at it takes time. So does an open studio! And giving up after one slow event–especially in these strange times, when EVERYONE is struggling….well, I’ll just keep my mouth shut. For now.

If money is your only measure of success, you may be missing out on the longer game…

I learned years ago that even a “bad” art event has its value. I had to learn that the hard way, by having a lot of poor sales at shows, exhibitions, fairs, open studios, even high-end fine craft shows across the country.

It started when I first did small local art fairs and craft shows. I never did well enough to go back, if my work wasn’t a good fit with other vendors.

But at each show I would a) have one good sale that paid all my expenses, b) made connections that grew, and c) always got a good tip, insight, experience, that convinced me not to give up.*

I began to realize it took time for folks to “get” my work. It wasn’t painting, it wasn’t pottery. It didn’t fit into any “box”. Almost every visitor did, and said, the same thing. They would stop, come in my space, and gaze at my work for several minutes. When they were ready to talk, they all said a version of the same thing:

“I’ve never seen anything like it, and it’s absolutely beautiful.”

So the work was good enough to pull people in, but different enough that they had to really think about it. I realized I was laying groundwork for something bigger, and better, down the road.

It kept me going, and eventually, I leaped into bigger, juried shows. Those people began to show up for other events: Open studios, art tours, art walks, etc. Gradually, my audience grew. I started doing wholesale fine craft shows, and was juried into a major fine craft show (retail) that same year. I did both shows for years and a couple of open studio events.  My audience grew every year, until I left for California in 2014.

I’m still relearning those same lessons over and over.

Last month, I joined another open studio tour, as the guest of another artist. Attendance was good, but sales were not.

It would have been easy to feel sorry for myself. Heck, I didn’t even get that many newsletter sign-ups.

But I realized I had accomplished my main goal: Introducing my work to a brand new audience. I had rich conversations with amazing people, who I know will come back. Only few dozen people signed up for my email newsletter during the event. But I gave out a ton of business cards and postcards, which paid off.

When I checked in after the event, I found a LOT of people had signed up online. (I think they wanted to see more, and liked what they found!) And I had the rare opportunity to get to know my host artist, and their other two guest artists, better. They are all remarkable people! (We drank a lot of Prosecco at the end of each day.)  (A LOT of Prosecco!)

 A few days ago, I was at the kick-off meeting for this year’s Sonoma County Art Trails open studio event, (Both tours are under the same umbrella organization, but focus on different areas in our large county.)

I was sitting at a table with the new manager of this particular 35-year-old tour. I mentioned that I had few sales at the other open studio tour the week before, not even covering my entry fees, but I was satisfied with it, all-in-all.

Then the new manager said the magic words that summarize this entire article into seven truth-filled words:

“Art events aren’t about making money TODAY.”

Perfect! “I’m gonna write about that!” I exclaimed as I scribbled her words down before I could forget them.

Maybe my very own experience of making something positive out of the ordinary made me realize this early on. How to share the essence of this with others in seven words? Thank you, Tenae Stewart!

Art events are about introducing our work to an audience, especially if it’s a new audience. It’s about inviting our visitors and attendees into our world. Open studios are especially powerful, because they see our work and our environment in full. (Well. It’s a little less messy, but I never get my studio perfectly clean anyway. Artistic mess, people!)

It’s like what a friend told me once, at my old studio space, when I complained about how few people actually came by my studio on an average day. They replied, “It’s not who comes by, it’s who comes BACK.”  And as I look back, I see that the most amazing people DID come by, often when I wasn’t there. But my studio’s sidewalk window let them see a sample of my work, and they did indeed come back.

Now I’m on a crusade, encouraging artists who, for many reasons, don’t like open studios. They may believe their studio is not interesting/too small/too messy/not “professional enough” to open to the public. They may have tried it once, then gave up because it wasn’t worth it.

It’s hard to gear up for an event we didn’t have much success with. But there are events we need to give a second, or even third chance for.

I share my own experiences, how very small open studios tours back in New Hampshire grew from one visitor my first year, to scads of visitors during the second year, who didn’t buy anything, to folks who came in droves the third year—and bought enough to rival my sales from major shows. (And I didn’t have to drive anywhere or set up a booth!)

I share how powerful it’s been to give people permission to “go deep” in my making space. I share how I give them the chance to look while making myself easily available for their questions: (“Hi, I’m Luann, and I make all the artifacts that look like carved bone and ivory. It’s okay to touch my work and pick things up. And if you have any questions, I’ll be right over here!”) Rather than saying, “No thanks, just looking”, people say, “Oh, THANK YOU!!!!” and dive in. When they’re ready to talk, they ask their question, and the conversation begins.

I recently encouraged another artist in my new building to open their studio during our first major event here. They made the usual disclaimers: Their studio is too small, it’s too messy, they don’t have a body of work yet, they’ve never sold a painting, etc. etc.)

I told them their small space might encourage some visitors to realize they don’t need a huge room to do their own creative work, just a spot they don’t have to clear for dinner. They will love looking at that work in progress. It will captivate them, with the photos, preliminary studies, the rough sketches, and the work-in-progress. They will love the subject. Best of all, this artist is comfortable talking to people. They are full of energy and enthusiasm without being overbearing, and visitors will love that.

And last, I said, “Bruce Baker once said, “To regular folks, artists are the people who ran away to join the circus!” Other people wonder and dream about doing their own creative work. To see someone actually doing that work is powerful medicine for all of us in our torn and tattered world.

Open studios aren’t for every artist. Some galleries restrict their artists from participating in them, perhaps for fear they will lose sales, or the work will be undersold. (If you are represented in stores or galleries, NEVER undercut your gallery prices.)

Some artists have privacy or safety issues. (Ask a friend to keep you company, and safe, or ask another artist to participate with you.)

Some see them as too much work. (Me? It’s like having company for dinner, it forces you to clean up a couple times a year!)

Bottom line, art events are essentially about connection: You with your potential audience, them with you, and with your work. Sales certainly help! But know that sales usually follow after laying the groundwork for a mutually-respectful and satisfying relationship.

Don’t worry about the sales you didn’t make today. You’re laying the groundwork for something bigger, tomorrow!

HOW TO OPEN STUDIO #15: What’s Old is New Again

From the beginning to today, my little horses have evolved in many ways. I love them all!

In my last post, I shared how simply rearranging our work can result in visitors/customers “seeing” a work they haven’t seen before.

There’s another side to “old work”, though, that I share with you today:

Your old work still has value.

Here’s the long story:

My artifacts have evolved over the years, changing for the better (I hope!) in every stage. I loved each “stage” for what it was.

But when I look back at those earlier pieces, I feel embarrassed. How could I have thought these were the best I could do?? Should I just get rid of them all? Discount them and move them on?

I hate discounting my own work, as it implies it does not have the same value it had originally. It could make buyers feel if they wait long enough, the price could come down.

Now, of course, I realize that as my prices have risen over the years, even when selling it for the same original price, it will look like a bargain.

Here’s how I found my own truth: From a friend who set me straight.

When I complained that I wasn’t wild about my old work, and felt a little guilty selling it as it felt “less than”, they asked,

“Did you love it when you made it?”

Yes.

“Did people love your old work when it was new?”

Yes.

“Then there will be people who will love it now, too.”

Bam! Mic drop. Clarity restored. (Thank you, Ruth Parent, my good friend!)

I now keep all my old bits to use in newer work. They are stored in a printer’s type tray chest, restored by my son years ago. Visitors are encouraged to open drawers and explore during my studio events.

And by holding on to all my older artifacts, I’ve discovered another insight along the way:

It’s my “relatively-old” work that annoys me, seeing in the moment, now, what I could have done better.

And my “really old” work that I love even more!

I love the fearless outlook on my art career I had then. I had a fabulous photographer, too, who always made my work look incredible. (Thank you and good wishes to you, Jeff Baird, in the Great Beyond. I will miss you and your talents forever.) I sometimes wish I could recapture that old aesthetic, but it’s hard. I am here in the now, right where I belong.

As artists, we fall into the myth that we get better and better at what we do in our making career. Well, we do get better…usually. (Maybe). But it doesn’t mean our work is worth more, will sell more/faster, will be seen as ‘better’. Skills matter, of course. But my own personal lifetime collections of other people’s work, I simply buy what I love, not what’s new, better, etc.

It’s about what speaks to ME.

There are buyers who will appreciate our growing skill level, and our newest work, of course.

Remember, though, there will be plenty of people who have our older work, and still treasure it. And people who will love our old stuff now, too.

So instead of beating yourself up over “old work”, instead of hiding it, put it out there! Especially if your new work is all out in galleries right now.

Tell the story about who you were then, and where you were in your life.

Someone may consider it the perfect piece, for themselves.

 

DO WHAT WORKS FOR Y*O*U!

One of the signs in my studio, in front of a maple syrup tapping can full of sticks. Um….I am still open to receiving sticks! (You can never have too many.) (Despite what my husband says….)

 

 

I’ve been answering questions about blogging on Quora for awhile now. So every day, I get about half a dozen ‘requests’ for information and advice on the topic.

Most of them are out of my league, and my comfort zone. I do not know how to make money from my blog. I tried it once, two people signed up, and it just felt icky. (Not everything we do can make money.)

Today, I responded to an old question from two years ago. (The link in my email took me to it instead of the orginal poster, for some reason.)

The person said they suffer from a lack of motivation about writing. And anything they want to write about, someone else has already said it, and said it better.

A well-known writer said they should just quit, if they couldn’t do it. (Argh!!!)

Here’s what I wrote instead:

Here’s the weird thing about writing:

Even some of the best writers struggle to make themselves write. They also struggle about what to write about.

Here’s an article I came across the other day that helped a friend: Brandon Sanderson’s Advice for Doing Hard Things

Here’s another that crossed my path from The New Yorker magazine about one of the best-known writers in America: John McPhee’s Slow Productivity

Yep. He writes 500 words a day. Not much more than a page. (But he wrote every day.)

And here’s one of my favorite blog posts about making room for ‘making’: THIS IS LOVE

Did you see the part where she couldn’t believe her process was “professional”? Until I pointed out that her practice/process was actually working for HER?

The trick is to find out what works for YOU. For me, it’s deadlines. I had regular gigs for almost two decades, and my best work always showed up the day before my deadline. Now that I don’t have any, I have to REMIND myself to write.

I love writing, it’s who I am, it’s how I sort stuff out and make my way through this crazy world.

And yet it’s still hard to “make time” to do it.

We think of successful authors as people who just sit and write all the time. Yeah, some do. But most don’t.

Even if it’s ‘who we are’, it’s just like every other important thing we have to make room for in our life: Exercise. Reading (instead of doomscrolling or watching movies.)

So figure out what works for YOU. A writing group with accountability? Scheduling a daily writing period?

As for coming up with something original, there are two ways to look at that: One, YOU are unique, and whatever you share will reflect that. Write about the topics, events, thoughts YOU care about. And two, there is nothing new under the sun. Of course other people have already “said” it. But “everything” also gets transformed when it passes from our mind/heart to paper (metaphorically paper). Do you really think no one wrote a romance story with a sad ending after Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet??

Don’t walk away from the work of your heart because you think you’re doing it wrong.

Celebrate what makes you YOU, no matter how you do it, no matter how you get it done, and no matter whether someone’s already said it. You will transform ‘trite’ into ‘passion’ with your own way with words, with your own experiences, with your own thoughts.

Now git busy and go write something.

Short answer: Do the work of YOUR heart because it will be your voice in the world.

It might be hard to get it done, and even harder to get it out in the world.

But it will worth it to YOU. And it will be worth it for others in ways we can’t even imagine.

You can see the original post here: https://www.quora.com/How-can-I-deal-with-lack-of-motivation-to-create-content-I-feel-like-anything-I-could-possibly-say-has-already-been-said-better-by-at-least-a-thousand-people/answer/Luann-Udell?prompt_topic_bio=1

 

FEAR OF FLYING HIGH

(This article first appeared on my RadioUserland blog on October 12, 2004. I don’t even know how I found it today, but it fits in so well with a series I wrote in 2016! Sometimes you just have to let “chance” have its way, and hope it makes sense down the road. Enjoy!)(Oops, I tried to find a link for purchasing this book, but it’s now out-of-print and even bookfinder.com can’t find it!)
Fear of Flying High

I’m reading an excellent book, THE RULES OF RUTHLESSNESS; GETTING AHEAD IN BUSINESS WHEN BEING GOOD ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH. It’s a collection of essays, every one of which is hitting a nerve with me this week.One essay talked about the importance of choosing the right kind of friends—friends who inspire you, support you, encourage you in your successes, because in your success they see their own possibility for achievement.

The wrong friends will resent you as you realize your dreams, and they will say things that are intended to hurt you. They feel they cannot achieve what you have and will pull you back. They desire equality at all costs, so they will do and say things intended to break your stride.

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time because there have been some amazing people in my life who fell away as I became more successful achieving my professional goals. I recognized their jealousy and frustration finally, but was baffled. In my mind, they were all light years ahead of me in experience, talent, wisdom or resources. Yet as I began pulling forward, they began to hold back. Some actually went so far as to try to trip me!

What was the crucial difference that kept me moving ahead but let them derail themselves so easily?

I believe it was the fear of being humiliated if they failed.

I read another article by Martha Beck about the fear of humiliation. (Should have noted the article at the time, this might be the one I’m talking about, but she writes about this a lot.) It’s a powerful force in our human psyche, more powerful than most of us ever think about. Remember that dream about showing up at a public event and realizing you’ve forgotten to put on a shirt? That’s a big time humiliation dream.

Fear of humiliation is the major component in fear of failure. We don’t want to look like an idiot in front of other people, so we don’t take risks, we don’t take chances, we don’t push ourselves. We don’t mind screwing up in private, but boy, we sure don’t want an audience.

I know this is true, because I’ve had people say to my face they could never admit in public that they made a mistake, like I have occasionally in articles I’ve written or speeches I’ve given. They didn’t congratulate me on figuring out a major goof in how I publicized an event. They didn’t thank me for sharing the information so they could avoid the same goof. They said they were amazed I would admit to making a mistake, in public.

It occurred to me that maybe I have a high threshold for humiliation…?

Nah, that’s not it. I lie awake at night reliving my failures and inadequacies as often as anyone. Sometimes more! I’m just as afraid of being exposed as an idiot as anybody.

It seems, though, that it simply doesn’t stop me as often as most other people.

If I had to point to a reason, I’d say I have a teensy wee bit more awareness that the fear of humiliation is somewhat temporary, that we are destined to slog through it at some point in our lives anyway because we can’t avoid EVERY situation where we could be humiliated. Since we can’t avoid it all, we might as well at least choose the circumstances. And I’d rather choose circumstances that involve taking chances with living my dream—being an artist—than ordinary everyday run-of-the-mill humiliation.

Mix in an ability to laugh at yourself occasionally, and the ability to learn from mistakes (instead of running and hiding) and you have a powerful recipe for success. If you can write about it or talk about it in a way that makes OTHER people laugh, too, but also get them to realize that you didn’t die, you just goofed up, then you can teach people how they can do it, too.

Remember the shirtless scene in the movie ROMY AND MICHELLE’S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION? In a shirtless dream sequence (which is the major clue that it IS a dream), klutzy and wacky Michelle accepts an award for being the most blazing success in her class. She gives a lovely little speech and ends by brushing off the shirtless thing with a breezy, “Oh, and I forgot to put my shirt on this morning.” The crowed breaks into wild applause.

I wish I could be as breezy with my fear. I’m not.

But I have a little bit of courage when it comes to acting on my dreams despite my fears.

And so can you.

(P.S. And I just realized I misspelled “high” in high school” in the RU version! Owning up so you can see it didn’t ruin my art career, nor detract much from my purpose.) 🙂

THE GIFT OF A YANKEE SWAP

As I reread my post from yesterday (Mixed Feelings and Better Choices) about Christmases past and present, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Yankee Swap part:

Back in Keene NH, we enjoyed a Yankee Swap in addition to our regular celebration. Each guest brought a wrapped gift. (It could be used/regifted/a white elephant kinda thing, but not half-eaten or broken. You could not believe the people who didn’t get that….) Everyone draws a number, the number one goes first, picks a gift, and opens it. Number two the same, except they can choose to swap gifts with Number one. It continues, until the very last person gets to swap with ANYONE. (Um…it did invoke some pissed-off guests, but almost everyone eventually enjoyed it as the wacko experience it was meant to be.)

I’d forgotten a powerful insight I had:

Every single “white elephant”, “I hate this thing, YOU take it!” “Why would anyone want this??” gift found a good home.

We’ve heard “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, but we could see that happening right in front of us. There was almost always at least one person who thought that “ugly/useless/silly” thing was wonderful. Not only that, but the worst “fights” involved a couple-to-a-bunch-of people who all wanted the same item! (The person who brought it to the swap was always amazed by that!)

I’ve written about Regretsy a few times over the last few years, here and now I can’t find the others. (I’ll update this once I do.) I love how even horrible, awful artwork April Winchell found on Etsy had a place in the world. Here’s a summary of the original blog before it disappeared, and here’s where you can buy an affordable copy of the book.

In fact, once a seller’s work was featured in her blog, their shop was flooded with buyers.

Even more astounding, Winchell could tell when someone was sincerely proud of their work, and when someone was “faking it” with horrible art, trying to be featured on her blog. She said there was something about the work that, no matter how awful, had authenticity she could sense.

How powerful is that?!

And my final point: Look how popular ugly Christmas sweaters have become over the years! (Google “ugly christmas sweater trend” and find some wonderful articles about its history.)

So when we feel bad about our creative work, when we think it’s not good enough and that’s why we can’t sell it, make a living from it, we can take the time to rethink those sad thoughts.

We need to keep it in our lives because we love making it. It helps us deal with everything else we need to do.

And somewhere in the world is someone who will love it just as much as we do.

Oh, they could live on the other side of the world, they may never see it, and who knows? Maybe we’ll be famous after we die. (If you have not yet watched the Netflix comedy special “Nanette” by Hannah Gadsby, please give it a whirl. She breaks the standard opinion that Vincent Van Gogh’s multi-million dollar art sales means anything. “He’s so famous! Look how much his work sells for!” Gadsby: “Yeah, but he’s dead.” And my favorite quote: “The reason Van Gogh is famous today is because he had a brother who loved him.” Theo Van Gogh is the reason any of Van Gogh’s work is around today, because he had a gallery (where only one of Vincent’s work sold).

In ancient times, cave art wasn’t hunting magic (a theory that prevailed in the 50’s and continued for decades.) They were communal ceremonies, often led by female shamans, to create unity, healing, connection.

And when we make our art, we create healing…for ourselves.

When we share it with the world, we create connection. Maybe not sales, but people will see it, some people will like it, and some people will be better for it.

When we participate in art events, open studios, etc., we create community.

When we realize all people have a creative streak, if we simply broaden the definition, we create unity.

Trust me, if a crazy flower pot at a Yankee swamp finds a loving hope, your creative work can, too. Make room in your heart, and your life, no matter how small a space you have, and know that your creative work has a life of its own in the world.

Someone loved this enough that they bought it, and it then it ended up at an antique store. Where it sat for ages until it finally sold.

 

 

MIXED FEELINGS AND BETTER CHOICES

Maybe more lights would help??

 

The holidays are always a minor struggle for me.

When I was a kid, all I wanted for Christmas (and my birthday) was a pony. My parents promised to get me one when I was 13, but when I turned 13 and didn’t get one, it was obvious they were hoping I’d forgotten about it. (DARN YOU, MOM AND DAD!) (They’re gone now, so I have to get over it.) (JOKING!! I’ll never get over it.) (Er…that was a joke, too, btw. I just hope Mom and Dad are laughing up in heaven.)

I put my biggest holiday efforts into play when we had kids of our own. Not big on the outdoor lights thing, but our Christmas tree was always a delight. (Except, of course, when our cat Gus decided it was her perfect play toy and climbing pole.) (Gus lived to be 18, so that’s a lotta years of broken ornaments and branches.) I wanted our Christmas to be a time of joy for our kids.

Back in Keene NH, we enjoyed a Yankee Swap in addition to our regular celebration. Each guest brought a wrapped gift. (It could be used/regifted/a white elephant kinda thing, but not half-eaten or broken. You could not believe the people who didn’t get that….) Everyone draws a number, the number one goes first, picks a gift, and opens it. Number two the same, except they can choose to swap gifts with Number one. It continues, until the very last person gets to swap with ANYONE. (Um…it did invoke some pissed-off guests, but almost everyone eventually enjoyed it as the wacko experience it was meant to be.)

Here in California, we’ve lived in much smaller houses, and far fewer friends. Also with three cats, all of whom sometimes appear to be Gus reincarnated when it comes to obnoxious/destructive behavior. Our expectations are reduced, too, simply because we feel we already have so much: A good marriage, grown kids finding their own way in the world, CALIFORNIA!!!, and in our latest neighborhood, good people for neighbors.

And since I achieved adulthood (not an easy path!), I learned that very few people know what I want and don’t want (not their fault, I am very unpredictable in my wants and needs.)  I simply buy what I fall in love with, and give it to my hubby to wrap for Christmas. This year? An electric-heated vest I can wear in my 52 degree studio. (OTOH, my sis Sue always sends me a tin of homemade Heath Bar-like Christmas candy, so yeah, she nailed it!)

And the more confusing, overwhelming, and sad the world gets, the smaller even these issues get. It doesn’t help that my partner suffers horribly from SAD (seasonal affective disorder), and that can’t be easily fixed. (No suggestions, please, he’s tried everything except actually moving to Arabia or Africa.)

But here’s the thing: Christmas isn’t about US being happy.

It’s about how we want to make OTHER people happy.

No matter what religion/non-religion we practice, it’s about embracing the dark time of the year, and turning it into light. And love. And hope.

I’ve been in a bit of a funk since I left my last writing gig. It’s hard to write when I’m not sure if anyone even cares enough to read what I’ve written.

And yet, I’m the person who encouraged my partner to restart his own blog, telling him it doesn’t matter how many likes or followers he has. It’s about having a voice in the world. (And amazingly, he finally took my advice, someone who used to read his blog back in the day found it, and got in contact with him, and now Jon has a wonderful new job doing work he loves, with a company that appreciates who he is, and working with a team of people who value his insights and work.

And just recently, someone let me know that my writing has been a tremendous force for good in their life. (I always get a little embarassed when someone tells me that, but it meant the world to me.)

And I can’t stop thinking about what they wrote. It was powerful. It helped.

Today, I realize once again, we have the power of our choices.

We can chase the money, and fame, believing that the more of both we have, the better our lives will be.

Or we can choose to pursue our passions in the world, to share our unique gifts with others, in hopes we can help them find the courage to pursue theirs.

We can mourn the family we were born to, that seem believe we don’t really belong there. Or we can celebrate the family we choose.

We can fear the backlash, the anger, the lies that seem to break down all social norms, that separate us from each other.

Or we can strive to find our own path, our own way of being of service for a good cause, our own way of helping others who are in a hard place.

We can submit to anger and resentment. Or we can celebrate every tiny miracle, every beautiful online post, every effort others are making to make the world a better, happier, more supportive place for all of us.

We get to choose.

I wish you all a wonderful holiday, no matter which one you’re celebrating (or not), no matter how long the dark lasts.

Because today, the light begins to grow again.

And so can our hearts, and spirit.

 

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?

20201208_131746.jpg

My next step? More artifacts!

This article was published on Fine Art Views.

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

Don’t sell yourself short when facing new challenges!

 (5 minute read)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #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.

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