LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Give It Time, and Take the Time!

Luann Udell discusses how to enjoy the steps along the way in our "journey"
Luann Udell discusses how to enjoy the steps along the way in our “journey”

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Give It Time, and Take the Time!

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.

Most things in life work themselves out.

There is a saying I learned in my hospice training awhile back: Hospice is full of recovering fixers.

The premise is, death is something that can’t be “fixed” or cured. But conditions, including the state of mind for our clients, and hopefully, for family members, too, can be healed.

I would forget this, from time to time. But my amazing supervisor was always there to walk me through the swamp of good intentions back to solid ground.

I recently read about a scientific study on happiness. To paraphrase, it said most of us hold a major goal (or two, or many) in our life, and believe we will be totally happy when we attain it.

But it turns out our happiness is increased in a big way by embracing the steps we take to get there.

If we stop to consider our journey, then the “arrival” feels even richer, and deeper.

That stopped me in my tracks.

I realized that from January 2018 to January 2019, my life has been a hot mess. Despair, sadness, loneliness, anger, frustration, and uncertainty, all had SO MUCH FUN WITH ME for thirteen long, harsh months. (I used to discount this stuff by saying, “Hey, nobody died!” until that was no longer true at all.)

In addition to all the drama, my studio on South A Street went from “I have lost my desire to create” to “Geez, this is hard” to “Dang, they sure are noisy, glad it’s ending soon!” to “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME??” to jackhammers, sawing, smog in my studio (yep, you read that right), and demolition, to “Now what?!” to “This is really really hard!!” to “Hallelujah, I can’t believe what just happened!!” (In a good way.)

In between were tiny moments of “I am slowly but surely dealing with this move”. Of course, I started out packing with great care, but by the last day, I was just throwing stuff into boxes. Every box from this stage is a huge “Surprise!!!” moment….

Two examples of how things usually “just work out” in the end:

I’ve already written how, in his desire to have me out of there, my landlord offered a truck and two of his employees to get me moved. This saved us the expense of renting a truck ourselves, doing all the heavy lifting ourselves, and cut almost a week off the end of my move.

I had worried for weeks on how this was ever going to possibly work out. I couldn’t imagine how it could happen. I could not even visualize what I wanted, let alone expect any help.

And in two minutes, the entire problem was solved. (Well. The next 24 hours were full of chaos and mayhem, but again, it was just 24 hours!)

The second thing is more subtle.

All my furniture was now in my studio, and I had a vision of how to lay things out. All I needed was three bookcases: One very tall and skinny, one that was tall and very sturdy, and a third that was narrow-ish (under 29” wide), with two bottom shelves that were at least 15” tall. Hopefully, something that would fit in with the rest of my storage/display furniture. And it definitely had to be affordable. I also realized a table we already had that I thought would work for that third workstation was not suitable at all. Dang.

I also needed a wheeled office chair, but I didn’t think that would be hard. (Ha!)

Now, it gets complicated from here, so if you don’t have the patience, skip to the end…..

I couldn’t find any of the five pieces I needed, not even a wheeled office chair. (Was there a run on them in January??)

I searched every thrift shop and antique store around. I looked online: Facebook Marketplace, NextDoor, Craigslist. Nada.

In one thrift store known for its huge furniture collection, I found two candidates for the book shelf. But they were literally the only two items that were not for sale. One was being used for displaying shoes, the other (though it had a price tag) was being used by the staff. What are the chances?!

Fortunately, I doubled-back a day later, to my favorite thrift shop again, and found two perfect candidates for the first two bookcases. Yippee!!

But that third one was just too crazy, and much harder to find.

I finally researched “used office furniture” online, and came up with some stores that might work. But most of them were closed until Monday.

On a hunch, and in desperation, I went back to the thrift store that had the first “perfect” candidates that weren’t for sale. Maybe there was something I overlooked?

There was. Off in the book section was a medium-height cupboard with one shelf. It looked a little like my printer’s type tray drawers, but no drawers. It looked wide, but I thought what the heck? I could use it for something else. And the price? $10. (Yes, you read that right, too!) While I was there, I found a desk that might work for my last workstation. It was $15. What luck! I would come back and pick it up later.

I had to wait for the store to open on Monday. I was there ten minutes after they opened. I brought the cupboard back to the studio and it was EXACTLY THE RIGHT WIDTH. (I am now feeling “heard” by the universe.)

But the desk….. I realized it had no “overhang” to clamp on my two wonderful work-lamps. Was that a deal-breaker??

Sure enough, while dropping off a donation at another thrift store, I found a) an office chair for $5 (sensing a theme here??) and the perfect table, in the perfect color, with the perfect overhang, and extremely sturdy. It was big. It might mean rearranging my space yet again. So I reluctantly left it.

And realized that night that YES IT WAS THE PERFECT TABLE. The first choice was not only two small, using tabletop lamps would take up even more room.

So I called the store the next morning, before they were even officially open, thinking I could leave a message to please please please hold the table for me until I could get there after another engagement.

Someone answered the phone! (What are the chances??) And they said, “We usually won’t do that, but we will!”

After my meeting, we picked it up and took it out to the new studio. It fit! I simply put it in sideways to the wall, rather than up against it. It broke up the space nicely, with plenty of room to spare. (I “donated” the first table at the first store back to them. They serve a wonderful cause, and I was only out $15, after all.)

So here I am today, almost done with the set-up. (Yes, I’ll try to get some pics.)


I even found the perfect place for the dolls and puppets so critical for making my art. (Not really, but I love ’em.) 

Everything fell into place. Everything I needed, I found. Everything I found, was hugely affordable. Everything worked out even better than I had hoped.

Today I realized how wonderful I’m feeling again.

It was a year where I, I felt so drained of energy, I did not even go to my studio for weeks at a time. Even working on my art could not restore me to my happy place. That was hard.

And here I am today, realizing that this week in February is the most amazing week I’ve had in a loooooong time. (YES, successful shopping helps!)

I am restored to my better self. My studio is lookin’ good! Yesterday I set up some of my artwork for the first time in ages. I have an extra work station. I can’t believe how cohesive all the bits and pieces look, too.  I can still hardly believe I found the five perfect components to complete my studio layout, within three days.                            

                                                                    

 It’s starting to come together!                                                      I’ve actually got artwork  up!                                                                                                               And bottles. Old crusty                                                                                                                            bottles…                                             

Yesterday, my new art community had a meeting about a major event we’re having in a couple months. It sounds full of promise, and I got to watch how folks participated and interacted. It sure looks like a roomful of grown-ups!

Today the sun is out, and cherry trees are blooming. Today I realized I don’t need any more infrastructure/ or furniture. Today I realized with a bit of luck, I can be back to work by the end of the week.

As I write this, I marvel at all the things that simply fell into place, beginning with that second offer of studio space from Julian and Anna those first few days in 2019. I see the “change in perspective” that constitutes a miracle, a change that lets me breathe, and relax (figuratively speaking!). I can finally let go of the anger, angst, resentment, and fear. I am ready to embrace my new situation and my new community.

I am focused on enjoying every minute of unpacking and setting up, even those boxes full of haphazard stuff I threw together in panic. It feels good to realize not everything has to be “forced” into working. Sometimes it all just falls into place, despite our worst fears and doubts.

Today feels full of promise, and hope.

And today, I hope for you, when times are harsh and dark, to find your own beautiful moments of light and grace. Somewhere, someone wishes you well, someone or someplace has exactly what you need, and something will remind you of how beautiful life can be. Embrace it!

There is never really an end to “the journey”. But I am back to enjoying the steps along the way.

Do you have stories of things that worked out better than you could have ever hoped or dreamed? Or a goal you set that you savored all along the way? Please share! We all need to be reminded of the possibilities. Someone may simply need to hear your story today!

From (Muddy) Rags to (Ivory) Riches….

Just a few hours of my studio work today. From (muddy) rags to (ivory) riches, and the small miracles that keep me going.

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Faux ivory artifacts, shaped, carved, and baked, ready to “mud.” Scrimshaw is the technique of used by 19th century whalers, sponging ink onto a freshly-carved whalebone carving, then wiping off the excess. My process is “earthier”, but brings about the same desired results. Here are shaped, carved, and baked artifacts, sanded and ready for their close-up.
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“Mudding”. Paint, and fine silt from our old neighborhood in Keene, NH. I rub this mixture carefully into every crevice and crack of the sculpture. I used to wipe it off while still moist in NH, but in California, it dries a heckuva lot faster. Not a bad thing. Just….different. I have to use a damp rag, which takes off more paint and leaves the faux ivory “brighter.”
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Then a wipe with a damp cloth…..WOW! It gets me, every single time. It’s like magic!
The details I so carefully inscribed suddenly pop into existence.
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The scrimshaw technique brings out the details I etched. You can see the hundreds of pin dots in the handprints.
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Then a thorough buffing to make them shine.
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A formidable bear, as my friend Ivan calls them.
I’m making sculpture-sized artifacts this week, for a small wall-hung shadowbox I’m working on–a herd of running horses.
No, the bear won’t be in that one! In my imaginery paleomythic world, all animals are at one and at peace with all the others, just for that moment of creation.
Of course, five minutes later, all hell breaks loose, and nature runs its course.
But for today, there are no bears hunting horses, no people hunting bears, no animals being harmed in the making of my little artifacts.
Just a quiet, deep-thinking day in the studio.

MESSAGES WE CANNOT READ

One of the memes in my artwork is best explained by a quote from one of my favorite books about Ice Age art, called Painters of the Caves by Patricia Lauber. She discusses the many theories about the purpose of ancient paintings in caves like Lascaux and Chauvet, most of which say more about our times and culture rather than theirs. She says the cave paintings and art are messages that were not addressed to us.

This concept says so much about our humanity. When presented with something we don’t understand fully, we create a story that explains it to our satisfaction.

But sometimes the story is wrong, or outdated, or simply cruel. I’m learning it takes great courage, and a willingness to be humble, to learn the true story. (Or perhaps I should say, the truest story.)

While I make my work, I’m constantly working in sets of numbers, colors, patterns–how many dots on this horse? How many lines? What is my favorite pattern of dots this month? How many beads in this color on this necklace, or on this decorative ‘drape’ on the sides of a wall hanging? I love odd numbers. Four is good, and five. Fourteen bothers me.

Afterwards, when I look at the finished piece, I see echoes of other patterns, some ancient and still unknown. The number of knots I put in a length of waxed linen remind me of the knotted cord language of the Incas.

When I see the dot pattern I’ve etched onto an artifact, I can almost remember what was inspiring me at that moment. When people ask me what the dots and markings mean, I ask them what they think. And their answers are always thoughtful, beautiful, wistful. “I think they’re constellations”, from a child. “Musical notation”, from a musician. “A map, a journey”, says another.

I use sticks from beaver dams to hang my fiber work. I’m fascinated by the patterns of their teeth marks. The pattern suggests a written message, a message we cannot read.

Beaver-chewed sticks, bug-chewed sticks, and lichen-etched sticks.
Beaver-chewed sticks, bug-chewed sticks, and lichen-etched sticks.

Today I came across videos of birds in flight. This haunting video of starlings in flight, for example. And this equally intriguing video of of birds’ flight ‘tracked’ in time.

So, two memes, or motifs, in my work:

So many hidden, mysterious messages around us, some random, to be sure. But others full of meaning to the creatures who make them, though certainly not made for us. Something that seems ordinary, that upon closer examination, is an exercise in wonder. An opportunity to see ourselves as just a small part of a world of daily miracles.

And the power of the stories we tell to make sense of our actions, our choices, our lives, the lives of others, and the world around us.

BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE

I love almost every step that goes into making these pieces, and I never stop tweaking them, perfecting them, adding yet another element of interest, until I actually sell them.

True story: A year or so ago, I was working on a stack of ‘fragments’–smaller, raw-edged fiber pieces with my handmade artifacts. I left the stack near a window for a few days.

When I came back, there were funny burn marks on some of them. I realized a magnifying glass had focused the sun’s rays and scorched them. Yes. I nearly burned down my studio!

Now, after months of purging, packing, traveling, settling, unpacking, setting up, and moving my studio again two weeks ago….

I’m finally able to pick up where I left off with these two fragments. I had all the layers done, individually stitched in different colors of thread. I’ve attached the artifacts. Nothing left to do but….

Invest hours more of work into these!

I WANT them to look repaired, and so I was a little obvious about it. So I patched both of these pieces, using not-matching fabrics and threads. Hand-stiched them, because I haven’t quite figured out how to free-style quilt with the old sewing machine I picked up for my studio.

Can you see the repair? It's the tiny blue square above, to the right. I patched over the black base, and the blue square, and stitched periwinkle blue around the rust square.
Can you see the repair? It’s the tiny blue square above, to the right. I patched over the black base, and the blue square, and stitched periwinkle blue around the rust square.

I also repaired another square. Then I spent almost an hour just adding the right color of blue seed beads, and a few extra buttons. I never thought of this before, but I actually have to switch back and forth between hand sewing needles for each task, too. One needle for embroidery, another for handquilting, yet another for attaching seed beads–because a needle eye that is big enough to accommodate embroidery floss is usually way to big to go through a size 9o or 10o seed bead.

Can you find the repair in this piece?? The scorch mark again was about an inch long. It's just below the upper right hand corner of the yellow square, and extends into the rust colored square.
Can you find the repair in this piece?? The scorch mark again was about an inch long. It’s just below the upper right hand corner of the yellow square, and extends into the rust colored square.

Tomorrow I’ll add a few more handmade polymer buttons (which are in the oven right now!) I just ordered new shadow box frames for these, too.

Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with how much time and work goes into even these ‘simpler’ pieces. It’s so hard to price them afterwards. Usually I end up making $5 to $10 an hour, or less. Not including my supplies and materials.

Sometimes I think it would have been so much easier to just paint. But then I would miss the fabrics, the beads, the polymer work, the displays and the old wood boxes, the shadow boxes…. I love almost every step that goes into making these pieces, and I never stop tweaking them, perfecting them, adding yet another element of interest, until I actually sell them.

I’ll show the finished pieces later next week, I hope!

P.S. I ran out of little bones, so this morning I made more. They’re in the oven now.
I bet that’s a sentence you don’t see every day.