THE WAITING GAME

No one is ever 100% productive. No one is ever 100% efficient. No one has 100% of their time to spend on their art. And anyone who says they are either has a rich partner, or a support team who takes care of everything else, or is lying through their teeth speaking metaphorically.

Even if we are amazingly focused and disciplined about making our art, life happens. The kids get sick, the dog gets sick, we get sick. People (and dogs) die. The power goes out. (Yes, even here in “sunny California”, where we’ve had 15″ of rain, including a whopper storm that just left, and yes, some people did lose power.) Heck, sometimes we just run out of paint/clay/paperclips.

Today on Fine Art Views, a writer shared how they maximize their creative time in the studio. They maximize their time spent on other tasks, su as that 30 minute wait at the doctor’s office, and that 4-hour airplane trip.

And so, here are a few of mine.

The most basic tool I’ve found for time management is some sort of daily planner. I used to use those expensive fancy ones, until I kept losing them and having to fall back on my old standby: The lowly composition book.

composition-books

I really need to not use just black-and-white books. Too confusing! And WOW, September was a busy month!!

This actually works better for me, because the task list for some days are very brief (nothin’ much on the page after your colonoscopy exam  health procedures. And other days, there is so much to do, so much information to record, so many things to keep track of, I need more than one page. With a composition book, I can use as many or as few pages as I need, and I can tape or staple important notes, business cards, or sales flyers in there, too.

But even more important than a place to write and plan is this helpful little question to ask myself before starting anything:

What needs to happen before that?

I learned this concept years ago, and wrote about it here. It really helps to sort out your “next step”.

And the reason this can maximize your time in the studio is, so many times we get to the studio to “work”–and realize we’ve left that one critical thing we need at home. Or we’ve forgotten to get that critical little task completed, or forgot to order that crucial supply.

There I am, at the studio, as planned, and I can’t finish the one thing I’d established as the priority of the day.

Here’s a perfect example: I’m back on track with my fiber collage work. I’ve got half a dozen works in progress. I have a couple pieces ready to frame. I have great new ideas for the next projects.

I arrived at my studio, ready to get to work. But when I went to frame one fragment, I realized I was missing a backing board. And everything ground to a halt.

Easily fixed. When I got back home, I put together what I need for the next couple projects. I realized I was out of other sizes and colors of mats. I researched sources, and found a great local mat source. I placed an order, and can pick it up today.

And realized that all this happened because I hadn’t followed my own rule:

Write down ALL the steps that have to happen before a task can be considered completed.

Who has time to do that?? you may well ask.

Well….that 30 minutes in the waiting room? That’s a good time.

That four-hour flight? That’s a great time to layout your goals for the next month. Or even the rest of the year. (Er…just in case that was one of your New Year’s resolutions that never actually made it into reality.) (Not me, of course.) (WHY ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT AND SNIGGERING???)

And here’s the last tip that really works for me, when I remember to do it:

When you stop for the day, leave your work at a place where you can easily pick it up again the next time.

It’s so much easier to get right down to work if you can easily see what your next step is.

Or, if you’ve completely finished your current project, set up for your next one before you leave. This is also a good way to know if you have everything you need to get started. If you don’t, well, you know what to do once you get home. (Or, if your friendly art supply store is still open, pick it up on your way home!)

These tips work really well for me, when I remember to do them! Which reminds me….

Where’s my notebook?? I need to write this down….

 

BE THE BUNNY

Fear keeps us immobilized, but action is what we need now.

Bunster (2) (1024x768)

I was blessed to have Bunster! I hope there are Cheerios in Bunny Heaven.

I remember only one line from David Cronenberg’s 1986 movie, The Fly:

“Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

Fear is a protective mechanism. It can keep us from pursing dangerous pursuits. It can keep us safe.

It can also keep us locked in anxiety and block us off from the very opportunities that help us, and others, grow and thrive.

Just before we left on our California aimless road trip, a studio visitor brought me a book to read: Unsaid, by Neil Abramson. I didn’t actually get a chance to read much on the trip. But today I read the author’s note, to see if I should read it right away, or start with my pile of borrowed-time library books.

And then I read his words:

…I was surprised at the depth of the loss I felt. The only way I can explain it is to tell that something deep within me shifted. I realized I was so grateful for every minute with Skippy and I wouldn’t have traded the time with him for anything in the world, even thought that time ended too soon. Then I realized that this was Skippy’s last gift to me…(H)e taught me how important the act of living really is and how limited by fear I had become….   (Italics are mine.)

How limited by fear I had become…

Everyone I’ve talked to the last few days has shared how they’ve felt the last few weeks–stunned, anxious, ill, sad, depressed, fearful.

We thought the social changes in our world were going to continue for years to come. We thought we’d overcome our fear of ‘the other’–people who are different than us, people who talk differently, who have different skin color, who pray with different prayers, who love a different way. “Different” had gone from “dangerous and scary” to “yet another color on the spectrum of humanity”.

All that seems swept away. The fear of “different” feels like it’s not only reversed, but reached monstrous proportions. And we feel helpless.

We are not helpless.

It’s time for us to get brave, and step outside our comfort zone. It’s time for all of us to become activists, however we can. It’s time for us to put our money, our time, our words, our presence, where our mouth–er, heart–is.

All of us have skills and strengths, interests and connections. It’s time to put them to good use.

I’ve talked to people recently, who have gently moved from “being afraid” to realizing they can put their expertise to good use. They can contribute to stopping the spread of fake “news”. They can teach people how to research the crazy articles that foment hate and fear. They can put their hobbies to good use raising funds for social justice. They can share the joy and courage in their hearts, that has spurred them to make their creativity visible in the world, and create joy and courage in others. They can use the simplest acts to help others.

Food kitchens have hordes of volunteers on the holidays. Why not commit to helping on the ordinary days instead?

I love reading. It’s time to share that love with elementary kids again.

I see friends who have people they cares deeply about, people who, historically, have been easily marginized. They are standing up for them.

I’m going to join the Million Women March in January. I’m scared–I’ve never been the protest-march type. But what is my fear, compared to the very real fear of so many other people? Not much.

Don’t let fear immobilize you.  Don’t let it speak for you.

Let your heart speak for you instead.

Something will cross your path in the days ahead–a volunteer opportunity, a fundraising effort, a conversation, a chance to participate. For me, the afterword of a book I haven’t even read yet.

When it does, your heart will let you know. You will feel “the call”–a tiny, unexplained lifting of your spirit.

Follow it. See where it goes. Share it here. I’d love to know!

Remember those other, just as powerful words, that will take you to a place of light, and connection, and justice:

Be not afraid.

Be like my rabbit Bunster, may she rest in peace (with lots of stuff to chew on, and someone’s lap to leap into.) She was full of fear. Rabbits are full of fear.

But she also had a place in the world, and my life is richer because of her.

 

 

THE NUMBERS GAME

Seth Godin wrote a wonderfully succinct article today on why you need to look past the numbers when you evaluate your success.

A few days ago, the hosts of a Itty Biz explained why you shouldn’t worry about people unsubscribing from your blog. (Short story: Your message is never going to appeal to everybody, but it will always appeal to somebody.

Years ago, I did the nation’s largest wholesale craft show. When the economy tanked, so did my sales. (Actually, things tanked for everybody. Not just me. Not just other craftspeople. I need to remember it’s not always about me…..bigtime.)

At one particular show, I was counting up the things that had gone well: I picked up a prestigious gallery a customer introduced me to. A well-respected craft publishing company tapped me to do freelance work for them. And so on. A veteran exhibitor sneered, “Yeah, but how much MONEY did you make? That’s what counts! Quit putting a fluffy happy face on it.” Deflated, I confessed to the show manager that I must be a flop. She said, “Is money the only measure of your success?”

Hmmmmm….. Good question.

Money is important. Sales are important. Customers are important.

Paying your mortgage, putting food on the table, being able to care for those who depend on your are important. Not being in debt is important.

But they aren’t important because “I have more than you” or because “You’re not as famous as I am” or “He’s more important because his bank balance is bigger.”

We all have a place in the world.

The best work of our heart has a place in the world.

Sometimes, the smallest gesture of human kindness can change the world.

True courage is pursuing your dreams, doing the work, getting the work of your creative spirit, out into the world.

True faith is believing it is worthwhile, even if you cannot see where the ripples go or how far they travel.

Numbers are good. But only when you understand they are only an imperfect measure of something much, much deeper, bigger, more mysterious and profound:

The impact of our words, our actions, our art, on the world.

The framed work continues to grow in popularity.  (And I love making them!)

The framed work continues to grow in popularity. (And I love making them!)

YOU DON’T NEED PERMISSION To Have Your Heart’s Desire

Sudden thoughts on a Saturday afternoon…..

Someone came to my open studio a few weeks ago. I don’t know the person–I know where they work, but I don’t know anything else about them. They’d never seen my studio before.

All I know is,when the person came in, I felt they needed something.

I don’t know why, I don’t know what. It wasn’t a scary, try-to-fill-my-infinite-black-hole kind of need. It felt a simple, healthy desire to have a little room (or a big room, like my studio!) to make stuff, too. A little room. Or a little time. Or a little courage. Or a little permission.

I thought they looked….wistful. (Sorry, I can’t explain it any more than that. Vague stuff, I know!)

I gave them something–a totem animal necklace–and explained why they needed to have it.

It turns out they have a creative dream, something they want to bring into the world. It’s tiny right now, and new, it’s sudden, it’s exciting. I saw a picture, and I agreed.

We talked a little. I encouraged them to just try. Just do it and see where it takes them.

I know it takes me a thousand words to get a simple idea across, but here it is:

Whoever you are out there in the world, reading this, know that whatever is in your heart, you should do it.

You don’t need the world’s permission to have your heart’s desire.

You don’t need to be politically correct to live your dream.

You don’t even have to know what you want to be happy.

You don’t need to please anyone else to make what you want to make.

You don’t have to do it full-time.

You don’t have to be a “professional”.

You don’t have to get an art degree, or do shows, or enter competitions, or get gallery representation.

You don’t even have to sell it if you don’t want to.

All you have to do is get it out of your self, and get it out into the world.

And here’s another tip, if you do decide to make stuff and sell stuff:

Sales don’t necessarily mean you’re making the right stuff. Consequently, lack of sales don’t mean you’re not making the right stuff.

Money, fame, recognition, prizes don’t always mean you’re on the right path. In fact, these things can clutter up your vision if you’re not careful. (For example, every year at the Sunapee air, why do I wish for a best booth award? What does a booth award have to do with my work, with what it means to me, and what it means to other people??!)

And nobody can define your “success”, except Y*O*U.

So today, just go make something. Experiment. Play. Make it better. Give it to someone. Or keep it for yourself, if you want.

You don’t need anyone’s permission, except your own.

Do you need more encouragement? Here’s a wonderful poem by William Stafford…

You Reading This, Be Ready

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now?
Are you waiting for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day.
This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

William Stafford

WHAT’S THIS ALL ABOUT??? MY NEXT STEPS WITH MY ART.

Thoughts for my new series are still roiling and boiling in my brain.

The ideas come from many places and times. Some as long ago as I can remember, and others as recently as today. Some was inspired by seeing how another assemblage artist organized his materials. “THIS should be your art!” I exclaimed. He was not amused.

But it got me thinking.

All of this is based on my favorite activity, which I refer to by its ancient designation, “hunter-gathering”.

I’ve always loved picking up pretty pebbles, twisted twigs, sea shells, bits of rusted metal. This actually translates in a beautiful (and sometimes devastating) way to shopping. I love poking through piles of stuff, looking for the perfect little something everyone else has overlooked.

Last month I found a huge box of shells at a local antique shop. It was marked way, way down. But still a little pricey at almost $60. I won’t say I had buyer’s remorse when I got home, but “What was I thinking?!” was flying around my head. (It’s not buyer’s remorse if you’re still secretly glad you bought it….)

So here’s where the shells have gone. Here:

Big, big jar of big, big shells. Found the perfect jar at T.J. Maxx for under $15, in the perfect shade of sea glass blue.

And here:

A smaller jar o’ shells.

And here:

Note how they are sorted by color, texture, size and other significant characteristics. Like one slot holds “stones with spots”!

Now the last pic is especially telling. Because when I go to the beach, I come home with this:

Box o’ beach rocks.

And they quickly get displayed like this:

Do you see a pattern here?

Which got me doing this a few years ago:

People absolutely fell in love with my many trays of handmade artifacts at my last open studio!

So in my head are images of artifacts, collections, gatherings of objects, museum display, shrines and altars. Add to that a shaman’s gathering of healing herbs, objects of power, talismans of hope, magic stones and mysterious bones.

I don’t know exactly what it is. I have only vague ideas of what it looks like. Sometimes it frightens me. Sometimes I wish I could drop everything else to work on it. Sometimes it seems too much like play to take seriously.

There is only one thing I’m sure of:

Something wonderful is coming!

INSIDE AND OUT

Here’s my latest column on the delicate lines between copying and being copied, and inspiring and being inspired, written for Fine Art Views, a great resource for marketing your artwork. Enjoy!

Years ago, an artist friend said something that threw me for a loop.

I was just starting out as a full-time artist and craftsperson. I was open to everything. How-to books, craft magazines, patterns, you name it, I had to have it. I wanted constant inspiration and distraction, and I wanted it NOW.

She said she didn’t read many books or magazines about art or craft, and didn’t go to many exhibitions or shows. Her work was highly original and personal, she said. (It was, too.) She found that if she looked “outside” at what others were doing, it distracted her, and muddied her personal vision.

Her words made me rethink that practice. No, I didn’t turn the creative faucet off completely. But I learned to recognize the times where I needed to isolate myself from the rest of the pack, and simply focus on my own work.

Of course, it was a LOT easier to hunker down and stay focused in those days before the internet. That faucet of ideas and inspiration has turned into a fire hose.

Read more here…

The inspiration for my current exhibition necklace. 30,000 years old, no copyright issue!

My intention transformed as I worked. Lion is now a bear.

PERSPECTIVE, and ADVICE FOR NEW BLOGGERS

Two pieces of advice you should might want to practice regularly. (I’m trying to cut back on telling people what to do….)

A few weeks ago, I was talking with an artist who had just started blogging. Or rather, blogging regularly and with intent. (As opposed to, “Open Studio Today!” stuff.)

She was complaining that she still hadn’t acquired much of an audience. I’m afraid I laughed out loud.

I hastened to assure her I was laughing AT her. I was just thinking of the early days of my own blog.

It was very much like the day I set out my very first bird feeder.

My husband and I had our very first apartment with a backyard–what a luxury! We’re low-level bird nuts, so I decided I would immediately set up a feeding station for the neighborhood birds.

I found a spot where we could sit on the back porch and watch the activity. I bought a bag of generic bird seed from, oh, I can’t remember, KMart? High quality stuff, I’m sure. (NOT.)

I didn’t have a bird feeder, so I took the lid from an extra garbage can and set it on the lawn. I filled it with the bird seed, put out a bowl of water, and took my seat on the porch.

Half an hour later, I wandered into the living room where Jon was reading. “It’s not working,” I said glumly.

“What isn’t working?” he asked cautiously. (Because when your girlfriend says something like this, the ensuing conversation could go ​anywhere​.

“The bird feeder!” I said. “I’ve been watching for thirty minutes, and not a single bird has tried it out!”

After making a funny noise that sounded suspiciously like a smothered guffaw, he patiently explained to me that birds don’t just smell food and come running. They discover feeding stations, slowly and cautiously, building a routine that takes them through a circuit of opportunity. “It could take weeks, even months for them to realize you’ve provided them a new source,” he explained.

Weeks? Months?? Wow. This bird feeding thing was more complicated than I thought.

Eventually a few crows and house sparrows found our lode. Then the raccoons found it, too, and that was the end of our bird feeding ventures. (Until Jon took it up again a few years ago, with much more forethought and dedication.)

My point, I explained to my friend, is this: Be patient.

A website, or a blog, is just a billboard on the information highway. Actually, it’s more like a sign on a back road in a rural area. For awhile, the only people who will really see it are the people who happen to live there. Or people who drive by when they’re looking for something else.

Eventually, your customers and collectors will realize it’s useful for them to check in regularly. And as you find your voice, other people willing–even hungry–to listen to what you’re saying will drop in, too.

Write what is in your heart, write about the things you really care about. The people who also care about those things will find you.

Some will stay, some will move on. But your numbers will grow.

In short, these things take time. That means being patience. Sometimes, perspective helps grow patience.

I told her that, almost ten years later, my total “regular” readership is probably somewhere around a thousand. But my first few years, I was lucky if a hundred people even knew I had a blog. (Okay, I confess. I think seven people have read my very first blog post. (You can read my very first blog article from November 29, 2002 here: ​Holding Onto “Facts” That Hold You Back​

Now for the perspective.

Re: the numbers…..I try not to check my stats. It’s like constantly asking people what they think of your work. It’s tempting, but ultimately not healthy for your creative spirit. I write because I have to write. I have something to say, that I have to put out there.

My art, the same. I have to make it. I can’t stop and worry about who else will like it, I have to simply do the work. You know, the Martha Graham thing….

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

As spoken to Agnes De Mille

The two pieces of excellent advice?

1. Read that Martha Graham quote at least once a day.

2. The next time you’re tempted to read your blog stats, if you absolutely can’t resist, then try this: In the “At A Glance” bar graph, switch from the “daily” total to the “monthly” total.

Oh, gosh, the numbers are so much more satisfying!