NEWSLETTERS 101: #20 Share the BIGGEST Gift of All!

Otter's story is a good one for 2021!
Otter’s story is a good one for 2021!

NEWSLETTERS 101: #20 Share the BIGGEST Gift of All!

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.

What a Disney movie did to lift my heart!

(8 minute read) (Spoiler alert! If you haven’t seen Soul yet, wait to read this til after you do!)

 In last week’s column, I shared why sharing a family tradition (or one we’ve modified) can show our audience our human side.

For today’s column, I thought about discussing New Year’s Resolutions (which I rarely make, and keep even less.)

But instead, I’m sharing what I realize is the greatest gift of all:

We’re here, right now. Alive!

 Enjoy every moment, and look for the tiny little miracles that are EVERYWHERE!

Sorry/Not sorry for yelling. I’ll back up a bit. This came from a lot of ‘little thoughts’ that piled up into a massive mound this past week.

A few days ago, I was thinking about how desperate we all could be about sales.

Like it or not, “sales” is a powerful desire and goal for almost all creatives. I’ve always advised against pursuing sales as the only measure of our success. (I could create an entire series with the articles where I’ve mentioned Thomas Kinkade!) But we can’t help wishing and hoping to be successful with our creative work, and strong sales are hard evidence our work is popular.

Unfortunately, as you know from how many times I’ve mentioned Vincent Van Gogh’s work, we may never truly know how others will value our work. And being famous after we’re dead is…well, a nice thing to hope for, but we’ll never know.

Exactly how did “famous artists” in the past become famous? They had collectors with the money and the means (and the beautiful spaces) to purchase and display their art. And eventually, those works made it into museums around the world, “proof positive” that these were, indeed, great works of art.

But what about the artists who didn’t have that kind of audience? At first I thought of the work that wouldn’t even make it to any market: Artists of different cultures, different races, etc., especially those deemed “primitive” in nature. Then I thought of women artists, who were—and still are—under-represented in museums, art history, and even galleries today. Soon I was a little embarrassed for wanting fame and fortune, when so many people may have never had the chance to make their work, let alone show it, let alone sell it.

Even those artists who did make the cut, what about those works of art that never survived into our times? Entire cities, cultures, etc. were destroyed by fire, war, famine, pestilence, volcanoes. Cave art wasn’t a thing until Alta Mira, a prehistoric cave full of beautiful images of animals, was discovered in 1868. Even then, it aroused no curiosity for another decade, and it was actually Maria, the 8-year-old daughter of the caves owner, nobleman Marcelino Sanz de Sautola, who discovered the beautiful artwork within. (And even then, the work was often dismissed as modern forgeries by gypsies, until more caves were discovered in the early 20th century.)

Even then, such artwork was again dismissed as “hunting magic” by modern “experts”, whose unconscious bias limited their understanding of what was right in front of them. This bias continued. Mary Cassatt was a “real artist” whose work took a long time to be classified as such. In this article, the author says she had three strikes against her, “…her gender, her foreignness (she was an American living in France), and her reputation as a painter of motherhood.”

Even if we do achieve a decent reputation, a strong audience, some good sales, does that seal our fate? Nope. I can’t find this artist for the life of me, but one session in my art history classes in college focused on an extremely successful Victorian artist, the Thomas Kinkaid of his times, whose popularity tanked soon after he died. Too sentimental, too trite, did not stand up over time. (Could it be this guy?)

In our modern times, with a changing-for-the-better consciousness that all people matter, that all people have creative talents of some kind, that we all yearn to be “seen” in the world, and especially in this year of pandemic and unrest, how do we pursue our goal of being a successful artist?

I went to bed too tired, too sad, on a dark Christmas Eve, without an answer.

Until Disney+ tossed its newest Pixar animated movie, Soul, into our lap on Christmas Day.

I’d read a review that considered it “meh”, but for some reason, it still called to me. It’s about a musician, a music teacher, who’s always dreamed of making it to the big time, who finally gets his chance…

And falls down a manhole and dies. His soul is desperate to find a way to ‘go back’, to get the opportunity to realize his dream-of-a-lifetime.

In his efforts, he crosses the path of Soul 22, who has refused all efforts to get her to live a life on earth. Her cynicism is impressive! Even the souls of Mother Theresa, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, and many others can’t encourage her to even try.

After many failed attempts to not only recapture his own life, but to encourage hers, a tiny miracle happens.

Let me repeat: A tiny miracle.

I found this beautiful quote in an article about Soul today:  “Instead, Soul was left to be about the little moments that make up our lives rather than where we end up, and that’s ultimately what makes the movie resonate so well.”

My own greatest joy comes in persevering until I find a solution to whatever is blocking my way. I keep track of my progress in my notebooks and journals, capturing the tiny moments of joy and wonder I encounter in my day.

When I write my way through episodes of despair, when I find myself at the mercy of destructive, negative people, when I begin to doubt my own worth in the world, my gratitude list lifts me up again.

Those tiny moments add up!

When I make my work, I feel my purpose. It’s to share what I find beautiful in the world. To share where I’ve found meaning, solace, peace in my heart, if only for a moment. And it’s so easy to do that today! A quick photo, a caption, a few tags on Instagram, and my insights go straight to my artist-and-writer page.

I find as many ways as I can (writing for Fine Art Viewsmy blogTwitterFacebookmy email newsletter, etc.) to share what I’ve learned, what has lifted me, with others, quickly and easily. (The gifts of social media, when used as a force for good in the world!)

And you can too! Include your audience in those moments of inspiration as part of your marketing process. Sharing those moments of light, beauty, awe or sorrow will also help to connect your art with others.

Including these shares in our newsletters — whether it’s posting an image of our latest work, or writing about a flock of snowy egrets catching a random ray of sunshine, silhouetted against dark and stormy clouds, or including these moments on social media –is not only a gift to others, but a great marketing tool too.

When we make the work of our heart, we are lifted, even if just for a little bit. When we share it with others, maybe their hearts will be lifted, too. Whether they buy it, or share it with others, the ripples in the pond of life continue.

More than this, we can’t expect, nor count on.

In closing, a dear friend and I talked together on Zoom recently, soon after watching SOUL. She was struggling with her own “next steps”, what would get her to her goals, and I felt so helpless regarding advice. Fortunately, it turns out she didn’t really need advice. And she is already so many steps ahead of me!

One little (hah!) story she shared with me: She has a school history and a longtime interest in ecology, and she loves going for long walks, being immersed in nature and all its wonders.

Over time, she realized that on every walk, at some point, a tree would “wave” at her.

It could be a branch, a twig, sometimes just a single leaf. But it was independent of any noticeable wind or animal action. And she began to wave back.

Just a tiny wave, so if she weren’t walking alone, her companion wouldn’t notice.

Because who waves back at trees, right?

It hit me. There’s a powerful moment in SOUL that involves a tree. An insignificant, perfectly ordinary moment, actually less than a minute, that changes everyone. And everything. Something I’m betting every single one of us has experienced at some time in our walks and travels.

I told my friend about this moment, without giving away what it was, and encouraged her to watch the movie. She did. She cried. And she was happy again.

This year, make your art, especially if it makes you happy.

This year, share your art, because it will make others happy.

This year, pursue your goals, but don’t let them define you, or limit you in any way. Don’t worry about being “good enough”.

We are enough.

This year, live your life. Live it fully. Live it deeply. As my little animal artifact Otter told me many years ago…

“Oh, be joyful! Play! Enjoy every moment of this amazing life.”

 Oh, and this morning, I looked to see if a tree were waving at me. One did, but it was because it was full of two different flocks of birds, finches and Brewers Blackbirds. So maybe it was waving, but maybe it wasn’t.

But I waved back anyway. And somehow, I felt a little happier.

Your shares and comments are always welcomed!

Share this link FineArtViews.com or view my blog at luannudell.wordpress.com.

If someone shared this article with you, and you’d like to read more in this series, visit my articles at FineArtViews.com.

NEWSLETTERS 101 #17: Share an “Aha!” Moment

My biggest "aha" moment was what put me on the path to becoming a "real" artist. Still powerful. Still works.
My biggest “aha” moment was what put me on the path to becoming a “real” artist. Still powerful. Still works.

NEWSLETTERS 101 #17: Share an “Aha!” Moment

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.

Was there a moment when everything changed for you? Share it!

(4 minute read)

One of the taglines in my Fine Art Views (and elsewhere) is this:

“I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”

Yep, I’m hoping it made you laugh a little. But I am also here to reassure you, that when we have our own “aha!” moment, aka “the Eureka effect”, that miraculous gift of insight where we see what’s really going on, what the solution is, how to move forward from a stuck place, it’s good to share it.

It may be just what someone else needs to get out of a hole today.

Here’s one of my favorites I love to share. It’s about fear. How fear can dominate our lives, inside and out. How it can paralyze us.

And ironically, how shallow it can really be. (Yes, pun intended!)

This story is over 15 years old, and the fear I described was already almost 15 years old. If my husband hadn’t cajoled me to take a dip in the lake on that hot summer day, I might still be holding that fear in my heart.

My intention in sharing this story was to encourage others who are in the same boat. Paralyzed with fear, palpable fear. Impossible to ignore. Only “diving in” (figuratively and literally!) helped me get to the bottom of that scary lake. (Again, pun intended.)

As I linked to the Dublin Lake story, I found another related story in the sidebar, entitled “Breakthrough”. Here is where a bunch of fears, and one random comment, came together into one beautiful solution.

Now my latest insight, that came from revisiting my old blog, today:

Radio Userland was an early blog hosting site (now-defunc) site. I wrote on it from 2002 to mid-2007. (I couldn’t even access it for ages after I left, until my techie husband recoded all the urls into something I could get to easily.) (Thank you, sweetie/love of my life!)

In five years, I got maybe three comments. THREE.

Was it because I was a terrible writer? Or an uninteresting writer? I’ll leave that for you to decide! But I do know the platform had its drawbacks, for me.

It was hard to comment. I don’t even know if I could have responded to those comments. I had no way of knowing how many people visited my blog. I never thought to ask the ones that did, to share it with others.

So: No comments. No likes. No way to measure “hits”. No way to know if anyone ever even read anything. No way to know if what I wrote, helped someone else.

And yet, I wrote. I process hard places in my life, through writing. So I wrote for myself, first. I love having had all those ‘lessons learned’, insights, and free advice.

I love it when I come across them again.

Because I still need them.

As a good friend said a few years ago, “I love all my life lessons! I love them so much, I learn them again, and again, and again.”

And when I share them with the world? Priceless. As in, “free” because you get to read them here at no cost to you.

And “priceless” as in “powerful”, as in “if it helped me, and when I shared it, it helped you, then that has incredible, endless value.”

Is it coincidence that I had this realization so soon after last week’s article, on how the numbers ultimately don’t matter?

I don’t think so.

So consider sharing an insight that helped you move forward in life. An insight that helped you find your way in the dark, towards the light, and a mug of hot milk.

If it helps even one of your subscribers do the same, well, that’s pretty cool.

One suggestion: Stick with the positive, or at least end on a positive note. Not all life experiences are good ones. But when we learn something fundamental, something beautiful because of them, that inspires hope.

Of course it okay to share something we’re struggling with right now, too: Health issues, difficult life events, etc. Believe me, if you’re going through something really hard, someone else out there is, too.

And it’s okay to just gritch now and then. (That’s a word from an old high school friend, a blend of “gripe” and “bitch”, and I love it almost as much as “blort”.) In fact, it might be an opportunity for readers to make suggestions or express sympathy, which may or may not help.

But just knowing they care can mean a lot to us, too.

But don’t be too much of a Debbie/Danny Downer, either. Yeah, we all have our moments, but we also all have enough on our plates.

What is one of YOUR favorite “aha!” moments? Try it out on us, in the comments!

If you enjoyed this article, if you enjoyed this article, share it! Link back to it here on Fine Art Views, or my blog at luannudell.wordpress.com.

If someone shared this article with you, and you’d like to read more in this series, visit my articles at FineArtViews.com.

TESTING OUR ASSUMPTIONS: Faux Facts of the Lascaux Cave

Is it coincidental that this article was annoying for me, right before I begin this new series? Maybe. Maybe not!

 

I was noodling on the internet this morning, stopped to look something up about the Lascaux Cave in France, the inspiration for the work of my heart.

I came across this article in the Winchester Sun newspaper in northern Kentucky.

It’s actually a good article, focusing on gratitude for the things we take for granted in our lives. And Smith’s assumption is not only one that was taken seriously for years–that cave art is about hunting magic–it’s funny, and a gentle reminder to find the gifts we already have in our lives.

But….

It felt awkard to say this, but why rely on a totally disproven man-the-killer-ape philosphy in life?

I tried to write to her, but oddly, I could not find a way to contact her nor the newspaper. I also wasn’t sure if I were being too picky. Except…so much of the “facts”, aren’t.  That bothered me more than I anticipated. She got her point across, so maybe I should just shut up…?

So I decided not to send it, but to post my thoughts here, in my own space.

Here’s what I wrote:

Erin Smith’s article on Nov. 5, 2020, “What Good Things Have Brought You Here Today?
​I came across your article while looking something up.  It’s good, and I enjoyed it And yet….
I know the theory behind your thoughts (granted, they’re funny!) about the folks at Lascaux being tired of reindeer meat.
And it’s true, for generations, we’ve assumed all cave art, dating back more than 35,000 years now, was about hunting and sympathetic magic around hunting food animals. (My art history studies revealed Lascaux is now considered the “high gothic” of cave art, for its unique use of color.) It was “obviously” about men and boys practicing their target shooting. (Spear marks were found in some of the images.)
The elders were also teaching the boys how to draw, which is why there are animals with eight legs, and multiple heads. This is what was taught to us art history students in the ’70’s and for decades after.
And heck, maybe they WERE tired of eating reindeer meat.
But this ‘hunting magic assumption’ is now considered out-of-date.
Research shows that NONE of the caves depict the actual animals each community hunted. Yet nothing stopped them from hunting other animals.  So what’s that about?
Evidence from the sites of their communities reveal they did NOT hunt nor eat the animals mainly depicted in each cave, relative to evidence found in their settlements.
And this was not a male-only activitiy.
Turns out the spear marks were made at a later time, probably by another community that found the images after the original painters had moved on, and before the entrance to the cave collapsed. So, NOT made by the original artists.
Many of the shamans that created the images are women, and some suspect MOST of them were women. ​And evidence shows that men, women, even children participated in the ceremonies.
The ‘garbled images’? Inexperienced artists? Nope.
First, there is evidence of “multi-media” elements in the ceremonies (created in areas of the most intense echoes, so sound was probably a feature during their creation, or in the ceremonies that followed.)
There’s now evidence that through primitive artifacts, with the flickering light of torches, these images can appear to move, as demonstrated by this video by Marc Azema. You can watch the longer, most recent version here. Or the explanation of how these images were viewed here. But the last bit, at the end of them all, the montage of the large, running cat critter, is still the most astonishing. I can only imagine the intense observation of running lions that resulted in this highly-realistic rendition.
And last, at the begining of the 21st century, archeologists associate the Lascaux Cave’s work with the timing of great climate change. These people saw what we’re seeing, intense change in climate that affected their entire way of living, not over centuries, but within a handful of years. Cooler weather gave way to hotter weather, the vast grasslands were disappearing, the vast herds of animals that fed on them disappeared. One theory believes they were calling the horses back. (Most of the horses in Lascaux are pregnant.)
Someone who thinks I’m “making up a sappy story” about hunting magic said, “You don’t get it. Cave art is all about survival!” To which I replied, “So is a cathedral.”
My own artwork began with the inspiration of the Lascaux Cave. I get the clever wit of assuming they were tired of eating reindeer. I get that there was a great inspiration for your great article in this, and I enjoyed reading it.
And as Patricia Lauber said in her amazing children’s book, PAINTERS OF THE CAVES, we may never know the exact story of these paintings. They are a message that was not addressed to us.
Just sayin’ that the messages we can CHOOSE to see can carry an even bigger message that’s better for us all. There are now wonderful insights that can inspire even more insightful articles.
And we can choose NOT to diminish the spiritual work of a people lost to us in time, who were US–just as intelligent, just as resourceful, in short, just like us–to make our point.
Respectfully,
Luann Udell

 

The Gift of Color

This little work of art taught me so much about color.

Today I found a little mixed media art pin in my “treasure trove”, aka “Luann’s Big Pile O’Stuff”.

I can’t remember when or where I bought it, though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t an art/craft show. A gift shop or gallery, maybe?? It’s signed “Joan Considine” on the back, and “winter ’95/’96”.

At this time, I was on the cusp of stepping up to my art career. I was a) making doll quilts and fabric toys for my kids; b) knitting sweaters for my kids; c) making beaded jewelry; d) buying odd/broken bits of vintage jewelry from thrift shops and antique stores, and reworking them in new, refurbished pieces; 3) buying odd fabrics at thrift shops and antique stores and embroidering them into Victorian-style “crazy quilted” Christmas stockings; and f) beginning to work with polymer clay. I was beginning to rethink these “individual” craft categories, using polymer to make buttons for quilts, adding beads to the mix, and expanding my ideas about jewelry. A sea change was coming!

I have never liked some of the more popular color combinations. Pink and purple, for example, or magenta and teal together. They just seemed too…exuberant?…for my taste. I still shudder when I browse through the Sundance catalog at the jewelry pieces that combine lapis, coral, rose quartz, amethyst, and labradorite. It just feels like a riot of color to me.

When I started making art quilts with my little faux ivory horses, I actually stuck with the actual cave art palette, too. Rust, red and yellow ochre, black, brown, white. I wanted to be true to the real history of these cavees echoed in my work. And when I began to make jewelry with the same theme, I limited myself to this same palette, too.

But one day, as I was browsing my old college art history books, I remembered lapis was a pretty popular color with artists throughout history. I thought, “I bet if those artists had had access to blue, they would have used it!” That was my first step outside of the “rules” I’d followed. I realized my work, to be truly mine, had to have authenticity and a mystery of its own.

And yet, I still resisted using purple, even though its cultural heritage as a hue was almost as deep as those other “authentic” colors.

And then this little pin showed up.

What’s so special about it?

Hmmmm….the subtle beauty of the artist’s use of color.

This is a rectangle of good-quality matboard or cardboard (the deep muted gradient purple), a layer of heavy paper painted slate blue, and three smaller rectangles stacked, of olive green. The beads reflect these colors perfectly, with subtle jumps: Deep indigo, steel blue, olive, deep plum, taupe. And the beads are beautifully stacked, with subtle but balanced combinations in color and shape. Even the jump rings that attach the dangles to the pin are deep blue. And the two largest round beads are hung separately, a dangle on the dangles.

So. Color. Gradient. Complementary hues muted to work with each other in a way that doesn’t jar. Beaded structure. Movement. Subtle sheens in paint and bead coatings to play with light.

My studio supplies–fabric, beads (glass and gemstone), paints–now reflect almost every color of the rainbow, though similar to this pin. No neons, except to mix with other colors to get a little “pop”.) I’ve gotten past “matchy-matchy” and strive for “look how this color makes that one sing!” I still prefer a warm palette.

I still don’t like “color riots”, and I still prefer colors that play well together.

But now I do use blue.

The last few days have reminded me of that fateful day in 2001, the day I questioned why I even bothered with my art, making something as meaningless as “little plastic horses.”

And like that day, not only am I restored to myself by making my art, and hearing from others that my words and work have helped them, I can’t help thinking about this jewelry artist. I can’t find them online, and so have no way of knowing them or their work.

But their little paper pin has brought beauty and joy into my life for over 25 years. It helped me step outside my (color) box comfort zone. It broadened my horizons, and still I marvel at it today.

Know that what we do, whatever creative work that’s in us, is important. Not just to us, but to someone else out there in this wide, sometimes scary, often jaw-droppingly beautiful and kind world. Someone who will be inspired by what we do. Encouraged by what we do, or say. Someone who will find solace and/or joy in our music, our dance, our designs, our gardens, our words, our vision.

Whatever is in us that heals us, will heal someone else.

Do your work, and know that it is a gift to the entire world.

Do your work, and get it out into the world.

Do your work, because it is yours, and this is why this gift was given to you.

Some work still calls for those “old colors”.
My son loved the color orange when he was young, and I grew to love it, too!

 

THE NEW NORMAL And the Power of Our Choices

When things change, we get a chance to consider what's really important.
When things change, we get a chance to consider what’s really important.

THE NEW NORMAL And the Power of Our Choices

When things change, we get a chance to consider what’s really important.

Part of me doesn’t want to write about our “new normal”.

My email inbox has about three items that aren’t about COVID-19, and not much is useful or helpful. Part of me doesn’t even want to use that new word in a sentence.

Part of me wishes we could go back a month and start over. Part of me wishes the next six months were over, and we get back to the “old normal”.

Part of me also thinks I’m the only one who’s thinking this. Ha!

And yet, so much of my daily life is pretty much the same. My partner and I have worked out of our home for decades. Video conferences are a staple for him. Friendships have grown by phone calls. We’ve always been “loners” out of necessity, partly because we moved so much when we were younger, and partly because of our last major move across the country five years ago.

So what’s hard about that now?

Because someone said we had to.

It feels childish, and that’s because it is. On one hand, it can feel positive because now we know what the right thing to do is. OTOH, not many of us are comfortable feeling we have no choice.

And that can make us feel powerless.

What is the source of “power” for me?

Changing a mental attitude. Embracing a new “normal”. Choosing. Acceptance.

Finding new ways to do things.

Here are some choices that I’ve found helpful:

Stepping away from the “news” firehose.

From the remark, “trying to sip from a firehose”, where there is so much water coming out, sipping = drowning. There’s a healthy balance between getting important updates and facts, and immersing ourselves in “knowledge” that sucks up valuable time. We need to know newest developments, of course. But do we need to check those every half hour? Nope. I wasn’t even aware I was doing this until a friend emailed me yesterday. They are busier more than ever with work, since the format shifted to online consultations with clients (which they already know how to do.) But it’s even harder to make room for their creative work because they’re constantly checking their news feed. Their admitting it shined a little light on my own behavior.

Why do we do this? Because a) it feels like we’re doing something productive, and b) it’s a way to manage our fear and uncertainty. OH, and c) it helps us feel less alone. All of these things are good things in moderation. As a “new normal”, not so much.

Making a conscious decision to only read reliable news sources for useful updates can help. (Won’t fix it, of course, THANK YOU LIZARD BRAIN, but it helps.)

Actively thinking about what works for us, and what doesn’t. I can’t do production work at home, because my own workspace here is half the kitchen table (since a family member moved out here with us last year, I lost/gave up my home studio. See how I reframed that?!) I have an elderly cat who insists I focus on her by methodically knocking every thing off the table. Every minute. All day. (Yes, I’ve tried all kinds of work-arounds, but a spray bottle of water works best.) Fortunately, my off-site studio is structured so I can shelter in place there, too. Another artist friend’s studio doesn’t work that way, but they’ve carved out a creative space at home. We can all explore ways to carve out a tiny creative space if our studios are off-limits and our schedules are upended.

Realizing I can still go to my studio, with the proper precautions, has helped stabilize my routine.

Instead of looking for people to blame, look for the helpers. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”  – Fred Rogers

Reading about bad behavior and selfishness feels good, because it helps us feel “better than” those folks who don’t “get it”. We forget that we are all hard-wired to behave badly at times, and that other people may have fewer choices to deal with the crazy. My own shortcoming?

Hating people who cry about having to “shelter in place” in their multi-million dollar mansions. Until I realize if they are that unhappy, then I am truly blessed to be completely happy in our less-than-900 s.f. home that shelters three people, 3 cats and a dog. (Even if my writing desk is half the kitchen table!)//////  (And those dashes are where my cat just tried to walk across my keyboard again.)

Instead, I love reading about the helpers, the people who realize they have something other people don’t: The ability to sew face masks for the rest of us. Time to run errands for others. The person who tipped a delivery driver with money, and a roll of toilet paper. (My cat is trying to knock over the squirt bottle.)

Because these people embody my last suggestion:

Focus on what we CAN do, instead of what we CAN’T. A few major art events (open studios, opening receptions, etc.) have already been cancelled, and I’m surprised at my feelings – relief! I added an extra one this year, a big one. I was beginning to feel a little pressured.

And now I have plenty of time to update my Etsy shop, order supplies for that new jewelry line I’ve been working on (Ooooooh!! Online shopping!!! YES!!!). When I’m at the studio, I focus on making over cleaning and organizing.

My husband and I were complaining about having to be home so much, until we both realized it was only because we have to. Remove that thinking, replace it with “want to”, and there’s our “old normal” back. Simply reframing how we think about it took some pressure off. (Not useful if your kids are young enough to be home from school, too, but again, another tiny blessing I hadn’t thought of before!)

My partner and I made some stupid choices before we “knew better”. (I didn’t think the situation was that serious, until I had more facts.)

Now we know better – and we do better.

And the side effects! Air pollution has dramatically shrunk since the pandemic. People have new appreciation for open spaces and parks (although we also blew those outlets when too many people thronged to the coast and state/national parks last weekend.) Maybe we’ll care more about protecting them, going forward. Realizing what we do have, that others don’t, gives us a chance to be more compassionate, and caring. Health care workers, first responders, teachers, delivery people, all have gained even more respect.

In the end, it all boils down to the power of our choices. Not just our physical ones, but our emotional/spiritual/mental ones, too.

As artists, our role is a powerful one, and will continue to be, sales or no sales. We have always dealt with uncertainty, our markets plummet at the first sign of “danger”, and when society is darkest, art is a tremendous solace to many. Not just our art, but the creative work of all. It’s what restores us to our highest, best self, and it’s what gives moments of beauty and joy to others.

What is one positive change or insight you’ve had recently? What has lifted your heart in these scary times? What gives you hope?

And how can you share it with others? Start here, and pay it forward, today!

Be Your Authentic Self (or suffer the consequences!)

Just found this in Rob Brezsny’s Astrology Newsletter today and it is exactly what I needed to hear. Maybe you, too?

ADVICE TO MYSELF by Louise Erdrich

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.

Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew on a button.

Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.

Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll’s tiny shoes in pairs, don’t worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.

Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic—decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don’t even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.

Don’t sort the paper clips
from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don’t answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.

Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in through the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.

Recycle the mail, don’t read it,
don’t read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

– “Advice to Myself” by Louise Erdrich, from Original Fire: Selected and
New Poems”

So I have two questions today:

How can I best put this sentiment into practice for myself, today?

And how the heck did he know what our household looks like??!!

OK, three questions: IT IS NOT OKAY FOR YOU TO USE MY TOOTHBRUSH!!! (JON!!!) (Not a question, I guess.)

ONE IN A MILLION

We can get lost in the crowd, OR honor our own voice in the world. You choose!
We can get lost in the crowd, OR honor our own voice in the world. You choose!

One In A Million

We can get lost in the crowd, OR honor our own voice in the world. You choose!

(6 minute read)

A week ago, I read the latest newsletter from Robert Genn, who created the powerful series of articles called “The Painter’s Keys”.

Genn died in 2014, and he is sadly missed. His articles range from “how to paint” to “how to be”, and all are well-written and illustrated. Fortunately, his artist daughter Sara has continued the tradition, and carries it well.

This article was originally published in 2011, but still has relevance today. Perhaps even more so! You can see the article here: https://painterskeys.com/plight-undiscovered-artist/

He opens with this sentence:  “Last night I met with five of the 17 million artists who currently need to sell more of their art.

His take focused on the need to “get better” at our work, rather than “feeling good” about our work.  Obviously, although this little group were working very, very hard to sell their work, his advice suggests he considered the work slightly “less than.”

Remember, this is a guy who, when he realized he would not live out the year, sorted through all his paintings, pulled the ones he thought were “less than”…..and burned them. He did not want a shred of evidence of any low quality left behind.

Part of me understands this.

Part of me balks.

I have older works, older artifacts, etc. that make me squirm a little when I see them. I mentioned this to a dear friend in Keene many years ago. I said maybe I should destroy them.

She said, “Did you love making them?” I said yes.

She said, “Did people love them, and buy them?” Again, I said yes.

She said, “Then there will be people today who will love them, too.”

Bonk. Head slap.

In fact, this very insight came into full force during the two weekends of my open studios. People went through my artifacts drawers (a printer’s type tray chest) where all my older pieces and overstock pieces are stored. (If I have the perfect piece of real turquoise in hand for a necklace, I’ll use it. If not, I’ll make it. And while I make it, I make extras so I’ll have them on hand.)

I have just started selling a few of the older ones, the ones I don’t care for that much, and the ones I’ll never actually use. (Oddly, the ones I don’t like aren’t my first pieces, but my “middle period. Go figure!)

So there may actually be buyers for every stage of our creative work: Our earliest efforts, the period where we expand our skillset, and now, when we are making our best work ever.

And yet, why is it so hard to sell today? (Genn wrote his original article during the recession, when many galleries actually closed, sales were so poor.)

I think it’s in his very first sentence.

17 million artists in the world today.

Now I spent some time trying to verify this (although, I dunno, maybe he just threw it in there for effect. It worked!) And of course, “artist” usually only refers to 2D painting. It may or may not include people who work in other 2D media, or people who work in 3D media. It may include stone sculpture but not clay work. It may not include people who do fine craft, or even not-so-fine craft. It may not include singers, actors, dancers, writers, poets, etc., etc. For sure it doesn’t include my broader definition of creative work.

Although one of my favorite responses I found simply stated, “That would be the number of people in the world. Because everybody has some creativity in them.” YES!

So between the estimate of 2.1 million artists I found for the U.S. (a city the size of Chicago or Houston) and everybody on the planet, perhaps 17 million is a pretty good guess.

So every day, we are trying to make our work visible, accessible, and sales-worthy in competition with enough other people to populate a city smaller than Beijing (22 million) and slightly greater than Istanbul (15 million).

Wait for it…..

DO NOT LOSE HOPE.

I know our first reaction might be, “Why bother?!! I’m just gonna throw away my brush/pencil/clay/etc. and become a doctor/lawyer/CEO/pilot (or whatever your other, more lucrative dream career might be).”

And if you’re in art for the money, maybe that’s a good idea.

But that’s not why we took up art, is it?

I’ve heard every possible “creation” story” of how we came to making art. Many of us felt that urge to make something, even before we were old enough to know what it was called. (When I was four, I was given a pad of typewriter paper and a pencil. I drew something on every single sheet, including a spider wearing a little shoe with shoelaces on each foot, and affixed them to the walls of my bedroom with scotch tape onto my newly-painted walls.) (My parents were not happy.)

Some had no idea they had this in them until they were much older. Some walked away, thinking they weren’t good enough, only to return to it when they realized how fulfilling it is to make something wonderful. (Ahem. That would also be me.)

Some of us constantly judge ourselves, our process, and our work. Remember the commenter on one article who was mocked by family for working in “chalk”?

And yet they persisted, because pastels speak to them in a way that cannot be ignored.

We may feel less-than, we may feel we’re “doing it wrong”, we may feel we aren’t “good enough”, and maybe that’s true. Lord knows, there’s always someone who feels free to tell us that, even when we haven’t asked.

But the power of embracing where we are right now, the power of telling our story with the work of our heart, the power of starting where we are and stay focused on doing better, is heady stuff.

Genn went on to conclude his thoughts from that meeting:

Everyone left with more questions than they brought. Maybe you can answer some of them. Which is better — feeling good or getting good? What is good? Has everything already been done? Does it matter? What courses should monetarily artists take? How much of the current art-poverty is due to the current recession — or does the current poverty have something to do with sliced cows?

That last remark refers to some of those folks thinking if you’re selling skills are good enough, you can still sell poopy work.

Here’s my take-way:

Do it because you love it.

It’s not selling yet, because your audience hasn’t found you. YET.

Keep getting better. But don’t let the judgment of others keep you from the work of your heart. (There’s constructive criticism, and there’s vicious criticism. You get to choose which to listen to.)

 We may be just another “one” in a million.

But there is nobody else on earth who can tell our story. There is no one else in the world who can speak with our voice.

 We are, each of us, truly “one in a million.” Or maybe even several billion.

Do the work of your heart. Get better. Keep trying. Persevere.

Do it because you love it. And because it’s good for you!

If you enjoyed reading this, you can sign up for more articles by a variety of artists at Fine Art Views or subscribe to my blog for more of my articles.

If you know someone who would like this, send it on to them with my blessing!

And if someone sent you this, and you liked it, ditto the “If you enjoyed reading this…” links.

ORCHIDS: Not Your Typical Little Hothouse Flower

I love orchids, especially the ones that cost less than $10.

I love the flowers, especially the ones in unusual colors and patterns. I love how long the flowers last. I love how little care they need.

But I do not have a green thumb. I usually toss them or give them away when the flowers are gone, and I forget to water them for months. Or worse, when I leave them outside in the spring and they actually drown from too much rain.

I heard they can rebloom, but who wants to wait a year for that?!

Eventually, though, I simply began to keep them in the window, adding new ones to the mix every six months or so. And yes, they will rebloom, given time and a little bit of care. In fact, they bloom even more vigorously the second time! I don’t know why. I don’t feed them, I forget to water them, and they still reboot.

Until one year, I did leave one neglected and unloved, in the mudroom, for a looooong time. I finally saw it walking by our house one day. (I’d set it behind the window blinds, and it was visible from the street.)

Chagrined, I took it out of the window and brought it into the kitchen. It was completely dried up. Even the root-looking things that actually take moisture from the air (which is why they don’t need a lot of water) were shriveled and dry.

I almost threw it into the compost bin, but stopped. I thought, “What the heck, I’ll give this little one a chance.”

Here it is:

20190307_110640
Uh oh, looks dead to me….

And here it is, one week and two brief waterings later:

20190307_110758
It lives!!!!!!

Why am I writing about orchids? Especially a hothouse orchid?? The British site I just linked to defines this term with humor:

Hothouse Flower: A flower that isn’t hardy enough to grow under natural conditions. It has to be pampered and grown in a greenhouse or hothouse. : On “Frazier,” (a U.S. television show), the main character was complaining about various things that bothered him. His father said, “Aren’t you the little hothouse orchid.”

And yet, in my humble experience, orchids are anything but pampered.

In fact, they are extremely hardy, as my abysmal care of them proves.

You know what else is a “hothouse flower”?

Us. You. Me. People. Humanity.

We are all tender and vulnerable when we are born. We rely on those around us to take good care of us. Typically, the care extends for decades, though on a lower-maintenance level as we grow from infants to young adults. Some of us get that love and care. Some don’t.

The world, and our fellow humans, can be vicious, and cruel. There are people who go out of their way to hurt us, and plenty more who don’t intend to be mean, but are. If we’re lucky, it’s our heart and soul that get bruised and broken. If not, we may not even survive….

And yet….

Every day we hear or read a hero story. (My use of “hero” includes all genders.)

We learn about someone who rose above the chaos, the destruction, and survived, even thrived. We hear about people who persisted, despite the insults, setbacks, obstacles, and disrespect. We hear about people who have suffered great pain, physical, mental, spiritual–and turned into a force for good in the world. We hear about people who even sacrifice themselves for others, willing to lose their lives so that others will live, the ultimate sacrifice.

Wherever we go, we find people who are doing it right. They work tirelessly for justice, for restoration, for those who cannot fight for themselves. They get discouraged, they get hurt, and yet they keep on going.

Sometimes, it’s wisdom, information, encouragement, shared just when we need to hear it. Sometimes it’s a simple act of kindness, and compassion that keeps us going.

Sometimes these people don’t even know the miracles they’ve brought to our lives.

These people are all our life heroes.

And by their actions, they encourage us to do the same, too. To pass it on, play or pay it forward. Somewhere in the world (or even next door) there is someone who needs your story, your art, your words, your kindness, maybe even a few bucks so they can eat. All of it is worthwhile. All of it, even the tiniest little bit, makes the world a better place.

So the next time someone brings something painful and hurtful into your life, and, when you push back, they sneer something about how senstive you are, how it was just a joke, sometimes when they are hurting themselves and choose to pass that on, remember this:

We may be hothouse flowers.

But we are also going to bloom again. And when we do, we will be even more beautiful, in our hearts and our souls.

20190307_114022

 

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!

JUST ANOTHER BEAUTIFUL MORNING

Yep, life was weird and scary this fall and winter, and I’ve been in a funk.

So many days I didn’t want to leave the warmth and comfort of my own bed. I couldn’t think of a reason why I should, either. I slept ten hours, eleven hours, sometimes twelve hours at night.

And still felt lethargic and only half-here.

Now some of the grey has lifted. Slowly, I return to the things that have always given me strength–my writing, my craft, my marriage, my family.

And my friends.

Last week, on an impulse, I invited myself to piggy-back along on a friend’s trip down to Webs, a fabulous yarn store in Northampton, MA. I’m in knitting mode, which hits me in winter. Actually, I’m in yarn-and-pattern-and-book buying mode, but whatever.

I couldn’t believe how much I anticipated that road trip. Jenny was taking a class, and would spend most of the day at the store. It’s the kind of place I can hang out in for hours, too–shopping the yarn warehouse, with its bargain-basement prices. With a shopping cart, people! I need more yarn like a hole in the head, but it was so soothing to be with the lovely colors and textures of yarn. Then I spent more hours browsing through every single pattern book and leaflet.

It all appeals to the hunter-gatherer in me.

I was in fiber junkie heaven.

And I got to spend some time with Jenny. Which turned out to be the best, most healing part.

To know Jenny is to love her. She’s simply a good, gentle woman. Always there for her family and friends. She has an open and loving heart, and we gravitate to her as a sunflower follows the sun.

One particular exchange resonates with me today. Jenny has sheep, and she’s the ‘morning feeder’. She gets up at the crack of dawn, rain or shine, to care for them. (Her husband Mike, another treasured presence in our circle, is the ‘night feeder’.)

Jenny said sometimes she hates getting up in the cold winter mornings. It can be a hard time of day here in New England. Freezing rain, deep snow, cold winds can put a damper on your enthusiasm. (I’m personally grateful we don’t have ducks or chickens this year…. The feelings of guilt on those zero degree nights is mind-numbing!)

But then Jenny, as she usually does, said something quiet and clear, and deeply profound.

“I look around, and see the morning,” she said. “And each morning is so different, Lu! Each one is beautiful in its own way….”

Light. Sky. Clouds. Wind. Water–snow, ice, rain, mist, dew. Birds. Color–in the flowers, in the leaves, everywhere you look. Something that catches your eye, or your ear, or your heart, something different, every day….

Sometimes the sunrise is brilliant and gorgeous. Other times, perhaps just a small cluster of rose-gold clouds glowing on the horizon. Sometimes the wind puts all the trees in motion. Other times, she said, it’s so quiet, you can’t even hear the traffic from the country road a few miles away. Sometimes you hear the cackling commotion of crows, other times, simply the sweet, low cry of a morning dove.

Every day. Something different. Something…unique.

Something you only see when you pull yourself out of your warm and safe bed, and venture bravely out into the new day.

I’ve thought about that every day since.

I am so grateful for people like Jenny, who gently, sweetly, help me remember what it is to be alive.

And though I’m more of a sunset person than a morning person, today I, too, try to see–with fresh eyes, an open heart, a calm spirit and grateful nature–the beauty of each new day.

OPEN STUDIO

People have been asking for pictures of my last Open Studio, so I published an album today. You can see it here

The next sunny day we have in Keene, NH, I’ll take more pics and add another album.

My next Open Studio is Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 6 & 7, 2011, as part of the statewide NH Open Doors event. Hope you can come, and til then….

Enjoy!

Little clown bank.
Dolls

Vintage button jewelry.

COLLECTING STAMPS & MAKING ART

Trust me, your artistic self is just as powerful as a postage stamp. Maybe more.

Fresh off my first Open Studio tour of the year, and boy is my studio CLEAN! I love open studio events for many reasons, but more on that later this week. I have something else on my mind that has to come out today.

As you may know, my soapbox speech is about finding out what makes you, and your work, unique.

We hear all about how no two snowflakes are identical, and how our fingerprints and DNA are unique to us.

You’d think, with all this unique-ness pouring out of us, we could a unique way to talk about our work.

I’ve been in a lot of group shows this year, seen a lot of lovely work and talked to a lot of passionate artists. What strikes me is how everyone says the same things about their art.

We talk about our compositions. We talk about why we love pastel, or oil, or clay. We talk about light and shapes.

If I hear “I just love color!” one more time….. Well, it won’t be pretty.

So let me share an ‘aha!’ moment I had years ago.

I was doing a mail art project, and wanted old postage that would reflect the theme of my piece. I found an older couple who ran a stamp collecting business out of their home.

As I scrabbled through the trays and books of postage, we talked about stamp and the stamp collecting biz. They shared stories about stamp collectors. I asked her what kinds of stamps people collected.

The woman said, “You know, in fifty years of selling stamps and doing shows and talking to collectors, I’ve never seen two people collect exactly the same thing.”

Never?

Now think about that a minute.

There is no creativity per se in collecting stamps. Collectors don’t make the stamps, nor are they handmade by other people. Stamps are produced en masse, and have been in production for years.

Collectors simply….collect.

But how they collect is so strongly individual and personal, each collection–each act of collecting–is as unique as….well, the human being who put it together.

Some collect by country, or region or language. Some collect by subject matter. Politics, places, people, animals, plants, themes, designs, plate designer…. There is simply no end to the possible combinations of appeal.

If we could get away from the mundane–what our materials are, the fact that we love certain colors or lines or compositions…..

If we could dig a little deeper and think about why we make the art we do….

If we could tell a richer, more personal story about our art…..

If we were willing to go the scary, deep place of who we are, and who we yearn to be in the world…

People would see our work as the miracle in the world it truly is.

Sharing ‘unique’ processes, ‘unique’ inspiration, ‘unique’ love of color/shape/style, separates us from our audience.

Discovering what makes us tick as a human being, sharing what is truly in our hearts, connects us with our audience.

Be brave. Be YOU.

Some of my postage stamps

AT THE FAIR: A Girl’s First Real Necklace

Being a part of someone’s life, because of the work we make, is a powerful thing.

Today is Day 4 at my big retail show, The League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair. It’s been exciting, exhausting, enervating, exhilarating, excellent and entertaining. Sort of New Hampshire’s own Big E.

Years ago, a mother and her young daughter came to my booth. The girl–around 9 or 10–fell in love with my horse jewelry, and begged her mom for a necklace.

“No way!” exclaimed her mom. “You always lose your jewelry. You lose everything!”

The girl pleaded her case, promising she would cherish the necklace. There was a little bargaining involved, I found a horse necklace that was a little less expensive, and both of them left with their Luann Udell horse.

Scene: My booth, one year later. A girl and her mother walk in the booth. The girl is wearing–my horse necklace!

We hug and laugh. Her mother tells me the story: “Every night, before she goes to bed, she takes off her necklace and places it in the gift box you gave her. And every morning, she puts it back on. It is the last thing she does before she sleeps, and the first thing she does after she wakens.”

I was so moved that she loved my work so much. I told this story to a friend. She said, “Do you realize, Luann, that YOUR jewelry is her first piece of ‘grown-up jewelry’? Your necklace took her to the next place in her life–you’ve been a part of her growing up.”

Now they come back every year. Sometimes the daughter buys a pair of earrings, sometimes her mother buys a necklace. Sometimes they pick something together, agreeing to share it between them.

It is beautiful to watch them.

They came this year. The girl is a young woman now. There is talk of college, maybe even a gap year program. As always, the love and warmth between them is obvious. She picks a pair of earrings, Mom picks a beautiful necklace–with a promise to share. They may be back for the girl to pick another ‘big’ piece for graduation. As they leave, I feel tears coming.

Yes, their purchases over the years have supported me as an artist. They are lovely people and I’m honored they love my work.

But even more, I am humbled at the idea that I am now a part of their family story. My work, from my hands, graces their lives. It encouraged a child to take her first steps to adulthood, and greater responsibilities. It’s been part of her life for almost a decade now, and will be with her on her first steps out into a bigger world.

I have been a witness to this. I’ve been invited to be a part of this. My art has been my ambassador, and I am astonished and grateful.

Today another young girl and her mother came to my booth for the first time. The girl begged her mother for a horse necklace. I shared this story with them. They laughed, the mother looking thoughtful. They looked and tried on a few pieces, then moved on to see the rest of the Fair.

I have a feeling they’ll be back.

As hard as it is to do this show, these moments, these precious moments, remind me of what the world asks of me. They remind me that my gift serves others, sometimes gentle, sometimes obscured, but always with purpose.

It is why I am here, today, at the Fair.

A little girl's first 'grown-up' jewelry!

WHAT I LEARNED FROM CHARIOTS OF FIRE

I’m reprinting this article I wrote on June 2, 2005, because it bears repeating. (And because it’s so hard to find on my old blog at RadioUserland…)

I’m doing a series of articles at Fine Art Views, an art marketing blog I write for. I realized this post is still timely when talking about marketing our art.


CHARIOTS OF FIRE and the World Batik Conference

In a few weeks I’ll be presenting a speech at the World Batik Conference at Boston College of Art.

I’m speaking on self-promotion for artists, specifically the art of press kits and press releases.

The time is limited, and the message must be succinct. I asked one of the organizers what she felt I had to say would be the most value to their audience.

She didn’t even have to think about it. She said, “In other countries, there is a huge cultural bias against putting your art forward, of appearing too proud of your work. It’s seen as bragging or being boastful. People have a difficult time thinking about promoting their art and themselves. Can you address that?”

I’ve been thinking of it ever since. It’s not just artists in some other countries who have that bias.

It can be very hard to convince most people—especially women, especially artists—that it is not only desirable, it is essential we put our art out into the world at every opportunity. That it is not a selfish act, but an act of generosity.

In fact it is the greatest gift–the ultimate gift–we can make to the world.

My favorite line from the movie “Chariots of Fire” is when the missionary/runner Eric Liddell explains to his sister why he will indeed compete in the 1924 Olympics, though it seems to conflict with their religious goals and plans:

I believe God made me for a purpose; but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure. To give it up would be to hold Him in contempt; to win is to honor Him.

When we are given a gift, we must remember that the pleasure the giver gets is anticipating and enjoying the pleasure the gift will give us.

To renounce the gift, to deny its potential, is to ultimately negate the spirit in which it was given. No good comes of that. Love, real love, is not served by that.

I truly believe it is the same with the gifts we are born with. Whoever/whatever you feel is the source of that gift—God (by any name or names), nature, DNA, random chance, the Force. It appeared in Y*O*U. It’s part of what makes you…you know…YOU.

And note that the gift may not simply be what we are good at, but what gives us joy. Don’t confuse talent with passion. They may both be involved in the gift. But what really drives our watch is not the precise movement of the second hand but the spring inside. (Or the battery. Or the electricity coming through the cord. Oh, never mind….)

Find what you are put here on earth to do. Find what gives you joy. Do it, and share it whenever possible with others. Tell it to the world. Show us. Don’t even pretend you know what ripples it will make, or how it will all play out—we can’t know that.

But know that whatever creative force in the universe you celebrate, will be pleased.