Problem-Solving for Creatives #5: Call in the Experts!

PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #5: Call in the Experts!

Making jewelry with my artifacts is a LOT easier than mounting them in a shrine!
Making jewelry with my artifacts is a LOT easier than mounting them in a shrine!

 

We don’t have to know everything. We just have to know who knows what we need.

(5 minute read)

This series is dedicated to opening our perception of what a “team” is, and how our team support us in our art journey. We’ve covered the skills that got us here, the beliefs that keep us going, and the people who value us, and our art. Even the ones who are toxic have value, when I realized the only person who can stop me from making my art is ME.

Today, let’s talk about the experts.

First, of course, there are the artists and teachers (and people who are both!) who shared their art-maiking skills and education with us.

Then there are the people who help us get the word out about our art. In FASO’s (Fine Art Studios Online) unique AMP (Art Marketing Playbook), we not only get to hear Dave Geada share his insights and expertise about online marketing (websites, Instagram, etc.), we get to hear from experts he’s brought in for their take on things, too. (You can enjoy a 30-day free trial of this program by signing up here. Trust me, it’s worth your time. I’d say it’s well-worth the money, but…it’s free!) For the record, I don’t share just because it’s a feature of FASO where my own website is hosted. I’m sharing it because, even though I’ve used social media for years, I learn something new every single time. (Ask me about my pages and pages of notes I’ve taken on every AMP zoom meeting I’ve attended!)

There are other experts available, online, too. Other views on art marketing, instructional videos for art-making, etc. It seems like I search the internet almost every day looking for the expertise of others to help me move forward with my work.

But what has helped me move forward in leaps and bounds have been friends and acquaintances who have unusual skills I need.

I’ve written before about my New Hampshire friend Gary Spykman, whose creative work is hard to put in a box. (Literally! Woodworker/furniture-maker only begins to cover it.) Gary helped me move forward on some big projects, and what he taught me is reflected in my latest shrine project.

And now here I am in Northern California, far from old friends and fellow New England artists, still working on that big project, still getting stuck regularly on my journey.

This next step is hot. Literally. I need to make my own museum mounts for displaying some of the artifacts in the stacked boxes I’ve put together. I took an online class about this, just before we moved to California. But it involved welding/brazing with much bigger torches than my mini-torches, and I never felt safe trying this on my own. I found a maker space here in Sonoma County with classes, but the pandemic shut that down. I tried to purchase mounts that might have worked, but they are expensive. I’ve tried other methods of display the artifacts, with not much luck.

But I think I’ve found my expert!

And in a beautiful twist of fate, it came from me sharing MY expertise with THEM!

Our local art organization that hosts two open studio events a year is on a strict budget this year. We’re actually using older road signs from previous events, borrowing some from people who aren’t participating this year, and cleaning/restoring damaged signs.

One of the people in charge of the sign committee shared the difficulties of removing decals (arrows, studio numbers, etc.) during our steering committee meeting (Zoom!). Aha! I can help with that! I volunteered to bring my bottle of Undo and some other glue debonders to restore these signs. We met up in his outdoor workshop, fully masked and distanced, and tried them out. They worked! This reminded him of other, similar, chemicals he has on hand that removed every trace of Sharpies, too.

It wasn’t until later that I realized, this is a guy who’s been into welding and metalwork since forever. And he might be the perfect guy to help me figure out this mount-making issue.

And in another twist of fate, once I had some hope for learning how to make my own mounts, I gained more insights into other aspects and issues, like how to drill a hole inside a tiny box where a drill (even a small hand drill) won’t fit. I won’t bore you with the details on that, except that JB Weld glue will be involved. So even though that wouldn’t work for connecting the boxes, because of how I put them together, it has huge potential for artifact display. (No, I’m not gonna glue the artifacts!) So here’s another shout-out to Chris Fox, customer service rep at JB Weld.

Just like the glass artist I mentioned in last week’s article, whose partner can build a shipping crate for them, these experts are often right under our nose, in plain sight.

So what holds us back from asking for help?

For me, I’m afraid they’ll say no.

Yup, a grown woman afraid to ask for help. Yikes!

But for some reason, because I’d already done them a favor, it felt okay to ask for a favor in return. And he said yes!

I’m calling Rick Butler, metal sculptor, as soon as I finish this article.

Turns out that many, many people are happy to help others in their creative work. We may fear giving away our “trade secrets” (though very few of us are actually using processes that only belong to us.) We may fear of giving too much away, or having our work being copied in the process. (That copy fear again!)

And yet, if we open our eyes and look around, we may find the exact expert we need to move forward with the project dear to our hearts. Or at least gain a step forward on our journey.

Your shares and comments are encouraged! You can post in the comments (at Fine Art Views or at my blog) if someone has helped YOU move forward in your skills and projects. And also if YOU have helped others in theirs! What goes ‘round, comes ‘round. When it comes to creativity, that is so true.

And if this article helped you, you can read more of my articles, and the expertise of others, at Fine Art Views. Search for “Luann Udell” in the “Topics” drop-down menu, or your favorite FAV writer!

 

DREAMERS AND MUSIC-MAKERS

My original shrines made a great display of my work! And now the dream continues….

Sometimes I surprise myself.

When I wrote “Art for Money, Money for Art”, I was solidly grounded in my story, my artwork. But the world sure wasn’t. Ever since I’d started my professional art career, it seemed like every day, the news was full of something dire. It began with 9/11 and marched through invading more and more Mid-Eastern countries. Galleries struggled, sales wavered, and then finally, the Recession of 2008 put a dagger in my hopes of becoming a “rich and successful” artist.

And yet, my principles remained strong. I knew I was making my work for all the right reasons, even as some people mocked me for being a “Pollyanna” about my slumping sales.

When the Recession hit a few years later, I did get a little desperate. For the first time, I submitted jewelry work to a mail-order catalog. I learned a lot, a few items were accepted and published, and I made enough sales to heal my drained bank account.

But I also learned that making something strictly for money, something that was a ‘sure seller’, something I had to make hundreds of, was not for me.

Okay, I’ll admit, if I had to actually pay my own rent and put food on the table, I would do it differently. As my wonderful partner has said, “I get paid pretty well to do the work I love. It’s not your fault the work you love doesn’t pay too well.” Thank you, sweetie!

It’s just that making something to please someone else, making the exact same thing in multiples, over and over, and the betting on a sample that might bring in some money but probably not, became pretty stressful. It drained me. I was relieved to return to my happy place in my art-making.

Segue to the pandemic, where sales dropped for everyone….

One day in my studio, as I was composing yet another beautiful necklace, it hit me. I love making jewelry with my artifacts. It’s my best-selling category, too.

But I realized my studio is already full of jewelry. I don’t really need to make more, except that making makes me happy. (I’m sure autocorrect is going crazy right now…)

And I realized there was a big project I’ve been holding in my heart for almost a decade or more. I could feel it calling to me: My shrine series, from 2013.

What held me back?

  • Some technical issues I couldn’t figure out.
  • A lack of materials.
  • Worrying about whether it would sell.

I decided to simply start with what I had, and see what happened.

What happened was a small miracle.

  • Yes, I hit those technical issues pretty quickly. And guess what? After some trial-and-error attempts, I eventually figured out a good way to manage them. They were so good, I actually went back and took some earlier pieces apart and redid them.
  • I started work in a series of colors, making multiple versions that were still unique.
  • I found sources for almost everything I needed: Tiny brackets, even tinier screws, new candidates for smaller boxes and drawers, and work-arounds for every issue that cropped up.

I now have almost completed fifty shrines in my studio. (“Completed” is a relative term. Next come artifacts, and then mounting them in the box shrines.) I have so many, I’m now panicking about an upcoming open studio in June. Because my shrines have commandeered every inch of space in my studio.

Thanks and a hat tip to Natalia Gorwalski, who generously gave me these little tool/parts drawers, now painted and waxed and ready for stacking!

What kept me awake in the middle of the night?

Wondering if they would ever even sell.

I know this worry for what it is: My brain trying desperately to find a “solution” to an overabundance of shrines.

So today’s article “Fresh Drive” by Sara Genn, landed at just the right time for me. (Sara continues the journey of her father, Robert Genn, with their blog, The Painter’s Keys. Any creative can benefit from their shared insights and wisdom.)

I am again restored me to my highest, best, artist self.

Genn discusses “intrinsic vs extrinsic drive”. Extrinsic drive are the external rewards we seek from whatever we do, based on “if/then”. “If I stick to my diet, I can lose weight.” “If I work overtime, I can get make more money.” “If I create a chart, I can get my kids to do their chores.” Extrinsic drive is good for establishing new habits, getting things done, attaining our goals, etc. I would add, ‘seeking fame and fortune’ to those extrinsic goals, which is also a common goal for artists.)

But it turns out that extrinsic drive can be toxic to creative work. “Artists, it seems, are inspired by everything but an extrinsic reward.”

Aha!

“Intrinsic motivation is dependent upon three main factors; autonomy, or auteurship; mastery, or the pursuit of excellence in a given skill; and purpose, the soul-driven intention behind a quest or endeavour. Finding out one’s purpose is a lifelong exercise — and should be mutable and ever-evolving.”

My drive to make these shrines is a way to use this pandemic to work on something that has no endgame right now. I want to see them in the world. Every new one I put together is so satisfying!

I was delighted to see my “Pollyana” outlook reinforced by Daniel H. Pink, one of my favorite authors:

“Daniel Pink, an expert on human motivation, has made a case for imploring businesspeople to understand what artists innately already practice: in the near-carrotless world of fine art, where the journey is often the only reward, the ideas are inherently better. Without a known destination or straight path to victory, artists dwell in the periphery of problems and solutions, forced to look around and take time to contemplate options and routes to discovery. The secret to meaningful conceptual thinking is to circumvent the obvious and embrace the mysteries. This is how we surprise ourselves and push beyond the “first thought.” While the first thought may be the most expedient, it will not advance the artform. You must commit, over and over again, to putting yourself in the arena of better ideas, so that a process of discovery can take hold.”

Once again, I feel validated.

I started with a “first thought”. Then I quickly ran into every obstacle that’s held me back for years.

But this time, Instead of setting everything aside until I had a ‘perfect’ solution, I simply started.

As problems arose along the way, I figured a way through them, one at a time. I changed my mind about a lot of things, and learned a lot along the way. And as I got better, so did my strategies for solving problems.

I still wake up in the wee hours, wondering how I’m going to handle this or manage that. I still look at my studio and wonder, “Where will I even put all these??” “Will these ever sell??” “Should I start looking for a gallery to send an exhibition proposal to???” “Are these as wonderful as I think they are, or am I just kidding myself?????”

Go back to sleep, lizard brain. I got this! My newest mantra for my lizard brain is, “I’ll figure that out when I get there….” And so far, it works!

So for all the artists I’ve heard from over the years, especially this past year, who worry about sales, who struggle to keep making their work, who want to know how to recreate a successful time in their art career, who wonder if it’s even worth it if they can’t sell it, etc., here is my free advice:

Do what you have to do, to survive these troublesome times.

But never surrender the work of your heart, your art, your dream project.

 Find a way to dive in, today, now! Make a little room in your day for it.

Set aside your self-doubt, your worry, your self-judgment for now. Do what brings you joy. (Says Luann, scrubbing turquoise paint off her hands and face for the tenth time this month.)

We are not wishful thinkers. We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

Know that our artwork can inspire others on so many levels, in ways we can’t even imagine.

Follow your creative heart and never let it go.

Your comments are always welcome, often insightful, and sometimes inspirational, too! Shares, the same. You can find more of my articles at Fine Art Views, and/or visit/subscribe to my blog.

Small shrines, big shrines, and everything in between….

NEWSLETTERS (AND BLOGS) 101 #24: Share the Generosity of Others!

Natalia's necklace
Natalia’s necklace

NEWSLETTERS (AND BLOGS) 101 #24: Share the Generosity of Others!

It’s a powerful way to honor the kindness of others.

(3 minute read)

In an earlier article, I mentioned that a friend back in New Hampshire reached out to me re: my newest series of box shrines. She had one of those beloved handmade parts storage boxes, so common on the East Coast. (Maybe other places, but that’s where I’ve spent most of my life, and that’s where I collected most of them.)

These are little boxes, usually made with scrap wood: Cheese boxes, pallets, cut up and nailed together to make tiny drawers.

She sent me a photo and asked if I’d be interested. Me? YES PLEASE.

Natalia’s little box drawers, repaired, painted, waxed.

I asked her how much $ she wanted for them, and she said they were free. Then she said shipping was free, too.

I was gob-smacked. I protested that was TOO generous. She told me I’d given her a beloved wooden horse marionette (from Bali, I think) which I’d totally forgotten about. She treasured it, and wanted to reciprocate in a way that would help me move my artwork forward.

So she sent me the little drawers, and I sent her a horse necklace as a thank-you. (See how that circle keeps on giving?)

Insights: When WE are generous, it sparks kindness and generosity in others.

When WE are the benefactors of the generosity of others, it sparks the same in US.

Caveat: Not all gifts/generosity/kindness is directly reciprocal. As a very good friend told me years ago, when we give others our love and generosity, the UNIVERSE will give it back. That is, the person we helped then, may not be the person who helps us now. Someone else may step in. (Hence, the universe/whatever higher power you have faith in.) It may not be the same person, it may not be the same kind of help, it may take a while. But accepting this wider definition of give-and-get can help overcome any resentment or sadness we may take on. It REALLY helped me during a hard time in my life, when people I thought would show up, didn’t. And people I never expected to show up, did. (Thank you, Roma!)

In this case, Natalia and I are in a circle of kindness. It doesn’t have to go on forever, of course. But this month, it was exactly what I needed, just in time.

So a shout-out to Natalia Gorwalski of Walpole, NH! We met through a mutual friend, and we all share a love of horses. Natalia owns a horse, our mutual friend rescued/adopted a horse from the riding stable I rode at, where I leased a horse. Those long, long rides we took along the Connecticut River trail, from farm to farm, were among the best times of my life. (Natalia is working on her own art project, and sent me a lovely image of her first metal horse sculpture!)

I’m sharing this because a) this is someone who helped me move (literally!) and b) has now helped me move forward with my art. People who love my work might be happy to hear that story.

And I love the opportunity to share that love with my readers.

Cheese boxes.

Shrine series, with a big thank-you to Gary Spykman for HIS generosity!

I bet YOUR audience will enjoy hearing about YOUR story of generosity, too! And sharing it in our email newsletters, on our blog, on social media platforms, will help spread the joy.

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: #19 Share a Family Tradition!

I did get a LITTLE work done in my studio today. Found the perfect bear for my newest restored-box shrine!
I did get a LITTLE work done in my studio today. Found the perfect bear for my newest restored-box shrine!

It’s been a funky day-before-Christmas, to be sure.

My partner and I are in the middle of a huge spat. (No worries, we’ve been doing this for decades. Neighborhood friends nicknamed us “The Bickersons” almost 40 years ago!)

I finally pulled out and went to my studio, my always-happy place. Twenty minutes later, I got a call from Jon. He’d left his wallet at the supermarket, could I drive him there to get it? (No driver’s license.) No luck. But when we got home, ready to call and cancel all our credit cards, he found his wallet. On his dresser.

Grumbling, I drove back to my studio. But I could only get a little work done before the cold and the dark got to me, and so I headed home again.

I’m sitting here, trying to think about why this hardly even seems like Christmas. Aha! Covid-19! No parties. No Yankee Swap, our biggest, most memorable Christmas event. Our Christmas tree was so last-minute this year. I wasn’t even going to get one, but Jon wanted a tree, so I got a tiny one. Then I couldn’t find my ornaments. It’s decorated with some small thrift shop finds, cat toys, a box of Christmas cards I found at the thrift shop (puppies in Santa hats) and colorful fabric masks….

Okay, so this will be a Christmas-to-remember-for-all-the-wrong-reasons. On the other hand, it inspired this article, so here goes!

All through my childhood, I wanted to open a present on Christmas Eve. It was a hard NO growing up. So guess what Christmas tradition I started with OUR family?

Yup. We all got to pick one present to open on Christmas Eve! It was great!

My husband’s father was Jewish, his mother was Catholic. Actual religious practices were few and far between, but our daughter is none-the-less very proud of her Jewish heritage. So I bought her a dinosaur menorah I found on Etsy a few years go. She loves it!

No Yankee Swap. In past years, this was quite the occasion. Everyone brings an unwanted gift, a White Elephant, (undamaged, not used, etc.) wrapped and beribboned, and placed it under the tree. Then everyone picks a number from a hat/bowl/bag. #1 person picks a gift and unwraps it. #2 person picks a gift, then gets to choose whether to a) keep it, or b) swap with person #1. #3 person does the same, only they can swap with anyone who already has a present. Obviously, the best number to get is the last one! And it’s amazing how someone’s White Elephant is exactly what someone else will love.

It’s also good for everyone to have plenty of Gary Spykman’s handmade “spoonable eggnog” (recipe at the end) because sometimes fights break out. (Well, not FIGHTS, exactly, but just sayin’, don’t get too attached to your gift!

And of course, my Grandma Paxton’s yummy iced brown sugar Christmas cookies. They are the best!

In another family we’ve known for years, everyone gets new pajamas, and wears them on Christmas Day. (I can’t remember if they were matching pajamas??)

A friend told me how their family would go to movies on Christmas Day. (Movies! In a movie theater!)

Why would you share this in your newsletter?

Because regardless of religion, region, etc., holidays are a time for family-and-friend gatherings. In the best of circumstances, there are plenty of laughs and hugs, joy and eggnog (LOTS of eggnog, and don’t forget the brandy!) Being human, there might also be lots of spats and tantrums, sadness and envy, some disappointment (DO NOT GET YOUR PARTNER A VACUUM CLEANER FOR CHRISTMAS!).

There are loved ones who will be missed, for this year, or, sadly, forever.

Family traditions can be sweet. Simple. Complex and frustrating. Unusual. Fun. Embarrassing. (Mistletoe? No thank you!) Informal. Or scheduled down to the last minute.

Sharing a family tradition in our marketing newsletters allows our audience a little peek into our life, outside of the art we make. It reminds us that we are connected in all the subtleties of being human…and that we are not alone.

Of course, we can also share a funny pet story, or a beautiful sunset, or a moment of insight, as I’ve suggested in this series.

But if you get a kick out of our Yankee Swap party, or fall in love with Gary’s eggnog, or find a new passion with my Grandma’s cookie recipe (which I’ll post on my blog), imagine how YOUR audience will feel!

SPOONABLE EGGNOG BY GARY SPYKMAN (Note: If the name sounds familiar, Gary is the person who taught me how to clean, repair, and restore antique and vintage wood boxes for my Shrine Series, and offered me the use of his studio, his toolks, and his expertise to make them! You can see his work at his website:  Spykman Design

This will put a little (or a lot of) Christmas Spirit(s) in you! Thick, rich, potent… irresistible!


4 eggs, separated
2 cups heavy cream (whipping cream)
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 cup top-shelf rum or bourbon (really, the good stuff)
1/4 cup brandy
whole nutmeg

You’ll need three mixing bowls for this.
Bowl #1: Beat egg whites until stiff.
Bowl #2: Beat egg yolks, sugar, and salt until thick and lemon-colored, stir in the booze.
Bowl #3: Whip the cream.
Gently fold the egg yolk mixture into the whipped cream, then fold in the egg whites.
Chill for an hour or two.
Scoop into individual cups, grate fresh nutmeg over the top, and serve with spoons.

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GRANDMA PAXTON’S CHRISTMAS COOKIES

1 1/2 c. brown sugar

1 c. butter

2 eggs

4 TBS. sour milk (you can add a teensy bit of vinegar to get it ‘sour’)

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. vanilla

4 c. flour

Preheat oven at 350 degrees

Cream butter and sugar.

Add eggs and vanilla.

Combine dry ingredients. Add alternately with milk.

Roll and cut cookies on a lightly-floured surface. (Keep your rolling pin lightly-floured, too!)

Bake about 10-12 minutes, until lightly browned.

FROSTING

Beat 2 egg whites till fluffy. (My recipe says you may need to add cream of tartar, but I’m not sure why…?)

Add enough powdered sugar to make stiff frosting.

Spread on cookies and decorate!

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Your shares and comments are always welcomed!

Copy this link FineArtViews.com to share, 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.

LESSONS FROM GARY’S STUDIO: Beauty vs. Function

One year our kids were very young, we drove from Keene, New Hampshire to visit my family in Michigan.We always went through Canada to save a few hours of driving time, often stopping for a break to visit Niagara Falls.

On this particular trip, we’d gotten a late start, and didn’t reach the Falls until after dark. We were going to stay at a hotel for the night, but decided to drive by the Falls first.

We’d never seen them at night, and it was fabulous. Colored spotlights uplit the epic torrents of water cascading over the escarpment, making it glow in the dark.

Robin (age 4) refused to look at them. She was tired, and hungry, she said, and wanted to go straight to the hotel.

“But Robin, look! They’re beautiful!” I exclaimed.

Heaving a extraordinarily world-weary sigh for one so young, she said, “I’ve had just about all the beauty I can stand for one day.”

Now, decades later, I can sympathize.

I’ve always had a problem in my studios with too much beauty. I’ve always had things I love in them, items that are cute, or attractive, or interesting, or just plain odd. That happened for many reasons: Lots of space. A space that people could easily visit for open studios. And because I’d never had a reason to cull or sort my studio stuff. Hence the antique squirrel cage.

Antique squirrel cage. Nope, I'm not using it. Yet. Beware, squirrels!!
Antique squirrel cage. Nope, I’m not using it. Yet. Beware, squirrels!!

Then there were the big glass jars of shells, pebbles, the hanks of antique trade beads, the doll collection…. All wonderful to behold.

I’ve talked before about the process of packing up 20 years’ worth of studio stuff. (Keep posted for Part 2 of that article on February 26.)

Now, for the first time in my life, I have more limitations. I have perhaps a third of the space available. And it’s mainly a working studio only. I’m not sure I can have open studios in my basement space. If so, it’ll be limited to people under 5’5″. (I kid you not.)

But I also I have better guidelines. And so this second article on setting up a new studio, inspired by what I learned from Gary Spykman’s studio.

Function vs. Beauty.

Today’s example is thread, a basic in my mixed media work. I use embroidery floss, tatting thread, quilting thread, waxed linen thread, and regular cotton sewing thread. In the past, these were stored in many different places in my studio. I had two hanging thread racks; an antique standing rack for spools of old silk thread. I had several decorative glass jars filled with crochet thread and string.

And, of course, once those threads went into a big jar and look beautiful, they never came out again. Oh! I need that one that’s at the very bottom. Mmmmmmmm…….never mind.

I had a rolling cart of drawers I stored sewing thread in, sorted by color. But I bought more thread wherever I found it–thrift shops, fabric stores, antique stores–to add to my collection. And when I pulled several colors to work on a hand-sewing project, I rarely put them away. Instead, when I cleaned for an open studio, I’d arrange them attractively in antique glass dishes. Soon my tables were covered with attractive glass dishes of thread and beads. Pretty. But not very functional. Oh well, I’ll just sit at another table. (Which was also filled with pretty displays. Do we sense a pattern here?)

But my new studio is different. I don’t have as much space. I can’t keep all the threads I brought from New Hampshire.

My first task was to go through my entire stash and eliminate thread that was too old for use. Some threads age well. Others, affected by heat, sunlight, moisture, simply weaken and break easily. (These went into a jar-like lamp base. It looks great!)

Jar of mixed threads (not very accessible) and the jar lamp with old thread behind.
Jar of mixed threads (not very accessible) and the jar lamp with old thread behind.

Then I organized by color. I consolidated three different collections of embroidery thread, and put them into a drawer. The colors I knew I’d never use, were donated to a thrift shop here that supports a number of local non-profit service organizations. (Somebody remind me, please, why I have not one, not two, but THREE sets of neon bright pinks, yellows and fluorescent green embroidery thread???)

The waxed linens went with jewelry-making supplies.

So what to do the rest of the odd lots? Crochet threads and lightweight string that can be used for embroidery, but too bulky to fit in the skeins-of-floss drawer?

I sorted them by color, into see-through wire baskets (more on these in another article.) And I hung them on my new steel wire shelving units, coordinated by color with my fabrics.

Shelves of working fabrics with wire basket of color-matched embroidery thread.
Shelves of working fabrics with wire basket of color-matched embroidery thread.

And here’s the blessing in this decision:

It still looks beautiful.

I reduced my fiber stash by about 75%.
I reduced my working fiber stash by about 75%.
Still sorting my sewing tools and stuff, so please do not look at the messy table top. (I can tell you're looking.)
Still sorting my sewing tools and stuff, so please do not look at the messy table top. (I can tell you’re looking.)

LESSONS FROM GARY’S STUDIO: Do It Right

Everything is polymer clay, except for the single antler and the antique wood boxes that I cleaned, repaired, painted, refinished and waxed.
Everything is polymer clay, except for the single antler and the antique wood boxes that I cleaned, repaired, painted, refinished and waxed.

A few years back, I had a vision for my next body of work. Shadow boxes are not ‘new’, but I envisioned them to display not only my sculptural work, but my jewelry, too.

I was already a box collector. (Okay, no comments about all the stuff I collect.) I had some great little boxes I thought would work beautifully, except for one thing. They were from a tool manufacturing company, and they were black with smelly oil and grease.

I met up my friend Gary Spykman who works with wood to create furniture, cabinetry, even a new bed for his pickup truck. (See Gary’s new line of eco-modern outdoor furniture at Sebbi Designs.

I showed him a stinky box and asked him if I should use shellac to coat the wood.

He suggested I clean it thoroughly instead. “But I love the waxy black look!” I exclaimed. “It’s just the smell I can’t stand.”

Patiently, Gary explained why that was not a good idea. Now I can’t remember why. But I believed him.

“Once you clean up the gunk, there are better ways to get that old dark patina you love,” he said.

“Teach me stuff?” I said, a la Susan Sarandon in that great old movie, Atlantic City (See the quote in this clip at 54 seconds.>)

And an apprenticeship was born.

For the next four months, I was a guest in Gary’s woodworking shop. We worked out a rough gentlemen’s agreement, where in exchange for small sundries and chores, I would work on refinishing my vintage and antique wooden boxes as he guided me step by step on how to clean them up, repair them and restore them.

I have no idea what Gary gained from the synergy, except for someone to yak with during the day and who happily did the shop dishes each afternoon. (Why is it always more fun to do someone ELSE’S dishes??)

But I benefited hugely. And not just in how to work with antique boxes.

And so starts a new series, LESSONS FROM GARY’S STUDIO. In fact, I got the idea because I’m setting up my new studio based on certain principles, as much as possible, that I observed in Gary’s studio.

I was going to jump right in about that. But then I remembered the first thing I learned: “Do it right.” Don’t take shortcuts. Start at the beginning, and build from there.

And so I am.

(Actually, I guess the VERY first thing I learned was, “Ask”. Ask someone who DOES know. But I don’t want everybody calling Gary to ask him for help. Although I’m pretty sure he would. Help you, that is.)