HOW TO SEE THE WORLD Part 1: What Made Me Put On My Rose-Colored Glasses This Week!

Can you tell I’ve been feeling saggy lately? Go figure (says the rest of the world who are also feeling saggy.)

Last week, something happened that made it worse.

I got my husband his dream Christmas gift this year, a little Sharing Library. (It’s like a Little Free Library. Ours is from the same family but a different company, hence “Sharing Library.) It’s been up for six months, and we restock it every week or so. It had just reached the point where people were adding as many books as were taken. Yay!!

Then one morning, my husband sent me this picture while I was at my studio:

No more books :-{Yup. Someone had taken ALL of our books. (Turns out the two remaining were actually left by a neighbor’s kiddo, who saw that they were all gone and generously added two of theirs. Love love love you Nova!)

My heart went to a sad place. Who would do such a thing?? And WHY???

I checked in with NextDoor, and with a Facebook group of fellow Little Free Library members in Santa Rosa.  At least two other people said this had happened to them, too. People shared their thoughts:

 

Was it someone with a mental health issue?

Was it someone who thought “free” meant “take ’em all!”??

Was it someone who realized they could resell them to a used bookstore???

Fortunately, I’d stockpiled some books to move on, and half-filled the library again. But it left me in a bit of a huff. As in, do something kind and look what happens! Ugh.

And then the light poured in.

Someone in the FB group offered to bring us more books. Someone else did, too. Soon we were swamped with offers of books.

One person brought theirs over immediately, and totally restocked the box. I met another person who meant to do the same, and gave me their box to store. More people did the same. Soon people from NextDoor chimed in, too.

Dozens of people offered books, brought books, left books on our porch, and left books on THEIR porch for me to pick up.

We now have enough extra books to fill up that library for months!

So one tiny act of greed/misunderstanding/poopiness resulted in hundreds of words and actions of kindness and generosity.

So what do I want to hold onto this week?

An empty giving library?

Or a little world of good deeds?

Yup. You guessed it!

If this lifts YOUR heart today, too, then I’ve done my work for the day….

When good people do good things.

 

MY QUORA ANSWER TODAY: “What Made You Write That Post Today?”

Today’s answer to a question on Quora:

“What made you write that post today?”

Something happened that triggered me. Maybe in a good way, maybe in a bad way.

It might have been something I read. It might have been something someone said.

It might have been directed at me, or had nothing to do with me.

Or I may be feeling “something” today: Feeling down. Feeling ‘left out’. Feeling ‘less than’.

Or maybe I’m feeling uplifted, relieved, happy.

Maybe I experienced a lovely little miracle, a moment of synchronicity, something that made me pause and go, “WOW!! I needed to hear/see/experience that today!”

In almost every case, writing that post was a way for me to find clarity. Or humor. Or simply peace in my heart.

And whenever that happens, I’ve realized that, if that’s what I experienced today, writing that post was my way of working it through to my highest, best self, again.

And it my words got ME there, then maybe someone, somewhere in the world, would find the same reassurance, the same clarity, the same grounded-ness, for themselves.

Even when I’m feeling down, miffed, angry, sad, scared, left out, unseen, unnecessary, I still want to believe I have a place in the world. That my creative work matters, IF ONLY to help me be a better person in the world.

Sharing those thoughts, those steps, may help someone else feel the same way.

It’s not about the likes, the numbers, the followers, the sales.

It’s not about having an audience. It’s about have a voice in the world.

And encouraging others to have theirs, too.

FINDING HOPE IN THE ODDEST PLACES: The Magician’s Nephew Surprises

I revisit a beloved children’s books with new eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I often go back and reread books, sometimes many times. I always find something new, or something I completely overlooked the first time through.

One of my biggest overlooks was when I reread Sterling North’s beloved young adult novel, RASCAL, originally published in 1963. Although I’d read it several times, it was only as I was reading it aloud, word by word, in my kids’ classes as a guest reader, that I found the saddest part. North mentions that  he contracted polio later that year.

That last summer with Rascal was also his last year of perfect freedom.

Now I will always see that story through different eyes.

Lately, I’ve been rereading The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, published in 1955.  Again, I reread them several times since I discovered the books in high school. I’ve just finished the second book (in Narnia time), The Magician’s Nephew. And I found two more jaw-droppers.

This book shares the story of Narnia’s creation, and introduces Aslan, the god-like lion who’s at the heart of this series. I read page after page of the creation of stars, sky, mountains and valleys, rivers and lakes, and the emergence of animals. Aslan then selects two members of each species, male and female, and gives them the power of speech and (human) intelligence.

And then he selects several of them from several species to create his council.

All males. Only males.

I missed that in every single reading. Wow. Just….wow. (A victim of his times, perhaps. I hope.)

Fortunately, that’s not my little ray of hope today. Except the hope that if Lewis were alive today, he might choose to do (a little) better regarding a woman’s ability to be part of a wise council.

No, instead, there was this bit:

Digory, who hopes to find a cure for his dying mother, is sent to find an apple in a very special garden, and bring it back to Aslan. He’s accompanied by his friend Polly, and they will ride a horse, a fellow visitor from our world, who has been transformed into a winged horse by Aslan.

Aslan, looking to the west, gives them guidance with these directions:

“Do not fly too high”, said Aslan. “Do not try to go over the tops of the great ice-mountains. Look out for the valleys, the green places, and fly through them. There will always be a way through.”

Do you see it?

We can have a grand goal, a dream, a path we desperately wish to find through life.

But we don’t have to go to all the harsh places, the cruel places. We don’t have to always put ourselves in that position to follow our hearts.

Instead, we can honor our dreams in a way we can manage. We know that huge obstacles and setbacks are there, hard times and sad times. But there are also ways to navigate them, if we choose. On the way, there may be ways that can make our journey a little easier, if we look for them.

And there will always be a way through.

No matter where you are in your life, no matter what is holding you back, or what you think is too hard (and trust me, I KNOW), there is a way through.

It won’t be without challange. But if we look for the valleys, if we allow ourselves to rest when we need to, if we believe it’s worth flying…er…striving….for, we can find a way.

Sometimes, the way through itself is what the gift is. Getting to the other side is great reward. Yes, Digory gets the apple that eventually helps his mother heal.

But what he also gains is insight, understanding, the realization that we have the power of our choices, and the power of the choices that are right for us, and those we love. The right thing to do. The kind thing to do.

The loving thing to do.

Just for today, as the world seems even darker, as our times seem even harder to navigate…

Look for the valleys and the green places.

Look for the places that will restore you to your highest, best self.

 

WHY YOU MUST SHARE YOUR ART WITH THE WORLD

Continuing with my last post, ART IS A MIRROR, which ended with:

“My next post coming up soon: Why art in a vacuum isn’t what art is for.”

First, no, not THAT kind of vacuum. Second, OMG even our Euphy is dirty!! 

 

I’m a long-time advocate for artists/creatives of all kinds to share their creative work with the world.

I’ve written about the fears that hold us back from doing that, from the fear of being copied to the worry that it isn’t “good enough” for public consumption.

Sharing our art is like tossing a pebble into a lake. We can’t tell where all the ripples go, but they are certainly going somewhere! (You may get tired of hearing it, I get it. But I will never stop saying it.)

I cannot count the number of times people have reached out to me, with comments, or privately, by email, that something I’ve shared (my writing, my posts on social media, my artwork) has given them the insight, the encouragement, the courage to keep doing the work of their heart.

And when I’m feeling down or less-than, someone crosses my path with just the right message: My words matter, to someone, somewhere, in the world.

If only one person benefits, that’s good enough for me.

But just in case you can’t imagine that YOU matter that much, here are some thoughts.

First, I’ve shared how sitting in my first introductory art history class in a large, dark auditorium (like a cave), surrounded by others who might be on the same path (in my community), seeing those huge and powerful images of the Lascaux Cave (so powerful!) made me feel, for a few precious moments, like I was actually in the Cave. It changed my life, though it took years to understand that, and even more to gain the courage to pursue that path.

I’ve encouraged you find your own creation story, and share the power of finding the WHY behind your work.

I don’t have the credentials, degrees, official recognition, etc. that would “prove” you should believe me. Just my own life experience.

If you don’t believe ME, here’s someone with credentials. An article by Carrie Dedon, Modern and Contemporary Art Curatorial Assistant at the Seattle Art Museum, from June 2016.

“Object of the Week: Untitled” is about the Seattle Art Museum’s 2016 exhibition called “Light and Space”, and much credit is given to artist Larry Bell for his powerful quote:

In my opinion all artwork is stored energy. The art releases its power whenever a viewer becomes a dreamer.

That’s the quote I found through author/artist Austin Kleon’s blog post today. It’s #36 if you don’t have time to read them all.

But IMHO, Dedon’s insight wraps up a whole universe of reasons why sharing our art is so important:

For many of the Light and Space artists, an artwork only reached its full potential when it was engaged in this relationship with a viewer—an object in an empty room without anyone to look at it is, in essence, not doing its job.

Art without an audience, even an audience of one, is not doing its job….

It kind of reminds me about Schrödinger’s cat, or that proverbial tree falling in the forest. It may/may not exist, may/may not make a sound, without eyes to see it or ears to hear it.

The same with art.

Art cannot fufill its true purpose in life if other people can’t experience it.

We all have a unique story, one that only we can tell.

We have a purpose, our creativity, that can take many forms and expressions. Not just making “art”, not just in all our current definitions of “art” (2d and 3d work, music, poetry, drama, stories, dance, song, etc.) but in anything and everything we pursue that a) makes us a better person, and when we share it with the world, makes the world a better place.

When we share it, it can lift the heart of others. It helps them understand our story. It encourages others to share their story, too.

Teaching. Healing. Nourishing. Caretaking. Gardening. Restoring/repairing/mending. Building. Hospice. Creating community, sanctuary, peace, connection, understanding, tolerance, love. And study/research that strives for the same.

If I had never found those powerful images of the Lascaux Cave early in my life, I would not be making the art I make today.

If the caves had not been discovered, what a loss that would have been! And even though our very breath and the heat from our bodies have nearly destroyed those images, they appeared at a time in history when they could be photographed, mapped, reproduced, studied. (We visited Lascaux II two weeks after 9/11, and my bucket list now includes a visit to Lascaux IV.)

And the more we learn about those Painters of the Caves ( a wonderful children’s book written by award-winning author Patricia Lauber) the more we learn about ourselves. The assumptions of the years after the Cave’s discovery that have now been proven wrong. The painters weren’t “cave men”, they were (mostly) women and men who were shamans. It wasn’t hunting magic (most cave art images do not reflect the actual animals each community hunted for food), they were communal ceremonies, with sound and movement.

Most importantly, Lauber’s most powerful sentence admits we may never understand the why, the how, the what about these ancient artists of the distant past. She notes the cave paintings are messages that were not addressed to us. It meant something powerful for those people, in their time. But we may never know for sure what that was.

And yet, we feel the power, the mystery, of those paintings thousands and thousands and thousands of years later. Every single person I ever met who actually saw those paintings in that short window of time they were available to us, confirmed that experience. They were in the presence of something deep, mysterious, and powerful, and they did not know why.

When they say see/feel something similar in my work, something that echoes what they experienced, I know I’m doing it right.

In the end, it’s not the sales, the fame, the recognition, the number of likes. All this can be great, I agree. But how will we be remembered when we are gone? And how will even that last?

We are meant to bring our creative work into the world. It changes us. It helps us grow bigger,  in our hearts, in our sense of purpose in the world, in our ability to tell our story, and to connect with the stories of others. It helps us inspire and encourage others to value their own creative work.

That’s why we must explore  ways to let others see/hear/taste/experience see it, whether through gallery representation, exhibitions, books and magazines, open studios, or through social media, and venues yet to be discovered.

When we empower empower ourselves, we will empower others, too.

I am so grateful for Dedon’s words. Art is not created in, nor can exist in a vacuum. It is created in our human hearts. And when others see the work of our heart, when we share it with the world, art and creativity continue to seed, to grow, to bloom and shine, in them.

I’m grateful for Austin Kleon, (“An artist who draws”), whose blog today listed his top 100 quotes about art for 2021, including #36 by Larry Bell, which led me to Dedon’s blog post.

I’m grateful to those shamans, who created work that was important, powerful, healing, for them. And because it survived, in real time, and now in so many media, images, and now highly-accurate recreations, it is still a source for inspiration, mystery and awe in our modern times.

You can follow in their footsteps by sharing your art, too. As I said in my last article, marketing our art involves sharing. But sharing can simply be that: Letting people see it, online, in our studios, in a gallery, in a book, and spreading the power of our creative hearts.

Red deer, aurochs, and horsec the hallmarks of the Lascaux Caves.

 

 

 

TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG: I Stand For My Evil Reading Habit

I’ve been a Connie Willis fan for years, and thought I’d read all her books. I was so wrong. She continues to write even when I’m not paying attention. (Blerpy face emoji here.) I just found her website and visited her blog, which made me giggle about 30 words in. And while searching for more books, I found about a dozen more in the last 10 years that I’d not even known about.

Her genre is science fiction, but honestly, they all read like a really great story-telling novel that has unusual elements added to get the conversation going.

When I traveled last week to the East Coast to visit my darlin’ daughter, her hubby, and their adorable wee new baby, I picked up a copy of her book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, to occupy my flight time. (You can use Bookfinder.com to find new or used copies.)

It’s about time travel, but in a way that focuses on love, relationships, and history. Not just “what happened” in history, but why things happened (or didn’t happen.) Tiny moments, mistakes, miscommunications, and big events like bad weather, war, bombing raids, invasions, etc. The history alone is so absorbing!

I thought I’d read it already, but I must have gone fast, or my ability to remember stuff accurately after 22 years is failing) because it was like I was reading it for the first time. First, because back in the day, I DID read stuff (e.g., ‘books’) fast. I wanted to find out how it ended, what happened, and see the mystery solved.

But that meant I skipped over important stuff that were actual clues to the ending. And so I started doing something soooooooo many people hate:

I either a) read spoilers, or b) read the ending as soon as I’ve read enough to know I’ll want to stay with the story.

I know, I know. I can hear the screams of rage from way over here.

But here’s why I do it:

I read the story more slowly. I pay attention to all the hints and clues about what is going to be very, very important at the end. I have a better understanding about what the author cares about, how they create a path to their ‘truth’, I’m more willing to ‘go deep’.

And I enjoy the book more.

In this case, I did both.

Remember when The Sixth Sense came out? How shattering the ending was, when we finally realize the main character is dead? (I’d put a “spoiler alert” in there, but I’m assuming that, over 20 years later, we all know how the movie turns out.)

Did you know that M. Night Shyamalan put so many clues and hints into the movie, he was afraid NO ONE would be surprised by the ending?

Did you, as I did, enjoy the movie even more when viewing it the second time, and finally seeing all the clues?

‘Nuff said. I don’t know if I’ve ever changed peoples’ opinions about spoilers, and don’t care. It’s simply how *I* roll.

What I love about all her books is, there is so much amazing information and insights in each one. In this book about time travel, history achieves a new depth of interest for me. All kinds of related stories are shared: How Germany tried to bribe Mexico into siding with it agains the United States in World War I. How small incidents have created major changes in history. Even the history of mystery-writing has a place in this novel, lending even more tangible clues to the ending. (I also found at least six actual phrases of “to say nothing of the dog”. Woot!)

And any book that is so good, I actually wish that 6-hour plane trip were longer, is a keeper. (Fortunately, I had a half-hour wait for the airporter bus, and a two-hour ride home. So I did finish it!)

So no world-changing thoughts today, except hoping you aren’t angry at me for my spoiler addiction. And that you are intrigued enough to read the book and deepen your understanding of world events for the past two or three thousand years. I was!

P.S. It also inspired me to order a lot more of her books. (Why are the newest ones so effin’ expensive????)

P.P.S. And I ordered a copy of the book Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing Of The Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome, published in 1889. (Time aligns with the time traveler’s travel.)

P.P.P.S And while getting the link to that book, I came across the movie Three Men In A Boat ! Guess what I want for Christmas?!

 

GETTING MORE SPACE: In My Head, and In My Heart

Another solution for my final arrangements….

Part of my tagline, “Eternal student of life”, is something I don’t take lightly. It’s true.

Years ago, I asked a friend, an EMT, what the heart of their work was. Without hesitation, they replied, “People call us on the worst day of their lives.” Those words broke–and lifted!–my heart. (Thank you, Ann!!)

When I became a hospice volunteer in 2009, I dreaded when people asked what I was up to. I’d share that news. The response was usually along the lines of, “Oh, I could never do that, you are amazing” or “Oh, you must be wonderful at that!” I felt embarrassed. I shared that with my daughter (an old soul, and already working in eldercare). Why was I embarrassed, she asked.  I said, I’m intrigued with this work because I am constantly learning, gaining insights, and finding the power being present instead of focusing on “fixing”. And I enjoy that.

My daughter replied, “So….you should volunteer to do something you hate?)

Um. OH! Got it! (Thank you, Robin!)

The past few days I’ve been moving stuff from my storage unit to an add-on room in my studio. It isn’t much more $$, I’ll have 24/7 access to my supplies, and it will be literally two feet away, instead of across town.

And every carload I bring to the new space makes me realize how much stuff I have, and how much I ‘should’ move on.

I ran into a fellow artist/creative in my building, who used to work there until Covid-19. I expressed dismay they’d lost their job, and they said no, it’s wonderful because two BIG creative income streams filled the gap. I told them I was happy for them, and said, “At least you don’t have to deal with all of us folks who have way too much stuff!”

Their response was another terrific one-liner. I can’t remember the exact words they used but, it was something like, “People come to us when their lives are up-ended in some way.”

Boom! Mic drop.

I could feel my thoughts, and my heart, shift to a better place. I thanked them for their powerful words, went on my way. (Thank you, Polly!)

Sometimes, all it takes is a handful of words to get to our better selves.

And in my defense, it’s not just me who has a lot of stuff. See this vintage article I wrote for The Crafts Report (now Handmade Business) magazine back in the day:  Approaching Normal (But Never Quite Getting There

 

I’m Still Here!

 A single act of kindess,

Like a stone thrown in a pond,

Sends rings of ripples outward

That travel far beyond;

And joining other ripples

Flow outward to the sea;

A single act of kindness

Affects eternity.

–author unknown

 

I never thought that life AFTER the worst of the pandemic would be just as weird as DURING it. But here I am, having a rough summer and a crisis of faith.

Earlier this year, I walked away from my longest paid writing gig, 12 years of writing for FineArtViews.com. It wasn’t my highest paying gig by a long shot. But the weekly deadlines encouraged me to get regular in my writing habits, and my goal was my highest purpose:

  • To encourage creative people to keep making the work that brings them joy/solace/restoration rather than focusing on fame and money.
  • To not let others judge them on their medium, their process, their skill, etc. To embrace what helps them deal with everything else in life, whether they earn a living by it or not.
  • To persevere no matter how much, nor how little recognition they receive from it.

Because like a pebble in a pond, when we share our work with the world,  someone else’s heart might be lifted, too, though we may never have the privilege of knowing that. I also know that the most powerful connections created through my artwork, come from in-person contact (shows, studio visits, etc.)

When that goal was superceded by the financial goals of the company, I knew it was time to go. Yes, I believe in social media and social media marketing, for many reasons. It allows ANY creative person to share their work with the world, whether that leads to fame, fortune, or simply recognition for the work they do. As my favorite comic strip put it so powerfully, making the work of our heart isn’t about having an audience. It’s about having a voice.

It’s not about having an audience, it’s about having a voice.

 

But I cannot let someone else stifle my voice, either. (In their defense, that’s a normal practice in almost every biz, and they still support my website.)

Walking away from that gig felt like I’d lost both my audience and my voice.

And of course, knee replacement surgery in late June, complicated by a debilitating fall in my studio just before my surgery, has resulted in chronic pain and discomfort for months.

It didn’t help that I’d finished my year-long shrine-making series just before. Or rather, I reached a place where the next step was rather daunting, and I still haven’t figured out how to move forward. It had gotten me through the entire pandemic, but now I’m stuck again.

So I’ve been mopey, tired, constantly uncomfortable physically, whiney, and lazy for months now.

But now I can see a little light at the end of my tunnel.

What started the light was making “thank you” pearl earrings. It’s been a thing with me for years. I LOVE real pearls, and I LOVE making pearl earrings. But they hardly ever sell. So I usually give them as thank you gifts to people who are doing good work in the world, or as a thank you for something someone has done for me. I’ve donated three dozen pairs to volunteers who work at a local art center’s gallery shop, folks who work at a wonderful coffee shop back in New Hampshire (because we still mail-order coffee from them, and one person always sends a lovely, uplifting handwritten note in our package), etc.

A few months ago, I went on a pearl earring-making rampage. And it’s not gonna end anytime soon.

First, I checked in with a homeless shelter a few hundred yards down the street from my art studio. Their shelter, the largest in Northern California, is the first step towards getting a homeless person into permanent shelter and supportive services.  I asked what kind of donations suited the needs of their clients. (Now that I think about it, THAT inquiry began when I offered some food and medical supplies left over after we lost our dog Tuck a couple years ago, and offered it to a vet. They said they couldn’t take them, but that there are plenty of homeless folks with dogs who could use them. And this shelter actually lets their clients keep their dogs, an issue that’s often a deal-breaker for homeless people.)

Turns out their greatest need is individual personal hygiene items: Small packets of shampoo and conditioner, toothbrushes and toothpaste. This was harder to accomplish than I’d thought, as individually packets are being banned in some states due to massive use of non-reuseable plastics. They suggested a work-around for the former, which worked. But I was stumped by the dental care thing.

So I reached out to our family dentist, asking where they purchase their toothbrushes/toothpaste sets we get at our appointments, and could I piggy-back an order (paid) on their next order.

Their response? They donated…DONATED…a bundle of them.

So I made earrings for the dentist and their staff.

After delivering the items to the shelter, I realized I could also make thank-you for the shelter staff. A few days later, I delivered a few dozen earrings for the staff and volunteers there.

I shared this with a fellow artist. (I’d made several pairs for them, because they’d done something very kind for another artist.) They said, “OH, I have a friend who’s a dentist, I’ll see if he can donate that stuff, too!” (I just realized I should let her know I can make earrings for that office, too!)

We also rescued not one, but two oppossums this spring, and delivered them to a county wildlife rescue shelter. (One survived it, one didn’t.) It was so wonderful to find an organization dedicated to this, and it turns out they are overwhelmed with injured/abandoned baby critters this year.

So I also delivered several dozen pearl earrings to them, enough for the entire staff, interns, and their volunteers. (We also donated $$$ because that’s just as important as pearl earrings!)

Then the fall, then surgery, and now, major ennui.  I’ve been in physical therapy for my knee for almost a month, but I still have to wait several weeks for physical therapy for my fall. I’ve been achy-breaky, down in my mood, not-so-hopeful, and totally uninspired.

And yet….

I realize I really, really like recognizing our unsung heroes in life.

Recently, I learned a friend back in NH was going through a terrible loss of a loved one, and it broke my heart. On an impulse, I reached out and offered to make them something, a small fiber piece, and they reacted with great enthusiasm.

So I’ve been in the my studio several days this week, almost 3 hours a day. (That’s a record-breaker since my surgery!)

As I worked on it, I realized they were one of the folks who showed up during a very hard time in my life. Yes, I’d gifted them something back then. But it still felt great to be able to alleviate their pain in a tiny, tiny way.

As I worked, I realized I’ve also been in a position to help another good friend back there, who was also there for me during that time.

Ironically, this particular person also had great words of wisdom for me during that time.

There were people I’d gone above and beyond for, in our almost 30 years in NH. But there were a few who were NOT there for me during that difficult period, even as I had been there for them. I complained about that to this friend. And they told this powerful thought:

When we help others during their hard times, the universe sees it.

When we need help, it may come from those we helped. But it may not.

The universe, however, will provide that help, through other people, and other means.

I’ve learned over the years that hard times are….well, HARD. And when we’re in them, it’s not easy to see the good things, the gifts.

It’s only when I look back that I can see the people who did show up, the passing acquaintance, or even complete strangers  who crossed my path with a story that helped me take one step forward. The people whose wisdom helped me stay grounded, if only for a day, or even just an hour.

They are the people who helped me make a tiny shift in perspective, what I now know is an effin’ miracle.

And today, I had to share that with you.

Being grateful for the people who help us move forward. Other people being grateful for us helping THEM move forward. Others joining in. It’s a beautiful cycle that restores me to my better self.

Rambling, I know. It’s how I roll. I could shorten this, but as I wrote, more and more insights popped up.  Plus I write to get MYSELF to a better place, and this is how I do it. For example, I can’t wait to get to my studio today, because I’m am THIS CLOSE to finishing my friend’s project.

If this helps YOU today, well, that’s a gift, too! If not, no worries, I’ll be back soon with useful info, good strategies, and thoughts for hosting a successful open studio event.

But I feel a little bit better today, and I am grateful. And Garfield supports my theory that it doesn’t matter how long it takes to get our 100% out there.

UPDATE: I just found out this condition of “blah” is called languishing! And here’s a good article about it in the New York Times.

One day, or ten days…It’s ALL good

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!

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

STORMY WEATHER (A Wayback Friday)

This is one of my all-time favorite blog posts, originally published on March 8, 2005. So many powerful memories! Bunster (who we found the perfect re-home for when we left New Hampshire, figuring a 12-year-old bunny would not travel well in a car with two dogs.) My daughter Robin, who wrote a poem for Lee.  Lee Filamonov, who died a few years later after I wrote this, a talented artist who lived with extreme mental health issues most of his life. Blizzards! And of course, the lessons learned along the way.

Enjoy!

My adorable Bunster, who was as feisty and bold as a cat!
STORMY WEATHER
I just found out another huge snowstorm is on its way. Tension is in the air. Snowstorms are “the New Hampshire way” here, more nuisance than anything. Schedules upended, plans unmade, no milk in the fridge. But secretly, I love it–the way you are forced to abandon the world’s demands, the way you have to hunker down with family and a good book and simply be at home.

Today my friend Lee visited me in my studio and we talked about art. I told him some of the fierce upheaval I’ve been feeling in my life lately. “I feel like I’m suddenly surrounded by people who want me to believe they are who they SAY they are. But I see what they DO, and I cannot believe them anymore.” I struggled on for a bit and finally, for lack of words, exclaimed, “I’m surrounded by liars!”

“Hell!” he said, “I have to LIVE with them!”

Point taken. At least I do not have to live with liars, and that’s a blessing.

I printed out a lovely poem my daughter has written about him, and gave it to him:

The Artist

I came to this country

in a year with no real numbers.

I wore my fur hat with pride.

I may have lost my teeth,

but never my dignity.

I have visitors here sometimes,

but they don’t come by

as often as they used to.

So I sit here, sketching

kaleidoscopic Russian princesses

with noble features and

holy backgrounds.

I paint red, for the Revolution.

And I use dead glass

to represent my own mind.

I walk in the cemetery,

feeding to squirrels the nuts

I can’t chew.

I write on the walls, and

they have threatened to paint over them,

but I know they won’t.

Everything I am, and ever have been

is on those walls.

Especially the shards of

glass.

By Robin Udell

Lee is so moved that he gives me a beautiful painting of his sister to give to Robin.

As we talk, I show him the book I’ve been rereading, “Art and Fear”. He grew impatient. “There are a million books written about art, and I’ve read them all. They will lose you in the woods. They are like a box of chocolates with one poisoned truffle. You eat them and eat them and they taste so good—but that poisoned one—watch out! It will get you! Quit reading them!”

But this one is different, I protest. It’s reassuring me about my fear.

“Quit reading about the fear!” he exclaimed. “Be ordinary! You are creative—make your art!” He bent over to stroke Bunster, and his voice became gentle again. “Be like your bunny. She’s fearful—but she has a place in this world…”

His words stunned me, weaving (as they always seem to) together a myriad loose strands in my life.

Months before in kickboxing, I was struggling with the moves. Too many injuries, too much weight. I’d jokingly suggested that my “animal hero” was the guinea pig—nervous and fearful, easily drop-kicked, chubby body with short legs and not able to jump very high—but I could NIBBLE my enemies to death. It got the laugh I was seeking and the tension relief I needed. My work-out partner and I have been mouthing “Be the guinea pig!” to each other when things get tough….

But I’ve been frustrated, too. I’ve now studied martial arts for over five years and constantly feel the limitations of my studies—both physical, and spiritual. I’m more afraid than ever in both arenas of my life. I’ve wondered if I’ve reached the limits of what this discipline can offer me.

Am I quitting if I give up? Will I find anything to replace it—the excitement, the challenge, the workout, the mental benefits?

And yet, in other ways, it’s not enough, and I’m through being patient, waiting for this ancient art to catch up to MY needs, as a woman and an artist in this dangerous world. I’m tired of learning how to square off for a fight in a bar. That’s not the scenerio where harm will come from.

So, if it’s too much and yet not nearly enough….What else could there be?

In the space of a few hours, I HAVE found other options. Suffice to say, small miracles have occurred. Other teachers, other opportunities have come forward. Permission. Acceptance. And perseverance.

Above all, indomitable spirit.

I am astonished at what has appeared in my life, so suddenly, so quietly, like the first few snowflakes of a winter storm.

Hearing the Call…

Homelessness is a problem not unique to California, but it can be more obvious because, obviously, the gentler weather works in their favor. There were plenty of homeless people in every placed we’ve lived over the past five decades.

My first art studio in Santa Rosa was near a park that had been a hot mess the years before I moved there. Rampant drug use and sales were an issue. But over time, this was mostly resolved, and now it’s a place where anyone can enjoy a little bit of nature.

I met quite a few homeless people, which was disquieting after the coffee shop next door closed for the day at 3 p.m., and again when it closed for good. Fortunately, I had a Dutch door, which allowed me to chat with them when they knocked on my door. I could assess them slightly, and simply close the top of the door when things got iffy. I had quite a few rich conversations with some.

My most frightening encounter was during an open studio event one evening late in the year, when night comes early. My tiny studio was filled with visitors, all happily exploring my space.

Until one older woman in a cheetah coat erupted.

She overheard me talking to someone about how I imagined myself an artist of the distant past with my artwork. It had been a long day, I was tired, and I said “pretended” instead of “imagined.”

She exploded. “Pretend” seemed like a fake façade to her, and she ranted on for several minutes about lack of integrity.

I was stunned, and tried to clarify my intentions. But she wasn’t having it. The push-back made her angrier. And everyone else fled my studio in a heartbeat.

Except for two women who stood silently by.

I am not good in these situations. When I’m scared, I run. I am not good in conflicts, and aggressive people scare the bejeezus out of me.

But something in me was paying attention. Something in me realized I was “doing it wrong”.

So instead of being defensive, I focused on connection.

I can’t remember what I said at the time. It was wasn’t about me, it was about the cave. How climate change caused those people to see their whole way of life disappearing in a handful of years. How those paintings were a prayer, calling the horses back. How the horses represent hope, and courage, for me as an artist, and for the world.

She calmed down, and listened.

And then I gave her a little horse. I put it in her hand, put mine around hers. I told her I wanted her to have it as a reminder of that. That we all matter.

Then I gently led her to the door and said goodbye.

Now, to be fair, in my mind, I figured giving her something was a good way to get her to leave. But that’s not how my two remaining visitors saw it.

Turns out both of them had experience with this. One was a psychiatric nurse, one had a similar background. Both of them said, “We knew she was going to be trouble. We knew it could go south in a heartbeat. And we weren’t going to leave until we knew you would be okay.”

Wow! Talk about angels in odd places….!!

They both said I had handled it beautifully. Met her where she was. Saw her as a fellow human. Being kind and patient.

I was flabberghasted. I felt I didn’t deserve the praise. I told them my own selfish intentions. They wouldn’t have it. (One of them still shows up to my events from time to time.)

Now, as an insight, that was pretty powerful. But it gets better.

A couple years later, I saw her picture in our local newspaper, The Press Democrat.

It was an article about people who lived on the streets who had finally been rehomed. She was one of them. An apartment had been found for her. In fact, she’d been in it for a couple months by the time she came to my studio.

What blew my mind?

She said that living on the streets was so traumatizing, it had taken her a looooong time to heal and recover. She said she was still ‘crazy’ for almost a year after, and she was just beginning to envision a normal life for herself.

It made me realize that even a home for a homeless person is not enough. They need support services, some for awhile, some for the long haul. They need to finally feel safe. And they need people who care.

That made me a teensy bit bolder in my interactions with this population. I remember a beautiful conversation I had with one person who was transitioning to female. At the end of our conversation, I asked her what she needed, expecting to hear “money”, and I would have given her some. But said, “I’m just so hungry right now.” Fortunately, I had a giant bag of granola I’d brought in for my snack stash. I asked if that would work, and she lit up with joy. I gave her the whole bag. (A year later, she appeared in a similar article. She now lives in a tiny house settlement outside Santa Rosa. Another artist in my community at the time had donated original hand-painted house signs for each unit.)

My assumptions about how to help others has gone through many transitions over the years. First it was, “Don’t give them money, they’ll just spend it on booze and cigarettes!” So I didn’t give out money. Until our same local newspaper shared that, if people on sleeping on a sidewalk, and cigarettes and booze help them cope, why should we judge that?

From then on, I would give pan-handlers $10 or even $20, after reading it could make a difference. One elderly gentleman danced for joy when I gave him a $20. “I’m gonna go over to that (fast food place) and buy breakfast!”

But later I learned that money is better spent supporting the non-profits that serve the homeless. Money gained through begging simply encourages them to “stay put”. In fact, my new studio is close to a residential facility that is the first step towards rehoming this population. It’s temporary shelter that works with people who have taken that first step.

I drive by there at least twice a day. It can be daunting at times. There’s often someone who will walk in front of my car as I drive by, on their way to the bus stop up the road, sometimes obviously intentional. During the hours they need to vacate the premises, they gather along the street. They leave trash behind. It can be annoying.

But then I think, if this is their only feeling of control in their lives right now, I can handle that.

And if you’d like to read a story about the best public art project I’ve ever witnessed personally, check out this excerpt in article about Bud Snow’s project in my Learning to See series:

Bud Snow was someone I met during my studio years at South A Street in Santa Rosa. They do large-scale public art, colorful, vibrant murals, usually up high. The featured work on that page I linked was a mandala painted on a cemented area on the ground, in a park near my studio. It took them much longer to paint than usual, because passers-by could stand and watch them as they worked, asking questions and in total awe of the work.

Soon Bud Snow offered every visitor a chance to help paint the mandala! I did, and over a period of four days, I saw them interact in a beautiful, powerful way with every single visitor: Parents picking up their kids from the elementary school across the street. Local workers and business owners. Homeless people. Every single one of them was thrilled to take part. It was one of the finest, truest examples of ‘public art’ I’ve ever seen, involving members of the very community the art was meant to serve.

Yes, Bud Snow was paid for the mural. (Though the extra time spent with the public tripled the time it took, so they took a hit.) Yes, Bud Snow’s work is now a sort of very-public advertisement for their work. Each one enhances their reputation and their asking price.

And yet cities pay for public art because it’s considered a powerful force for good for their citizens. The premise is, art really is a gift that everyone deserves, not just wealthy collectors who will pay hundreds of millions of dollars for a single painting (of a long-dead artist)….”

I still remember the homeless guy who showed up as night fell, on Julia’s last day of painting the mural. He had a flashlight and held it for us as we helped Julia pack up her stuff in the dark.

It was obvious that he was happy to be part of a group, happy to help her, happy to be ‘of use’. He smiled the entire time. I can still see his face, gently revealed by the light he held in his hand.

I’m still learning, of course. But maybe some of my experiences can be a source of hope for others.

NextDoor, an online resource for individual neighborhoods, is often a place where people can complain at length about this issue. And sometimes, the lack of compassion, anger, resentment, and general angst about this population can get out of hand.

The latest outrage about homeless people is directed at a woman who helps herself to flowers in a neighbor’s yard. When told not to pick them anymore, she got angry. She now picks them and throws them in the street.

The discussion is almost evenly divided between “please be kind” and “get rid of these creeps!” Some of the responses were downright scary, scarier than most homeless people I’ve dealt with.

Here’s what I wrote today:

“FWIW, my partner of over 42 years brought me flowers on our first meet-up. They looked freshly picked, and he told me he’d picked them from a tree lawn on the way over. (He didn’t have a car at the time.) I told him most people do not want their flowers picked, and he said, I thought that’s why they put them near the sidewalk, so people could pick them. So there are plenty of people who think “public” flowers are for the public to pick. 😀

I want to say thanks and love to all the folks here who show some compassion for the homeless population. They are not all one population, not all live with addictions, not all have mental health issues, a lot of them age out of foster care, or have young children, or injuries that affect them deeply, and MOST of them do not want to be homeless.

But all of them want the power of their choices, as do we all. Even when they step up and transition towards a home, it can take months, if not years, to heal from the trauma of living on the streets. They can be annoying, they can be problematic, they can be downright scary, and some we SHOULD be scared of.

But they are all also unique human beings who cannot afford services on their own. If we really want to consider ourselves true human beings, we have to start by seeing them as human, too, as humans who have not had our own advantages of support, income, homes, health care, good choices (that worked out for US), and people who care.”

We have to understand that part of why we see them as “other” is a way to distance ourselves from their situation. We want to believe that this could NEVER happen to us.

And yet we all know we may be one accident, one paycheck, one disaster away from being in that same situation. It could happen to a loved one. It could happen to us.

We can choose to look away.

Or we can choose to find even the tiniest way of helping. With our donations, with our taxes, with our volunteer time, with our work, with our compassion.

Part of me desperately wants to volunteer again with schools, with animals, with hospice.

But something is telling me my next service might be right in front of me. It’s scary. I’m still afraid.

But it won’t hurt to find out.

HOW TO FIGURE STUFF OUT And A Couple Little Miracles

Here’s an entwined set of stories that gave me a flash of insight today.

As anyone who’s visited my studios over the years knows, I have a lot of stuff. A LOT of stuff. I have supplies for every contingency, every project, every medium I work in: Fiber, jewelry, assemblages, print-making, etc.

I have hundreds of vintage and antique boxes I use for my shrine series, assemblages made with my own artifacts. An apprenticeship in a friend’s woodworking studio enabled me to clean, repair, restore them. Whenever I see good ones in the sizes I work with, I snag them. I have more than I’ll ever use in a lifetime.

So why do I still have so many?

Because I’m afraid to use up the ones I love the most.

I’m afraid I’ll use them up, and the work will be mediocre. (Yup, I have Imposter Syndrome!)

I’m afraid I’ll never find more.

And yet, I’m getting pickier about buying new….er…new OLD boxes. They’re a lot more expensive in California. An old cigar box can sell for $25-$50. (I thought $10 was too much in New Hampshire!)

So I found a stash of small wood boxes at a very reasonable price at one of my favorite antique stores this week. (It’s the ONLY non-grocery store I’ve shopped at since March.)

But I hesitated. They didn’t seem all that special, they were pretty small. So I passed. I was very proud of myself.

Then, two days later, I found the exact same box in my stash. It was nicer than I thought, and it really was a great deal. ($5!)

Turned out I’d pulled it out because it was the PERFECT size to pair up with another bunch of boxes, all the same size, I bought before we moved here, for a series I’ve been dreaming of for ages.

Finding another stash of the same boxes, in exactly the size I need…. Do you know how rare that is? I made a mad dash back to the antique store the next day.

And I couldn’t find them.

I searched the entire store. I carefully searched the two spots I was sure I’d seen them in. Nope.

I was so upset at myself! I started to stomp my way out of the store…. And then I thought, why not ask?

So I went up to the cashier’s desk, and asked if the dealer might have taken them home to switch up their display. It was a long shot, and I was embarrassed to even ask.

The cashier was new-ish, was trying to help. But another person who works there, who knows me said, “I know where they are!”

She led me back to a totally different booth, one I’d barely glanced in because it did not look at all like the one I was sure I’d seen them in.

And there they were!

I almost started crying, I was so happy. I snagged them all, and today I scrubbed them up in preparation for painting and waxing them.

As I worked, I looked at other boxes. I’ve been hoarding them for over six years now. Why was I stalling on that project??

Go back and read the part where I was talking about fear.

Every time I start to put together those shrines, I am flooded by self-doubt.

And it’s holding me back from making the work of my heart.

So I started writing in my blort book. These are the journals that should be burned when I die. They’re where I write when I’m angry, scared, frustrated, stumped. And they are also where I write my way back to my happier, kinder, more patient self, with others, and with myself.

The insight I got to today?

I am really good at remaking my work. In fact, it’s part of my process.

I realized I’ve already written about a few projects where I did just that: A little bear shrine that I reworked; the ‘perfect stick’ that wasn’t;

The blue horse necklace I made years ago.

a big shaman necklace I updated with a ‘better’ horse.

Updated shaman necklace with more balanced blue horse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

People loved them when I made them. People say they still love them now.

I’ve only sold a few of my shrines and big necklaces, and fiber pieces. They cost more than my entry-level jewelry, of course. But that’s also normal for the work I do. It can take years, even decades, and suddenly, it sells. I’ve gotten used to it. I thought.

But sometimes, when I look at all the work in my studio, I get overwhelmed with how much work is there. Especially after a period where galleries close (the recession in 2008, the Covid-19 recession), and a lot of work is returned. And, of course, if the galleries carried the work for awhile, then it’s older work, too.

So reworking stuff is a habit. I like to take an older piece and remake it along the same lines, but updated: Longer necklaces, and more pearls and gemstones for a new line I’ve created. Horse artifacts with more detail, more 3-dimensional. (Older animals were flat-ish, which was fine until they weren’t.)

That was my “Aha!” moment.

I can make that new series.

I will do my best work.

And if I still have them years from now, and I see what could be better, well, I’ll remake them! Just like I always have.

I’m gonna make this happen!

So today I celebrate two little miracles. One, realizing that working in media that allows me to rework old designs. As I know better, I can do better. And two, acting on that weird impulse, to ask an odd question about little boxes, in front of the one person who knew exactly what I was talking about.

Okay, THREE miracles! Knowing that blorting will get me to a better place, even when I’m stuck in the same place for six years.

How do YOU work your way through roadblocks and self-doubt? I’d love to hear what works for YOU!

 

A TALE OF TWO STICKS: The “Perfect” One vs. “What Works”

A sad story with a happy ending.

A long-time admirer contacted me earlier this month, looking for the perfect wall hanging for their home. After many emails and sent images, they decided on a framed fragment:

One of three framed fiber “fragments” in a series.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But they had their heart set on a wall HANGING. Would I be willing to turn this into one?

Well, sure! The framed version would be harder to ship, I haven’t made hangings in awhile, and this would be a good opportunity to get back into the swing of things. A practice piece, if you will.

It took many, many more hours of work than I’d anticipated. Still, if I charged by the hour, all of my work  would have to sell for several thousand dollars. Which didn’t seem fair….

I added a backing to the fragment, created a hanger for the back, and searched my extensive stick collection for the perfect stick. It has to be the right length to work with, a shape that works with each fragment, etc.

Surprisingly (not!), I always find only one stick that meets my needs.

I found it! A beach-combing find from the Sonoma coast. I test all my sticks before I use them in a piece, to make sure they aren’t too brittle or fragile. This one passed the test–I thought.

The Perfect Stick.

 

 

 

 

 

It was already worn smooth by waves, it had beautiful branches, it sanded up easily. After waxing and buffing it to a soft gleam, I got to work drilling holes for the ties that would secure the fiber fragment to it, the beaded side “drapes”, and the cord to hang it all with.

For some reason, my new power drill didn’t work very well. Maybe my drill bits are dull? So I used my little hand drill (pin vise) to make the holes. Yep, more hours….

I put almost 8 hours on drilling the holes, stringing the color-coordinated glass beads for the drapes, attaching the fragment to the stick, and adding the beads that adorn the hanger. I’m pretty fussy about the beading. I use a lot of antique glass trade beads in my work, and many of them have really big holes. I have a stash of smaller beads I use to fill the holes so the beads set evenly.

After it was all put together, I picked it up to take a photo…..

And the stick broke.

It broke where I’d drilled a hole. Fortunately, it was a clean break. I was able to glue it back together (with construction adhesive!), restring that part, and wound some cord around it for support. Part of my aesthetic is creating the look of a well-worn, often mended piece of art. So it fit right in!

I clamped the repair and let it sit a full 24 hours, like the instructions said. Came back to the studio, gently tested the repair–good!

I picked it up to photo it. And it broke in my hand again.

This time, the wood shattered. So I was back to square one. (Okay, square three, but it sure felt like ‘one’.)

It took awhile, but I found another, completely different stick that I loved.

The new perfect stick!

It has a sad history. Bark beetles are highly-destructive, destroying millions of acres of forests.

 

 

 

 

And yet, the damaged wood is hauntingly beautiful.

In New Hampshire, I looked for beaver-chewed sticks. The chew-markes look like writing, strange writing to be sure. They became part of my story, echoing the mystery of the cave paintings of Lascaux in my art: A message that was not addressed to us, a message we cannot read.

The trails made by bark beetles echo that story.

I’ve collected a lot of their chewed sticks from the coast, too. The good part is, the beetles are long gone and probably long-dead, too.

I didn’t realize the stick looked like one of my carved pods until I took this picture. The pod just happened to be sitting on the counter. Fate? Kismet? Lucky chance???

I sanded the stick carefully, and wiped it clean. I painted it black to back-fill the little chewed channels, then wiped off the excess. Then waxed it with brown Brio wax, and buffed it, then drilled more holes.

 

Finally, it was done!

The finished piece. Finally!

Today I’ll find the right-sized box to pack it up and ship it to its happy new owner. It’s taken a lot longer than I thought, but I never regret a profound learning experience. Well. I regret them in the moment. But I’ll get over it.

My little journey from “the perfect stick” to one that many people would consider as a tragedy (destruction of national forests) and trash (a bug did this? WTF!!!) has me thinking again about my art process and my stories.

I obsess about getting everything exactly right, in an imperfect way. Asymmetrical yet balanced. Ordered color palettes.

One of my most powerful insights, in my life and in my art, is recognizing when something is ‘good enough’, and letting go of perfection. (As a wise woman once told me just before I began my hospice volunteer training, “When we are a perfectionist, we are ‘full of knowing’, and nothing new can come in.”) (Thank you Quinn!) (Another gift: I didn’t know she’d started a new blog until I linked to hers here.)

We all have visions of what that ‘perfect’ thing is. The perfect job. The perfect marriage. The perfect home.

Then there’s reality. There are the slog jobs, the times in a relationship when things can feel wonky, and homes? Renting here in Northern California, it’s whatever one will let you have pets….

Yet even in the worst of times and places, there is something of value.

Insights. ‘Aha!’ moments. Healing. Reconnection. Beauty. New ways to retell old stories. Seeing our loved ones for who they are, instead of the perfect person we sometimes expect them to be. Learning to see ourselves the same way….

Sometimes the ‘perfect’ needs to make way for something bigger and better, more human. Sometimes, we need to make way for something else.

And sometimes, it makes way for a tiny little beetle, with its own way of creating a powerful story.

 

 

MORE ADVICE ON GETTING ADVICE: Not Today, Maybe Tomorrow

Today, a story for you about a time when an opportunity didn't feel right - until it did.
Today, a story for you about a time when an opportunity didn’t feel right – until it did.

MORE ADVICE ON GETTING ADVICE: Not Today, Maybe Tomorrow

MORE ADVICE ON GETTING ADVICE: Not Today, Maybe Tomorrow

Sometimes, it takes a while to see where good advice fits in.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote this article for Fine Art Views about how to trust your gut on whether the advice we hear is helpful or not.

Today, a story for you about a time when an opportunity didn’t feel right – until it did.

A new friend asked for a favor, and offered a trade as payment. It just didn’t feel right at the time. I said no, and they were extremely gracious about it.

Six months later, I thought, “What exactly was that ‘payment in trade’ about??” I reached out to them, they explained, and I said, “Heck, yeah!” (A little more energy than ‘heck’, but no swears here today.)

I took them up on their offer. It was amazing! (Short story: Horse therapy. It’s a thing. It was powerful, insightful, and healing.) The timing was perfect for me, too.

Then I went to work on my side of the trade: Repairing/remaking a beloved necklace for them, using one of my horse artifacts they’d chosen.

But halfway through the project, I called them and said I couldn’t make it work. They had picked an older horse, a design I don’t make anymore. It was impossible to make that artifact ‘hang right’, because of how I’d designed it. “You can keep the horse, you love it, you picked it, and I can make it into a pin, if you like. But you have to pick another horse that will be better balanced.”

I heard them gasp over the phone. “Ruh-roh,” I thought. “Here comes the blow-back.” (Not who they are, just me knowing this was a disappointment for them.)

Nope.

They were astonished because I had just given THEM clarity on a huge decision they were struggling with.

I’d given them a metaphor that helped them see their situation as ‘unbalanced’, trying to make it work, but now able to see clearly what their major life decision should be.

If I’d accepted their offer six months earlier, neither of us would have experienced the huge insights that came with this simple exchange.

Waiting until it felt right brought incredible power and meaning to both of us, in our ‘trade’.

How does this relate to social media, getting advice, etc.?

I have no idea. Wait—I do!!

Just as there is no ‘one-size-fits-all-advice’ (except for things like integrity, kindness, compassion, etc.) in our life, the same is true in our art biz. In that article, I shared how to sort out what will never work for artists (acting like retailers), and what will never work for me (anything that puts sales ahead of personal integrity, or negates my aesthetic, etc.)

I also shared that ‘shoulders hunching up over my ears’ reaction when something sounds right, but feels wrong. (Step away!)

And yet, in responding to a comment, I realize sometimes it’s not the advice.

It’s the timing.

Some of us may be a little overwhelmed with all the social media marketing advice we’ve received since the shelter-in-place orders. I thought I was fine, until I realized how much I’m doing wrong. Or simply not doing right. Or not doing enough, or doing too much.

So, yes, to baby steps.

But also take minute to think about the ‘why’.

Why does it feel so hard to make those updates and changes right now? Probably the biggest reason is, this ‘new normal’ is pretty freaky.

Some of us may have even more time on our hands right now, but not much hope of getting better, marketing-wise/sales-wise. Some of us may have less time on hand. Our days may be filled with child care, trying to be supportive of friends and family, our spouse, getting food on the table, staying healthy, staying calm.

The last thing we need with all this stressing is beating ourselves up with all the things we’re doing ‘wrong’.

The other reason it’s hard, for me, is, I’ve had several hugely intense creative periods since all this started. I was going full steam ahead with new work, new designs, etc. until a health issue knocked me to the ground for almost a month.

That was not the time to work on my social media marketing.

Now, things are saner. I’m slowly building up my creative work again.

Then I found a way to a) clear out my studio a little, b) move on some of my older work, due to studios back east closing, and c) put some of those social media marketing ideas into play.

It worked! I was flooded with orders, some of which I’m still working on. I made money, old work went to new homes and people who love them, and my studio is a teensy bit neater. (Teensy bit)

Forcing myself to work on that aspect of my biz during that hard month would have crushed me. Now, it energizes me. I have two more sales events* in the works, and a couple special orders to boot.

So when you’re in a situation, like the AMP marketing webinars, take good notes. When something intrigues you, write it down (or however you best remember info.)

If you feel your shoulders rising, pay attention. But don’t lose your place, either.

Later, take a moment to think why? Why did this make me cringe? Why did it make me afraid? Why did it seem out of the question?

Maybe it’s totally off, but sometimes, time will provide other insights for us. For one example, a friend suggested I make huge artifacts, something I have no desire to do. But weeks later, I realized I could make bigger work with many of my small artifacts. “Bigger” was relative. (And I’m guessing their desire to help me make more profitable work was their motive, which is a good thing.)

I’ve traded with other artists over the years (don’t ask, no more room in our little rental home for more paintings!!) but it simply felt wrong with the horse person at that time. Until I was ready to hear more. Which turned out to be exactly when they were ready to hear more, too.

Are you working your way through a plethora of marketing advice? Share what intrigues you, what baffles you, and what you’ve come back to. Many of you have shared, in articles and in comments, what you found most insightful and useful. Share that, too!

If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to pass it on to someone else. And if someone sent you this article, and you liked it, too, see more of my articles at FineArtViews.com, other art marketing topics at Fine Art Views art marketing newsletter, and my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

*Not a ‘sale’ as in a mark-down, which is not respectful of our long-time collectors. Just selling old work at the price I originally asked for them. So, more of a ‘WayBack machine’** event.

**Remember Mr. Peabody and Sherman from that TV show, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle? ***

***Am I revealing TMI about my age???

Musings and Muddling 2: What The Hell Is Water?

Thank you, Terry E. for the beautiful inspiration for my owl story

Musings and Muddling…Why Our Creative Work Matters

I’m in a swirl of new work and new ideas. And I’m also in a whirl of indecision, frustration, and unsolvable problems.

Every time I get stuck, I experience self-doubt. Feelings of not-doing-it-right. Afraid the world will finally see how how unworthy of the title “artist” I truly am.

I’ve been here before. And so have you. (We ALL have ‘creative work’ in us, according to my ever-inclusive definition: Any work that is a force for good, that makes the world a better place. That would be the “traditional” arts, including music, dance, drama, etc. But to me, it also means healing, teaching, restoring, repairing, repurposing, inventing, gardening, cooking, nurturing, etc.)

This morning I was searching my Pinterest page. I’m looking for a way to turn a flat object (okay, it’s my owl face artifacts) into a pendant. My usual methods won’t work, for a variety of reasons. The brooch/pendant converter doesn’t work, and using a glue-on bail would interfere with the look of the owl. Hence (my favorite part of “The House Bunny” movie is Anna Faris’s passionate use of this one word) my search on Pinterest, looking for ideas.

As I searched, I found one of my old blog posts from four years ago, How to Make Water.

And as I was finishing this up, a friend sent me this astonishing insight into the real nature of creativity, in a snippet of an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert. (Thank you, Gail M.!)

Basking in the astonishing wonder of synchronicity, aka “little daily miracles….)

So no solution yet, but this was exactly what I needed to read, and hear today.

Enjoy!

As always, if you enjoyed this article and know someone who might like it, too, please pass it on! And if you liked this newsletter and received it from someone else, you can sign up for more at my webiste, LuannUdell.com.

LEARNING TO SEE #3 Shift Your Viewpoint

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.

Sometimes changing our perspective helps us see better.

I’ve been making little animal artifacts for more than two decades. I make them one at a time, shaping each lump of layered clay by hand.

I use various tools, repurposed, handmade, found in situ, to add details and designs. But I only use my hands for the actual forming.

They’ve changed a lot over the years. The bears got less “formidable” and a little sweeter. They have ears now, and a tail, too. The birds now have real eyes instead of dots. They look more alive.

All my animals are more three-dimensional. When I first made them, they were button-like adornments on my 2-D fiber collage work. Now they are thicker, rounder.

Even my horses have changed. Sometimes they reflected real changes in my life, like the year or two when I had several big surgeries: They lost their signature ‘handprint’! It took awhile for me to figure out why. I finally realized I was in so much discomfort, I didn’t want to be “touched”, and neither did they! (Bears started out with handprints, but then they “told” me they were not domesticate animals, so ix-nay on the handprint thing.)

At some point, there was another shift in my horses. For some reason I still can’t figure out, they became shorter. Not as in “less tall”, but as in “less long”. In a way, they couldn’t be ridden.

It took a long time to see that. The turning point came when I made a necklace for a wise woman in my life. She’d picked a horse from my stash, one that spoke to her. But when I tried to turn it into a pendant, I couldn’t get it to “hang” right. It was “front heavy”, and I could not fix that.

That insight, when shared with her, ended up giving her tremendous insight into her own turning point in life. As in, a big decision she’d made had thrown her life out of balance. (Which was a tiny miracle in its own right! Once she “saw” that, she changed her mind, with amazingly powerful results.)

It also made me look at that batch of horses and see the imbalance.

I’d used a large black, faux soapstone horse to make a large Shaman necklace. (I try to make one every year or two, to remind myself to “go big” in my work, even though I only sell one ocassionally.) It was on display in my studio. I decided to photo it to list in my Etsy shop.

When I saw the photo, it was easy to see the difference in how much my horses have changed in four years!

It took awhile for me to really SEE the difference!

I still love those “stubby” horses, and so do a lot of people. But I can’t keep making them that way.

So I made a new big horse, in a green shade of faux soapstone. I love how it looks!

Of course, there are lots of tricks to “seeing” our work in a different way, one that can help us more easily see the errors in composition, lighting, color choices, etc. We can not only take a quick photo, we can hold it up to a mirror, or view it upside down. I once asked former Fine Art Views author-and-artist Lori Woodward to look at a large wall hanging I’d made.  Something was ‘off’ but I couldn’t see it. She saw it instantly! (Fortunately it was an easy fix!) Thank you, Lori!

And just like we can improve how we really “see” our art, we can improve how we see ourselves. And not just ourselves, but how we view our art, how we can encourage others to “see” it, and how we “see” ourselves in the world.

This is crucial to extending our online marketing, too.

I remember the first workshop I ever took on marketing and self-promotion, at a polymer clay guild in Keene, NH. A member’s spouse was in marketing, and his presentation was mind-blowing!

The first question he asked was, “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about selling?”

Most of the responses were eye-opening. “It’s like a used car salesman’s pitch!” “You gotta twist people’s arms to get them to buy something!” “First you bait the hook and then they bite and you reel them in!”

I couldn’t stand it any longer. I said, “First I make something, with all my skills, and time. Then I show it to someone else, and tell my story. Then they take their hard-earned money that they earned with their skills, and time, and we trade.”

Needless to say, I got an A! (Figuratively speaking.)

Many people today still hesitate to self-promote, especially if we weren’t raised to put ourselves out there. Posting on social media can feel like “bragging”. Asking a good price for our work can feel “pretentious”. Even calling ourselves a “real artist” can feel presumptuous.

But we are simply people who are just like everybody else. We have things we really care about, we choose a creative path we really love, we make stuff that makes us happy, and we do our best work.

The next step is simply sharing our work with the world. Sharing with images (if our work is visual), or words (if our work is a poem, or story), or recordings (if our work is musical, or verbal), or videos (if our work involves movement, such as dance, or acting, etc.)

If nothing happens, that doesn’t mean our work is no good. It can simply mean we haven’t found our audience–yet!

And getting it out into the world is a huge part of that process. From email newsletters, to tiny short films on Instagram, to sharing our latest artwork (or column!) on Facebook, and Twitter, etc. is how people get to see it.

The beauty of social media is, you don’t have to wait for a publisher to choose your work, or a gallery to represent you, or a record producer to record your music, or a studio to hire you as an actor. In fact, the chances of any of these typical ‘markers of success’ may improve simply from our own efforts to show the world what we do.

So maybe we can learn to see ourselves better, too.

We can choose to see ourselves as a human who has chosen visual work as their favorite format. A human who has chosen oils, or acrylics, or colored pencil, or clay, or bronze, or fiber, or any of the thousands of “media” that are creative paths.

We can choose to see ourselves, and our art, as worthy. As ‘good enough’, right now, and ‘even better’ down the road.

As a dear friend said years ago, when I said how embarrassed I was by my earlier work, “Did people love what you made then?” (Um…yes.) “Did they buy it?” (Yeah….?) “Then there will be people who will still love them, too.” (Thank you, Ruth P.!)

We get to choose. We can accept, and respect, every step of our creative journey. Or, like I did this week, we can update, rotate, recreate, refresh, or even set aside the work that doesn’t reflect our best.

There’s no right-or-wrong there. Just what we want to do.

That’s the insight I gained today, by looking at my life’s work from a different perspective. Looking backwards (like a mirror) at where I started, where I’ve been, where I am.

And forward, to where I’m going next.

Do you have artwork you still love, even decades later? Can you still feel the fierce joy it brought you then? Are there pieces you’ve reworked for the better? Are you open to finding out what you can do better in the months ahead?

And can you find yourself worthy of respect for what you do? So you can share it with the world with pride, and joy? Let me know in the comments!

If this article inspired you today, please pass it on to someone else who might like it, too. And if someone sent this to you today, and you liked it, you can see more advice on art marketing at Fine Art Views, more of my articles on FAV, and subscribe to my email newsletter at my website at LuannUdell.com.

I love this necklace even more. And the “old” horse has been returned to my stash for a future project, perhaps.

 

 

Random Thoughts Make a Tiny Miracle During Shelter-in-Place

I’ve made more little critters than ever!I’m sharing a tiny gift I’ve found in this hot mess.

Bear with me, because it comes from a bunch of random issues, problems, frustrations, idle research on the internet, and resulted in my new-found work enhancer.

First: All my life, from the very first 45rpm record I bought (“Turn, Turn, Turn” by The Byrds), I love to play a favorite tune over and over and over. (I can hear some of you screaming already…)

Also, when I am writing, or even reading, I can’t listen to music with words. It just jangles the connections in my brain. Soon I’m singing along, not aware that I’ve also stopped reading/writing.

So I can’t listen to lyrics during those activities. Put a pin there.

More on music: I have a CD player in my studio. Old school, I know. I also have Pandora radio, and I tried to use that, especially because CDs only give 45 minutes to an hour of playtime. I got the internet radio because my husband has had one for years. How many years? Let’s just say it’s a century in “internet years.”

Because he’s used it so long, it now automatically plays even random music that suit his tastes. Mine, not so much. I tried searching for artists, songs, music genres, etc. But it never complied anything I could listen to for more than five minutes.

So I quit using it, and went back to my CD player. At least I can play discs of music I love and have collected over the years.

But there were problems there, too. First, as I said earlier, I’m one of those obnoxious people, the ones who fall in love with a song, and play it over and over and over and over and over until everyone around me wants to scream.  (Have you stopped yet?) (I have my reasons why, but I won’t bore you with them today.) (Unless you ask, of course.) 🙂

So I have to constantly hit “replay”, which means I have to push a button every 4 minutes and 30 seconds. Or constantly skip over the songs that annoy me.

I worry about driving my neighbors crazy, especially in my “one-song-repeat-a-thousand-times” mode. (Put a pin here, too.)

Also, I’m in a huge building with dozens of other artists. We all have our individual workspaces, and fortunately, we don’t share air systems or even heating ducts. (No heat.) But I can hear their conversations from time to time, off-key whistled accompaniments to their own music, etc.

I ended up wearing ear plugs, which work great. But now I can’t hear my music, right?

If I play my music loud enough so I can’t hear them, it’s actually TOO loud (because the ear buds don’t fit.) And if I play my music loud enough so I can hear it no matter where I sit in their studio, well, then I’m bugging THEM.

And after the shut-down orders came, I was a little stressed even in my happy creative space. It was harder than usual to focus and dig into my projects.

Put a pin there.

Around the same time, I was complaining to my husband how all my ear buds suck, because a) I can’t get them inserted adequately to get the best sound unless I hold them in place, which is not conducive to doing my art work because I NEED MY HANDS TO WORK; and b) they hurt my ears.

So he gave me his old headset, an inexpensive refurbished model he’d bought for his work’s online conferences, but never used because it didn’t have a microphone.

I love them. The sound is great, they are comfortable, and I can plug into my phone, tuck my phone in a pocket, and move about the studio easily. (Before, I would forget I was “plugged in”, jump up from one work station to move to another, and nearly destroy my phone and everything on my desk in the process.) (Pin!)

A couple months ago, I found a delightful little video by Ainslie Henderson online. I can’t for the life of me remember how.  I think someone posted it on Facebook?

I fell in love with it. He mentions how his little animated figures carry a bit of sadness, and when the little one pulls at the arm of a larger one who’s stilled already at 2:00 minutes into the video, I felt that.

I also fell in love with the music. When I looked up more of his film shorts, I saw how he has collaborated with various musicians over the years.

So I looked up Poppy Ackroyd, who did the music for that little video, and found more of her music. Her work sounds simple, but it’s also complex. How she makes it and puts it together is astonishing.

Then I realized I can “sample” Ackroyd’s album “Leaves”, which has three of my favorite songs on it: “Salt”, “Timeless”, and “Roads”.

They have NO WORDS.

They are hypnotic.

They repeat, in order, over and over and over.

No pushing buttons. No being tied to a three-foot leash. No noise to bother my neighbors. No noise to bother me.

And now I’m hooked.

I get to my studio, set up my phone for Acroyd’s playlist, put on my headphones, and get to work.

I work steadily for hours on end, happy, heart-lifted, and soothed.

All these elements and issues combined and resolved by a $14 headset, and….

A beautiful collaboration between visual artist and music artist.

I never would have found Henderson’s work without surfing on Facebook, which can be a huge time-waster and a hotspot for fake news, etc.

I never would have found Poppy Acroyd’s music without finding Ainslie Henderson’s video.

I never would have found Poppy’s music if they had not collaborated.

I never would have found such a powerful way for me to get deep into the ‘Zone’ without my husband’s suggestion of using a headset.

Today I’m going to send some money to Poppy Ackroyd. I figure I owe it to her.

And I am so grateful all these random little elements, missteps, personal quirks, etc., came together and gave me just what I need right now to reinforce my creative work time.

What have you found that helps you get into that deep creative space that’s so important for our work?

P.S.  Another earworm you might enjoy: Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) and Emmy Lou Harris collaborating on “Speedway at Nazareth“. (Headphones or whatever gives you the best sound quality. Worth it!)

P.S.S. I was going to apologize for dragging you through tons of “little bits” that all came together to tell a story. Until I realized this is the heart of all my creative work. Little bits that get sewn/knit together, all carrying something intriguiging to me, with lots of tiny details, braided into a story that lifts my heart.

I hope it lifted yours today, to

Lots of braided stories in this new series, too!

o.

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!

 

Little Daily Miracles

Sometimes, teaching others actually educates ourselves.

I’ve been answering a lot of questions on Quora lately. (Quora is a place to ask questions, find answers, and write answers.) Mostly on blogging, for some reason.

Most of them are pretty annoying. “How do I make money from my blog?” “How can drive people to my blog posts?” Some are so vague, I don’t even know what they’re asking. So I skip most of these. I don’t try to make money from my blogging anymore, it gets to weird. (Of course, I would never refuse money!) (Seriously, go buy something from me on Etsy if you want to support my work.)

But sometimes, I see that someone really does need a tiny bit of encouragement to do the work they yearn to do. Those I’m a sucker for!

Only a couple of answers have gotten serious upvotes, but I’m still grateful for even one upvote. Just like I used to swoon over a single “like” in my blog’s comments section. (Actually, I still do!)

But here’s the upside:

It gives me a chance to encourage people to do the work of their heart.

It gives me a chance to actually write something.

And now I realize I can simply repost some of these answers as blog posts.

So, for today, here’s a Quora post answer I answered today, with a link to a poem I wrote years ago that actually made me tear up. I’d forgotten about it!

Enjoy!

Question: How do you gain inspiration to write in your blog each week?

Answer:

I pay attention to anything that catches my interest. Especially anything I realize I’m STILL thinking about.

There are a jillion things going on around us, every day, if only we paid attention to them. In fact, there’s so much going on, our brains have evolved to limit our attention. (One reason why LSD creates powerful “trips”. We are suddenly aware of everything which is amazing, overwhelming, and potentially scary.)

The trick is is make a note of these “interest catchers”, and think about why they caught our attention. (In fact, “why” is often the start of all my inspirations!)

This is why I have such odd series on my own blog. “Questions You Don’t Have to Answer” when I realized people ask odd questions when they are interested in my work at art fairs, and how to respond without getting angry and taking offense (which shuts down that connection.) “Lessons from the Gym”, where I overhear the physical therapy staff engaging with their clients. “Lessons from Hospice”, where I share the insights I gained in my five years as a hospice volunteer. “Life With Pet”, where I realized that accepting the foibles of silly pets teach me how to be a better human. The list goes on, but you get the idea.

The other big suggestion I have is, when you find these little, daily sources of inspiration, write them down. I keep a couple very small notebooks with me at all times, but sometimes I just use my phone to email myself. Maybe it would be even more efficient to keep them all in one notebook. (See that? I just inspired myself to do it better!)

There are great things to be found in tiny places, if we take the time to look.

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Gathering very small pebbles at Point Reyes is still one of my favorite, most soothing pastimes.

LEARNING TO SEE

LEARNING TO SEE: An Art-Making Class with Kristina Wentzell

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This story originally appeared on artist Kristina Wentzel as a guest post on her blog in June, 2014, the year we moved to California. Kristina and I organized our first city-wide open studio tour in Keene, NH. Working with her (and her skill sets!) was terrific, and I knew I was going to miss her. She had created a series of wine-and-vineyard-painting classes, and offered me a free session as a going-away gift. I learned more than I had expected. It was a good thing!

Last night I sat down to an easel for the first time in 45 years.

And I created a painting that I LIKED for the first time in my life!

How did I get here?? It’s a miracle!

I was part of Kristina Wentzell’s painting party at the “Art, Wine & Fun Night at Walpole Mountain View Winery” in Walpole, NH.

Kristina started these painting workshops awhile back. Known for her own vibrantly colored, cheerful landscapes and still lifes, she works with groups to introduce them to the pleasures of painting.

Kristina showed us how to recreate one of her original paintings-in this class, a view of a vineyard. (The best part of this class? You could look out the window in the sunroom/tasting room where we worked, and see similar mountains and vineyards!)

Our workspace at the Walpole Mountain View Vineyard. As lovely as Kristina's painting!

Our workspace at the Walpole Mountain View Vineyard. As lovely as Kristina’s painting!

She broke it down into a step-by-step process, guiding us all the way. When we were ready to get to work, we sat ourselves in the sunporch/tasting room, with gorgeous views of the vineyards on three sides. Easels were already set up and ready to go with a primed canvas, along with brushes (two), paint palettes (a paper plate with the eight colors we’d need) and a waterproof tablecloth (which was useful almost immediately!)

Here's where it all starts: Orange!

Here’s where it all starts: Orange!

Kristina showed a finished sample of her painting-the one we would recreate– along with versions of each step. As she explained each technique, she demonstrated on each appropriate sample painting.

We started with a light charcoal sketch, which allowed us to play with our compositions until we got one we liked. Then we mixed our first wash of color and painted over our sketched lines. We continued to mix the colors Kristina introduced, adding layer after layer of hues, moving into different areas of the canvas.

I do like my mountains!

I do like my mountains!

As we worked, Kristina came by with encouragement and suggestions. When I got stuck, she was right there, guiding me gently along. When I ran out of green (about three times!), her assistant Kat, a Keene State College art student, was right there with the paint tube.

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âKristina worked with everyone, to make sure no one felt left behind!â

The hardest part? I was surprised by what I thought would be the easiest step: Mixing colors. Kristina showed us how to work the pigments together, creating a little “mound” of color. It’s actually harder than I thought to mix pigments into such a small, neat “pile”. I tend to mush it all over, which not only takes up a lot of “real estate” on my plate, as Kristina put it, but also makes the paint dry faster. I believe I’m the only person who had to ask for an extra plate. The result was, I had to constantly stop to mix more color, which meant a subtly-different color mix each time. Hmmmmm⦠I’m gonna have to practice that! (See my n.b. at the end of this article for why that was kind of a bad thing….)

Still need to master the "little mound" method of mixing paint. I used up all my "real estate" on the plate, as Kristina put it

Still need to master the “little mound” method of mixing paint. I used up all my “real estate” on the plate, as Kristina put it

âI was graciously given a second plate. â

âI was graciously given a second plate.

The second hardest part? Like any work of creativity, what we make doesn’t look like much until we’re completely finishedIt’s important to keep that in mind at all times. It takes patience and confidence to accept each step as “what it is”, moving on to the next step, and the next. Until finally, we’re ready to tweak here and thereâ¦.and voila! A miracle! (Defined by my good friend Melinda LaBarge as a “change in perpective”.) Instead of cartoonish drawings and blobs of color, a lovely landscape emerges. And there is our finished painting. I carefully signed “LU” to the bottom corner, not trusting my skill at painting my whole name.

The beauty of this process is that I never felt I’d “screwed up”-at least, not irreparably so. Sometimes I made course corrections. Other times I shrugged and said, “No, it doesn’t look exactly like Kristina’s.”

Because it shouldn’t look exactly like Kristina’s! As each person bravely held up her piece, (and the admiring “ooohs” and “ahhhhs” started) it was so obvious to all of usâ¦.

We had all painted “the same thing” in a style that was uniquely ours.

All of our color choices were similar-but also very different. Some of us had limned gently rolling hills. Others had mountains that seemed to dance. Some of us had painted a soft sky, while others had skies that rolled and glowed.

We had all created a version of Kristina’s painting. And we had all created something very different and unique.

I like my trees....

I like my trees….

My grapevines looked a little like lettuce, so I went rogue and added some squiggly details to them. They still look like lettuce. But like artistic lettuce.

My grapevines looked a little like lettuce, so I went rogue and added some squiggly details to them. They still look like lettuce. But like artistic lettuce.

I’ve learned the power of good framing. Tomorrow I’ll mosey on down to Creative Encounters in downtown Keene. I know Karen Lyle and her staff will help me choose the perfect frame for this piece, at a price that’s affordable for me. It will join the other works in my collection of new and vintage landscapes, painted by talented professionals and eager neophytes. (Of which I’m firmly the latter.)

I had a wonderful evening out with delightful people. I sipped local wines, munched on incredibly delicious cheese and met up with old friends. I now own an original painting by Luann Udell for the price of a few good bottles of wine.

Ta-dah!

Ta-dah!

And I came home with an incredible sense of accomplishment and joy. I have lost my own fear of painting. I’m not giving up my day job to become a painter. But I now see the attraction of the process. And I’m delighted with my modest results.

Thank you, Kristina!

(n.b. Later I wondered why my painting looked slightly garish, very vivid colors. That was another learning moment. The room we worked in had dim lighting, suitable for wine-tasting, perhaps, but not for painting. As the sun set, the room became darker and darker. So I unconsciously over-compensated for what I “saw”, and that’s what happened.

A small lesson in realizing what we “see” is not always “true”, nor the whole story. We have to consider the light. The circumstances. And our assumptions.

Later, I gave the painting to a sweet next-door neighbor on the Old West Side when we moved to our new rental home on the east side of Santa Rosa. She loved it!

STILL HERE

It’s been two days since we said goodbye to our dog, Tuck.

Tuck was in care several times since our move to Santa Rosa. So Tuck being absent for a few days hasn’t worried our other dog, Nick.

I know dogs can’t understand human speech, but last night, I sat with him and told him Tuck wasn’t coming home. He gave no sign anything was out of the ordinary, though. Just gazed at me with his I-yam-still-a-puppy eyes.

In the comments in my last post on Facebook about Tuck, Jon posted a video we took of Tuck, howling when he hears a siren. He would do it once, and that’s it. We would laugh and laugh. It was a low, mournful song, very drawn out. We loved it.

He never did it out here. I don’t know if his hearing was worse, or if the emergency sirens are at different frequencies.

And Nick never howls. Ever. In eight years, he has never howled at anything.
This morning, Jon was replaying a recording of a siren we sometimes played for Tuck.

And Nick howled!

Higher-pitched. Shorter. But still…..definitely howling to the siren.

He did it twice, but refused to do it for the camera.

We laughed with the first joy we’ve felt in days.

It’s like….either Nick feels there is a fill the gap in our lives that he can maybe fill. Maybe he knows that was Tuck’s “job”, and wants to let Tuck know he’s gotta get back here to do it.

Or maybe someone/something is telling him to let us know Tuck is still here, in our hearts, and in Nick’s.

I remember my animal stories:

Dog tells me, “I will always walk at your side. You need never be alone.”

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