Scrambling for Clarity

But sometimes, all we need is to trust our best instincts, to sense our highest purpose on earth, instead of focusing on our greatest fears...
But sometimes, all we need is to trust our best instincts, to sense our highest purpose on earth, instead of focusing on our greatest fears…

In Our Heart, We Already Know What to Do

(8 minute read)

I have a confession to make today.

I love word puzzles. Not all of them. (Some are too hard for my aging brain.) But crossword puzzles and word scrambles are my faves.

Crossword puzzles have life lessons all on their own. I used to be unable to do a New York Times crossword puzzle at all–too hard! Lots of “tricks” and double-entendre clues involved. But I’ve gotten better over the years, as I learn that the clue “double-decker?” could mean “two-stories” or “pinochle”…

The beauty of a crossword puzzle is, when I am worried, anxious, or trying to get to sleep, my lizard brain is soothed by having “something to solve” that doesn’t really matter. (As in, I don’t lose money, self-esteem, or anything else if I can’t solve it.)

Word scrambles…Now that was another story. How do you solve an anagram?

By the way, if you Google “anagram”, Google will ask you if you mean “nag a ram”….. So now we know that Google does have a sense of humor.

Word scrambles also appear in our newspaper, like Jumble and Scram-lets. They used to be quite difficult for me to solve. I relied heavily on working them out by “logic”, trial-and-error (randomly trying out various combinations until I found one that worked).

Until I read an article a few years ago about how reading actually rewires our brains. You can read more about this phenomena, called typoglycemia, here. (I remember a similar technique in the classified ads in older magazines: “If u cn rd ths u cn b a scrtry & gt a gd jb w hi pa!”) (Please don’t ask me how old!)

I tried typoglycemia to solve anagram puzzles, and it works!

Instead of patiently doing the trial-and-error thing, now I start by quickly looking at the scrambled word, “see” the word almost instantly, and move on to the next as quickly as I can, before I’ve even finished entering the answer. It’s amazing how innate this word recognition thing is!

There are still some words this technique doesn’t work for, for me. Oddly, one of the first was “studio”. I thought originally it was because of words we tend to use less, which is true. But “studio”????

The second odd thing is, once I see “studio” in the anagram, it’s easier to recognize it in the scrambled version going forward. It’s like solving it once, made it easier for me to solve the next time.

Our brains are marvelous organs, both incredibly powerful, and frustratingly baffling. (Remember my post last week, about realizing all the things I’ve lost?)

What does this have to do with our art-making, art marketing, and art career?

Sometimes we make ourselves work way too hard to solve a problem or issue, when simpler solutions might be right in front of us.

Sometimes I struggle with all the social media necessary these days to find and connect with our audience. Then I found shortcuts: I can elect to have my blog articles automatically reposted on Facebook and Twitter. Images posted on Instagram can be automatically reposted on Facebook, too. Thus, I use my social media time more effectively, and more efficiently, which is incentive to post more regularly.

When I first started blogging, I wrote for several years before I had an audience. Part of it was that it was so new, who would go looking for what I had to say? (My first blog-hosting site was Radio Userland, which doesn’t even exist anymore, except as an archive.) Fortunately, my husband retagged these old posts, and I republish them from time to time. And WordPress has more tools and options, which can make it easier to use.

The very article I linked to above was when I learned that there is no single “right” way of making our art and getting it out into the world. I was anxious about coaching other people. It felt like telling them what to do, and much of my own experience was vastly different than the other workshop leaders I worked with.

And yet, when I simply focused on a few simple things, it worked. If you love quilting, and you are very good at it, and yet, you mistakenly believe people won’t value what you do, so you “have to” compete with mass-produced quilts, or ones made in India, for example, and therefore you work faster, with imperfect results, do you WANT to be successful selling them? I told that quilter to do the work that made them proud, and then find their audience.

To a young kid who was actually already enjoying some success with their jewelry designs, I gave them resources on improving their techniques and color choices. But, I told them, “Your biggest asset is that you are nine years old, cute as a bug, and sweet as candy. Work with your mom to keep you safe, in social media”, I told them and their mom. “But people will be enchanted by your determination and delighted you’re embracing your creative spirit at such a young age, and they will want to encourage you to keep it up, by buying your work.”

I finally realized I’d shied away from teaching because I know I don’t have all the answers, especially all the RIGHT answers. But I’ve discovered I am very good at helping people find their next step, and that is what most people need in life. An example of me “overthinking” how much knowledge I needed to teach.

Another example of quickly “seeing” is when we have a major life/art goal, and can’t figure out how to get there. Try this simple approach to get grounded, and to get started:

Name your vision. Is it representation in that wonderful gallery? Is it to build your audience for your work? Is it to sell your work for a fair price? Is it to have your work published in a book, or to get into that top show, or make x amount of money a year?

Start there.

Then walk yourself through the steps by thinking backwards from that goal.

What has to happen before that, for it to take place?

Got it? Now, ask yourself again: What has to happen before that?

Got it? Keep going…..

You wanna right a best-selling novel? Yep, it’s hard, though not impossible.

First, it has to be published.

Before that, it has to be taken on by a publisher.

Before that, it has to be edited to near-perfection.

Before it can be edited, it has to be in the hands of a publisher.

In order for you to approach a publisher, you may need an agent.

To find an agent, you need to have written that story.

Before you write it, you have to make the time to write it, enough that they can see its potential.

So what can you do in the next 24-48 hours to get it written?

You need to set aside a small amount of time, right now (or as soon as possible) to write. And you have to hold that goal in your heart daily, weekly, monthly…..

And to write your story, you need to know what you want to say in the world.

You don’t have to figure it all out ahead of time. You just have to have a starting point that gets you through that first step, and then the next step. And then the next after that.

And then keep at it, as much as you can. Because it matters to you.

That’s why I love Clint Watson’s advice about the importance of having a website, and keeping in touch with your audience. It’s not about figuring out how to be a total social media expert, or even figuring out dozens of ways to get your work out there. All you need is an online presence (and a website combines all the best aspects of online presence.) And a way to let your audience know what you’re up to, by reaching out to them from time to time, so they won’t miss your next show, your next open studio, the new gallery that now represents you, and you latest body of work, available for sale at XYZ.

And this is why I love the Keith Bond’s article on defeating the specter of procrastination. Because the more we defer our “next step” action, the harder it is to move forward.

Just like unscrambling words to find the right anagram, our brains-and our hearts-know what we need to do. But we tend to overthink our efforts. If we’re feeling lost or discouraged, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by our attempts to “figure it all out”, so our path is straight.

Unfortunately, “straight paths” are pretty rare in every creative endeavor. We’ve all read about the people who have achieved overnight success. But that’s the rare exception, not the everyday reality.

Instead, we can quickly recognize a great opportunity, and go for it. We can realize we need to have a cohesive body of work, whether that’s in subject matter, techniques, or overall aesthetic. It should look like our work, and easily identifiable as such.

We may calm ourselves down by recognizing how making our art restores our heart and soul, which is ultimately more enriching than how much money we made this year. Not sayin’ sales aren’t important, just that sometimes that means we have to give up other things involved, things we might miss even more.

Our lives, and our art, can be just as scrambled as a Jumble puzzle.

But sometimes, all we need is to trust our best instincts, to sense our highest purpose on earth, instead of focusing on our greatest fears, or our single measure of fame and money with our work.

It can help to see the hidden word, the true word, in our holy “mess” we call our beautiful, creative life.

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to share it with someone else who might like it, too. And if someone forwarded you this post, and you liked it, you can sign up for more at my blog.

ONE IN A MILLION

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

One In A Million

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

(6 minute read)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part of me understands this.

Part of me balks.

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

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

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

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

Bonk. Head slap.

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

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

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

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

I think it’s in his very first sentence.

17 million artists in the world today.

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

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

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

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

Wait for it…..

DO NOT LOSE HOPE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genn went on to conclude his thoughts from that meeting:

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

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

Here’s my take-way:

Do it because you love it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE GIFT OF RISK: Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone Has Its Own Rewards

Rewards, Insight, Setbacks, and …K…K….courage, all this can be yours!
painted medallions
Painting on glass for an out-of-my-comfort-zone book project ultimately led to this new body of work.

As I typed the title to this column, I realized I almost had an acronym! But I couldn’t think of a “k” word except “kindness”. Maybe spell “courage” with a k??? Aw, what the heck, let’s put both in there!

Last week, I shared my story about “luck”, and how we can make ourselves ‘luckier’.  I told how setting aside my expectations of being paid for everything I do opened doors I never even knew were there.

I shared the rewards of that risk, which expand even into today:

  • I had my work published and made visible before the internet made that easy.
  • I created fun projects that not only were well-paid, but upped my own skill set: Using vintage buttons to make distinctive jewelry. Painting on glass, which (I only realized after writing that article) paved the way for a new series of work. I’m painting cave art images on my handmade faux ivory medallions.
  • I wrote and illustrated the first mass-market craft book on carving soft vinyl stamps.
  • I met amazing people, who were a powerful, wonderful presence in my life for years. And I continue to do so! (It turns out our dentist here in California pulled out her stamp carving book to make her annual handmade holiday cards, saw my name on the cover, and realized I was her patient!) (Yes, I autographed her copy.)
  • I’ve bought old copies of my book (which is now out of print) to sell to students who take my stamp-carving classes.

Another big reward from taking a risk deserves its own list: Insight.

  • We cannot control everything in life. Not even close! But “nothing ventured, nothing gained” is a powerful insight. Here’s my favorite joke about that, but be forewarned, there’s a naughty word in there!
  • If you look back to my previous article, where two Mary’s had vastly different lives, then you will understand the power of ‘framing’, what we pay attention to and what we choose to let go of.
  • I found out what works and what doesn’t work, when it comes to choosing shows. I have respect for the wisdom of “never do a first-year show”….!
  • Not all rewards in life are about money.
  • It takes courage to pursue your dream, patience for it to build into something profitable, and a sense of self-worth to keep it somewhere in your life, even if it doesn’t work as your paying job.
  • There will always be people who will be uplifted by our work—professionally, emotionally, spiritually.

Now for the downside: Setbacks!

  • Not everyone is your friend. There will always be people who are deeply threatened by us, and our work. It’s taking less time for me to suss them out, thank goodness! (Thank you, The Nibble Theory!)
  • Not all shows are as well-managed as others. After all, show organizers/promoters make money on a show even if vendor sales are awful. (Of course, they can’t continue to be successful if their vendors aren’t. Still, there are always people like me who are willing to try….)
  • Hard financial times (9/11, war in the Middle East, the dot.com crash, the stock market crash of 2008, etc.) are especially hard on art and fine craft markets. Art is considered a luxury, not a need. (Debatable, of course) It can feel very personal, like ‘we are doing it wrong’. Many, many people in the industry—artists, craftspeople, show runners, galleries, etc.—suffered mightily in those years, and many never recovered. Many folks took wild chances, shifted strategies, tried desperately to hang on, where sometimes just hunkering down and waiting out the storm made more sense.

The danger of setbacks is, it’s all too easy to give them a major role in our decision-making. Once burned, twice shy, etc. Yes, it’s simply good sense not to keep sticking your hand in the fire.

Otoh (on the other hand), not all failures are useless. As good ol’ Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

So here’s that word again: Courage! (I almost went off on a bunch of metaphors based on Tennyson’s poetry, but I spared you. You’re welcome!)

Courage was a relatively new concept for me, as a child. Oh, I had exercised it a few times as a young adult, but always in pursuit of a dream. Going back to school, getting a teaching degree, even traveling across the country looking for work in the 1980’s recession.

But when I took up my art in my forties, I exercised courage in a sustained manner for years, viewing each setback as a valuable lesson learned, and always, always continuing to move forward. Even moving across the country in our 60’s was a monumental act of courage. Sometimes I’m still surprised we did it, though I don’t regret it for a minute. (Well. A few minutes….)

It takes courage for me to write these articles. I get paid a nominal sum, far less than when I wrote for magazines even 15 years ago. But though it doesn’t bring in a big income, it fills my need to share what I’ve learned, and expands my audience weekly. (Thank you, faithful readers!!!)

In fact, all my writing comes from sticking with it, even when it felt like nobody cared. Because…

It mattered to me.

It’s a risk. When I put my work/words out there, I want them to serve someone else as it served me. I hope it reaches someone who needs to hear that story, today. I’m delighted when people say it did. I love it when people pass it on to someone else, who may also need to hear it.

And yet, there are setbacks, too. There is always someone who thinks we’re “doing it wrong”, and they never overlook a chance to let us know that.  There are people who are offended by my titles, fercryin’outloud.  There are those who believe there is nothing worth doing for free, and those who believe my writing is toxic.

Still, I persist.

And now, here comes kindness….

My art, and my writing, have taught me to practice kindness even…or especially… to the naysayers, the contradicters, the folks who seem to be looking for a fight.

It felt impossible at first. It’s obvious my work is not for them, and that’s okay. The kind thing to do, of course, is for them to simply stop reading, or to delete it, or move on to the next studio on the tour.

But I’m learning. Like the people who call pastels “just chalk”, or the people who claim fiber is not an art medium, etc. they are where they choose to be. Yep, maybe even doing the best they can.

By responding with as much kindness as I can muster, I can let go. I am restored to the person I want to be in the world. My risk—putting my work out there to be criticized or ridiculed, is offset by the knowledge someone else is grateful I did take that risk.

And that makes it all worthwhile.

In the end, the choice is ours. We can play it safe. We can avoid risks, ditch change, never step outside our comfort zone.

It’s up to you. I can’t even pretend to think I know better than you. As I always say, if this doesn’t work for you, don’t do it!

I can only share what’s lifted my heart, write what’s helped me move forward, what restores me to my better self.

What risk have you taken that’s moved you forward? What did you learn when it didn’t work out? Remember, both are valuable, and both are worth sharing!

BE THE HERO IN YOUR OWN STORY: Framing Is Everything!

It takes time, but somewhere down the road, there’s a powerful story in our darkest hours.

 We attended a gathering this weekend. Good food, great people, and beautiful scenery. That’s where the idea for this week’s article comes from.

I was talking with a younger person there, who’s right smack in the middle of a difficult life stage. I listened to their woes, which, to be fair, they put a good spin on. In other words, they weren’t whining, but they were definitely struggling, in a situation all too familiar to me.

Without loading them with too much advice, I mostly told them they were doing it right. They had the right attitude, they were seeking the help they needed, and they knew they were fortunate in so many ways, they hated to complain about the exhausting situation they found themselves in.

I gave them two pieces of advice. Or rather, insights.

One, I told them that people who have been through the same thing, will understand. And those who haven’t, won’t. I said, “Seek out the first group, and just ignore the second.”

Two, I told her this, too, will pass. It’s hard, and it’s hard to make it easier. But in the end, they will be okay. And when they get through it, they will be able to see the gifts and blessings along the way.

I get that when we’re in the middle of a big muddle, it can feel like there’s no way out. No solution, no quick fix, no “magic mushrooms” to make it right. It can be hard to have hope.

And yet…

When I look back at some of the hardest times in my life, I can see something of value there.

I can see the goods things that came out of it. I can appreciate the people I met along the way, people who often had exactly what I needed to get through one day.

I can see the hard-won lessons that proved so valuable later in life. I can see the blessings, the gifts, the jaw-dropping miracles that not only helped me get through, but formed me into the person I am today.

“You can’t see it when you’re in the middle of it, and that’s okay,” I told them. “Because right now, it just sucks. So take exquisite care of yourself every chance you get.”

“But years from now, there will be something beautiful here, something that will encourage you, inspire you, help you find your way. This will change you, and some of those changes will be powerful. You will find yourself in a place you never even dreamed of, yet.”

“It will always be part of your story, and YOU will get to decide how to tell it.”

No one would ever choose to be in that hard place. It will simply find us, no matter who we are, no matter what we do. We are going to have very, very hard times in our lives.

And not everything has a happy ending.

But there will be gifts, if we chose to look for them.

The trick is in how we tell our story.

In a slump with our artwork? Uninspired? Tired of the same ol’ same ol’? Someday, we’ll look back and see the wall we hit—and how it led us to an exciting new body of work.

Didn’t get into art school? Maybe the wild and crazy path you DID take, is what makes your art so powerful today.

Didn’t get into that gallery? Or exhibition? Or that top-notch show? Rejection feels like failure. But failures have a way of making us dig deep for our art. We can crumple up and walk away, leaving our creative work behind. Or maybe we realize someone else’s “no” can be our next “maybe”. Maybe I’ll try another gallery in the next town over. Maybe I can simply apply for more exhibitions, hoping I’ll get into just one.

Or maybe I realize that no one can keep me from my studio, and it’s time for me to get back to work.

It can be hard to be Pollyanna in the middle of despair. And yet…

What if we actively thought of ourselves as the hero of our own story?

What if the challenges we face, force us to rise to meet them?

What if that difficult person in our workplace finally inspires us to find another job, a better one, too?

What if our loneliness when things get hard, creates compassion in our hearts for others in the same boat?

What if physical setbacks force us to choose another path, one that has its own rewards? (I’ve met TWO potters this month who had to find another form of creating when their bodies couldn’t take the “weight” any longer.)

What if lack of sales, fame, and stardom as an artist, actually encourages us to focus more on the “why” of our creative work? Helps us pay attention to the joy we get from making our art?

What if all we really need to get through this day, today, is a six-minute film to bring us nearly to tears, filled with awe of the beauty of this perfect day?

Last week, I read an old journal from our last two months in Keene, NH, just before we sold our house and 80% of our possessions to move across the country.

I’d made note of some difficult times, people, and situations. But I was surprised at how little of them I actually remembered! I would read, “I hate Doris!” and think, “Who the heck is Doris?!”

When we were in the middle of that move, all I could see was total chaos.

But as I look back, I see what a powerful experience it really was, on many fronts.

The things I loved so much, it felt impossible to leave them behind—only to find out they were in much worse shape than I’d realized, and couldn’t go anywhere except the dump. (My cheetah-patterned sofa!)

The person who gave me a hard time, and now I can’t even remember who it was, nor what it was about. (As I deal with difficult people here in CA, I’m reminded there are difficult people EVERYWHERE.)

The people who didn’t show up to help (“I’m not going to do one thing to help you leave, because I want you to stay!”) and the amazing gift of the people who DID show up, every day, for weeks.

The fear that I would lose my audience in NH (which DID fall off for awhile), and yet realizing how quickly I could start growing a new audience here.

The people who were upset by our choice to move, until I shared with them our own “hero’s journey” that led us to that decision. (Hallelujah, they came around!)

Now, sometimes we just need to gritch. I get it. I love to gritch, too. It feels good to get a good whine in (with a glass of wine, too!) And it can be cathartic to blow off steam with a good friend who’s willing to listen.

But in the end, I choose to see the miracles, the gifts large and small, the Angels In Odd Places I find in almost every step along the way.

So the next time you get slapped in the face with a big ol’ whipping cream pie of rejection, or lack of sales, or whatever, take note. My bears’ story: “Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep.”

Bear tells me, “Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep.”

I process things by writing, but you may have another process. Maybe painting your heart out, or creating a song, or poem, or prayer. Maybe do something kind for someone even worse off than you. Perhaps a chance to simply blort with a loving partner, or a really good friend who is truly there for you.

Whatever works for you, embrace it.

Be the hero of your own story.

Tell the story only you can tell.

Because your story might  just inspire someone else to be a hero.

Do you have an example of a setback that proved to be a power booster for you? Share it here! It may be just what someone else needs to hear today!

And if someone shared this with YOU, and you like what you see, sign up for more articles at my blog here.

TESTING THE WATERS: How to get past “too much” and “not enough” to “just right!”

Don't miss Luann Udell's discussion on finding a balance
Don’t miss Luann Udell’s discussion on finding a balance….

Testing the Waters

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.

How to get past “too much” and “not enough” to “just right!”

Over a decade ago, we bought our first hot tub. It made New England winters soooooo much easier to bear. We immediately invited friends over to share the joy.

We thought we were being so generous with our tub, and then we found we’d been a little too generous. After our first week of glorious steaming under the dark and starry winter skies, we discovered we’d given a dozen of our friends a whopping case of hot tub rash.

Unfortunately, we had less-than-spectacular support and service from the company we bought the hot tub from. It turned out the “natural” ingredients to control for acidity and such, simply didn’t work very well.

We eventually switched maintenance service and products to another company in town. We learned how to test our water samples, adding this chemical and that to maintain the right balance. With this procedure, we were finally able to keep our hot tub water clean, and healthy, and safe.

Normally, I’d be too ashamed to admit this. But today the metaphors are just too spot-on to pass up.

As I tested and tweaked the water, I got to thinking:

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could test our lives the same way?


When things get toxic, or simply just smell “off”, you could pull out a little test strip and add the balancing elements you need to get back on your path.

(OK, hot tub rash isn’t toxic, just highly annoying. It itches.)

Is the water too acidic? You find yourself being impatient and unkind? Your outlook on life has become a little too caustic? Time to add a buffering agent–maybe a little kindness and understanding. When was the last time you felt fully engaged with your art work? (Me: “umm…….er…..”) (To be fair, setting up a new studio space, organizing, culling, finally having clarity about what needs to go where, feels pretty creative right now!)

Not enough acidity? Are others are being caustic to you? Do others around you feel free to take “nibbles”?  Maybe it’s time to get tougher, set stronger boundaries, and ask for what we need from those around us to restore the balance. This book, The Nibble Theory, changed my life, and it could change yours, too.

Is the water cloudy?  Are the treatments still not working? Maybe it’s time to look at your filtering system. Does it need to be cleaned or changed to make sure it’s scouring those bad influences out before they get recirculated back into your life?

Check your take on life. What color glasses are you looking at life through? And how do you handle the dreck that spills over into your life? Do you hold on to the bad stuff and setbacks in life, ruminating over them at night, accepting them as your “truth”?

Or do you let go and flush it out? (Apologies, I did not mean to introduce a toilet metaphor…!) Check out This amazingly simple document for some insights and simple actions to start feeling better.

Evidence of toxic infiltration? Sometimes toxic elements accumulate, and before we know it, we’re knocked completely off our path. Time for a shock treatment! Sometimes you need extreme measures to get those negative influences and toxic relationships out of your life. (Please do not resort to violence. It always ends badly.) Last year, I simply had to hunker down and be exquisitely kind and gentle with myself. It was surprisingly hard! But I think this is why I am now embracing the studio set-up. Every day brings a little more clarity about what I need to do. And nobody gives me grief about it. It’s all me!

Is the balance still not right? Then you may have to empty the tub and start all over again. Maybe even try a whole new system to get the results you want. I’ve been meaning to get back to work in my new studio. But then I got carried away setting up my lighting. Which led me to search for more of my lighting stuff. Which led me to clearing a path in our garage so I could get to my old booth setup. Soon the entire afternoon was gone. I still haven’t made anything, and now I’m late with my article for FAV!!

But I got rid of some stuff, cleaned some stuff, repaired some stuff, found some stuff I needed, and have more insight into what I need to do next.

I’ve done that active listening thing for several friends in the last few weeks. My husband said, “So when is it YOUR turn?” I realize that process may indeed be a good water balance test strip. Er, life balance. A quick check in to see if I have the balance I need to make my art the best it can be.

In lieu of little paper water testing strips, what can we use to measure what we need?

 A little group of artistic friends can help. Make sure they “have your back”, know your heart, and treat you fairly. Checking in with people you love and respect, who love and respect Y*O*U, can do wonders to get our balance back.

I hope my columns help, and the wonderful conversations that have grown around them. I believe it helps to know we are not alone, no matter where we are on our life-and-art journey.

Some find balance in family, pets (big and small!), traveling, exercise, SHOPPING (oops! Did I say that out loud??), a class, a night out with friends, a great movie…almost anything can tilt that little testing strip toward the healthy medium we’re looking for. Whatever restores us to our best self, so we can get back to making our art. In fact, from what I’m hearing, most find that going to the studio and getting to work is the best strategy of all.

For me, it’s all of the above. But mostly, the “aha” moments come from writing. It helps me untangle the knotty problems and worried thoughts in my buzzy brain.

That’s another blessing with cleaning part of the garage today: I found all my old journals! And poetry I’d written years ago, much of which I’d forgotten about. I found beautiful letters from good friends and perfect strangers, people who had thanked me for the gift of a horse necklace, for reaching out, for having the courage to make a connection. It made me feel more “me”, if that makes sense.

Because, I just realized (see? This is why I write!) each journal, each note-card, letter, poem, every small item I had set aside for my kids (their poetry, stories, drawings, etc.) brought back to me just how lovely my life has been, and how much love, joy, and connection my artwork, and my writing, have created, for myself, and for others.

As I’ve said so many times, we tend to think of the times we “did it wrong”, the times we struggled with, the mean things people say, and the art project that didn’t quite work out.

But my life test strip was there to tell me it’s all okay. In fact, it’s all really good.

Time to see if it’s safe to go back in the water.

The hot tub is long gone. When we sold our house to move to California, the new owners did not want it. We were able to sell it for half of what it cost us. My husband and the husband/dad part of the new family were there when the guy came to pick it up. (They had just moved to NH from the Midwest, and had never had a hot tub.) As the guy loaded it onto his truck, Jon said, “Man, I don’t know how we would have gotten through those last few winters without that hot tub!” And the new owner, confused, said, “You used it in the winter?!” (Jon said he could almost see the wheels turning in his head, and the guy looked a little regretful.) Oh well.

Hmmmm….maybe we could use a little hot tub, ourselves? (California evenings are certainly cool enough, even in the summer!)

P.S. And if you DO give your friends a hot tub rash, be sure to say you’re sorry. And take them out to dinner.

Maybe even buy them a bottle of their favorite single-malt whiskey. Or two. Or three.

LET ME COUNT THE WAYS: Why Didn’t That Gallery Take My Work??

FineArtViews Newsletter|Saturday, March 2, 2019|Issue 3407

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. 
LET ME COUNT THE WAYS: Why Didn’t That Gallery Take My Work??

By Luann Udell

Remember, gallery owners are just customers with stores.

Years ago, I wrote an article listing all the reasons why a gallery might not accept your work. Well. Not all the reasons. Because I think more are being born every minute….

Why did I do this? Because at some point in our art career, when we approach a gallery, we will probably face rejection. And when that happens, we struggle to figure out why.

Many of us will blame the gallery. Some of us will blame ourselves. A very few of us might have the courage to actually ask the gallery. (They may or may not give you an honest answer, but it’s worth a try!)

1. Your work isn’t up to snuff.

2. Your work is really good, but not their preferred medium.

3. Your work doesn’t fit in with their current inventory.

4. Your work looks too much like work in their current inventory.

5. Your work is overpriced.

6. Your work is under-priced

7. Your work is fine, and well-priced, but will not appeal to their clientele.

8. They like your work, but they don’t like you.

9. They like you, but they don’t like your work.

10. They don’t like you or your work.

11. They can tell you don’t like them.

12. They’re having a really bad day.

13. You’re having a bad day, and it shows.

14. You dropped in unannounced, and rudely assumed they would drop everything to look at your work. (There are ways to drop in and not rudely make such an assumption, but you have to have your script ready.)

15. You are too meek when it comes to talking about your work.

16. You are too arrogant when it comes to talking about your work.

17. You try to establish your creds by dissing their other artists.

18. Your color palette is too dull.

19. Your color palette is too shocking.

20. You’re already in every other gallery in town.

21. You don’t have an established reputation, and they only take the same artists.

22. Your work is all over the map-not a cohesive body of work.

23. Your work is all the same-no variety.

24. You are high-maintenance. (I have watched this in action, and it is truly off-putting!)

25. They can tell you expect them to handle everything, from sales to marketing and everything in-

between. So you don’t have to do anything to grow and connect with an audience.

26. They aren’t doing well, and they may even be closing up shop soon.

27. They aren’t dealing with their artists honestly, and they know your partner is a lawyer.

28. Your work is controversial.

29. Your work is technically good, but has no soul.

30. They know nothing about your medium.

31. They hate your medium.

32. They love your medium, but they are only looking for X medium.

33. They love your medium, but they already carry too many works in it.

34. They love your medium, but they don’t love you.

35. They know your work is already carried by their biggest competitor.

36. They don’t take local artists.

37. They only carry local artists.

38. They used to carry your work because you used to be a local artist, and then you moved away, and all their customers want to know why they’re carrying an artist on the other side of the country.

39. Your work is too fragile-breaks easily, can’t be packed or shipped, etc.

40. Your work is too big.

41. Your work is too small, too easy to shoplift.

42. Your work is too hard to display-too big, too heavy, has lots of loose parts, etc.

43. Your work is too trendy.

44. Your work is passe.

45. Your work is craft, not “fine craft”.

46. Your work is fine craft, not art.

47. Your work is art, not craft. (Yup, I was disqualified for this once!)

48. Are you sensing a pattern here?

There are as many reasons why a gallery won’t take your work as there are stars in the sky. Or at least as many reasons as there are galleries.

Do some of these reasons sound familiar?

They should. Many of these reasons are the same reasons our potential customers don’t/won’t buy our work.

We often imbue gallery owners/managers with more power than our customers.

In fact, they may have more expertise, more experience, more clout. They may be fair, and kind, and compassionate, too. But they are still just human beings, like us, prone to prejudices, errors in judgment, egomania, and even envy. In fact, a fellow artist told me years ago:

“Galleries are just customers with stores.”

I have heard many variations on these reasons in my art career. When I first started approaching galleries, I was pretty fearless. I was starting in the middle of nowhere, and figured any progress would get me somewhere. I didn’t offend easily, and I quickly saw that a gallery’s refusal was not to be taken personally. (I think I sensed the “customers with stores” thing already. But then, I forgot.)

Every encounter with a gallery was a learning experience. I realized when someone seemed mean, it was more about them than me. My work may or may not be “good enough”, etc. But the bottom line was, it just wasn’t right for them, period.

Am I offended when a visitor doesn’t buy my work? Or criticizes it?

To the first, absolutely not. Not everyone is our customer. We all know that, and yet, it can still feel daunting.

The latter, yes, it’s offensive. But again, someone who feels compelled to complain to me about my work is revealing more about who they are. I can choose to pick that up and carry that anger, that embarrassment. Or I can choose to let it go, and find my true “next” customer.

These reasons are similar for group shows, too. A curator might want variety in every single piece in the show. In which case, if your work looks too much like what they’ve already accepted, they may not accept it.

But if they are creating a cohesive show with light-colored contemporary pottery, and your work is pit-fired and dark-colored, you might not get in.

I share these “reasons why” not to discourage you, but to encourage you.

I want you to persevere with the work of your heart. I want you to make the work that only you can make.

I want you to tell the story with your art that only you can tell.

I want you to make the work that brings you joy, and creates a powerful place for you to be in the world.

Not every person is our customer (yep, I’m saying it again!) and not every gallery is our gallery.

Every minute we spend being angry, hurt, disenfranchised by someone else’s opinion of us, our work, our medium, is a minute wasted.

We could use that time and energy to find our real customers, including the “ones with stores.”

I know that’s easy to say. Disappointment is the curse of all creatives. Books get rejected, Oscars are awarded to the “safe” choices, artists are passed over. I get it.

Just remember that we are dealing with fellow human beings. Some are wise and loving and respectful and evolved. Others? Not so much. We all have our preferences, especially petty ones!

Here’s my last example: When I approached my first gallery, a non-profit, there were two managers. One oversaw the fine craft area, the other the fine art area. Being a fiber artist, I approached the fine craft person with my wall hangings first.

I was roundly rejected as having “an immature design aesthetic” and “an illogical composition style.” They went on for quite a while, lamenting the fact that I would never have a “real” art career. They suggested I make smaller pieces and sell them as pins. (I am not making this up.)

DSCF0007 (2016x3040) (2)
Well, this is certainly small enough to be a pin!

I was baffled, but feeling too strong to feel threatened. It was obvious this person had issues, and I knew there was something about my work that threw them off. I thanked her and left with my work.

A few months later, our town of Keene had its annual “art walk.” Participating business venues exhibited the work of local artists in their windows for a week. A very popular and fun event!

A friend told me afterwards that a very well-known (okay, famous!) artist, who was a friend of hers, saw my work while they were perusing the event. He stopped in his tracks when he saw my work. He said something amazing I can’t remember (more on this later), something to the effect that he loved it, it was fresh, it was different, it was unique, it was powerful, and it was beautiful.

Anya said, “You don’t think the design aesthetic is immature?” (His response was literal “wtf”, and he was baffled until she shared how my work had been received a few months earlier. His next response? “Wtf is wrong with them?!” The venue, not me.)

Cut to a couple years later. My fiber work had appeared in several exhibitions at the same facility, and the art manager asked me to become one of their permanent exhibitors.

A few days later, as I walked through the craft gallery with my work, that very same person who’d rejected me roundly ran up to me, saying, “I want to talk with you! Those are craft, not art! I want to carry those in my section!”

I told her politely I was there by invitation, but appreciated her enthusiasm. And kept walking to the art manager’s office.

No, my work wasn’t significantly different-same style, same techniques, same colorways, same artifacts. The only difference was, I believe, my work was becoming better known.

My point is, we are hard-wired to pay attention to bad stuff. “Bad stuff” implies a threat, danger, and so we instinctively tune in to it to keep ourselves safe. (Which is why, as I suggested above, all these years later, I can remember the mean things that person said, and can’t quite remember the lovely things that famous artist said.)

If we let this dominate our lives, if we pay too much attention to those who would take us down, we will let them–help them–crush our spirit.

Try not to agonize about the gallery that didn’t work out. Try not to take it personally when someone else wins that prize. Let go of the people who don’t appreciate our art, or our medium, or our subject matter, or anything else people gritch about.

Yes, it’s good to keep in mind we can always do better with our artwork. Our art biz has an arc similar to life. As we know better, we strive to do better, and be better. It’s the same with our art.

Take all the energy generated by disappointment and failure, and channel it right back into the work of your heart.

And I hope, someday, you, too, get a chance to prove your detractors dead wrong!

You can subscribe to the Fine Art Views newsletter here.

 

Rethink on the Reboot

Sometimes a “major change” is simply many tiny changes in outlook.

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I have to admit, simply HOLDING something I’ve created is often enough to reconnect me.

For everyone who wrote me asking why I’m walking away from my art and writing, let me reassure you, I’m not!!!!!

am at what my dear hubby calls “an inflection point”. I’d never heard of that before, except as a math term. But one dictionary describes it as

  1. 1.
    MATHEMATICS
    a point of a curve at which a change in the direction of curvature occurs.
  2. 2.
    US
    (in business) a time of significant change in a situation; a turning point.

That’s what it feels like. A “change” is coming, but I don’t know what it is.

What I do know is, my story hasn’t changed.  I’m not done telling that story! And so my art itself, and my propensity for writing about my art (and what I’ve learned from making it), will not change.

I got lost in trying to pinpoint what was going to change. Stuck in trying to figure that out, because sitting with that has been hard.

Because when we choose not to move forward until we’re sure what that looks like, we lock ourselves into the present while fearing the future. (Perfectionism, thy name is “Luann”….!!)

I had fallen so low in my self-esteem in this flux state that I broke my own rule about giving away my work.

I don’t give my work away to people who expect it to be free, or those who demand I give it to them.

Such a simple rule, and I broke it. To the tune of agreeing to do free work worth thousands of dollars. And to be grateful to the person who said I should do it.

No worries, I walked it back! I’m only out $200, and I consider that a lesson I will never have to learn again. I hope!

I was in the middle of a health crisis (not life-threatening, but life-style threatening), a state of physical and emotional exhaustion, a state of living with uncertainty so long, I couldn’t see the gifts I already have: A home, a family, a loving partner, my health in general, the beauty of the California landscape and seascape, my studio, etc. I’ve been focusing on how close we are to losing many of these gifts, obsessed with security, and my struggle to control our future. (Ha!! Good luck with that, human!)

So I made a few more bad decisions.

But I also made some very, very good decisions.

Like reaching out to family, good friends, old friends, new friends, readers, supporters.

I reached out, and found people who listened, deeply.

I overcame my main worry, that I only reach out when I need help, others will  judge me on my own selfishness (“She only calls when she’s stuck!”)–and found they were genuinely happy to help. Not only that, I found everyone was going through similar stuff, themselves. And they welcomed my help/feedback/support! (“Reciprocity” is a word that’s been resonating with me lately, and I was delighted to engage in it.)

They walked me back from the next bad decisions I’d made. And although I’ve been in a deep funk about who I am, they’ve been holding the memory of who I am, when I’m at my best.

And even better, they shared how much they love and respect me even when I’m at my worst. 

Which gets me to where I am today: Tiny steps forward, and for the first time in months (many months!), holding a tiny bit of hope.

How I got there in a few hours yesterday is what I want to share with you today.

There’s an online class offered by Yale University, and anyone can take it if you can cough up $40. (And if you can’t, there are grants available!)

It’s called The Science of Well-Being, a class based on brain science and scientific evidence, developed and taught by Laurie Santos. It’s been in the news since the course wen’t online in March. It’s quickly become Yale’s most popular course.

The short story is, we don’t really know what we want. We don’t really know what will make us happy. And if we don’t understand what really will, or won’t, make us happy, then our pursuits in life won’t result in happiness.

The first video talked about “A ‘Good’ Job”. When you ask people what they want from a job, it’s often things like “a big salary” and “opportunities to advance”, and “prestige”, etc.

But it turns out those can be misleading goals that don’t necessarily make us happy in the long run. Yes, a livable income is important. But not at the expense of other goals that will actually improve how we feel about life. Like work that appeals to our strengths and values, work that challenges us in a good way, work that provides us opportunities to be “in the zone” or what is now called a “flow” state.

So how do we do that? How do we identify those unique strengths, our important values? How do we learn to nurture them those strengths and values? Because doing so will nurture us, will increase our sense of well-being and happiness.

This isn’t the old 90’s thing about “follow your bliss and the money will follow.” It’s more evidence-based, and doable. This class shows what works, and how to do it right.

After a few hours of work yesterday, I read something that gave me a glimmer of hope that I, too, can figure this out.

One evaluation survey showed that after taking the course, and implementing the (very simple) exercises, almost every student showed an average 30% increase in their sense of happiness.  That’s nice.

But what blew my socks off was this statistic:

On average, every single student also reported a 70% DECREASE in depression.

Think about that.

We all know there’s no such thing as “happy all the time”, or a life filled with constant joy. I think we all shy away from anything that promises that. After all, I’m following my passion in life, and I still struggle with insecurity, a sense of not-doing-it-right, not being able to even pay for my studio rent with my art, and not being able to pay for much of anything from my writing. (A friend was gob-smacked when I told her how little I am paid for my one paid writing gig. And that’s just “the new normal” for free-lance writers.)

So “being happier” was something I’m always a little suspicious of.

And I already know some of the more obvious, popluar goals, like “make more money”, won’t fix everything–especially if I sacrifice integrity and what makes my work powerful. I know fame and celebrity can be a shadow goal, and potentially a self-destructive pursuit.

But the promise I could be less unhappy? Significantly less unhappy?? Bring it on!

That tiny ray of hope, the realization that things really could be better, inside, with a shift in perspective, was enough to raise my spirits.

And the way that happens–aligning key character traits and values with my life mission–is already giving me a wee bit of clarity of what that “inflection point” might be.

As always, I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

And in the meantime, I hope you check out the course, especially if you are also struggling with what would really make you happy!