RISING UP

Yep, that’s the short chair!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Every Problem Needs a Perfect Solution!

After I learned of a friend’s painful loss of a loved one recently, I decided to offer them a gift, a small wallhanging. I checked in on their preferences, gathered my materials, and got to work.

It’s been awhile since I’ve done any sewing/quilting in my studio, from at least before the pandemic shut-downs began. So it was frustrating to realize that the office chair I use at my sewing station is way too low to work efficiently.

Maybe I could swap out the chair for another taller one? Great idea, right? I carefully measured the heights of several swivel chairs, the ones in my studio, and a couple at home. Found one that would work, hauled it to the studio, and brought my former sewing station chair back home. It’s now my computer work-chair.

But when I sat in it today to work at my computer, I realized it was too short for that, too! Argh….

I tried to figure out how to raise the seat. The one I’d just taken to the studio is adjustable, but this one isn’t. (Why not??!) So maybe I just have to move this chair on, and find another one at a thrift shop (where I found all the others.)

Then I realized I have a sofa pillow that isn’t really comfy for sofa-sitting. It’s big, it’s thick, it’s made of rough, scratchy rug material. But it would be perfect for a chair! So I brought it in and tried it out.

It worked!

Ironically, a fellow artist/friend had just emailed me with some questions and concerns (which is why I needed to type an in-depth reply to them.)

But replying to that email is where this thought came from:

Sometimes the solution to a problem is sooooo much simpler than we think….

And sometimes the best solution is right in front of us.

I don’t have to make my chair higher (especially if I can’t!) I didn’t have to swap out chairs. (It was kinda tricky hauling them in and out of the studio, go down steps, load them into the car, etc., especially with my recently-replaced new knee.)

All I had to do was find the right pillow.

My friend was struggling with the need to update their website. Another was overwhelmed with mastering a new (to them) social media site.  A lovely neighbor was sharing how down and out they felt, and they couldn’t understand why.

After publishing that first blog post in a few months, sharing how hard it’s been for to get back into my life after surgery, so many people shared how they’re feeling the same way, with their own hardships and the (seemingly eternal) pandemic.  It’s obvious now that we are all affected by the chaos, the uncertainty, the dark side of the world we live in.

Here’s my advice (which you didn’t ask for, I know, but at least it’s free!):

Sometimes it’s just enough to know you’re not alone. (“We’re all on the same lake, in a different boat.”)

Sometimes a problem has a very simple solution. (But it might take awhile to realize that, and a little experimentation to get that insight!)

Sometimes, we don’t have to master something, especially right away. We just have to take a few steps forward with it.

Sometimes, especially if we already have an audience, it’s not necessary to totally master a social media platform, or to strive to grow our audience. (It can simply be a way to stay in touch with the people who appreaciate who we are, and what we do.)

We don’t have to be perfect. We just have to care about doing (a little) better.

Because, as I said in this little story video years ago, “We don’t have to be good enough. We are enough!”

And how ironic is it that I just noticed the grammatical error in its title! Proof again that the heart of it is more important than the details.

Not all problems have solutions, of course, let alone “easy” solutions. But it helps to truly understand the ones we need to work on, the ones that need our immediate attention, and the ones that can wait a little while.

I hope this helps you find your balance again today. If you’ve already found that place, share it in the comments. Someone else may find your experience enlightening!

If you found this helpful, and know someone else who might find it useful, share it!

And if someone shared this with you, and you found it useful, you can either follow my blog (upper right corner), or sign up for my email newsletter (at the top of my website home page) for more random (but free!) advice.

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

USE YOUR TURN SIGNAL! Another Life Metaphor for Drivers and Artists

My “New England Autumn” art wall.

USE YOUR TURN SIGNAL!

Keep your audience and collectors in touch with your art/life changes!

 On my kitchen wall, the wall that shows up in my Zoom meetings, is a bright red maple leaf. Not a real leaf. It’s hand-carved and painted, in wood. It joins a collection of fall landscape paintings, and like them, holds many memories of living in the Northeast/New England.  (A friend in New Hampshire told me that only three countries in the world host these amazing, colorful trees: The United States, Canada, and Japan.)

There’s a story behind this leaf. (Of course!)

It took place many, many years ago, at a huge 9-day show in New Hampshire, The League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair.

I was still pretty new to the show. Across the aisle from me was a longtime craftsman, who worked in glass. In between the previous year’s show and this one, he switched medium. He now made marvelous nature objects, carved from wood, and painted.

I loved his work, he loved mine, and we had several lovely chats during the show. He had a huge audience, having participated in the show for a long time, and always did well with sales.

Not this year!

His collectors and followers came to his booth. They were stunned to find a completely new body of work. And most of them left fairly quickly, without purchasing anything.

He was stunned to the point of having a panic attack near the end of the first day. (We were told at first he’d had a heart attack, which can mimic the same symptoms, but fortunately a panic attack is non-lethal!) A friend came to cover his booth, (he’s the one who filled me in on the backstory) and a few days later, the artist returned.

He was devastated, of course, and we had a lovely talk.

I told him his new work was beautiful, and in time, he would either regain his audience, or grow a new one. It wasn’t the quality of his work that was failing him. It was catching his long-time audience off-guard. He needed to give them time to adjust.

I know this phenomenon all too well! My work has never fit into anyone else’s “box”, and new work takes time to sell. (Okay, ALL my work takes time. That can get discouraging in hard times, but it has never stopped me.)

He was grateful for my encouragement and insight. The next day, he brought me my maple leaf! And sure enough, even by the end of the fair, his sales were inching up. (Many were new people who were unfamiliar with his former body of work.)

How does this relate to a turn signal while driving? (You know I’ll find a way!)

One of my biggest pet peeves while driving is, when people don’t signal a turn, or a lane change, until they’re actually acting on it. Which isn’t helpful or useful for those of us passing, or approaching an intersection.

Turn signals are for letting others know our intentions. We need to activate that turn signal to let others know we’re going to get into their lane, or slow down to turn soon. (Yes, some people leave them on, which is also confusing. But it’s better to slow down when we don’t have to, rather than maintain our speed, not knowing what they plan to do.)

If this artist had prepared his audience, alerted them of his intentions…

If he had send out a postcard, or an email newsletter, letting them know he was switching gears/directions/media…

They would not have been so surprised when he showed up with a totally new body of work.

Instead, he caught them off-guard, unsure what to say, being disappointed the work they’d grown to love was no longer available.

In fact, he could have even staged a sell-off of his other work from his studio. (This was before the days of online shopping and artist websites!) It would have given his faithful collectors a last chance to purchase his work, and generated some excitement and interest in his new work.

Of course, in these days of social media and our intense use of email newsletters, more people can be aware of our own life lane-changes. We can use these powerful tools to keep our audience informed: New work. New media. New techniques. New studio location.

That little red wood leaf is a powerful reminder for me:

Stay in touch!

PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #3: Who’s On Your Team?

20201208_131746.jpg

My next step? More artifacts!

This article was published on Fine Art Views.

PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #3: Who’s On Your Team?

Don’t sell yourself short when facing new challenges!

 (5 minute read)

In last week’s Fine Art Views column, What’s the Hard Part?, I shared how trying to figure out a new project in advance has its disadvantages.  I talked about how simply starting with my best guesses helped me move forward steadily, one little step at a time.

I got inspiration from a blog post by Seth Godin, who posed this issue as a team project. But many creatives, especially artists of all kinds, don’t have a “team”. Yep, it can get lonely over here!

But even as I was thinking that, I realize we all DO have a team. It’s just not what we normally think of as a “team”.

We have skills. Creative work is just that: Creative. Making something that wasn’t in the world before we made it. It doesn’t come out of nowhere, of course. But it does come from US. Wherever we got our skills, whether or not we went to art school, or took workshops, or are self-taught, we didn’t show up in the world with those skills. We acquired them. Yes, we may be quick learners (or not), we may have innate talent (or not), but know this: Nobody is born knowing how to play the piano. We had to put ourselves out there and practice, practice, practice to get where we are today.

 We have an attitude. We found something that called to us, whether it’s painting on a canvas, writing a story, playing an instrument, etc. We may have been told we weren’t good enough, or that we couldn’t make a living at it, or a ton of other discouraging words. But we wanted it. And so we took up our creative work, pursued it with all our heart, and got those above-mentioned skills.

We make time for it. We can have tons of talent and oodles of practice. But if we don’t make time in our lives to actually do the work, well, it simply won’t be in the world. In fact, time is something that can give us our best excuse for NOT doing something that matters to us. (See “challenges” below.) In order for us to have a ‘body of work’, we had to make room for actually making it in our lives.

We chose our medium(s). This may seem like a no-brainer, but it isn’t. Some people choose their art medium because of the automatic respect they believe they’ll get from it (like oil paints over acrylic, for example.) That’s okay. But in fact, most of us choose our medium because of how it meshes with our own personal habits, quirks, and preferences. Each medium has its costs, drawbacks, and benefits, each forces us to interact differently with it. I quickly grew frustrated in my one acrylic painting class, because the paint dried too fast. I couldn’t play around with it, blend it, etc. I can’t even imagine working with watercolor! Knowing our work preferences and process helps us see our works-in-progress more clearly.

We know our materials. We know what substrates (canvas, paper, wood panels, for example) will work best with which media, and how to prepare them. We know which glue to use with what (and if we don’t, we know how to find out!) We’ve learned what color blending techniques to use, how to construct an effective color palette, what kind of clay to use in our potter, what glazes to use, how long to fire polymer clay, what our preferred method of book-binding is, etc. etc. etc.

We know our process. In my own box art path, I’ve learned that epoxy and silicon construction glues can be very useful in putting several boxes together. But they have their drawbacks, too. I used them until they didn’t work for me (e.g. in some cases, the glue bond is stronger than the old wood I’m attaching it too. Ask me how I know.) Then I had to try something else.

We have experience with solving problems. So many of us (ME!!) forget this. We’ve gotten used to success with what we’ve learned. We forget how hard it was when we started out. We forget how long it took us to master our craft. And yet (see note about playing the piano above) we got to where we are today because we persevered. Because…

We have experience with ‘challenge’. I see them on social media every day! Painting of the day. 100 Days projects. They’ve been popular work-inspirations for years, but are even more popular now. Joining them takes commitment, and a little courage, too. And it helps that we make time for them, because we’ve gotten good at that, too. (See “time” above.) And I’m amazed at the already-talented people who then share how much they learned through these challenges. They were forced out of their comfort zone, and into new territory.

We have goals and dreams. We all had dreams as children. Some of us wanted to be a fireman, some of us wanted to play sports, or music, some of us wanted to be an artist. Not all of us followed our hearts, of course, and our goals and dreams can change along the way. But even people who “fall into” their calling, have to persevere to make it happen. In my article about graduates of The Juilliard School, we can see that we only lose our dreams when we walk away from them. And most people do that because they believe they aren’t good enough, or it’s not worth all of our effort. Those who persist, have to get over that hurdle, too. Because…

We know how to believe in ourselves, and we know the power of that. Oh, sure, I know I am not “the best” polymer clay artist in the world. Every day, I see people with ten times the talent I have. That can slow me down. But it will never stop me. I have a vision in my head, I have big dreams in my heart, I have projects that are begging to be in the world. Because they are my voice in the world.

And once I got back to my place of power, finding the key that helped me to just try, I made progress. Slowly, but surely, I used what knowledge I had until I found a better solution. And I kept that up until I got something satisfying, something that I knew was going to work. (Let me show you my enormous bracket-and-screws collection….!!)

So the next time you feel like you’ve hit a wall, like you’ve got a creative problem you just can’t figure out, think about what’s worked for you along the way.

 Social media marketing is a biggie and will be as long as our “new normal” is in place. Some of the most talented creatives I know are in a frantic limbo with Facebook, Instagram, newsletters, etc. They are overwhelmed, feel under-prepared, and are freaking out.

My advice for you today: You didn’t get to where you are today by chance, by accident, or through lack of skills.

You got to where you are by not giving up, by moving forward, one small step at a time.

 And because your ‘team’ has been with you, every step of the way.

Next week, I’ll share another powerful member of your team. Stay tuned! Until then, know that your comments are always welcome, often insightful, and sometimes inspirational, too! Shares, the same. Questions, I’ll do my best! You can find more of my articles at Fine Art Views, and/or visit/subscribe to them at my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

PROBLEM-SOLVING FOR CREATIVES #2: What’s the Hard Part?

Fortunately, having enough artifacts will NOT be a problem!
Fortunately, having enough artifacts will NOT be a problem!

What’s the Hard Part?

(5 minute read)

I had a problem this week. I didn’t know what to write about for my next column.

Last week, I wrote about how I got through the roadblocks that held me back from a project I dreamed of years ago. When I wrote it, I was at the end of a major first part: Building the wood box shrines that will showcase my handmade artifacts.

Here’s what I wasn’t prepared for: I didn’t know how to solve the next step. And I felt like a loser once again. Overwhelmed, no energy, self-doubt up the wazoo.

In fact, I felt even more pressure on myself! After all, I’d just joyously announced I had plenty of shrines constructed, and now I was ready for the next step. Except now I could see there would be even more trial-and-error aspects ahead. It felt like I’d climbed one mountain, only to see that I was only on the first peak. I still hadn’t actually reached the top. (I looked this up, and yes, a mountain can have several peaks, points that are individually higher than the surrounding/adjacent areas. But only one is the actual summit, the highest peak. Huh.)

So I hit my first peak and was a little dismayed to realize there were more ahead.

Today’s blog post by Seth Godin clarified my dilemma neatly:

“What’s the hard part?”

The title alone helped me move forward. Because getting through the first ‘hard part’ taught me something important:

Trying to solve things in our heads is doing it the hard way.

 What we really need first is a foundation to build on.

My husband is a writer/journalist/programmer. Quite a mix, I know! He taught himself coding back in the 1980’s, and though he says he’s not “the best”, he’s mastered it enough to achieve his current career goals.

He’s been working on a project for a year now, and last week, he had a major breakthrough, too, like I had six months ago with my own project.

Today, I asked him what brought about the breakthrough.

He didn’t understand at first, so I asked, “Did you have an inspiration, like a dream (like Elias Howe, sewing machine guy) or while thinking about something else (like Archimedes taking a bath)?

He said, “I had to build the foundation first. Everything I want to do, depends on creating that first.”

Aha! Like a building. The foundation not only holds everything up, but it determines the size, shape, and function of the structure. A skyscraper office building requires a totally different foundation than a house.

He finished the foundation. And then he realized he was ready to start making the functions that depend on that foundation. (He also hit a wall, just like I did with my shrines!) (Yes, we’re both recovering nicely, and moving forward again.)

A foundation means we have a vision of where we want to go, and we have concrete (sorry!) ideas of how to get there, even if we don’t have everything else figured out yet.

Even those famous inventers had a deep understanding of what the problem was, before they could experiment with solutions. They had to know what was missing before they could fill in the blank spaces.

Archimedes’ “Eureka” moment didn’t come out of nowhere. He understood the problem was identifying pure gold from gold-and-silver. His bathtub gave him an insight. In fact, a list of dream-inspired insights show us that all of the inventors/writers/creatives were already working on the problem/mystery they wanted to solve. I love how Wikipedia even has a section on “activation synthesis hypothesis” in the dream-inspired insights article. It acknowledges that our conscious brain plays a huge part in these insights, even when we’re asleep. Even if the dream seems metaphorical, our conscious mind will actively seek and identify that “metaphor”.

In my case, a shrine series started with how to find enough boxes, how to pair up those boxes efficiently, how to distress, paint, and antique those boxes. And the hardest part, how to connect them together in an efficient, strong, aesthetically-pleasing way.

And once I’d made “enough” shrines to get started on actually putting artifacts in them, I stalled a bit. But now I have air beneath my wings again.

What’s the hard part?

The biggest one is setting aside our fears and our self-doubt. Whether our projects involve coming up with a new series, a new process, a new technique, a new approach to our art, even exploring social media marketing, trying to do it in our heads may only take us so far.

At some point, we have to simply try.

And if it matters to us, we have to keep trying.

 Hold in your heart my favorite quote by Thomas Edison:

“I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

Fortunately, getting adept at using social media marketing is not nearly as difficult! It can sound daunting, and it can take time to get there. There are plenty of great resources available to us, including FASO’s own AMP (Art Marketing Playbook) series of recorded Zoom workshops hosted by FASO’s Chief Marketing Officer, Dave Geada. (I did not realize you can try this program free for a month. Nothing stopping you now, right?)

But in order to get results, you simply have to try. When it comes to social media marketing, you have to actually take pics of your creative work (so much easier now!), upload those images, get comfortable talking/sharing/connecting online, and then get better.

Our first foundation is creating those accounts, and getting started. We have to stop worrying about how hard it seems, set aside our worries of being copied, what to share and say, worrying about how to get 10,000 followers, etc.

We have to get over counting the “likes” and focus on simply getting our art out into the world.

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

 Seth’s blog talks about “the team”, which through me for a moment. Until I figured that out, too! Stay tuned for next week’s article in this series: What is our team, and what is our team effort?

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

NEWSLETTERS 101 #18: Love (and Art) in the Time of Covid-19

Bear tells me, "Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep." Perfect advice for 2021!
Bear tells me, “Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep.” Perfect advice for 2021!

There’s no perfect way to get through 2020 and beyond. So just do what works for YOU! 

(8 minute read)

I’ve never sought out positions on boards or steering committees, despite being involved with quite a few art organizations in my life.

I don’t have a “head” for leadership. I hate bossing people around. I mean, I love having my own way, but when I think I know what’s best for others, I fail miserably.

But over the years, I have volunteered for many these same orgs. Oh, I’ll complain along with everyone else about rules and regulations, how things are done, etc. But then I realize that the best way to find out the WHY is to join that committee, and learn.

I love peeking behind the curtain to see what’s going on!

It’s tempered my entire approach about shows, galleries, art groups, organizations, etc. And it also gives me a new perspective about the people who complain, but never take the time to find out WHY.

 My all-time favorite was sitting next to another fine craftsperson at a gathering during a major show, and listening to them complain non-stop about the committee I served on. After addressing almost all of their complaints, with the stories behind the decisions, I said, “Hey, you should join us, maybe you have some great suggestions for us!” (I said this with a straight face, too.)

They said, “How much do they pay you to serve?”

I nearly died laughing.

Apparently, it had never occurred to them that committees in art organizations are rarely, if ever, compensated for the dozens, or even hundreds of hours they put in, as a volunteer.

This year, despite my misgivings, I did join as a member of a steering committee. I’ve been given a relatively-easy committee to head, one that I actually might be okay with.

It was eye-opening on so many levels.

First, I was truly impressed by the quality of work this group does to pull off some pretty major events here in Northern California. I couldn’t believe all the details, permutations, roles these people played, how well they remembered every step of the process, and how quickly they reviewed and updated them.

Me? I forgot this article was due yesterday.

 I couldn’t help wondering what I brought to the table, if anything.

I soon found out. I had to take part in a phone tree to make sure artists had gotten the invitation to participate in our next event, an open studio tour mid-year, in 2021.

I hate making phone calls. I don’t even call friends or family members. (I just found out this year this is a major sign that I am an introvert at heart, though I can fake extrovert for short periods.)

I didn’t know what to expect, but I got the whole gamut of responses.

This year’s event had been cancelled shortly before it took place, due to (duh) Covid-19. Every effort was made to offer refunds for those who opted out, and a lot of planning and work went into making it a virtual event. An entirely new website was created, the event was pushed back and combined with a similar event. I was asked to volunteer with that, and put in easily 50 hours of work.

I made zero sales. I did two more virtual events that same month, and they all tanked for me.

Many of the artists I called had had the same experience (without the volunteer time.) Some accepted the new normal going forward. Some weren’t sure if they were willing to commit. And a few were quite angry over how this year’s event (that was cancelled) was handled.

I get it. I really do. And yet…

I chose to look at the gifts instead of the loss.

 Years ago, I did some major wholesale and retail high-end craft shows on the East Coast. I knew I had to put in a few years for each one before they would pay off.

But first came 9/11. Sales tanked for everyone. And every year after that, it seemed like a couple months before that show, we would invade some country in the Mid-East. I barely paid for my expenses. My last year, all three major wholesale shows tanked and I was in debt up to my eyeballs.

It was hard. But I learned so much.

I learned that there is no guaranteed success with any business venture we undertake. Even my writing, which used to bring in $300-$450/per article, tanked. I now make about 10% of that, and most of those opportunities have disappeared anyway.

I learned it takes time to build an audience, even in “normal” times. My very first open studio in New Hampshire, with a prestigious art group, I had zero visitors. The second year I had one, a nice young man who was very stoned. We had a very nice chat. I hope he remembers that! The third year, my studio was packed every day, and I made about a third of my income from one event.

I learned that an event with a catalog costs a lot of money. In those days, before the internet became a key component of my marketing, I would place ads in magazines associated with those events. It cost a minimum of $350 for one quarter-page ad, in a magazine that had a shelf life on 1-4 weeks.

So when I learned that a catalog accompanied my participation in this event, for the same money, a ‘magazine’ with a shelf life of a YEAR, I considered it a bargain.

 A great show/event catalog is worth its weight in gold.

 I’ve also learned that when we pay our fees, that money is used almost instantly to pay for all the resources: Design work for website modifications and ads and the catalogs, salaries (salaries for non-profits are usually at below-market rates compared to commercial businesses), etc. When an event is cancelled, the org does not get that money back. Design costs alone for this year’s catalog were almost $10,000, not including printing.

Our org has learned what works and what doesn’t with this process. Everyone involved has worked really, really hard to not only keep the organization going (which supports so many different kinds of creative work), but to improve the experience for its artist members.

And here we are today, at Fine Art Views, which dedicated all its efforts towards assisting us with the “new normal” and focusing on social media marketing.

It can work. For one thing, I had an uptick in sales in August, a very nice uptick. I couldn’t figure out where they came from, as none of them came through any of the online events. All of them came from my Etsy shop. Finally, I realized they were from my audience in NH! I haven’t been back in person to do the show. But since the entire show was virtual this year, I was at the same “level” as everyone else. I am so grateful to the League of NH Craftsmen!

In short (I know, it’s too late to make this short!) things are different. “Sure things” aren’t solid right now. Sales are off, it’s hard to connect with people/customers in person, and we all hate the loss of paying customers, and hate not knowing how, or when this will all get better.

But in a way, my life as a creative has ALWAYS been all over the map.

I’m grateful these art orgs are trying to stay in place, so they can be a support and outlet for us. I’m in awe at the people who work so hard to keep us moving forward, from a non-profit’s show committee, to the team at FASO.

I’m grateful I have an online shop, my own website, and system for marketing my art online.

I’m proud to be contributing to the safety of our country and part of a culture that values customer safety over profits.

I know if I can’t sell my work, 10,000 years from now, archeologists will have a blast when they unearth my studio.

I feel lucky that I still have a studio to go to, especially during these dark cold winter months.

And I am grateful that I can still make my work, because it brings me joy when I finish my latest projects.

As I shared some of these insights I’ve had over the years, many people softened re: their anger, their fear, their uncertainty. (That, or I bored them to tears and they said they’d consider joining just to get me off the phone!)

What are YOUR tiny blessings you’ve found in the moment? What have YOU learned in a lifetime of making your art? Doing shows? Sharing your art with the world?

What have YOU done to show your appreciation for what others have done for you, and for your passion for making art?

What are YOUR hopes and dreams for 2021?

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

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

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

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

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

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

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

(4 minute read)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love it when I come across them again.

Because I still need them.

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

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

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

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

I don’t think so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

 

LEARNING TO SEE #7: The Making is About More Than Just the Selling

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.

LEARNING TO SEE #7: The Making is About More Than Just the Selling

Money is GREAT, but it’s also not EVERYTHING!

(7 minute read)

Years ago, when I had a fairly-reliable audience in New England, and galleries all over the country carrying my work, it wasn’t hard to be inspired to make stuff. I knew there would be a “place” for everything I made, and eventually a permanent home for it, too.

Then the recession hit. Then silver prices skyrocketed. (OH THANK YOU PEOPLE WHO TREAT METAL MARKETS LIKE A GAME.) The high price of sterling silver made my jewelry work more expensive. The recession caused many of my galleries to shutter, or to ‘play it safe’ with their inventory. In fact, I used to have a very liberal wholesale return/exchange policy, until many gallery owners used it to constantly replace slow-moving inventory with new work. And everyone wanted my cheapest least expensive work, which was truly disheartening.

As more and more old inventory was returned, as sales fell, it was harder and harder for me to go to my studio and make new work. Old work was all around me. “Why bother?” I thought. “Nobody wants it.”

Slowly, the economy recovered, although many of those national accounts did not. I focused on more local resources, and maintained some degree of success.

Then we moved to California, leaving my biggest audience and events behind. (The League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Craft Fair, and my open studio events, which took about three years to really take off.)

Growing an audience here in California felt like ‘starting over’, until I realized I wasn’t starting over from scratch. I knew I had more experience, more skills, and more insights than when I first started out.

And yet it does take time to introduce our work to a new audience, and it has.

Then we had the wildfire in 2018. And 2019. My open studios tanked, as events were curtailed and postponed. And then, just as our open studio tour committees were in talks about how to work around wildfire season, the coronavirus lifted its knobby little head. All events have been postponed indefinitely. All my galleries here in Sonoma County, and New Hampshire are closed. One went out of business and returned a sh…  a lot of work.

My studio is now filled with inventory. And that old feeling of “Why do I even bother?” filled my days. (Then the kidney stone thing, but that’s resolved, thank goodness! 22 DAYS!! Sheesh…)

Soon I had more inventory in my studio than ever. And for a week, I struggled to make anything, because, “Why bother??”

Then a small miracle happened here.

The first was my husband offering me his old sound-cancelling headphones, so I could listen to music on my smartphone. I have a CD player, but playing it loud enough so I can hear it means it could impact my neighbors. Because I can hear THEIR music, and it distracts me. Plus I have to constantly hit the replay button. Ear buds hurt my ears, and don’t give me the best sound quality, either. And I can’t work efficiently to music with words. ) (I know, I’m weird!) And I hate hearing other people talking in their studios, the studios on the floor above me, and next to mine.

Second, I discovered a composer/musician, Poppy Ackroyd, whose music is a perfect fit for me. Her three-song sampler from her album, Feathers, was the perfect choice. It plays over and over, the tunes are hypnotic. Suddenly, my production was in overdrive.

Even when my health issues disrupted my new routine, it only took a week or so to find my happy place.

Happy place.

Happy Place!

My sacred creative space is now my happy place. Being ‘in the zone’ brings peace, and clarity. I work for hours, barely conscious of time passing. It feels wonderful!

This is old hat for many of you, if you follow my blog. Or articles here on Fine Art Views.

I do the work I do, make it the way I do, because it makes me happy. It brings peace in my mind, and in my heart. My space is MY space, not shared with anyone, unless I let them in for a visit or a conversation. (Not now, of course!)

My studio, and my art-making, is where I am restored to my highest, best self, every day.

When I first started my little biz, it was with the realization that NOT MAKING was killing me, emotionally, spiritually. Realizing I had to make work that lifted me first. It was the realization that if one person in a million loved my work, that was enough.

With that insight came incredible focus, a desire to be the best I could be, and the determination to learn everything I could about marketing and selling my work. Sales are good, yes. But mostly, I wanted my artwork out in the world, where anyone could see it.

With that determination came a powerful artist statement, one I still use after 25 years. The insight that the Lascaux Cave paintings weren’t created to ‘make money’ or ‘gain celebrity’ helped. One person scoffed at my story, saying, “Those paintings were about SURVIVAL, nothing more!” To which I replied, “So is a cathedral.”

That’s why getting to the “why” behind our work is so important. It’s a superpower!

Because if we focus on money, and sales, and fame, and prestige, all of which are desirable and “not evil” in their own right, it can be devastating when we don’t have them.

If we measure our success in terms of our sales, it can subtly erode the joy we get simply from “the making”.

And in times like these, where everybody is suffering, afraid, feeling alone and unconnected, having access to simply making our art and sharing it is a powerful force for good in our lives.

Here’s another gift in keeping with the making.

Sales in my Etsy shop have tripled. Custom orders appear out of nowhere.*

I’m still struggling, financially, but that’s not new. What is astonishing, is that, for now, there are people in the world more determined than ever to have my art in their homes, in their lives.

In ancient times, shamans were healers, teachers, and artists. They were charged with keeping their people whole in every way. Cave paintings were created with the entire community present: Men, women, children. And we know now that many of those shamans were women.

In these modern times, we can be shamans, too.

Making our work for the right reasons—to restore ourselves to our highest, best place—heals us. Then we share it with the world: It heals others. And by encouraging others to find their own creative work, we teach them the value of what they do.

Hard times come in all shapes and sizes, from personal health to worldwide pandemics. Hard times are always with us: Pain. Grief. Sorrow. Injustice. Anger. Resentment. Lost. Alone.

When, on top of that, we lose any measure of our financial success, it can feel like the final straw.

Yet all creative work helps us heal, from painting to singing, from RomCom movies to tap dancing, from a good book to computer games. All can help us relax, enjoy, distance, hunker down safely, make us laugh, help us connect (virtually for now), calm us down.

The world needs our art more than ever.

If you’ve found a great way to stay centered in your creative practice, share it in the comment section below.  When you share with your comments, you may help someone else who needs to hear it. (Ironically, on Fine Art Views, it’s below the ad for “Sell Your Work Like a Pro!) (Although I will say that FASO is one of the most awesome web-hosting sites I’ve ever seen, with a lot of good people working hard every day to help us earn some bucks from our creative work.*) (And “Like a Pro” means “the best way possible, with integrity.)

As always, if you enjoyed this article, let me or my editor know! If you’d like to read more, you can either read more of my articles on Fine Art Views or subscribe to my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com. You can visit my older articles in the wayback machine at Radio Userland. (They are harder to search for, but they are also shorter!)

If you think someone else would like it, please forward it to them. And if someone sent you this, and you liked it, ditto!

*These sales came from a FASO feature I was unaware of. If I post new work in my Gallery section, my email subscribers get an automatic update! Check it out here!

 

LEARNING TO SEE #5: This Is Us

We have the power of our choices, even our tiniest choices, every day, literally and figuratively.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

LEARNING TO SEE #5: This Is Us

Sometimes dark times help us see the light within.

(7 minute read)

 

It’s a dreary day today.

Rain. (Not much light in the studio on days like this.) Chilly. (Get the wool socks out again!) Frustrating in the smallest detail (our greediest little cat successfully snagged all the food our frail senior cat, despite me sitting two feet away–again!)

I’m almost out of cream for my coffee, a promised check from a customer has yet to arrive, I just saw how much I spent “stocking up” on supplies last month (YIKES!), and there seems to be no end in sight for you-know-what-I’m-talkin’-about.

I’m down down down with a problematic health issue that literally appeared out of nowhere two weeks ago, and there’s no end in sight there, either. A family member lost their job last month, tempers are stretched, and sitting on the porch in the evening has turned into a yak-fest with complete strangers, as everyone is desperate to talk with anyone else. My studio is a mess, I’ve lost interest in going to it, and I just want to huddle under the covers all day, with a cat or two to snuggle with. (NOT YOU, GREEDY BEAN!)

And yet, as I sit here listing the downers, I’m ashamed. Ashamed of focusing on what is wrong while choosing blatantly to recognize what is good.

We are okay-for now. That’s all we can count on, all any of us can count on. No one in our family has Covid-19 (though I would argue a kidney stone is almost as scary, but at least it’s only affecting me!) Some family members are far away, but they are okay, too.

We have what we need: Food, shelter, silly pets to amuse us (EXCEPT FOR YOU, BEAN YOU BAD GIRL), plenty of TV shows and movies to catch up to, and working internet for work, connection, entertainment, information.

It’s not as cold as New Hampshire right now (NO SNOW!! YES!!) And we really need the rain, so complaining about it seems pretty petty.

As our world feels smaller and more cramped, it’s tempting to compare it to what we had, and what others have, that we do not.

And yet, this weird time has also opened my eyes to a huge truth we all “know”, but never really believed:

All those people who have more-than-us, in every sense, are still people just like us.

I’m talking about the people who live in huge mansions, bigger than every house I’ve ever lived in put all together, who still complain how bored they are.

I’m talking about the famous people we admire, whether they be saints or sinners, movie stars and music stars, the people with fame and fortune we secretly aspire to be, with our own creative work.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to have people clamoring for our work? What would it be like to name any price on our art, and get it? Being in that prestigious gallery who would do all that hateful marketing/promoting/selling for us-and we just get a check sent to us, every month?

What would it be like to walk the red carpet, to accept that award, to give that speech, to have people clamoring for our attention, to have thousands, millions of people hanging on our every word?

There are three things that bring me back to my own world this morning:

  • I’m rereading The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, and reminding myself why being famous has its own dark side.
  • Complaining about the rain when we desperately NEED the rain, right now, reminds me that I may be the center of my own universe, but I’m not the center of anyone else’s. There are far worse situations to be in than mine, health issues not-withstanding, and rather than complaining, maybe I should be looking at ways to help others who are much, much worse off.
  • Famous, successful people are just people like us, with (usually) better haircuts, makeup, and clothes.

As we watch our ‘stars’ perform in their homes, without all the props and makeup that make them look almost inhumanly beautiful, we see them for who they are: People like us.

As we watch them deliver their routines without an audience, we see how hard it is to get that ‘lift’ that comes from an appreciative audience’s response (laughter and cheers).

As we watch them sing, we note that though most do have terrific voices, it’s also obvious who has gained by having a lot of support behind them: Great venues to perform in, back-up singers, sound mixers, amps, etc.

Famous people are just people, perhaps with nicer homes, better support, more money, more options. But they are still just people, as fragile and frustrated as we are, and sometimes dealing with more crap and actual threats to their safety, too.

As we watch how other people handle the current shelter-in-place orders (or how they DON’T handle them), we understand that every person feels put-upon in their own unique way. Everyone is suffering. As a fellow writer exclaimed years ago, “It’s like we’re all on the same lake in a different boat!” And some people don’t even have a boat….

Here’s the gift of being an artist today:

We don’t need to be famous to have an audience for our work.

We don’t need an audience in front of us to make our work.

We don’t need the approval of others to make our work.

With the internet, we don’t need the acceptance by a specific gallery to share our work with the world.

We don’t necessarily need to make a living at our art, to have it in our lives.

In the end, we are just people. People who have a knack, or talent, or skill, whether it’s an innate sense of color and design, or simply perseverance and the desire to do the best we can with what we’ve got.

We’re people who found a way to have a voice in the world, and we are allowed to use it.

We’re people who, when we make the work of our heart, find we can actually lift the hearts of others, too. IF we share it.

All this ‘marketing-speak’ boils down to this: It’s just a way to get our art-and story–in front of others, without spending very much money, with a certain amount of time and effort, with a camera/smartphone, and access to the internet. That’s all.

And in the midst of all this, though I woke up feeling physically and emotionally down-trodden, just writing this has lifted my heart a little.

Just thinking about my own superpower-the ability to make something that looks like it might be 10,000 years old, with its own mystery and yearning, with a substance that’s only three or four decades old, that only needs a little oven to ‘cure’; the ability to write down my thoughts, to consider my current state-of-mind and ask “why so sad?” and to count my blessings; the self-knowledge that if I go to my studio today, I will definitely find some small but comforting feeling of “I can do this; all of these come from my art-making, my own Throne of Iron. Er…plastic.

I just realized I’m not mad at Bean anymore, either.

We have the power of our choices, even our tiniest choices, every day, literally and figuratively.

Today, I can listen to all those little voices, the ones that want to keep me safe by keeping me small, frightened, caring too much what other people think, too worried about a future I cannot see nor control.

Or I can listen to my mighty heart, which knows what I can control and what I can’t, and to embrace the former while acknowledging and letting go of the latter.

I can listen to my mighty heart, which has always known “Not everyone will be a fan” and yet persevere, with what matters to me.

I can listen to my mighty heart, which whispers, “Be the artist you were always meant to be”, and be grateful I know how powerful this truly is. To have the ability, and the power, to choose this.

If we are quiet, if we listen to our heart today, accepting the “no”, but reaching for the “yes”, what would be possible today?

What is getting YOU through these confusing, trying times? Share your happy place in the comments! I’d love to hear them. But even more important….

There may be someone on the other side of the globe that needs to hear what you have to say, today. Right now.

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.

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.

WHAT WE LOST: Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks

Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks
Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks

What We Lost

Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks

(8 minute read) 

I had a great idea for this week’s column. “Had”, not have. Because….where do I start??

Six months ago, I tried to clear my computer of old emails, because Google said I was “out of storage space.” My husband said it’s mostly photos that take up most of the space, so at first I only deleted emails with images already stored on my computer.

But the numbers didn’t go down much, so I began to delete more and more. At one point, my actions were moving so slowly, I thought I was doing it wrong, so I would hit “delete” several times before I’d see messages disappear. Which resulted in me accidentally deleting EVERY SINGLE EMAIL before 2018.

I didn’t think it would matter, until I realized a) that meant every single article I’ve sent to various magazines and online venues by email was also deleted; b) important conversations I wanted to refer back to were deleted; c) orders to companies for critical goods and services I only use every few years, were deleted.

Every week, there’s something I think of, and go, “Oh, I’ll search my email for that!” And then realize it’s gone, gone, gone.

Six weeks ago, I also got clarity on how to move forward with a project I’ve long carried in my heart. I needed to create my own “mounts” for displaying artifacts. I actually took an online class on mount-making for museum mounts just before we moved to California. I still have the book, I’m sure I saw it around that time, and went to look for it last week.

I can’t find it anywhere. I looked at home. Nope. I thought maybe I took it to the studio, but can’t find it there, either. I searched all my storage space at home. Nada. So I looked for it online, but it’s out of print. And Bookfinder.com, which usually comes to the rescue, only showed the folks that sell out-of-print books for thousands of dollars. I thought, “Oooh, I could search my emails for the rich conversations I had with my online teacher!” Then remembered….Oh, poo.

About that great idea for this column. I wrote it down, as is my habit, in my notebook, where I write down everything I need to remember: chores, appointments, commitments, insights, and yes, ideas for columns. I typically get 2-4 months of entries in each one, so that’s how much time is represented in each one.

Last Friday, I lost that notebook. I’ve searched high and low for it, even home, studio, storage. I’ve looked under furniture, car seats, inside backpacks packed for the fire evacuation, etc. I even called places I visited that day, asking if anyone has seen it or turned it in.

I feel like my brain is breaking!

And my biggest fear: This is a metaphor for the biggest fear for many of us, as we age, the loss of our memory. Scary stuff!

But is that the best metaphor?

Are we living computers, with memory that prevails for ages until injuries or conditions take them away? Is everything we “remember” even true? Are all our judgments and decisions that important over time?

Even as I wrote that, I looked once more on Bookfinder.com for the book, and found a copy that was affordable.

I visited a great hardware store that sold the brass rods I need to make those mounts, bringing samples and images of what I needed them for. A customer service rep assured me that making my own L hooks would be time-consuming, and there was an easier way to make those mounts with glue.

Yes, I miss the emails, still. But the articles aren’t actually “gone”, because they are somewhere in my documents file, even though it’s increasingly hard to find them. I will always regret some of the wonderful email conversations I’ve enjoyed over the years, but the healing, wisdom, and care I received from those are still with me.

And of course our most recent experience with our California wildfires helps put this all into perspective…..

The Kinkade fire was similar to the Tubbs fire in 2017 that destroyed 5% of the homes in Santa Rosa, except it wasn’t. Winds were less sustained, fire crews had more support, and they learned from the Tubbs fire. Almost 3,000 homes (over 5,000 buildings) burned in the Tubbs fire. Only 150 homes were lost in the Kinkade fire. There was more information available, because the lessons learned from 2017. Still not perfect, but a lot better. And most important? 22 people died in the Tubbs fire. The Kinkade fire? Zero.

This time, we had more time to think about what to take and what to leave behind, should we have to evacuate. I found it harder to leave my studio than our home!

These losses, real and imagined, concrete and anticipated, all sit in my heart today. Here are the gifts I’ve found there:

It’s hard for us to think about our unsold work, especially if it tends to outnumber our SOLD work. But at least it will go somewhere. It might sell after we pass, it may be gifted, it may be found in antique galleries and thrift shops, or heck, a yard sale! But that’s still better than having it all destroyed, for all time.

I’m frustrated at all the information I lost in that notebook. But I can find some of the more vital information (for taxes, etc.) I usually have a separate notebook for my more emotional/spiritual/blorting writing, and I still have all those! In fact, as I came across them while searching for my last journal, I’ve been pulling them out of storage and rereading them. My favorite so far is the year I recorded every funny thing my kids said. So many things I did not remember, until I read them again! So many setbacks and recoveries. So many problematic people for me to complain about, and so much insight gained on some, from good people.

The self-doubt I thought was new? Turns out I’ve had it since I took up my art! Yes, I was fearless in practice. But I still had to write my way to that place of power, over and over and over.

It was poignant to reread all my “biggest visions” and dreams I had for my art, that seem pretty small compared to the ones I’ve made in the last few months. Maybe I’ll surprise myself again, with even bigger ones!

It was empowering to read of the “dream galleries” I yearned to be accepted by, and so I get to contemplate the ones that worked out, and the ones that didn’t –and why.

We tend to think our lives, and our art career, as constantly moving forward, building and growing, or, if we’ve lost hope, stalled and pointless, when in reality there are peaks and valleys, profits and loss, insights and changes-of-heart, every step of the way.

Some of the things that felt like enormous roadblocks at the time, I usually referred to as “that incident”, or initials (if a person), and I can’t even remember who or what those were! They felt monumental at the time (and were!) And that stuff still happens, and will continue to happen. Hopefully, I will continue to move past them, and maybe even forget these, too.

And in the last year, several dear friends from my artistic path have popped up on my radar. No need to have those email conversations from decades ago! We now have new ones to savor and cherish.

That great idea I had for a column? It will either pop again, or it will be lost forever. No matter. Losing it inspired me to write this one instead.

I have a lot of unsold work in my studio. No matter! If it’s still around after I die, somebody will enjoy it, somehow. (I tell my kids how to manage my art and supplies when I’m gone: Give everybody a big bag to fill and charge them $250. They’ll make a mint!)

Even trying to jot down every idea, inspiration, question, isn’t proof against forgetting something, even something important.

Every day we will overlook an opportunity to get better, do better, find better, help better.

 And every day, we will find a new one.

As you make the work of your art, know that we can never be completely in control of our hopes, our thoughts, our intentions, our efforts.

We can only do our best. Because we are only human. Imperfect, inefficient, bad memories, displaced anger, trying to see our path in a firestorm of life events. 

It’s our greatest flaw, and our greatest super power.  Especially because we are artists, makers, creatives, constantly striving to use our work to have our say in the world, to tell our story, in ways that are good for the world. 

Embrace it! Go to the studio today, and make something that brings you joy.

And hold on to your dreams. Even one small step today will bring you closer to their fruition. You won’t know until you try.

If you enjoyed this today, please share it with someone you think would enjoy it, too!

If someone sent you this, and you’d like more of the same, subscribe to Fine Art Views for more insights from different artists.  And if you want to read more of my writing, subscribe to my blog at at LuannUdell.wordpress/com.

NO POWER: Lessons From the Fires

NO POWER: Lessons From the Fires

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 we have to lose our power before we realize we've had it all along.

Sometimes we have to lose our power before we realize we’ve had it all along.
Today’s been a fun day. No electricity. Maybe none for another five days….OY!!
Two years ago, our city was hit by an out-of-control wildfire that destroyed over 5,000 homes and killed a dozen people. It turned out our regional power company was at fault. High winds, blowing east-to-west in the fall, had downed several power lines. These set trees on fire, and the high winds blew the destruction over miles and miles.
Unfortunately, our fire crews were overwhelmed, because of a similar situation in another part of the the state. So rather than an influx of support, our teams were quickly overwhelmed. Buildings couldn’t be saved, only saving lives mattered. The last line of defense was taken outside of two area hospitals, which, incredibly, were saved with little damage.
Of course, this is no longer an anomaly.  Other cities and towns in California experienced even worse fires in the years following. PG&E has struggled to develop a plan-of-action during these high-risk weather situations. The current plan? Shut down power before the winds hit. Like, a day before the winds hit. Like, today.
So, unfortunately, this plan was put into effect 24 hours BEFORE the high winds are predicted. We are among the 240,000 people affected.
We woke up to no power.
The weird part? Everyone two blocks to the west of us, and a few miles north of us, has power. (Why electricity in our town was shut down at all, when the fires were generated many, many miles EAST of us, is a mystery.)
Fortunately, my studio has power. And here I am today, thinking about “power”.
Yesterday, the price of gasoline jumped at least 50 cents a gallon. My husband shook his head at the price-gouging, til I reminded him that gas stations have a very narrow profit margin. And when the power goes out, they won’t be able to sell gas, perhaps up to five days. Yes, they were taking advantage of a freaky situation, but otherwise, they could go out of business. Not good.
Supermarkets were swarmed by people stocking up on supplies. Oddly, our favorite store had already run out of water. (Our water was not turned off, but when you hear the words “emergency”, you don’t want to take anything for granted. Also, most of of these stores may have to close when the electricity gets cut. They stand to lose millions in refrigerated and frozen food.
It got me thinking: What is the power source of an artist? And what happens when we lose that source, even temporarily?
One power is ingenuity. We are very good at solving all kinds of problems and issues, from figuring out which medium works best for us, to sussing out shows, galleries, and events that garner us the most in sales and exposure to new audiences. If we were to lose that “power”, we would probably curl up into a ball like a hedgehog, waiting (uselessly) for the world to “change” to our advantage. But artists are very good at “keep on keeping on.”
So our next power could be perseverance. Knowing when, and how, to keep moving forward, to hold hope in our hearts, even when the world is full of uncertainty. This can be tough. I’ve seen artists’ sales rise and fall, surge and ebb over the years. (I’m currently in that sales fall-and-ebb state. It’s not fun.) I can’t imagine what it would feel like to believe this would never change.
And yet most of us do. Many artists lose hope, and some actually walk away from the work of their heart, believing they will never earn a living from it, or even help pay a bill or two. (Some just want to pay their expenses.)
I’ve always known I can’t walk away from my work (until I’m physically forced to!) But I know it’s a thing, to believe we can never make it work. It breaks my heart. It’s hard enough to deal with hard times. Taking away my ability to make art would break me. That’s why, when I found that wonderful “Sally Forth” cartoon, with it’s powerful statement, “It’s not about having an audience, it’s about having a voice”, I realized I had “permission” to continue this work, no matter if I have to eventually find other ways to earn $$$. It’s what keeps me sane, and whole, it a dark and weary world.
It’s not about having an audience, it’s about having a voice.
Stockpiling is another power. I’m really good at buying in bulk to save money on materials, even if it sometimes mean I have to sell some of it off as my work takes another direction.The trick is to stockpile the right stuff. And also, to be able to repurpose those supplies into other uses. (Ask me about S-clasps that can also be used as connectors!)
Last night, my husband bought a ton of his favorite foods. Unfortunately, this morning he realized that if we don’t get power back soon, it’s all going to go bad in the refrigerator. (I did buy some cheese, but it will last a day or so without refrigeration. I also bought crackers, too. No cooking!) So knowing how and when to stockpile, and how to find a new use for what we have, is a good skill set.
Another good power to have is flexibility. During the fire in 2017, our neighbors not only lost power, but also their internet. (It depended on who the carrier was. Ours still worked, theirs didn’t.) We were able to use our phones as hotspots, and they were able to “coast” on our internet. Today, I was able to use my studio laptop to write this. I’ll be taking it home with me tonight. My husband also mentioned we’ll be able to power our cellphones with laptops. I did not know that!
Me? I’m gifted with this power! When I first started out making my art, a lot of people gave me grief because I worked in so many different media: Fiber. Polymer. Jewelry. Monoprints. Assemblage. But my superpower was my story. People can now recognize my work in almost every medium I work in, because of that. Some even recognize my non-polymer jewelry, because of my palette and my designs. That’s a good thing! Also, I can sell my work through different galleries that specialize in different media. And jewelry always sells, even when my higher priced 2D work doesn’t.
What thrives in a power outage is community. Just as we helped our neighbors in 2017, there are times when friends, family, and neighbors, can leap to our aid.
Artists often work in isolation, and some of us have lived in areas and times where artists are few and far between. And yet, our attempts to form an artist community can be powerful. My own current artist support group lagged when it came to trying the exercises I told them would be powerful. We coasted on updating, kvetching, and advice-giving, until finally, a few months ago, one person was willing to try the process of “active listening”, and the Four Questions.
It worked! It was so powerful, they want to do it again, and again. I even got a chance, and it was powerful for me. I’d forgotten what it was like to simply talk, with very few interruptions, to be able to grieve without other people trying to soothe me out of it. It was amazing, to work through my own issue with my own insight I couldn’t get solely by being in my head. And I am grateful.
In a way. I strive to use my column as that opportunity for YOU, too. I want to hear your stories, your struggles, your successes, and I want you to reach out and support others who are going through the same thing. Nobody knows better than an artist what it feels like, when it seems the world does not want nor value our work. And yet, we need to do it, if only for ourselves. (Because making the work of my heart heals me, and I know it can for you, too.)
The last power (because I know you have other things to do this morning!) is courage. It takes courage to take up brush, or pen, or clay, or our guitar, to express the truth that must come out. It takes courage to accept that what is in us, must be shared. If not for ourselves, then for someone else who is also sitting in a dark place, who also worries the world does not want their work. Someone else who needs to hear “you are not alone” (though yes, you are unique), someone else who is doing all the right things, but still isn’t having the success they dream of. Someone else who is afraid they are “doing it wrong”, when they simply have not found the right audience for what they’re doing right.
Sometimes it takes a power outage to realize the real source of power is hiding in plain sight:
In our hearts.
In our art.
In our community, family, faith.
In our own experience, and generosity.
Do you have story about how you got through a power outage (real or metaphorical?) How did you find your source of inner power? Share it so someone else will be inspired!
If you enjoyed this article, pass it on to someone else who might like it, too.
And if someone sent you this article, sign up for more advice for artists at Fine Art Views and/or sign up for more of my writing at my blog at https://luannudell.wordpress.com/

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Editor’s Note:

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TAKE ME TO THE RIVER: Slow Down When Things Get Hard

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.

"...it’s okay to simply lay back in our little boat, and drift."
“…it’s okay to simply lay back in our little boat, and drift.”

Sometimes, it’s about NOT doing….

 (6 minute read) 

 In last week’s post, I shared my thoughts on how “waiting”, though it can feel like “doing”, can end up with us “doing nothing.” Many readers shared their own stories about moving forward. Others shared theirs about the realization they were indeed, just “waiting”. They were inspired to be more proactive with their art, and their art marketing.

But the first commenter broke my heart, with their story of dealing with loss, and grief for the last few years. Having gone through that myself the last two years, I know what it feels like to feel like our heart has no room, no desire for art-making.

It’s true our present culture can put a timer on grieving. People may expect us to “get over it” within six months. (There are ways to protect ourselves from that.) Others do “go long” with their grieving, and struggle to find a way forward. (There are ways to deal with that, too.)

What I wanted to tell that person is, it’s okay to be stuck.*

Yes, it’s important to work consistently and with intention to a) make our creative work, and b) get it out into the world.

But sometimes we just can’t. And that’s okay.

The first time I ever heard this concept—the idea that sometimes life just gets too hard to “soldier on”, that it’s okay to step back and breathe—was in Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. She described our creative efforts as paddling that boat swiftly down the river. But there may be times when we just can’t paddle.

And then, she writes, it’s okay to simply lay back in our little boat, and drift.

The current will still carry us downstream. Just not as fast.

“slow down when things get hard…”

Life has a way of getting in the way of our goals and dreams, our hopes and aspirations. It may be a good thing: Our first child, perhaps, (or the fourth!!!), or a new home. Maybe our spouse got a great job opportunity….on the other side of the country, far from friends, family, and supporters of our work.

More often, it’s that dreaded phone call in the middle of the night, the one none of us wants to get, ever. Or the call that a loved one is definitely nearing the end of their journey, perhaps expected, but just as difficult.

Maybe it happens to us. I know several potters who had to leave their beloved medium, and find another way to express themselves that doesn’t involve repetitive stress injuries. We may experience illness or debilitation. Or, even harder, we may take on the caretaking for a loved one, for years, in what feels like a grinding, thankless, sleepless exercise that will never end. Until it does, and then it feels even worse, focusing only on what we did wrong, and what we could have done better.

For those of you here, in these hard places, I’m here to tell you: It’s okay.

It’s okay to step back if life is overwhelming. It’s okay to put down the oars, to lay back in your little boat, and let the current carry you for awhile.

It’s okay to walk away from a creative career that doesn’t feed your soul anymore….until you hear the call of this one, or another one, again.

It’s okay to put down our creative work, when it becomes just another burden we’ve been asked to carry….until we’re ready to take it up again.

This is when it’s okay to wait.

This happened to me, in 2018 and well into 2019. Things just got hard. Yeah, it could have been worse, but that’s not much comfort when the suffering and sadness never seems to end.

The trick is knowing when it’s time to pick up your paddle again.

And who you can ask for help, to get you moving again.

 One tip is to still go to your creative-making space from time to time. Check in: Is there a little sketch you can do? A small surface you can clear? No? That’s okay.

But still check in from time to time. At some point, you’ll see something that you want to finish. Or start. Some little task that will help you remember what it felt like to simply want to make something new. (Remember the generous commenter who shared how they carved out a tiny bit of time during their days of full-time care of their parent? Brilliant!)

Another, bigger trick is to find your creative supporters, friends or family who know who you are—an artist!—and who hold that memory for you, until you’re ready to pick up the pencil/brush/clay tool/needle again. (I hope some of the stories people shared will help!)

The artist support group workshop I took from Deborah Kruger lo-these-many-years-ago, stressed this, too. You can, and should, keep going to the meet-ups, even if you haven’t made anything in months, or years. Their job isn’t to nag you, or tell you you’re doing it wrong. Their job is to listen, to be a witness to what you’re going through. And down the road, to gently remind you it’s time to get back in the saddle.

There’s a reason for the saddle simile. If/when we fall from a horse, we’re told we need to get back on, and ride. Otherwise, the fear and anxiety can grow until we tell ourselves we don’t even want to ride anymore.

Getting back in the saddle can remind us why we ride in the first place: For the joy of being outside, in tune with a complex animal that enjoys the work as much as we do, for the simple pleasure of riding, in sync with our companion, along a wide river, under the trees, on a crisp autumn morning.

And so it is with our art.

When we’re ready, it will be there, waiting for us. All the reasons we’ve said, “I can’t….” will be waved gently away. “It’s time” our work will whisper to us, gently, and urgently. “Come on back! The road is waiting! The river is still flowing!”

Wherever you are on your path, or on the river, know that sometimes the way gets hard. Remember, even when it feels like we are getting nowhere, we are still moving forward quietly, gently. Life goes on as we work through our grief, process our new situation, and find ways around our setbacks.

Because our creative work is just to big, too beautiful to set aside. It is powerful stuff, as we will remember when we take it up again. It will always be waiting for us.

Ironically, these setbacks that are real, the ones we survive, will help us understand better the ones we manufacture for ourselves: “I’m not good enough.” “I don’t know how to do that.” “Nobody wants my work.” It’s easier to see these for the silly (though crippling) stories they are. Shoo!

Going through the real hard stuff, helps us move forward through the imaginary stuff we put on ourselves. We know better, and when we know better, we can choose to do better.

Are you waiting, now? What helps you keep hope in your heart? Are you ready to get back to your art? What will your first step be? If you’re comfortable, share this part of your journey. Someone else may need to hear it today!

If you liked this article, share it with someone who needs it.

If someone sent you this article, and you found it helpful, let them know!

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* That person said they were already starting up their creative work again, exploring new media, new venues, etc. Patricia, you are doing it right!

LIFE IS LIKE A CROSSWORD PUZZLE

One of my strongest memories growing up was seeing my parents work on the crossword puzzle in the newspaper.

My dad did the writing. He would go as far as he could. When he got stuck, he’d say to my mom, “What’s a six letter word for “high hat” that goes s-blank-blank-blank-t-y?” and she’d think a moment and say, “Snooty”.

I’d always wonder why they did something that seemed so boring. Now that we’ve been married over forty years, I know that even such simple things as this, these moments shared, are a blessing in a marriage.

I don’t remember when I took up crosswords, myself. But in time, I would do the daily crosswords in our local newspaper, too. The Detroit Free Press, The Baltimore Sun, The Boston Globe, The Keene Sentinel, and now, The Press Democrat.

But I steered clear of the New York Times crossword puzzle.

They were monsters.

I could read every single clue, and maybe…maybe…have an idea for one or two. I had no idea how the mind of the puzzle-maker worked. Literal meanings behind the clue? A play on words? Or just a word I’d never heard of before?? Add in the underlying theme just added to the misery, such as the theme, “You Are Here” meant adding “ur” to a common adage to twist the meaning.

One of our most brilliant friends regularly tackled the Sunday NYT puzzle, even harder than the daily ones. I knew I would never be in his league. (Pun intended. He also knew every single baseball trivia question known to man.)

So I decided I would never be clever enough to ever finish one.

Except, one day, while browsing a thrift shop, I found a daily calendar pad of, you guessed it, a year’s worth of NYT crossword puzzles. For a dollar!

I’m guessing because they were small, I thought I could try them. (They are the “dailies”, not the monster Sunday versions.) And hey, the answers were right there, in the back! I could cheat! (Put a pin here.)

Yes, in the strictest sense of the word, peeking = cheating…..

IF we assign solving a crossword puzzle the ultimate measure of our integrity and our ability.

Let’s walk “cheating” back to the fence, and start over.

I don’t know how to play the piano.

Nobody is born knowing how to play the piano. (PLEASE do not bring up Mozart.)

If I want to learn how to play the piano, do I sit down in front of it and try to blast my way through it? (Perhaps starting with a Mozart concerto….??)

No.

I’d tinker with it. Play. Maybe pretend I can play.

I’d seek out a teacher. They would start me with simple exercises, practices, teaching my fingers the right places to go.

They might play along with me, as I master one sequence of notes. (Is that “cheating”?)

I would eventually master a song, a simple one. I would continue to challenge myself. When I make a mistake, my teacher would show me the right way to do it, and encourage me to copy their motions. (Is that “cheating”?)

Now, if I make my life ambition to perform as a concert pianist, I obviously have to learn to perfect my skills on my own, challenging myself to do better, faster, with energy, until my hands almost move on their own, without conscious thought.

But what if I just want to ease my mind by the actual practice of playing? Badly, slowly, leaving a piece of music that doesn’t speak to me. Perhaps coming around again to pick it up, after learning a few more moves…. Playing just because playing is enjoyable?

And so I continued to do those (a little simpler) daily puzzles, getting used to that crossword “culture”. Checking my initial answers to see if I’m on the right track.

If I find that the theme is just majorly too confusing, I can set it aside for another time. Or forever.

I began to recognize the patterns, the lines of thinking. For example, a clue for “bed” could be a place to sleep, or plant flowers. An “intro” could be a speech, or a word prefix. (For example, “musical ending” could be “phonic”, (from stereophonic”.)

Sports stats? Sports figures? No way. I can now recognize a clue for “RBI”, and a “home authority” can now mean “umpire”, but that’s about it. Though my time in Boston helped me solve “Bobby Orr”. And repetition helped me memorize “Ott.” Otherwise, I either fill in around that entry as much as I can, until I can’t go any further. Or I just “cheat” and look up the entry I will never otherwise know (unless I become a sports fanatic, and that’s just not ever gonna happen, okay?)

Now for the most important reason I do crosswords:

I do them so I can help my buzzy brain relax.

This had led to even more insights on life and crosswords.

Sometimes, I just “cheat”, to keep moving. I’m not doing this as an “ethical exercise”. There are no “grades” at the end. Sometimes I do imagine showing up at the pearly gates, and being asked, “So about all the crossword puzzles where you looked up the answers…..”  Ruh roh.

OTOH, if that’s how I’ll be judged, not sure I belong in that place anyway.

So if a puzzle is just too hard or complicated, I can “cheat” or ditch it. That’s not a failure, in my mind. This is supposed to be fun and challenging, not frustrating and impossible to deal with. One of the greatest pleasures in my life right now is to recognize I don’t have to go to every fight I’m invited to. If a crossword puzzle is “putting up a fight”, I can just turn the page and try the next one. (I now buy books of ’em, to take on long trips, airplane flights, and waiting rooms.)

Other insights? Sometimes I get stuck, and cannot figure out any of the remaining clues. Of course, being human, my initial reaction is, “I’ll never be good at this!” I put it down when I’m stumped, and leave it for another day.

The insight is, sometimes I come back the next day, and all of a sudden, there’s clarity. Oooohhh, I see it now! And scribble in five or six more words. My brain needed a break, that’s all.

Another insight: Sometimes, “cheating” with one word helps dozens of others fall into place around it. That one clue was a roadblock I couldn’t get over. But going around it helped me go forward.

Sometimes, I “cheat” but only allow myself to enter the word if I guessed right and my “cheating” confirms my guess. If I guessed wrong, I can’t “forget it”, of course. But I won’t let myself enter it until I solve for more clues around it.

Is it cheating if we ask someone for help?

Is it cheating if we learn by absorbing someone else’s style? Learning to anticipate what they’re asking for, rather than what we think it should be? (Isn’t that called “learning from the experts?” Or “thinking outside the box?”)

Is it cheating if we’re simply stuck, and somewhere else is the answer? Is using the internet for sports clues any worse than the way we used to use encyclopedias to find facts?

Is it cheating if the entire overall process is what is helpful for me? (Giving me a break from buzzy brain by doing a somewhat meaningless task that is relaxing, letting me disengage in a good way.) And not necessarily relying on how “someone else does it”…?

To me, I would be cheating if I did all the above, and then lied about it to you. If I said, “Oh, yeah, I do those all the time. I’m really good at it!”

But I don’t. I do it for myself, I enjoy it, and it helps me relax, while feeling like I’m “doing something useful.” (Which is what our brain needs to relax, sometimes.)

Did I pack too much meaning into a word game? Maybe.

But sometimes, I know exactly what I need to get through a boring period, a stressful place, a stuck place in my life.*

Thank heavens for the New York Times crossword puzzle!**

*I try to keep track of how much help/”cheating” I did on a puzzle, to see if I’m getting better at it. I estimate how much I did without any help. At this point, I consider 75% a passing score!

**(Thanks and a hat tip to Wil Shortz!)

 

 

LESSONS FROM THE GYM: Challenge vs. Injury

There’s a big difference between perseverance and suffering.

I overheard another intriguing comment at the physical therapy practice I go to. Out of nowhere, one of the therapists told a client, “We want to see perseverance, not suffering.”

Oh, the memories…..

Years ago, (seems like an eternity) I was really into martial arts. (No, I never got a black belt, though all my instructors along the way said I was well on my way.)

I never got there because…..injuries.

I pursued martial arts over a spread of 15-20 years in my middle age, sometimes with massive breaks in between practices and schools (Tae Kwon Do, Thai Kickboxing, then back to Thai Kwon Do.)

Typically, I was the oldest person in the class. I always did my best, but I’ve always been “heavy” on my feet as opposed to “light”. Ironically, this quality is not due to weight. Jackie Gleason was always heavy, but he was also “light on his feet”. I’ve talked with my husband (a former gymnast), physical therapists and athletes about this quality. They recognize what I’m saying, but can’t identify what it “is”, whether it is innate or can be learned, and why some people have it and some don’t. It is not an indication of ability, but is a recognizable style.

And so, encouraged by my instructors to push myself, I always, eventually, ended up injuring myself pretty badly. (Although, come to think of it, my most major injuries were inflicted by a) an instructor who should have known better, according to other instructors in the class, and b) another student who was even more inept than I was, tried to kick me below the belt, and when I blocked him, his shoe broke my finger. (He had to wear shoes as he was diabetic.)

The story typically goes like this:

One evening, I went to Tae Kwo Do. We did a kicking work-out. The instructor yelled, “Faster!” and I didn’t want to be the one everyone was waiting on.

So I picked up the pace a wee bit, landed wrong on my foot, and injured my Achilles tendon.

I instantly had a cap on almost all my other activities for many months.

I felt pretty stupid. The instructor wasn’t urging me to go past my limits–he was yelling at the green belts. I was the one who felt I had to prove something–that I may be older, but I was still a competent student.

Well, I went over that delicate balance between challenge and injury, and landed hard on the injury side.

It wasn’t even my own challenge. I was worried what other people would think if I didn’t try harder. Even though I should know by now that is NOT the way to get what I need. The only thing I get with that attitude is more injuries.

I told myself I would not give in to self-pity, nor get angry with myself.

I went swimming instead. And with each stroke, I chanted to myself, “I…..can…..handle…..this.”

I realize I walk a delicate balance in everything I do. Working out. Friendships. Relationships. In my business. And with my art.

I need to push myself enough to challenge myself, to make myself grow stronger, physically, emotionally, artistically.

And yet hold just enough back so as not to injure myself, or others.

As in martial arts, so in my art. There’s that same balance between taking the professional risks that challenge me, without injuring my bottom line (and my ego) irreparably.

That particular injury (and there were many along that path) happened just before my (very full) fine craft wholesale/retail show was scheduled. I realized I was in the same place with my art biz. Although I had no idea what to expect, I knew I had to try.

Sometimes I get freaked out thinking it out–“What am I doing??!!” Other times, I feel it is a reasonable venture.

Hopefully, I would find buyers who were looking for work that had a more western/southwestern/northwestern feel.

If not, I knew I would come home feeling like I need to crawl into a barrel and mosey on over Niagra Falls…..

But not for long. I knew if this show proved not a good fit for my work, I would just have to get over it and try a whole ‘nother strategy.

Like my tendon, my ego eventually healed. And like my injury didn’t keep me away from martial arts very long, guessing wrong will not discourage me from making my art. Not for very long, at least.

In the end, the injuries accumulated to the point where I did have to walk away from that passion. And those shows? Well, that was just before the recession in 2007-2008. They turned out to be a gamble, one I finally decided was not worth it.

After creating new strategies over the years, I finally found what worked for me: One major show with a deep history and very loyal following, open studios, and online sales.

Moving to California meant rebooting in may ways. I’m still working out my best plan to persevere in my art-making.

What worked for me then doesn’t work for me now. What works for me now is still in process. There continue to be obstacles and injuries along the way.

But here are two big truths I hope inspire you on your own journey in making the work that lifts your heart:

As I said, I was not a “natural” when it came to Tae Kwon Do. But every instructor always reminded me: We are competing with ourselves. (One class was “Olympic” but there were plenty of folks who obviously weren’t going down that path.)

Because I was “bad” at it, I had to practice more than others did. I showed up, every class. My last instructor said, after the last big injury that meant I could never practice again, that my perseverance had gained me excellent technique, and indomitable spirit. He said he felt guilty they had started me at the beginning all over again (they doubted my credential from an instructor who had moved away.)

He said I deserved a black belt.

So, wait, four big truths:

I did what I loved.

Perseverance almost got me there. 

Practice makes perfect.

I’ve gotten very good at not giving up.

Whatever you need to do to make your place in the world, never give up what you love until it takes away from you. Even then, there are ways to keep moving forward. (T’ai Chi!)

Find the balance (life/work/art) that works for you.

And keep doing it ’til you get better.

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.

I HATE TURQUOISE

turquoise and sterling horse necklace
Turquoise! Turquoise, turquoise, turquoiseturquoiseturquoiseturquoise…..

Actually, I love turquoise. I love aqua, apatite, amazonite, every shade of bluey-greeny and greeny-blue, and everything in between. Especially green turquoise.

I love turquoise so much, I have to consciously STOP USING IT when I realize every single new piece has turquoise beads in it.

As I’m working today, I keep thinking about an artist who commented on my Fine Art Views post yesterday.

They asked for insight on how to keep their partner inspired to make art, when their partner’s work had been rejected by a gallery. They had not returned to their art-making since their rejection.

Okay, my lizard brain immediately thought, “One gallery?! You’re gonna let ONE GALLERY be the judge of your entire body of work?!”

My kinder brain understands completely. And I responded in kind. (No pun intended, but it slipped in there anyway.) Rejection is always hard, even when we know not everyone will love our work.

But here’s a story of how ridiculous that is, to let ONE GALLERY, one person, determine whether your work is “good enough”.

A few years into my jewelry-making, I approached several area stores to carry my work, and a few said yes.

Less than a year later, one gallery manager called me to pick up my work. “It just doesn’t sell!” they exclaimed. And as I looked at the display, surprise! I could see instantly why it wasn’t.

It was on a bottom shelf, about six inches above the floor. Nobody could even SEE it.

I’d already suspected my work wasn’t going to work with this venue. When I first brought my work in, they examined every piece. They would heave a sigh, and shake their head as they moved an item into the “no” pile. (Which was about half my work.) It was obvious they found much of my work “lacking”.

And obviously, to ensure their assessment of my work was “right”, they made sure it wasn’t even in the line of sight of any would-be collectors.

Fortunately, a good friend gave me clarity on this manager, and encouraged me to take my work elsewhere, which I did.

If I had let that person shut me down, I would not be here today, encouraging you to look past the nay-sayers (some of whom may actually be intimidated by our work!)

A few years later, I approached another store, not a fine craft gallery, but a store where I was sure my horse jewelry would well.

This manager LOVED my work, as did their sales associates, and happily picked out a nice selection. Until….

They came across one necklace with turquoise accent beads.

“Ugh! I HATE turquoise!!”, they exclaimed, and set it aside for me to take back home.

I was baffled. Surely this person, a well-respected businessperson in our community, understood that THEY might hate turquoise, but a lot of their customers would love it.

Nope. So I gathered up those “rejects” and saved them for another gallery at another time.

What’s my point here?

I’ll say it again, what an old craft friend, Tim Christensen, told me years ago:

“Gallery owners are just customers with stores!”

Does every customer love all our work? Nope.

Does every customer love all our designs, and color schemes? Nope.

Does every customer appreciate our pricing, the value of our work? Nope.

Customers come and go, visitors look and leave. Some people love my horses, some love my bears, and some people prefer my more abstract, non-figural work. And a very few love all of it, and a lot of people are totally baffled, and leave within a few minutes of entering my space, be it my studio, a show, or a gallery.

Not everyone will love our art.

And neither do the galleries we hope might carry our work.

This post lists all the reasons why a gallery might say no to your work.

Some are….contradictory…no? Some don’t make sense, and some make perfect sense.

Gallery owners are people, just like you and me. Some of them are secure in their own work, and embrace ours. Some are envious, and look for ways to take us down. Some love our work, but know their customers won’t. Some aren’t fond of our work, but they know it will sell. There are a million reasons why they say yes, and a million reasons why they say no.

My deepest hope for you today is to consider these stories when your work is deemed “not right” for whatever gallery you’re dealing with.

I hope you understand that one “no”, or two, or even a hundred, doesn’t necessarily mean the world does not want your art.

Yes, maybe you’re not quite ready for gallery representation. (Did you bring in a sample of everything you do, which can come across as a lack of focus, or a lack of a cohesive body of work?) Yes, maybe you need to improve your skills. (Did you apply to a major show after one year of painting classes?) Yes, maybe you didn’t do your research and you’ve approached a gallery that focuses on abstracts, with your realistic landscapes. Yes, maybe you are kinda difficult to deal with, full of smugness about your work. (Some galleries will still take you on, if they’re sure they can sell your work. But why make it harder for them to decide to take you on??)

But remember……

Maybe they just don’t like turquoise.