WHAT I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME ABOUT ARTISTS: Make Room for Art in Your Life!

WHAT I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME ABOUT ARTISTS: Make Room for Art in Your Life!

 

Bear has a story for when life gets hard.

Life is not “all or nothing”, you can make as much—or as little—room for art as you like!

More in the series about sharing my hard-earned knowledge with young art students. This one was hard.

I told them how I’d wanted to be an artist since I was three years old. Making stuff mattered deeply to me.

But my opportunities for learning and practicing were scarce. Materials were scarce, art teachers were scarce, art classes, even books about art were just not available. I got to the point where I dreamed of going to art school, college. I put away all my dreams until then.

And then it didn’t quite work out the way I thought it would.

I’ve shared this before, so to make it short:

I struggled. My teachers were either unengaged (they probably knew how few of us would go “all the way.”) Some of them were harsh. I didn’t enjoy drawing from life: eggs on a sheet of white paper, etc. My grades weren’t great, either. I wasn’t accepted into that school’s art program (I lacked a portfolio), and so I fell back to art history as a major.

I felt like I was simply not a good artist, and I let it go.

But that left me in a hard place for decades. Until (again, I’ll keep this short, I’ve shared it so many times before) I realized I was aching for art in my life again. And my total surrender to it—saying I didn’t care if I were a GOOD artist or not, I just had to do it—was a turning point for me.

For years, I felt like I’d wasted all that time, until I realized it created a unique path for me. And my revelation on how important it was to simply have in my life gave me power I’d never had before.

Over the years, I’ve met a lot of people who went further down their artistic path, and then fell away. Their work didn’t sell, or the gallery they tried to manage overwhelmed them. They didn’t think they were good enough. Or they didn’t have the time anymore, what with having “a real job” now. They believed if their creative work wasn’t painting, or sketching, then it wasn’t “real art”.

I’m happy to say that, meeting people where they are, telling my story, and simply encourage them to take small steps to put it back in their life, has actually worked! Not for everyone. Not all the time. Not right away. But there are people who have come to the same realization I did: When we are doing the work of our heart, whether it’s full-time, part-time, a little bit of time, whether they earn a living, make some money, or only a little money, or….none….that they simply feel better when it’s part of their life again.

And that’s what I told those teens.

Our lives are rarely a “sound plan” that we can maintain our whole life. We may change our priorities, or they may be changed for us. We may pick up a different kind of creative work, one that’s not officially “real art”, but fulfilling to us nonetheless. We may have to take a class to carve out that time, or get up an hour or two earlier in the morning. We may be so overwhelmed with those soul-stomping events in life that we have to step back temporarily.

But just like “putting on your gym shoes” in my series “EXERCISE FOR SUCCESS” I wrote here awhile back, sometimes those little efforts pay off. We say, “I’ll just carry a sketch book with me when I go to lunch today.” Or we write a page of our novel while we’re traveling on business. (One page.) Or we collect paint samples from the hardware store, or we take up embroidery, or pinch pots instead of throwing on the wheel (because we can do it in the living room while we watch TV here.)

We watch our kids fingerpaint, and suddenly, we want to squish paint around, too! Or we find an image online and the color palette fascinates us. “What if…..?” we think to ourselves and suddenly, we are inspired again.

Time and fortune will come and go, opportunities will expand and fade, life will be full and rich, and suddenly barren and sorrowful. We can only count on so much, and not nearly as much as we think.

But we can always….ALWAYS….choose to keep our creative work in our life.

The all-or-nothing approach never worked for me. It doesn’t really work for most people, actually. We forget that we have the power of our choices. We get to choose, every step of our way, how, when, where we fit our art in our lives.*

Because the “why” is always the most important part.

Why? Because it restores me to myself.

Why? Because it heals me.

Why? Because, even under crushing events, there is a tiny window of faith, of hope, a small opportunity to make room for art.

Why? Because when we share it with others, with the world, there is always someone who needed to see it, hear it, read it, that day.

And when we share our art, and it helps/encourages/inspires someone else, well, that’s pretty close to being a hero, in my book.

“I am an artist. What’s YOUR superpower?”

* My bear artifacts appeared during a difficult time in my life, and you can read the bear’s story here.

WHAT I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME ABOUT ARTISTS: You Can Be Focused, You Can Be Diverse, It’s All Good!

WHAT I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME ABOUT ARTISTS: You Can Be Focused, You Can Be Diverse, It’s All Good!

Topics: advice for artists | creativity | FineArtViews | inspiration | Luann Udell | originality

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.

Luann Udell shared how to be focused and diverse in your art career
Luann Udell shared how to be focused and diverse in your art career

You get to choose what you do, how you do it, how many things you do, and you can change it whenever you’re ready.

When the young art students came to my studio, most of them were still in the exploring stage of art-making. Some already felt “more comfortable” with a specific media, but most were trying this and that, and some hadn’t found what really felt right.

That’s normal! I encouraged them to keep exploring. This stage could take a few years, it could take a decade, it might take more than that. Maybe…..for the rest of their lives!

I think some of them were a little surprised by that. It seemed that some were already feeling the pressure to pick “just one thing” or “just one process” (painting, for example, or drawing, etc.) (It may have been more societal pressure than pressure from their teachers.)

I told them, “If you’ve already figured that out, good on you! But if you haven’t, that’s normal, too. These are the perfect years to explore and experiment. In fact, you might incorporate “new and different” for the rest of your life! And that’s okay.”

Focus is a good thing, of course. When we push all our efforts in one direction, into one medium or process, we can make enormous strides in our skill set.

But that’s not the only way to be a “real artist”. And when people tell us it IS the only way, and we don’t want to do it that “one right way”, it can feel soul-crushing.

Years ago, I attended a seminar with a well-known speaker who created a series of workshops about all kinds of artist/maker issues: How to market our work, how to display it at shows and in galleries, how to talk with customers, etc. All excellent information, garnered not only from their own career as a maker, but from dozens of others who shared their insights with him.

When it was my turn to ask a question, I started to frame my body of work: “So I do jewelry, fiber work, and printing, and I’d like to know…..”

They interrupted me mid-sentence: “FOCUS!!!!”

The whole room erupted into laughter, and I was humiliated. The speaker went on to explain that “certain clueless craftspeople” get into doing everything: “I raise the sheep, I shear the sheep, I spin the wool, I dye the yarn, I make the pattern, I knit the sweater….” They end up with a product that can’t be reasonably priced, and then wonder why their work doesn’t sell. The speaker moved on to the next person.

That wasn’t my problem, and I was pretty peeved. Afterwards, I went up to ask for clarification, and they apologized. “I wanted to make an example of you, because that comes up all the time! But I see now that isn’t what you were sharing, and I’m sorry.”

There’s a lesson there: Don’t make assumptions about the “stupid questions” people ask us. (As in, “How long did it take you to make that?” “It took me thirty years to make!”) (Yes, there are a dozen better ways to answer that question without making a joke at that potential customer’s expense!)

“Lack of focus” was not an issue for me. I already knew I was “doing it right”, FOR ME. I was perfectly comfortable with my multi-media choices, because I had a powerful story that united them. From the very beginning of my art career, people could recognize my distinctive style, use of color, and use of artifacts, even in the different ways I staged them.)

I wanted to know how to approach the top retail shows in the country that, typically, demanded I pick ONE medium to apply in. And usually my jewelry wouldn’t be accepted, because it’s a dense medium at high-end fine craft shows. Often half the applicants are jewelers! I wanted help figuring out how to get out of the “box” most shows and exhibits want to put us creatives in.

(I never solved that, but finally figured out ways around it.)

Nowadays, whenever I ask people about their creative work, I get a wonderful variety of answers. But the ones where I sense folks feel the most embarrassment is when they haven’t focused completely on “just one thing”.

“Oh, I’m not a real artist! I love oil painting, but I’ve also enjoy watercolor and pastels, and I’ve taken clay workshops and loved it, and I want to….” And then they sort of trail off, waiting for me to tell them to “focus”.

I refuse.

I ask them what their goals are, and listen. Unless they feel “held back” by their free choices, I almost always tell them to embrace their path.

From their reaction, I’m guessing no one has ever told them that’s okay. Which is sad.

Some of us know the medium that speaks to us. We leap into with all our heart, and pursue it, perfecting our skills, finessing our techniques, perhaps (hopefully!) even receiving recognition and acclaim for our work.

Others, like me, take longer to figure it out. We try different things, or keep up with several things, until we find our way through.

For me, I did fiber work for years: Cross-stitching (easy!), then embroidery (harder!), then quilting (so much time!!), getting smaller and freer and focusing on making something that looked aged and worn. I got to the point where I rarely bought new fabrics, and instead scrounged yard sales, thrift stores, and antique shops for unusual, vintage, and antique fabrics, and well-worn clothing. Eventually, when I couldn’t find what I wanted, I began to over-dye my own fabrics, and even carved my own stamps to print fabric.

When my kids were born, I knit them sweaters. (Hey, it’s faster to knit for a little kid than an adult, and they’re a lot less fussy about how it fits!) (But you also have to work fast, or they’ll grow out of whatever you’re making for them….)

Eventually, I was frustrated trying to find the perfect buttons for those sweaters, and so I began to make my own.

I couldn’t afford expensive jewelry, didn’t like much of it anyway. I loved the look of old pieces. I started buying broken or out-of-date bits and pieces, restringing them or salvaging the beads for other projects. One year, I was accepted into an exhibit for art quilts, and forgot to read the fine print: Beadwork was required. So I “explained” that the beads I used were too tiny to be seen in the photograph, and frantically added seed beadwork to the finished pieces. (I won a Judges’ Choice Award!)

And I also began using those sweater buttons as embellishments on my art quilts.

Are you sensing an epiphany here? It’s coming!

Until the day came where I stepped up to the plate with my “mom crafts” and found my powerful story, where I found my place in the world as an artist.

All those “little crafty things” I’d been doing for years all came together to make something different. Something unique. Something that became my signature, so that now, people who are familiar with my work, can spot it in almost any form.

If I had “found my perfect medium” all those years ago, I would not be making the work I do today.

Would I be better off? How do I know? We choose a path, and our story is changed forever. I don’t regret my “aimless wanderings” that eventually brought me the work I love with all my heart. I choose to celebrate the skills and insights I gained along the way.

Some of us will “do it right”, focusing on a specific medium and style. Some of us will explore, constantly adding, tweaking, mixing it up. And some may never “settle” into one or two things. They will explore, and experiment, and dabble for the rest of their lives.

My question for them: Are you happy with that?

Because if you are, that’s all that matters.

What matters, first and foremost, is that our work brings us joy.

Oh, not 24/7. I get that. Sometimes things just don’t click, or we get tired of the same ol’ same ol’. (Usually we get our happy back, though!) And if we want to get really, really good at something, we have to put in the time and the work.

Some people pursue one style, or medium, and then walk away from it and pursue something else. That’s okay, too.

And some of us find total joy in the new, the experimenting. Some people only make art when they take classes. Which, I tell them, is really smart! If you can’t make time for your art, then taking a class is an excellent way to set aside the time (to go to class), to experiment (with all the tools and expertise provided by the teacher that you’ll need) and come home with something you love (because you had the chance to actually finish it!)

In our modern times, art is both a necessity (for our emotional/spiritual health) and a luxury (we can all choose what, when, how, and why we “make”). We get to choose how we fit it into our lives, we get to decide whether it’s our “one thing”, our “main thing”, or our “fun thing”.

Somewhere along the line, the word “amateur” (which means doing something because you love it, whether we make money at it or not) became a hugely judge-y thing: “Oh, you’re not a professional, you’re just an amateur!”

In reality, “amateur”, “vocational”, and “avocational” are all on the same spectrum. We do it because we love it, and it supports us, financially, and we do it as if it really were our profession- doing all the steps that a “true professional” artist would do, even if we don’t actually make a lot of money at it. And a few professionals actually step back from that stance, because they find the demands of catering to a market, and having to do the same thing, the same way, for the same people, actually saps some of the joy from our process. They find other ways to earn income, something they’re good at that pays well, and that they like or even love, yet keep their artwork in their life, on their own terms.

It’s all good.

Because when we accept all the reasons that show us we’re “doing it right”, the more art, the more beauty, the more joy there will be in the world.

So keep on keeping on, I told those kids. Do what you can. Do what you want. Do what you have to do. You get to choose.

Make it work for Y-O-U, finding your unique happy place in the world with your art.

The whole world is waiting to see “what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life…”*

*From “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

What Is The Story Only You Can Tell? Make It A Good One!

What Is The Story Only You Can Tell? Make It A Good One!

By Luann Udell

Image 3100480

4/27/2019 by Luann Udell

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.

We can’t control everything in life, but we can choose how we face it.

Years ago, one of my favorite writers, Martha Beck, wrote an article thathas stuck with me for decades.

Beck’s insights and advice come from her years as a therapist, observing how people get stuck and how to help them get unstuck. In this article, she describes two of her clients, two women named Mary.

Mary One has a sad life storyA parent dying young, obstacles, setbacks, health issues, etc. Just reading the list makes you wonder how anyone could survive what she has been through.

Mary Two has a wonderful life story. She inherited wealth, and was able to attend top-notch colleges. She is highly educated, and her career issatisfying. She is very close to her grandmother, who showers her with love and kindness. She loves to travel and has been all over the world. One cannot help but envy her good fortune.

The kicker?

The two clients are actually the same person.

This article was a game-changer for me. The lessons are obvious.

We have all had sadness, and joy in our lives. We have all experienced cruelty, and kindness. We all have victories, and setbacks. We’ve all had people who love us, and people who are toxic. We all wish we had more money, even though we know in our hearts that if a billion dollars is “not enough” for the wealthiest people in the world, how will we ever have enough?

The lesson for me was simple: We get to create our own story.

For years, my saddest story was that I couldn’t get into art school. My school, one of two in the entire county, in an agricultural area, didn’t have much money to spend on art programs. This meant my portfolio was pretty pathetic. And so, when I did go to college, I majored in art history instead, the traditional “shadow artist”, hovering on the outskirts of my passion and filled with envy for those who thrived with their art.

And yet….

I actually was accepted into not one, not two, but three colleges thatoffered art programs. Instead, I chose the one that was the most prestigious, where my best friend, my high school boyfriend, and my secret crush had been accepted. It was the only school that rejected my portfolio. I took a few art classes, but they were like bananas offered to amonkey in a cage, a prize I could never reach.

So “not being good enough” wasn’t really a thing, though it took me years to see that. It was just a “sad story” I held onto for a long time.

Although that boyfriend turned out to be fairly toxic, and much of my love life was pretty pathetic, it was in this same city that I met my husband, my life partner, and a pretty great one. We’ve been together over 40 years.

So with the power of hindsight/reframing, going to that college was actually a lucky fortunate choice. (Next week, I’ll share another storyabout “luck”!) Taking all those art history classes, starting with theLascaux Cave (the oldest human art in the world in the 1970’s) was apowerful, inspirational resource when I finally owned the power of my choices, and became the artist I was always meant to be.

And if I had actually been accepted into that college’s art program, I am certain I would not be making the work I make today. I don’t think my tender heart would have survived the toxic critiques many students had to endure (I hear schools do it differently now, but I take that with a grain of salt, as this intriguing memoir reveals.

In short, there may be one set of facts, circumstances, etc…

But there are a slew of stories I can tell myself because of them.

When I’m feeling “less than”, I feel embarrassed that I actually hate drawing. I resent that my medium of choice took years to gain respect in the art world. I know that some people still would not consider me a “real artist”. I remember every cruel or thoughtless remarks from ignorant, pompous, or deeply-troubled people.

But when I choose to see my power, I know I make art for myself, first. Making my art has made me a better person. I know that I use thatpower, the power of my choices, to not only make work that‘s so personal, my collectors can easily recognize my style and aesthetics, I’ve used that power to reach out and connect with others, always with the hope that doing so may elevate the hearts of others, as well.

Try this exercise today: Jot down all the hardships and crappy things thathave crossed your path this week, everything that made you suffer and seethe. (I didn’t say “in your lifetime” because that could take weeks! But sure, put in anything that‘s still hounding you.) List the deadlines you’re stressing over, the to-do list that never seems to end, the lack of respect for your style/subject/medium, the dearth of sales. Make note of how you feel when you’re done.

Now write down all the blessings and gifts that happened in the same time period: The car that let you merge safely into traffic, the person who stopped to let you cross the street, the new opportunity to show your work that‘s got you fired up about your new series. Consider the thank-you notes you got from the grateful customer who bought your work because they loved it. Think of all the things you did accomplish, and all the steps forward you’ve taken with your art, your personal growth, your relationships.

How do you feel now?

I always-always-feel better.

This is why I write. It helps me sort out the distractions from the real deal, the true life mission I carry in my heart from the road bumps. I get clarity on what I can change, and what I can’t change. I can feel my anger melt as I frame the difficult stuff differently.

All the naysayers, the critics, the trolls, the digs, the snark we encounter daily, suddenly feel more like annoyances than anything. I feel free to simply do what I love to do. I give myself permission to live my life theway I want.

A recent example: A dear friend and supporter shared with excitement the realization that their work is “on trend”. My lizard brain immediately buckled. The same trend was in force when I started making this particular aspect of my art, and I struggled mightily to overcome it. For afew moments, I was envious that this person, who has had my back for years, might surf that wave farther than I ever will.

And then I had to laugh. My work has never been “on trend”, and I’m glad! The courage it took to simply make the work of my heart has created my own wave I can ride as far as I desire.

I know now that the world is big enough for both us. If they aresuccessful with their work, if they get a “bigger piece of the pie”, thatdoesn’t mean my slice is smaller. There is an infinite amount of “pie” in the world, enough for both of us. Actually, it’s big enough for all of us.

I will simply not let that first story be the story I tell. I choose the second storythe one filled with mutual respect, joy, and kindness.

What is the story YOU can choose to tell, today?

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UPSIDE-DOWN THINKING

Luann Udell shares what a difference a change of perspective or point of view can make
Luann Udell shares what a difference a change of perspective or point-of-view can make

Upside-Down Thinking

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 a change of perspective, another point-of-view, another pair of eyes and ears, can challenge our assumptions, and help us through a sticky spot in life.

I have several mannequins in my studio, aka “dress forms”. Most are vintage, which means they are a size 0. I try not to be in photos where I’m standing too close to them.

I use them to display some of my larger, bolder jewelry, especially the series I call “shaman necklaces”.

Unfortunately, one has gotten very wobbly over the years, lurching and leaning at odd angles. I try to prop it up against a solid surface, and hope it doesn’t slip at an unfortunate time—say, when someone who’s had one too many glasses of wine tries to hug it.

Several times, I slipped the body part off its stand, trying to figure out how to make it more stable. Finally, during this last studio move, I took the base apart to see what was going on.

The base consists of four “feet”, with a threaded rod standing in a hole in the base. There’s a large nut underneath that, when tightened, would secure the rod more firmly to the base.

“I can do that!” I thought, and made a note to bring an adjustable wrench in.

But the nut was slightly rusted. The wrench couldn’t budge it. Now what??

I could put some WD-40 on it, or borrow another wrench, or ask my husband  or a neighbor to do it for me. But it would mean another trip to the hardware store, or the garage, or might come across as an imposition for my neighbor, whatever. I just felt stuck. Maybe I should just sell it, or move it back to the garage, until I die and the kids come to settle the estate and clear out my studios and come across the mannequin and everyone silently thinks, “What the h*** was she thinking??!!” (I keep telling my kids that when I die, they can just invite the public into my studio/storage places, tell them to fill a bag and charge $50/bag.)

Today, I took one last look at the stand.

And that’s when I realized, if, instead of trying to twist the bolt further UP, I could unscrew the threaded rod FURTHER DOWN.

I tried it. It took 10 seconds. And it worked!

Now I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t think of that sooner.

Except, you know, I immediately thought, “What a great article topic!”

So many of us have been brain-washed encouraged to think there is one way to make art. (2D or sculpture, that’s it.) And the paints have to be oil, and the sculpture stone or bronze.) We’ve been told there’s one way to get it out into the world: Getting into that great gallery.) We’ve come to believe there is a secret way to market our work, and we used to think the only way to do that was an ad in a prestigious art magazine.

Many artist believe “our art should speak for itself”. Our studios should look “professional” (whatever that means) and be neat and tidy, and only our very best work should be on view.  We often believe that if everybody else is painting rusty trucks, well then, we should paint that, too!

We believe that our artist statements should sound brilliant, and heady, that our audience is mostly interested in our process, that our resume is our most valuable credential, proving we are indeed, a “real artist”. Hey, we went to art school! We studied under that famous artist! We took a workshop with all those other famous artists! We got into that prestigious gallery, show, exhibition! It says so, right here on page 6!

We are bombarded daily with offers of information, knowledge, and strategies for how to make a lot of money from our creative work. Er, for a price. Sometimes a very high price.

If we switched this upside-down, what would it look like?

There are a million ways to bring something beautiful, meaningful, and/or powerful into the world. We have a vast array of media and vehicles to choose from.

Yes, a healthy relationship with a good gallery can work small miracles in growing our audience into passionate collectors. But it’s not the only way to go.

Maybe your art can speak for itself. Mine does, in a way. People tell me that all the time, that they can sense the power.

But unlike the actual cave of Lascaux, I’m here today to share my story. Over the years, that’s created a beautiful connection between my work and my audience. I’ve grown to love telling my story, and I will keep telling it until I can’t. It’s my only chance in life to tell it. I’m sure those ancient artists of the distant past would love it if they could share their true story. But they can’t. Telling our story does not automatically destroy the power, nor the mystery, of what is in our hearts.

Art school can be a wonderful experience, and a resume can “prove” we have accomplished great things in our art career. But a resume is really to reassure ourselves we are who we say we are. And to show other artists who believe in credentials. And to reassure collectors who don’t trust their own judgment on what speaks to them, and what isn’t worth their investment. Art schools are great for many students, but toxic to some. And not everyone can go to art school, and many don’t even want to. I’m glad I didn’t go. I would not be the artist I am today. Period.

Re: workshops with famous artists….I get that a great teacher, and a great workshop, is a wonderful resource. But half the time I don’t recognize the artists mentioned, and it certainly doesn’t alter my perception of someone’s work.  I understand taking such a workshop. But why brag about it, or use it as a “reference”? Yes, I know some of those famous artists only take the better students. But unless they’ve written you a letter of recommendation….You may be one of hundreds, or even thousands of people who studied under them. Quick, name an artist who studied under Michaelangelo!

And our artist-y studios? A few days ago, I met another artist in my new location. Their studio was very small, and spare. There were a couple works in progress. As we talked, they shared where they teach art, the group ventures they participate in, the people they’d taken classes from, their subject matter, etc. I asked them if they were going to participate in a big bash event coming up next month, a full day’s event with music, open studios, wine tasting, festivities, and thousands of people expected.

And they said no.

I asked why not. They spread their hands, indicated their space. “It’s not very impressive,” they said. (They had seen my studio and were very impressed.)

I said these thoughts to them:

My work takes several media, I’m a hoarder highly-evolved hunter-gather by nature, and consequently my studio is really dense. But not all studios are.

I told them their work was lovely, and that they were chatty, funny, and easy to talk with. “People will love talking with you!” I said.

I told them that their subject was one that would appeal to many people, and the steps involved (there was a photograph, an enlarged photograph, some small studies) would fascinate visitors.

I said I did not expect to sell anything, simply willing to invest in introducing my work to as many people as possible. “It’s not about who comes by, it’s about who comes back.” My only goal is to sign up as many genuinely-intrigued visitors as possible for my mailing list.

Finally, I said, “A wise mentor told me years ago, ‘To the general public, you artists are the people who ran away to join the circus!’ People are curious about what our lives look like. Many people dream that they could do what we do. And your small, intimate space will a) let people see that you don’t need a huge space or tons of supplies to bring art-making into their own lives, and b) may encourage a fellow budding artist about what can be accomplished when we dedicate a little bit of space, and time, to our work.”

And that’s one of the “purposes” for making our art: To inspire others.

I think I convinced them they really weren’t “less than”.  They seemed happy!

Upside-down thinking may not work for everything (I’m flying across the country again tomorrow, I want the plane to fly right-side up!) nor everybody. To each his own…..

But my newly-restored mannequin has shown me the power at looking at a “problem” differently. I hope you give it a try!

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Give It Time, and Take the Time!

Luann Udell discusses how to enjoy the steps along the way in our "journey"
Luann Udell discusses how to enjoy the steps along the way in our “journey”

LESSONS FROM THE MOVE: Give It Time, and Take the Time!

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.

Most things in life work themselves out.

There is a saying I learned in my hospice training awhile back: Hospice is full of recovering fixers.

The premise is, death is something that can’t be “fixed” or cured. But conditions, including the state of mind for our clients, and hopefully, for family members, too, can be healed.

I would forget this, from time to time. But my amazing supervisor was always there to walk me through the swamp of good intentions back to solid ground.

I recently read about a scientific study on happiness. To paraphrase, it said most of us hold a major goal (or two, or many) in our life, and believe we will be totally happy when we attain it.

But it turns out our happiness is increased in a big way by embracing the steps we take to get there.

If we stop to consider our journey, then the “arrival” feels even richer, and deeper.

That stopped me in my tracks.

I realized that from January 2018 to January 2019, my life has been a hot mess. Despair, sadness, loneliness, anger, frustration, and uncertainty, all had SO MUCH FUN WITH ME for thirteen long, harsh months. (I used to discount this stuff by saying, “Hey, nobody died!” until that was no longer true at all.)

In addition to all the drama, my studio on South A Street went from “I have lost my desire to create” to “Geez, this is hard” to “Dang, they sure are noisy, glad it’s ending soon!” to “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME??” to jackhammers, sawing, smog in my studio (yep, you read that right), and demolition, to “Now what?!” to “This is really really hard!!” to “Hallelujah, I can’t believe what just happened!!” (In a good way.)

In between were tiny moments of “I am slowly but surely dealing with this move”. Of course, I started out packing with great care, but by the last day, I was just throwing stuff into boxes. Every box from this stage is a huge “Surprise!!!” moment….

Two examples of how things usually “just work out” in the end:

I’ve already written how, in his desire to have me out of there, my landlord offered a truck and two of his employees to get me moved. This saved us the expense of renting a truck ourselves, doing all the heavy lifting ourselves, and cut almost a week off the end of my move.

I had worried for weeks on how this was ever going to possibly work out. I couldn’t imagine how it could happen. I could not even visualize what I wanted, let alone expect any help.

And in two minutes, the entire problem was solved. (Well. The next 24 hours were full of chaos and mayhem, but again, it was just 24 hours!)

The second thing is more subtle.

All my furniture was now in my studio, and I had a vision of how to lay things out. All I needed was three bookcases: One very tall and skinny, one that was tall and very sturdy, and a third that was narrow-ish (under 29” wide), with two bottom shelves that were at least 15” tall. Hopefully, something that would fit in with the rest of my storage/display furniture. And it definitely had to be affordable. I also realized a table we already had that I thought would work for that third workstation was not suitable at all. Dang.

I also needed a wheeled office chair, but I didn’t think that would be hard. (Ha!)

Now, it gets complicated from here, so if you don’t have the patience, skip to the end…..

I couldn’t find any of the five pieces I needed, not even a wheeled office chair. (Was there a run on them in January??)

I searched every thrift shop and antique store around. I looked online: Facebook Marketplace, NextDoor, Craigslist. Nada.

In one thrift store known for its huge furniture collection, I found two candidates for the book shelf. But they were literally the only two items that were not for sale. One was being used for displaying shoes, the other (though it had a price tag) was being used by the staff. What are the chances?!

Fortunately, I doubled-back a day later, to my favorite thrift shop again, and found two perfect candidates for the first two bookcases. Yippee!!

But that third one was just too crazy, and much harder to find.

I finally researched “used office furniture” online, and came up with some stores that might work. But most of them were closed until Monday.

On a hunch, and in desperation, I went back to the thrift store that had the first “perfect” candidates that weren’t for sale. Maybe there was something I overlooked?

There was. Off in the book section was a medium-height cupboard with one shelf. It looked a little like my printer’s type tray drawers, but no drawers. It looked wide, but I thought what the heck? I could use it for something else. And the price? $10. (Yes, you read that right, too!) While I was there, I found a desk that might work for my last workstation. It was $15. What luck! I would come back and pick it up later.

I had to wait for the store to open on Monday. I was there ten minutes after they opened. I brought the cupboard back to the studio and it was EXACTLY THE RIGHT WIDTH. (I am now feeling “heard” by the universe.)

But the desk….. I realized it had no “overhang” to clamp on my two wonderful work-lamps. Was that a deal-breaker??

Sure enough, while dropping off a donation at another thrift store, I found a) an office chair for $5 (sensing a theme here??) and the perfect table, in the perfect color, with the perfect overhang, and extremely sturdy. It was big. It might mean rearranging my space yet again. So I reluctantly left it.

And realized that night that YES IT WAS THE PERFECT TABLE. The first choice was not only two small, using tabletop lamps would take up even more room.

So I called the store the next morning, before they were even officially open, thinking I could leave a message to please please please hold the table for me until I could get there after another engagement.

Someone answered the phone! (What are the chances??) And they said, “We usually won’t do that, but we will!”

After my meeting, we picked it up and took it out to the new studio. It fit! I simply put it in sideways to the wall, rather than up against it. It broke up the space nicely, with plenty of room to spare. (I “donated” the first table at the first store back to them. They serve a wonderful cause, and I was only out $15, after all.)

So here I am today, almost done with the set-up. (Yes, I’ll try to get some pics.)


I even found the perfect place for the dolls and puppets so critical for making my art. (Not really, but I love ’em.) 

Everything fell into place. Everything I needed, I found. Everything I found, was hugely affordable. Everything worked out even better than I had hoped.

Today I realized how wonderful I’m feeling again.

It was a year where I, I felt so drained of energy, I did not even go to my studio for weeks at a time. Even working on my art could not restore me to my happy place. That was hard.

And here I am today, realizing that this week in February is the most amazing week I’ve had in a loooooong time. (YES, successful shopping helps!)

I am restored to my better self. My studio is lookin’ good! Yesterday I set up some of my artwork for the first time in ages. I have an extra work station. I can’t believe how cohesive all the bits and pieces look, too.  I can still hardly believe I found the five perfect components to complete my studio layout, within three days.                            

                                                                    

 It’s starting to come together!                                                      I’ve actually got artwork  up!                                                                                                               And bottles. Old crusty                                                                                                                            bottles…                                             

Yesterday, my new art community had a meeting about a major event we’re having in a couple months. It sounds full of promise, and I got to watch how folks participated and interacted. It sure looks like a roomful of grown-ups!

Today the sun is out, and cherry trees are blooming. Today I realized I don’t need any more infrastructure/ or furniture. Today I realized with a bit of luck, I can be back to work by the end of the week.

As I write this, I marvel at all the things that simply fell into place, beginning with that second offer of studio space from Julian and Anna those first few days in 2019. I see the “change in perspective” that constitutes a miracle, a change that lets me breathe, and relax (figuratively speaking!). I can finally let go of the anger, angst, resentment, and fear. I am ready to embrace my new situation and my new community.

I am focused on enjoying every minute of unpacking and setting up, even those boxes full of haphazard stuff I threw together in panic. It feels good to realize not everything has to be “forced” into working. Sometimes it all just falls into place, despite our worst fears and doubts.

Today feels full of promise, and hope.

And today, I hope for you, when times are harsh and dark, to find your own beautiful moments of light and grace. Somewhere, someone wishes you well, someone or someplace has exactly what you need, and something will remind you of how beautiful life can be. Embrace it!

There is never really an end to “the journey”. But I am back to enjoying the steps along the way.

Do you have stories of things that worked out better than you could have ever hoped or dreamed? Or a goal you set that you savored all along the way? Please share! We all need to be reminded of the possibilities. Someone may simply need to hear your story today!

SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: People Are Listening!

SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: People Are Listening!

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.

 

img_20160905_170647
I have very good reasons for choosing polymer. Simply put, I could NOT do the work I do without it!

I recently wrote an article called SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: Consider the “Why”. In it, I shared how we can positively frame our choice of media, especially ones that are considered “less than.”. (I was going to say “justify” in that sentence, but it sounded like an apology. Let’s just stick with “frame”.)

There is a hierarchy in art media, just like there are hierarchies in any creative human activity. For example, even the worse presentation of ballet may be seen as more “sophisticated” than tap dancing, or break dancing.

In art, oil painting may be considered more “real art” than acrylics, which is “better” than watercolor, which is “better” than colored pencil, etc. Many even consider pottery and fiber art to be craft rather than “real art”. (It used to be, if you wanted to start a flame war on the internet, you would just ask what the difference is between “art” vs. “craft”. Actually, that argument’s probably still raging!)

My friend Nicole Caulfield is an extremely talented colored pencil artist. She chose this medium for a variety of reasons. To my eye, they are as beautiful and compelling as any oil painting I’ve ever seen. Yet her work commands far lower prices than even a mediocre oil painting. Does it weigh her down? Nope. This is the work she loves, and excels at. In my mind, she is an art hero! (I’ve linked to one of her website pages, but her portraits are jaw-droppingly beautiful, too!

Over time, new media (especially polymer clay) do gain respect and followers. And yet, there will always be those people who will find fault with them. In the article, I shared how I got to the heart of my “why”—why I chose to work with this material, and its advantages over others, to make my art.

Today I share another insight into why it’s important for us to find these reasons:

When we are challenged by these people who imply (or outright tell us!) our materials are “less than”, we need to be prepared with a great answer….

Because other people are listening!

I did an entire series of articles on awkward, obnoxious, aggressive/dismissive, simply ignorant, or even innocent questions or comments that may startle or stun us.

As artists and makers, whatever our choice of medium, we need to be prepared for an answer that modifies and redirects the conversation on our own terms.  We need to do it with patience, and dignity, and without anger, defensiveness, or apologies.

For one, we gain nothing by responding with anger or snark. We’ve simply lowered ourselves to our detractor’s level. We help create a hostile environment that works against us. (In fact, that’s why some obnoxious visitors do this, consciously or unconsciously. Why else would someone go out of their way to be rude, when all they have to do is walk away??)

But more importantly, when we address our detractors, other people around us. Whether it’s at an art opening, in our booth, in our studio, or even in our family and circle of friends, other people are paying attention to how we handle it.

If we learn to handle these difficult situations with respect, and reframe it to our advantage, we will really impress the people who are listening, who are/could be our real customers.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had someone say something awful to me, sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes because they are simply an awkward person, and sometimes, because my work has triggered something in them. (I’m guessing envy, and perhaps insecurity about their own creative efforts.)

I realized those questions and comments fall into several categories: My choice of media (not just polymer clay, but fiber, and jewelry.) My source of inspiration. My color palette.  How I talk about it.

I sat down and thought hard about how to respond in a positive way, without being defensive. This actually gives me the power to reframe the conversation in a way that serves me well.

And every time there has been an “audience”—other people browsing, for example—it’s obvious they’ve been listening to how I responded. Because they do one or more things:

They look even deeper at my work.

Often they come up to me afterwards and compliment me on my restraint. (Fortunately, no one can read my mind yet, where less pleasant responses are swarming.) (Yes, I have a lizard brain, too!)

They often buy something, too.

That “difficult person” gave me the opportunity to share my outlook on life, my art, and my medium, in wonderful, positive, life-affirming ways that resonate deeply with my audience.

Again, this took time. I was fortunate to find Bruce Baker’s seminars early on in my art career. For almost two decades, Bruce gave seminars and sold CDs offering great advice on marketing and display skills for artists and makers of all sorts. (He has now returned to his original work of jewelry-making.) [1]

I used his advice (and words!) when two women entered my booth at my very first major show. One looked at a large wall hanging, featuring my own handmade polymer faux bone artifacts. She said, “You’d have to live in a very different house to hang this. A VERY different house!” (It was obvious her “very different house” was not a desirable house…..)

I’d practiced Bruce’s suggested response to detractors, memorized it (so I wouldn’t be caught off-guard) and went into full reframing mode:

“Yes”, I replied cheerfully, “My work IS unusual, and unique. I’m inspired by the Lascaux Cave in France, which for decades was considered the birthplace of human art. I work with recycled fabrics to make each quilt, layered and stitched to look like it’s passed through many generations of family. I make my own faux prehistoric artifacts, one at a time, to embellish them.”

And the kicker line: “My work isn’t for everyone. But the people who do appreciate my work, love it passionately.”

Why is this so appealing?

I established my cred as an artist. I shared a bit of the process behind my work. I emphasized the time involved, and where the aesthetic comes from. I showed I’m not looking for mass appeal, but the story in my heart.

And I issued a small “challenge”: Maybe it’s not for you…or is it???

This is the power of discovering our “why”: Why we use this material. Why we make this work.

And why someone else’s negativity won’t stop us from moving forward with all our heart.

But the biggest gain was the people who came up to me after that person left, and congratulated me on my response!

They saw someone who hoped to get a rise out of me, sent on their way with courtesy, patience, and respect. They heard a response that answered some of their own questions, questions they may have hesitated to ask. (Because some artists can get pretty snarky about what they perceive as “stupid questions!)

It started a whole nother conversation about my work, where I could share how I came to be an artist, why I chose this cave, and why polymer is the perfect medium to tell my story.

So think about why you chose your particular medium. Think about why you choose to make what you make. Think about the questions that have stopped you in your tracks, making you wish you had a snappy response in return.

Then take out the “snappy” bits, and reframe it to your advantage.

Be careful about making a joke, because usually those jokes are at our customers’ expense! I myself have been the butt of such remarks, and even though they make me laugh, I’m also slightly ticked. (See that same “questions” series for ideas!)

And practice your response(s) until you don’t even have to think about it.

If you, too, have found a way to frame your response to detractors (it could be medium, subject matter, color palette, in a positive, respectful way that benefits you, share! Someone else is hoping you’ve found a beautiful way to not only deflect, but perhaps even engage, a difficult person.

Footnote: [1]  Bruce’s old website is long gone, but his excellent and informative CDs on selling and display for makers are still available! You can contact him by phone (802-989-1138) or email him at dunnbaker@aol.com  I assure you they are worth every penny!

SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: Consider the “Why”

Don’t focus on the “what”. Focus on the “how” and the “why”.
What’s it made of?
This used to be my most dreaded question to answer. Until it wasn’t.
Recently, Cynthia Tinapple, a long-time polymer clay artist/teacher/writer/curator, told about a recent visitor who said she “loved polymer clay.”
Cynthia was caught off-guard. Usually, we polymer clay users jump “defend” our choice of medium. This visitor acknowledged it, respected it, and praised it, all without prompting.
Polymer clay is an amazingly versatile, adaptable, and accessible art medium. And like any other medium, you can use it to make crap, or to make something astonishingly beautiful.
It was originally used in Germany as an art doll medium, and well-respected.
But when it was originally marketed in the U.S., it was framed as a simple clay for children and amateurs to use, especially Sculpey: Supersoft, easy to work, quick to fire in an ordinary toaster oven.
Those of us who worked with it soon found ourselves constantly judged as “less than”…. Less than “earth clay” artists. We worked in “plastic”. It was cheap, and it broke easily. I remember my first little craft fair, featuring pens I’d covered in patterned mosaic polymer, selling for a few bucks. A couple stopped by, and the guy picked one up. “What is it?” his partner asked, and he responded in disgust, “A cheap pen covered in plastic.” He put the pen down and walked away.
I felt flatter than a pancake.
Innovators like the late Tory Hughes (who inspired my faux ivory work), City Zen Cane, Kathleen Dustin, and many others, soon showed us what could be done with this material.
Still, the stigma remained.
Years ago, I noticed a disheartening phenomenon: Whenever a booth/studio visitor picked up my work and asked what it was, I’d reply brightly, “It’s polymer clay!”
And they would put it down again and move away.
I realized I had to reframe what this material meant to me, and why I chose to work with it.
First, I created a few small “sample” card of things I’ve made with the clay. There are faux bones and pebbles, mosaics and buttons, pieces of turquoise, coral, and amber, tiny fish and other wonders, all arranged attractively and attached to a piece of poster board.
Then there is my “Welcome to my world!” sign next to it.
I’m much wordier when I talk about it. I show them the little sign-with-samples that’s now an instant attention-getter in my studio and at shows.
I remark on what a miracle it is to have this material in the world at the same time in history that I’m in the world.
I put a little horse, or bear, into their hands, and tell them the story of a customer who chose her horse necklace based on how it felt in their hand.
I show them the grain, and tell them about the guy I met at the Boston Gift Show years ago, who owned a company that makes artifact reproductions for museum gift stores, who said they can’t make a scrimshaw reproduction that so beautifully mimics ivory like I do.
I share how important it is to make “bones” and “ivory” without harming animals, a choice that better reflects our modern times.
And I always add, “It’s not what the material isit’s what you do with it.
So once again, I am grateful to all the innovators and early-adaptors of polymer clay, for curators like Cynthia and others, new teachers who share their expertise and knowledge about this amazing medium, and the amazing, talented, unique artists who have chosen it to work with.  Thank you!!!
I would show you the sample card, but I’m not sure where it is right now. I’m moving to a new studio in a few weeks, and my space is filled with boxes, packing tape, and boxes marked like this:
moving studio box
Yes, I have a small collection of puppets in my studio. I LOVE THEM!!!
Which reminds me of when we packed for our move to California four years ago, and Jon labeled THIS box:
moving
I love this man. He always makes me laugh!

It is the fourth time I’ve moved my studio in four years, and we also moved our home twice times in four years.  I’m a lit-tul bit exhausted. But I think I see some light at the end of the tunnel!