COOLING DOWN: Deadlines, Procrastination, and Inspiration

 

A gift for a friend. And the first NEW fiber work I’ve done in what seems like forever!

As I wrote recently, the pandemic, losing a long-time writing gig, recent surgery, a fall in my studio have all contributed to the doldrums in my creative life.

On one hand, my healing progress after knee replacement surgery has been spectacular, especially considering I did almost NO physical exercise during the year-long shutdown. (It hurt to do anything, what can I say?)

On the other hand, I have to make up reasons to go to my studio now. Fortunately, I found some work-arounds, shared them in that same post (making small gifts for non-profit staff, friends in need, etc.), and learned that other people found my experience helpful, too. It actually helped ME to learn that other folks were struggling, and I was not alone in my funk.

But it still takes mental effort to get outta bed and get there. Thanks to that Garfield cartoon, I adjusted my goals down to spending even just a couple hours at the studio. Anything above and beyond was gravy.

And today, I finally read an article by Rachel Syme called “What Deadlines Do To Lifelines” in the July 5 issue of The New Yorker magazine. I’d overlooked it, but checked it out when a letter to the editor mentioned that deadlines increase productivity. (Which is why I was missing my 12-year writing gig for FineArtViews.com. No more deadlines!)

And yet….

Halfway through the article, Syme wrote:

Everywhere you look, people are either hitting deadlines or avoiding them by reading about how other people hit deadlines.”

I closed my tab.

Here’s why:

Years ago, in one of the very first artist support groups I created back in New Hampshire, one creative struggled to do the work they loved. Some of our group exercises helped them get clarity about the corrosive, toxic voice in their head that told them they weren’t good enough. Yippee! They could move on and get busy, right?

Um. Nope. Instead, they began doing all the exercises in an otherwise very useful book for creatives, The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron. Every meet-up, they shared their latest exercise proudly. Month after month after month.

By the time the group disbanded (people moving away, etc.) that person had not accomplished one thing with their creative talents.

It was a huge insight for me at the time, and one I constantly plug: Creative exercises are fun, they can be insightful and enlightening. Cameron’s book helped me stay grounded with my own creative work. Even today, in a gig economy when we feel pressured to monetize every bit of our creative effort, she is a godsend.

But they cannot replace the real work of our heart, our voice in the world.

And here I was, on a Saturday morning, with actually projects awaiting me in my studio, reading about how useful deadlines can be. Irony with a capital “I”.  (And not just because it’s the first word in that sentence.)

If you are struggling with reaching your goals today, consider this:

What works for you is whatever works for YOU.

Trying new habits and practices can help. But if they suck up all your creative juices, then they are not actually helping.

Deadlines work really really well for me. But they have their time and place in life, and are not always the best thing to get me motivated.*

And reading about the problem only goes so far. Sometimes, tiny steps, 10%, and a small reward for doing the right thing can carry us home, too.

***Bonus: If you love to read, and are not familiar with Bookfinder.com, this is your new, best tool to find that book you want, at the best price possible!

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

If you have your own work-arounds for procrastination, please share in the comments! What works for you might be just what works for someone else.

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.

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.

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.

WAITING

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.

(7 minute read)

Sometimes I have tons of ideas for articles. Sometimes, not so much.

I keep a supply of ideas, rough drafts, etc. so when I’m not inspired, I’ll have something to talk about. Today is one of those days.

So here from the “drafts” section is a one-liner that leapt out at me. Awhile back, I found a quote from “A Serpent’s Tooth”, a book by Craig Johnson (whose series inspired the “Longmire” TV show.)

Sometimes we spend our lives thinking we’re doing something, when in reality all we’re doing is waiting.

Underneath this, I’d typed “What are you waiting for?”

I have no idea why that quote hooked me. I’ve come back to it from time to time, and thought, “Why did I write that down?” Then on to other things.

But today, it stopped me in my tracks. It resonated differently this time.

What are we waiting for???

I’ve been trying to assist a loved one in their goal to “really get started” with their life: “I want a real career, but I’m such a loser, I’ll never figure it out!” “I fail at everything, and I’m behind in life!” “I don’t know what I want, and I never will!” “You don’t understand!!!”

When someone we care about is caught in these never-ending loops, there’s very little we can do. Except listen, try not to give advice (especially when nothing we say is considered valuable in the first place), and to simply be present. It’s not easy. It’s hard. Heavy. And harsh.

But today, when I came across that quote, I realize I’m the one in the never-ending loop.

What am I waiting for?? I ask myself….

I am amazed at the clarity that surfaces.

I am surrounded by the detritus from my fourth studio move in five years. Some stuff has been sold off, some has been donated, and some is simply destined for the scrap heap.

But as a mixed media artist (and a highly-evolved hunter-gatherer!), I have learned to see the beauty in everything. A pebble, a bird feather, a weathered stick, a button, all have potential in my eyes.

So, too, those really ugly pearls I bought on impulse that I cannot bring myself to use. The bags of milk paint I was sure would be perfect for painting old wood boxes. The damaged frames piled up in my studio, dinged and danged from too many venues, too much packing and unpacking, not enough bubble wrap.  “Maybe I can fix them and sand them and repaint them,” I think to myself.

but then I caught myself:

Is that the highest, best use of my time? Probably not.

When I had to clear all that stuff out to make room for said family member’s arrival, I realized it was time to get brutal. Er….but not too brutal.

That’s where the idea to host an artists garage sale came from, a few weeks ago. The first time I organized one, it sucked up so much time and energy, I didn’t have time to organize my own stuff and get it priced and ready to sell. On the other hand, it was hugely successful! People begged me to do it again next year. Unfortunately, I moved to California instead.

This time will be different. A lot of people in our two buildings are already onboard, as well as the building managers. I can set up a table inside my own studio. I can use my Square to take payments. I will have people helping with posters, publicity, and table-wrangling.

OK…..What else am I waiting for?

I struggled with a few great galleries that’s accepted me as a guest artist. But 2018 through the first half of 2019 was filled with many deaths in the family, many trips for last visits, funerals, support. I could barely take care of myself, let alone my art biz. I dropped the ball on restocking, attending receptions, staying in touch. And I realized my sales in New Hampshire galleries had dropped off to practically nothing. (Some had dropped my work, some had only older work, etc.)

Out of the blue, one gallery asked me to restock. When I did, they followed up with, “Um…these new designs you sent….do you have more??!” Yes, I did, and sent them on.

That inspired me. So a month ago, I reached out to all my League of NH Craftsmen galleries, hoping one or two would pick me up again.

To my surprise and delight, six of them wanted me back in! This past month has been spent creating new work and new designs, creating a cohesive collection for each one, tagging, labeling, creating an inventory sheet. Now working on packing and shipping.

That inspired me to reach out to a local gallery, where my inventory had really languished under my neglect. The last time I visited, I found they’d increased the number of jewelry artists, and my display was woefully inadequate. I swallowed my pride, and asked them if they still wanted my work.

They did! Turns out all the members loved my work (okay, most of them do.) The larger works were great attention-getters, but slow sellers. I took them back. Tomorrow, I’ll be setting up a new display with new work (and higher prices!)

What else am I waiting for?

I’ve been feeling cut off from my friendship network. Was I waiting for people to reach out to me? Yes, I was. And this week, one new local friend did reach out, a small artist support group I started took an important “next step up” (which was powerful), and another friend started a neighborhood women’s gathering. I was going to go. “I’m too busy! I don’t have time! I hate gatherings with people I don’t know!”

But I went, and had a wonderful time. I think everybody did. Afterwards, we all responded to the group text information with words like, “This was exactly what I didn’t know I needed today!”

Sometimes, when we are feeling overwhelmed by life and its myriad complications, in trying to create balance with making our artwork and marketing it, it’s easy to get caught up in “fixing it”. If only I had…..! If only I knew someone….! If only I knew how to…! If only I knew what I really wanted!!!!

We end up waiting. For what?

Do we wait til we’re sure we’ll succeed, before beginning that big new work?

Do we wait til we’re sure we’re “good enough” before we explore gallery representation? (I find the people who are really good who hesitate the longest!)

Are we waiting for a “sign from the universe” before we take on a new challenge? Do we wait until we find the perfect solution to our problem? Have a straight 8-10 hours to start that new work? Do we believe we have to clean our entire studio before we can get back to work after a hiatus, rather than just clear off that one surface we need to start it?

I remember a friend’s wise words one morning a few years ago, when I texted to say I was totally confused about what to do about the stuff on “plate”. She replied, “I sit with uncertainty everyday until Clarity makes her presence known.” If that sends a shiver down your spine like it did mine, you might like to read more about Sheri Gaynor’s life work here.

Today, I sat. I poked around, hoping for a little clarifty.

And there it was, in my own notes, just waiting to be found.

Sometimes we wait for clarity. Sometimes we go looking for clarity. Sometimes it’s right where we left it, just under our noses.

Have you experienced this? Been unable to “fix” an issue that seemed to complicated, too random, with no solution… And then seen clarity what was needed, and what you had to do? How did that work out for you?

Please share! I’d love to hear your story, and I’m sure others will, too.

As always, if you like this article, please share with someone you think would enjoy it.

And if someone shared this with you, and you’d like to read more, you can subscribe to the Fine Art Views newsletter (with many other authors contributing!), or sign up at my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

HOW TO BE MORE PRODUCTIVE Part 2

Part Deux in how to raise the art of procrastination to a fever pitch, my column in yesterday’s Fine Art Views. Enjoy!