MY TOWN: Santa Rosa Made Visible by Bud Snow

That's me in the coral pink t-shirt, adding my 2 cents to Bud Snow's lastest public art installation.

That’s me in the coral pink t-shirt, adding my 2 cents to Bud Snow’s lastest public art installation.

 

I spent three wonderful days last week, ‘helping’  on the lastest public art installation by mural artist Bud Snow (formerly of Santa Rosa, CA.)

I didn’t mean to. I just stopped by to say hello to this talented, amazing person, whose early work appears on a concrete ledge right outside my studio door. I was captivated the very first time I saw their images, on a grainary tower along Rte. 12, on storefronts and buildings, and this humble little ledge (which we saw the very first time we stopped in Santa Rosa at Atlas Coffee Company.)

We met, we fell in love with each other, and a wonderful friendship was born. And now Bud was back in town, painting a giant mandala about 100 feet from my front door (again!) in Santa Rosa’s beautiful, art-filled Julliard Park. My quick hello on Monday was met with, “Would you like to paint a bit?” “Would I?! Would I?!! Hell, yah!” I shrieked  said politely. And I painted for several hours. And again Tuesday (“I really can’t stay oh okay just for a few minutes”) for 6 hours. (I called Jon down to join me, and he said it was exhilarating, peaceful, therapeutic, and a million other good things.) And I was there for hours more on Wednesday, too.

This project was a little different for Bud. Usually the work is done high up, in otherwise inaccessible locations. Not much face time with the public, and they certainly can’t be a part of the process fifty feet off the ground. This was at ground level, in a popular park, near an elementary school, a small community of stores and shops and fancy restaurants, in the heart of Santa Rosa’s SOFA Arts District.

This meant people actually walked by the work-in-progress. It lay right at their feet! The responses were delightful to behold. Everybody–everybody— loved it. High school and college kids, longtime friends of Bud who stopped by to say hello, fellow artists, parents picking up their kids at the elementary school, people eating lunch, people walking home from work, people walking their dogs, people who hang out in the park who have no homes to go to, bicyclists, people using the bocce courts nearby, neighbors, passers-by, all ages, all genders, all races, all affiliations, all greeting the work with smiles and laughter.

And Bud met all of them with grace, and generosity, and an open heart. And asking them if they’d like to paint a bit. (Almost everyone said yes.)

It was magic.

And as people painted and chatted, the magic continued. Stories, musings, and wisdom were shared, unknown connections were revealed (some going back two or three generations, and across the country, and into Canada and Mexico.) Synchronicity abounded, resulting in gasps of breath and regular rounds of laughter.

Synchronicity involves authenticity, and Bud Snow has that in abundance. Pure creative spirit creates powerful connections, and the resulting art creates powerful connection, something we’ve practiced as a species even before the powerful and mysterious cave paintings were made tens of thousands of years ago.

This, to me, was the ultimate public art project. Because not only did the art beautify the space, and enriched those who see it, it brought together a mini-community of people to participate in the process. All of us who contributed even a brushstroke, or shared a story, or brought a gift (coffee, snacks, and other goodies) will feel part of this mandala for years to come. And because it’s a functional piece as well (you can actually walk this meditative piece), it will enrich others for decades to come.

Effin’ brilliant.

Actually, this is even more incredible when you figure in the problematic consequences of this. Engaging constantly with the public, encouraging people to participate (very few said no!), setting them up to paint, and adding to the touch-up work needed to cover errant footprints (people, dogs), drips, and scuffs (because the design was complex, and mistakes were made) was also monumentally time-consuming. What was supposed to be a two-day project stretched to double, almost triple the time. Bud agonized about being over-budget and over-time. And yet Bud never let that show, not once. Bud was just as gracious and engaging to the people who showed up as we were trying to clean up, as the sun set, as the first visitors of the day. (A homeless man held a flashlight for us as we cleaned up the work station, and used his pocket knife to scrape away some of the more stubborn paint drips. SO EFFIN’ SWEET.)

I’m sharing one such gift today, courtesy of Tara Thompson, arts coordinator for the City of Santa Rosa, who showed up with many gifts (including painting!)

Tara showed up with items from a previous outreach/marketing project in Santa Rosa, called Out There in the Middle of Everything (Santa Rosa), a collaborative project with Santa Rosa residents to promote the overt and hidden wonders of Santa Rosa. She brought t-shirts and small booklets designed by Bud, and gave them to Bud.

My favorite was this t-shirt, a sort of treasure hunt for Santa Rosa:

There is magic in this seemingly ordinary t-shirt, beyond the illustration.

There is magic in this seemingly ordinary t-shirt, beyond the illustration.

Now, at first glance, I couldn’t read the ‘code’. And then…I could.

Oh! There’s SOFA! That’s the art district! And tool library–I knew what that was, too.

I knew two of the ‘secrets’ of Santa Rosa!

My friend Cory explained a few more that I actually knew, too. “Goat mornings” was having coffee at another popular coffee shop, The Flying Goat. “Snoopy E’rywhere”? The sculptures of characters from the comic strip PEANUTS, by Santa Rosa resident Charles Schulz, which you’ll find all over town.

Jon looked and said, “Hey, the Pen Guy! Is that the guy who’s glued Sharpie markers all over his car? I took a picture of that!” It was.

And here’s the biggest wonderful aspect of Bud Snow’s work:

I instantly felt a part of, a citizen of, Santa Rosa.

Jon and I moved a lot before we settled down in Keene, New Hampshire 28 years ago. I’m extremely aware of how much time can pass before you feel “at home” in a new place, before you feel yourself to be a real citizen of that place.

This t-shirt created that feeling, that connection in me immediately, after 18 months. (Keene took three years.)

I want Bud Snow to do this for other towns and communities.  (I know, anyone could do it. But Bud created this, help an artist out here. There will be the distinctive flair of Bud Snow’s art and talent.)

Bud didn’t see the deep magic in this at first. “They asked me to make something that showed how special this city is,” Bud said. “I just listed a bunch of my favorite places in town. It’s no big deal!”

But it is.

In twenty minutes, half a dozen people connected, with their long (or brief) history in this city, with each other, with Bud. Another intimate, powerful, connective work of art, doing its job, doing it right.

Thank you, Tara Thompson, for the perfect gift, for Bud Snow, for all of us there that day. I’ve already bought two t-shirts from the city site’s online store. I’ll be buying a lot more in the years to come.

Thank you, Bud Snow, for being you. You are more than you know.

And thank you, Santa Rosa, our new home.

 

 

 

 

THE QUAGMIRE OF CUSTOM ORDERS

I’m struggling to finish my last custom order from my big big retail show in August.

On the surface, it wasn’t a difficult order. The customer, new to my work, fell in love with my aesthetic. She asked me to create a necklace featuring a treasured natural artifact.

We discussed colors, style and price range. I took all her contact info. I promised to have it done within a month, at the most six weeks.

It’s been a heckuva lot longer than that.

I’ve had a difficult fall–a death in the family, new injuries, not a few distractions. Enough to bump things like this custom order a little further down the priority list each week.

Fortunately, I must have sensed the potential for trouble, so I didn’t take my normal deposit for the work. At least I haven’t taken money for work I haven’t done (though I do have her precious artifact in my care.)

And fortunately, I’ve found my creative jones again. I’m slowly envisioning what this piece could look like, and I’m halfway through the design process. I’m hoping that free express shipping, and a healthy discount on the quoted price will help offset the customer’s frustration on my lateness.

But I’m struggling with the why. Why do custom orders so often throw me for a loop? Why do they seem so difficult?

I’ve written about possible pitfalls with custom orders (the Design Diva scenario, for example.)

I know the drill on how to make sure custom orders go smoothly: Decide if you’ll charge for the actual design process. Get as much input from the customer as possible (size, price, color, etc.) Get a deposit upfront (to ensure the customer is committed.) Get them to sign off on the design stages, even sending images, if possible, of the work in progress. And get everything in writing.

And I’ve enjoyed success with most of my custom orders. Customers seem to be thrilled with the finished products, and often come back for more.

But there are still sticking points. Today, in the wee hours of the morning, I woke up with a better understanding of what those are, and why I struggle with them.

When a customer falls in love with a piece I’ve already made–at a show, in my studio, in my new Etsy shop–that emotional connection is palpable. And immediate.

They see it, they react to it, they buy it–and they’re happy. Instantly.

There is that astonished moment of recognition–“This is the one!”–a moment that is the culmination of my creative process. I made something I think is beautiful, and someone else agrees. They trade their hard-earned money for my time, my energy, and my vision. The transaction is complete.

I love that moment.

With a custom order, we both get partway there. But then that final moment is postponed. It becomes nebulous.

I go back to my studio after the show. There’s usually a significant amount of downtime. I have to recuperate, physically and emotionally, from the stress of doing the show. There is inventory to be put away, booth paraphernalia to be stowed, paperwork to be completed, sales to be recorded and deposited.

The excitement of the show dissipates. The memory of the actual encounter fades. (I’m getting older, after all!)

I can’t read my own notes on the transaction, or I don’t understand what my sales assistant meant by her notes.

The desire to make that customer happy is still overwhelming. But
the energy has faded, the details have become hazy.

Doubt and second-guessing sets in.

She said blue. But which blue? Sky? Turquoise? Baby? Cobalt? Copen? Capri? (Yes, I have all of these blues in my stash.)

She said handmade ivory beads, but not too big. What does that mean??

She said she didn’t care, she trusted my judgment. But the seeds of self-doubt have been sown. I don’t trust my judgment anymore.

I’ve become paralyzed trying to anticipate the desires of a customer who’s no longer in front of me, and whose heart is not known to me. (Geez, I struggle making things for people I’ve known intimately for years….)

I’ve moved the center of my creative energy from pleasing myself, to pleasing someone else.

I care deeply about being successful, yet I begin to question every design decision.

It’s not the customer’s fault. It’s just the nature of the process, for me. I struggle with this particular dynamic.

I don’t mean to sound presumptuous, but I sometimes wonder if God felt this way when he created Eve. “Hmmmm, yes, I’ll make him a companion, sort of like what I did with him but a little different. Dum de dum de dum de dum da….. Wow, that’s pretty good! Very nice. VERY nice. Wait….what if he doesn’t like brunettes????”

One thing I know for sure: I have to figure this out.

If I move into making bigger fiber wall hangings, if I hope to work with interior decorators or do commissions for public works, I’m going to have to get over this hurdle. Because these will all be “custom orders” in a sense–site-specific, made-to-order, the whole shebang. And the bigger the work, the more money involved. And, I assume, the bigger the risk of not pleasing the customer.

I realize it is this fear, this huge issue of self-doubt, that is holding me back from that next big step in my professional art career.

So how do I get past this?

It may simply be a process of learning to trust myself, completely, with full heart and steady resolve.

After, my customers did.

And maybe once again, my life situation and my art are closely intertwined. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, just as I’m realizing my next step in my martial arts practice, a log jam in my creative process is slowing breaking up.

All I ask is, I wish it would hurry up.

LOSER

I submitted a proposal for a public art commission a few months ago. I got really excited about it. It seemed like a perfect fit for my work. I poured my heart into my proposal.

A friend who was familiar with the venue vetted my ideas. She thought it was a good proposal. She warned me, though, the competition for this particular venue would be tough.

Sure enough, I didn’t get it.

I “lost”.

I’ve been thinking about the process, though. I realize that in many ways, I won. I learned good stuff along the way:

1) It’s good to be ready.

It’s a lot of work to submit a proposal. This one came up fast, too. I found out about it less than a week before the deadline.

Fortunately, I have tons of slides and digital images of my work. I have artist statements ready. I have reprints on hand of my publicity.

I was able to pull my proposal together in a couple of days.

2) I work well with guidelines.

I liked the idea of the commission–enough structure so I didn’t have to start from scratch, enough leeway to come up with an extremely original design. I liked having guidelines I could challenge and stretch ever so slightly, too. My proposal would have asked people to step just outside their normal expectations of an “art quilt”. And it would have encouraged them to think about the national park in a slightly different, more intimate way.

3) I play well with metaphors.

My friend said the metaphors I provided in my proposal–balancing the “big grand feature” of the park with the smaller intimate moments that are just as important to those familiar with the park–was perfect. It’s nice to know I “got” that when I read the project guidelines and thought of ways to connect my work with them.

4) I learned what could give me an edge in future proposals.

(Hint: Especially in areas of limited opportunities for artists, they might prefer to award these proposals to local or regional artists.)

5) I think I’d like to do more.

This had a different “feel” than many other promotional and sales opportunities for my work. I realized I liked everything about it: The potential for “winning” the commission. Having a big chunk of time (and money!) to devote to it. Having to make ONE THING instead of an ongoing body of work (for an exhibit or a gallery, for example.) The start-and-finish aspect. The idea that thousands of people from all over the country–and the world–would see my work.

I realized I’d like to submit more such proposals!

6) The parts that were hard are the places I need more work.

I realized I would need to finally master my new big-format sewing machine in order to create the pieces. So I need to get going on that, if I want to make those bigger works.

7) I found the passion in my work again.

It was challenging but fun to put together the proposal. And I found myself excited by the idea I proposed.

I realized that the notion of my work having a home, BEFORE I even finished it, was exhilarating. It’s been hard finding the right way to market the fiber. So I often feel it’s hard to devote a lot of time to something that may not sell for several years (as opposed to filling orders for jewelry and sculpture, which need to be done NOW.)

Knowing I was working to make a piece for a specific place, a specific purpose, with enough guidelines to get started but enough creative leeway to be interesting, really fit the bill.

It’s funny sometimes, how much you can learn from losing!

WHY, WHY, WHY?? How to Write a Stronger Artist Statement

I’ve just finished the final edits for an article I wrote for FiberArts magazine. You can learn more about the magazine here.

The article is about exhibition proposals–the “pitch” you make to a venue for a solo exhibition. It’s scheduled to run in the September issue, so put it on your calendars!

I think it’s going to be a slightly different take on similar articles. I actually went “behind the curtains”to see how such proposals are evaluated. I got to see firsthand which ones had pizazz and which ones didn’t–and more importantly, why.

Coincidentally, I also just finished my first proposal for public art. When a federal building project is budgeted, a certain percentage of the money involved is dedicated to providing art to decorate it–an amazing concept, and one that has long interested me.

You can read more about public art here.

Usually the scale is out of my league, and many designated sites are not conducive to fiber (outdoor installations, for example.) But this one was of manageable size. Best of all, I instantly felt it was a good fit for my artwork.
Why? Good question.

I’m not being facetious. When it comes to submitting a great proposal, writing a press release, or creating an astounding artist statement, WHY? is the very best question you can ask.

I found this out a few years ago while teaching a workshop on press kits.

My message was, the whole point of a press release is telling your story and getting it published in a newspaper or magazine.

So how do you tell a compelling story? I started with the 5 W’s (who, what, when, where, why, and how). That’s easy for most people.

But everyone was getting stuck on “why?”

They couldn’t get past the cliches we fall into when we are afraid to dig deeper.

“Because I just love color.” “I just love fabric.” “I dunno why I do it, I just like doing it.” “It’s so much fun!”

Even more telling, no one got WHY the “why” is so important.

I had a flash of insight.

Why?” is “Why do you care?” And “Why should I care?” (Sounds harsh, but true.)

To temper the process, I would just keep asking “why?” until I got a strong answer.

So I just asked “why?”

I asked “why” over and over and over, until we got to the heart of their story.

It’s simple. And it works.

I’m reading a terrific book called MADE TO STICK by brothers Chip and Dan Heath http://www.madetostick.com/ I was delighted to read the same technique recommended to get to the “core idea” you are trying to sell to people.

I use “sell” loosely, because whatever your product is–a movie, a car, a cleaning service, a painting, a charity–you have to make some connection with your audience in order for them to want it.

That connection, that “story”, can be about value, prestige, entertainment, convenience, whatever.

For most of us, “Why?” will get you to that story faster than the speed of light.

Here’s one example. Years ago, a friend who works with young adults with special needs complained about one former client he worked out with regularly.

His complaints were funny and amusing. But his experience sounded like so much trouble, I wondered why he continued to spend time with this young person.

I kept asking him why. He kept making vague excuses, none of which made sense. I kept saying, “But if this person is SO ANNOYING, why do you continue to do this??”

Finally, our friend burst out, “Because these people are different. They’re a little weird, they’re a little goofy. It can be scary if you don’t understand. In our culture, this tends to set them apart–they get marginalized, they get put aside. “

But the conditions that make them seem “odd” also give them amazing qualities. They have strengths and opportunities to offer us. Their “differences” are just part of the full spectrum of being human.”

I’ve always felt that, if only we could learn to be a little more understanding, a little more tolerant, then all our lives would be so much richer.”

As I heard this story, I felt myself determined to be a little more understanding, a little more tolerant.

The “why” had come through. My friend had made that connection by sharing that true story.

FWIW, in my book, one powerful story comes when we are motivated to be the best kind of person we aspire to be. To see common ground with others, and thus chose to act out of love, courage, passion and grace instead of fear and hate and pettiness.

So here I was with my first public art proposal. I found many of the same principles I’d learned from my research on the exhibition proposal article applied. But the biggest hurdle for me, as I said, was simply “why?”

WHY was my artwork a good fit for their proposal?

Once I answered that question to my satisfaction (and hopefully theirs!), I felt I had a good, strong proposal. I sent it off knowing I’d made my best effort.

Try this, the next time you need to really connect with an audience. Before you write your next artist statement, or submit your next exhibit proposal. Before you do your next show. Before you are interviewed by your local newspaper.

If this gets hard, ask a trusted friend to ask you, and tell them to push until they get the real answer.

Ask yourself “why”.

But ask it more than once.

Keep asking yourself “why?” until you get to the very heart of what motivates you.
Don’t stop til you reach the truth.

Trust me, you will know.