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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now for the downside: Setbacks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It mattered to me.

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

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

Still, I persist.

And now, here comes kindness….

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

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

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

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

And that makes it all worthwhile.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Rewards, Insight, Setbacks, and …K…K….courage, all this can be yours!

Painting on glass for an out-of-my-comfort-zone book project ultimately led to this new body of work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now for the downside: Setbacks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It mattered to me.

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

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

Still, I persist.

And now, here comes kindness….

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

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

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

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

And that makes it all worthwhile.

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

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

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

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

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY Except When It’s Not

If money is the ONLY measure of your success, don’t read any further, please!

In my latest article for Fine Art Views, I shared how taking a risk (what seemed to me a very small risk), brought me many benefits (tangible and intangible) for years.

My intention was to share how even small steps outside our comfort zone can have big results. I wanted to share that what most people see is “luck” ignores what underlies “luck”: Preparation, persistence, and recognizing opportunity. If you don’t recognize the opportunity when it appears, you won’t reap the potential rewards.

What started out as a very small thing (submitting an image of my work for the gallery section of a craft book) resulted in an opportunity to write and publish a book.

Most people applauded that concept. But to my surprise, some people focused only on the money.

Exactly how much work did I do for “free”, and how much did I get paid? (In today’s dollars, it would seem modest, but not ridiculously so.)

Am I telling people to work for free for the “exposure”?? (NO.) I did not “donate” to the gallery sections of the book I was in, like charity auctions so many artists are asked to do. I just submitted a photograph for each.

Exactly what did I gain from that decsion? It’s alllll in the article.

Paid projects. Paid to write a book. Foundation for teaching classes. New product lines down the road, even fifteen years later. A reputation for unique work, and for being a reliable writer.

After my work appeared in several books, people started calling me “famous”. (I’m not, of course, but many, many more people were made aware of my work. And many more people recognized my name.)

During open studios, I always have the two dozen or so books I’m in available to new visitors. It always impresses them. (“Hey, working with half a dozen editors across two dozen books? She must be doing something right!”)

I got paid for each project I created. And as I said in the article, they all turned into new lines of work for me. They also became the basis of classes I offer (and I charge for the classes I offer.) So the project books, and my books, offer validation of my skills.

I received a good advance on the book, enough to make it worth my while.

Did I get rich? No. (Although my advance from that book was more than 10x than I’ve made selling my ebooks.)
Did my reputation benefit? Yes, both as an artist and a writer.
Did I get more opportunities to write for pay? Yes.
Did I enjoy it? Very much!
Did other opportunities follow? Yes! My resume was awesome!

Again, if it’s all about the money, and money is THE ONLY CRITERION for whether this risk was “successful” or not….

I have no idea.

My income has gone up and down over the years, as I constantly sorted out what was working and what wasn’t. So any additional income that was still within my skills and interests range was very welcome. One year, making products for a mail order catalog account kept me afloat during a recession.

If I would do it again? In a heartbeat! I listed the benefits in the article. I believe the most important one is how these “risks” broadened my horizons, and widened my world.

Should everybody do this? Of course not! The stamp carver who produced the little booklet on stamp carving would have loved the money. They just didn’t want to commit to a year-long schedule, the amount of writing, etc. They’d written their booklet, and they were done. She gave me her blessing. (Thank you, Julie Hagan Bloch!) My schedule was more flexible, and I love to write!

Do I work for free all the time? Nope. A couple years ago someone reached out to me to write an article for their online publication. They refused to pay me, though they sort of promised I would get paid when their site went viral. (Uh huh…) They used the usual “but you’ll get such great exposure!” But they also kept increasing their demands on what was expected, so I knew it wouldn’t end well. (I started the article but soon walked away. There are warning signs for projects that won’t work to our advantage.)

Do I get paid for everything I do? Nope. There are times where I do stuff for free. I have my own criteria for assessing that. But I never do it when someone demands I do it for the “exposure”, when I sense those warning signs, or when there is absolutely nothing in for me at all, AND I don’t want to do it, period. Give a presentation or talk to art students? Sure! Donate to a charity auction? Only if I get my wholesale price from the sale. And so on.

We all have our unique boundaries, our individual take on where we draw the line between work-for-hire, work-for-free, and the gray areas in-between.

If we insist on being paid for everything, every time, and that is our ONLY criterion for success, we may overlook opportunities that will work in our favor. That is YOUR choice.

But it’s not mine.

This has been one of the most controversial posts I’ve ever written, which surprises me. I have been asked to defend the premise of this story over and over. I have had my integrity, my life experience, and my veracity challenged. (Usually people complained vigorously about how long my articles are.) (So I’m gonna wrap this up!)

Now….Did you know I don’t get paid to blog? :^D

Yes, I do get paid to write for Fine Art Views weekly. (I have permission to replublish those articles here.) But it’s not nearly what I used to get for ONE article when I wrote for magazines.

So, if I ONLY did things I love when I’m paid for them, you wouldn’t be reading this today. :^)

IF my writing has meant something to you…

If you ever felt like what I wrote has inspired you, enlightened you, educated you, shored you up when you felt the world does not want the work of your heart…

If you love the fact that I’ve openly shared for almost 16 years, what I’ve learned by being an artist, writer, martial artist, dog owner, wall climber, hospice volunteer, teacher, mother, etc….and shared it with you, not only because I have to write…

Because I hope someone, anyone, will find joy, learn, heal, be brave, be heard….at no cost to you….

How would you feel if I’d never started a blog?

Er…You can send me a check in any amount anytime. It will most be appreciated!

What’s Luck Got To Do With It? The True Meaning of Luck

What’s Luck Got To Do With It? The True Meaning of Luck

Luck = Preparation plus persistence plus opportunity.

This is one of my favorite personal stories….

Years ago, I belonged to a discussion forum (remember them?!) of stamp carvers. We used soft vinyl materials used in erasers (sort of a really soft linoleum, not as slippery) to make our work. Our skills ranged from newbies to people who actually worked as book illustrators.

It was a lively, talented group, supportive of each other, full of suggestions, materials testing, and inspiration.

One day, an editor from a craft book publishing company* joined our group. They announced they were looking for “gallery images” of our work, to feature in their latest craft book. (Aka, “a call to artists”, defined by AmericansfortheArts.org as “A Call for Artists is an opportunity notice that gives artists the information they need to know in order to apply to be considered for the project. Issuing a Call for Artists is a standard practice of the public art field.”

At first, people were thrilled. But then reality set in: We would have our work published, with credits. But we would not be paid.

People ranted about this, even though I later found out it is a common practice in the art-and-craft book industry. In the end, only a handful of us submitted work.

There were guidelines and deadlines, which we all met. The results? Our work was published! It felt pretty good to own such a book, it was wonderful to be able to say, “Look, my work was featured in this book!” The validation was powerful.

A few months later, the editor submitted another call for entries. The same little group responded, and the rest of the group continued to gripe. “It’s not fair that we aren’t paid for our work!” I figured I’d never made a cent from my prints—they were always for myself or a gift for someone. So nothing + nothing didn’t seem too awful.

And now our work was featured in two books!

This continued for about a year. Even the little group dwindled a bit, but I loved the “exposure”. I know the saying, “Artists die from too much exposure!” In this case, I still owned my stamp and held copyrights to my images, so what the heck?

I developed a relationship with this editor, a talented artist in their own right. We became friends. It helped that they loved my work! But they also appreciated the fact that I made their job easier. I met deadlines, my work was different from other people’s work, and whenever they called, I dropped what I was doing to talk with them.

Eventually, they asked if I would like to submit project for other books. (Multi-media work gave me an edge! I could do stamps, fiber, collage, jewelry, etc.) Over the next few years, my work appeared in around a dozen books published by Lark Books.

At one point, I got a call to submit a painted glass project. I said, “Oh, gosh, no, that’s too far afield for me!” They said that was fine, they had other people in line, including one person who was shipping a lot of painted glass pieces.

About six weeks later, they called in a panic. That person’s shipment had arrived totally smashed, the final deadline was looming, and that artist couldn’t possibly create enough new pieces in time. Could I, would I pleeeeeeeeeeze pretty please make a piece?

Of course, I said yes.

I found some stacking clear glass plates, in three different sizes at a thrift shop, traced images of my Lascaux series stamp carvings on the bottoms, and painted them with acrylic paints. Soon I had a ring of red stags and running horses on them. It looked pretty cool, if I do say so myself! (Sadly, one broke years later, and I gave the rest to a friend before we moved to California.)

You can imagine how grateful my editor was!

Sure enough, in a few months, they reached out to me again. They wanted to publish the first mass-market craft book on rubberstamp carving.

And they wanted ME to write it!

Let’s make this big enough so you can see my name!  :^)

Now, there were other stamp carvers who were more skilled than I was. There was a well-known stamp carver who had already self-published a beautiful little booklet on the same. I actually recommended that person for the job, and reached out to them, too. I didn’t want to step on any toes or disrespect their efforts, or this opportunity.

But they were not interested! “I am just not up to that!” they replied. “I can’t commit to all the deadlines, the amount of work….  Thank you for reaching out, but you do it, with my blessings!”

And so I did.

It was an amazing experience. I was assigned another editor, and they were amazing, too. It was a long process, with me writing the intro, all the lessons, carving stamps illustrating all the “stages” of stamp carving production, and compiling the resources section.

Lark Books flew me to their headquarters in Asheville, North Caroline, so I could be photographed “carving” stamps. (That is, my hands were photographed! Yes, I am now a hand model!) (Er….not anymore, actually.) I got to meet both editors, I got to explore Asheville (the first time I’d ever seen outdoor seating at restaurants!), and….

I am now a published author.

Thanks to this opportunity, I was the first person to write a mass-market book on rubberstamp carving. There have been more (and some of my work appeared in one of them), and they are even better, more on-trend.

But here’s the lesson:

When it came time for the gallery section, I reached out again to that same discussion group, inviting them to submit their work for inclusion.

The response?

“You’re writing a book on stamp carving?? You’re SO LUCKY!!”

*Thanks and a hat tip to Katherine Aimone and Joanne O’Sullivan of Lark Books. I am forever grateful for the opportunities you provided to make this all happen!

 

P.S. I got a few grumpy comments on this article, from people complaining I was giving my work away. I wasn’t. I got free publicity by submitting work to the book galleries, I was paid very well for the projects, and I received a decent advance for the book I wrote.  Did I get rich? Nope. Not much of the work I do pays very well, and that’s even more true today. But it was enough, it was enjoyable, I met amazing people, and it broadened my horizons in uncountable ways. I’m grateful, and I’m glad I did it!

DON’T ERASE–EMBRACE!

Some things in life–kids; dogs; art–just don’t much much sense. Until you look back and try to imagine your life without them.

My husband and I, we weren’t too wild about kids–until we had kids.

We weren’t too crazy about dogs, either–until we got a dog.

So what, you say? What does this have to do with art?

I’m saying there are some things you can’t make a rational decision about. Until you jump in and embrace them fully.

Kids. Dogs. Art.

Stand on the outside, and it doesn’t look very practical. It’s all very well to say “Follow your bliss, and the money will follow.” It’s another thing to wonder just how you’ll pay the mortgage with that fancy art degree you just got.

If you’re on the outside looking in, it’s very easy to say, “Well, there’s just no way.”

Some people take a quick peek, but say, “Well, it’s just not a good time. Maybe next year.” To which my mother wisely said, “It’s never a good time to have children.”

This was some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. Because once you step inside that world, you will somehow find a way to make it work.

Because you have to.

Some of us cobble it together. We work part-time at our art, and have a day job somewhere else. We take on other creative ways to generate income: Teaching, writing, consulting. Or we work full-time at our craft while a spouse, hopefully following their passion, carries the bulk of the financial load. Some of us do a lot of production work that pays for the big intuitive projects, the ‘big art’, that may or may not ever sell. Some of us actually hire other people to help us get our vision out into the world, and we end up running a real business with real employees and sick days and benefits packages.

It’s all okay.

The important thing is, we knew deep down inside we had to do this–and we do it.

Something inside said, “If you don’t do this, there’s a chance you won’t miss it.

But there’s a bigger chance you’ll passed by the opportunity to experience something really, really important.”

Art isn’t for everyone. Just like kids and dogs aren’t for everyone.

But once you embrace that destiny, there’s a good chance you’ll find you can’t imagine your life without it.

A MAN SHOULD NEVER GAMBLE….

Deciding if you should do a wholesale show.

When people ask if they should do this big-name show or that new wholesale show, I think of that old song by musician David Bromberg….

“A man should never gamble
more than he can stand to lose….”

(From his song, “Diamond Lil” on the Demons in Disguise album.)

This question came up again in a forum I frequent, and this is my response:

I haven’t done the ACRE show in a few years–I did their first show in Las Vegas, and stopped doing wholesale shows soon after, after about seven years of doing shows like BMAC (wholesale), ACC Baltimore (wholesale/retail) & ACRE Las Vegas (wholesale).

Here are some points to consider:

1) Wholesale shows are EXPENSIVE. And even a good wholesale show is with an established reputation and good management, is not a sure thing. Used to be, but not any more.

2) First year shows are notoriously dicey. An artist friend with 30 years in the biz recently told me, “Never do a first year show or a show you can’t drive to.” I’ve learned the hard way this is excellent advice on both counts.

Wholesale buyers are still being cautious, and buyers at first year shows are the most cautious. Adding travel costs and shipping costs (for your booth) on top of that and you can easily spend $5,000 on a show with no guarantee you’ll get the orders to even recoup your investment (let alone enough to make a profit.) I don’t know where you live, but that’s something to consider.

3) Who are your customers? Who do you hope to find there? Years ago a good wholesale show would draw from stores and galleries across the country. Now, more buyers tend to stick close to home. So there MIGHT be buyers from all over, but it’s MORE LIKELY the buyers will be local. So…are stores in Orlando and Florida your target audience?

4) Have you done any shows at all? Even smaller, local ones, just to tweak your booth, display, selling skills, support materials?

I’m all for people going for their dreams and dreaming big. But you say you’ve only been in business a few months, and you’re still in the process of “building a website, creating a collection”, etc. Doing a wholesale show is a huge outlay in money, time, energy.

Are you–and your business–ready??

You might be one of those people we read about who takes that leap and flies. But doing a wholesale show is a HUGE leap, one that’s daunting even for people who already have some experience doing small shows, doing wholesale, etc.

Almost all shows across the country, retail and wholesale, have taken a hit in attendance and sales. And $3,000 is a lot of money. So…..

5) Can you afford to gamble $3,000–and lose?

My advice: I think the smarter bet is to take advantage of the Visiting Artist/ABI program. I was actually a guest faculty member for ABI, and it’s a good deal.

The critique will be helpful (though remember, even expert advice is still just one person’s opinion). They can advise you on all kinds of wholesale matters: Are you sure you’re making an adequate profit on your product? Do you have reliable sources for supplies? (If one critical supplier drops out, can you still make your product?) Are you solid on your production schedule and shipping procedures? Are you familiar with industry standards re: billing, payment, terms, etc.? Do you know how to qualify your buyers?

And you will get a chance to actually visit the show.FWIW, I think the most educational thing any craftsperson can do (who wants to do a wholesale show) is to VISIT THE SHOW FIRST. You’ll get to see what the deal is, you’ll be able to see how many buyers show up, and you’ll get to talk to exhibitors (if they are not busy and if they are willing, of course).

I wrote a entire series on how to wholesale on my old blog, but this new series I did on how to “half wholesale”–get started building your wholesale biz before doing a major show, may be more helpful to you. You can see links to both series here.

And all this information was before selling on the Internet became a “big deal”! Add in all you know now about websites and selling in your own online store, and you’ll be off to a good start

WRITING A BOOK

The rewards of writing a book go way, way past the money stuff.

A fellow craftsperson wrote me recently. She’s been asked by a publisher to write a book! Excited and a wee bit overwhelmed, she asked if I had any suggestions or comments.

You know me. I got a million of ’em.

But for your sake, and for the sake of the customer who is waiting patiently for me to ship their order to them this week, I will be succinct.

Yes, I wrote a book on carving stamps. It was the first of its kind, and I’m still proud of it. I’d love to write more books someday. (Anybody out there in the book publishing world listening? Helloooooo….?)

If you are considering writing a book–especially if a publisher has approached YOU about writing a book–

DO IT!!

Why especially if a publisher asks you? Because half the work is done. You don’t have to send out dozens of book proposals and then wait for all the rejections. You don’t have to second-guess what kind of book they’re looking for. You don’t have to prove yourself–they’re already into you!

Don’t expect to get rich from it, or even make very much. It’s possible, of course, but not likely.

However, the publicity, the credentialing, the excitement, the entire experience, will be worth it.

So how much money are we talking about?

You will be given an advance to start writing the book. An advance is money paid out by the publisher before actual publication, in anticipation of what the book will bring in dollar-wise.

As the book sells, your advance is deducted from the royalties due you. If the book outsells their expectations, you get a royalty check. If the book doesn’t sell well, you keep your advance but you don’t get any more money.

I was paid an advance of a couple thousand dollars for my book. Now, this was before publishing took a major hit and before we bailed out a lotta banks for a few billion dollars. I don’t know if that is industry standard anymore or not.

Despite good sales, I’ve not received a penny more in royalties. I am not the Harry Potter of craft book authors.

The advance was good money for me, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

But more than just the money, I’ve gained a lot in exposure, in web presence, in credibility as an author for writing that book. I got more writing gigs because of it.

And this was for a book that wasn’t even about my main art form. It was about my art hobby. If you are asked to do a book on your own art medium, you would benefit even more. I would have gotten a lot more mileage from my book if stamp carving had been my major art form, or if I’d written a book about my wall hangings or polymer work.

When you’re finally asked, is it scary? Oh, yeah. Exciting, wonderful, and yes, also daunting. Kinda like having a baby.

Things to keep in mind:

An editor will work along with you, so you don’t have to “construct” the entire project yourself.

Publishers also usually do their own photography, so no need to worry about that.

They may have a specific “recipe” or format in mind for the book–is it part of a series of other crafts? This will help you select projects, etc.

Most importantly, there’s another reason writing a book is like having a baby:

You really can’t change your mind halfway through.

A lot of people START books.

A publisher’s biggest fear is that you will not FINISH the book.

They lose a ton of money if they invest an editor, time, money and space in their publishing schedule…. then the author freaks out and refuses to complete the project.

So….Do everything you can to meet deadlines and work with their schedule. If you renege on the deal, you will find it difficult–if not impossible–to ever work with that publisher again. Probably any publisher. Word does get around….

Cooperate with their proposed format. The publisher asked me to write a book for their Weekend Crafter series. I got carried away. I was determined to write the compleat work on stamp carving (and no, didn’t spell that wrong, look it up. I think I scared my editor with all my grand ideas for additions and “improvements”, til she gently reined me in with the response, “You need to save that for your next book.”

Good communication is key.

One last tip:

Don’t be afraid to let the real “you” shine through. Whatever is distinctive about your personality–your quirky sense of humor, your way of turning a phrase–it is an asset. (Unless you’re mean.) Don’t get so caught up in the “professional artist” thing that you sacrifice your blithe spirit in the process.

And one last thought:

It may seem like a big, daunting project. But you will be working on it one section, one project, one chapter, one deadline at a time. Just like eating an elephant, you will take it one bite at a time.

In the end, it will be worth it in so many ways, things that will last long after the book is out.

I still get a kick out of people who show up at my shows, or my open studios, with a copy of my book in hand, and ask me to sign it.

I still love looking up the reviews of my book, and reading the wonderful things people said about it, and about me.

I still feel a frisson of pride when I come across my book on a store shelf, or when I display it in my studio.

I love mentioning oh-so-casually that I’m an author. I love remarking that both my husband and I are published writers, and our kids have had their work published in before they were out of elementary school. (Doug and Robin’s carved stamps appeared in another Lark book.)

I admit it, I am a small person at heart when it comes to being proud of my book.

Caveat: This was my book writing experience. Your mileage may vary. Your experience may be even nicer, or maybe not so nice.

But I still think it’s worth doing.

Any questions?

PLAYING IT SAFE: Don’t!!

Martial arts teaches me that playing it safe means no playing at all.

When I decided to quit practicing Tae Kwon Do, it felt like the right decision. The safe decision.

I was keeping myself safe from more debilitating injuries, right? After all, I’d been in physical therapy to strengthen my knee for six weeks already, when I stumbled in class and twisted my knee again.

So I quit. For two months. I was terrified of being injured again. I thought I was making a good decision.

It was a physical therapist during my second round of pt who finally set my head straight. “Luann,” he scolded me. “Professional athletes in peak condition still get hurt. It’s just something that happened.”

He assured me that being active was the best strategy to staying ‘safe’. He pointed out that he gets just as many clients in for therapy who are total couch potatoes, who fall on their way to the kitchen for another bag of chips and injure themselves.

If doing something you love motivates you to work out every day, then do it.

In his mind, “playing it safe” meant continuing to do the strengthening exercises he’d given me, faithfully.

Somehow, I ‘got that’, and decided to return to class.

In fact, I decided to also return to kickboxing as a way to train better for tae kwon do.

I heard a lot of protests from friends and acquaintances. “Are you crazy?! You’ll get hurt again!” they exclaimed. “Don’t you think you should take it easy?” Some suggested swimming–it was much safer.

Play it safe.

But here’s the thing: If you live your life fully, you can’t play it safe.

I like swimming okay, but I don’t love it. I don’t love it enough to show up to do it three to five days a week.

I do love martial arts–tae kwon do, kickboxing, tai chi. And I doshow up to do them, at least five days a week.

I know now that a daily practice may occasionally result in injury. But it will also strengthen me, stretch me, and improve my balance. All things that will serve my body, and my spirit well as I approve my sixties, my seventies, my eighties and beyond.

I’ve been playing it safe in my art, too.

Not just in getting it out into the world, but in doing the work I love. I’ve been holding back, making less expensive work, worried about whether it will sell.

Telling myself to give up on certain dreams and desires. Too unlikely. Can’t see it. It will never happen.

Figuring if what worked the last ten years wasn’t working anymore, then nothing would work.

So give up. Keep my head down. Play it safe.

You know how well that’s worked (NOT!) because I’ve been writing about the pain.

Art needs a different kind of daily exercise.

Normally, that’s simply doing the work. Making art generates wanting to make more art.

But I’ve been ‘injured’ doing my art. So I tried a little “emotional physical therapy” suggested by Martha Beck in her latest book, Steering by Starlight.

I can’t picture my perfect life right now. Too big, too scary, too unlikely. So I’ve been practicing how I’ll feel when I’m living my perfect life.

I imagine feeling joy instead of fear. I imagine feeling anticipation instead of dread. I imagine the world wanting exactly what I’m making, instead of me trying to imagine what I could make that the world wants.

And it’s working.

I see a wall hanging that my brain tells me could never be purchased. It simply wouldn’t fit in anyone’s house I can imagine.

But I imagine feeling my heart leap with joy. And suddenly I saw that piece laid out on a worktable in sections, waiting for me to work on it.

I have an idea for a book I can’t imagine would be published. I can’t imagine how I would find a publisher. I can’t imagine an editor who would be so on board with what I want to write, that she would call me every few days to read what I have and exclaim in delight and encouragement, with excellent suggestions on how to make it even better.

But I imagine what that would feel like, to have an editor like that, working on a book like that. And I feel anticipation instead of dread.

I know I’ll never be young again, ‘thin enough’, good enough to do justice to my martial arts practice. It’s too hard to lose weight, too hard to practice daily.

But I imagine what it would feel like to be light on my feet, to be strong enough to throw a kick perfectly, easily–and my spirit soars.

I’ve been doing this a handful of days. And I cannot express to you how much lighter and happier I feel.

I’m starting to really feel like good things are ahead.

Pulling out of my ‘normal’ routine for the last few years helped clear the decks. Cleaning the studio helped, too (though I’m sorry to tell you, my friends, that you can’t tell I cleaned at all in here anymore.) Following my heart on hospice has cleared a space in my schedule this spring. My dear husband allowing me the space to simply get through this and see what happens, has helped enormously.

For the first time, I am not afraid to simply wait and see what’s next. (While moving ahead all the same.)

And to prove that playing it safe does not necessarily keep you safe….

I did badly twist my knee again yesterday.

But it wasn’t in kickboxing, it wasn’t in tae kwon do. It wasn’t climbing a wall. It wasn’t while I was snowshoeing, yoga-cizing or riding.

I slipped on the ice while chasing a chicken out of my garage.

And when it happened, I laughed at the absurdity of it all.

p.s. I’m okay. Sore–but okay.

LITTLE LESSONS LEARNED LATELY #1 No More Big Fears About Little Things

I was going to title this “Small Lessons Learned Lately” but didn’t want to miss out on that alliteration.

I had long posts started about my recent trip to England. If you read me regularly, though, you know my mind doesn’t work that way. I never tell anyone where we stopped, what we ate for lunch, who we saw or what we did.

It all comes back as little anecdotes and little lessons learned.

Here’s an example. One of the highlights of our trip was visiting an older couple in Wales, old family friends, on the Isle of Anglesey. This beautiful coastal trail is the northwest corner of the island where we hiked one day, and this view of the Snowdonia mountain range sort of looks like the view from their living room window. (You can see the mountain range on the mainland, from the island.)

Don and Barbara Roscoe are amazing people in many, many ways. But for the point of this “little lesson learned” today, I will share one.

In his 60’s, Don went back to college and received a doctorate’s degree in biology. His thesis (right term?) was on….spiders.

He showed me pictures of them in the Big Book of Very Scary-Looking Spiders, where they looked about a foot tall. But they are actually very very tiny spider, only about 1/4″ big. I can’t even remember the genus name of them (sorry, Don!), but they were beautiful.

Even with all those patterns and colors, Don said there are many, many different species, and they can look very similar. The only way to properly identify them is to carefully measure the length of their leg segments and determine the ratio of those lengths. Each species has its very own, very specific leg segment length ratio!

I was astounded, and entranced. It was as if a tiny world the size of a tack had expanded into another infinite universe. I paged through the book and marveled. The wealth of colors and patterning was astounding. I said, “I respect spiders, and I feel bad that I dislike them so much. In fact, I kinda feel sorry for them, with all the antipathy most people feel towards them.”

Don said, “Yes, it’s a pity, because if you ask people why they are afraid of spiders, they’ll say ‘oh, they bite!’ If you ask them how many times they’ve been bitten by a spider, they’ll say, ‘uh….never’ or ‘once’. Yet they get bitten by midges and mosquitoes thousands of times, and they aren’t afraid of midges and mosquitoes!”

Rats. Good point. I think about Charlotte’s Web, too.

Soon after our return, I went to an outdoor flea market. Sitting on a teacup is a very small, very ugly spider. “Look out for that spider, Mom!”, cries my daughter, and I get ready to smack it.

But I didn’t.

I looked at it, and I swear, it looked up at me. It was very stubby, and its eyes were huge. And it really seemed like it saw me.

My heart melted. I gingerly picked up the teacup, moved outside the tent, and gently blew the little fellow back to the safety of the grass.

I wrote Don about my experiences, and described the spider. “Sounds like a jumping spider”, he wrote back. “Totally harmless. And good for you for your change of heart!”

In fact, I think it might have been a daring jumping spider, a species known for being especially “friendly” towards humans. (I love the line where Valerie says, “Anyone familiar with jumping spiders has probably marveled at their perceptual abilities, which include watching and reacting to us as if a tiny spider and a medium sized mammal are on the same scale…..”)

In the last few days, I’ve found and released several very tiny spiders from my environs into the wild.

I’m not totally comfortable around these savage-looking creatures yet. And I haven’t seen a big one, which will be the ultimate test.

But I think the lesson is sticking: There are things to fear in life, and there are things we fear that are totally undeserving of that fear.

Like little spiders. And making changes. And taking chances.

IS THAT A BOOK I SEE BEFORE ME?

The last few days, I’ve heard loud and clear that it’s time to turn some of my blog essays into a book somehow. I started printing them out so a friend can help edit and sort. WOW!! There are a lot of them! I think almost 500 posts in four years, and it took me a year or so to start publishing regularly. Long ones, too.

I also discovered that my blog at RadioUserland is a little tricky to navigate. For example, if you work backwards from my last post, you get to “Big Head”–and the list stops! In reality, two-thirds of my posts are before that essay. You have to go to the very beginning and work your way forward. Even then, it’s best to click on a post, read it, and go back to the original list to continue, or some posts will be dropped along the way. I’m trying to see if that can be fixed.

So a book makes good sense now, especially with those older, less accessible posts. In fact, it’s dawning on me that my slump for the last few years might well be because I’ve devoted so much energy to writing. I even had several regular paid writing gigs. I think when I get the book out, I will return with renewed energy to the fiber work. The jewelry seems to be plugging along nicely throughout, the fiber work takes more focus and concentration.

Unfortunately, it looks like several books. One about the nuts and bolts of the craft biz and a second about the “life lessons” you find in making art. I could do a whole separate book about what my activities (riding, climbing, martial arts) have taught me about making art and one about what my pets have taught me.

Oh, yeah, and one about how my kids and husband occasionally drive me absolutely nuts. Remember the waffle print in the butter?

I would love to hear your comments and suggestions about this project. Anything! (Except that you hate my writing, in which case, you know what to do. Yeah, that lake over there will do. Why are you reading this, anyway?) Suggestions, feedback, notes about your favorite entries, etc.

It would be funny if the universe was trying to tell me all this time to write a book–and I couldn’t hear it!!

CHICKEN LESSONS

We’ve had a small flock of chickens for awhile now. We enjoy them immensely, not only for the delicious fresh eggs but because they’re so funny to watch.

A few days ago, though, we saw the worst of all chicken behaviors.

“Pecking order” among birds is not merely unpleasant, it can be deadly. Chickens will mercilessly attack and kill not only a strange bird, but one of their own flock, if they perceive it as sick or wounded. Theories abound about why they do this, and the theories make good sense. But it’s still hard to see in action.

Our little flock had turned on one of their own. They started in on one hen, pecking at her til they drew blood. We took her out of the coop and put her in a large cage in our mudroom.

The “house hen” was happy enough for a few weeks. But my daughter, convinced she was missing her flock, returned her to the coop.

We either put her back in too soon, or she’d become enough of a stranger to the others that her fate was sealed. The next day, Robin found the bloody carcass, minus a few important body parts (like her head).

It was an awful sight, especially to us “chicken newbies”, and Robin was devastated. She declared she wanted nothing more to do with chickens ever again.

We talked about it later. As I shared with her these “chicken lessons”, I realized they can also be good lessons about making and selling your art.

1. Chickens can’t choose. We can.

Chickens are not people. If, in fact, they are the direct descendants of dinosaurs, then we are dealing with instinctive behaviors that have been in place millions of years before humans appeared on this planet. Our own human heritage has evolved to allow us to choose whether to fear and hate “the other”. We can choose to behave differently.

Chickens can’t choose. It’s not fair to attribute such human notions as “kindness” and “cruelty” to behaviors that keep the species healthy and viable at the expense of the individual.

We, too, are not completely at the mercy of the world when it comes to our art. We may feel that way sometimes! But we actually have tremendous choice.

We can choose what kind of art we make, what quality of work we produce, and who to market it to. We can choose how to promote it and where. We can choose the story we tell people about it.We can choose our own balance of prestige, money and fame, if we are willing to do the work associated with each choice. I could go on, but you get the point.

2. Don’t make it personal.

The chickens didn’t do this to make us miserable. It’s just part of owning chickens. Sometimes bad things will happen. A fox will take one, or they will get sick and die. We can minimize the bad stuff by taking good care of them, but we will still make mistakes. And even if we take perfect care of them, stuff happens.

When it comes to making and selling your art, try to avoid taking setbacks and failures personally. “They” don’t get my art…. “Nobody” likes my work…. “I did that show and it sucked big time! Nobody wanted my work!” Who is “they”?? “Nobody” likes your work?? Is it really just you and “everybody else”? Statements like this are gross generalities. They set you up against the world, they doom you to pessimism and lassitude.

Instead, try to view your marketing and promotional efforts as experiments. You got results that were effective or ineffective in furthering your goals. “I tried that show and didn’t do well. Its audience was not a good fit for my work.” Or even “I may need to invest a few more years at that show to build a good audience for my work.”

3. Only brittle hearts break.

To rephrase: T’is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.

When we love something or someone, it stretches our hearts. When that object of our affection is hurt, or hurts us, it feels like our hearts are broken. We feel like never loving again, because it is too painful when things go wrong. I know people who, when their beloved pet dies, swear they will never own another–because it hurts too much to go through that again.

But that pain we feel is is the growth forced on us by experience, by living life to the fullest. The pain I feel when my spouse and I are fighting is excruciating. Yet that is simply a consequence of being a different person than him. Though we love each other, sometimes we just don’t feel the same way about certain things. My children drive me nuts sometimes, and if anything were to happen to them, I would feel like dying. But I never regret for an instant my decision to marry, nor our decision to have children.

The same with our art. Sometimes it seems too hard to get it out there, and the setbacks seem unbearable. Some days we may feel, “What’s the use? I just don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere. People don’t care. Why should I keep butting my head against this wall??”

But when I think back to what my life was without my art, I can hardly breathe. As hard as it gets sometimes, it was worse–much, much worse–not being an artist.

I am grateful to have had the chance to make beautiful work that has brought so much joy not only to me, but to others. My life is richer for it.

4. Gain, don’t blame.

It’s so easy to fall into the pattern of determining whose fault it was. But in reality, we were all to blame–and none of us to blame. After all, I could have called a friend to ask their advice about the situation. If I’d really felt it was too soon for the hen to go back to the flock, I could have stood my ground. In fact, some of the anger I felt about the situation was guilt for my part (lack of action)….

But that doesn’t get us anywhere. Hindsight is always so damn obvious. We shoulda, we coulda…. Guilt and dismay keep us locked in the moment. They are only useful if they help us resolve to do better next time.

In the end, it’s not about “What did we do wrong?” It’s about “How could we do better?”
Try not to dwell on the mistakes you’ve made with your art in the past. Instead, look at them as marvelous opportunities not to make that same mistake again.

5. It’s still a good life.

After reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, I realize that even with this unhappy event, our chickens have lived a humane and enjoyable life, compared to the chickens raised commercially for eggs and meat. Our chickens get to run free, eat bugs, enjoy the sunshine and dig to their hearts’ content.  For a chicken, it’s a pretty good life.

So, too, despite the ups and downs of the artist’s life, it’s a life I would choose again, and again, and again. Because this is still my best life so far.

As I get older, people are starting to say to me, “How did you get so wise?!” Okay, I admit it–I love it when they say that!

But the truth is, wisdom comes with experience. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to learn from the mistakes of others. Mostly, we learn from our own.

Everything you read in my blog is me working out the good stuff from all the bad stuff that happened to me. Sometimes I do it easily, and sometimes it takes me a few days, or weeks, or even years to get there. I’m a work in progress.

But the wisdom is always there, if you are willing to look for it. Even in the sad death of a single little chicken.

MORE BUNNY LESSONS

My rabbit Bunster (she looks a lot like this rabbit) pretty much has the run of my studio. Sometimes this is not fun. She chews a lot, for one thing. If I don’t pay enough attention to her, she will even chew my pant leg. All my pant legs have rough spots where she’s nibbled the edges.

But she amuses me with her little bunny romps in the early mornings and evenings, when rabbits are most active, and I love the fact that she always hangs out near me when I’m working or writing.

And the lessons she teaches me are useful, too. I’ve written about some of these lessons before here and here.

Last night she taught me another lesson.

I often run back and forth between the main house and my studio. She hangs out happily in the mudroom in between sometimes. But every time I open my studio door, she runs over as if she wants to come inside.

If I opened the door to let her in, she stops and just sits there.

This always infuriates me. “Come in or go out!” I exclaim. “Make up your mind! It’s cold out here! I can’t leave the door open all day!”

She always ignores me, of course. I think she’s teasing me. Or trying to figure out where I’m eventually going to land, so she can hang out there, too.

Last night, she paused in front of the door, refusing to come in. But when I started to close the door, she reached and and grab the edge with her teeth and start to gnaw. I would open the door. She stopped. I go to shut the door again. She grabs the door again.

This went on and on.

Finally, I scolded, “Come in or stay out–but quit eating the damn door!!”

And then I started laughing.

I’ve been caught in the same dilemmas all season. Rest and recuperate? Get back to work? Start production? Clean the studio? Explore new ideas? Get caught up on the old ones? Chuck it all and move to Hawaii??? I just can’t decide what I should do, what I want to do, what my next step is. Someone tell me what to do!! All I want to do right now is hole up in a warm corner and knit.

As my rabbit twitched her nose at me, I realized it doesn’t matter which way I decide to go. In, out, in. If it’s not right, I can always jump back.

But there’s absolutely no point in sitting in the doorway and chewing the door.

Time to simply DO.

I CAN’T HEAR YOU

Sometimes the best advice is right under our nose. We just heard it five minutes ago.

But we can’t hear it. Why not?

Because we aren’t ready.

We may think we are. We hound friends, family, peers, complete strangers for advice. “Tell me what to do!” we beg.

But if we aren’t truly ready, if our hearts aren’t open, if we haven’t made room for it, we cannot hear it.

Not all advice is advice we should act on. People have their own agendas, and they don’t always have your best interests at heart. Sometimes you just need to nod your head and murmur, “hmmmm….yes….” and leave it at that.

But sometimes, we are so caught up in our own stuff, we can’t hear the best advice in the world.

Here are two recent examples.

This weekend I did a small local craft show, my first in over ten years. It was a nice little show, artist-friendly, well-managed, decent quality work being sold, in a beautiful setting.

I overheard someone talking to a jewelry person near me. I’d seen her at several other shows recently and was familiar with her work. It’s straight bead stringing, nothing exciting, but competent, pretty work.

The person was asking her if she’d tried displaying her work outside of her small covered case so people could see it. She defended her decision, saying she tried that once, and it didn’t work. She said that some of her work was already out and touchable, but honestly, she couldn’t see people buying more of the pieces that were out.

Now, I’d looked at this woman’s jewelry at two different shows. As I said, it’s pretty. And lord, was it cheap. Ridiculously cheap. So I kept thinking I’d buy a few pieces as gifts.

But I couldn’t.

For one thing, although she didn’t have a ton of stuff, what she had was crammed together in her display. No one piece stood out.

Her display was so crowded, I couldn’t touch the pieces that were out. Everything was arranged nice and straight. But there were so many items they were almost piled on top of each other. I was subconsciously afraid of making a mess if I tried to pick up one piece.

It also wasn’t clear it was okay to pick up piece to look at it more closely.

Last, her personality was….large. She had a big voice. She knew everyone at the show, and talked constantly. That can be a good thing, if you know when to to talk and when to get quiet so people can shop. Sometimes I’m in the mood for “big”. But if I’m not, I walk away.

I ended up walking away again without buying anything.

I think the advice she got was good. I think she would have more sales if the pieces had more “breathing space” around them, if it were easier to touch and actually pick up the pieces.

But she couldn’t hear it.

She probably tells herself after every show that people are simply cheap and won’t buy nice jewelry at any price.

But she’s wrong. I was steadily selling jewelry at three times her prices. I think she could have sold out, at her price points, if she’d made it easier on her customers to actually buy.

(Caveat: As always, this is IMHO. Maybe she didn’t care, or maybe she was perfectly happy with her sales.)

Here’s my second example:

A few months ago, I was ready to test for placement in my new Tae Kwon Do class. I had tons of issues–feeling out of place because the curriculum has changed so much; my age; my injuries and physical condition.

The head teacher encouraged me to test at the level I’d left at twelve years before (green belt.) He said I had at least that skill level, maybe even higher. He knew I could do it. It would be a challenge. But it was something I needed to do for myself.

The closer I got to my test date, however, the more I panicked. I felt my limitations strongly. I was terrified of failing.

I asked to be tested for a belt below that, yellow belt. I was pretty sure I could pass yellow belt with no issue.

He argued that I was selling myself short. Yes, there were physical limitations. But my training was sound, and my techniques were consistent. I would make it, if I worked at it. (A good school only recommends you for a level they feel you are ready for.) Most of all, he kept saying, “You need to do it for ‘Luann'”.

But I couldn’t hear him.

All I could feel was the fear and self-doubt. I felt if I got a belt–any belt–I could settle in and move on.

Although the final decision was theirs, in the end they tested me for yellow belt. I passed with no problem.

But they were right. I should have gone for green belt.

It’s odd, but once the stress of anticipating the test was over, I relaxed. I “fell in” with the class more easily. And it became crystal clear to me what I’d done.

I told my teacher soon after, “I could hear your words. But I couldn’t hear what you were saying. My fear and self-doubt got in the way. I know that now. I’m sorry I couldn’t hear you.”

Now, maybe I needed to take that easy step to just get to that next level.

But next time, I may just take that leap of faith instead.

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!

LOST MUSCLES

I’m finding another benefit to wall climbing.

I’m finding muscles I never new I had. I mean this in two ways.

I’m hurting in places I never knew could hurt.

And I’m stronger than I think in places I never knew were strong.

It turns out women are actually better than men at first when it comes to climbing. We tend not to have as much upper body strength. So we naturally rely on our legs more. We literally get a “leg up” because we aren’t relying on our arms and shoulders to come to our rescue.

The surprising weariness in my hands, fingers and forearms after a climbing session was my first clue that something else was changing. Turns out our hands don’t really get a good workout in daily life. A few climbs gripping the hand holds showed that!

Soon, we tackle walls where upper body is really important–where the wall starts to curve towards you rather than away from you. Suddenly, what you’ve always depended on–your legs, your foot holds–don’t save you. It’s about holding on.

I realize that this is going to be good for me! This is going to help my writing/keyboarding, my Tae Kwon Do, my normally weak shoulders.

It occurs to me that staying in our normal comfort zone–doing the shows we’ve always done, making the designs that always sell, approaching the stores that always want our work–also keeps us from flexing muscles we may need later on.

I’m not saying we should drop everything that works, nor that we need to risk everything, all the time. But the last few years have shown me that things that “go wrong” force me to try something different–with interesting and positive results.

The second thought, being stronger than I thought, is important, too. I realize I may be worrying about my upcoming retail shows–driving myself long distances, setting up a simpler booth in a lot less time, introducing my work to a crowd that knows nothing about it.

But as some of you pointed out in your comments to my “Booth Confession” essay, I’m probably going to do just fine.

So the next time you find yourself in a log jam or a dead end with your art–whether it’s in design, self-promotion, shows, wholesaling, whatever–simply look at it as a wonderful opportunity to cross train.

You, too, may find muscles you never knew you had.

BLACK BELT PEAK

I had a talk with my Tae Kwon Do instructor the other night. I can’t remember the proper title for him, and sensei isn’t it. I’ll try to find out before I post this.

We were talking about my goals for my study, and whether I should/could/would strive for black belt. Part of me wants to do this. Another part recognizes that my age and physical condition will make this difficult–and certainly a very different process than that of an 18-year-old or young adult.

He shared with me a concept that really got me thinking. He talked about the concept of perfect black belt peak.

He said that ideally, a black belt candidate has reached a certain peak of physical and mental/spiritual perfection.

Sometimes, though, those peaks just don’t coincide. A very young candidate has reached a level of physical perfection–but perhaps the mental/spiritual aspects need more time to mature. Older candidates–those who come to the sport later in life–may have missed that window of physical perfection. But they may also bring a rich and deep level of mental/spiritual perfection.

Ideally, a program accommodates all three kinds of candidates. The young black belt continues to grow and mature. The older candidate struggles constantly to do the best they can with their growing physical limitations.

At first I felt a rush of disappointment. Yes, I’ve definitely missed that perfect black belt peak. I’ve missed many windows in this art! And, in a quick burst of dismay, I realized I’ve missed so many other “perfect peaks” in other areas of my life.

I never went to art school. I never traveled much as a young person. I didn’t take a lot of challenges when it came to work, or so many other things in life.

Just as quickly, I came back to myself. My life is what it is. And there are some areas in my life where I have found that window, and I have been brave, and I have taken risks.

And the biggest obstacles in my life have been when I’ve given up because I felt I’d missed the opportunity for the perfect peak.

Do you do this? Walk away from your dreams because you see that the opportunity for the perfect peak has passed?

I hear it all the time. “It’s too late to go back to school.” “I’m too old to do that.” “I don’t want to try that, I wouldn’t be good at it.”

Life isn’t always about the perfect peak. When it happens, it’s a small miracle. Most of the time, though, we are dealing with missed windows, missed opportunities, imperfect peaks.

What matters is that you want to try–because it’s important to you.

I’m pretty sure what my answer will be about the black belt test. It terrifies me! I know that everything I’ve ever said “no” to, everything I’ve said I’m not good at, will be on that test.

Because that’s what a black belt test is–testing what’s left when your strength, your endurance and your wind is gone. The test isn’t just about how good you are.

It’s about what you do when you think there’s nothing left in you.

For me, it will be about knowing my limits. But it will also be about not giving up.

I hope the next time you hear yourself saying, “I’m too old”, “I’m not good enough”, “It’s too late”, that you’ll take minute to stop and really think….

“How badly do I want this?”

and “What am I willing to do to get there?”

and “Do I really care how long it takes me to get there?”

and “What would it mean to me to be on the other side? To be able to say…..”

I DID IT!

P.S. Just to give you context for where I am in martial arts, here is the last time I blogged about my goal for black belt: Leaving

LOOKING FOR A HORSE

When I had my little cancer scare a few weeks ago, some surprising things came of it.

I’ve been through this before–suddenly realizing you may not be around for another Christmas, another New England spring, another round of baby bunnies. Maybe there won’t be “plenty of other times” to take the family to a silly movie, or go get ice cream.

It brings you up short, this little calling card from death. It makes you think really, really hard about what is really important. And what you really want to do today. Today.

It’s a great wake-up call.

So it was interesting when in the middle of my first talk with my dear husband, when I had my first panic attack, about what this might mean for us if the news got bad, what popped out was,

“Can I have a horse?”

We both laughed as soon as I said that. I sounded like a kid. It really took me back to my childhood, when I would have given anything to have a horse.

But maybe it’s not so funny.

After my last round of knee surgeries five years ago, I actually promised myself riding lessons as a way of getting me through my long recuperation and physical therapy. I’m been happily riding once a week since then, and loving it.

Recently I’ve been riding Missouri Fox Trotters with a friend of a friend. It’s deliriously fun! Their trot is like a fish wiggle. Trail riding is a wild, exuberant dash up and down our steep New Hampshire trails. I LOVE it!

And of course, an ancient little horse is where it all began for my art.

But actually own a horse? Be responsible for the care of such a large and expensive animal every day, in summer and winter, rain or shine? During black fly season???!!

Well, maybe I’ll lease a horse instead.

But it’s still a thing of wonder. Over the years, I’ve heard incredible stories of women who went looking for their horse, and incredible stories of how their horses found them.

The stories are beautiful and moving and powerful–because horses can be hugely healing and profoundly powerful animals to be around. (A little too huge and profound when one is standing on your foot….)

I know when it’s time for me to have a horse, a horse will appear. And it will seem as magical and wonderful as that sentence sounds.

So here we are, two very busy professional people with kids still at home and aging parents and full personal lives.

Jon is waiting for a dog.

And I am looking for my horse.

GO AHEAD, BREAK IT!

I subscribe to a newsletter from http://www.coachlee.com. Every day I get a “thought” from this website. Usually I don’t have time to read them. But today this headline caught my eye:

Just Because It Breaks, Doesn’t Mean You Broke It

Coach Lee goes on to say, “It can be so frustrating when something breaks while you are using it. The assumption by many is that if it breaks while you were using it, it is your fault. Not true. Timing is everything. When something breaks when you are using it, it is a matter of timing not fault. Things break. Don’t feel bad or guilty if it just happens to break during your time of use.”

It’s funny, but the one thing not addressed in this article is why things break when we use them.

It’s because when they are at rest, there is equilibrium. No energy in, no energy out.  No force.

But when we add energy, we disturb that equilibrium.   Think how a light bulb usually burns out when we turn the light on.   It’s that tiny surge from new energy that causes it to flare out–rarely while it’s burning.

So, too things break when we use them.  Only when we touch it/move it/use it/push it/twist it/pick it up does it fall apart in our hands.

And as I struggle to put together a new model for getting my art out into the world, wondering why everything seemed to go wrong in the first place, I realize this is the answer

Everything went “wrong” because I was doing something.

Everything went “wrong” because I was doing something.

I was making my art.

I was  getting it out into the world.

I was exhibiting it, showing it, selling it, promoting it, writing about it

f I had simply been a little lump, sitting in my studio and doing NOTHING, then NOTHING would have “gone wrong.”

And of course, what exactly went wrong?

The economy soured, massive terrorist attacks paralyzed our country, and our national shopping spree went into lock-down mode. Buyers for craft galleries stopped going to wholesale shows, stopped buying new work, and many even went out of business.

So what did I do wrong?<

Not much.

It wasn’t about me.

I just kept trying the same old things for awhile. And when they worked, I kept doing them.< (My one big retail show, the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Fair, just got better and better for me.)

When the same old things didn’t work, I tried something new. A new show, more self-promotion, new marketing materials, new work.

Some of it worked, and some of it didn’t. And I’m still in that process of trying something new.

Of course it all “broke” while I was “using it”!<

I was out there with my art, trying to give it everything I had. Taking risks, new ventures, putting every cent I earned back into the business of getting my art out there.

I tried new presentations for my art—framing with glass, framing without glass, smaller work, bigger work, less expensive work, more expensive work.

And of course I made mistakes.

Because, like the old adage says, if you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t trying hard enough.

So no more apologizing from me on not having this all figured out yet. I’m in this for the long haul. It may take me twenty years to be an overnight success.

But when I make it—and there’s no doubt in my mind I will—you will have heard about it from someone who started out just a handful of years before the worst economy in 30 years—and came through the other side.

So go ahead. Make mistakes. Break it!

It means you’re working it.

It means you’re doing something right.

CLIMBING THE WALLS

Climbing walls teaches me about taking risks and having fun doing it.

A few weeks ago, on a whim, I visited the wall climbing class at our local Y.

I found a small group of avid, enthusiastic climbers. Before long, I found myself strapped into a climbing harness and scrambling up a wall.

It’s exhilarating. Exciting. Exhausting!! After two days of climbing, my hands and forearms feel like jello. No, scratch that. Jello bounces. Let’s make that limp, cooked spaghetti.

Here’s my big breakthrough moment while climbing the walls:

It’s okay to fall.

I obsessed at first about picking “safe” holds, making sure my feet were firmly planted before I made my next move. When I couldn’t find the next spot to move to, I’d panic. I worried I wasn’t making good decisions.

Was I doing it right??

I was terrified to fall.

But my coach finally convinced me it’s okay to fall. “Everyone falls!” she exclaimed. (She’s 65, by the way, and would look better in a bikini than most 20-year-olds I know.)

In fact, you SHOULD fall. When you get to a tricky bit, try a little jump up. Try a hold you’re not sure of. Reach. Leap. Go for it.

Because—and this is important:

You’ve got nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

Because the point of climbing, oddly enough, is NOT to avoid falling. It’s simply to get to the top–any way you can.

You can dash up, you can scramble, you can go slow and stop and rest. You can go up sideways, you can stretch off to one side. You can even just jam your foot against the wall, and push off against that. If you’re stuck, you can simply decide to take a little leap of faith. Take that big step up and lunge for that handhold you’re sure is just out of reach….

Because even if you peel away from the wall, you are perfectly safe.

You’re in your harness, your spotter has a rope on you, and you’re not going anywhere until you say you want to come down. (Which is pretty darn fun, too!)

As I went up the wall for the third day today, I actually felt my brain unlocking.

I thought of that saying: “What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?”

Because when it comes to taking chances with our climbs, with our ambition, with our art, failing does not kill you.

Oh, your pride may be ruffled a little. And I’m sure there are some nasty souls somewhere who will take pleasure in your little downfall.

But I would rather focus on those enthusiastic voices below, the ones who are taking real joy in your efforts. The ones who really want to see you make it, all the way to the top.

And the rewards are so great.

“Beautiful climb! Good job! You made it!”