BIG MAGIC AND ME: What Elizabeth Gilbert and I Have in Common

In my last blog post, Maybe Languishing Isn’t So Bad? I shared how downtime/slow times may actually be a gift for me right now. I got many wonderful comments which will inspire some new posts. Yippee!

I was gonna get right on them. But then something happened that took priority.

Of course, I can’t find it now (!!!!) but someone mentioned Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic. (I highly recommend using Bookfinder.com to find the book at the price and in the condition you’re willing to pay for.)

Then an email newsletter featuring an interview with the author appeared in my inbox, with some quotes from the book. (If you prefer podcasts over a read, here’s an NPR radio interview with the author instead, to get a sense of what the book’s about.) Signs from the universe! I ordered a copy, and boy, am I glad I did.

First, Gilbert and I are on the same page about creativity. Her definition is wide and deep (like mine), she encourages us to make room for it somewhere in our life, whether we can earn a living at it (like I do), and whether or not we’re good at it (my creation story!) My copy of BIG MAGIC already has dozens of bookmarks with lots of exclamation points. I’m only four chapters in, and I have pages of notes.

Second, she has some unusual thoughts about where/why/how ideas find us, and her story about that is amazing. (For a short version, try this review: Ann Pratchett and Elizabeth Gilbert’s unknown collaboration. But trust me, the detailed version is jaw-dropping when it comes to its synchronicity!)

Third, we also agree that when it comes to the most important thing about our creative work, whatever it is, however it manifests itself: It’s not about having an audience, it’s atbout having a voice.

The weirdest insight? This one:

To put the story in perspective, consider this fact: The earliest evidence of recognizable human art is 40,000 years old. The earliest evidence of human agriculture, by contrast, is only 10,000 years old. Which means that somewhere in our collective evolutionary story, we decided it was way more important to make attractive, superfluous items than it was to learn how to regularly feed ourselves.

–Elizabeth Gilbert

And if we consider the fact that the world’s oldest-known human-made artifact (a shell drilled so it could be worn as a bead) is estimated at 100,000 years old, well, we have a lot of history/prehistory riding on human creativity.

And that ancient cave art, and even that shell bead, what do they signify?

A deeply-rooted desire to be part of a tribe, a community. AND to be seen as an individual in that community.

I’ll keep this one short today (NO CHEERING FROM THE BLEACHERS) because I want to address many of the other insights I got from the comments.

Yes, it’s a little bit woo-woo, and usually, I’m not into that. But I also have to admit, the synchronicity of my creative life, the little miracles that cross my path, have allowed me to at least say, “There’s a lot we just don’t know about our creative selves, and I’m okay with whatever encourages me to stay with it.” Because that’s what Gilbert does: Shares her insights, experiences, and observations that encourage us all to keep making the work that heals us.

Short story:

All humans are creatives, if we simply expand our definition and expectations of ‘creativity’.

Don’t measure it. Don’t question it. Don’t demean it. Don’t judge it.

Embrace it. Respect it. Honor it. Make room for it. Feed it.

Now git to your sacred creative space today, whether it’s a studio, a closet, a garden, a hospital, an office, or your computer.

And do/make/create/heal/edit/curate/fix/restore/grow/nourish/teach something.

Coming soon: The more practical insights into all the questions y’all asked last week!

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

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

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

NEWSLETTERS 101: #20 Share the BIGGEST Gift of All!

Otter's story is a good one for 2021!
Otter’s story is a good one for 2021!

NEWSLETTERS 101: #20 Share the BIGGEST Gift of All!

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.

What a Disney movie did to lift my heart!

(8 minute read) (Spoiler alert! If you haven’t seen Soul yet, wait to read this til after you do!)

 In last week’s column, I shared why sharing a family tradition (or one we’ve modified) can show our audience our human side.

For today’s column, I thought about discussing New Year’s Resolutions (which I rarely make, and keep even less.)

But instead, I’m sharing what I realize is the greatest gift of all:

We’re here, right now. Alive!

 Enjoy every moment, and look for the tiny little miracles that are EVERYWHERE!

Sorry/Not sorry for yelling. I’ll back up a bit. This came from a lot of ‘little thoughts’ that piled up into a massive mound this past week.

A few days ago, I was thinking about how desperate we all could be about sales.

Like it or not, “sales” is a powerful desire and goal for almost all creatives. I’ve always advised against pursuing sales as the only measure of our success. (I could create an entire series with the articles where I’ve mentioned Thomas Kinkade!) But we can’t help wishing and hoping to be successful with our creative work, and strong sales are hard evidence our work is popular.

Unfortunately, as you know from how many times I’ve mentioned Vincent Van Gogh’s work, we may never truly know how others will value our work. And being famous after we’re dead is…well, a nice thing to hope for, but we’ll never know.

Exactly how did “famous artists” in the past become famous? They had collectors with the money and the means (and the beautiful spaces) to purchase and display their art. And eventually, those works made it into museums around the world, “proof positive” that these were, indeed, great works of art.

But what about the artists who didn’t have that kind of audience? At first I thought of the work that wouldn’t even make it to any market: Artists of different cultures, different races, etc., especially those deemed “primitive” in nature. Then I thought of women artists, who were—and still are—under-represented in museums, art history, and even galleries today. Soon I was a little embarrassed for wanting fame and fortune, when so many people may have never had the chance to make their work, let alone show it, let alone sell it.

Even those artists who did make the cut, what about those works of art that never survived into our times? Entire cities, cultures, etc. were destroyed by fire, war, famine, pestilence, volcanoes. Cave art wasn’t a thing until Alta Mira, a prehistoric cave full of beautiful images of animals, was discovered in 1868. Even then, it aroused no curiosity for another decade, and it was actually Maria, the 8-year-old daughter of the caves owner, nobleman Marcelino Sanz de Sautola, who discovered the beautiful artwork within. (And even then, the work was often dismissed as modern forgeries by gypsies, until more caves were discovered in the early 20th century.)

Even then, such artwork was again dismissed as “hunting magic” by modern “experts”, whose unconscious bias limited their understanding of what was right in front of them. This bias continued. Mary Cassatt was a “real artist” whose work took a long time to be classified as such. In this article, the author says she had three strikes against her, “…her gender, her foreignness (she was an American living in France), and her reputation as a painter of motherhood.”

Even if we do achieve a decent reputation, a strong audience, some good sales, does that seal our fate? Nope. I can’t find this artist for the life of me, but one session in my art history classes in college focused on an extremely successful Victorian artist, the Thomas Kinkaid of his times, whose popularity tanked soon after he died. Too sentimental, too trite, did not stand up over time. (Could it be this guy?)

In our modern times, with a changing-for-the-better consciousness that all people matter, that all people have creative talents of some kind, that we all yearn to be “seen” in the world, and especially in this year of pandemic and unrest, how do we pursue our goal of being a successful artist?

I went to bed too tired, too sad, on a dark Christmas Eve, without an answer.

Until Disney+ tossed its newest Pixar animated movie, Soul, into our lap on Christmas Day.

I’d read a review that considered it “meh”, but for some reason, it still called to me. It’s about a musician, a music teacher, who’s always dreamed of making it to the big time, who finally gets his chance…

And falls down a manhole and dies. His soul is desperate to find a way to ‘go back’, to get the opportunity to realize his dream-of-a-lifetime.

In his efforts, he crosses the path of Soul 22, who has refused all efforts to get her to live a life on earth. Her cynicism is impressive! Even the souls of Mother Theresa, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, and many others can’t encourage her to even try.

After many failed attempts to not only recapture his own life, but to encourage hers, a tiny miracle happens.

Let me repeat: A tiny miracle.

I found this beautiful quote in an article about Soul today:  “Instead, Soul was left to be about the little moments that make up our lives rather than where we end up, and that’s ultimately what makes the movie resonate so well.”

My own greatest joy comes in persevering until I find a solution to whatever is blocking my way. I keep track of my progress in my notebooks and journals, capturing the tiny moments of joy and wonder I encounter in my day.

When I write my way through episodes of despair, when I find myself at the mercy of destructive, negative people, when I begin to doubt my own worth in the world, my gratitude list lifts me up again.

Those tiny moments add up!

When I make my work, I feel my purpose. It’s to share what I find beautiful in the world. To share where I’ve found meaning, solace, peace in my heart, if only for a moment. And it’s so easy to do that today! A quick photo, a caption, a few tags on Instagram, and my insights go straight to my artist-and-writer page.

I find as many ways as I can (writing for Fine Art Viewsmy blogTwitterFacebookmy email newsletter, etc.) to share what I’ve learned, what has lifted me, with others, quickly and easily. (The gifts of social media, when used as a force for good in the world!)

And you can too! Include your audience in those moments of inspiration as part of your marketing process. Sharing those moments of light, beauty, awe or sorrow will also help to connect your art with others.

Including these shares in our newsletters — whether it’s posting an image of our latest work, or writing about a flock of snowy egrets catching a random ray of sunshine, silhouetted against dark and stormy clouds, or including these moments on social media –is not only a gift to others, but a great marketing tool too.

When we make the work of our heart, we are lifted, even if just for a little bit. When we share it with others, maybe their hearts will be lifted, too. Whether they buy it, or share it with others, the ripples in the pond of life continue.

More than this, we can’t expect, nor count on.

In closing, a dear friend and I talked together on Zoom recently, soon after watching SOUL. She was struggling with her own “next steps”, what would get her to her goals, and I felt so helpless regarding advice. Fortunately, it turns out she didn’t really need advice. And she is already so many steps ahead of me!

One little (hah!) story she shared with me: She has a school history and a longtime interest in ecology, and she loves going for long walks, being immersed in nature and all its wonders.

Over time, she realized that on every walk, at some point, a tree would “wave” at her.

It could be a branch, a twig, sometimes just a single leaf. But it was independent of any noticeable wind or animal action. And she began to wave back.

Just a tiny wave, so if she weren’t walking alone, her companion wouldn’t notice.

Because who waves back at trees, right?

It hit me. There’s a powerful moment in SOUL that involves a tree. An insignificant, perfectly ordinary moment, actually less than a minute, that changes everyone. And everything. Something I’m betting every single one of us has experienced at some time in our walks and travels.

I told my friend about this moment, without giving away what it was, and encouraged her to watch the movie. She did. She cried. And she was happy again.

This year, make your art, especially if it makes you happy.

This year, share your art, because it will make others happy.

This year, pursue your goals, but don’t let them define you, or limit you in any way. Don’t worry about being “good enough”.

We are enough.

This year, live your life. Live it fully. Live it deeply. As my little animal artifact Otter told me many years ago…

“Oh, be joyful! Play! Enjoy every moment of this amazing life.”

 Oh, and this morning, I looked to see if a tree were waving at me. One did, but it was because it was full of two different flocks of birds, finches and Brewers Blackbirds. So maybe it was waving, but maybe it wasn’t.

But I waved back anyway. And somehow, I felt a little happier.

Your shares and comments are always welcomed!

Share this link FineArtViews.com or view my blog at luannudell.wordpress.com.

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

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

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

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

(8 minute read)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I nearly died laughing.

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

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

It was eye-opening on so many levels.

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

Me? I forgot this article was due yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I get it. I really do. And yet…

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

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

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

It was hard. But I learned so much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are YOUR hopes and dreams for 2021?

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

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

NEWSLETTERS 101 #16: The Numbers Don’t Matter!

If I measured my success by how fast my work sold, I would be at zero. One of my best pieces didn't sell until the month before we left for Cali.
If I measured my success by how fast my work sold, I would be at zero. One of my best pieces didn’t sell until the month before we left for Cali.

NEWSLETTERS 101 #16: The Numbers Don’t Matter!

Do what you love, share what you want, and put down the measuring stick.

(4 minute read)

 In last week’s Fine Art Views article about possible newsletter topics (sharing our resources), I mentioned Thea Fiore-Bloom, PhD’s website, which is where that idea came from.

I ran the article by Thea first, to make sure I got it right. She mentioned she was inspired to create a resource page by another artist, Sara Paxton, whose most popular post was about how to speed up the drying time for oil paints. Which is logical and inspiring, right?

But my most popular post was about repairing a huge chip in my spongeware bowl with polymer clay.

And Quinn McDonald, a highly-respected artist/writer/life coach/corporate trainer? Her most popular post was about how to cook steel cut oats faster in the morning.

Irony: Last week’s post also had one comment. One. Comment.

But then I had more than half a dozen responses, from people who a) subscribe to my blog, where I republish my FAV articles; and b) got my newsletter referencing that article, with a link to my blog.

That number of responses is new for me, in a good way. My subscriber numbers are big-ish, but nowhere near “influencer” levels.

Until Thea told me THE NEXT DAY that her website visitors hit almost 1,000, resulting in a ton of new subscribers to her blog. She made a guestimate about the number of people who’d probably READ my article/blog/newsletter, but didn’t ‘respond’, and estimated I am truly at those ‘influencer’ levels. Which is….stunning.

The moral of this story is, numbers are everything. And…nothing.

 Sometimes our ‘most popular’ numbers can reflect our true audience.

Or they can have nothing to do with our true audience. (Trust me, Quinn has given the world huge gifts over the years, and cooking steel cut oats is not her greatest legacy. Not in my book!)

Sometimes our numbers can seem so abysmally low, we question our own worth.

And 24 hours later, we see the actual impact we have in the world.

Or not. As I’ve said so many times in my articles, we do the work of our heart because it matters to us.

Then we put it out into the world, whether by selling, teaching, or sharing on social media. This is the proverbial toss-a-pebble-into-the-pond, not knowing where, nor how far, the ripples will go.

Money is lovely (yum!) and numbers can be reassuring. But they are not the only measure of our success, with our art, with our influence, with our lives.

Case in point: There’s one reason I now love to attend memorial services for those who have passed on.

It’s the stories people share about that person.

 A funeral service draws people from every stage and arena of our life: Family, relatives, groups (neighbors, co-workers, customers, fellow church members, etc.) If they’re well-known, or even famous, even people who never knew them in person, may have a story.

And when they share their memories and stories, we have a peek into a life we never fully knew, or appreciated, or understood. We see moments of kindness, generosity, humor, and grace.

Even then, we still won’t know the whole story.

 Because…that’s life. Even we can’t see our whole story.

 When we rely on pure metrics, it can muddy the story.

 In fact, when I looked up metrics, I found this:

met·rics  /’metriks/

noun 

1.     the use or study of poetic meters; prosody

2.     a method of measuring something, or the results obtained from this.

Do you see it?

The first definition is a form of art.

How do we measure our art?

How do we measure our worth? Our life?

How do we measure the impact we’ve had on others? Whether the good we do outweighs the mistakes we’ve made, the hurt we’ve caused, the things we’ve left undone and the things we ought NOT to have done?

We can’t.

We can only do our best, with all our heart, and let the rest go. Make amends as we can. Try to better. Help others do better.

Social media and social media marketing has been a game-changer, especially during this pandemic. It allows us to stay connected, and create connection, despite everything.

But how we measure our ‘success’ with that, is another matter altogether.

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

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

LEARNING TO SEE #13: Eyes on the Wrong Prize

Today, I am slowly transferring my ‘selling’ space from Etsy (since 2008!) to my FASO website at LuannUdell.com.

It will take a while, and I won’t completely give up my Etsy site. I may keep it for my less-expensive work, destash items, discontinued items, etc.

But the insight that a more unified-approach to selling my work online is long overdue.

Part of it comes from a newsletter this week from Clint Watson, owner/developer of the website hosting company Fine Art Studios Online, which also (ta-da!) hosts Fine Art Views, the online art marketing newsletter I’ve written for since 2011. In the article, Clint pleads for artists not to send him off-site when he wants to purchase their work.

So, insight from a long-time artist/gallery owner who now works to maximize artists’ sales and connection with their audience. I’ll take it!

But something else opened my eyes today, too. This is hard to share….

I’ve been distracted my entire career by false measures of my success in the world.

Like everybody else, I believe my work and story to be unique to ME. And being the center of my own universe, I think it’s the best in the world. Not bragging. Just human nature. (Okay, a lot of us swing from “I’m the best!” to “I suck!” We should form a club. It would be huge.)

Oh, I’ve got a humble side, too. I can see every error, every misstep along the way. Sometimes they’re so obvious in hindsight, I cringe. (See what I mean about the swing part?)

And yet I also know the power of my work, how strongly my customers connect to it, and how it has not only widened, but deepened my own life in so many ways. Even the work that now seems not-up-to-snuff had passionate collectors, people who even today beg me to replace/restore/replace a treasured piece they love.

And like everyone else, I want those awards, prizes, (and M*O*N*E*Y that comes with those prizes), the proof that I am who I say I am, that I’m as good as I like to think I am. I want the publicity that comes with those awards, too.

The latest is the Etsy Design Awards, which applications are being accepted for now.

Unfortunately, such honors have been few and far between, and none of them really affected my sales or popularity. And in hindsight, I can see why not.

My work is out of the box. I barely fit into even a ‘mixed-media’ category for shows, exhibits, etc. let alone more specialized ones.

Although my entire body of work is connected with a powerful story, stories aren’t often a factor in selection. (The Etsy one does, but just wait…) Even after 30 years of making, I still recognize the awe–and confusion–many first-time visitors experience when they see my work. “What is this made of?? Is it real ivory?” (The most frequent comment is, “It’s absolutely beautiful, and I have no idea what I’m looking at…”)

Here’s the origin story that led to today’s insights:

For decades, the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair was half my annual income. Besides that, it’s a prestigious and respected fine crafts organization, one I’m proud to me a member of.

And every year at the Fair, I dreamed of being selected for the Best Booth Award.

Almost every year, I’d come this close to winning. Well, okay, not THAT close. But I was often listed as a runner-up or also-ran.

I had a beautiful booth, and some of the judges would tell me later that they were appalled I hadn’t won. It helped, but I constantly wondered why I couldn’t nail it.

Until finally, years later, I realized I was shooting for the wrong star. Eyes on the wrong prize.

Holy cow! What do I care if my booth isn’t the prettiest?? That is NOT why I make the work I do.

Yes, I strive to display my work to its best. I work hard to have a professional booth at shows. I work hard at every professional aspect of my art biz, as a matter of fact, from process, to display, to marketing, to customer care.

And yet, somehow I landed on “best booth” as a measure of my worth?!

We all can fall victim to some imagined “measure of success” that actually has nothing to do with our own definition of “success”.

Years ago, I talked with a talented, well-known fiber artist. We talked about goals, and they shared theirs with me: “I want to have my work represented in at least one gallery in every one of the 50 states!”

My first question was, “Why???”

To me, the absurdity of this goal was obvious. Who needs 50 galleries, some chosen only for their being in Arkansas, or Alaska? Especially when what we SHOULD have as a goal. is having some number of excellent galleries that are a perfect fit for our work, and have staff that are ardent representatives for us.

When I gently pointed this out, it landed well, fortunately. Later, they confessed this goal had helped keep them motivated, to a point (which is great!) But they realized it had outlived its purpose: Getting them outside their ‘comfort zone’ and into exploring galleries outside of our region.

Second origin story: Decades ago, at a major wholesale show, someone mocked me for remaining cheerful about the new opportunities offered to me (publicity, galleries, a chance to write articles in the future) during the show, despite low sales. And here I thought I was being mature, looking for the good in the sad times. I thought, “Yeah, I guess it wasn’t such a good show…”

Until the show coordinator and now a valued friend, brought me back to my higher, chosen reality. They asked, “Is money the only measure of your success?” (Thank you, Alisha Vincent, forever!)

Since then, I steadily wobble from clarity to confusion, grounded to lost (and found again), just like….everybody else!

The Etsy Design Awards re-stirred this bubbling pot for me. They are looking for a great product, a great story, and great images.

Unfortunately, I’m realizing (finally!!) that neither my current phone nor my old camera are capable of high-res images.

And so even my current ‘best images’ get kinda blurry in full-scale view. (I didn’t realize this until I looked at my site as the judges would. Ouch!!)

Even great photography doesn’t capture the entire beauty of my work. Despite having had amazing photographers over the years, many people, including other artisans I respect, have told me that. There’s something that can only be felt, and touched, that a photo can’t capture, and unfortunately, that ineffable quality is the mainstay of my work.

Etsy shoppers aren’t even my target audience. My best customers are people who a) have seen my work in person; b) have come to respect who I strive to be in every aspect as a human and an artist. I use Etsy as a place for these folks to purchase my work, because people unfamiliar with my work usually consider my work to be too expensive. (Those who know it come to believe it’s worth every penny!)

In the interest of not overloading folks who subscribe both to my blog (on WordPress, that can no longer accommodate new subscribers), my website’s email newsletter, and the ‘new work’ email alert, I’m trying to combine more of these functions on my website. Unified field theory in action! (Moving/giving up WP will be much harder…)

Hence, my desire to slowly wean myself from Etsy.

Etsy’s been good to me, over the years. I love it, I love shopping there, and it’s been easy to upload and sell my work there, too.

But wanting a chance to ‘be Etsy’s ideal seller’ so tempting, when it’s sooooo out of reach, does not serve me.

So wish me luck! Let me know which YOU would prefer, too. If you can prove Clint right, that you’d prefer NOT to be directed off-site to purchase my work, let me know. I’ll do my best to replicate the Etsy experience: More images available for each item, better images, etc.

There’s a lot of work I need to get started on, and it will take time. How will the site (or PayPal?) handle shipping labels? (I can purchase First Class shipping labels on Etsy, but not the USPS site.) Will FASO calculate and collect sales tax? (Etsy does that automatically.) Many, many questions ahead!

But consolidating my website’s capacities, and my own sense of purpose in the world, is underway!

What was YOUR moment of clarity about YOUR art goals? Please tell me I’m not the only one who keeps forgetting what’s really important in our winding journey through life!

 

 

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

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

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

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

(7 minute read)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then a small miracle happened here.

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

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

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

Happy place.

Happy Place!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s another gift in keeping with the making.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The world needs our art more than ever.

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

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

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

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

 

The Gift of Color

This little work of art taught me so much about color.

Today I found a little mixed media art pin in my “treasure trove”, aka “Luann’s Big Pile O’Stuff”.

I can’t remember when or where I bought it, though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t an art/craft show. A gift shop or gallery, maybe?? It’s signed “Joan Considine” on the back, and “winter ’95/’96”.

At this time, I was on the cusp of stepping up to my art career. I was a) making doll quilts and fabric toys for my kids; b) knitting sweaters for my kids; c) making beaded jewelry; d) buying odd/broken bits of vintage jewelry from thrift shops and antique stores, and reworking them in new, refurbished pieces; 3) buying odd fabrics at thrift shops and antique stores and embroidering them into Victorian-style “crazy quilted” Christmas stockings; and f) beginning to work with polymer clay. I was beginning to rethink these “individual” craft categories, using polymer to make buttons for quilts, adding beads to the mix, and expanding my ideas about jewelry. A sea change was coming!

I have never liked some of the more popular color combinations. Pink and purple, for example, or magenta and teal together. They just seemed too…exuberant?…for my taste. I still shudder when I browse through the Sundance catalog at the jewelry pieces that combine lapis, coral, rose quartz, amethyst, and labradorite. It just feels like a riot of color to me.

When I started making art quilts with my little faux ivory horses, I actually stuck with the actual cave art palette, too. Rust, red and yellow ochre, black, brown, white. I wanted to be true to the real history of these cavees echoed in my work. And when I began to make jewelry with the same theme, I limited myself to this same palette, too.

But one day, as I was browsing my old college art history books, I remembered lapis was a pretty popular color with artists throughout history. I thought, “I bet if those artists had had access to blue, they would have used it!” That was my first step outside of the “rules” I’d followed. I realized my work, to be truly mine, had to have authenticity and a mystery of its own.

And yet, I still resisted using purple, even though its cultural heritage as a hue was almost as deep as those other “authentic” colors.

And then this little pin showed up.

What’s so special about it?

Hmmmm….the subtle beauty of the artist’s use of color.

This is a rectangle of good-quality matboard or cardboard (the deep muted gradient purple), a layer of heavy paper painted slate blue, and three smaller rectangles stacked, of olive green. The beads reflect these colors perfectly, with subtle jumps: Deep indigo, steel blue, olive, deep plum, taupe. And the beads are beautifully stacked, with subtle but balanced combinations in color and shape. Even the jump rings that attach the dangles to the pin are deep blue. And the two largest round beads are hung separately, a dangle on the dangles.

So. Color. Gradient. Complementary hues muted to work with each other in a way that doesn’t jar. Beaded structure. Movement. Subtle sheens in paint and bead coatings to play with light.

My studio supplies–fabric, beads (glass and gemstone), paints–now reflect almost every color of the rainbow, though similar to this pin. No neons, except to mix with other colors to get a little “pop”.) I’ve gotten past “matchy-matchy” and strive for “look how this color makes that one sing!” I still prefer a warm palette.

I still don’t like “color riots”, and I still prefer colors that play well together.

But now I do use blue.

The last few days have reminded me of that fateful day in 2001, the day I questioned why I even bothered with my art, making something as meaningless as “little plastic horses.”

And like that day, not only am I restored to myself by making my art, and hearing from others that my words and work have helped them, I can’t help thinking about this jewelry artist. I can’t find them online, and so have no way of knowing them or their work.

But their little paper pin has brought beauty and joy into my life for over 25 years. It helped me step outside my (color) box comfort zone. It broadened my horizons, and still I marvel at it today.

Know that what we do, whatever creative work that’s in us, is important. Not just to us, but to someone else out there in this wide, sometimes scary, often jaw-droppingly beautiful and kind world. Someone who will be inspired by what we do. Encouraged by what we do, or say. Someone who will find solace and/or joy in our music, our dance, our designs, our gardens, our words, our vision.

Whatever is in us that heals us, will heal someone else.

Do your work, and know that it is a gift to the entire world.

Do your work, and get it out into the world.

Do your work, because it is yours, and this is why this gift was given to you.

Some work still calls for those “old colors”.
My son loved the color orange when he was young, and I grew to love it, too!

 

STAY HUNGRY: Sometimes Hunger Is a Good Thing

STAY HUNGRY: Sometimes Hunger Is a Good Thing

STAY HUNGRY: Sometimes Hunger Is a Good Thing

The surprising benefit of needing money

(7 minute read)

I have no idea how or where this thought came from today. Oh, wait, I do!

Several times today, in the space of a few hours, I’ve come across mentions of why it’s important to remember why we started our art, and why we make it. I’m guessing you and I may have shared the same thoughts, lo-those-many-years-ago. Maybe we dreamed of being a famous artist. (Or an infamous artist? Your choice!)

Maybe we jumped right in. Or maybe we put it off for years. What held us back? Maybe, like me, we didn’t think we were “good enough”.

I didn’t like to paint. Therefore, I must not be a “real” artist.

But at some point, maybe, like me, we knew it was in us, and had to come out.

So we start, with excitement and joy. “I’m doing it! Woot!”

We keep going, and hopefully, get better.

We have a sale, or two, or twenty. “I’m on my way!”

For some of us, this climb continues until we soar. Our gallery representation grows, we get some media coverage, we make the big bucks.

We become the famous artist we’ve dreamed of being. Our dream becomes the norm: “Business as usual.”

Or not.

There are a lot of artists today, probably more than in any other time in history. My generation (of which I am the trailing edge) has had time to not only pursue our art, we’ve had time to actually retire from our day jobs and do it full-time. Hence, a lot of competition. A lot of competition.

And lot of new artists entering the field every day, attracting a new audience of their own.

So as more artists make more work, to a slowly smaller audience, and sales slow, some artists contemplate quitting.

Their main reason? “Nobody likes my work.” “Nobody buys my work.” We seriously believe that more money will make us happier, and if we can’t get it, then why bother trying?

Fortunately, many artists, when given the chance to reflect, realize money/sales would be nice. But it isn’t the only reason we do what we do.

We do our work of our heart because it feels good. We like how we feel as we work our way through the process. We love having the freedom to do what we like the way we like, and using the subject matter we like.

With luck, perhaps we realize a bigger truth: Money isn’t everything. And too much money can ruin everything.

Decades ago, I served on a board for an art organization. We were running out of money at every turn, and our executive director was getting frantic. We had some money, a generous benefactor or two. But we couldn’t grow, we couldn’t take on all those new projects and endeavors that would really be the game-changer.

Heard this before? Then the following bit of information may break your brain.

Too much money can be even worse.

We hired a consultant who specialized in non-profit board training. She was amazing! Spot-on in her experience, suggestions, and insights. She shared that in her experience, the most damaging thing that could happen to a non-profit board was to have too much money. (I still remember the stunned silence that met this statement!)

“It literally takes “the hunger” away,” she explained. “The organization spends more, liberally, but not necessarily on the projects that really benefit the cause. It’s about spending, not growing or going deeper. And it can suck the life, the passion, out of the cause.”

What??

First, let me say right now, YES money is important. We need it for the basic necessities in life, we need it to have food, shelter, kids, pets, health insurance, a car or other transportation, education. Money is a necessity, not a luxury.

Money, needing money, and wanting money is not the problem.

The problem is when we really think about how much is “enough”. Because for almost everyone, there is no such thing as “too much money”, until there is.

Remember Po Bronson’s book, What Should I Do With My Life? Published in 2002, the message most of us “heard” was, “Follow your bliss and the money will follow.” Unfortunately, that’s not always true. But most of us missed the bigger story:

Too much money can kill our dreams.

It turns out that, just like that consultant said, too much money has its own issues.

Bronson described how many people put off following their dreams until “they have enough money” to pursue them, without having to worry about making money from them. But what really happens is, they lose that hunger to follow their dreams. It can even make their dreams seem meaningless, pointless. Why bother making your own art, when you can afford to buy anyone else’s? Why perform music like your favorite bands, when you can buy an entire collection of their instruments? Why race cars when you can collect race cars instead? Why paint the ocean when you can look at it every day from your $10 million dollar estate atop a cliff?  (Yes, I know people who think this way, and who do this.)

Martha Beck, life coach extraordinaire, once wrote about a client, a single woman, who worried about having no money, no security, afraid of becoming a street person late in life. Beck helped her set a goal of $1 million dollars in savings, so she would feel safe. Several years later, she met her goals. “You made it!” said Beck, congratulating her. “How do you feel now?” “Well,” sighed the woman, “If only I could save another million, I’d really feel safe.”

Do we really think that extra million will do it? Maybe for a day or two until our fear of “running out” raises its scary head again.

Let’s check in with one of the wealthiest people on the planet, Jeff Bezos, who has an estimated net worth of over $116 billion dollars. Well, there are a lot of billionaires out there today. How about a little video that shows just how much money that really is? (He purchased a home in Los Angeles home for $165 MILLION dollars, or less than 1/703 of his total wealth.) And this video was made after he’d already lost over $4 billion dollars due to market drops, and a $38 billion dollar divorce. So, money did not buy a happy marriage, either. And apparently, making more money is still one of his most important goals.

Here’s what happens when I get ahead in my own art biz income: I go on spending sprees, buying up supplies and materials for new projects, because I’m secretly afraid I will never have a “surplus” of money again.

Pretty sad, huh?

Finally, an insurance agent gave me clarity that still haunts me to this day. We were both on the board of another start-up non-profit. This gave me the opportunity to have some amazing talks with him, including this story.

He had the opportunity to take a dream vacation, a dream of a life time, with his partner. They could afford it, but it would be expensive. He agonized for a long time about whether this was a wise decision.

Then he had the insight that this was what insurance is all about. It’s a way to reassure us that, even if something terrible happens, we will be okay.

That’s when he realized, at the heart of every buyer of insurance, is the question: How much money will make you feel safe? Of all people, he realized, he should know the answer to this!

Anything can happen in life.

And no amount of money can ever keep us completely safe.

They went on their dream vacation, and he’s really happy they did.

As the poster in a good friend’s house said, at a pivotal point in my life, “All ships are safe in harbor. But that’s not what ships are for.

Money is good. Lots of money can be great. Too much money can be mind-numbing, and soul-shrinking.

Being a little hungry can be beautiful, and powerful, too.

As always, if you enjoyed this article, let me or my editor know! If you’d like to read more, you can either read more of my articles on Fine Art Views or subscribe to my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com. If you think someone else would like it, please forward it to them. And if someone sent you this, and you liked it, ditto!

WHY LOVE > $

SCRATCH: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living by Manjula Martin
SCRATCH: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living by Manjula Martin

WHY LOVE > $

Sometimes What We Want Isn’t Really What We Want*

So in math class, that title would read “Why “love” is greater than “money”.

I started reading a new book this week, called SCRATCH: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living. Based on a series of interviews by Manjula Martin with well-known writers such as Cheryl Strayed,  Roxane Gay, Jennifer Weiner, Alexander Chee, Nick Hornby, and Jonathan Franzen, it is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

In these interviews, Martin encourages each writer to be totally honest about what being a “famous author” really looks like. The inside story is jaw-dropping.

Most started out making not very much money. That’s to be expected. But here’s what I didn’t expect:

Even when authors sign a $100,000 contract for their book, that’s not actually how much money they make.

Here’s how it works:

First, it takes years to get to the point where $100,000 would even be offered. Most start at $2,000. (That was the advance on my one published book.) If the book doesn’t generate stellar sales, there are no royalties. (I never got royalties.) I spent hundreds of hours creating the projects and steps, so I made….$1/hour?) (Of course, that would be $3/hour today, so there’s that.)

Let’s say you’ve climbed the ladder, and the deal is for $100,000.

First, your agent gets 10%. And a good agent is worth their weight in gold.

But the amount is also split into several payments.

There’s a payment for submitting the manuscript, one when all errors are corrected and the manuscript is re-submitted and approved, one when it actually goes to press, and the last when it is finally put out into the market.

This process can take years. Many of the authors thought, “I’ve made $100,000 this year!” But since the process can take from 2-4 years, they make a lot less per year than that. Like $24,000 less $2,400 for your agent.

So in the end, a writer who signs that lucrative contract isn’t exactly gonna get rich on it.

One book review says,

“…In the literary world, the debate around writing and commerce often begs us to take sides: either writers should be paid for everything they do or writers should just pay their dues and count themselves lucky to be published. You should never quit your day job, but your ultimate goal should be to quit your day job. It’s an endless, confusing, and often controversial conversation that, despite our bare-it-all culture, still remains taboo. In Scratch, Manjula Martin has gathered interviews and essays from established and rising authors to confront the age-old question: how do creative people make money?”

Sound familiar?

A lot of parallels to our art-making sector.

If we were to take a $100,000 commission for a work of art, here are some of the possibilities:

There would be the initial deposit for a custom order, usually non-refundable. But most customers wouldn’t give it up without a fight. I was at one of the top three fine contemporary craft shows in the country one year. One booth visitor placed a custom order at the show for a pretty major piece. Woohoo! I thought. A few weeks later, she called to cancel. Because she hadn’t considered the tuition for her son’s private school/academy he’d just been accepted into. (This, after sucking up 45 minutes of my time at the show telling me how rich she was, and about her amazing art collection at home.) When she called to cancel, she made the point (about 20 times) that her husband was a lawyer. I cancelled the order. (Fortunately, something felt “off” about her in the booth, and I had hesitated about starting the order. So, no loss.)

The person may even “forget” to tell you to cancel the order, like in my article about the Design Diva.

Consider the cost of packing and shipping a major piece in that price range. One local artist, a friend, even has to borrow my car to deliver their larger works to local buyers. (I’m happy, to do it, of course!)

Of course, if you work with a gallery, they’ll do that for you. But a gallery takes a 40%, 50%, or even (at the height of the market in NYC just before 9/11) a 60% cut.

Back to that book review quote: This is not a black-or-white issue. This isn’t us vs. the “bad people”. Maybe your bigger art sales aren’t this complicated.

But another interview revealed another side to that “success” we all crave:

Being locked into a “certain kind of fiction” or a “predictable best seller” can be suffocating. And fame can fall away in a heartbeat, with a bad review, with our own bad behavior, almost anything.

Several of the highly-successful writers said even in their “hottest moments” felt locked in, confined, discouraged by the category they found themselves stuck in. Deadlines may conflict deeply with life events. Touring for the book publicity can suck a lot of time and energy. Trying to top your last success can squeeze the creative juice right outta your system. “You’re only as great as your last success” can be a roadblock to creativity.

Most of the writers said they made a decent living three ways: Writing books (that get published.) Public speaking engagements. And teaching/workshops.

Sound familiar?

I highly recommend reading this book, even if you don’t read every interview. Most of these writers went out on a limb to be this honest and forthcoming about the realities of their success.

I wonder…..

If more artists felt safe to do the same thing, would we quit beating ourselves up about not making a good living out of our creative work?

Would we stop being intimidated by those people whose work sells for thousands, tens of thousands of dollars?

Would we realize that sometimes, those famous artists whose work sells for hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars, don’t actually make a dime from those auctions? Because they sold the work for one price, and now the new owner (or second, or third owner) is selling it for a heckuva lot more? (Publicity is helpful.) Or the artist is dead? (Publicity not so helpful. They’re dead!)

What I took away from the book is this:

We have choices. We have the power of our choices.

If we need to make a living from this work, we can do it. It will start to feel like “a job” rather than a calling, but for some people, this is what they have to do.

If we can be satisfied with SOME money, or even not much, we get to have complete control over the work we make.

We get to choose how much from each end of the spectrum we’re comfortable with. We get to choose what we are willing to do, or not to do.

We get to choose whether it’s full-time/well-paid/a lot more work and not as much creative freedom. Or whether it’s “it makes me happy and that’s all that matters”, or whether it’s “I can find ways to expand my calling into other lucrative ventures by teaching.” I know one artist who has expanded their skills into creating ways for other artists to offer workshops: They have the knowledge, the resources, and the audience to do all the funky work we’d normally have to do ourselves, so all the artist has to do is show up and be ready to teach.

There are no solid, sure-fire ways to make our work and share it with the world. There’s no 100% good side to any of our decisions about it–except what works for us. There’s no WRONG way to do it.

The only thing that’s “wrong” is believing we are doing it wrong, and believing that other people are doing it right. Believing that “success” looks the same to everyone.

It’s all about what’s right for Y*O*U.

On that happy note, I hope this gives you food for thought. If you’ve found the right combo for your creative work and income, please share! If money is our measure of success, it’s good to share information about how that happened for you.

If you know someone who needs to read this, to get clear on their own goals, please share!

If someone shared this with you, you can read more Fine Art Views articles here.

And if you like what I wrote, you can subscribe to my own blog here.

*I was going to call this article, “Be Careful What You Wish For” (You Might Get It!)” but I think that’s just too heartbreaking. It’s not stupid or wrong to want something from our art, including financial success. Go ahead and wish! If it’s not right for you, you can always change your mind.

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!

ALMOST FAMOUS

Years ago, I ran into major star at an event. (We were in line for refreshments.) This was someone whose music influenced me deeply ever since my early college years, and I’ve followed them faithfully ever since–20 years at the time, almost 50 now.

I told them that. Even as I struggled to express how much they meant to me, I could see “that face”:

“Yeah, okay. I’m tired. I hear this all the time. I get it. Thank you. But I just want to get my effin’ drink here, in peace!”

They didn’t say that. But the numb expression on their exausted face was clear. I felt awful.

And I felt awful after I did it again recently.

I had an opportunity to meet a star. Another REAL star. A famous person. I got to go backstage, and meet them. And foolishly, instead of just saying “hello” and moving on, I once again tried to tell them how much their work means to me.

And I could tell, once again, how much I bored with my little story.

Again, this person was gracious. I am not complaining. I was embarrassed I’d done it again.

They’d just completed a performance. They get hundreds of those backstage visits a year. They were already exhausted, after working the stage for hours.

And here comes a perfect stranger who hopes to “connect” at the worst possible time. What if every person, the hundreds of thousands of people who love their work, did that? “I know you, you don’t know me, I think you’re wonderful, do you “see” me????”

I have a confession to make…

The older I get, the harder it is to remember, and recognize, my own fans/customers.

This is embarrassing, because…Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? You made the time to visit my studio/website/show, you had the sense of purpose to collect a piece, your purchase helps me stay in business so I can continue making, and our conversation lifted my heart.

So when I see you again, and you have to remind me who you are and what we talked so passionately about, I want to sink into the floor.

Most people are understanding. “Why should you remember me?? I was one of hundreds who visited your studio that day! Don’t worry about it.”

But I always remember that first “star” encounter, and cringe. The second encounter was totally on me.

Where am I going with this?

It’s about a creative person’s “dream”, our desire for fame, the need for proof that the world loves what we do.

I realize I don’t really want to be “famous” anymore. I wouldn’t be good at it.

Trust me, it’s not because I’m “more evolved” than these starry folks. They have talent, they’ve worked hard to get it out into the world, and I celebrate every measure of success they achieve. They work hard to be gracious and appreciative of their audience, even when it means putting on a happy face when they are drained and exhausted.

I just realize I would not be nearly as gracious as they are if I were in their shoes.

Do I love what I do? Yes. Do I want my work out in the world? Yes! Do I want my work to be seen, and admired, and respected, and loved? YES!! Am I grateful for the people who let me know, especially when they love it enough to actually buy it? OH GOD YES.

But I also believe my work has a purpose in the world. I feel compelled to connect with my followers, my visitors, my collectors. I’m honored when my work, our conversations, inspire them, heal them, encourage them on their own creative journies.

I can only do that when the encounters are “small”. Personal. Intimate (spiritually.) Enjoyable. I know I would not handle fame nearly as well.

It’s not a “be careful what you wish for, you might get it” thing.

It’s know what you really want, instead of what our celebrity-driven, limelight-lit world tells us what we should want.

Summed up beautifully, and with humor, in my all-time favorite cartoon  (Sally Forth) by Francesco Marciuliano.

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