Category Archives: What is the story only you can tell?


For Bobbye…..


Bobbye Sansing’s beautiful handformed, pit-fired pottery vessels.

I felt something was wrong for weeks.

I sensed it when I first reached out to an old, dear friend, months ago. I was relieved to find she was glad to hear from me. Yet no new messages followed.

We hadn’t parted on bad terms, really. Oh, I look back and cringe when I see how I sometimes took her friendship for granted. And how I pushed–too much–for her to get her art out into the world.

She was my Wise Woman friend for years, as I slowly broke out of my eggshell beliefs that I wasn’t good enough to be a real artist. She was in my first “artist retreat”, a workshop led by another Wise Woman, about how to find true support from a small circle of trusted cohorts. We would celebrate each others’ successes when the world noticed us. We would raise each other up when the world took us down a peg.

As I grew more confident, and knowledgeable (I thought), I began to urge her to be more visible in the world.

It’s easy to believe we know better than others. I felt I knew what was best for her. And she (rightly so) resisted, firmly.

So we drifted gently apart for awhile. And then both of us eventually moved thousands of miles away, until we both found ourselves out West, me on in Northern California, her in Nevada.

My early blog posts and personal journals are filled with her words of wisdom. She taught me so much. She could be so honest, it hurt. But not in a mean way. In a way that held my feet firmly to the fire of my own self-doubt and whine-iness. (Yes, I’m a bit of a whiner. There. I said it.) Because of her, I began to grow a backbone. (Still growing. Not done yet.)

In a few small  ways, I helped her, too. She is a potter, specializing in pit-fired vessels. Determined to be professional in every way, she asked us (our group) for help to build a body of work for exhibiting and selling.

After several suggestions were shot down, I thought to ask her this question: What is your production process now?

She explained how, when her husband got home from work, they would eat dinner and watch TV together in their warm and cozy den, and talk. Every night, almost without fail. She hated working in her basement studio, alone. She wanted to be with Bob, and so she chose him.

As they sat, she worked a lump of clay, turning it into a beautiful hand-pinched pot, ready for the kiln.

“Every night?” I asked her.


“And every one is a good one? Good enough to exhibit, or sell?”


“So at the end of a year, you have over 300 good pots?”


“Is that enough for a year’s worth of exhibits and sales?”


So she had a reliable process that slowly-but-steadily created a beautiful, substantial body of work. Why would she mess with that??

She said it didn’t sound very professional. She felt she was doing it wrong.

I hope in this single, small way, I helped her realize that any way you get your work made, and out into the world, is ‘professional’ enough.

So today I just learned that her husband died.

Almost half a century together. So many years. So much love.

I took her pots out today. I only have a few, but I treasure them.

And when I look into the graceful swirling edges, the haunting mystery of their interiors, the hand-polished exteriors, everything of her hands and fingertips, their shared hours of companionship, togetherness, a life built from fragile–yet resilient–human clay, filled with laughter, and children, and family, and friends, and home, and art.

Each pot, made with love, surrounded by love, infused with love.

This is love.






Filed under advice on giving advice, fear of doing it wrong, life lessons, What is the story only you can tell?


My column for Fine Art Views, on all the ways to make room for your art:

Who Is A Real Artist?

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Filed under fear of failing, Fine Art Views, the power of our choices, What is the story only you can tell?


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.

 Good, constructive criticism is always a good thing. But we should also consider the source, and seek out our best people for triangulation.
I opened my journal today, and found an entry from a week ago.
It started, “I feel so….dead today…”  I went on to list all the things that were not going well, and how powerless I felt to change that. I had ‘failed’ at a workshop. I recalled cruel words about my work from a ‘friend’ years ago. My foot hurt. (I can really pile it on when I’m low!)
What did I write today? “And a week later, I am on fire with new ideas and designs!”
What happened in between??
To be truthful, not much. A change in the weather. A change of scenery. Meeting up with a good friend here and there. A good night’s sleep. Time. A glass of wine (or three!)
In short, everything that felt daunting and dreary a handful of days ago, has melted away, leaving new energy and enthusiasm in its wake.
We artists and creative people can easily fall prey to these passing mindsets. In order to create something new, we have to be open to the beauty in front of us, open and receptive to everything life throws at us.
Of course, that also means we sometimes forget to shut that door. We may leave ourselves open to a hostile remark, or the destructive narcissism of another person. The toxicity of the news can drain us. We may be heavily influenced by a powerful book or movie. We may care too much when someone is critical of our work, or our efforts, or our actions. Even something as simple as an idea that didn’t pan out, a painting that didn’t quite work the way we wanted, a design that wasn’t as exciting as we’d hope, can cause us to temporarily doubt our abilities and talents.
This was doubly proven to me today. A friend back East reached out to me recently. I held off getting back to them until I had ‘more time’ later today.
Then something caught my attention, something that made me realize I should call themnow. I followed that impulse, and remembered something powerful:
There are people in our lives who, when we stumble, will remember who we are. When we forget, they will hold us up until we can remember for ourselves again. 
After we talked, my friend exclaimed, “I feel so much better now! I’m so glad we talked!” I had to remind them I merely was repeating insights she had shared with me three years ago!
She held me up then. It was my turn to hold her up, now.

I have to admit, simply HOLDING something I’ve created is often enough to reconnect me.

Journaling serves this purpose for me, especially when I’m in a hard place. It’s a way to get the buzzy voice out of my head, and down on paper, where it’s easier to test my assumptions. Are things really that bad? Is the situation permanent? Is it something I can fix, or something I can simply let go for now? Is there someone who can offer me another point of view? Or someone I can ‘triangulate’ with, someone who will confirm my perception, yet (or ‘and so’) offer me guidance?

Of course, some art, great art, is created because of the very hard places we find ourselves in. Picasso’s Guernica is an obvious example.
Yet a more subtle example is Lawrence Weschler’s essay, “Vermeer in Bosnia” (in his book by the same name).
During the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal years ago, Weschler spoke with a jurist who had to listen to horrific testimony for weeks on end. The jurist mentioned that he found peace and comfort in the Mauritshuis museum, with its collection of Vermeer paintings.
The final irony is, Vermeer’s intimate glimpses of quiet domesticity were actually created during a time of similar horror and violence. “Only Lawrence Weschler could reveal the connections between the twentieth century’s Yugoslav wars and the equally violent Holland in which Vermeer created his luminously serene paintings….
An artist creates a place for quiet contemplation, during a time of intense war and destruction, which, centuries later, creates another respite in an equally heinous period in our modern times.
Friendship. Journaling. Rest. A walk, or a drive in the country. A faithful dog or sleeping cat. A loaf of bread, a jug of wine (or three!)….
What restores you to your happy, creative frame of mind?


Filed under Fine Art Views, the healing power of art, What is the story only you can tell?


“Being nice” is about caring about what other people think. “Being kind” is about you caring–and choosing–to be a better person.

From the moment we tried to grab a toy from another kid, (or tried to get back the toy they took from us) we’re told to “be nice”.

When that boy in on the bus said horrible, horrible things to us, we were told “he didn’t really mean it.” We’re not allowed to be  angry. We’re told to “be nice”.

Even Disney rubbed it in,  when Thumper says, “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” (Bambi)

“Nice” is a facade, a mask we’re supposed to wear in order to be seen as a ‘good’ person–especially women. At best, we may do it out of fear, to protect ourselves, or to avoid confrontation.

At worst, we do it so we don’t have to go deeper. It lets us off the hook for meaningful engagement. So being ‘nice’ can also be a social cop-out

Being ‘nice’ simply in order to get something you want is patronizing and shallow. When I hear about a guy complaining because a woman they just met, doesn’t want to sleep with him, even though he’s a “nice guy”, I want to say, “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.” (Courtesy of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride.)

To this day, even when someone is behaving badly, even to me, to my horror, I rarely ever confront them (except my poor husband). Instead, I back off or walk away. To call someone on their behavior is “not nice.” Heaven forbid I hurt someone’s feelings after they’ve just shredded mine.

Being nice hasn’t served me.

On the other hand, what about kindness? Let’s strive for that instead.

Being kind means being a real person, and striving to see others as real people, too.

Choosing to be kind is to create a state of compassion, to have empathy with another person or living thing.

It can be as simple as seeing–really seeing–another person, even if you cross paths for a few seconds.  A smile. A step aside to let them go by. Holding a door.  Even a quarter in the cup.

It can be as powerful as being a witness, recognizing what someone else is going through, and celebrating if-and-when they reach the other side. Being present, during a rough patch in their life, or at the end of life.

I’ve spent a lifetime being nice.

Now I want to focus on being kind.





Filed under life lessons, What is the story only you can tell?


No good deed goes unpunished. Do the right thing anyway.

If you are a decent person in the world, you want to do the right thing.

You want to be generous. You want to be helpful. You want to share what you’ve learned.

I love that line from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, when Gene Wilder/Willy Wonka says, “So shines a good deed in a wear world…”*

It sends a shiver down my spine even thinking of it. Acts of kindness, compassion, courage all make the world a better place.

I believe my artwork, and my writing, is a way to be that good deed. I share what I’ve learned, I share my stumblings and muddling, I try to be my authentic self. I do it so people can see (if they choose)  they have something to offer the world, too. Sharing our creative work is essential, and healing, and powerful.

Before you rush to “help”, though, consider these thoughts:

Ask the turtle. Don’t assume you know what is needed. Find out. Our assumptions get in the way. People who don’t know what they don’t know, and who don’t want to find out, just make things worse.

Don’t judge. I remember being told, “Don’t give money to street people, they’ll only spend it on booze and drugs!” So I didn’t. Until I learned that living on the streets is hard, and frightening, and dark. Someone who knew better said, “If they turns to drink or drugs to comfort themselves, who are you to judge?” A recent article on a homeless-outreach group suggests we lie down on the sidewalk before we judge. “How vulnerable do your feel, with your head on the concrete, exposed and unprotected? Scary, right? That’s how these people feel every single day.” Research now shows that creating safe havens and housing for the homeless is critical to helping them get the services they need–because being on the street is so traumatic, not much can be done until they have a place to call home.  Only then can they begin to heal.

Don’t feed the vampires. In our rush to help, we may encounter vampires, in the most surprising places. Vampires are people who feed on the attention and emotions of others. Sometimes they are simply needy and desperate. Often they already have so much, but it’s never enough. Recognize the black holes in the world. The people who will take and take and take, who feel you/the rest of the world, owe them.

Don’t do it for the thank-you.  We’ve all had the experience of taking on a tough project, contributing, volunteering, often unpaid, as a way of giving back to our community. Inevitably, there’s the jerk who is quick to let you know you’re doing it wrong. They are negative and critical. They are the ultimate back seat, constantly telling the driver where to go. My husband’s comment is, “No good deed goes unpunished!” The response I always stifle is, “I think the word you’re looking for is “thank you”….”

In this TV episode of Supernatural , (a guilty pleasure of mine. Remember the “don’t judge” thing!) Bobby the boogieman hunter is dying. He has to revisit his worst memory, a scene from his horrific childhood, the day he killed his abusive, violent father to save his mother. It’s his original story, his core story, the reason he chose to spend his life fighting evil in the world.

It’s also where he learns for the first time that the people you save will not thank you:

You did what you had to do. This is where you learn that… they pretty much never say thanks when you save ’em.

There are reasons for this, but I’m not getting into that today. My point is this:

Don’t expect gratitude. Don’t do it for the thank-you.

Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.

*”How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

–William Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice)

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Filed under life lessons, vampires, What is the story only you can tell?, world peace


This article by Luann Udell originally appeared on Fine Art Views, an art marketing blog hosted by Fine Art Studios Online.


 Yes. Yes, it does.

 For years now, I’ve advocated for creative people telling their stories. I believe the “why” of what we do is far more powerful than just the “how”.

I also know that some artists have fought long and hard for their credentials—their education, the shows they’ve been juried into, the awards they’ve won. Anything else seems, well, unprofessional. Perhaps even fluffy.

I get it. I do. When I first started my art career, I methodically entered all kinds of juried exhibits. I’m proud of the awards I’ve won. I’m especially delighted when my professional peers—other artists, galleries, etc.—sing my praises. After all, they see a lot of work. When they choose mine for their own homes, it’s a major thumbs-up for me.

I also know how extremely uncomfortable some people feel about sharing what’s in their heart and soul. They feel safe sticking to the tried-and-true. What they do is working for them, so I won’t ask them to change that.

And yet…..

I spent a weekend at a state-wide storytelling workshop, a collaboration between our Sonoma County Library, Creative Sonoma (of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board), the California State Library and The project’s goal was to gather 100 stories that represent the ‘voices’ of California.

You can

Ten people from Sonoma County were selected to share their stories, which would be transformed into ‘digital stories’—recorded in our own voices, with images, and music—no more than two or three minutes in length.

As a matter of full disclosure, I was NOT one of the original ten people selected. Someone else dropped out, and I was offered their place.

Also, when we first told our stories to the group, I said I had no trouble telling stories. Keeping it to 300 words? Almost impossible.

Two huge things happened during the class.

First, I was overwhelmed with technical difficulties. My laptop crashed, my internet connection wouldn’t take, I had trouble working with the video production software ( I was the absolute last person to create a video, and it’s really not even finished yet. (I’ll be putting the last details on it in the upcoming week—I hope!) That was hard. There’s a steep learning curve to any video editing process, my husband reassures me, and at least I’ve discovered SoundCloud and, social sharing sites for images and music. A challenge, but it’s good to challenge ourselves.

The second thing is wonderful. I was astonished and amazed by the stories people brought to share.

Every single person had a story. Each was very different from the other (although most people were involved in the creative arts.) Some were funny, some were hard. Some weren’t resolved yet. Some had no ‘answer’. But each one was intriguing.

And these are only our first stories. I realized there will be many more to come.

Here was another powerful aspect of these stories:

I remembered everyone’s name in the class, something that’s usually problematic for me.

I remembered everyone’s story.

And everyone’s story was powerful beyond words.

Not all the stories sounded like winners during our first ‘sharing’. This was probably due to the fact that some folks hadn’t actually shared them before. They rambled, they had trouble finding the ‘point’. Some stories were so new, people were was still working through them.

But in the composition and editing process (and our teachers’ experience guiding us), we learned to find the ‘hooks’. We were strongly encouraged to not tell several stories at once, something I struggle with. (Hence, my 1,000-word articles!) We found our strong beginnings, and our thoughtful endings.

Images were powerful. Music helped connect.

And our voices?  Oh, our voices…..

We each created a ‘script’ of our stories, and read and recorded them.

And every single one of us nailed it on the first reading.

One instructor marveled at this. “Even the people who insisted on a second take? Their first version was better!” she said.  “And everyone read it with such power…it’s astonishing!”

At the end of the class, we watched the (mostly) finished videos. Each one was a winner.

You don’t have to rush out and create a video (although I’m definitely going to explore this further.) You don’t have to have a full-media story telling experience to connect with an audience. Although I hope it’s not lost on you that, as artists, we already have our visuals. In fact, I used images of my artwork, as my story was about how I became an artist in mid-life.)

I do hope you’ll consider telling your story to your audience.

A thousand people here in Northern California paint the ocean, the vineyards, the rolling hills. Every artist captures the light, a moment in time, or a glimpse of something hidden. Many are beautiful, and most are at least competent.

And yes, there are people who, unsure of their decision, will be reassured you are as good as you say you are, by reading your list of accomplishments and awards, or checking the well-known galleries that carry your work..

But a good story, a story that connects your experience to those of your customers, will make you stand out from the crowd.

Create that powerful connection. Make your mark.

Be unforgettable.


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Filed under art marketing, artist statement, Tell Me A Story, telling your story, What is the story only you can tell?

Monkey Mind Manners

Yesterday I wrote about the one-minute meditation that can help soothe your monkey mind.

First, let me clarify my two metaphors. I use ‘lizard brain’ a lot. And now I’m using ‘monkey mind’. Is there a difference?

For me, the lizard brain is the part of me that’s angry, jealous, resentful, scared:

When someone else does it better than me, and my immediate reaction is, “Why them, and not me??” When I see someone else’s fabulous work, and my immediate reaction is, “My work’s just as good!” When someone else gets into that show/gets that award/has more sales/success/whatever-the-fear-flavor-of-the-day is, and I think, “My work’s better than theirs, why did they get it/in/that and not me?!” Grrrrrrrrrr!!!!! GRRRRRRRR!!!!

Monkey mind is the squeaky, insecure, scared, self-doubting, worry-wart, over-thinking everything:

“Why doesn’t that person like me?? Did I do something wrong? Maybe when I said blah she thought I meant blah. Should I have said blah? Should I ask her? ” “Why didn’t anyone buy this necklace?? Am I charging too much??” (Since I don’t even earn minimum wage, that is really scary!) “I can’t figure this out! What’s wrong with me?? Am I losing it? Will I end up in the streets??” Blah blah blah blah and more blah.

Lizard brain and monkey brain are both scared, and angry.

When threatened, lizard brain attacks ‘the other’.

When threatened, monkey brain attacks me.

Neither one serves me.

I have a mantra for lizard brain:

Life is a pie. If I believe the pie is finite, then when someone else gets a piece of pie, that means there’s less for me.

But if I believe the pie is infinite in size, then there’s enough pie for everyone.

So what’s my mantra for monkey mind?

Not sure yet. But I know having compassion for monkey mind (rather than berating it, because after all, it’s me) and giving it something to distract it (“Here, count my breathes with me!”) helps.

I read something years ago that stays with me: “You are not that anxious voice in your head. You are the person listening.” This helps.

What is your mantra for lizard and monkey? Share!



Filed under lizard brain, mental attitude, monkey mind, What is the story only you can tell?