Re-Do on the To-Do List

Friday, October 01, 2004
This post originally appeared on my Radio Userland blog. I love to reread them, they seem just as ‘fresh’ and useful as the day I wrote them!

(5 minute read)

I start most mornings with my schedule book (a student composition book with daily to-do list) and my journal. I try to start with my journal, because as I write, the process helps me sort through the to-do’s and establish real priority.

A to-do list is great for making sure you accomplish what you set out to do in a day, but they have a few drawbacks. First, it gets cumbersome to constantly move unfinished tasks to the next day. It doesn’t allow you to easily set daily goals vs. weekly, or even longer-term goals. Everything seems to have the same urgency. “E-mail Tiffany about wings” seems as crucial as “mail past-due insurance premium.” Also, no matter how much you accomplish, there’s always something you didn’t get to. So you never feel you really “finished.” And then there’s the feeling that tomorrow, it starts all over again.

This morning I wondered if I instead I could view the day as an opportunity to fill certain “cups” of my life that need care and attention.

One cup, “family”, was easy. Jon and I had had a great morning. So I needed to make sure I spent time with my kids later after school. “Make chili with Doug and Robin” (they love to help me cook) and “movie night!” went at the top of my list. (You know you need to cook more often when you make a pot of soup one weekend and both your teenage children THANK you profusely….how embarassing!)

Under “friends”, I made a note to e-mail my friend Tiffany to see if she could meet for wings and a beer, our weekly Friday ritual. And to call another friend I hadn’t seen in a few weeks, to see if we could get together.

“Professional” cup next. “Clear a space so I can do card project for Katherine’s book”.

I stopped and looked at that entry. “Clean the studio!!!” has been on my to-do list for weeks. (see blog for 9/30)

Breaking down “Clean the studio!” into a smaller step (“Clear a table”) was a good strategy. But I needed something else today. Life’s been overwhelming lately, and I just wondered if there was another way to look at all this.

I remembered the “Handmade, High Tech” conference (see blog CRAFT IN THE DIGITAL AGE entry in April 2004.) One of the speakers, Lynn Martin Graton, Traditional Arts Coordinator for the NH State Council on the Arts, talked about how differences in how language is used can reveal fundamental differences in culture.

She said, “If I want to say, ‘Warp the loom’ in Japanese, it actually translates to something like, ‘In order for the cloth to be woven, the loom will be warped.’ It’s a totally different way of viewing the action needed and the person who acts. The loom has its own importance, its own part to play. It’s not just about YOU, the artist.” (paraphrased greatly)

AHA!

If I say “Clean my studio”, it’s a huge task that lies on me and me alone. I must accept total responsibility for doing that. There may be very American, can-do solutions: I can suck it up and do it myself. I can get friends to help (barn-raising!) I can hire someone else to do it, putting a value on my time and/or deciding how I want to spend my time. And my favorite, ‘you can accomplish anything–even eating an elephant–by taking many small bites one at a time.’ It’s how I’ve accomplished everything I have in the last five years, breaking every monumental task down into more manageable little steps.

But what if we’re in a place where even these strategies just seem too overwhelming?

What if we could speak Japanese sometimes? What if we could tap into an even softer, Zen, wholistic, mindful approach occasionally?

What if I recognize that, if I do my part, then the creative “thing” will do its part? What if I could trust that process?

I rewrote the task: “If the cards are to be made, a space must be cleared.”

It’s still the same action resulting in the same conclusion, but the perspective is different.

It’s still up to me to take the action that makes it happen. That table won’t clear itself! (Oh, I WISH!!) But now I have a partner in the process, so to speak.

I started with the analogy of a baby, but that got too labored (ouch! Sorry…) But like a baby, certain things have to happen in order for the baby to appear. Once started, the baby pretty much develops and grows on its own schedule, and appears in its own good time. But certain things have to happen, and a place has to be made.

Martha Graham’s famous quote, in part, acknowledges this: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.”

Blocking the creative act can be as simple as not making a place for it. The creative process is a dance between you (a conduit and a source of action), and a partner (the creative force that needs to appear). The result, whether its a card project, a song, a poem, a garden, a painting or a child, comes from that dance.

Once that creative thing is in the world, it takes on a life of its own. It can be seen and experienced by others in their own unique way. Some people will be inspired by it, some will be angered. Some will be moved to tears and others will wonder what all the fuss was about. That’s why the rest of the quote goes on to say it is not the artist’s place to judge it, just to make sure it gets out into the world.

So take another look at that to-do list. Look at the ways you may have unconsciously taken on more than you need to handle with your art. Start with the small but critical step of making room for it, literally and figuratively. Then step back and see what happens!

I’m off to clear a table now.

LEARNING TO SEE #10 (and LESSONS FROM THE GYM): Hidden Places are Powerful Spaces

It’s been months since I’ve been to the gym, and I miss it terribly. Not the workouts! I’m pretty lazy at heart. But I do miss the friendships made there, and the wisdom I’ve gained from overhearing conversations between those professionals and their clients.

Today I’ve been thinking about what to encourage people to write about in their email newsletters and other online media.

We know what we’re ‘supposed to’ talk about: Our awards, the honors we’ve accrued, the famous people we’ve studied under, the prestigious shows we’ve done and the respected galleries that represent our work. The medium we prefer, the subjects that inspire us, the schools we’ve attended, etc. All fine and good.

For a lot of people, it’s harder to share what people really want to know about us, and our work: Who we are, and why we do what we do.

Then I brushed my teeth. (Bear with me here!)

Something clicked. (Not my toothbrush. My brain.)

I once overheard a therapist at that facility tell a client (and me!) that all humans have a quirk that unites us all:

We tend to focus on our ‘fronts’. That is, we unconsciously focus on what we can see in the mirror: Our face. Our (outer) teeth. The front of our body.

For example, when we brush our teeth, we spend more time on their outer surfaces. (My dentist confirmed this!) We spend less time on the insides of our teeth, because…well, nobody (except our dentist or dental hygienist) sees that.

The therapist said something similar. We tend to focus on strengthening the body parts we see in the mirror easily. Our biceps (but not our triceps.) Our pecs (but not our lats, or delts.) Our stomach (but not our calves.)

Yet the ‘front view’ is only 50% of who we are. And what goes on inside our bodies—breathing, digestion, blood circulation, etc.—is immensely more complicated that what we see on the outside.

We artists often focus on the outer things people “see”: Those diplomas, those awards, those events and galleries listed on our resume. We know our chosen medium is important. There’s a hierarchy in 2D art, and those who work with the most respected ‘naturally’ get more respect themselves. When we host an open studio, our first instinct is to clear the mess, arrange everything beautifully, and fill every surface with work people can actually buy.

And yet, the most powerful human connections are those that connect our ‘insides’ to each other: The “rear views” and inside workings of our (figurative!) heart that reveal who we really are in the world.

Social media suffers from this anomaly. The ‘influencers’ show their perfect lives, filled with constructions of perfection, showcasing their perfect environment, their perfect wardrobe, their perfect bodies, messages about their perfect lifestyle.

Even when we know this is a structured, highly-curated persona, we can’t help but compare our own imperfect, messy, ‘unattractive’ lives to theirs. We hesitate to post anything that might come off as ‘less-than’ to our online audience.

This can be a death knell for our art.

Because all of the choices we make about our art—what we make, how we make the way we do, why we use the materials we use, even the stories we tell—are our unique, imperfect, very human story.

When we have the courage to share our personal ‘why’ behind those choices, we reveal something deeper, something with integrity, something imbued with our own unique human preferences. We show who we are, and who we want to be in the world.

Some folks treasure presenting the illusion that they are perfect, that they have it all figured out, that they have a talent and skillset that no one else has, that no one else will ever have.

In a sense, that’s true. We are all unique, from our background, upbringing, personalities, likes and dislikes, innate characteristics, and those we’ve acquired: education, skills, etc.

Striving to appear perfect, though, only appeals to some. Because learning who we are, what we are here for, what the work of our heart is, making our art, means making mistakes. No one is born knowing how to play the piano. What got us to where we are today is making mistakes, lots of mistakes—and persevering because we wanted to learn. We wanted to get better. We wanted to be the best we can, and we want to continue to improve. We want to make the work that is important to us, the only ‘me’ in the world.

The WHY of who we are is what makes us human.

Sharing those vulnerabilities, our mistakes, our twisty life path, and the insights and ‘aha moments’ we’ve learned along the way, can actually make it easier for others to connect with us, and with our work.

Now, I’m not saying we should point out all the mistakes in our current work! Most people would never even see them unless we point them out.

But it’s okay to share the struggle of fixing the composition of a still life. It’s okay to share that we don’t have a prestigious degree because we took up our art late in life, or that we’re self-taught. You might encourage someone else who can’t go to art school, who doesn’t have access to those prestigious workshops, who wants to make work that is like no other.

It’s okay that our story is personal, filled with sidetracked interests, twists and turns. It’s okay that we share our own stumbling blocks. Someone else may get the support they need to get through theirs. It’s okay that we sometimes share our own doubts and feelings of ‘less-than’. Others may realize we’re all in this together (and my favorite rejoinder, “…and no one gets out alive.”)

Showing others how we solved our roadblocks, and the insights we gained, may encourage others to hold their ground with their own work.

Because all of these things we go through are what makes us human. And it’s our common humanity that creates a need for our art in the world. If it uplifts us, it can uplift others. So might our own experiences.

Our art may not be for everyone. Mine certainly isn’t. That knowledge early on gave me the courage to persevere in the face of every roadblock, obstacle, rejection, and self-doubt. That knowledge is what drives me to encourage everyone in the world to find their own creative work, without giving in to the very-narrow definition others live by.

Social media can be a gift to creative people. It gives us free, easy access to the world’s attention.

But if everyone focuses on presenting the “outsides” only, it can distort our perspective, erode our own self-confidence, and cause us to doubt the value of our own life, and art.

As Anne Lamott said in her amazing TED Talk, “Never compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.”

Be a little willing to share your “insides” on your favorite platform today! (Except, please, not what you ate for lunch!)*

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

–Mary Oliver

 

*Okay, you can post a pic of your lunch. But you could share who you were with, why you choose that eatery, and what you loved about that dish. Share the experience!

 

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!

 

LEARNING TO SEE #5: This Is Us

We have the power of our choices, even our tiniest choices, every day, literally and figuratively.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 #5: This Is Us

Sometimes dark times help us see the light within.

(7 minute read)

 

It’s a dreary day today.

Rain. (Not much light in the studio on days like this.) Chilly. (Get the wool socks out again!) Frustrating in the smallest detail (our greediest little cat successfully snagged all the food our frail senior cat, despite me sitting two feet away–again!)

I’m almost out of cream for my coffee, a promised check from a customer has yet to arrive, I just saw how much I spent “stocking up” on supplies last month (YIKES!), and there seems to be no end in sight for you-know-what-I’m-talkin’-about.

I’m down down down with a problematic health issue that literally appeared out of nowhere two weeks ago, and there’s no end in sight there, either. A family member lost their job last month, tempers are stretched, and sitting on the porch in the evening has turned into a yak-fest with complete strangers, as everyone is desperate to talk with anyone else. My studio is a mess, I’ve lost interest in going to it, and I just want to huddle under the covers all day, with a cat or two to snuggle with. (NOT YOU, GREEDY BEAN!)

And yet, as I sit here listing the downers, I’m ashamed. Ashamed of focusing on what is wrong while choosing blatantly to recognize what is good.

We are okay-for now. That’s all we can count on, all any of us can count on. No one in our family has Covid-19 (though I would argue a kidney stone is almost as scary, but at least it’s only affecting me!) Some family members are far away, but they are okay, too.

We have what we need: Food, shelter, silly pets to amuse us (EXCEPT FOR YOU, BEAN YOU BAD GIRL), plenty of TV shows and movies to catch up to, and working internet for work, connection, entertainment, information.

It’s not as cold as New Hampshire right now (NO SNOW!! YES!!) And we really need the rain, so complaining about it seems pretty petty.

As our world feels smaller and more cramped, it’s tempting to compare it to what we had, and what others have, that we do not.

And yet, this weird time has also opened my eyes to a huge truth we all “know”, but never really believed:

All those people who have more-than-us, in every sense, are still people just like us.

I’m talking about the people who live in huge mansions, bigger than every house I’ve ever lived in put all together, who still complain how bored they are.

I’m talking about the famous people we admire, whether they be saints or sinners, movie stars and music stars, the people with fame and fortune we secretly aspire to be, with our own creative work.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to have people clamoring for our work? What would it be like to name any price on our art, and get it? Being in that prestigious gallery who would do all that hateful marketing/promoting/selling for us-and we just get a check sent to us, every month?

What would it be like to walk the red carpet, to accept that award, to give that speech, to have people clamoring for our attention, to have thousands, millions of people hanging on our every word?

There are three things that bring me back to my own world this morning:

  • I’m rereading The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, and reminding myself why being famous has its own dark side.
  • Complaining about the rain when we desperately NEED the rain, right now, reminds me that I may be the center of my own universe, but I’m not the center of anyone else’s. There are far worse situations to be in than mine, health issues not-withstanding, and rather than complaining, maybe I should be looking at ways to help others who are much, much worse off.
  • Famous, successful people are just people like us, with (usually) better haircuts, makeup, and clothes.

As we watch our ‘stars’ perform in their homes, without all the props and makeup that make them look almost inhumanly beautiful, we see them for who they are: People like us.

As we watch them deliver their routines without an audience, we see how hard it is to get that ‘lift’ that comes from an appreciative audience’s response (laughter and cheers).

As we watch them sing, we note that though most do have terrific voices, it’s also obvious who has gained by having a lot of support behind them: Great venues to perform in, back-up singers, sound mixers, amps, etc.

Famous people are just people, perhaps with nicer homes, better support, more money, more options. But they are still just people, as fragile and frustrated as we are, and sometimes dealing with more crap and actual threats to their safety, too.

As we watch how other people handle the current shelter-in-place orders (or how they DON’T handle them), we understand that every person feels put-upon in their own unique way. Everyone is suffering. As a fellow writer exclaimed years ago, “It’s like we’re all on the same lake in a different boat!” And some people don’t even have a boat….

Here’s the gift of being an artist today:

We don’t need to be famous to have an audience for our work.

We don’t need an audience in front of us to make our work.

We don’t need the approval of others to make our work.

With the internet, we don’t need the acceptance by a specific gallery to share our work with the world.

We don’t necessarily need to make a living at our art, to have it in our lives.

In the end, we are just people. People who have a knack, or talent, or skill, whether it’s an innate sense of color and design, or simply perseverance and the desire to do the best we can with what we’ve got.

We’re people who found a way to have a voice in the world, and we are allowed to use it.

We’re people who, when we make the work of our heart, find we can actually lift the hearts of others, too. IF we share it.

All this ‘marketing-speak’ boils down to this: It’s just a way to get our art-and story–in front of others, without spending very much money, with a certain amount of time and effort, with a camera/smartphone, and access to the internet. That’s all.

And in the midst of all this, though I woke up feeling physically and emotionally down-trodden, just writing this has lifted my heart a little.

Just thinking about my own superpower-the ability to make something that looks like it might be 10,000 years old, with its own mystery and yearning, with a substance that’s only three or four decades old, that only needs a little oven to ‘cure’; the ability to write down my thoughts, to consider my current state-of-mind and ask “why so sad?” and to count my blessings; the self-knowledge that if I go to my studio today, I will definitely find some small but comforting feeling of “I can do this; all of these come from my art-making, my own Throne of Iron. Er…plastic.

I just realized I’m not mad at Bean anymore, either.

We have the power of our choices, even our tiniest choices, every day, literally and figuratively.

Today, I can listen to all those little voices, the ones that want to keep me safe by keeping me small, frightened, caring too much what other people think, too worried about a future I cannot see nor control.

Or I can listen to my mighty heart, which knows what I can control and what I can’t, and to embrace the former while acknowledging and letting go of the latter.

I can listen to my mighty heart, which has always known “Not everyone will be a fan” and yet persevere, with what matters to me.

I can listen to my mighty heart, which whispers, “Be the artist you were always meant to be”, and be grateful I know how powerful this truly is. To have the ability, and the power, to choose this.

If we are quiet, if we listen to our heart today, accepting the “no”, but reaching for the “yes”, what would be possible today?

What is getting YOU through these confusing, trying times? Share your happy place in the comments! I’d love to hear them. But even more important….

There may be someone on the other side of the globe that needs to hear what you have to say, today. Right now.

If this article inspired you today, please pass it on to someone else who might like it, too. And if someone sent this to you today, and you liked it, you can see more advice on art marketing at Fine Art Views, more of my articles on FAV, and subscribe to my email newsletter at my website at LuannUdell.com.

LEARNING TO SEE #4: Be Like Steak-umm

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.

How a frozen food company is taking the internet by storm

(5 minute read)

I wish I could let people know how these artifacts FEEL in hand!

 

We all wish we knew the exact marketing techniques that would create a perfect storm of new collectors, admirers, and galleries clamoring for our work.

And there are a whole lotta people out there selling their expertise on how to do that, from SEO (search engine optimization) to the best hashtags to use. Some of these are free, but most want your money first.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: “Branding” and “driving people to your website” are terms from the cattle industry.

And people know when they’re being treated like cattle.

If you’re like me, right now almost everything in your email in-box has ‘Covid-19’ or ‘coronavirus’ in there somewhere. It’s still important, it’s still with us, and will be for a long time in one way or another.

And everyone is desperate for people to buy what they’re selling, from future airline trips, magazine subscriptions, masks and sanitizing supplies to the foresaid ‘perfect’ marketing plans and expensive business coaching advice.

And yet, guess who’s taking the internet by storm this week?

A Steak-umm Twitter account.

Yup. That Steak-umm.

Created by the company owner’s son, the strategy is an unusual one in the biz world. Because it is totally honest about its end goal (it freely admits that it’s “…a frozen meat brand posting ads inevitably made to misdirect people and generate sales, so this is peak irony.”) And honest about its intent: “gonna keep preaching from the frozen meat pulpit until this account runs into the ground because that’s marketing baby.” (Which is another important aspect of marketing: Perseverance!)

And yet their tweet series created a Twitter storm the internet, with thoughtful insights that amount to a coronavirus PSA, on how to trust science; how to research the sources of questionable information;  and even why we should have compassion for those who spread ridiculous faux “facts” instead of ridicule. (My personal favorite? The shout-out to creatives tweet.)

Why does this strategy work? (One commenter said, “Because you rock on Twitter, this will be the first purchase in about 40 years!”)

And my last quote from a commenter, “Guarantee you at least 300 intense Zoom meetings with marketing managers brainstorming how to fake @steak_umm ’s intellectual sincerity.”

What are the insights we can harvest here?

Focusing on integrity vs. sales.

Practicing vulnerability vs. “perfection”.

Telling our story vs. how many awards, prizes, and prestigious galleries as credentials.

Recognizing, and sharing what is unique in our work vs. SEO and other “tricks” to play the system.

Creating real connection with our audience vs. focusing on how much money we’re making today.

The slow, not-so-shiny-or-glamorous human way of connecting with other humans vs. big budgets, “sure-fire” marketing strategies, and glitz.

I had inadvertently mimicked this approach this week, before my husband mentioned how Steak-umms was blowing up the internet.

I realized I was under-utilizing certain aspects of my FASO website. I got more serious about uploading new art (which is then sent as a brief email to my email subscribers.) I tried to post on Instagram daily (which reposts to my artist-and-writer page on Facebook). When I realized this looked like “sell, sell, sell” in overdrive, I added, “I know this looks like it’s all about hoping you’ll buy. But I also get a lot of joy out of making. I figure if I share that with you, maybe it will give you a little joy today, too.”

And of course, all my marketing shares not just my artwork, but the stories, inspiration, and my own personal ethos that goes into it.

In fact, this part may be even harder for many creatives to adopt. We may instinctively (and wisely) shy away from the big, bad-ass, brag-ish strategies that we’ve come to consider “marketing”. It may feel even weirder to simply be who we are in the world, to share what we yearn for in the world, and to show what we care about, in our art, our techniques, our style, and our voice.

But if a mega-frozen food company can gain a huge and appreciative audience in these wild and weird times, for a steak sandwich, fer-cryin’-out-loud, by showing integrity, humor, and a human heart and soul behind the screen, just imagine what we artists can do!

Today, make a little space to share your work with others. Post a work of art on social media (including your email newsletter!) Tell the story behind it: Think about what was going on in your mind, your heart, your life when you made it. Muse about what you think of now, when you see it.

Shine a little light on why you do the work you do, so others can see, too.

Remember this bit of wisdom from Willy Wonka himself:

We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

If this article inspired you today, please pass it on to someone else who might like it, too. And if someone sent this to you today, and you liked it, you can see more advice on art marketing at Fine Art Views, more of my articles on FAV, and subscribe to my email newsletter at my website at LuannUdell.com.

Musings and Muddling 2: What The Hell Is Water?

Thank you, Terry E. for the beautiful inspiration for my owl story

Musings and Muddling…Why Our Creative Work Matters

I’m in a swirl of new work and new ideas. And I’m also in a whirl of indecision, frustration, and unsolvable problems.

Every time I get stuck, I experience self-doubt. Feelings of not-doing-it-right. Afraid the world will finally see how how unworthy of the title “artist” I truly am.

I’ve been here before. And so have you. (We ALL have ‘creative work’ in us, according to my ever-inclusive definition: Any work that is a force for good, that makes the world a better place. That would be the “traditional” arts, including music, dance, drama, etc. But to me, it also means healing, teaching, restoring, repairing, repurposing, inventing, gardening, cooking, nurturing, etc.)

This morning I was searching my Pinterest page. I’m looking for a way to turn a flat object (okay, it’s my owl face artifacts) into a pendant. My usual methods won’t work, for a variety of reasons. The brooch/pendant converter doesn’t work, and using a glue-on bail would interfere with the look of the owl. Hence (my favorite part of “The House Bunny” movie is Anna Faris’s passionate use of this one word) my search on Pinterest, looking for ideas.

As I searched, I found one of my old blog posts from four years ago, How to Make Water.

And as I was finishing this up, a friend sent me this astonishing insight into the real nature of creativity, in a snippet of an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert. (Thank you, Gail M.!)

Basking in the astonishing wonder of synchronicity, aka “little daily miracles….)

So no solution yet, but this was exactly what I needed to read, and hear today.

Enjoy!

As always, if you enjoyed this article and know someone who might like it, too, please pass it on! And if you liked this newsletter and received it from someone else, you can sign up for more at my webiste, LuannUdell.com.

LEARNING TO SEE #3 Shift Your Viewpoint

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.

Sometimes changing our perspective helps us see better.

I’ve been making little animal artifacts for more than two decades. I make them one at a time, shaping each lump of layered clay by hand.

I use various tools, repurposed, handmade, found in situ, to add details and designs. But I only use my hands for the actual forming.

They’ve changed a lot over the years. The bears got less “formidable” and a little sweeter. They have ears now, and a tail, too. The birds now have real eyes instead of dots. They look more alive.

All my animals are more three-dimensional. When I first made them, they were button-like adornments on my 2-D fiber collage work. Now they are thicker, rounder.

Even my horses have changed. Sometimes they reflected real changes in my life, like the year or two when I had several big surgeries: They lost their signature ‘handprint’! It took awhile for me to figure out why. I finally realized I was in so much discomfort, I didn’t want to be “touched”, and neither did they! (Bears started out with handprints, but then they “told” me they were not domesticate animals, so ix-nay on the handprint thing.)

At some point, there was another shift in my horses. For some reason I still can’t figure out, they became shorter. Not as in “less tall”, but as in “less long”. In a way, they couldn’t be ridden.

It took a long time to see that. The turning point came when I made a necklace for a wise woman in my life. She’d picked a horse from my stash, one that spoke to her. But when I tried to turn it into a pendant, I couldn’t get it to “hang” right. It was “front heavy”, and I could not fix that.

That insight, when shared with her, ended up giving her tremendous insight into her own turning point in life. As in, a big decision she’d made had thrown her life out of balance. (Which was a tiny miracle in its own right! Once she “saw” that, she changed her mind, with amazingly powerful results.)

It also made me look at that batch of horses and see the imbalance.

I’d used a large black, faux soapstone horse to make a large Shaman necklace. (I try to make one every year or two, to remind myself to “go big” in my work, even though I only sell one ocassionally.) It was on display in my studio. I decided to photo it to list in my Etsy shop.

When I saw the photo, it was easy to see the difference in how much my horses have changed in four years!

It took awhile for me to really SEE the difference!

I still love those “stubby” horses, and so do a lot of people. But I can’t keep making them that way.

So I made a new big horse, in a green shade of faux soapstone. I love how it looks!

Of course, there are lots of tricks to “seeing” our work in a different way, one that can help us more easily see the errors in composition, lighting, color choices, etc. We can not only take a quick photo, we can hold it up to a mirror, or view it upside down. I once asked former Fine Art Views author-and-artist Lori Woodward to look at a large wall hanging I’d made.  Something was ‘off’ but I couldn’t see it. She saw it instantly! (Fortunately it was an easy fix!) Thank you, Lori!

And just like we can improve how we really “see” our art, we can improve how we see ourselves. And not just ourselves, but how we view our art, how we can encourage others to “see” it, and how we “see” ourselves in the world.

This is crucial to extending our online marketing, too.

I remember the first workshop I ever took on marketing and self-promotion, at a polymer clay guild in Keene, NH. A member’s spouse was in marketing, and his presentation was mind-blowing!

The first question he asked was, “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about selling?”

Most of the responses were eye-opening. “It’s like a used car salesman’s pitch!” “You gotta twist people’s arms to get them to buy something!” “First you bait the hook and then they bite and you reel them in!”

I couldn’t stand it any longer. I said, “First I make something, with all my skills, and time. Then I show it to someone else, and tell my story. Then they take their hard-earned money that they earned with their skills, and time, and we trade.”

Needless to say, I got an A! (Figuratively speaking.)

Many people today still hesitate to self-promote, especially if we weren’t raised to put ourselves out there. Posting on social media can feel like “bragging”. Asking a good price for our work can feel “pretentious”. Even calling ourselves a “real artist” can feel presumptuous.

But we are simply people who are just like everybody else. We have things we really care about, we choose a creative path we really love, we make stuff that makes us happy, and we do our best work.

The next step is simply sharing our work with the world. Sharing with images (if our work is visual), or words (if our work is a poem, or story), or recordings (if our work is musical, or verbal), or videos (if our work involves movement, such as dance, or acting, etc.)

If nothing happens, that doesn’t mean our work is no good. It can simply mean we haven’t found our audience–yet!

And getting it out into the world is a huge part of that process. From email newsletters, to tiny short films on Instagram, to sharing our latest artwork (or column!) on Facebook, and Twitter, etc. is how people get to see it.

The beauty of social media is, you don’t have to wait for a publisher to choose your work, or a gallery to represent you, or a record producer to record your music, or a studio to hire you as an actor. In fact, the chances of any of these typical ‘markers of success’ may improve simply from our own efforts to show the world what we do.

So maybe we can learn to see ourselves better, too.

We can choose to see ourselves as a human who has chosen visual work as their favorite format. A human who has chosen oils, or acrylics, or colored pencil, or clay, or bronze, or fiber, or any of the thousands of “media” that are creative paths.

We can choose to see ourselves, and our art, as worthy. As ‘good enough’, right now, and ‘even better’ down the road.

As a dear friend said years ago, when I said how embarrassed I was by my earlier work, “Did people love what you made then?” (Um…yes.) “Did they buy it?” (Yeah….?) “Then there will be people who will still love them, too.” (Thank you, Ruth P.!)

We get to choose. We can accept, and respect, every step of our creative journey. Or, like I did this week, we can update, rotate, recreate, refresh, or even set aside the work that doesn’t reflect our best.

There’s no right-or-wrong there. Just what we want to do.

That’s the insight I gained today, by looking at my life’s work from a different perspective. Looking backwards (like a mirror) at where I started, where I’ve been, where I am.

And forward, to where I’m going next.

Do you have artwork you still love, even decades later? Can you still feel the fierce joy it brought you then? Are there pieces you’ve reworked for the better? Are you open to finding out what you can do better in the months ahead?

And can you find yourself worthy of respect for what you do? So you can share it with the world with pride, and joy? Let me know in the comments!

If this article inspired you today, please pass it on to someone else who might like it, too. And if someone sent this to you today, and you liked it, you can see more advice on art marketing at Fine Art Views, more of my articles on FAV, and subscribe to my email newsletter at my website at LuannUdell.com.

I love this necklace even more. And the “old” horse has been returned to my stash for a future project, perhaps.

 

 

Random Thoughts Make a Tiny Miracle During Shelter-in-Place

I’ve made more little critters than ever!I’m sharing a tiny gift I’ve found in this hot mess.

Bear with me, because it comes from a bunch of random issues, problems, frustrations, idle research on the internet, and resulted in my new-found work enhancer.

First: All my life, from the very first 45rpm record I bought (“Turn, Turn, Turn” by The Byrds), I love to play a favorite tune over and over and over. (I can hear some of you screaming already…)

Also, when I am writing, or even reading, I can’t listen to music with words. It just jangles the connections in my brain. Soon I’m singing along, not aware that I’ve also stopped reading/writing.

So I can’t listen to lyrics during those activities. Put a pin there.

More on music: I have a CD player in my studio. Old school, I know. I also have Pandora radio, and I tried to use that, especially because CDs only give 45 minutes to an hour of playtime. I got the internet radio because my husband has had one for years. How many years? Let’s just say it’s a century in “internet years.”

Because he’s used it so long, it now automatically plays even random music that suit his tastes. Mine, not so much. I tried searching for artists, songs, music genres, etc. But it never complied anything I could listen to for more than five minutes.

So I quit using it, and went back to my CD player. At least I can play discs of music I love and have collected over the years.

But there were problems there, too. First, as I said earlier, I’m one of those obnoxious people, the ones who fall in love with a song, and play it over and over and over and over and over until everyone around me wants to scream.  (Have you stopped yet?) (I have my reasons why, but I won’t bore you with them today.) (Unless you ask, of course.) 🙂

So I have to constantly hit “replay”, which means I have to push a button every 4 minutes and 30 seconds. Or constantly skip over the songs that annoy me.

I worry about driving my neighbors crazy, especially in my “one-song-repeat-a-thousand-times” mode. (Put a pin here, too.)

Also, I’m in a huge building with dozens of other artists. We all have our individual workspaces, and fortunately, we don’t share air systems or even heating ducts. (No heat.) But I can hear their conversations from time to time, off-key whistled accompaniments to their own music, etc.

I ended up wearing ear plugs, which work great. But now I can’t hear my music, right?

If I play my music loud enough so I can’t hear them, it’s actually TOO loud (because the ear buds don’t fit.) And if I play my music loud enough so I can hear it no matter where I sit in their studio, well, then I’m bugging THEM.

And after the shut-down orders came, I was a little stressed even in my happy creative space. It was harder than usual to focus and dig into my projects.

Put a pin there.

Around the same time, I was complaining to my husband how all my ear buds suck, because a) I can’t get them inserted adequately to get the best sound unless I hold them in place, which is not conducive to doing my art work because I NEED MY HANDS TO WORK; and b) they hurt my ears.

So he gave me his old headset, an inexpensive refurbished model he’d bought for his work’s online conferences, but never used because it didn’t have a microphone.

I love them. The sound is great, they are comfortable, and I can plug into my phone, tuck my phone in a pocket, and move about the studio easily. (Before, I would forget I was “plugged in”, jump up from one work station to move to another, and nearly destroy my phone and everything on my desk in the process.) (Pin!)

A couple months ago, I found a delightful little video by Ainslie Henderson online. I can’t for the life of me remember how.  I think someone posted it on Facebook?

I fell in love with it. He mentions how his little animated figures carry a bit of sadness, and when the little one pulls at the arm of a larger one who’s stilled already at 2:00 minutes into the video, I felt that.

I also fell in love with the music. When I looked up more of his film shorts, I saw how he has collaborated with various musicians over the years.

So I looked up Poppy Ackroyd, who did the music for that little video, and found more of her music. Her work sounds simple, but it’s also complex. How she makes it and puts it together is astonishing.

Then I realized I can “sample” Ackroyd’s album “Leaves”, which has three of my favorite songs on it: “Salt”, “Timeless”, and “Roads”.

They have NO WORDS.

They are hypnotic.

They repeat, in order, over and over and over.

No pushing buttons. No being tied to a three-foot leash. No noise to bother my neighbors. No noise to bother me.

And now I’m hooked.

I get to my studio, set up my phone for Acroyd’s playlist, put on my headphones, and get to work.

I work steadily for hours on end, happy, heart-lifted, and soothed.

All these elements and issues combined and resolved by a $14 headset, and….

A beautiful collaboration between visual artist and music artist.

I never would have found Henderson’s work without surfing on Facebook, which can be a huge time-waster and a hotspot for fake news, etc.

I never would have found Poppy Acroyd’s music without finding Ainslie Henderson’s video.

I never would have found Poppy’s music if they had not collaborated.

I never would have found such a powerful way for me to get deep into the ‘Zone’ without my husband’s suggestion of using a headset.

Today I’m going to send some money to Poppy Ackroyd. I figure I owe it to her.

And I am so grateful all these random little elements, missteps, personal quirks, etc., came together and gave me just what I need right now to reinforce my creative work time.

What have you found that helps you get into that deep creative space that’s so important for our work?

P.S.  Another earworm you might enjoy: Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) and Emmy Lou Harris collaborating on “Speedway at Nazareth“. (Headphones or whatever gives you the best sound quality. Worth it!)

P.S.S. I was going to apologize for dragging you through tons of “little bits” that all came together to tell a story. Until I realized this is the heart of all my creative work. Little bits that get sewn/knit together, all carrying something intriguiging to me, with lots of tiny details, braided into a story that lifts my heart.

I hope it lifted yours today, to

Lots of braided stories in this new series, too!

o.

SHOW YOUR WORK #2: What Is Your Process?

How much do I share without destroying the mystery of my finished work?
How much do I share without destroying the mystery of my finished work?

SHOW YOUR WORK #2: What Is Your Process?

SHOW YOUR WORK #2: What Is Your Process?

Share what you want, not what you think you “have to”

Some thoughts on what to write about, photo, and share on social media.

I’m a double-juried (in two media) craftsman member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, a well-established, well-respected organization that supports and markets the work of members in many ways: galleries, events, exhibitions, and its prestigious Annual Craftsmen’s Fair held in August every year. (I achieved tenure, so even though I now live a few thousand miles away, I still retain my membership.) I eventually volunteered to become a member of the Fair Committee, because I was so curious about what went on “behind the curtain” to produce these incredible 9-day long event.

One feature of our annual outdoor fair was demo booths. For a reduced rate, a juried craftsman got a super-sized booth (about 20’x30’, if I remember correctly) to not only display their wares, but to do demonstrations of their craft for the public. When I started, there were three such booths at each year’s fair.

And every year we had to beg people to sign up for them.

The reason was, sales at these booths were horrible. Even with the savings and prominent placement on the grounds (an off-season ski resort), people knew they would struggle to make any money that year. It just wasn’t worth it to them.

I can’t remember why I decided it might be something to try, but boy, did I do my research. I checked in with past demonstrators, and asked if it were worthwhile. Almost everyone said, “Not that year, but my sales afterwards steadily climbed!” So, okay, consider it a loss-leader in the short-term, and investment in a bigger audience down the road. I could handle that.

But my superpower is gathering as much information as I can from every conceivable source. And so I also checked in with Bruce Baker, a jewelry-maker and gallery/gift shop owner who traveled across the country for years giving workshops on all things craft/art business related: Display, sales techniques, pricing, etc. (Bruce has retired this part of his biz and returned to jewelry-making full-time, but his CDs live on.) He lived relatively close, so I was able to attend many of his workshops, and even served with him on panel discussions and with traveling craft biz-building workshops for a year.

I called Bruce, and he graciously gave me the insights and advice I was looking for.

My first question was, why do sales tank at demos? He replied that demos tend to be “edu-tainment”: Free, educational and entertaining. And when it’s over, there goes the crowd, on to the next fun thing (music, raffles, food, etc.) So demo booths are unconsciously filed away under “fun to watch” and not “fun to shop”.

Add to that another unconscious element: When the “edu-tainer” artist sees people actively shopping, of course they stand up and move over to assist them. And the “magic” of demonstrating turns into, “Uh-oh, here comes the car salesman pitch!” and people scurry away. “There’s a disconnect,” he explained. “And once that ball is dropped, it’s hard to get back.” Hence, maybe crowds, but no sales.

He shared insights and gave suggestions. Like setting up my demo booth on the outer border of the big tent, so people didn’t have to “commit” to coming inside. “Don’t put it in the back of the booth, because then people have to make a conscious decision to enter a big, dark tent. Put it right there on the fairway!” I did, and it worked.

Second, he said I should NOT do sales. What??

“Not “no sales”. I mean you yourself should not do sales. Hire people to do that,” he said. “Keep that divide between the creative maker and the “car salesman”.” So I hired/bribed/cajoled a team of friends to help. (I lent them all CDs of Bruce’s selling techniques. But instead of telling them what I say about my work, I encouraged them to share what they love about my work. I felt it would come across as heart-felt and more authentic, and I was right.)

The proof of Bruce’s insights? At one point in the week, all my volunteers were at lunch at the same time. (Slow day.) Some people came in, I demo’ed, they watched. And when they started shopping, I walked over to them – and they nearly ran out of the booth! Lesson learned. (No, I’m not that scary in person, the dynamic had changed just as Bruce had described.)

I made my highest sales ever that year, and the next (as I got to choose to demo again, if I wanted to, and I did.) In fact, from that year on, there was actually competition for those sales demo booths, and their number increased to five! Because every other artisan saw what was happening, and wanted in on that, too.

But one of the biggest hurdles yet remained. And it took a friend’s insight to solve that problem:

How much do I share without destroying the mystery of my finished work?

This has been a “hurt place” for decades for me. My work has been copied (although badly, I’m ashamed to admit I’m happy to say). Showing exactly what I do, and how I do it, felt too risky. Also, think of how explaining a magic trick takes away the magic. The last thing I wanted to do was to unconsciously give others permission to copy. (Most of my techniques are well-known and not original to me, but the way I put them together and the stories I tell are.)

Again, just the right person showed up.

I met Alisha Vincent when she was the show manager for the Buyers Market of American Craft (informally called “The Rosen Show” for the company’s owner, Wendy Rosen) and now known as the American Made Show.) She was/still is one of my super heroes in life, for her intelligence, her powers of observation, her wide range of experience in the world, her courage, and her sense of humor. She actually came to NH that year to work in my demo booth, and I am forever grateful she did, for countless reasons. But especially for today, this one: When I expressed my fears, she was quick to find the solution. “Look at your neighbor,” she said, gesturing toward the guy who made beautiful Shaker boxes in the tent next to me. “He says his process has 29 steps.”

“He’s demonstrated nine of those steps.”

Oh. OH. OH!!!!!! Got it!

Next week, I’ll share the other learning points from this experience we can apply to social media. For today, just this:  When I say “show your process”, know that it means you can choose how much to share.

Take pictures (or ask someone to help with that) that show your work (and you, if you like) at various stages of your process. Share, with comments. (I did this with my email newsletter recently, and the response was the best I’d ever gotten.)

Some people do share every single step. Hats off to them! They are secure in the knowledge that their skills have taken time and effort, and are not easily mastered. And that their own aesthetic and color choice are unique to them.

Me, not so much. I totally know this comes from my own insecurities and past experiences.

And so Alisha’s insight helped me pick interesting aspects to demo, but not a start-to-finish process. She helped me find my comfort level, so I could start there and go forward.

That’s the big idea for you, today. There will tons of insights, advice, statistics, and information about art marketing in the weeks ahead on Fine Art Views.

Keep note of the ones that interest you.

Note what feels like “too much” vs. what feels like a challenge you can handle.

And as you get comfortable with it, take on the next challenge.

Remember, there are oodles of steps to help us move forward in our art biz.

The gift is, we get to choose what ones, how, how much, how often.

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!

SHOW YOUR WORK: Introduction

Start with what you know. What platform are you already somewhat familiar with? Facebook? Email? Start there.
Start with what you know. What platform are you already somewhat familiar with? Facebook? Email? Start there.

SHOW YOUR WORK: Introduction

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.

SHOW YOUR WORK: Introduction

Now is the time to up your online marketing!

As our paradigms shift, and “shelter in place” takes over, the time to master online marketing is here.

For those of us who aren’t fortunate enough to have a partner who takes care of the “busy work” of art-making, FASO is here to help.

I will bow to the experts on those strategies and techniques. One thing I do have is a partner who can help me through tech glitches. Beyond that, it’s up to me to do any social media stuff.

But if I didn’t, then it would feel pretty overwhelming to take this on. As I imagine you might, too.

So my advice for you today is:

Tiny, baby steps.

You didn’t learn to drive in a day, it took more than a week to master your craft, it takes a lifetime to learn how to be a good person in the world.

Take the same approach with your social media stuff.

Start with what you know. What platform are you already somewhat familiar with? Facebook? Email? Start there.

I have a separate page for my art biz, but have to admit I often cross-post to my personal page, too. After all, friends of friends of friends on a personal page, especially if made public so everyone can see our posts, can widen our network.

And pictures are the easiest thing to post! We are hard-wired to “see”, even over reading. A beautiful pic of your latest work will be an attention-getter.

But there are a jillion ways to work that pic, and tell your story. You aren’t limited to posting a picture of finished work. So my first tip today is:

Do it more often.

Like many people, I have “good intentions” for making online marketing a daily practice. But even when this all started, I let the ball drop.

Part of that was tying down what we needed to shelter in place.

Now I’m realizing that with so many “daily tasks” taken off my plate, there is no excuse not to share my work more regularly.

Do it better.

The best way to “do it better” is to do it more often. But I’ve also realized I need to get better at my picture quality. I’m experimenting more with light and composition. (My 3D work can be really hard to get right, and my latest jewelry line with gemstones means I had to update my lighting to catch their best color.)

I’ve even gone back to digital cameras, which have more tools than my 5-year-old smartphone and can create images with more megabytes.

Then go deeper.

People love to see our creative path. So instead of just the final project, how about sharing your process? Show the steps you use along the way: How you set up to start, from beginning sketches to final coat of paint.  Even errors that get corrected will fascinate your audience.

We can go even further back, too! How about a photo of what inspired you? This can be an image of the original view/object/landscape/person, along with the sketches that were inspired by it.

Further back? Where are you making it? In your studio? A rough sketch in the field? Your new studio at home, as you shelter in place?

How about even further?

Tell your story!

I remember the first time former FAV writer Lori Woodward gave me a peek into her landscape painting process. I had no idea it was “normal” to adapt a sketch or photo to improve the composition! (I thought landscape painters painted only what they could see.) A small insight, probably, for most painters, but a huge one for us non-painters. Suddenly, my respect for such people (already high!) went higher. I realized there were levels of production I hadn’t even imagined.

The same for another artist friend, Nicole Caulfield. I knew she uses digital photography to set up her still-life subjects. But in an online post, she also shared how she corrects for lens distortion in her finished sketches. I had no idea this was a “thing”, and it increased my already-profound respect for her work.

In act, recently I wrote a blog post on my own website sharing my experience in a friend’s vineyard painting party in Learning to See.

People were delighted! And I’m sure there wasn’t a single point in that story that every painter doesn’t already know.

That’s the trick of story-telling: Stepping outside our accrued knowledge and expertise, and thinking about what looks magical to others. Too often, we think of “other artists” as our audience, and think and act accordingly. (And yes, often other artists are a great audience and collectors, because they know what’s amazing about how we do it.)

But to a bigger audience – ‘ordinary people’ – we are the folks who ran away to join the circus. Everyone has their unique interests and skill sets, but we tend to admire those we aren’t familiar with. (As in, “OMG, you know how to put my knee back together?!”) (Er, actually, I don’t want to see pictures of that.) Hence, the “magic factor” we take for granted in making our art.

In this series, I’ll continue to share ways to tell your story: How to get to the heart of you, what you do, and why you do it.

But for today, think of one thing you could post on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, any platform you are already familiar with.

What is one thing you can share with your current audience, and your potential audience, today?

If this article inspired you today, please pass it on to someone else who might like it, too. And if someone sent this to you today, and you liked it, you can see more advice on art marketing at Fine Art Views, more of my articles on FAV, and read/subscribe  my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

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!

 

Little Daily Miracles

Sometimes, teaching others actually educates ourselves.

I’ve been answering a lot of questions on Quora lately. (Quora is a place to ask questions, find answers, and write answers.) Mostly on blogging, for some reason.

Most of them are pretty annoying. “How do I make money from my blog?” “How can drive people to my blog posts?” Some are so vague, I don’t even know what they’re asking. So I skip most of these. I don’t try to make money from my blogging anymore, it gets to weird. (Of course, I would never refuse money!) (Seriously, go buy something from me on Etsy if you want to support my work.)

But sometimes, I see that someone really does need a tiny bit of encouragement to do the work they yearn to do. Those I’m a sucker for!

Only a couple of answers have gotten serious upvotes, but I’m still grateful for even one upvote. Just like I used to swoon over a single “like” in my blog’s comments section. (Actually, I still do!)

But here’s the upside:

It gives me a chance to encourage people to do the work of their heart.

It gives me a chance to actually write something.

And now I realize I can simply repost some of these answers as blog posts.

So, for today, here’s a Quora post answer I answered today, with a link to a poem I wrote years ago that actually made me tear up. I’d forgotten about it!

Enjoy!

Question: How do you gain inspiration to write in your blog each week?

Answer:

I pay attention to anything that catches my interest. Especially anything I realize I’m STILL thinking about.

There are a jillion things going on around us, every day, if only we paid attention to them. In fact, there’s so much going on, our brains have evolved to limit our attention. (One reason why LSD creates powerful “trips”. We are suddenly aware of everything which is amazing, overwhelming, and potentially scary.)

The trick is is make a note of these “interest catchers”, and think about why they caught our attention. (In fact, “why” is often the start of all my inspirations!)

This is why I have such odd series on my own blog. “Questions You Don’t Have to Answer” when I realized people ask odd questions when they are interested in my work at art fairs, and how to respond without getting angry and taking offense (which shuts down that connection.) “Lessons from the Gym”, where I overhear the physical therapy staff engaging with their clients. “Lessons from Hospice”, where I share the insights I gained in my five years as a hospice volunteer. “Life With Pet”, where I realized that accepting the foibles of silly pets teach me how to be a better human. The list goes on, but you get the idea.

The other big suggestion I have is, when you find these little, daily sources of inspiration, write them down. I keep a couple very small notebooks with me at all times, but sometimes I just use my phone to email myself. Maybe it would be even more efficient to keep them all in one notebook. (See that? I just inspired myself to do it better!)

There are great things to be found in tiny places, if we take the time to look.

20200320_134145
Gathering very small pebbles at Point Reyes is still one of my favorite, most soothing pastimes.

LEARNING TO SEE Part 2: Checking Our Assumptions

Not everyone will like our work. Those who love it, may not be able to afford it.
Not everyone will like our work. Those who love it, may not be able to afford it.

LEARNING TO SEE Part 2: Checking Our Assumptions

LEARNING TO SEE Part 2: Checking Our Assumptions

Not everyone is our customer. But our admirers/supporters might be right in front of us!

Years ago, I joined a local group of creatives called “Creative Professionals”. It involved all kinds of people who did work most people wouldn’t call “art”: Professional photographers, graphic designers, writers, etc.

Led by a person who soon became a dear friend, we came up with the idea to have an unusual exhibition: We would each provide a sample of our day job work, and an example of our “real art”. A photographer, for example, might select a product photo created for a client, and a photo taken for pure pleasure. A graphic designer might select a logo created for a customer, or a pamphlet, and a sample of their original “just for me” art. I submitted a humor column for a craft magazine I once wrote for, and some of my poetry, including my artist statement.

We worked with a local business who provided us with exhibition space, and got to work.

My friend, oh heck, I’m just gonna give her a shout-out here, because she deserves it. Roma Dee Holmes is a wedding photographer (now exploring even new territory with her camera!) She’s also one of those rare people we are fortunate to meet in life, the ones often referred to as an “old soul”. Her insights and wisdom have helped me through some truly difficult times in life, and helped me see the beauty in the ordinary. I am in awe of her.

She led our little group with extreme patience and professionalism. Because creative professionals can be just as difficult to “herd” as cats and other artists. My admiration at her ability to efficiently run a meeting and make everyone feel heard is what blew me away at first. But her insights as a professional made me fall in love forever.

We wanted our event to be well-attended, and we were hoping more people other than just other artists would attend. (If you are already sitting up straighter, keep reading, because I got this!) We did the usual media blitz: Press releases, online media, radio spots, etc.

Roma went further, with this suggestion from her, regarding our unusual event, that’s one I’d never heard of before, and have not since.

She offered to handwrite 100 invitations on our behalf. All we had to do was submit a few names per participant. She would take care of the rest. Or we could write our own, no matter, just let her know.

What? INVITE people? With a handwritten note??? WHO?? WHY???

She explained that we probably all had a “big name” in our heads, an influential person, a potential buyer, someone we’d long hoped would find our work and buy it someday.

Dream big, she said. Just ask them to come.

I struggled with this. Me, who ran workshops and wrote articles about publicity for artists and art events, who got feature articles in our local newspaper and beyond with my press releases. Just ask them to come?

But I came up with my own little list, wrote the invites, and mailed them.

One was to the editor of our local newspaper, a really nice person with a great sense of humor. They were already an acquaintance. We’d met at the playground at the elementary school where both their child and mine went to school. We used to chat. I didn’t know what they did, and they didn’t know what I did for years. Then one day I said something and they exclaimed, “Wait, you’re Luann Udell?? I’ve read about you!” (I may have figured out who they were, because after all, their name was in the paper every day.) Then we’d play catch-up on our respective projects and big plans ahead.

They were at the top of my list.

I included people I knew, people I’d heard of, people I knew but never discussed art with, people who had good income, people I’d heard collected art, etc. Mailed them, and waited to see what would happen. So did everyone else.

Our little art event was one of the most highly-attended I’ve ever seen. The place was packed, and the energy was a-buzz.

Yes, my editor friend was there, too. And they said something I’ve never forgotten.

“This is amazing! The art here is so interesting! I didn’t know so-and-so did this other work! I’m amazed at your writing, I didn’t know you were a writer! I’m so glad you invited me!” And then these words:

“I’ve never been to an art reception before!”

What?? The person who sees all this stuff, all these events, in their own newspaper every single day – had never been to an art reception? I asked them why not.

Turns out they’d assumed only “real art collectors” were welcome. “I didn’t know ordinary people could come!”

This person, one of the most well-known, well-liked, well-respected person in our community, did not know they would be welcome at an art reception. (I also loved that they referred to themselves as an “ordinary person”!)

I’m sharing this story with you today, inspired by something I read in The Painter’s Keys a couple weeks ago. The article talked about open studio events, and how to interact with visitors. I loved everything in that article except one comment. “In my mind”, they wrote, “(visitors) should also be a bit special in their exclusivity.”

I know the point is that not very Tom, Dick, and Harry (Ann, Fran, and Sally, to be more inclusive) should necessarily be there.

But if artists truly are “the people who ran away to join the circus”, it’s ordinary people who might very well be the ones who need to see the magic in what we do.

Not everyone will like our work. Those who love it, may not be able to afford it. As I’ve written for the past several weeks, there are many reasons why people can’t, or won’t, buy our work.

But we also may overlook the very people who could help with that.

My newspaper editor may or may not collect art. But they were actually a creative professional, too. And like us creative professionals, they had an opportunity to peek behind the tent curtain to another world.

They also know a lot of people in our community, from all walks of life. I know that the next time they met with those folks, there’s a better chance they would recommend my work, simply by sharing what they loved about it. We forget that everybody knows other people, including people we don’t know.

And if they needed a special gift for someone, say, a beautiful little horse necklace, they now know where to get one.

Roma wisely encouraged us to use our own current social connections to help us get the word out about our event, and our art. (I can’t remember if any of my other invites succeeded, but some of the other artists’ invites did.)

I just remember the joy and astonishment both me and my invitee felt. It reminds me that art is for everyone. It reminds me that all creative work is always about connection.

And connection can be found in both the strangest, and the most ordinary, of places.

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 MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: The Hardest, Harshest Reason(s) of All

There are many ways for our work to become a part of someone else's story, someone else's world, and someone else's journey.
There are many ways for our work to become a part of someone else’s story, someone else’s world, and someone else’s journey.

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: The Hardest, Harshest Reason(s) of All

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: The Hardest, Harshest Reason(s) of All

(11 minute read)

The next-to-last article in this series about why millennials etc.

We’re on the home stretch!

In my articles, and in the comments section, we’ve shared many fact-based, data-driven evidence about the different world millennials grew up in. It is simply different than the one we grew up in. EVERY generation faces the same challenge: New conditions, new “rules”, new obstacles, new solutions. The bad parts aren’t necessarily our fault, and it’s usually not their fault.

I also shared these setbacks and obstacles with one hope: To soften, and encourage us to change our assumptions and opinions. Only when we open up to seeing life from the other’s person’s point of view can we connect, with compassion and respect.

I knew there could be tremendous pushback against these thoughts, and there was. That’s okay. I will say it again and I will keep on saying it:

My art is not for everyone.

And neither is my writing.

Which means your work is probably not for everyone, either.

I’ll be honest. It’s hard to hear the anger and criticism these articles have generated. Just as it for all of us when someone walks into our booth, and then declares in a loud voice that they don’t like our art, and then proceeds to list the reasons why.

We may be angry, threatened, threatening, sad, resentful. These are human responses, normal responses, when we encounter something that seems harsh, insulting, frightening, upsetting, or baffling. It’s called a flight-or-fight response. It’s almost impossible not to feel these reactions when we experience something that seems to upend everything we thought was true.

But one of my superpowers in life, a hard one to use, but one that’s served me well is this:

We can’t change how we FEEL. But we can choose how we ACT.

This has helped me change my opinion about quite a few big issues in my life. It’s expanded my world view, opened new territories, and inspired me to write so I can share these insights with others who are ready and/or willing to consider them.

Not everyone will. But again, it’s their choice.

So take a deep breath, because today we’ll talk about the most important reason millennials don’t buy our art:

1)    The don’t like your art; or

2)    They don’t like you; or

3)    Both.

Harsh, I know. But take a deep breath, settle your heart, and read on.

Because these are also the reasons why all our non-buyers don’t buy our art, too.

This is the harsh reality of all the endeavors we take up in the world.

There will always be someone who couldn’t care less. There will always be someone who is lukewarm about our work. There will always be someone who doesn’t like it, for all kinds of reasons, reasonable and unreasonable.

But there will also always be someone who loves it. Even if they can’t afford it, or have no room for it, or they aren’t at the point in their life when they can act on their love for it. It won’t matter how good you are, nor how bad we are.

So if someone tells you/lets you know they don’t care for your art, what is your reaction?

Some people get cold and huffy. Some act out on their feelings. There are groups on Facebook for creatives to vent their anger at ignorant, insulting, clueless, gross visitors at fairs and shows. It can be fun to read these stories, because it helps us see this is a pretty common phenomenon. We are NOT THE ONLY ONES who experience rejection, not just from galleries, or juried shows, or guilds/leagues, awards, etc.

But when the stories get toxic, it gets harder to read. Because artists also share their sharp retorts, their indignation, their snarky thoughts about those visitors.

It’s okay. I get it. I love to blort with the best of them.

But what happens is, this turns a potentially powerful human connection into a battleground.

It’s not necessary to get into that fight. In my blog series and eBook “How to Get People OUT of your booth”, I discuss how difficult people can be challenging. But there are diplomatic ways to circumvent their behaviors, ways that help get us to our happy place, so we can deal more effectively with the people who DO enjoy our work.

Because the worst thing that can happen when we “let loose” with anger and bile is this:

OTHER PEOPLE ARE LISTENING.

In encounters where someone has said something rude, mean, whatever, and I meet them with serenity (YES, the serenity is a facade, I’m seething underneath. I’M HUMAN, just like you) other people in my space come up to me after, and say something like, “I can’t believe how kind/patient/powerful you were with that person!”

They now know that even if THEIR question is “dumb” or unintentionally rude, they will still be treated with respect and kindness.

In other words, it is SAFE to interact with me.

When we eagerly jump on others who we believe are behaving badly, there’s a side effect: We contribute to the toxic environment ourselves.

I was lucky. Early on, I held back from “confronting” and “challenging” visitors who were less-than-enthused about my work, (and my writing.) I had the good fortune to live in the same region as Bruce Baker, a former nationally-acclaimed speaker about how to strengthen and improve our creative work on many levels: Booth display, jury slides, signage and customer relations. He drew from his own wisdom gained from doing shows and fairs, but also benefited from other like-mined, experienced artists who shared what had worked for them.

The trick is to anticipate the questions and comments that might trigger us (the flight-or-fight thing), and practice our best response to them.

Because if someone asks us what we consider a “dumb question”, or says something insulting (whether deliberate or unintentional), and we respond with our “fight” reflex, other people who DO like what they see, will think twice before asking their own questions.

Because once people have entered our booth, once they’ve had a chance to look at our work and decide they kinda like it, once they’re ready to talk, they do the thing that will determine where we both go from here:

THEY ASK A QUESTION.

Maybe they can’t afford it – yet. Maybe it won’t fit in their living room – yet. Maybe it creates yearning whispers of what it might be like to pursue their own work of the heart.

Yes, maybe they’re so clueless about “good booth behavior” that they bungle the question. We can get really good with that, if we are willing to change our own attitude, and meet them halfway. (Or 3/4 of the way!)

If we can do that, a door opens. There is an opportunity for a rich exchange of questions and insights, a chance to either a) inspire a sale, if they’re ready, or b) lay the groundwork for future sales. At the last show I did, the second one after a total flop the year before (5 attendees for the entire day, no sales), a customer approached me and declared, “I saw your work last year, and I COULD NOT STOP THINKING ABOUT IT.” They bought a special item and companion piece for themselves, and pricey gifts for two friends. I could hardly operate my Square, I was so excited!

If I’d harbored resentment about the lack of attendance, if I’d sat around complaining within hearing of guests about the lack of sales, I could have squished that connection forever.

Instead I have a new collector who has already shared their love of my work with their friends, who may also consider buying my work. And share it with THEIR friends.

It all starts with staying calm. Leaning in. Curbing toxic assumptions and impulses. Staying focused on our work, the work we love, the work we make room for every day (if we can) in our lives.

If millennials are not your audience, let it go. We’ve shown that they have perfectly good reasons, just like ANY OTHER people who aren’t.

But if you are committed to blame them (especially for the reasons that are beyond their control, and NOT THEIR FAULT), believe me, they will know.

To all the people who commented with compassion and empathy, to those artists who (mostly) contacted me privately (I’m guessing because they didn’t want to expose themselves to criticism) who ARE MILLENNIALS, THANK YOU! Your experience either confirmed my research, experience, and thoughts, OR you were willing to reconsider what is going on. I’m grateful.

To all the people who disagree, please, as always, do what works for YOU. My advice and words are free, and therefore worth every penny you paid for it. :^)

Next week, I’m going to ask people whose work DOES sell for millennials, what has worked for them. Is it their style? Their subject matter? Their price points? Their willingness to engage and connect? I’ll do my best to collect the people who have already shared, and put that in the article for your convenience (and theirs.)

But I do want to leave you with this last story, which isn’t mine.

It’s my daughter’s.

First, both my kids were the inspiration for me to step up to the plate with my art. When my daughter asked if she could work booth with me at fairs, I agreed. It was a powerful shift in our relationship as she entered one of the most difficult part of her life.

She began her art collection with purchases from my fellow exhibitors, and continues to this day. You may find some valuable insights into millennials and their buying habits this Fine Art Views column from last March.

And here is the “spoiler” from that column:

“My daughter still wants something of beauty that came from another person’s hands, and heart, especially when she started to make and sell her own work.

As she browsed for an urn for the ashes of her stillborn child (Sam died 8 months into her pregnancy), she became frustrated with the same ol’ same ol’ look of them. Nothing felt personal enough, or fit the emotion of the event. When I suggested that a good friend who works with wood might make something especially for her, she lit up. (She found a maker on Etsy who resonated with her.)

This box will be in their home forever, and every time they see it, it will bring a bit of solace amid the sorrow. They may not know, or care to know, the story of the maker. But it holds their own story of this time, and that’s what matters.

I just spoke with my daughter again, and she added more about her purchase.

She wanted something unique, related to cherry blossoms, because that’s around the time of his birthday, when the cherry trees bloom here in Washington, D.C. She wanted wood because it’s warmer. She wanted something personalized and not mass-produced.

She wanted “something that fit us”, her and her partner.

There is appreciation for the maker, as it fits her needs as the collector.

The maker may have no idea of what my daughter and her husband were (and still are) going through.

When I hear people my age disparaging this age group, it breaks my heart.

And when I hear people with their own thoughtful, kind, compassionate, positive, uplifting experiences, my heart is healed.

So when you go to your studio today, when you make that time to do the work that is important to you, know that someone, somewhere, someone will be lifted up.

When you are discouraged because you can’t figure out why your art doesn’t sell, focus first on the fact that it uplifts YOU.

When you put it out into the world, know that someone, somewhere, needed to see it, for reasons we cannot even imagine.

And when you are healed, and share it, someone else will be healed too.

Next week, I’ll compile and curate the ways some of us have found a way to gain millennial collectors. There are some strategies that will work for some of us, but maybe not all.

My only goal was to encourage your heart to open up to new understanding, and new possibilities. To expand our rock-hard definitions and assumptions that not might only hurt others, but might also hurt ourselves.

And to echo the last words of that column I wrote, “So let’s open our hearts, and our minds, to these changes which time will bring.

There are many ways for our work to become a part of someone else’s story, someone else’s world, and someone else’s journey.

Keep hope in your heart, and be open to new possibilities. And be patient with yourself, as we all navigate these new waters.

Art is part of us, no matter what it is, no matter where, or how, or when we find it. Online markets can be just as powerful as in-person encounters, if not more. (Many in this age group never even think about going to traditional art galleries. Yet.)

And I will hope ALL of our art, mine, and yours, will be “found”, someday, by the people who will love it and enjoy it for the rest of their lives.”

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you liked it, you can sign up for more articles at Fine Art Views or more from from my blog by subscribing (upper right hand corner of this page.)

HOW MUCH IS OUR ART WORTH?

My latest necklace series, featuring gems, semi-precious stones, and real pearls.

A reader left a comment on a recent blog post, and raised a good point about whether our art is affordable, (including mine), and offered their conjecture on why it might not be realistically priced.

I started to reply, but four paragraphs in, I realized it was another post!

Re: Your question about whether the price of our art reflects the artist’s personal desire to be of worth at the expense of getting their work out into the world, and into the hands of a admiring owner.

Welp, yes, both of your points are valid.

ANYTHING we buy reflects the time, the materials, and the quality of the object, whether it’s a BMW, or a pair of pearl earrings from Tiffany’s, or a head of organic lettuce.

ANYTHING we make will appeal to many who can’t afford it.

And yes, sometimes a maker’s price may seem based on nothing but their own thoughts, though my experience is that’s more true of “brand” name products. (See luxury items above.) (Okay, organic lettuce isn’t really a luxury brand. But some folks are willing to pay more for it, and some aren’t.)

As for your thoughts about artists over- valuing their own self-worth, some creatives get to the point where they have to raise their prices. Which is a good thing!

Say we price a painting at $2,000, which is pretty reasonable. If it’s framed, that’s included in the price.

If we sell it through a gallery, the gallery will take up to 50% of that income. (In NYC, just before 9/11, some elite galleries took 60% commissions, with less than half going to the person who made the item.) And we pay income tax on that sale, too.

If I sell online, it takes time to take good-enough images, time to edit and upload them, time to create a listing, and time to prepare the item for shipping. An unbelieveable amount of time. I can’t tell you how much time it took to calculate shipping for various-sized packages to potential customers half a dozen countries around the world. (Thank heavens for Etsy’s new automated shipping calculator!!)

We may rent studio space (I have to, in California, and studio rent is not cheap). If we participate in art tours, I have to cover the fees for that, and I need a business license, and often liability insurance.

If we do shows, we pay those fees, and expenses for traveling to shows. I did that for years. Some of those major shows cost upwards of $2,000 or more to enter. And that doesn’t include the time to get there and back, our hotel stay, our on-the-road meals, in my case, the cost of shipping my inventory and booth since I never had the right vehicle to transport them.) In 2008, I spent over $15,000 on three major shows across the country, and sold about $2000 worth of work. That’s when I stopped doing those shows.

We do our own marketing (photography, ads, design work for postcards, business cards, ads, etc,) or pay someone to do it. We often pay for workshops to get better at our work, and/or better at our marketing.

Now let’s say we have good sales, and eventually the demand exceeds the supply. We can only produce a finite amount of work in a year (unless we hire help, which is a whole nother can of worms.) That means we can increase our income gradually over time, doing the same amount of work and time, only by gradually raising our prices.

It’s not our own sense of self worth. It’s our audience’s sense of our worth.

I’ve been told my prices are too high since I started my art biz almost 30 years ago. I charged $18 for a one-of-a-kind handmade horse artifact pin. And some people complained it was too expensive. As I raised my prices over the years, the comments continued. And yet my sales stayed relatively the same.  Which tells me I have an audience, a small one, who will see its worth, and there will always be people who won’t pay my prices. I have to be okay with that.

Here’s the thing: I believe we simply can’t afford everything we like, and when we find something we like, we either recognize how unique it is–if we don’t buy that one piece, there will never be another exactly like it–and jump. (Which is why I offer layaway.)

Or we unconsciously look for reasons why we shouldn’t get it, such as price. This helps assuage our conscious about saying no. (I’ve done it myself.) There have been things I’ve jumped on, though I didn’t need another one, and the price was high. There have been lower-priced things that weren’t quite enough….and walked away.

I’ve had people with little income who find ways to collect my work, through trades, layaway, or buying a smaller piece.

I’ve had people who live in grand homes and drive pricey cars who say they can’t afford my work. (A lot of my work is still well below $100.) Of course, maybe that’s why they’re so rich! 😀

These aren’t inexpensive. Sterling silver, my handmade horse (tiny!), real pearls and gems and semi-precious stones, and a great deal of time getting the design just right.

Frankly, my work isn’t that expensive relative to the “real art world”. Very few of my major pieces barely even compete with the lowest prices of local painters.

The day a good friend sold a $10,000 piece the first day of an open studio tour but complained sales were flat the rest of the weekend, I had to clutch my coffee mug. I was so envious! And yet, it only took a few seconds to get my heart in the right place to congratulate them. They have skills, they have a terrific reputation for great work, and I love their work. They have found their audience, an audience that truly values their work, and I’m still building mine here in California. That’s all.

Knowing our worth is not a bad thing. And though some artists will over-charge for their work, it’s still up to each of us to determine if it’s worth it for ourselves. 

Now, as for getting our work out into the world:

I do that every day.

My art is hosted at my website, my Etsy shop, on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linked in, and sometimes Tumblr. Also in galleries in New Hampshire and here in California. I have open studios, and guests are always welcome in my studio. My work is often purchased and given as gifts, which I love, because someone sees something in my work they know someone they care about will truly appreciate.

And every single time I’ve felt desperate for sales, every single time I’ve broken my own rules and offered “a deal”, it’s felt awful. Like I’m selling myself short. And almost every time, the purchaser admits they could actually afford it, they just thought they’d try to dicker to see what happened. And I fell for it.

And every single time I’ve stuck to my guns, politely and with integrity, I’ve been rewarded with a sale, maybe down the road a ways, maybe with another buyer, but still worth it.

And yes, I’ve already had my work found at estate sales and yard sales for a very low price. At first that was a little daunting. But again, every time that happens, the person has loved it so much, they’ve tracked me down to find out more about me, written to tell me how much they love it, and sometimes even purchased another piece.

Some people do literally give away their work, to support causes they believe in, or to simply bring joy to others. I’ve given away work, though never to people who dicker or complain about the price, but to those who I know have been through hell and back, who need the gift of my work to help heal.

I give back in the ways I’ve mentioned, and also through my writing. Through this blog, and I’m a columnist for Fine Art Views. I share what I’ve learned as an artist with others for free. Here’s an interesting fact: When I first started writing a column for a fine craft magazine and other platforms, I made $350-$500 an article. Today I get $45 an article, if anything, and a free website (valued at $35/month. You do the math.

But I still write, because I have to. I have to get my art-and-life lessons out, to get clarity in my head and love in my heart. Also because every single time I publish, I get at least one person who said it was just what they needed to hear that day. So my writing is my (free or almost-free) labor of love.

The last way I get my art out into the world is also powerful.

When I have visitors, especially younger people and millennials (whose buying habits inspired this series of articles), I don’t twist arms to make sales. I let them explore my space, examine my work, hold my work, and read my signs about my inspiration, my insights, my hopes and dreams.

Most can’t afford my work. But for them, the conversation turns into something else.

I ask them about their own creative work. They share what makes them happy, and I encourage them to make room in their life for it, whether they can earn a living with it or not.

It can be painting, cooking, gardening, teaching, construction, singing, any activity that, when shared with the world, makes other people happy, and makes the world a better place. (I tell them my advice is worth every penny they paid for it.)

So it’s okay with me if someone can’t afford my work (in a nice way, I mean.) I get it. It’s okay if they believe my work is overpriced, too. It just may not be worth it to them. It’s okay if they believe I’ve inflated my prices because I have no idea of its real (less-expensive) value. (Well….kind of okay….!)

In the end, I do what I can, I do what I have to, and I do what I love. That’s the best we can do, and that has to be okay.

I “just” make “plastic” horses. It’s more than that, isn’t it?

 

 

 

 

Reasons Why Millennials Don’t Buy Our Art

Reasons Why Millennials Don’t Buy Our Art: Examine Our Assumptions

REASONS WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: Examine Our Assumptions

We can tell a different story that just might open doors

(7 minute read)

At last, we’re ready to dig into the many reasons millennials don’t buy our art.

As you guessed, there are many, many reasons. And there are many, many wrong assumptions. If we are willing to have our assumptions challenged, this series might be helpful. Read on!

In hindsight, I wish I’d co-authored this series with fellow/former FAV author Lori Woodward. As you know from the wealth of insights she’s shared over the years, one of her superpowers is digging into the actual numbers and data to verify if an assumption, or a marketing strategy, is truly useful or not.

I can’t do that. Or rather, I won’t. I tend to read a lot about whatever it is I’m writing about, note what resonates with me, and share a narrative. If the information is solid enough, useful, makes sense, it can change my narrative for the better.

That’s why I swapped “useful” for “true” above. You may have your own version of what’s “true”, but if it holds you back from finding your voice, and an audience, then consider framing, and embracing, what’s useful instead.

So if this series doesn’t work for you, I get it.

My first insight is that being annoyed/frustrated/less-than-impressed/derogatory about younger people is not new. I shared that in the original article and yet it didn’t seem to affect the tone of the comments. About a third to half of the comments were “negative” in tone, or started out positive/sympathetic, but ended up negative.

New technology, online media, discussion groups, video/computer games, were blamed for everything from “lack of attention span” to “shallow world views”. Lack of exposure to “real art”. A fixation on “likes”, popularity, expensive clothes, etc. Perceived lack of appreciation for the values we have, and yet this same argument has been used for many millennia.  (No put intended!)

People in 1816 bemoaned the disgusting erotica of new dance called the “waltz”.

In 1859, an article in Scientific American complained about the inferior amusement gained from a popular new game called “chess”, You can read more funny, crabby moments in history here and here.

After I was done laughing, I realized that complaining about “kids today” is nothing new. We’ve been doing it since Bork made a lumpy hammered iron knife to kill a wildebeest, and the elders complained about “young people today!”, asking “why do that when a simple rock will do the trick??”

Short story, this is a story, an attitude that always has been, and always will be, with us. If it’s been going for untold generations, I doubt there’s anything I can say that will change everyone’s mind! (I’m hoping to encourage a few.)

In fact, I read a review of a book I recommended last time, KIDS THESE DAYS by Malcom Harris. Halfway through, the columnist berates Harris for not coming up with solutions to enable future generations to work together (he does) and then admits their “quibbles” are just that—pretty minor—and also acknowledges they might seem to be a “grumpy Gen Xer” themselves. (This is the generation following us Boomers, people born between 1965 and 1980.)

An even more poignant take on generational differences is, we tend to judge quality by what we loved, what caught our hearts, when we were that age, too. Amidst all the angst and drama surrounding the prequels and sequels to the original Star Wars series, a long-time, avid Star Trek fan explained why the latest TV series is not respected by the earlier generations:

 “…So this isn’t your grandfather’s Star Trek. As someone pointed out about the new Star Wars trilogy “It’s not for you, it’s for people who are your age when you started liking Star Trek”.”

In fact, we, the Baby Boomers, were judged pretty harshly by the previous generation, too.

Your homework for today, should you choose to accept it (I’m guessing by now you realize I’m also a Mission Impossible fan), is to make a list of all the awful things said about our generation, all those ago. What did The Greatest Generation say about us?

For me, art was a frivolous pursuit. Growing up, my family found my interest in art “interesting” but baffling. I was encouraged to find a “real” job that paid well, never mind whether it was emotionally or spiritually fulfilling, get married, and quit complaining. Every grade I got in school that was less than an A came with anger and a scolding. Many of us, especially those who had young kids to care for, turned to art later in life, either through yearning, a sideline, a hobby, or after we retired.

TGG experienced some major world calamities: Two world wars, the worldwide influenza epidemic in 1918, the Great Depression in the ‘30’s. Harsh realities of an older time.

Yet they came home from WWII to GI bills, affordable college educations, a housing construction boom, vaccines to fight polio, and a booming national economy. They worked hard for their progress, too.

They considered boomers to be frivolous and privileged, focused on getting high and zoning out. No morals, no discipline, spoiled, lazy, and lightweight.

We are not evil people—no one generation is–but we had our moments, too. We were ridiculed for “Make Love, Not War”, and were considered rebellious idiots for protesting the Vietnam War. Some of us marched with King, risking life and limb, but most of us didn’t. And once the Civil Rights movement created legal protections for people of color, we thought we were done.

And now? The complaints, the ridicule, the slams we face, and give. How we found ourselves in a pivotal moment in history, and took all the credit for it.

We were lucky. We found our wave and rode it out. Most of us were able to buy homes, find careers, create families, and retire in comfort, too. Workers at auto factories in Michigan were well-paid, and often owned second homes (lake homes, at that!). Many companies offered pensions, too, and matched retirement investments.

We cannot conceive the realities and disappointments “young people today” face: Robotics and automated assembly lines; the gig economy (where no benefits nor health insurance are offered, let alone pensions); recessions just when they would have reached higher income levels, etc. I had an apartment and a car while making not much above minimum wage in the early ‘70’s. Today, minimum wage is a little over $7/hour, though many states are higher. Yet, one estimate is that if that had been adjusted over the years for inflation/purchase power, it would be closer to $11-$22/hour. The official federal poverty level income is just over $25,000 for a family of four. A family would need 3-4 jobs to jump that financial strata.

Gah! I’ve actually overwhelmed myself researching these facets of the generation gap. Thank you for bearing with me!

My sole point today is to show how even a few major insights can help us change our attitude towards millennials:

Every generation tends criticizes the newer ones. Every generation is told “they are doing it wrong”. And that creates assumptions, grudges, resentment and lack of connection among us all. How will younger people even connect with our art when they know we already feel they are “less than”?

Every generation faces unique societal, financial, moral issues that are not simple to resolve, and difficult to understand once we’ve gotten passed them. The Spanish influenza epidemic killed more people world-wide than WWI, and killed almost as many soldiers as combat did. That is unimaginable today. Oh wait: Millennials are facing the possible death of our entire civilization due to climate change. Yep, that’s pretty scary, too.

So…if we can sit with the discomfort, we can shift our thinking just a little, we can exchange judgment for insight. We can turn resentment into compassion. We can trade disappointment and the fear that no one wants our art, into creating a bridge between our experiences, and the younger generations coming up.

Stay tuned for more myth-busting next week!

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you found it helpful, you can sign up for more articles at Fine Art Views or read more from me at my blog LuannUdell.wordpress.com. 

GRIEVING

I’m supposed to be writing my next Fine Art Views article, but I got sidelined early.

A dear friend posted an article by an author dealing with the devastating loss of their parents. This friend was going through the same experience, and it was hard.

Many chimed in with similar sentiments. Then someone read the article as saying this was “the worst” felt unnecessarily competitive. They felt there is no “worst”, there is just “devastating.” The original author of the article never said those exact words, but that is obviously how they felt. And it could be the worst for them (the author of the article), because usually our first death is the loss of our mom or dad, and it’s big. They just haven’t gotten to their next “worst death” yet. This commenter I call “not necessarily the worst” or “NNTW.”)

Someone else agreed, that not everyone has “stellar families”, as in “not my parents”(“NMP”).

And then someone else felt the need to chastise those folks. They are the (“rebuking commenter” or “RC”).

And here is where I say “stop”.  Just…stop.

Here’s what I wrote, expanded and styled with protection for privacy:

Welp, you are ALL correct.
I “heard” what (NNTW commenter, whom I know very well) “heard” when I read the article. I know  the original poster and I am very close to NTW, who was a hospice volunteer before they became an eldercare social worker. They’ve had a lot of experience with grief, including their own major grief in the last couple years.

Both NNTW and I know the article resonated with the original poster (“OP”), just as it resonated differently with NNTW.

(“Not my parents” or “NMP” commenter)  is correct in that not everyone had a loving, healing relationship with their parents, (and boy, do I appreciate their comment!)
And yet…. I am not a trained professional, but as a hospice volunteer and grief workshop leader, I know that even complicated deaths (murder, suicide, addition, abuse, etc.) can devastate us. We know we will never have resolution, we know there is no “fixing”, and we will always wonder whether we could have/should have done something differently.
My Aunt Edith sent me a poem years ago, after she lost her parents and her husband (no children.) It said we expect to lose our parents (with the additional pain that it foreshadows our own mortality), and we know either our partner or we will go first. No one expects the loss of a child. (Thank you for acknowledging that, RC.)
Rather than assessing which loss is the most painful, I prefer this more universal acknowledgment of grief.
Acting on this article, I respectfully ask that no one judge NMW when you don’t know their grief, nor NMP for theirs.
We are all broken, and we all seek solace.  As Roseanne Cash wrote in her book, COMPOSED: A Memoir
You begin to realize that everyone has a tragedy, and that if he doesn’t, he will. You realize how much is hidden beneath the small courtesies and civilities of everyday existence. Deep sorrows and traces of great loss run through everyone’s lives, and yet they let others step into the elevators first, wave them ahead in a line of traffic, smile and greet their children and inquire about their lives, and never let on for a second that they, too, have lain awake at night in longing and regret, that they, too, have cried until it seemed impossible that one person could hold so many tears, that they, too, keep a picture of someone locked in their heart and bring it out in quiet, solitary moments to caress and remember…
All we can hope for is that our grief eventually “softens” so we can bear it a little more easily. That takes time, a lot of time, more than our culture accepts as “reasonable”.
And it will never disappear entirely.

Grief is not a contest. It’s okay to have feelings when it seems someone else’s grief seems to invalidate ours. It’s okay to envy someone whose grief is more “expected” and the relationship they had with that person is based on love instead of pain. It’s good to recognize, as RC did, that losing a child, or children, who never got to even to be in the world, someone we were sure would outlive US, can dash all our hopes and dreams.
Because it doesn’t seem to fill the “natural order” of the ends of our relationships.  We unconsciously believe that the oldest people will die first. Not the ones who are here with us, in step with us. Certainly not the who just got here, nor the ones who never ‘legally’ made it all the way here to begin with.
But life always shows us that none of that is true. We have no control over who dies first. Every loss is painful in its own unique way.
Grief sucks.
And the only good thing about it is, it means there was love. Love is part of being human.
Or it means we craved love and acceptance, yet never got it, and we will never get over that. Craving love is human.
It means even losing the ones that hurt us can destroy us. Knowing it can’t be fixed is hard. Learning how hard it is, is human.
Grief is so powerful, all we can do is to hope that things will get better, to hope it will get softer. Hoping for hope is human.
It means we have a heart, and when it is broken, we suffer greatly. Having a broken heart is human.

All of this is overwhelming.
And yet we persist. Which is also human, and our superpower.
Our other superpower? Listening to John Pavlovitz and Roseanne Cash
Learning to be kind, even when no one is looking.

IN MY STUDIO

Customer Service Still Rules

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.

It’s a vital aspect of our art biz we often overlook.

(7 minute read)

Thank you with your patience as I continue to process the more than 100 comments I’ve received (on FAV, on my blog, and in private emails) on my column last week, on why millennials don’t buy our art. There were many thoughtful comments, and some very sad ones, and it will take some time to evaluate them, categorize them, and respond with insights and tips.

A few years ago, I teamed with another artisan for a show. One customer, another artist, bought a pricy piece from my cohort. My own jaw dropped at the price, but it was within reason, considering the time and skill it took to produce.

Less than a month later, the customer contacted them to let them know the jewelry piece broke. They arranged to meet and discuss options.

I happened to meet up with that client before the artisan showed up. The client told me they absolutely loved the piece, and they were heartbroken that it broke. They were desperately hoping it could be repaired. (I thought, “For what you paid for it, I certainly hope so, too!”) After waiting for almost an hour, they had to leave but would be back, and I told them I’d let the artisan know.

When the artist finally showed up, they went berserk. They ranted on about how it wasn’t their (the artisan’s) fault, the customer must have dropped it, there was no way it “just broke”. The artisan was angry and frustrated.

I managed to talk them down before the customer came back, but it was difficult. In the end, I reminded them that the customer had paid a lot of money for that piece, and if the issue weren’t resolved, it could be bad. An unhappy customer can do a lot of damage to our reputation, and the only way to manage it is to deal with it in a way that makes both parties happy.

This month, I made two online purchases from vendors, one for display pieces for my jewelry, the other for some very nice gems for same. Both sent me the wrong items. One was a mistake, the other was due to extremely misleading descriptions and images. And when I alerted each vendor to my situation, I had two completely different responses.

The display vendor totally owned making a mistake. Once they realized what the problem was, they sent me replacements. When I offered to return the original items, they said no worries, they were good, just keep it or pass it on.

The second company denied anything was wrong.

I’d included pictures, I included the description, which clearly showed neither matched the actual product. (I resisted telling them I realized after the fact that they’d actually hijacked the image from another site, it was not their own image.) I said I would like to return the item and get my money back.

The company suggested they’d sent me something better, so why was I complaining. (Um, because it wasn’t what I wanted?) They offered me a 50% refund. I said no, please tell me how to return it.

They refused. I reported the matter to Etsy, and I received a full refund.

Guess which vendor I will buy from again? Yeah.

The first vendor? I left them a glowing review on Etsy. First, I ran the review by them in case it landed wrong with them, but they loved it.

I said it was my second order from them, because I loved the product so much. And when I realized there was a discrepancy, the maker immediately set it right. And that I valued that even more than getting it right the first time. Because, moving forward, I know I can trust that person to do the right thing. I was valued as a customer.

The second vendor? I still have the item, but I still can’t use it. But since I didn’t have to send it back, I am eventually going to leave a very mixed review.

Of course, when we’re dealing with bigger, more expensive investments in art and fine craft, it may require more effort to manage an unhappy customer. But the basics are the same.

Here’s how to meet a customer where they are.

First, understand that in most stores today, we can simply return something, no questions asked. Some businesses don’t even require a sales receipt. Some customers expect the same. So make your return policy crystal clear, and for legal reasons, make it very public, so every purchaser sees it. (Mine says I take returns for exchange towards another purchase only, within 10 days of purchase.)

Second, calm down. Get centered. Don’t make assumptions about what went wrong. Assure them you will listen carefully, and make it right to the best of your ability.

Third, embrace the best reason why an unhappy customer is a blessing:

It’s a chance to discover what went wrong, so we can prevent it from happening again.

The first time I had a return, the customer was upset and defensive. I knew we wouldn’t get anywhere if I went on the defensive, too.

I assured them I could fix it or replace it. Once they were reassured, they calmed down tremendously. They explained they absolutely loved the work, they were just anxious it couldn’t be replaced or restored. Again, once I knew what the problem was, I told them I could fix it.

Once they were truly at peace, then I asked what had happened.

They admitted there was a little “flex” in the little horse pendant. When they were anxious, they would bend it back and forth a little.

And eventually, it broke.

I tried not to laugh. I did tell them it didn’t matter, I would still fix it. But even metal will break if bent in such a way repeatedly. And when I sent the repaired horse (made into a pin, so they could still wear it) and the replacement horse (this is when I learned to make them thicker, with no “flex”, I included a letter explaining why I couldn’t make that horse into a necklace again, how I was able to make another horse that look very much like, and to please refrain from bending it, in a light-hearted manner).

My fellow artisan didn’t do as well.

The customer/artist is someone I know, and the next time I saw them, I asked them how it went with the artisan.

They said it was pretty clear the artisan wasn’t happy. It was awkward, and in the end, the customer had to exchange the piece for something else, something they didn’t love nearly as much.

They also said they would never buy anything from them again. They aren’t vindictive, but they also know a lot of people in our community. A lot of people.

Sometimes we have to learn the lesson the hard way.

I learned that most people bought my work because they loved it. When it didn’t work out, there were specific reasons.

When I worked with them on those, we both found a solution that worked for both of us.

In that first customer who broke the horse, they loved the piece with all their heart. They wore it every day. It gave them serenity when they were anxious. What a tribute to my work, is how I chose to view it.

Yes, there are some difficult people out there who will never be happy. Again, I’ve learned to simply get the work back, refund their money (I can choose to do that, though legally I’m covered by my prominently-displayed return policy) and return them to the river to go mess with someone else.

But there are also people who genuinely love and appreciate us for what we do, who invest their own hard-earned money for the work of our heart. We owe it to them to make sure that wonderful exchange stays positive, and compassionate.

Your homework, should you choose to accept it, is to check out some Yelp reviews. Perhaps your favorite restaurant, or your favorite shop, or any biz you know has a good ethic around its products/services and their customers. There will almost always be a snarky comment. See how the business handles it. (These days, some businesses will simply delete the customer’s remark and block them from the site. But it’s better if they address the concern, either by explaining what really happened, or by sharing what they did to settle the issue, though the buyer wasn’t having it.)

And if you have a great return policy, share it! Explain how it’s worked for you (or not) and how you got there.

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you liked it, you can sign up for more articles at Fine Art Views or more from me at my blog LuannUdell.wordpress.com.